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Extra Crunch’s Top 10 stories of 2020

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I edited hundreds of stories in 2020, so choosing my favorites would be an exercise in futility.

Instead, I’ve tried to gather a sample of Extra Crunch stories that taught me something new. (Which means this top 10 list betrays my ignorance, a humbling admission for a know-it-all like myself.)

While narrowing down the field of candidates, I realized that we’re covering each of the topics on this list in greater depth next year. We already have stories in the works about no-code software, the emergence of edtech, proptech and B2B marketplaces, to name just a few.

Some readers are skeptical about paywalls, but without being boastful, Extra Crunch is a premium product, just like Netflix or Disney+. I know: We’re not as entertaining as a historical drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II or a space western about a bounty hunter.

But, speaking as someone who’s worked at several startups, Extra Crunch stories contain actionable information you can use to build a company and/or look smart in meetings — and that’s worth something. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a very happy new year.


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1. The VCs who founders love the most

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Managing Editor Danny Crichton spearheaded the development of The TechCrunch List earlier this year to help seed-stage founders connect with VCs who write first checks.

The TechCrunch List has no paywall and contains details and recommendations about more than 400 investors across 22 verticals. Once it launched, Danny crunched the data to pick out 11 investors for which “founders were particularly effusive in their praise.”

2. API startups are so hot right now

Conceptual photo of a cup with clouds. It seems to say, take a break and dream

Image Credits: Juana Mari Moya(opens in a new window)/Getty Images (Image has been modified)

Alex Wilhelm uses his weekday column The Exchange to keep a close eye on “private companies, public markets and the gray space in between,” but one effort stood out: An overview of six API-based startups that were “raising capital in rapid-fire fashion” when many companies were trying to find their COVID-19 footing.

For me, this was particularly interesting because it helped me better understand that an optimal pricing structure can be key to a SaaS company’s initial success.

3. ‘No code’ will define the next generation of software
4. Tracking the growth of low-code/no-code startups

A green sphere stands on top of a pedestal surrounded by a crowd of multicoloured spheres

Image Credits: Richard Drury(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

Two stories about the advent of no-code/low-code software that we ran in July take the third and fourth position on this list.

I have been a no-code user for some time: Using Zapier to send automated invitations via Slack for group lunches was a real time-saver in the pre-pandemic days.

“Enterprise expenditure on custom software is on track to double from $250 billion in 2015 to $500 billion in 2020,” so we’ll definitely be diving deeper into this topic in the coming months.

5. ‘Edtech is no longer optional’: Investors’ deep dive into the future of the market

Point of view, looking up ladder sticking through hole in ceiling revealing blue sky

Image Credits: PM Images(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

Natasha Mascarenhas picked up TechCrunch’s edtech beat when she joined us just before the pandemic. Twelve months later, she’s an expert on the topic.

In July, she surveyed six edtech investors to “get into the macro-impact of rapid change on edtech as a whole.”

  • Ian Chiu, Owl Ventures
  • Shauntel Garvey and Jennifer Carolan, Reach Capital
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, Emerge Education
  • David Eichler, TCV
  • Jomayra Hererra, Cowboy Ventures

6. B2B marketplaces will be the next billion-dollar e-commerce startups

High angle view of Male warehouse worker pulling a pallet truck at distribution warehouse.

Image Credits: Kmatta(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

In 2018, B2B marketplaces saw an estimated $680 billion in sales, but that figure is expected to reach $3.6 trillion by 2024.

As companies shifted their purchasing online, these platforms are adding a range of complementary services like payment management, targeted advertising and logistics while also hardening their infrastructure.

7. Facebook’s former PR chief explains why no one is paying attention to your startup

Caryn Marooney, right, vice president of technology communications at Facebook, poses for a picture on the red carpet for the 6th annual 2018 Breakthrough Prizes at Moffett Federal Airfield, Hangar One in Mountain View, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (N

Caryn Marooney, right, vice president of technology communications at Facebook, poses for a picture on the red carpet for the 6th annual 2018 Breakthrough Prizes at Moffett Federal Airfield, Hangar One in Mountain View, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. Image Credits: Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

Reporter Lucas Matney spoke to Caryn Marooney in August at TechCrunch Early Stage about how startup founders who hope to expand their reach need to do a better job of connecting with journalists.

