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Tourlane adds another $20M at a $242M valuation to help it weather the Covid storm

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The tourism and travel industry has been one of the hardest hit by the global Covid-19 health pandemic, and today a promising startup in the space announced some funding to help it weather the storm. Berlin-based Tourlane, which has built a platform that mimics the role of an in-person travel agent to plan and book all aspects of multi-day trips for individuals and small groups, has raised $20 million, in what it describes as an extension to its 2019 Series C.

The money will be used to give Tourlane, in its own words, “financial stability; allowing the company to pursue its customer-centric vision of creating an end-to-end experience for booking unique individual trips based on advanced technology and travel expertise.”

From what we understand, the company has had a big drop in bookings as a result of the many bans on travel, reduced flight schedules and stay-at-home orders issued across different countries as they try to grapple with the coroanvirus outbreak: it’s currently at 20% the rate of bookings versus the same time last year.

The Series C had been $47 million originally — bringing the total now to $67 million — and was co-led by Sequoia Capital — itself making a bigger push into Europe at the moment — and Spark Capital. Those two VCs, along with other existing investors DN Capital, and HV Capital, and both founders, all participated in the extension. Tourlane has now raised over $100 million.

From what I understand the extension is happening at the same valuation — which according to PitchBook (and my sources) is around $242 million.

A press release announcing the extension did not include any metrics, but in addition to the allusion to financial stability, the undercurrent of the notice is one of just making sure the company has the resources to get through this, and potentially turn the situation into a positive for the company (however that may be possible).

“We deeply believe that this pandemic is an opportunity to rethink travel, and will be a catalyst for the Tourlane business model,” said Julian Stiefel, co-CEO & co-founder of Tourlane (the other co-founder and co-CEO is another Julian, Julian Weselek). “With this latest funding round, we are continuing to invest in our technology and product experience, while at the same time ensuring maximum flexibility for our customers.”

This is not too far outside of the bigger trend among other startups in the industry, and compared to some is a relatively good outcome. Indeed, Tourlane’s funding comes on the heels of a number of twists and turns in the wider category of startups focused on travel and tourism. Just this week, Airbnb filed its long-awaited IPO prospectus, which — while still a big deal — revealed huge drops in the company’s revenues in the wake of many people cancelling travel plans.

Others have not fared so well. Domio (another player in the accommodation space) is reportedly in the process of shutting down its business after raising well over $100 million. Trip Actions, Zeus Living and Sonder have all seen big layoffs. GetYourGuide, another Berlin-based travel startup, raised $133 million in the form of a convertible note as it looks to raise more money to get itself through the crisis.

At Tourlane specifically, in addition to the drop in the number of bookings currently, the startup has also been having a rocky year since the outbreak of the pandemic.

In March, the company saw a 30% higher surge of inbound customer service queries as people got in touch to cancel or rebook their trips. That meant not just a potential loss of revenue — Tourlane was issuing refunds even in cases where it had not been able to secure the refunds from suppliers yet itself — but a big operational cost to the company.

Before the pandemic the company had some 290 employees and had been on a growth tear. While it has made some layoffs — it has around 250-ish now — about half of the remaining employees are on a partial furlough scheme, where they are working only part time (part of a German government scheme, where it provides assistance to make up the difference).

There have been some brighter spots, too. In the summer, when there was a small amount of recovery in many places — so much so that we even started to see stories about group getaways amongst nomads who just couldn’t cool their itchy feet — companies like GetYourGuide, Airbnb and Tourlane saw an increase in activity.

Tourlane offers curated trip itineraries and bookings to some 50 destinations, and it said that in some places like Iceland — which found itself one of the few destination spots that didn’t see big outbreaks in Covid-19 cases — it was even seeing record bookings. Unfortunately, all that evaporates like so much geothermal steam when cases start to tick up again.

The hope now is that vaccines and their rollout will give people more confidence to travel again, and governments and other organizations the ability to reduce some of the strong restrictions that have been put in place that make quick getaways completely impossible.

“When the crisis hit us earlier this year, our team made an incredible effort to adjust strategy, adapt to a new reality, and get ready for the new demand when the market bounces back,” Weselek said in a statement. “In these unprecedented times, the commitment from our investors is a strong signal of confidence in our strategy, the Tourlane business model, and what’s to come in the future.”

“Tourlane has the tremendous opportunity to redefine the way people experience travel,” added Andrew Reed, partner at Sequoia Capital, in a statement. “We are excited to continue our partnership in this next chapter supporting Tourlane’s technological innovation and growth in the years to come.”

“We were impressed by Tourlane’s ability to quickly and consistently adapt their strategy during such a turbulent year,” said Christian Saller, chairman of Tourlane and general partner at HV Capital, said in his own statement. “The new investment will help to quickly transition into growth mode when the market recovers. We are more convinced than ever that Tourlane is perfectly positioned to create the best experience in travel.”

 

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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 will land on phones in Q1 2021

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As promised, more info following yesterday’s Snapdragon 888 announcement. First off, as expected, the company’s next flagship SoC will arrive in the first quarter of next year. We’re still waiting on specific models, but as noted yesterday, the San Diego-based chip giant already has a lineup of smartphone makers planning to employ the 765 follow-up, including ASUS, Black Shark, LG, MEIZU, Motorola, Nubia, realme, OnePlus, OPPO, Sharp, vivo, Xiaomi and ZTE.

The focuses are also what you’d expect: 5G, AI, speed, security, imaging and gaming. As Qualcomm announced earlier, the new system sports the third-gen X60 5G modem, which supports both sub-6 and mmWave variations of the wireless technology with speeds up to 7.5 Gbps. Also on board is support for Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2.

