February 23, 2019
Category archive


eMarketer predicts digital ads will overtake traditional spending in 2019

in Advertising Tech/Amazon/Delhi/digital advertising/digital media/emarketer/Facebook/Google/India/online advertising/Politics by

This is the year when the money spent on digital advertising will finally overtake spending on traditional ads — at least according to the latest forecast from eMarketer.

The research firm is predicting that U.S. digital ad spend will increase 19.1 percent this year, to $129.3 billion, while traditional advertising will fall 19 percent, to $109.5 billion. That means digital will account for 54.2 percent of the total, while traditional will only represent 45.8 percent.

Not surprisingly, most of the digital ad money is going to Google and Facebook . However, eMarketer says Google’s share of the market will actually decline, from 38.2 percent last year to 37.2 percent this year, and Facebook’s share will only grow slightly, from 21.8 percent to 22.1 percent.

Apparently, Amazon is the main beneficiary here, with its U.S. ad business set to expand by more than 50 percent, accounting for 8.8 percent of total spend.

“The [Amazon] platform is rich with shoppers’ behavioral data for targeting and provides access to purchase data in real-time,” said eMarketer forecasting director Monica Peart in a statement. “This type of access was once only available through the retail partner, to share at their discretion. But with Amazon’s suite of sponsored ads, marketers have unprecedented access to the ‘shelves’ where consumers are shopping.”

The firm also forecasts that by 2023, digital will account for more than two-thirds of total ad spending.

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Why can’t we build anything?

in Amazon/Delhi/Government/High Speed Rail/India/Infrastructure/New York/Policy/Politics/SoftBank/The Extra Crunch Daily by

Last week, California governor Gavin Newsom announced that he was intending to aggressively scale back plans for the state’s high-speed rail system, which in its most ambitious routing would have connected Sacramento to San Diego. The immediate cause was ballooning costs, which have risen from $33 billion to $77 billion and looked likely to exceed 1.6 Zuckerbergs within a couple of years (the local CA currency, otherwise known as $100 billion).

Unlike other megaprojects, Newsom — and California — were fortunate on the timing. The costs of the project skyrocketed so much and so early, that Newsom still had the credibility and political capital to kill the project. And while a short route from Bakersfield to Merced remains on the table, I don’t expect even that route to be ultimately constructed, since no one knows where either of those cities are.

Why can’t we (i.e. America) build anything? High-speed rail isn’t Silicon Valley whizbang magic technology, it’s definitely not Hyperloop. It’s pretty standard in a bunch of industrialized nations around the world. Clearly that question was on the minds of reporters, because we have been inundated with autopsies on HSR. Yet, the hot takes don’t seem to be adding up to anything meaningful (surprise).

So, we are going to explore this question over the coming weeks, as one of our newest obsessions here at Extra Crunch.

This weekend, I read a book called “Politics across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject.” In the book, Philip Mark Plotch chronicles the forty years of planning that led to the reconstruction of the Tappan Zee bridge, which connects Rockland and Westchester Counties north of New York City over the Hudson River. If you want to read about the weeds of government dysfunction around infrastructure, this is your book. It’s a telling tale of patterns we see repeatedly when trying to build great things in the United States:

  • No one wants to talk about finance: Politicians love selling the value of a megaproject without actually discussing the ways they are going to have to pay for it. Yet, paying for it is the project, since it will ultimately affect how citizens enjoy the infrastructure.In the Tappan Zee case, politicians wanted to avoid talking finances because finances meant tolls, and increasing tolls meant losing elections. New York’s current governor Andrew Cuomo ends up avoiding this conversation through luck, as the state received huge indemnities from Wall Street banks related to Iranian money laundering and sanctions that helped fund the bridge (which one planner called “manna from god”).That avoidance has led to the “Willie Brown” model of infrastructure, named for the former San Francisco mayor who wrote about how to get infrastructure projects done:

News that the Transbay Terminal is something like $300 million over budget should not come as a shock to anyone.

We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost. Just like we never had a real cost for the Central Subway or the Bay Bridge or any other massive construction project. So get off it.

