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Extra Crunch roundup: Optimized SaaS pricing, recruiting growth experts, VC surveys, more



Since the pandemic began, have you been walking more, or do you know someone who bought a new car? Perhaps you ran your first errand on a rented e-bike or scooter?

Over the last year, I’ve experimented with different mobility options to see which ones best suit my needs, as have most people I know. It can be challenging to maintain a recommended physical distance on a bus or subway. (After a decade-plus hiatus, I even briefly considered rejoining the ranks of automobile owners!)

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It took some getting used to, but I now enjoy traveling around San Francisco on a scooter or e-bike. Pre-pandemic, I was leery of riding two-wheeled vehicles in a city with a high rate of injury collisions, but there are fewer cars on the road than there used to be.

COVID-19 has spotlighted many of the weakest points in our transportation system, but some of the rapid shifts in consumer behavior are creating opportunities for tech once considered fanciful, like sidewalk delivery robots and eVTOLs (electric vertical and takeoff vehicles).

Transportation editor Kirsten Korosec reached out to 10 investors to learn more “about the state of mobility, which trends they’re most excited about and what they’re looking for in their next investments.”

Here’s who she interviewed:

  • Clara Brenner, co-founder and managing partner, Urban Innovation Fund
  • Shawn Carolan, partner, Menlo Ventures
  • Dave Clark, partner, Expa
  • Abhijit Ganguly, senior manager, Goodyear Ventures
  • Rachel Holt, co-founder and general partner, Construct Capital
  • David Lawee, founder and general partner, CapitalG
  • Sasha Ostojic, operating partner, Playground Global
  • Sebastian Peck, managing director, InMotion Ventures
  • Natalia Quintero and Rachel Haot, Transit Innovation Partnership/Transit Tech Lab

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch

A fraction of Robinhood’s users are driving its runaway growth

Yesterday’s House Financial Services Committee hearing on the GameStop short squeeze saga was fairly typical: Most lawmakers used their time to grandstand and little new information was revealed.

But Alex Wilhelm found one tidbit: Much of Robinhood’s revenue is generated from payment for order flow (PFOF). Under the practice, market makers pay the trading platform for executing trades.

To get a sense of how much Robinhood’s high rollers contribute to the company’s general health, he calculated its PFOF revenues for the last three months of 2020.

“Borrowing a term from the casino trade, these whales generate the bulk of the company’s revenue stream.”

Why do SaaS companies with usage-based pricing grow faster?

A piggy bank streaks down the road to riches on a skateboard and with a rocket strapped to his back.

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

HubStop introduced usage-based pricing in 2011 to boost its retention rate, then near 70%.

When it went public three years later, its net revenue retention rate was edging close to 100%, “all without hurting the company’s ability to acquire new customers.”

Offering new users frictionless onboarding, customer support and free credits is a proven method for making them more active — and loyal.

So, why do public SaaS firms with usage-based pricing see faster growth?

“Because they’re better at landing new customers, growing with them and keeping them as customers,” says Kyle Powar, VP of growth at OpenView.

Paying $115B for Stripe or $77B for Coinbase might be quite rational

In October 2018, private-market money valued Coinbase at around $8 billion. As of this week, it’s valued at $77 billion.

Similarly, Stripe is valued at $115 billion on secondary markets. In the middle of last year, that figure was closer to $36 billion.

“Would I line up to pay $77 billion for Coinbase?” asked Alex. “Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that the public markets won’t.

Pandemic-era growth and SPACs are helping edtech startups graduate early

Start School Concept

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

Natasha Mascarenhas reports that some edtech startups are hitching rides with special purpose acquisition vehicles so they can speed up their journey to the public markets.

To learn more, she interviewed Susan Wolford, chairperson of $200 million SPAC Edify Acquisition, and Nerdy CEO Chuck Cohn. Nerdy, parent company of Varsity Tutors, is going through a reverse merger with TPG Pace Tech Opportunities.

“It’s less about going into the public markets and more about that this transaction allows us to take an offensive position and lean into the big opportunities,” Cohn said.

