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Jeff Bezos invests in Indonesian e-commerce Ula – TechCrunch

Indonesian e-commerce startup Ula, which has raised over $30 million and courted many high-profile investors since launching last year, has now won the trust of the world’s richest person. The founder of Amazon has invested in the one-and-a-half-year-old startup’s new financing round, sources and many others familiar with the matter told me. The Jakarta-headquartered firm […]

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Indonesian e-commerce startup Ula, which has raised over $30 million and courted many high-profile investors since launching last year, has now won the trust of the world’s richest person.

The founder of Amazon has invested in the one-and-a-half-year-old startup’s new financing round, sources and many others familiar with the matter told me.

The Jakarta-headquartered firm — which counts B Capital Group, Sequoia Capital India, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Quona Capital among its existing investors — is in advanced stages of talks to finalize a new round of over $80 million.

Jeff Bezos has agreed to invest in Ula through his family office, Bezos Expeditions, people said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. B Capital Group, Tencent and Prosus Ventures are positioning to co-lead the round, which could close as soon as this month.

Bezos’ interest in Ula, which operates a business-to-business e-commerce platform, comes at a time when Amazon has either not entered most Southeast Asian nations — or maintains a limited presence there.

Public relations reps of Ula did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

Ula helps small retailers solve inefficiencies that they face in supply chain, inventory and working capital. It operates a wholesale e-commerce marketplace to help store owners stock only the inventory they need, and also grants them with working capital.

The startup was founded by Nipun Mehra (a former executive of Flipkart in India and ex-partner at Sequoia Capital India), Alan Wong (who previously worked with Amazon), Derry Sakti (who oversaw consumer goods giant P&G’s operations in Indonesia), and Riky Tenggara (formerly with Lazada and aCommerce).

Bezos’ interest in Ula, which operates a business-to-business e-commerce platform, comes at a time when Amazon has either not entered most Southeast Asian nations — or maintains a limited presence there.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/10/02/jeff-bezos-in-talks-to-back-indonesian-e-commerce-ula/

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Sequoia dramatically revamps its fund structure as it looks to rethink venture capital model – TechCrunch

Sequoia Capital is debuting a big shift in strategy as they look to boost their returns amid increased competition in the market for startup financing. The storied venture capital firm announced in a blog post today that they’re breaking with tradition, abandoning the traditional fund structure and their artificial timelines for returning LP capital. The […]

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Sequoia Capital is debuting a big shift in strategy as they look to boost their returns amid increased competition in the market for startup financing.

The storied venture capital firm announced in a blog post today that they’re breaking with tradition, abandoning the traditional fund structure and their artificial timelines for returning LP capital. The firm’s future investments will soon all flow through a “singular, permanent structure” called The Sequoia Fund, the post from long-time GP Roelof Botha details.

Moving forward, our LPs will invest into The Sequoia Fund, an open-ended liquid portfolio made up of public positions in a selection of our enduring companies. The Sequoia Fund will in turn allocate capital to a series of closed-end sub funds for venture investments at every stage from inception to IPO.

These changes will notably only apply to Sequoia’s US and Europe-focused funds, the India and China-centric funds won’t adopt this structure.

Gone are the 10-year return cycles, which often pushed investors to liquidate holdings in public companies based on set timelines rather than determinations of when investments had fully matured. Sequoia says that investments will no longer have “expiration dates,” instead Sequoia will recycle returns from startup bets back into its central fund which it will redeploy into future investments — what the firm calls a “continuous feedback loop.” It’s a change that could greater align investor incentives with founders who will have less external pressure under this model to pursue premature exit opportunities.

Once upon a time the 10-year fund cycle made sense. But the assumptions it’s based on no longer hold true, curtailing meaningful relationships prematurely and misaligning companies and their investment partners.

In addition to the change to return timelines, this change will also give Sequoia much more flexibility to deploy funds from the central structure towards “Sub Funds” focused on a particular stage or sector. Sequoia says LPs will be given the option to move part of their allocation in The Sequoia Fund towards new Sub Funds.

As part of the announcement, Sequoia also announced that they have become a registered financial advisors (RIA). General Catalyst and Andreessen Horowitz both become RIAs in recent years, a change which allowed them more flexibility in backing non-traditional assets outside of private markets. For these firms, it’s a change that allows them the to adjust to the fluidity of market trends, backing public companies during periods of rampant public debuts and seizing on upstart company capitalization trends like coin offerings.