In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved.

The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.

Of course, that model can lead to situations like Boston’s Big Dig, where the final ticket price for a project is so high, that it effectively bankrupts an entire city and its transportation system for years to come.

Infrastructure finance may not be a sexy topic, but it is absolutely critical to getting a project done. It’s hard to tuck tens of billions of dollars in a line item in the state’s budget, and it is hard to get the different funding levers of government involved when a project’s finances aren’t clear.

  • Lack of direction / lack of leadership: Building infrastructure is hard. It’s even harder in the U.S., where a patchwork of regulatory bodies and all levels of government are involved in infrastructure decision-making. In the Tappan Zee bridge case, there were nearly two dozen agencies involved, all with their own agendas and fiefdoms. A dedicated bus lane on the bridge was cut to avoid bringing in the Federal Transit Administration. The Tappan Zee is built at one of the widest points of the Hudson River rather than the narrowest since planners wanted to avoid the jurisdiction of the Port Authority.Here’s the thing though: there were real differences of opinion about the project and what it should accomplish. Some people wanted a rail line, some wanted bus rapid transit, some wanted carpool lanes, and still others wanted more lanes of vehicular traffic. Nothing got done because there was absolutely no consensus either from the communities involved or from their elected leaders.

    One might call a 40-year planning process dysfunctional, but another view would say that this is exactly government working as intended. Things don’t get built if there is no consensus, and that’s the value — and price — of democracy.The challenge though is that you can end up in these counter-veto game theoretic morasses (the book uses “wicked problems”), where no progress will truly ever get made because everyone has an incentive to block a project to get their vision included. Here is where leadership makes such a difference. A leader in these contexts can find points of compromise, build coalitions, set agendas and a vision, and create the momentum required to get these projects moving. Unfortunately, finding leaders in American politics is excruciatingly difficult.

  • Impossibly high expectations / feature creep: Every tech product manager knows the challenges of feature creep. Another person swings by, and they have a choice feature they want added that is going to take time and resources, and has limited benefit to the rest of the user base of the product. Unfortunately, infrastructure projects face many of the same challenges.

    When a megaproject looks like it has built up momentum, everyone tries to glom on to it, adding their pet project. What starts as a bridge replacement project soon morphs into a bridge replacement with a new 30-mile railroad, multiple train stations, a new bus rapid transit system, and a complete zoning overhaul for multiple counties. Yet, those extra “features” also add additional veto points and complications to the original project. They are effectively barnacles on the hull of an already slow-moving ship.

    Big projects galvanize our imaginations, but they shrink under the weight of their own mass. Better to down scale these projects into more bite-sized chunks with clear goals and deliverables rather than being all things to all people.

One thing I was surprised reading about the Tappan Zee bridge is that the actual construction phase was relatively uneventful. The bridge was built mostly on time and on budget, mostly due to extreme attention from the NY governors’s office to not allow deviations (except to stop construction on July 4th so that construction wouldn’t mar riverfront BBQs).

Four years and billions of dollars to rebuild a bridge might be ridiculous, but so were the 36 years of planning that proceeded the reconstruction. Maybe that pattern isn’t true for every project, but the lesson of Politics across the Hudson is that once the government had a plan and timing on its side, it was (relatively) smooth-sailing to the finish line.


Classen Rafael / EyeEm via Getty Images

Startups need attorneys to succeed, and today, Extra Crunch is pleased to start helping you find the most helpful ones in the industry.

Extra Crunch managing editor Eric Eldon has published his deep-dive package into startup law and startup attorneys today. The package will include profiles of leading attorneys who have been identified by founders as the most helpful to their startups (today’s profile focuses on Cynthia Hess). We also have attorney Daniel McKenzie writing about “How and why you should work with a startup lawyer.” Finally, Eric and his team created a comprehensive overview of all the legal issues that come with building a startup that they compiled into a handy A-to-Z guide.

Our hope is that some of the thornier issues of building a startup can be made just a bit easier if you are armed with the right, vetted information. Let us know your thoughts.

