Volkswagen revealed Tuesday evening a new concept vehicle called the ID Space Vizzion, and despite the crazy Frank Zappaesque name, this one might actually make it into production in Europe and North America. The ID Space…
Audi revealed Tuesday evening in Los Angeles the e-tron Sportback as the German automaker begins to chip away at its plan to launch more than 30 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids by 2025. The e-tron…
With Jinx, three former members of the Casper team are looking to bring what CEO Terri Rockovich called “the Casper playbook” to selling dog food. The startup has raised $5.65 million from an all-star list…
When disability rights lawyer Haben Girma, who is blind and deaf, booked an apartment in London via Airbnb last month, she says the host cancelled her reservation after she disclosed that her guide dog would…
Superpedestrian, the startup working with a handful of scooter operators to deploy vehicles that can perform self-diagnostics, just raised a $20 million round from Spark Capital, General Catalyst, Hanaco Ventures and Empire Angels. This brings…
First came Pokémon GO. Then came Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Then came… Catan? It’s starting to look like the next property to get Niantic’s “real world game” treatment will be Catan — the namesake island…
Cloud kitchens, ghost kitchens, dark kitchens. No doubt by now you know a little about these businesses that are moving into underused or more affordable properties that can be turned into shared workspaces for the…
Before the hyperclouds, there were Linode, Mediatemple, HostGator and seemingly a million other hosting services that let you rent affordable virtual private servers for your development needs. And while we don’t talk about them all…
Karma Automotive’s second act is a gasoline-electric luxury vehicle that aims to deliver more performance and tech inside a sleek and sporty $149,950 package. The 2020 Revero GTS unveiled Tuesday during AutoMobility LA, the press…
Volkswagen revealed Tuesday evening a new concept vehicle called the ID Space Vizzion, and despite the crazy Frank Zappaesque name, this one might actually make it into production in Europe and North America.
The ID Space Vizzion is the seventh concept that VW has introduced since 2016 that uses its MEB platform, a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.
The first vehicles to use this MEB platform will be under the ID brand, although this platform can and will be used for electric vehicles under other VW Group brands such as Skoda and Seat. The ID.3, the first model in its new all-electric ID brand and the beginning of the automaker’s ambitious plan to sell 1 million EVs annually by 2025.
The ID Space Vizzion is equipped with a rear-mounted 275-horsepower motor and a 82 kilowatt-hour battery pack with a range of up to 300 miles under the EU’s WLTP cycle. A second motor can be added to give it all-wheel drive capability and a total output of 355 horsepower.
This concept will likely be described in a number of ways — and during the event at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles it was — but this is a wagon through and through.
Audi revealed Tuesday evening in Los Angeles the e-tron Sportback as the German automaker begins to chip away at its plan to launch more than 30 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids by 2025.
The e-tron Sportback reveal ahead of the LA Auto Show follows the launch earlier this year of Audi’s first all-electric vehicle, the 2019 e-tron.
Audi has delivered 18,500 of its all-electric e-tron SUVs globally since March 2019 when the vehicle first came to market. And the company is hoping to grab more, and different, customers with the Sportback.
Audi plans to offer two variants of the vehicle, a Sportback 50 and Sportback 55. The Sportback will come to Europe first in spring 2020. The Sportback 55 will come to the U.S. in fall 2020.
Audi calls this e-tron Sportback a SUV coupé, the latest evidence that automakers are comfortable pushing the boundaries of traditional automotive terminology. This is not a two-door car with a fixed roof and a sloping rear, although there are “coupé” elements in the design.
This is in fact a SUV with a roof that extend flat over the body and then drops steeply to the rear — that’s where the coupé name comes in — and into the D pillar of the vehicle. Then there’s the classic “Sportback” feature in the body where the lower edge of the side window rises toward the rear.
There are design details repeated throughout the exterior, specifically the four-bar pattern in the headlamps, front grille and wheels. And of course there are special interior and exterior finishes – 13 paint colors in all — and a first edition version customers can buy. The base price of the Sportback is 71,350 ($79,000).
But importantly, besides some styling and design changes, this vehicle boasts longer range and for everyone outside the U.S., futuristic looking side mirrors and new lighting tech.
The 2020 Audi e-tron Sportback has a 86.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack that has a range of up to 446 kilometers (277.1 miles) in the EU’s WLTP cycle. The EPA estimates aren’t out yet, but expect the range numbers to be slightly lower.
The company is targeting an EPA range of about 220 miles over the 204 miles of range that the regular e-tron gets.
Audi was able to improve the range by increasing the net battery capacity. It also decoupled the front motor and improved the thermal management.
