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Chief community officer is the new CMO

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Community isn’t a single Slack group or event or newsletter. It’s an aggregation of all of these touch points, and includes both customers, eventual customers and one-time users. Despite this nebulous, disconnected reality, companies are paying more attention to various channels as remote work and digital communication powers our days. My recent tweet underscored the chord community strikes even in sectors such as edtech, which often have to sell to fragmented customer bases.

A conversation that I’ve been having over the last week is that startups are finally investing in community in a meaningful way, dedicating actual budgets to community instead of simply stealing a few dollars away from the sales and marketing team.

As one founder told me, “chief community officer is the new CMO.” That piqued my interest, especially because I had just talked to Commsor founder Mac Reddin about his recent funding, a $16 million Series A led by Felicis and Seven Seven Six Ventures.

As the ‘aha’ moment of community continues, Commsor is a solution to help community managers prove that they’re not wasting the budget, and outcomes. Commsor, he says, is the operating system for communities, helping companies distill how their different communities look, and feel, which could eventually trickle down into generating sales leads and revenue. Commsor could pull an insight like, ‘here are three engineers that are using your platform from Google, maybe it’s time to approach Google and ask if they want an enterprise contract.” Finding those sweet spots, and bottoms-up community adopters, is Commsor’s bread and butter.

Commsor, which is still in private beta, says that over the last year there has been a “huge increase” in startups that have a community budget or increase in community budget. To be a startup aiming to disrupt a category that still has a tone of gray in it comes with its own challenges.

Commsor launched C School to help aspiring community managers learn the trade, as well as a fund to back companies in the space. It also posted a memo with signatures from companies like Hopin, Lattice and Notion to show the commitment to defining the community space.

“We are kind of what Customer Success was 10 years ago, or what Revenue Operations was 300 years ago,” Reddin said. “People care about it and there are roles, but there’s still a lot of defining and growth to be done.”

Market map of community tools.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll get into early-stage startup competition, the pipeline problem, and Bitcoin breaking barriers. As always, you can find me on Twitter @nmasc_ or e-mail me natasha.m@techcrunch.com. Want Startups Weekly in your inbox every Saturday. Sign up here.

Will your investor put money into a competitor?

When an investor backs a startup, they ideally think that the company will be the winner in said category, whether it’s CBD gummies, financial plumbing or peer-to-peer car-sharing. So, if they place a bet in a competing startup the investment could serve as both a negative signal and a reputation hit.

Here’s what to know, via Alex Wilhelm: As software markets mature, maybe the investing playing field is opening up to investing in competitors? Call it conveniently complementary investments.

Etc: In this week’s Equity episode, we talked about the complexity of competition within startups, and how one firm’s investments seem to all perfectly and conveniently fit into each other. I’ll make you listen to the episode to figure out who, but here’s a hint: Is there a world where Dispo creators track monetization from Clubhouse through Stir?

Equity Podcast icon

Image Credits: TechCrunch

An Olive startup competes with Amazon

Ambitious early-stage founders often have to answer a common question from investors and journalists: What if Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix or Google built your startup? The idea behind the question is figuring out why a founder is specifically and uniquely qualified to solve a problem, even if a behemoth business throws millions of dollars and a team of engineers at it.

Here’s what to know via Jet co-founder Nate Faust: He sold his business to Walmart for $3 billion in 2016, and now he’s back to compete with Amazon with a sustainable e-commerce play. Olive consolidates a shopper’s purchases into a single weekly delivery in a reusable package.

Faust acknowledged that Olive runs counter to the “arms race” between Amazon and other e-commerce services working to deliver purchases as quickly as possible. But he said that the startup’s consumer surveys found that shoppers were willing to wait a little longer in order to get the other benefits.

Etc: If you were wondering when it makes sense to compete with Zoom, these four edtech startups and Google might have some information for you.

Image via Getty Images / alashi

Bust the myth of the pipeline problem

The lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, from the check-writers to the employees, has often been chalked up to the pipeline problem: the idea that there isn’t enough enough diverse, qualified talent to fill roles. But recent research underscores how aged, and flawed, this mindset might be. Reporter Megan Rose Dickey interviewed Dr. Joy Lisi Rankin, a research lead for gender, race and power in artificial intelligence at the AI Now Institute.

Here’s what to know, according to Rankin:

“The pipeline is a way to silo all of that out and say, ‘we just need to get more Black women in tech,’ as opposed to saying, ‘actually, these companies are and have been racist and white supremacist and misogynist, and it’s those institutions and larger societal and global capitalist structures that need to change.”

Rankin adds that transparency around hiring and corporate recruiting could help combat biases and signal important information to talent.

Etc: At TC Sessions: Justice next month, we’ll be talking about how research like this, as well as structures within venture capital, impacts early-stage founders. Speakers include Arlan Hamilton, the founder of Backstage Capital, Brian Brackeen of Lightship Capital, and others. Get your tickets here for $5.

Around TechCrunch

TC Sessions: Justice 2021 kicks off in two weeks

Announcing the TC Early Stage Pitch-Off

Across the week

Seen on TC

Bitcoin breaks the $50,000 barrier as Coinbase’s direct listing looms

Clubhouse has topped 8 million global downloads, per report

YC-backed Queenly launched a marketplace for formalwear

Uber extends work from home policy through mid-September

Why two startups are betting on debt instead of equity

Seen on EC

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

Investors SPAC push could revapm the private market money game

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

Why do SaaS companies with usage-based pricing grow faster

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

And for dessert, read this piece on how 10 investors predict MaaS, on-demand delivery and EVs will dominate mobility’s post-pandemic future.

See y’all next week,

Natasha

 

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

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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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