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The big question on every startup’s mind for 2021

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My big question for 2021, and the one that is on every startup’s mind, is how will a cataclysmic event such as a global pandemic show up in post-pandemic innovation? I think we’re in the early innings of seeing what ‘aha moments’ have materialized into companies. And we won’t know the pandemic’s true impact on our psyches until the dust settles and we have an opportunity to reflect.

We do know it will be fascinating to watch. In 2020, innovators and investors were forced to stand still, and witness cracks, fractures, and rubble in society in a way like never before. It was a humbling year that, for much of the tech community, was mostly spent inside, away, and alone.

One reaction I’ve noticed so far – that isn’t necessarily new but comes with new weight – is a rush of innovation that focuses on reducing friction. Take trends like the rise of building in public or the unbundling of venture capital. Or remote work’s shift from enabling communication to now needing to enable passive and active collaboration. Apply the same idea to mental health, education, and fitness. Heck, we’re even seeing people take the Y Combinator format and apply it to anything that makes sense, from helping operators turn into investors to helping employees try to turn their side gig into a full-time company.

While these movements didn’t begin because of the coronavirus, they all seem to have a huge, pandemic-sized asterisk next to it.

It would be easy to dismiss these movements as small and inconsequential. But, as my colleague and fellow Equity co-host Danny Crichton pointed out this week, “sometimes the most important changes in venture and startups more generally have come from lowering that last bit of friction to action.”

Lowering friction feels like the mantra we all need to enter 2021 with.

I already have hope that innovation will come from a more diverse set of people, whether it’s in a hacker house for undergraduate women or a student-founded service that matches undergraduate students to non-profits. So, as we enter the new year — and bear with me here – I urge you to be optimistic.

The last year in tech hasn’t left people exhausted and hopeless, it’s left them energized and ready.

Maze, computer artwork.

Will second time be the charm for Qualtrics?

When SAP announced that Qualtrics was getting spun out in July, the full-circle moment made the Equity podcast crew jump to our mics with guesses around why. Now, months later, there’s a new S-1 filing, and more to color in. Alex Wilhelm broke down the Utah-based unicorn’s numbers, noting that it’s the second time Qualtrics has filed.

Will the second time be the charm that Qualtrics needs to actually go public this time around? I’ll let you make the call yourself once you sift through Alex’s analysis of the valuation and financials.

Blackboard Business Strategy Concept

Miami, Substack, and Clubhouse

If those three words in a single subhed elicit a certain reaction from you, Danny Crichton has a bone to pick with you. He wrote a piece this week about tech’s cynicism around anything new, underscoring how Miami’s future as a tech hub, Substack’s future as a replacement for traditional journalism, and Clubhouse’s future as a social media disruptor have come under fire as expected.

The cynicism of immediate perfection is one of the strange dynamics of startups in 2020. There is this expectation that a startup, with one or a few founders and a couple of employees, is somehow going to build a perfect product on day one that mitigates any potential problem even before it becomes one. Maybe these startups are just getting popularized too early, and the people who understand early product are getting subsumed by the wider masses who don’t understand the evolution of products?

Danny’s argument is to give these companies a little more grace to execute on a vision they themselves are not even close to scratching the surface of. When it comes to holding specific decision-makers and businesses to a certain standard, I prefer a more fluid conversation. But I do agree that writing off a business because it hasn’t done everything correctly from the start can hurt progress. It’s easy to be grumpy, but why not choose to be an optimist? Tell me your optimistic bets by responding to this newsletter or tweeting me @nmasc_.

Skyline of downtown Miami, Florida looking toward the Brickell neighborhood on Biscayne Bay, Brickell is one of the largest financial districts in the United States and also has many high-rise residential condominium and apartment towers

And some good news

Speaking of humbling moments and optimism, our own Sarah Perez wrote a piece this week about EarlyBird, an app that lets families and friends gift investments to children. While Acorns and Stash have similar offerings, Earlybird is bringing a fresh UX play to financial literacy, freedom, and education. There’s a ton of work left to be done, hurdles to deal with, and giant unicorns to compete with. EarlyBird, however, is only weeks old so there’s much to watch out for.

VP Caleb Frankel, now EarlyBird COO, explained the early inspiration:

“This all started with a problem I experienced years ago when my beautiful baby niece was born. I found myself head over heels and spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on just the most ridiculous stuff — pretty much just junk gifts,” he says. “I wanted to have a larger impact in her life and something that she could really use when she grew up.”

Crowdfunding Concept Investment into Idea or Business Startup

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

Around TechCrunch

Attending CES 2021? TechCrunch wants to meet your startup

Gift Guide: Last-minute subscriptions to keep the gifts going all year

Across the week

Seen on Extra Crunch

How artificial intelligence will be used in 2021

On the diversity front, 2020 may prove a tipping point

The 2020 boom in climate tech SPACs

2021 will be a calmer year for semiconductors and chips (except for Intel)

Understanding Europe’s big push to rewrite the digital rulebook

Seen on TechCrunch

China lays out ‘rectification’ plan for Jack Ma’s fintech empire Ant

NSO used real people’s location data to pitch its contact-tracing tech, researchers say

India’s slow 2020 told through dollars and cent

An earnest review of a robotic cat pillow

@EquityPod

The Equity pod put together a 2021 predictions episode (with Chris Gates, our producer, making a guest appearance on the mic as well!). We talk about IPO candidates, San Francisco, and the future of drugs.