Lighting and mirrors
Audi is known for its lighting and the company has made this a key feature in the Sportback. The vehicle has a new digital matrix headlights that breaks down light into tiny pixels. The result is precise lighting that has high resolution.
Inside the headlight is a digital micromirror device that acts like a video projector. Inside the DMD is a small chip from Texas Instruments that contains one million micromirrors. These micromirrors can be tilted up to 5,000 times per second.
The upshot: The headlights can project specific patterns on the road or illuminate certain areas more brightly. And for fun, animations like the e-tron or Audi logos can be projected on a wall when the vehicle is stopped.
Check out this video to see it in action.
The safety piece of this is the most interesting. For instance, on a freeway the light might creates a carpet of light that illuminates the driver’s own lane brightly and adjusts dynamically when he or she changes lane.
Then there are the virtual exterior mirrors. This wing-shaped side mirror doesn’t have an exterior mirror. Instead, it supports integrate small cameras. The captured images appear on high-contrast OLED displays inside the car between the instrument panel and the door.
If the driver moves their finger toward the surface of the touch display, symbols are activated with which the driver can reposition the image. The mirrors can be adjust automatically to three driving situations for highway driving, turning and parking.
Neither the mirrors of the digital matrix LED lighting is available in the U.S. and won’t be until the government changes its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, or FMVSS, which are the regulations that dictate the design, construction, performance, and durability requirements for motor vehicles.
With Jinx, three former members of the Casper team are looking to bring what CEO Terri Rockovich called “the Casper playbook” to selling dog food.
The startup has raised $5.65 million from an all-star list of investors including Alexis Ohanian of Initialized Capital, Align Ventures, Brand Foundry, Wheelhouse Group, Will Smith and his family, the rapper Nas, singer Halsey, YouTube star/late night host Lilly Singh and TV personality/former NFL star Michael Strahan.
Rockovich previously served as vice president of acquisition and retention marketing at Casper, where she met her co-founders Sameer Mehta and Michael Kim. She said all three of them are “dog obsessives” who have experience trying to feed “picky eaters.” And they wer “hungry for a brand that is skinned in a way that is a lot more relatable to millennial consumer.”
It’s not just about taking regular dog food and selling it in a new way, either. Rockovich noted that an estimated 56% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. So Jinx’s staff nutritionist — working with a larger nutrition council — has developed a line of kibble and treats that she said is “packed with organic proteins, diversified proteins and easy-to-process carbohydrates for a moderately active animal.”
Jinx plans to start selling its first products in January. Rockovich said it will target pet owners with a certain set of “lifestyle attributes” — like living in an apartment, hiring dog walkers and owning dogs who sleep in their beds — and educate them so they actually examine the ingredients of their dog food, whether they buy it from Jinx or someone else.
“We understand the serious nature of creating something that goes into a body and kind of powers a lifestyle,” she said. “We’ve been so conscious of that. Frankly, it’s delayed our timeline — we know we have to get it right.”
As for how much this will cost, Rockovich said Jinx will “fall in the premium category.” (If you’re familiar with premium dog food brands, she said Jinx pricing be somewhere between Blue Buffalo and Orijen.) And while the company start off by selling directly to consumers through its website, Rockovich said her Casper experience has taught her the importance of having “some IRL presence, specifically in retail.”
When disability rights lawyer Haben Girma, who is blind and deaf, booked an apartment in London via Airbnb last month, she says the host cancelled her reservation after she disclosed that her guide dog would be joining her.
Prior to the cancellation, Girma and the host, Kirk Truman, had a lengthy exchange over the course of about a week-and-a-half in which Girma explained her situation, as well as educated the host about Airbnb’s non-discrimination policy that protects both her and her guide dog, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equality Act in the U.K., she told TechCrunch.
Despite this discussion, which TechCrunch has read and reviewed, Truman continued to express concern, saying, “I think my freeholder would be really unhappy with me if he found out that I had somebody stay in the flat with a dog/guide dog.”
The discussion continued, with Truman saying that “it should all be fine.” In the same message, he added that, had he “known when you first requested to book about you bringing your guide dog, I would’ve spoken to you about all we’ve discussed before proceeding with the booking.”
But ultimately, a couple of weeks later, Truman canceled Girma’s reservation. He justified the cancellation by saying the property would be undergoing some work during her scheduled stay, according to the conversation reviewed by TechCrunch. However, Girma says when her friend tried to book the same dates at that property five days later, Truman accepted the reservation.