“People just fundamentally aren’t walking around caring about this new startup,” she said. “Actually, nobody does.”

Speaking as someone who’s been on both sides of this equation, I most appreciated her advice about focusing on “simplicity and staying consistent” when it comes to messaging.

“Don’t let the complexity of your intellect cloud what needs to be simple,” she said.

8. You need a minimum viable company, not a minimum viable product

Team of engineers working on a new mechanical model. Multi-ethnic group of young people building an new technology in office.

Image Credits: alvarez(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

In a guest post for Extra Crunch, seed-stage VC Ann Miura-Ko shared some of what she’s learned about “the magic of product-market fit,” which she termed “the defining quality of an early-stage startup.”

According to Miura-Ko, a co-founding partner at Floodgate, startups can only reach this stage when their business model, value propositions and ecosystem are in balance.

Using lessons learned from her portfolio companies like Lyft, Refinery29 and Twitch, this article should be required reading for every founder. As one commenter posted, “I read this thinking, ‘I need to add some slides to my deck!’

9. 6 investment trends that could emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic

10 January 2020, Berlin: Doctor Olaf Göing, chief physician of the clinic for internal medicine at the Sana Klinikum Lichtenberg, tests mixed-reality 3D glasses for use in cardiology. They can thus access their patients’ medical data and visualize the finest structures for diagnostics and operation planning by hand and speech. The Sana Clinic is, according to its own statements, the first hospital in the world to use this novel technology in cardiology. Image Credits: Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images

During “the early innings of this period of uncertainty,” an article we published offered several predictions about investor behavior in the U.S.

Although we posted this in April, each of these forecasts seem spot-on:

  1. Future of work: promoting intimacy and trust.
  2. Healthcare IT: telemedicine and remote patient monitoring.
  3. Robotics and supply chain.
  4. Cybersecurity.
  5. Education = knowledge transfer + social + signaling.
  6. Fintech.

10. Construction tech startups are poised to shake up a $1.3-trillion-dollar industry

Rebar is laid before poring a cement slab for an apartment in San Francisco CA.

Image Credits: Steve Proehl(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

I’ve always found the concept of total addressable market (TAM) hard to embrace fully — the arrival of a single disruptive company could change an industry’s TAM in a week.

However, several factors are combining to transform the construction industry: high fragmentation, poor communication, a skilled labor shortage and a lack of data transparency.

Startups that help builders manage aspects like pre-construction, workflow and site visualization are making huge strides, but because “construction firms spend less than 2% of annual sales volume on IT,” the size of this TAM is not at all speculative.

11. Don’t let VCs be the gatekeepers of your success

One blue ball on one right side of red line, many blue balls on left side

Image Credits: PM Images(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

As a bonus, I’m including a TechCrunch op-ed written by insurtech founder Kevin Henderson that describes the myriad challenges he has faced as a Black entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.

Some of the discussions about the lack of diversity in tech can feel abstract, but his post describes its concrete consequences. For starters: he’s never had an opportunity to pitch at a VC firm where there was another Black person in the room.

“Black founders have a better chance playing pro sports than they do landing venture investments,” says Henderson.

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Qualcomm veteran to replace Alain Crozier as Microsoft Greater China boss

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Microsoft gets a new leader for its Greater China business. Yang Hou, a former executive at Qualcomm, will take over Alain Crozier as the chairman and chief executive officer for Microsoft Greater China Region, according to a company announcement released Monday.

More to come…

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Autonomous drone maker Skydio raises $170M led by Andreessen Horowitz

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Skydio has raised $170 million in a Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Growth Fund. That pushes it into unicorn territory, with $340 million in total funding and a post-money valuation north of $1 billion. Skydio’s fresh capital comes on the heels of its expansion last year into the enterprise market, and it intends to use the considerable pile of cash to help it expand globally and accelerate product development.