2020 brought several million downloads to the podcast, and we’re super thankful to all of y’all for tuning in. This year will be even bigger, better, and, hey, maybe we’ll even get to make fun of eachother in person too.

Till next week,

Natasha Mascarenhas

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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MIT develops method for lab-grown plants that eventually lead to alternatives to forestry and farming

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Researchers at MIT have developed a new method for growing plant tissues in a lab – sort of like how companies and researchers are approaching lab-grown meat. The process would be able to produce wood and fibre in a lab environment, and researchers have already demonstrated how it works in concept by growing simple structures using cells harvested from zinnia leaves.

This work is still in its very early stages, but the potential applications of lab-grown plant material are significant, and include possibilities in both agriculture and in ruction materials. While traditional agricultural is much less ecologically damaging when compared to animal farming, it can still have a significant impact and cost, and it takes a lot of resources to maintain. Not to mention that even small environmental changes can have a significant effect on crop yield.

Forestry, meanwhile, has much more obvious negative environmental impacts. If the work of these researchers can eventually be used to create a way to produce lab-grown wood for use in construction and fabrication, in a way that’s scalable and efficient, then there’s tremendous potential in terms of reducing the impact of forestry globally. Eventually, the team even theorizes you could coax the growth of plant-based materials into specific target shapes, so you could also do some of the manufacturing in the lab, by growing a wood table directly for instance.

There’s still a long way to go from what the researchers have achieved. They’ve only grown materials on a very small scale, and will look to figure out ways to grow plant-based materials with different final properties as one challenge. They’ll also need to overcome significant barriers when it comes to scaling efficiencies, but they are working on solutions that could address some of these difficulties.

Lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, and lab-grown plant material is even more nascent. But it has tremendous potential, even if it takes a long time to get there.

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Cannabis marketing startup Fyllo acquires DataOwl

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Fyllo has acquired DataOwl, a company offering marketing and loyalty tools for cannabis retailers.

Fyllo said it already works with 320 cannabis retailers across 25 states (plus Puerto Rico and Jamaica). According to Chief Marketing Officer Conrad Lisco, this acquisition allows the company to offer the industry’s “first end-to-end marketing solution,” combining consumer data, digital advertising, regulatory compliance (thanks to Fyllo’s acquisition of CannaRegs last year) and, through DataOwl, CRM and loyalty tied into a business’ point-of-sale system.

As an example, founder and CEO Chad Bronstein (previously the chief revenue officer at digital marketing company Amobee) said that retailers will be able to use the Fyllo platform to send promotional texts to regular customers while, crucially, ensuring that those campaigns are fully in compliance with state and local regulations. He added that eventually, the platform could be used beyond cannabis, in other regulated industries.

“Beauty, gambling, etc. — the same things need to happen in every regulated industry, they would all benefit from loyalty and compliance automation,” Bronstein said.

In addition, he argued that mainstream brands are increasingly interested in using data around cannabis and CBD consumers, as borne out in a Forrester study commissioned by Fyllo.

Lisco said this acquisition comes at a crucial time for the cannabis industry, with dispensaries classified as essential businesses in many states, as well as continuing momentum behind marijuana legalization.

“In 2020, cannabis came of age,” he said. “We would say it went form illicit to essential in 10 months … 2021 is really about watching endemic [marijuana] brands try to scale, so that they can capitalize on the explosive growth. They’ve historically been excluded from the kinds of integrated marketing capabilities that other non-endemic [mainstream] brands get to use when go to market.”

Bronstein said Fyllo aims to bring those capabilities to marijuana brands, first by bringing the its compliance capabilities into the DataOwl product. The company also aims to create a national cannabis loyalty platform, allowing a marijuana retailer in one state to easily expand its marketing capabilities into other states in a compliant fashion.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. DataOwl co-founders Dan Hirsch and Vartan Arabyan are joining Fyllo, as is the rest of their team, bringing the company’s total headcount to 110.

“By integrating with Fyllo, DataOwl’s solutions will reach the widest possible audience via the industry’s most innovative marketing platform,” Hirsch said in a statement.

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SpaceX delivers 60 more Starlink satellites in first launch of 2021, and sets new Falcon 9 rocket reusability record

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SpaceX has launched its 17th batch of Starlink satellites during its first mission of 2021, using a Falcon 9 rocket that was flying for the eighth time, and that landed again, recording a record for its reusability program. This puts the total Starlink constellation size at almost 1,000, as the company has expanded its beta access program for the service to the UK and Canada, with a first deployment in the latter company serving a rural First Nations community in a remote part of the province of Ontario.

The launch took off from Florida at 8:02 AM EST (5:02 AM PST), with delivery of the satellites following as planned at around an hour after lift-off. The booster on this launch flew seven times previously, as mentioned – including just in December when it was used to delivery a SiriusXM satellite to orbit to support that company’s satellite radio network.

Today’s launch was also notable because it included a landing attempt in so-called “envelope expansion” conditions, which means that the winds in the landing zone where SpaceX’s drone recovery ship was stationed at sea actually exceeded the company’s previously-defined safety window for making a landing attempt.

As a result of today’s success, SpaceX will likely now have higher tolerances for wind speeds in order to attempt recovery, which should translate to fewer cancellations of launches based on weather conditions in the landing zone.

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