When reached for comment about why Truman accepted her friend’s reservation for those same dates, Truman told TechCrunch via email his property has a leak and that the repairs are supposed to happen this coming weekend (November 23-24), which is when Girma was originally scheduled to stay at his flat.
“These dates were changed to this week by the contractor but then again changed to this coming weekend and are likely to be delayed into next week,” Truman said. “I should also add, that I also had to cancel another booking due to the issues with the leak as it happened again quite recently.”
It was when Girma found out Truman accepted her friend’s reservation for the same dates that she reached out to Airbnb. The company expressed remorse and told Girma that it would review the situation to determine if Truman deserved a warning, account suspension or permanent removal from the platform.
“For privacy reasons we can’t share what will happen after the review, but we want you to know that we are committed to fighting discrimination and ensuring that the Airbnb community is open and accessible to everyone,” an Airbnb customer service representative named Matt wrote to her in a message reviewed by TechCrunch.
But Girma took issue with the fact that Airbnb said it would keep the resolution of the review process quiet.
“Telling victims of discrimination that the result of the review process is private contributes to guests feeling like the platform is not safe,” Girma told TechCrunch via email. “We want to know if the company decides to protect discriminatory hosts. The company needs to be transparent with victims of discrimination.”
“I’m interested in whether or not Airbnb will take action, and I’m deeply disappointed that the company has chosen not to tell me what will be done in this incident,” Girma wrote to Airbnb.
In response, Airbnb reiterated that it would not disclose what actions it took with Truman. About one week later, however, Airbnb changed its course and let her know that the company took the route of host education. Additionally, Airbnb said Truman was now aware that future violations could result in his removal from the Airbnb platform.
But Girma said she had already gone out of her way to educate the host about Airbnb’s policy, as well as the ADA and the U.K.’s Equality Act.
“He knew it would be against your policy, and still canceled my reservation,” Girma wrote to Airbnb. “He claimed it was because the flat would have construction during my dates. My nondisabled friend then applied to stay at the flat for the exact same dates, and Kirk immediately accepted my friend’s reservation. All of this is in the records I sent to you.”
Haben Girma with Mylo, her seeing guide dog
Girma then expressed dismay that Airbnb had chosen not to remove Truman and asked the company to reconsider. Shortly after sending that message, Girma got in touch with TechCrunch.
Following an inquiry from TechCrunch, Airbnb said it would suspend Truman for 30 days:
“To use our platform, Airbnb community members must commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of disability, race, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias. We have suspended this host and sincerely thank Haben both for reporting this incident and for her past work to help Airbnb’s team better serve the disability community.”
In determining what action to take, Airbnb concluded that what Truman did fell into the category of discriminatory impact versus discriminatory intent. So, if a host calls the guest the N-word, that’s discriminatory intent and impact, which would result in immediate removal from the platform. Discriminatory impact, according to Airbnb, is how it sees this situation between Girma and the host. Airbnb’s theory is that Truman is not irredeemable and can learn from this situation. And, if he doesn’t, then he may be removed entirely.
“I understand the implication yes, though this was not why Haben’s booking was cancelled in the first place,” Truman told TechCrunch. “I have written to Airbnb to appeal against this decision as I feel there appears to have been a misunderstanding.”
Airbnb has since notified Girma of the resolution, which entails the aforementioned 30-day suspension, as well as a re-education of its policies. However, she says this is a “gentle” punishment.
“Responding to violations by educating hosts again and again creates a culture where hosts know they can get away with discrimination,” Girma said. “And if they are extremely unlucky the worst that will happen is a thirty-day suspension.”
Even more alarming, Girma said, is that Airbnb told her the company has instructed Truman that any similar violation “may result” in his removal.
“Airbnb cannot even commit to removing Kirk if he does this again,” she said. “I’m deeply concerned about the lack of enforcement.”
Airbnb has since offered Girma money to cover her costs of seeking accommodation elsewhere, but she says she does not plan to accept any compensation.
What Girma would prefer, she told TechCrunch, is for Airbnb to commit to making the complaint process transparent to victims, strictly enforce the accessibility policy and remove hosts who violate it.
“The company has thousands and thousands of hosts; why is Airbnb so intent on protecting a host that knowingly violated policies and discriminated against a disabled guest?” Girma wondered. “Airbnb has a systemic enforcement problem. Knowingly violating Airbnb policy apparently won’t even get hosts removed from the platform. Airbnb policy is to not tell victims of discrimination the results of complaint reviews. How will guests ever feel safe using Airbnb when we know hosts that violate Airbnb’s own policies stay on the platform?”
