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Could Marc Benioff be the next CEO to move to executive chairman?

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Last month Jeff Bezos announced he would step down as CEO of Amazon later this year, moving into the executive chairman role, while passing the baton to AWS CEO Andy Jassy. Could Marc Benioff, co-founder, chairman and CEO at Salesforce be the next big-name executive to make a similar move?

A Reuter’s story published on Monday suggested that could be the case. Citing unnamed sources, the story indicated that Benioff’s CEO exit could happen this year. Further those same sources suggested that current Salesforce president and COO Bret Taylor is the likely heir apparent.

We wrote a story at the end of last year speculating on possible successors to Benioff, were he to step away from the CEO role. There were a number of worthy candidates, several of whom, like Taylor, came to the company via an acquisition. All the same, we thought that Taylor seemed to be the most likely candidate to replace Benioff.

We asked Salesforce for a comment on the Reuter’s story. A company spokesperson told us that the company doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.

While the entire scenario fits firmly in the rumor and speculation column, it is not entirely unlikely either. What would it mean if Benioff stepped away and what if Taylor was truly the next in line? And how would that swap compare with the Bezos decision were it to happen?

Similar yet different

Salesforce and Amazon are both companies founded in the 1990s, each looking to shake up its industry.

For Amazon, it was changing the way goods (starting with books) were bought and sold. And for Benioff the goal was changing the way software was sold. Bezos famously founded his company in his garage. Benioff built his in a rented apartment. From these humble beginnings both have built iconic companies and accumulated enormous wealth. You could understand why either could be ready to step away from the daily grind of running a company after all these years.

Bezos announced that veteran executive Andy Jassy, who runs the company’s cloud arm, would be his replacement when the handoff comes. Jassy knows the organization’s priority mix as he’s been working at the company for more than two decades. He’s locked into the culture and helped take AWS from idea to $50 billion juggernaut.

While Benioff hasn’t made any actual firm pronouncement, we have seen Bret Taylor — who joined the company in 2016 when Salesforce purchased his startup Quip for $750 million — move quickly up the ladder.

Laurie McCabe, co-founder and analyst at SMB Group, who has been following Salesforce since its earliest days, says that if Benioff were to leave, he would obviously leave big shoes to fill. But she agreed that everything seems to point to Taylor as his successor should that happen.

“Salesforce has been grooming Taylor for awhile. He has some stellar credentials both at Salesforce, his own start-up, Quip, that Salesforce acquired, and at Facebook. There’s no doubt in my mind he can lead Salesforce forward, but he’ll bring a different more low-key style to the role. And I’m sure Benioff will stay very involved […],” McCabe said.

Two different situations

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that while he believes Taylor could be chosen as Benioff’s successor, and would be qualified to lead the company, he’s taken a very different path from Jassy.

“I think Benioff moving on could be different from Bezos in the sense that Jassy has been at Amazon for over 20 years and was there to basically see and be part of most of the story. […] But if Taylor were to succeed Benioff there’s not as much [history] at Salesforce with him not being on board until the Quip acquisition in 2016,” Leary said.

Leary wonders if this relatively short history with the company could create some political friction in the organization if he were chosen to succeed Benioff. “I’m not saying that this would happen, but choosing one of the many possible heirs that have come via a number of high profile acquisitions could possibly lead to high level turnover from those not picked to succeed Benioff,” he said.

But Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says that if you look at the range of candidates available, he believes that Taylor would be the best choice. “I don’t expect any issue because there is no one with a similar or even better background, which is when there are problems — that or when people are in an open competition as it used to be at GE,” he said.

We don’t know for sure what the final outcome will be, but if Benioff does decide to join Bezos and takes the executive chairman mantle at the company, it makes sense that the person to replace him will be Taylor. But for now, it remains in the realm of speculation, and we’ll just to wait and see if that’s what comes to pass.

