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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Trump's Missile Defense Plan Creates More Problems Than It Solves

The Trump administration has presented its Missile Defense Review, and yes, there are lasers.
Source: Wired

India’s Plan to Curb Hate Speech Could Mean More Censorship

India’s government has proposed rules that would require encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp to decrypt data, threatening the security of users globally.
Source: Wired

Tesla to cut workforce by 7% and focus on Model 3 production

Tesla is cutting 7% of its full-time workforce. The company disclosed the headcount reduction in an update emailed to all employees and also posted to its website.

In the email, CEO Elon Musk says the focus must be on delivering “at least the mid-range Model 3 variant in all markets”. He also warns those employees not set to be axed that there are “many companies that can offer a better work-life balance, because they are larger and more mature or in industries that are not so voraciously competitive”.

“We unfortunately have no choice but to reduce full-time employee headcount by approximately 7% (we grew by 30% last year, which is more than we can support) and retain only the most critical temps and contractors,” he writes.

“Tesla will need to make these cuts while increasing the Model 3 production rate and making many manufacturing engineering improvements in the coming months. Higher volume and manufacturing design improvements are crucial for Tesla to achieve the economies of scale required to manufacture the standard range (220 mile), standard interior Model 3 at $35k and still be a viable company. There isn’t any other way.”

Last October Musk tweeted that Tesla’s headcount was 45,000 — suggesting some 3,150 jobs are set to go.

The move follows a number of cost-cutting efforts at the electric car maker, including an announcement this week that a long-running buyer referral program will end this month. Musk said the program was adding too much cost to the cars.

Three months ago Tesla also announced a new, cheaper mid-range battery version of the car — starting at $45,000; though still not the $35,000 base-spec Model 3 (before incentives) that was originally promised.

His full note to employees is pasted below.

CNBC reports that Tesla shares fell almost 6% in premarket trading following the news.

Company Update

This morning, the following email was sent to all Tesla employees:

As we all experienced first-hand, last year was the most challenging in Tesla’s history. However, thanks to your efforts, 2018 was also the most successful year in Tesla’s history: we delivered almost as many cars as we did in all of 2017 in the last quarter alone and nearly as many cars last year as we did in all the prior years of Tesla’s existence combined! Model 3 also became the best-selling premium vehicle of 2018 in the US. This is truly remarkable and something that few thought possible just a short time ago.

Looking ahead at our mission of accelerating the advent of sustainable transport and energy, which is important for all life on Earth, we face an extremely difficult challenge: making our cars, batteries and solar products cost-competitive with fossil fuels. While we have made great progress, our products are still too expensive for most people. Tesla has only been producing cars for about a decade and we’re up against massive, entrenched competitors. The net effect is that Tesla must work much harder than other manufacturers to survive while building affordable, sustainable products.

In Q3 last year, we were able to make a 4% profit. While small by most standards, I would still consider this our first meaningful profit in the 15 years since we created Tesla. However, that was in part the result of preferentially selling higher priced Model 3 variants in North America. In Q4, preliminary, unaudited results indicate that we again made a GAAP profit, but less than Q3. This quarter, as with Q3, shipment of higher priced Model 3 variants (this time to Europe and Asia) will hopefully allow us, with great difficulty, effort and some luck, to target a tiny profit.

However, starting around May, we will need to deliver at least the mid-range Model 3 variant in all markets, as we need to reach more customers who can afford our vehicles. Moreover, we need to continue making progress towards lower priced variants of Model 3. Right now, our most affordable offering is the mid-range (264 mile) Model 3 with premium sound and interior at $44k. The need for a lower priced variants of Model 3 becomes even greater on July 1, when the US tax credit again drops in half, making our car $1,875 more expensive, and again at the end of the year when it goes away entirely.

Sorry for all these numbers, but I want to make sure that you know all the facts and figures and understand that the road ahead is very difficult. This is not new for us – we have always faced significant challenges – but it is the reality we face. There are many companies that can offer a better work-life balance, because they are larger and more mature or in industries that are not so voraciously competitive. Attempting to build affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity, but succeeding in our mission is essential to ensure that the future is good, so we must do everything we can to advance the cause.