It’s worth noting Airbnb has also made some positive changes on the accessibility front. Last March, it added accessibility filters to make it easier for people with disabilities to find accessible travel accommodations, such as places with step-free entry and entryways that are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
But despite Airbnb’s attempts to educate hosts and create a platform that fosters inclusivity, it’s clear that not all hosts are on board, which is still resulting in discrimination. If you’ve experienced discrimination on Airbnb, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Superpedestrian, the startup working with a handful of scooter operators to deploy vehicles that can perform self-diagnostics, just raised a $20 million round from Spark Capital, General Catalyst, Hanaco Ventures and Empire Angels. This brings Superpedestrian’s total funding to $64 million.
Superpedestrian has yet to announce its operating partners, but is on track to launch in multiple markets in January.
Superpedestrian scooters can last up to seven days without recharging, assuming about five to six rides per day, its CEO Assaf Biderman told TechCrunch. But its key offering is the vehicle intelligence platform, which is designed to detect more than one hundred situations that could lead to malfunction, triage each issue and then determine what response to take in order to prevent vehicle damage and rider injury.
“The vehicle is constantly asking itself if it’s safe,” Biderman said.
That means Superpedestrian’s software is continuously monitoring for things like water penetration, cut internal wires, battery cell temperature imbalances, braking issues and more. Superpedestrian’s software is also able to quickly enforce local speed limits via geofencing.
Superpedestrian isn’t disclosing how much it’s selling its platform and vehicles to operators, but says the price is competitive with the other products on the market. While Biderman says Superpedestrian is currently focused on selling to operators, the company does plan to eventually sell directly to consumers.
While launching and operating shared micromobility services is no longer novel, Superpedstrian is trying to take advantage of an emerging opportunity in the space. That opportunity is software. As business and mobility analyst Horace Dediu recently told me, these micromobility vehicles have an opportunity to also be software hubs. In fact, he said it’s where he expects bigger players like Google and Apple to enter the space.
Karma Automotive took the wraps off Tuesday of a new electric concept car called the SC2 that produces a heart-thumping 1,100 horsepower and can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds.
The concept is a showpiece and an integral part of the Chinese-backed California-based startup’s new strategy to become a technology and design incubator that supplies other automakers.
Karma Automotive also unveiled Tuesday at Automobility LA, the press and trade days of the LA Auto Show, a performance variant of its Revero GT. The new Revero GTS is similar to the Revero GT, but boasts more performance and several other new interior and tech touches.
Meanwhile, the SC2 — with its eye-popping looks and performance specs — is meant to be show what Karma can do, not necessarily what it will do.
Karma CEO Lance Zhou called the SC2 a “signpost” to the company’s future as a technology-driven brand. It also previews the company’s future design language.
“Our open platform serves as a test bed for new technologies and partnerships, where we are to provide engineering, design, technology and customization resources others,” Zhao said.
The nuts and bolts
The battery-electric concept has front and rear mounted twin electric motors that deliver 800 kW peak power, with 10,500 pound-feet wheel torque and 350 miles of pure electric range. The I-shaped 120 kilowatt-hour battery is housed in the center tunnel beneath the dashboard and seats.
The vehicle has carbon ceramic breaks, a push-rod operated racing suspension and a Karma torque vectoring gearbox.
The hinge-winged doors aren’t the only flashy or tech-forward features. The concept has long-range radars, cameras, and FMCW lidar sensors in a nod towards an autonomous driving future.
Drivers will theoretically (this is a concept after all) enter the vehicle through fingerprint and facial recognition sensors. Inside the vehicle, there are biometric seats and 3D audio to create individual sound zones for driver and passenger. Electro chromatic glass shifts from clear to opaque for privacy and light sensitivity.
Reliving the drive
Karma also showed a feature that lets drivers re-live their street-racing adventures through a simulation. A triple high definition camera under the windshield and frequency-modulated continuous wave lidar sensors capture of the car in motion. At the same time, software captures in real-time all of the turns, braking and acceleration of driving.
After the drive, an adaptive laser projector replays the journey while the vehicle is parked. A mounted smartphone acts as the cabin’s rear-view mirror and turns it into a driving simulator where the user can re-experience their drive and fine-tune their skills.
And of course, drivers can then share that experience with others or stream drivers’ routes from around the world within their own vehicles.
SC2’s technology can be integrated into a variety of future vehicles, according to Andreas Thurner, Karma’s vp of global design and architecture.
And that’s the whole point of this exercise. It’s unlikely that the SC2 will ever be made as a production vehicle. But the tech and design features in it could live on.
Karma Automotive’s roots began with Fisker Automotive, the startup led by Henrik Fisker that ended in bankruptcy in 2013. China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and Karma Automotive was born.