Dear Sophie: Tips for filing for a green card for my soon-to-be spouse

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

My fiancé is in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, which is set to expire in about a year and a half.

We were originally planning to marry last year, but both he and I want to have a ceremony and party with our families and friends, so we decided to hold off until the pandemic ends. I’m a U.S. citizen and plan to sponsor my fiancé for a green card.

How long does it typically take to get a green card for a spouse? Any tips you can share?

— Sweetheart in San Francisco

Inside Rover and MoneyLion’s SPAC-led public debuts

When I saw that Alex Wilhelm wrote on Tuesday about two more startups that were taking the SPAC route to public markets, I briefly wondered if we’ve been covering special purpose acquisition companies too frequently.

After I read his first sentence, I realized Alex made exactly the right call because the trend that emerged in 2020 may be turning into a actual wave: This week, pet e-commerce company Rover and fintech startup MoneyLion both announced that they’re planning SPAC-led debuts.

On Monday, Alex covered the news that Lerer Hippeau Acquisition Corp. and Khosla Ventures Acquisition Co. I, II and III. filed S-1 filings last week.

“You have to wonder if every VC worth a damn in the future will have their own raft of SPAC offerings,” says Alex.

Wrote Lerer Hippeau Acquisition Corp.:

With our portfolio now maturing to the stage at which many are considering the public markets, we view SPACs as a natural next step in the evolution of our platform.

“If we are not careful, every entry of this column could consist of SPAC news,” writes Alex.

From dorm rooms to board rooms: How universities are promoting entrepreneurship

Teenage Girl Using Laptop in Bed Late at Night.

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

Fifteen U.S.-based institutions of higher learning have joined forces to create the University Technology Licensing Program LLC (UTLP).

The program makes it easier for entrepreneurs and investors to find IP that can drive their companies forward, but it’s also an attempt to repair what one participant calls “the somewhat broken interface between universities and very large companies in the tech space.”

4 strategies for deep tech companies recruiting top growth marketers

Here’s some real talk for technical founders: if you find it frustrating to work with growth experts and marketing professionals, the feeling’s probably mutual.

“Incredible growth people are independent and creative and are drawn to environments that explicitly value these traits,” says Jessica Li, a content/growth professional who was previously a VC.

To land top talent, “demonstrate that you have a team structure in place where a growth marketer could fit in and thrive.”

9 investors discuss hurdles, opportunities and the impact of cloud vendors in enterprise data lakes

Image Credits: Donald Iain Smith (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Before my first cup of coffee this morning, I’d already interacted with four different devices that transmitted details about my behavior to a data lake.

Hopefully, the response I sent to an automated text while waiting for the kettle to boil will generate a discount offer in my inbox later today. (And hopefully, the raw data I’m transmitting has been properly secured and cataloged.)

Enterprise reporter Ron Miller interviewed nine investors to learn more about their approach to the lucrative data lake market:

  • Caryn Marooney, general partner, Coatue Management
  • Dharmesh Thakker, general partner, Battery Ventures
  • Casey Aylward, principal, Costanoa Ventures
  • Derek Zanutto, general partner, CapitalG
  • Navin Chaddha, managing director, Mayfield
  • Jon Lehr, co-founder and general partner, Work-Bench
  • Peter Wagner, founding partner, Wing Ventures
  • Nicole Priel, managing director, Ibex Ventures
  • Ilya Sukah, partner, Matrix Partners

Felicis’ Aydin Senkut and Guideline’s Kevin Busque on the value of simple pitch decks

Aydin Senkut (Felicis) + Kevin Busque (Guideline)

Image Credits: Felicis Ventures / Guideline

When it comes to building a durable relationship between a founder and an investor, “the trust starts in the pitch deck,” says Guideline CEO Kevin Busque.

Busque joined Extra Crunch Live last week with Felicis Ventures’ Aydin Senku to discuss the seed round Senku declined to join — and the Series B he led a short while later.

In keeping with our new format, the pair also offered feedback on pitch decks submitted by members of the audience. Read highlights, or watch a video with the full conversation.