“Mo Money, Mo Problems” for SoftBank


Written by Arman Tabatabai

SoftBank’s voracious spending habits might be starting to catch up to the company. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Vision Fund’s two largest investors — the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company — are growing increasingly frustrated with the fund’s investment process, governance structure, and the exorbitant valuations and prices paid.

Apparently, dishing out billion dollar checks like Halloween candy doesn’t make you popular with the people who give you those billions of dollars.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard angry whispers from Vision Fund investors, with previous reports suggesting SoftBank significantly pared down previous investments in WeWork and other portfolio companies after facing serious LP pushback on the check size.

Part of the LP concern over SoftBank’s laissez-faire attitude towards check writing comes down to issues of governance. As we’ve previously discussed in our attempts to unravel SoftBank’s beast of a corporate structure, SoftBank often invests in companies at the SoftBank holding company level before selling the ownership to the Vision Fund at a later date. In the follow-on transactions, the Vision Fund often ends up paying more — in some cases billions of dollars more — than the initial investment. Now, LPs are concerned that they’re getting fleeced for billions on the back end as SoftBank drives up those investment valuations.

The ownership transfer process is just one aspect of the reportedly more general investor concerns around an opaque, complex, and disorganized investment process where SoftBank figurehead Masayoshi Son can overrule any investment decision with a “Gladiatoresque thumbs-up, thumbs-down”. According to the WSJ:

Concerns about valuation of the fund’s investments are closely linked to concerns about its investment process, in particular the power wielded by Mr. Son. In recent weeks, Mr. Son overruled objections from partners within SoftBank to a Vision Fund investment valued at as much as $1.5 billion into Chehaoduo Group, a Chinese online car-trading platform, according to people familiar with the matter. Chehaoduo was accused of fraud in recent weeks by a competitor.

And as LPs are growing concerned on how money is flowing out of the Vision Fund, SoftBank is also facing pressure from regulators on the money it is bringing in. While we’ve touched on SoftBank’s “love for leverage” before, credit agencies are once again expressing concern over the Vision Fund and SoftBank’s frothy debt levels, even noting that the company’s already junk-rated credit ratings have a better chance of getting downgraded further rather than improving.

All this goes to say that while sexy headlines and frequent nine-figure-plus deals make it easy to think SoftBank has a blank check to dish out to any unicorn they please, the clock may be striking midnight for SoftBank as they face the reality of their enormous spending, which may not bode well for their hopes for a second Vision Fund.

The Overlooked Element of the Amazon HQ2 Battle

Written by Arman Tabatabai

Amazon’s decision last week to halt plans to bring a second headquarters to New York City’s Long Island City neighborhood brought passionate responses from two completely schools of thought.

Some celebrated the breakup as a defeat of unjust corporate tax breaks, subsidies, and gentrification, while others threw up their hands in outrage over the disappearance of tens of thousands of jobs and future economic value that an Amazon presence would bring.

While these two arguments have been beaten to death, the remaining half of Amazon’s HQ2 development in Northern Virginia highlights an aspect of the controversial process that often gets overlooked.

Over the weekend, the Washington Post highlighted how Amazon’s pending arrival in Crystal City has helped accelerate large infrastructure projects that have long been in limbo, including public transport expansions, roadway expansions, and the construction of a new bridge to the Airport.

On top of financial investments into these projects from Amazon, the operational dates for the new HQ2 creates a timeline and has forced urgency to actually finalize plans and get these projects completed.

A huge but often overlooked political benefit of Amazon’s HQ2 process is this ability to catalyze action around public projects that otherwise may face the purgatory of public infrastructure development. While many have criticized Amazon for its auction-style selection process, many mayors and representatives from other cities that participated in the HQ2 process actually viewed the process in a positive light because they were able to unlock economic value and incentives for the city that would have been much tougher to realize otherwise.