Karma hasn’t had the smoothest of resurrections. The company’s first effort, known as the Revero, wasn’t received warmly. The Revero GT has been an improved effort. However, that hasn’t relieved the pressure.
The company laid off about 200 workers this month from its Irvine, Calif. headquarters following a restructuring that will focus on licensing its technology to other carmakers. The company’s assembly plant is in Moreno Valley, Calif.
This new incubator effort is an effort to bring some stability to the company and help it offset the capitally intensive business of designing and producing its own cars.
First came Pokémon GO. Then came Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Then came… Catan?
It’s starting to look like the next property to get Niantic’s “real world game” treatment will be Catan — the namesake island from the popular Settlers Of Catan board game series.
Late last month, the company behind Catan said during a board games conference in Germany that it was working on a “upcoming massively multiplayer location based game” (albeit with no mention of Niantic). Called Catan: World Explorers, they noted that it “transforms the entire Earth into one giant game of CATAN”.
Sure enough, I’ve confirmed with folks at Niantic that the company is indeed involved. They won’t say much about it, but confirmed to me that the game is being built on Niantic’s Real World Platform.
Not sure what that means? After the launch of Pokémon GO, Niantic started focusing on taking the tools they’ve already built (their massive database of real world locations, the game engine, and the server architecture that makes the whole ‘real world game’ experience work) and opening them up for third parties to build upon. Whereas Pokémon GO was largely built within Niantic with some oversight from The Pokémon Company, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite shifted more of the workload over to their partners at WB Games. As I wrote in my profile of Niantic and its goal of becoming a platform company back in April:
There’s a ton of overlap when it comes to which of the two companies is building what aspect of the game, but from what I’m told it sounds like Niantic is mostly focusing on the stuff behind the curtain — everything on the platform side, like the map engine, the networking, and the AR tech — while WB Games’ main focus is the stuff you’ll see in game, like the story, the content, and the art and animation.
Meanwhile, we know a little about this Catan game from the aforementioned promo site:
The main gameplay screen, at least at this early stage, seems to look a whole lot like Pokémon GO and Harry Potter Wizards Unite. Same top-down map view, avatar in the bottom left, etc.
You’ll “construct roads, expand settlements, and race for Victory Points”, and trade resources with other players and NPCs
The landmarks that serve as Pokéstops/Gyms in Pokémon Go or Inns/Fortresses in Potter will act as locations to “collect resources and build settlements” here.
Beyond that, I’m told that more details should trickle out sometime in early 2020.
One of the very first things Niantic did, back when it was a tiny team inside of Google that didn’t really know what it was going to build, was tear apart a massive collection of board games to find mechanics that might work as a mobile game. This led them to build a prototype called BattleSF… which led to Ingress… which led to Pokémon GO, and beyond. It’s sort of fun, then, that the company has ended up back in the realm of board games.
Cloud kitchens, ghost kitchens, dark kitchens. No doubt by now you know a little about these businesses that are moving into underused or more affordable properties that can be turned into shared workspaces for the purposes of cooking up meals exclusively for delivery.
You probably also know that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been at the forefront of the trend for more than a year, growing his CloudKitchens business as fast as he can, fueled in part by $400 million that he quietly raised from the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia earlier this year. Sometimes these are in the U.S., in spaces in so-called opportunity zones or lower-income areas that, under the Trump Administration have enabled businesses to set up shop and avoid federal taxes in exchange. Sometimes they’re abroad. (Kalanick is reportedly eyeing big moves into both India and China.)
CloudKitchens has competition, though. In fact, among a growing number of rivals, its fiercest competitor is Kitchen United, a Pasadena, Ca.-based outfit that has raised roughly $56 million to date from investors including GV, Fidelty, and the real estate operating companies Divco West and RXR Realty, among others — and which has turned down hundreds of millions of dollars more for the time being.
Does its founder, a tech veteran turned restaurateur Jim Collins, not understand the opportunity before him? It was one question among many that Collins answered last week at a StrictlyVC event in San Francisco where he dazzled the crowd with his comic timing — and his tactics. The interview — conducted by former TechCrunch editor and now CNBC reporter Lora Kolodny — also provided one of the best overviews to date of what this fast-ballooning industry is really about.
If you’re interested in the future of how food is made and delivered — and who could win and lose in the process — this is an interview you should read to the end.
On Collins’s background:
“I did tech companies for a bunch of years and sold the last one off about 10 years ago, and i said i never want to work with venture capital people again. [Laughs.] That’s sort of true but not completely. Honestly, I was burned out, it was a grind.