It’s a significant change to the traditional venture capital model Sequoia has long pursued, and a major readjustment for the fund’s limited partners that smaller firms without Sequoia’s long-term reputation likely would not be able to pull off. It also showcases how much private equity powerhouses like Tiger have pushed storied VC firms to look inwards and adopt major changes to stay competitive.

Gone are the 10-year return cycles, which often pushed investors to liquidate holdings in public companies based on set timelines rather than determinations of when investments had fully matured. Sequoia says that investments will no longer have “expiration dates,” instead Sequoia will recycle returns from startup bets back into its central fund which it will redeploy into future investments — what the firm calls a “continuous feedback loop.” It’s a change that could greater align investor incentives with founders who will have less external pressure under this model to pursue premature exit opportunities.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/10/26/sequoia-dramatically-revamps-its-fund-structure-as-it-looks-to-rethink-venture-capital-model/

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More talk about attaching sniper rifles to robots – TechCrunch

The whole gun on a robot thing was a question we’ve been barreling toward since the first practical quadrupedal robots arrived. Last week, that came to an inevitable head when a Ghost Robotics system was spotted at a tradeshow sporting a remote-controlled sniper rifle designed by a company called SWORD. This is a question Boston […]

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The whole gun on a robot thing was a question we’ve been barreling toward since the first practical quadrupedal robots arrived. Last week, that came to an inevitable head when a Ghost Robotics system was spotted at a tradeshow sporting a remote-controlled sniper rifle designed by a company called SWORD.

This is a question Boston Dynamics has worked hard to distance itself from. Understandably so — creating war machines is generally considered bad PR. That they — along with much of the robotics industry — were, in part, bootstrapped by DARPA funding and now create robots that people liken to scary sci-fi movies certainly complicates things.

I discussed Boston Dynamics’ approach to addressing the use of Spot for purposes of intimidation and violence in last week’s column. I also talked a bit about my own feelings around mounting guns to the backs of robots (again, I’m against it and death machines generally). Ahead of writing the piece, I also reached out to Ghost Robotics, though only heard back after it was published.

I’ve since spoken to the company’s CEO Jiren Parikh about the system he refers to as “a walking tripod,” a nod to the fact that Ghost doesn’t design the payload — in this case, the SWORD Defense Systems Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle (SPUR). There are a lot of important ethical questions here. A walking tripod? Perhaps. But ultimately, there are questions of where the buck stops? The robotics company? The company that produces the payload? The end user (i.e. the military)? All of the above?

Important questions we need to address as we’re facing down a potential army of gun-strapped robotic dogs.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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Let’s start with the question of autonomy.

The robots themselves are not using any type of autonomy or AI for targeting weapon systems. SWORD, who makes the system, I can’t speak for. From what I know, that weapon is a manual-firing trigger. Even the targeting is done by a human behind the scenes. Firing the trigger is fully human-controlled.

Is full autonomy a line the company doesn’t want to cross in this scenario?

We don’t make the payloads. Are we going to promote and advertise any of these weapon systems? Probably not. That’s a tough one to answer. Because we’re selling to the military, we don’t know what they do with them. We’re not going to dictate to our government customers how they use the robots.

We do draw the line on where they’re sold. We only sell to U.S. and allied governments. We don’t even sell our robots to enterprise customers in adversarial markets. We get lots of inquiries about our robots in Russia and China. We don’t ship there, even for our enterprise customers.

Does the company reserve the right to make sure the robots aren’t used for applications that you don’t support?

In a sense, yes. We have full control. Everyone has to sign a licensing agreement. We don’t sell the robots to anyone we don’t want to. We only choose to sell them to U.S. and allied governments that we feel comfortable. We just have to recognize that military customers don’t disclose everything that they’re doing. If they need to use that robot for specific purposes for national security or to keep a war fighter out of harms way, we’re all for that.

Image Credits: SWORD

The vetting is in the customers [Ghost] chooses, rather than the applications the customers use those robots for?

That’s correct. We’ve had people call to use these robots for fighting videos or putting together a reality show for crazy stuff the robots would do. Without naming names, we decline. We think that’s not tasteful. The robot is a serious tool. It’s a tool for inspections, security and all sort of military applications.

As far as what we saw [last week] in the photos, is there a timeline?

They’re expecting to do field testing on that sniper kit in late-Q1 of next year.

In this specific case, what is the nature of the deal? The DoD has an individual deal with you and SWORD?

There’s no deals. This is just a long-gun company that believes there’s a market opportunity for this. They developed on their own dime and we thought it was a compelling payload. There’s no customers.