  • More discussion of megaprojects, infrastructure, and “why can’t we build things”
  • We are going to be talking India here, focused around the book “Billonnaire Raj” by James Crabtree
  • We have a lot to catch up on in the China world when the EC launch craziness dies down. Plus, we are covering The Next Factory of the World by Irene Yuan Sun.
  • Societal resilience and geoengineering are still top-of-mind
  • Some more on metrics design and quantification


To every member of Extra Crunch: thank you. You allow us to get off the ad-laden media churn conveyor belt and spend quality time on amazing ideas, people, and companies. If I can ever be of assistance, hit reply, or send an email to

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York

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Transportation Weekly: Didi woes, how Nuro met Softbank, Amazon’s appetite

in Amazon/Amplify Partners/aurora/Automotive/China/Delhi/didi/India/Lyft/nuro/Politics/Rivian/robotics/rolls-royce/Softbank Vision Fund/Transportation/Transportation Weekly/TuSimple/Uber by

Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. This is the second edition and seriously people, what happened this week? Too much. Too much!

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming).

Off we go … vroom.


There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.

This week, we’ve got some insider info on Didi, China’s largest ride-hailing firm. China-based TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao learned from sources that Didi plans to lay off 15 percent of its employees, or about 2,000 people this year. CEO Cheng Wei made the announcement during an internal meeting Friday morning.

Read about it here.

Didi’s troubles with regulators and its backlash from two high-profile passenger murders last year don’t exist in a vacuum. Their struggles are in line with what is happening in the ride-hailing industry, particularly in more mature markets where the novelty has worn off and cities have woken up.

For companies like Didi, Uber, Lyft and other emerging players, this means more resources (capital and people) spent working with cities as well as looking for ways to diversify their businesses. All the while, they must still plug away at the nagging problems of reducing costs and keeping drivers and riders.

Just look at Uber. As Megan Rose Dickey reports, Uber’s stiff losses continued in the fourth quarter. The upshot: Its losses can be attributed to increased competition and significant investment in bigger bets like micro mobility and Elevate. And apparently legal fees. Uber, The Verge reports, sued NYC on Friday to overturn a law that caps drivers.

Dig In

This week, TechCrunch editor Devin Coldewey digs into the development of a system that can estimate not just where a pedestrian is headed, but their pose and gait too.

The University of Michigan, well known for its efforts in self-driving car tech, has been working on an improved algorithm for predicting the movements of pedestrians.

These algorithms can be as simple as identifying a human and seeing how many pixels move over a few frames, then extrapolating from there. But naturally, human movement is a bit more complex than that. Few companies advertise the exact level of detail with which they resolve human shapes and movement. This level of granularity seems beyond what we’ve seen.

UM’s new system uses LiDar and stereo camera systems to estimate not just the trajectory of a person, but their pose and gait. Pose can indicate whether a person is looking towards or away from the car, or using a cane, or stooped over a phone; gait indicates speed and intention.

Is someone glancing over their shoulder? Maybe they’re going to turn around, or walk into traffic. This additional data helps a system predict motion and makes for a more complete set of navigation plans and contingencies.

Importantly, it performs well with only a handful of frames to work with — perhaps comprising a single step and swing of the arm. That’s enough to make a prediction that beats simpler models handily, a critical measure of performance as one cannot assume that a pedestrian will be visible for any more than a few frames between obstructions.

Not too much can be done with this noisy, little-studied data right now, but perceiving and cataloguing it is the first step to making it an integral part of an AV’s vision system.

— Devin Coldewey

A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.


Every big funding round has an origin story — that magic moment when planets align and a capitally-flush investor gazes across a room at just the right time and spots the perfect company in need of funds and guidance.

One of this week’s biggest deals — see below — was the $940 million that Softbank Vision Fund invested in autonomous delivery robot Nuro. How (and when) Nuro met Softbank is almost as big a story as the funding round itself. OK, well maybe not AS BIG. But interesting, nonetheless.

It turns out that Cruise, the self-driving unit of GM, was in early talks with Nuro, but the parties couldn’t quite meet in the middle, people familiar with the deal told me. Sources wouldn’t elaborate whether Cruise was seeking to acquire Nuro or take a minority stake in the company.