[One day] there was a restaurant up the street for sale. I walked up the street and bought the restaurant and then came home and told my wife, ‘I bought the restaurant.’ And so we had a conversation that [that decision] might entail a lifestyle change where I was going to be gone every night, and I was at the restaurant every night for about a year and a half getting it going, but I absolutely fell in love with the restaurant business.
On how he came to run Kitchen United (as well as run his restaurant, which is still a going concern):
[Our restaurant] is in Montrose outside of Los Angeles, in a sleepy community that most people in Los Angeles have never heard of, and about a year-and-a-half ago, we started getting people at the door, saying, ‘Yes, I’m from Postmates’ or ‘DoorDash’ or ‘UberEats’ and ‘I’m here to place an order.’ Because we weren’t signed up on any services, I was like: What is that? I was so far outside of my past world that I didn’t even know what it was. But all of a sudden, it was a thing and [it was growing], and one day, a headhunter who I knew well called me up and said, ‘Hey, I want you to take a look at food thing.’ So he sent me a job description (that was honestly terrible) for the CEO role at Kitchen United, so I went and met the founders — the two folks who were with the company at the time — and I kind of fell in love with them and felt like it was a big idea that we could go after.
What they pitched him on, and why he didn’t think it would work:
The original business plan was, ‘Robots and autonomous cars are going to change the food business, so we need to be ready for that, so let’s build kitchens!’ And I said, ‘I think that’s actually true . . . in 10 years. The problem that the restaurant industry is experiencing because of the explosion of the shift in consumer demand and consumption isn’t a robots-and-autonomous-cars problem. It’s a proximity problem, and proximity is a problem we can solve tomorrow while we’re waiting.
What Kitchen United is building exactly:
We build kitchen centers. Basically you go into a space that’s $25 per square foot that no one has rented in 20 years, so we’ll take that space and put a bunch of kitchens in it. We also install a lot of technology — IoT, conveyer belts, all kinds of display information; we use machine learning to understand fire times — a whole series of things that go into deploying a kitchen center. Then we build a pick-up center in the front of the space that’s kind of the retail interface where drivers from Ubers, Postmates, DoorDash, Cavier, GrubHub (and seven other services can pick up the food) and [consumers can also grab pick-up].
There’s a thing called shared kitchens, which means that I’m going to go and cook in a space this morning, and when I’m done, somebody else is going to walk in this afternoon and cook in that same space. That’s not our business. Ours is effectively creating four-wall spaces for known restaurants to operate inside of our facilities for the purpose of extending their reach to meet new markets for delivery and consumer pick-up.
On whether Kitchen United is raising more money soon:
I don’t think so. We closed our Series B about six weeks ago.
It’s weird to be an entrepreneur in this world. There are two different operating methods that you’re encouraged to pursue if you’re going after a hot space. You’re either encouraged to be the biggest and fastest and to take as much money as you possibly can so you can be the biggest fastest, right? Or you’re encouraged to work hard and build a great business and then once you’ve built a great business, go out and get lots of money so you can build it.
Honestly, I felt like this business was so complex, that we had to learn about elementary stuff, like, where do we build these? Where’s the right place to put ’em? When we first started, we had meetings with big investment firms that were saying, ‘We’ll put $250 million against a $750 million valuation right now.’ That was the first conversation, when it was really like, we’ll put $8 in against whatever [laughs]. But when we were having that conversation, I’m flying home, thinking, $250 million? How would I deploy that? And they’re saying, ‘Well, you just go out and buy a bunch of warehouses in opportunity zones, and put kitchens in them, and it’ll be a great business! It’ll be awesome and you’ll own the market!”
Except warehouses in opportunity zones are too far away from consumers for food to get there fast enough for consumers to want to order from those restaurants. So I would have deployed $150 million in venture capital on brick walls and dry wall and stoves and vents and plumbing — like, ugly stuff. And once that stuff is deployed, it isn’t like it’s so easy to pick it up and move it someplace else.
How Kitchen United competes, if not in a land grab:
Most conservative projections for this space over the course of the next four years are that we’re going to go from somewhere around $30 billion today to around $230 billion, so people come along and people say, ‘This guy is in this business and he’s got all this money’ or ‘This company has raised this much to put to work; does that make you nervous?’ And the answer is, if we go out and build 3,000 of these things, we build like the fourth-largest restaurant chain in the U.S., we’ve only addressed about 40 percent of the total market. So when I look at it from a pure antiseptic, practical perspective, the fact is we need other people in the space, helping us solve the problem. And honestly, to the extent that other people are learning from us and getting better, and we’re learning from others and getting better, I think the competition isn’t a bad thing, I think it’s a good thing. (Here, Kolodny teased him for his “very diplomatic answer.”)
