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Extra Crunch roundup: Coupang and Roblox debut, driving GPT-3 adoption, startup how-tos, more

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Extra Crunch publishes a variety of article types, but how-tos are my favorite category.

For many entrepreneurs, the startup they are trying to get off the ground might be only the second entry on their resume. As a result, they don’t have much experience to draw from when it comes to basics like hiring, fundraising and growth marketing.

Last week, Natasha Mascarenhas interviewed experts who had some strategic advice for finding the right time to bring a product manager on board. This afternoon, we published a guest post by growth marketer Jessica Li with tips for “how nontechnical talent can build relationships with deep tech companies.”

We’ve also received great feedback on a recent guest post about bootstrapping options for SaaS founders written by a founder who’s actually done it.


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If you have some startup-related “how” and “why” questions, please browse our Extra Crunch How To stories. They’re aimed squarely at early-stage founders and workers trying to solve long-term problems.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week! I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Welcome to Bloxburg, public investors

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 05: Roblox Corporation Founder and CEO David Baszucki speaks onstage during Day 1 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California.

Image Credits: Steve Jennings / Getty Images

As Roblox began to trade Wednesday, the company’s shares shot above its reference price of $45 per share. Roblox, a gaming company aimed at children, has had a tumultuous if exciting path to the public markets.

Seeing Roblox trade so very far above its direct listing reference price and final private valuation appears to undercut the argument that this sort of debut can sort out pricing issues inherent in more traditional IPOs.

4 ways startups will drive GPT-3 adoption in 2021

Robot paper holding pen, space for text

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

Trained on trillions of words, GPT-3 is a 175-billion parameter transformer model — the third of such models released by OpenAI.

GPT-3 is remarkable in its ability to generate human-like text and responses, able to return coherent and topical emails, tweets, trivia and much more. In 2021, this technology will power the launch of a thousand new startups and applications.

There have never been more $100M+ fintech rounds than right now

We are in a period of all-time record investment for so-called mega-rounds, or investments of $100 million or more inside the fintech realm.

To date, Q1 2021 is ahead and is thus guaranteed to set a new record, having already bested the preceding all-time high. What’s going on?

Global-e files to go public as e-commerce startups enjoy a renaissance

Global-e, an e-commerce platform that helps online sellers reach global consumers, filed to go public on Tuesday. Global-e’s business exploded amid the pandemic in 2020, and the company expects that the COVID-fueled shift to e-commerce will only lead to future growth.

 

Passive collaboration is essential to remote work’s long-term success

Afro-caribbean woman working from home during the Covid lockdown

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

Have you ever popped into a meeting because you overheard a snippet of a conversation and wanted to share your perspective?

That’s passive collaboration — low-friction ways to invite new ideas. But it’s only when we’re able to fully realize passive collaboration virtually that we’ll have unlocked the full potential of remote and hybrid work situations.

 

Dear Sophie: What are the pros and cons of the H-1B, O-1A and EB-1A?

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

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I’m an entrepreneur who wants to expand my startup to the U.S. What are the benefits and drawbacks of various types of visas and green cards?

The ones I’ve heard the most about are the H-1B, O-1 and EB-1A.

— Intelligent in India

 

Proactive CEOs should prioritize European expansion

Map of Europe in blue with light shining through

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

Many investors will encourage CEOs to remain U.S.-centric this year and perhaps expand their product offering or move into new market segments. But 95% of the world’s population lives outside the U.S., making an expansion into Europe your best growth lever.

 

Coupang follows Roblox to a strong first day of trading

A Coupang Corp. delivery truck drives past a company's fulfillment center in Bucheon, South Korea, on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang filed for an initial public offering in the U.S. and that could raise billions of dollars to battle rivals and kick off a record year for IPOs in the Asian country. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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

After Roblox debuted on Wednesday, Coupang followed, with shares shooting above the South Korean e-commerce giant’s IPO price range. Quick math shows Coupang is worth around $92 billion at the moment, a huge number that nearly zero companies will ever reach.

 

How and when to hire your first product manager

Because product managers and founders often have overlapping skill sets, it can be tricky to find the right candidate.

While it’s different for every company, hiring a PM ensures companies aren’t “chasing the shiny object” but rather building the things that create enduring value for customers.

 

Deep Science: AI adventures in arts and letters

Robotic arm carrying a mechanical part

Image Credits: Alashi / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

AI isn’t confined to the tech sphere; machine learning is applicable across disciplines, from music and the “computational unfolding” of ancient letters to figuring out where EV charging stations need to be built.

 

A first look at Coursera’s S-1 filing

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

The SEC filing offers a glimpse into the finances of how an edtech company, accelerated by the pandemic, performed over the past year.

It paints a picture of growth, albeit one that came at steep expense.

 

Olo’s IPO could value the company north of $3B as Toast waits in the wings

Olo has a history of growth and profitability, making its impending pricing all the more interesting.

But are investors willing to pay more for profits? And, if so, how much?

 

From electric charging to supply chain management, InMotion Ventures preps Jaguar for a sustainable future

Image Credits: Andrew Ferraro — Handout/Jaguar Racing / Getty Images

InMotion’s investment in Circulor, a company that monitors supply chains from raw material inputs to finished outputs with an eye toward sustainable sourcing, shows the firm’s dedication to backing companies across the mobility space broadly.

 

White-label voice assistants will win the battle for podcast discovery

3D headphones with sound waves on dark background. Concept of electronic music listening and digital audio. Abstract visualization of digital sound waves and modern art. Vector illustration. (3D headphones with sound waves on dark background. Concept

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

Americans are bored, housebound and screened out, driving roughly 128 million Americans to use a voice assistant at least once a month.

This has created a golden opportunity for audio as consumers turn to podcasts, voice assistants and smart speakers.

 

Why I’m hitting pause on ARR-focused coverage

One of the first recurring features Alex Wilhelm established at Extra Crunch was the “$100M ARR Club,” ongoing coverage of startups that have reached scale.

“Forget a $1 billion valuation — $100 million in annual recurring revenue is the cool kids’ club,” he wrote in December 2019. Since then, he expanded it to cover companies that attained $50M ARR.

The concept is a useful lens for studying the market. I can say this with confidence because it’s been widely copied by other tech news outlets. But this morning, Alex surprised me — he’s shelving the ARR Club, at least for now.

“In the end it became a pre-IPO list that was fun but not entirely educational, by my reckoning,” he told me. “The $50M ARR club evolution was supposed to help shake loose more interesting operational details, but just didn’t.”

Before putting the format on hiatus, Alex’s last ARR Club roundup looks at in-office display and kiosk startup AppSpace, data backup unicorn Druva, and Synack, which makes security software.


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At TC Early Stage, we’ll cover topics like recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session includes ample time for audience questions and discussion.

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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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