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

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Vietnamese electric motorbike startup Dat Bike raises $2.6M led by Jungle Ventures

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Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike on one of the startup's motorbikes

Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike

Dat Bike, a Vietnamese startup with ambitions to become the top electric motorbike company in Southeast Asia, has raised $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding led by Jungle Ventures. Made in Vietnam with mostly domestic parts, Dat Bike’s selling point is its ability to compete with gas motorbikes in terms of pricing and performance. Its new funding is the first time Jungle Ventures has invested in the mobility sector and included participation from Wavemaker Partners, Hustle Fund and iSeed Ventures.

Founder and chief executive officer Son Nguyen began learning how to build bikes from scrap parts while working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. In 2018, he moved back to Vietnam and launched Dat Bike. More than 80% of households in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam own two-wheeled vehicles, but the majority are fueled by gas. Nguyen told TechCrunch that many people want to switch to electric motorbikes, but a major obstacle is performance.

Nguyen said that Dat Bike offers three times the performance (5 kW versus 1.5 kW) and 2 times the range (100 km versus 50 km) of most electric motorbikes in the market, at the same price point. The company’s flagship motorbike, called Weaver, was created to compete against gas motorbikes. It seats two people, which Nguyen noted is an important selling point in Southeast Asian countries, and has a 5000W motor that accelerates from 0 to 50 km per hour in three seconds. The Weaver can be fully charged at a standard electric outlet in about three hours, and reach up to 100 km on one charge (the motorbike’s next iteration will go up to 200 km on one charge).

Dat Bike’s opened its first physical store in Ho Chi Minh City last December. Nguyen said the company “has shipped a few hundred motorbikes so far and still have a backlog of orders.” He added that it saw a 35% month-over-month growth in new orders after the Ho Chi Minh City store opened.

At 39.9 million dong, or about $1,700 USD, Weaver’s pricing is also comparable to the median price of gas motorbikes. Dat Bike partners with banks and financial institutions to offer consumers twelve-month payment plans with no interest.

“These guys are competing with each other to put the emerging middle class of Vietnam on the digital financial market for the first time ever and as a result, we get a very favorable rate,” he said.

While Vietnam’s government hasn’t implemented subsidies for electric motorbikes yet, the Ministry of Transportation has proposed new regulations mandating electric infrastructure at parking lots and bike stations, which Nguyen said will increase the adoption of electric vehicles. Other Vietnamese companies making electric two-wheeled vehicles include VinFast and PEGA.

One of Dat Bike’s advantages is that its bikes are developed in house, with locally-sourced parts. Nguyen said the benefits of manufacturing in Vietnam, instead of sourcing from China and other countries, include streamlined logistics and a more efficient supply chain, since most of Dat Bike’s suppliers are also domestic.

“There are also huge tax advantages for being local, as import tax for bikes is 45% and for bike parts ranging from 15% to 30%,” said Nguyen. “Trade within Southeast Asia is tariff-free though, which means that we have a competitive advantage to expand to the region, compare to foreign imported bikes.”

Dat Bike plans to expand by building its supply chain in Southeast Asia over the next two to three years, with the help of investors like Jungle Ventures.

In a statement, Jungle Ventures founding partner Amit Anand said, “The $25 billion two-wheeler industry in Southeast Asia in particular is ripe for reaping benefits of new developments in electric vehicles and automation. We believe that Dat Bike will lead this charge and create a new benchmark not just in the region but potentially globally for what the next generation of two-wheeler electric vehicles will look and perform like.”

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Binance Labs leads $1.6M seed round in DeFi startup MOUND, the developer of Pancake Bunny

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Decentralized finance startup MOUND, known for its yield farming aggregator Pancake Bunny, has raised $1.6 million in seed funding led by Binance Labs. Other participants included IDEO CoLab, SparkLabs Korea and Handshake co-founder Andrew Lee.

Built on Binance Smart Chain, a blockchain for developing high-performance DeFi apps, MOUND says Pancake Bunny now has over 30,000 daily average users, and has accumulated more than $2.1 billion in total value locked (TVL) since its launch in December 2020.

The new funding will be used to expand Pancake Bunny and develop new products. MOUND recently launched Smart Vaults and plans to unveil Cross-Chain Collateralization in about a month, bringing the startup closer to its goal of covering a wide range of DeFi use cases, including farming, lending and swapping.