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

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SpaceX’s Starship prototype flies to 32,000 feet and sticks the landing in third flight test



SpaceX has launched SN10 — the tenth iteration of its current prototype series of Starship, the heavy-lift reusable spacecraft it’s developing. Starship SN10 took off from Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX is developing the vehicle. It flew to a height of roughly 10 km, or 32,000 feet, before performing a maneuver to re-orient itself for a friction-assisted landing descent.

Unlike the last two Starship prototypes to fly this high, however, the roughly six-minute flight did not end in a fireball [UPDATE: Well, not immediately. The rocket did blow up while stationary on the landing pad a few minutes after landing, potentially due to a leak]. Instead, it completed its landing flip maneuver as intended and slowed itself for a soft touchdown, with the rocket remaining vertical and intact afterwards.

This was a fantastic outcome, and a nominal one in all regards according to SpaceX’s livestream. But why the prior explosions to get to this point? That’s partly down to the way in which it has been doing its development of this vehicle. All rocket development includes unexpected events and sub-optimal outcomes, but SpaceX has a couple of things at work that mean is efforts are subject to unusual scrutiny versus your average spaceship manufacturer.

First, it’s doing this out in the open — the Boca Chica facility is basically just a couple small buildings, some concrete pads, some storage tanks and some scaffolding. It’s extremely close to a public roadway (which is closed during testing, while the surrounding area is evacuated), and people can and do just drive up and set up cameras to film what’s going on. That’s not at all how legacy rocket makers have typically done things.

Second, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has been adamant that SpaceX pursue a development strategy of rapid iteration and prototyping with Starship’s development. That has meant it’s manufacturing and assembling Starship prototypes simultaneously, making small changes as it goes, rather than stepping back after each test and doing a prolonged, multi-month analysis before proceeding with building and flying another version.

A launch attempt earlier in the day was cut short after a brief engine fire, when instrument readings from the rocket showed a slightly high thrust value that violated what Musk termed “conservative.” The fix that SpaceX instituted was actually adjusting the limit higher in order to avoid the abort initiation.

No doubt the company will do an investigation into the cause of the explosion that followed the successful flight and landing maneuver, but the test was still successful in all the ways that matter most for SpaceX at this stage of development. Next up for Starship is likely increasing the height of these test flights. Eventually, the goal is to reach orbit, of course, but SpaceX is likely to try a few launches that remain atmospheric but far exceed this one before it attempts making that trip.

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The Aston Martin DBX is a tale of two vehicles



The Aston Martin DBX is the brand’s first SUV — and the stakes for the iconic British luxury car maker couldn’t be higher.

Like Astons before it, the DBX is objectively handsome. Its sculptural form stretches out to unapologetic ample proportions, and stands out in the crowd of SUVs that frequent the private-school pickup lane. It’s an opulent design that scores high on aesthetics, performance and character. It’s also a vehicle that arrives late to the ultra premium SUV segment, and lacks the in-car technology and fuel economy of others of its ilk. Sales of the DBX, which starts at $176,900, began overseas last summer and entered the U.S. market in late 2020. (The version Aston Martin provided to TechCrunch for a test drive had the option-loaded retail price of $205,186 DBX, including delivery fees.)

Call it a tale of two vehicles in a time of dueling principles vying for luxury auto buyer budgets. Demand for SUVs continues to skyrocket, just as the mobility sector inclines sharply toward electrification. Aston Martin set a goal of selling 14,000 vehicles by 2023, a steep hike for a small, boutique brand. However, under new leadership, the company has dialed back those projections to 10,000 as part of its reorganization dubbed “Project Horizon.”

After an underwhelming year due to the pandemic, a new major owner and a new CEO are in place. It’s unclear which narrative will determine the DBX’s fate. The future of the company rests on its success.

Aston Martin said the DBX met sales expectations in 2020, with 1,516 units sold. The company anticipates that the DBX will make up 40% to 60% of global volume in 2021 — its first year of full production.