An aircraft flying

Image Credits: Reliable Robotics

Okay, that’s it for the war dogs (for this week, at least). Let’s move from land operations to sea and sky. First off is Reliable Robotics, a Bay Area-based autonomous cargo-plane company that just raised $100 million. The Series C round brings the four-year-old firm’s total funding to $130 million, in Reliable’s bid to effectively move the autonomous trucking model into the skies.

Speaking of unmanned aerial vehicles, Wing just announced the beginning of what could amount to a big push into U.S. drone deliveries. Following successful pilots in Australia and a small town in Virginia, the Alphabet division announced a partnership with Walgreens to bring autonomous deliveries to the greater Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.

Image Credits: Alphabet

Wing told us the following about its efforts on the regulatory side of things:

In April of 2019, Wing became the first drone operator to be certified as an air carrier by the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing us to deliver commercial goods to recipients miles away, and we got an expanded version of that permission to launch in Virginia in October 2019. Now, we’re working toward permissions for this expansion, and we’ll be conducting test flights and demonstrating our new capabilities in the area in the coming weeks as part of that process. Prior to launching our service in DFW, we will work with authorities at the local, state and federal levels to secure all the appropriate permissions.

Several Saildrone vessels float in formation on the ocean.

Image Credits: Saildrone

On the water-front comes another $100 million Series C. This one is for Saildrone’s autonomous boats, which are being deployed to collect data for scientific purposes. The company has already deployed a sizable fleet of its uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs), which have traveled around half a million miles, collectively.

Lastly, an interesting piece from The New York Times about the adoption of robotic waiters amid pandemic-related staff shortages. That part isn’t all that’s interesting in and of itself. What is, however, is that the wait staff has reported an increase in tipping, as a result. From the piece:

Servi saved wait staff and bussers from having to run back and forth to the kitchen and gave overworked servers more time to schmooze with customers and serve more tables, which led to higher tips.

This is a small vindication of what robotics companies have been suggesting for a while — that autonomous systems won’t replace existing jobs, but rather augment them and fill in the gaps companies can’t with current headcount. That certainly seems to be the case on a shorter timeline when, frankly, these systems are incapable of replacing people outright. There’s a question around whether this is a step toward full automation, but in the near term, there’s something to be said for freeing up humans to do more humane things.

Important questions we need to address as we’re facing down a potential army of gun-strapped robotic dogs.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/10/21/guns-on-robots/

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It’s a big moment for climate change. Here are 4 books for autumn to understand what’s changing – TechCrunch

We’re just weeks away from COP26, the big environmental policy confab where scores of world leaders will descend on Scotland and determine the future of the planet, answering the question, “Should we all die or live?” That’s meant a whole truckload of new books on the subject, as well as renewed attention to older works […]

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We’re just weeks away from COP26, the big environmental policy confab where scores of world leaders will descend on Scotland and determine the future of the planet, answering the question, “Should we all die or live?”

That’s meant a whole truckload of new books on the subject, as well as renewed attention to older works that are suddenly back in the limelight again. So following up from our summer round-up of books broadly on the thesis of climate change, we have a new set of reviews of four more books to explore this intricately fascinating subject:

  • First, I look at Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future with a piece entitled “The dark side of environmentalism.” Robinson offers us a hopeful vision of the future where humans come together to solve the world’s problems, but only after an ecoterrorist group makes the alternatives and status quo less palatable. How do we unpack those values, and what do they portend for our world going forward?
  • Second, my colleague Brian Heater looks at The Vertical Farm written by Dickson Despommier, which was recently republished as a tenth anniversary edition. Vertical farms are among the more utopian movements emanating out of climate tech — a way to bring agriculture closer to the billions of people living in urban agglomerations. How feasible are they, and will they really work?
  • Third, I interview Azeem Azhar on his new book The Exponential Age, exploring why technologies like semiconductors, gene editing, 3D printing, and more are suddenly coming together to completely reshape our world. The change is only going to accelerate.
  • Finally, I analyze Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, a heady and intensely thought-provoking series of lectures bound up in a slim volume that is just exploding with insight. Ghosh sees our culture as completely divergent from the needs of the climate today, and wonders why authors and other creatives seem completely unwilling to address the crisis that is befalling the planet.
  • Second, my colleague Brian Heater looks at The Vertical Farm written by Dickson Despommier, which was recently republished as a tenth anniversary edition. Vertical farms are among the more utopian movements emanating out of climate tech — a way to bring agriculture closer to the billions of people living in urban agglomerations. How feasible are they, and will they really work?
  • Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/10/10/fall-climate-change-books/

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