On what makes Kitchen United distinct from its long and growing list of rivals:
First, we decided the U.S. is a giant market, so we decided to focus here on the U.S., despite requests probably once a week from somebody saying, ‘Come to Saudi Arabia’ because it turns out it’s hard to build kitchens anywhere in the world, and we’re pretty good at building them.
The other thing we did . . .[is decide to play nice with Kitchen United’s two biggest customers — major food chains and delivery services]. I don’t want to boil the ocean. I don’t want to be a restaurant; I don’t want to cook food for consumers. There are 800,000 restaurants in the U.S., so let’s let them cook food and let’s come alongside them and help them expand what they are doing into new areas. . . . Our whole job is to expand the inventory for the [delivery] marketplace, expand the addressable market for the restaurant, and expand options for consumers so that we have a great business for all the various markets that we’re serving.
On the criteria to become part of Kitchen United:
We don’t work with startup restaurants. We don’t work with people that only have one location. When we started, we didn’t know what would work so we brought in all kinds of restaurants and ended up having to kick most of them out because either they didn’t know how to be a restaurant or they didn’t know how to be a multi-location restaurant. This is true of the ghost kitchen community as a whole: if you’re a restaurant and you don’t already have a consumer connection and an audience and a following and you try to open in a space with no consumer interface, no storefront, you have to climb a giant mountain.
There are some virtual restaurant brands. We have one in our location in Chicago. They were people who had operated multi-location restaurants and had a tremendous amount of internet marketing savvy and skill, so we decided to let them operate and they’re actually doing pretty well, so that’s an interesting new wrinkle.
On whether anything disqualifies a business from using Kitchen United as a platform:
Yes, a lot of large chains that will say we want to be in Kitchen United. We were at a big real estate development conference in Las Vegas and there were probably 20 chains that talked with us about being in KU and probably 18 of them would not qualify.
You’d like to think [that’s on a nutritional basis]. One thing we’ve learned isn’t to filter what the American consumer wants; our job is just to provide a path for them to get what they want.
The actual challenge is giant chains that have very little ability to create an online connection to their consumer. If they don’t have sophisticated online ordering interfaces, if they haven’t deployed the right technologies into their ERP and their ordering infrastructure and all the stuff that goes into the back end, then they aren’t going to be a good fit for KU because of the operational problems they have to overcome is just too great.
On how Kitchen United uses the data that’s running through it’s operations:
It’s a hot topic. We’re pretty careful. KU is a partner to our restaurants, and so we learn information through our own order channel. We don’t derive much information through the marketplace channels. There’s sort of a misnomer that when the marketplaces deliver orders . . . all we know is a consumer name, we don’t know an address or any of the other information. So you don’t get a lot of data like that.
Information we do get is stuff like how many chicken sandwiches a Chick-fil-A is selling or whatever. And you might think, ‘Oh cool, so you’ll just make a chicken sandwich [of your own] when Chick-fil-A closes down and you’ll sell it to the public.’ The restaurant world is very nervous about that; it’s a big topic in this space. If you go to restaurant conferences, there are a lot [accusations of], ‘They’re stealing my data.’ I’m the guy on stage saying, ‘It’s their data [the delivery marketplaces]. They attracted the consumer, they got the order from you. It’s their data. They aren’t stealing your data, it’s their data; you chose to allow them to sell your product on their network.’
But [also] it’s not as easy as that. You can’t just whip up a fried chicken sandwich and make consumers like it. The world is littered with even more failed restaurants than failed startups.
What happens to neighborhoods — and local restaurants — if Kitchen United succeeds:
The restaurant industry is huge — $800 billion in the U.S., $675 billion if you discount hospitals and stuff like that. [This take-out market] is somewhere around $33 billion this year. So we’re edging into it as a percentage, but if you look at dining room revenue year over year for the last 20 years in the U.S restaurant industry, it grows 1% per year, which is pretty much consistent with population growth. And the same is projected to be the case this year.
So restaurants aren’t dying because of marketplace delivery. Marketplace delivery is actually pulling business out of grocery stores. That’s why you see Kroger and Amazon and other grocery store chains plowing down rows of [goods] and installing warm counters with warm food and you’re seeing grocery chains focus on delivery.
It’s the wild west. It’s a crazy market and I absolutely, positively love it. It’s not a question of what gets me up in the morning. I never go to bed.