In July of last year, Skydio announced its $100 million Series C financing, and also debuted the X2, its first dedicated enterprise drone. The company also launched a suite of software for commercial and enterprise customers, its first departure from the consumer drone market where it had been focused prior to that raise since its founding in 2014.

Skydio’s debut drone, the R1, received a lot of accolades and praise for its autonomous capabilities. Unlike other consumer drones at the time, including from recreational drone maker DJI, the R1 could track a target and film them while avoiding obstacles without any human intervention required. Skydio then released the Skydio 2 in 2019, its second drone, cutting off more than half the price while improving on it its autonomous tracking and video capabilities.

Late last year, Skydio brought on additional senior talent to help it address enterprise and government customers, including a software development lead who had experience at Tesla and 3D printing company Carbon. Skydio also hired two Samsara executives at the same time to work on product and engineering. Samsara provides a platform for managing cloud-based fleet operations for large enterprises.

The applications of Skydio’s technology for commercial, public sector and enterprise organizations are many and varied. Already, the company works with public utilities, fire departments, construction firms and more to do work including remote inspection, emergency response, urban planning and more. Skydio’s U.S. pedigree also puts it in prime position to capitalize on the growing interest in applications from the defense sector.

a16z previously led Skydio’s Series A round. Other investors who participated in this Series D include Lines Capital, Next47, IVP and UP.Partners.

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Space startup Gitai raises $17.1M to help build the robotic workforce of commercial space

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Japanese space startup Gitai has raised a $17.1 million funding round, a Series B financing for the robotics startup. This new funding will be used for hiring, as well as funding the development and execution of an on-orbit demonstration mission for the company’s robotic technology, which will show its efficacy in performing in-space satellite servicing work. That mission is currently set to take place in 2023.

Gitai will also be staffing up in the U.S., specifically, as it seeks to expand its stateside presence in a bid to attract more business from that market.

“We are proceeding well in the Japanese market, and we’ve already contracted missions from Japanese companies, but we haven’t expanded to the U.S. market yet,” explained Gitai founder and CEO Sho Nakanose in an interview. So we would like to get missions from U.S. commercial space companies, as a subcontractor first. We’re especially interested in on-orbit servicing, and we would like to provide general-purpose robotic solutions for an orbital service provider in the U.S.”

Nakanose told me that Gitai has plenty of experience under its belt developing robots which are specifically able to install hardware on satellites on-orbit, which could potentially be useful for upgrading existing satellites and constellations with new capabilities, for changing out batteries to keep satellites operational beyond their service life, or for repairing satellites if they should malfunction.

Gitai’s focus isn’t exclusively on extra-vehicular activity in the vacuum of space, however. It’s also performing a demonstration mission of its technical capabilities in partnership with Nanoracks using the Bishop Airlock, which is the first permanent commercial addition to the International Space Station. Gitai’s robot, codenamed S1, is an arm–style robot not unlike industrial robots here on Earth, and it’ll be showing off a number of its capabilities, including operating a control panel and changing out cables.

Long-term, Gitai’s goal is to create a robotic workforce that can assist with establishing bases and colonies on the Moon and Mars, as well as in orbit. With NASA’s plans to build a more permanent research presence on orbit at the Moon, as well as on the surface, with the eventual goal of reaching Mars, and private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin looking ahead to more permanent colonies on Mars, as well as large in-space habitats hosting humans as well as commercial activity, Nakanose suggests that there’s going to be ample need for low-cost, efficient robotic labor – particularly in environments that are inhospitable to human life.

Nakanose told me that he actually got started with Gitai after the loss of his mother – an unfortunate passing he said he firmly believes could have been avoided with the aid of robotic intervention. He began developing robots that could expand and augment human capability, and then researched what was likely the most useful and needed application of this technology from a commercial perspective. That research led Nakanose to conclude that space was the best long-term opportunity for a new robotics startup, and Gitai was born.

This funding was led by SPARX Innovation for the Future Co. Ltd, and includes funding form DcI Venture Growth Fund, the Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, and EP-GB (Epson’s venture investment arm).

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