As a result of the above, we unfortunately have no choice but to reduce full-time employee headcount by approximately 7% (we grew by 30% last year, which is more than we can support) and retain only the most critical temps and contractors. Tesla will need to make these cuts while increasing the Model 3 production rate and making many manufacturing engineering improvements in the coming months. Higher volume and manufacturing design improvements are crucial for Tesla to achieve the economies of scale required to manufacture the standard range (220 mile), standard interior Model 3 at $35k and still be a viable company. There isn’t any other way.

To those departing, thank you for everything you have done to advance our mission. I am deeply grateful for your contributions to Tesla. We would not be where we are today without you.

For those remaining, although there are many challenges ahead, I believe we have the most exciting product roadmap of any consumer product company in the world. Full self-driving, Model Y, Semi, Truck and Roadster on the vehicle side and Powerwall/pack and Solar Roof on the energy side are only the start.

I am honored to work alongside you.

Thanks for everything,


Source: TechCrunch

Twitter admits bug exposed some Android users' protected tweets for years – CNET

A security flaw may have disabled the “Protect your Tweets” setting.
Source: CNET

2019 Lexus ES 300h review: Luxury and efficiency in spades – Roadshow

Sharp styling, comfy-cozy accommodations and excellent efficiency make the Lexus ES 300h a compelling luxury offering.
Source: CNET

Indonesian e-commerce unicorn Bukalapak raises $50M

The chances are you may be familiar with Tokopedia, especially after it commanded a $7 billion valuation last November when it raised $1.1 billion from investors like Alibaba and SoftBank’s Vision Fund, but fewer people outside of Indonesia are aware of another sizable local online retail unicorn: Bukalapak.

Smaller than Tokopedia in size, the company is valued at $1 billion — it became Indonesia’s fourth unicorn one year ago. The country, which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and has a population of over 260 million, also counts Tokopedia, Go-Jek and Traveloka in the billion-dollar club.

Founded in 2010, Bukalapak claims an impressive two million orders per day and 50 million registered users. On the seller side, it said its core e-commerce business covers products from four million SMEs, 500,000 kiosk vendors and 700,000 ‘independent’ micro-businesses in Indonesia. Bukalapak means ‘open a stall’ in Indonesia’s Bahasa language, and anyone can open a shopfront on the platform.

This week, Bukalapak landed another notable funding milestone after it raised $50 million Series D round from the Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund, a joint vehicle operated by Korean mutual fund Mirae Asset and Naver, the firm whose businesses include popular messaging service Line. This is the first time Bukalapak has disclosed the size of an investment in its business, although it did not give an updated valuation. The startup counts Alibaba’s Ant Financial, Indonesia telco Emtek, Sequoia India and Singaporean sovereign fund GIC among its existing backers.

Bukalapak is one of Indonesia’s leading online commerce platforms with four million registered users, a claimed two million daily transactions and a valuation of more than $1 billion

Bukalapak said it plans to use its new funds to grow opportunities for its SME retail partners and build out its tech platform, that’s likely to mean digital services such as insurance and a mobile wallet.

The company made a major push last year to partner with local ‘warung’ kiosk store retailers — who sell items much like street vendors — in a bit to differentiate itself from Tokopedia, which is much like Alibaba’s Taobao service for Indonesia, and develop an offering for consumers.

Beyond its e-commerce marketplace, Bukalapak also offers streaming and fintech products.

Source: TechCrunch

SimplyCook dishes up £4.5M Series A for its subscription-based flavourings and recipe service

SimplyCook, the recipe kit service that focuses on flavour ingredients, has closed £4.5 million in Series A funding. The round is led by Octopus Investments.

Unlike other recipe or meal kits, such as HelloFresh, Gousto and Marley Spoon, U.K.-based SimplyCook doesn’t send all of the fresh ingredients required to turn its recipes into food on your table. Instead, the subscription service consists of recipe cards and what SimplyCook calls “ingredients kits,” which are herbs, spices, sauces and other extras needed to cook each meal.

It’s not only a product that potentially has better margins than fresh food recipe kits — by negating the need to manage such perishable goods — SimplyCook founder and CEO Oli Ashness argues that SimplyCook’s flavour kits have broader mass-market appeal, too.

“Flavour products are used by over 50 percent of consumers weekly,” he says. “Whereas fresh food delivery still caters for maybe 0.25-0.5 percent of evening meals in the UK. Flavour already works as a way to get people cooking. Fresh Meal Kits are fairly unproven”.