It all worked out in the end, though. The folks at Cruise introduced Nuro to Softbank. That means Cruise and Nuro now share the same investor. Softbank agreed in May 2018 to invest $2.25 billion in GM Cruise Holdings LLC.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Deal(s) of the week

We have a tie this week, which began with news that Softbank’s Vision Fund invested in autonomous delivery robot Nuro. The week closed with electric automaker Rivian announcing a $700 million funding round led by Amazon.

First Nuro. Michael Ronen, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, and the same person who was a big part of its investment in Cruise, told TechCrunch that the winners in this market will need to address a diverse mix of technological questions. In his view, that’s Nuro.

“Nuro has built a team of brilliant problem solvers whose combined backgrounds in robotics, machine learning, autonomous driving and consumer electronics give them a compelling advantage,” Ronen said.

Amazon’s investment in Rivian is important, particularly when you step back and take a more holistic and historic view. Consider this: The logistics giant stealthily acquired an urban delivery robot startup called Dispatch in 2017 (a discovery Mark Harris made and reported for us last week). Amazon showed off the fruit of that acquisition — its own delivery robot Scout — in January 2018.

Last week, self-driving vehicle startup Aurora raised more than $530 million in a Series B funding round led by Sequoia and with “significant” investments from Amazon and T. Rowe Price. Now, Amazon is backing Rivian.

Based on the deals that we know about, Amazon’s hands are now deep into autonomous delivery, self-driving vehicle software and electric vehicles. Let that sink in.

Other deals that got our attention this week:


Auto loans data

Sure, TechCrunch focuses on startups. Why auto loans? Because auto loan data can be one of the canaries in the coal mine that is the automotive industry and on a larger scale, the economy.  And, delinquency rates ripple through the rest of the transportation world, affecting public transit and ride-hailing too.

The New York Federal Reserve this week released a collection of economic data, including auto loans, which have been climbing since 2011. Auto loans increased by $9 billion this year, a figure boosted by historically strong levels of newly originated loans that will put 2018 in the record books. There were $584 billion in new auto loans and leases appearing on credit reports in 2018, the highest level in the 19-year history of the loan origination data.

Why I’m watching this? Because according to the Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit:

  • The flow into 90+ day delinquency for auto loan balances has been slowly trending upward since 2012
  • Serious delinquency of auto loans held by borrowers under 30 years old between 2014 and 2016 rose (see chart)
  • Rising overall delinquency rates remain below 2010 peak levels. However, there were more than 7 million Americans with auto loans that were 90 or more days delinquent at the end of 2018

Tiny but mighty micro mobility

It was a bit quiet on the micro-mobility front this week, but here’s what jumped out. Unsurprisingly, San Francisco denied Lime’s appeal to operate electric scooters in the city. This is the same decision the city landed on pertaining to both Uber’s Jump and Ford’s Spin appeals. On the bright side for these companies, there may be hope for them to deploy scooters during phase two of the city’s pilot program, which starts in April.

Also in the SF Bay Area, Lyft donated $700,000 to TransForm, an organization focused on improving access to transportation in underserved areas throughout California. In partnership with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Lyft and TransForm will invest in a free bike library and community “parklets” in Oakland, Calif.

Meanwhile, over in Tel Aviv, Lime deployed its electric scooters, joining electric scooter startup Bird. Lime also reportedly plans to deploy its scooters throughout the country of Israel. Next up will be cities in the Gush Dan region.

Also in micro mobility …

We read corporate updates to terms of service in our spare time. And this week, Skip sent out an update that included an interesting nugget. It reads:

We’ve updated specific provisions on camera footage. We’ve updated and made more clear that our scooters may be equipped with video camera equipment which we may use to help ensure that our scooters are used properly and in accordance with laws, rules, regulations and policies, to protect against crimes such as theft and vandalism, to help us determine if scooters are being used properly at speeds, locations and on surfaces that are proper and allowed as well as to improve our Services.

In December, Skip unveiled two new scooters — one with a rear-facing camera. The company tested 200 of these scooter in Washington, D.C. (and later rolled out to San Francisco) to monitor whether people were riding on the sidewalk and generally riding safely. At the time, Skip said it wasn’t sure what it would do with the data collected from the cameras.