The sixth-gen version of the company’s AI Engine brings faster processing speeds at lower power consumption — specifically up to 3x performance per watt, per Qualcomm’s numbers. That’s capable of up to 26 tera operations per second (TOPS). Compare that to the “incredible” 5.5 TOPS the company was talking up on the Snapdragon 765 roughly this time last year. The AI stuff is primarily used to boost camera, gaming, connectivity and voice assistants like Google’s.

On the camera side, the new chip features the improved Spectra 580, sporting the line’s first triple ISP (image signal processor). That’s going to go a ways toward fostering multi-camera setup, with the ability to simultaneously have three cameras at up to 2.7 gigapixels a second. The system also supports capture of three 4K HDR videos at once — overkill, perhaps, but neat. There’s improved low-light support as well, to brighten up dark shots — always a nice thing.

The on-board Adreno 660 GPU can do up to 35% faster graphics. The Kryo 680 — based on the new Arm Cortex-X1 architecture — brings up to a 25% uplift in CPU performance. Game rendering has been improved by up to 30%, and titles will get access to Variable Rate Shading — a first for a Qualcomm chip. As for security, the new chip offers a number of new features aimed at protecting on-device data, including the Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit.

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Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple raises $350M from U.S. rail, retail and freight giants

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Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple has closed a $350 million funding round from a diverse consortium of strategic investors that include major U.S. corporations in rail, retail and freight, according to sources familiar with the deal. 

The round, which was oversubscribed, was led by VectoIQ LLC, confirming a report by TechCrunch in September. VectoIQ is the consulting and investment company founded by Steve Girsky, the former GM vice chairman, consultant and investor whose special purpose acquisition company merged with hydrogen electric startup Nikola Corp. this summer. 

The injection of capital stands out not only because of its size, but the array of companies involved. Goodyear, Union Pacific, CN Rail, freight company U.S. Xpress and retailer Kroger all participated in the round, sources familiar with the deal told TechCrunch. Existing investors Volkswagen AG’s heavy-truck business The Traton Group and Navistar also participated. (Last month, Traton, which already held a 16.6% stake in Navistar agreed to acquire its remaining shares.)

TuSimple has raised $648 million since its founding in 2015.

The company declined to comment. 

TuSimple was one of the first autonomous trucking startups to emerge in what has become a small, yet bustling industry that now includes Aurora, Embark, Ike, Kodiak and Waymo. While TuSimple’s founding team and its earliest backers Sina and Composite Capital are from China, a chunk of its operations are in the United States, including its global headquarters in San Diego. TuSimple also operates an engineering center and truck depot in Tucson and more recently set up a facility in Texas to support its autonomous trips —always with a human safety operator behind the wheel. TuSimple also has operations in Beijing and Shanghai. 

As TuSimple has scaled with workforce and testing in the U.S., it has diversified its customer and investor base. The company has attracted a number of investors and partners in recent years, including UPS, Korean Tier 1 supplier Mando Corporation, Traton Group and now U.S. Xpress. 

TuSimple raised $55 million in 2017 with plans to use those funds to scale up testing to two full truck fleets in China and the United States. By 2018, TuSimple began to test on public roads, beginning with a 120-mile highway stretch between Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona and another segment in Shanghai. TuSimple has since expanded operations into Texas. 

Last year, the company’s valuation eked over the $1 billion-mark after raising $95 million in a Series D funding round. It’s unclear what TuSimple’s new post-money valuation is.

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Jitsu nabs $2M Seed to build open source data integration platform

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Jitsu, a graduate of the Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort, is developing an open source data integration platform that helps developers send data to a data warehouse. Today, the startup announced a $2 million seed investment.

Costanoa Ventures led the round with participation from YCombintaor, The House Fund and SignalFire.

In addition to the open source version of the software, the company has developed a hosted version that companies can pay to use, which shares the same name as the company. Peter Wysinski, Jitsu’s co-founder and CEO, says a good way to think about his company is an open source Segment, the customer data integration company that was recently sold to Twilio for $3.2 billion.

But he says, it goes beyond what Segment by allowing you to move all kinds of data whether customer data, connected device data or other types. “If you look at the space in general, companies want more granularity. So let’s say for example, a couple years ago you wanted to sync just your transactions from QuickBooks to your data warehouse, now you want to capture every single sale at the point of sale. What Jitsu lets you do is capture essentially all of those events, all of those streams, and send them to your data warehouse,” Wysinski explained.

Among the data warehouses it currently supports include Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, PostGres and Snowflake.

The founders built the open source project called EventNative to help solve problems they themselves were having moving data around at their previous jobs. After putting the open source version on GitHub a few months ago, they quickly attained 1000 stars, proving that they had delivered something that solved a common problem for data teams. They then built the hosted version, Jitsu, which went live a couple of weeks ago.

For now, the company is just the two co-founders, Wysinski and CTO Vladimir Klimontovich, but they intend to do some preliminary hiring over the next year to grow the company, most likely adding engineers. As they begin to build out the startup, Wysinski says that being open source will help drive diversity and inclusion in their hiring.

“The goal is essentially to go after that open source community and hire people from anywhere because engineers aren’t just […] one color or one race, they’re everywhere, and being open source, and especially being in a remote world, makes it so so much simpler [to build a diverse workforce], and a lot of companies I feel are going down that road,” he said.

He says along that line, the plan is to be a fully remote company, even after the pandemic ends, as they hire from anywhere. The goal is to have quarterly offsite meetings to check in with employees, but do the majority of the work remotely.

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