“I am actually a fan of how some fresh food players are run and their founders, however, I am still not convinced fresh food meal kits will ever be mass market like us due to the level of monthly commitment. Getting people to spend [less than] £10 per month is much easier than asking them to spend £120-£200 per month, in my opinion. It’s going to be much easier for us to build a big base in customer numbers”.

He also makes the valid point that SimplyCook builds on the success of traditional flavour brands, such as Old El paso, Dolmio, Knorr, and Schwartz, “[that] have got millions cooking”.

Related to this, as well as selling subscriptions online, the company has launched SimplyCook recipe kits in physical retail stores. This is seeing it pursue a hybrid online/offline model that Ashness likens to healthy snack company Graze. (Notably, HelloFresh tried selling into grocery stores in the U.K., before cooling on the idea).

Meanwhile, SimplyCook says its Series A funding will be used to invest in technology and sales & marketing, in order to drive continued growth across the U.K. and beyond.

“We also expect this funding round to fuel international launches,” adds the SimplyCook CEO, [and to] provide working capital for the retail business and allow us to invest in technology to aid our operations. These investments we’ll make over the next 2 years”.

Source: TechCrunch

Flash, the stealthy e-scooter and ‘micro-mobility’ startup from Delivery Hero founder, raises €55M Series A

Flash, the stealthy mobility startup from Delivery Hero and Team Europe founder Lukasz Gadowski, is de-cloaking today, with news that the Berlin-based company has raised a whopping €55 million in Series A funding.

Despite rumours that multiple VC firms would be involved, the bulk of the new funding comes from Target Global via its mobility fund, which led this round and was already an existing backer of Flash. Others participating in Flash’s Series A include Idinvest Partners, Signals Venture Capital and a number of unnamed angel investors.

Notably, Gadowski is listed as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Target Global, and has been broadly working in the mobility space for the past two years. Rather quietly, he is also an investor in Grin, the Mexico City-based electric scooter company backed by Y Combinator.

In a call with Gadowski, he filled in many of the blanks relating to his new venture, including positioning Flash as a “micro-mobility” company that wants to solve the last-mile transportation problem. The startup is initially entering the e-scooter rental space, but this is just the beginning, he says. More broadly, the way he and his team think about Flash is that it is “unbundling” the car, with new forms of transport.

“In a few years time, micro-mobility will look very different from today,” says Gadowski, revealing that before founding Flash last year, he also took a hard look at new forms of aviation.

Even though it is still very early days for Flash, the startup already boasts a current team of more than 50 full-time employees, recruited from the likes of Uber, Amazon, and Airbnb. Alongside Gadowski, the other Flash co-founders are Carlos Bhola (Corp. Development) and Tim Rucquoi-Berger (Supply & Operations).

“This is not a scooter” – Flash branding in stealth mode

Notably — and definitely quietly — Flash is already operating in Switzerland and Portugal, with plans to launch into France, Italy and Spain in spring 2019, and in the rest of Europe in summer 2019.

The existing launches have been soft-launches, to say the least, with Flash e-scooters not initially carrying the company’s branding, instead sporting the label “This is not a scooter,” part in-house word play, part a statement of intent. Not just another scooter company might be an even more apt label if Gadowski’s longer-term ambitions are realised.

Perhaps more of a product-market-fit trial than anything else, Flash has initially used off-the-shelf e-scooters at launch, whilst simultaneously developing its own hardware and technology. The startup is headquartered in Berlin, but Gadowski tells me the team was first posted in China, establishing a supply chain and other partnerships that he believes can help give Flash the edge.

I put to him a common belief amongst some VCs that the e-scooter space in Europe is heading for a bloodbath that will continue to see a huge amount of venture capital pumped into the space, and subsequently many losers and a lot of money lost.

Recent raises by European e-scooter startups include Wind Mobility ($22 million), VOI ($50 million and Tier (€25 million). Meanwhile, Taxify has also announced its entrance into e-scooter rentals, and Bird and Lime have received substantial investment from three of Europe’s top venture capital firms. Index and Accel have backed Bird, and Atomico has backed Lime.