In other words, Skip’s cameras are on. How they intend to use that data — whether via a warning to the rider, a message after the ride is complete, or remotely slowing the scooter down, isn’t clear.

One startup that is poised to capture this new market of scooter accountability is Fantasmo. The augmented reality mapping startup has a new scooter positioning camera that captures video and then matches that against a map to reliably identify how the scooter is being used. Fantasmo’s camera system is not being used by Skip.

Notable reads

If you’re waiting for the big autonomous vehicle disengagement hot take story from me, you’ll be waiting for awhile. Let me explain.

This week, the California Department of Motor Vehicles released the “disengagement reports” of autonomous vehicle companies with permits to test on public roads in the state. These reports are meant to track each time a self-driving vehicle disengages out of autonomous mode. There are 48 companies that issued reports, which when you combine all the data, drove more than 2 million miles on public roads in autonomous mode between December 2017 and November 2018. That’s a four-fold increase from the year before.

Companies that receive AV testing permits in California, which are issued by the DMV, are required to submit these annually. It’s not that these reports are worthless. They are useful to determine if a company is ramping up its testing on public roads, adding more AVs to its fleet, helpful for spotting trends like ‘why did disengagements suddenly end?’ or to determine if a company is even testing anymore.

And I’ve discovered some interesting information that will become bigger stories or end up as footnotes in the world of AVs. (For instance, Faraday Future says it will begin testing on public roads late this year).

But disengagement reports are not a meaningful way to make comparisons on how companies stack up against each other. Why? Because it’s not an “apples-to-apples” comparison for one, companies report the data in different ways and there is no transparency into the specifics of when and where each disengagement occurred.

Another problem is the miles-per-disengagement figure that we (the media) typically focus on. This data isn’t super useful on its own. This shouldn’t be treated like a report card. As one engineer told me once, you learn only from occasions in which the system does, or wants to do, something different from a good human. The smart AV companies will take the disengagement data and combine it with other information taken from simulation and other forms of offline testing.

The “miles per disengagement” data point doesn’t start to mean anything on its own until a company reaches the validation phase, which is when miles driven are the truest representation of naturalistic driving in the domain and application of interest. How many are at this point? I’m hearing one or two.

Testing and deployments

Much of the talk and marketing materials around flying cars, or eVTOLs, focuses on well-dressed business folks standing on top of skyscrapers, preparing to be whisked away — up and over the terrible traffic below. Other startups have focused on last-mile delivery. But what about long-distance cargo delivery to remote and urban areas?

Elroy Air is one company that is working on this problem. The San Francisco-based startup has been developing an autonomous vertical takeoff and landing cargo transport system that can operate outside of airport infrastructure and carry up to 500 pounds of cargo over 300 miles. Elroy Air just closed a $9.2 million round that included investors Catapult Ventures, Levitate Capital, Lemnos, Precursor Ventures, Haystack, Shasta Ventures, Homebrew, 122West, Amplify Partners, Hemisphere Ventures, the E14 Fund and DiamondStream Partners.

The company said this week it will begin testing its unmanned vertical-takeoff-and-landing drone for commercial deliveries — called the Chaparral — this year and launch a commercial shipping service  in 2020.

These vehicles will be monitored by trained operators at all times during the testing phase, the company said.

On our radar

Let’s not forget that people are using buses and trains everyday. Not in a year. Not in 10. Right now. These transit systems, many of which need expensive upgrades, carry millions of people every day. One of the more interesting examples of the challenges with transit is the L train shutdown in New York.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs to repair a subway tunnel under the East River and initially had planned to shut down the entire tunnel for 15 months, starting in late April. The L train carries 275,000 people between Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, the effected section, every day.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo intervened and now there’s a new plan, which involves running trains through one tunnel tube while repairs are carried out in the other tube. The NYT has the back story.

There’s an upcoming “L Train Shutdown” event this month in Brooklyn that we’re keeping an eye on. URBAN-X, the startup accelerator backed by automotive brand MINI, is hosting a discussion on the future of the L-train and alternative modes of transport. Some interesting folks will be participating, including Lime’s chief program officer Scott Kubly. The event will be held 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Feb. 19 at A/D/O, 29 Norman Ave, Brooklyn, NY.

Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at to share those thoughts, opinions or tips. 

Nos vemos la próxima vez.

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Daily Crunch: Amazon scraps HQ2 plans in NYC

in Amazon/Daily Crunch/Delhi/eCommerce/hq2/India/Policy/Politics by

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Did New York lose anything with Amazon’s rejection? It’s complicated.

Amazon announced yesterday that it’s taking its ball and going home, rather than dealing with mean, pushy New Yorkers (warning: not an exact quote). As a result, some outside observers are painting a picture of a city and its politicians losing out for their recalcitrance.

Jon Shieber acknowledges that there’s plenty to criticize on both sides. But for those who think New Yorkers are idiots for not giving Amazon billions in tax incentives, he has a simple message: You’re wrong.

2. Netflix office goes on lockdown over report of a potential shooter, suspect now in custody

According to the LAPD, there were no shots fired, no reports of injuries and the suspect in question has been taken into custody.

3. Samsung is preparing to launch a sports smartwatch and AirPods-like earbuds

Samsung’s newest product launch happens next week, but the Korean tech giant has already revealed the lineup of wearable devices that will be unveiled alongside the Galaxy S10.

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 08: Gimlet Media President Matt Lieber, Gimlet Media CEO Alex Blumberg (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Spotify)

4. Spotify says it paid $340M to buy Gimlet and Anchor

Spotify doubled down on podcasts last week with a deal to buy podcast companies Gimlet and Anchor. The acquisition price was initially undisclosed, but Spotify has quietly confirmed that it spent €300 million — just shy of $340 million — to capture the companies.

5. Everything you need to know about GM’s new electric bikes

General Motors announced last year it was getting into the electric bike business. Now, GM has given this new brand a name — ARĪV — and revealed some of the details about its go-to-market plan.

6. China’s Didi is laying off 15 percent of its staff

The cut comes as China’s largest ride-hailing company copes with a stricter regulatory environment that puts a squeeze on driver supply, as well as backlash from two high-profile passenger murders last year.

7. Dubai airport briefly halts flights after drone spotted

It’s the latest in a recent string of scares involving personal drones flying too close to a commercial airport. At the height of the holiday season, London’s Gatwick airport was closed for a day and a half over similar concerns.

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Urban unicorn renewal

in Amazon/Delhi/Economic Development/Foxconn/ge/Government/hq2/India/Patreon/Policy/Politics/SoftBank by

Three cities, three dead urban unicorn renewal projects.

In just the past few days, we’ve had Foxconn renege on Wisconsin, Amazon renege on NYC and GE renege on Boston. Each followed the Anna Karenina principle that every unhappy economic development deal is unhappy in its own way: for Foxconn, it was trade tariffs and slowing iPhone sales; for Amazon, it was populist protests plus the usual NYC corruption; for GE, it was the reality of looking at a mirror and finding that you’re staring at a dumpster fire.

Yet, there are eerie similarities, other than the fact that I have practically lived next door to every single one of these projects (if you call Wisconsin next door to the better-looking state of Minnesota).

In each case, there was the perfect alchemy of the modern urban unicorn renewal plan. A well-known but sordid tech company paints a picture of revolutionizing a city’s economic base. They splash huge numbers on the board, or at least a coveted status symbol. Seeing their legacies secured, politicians latch on to these projects, negotiating with alacrity and without due process because — wow — the company with suicide nets or the company where employees pee in bottles (undercover!) is coming to town.

I get it. And look, if these projects panned out, they would indeed be great for their home cities. As I wrote about Amazon HQ2 a few weeks ago:

These spillover effects are at the heart of agglomeration economies. With Amazon’s arrival, more software engineers will locate to NYC. They will start companies, join other tech firms and expand the vitality of the community. As Edward Glaeser argues convincingly in his book The Triumph of the City, density of talent matters enormously for the success of the city. Amazon thickens the market for tech talent, and that is a huge win for both NYC and DC.