A tale of two vehicles

How to achieve best-in-class tech in both engineering and in-car experience is a quagmire for low-volume supercar makers who aren’t owned by a larger automaker that can lend that expertise. Aston took steps to solve this problem through an agreement reached with Mercedes-Benz AG to develop engines and electric architecture back in 2013. Tobias Moers, who headed up Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division until last summer, is Aston’s new CEO, a clue on how vital Aston still sees Daimler’s technical performance to its future.

Aston Martin has recently reentered Formula One racing, and true to the brand’s motorsports history, the DBX has sports car-like power, sprinting from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds, using Mercedes-Benz AMG engines.

On the interior, the DBX scores high as a total sensory experience to drive (and floss in), affording its passengers panache and comfort, all swathed in Bridge of Weir leather. There are nifty options such as a snow pack, complete with a ski boot warmer.

Image Credits: Aston Martin

The other half of this product’s interior story raises more pragmatic questions about the role of in-car tech in the super luxury segment, and gets at the crux of Aston’s dilemma. Aston will always be at least one generation behind the latest Mercedes advancements. For a vehicle with a starting price of $180,000, cars that cost half the price have more advanced in-car features.

User experience

The Aston Martin DBX is equipped with COMAND, an infotainment system that Mercedes introduced in 1998, refreshed in 2014 and updated again in 2016. When it comes to tech, a few years feels like a lifetime. 

The challenge is that it’s not as simple as replacing a head-unit, Nathan Hoyt, a spokesperson for Aston Martin, told TechCrunch.

“The car would need to be revised to work a whole new electrical architecture” he said. “That said, the closer alignment we previously announced between Mercedes and Aston Martin means we will continue using MB technology for the foreseeable future.”

While Aston Martin is saddled with an older system, Mercedes-Benz has since moved on to MBUX, a new more technologically advanced infotainment system that was introduced in 2018 and has already been updated. No word on when MBUX will find its way to Aston Martin products.

In practical terms, that means a 2021 luxury vehicle that’s missing a touchscreen. What’s in its place is far too much clunky plastic to be called classic analog, which perhaps would make more sense. Think Mac keyboard, circa 2014. Apple CarPlay is standard on the DBX, but it lacks Android Auto.

aston-martin-dbx interior

Image Credits: Aston Martin

Instead of slick knobs, there are plastic buttons that seem out of step with the rest of the vehicle’s swanky naturally sourced woods. Plastic is also present on the air vents and gear selector.

In fairness, the everything-but-the-kitchen sink isn’t the best solution to in-car technology. Many carmakers have far too much frustrating and tactile tech on the dash that isn’t intuitive.


Image Credits: Aston Martin

The tech that stood out

Aston’s done what it can to make DBX’s inner working distinct from the traditional Mercedes system. Creative thinking shows up in the 10.2-inch display’s slick graphics made for DBX on the center stack. A DB5, James Bond’s vehicle of choice, is used as an icon to indicate adaptive cruise control activation.

Aston manages to use the tech that it does have to its advantage — and it’s a whole mood.

Ambient lighting offers 64 different colors in two zones and a sound system that feels of the moment. The custom sound system boasts 790 watts over 13 speakers and a sealed subwoofer, and noise compensation tech that drowns out road noise. The combination of that cushy cabin and the boom of those speakers makes it feel as if one is driving around in a high-end theater, back when we all went to the movies, or if you’re an Aston owner, escaped into your personal home theater.

ADAS: form and function

Aston compensates for lack of computational power by making adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring all standard safety features.

Each function is housed in one of the aforementioned plastic buttons. Adaptive cruise control is on the left of the steering wheel, and can be adjusted to monitor distance and speed. The lane-keeping assist button is on the right of the center console.

The controls on the center console require the driver to glance down for a brief moment, causing the eyes to flit off the road. When lane-keeping assist is engaged, a light on the dash and a gentle twitch of the wheel alert the driver. Other switches control driver performance and Aston’s air suspension settings.