Smart Vaults are for farming single asset yields on leveraged lending products. It also automatically checks if the cost of leveraging may be more than anticipated returns and can actively lend assets for MOUND’s cross-chain farming.

Cross-Chain Collateralization is cross-chain yield farming that lets users keep original assets on their native blockchain instead of relying on a bridge token. The user’s original assets serve as collateral when the Bunny protocol borrows assets on the Binance Smart Chain for yield farming. This allows users to keep assets on native blockchains while giving them liquidity to generate returns on the Binance Smart Chain.

In statement, Wei Zhou, Binance chief financial officer, and head of Binance Labs and M&A’s, said “Pancake Bunny’s growth and MOUND’s commitent to execution are impressive. Team MOUND’s expertise in live product design and servie was a key factor in our decision to invest. We look forward to expanding the horizons of Defi together with MOUND.”

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Battery Resourcers raises $20M to commercialize its recycling-plus-manufacturing operations

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As a greater share of the transportation market becomes electrified, companies have started to grapple with how to dispose of the thousands of tons of used electric vehicle batteries that are expected to come off the roads by the end of the decade.

Battery Resourcers proposes a seemingly simple solution: recycle them. But the company doesn’t stop there. It’s engineered a “closed loop” process to turn that recycled material into nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes to sell back to battery manufacturers. It is also developing a process to recover and purify graphite, a material used in anodes, to battery-grade.

Battery Resourcers’ business model has attracted another round of investor attention, this time with a $20 million Series B equity round led by Orbia Ventures, with injections from At One Ventures, TDK Ventures, TRUMPF Venture, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures and InMotion Ventures. Battery Resourcers CEO Mike O’Kronley declined to disclose the company’s new valuation.

The cathode and anode, along with the electrolyzer, are major components of battery architecture, and O’Kronley told TechCrunch it is this recycling-plus-manufacturing process that distinguishes the company from other recyclers.

“When we say that we’re on the verge of revolutionizing this industry, what we are doing is we are making the cathode active material — we’re not just recovering the metals that are in the battery, which a lot of other recyclers are doing,” he said. “We’re recovering those materials, and formulating brand new cathode active material, and also recovering and purifying the graphite active material. So those two active materials will be sold to a battery manufacturer and go right back into the new battery.”

“Other recycling companies, they’re focused on recovering just the metals that are in [batteries]: there’s copper, there’s aluminum, there’s nickel, there’s cobalt. They’re focused on recovering those metals and selling them back as commodities into whatever industry needs those metals,” he added. “And they may or may not go back into a battery.”

The company says its approach could reduce the battery industry’s reliance on mined metals — a reliance that’s only anticipated to grow in the coming decades. A study published last December found that demand for cobalt could increase by a factor of 17 and nickel by a factor of 28, depending on the size of EV uptake and advances in battery chemistries.

Thus far, the company’s been operating a demonstration-scale facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has expanded into a facility in Novi, Michigan, where it does analytical testing and material characterization. Between the two sites, the company can make around 15 tons of cathode materials a year. This latest funding round will help facilitate the development of a commercial-scale facility, which Battery Resourcers said in a statement will boost its capacity to process 10,000 tons of batteries per year, or batteries from around 20,000 EVs.

Another major piece of its proprietary recycling process is the ability to take in both old and new EV batteries, process them and formulate the newest kind of cathodes used in today’s batteries. “So they can take in 10-year-old batteries from a Chevy Volt and reformulate the metals to make the high-Ni cathode active materials in use today,” a company spokesman explained to TechCrunch.

Battery Resourcers is already receiving inquiries from automakers and consumer electronics companies, O’Kronley said, though he did not provide additional details. But InMotion Ventures, the venture capital arm of Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement its participation in the round as a “significant investment.”

“[Battery Resourcers’] proprietary end-to-end recycling process supports Jaguar Land Rover’s journey to become a net zero carbon business by 2039,” InMotion managing director Sebastian Peck said.

Battery Resourcers was founded in 2015 after being spun out from Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The company has previously received support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, a collaboration between General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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