Yet, these projects rarely work out, and behind this all is the plague of Silicon Everywhere. As I wrote four years ago:

There are many commentators who argue that there is a bubble in Silicon Valley today. They may or may not be right, but there is certainly a bubble in places named after the preeminent global tech ecosystem.

Silicon Border. Silicon Hills. Silicon Steppe. Silicon Prairie. Silicon Roundabout. Silicon Gulf. Silicon Avenue. Silicon Canal. Silicon Alley. Silicon Beach. Silicon Forest. Philadelphia has a groaner of a region with Philicon Valley (whoever invented this should be banished from marketing for five years or forced to market Path).

And so we got “Wisconn Valley,” which actually is a brilliant fusion of Foxconn, Silicon and Wisconsin that now has its very own government homepage. GE was going to restart Boston’s tech scene, except the 800 jobs in its headquarters office were predominantly accountants and lawyers, which of course is where the real innovation of any company takes place.

These silicon dreams need to be crushed, beaten, stamped out and destroyed. So should these mega-project economic development deals, which always seem to go through a cycle from euphoria to lassitude.

In their wake, tech leaders should be encouraging a culture of bottoms-up economic development. Mayors should partner with local startups to encourage the growth of small companies and then coordinate pathways to help them succeed. Economic development money should turn into seed capital, boot camp credits, university research transfer grants and a whole lot more options for small-scale — human-scale — interventions. The unicorn urban renewal project is dead, but it always has been.

Welcome to the Extra Crunch Daily

Image via Flickr by Prayitno used under Creative Commons

Assuming you haven’t unsubscribed yet, welcome to the new Extra Crunch Daily newsletter, which is stochastically delivered to you “daily” depending on the misery index of my morning commute courtesy of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo.

We have been A/B-ing this format a bit over the past few months, and have talked about the future of geoengineering, power politics of GPS, societal resilience startups, the disappearing Form D filing, Softbank’s debt obsession, the internet’s transformation into a nation state and why TechCrunch’s parent company is … well, I shouldn’t say that, lest I kick that damn hornet’s nest again.

This newsletter is about context, big ideas and arguments. It’s also about touching on any of the 35-odd spaces that I seem to cover in a given day, so it’s basically professional ADHD in written format. I write when I am in that liminal space between curiosity and anger, that “Why??” which follows “What!!!”

I’m joined on this project by Arman Tabatabai, our intrepid research consultant from New York. He’s always willing to learn a completely new subject because I had a dream last night (Monday morning at 8am: “so what do you know about geoengineering?”), and for that he’s amazing and this newsletter couldn’t go on without him.

Patreon EC-1 and the challenge of private companies

We debuted Extra Crunch this week with the launch of Patreon’s EC-1. I was inspired by the S-1 that companies file with the SEC when going public and thought: “why don’t we do that, but for private companies.”

A couple of hundred hours later, and that’s basically what we got with this first edition. With Patreon, TechCrunch’s media columnist Eric Peckham wrote a bonanza of analysis on the company’s founding story, product, business, thesis and competition, and he even threw in a reading guide so you can read everyone else’s coverage of the company. There are pretty generous pours of these articles in front of the paywall too, so do share them with colleagues.

The hope is that these projects can spark the imagination, give ideas around strategies and tactics that might work in a startup context and, of course, help evaluate the future of the company we are holding under the microscope.

We have three other companies in the hopper right now coming up in this series. Have ones you want to see covered? Think there could be an interesting deep dive we are missing? Hit reply and tell me — right now — or send me an email at


This is an open agenda that I use to track what the hell I am writing about on a regular basis.

  • We are going to be talking India here, focused around the book “Billionaire Raj” by James Crabtree.
  • We have a lot to catch up on in the China world when the EC launch craziness dies down. Plus, we are covering The Next Factory of the World by Irene Yuan Sun.
  • Societal resilience and geoengineering are still top-of-mind.
  • Some more on metrics design and quantification.


To every member of Extra Crunch: thank you. You allow us to get off the ad-laden media churn conveyor belt and spend quality time on amazing ideas, people and companies. If I can ever be of assistance, hit reply, or send an email to

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York.

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