Gadowski appears for the most part unfazed by the swelling of competition coffers, although he does concede that the current “land grab” is forcing Flash to move slightly faster than it might have done otherwise. In some ways, he would have preferred to continue a more staggered, cautious roll-out, describing the startup as “product-first and multi-vehicle,” and says its customers are not just users of the service but local residents more broadly and the authorities with which it needs to coordinate. “Mistakes can be a lot more serious than at Delivery Hero, safety is involved,” he cautions.

The size of recent funding rounds in the space has also surprised him. However, he doesn’t think this is a “Facebook scenario,” where there will only be a single winner. Several micro-mobility companies can happily co-exist, he says, and the early movers are helping to pave the way for others, including Flash.

I suggest that the e-scooter land grab at its current pace also has a high chance of provoking a backlash amongst consumers and/or authorities, perhaps after a more serious safety accident or other source of reputational damage. Gadowski concedes this is definitely a “short-term” risk, but says there is so much determination by governments and local authorities to solve congestion and the last-mile problem, he doesn’t believe it will be a long-term one.

Finally, I asked Gadowski if he is considering acquiring smaller e-scooter startups in Europe (or perhaps elsewhere), as part of a roll-up strategy that would help the company leapfrog competitors. He declined to rule out acquisitions entirely — Delivery Hero was very effective in this regard — but said it doesn’t make much sense right now as hype in the space has pushed valuations way up. A more likely scenario, he says, is investing in or acquiring startups that can help with other aspects of the business, such as in the supply chain.

Source: TechCrunch

AR startup Meta’s assets sold to a mystery ‘known name’ that will support existing headsets

Augmented reality technology enables us to see things in places where they may not actually exist. And sometimes, that paradigm might also apply to augmented reality startups themselves. Meta, the AR startup that was incubated at Y-Combinator and became the first to ship a set of “end-to-end” AR glasses (including hardware, software, direct tracking optics and SDK) to the market, raising a lot of money and high hopes in the process — only to crash, in recent weeks, into insolvency as it ran both out of money to fund the costly business of building hardware and options to raise more. Now, it looks like there is another chapter.

Meron Gribetz, Meta’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch in an interview earlier today that the company’s assets have been acquired by a mystery buyer. The buyer’s name and even its industry are not being disclosed, said Gribetz, except he did hint that it is a “known name” that might be revealed soon.

(We’ve asked a number of investors in the company if they know more and it seems none so far do. Even the lead at the agency that has been handling Meta’s PR — Spiralgroup, which specialises in crisis communications and other tricky situations — described the buyer’s name as a “black box”, no information whatsoever.)

There is only one firm detail on the future that Gribetz said he could share. The new buyer, he said, has already committed to supporting hardware that is already out on the market, but with little specific information on what will come next. “Our assets have a good future, and I’m encouraged by that fact,” he said. He added that about 85-90 percent of the company’s inventory of its latest (last) model, the Meta 2, had sold.

Otherwise, all Gribetz could say was that it was an asset sale, for “less than the bank was owed”, in reference to the company’s debts.

Among the other details that are unclear are whether Meta talent will be joining the new owner. It sounds like that, at least, is still under negotiation for some of them — Gribetz included — which implies that there are plans for using the IP and other assets the buyer has acquired, either on their own or in combination with other IP. (Notably, one of the assets that was acquired was the Meta brand, although that could easily have been also to protect it from being used by others.)

These latest developments cap off a hectic several months for Meta.

After a scrappy start — I first met the company at CES in Las Vegas years ago, when five engineers and Gribetz all slept in one hotel room that was also where they showed off product demos — the company landed in the elite Y Combinator incubator and started to attract the attention of big investors, and eventually became the first company to ship a complete AR solution, including hardware and software to make it work. That led to more investment and ambitions to target China.

But the Meta 2, the second version of its eyewear, was to be its last. The Silicon Valley startup fell onto hard times in September 2018 after a fundraise of $20 million, critical to its survival, which it had secured from an unnamed Chinese investor, was blocked by China over trade tensions between it and the US. Around that time, the company laid off a number of staff and those remaining were furloughed in hopes of better times ahead.

That didn’t turn out to be the case. Gribetz told TechCrunch that in subsequent months, he’d received small investments from individuals to help temporarily pay some of the employees who were still with the company, but “no one stepped in” to definitely close the funding gap. “Maybe it was the furlough that scared them off,” he said.