Character study

Stateside, Aston might be limited to James Bond, but for the British car culture enthusiasts, the brand is steeped in emotion, gravitas and significance. I attended the Aston centenary in 2010 in England, where I saw an outpouring of love across the U.K. for the brand’s heritage.

Under former CEO Andy Palmer, Aston was in pursuit of its future. A more modern factory in Wales was built to make DBX. But part of Aston’s intrinsic appeal is that some components are still hand built to suit the low-volume connoisseur of a few thousand-of-a-kind vehicle. As cars become more complex computerized systems, hand built becomes more of a liability.

The DBX’s path comes down to what the prospective driver wants and needs this vehicle to be in place of proper high-six figure dream machine such as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan owned by the BMW group, or Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne, which fall under the collective VW umbrella. Or Tesla, which is Tesla.


Image Credits: Aston Martin

As slick technological features become more important, Aston Martin may need to rethink how it solves for lagging behind. That may mean doubling down on what it means to be unapologetic and classic. Or using future powertrain variants to push the 21st century automaker messaging. The latter seems most likely.

A 2020 agreement with Mercedes that builds off of an existing partnership will give Aston Martin access to a wide range of technology, including electric, mild and full hybrid powertrain architectures through 2027.

Aston Martin indicated in its latest earnings call that offering a hybrid SUV will be important for the company. Tobias Moers, Aston Martin’s new CEO and the former head of Mercedes-Benz AMG, said a plug-in hybrid DBX will be offered before 2024. All-electric vehicles are part of the company’s plans as well, and have been targeted for middle of the decade.

The question is whether Aston Martin will give the infotainment system the needed upgrade to match the hybrid and EV tech.

When it comes to high-six figure SUVs, the air is thin at the top.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin


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Daily Crunch: Google swears off ad-tracking



Google says it’s focusing on privacy-friendly approaches to ad targeting, Okta acquires Auth0 and a flying taxi startup raises $241 million. This is your Daily Crunch for March 3, 2021.

The big story: Google swears off ad-tracking

While Google had already announced it would be phasing out support for third-party cookies in Chrome, it went further today by declaring that “once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

In fact, Google’s David Temkin argued in a blog post that attempts to build alternative approaches to ad-tracking will not “meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.” Instead, he pointed to Google technologies like its interest-based Federated Learning of Cohorts.

The tech giants

Okta acquires cloud identity startup Auth0 for $6.5B — With Auth0, Okta gets a cloud identity company that helps developers embed identity management into applications.

Netflix launches ‘Fast Laughs,’ a TikTok-like feed of funny videos — This feature (now rolling out on iOS) allows users to watch, react to or share the short clips as well as add the show or movie to a Netflix watchlist.

Facebook’s Oversight Board already ‘a bit frustrated,’ and it hasn’t made a call on Trump ban yet — Board member and former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger implied that the binary choices the board has at its disposal aren’t as nuanced as he’d like.

Startups, funding and venture capital

‘Flying taxi’ startup Volocopter picks up another $241M, says service is now two years out — Alongside its vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, Volocopter has also been building a business case in which its vessels will be used in a taxi-style fleet in urban areas.

Identiq, a privacy-friendly fraud prevention startup, secures $47M at Series A — Identiq takes a different, more privacy-friendly approach to fraud prevention, without having to share a customer’s data with a third party.

After 200% ARR growth in 2020, CourseKey raises $9M to digitize trade schools — CourseKey’s B2B platform is designed to work with organizations that teach some of our most essential workers.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Eleven words and phrases to cut from your VC pitch deck — Weeks or even months of working on your pitch deck could come down to the 170 seconds (on average) that investors spend looking at it.

Create a handbook and integrate AI to onboard remote employees — Professionals have adapted to remote working, but the systems they use are still playing catch-up.

First impressions of AppLovin’s IPO filing — AppLovin’s filing tells the story of a rapidly growing company that has managed to scale adjusted profit as it has grown.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Cables could help soft robots transform into harder structures — The sub-category of soft robotics has transformed the way many think about the field.

Dear Sophie: Can you demystify the H-1B process and E-3 premium processing? — The latest edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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