In the meantime, things got even tougher. Meta was served with patent suits — which may still follow the IP wherever it goes, although it’s not clear at all yet whether the suits are legit or without merit. And that seemed to be the final straw that led to the insolvency and subsequent asset sale.

There is a lot of potential speculation about who might be interested in Meta’s assets, and why the buyer is keeping quiet.

If it’s a big company, that makes it an obvious target for a patent litigation chaser. If it’s a company from a country like China, it could raise questions and cause problems given the current climate and trade tensions. If it’s interested in AR in a public way, it doesn’t want to reveal its hand. If it’s trying to prepare an entry into the market, it wouldn’t want to be known, either. If it’s a completely new entrant to AR, it may not want anyone to pre-judge based on Meta’s failure.

Meta had raised nearly $83 million reaching a valuation of as much as $300 million, with investors including strategics like hardware giant Lenovo, internet giant Tencent, Dolby, Comcast, alongside some 24 others, a mix of VCs and individuals. Those strategics also might be considered buyers — although so far we’ve confirmed that at least one, Lenovo, is not it.

Whoever has made the purchase, two words of advice: caveat emptor.

Although AR and VR startups reached a high watermark of $3 billion in funding in 2017, and for all the promise of various companies in the field, the bigger picture for AR and its sister technology, virtual reality, has not been as bright in more recent times.

Gribetz said he believes that one day every company will be an AR company, but for now, we are far from that. Headsets and glasses — a primary component of many services — are still clunky, we haven’t seen the “killer app” yet that will bring a mass market running to buy products, and it’s not even clear that there may ever be. If you think of how much of the AR content you get already comes by way of your smartphone, then it may turn out just to be an additional feature, not a major step change after all.

All of that is leading to many AR and VR efforts feeling the pinch. Some, like ODG and Blippar, have collapsed entirely. Others like Magic Leap have failed to live up to their impossible hype. And others are rethinking their strategies for the longer haul, shelving some of their ambitions in the process.

In that context, Gribetz is even a little sanguine about Meta’s crash landing.

“It’s a bittersweet happiness,” he said when asked about how he feels about the sale. “This is not the way I would have wanted things to precipitate, obviously. On the other hand, when I look at the competitive landscape and the companies that are completely flaming out — and there are a lot — and their products disappear from the world never to be seen again, I can only express my personal hopes, because Meta is now inside of a new home — and it’s a good home — I can only express my hopes that these products have a future.”

Source: TechCrunch

Tesla to recall 14,000 Model S cars in China over faulty Takata airbags

China’s top market regulator said on Friday that Tesla will recall a total of 14,123 imported Model S vehicles in the country over potentially deadly airbags.

The recall is part of an industry-wide crackdown on Takata-made front passenger airbags, which involves roughly 37 million vehicles including more mainstream brands such as Toyota and Ford, as noted by the United States Department of Transportation. These defective airbags use a propellant that might rupture the airbag and cause serious injuries, or even deaths.

Tesla has begun a worldwide recall of its sedans that use Takata airbags, the firm said on its Support blog. It noted that the airbags only become defective based on certain factors, such as age. The recall does not affect later Model S vehicles, Roadster, Model X, or its more affordable Model 3.

The China recall involves Model S cars manufactured between February 2014 to December 2016, shows a notice posted on the website of China’s State Administration for Market Regulation. TechCrunch has reached out to Tesla for comments and will update the article once more information is available.

The setback comes as Tesla is making a big push into the world’s largest auto market and tapping on Beijing’s effort to phase out fossil-fuel cars for China. The company recently reached an agreement with the Shanghai government to build its first Gigafactory outside the US, which will focus on making Model 3 cars for Chinese consumers. There is no target date for the factory to become fully operational yet.

Despite being an alluring market, China has been a major source of Tesla’s concerns over the past months due to escalating trade tensions and the rollback of government subsidies for green vehicles. Tesla responded by slashing its Model 3 price by 7.6 percent for China to neutralize heavy tariffs on imported cars.

The Palo Alto-based company previously recalled 8,898 Model S vehicles in China over corroding bolts, which it claimed at the time had not led to any accidents or injuries.

Source: TechCrunch