Before the hyperclouds, there were Linode, Mediatemple, HostGator and seemingly a million other hosting services that let you rent affordable virtual private servers for your development needs. And while we don’t talk about them all that much these days, with maybe the exception of Digital Ocean, which disrupted that market a few years ago thanks to its low prices, these services are still doing quite well and are working to adapt their offerings to today’s developers. Unsurprisingly, that often means adding support for containers, which is exactly what Linode is doing with the beta launch of its Linode Kubernetes Engine (LKE) this week.
Like similar services, 16-year old Linode argues that its offering will help enable more developers to adopt containers, even if they are not experts in managing this kind of infrastructure.
“With the launch of Linode Kubernetes Engine, we’ve democratized Kubernetes for developers, regardless of their resources or expertise,” said Linode CEO and Founder Christopher Aker. “By automating the configuration, node provisioning and management of Kubernetes clusters, we’ve made it faster and easier to ship modern applications. And with realtime autoscaling, free master services, and our intuitive cloud manager interface and open API, developers can bypass the complexities of traditional container management and focus on innovating.”
The service is, of course, integrated with the rest of Linode’s tools, which these days include block and object storage, for example, as well as load balancing, in addition to the usual server options. There’s also support for autoscaling and while advanced users can use tools like Helm charts, Terraform and Rancher, there’s also one-click app support for deploying often-used applications.
Linode’s service is entering a market that already features plenty of other players. But it’s also a growing market with room for lots of different tools that cater to a variety of needs. Tools like Kubernetes now allow companies like Linode to reach beyond their current customer base and offer businesses a platform that allows them to easily develop and test new services on one platform and then put them into production somewhere else — or, of course, put them into production on Lindode, too.
Karma Automotive’s second act is a gasoline-electric luxury vehicle that aims to deliver more performance and tech inside a sleek and sporty $149,950 package.
The 2020 Revero GTS unveiled Tuesday during AutoMobility LA, the press and trade days of LA Auto Show, shares some of the same bits as its sibling Revero GT. Both vehicles use a gasoline-electric powertrain — a BMW engine powers a generator that charges the 28 kilowatt-hour nickel manganese cobalt lithium-ion battery. Like the GT, the battery supplies the GTS with 80 miles of electric driving. Both vehicles have a total 360-mile range when they’re fully charged and fueled with gas.
And both have some of the same operational features, including three driving modes and launch control that allows drivers to unlock all the power and torque inside and “launch” the vehicle down the road. The three drive modes are “stealth,” for pure-electric driving, a range extender mode called “sustain,” and sport, which combines the output from the battery pack and the generator for maximum driving performance.
The GTS does have a lot of extra though and costs about $15,000 more than the GT. The GTS has a new body, including a redesigned hood, doors, deck lid, body sides and side mirrors. It’s also faster off the line and can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in an estimated 3.9 seconds compared to the 4.5 seconds in the GT. The GTS comes with electronic torque vectoring, refined power steering. It also has a higher electronically-limited top speed of 130 miles per hour versus the GT’s 125 mph.
The GTS’ twin electric motors and all-electric powertrain produce 536 horsepower and 635 pound-feet of torque, which should deliver a responsive and exciting enough drive. Although we’ll have to wait and experience it for ourselves.
The new vehicle has advanced driver assistance features like blind spot and cross traffic detection as well as audio technology developed in house and active noise cancelling. The infotainment system has also been improved on the GTS and includes haptic tactile switches a new touchscreen and user interface processor as well as a center console with improved storage.
Karma Automotive says it will begin production of the GTS in first quarter of 2020. First deliveries of the Revero GT expected during the fourth quarter of 2019.
The new business plan
The Karma Revero GT was the first fully conceived product to come out of a company that launched from the remnants of Fisker Automotive, the startup led by Henrik Fisker that ended in bankruptcy in 2013. China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and Karma Automotive was born.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing though. The company’s first effort, known as the Revero, wasn’t received warmly. The Revero GT has been an improved effort. However, that hasn’t relieved the pressure.
The company laid off about 200 workers this month from its Irvine, Calif. headquarters following a restructuring that will focus on licensing its technology to other carmakers. The company’s assembly plant is in Moreno Valley, Calif.
Karma’s efforts to pack more tech and performance in the GTS makes sense considering the company’s new business strategy to open its engineering, design, customization and manufacturing resources to other companies. It also explains Karma’s other reveal Tuesday, an all-electric concept vehicle called the SC2 that delivers a stunning 1,100 horsepower and 10,500 lb.-ft. of torque and can achieve 0 to 60 mph in less than 1.9 seconds.
In other words, the GTS is a model of what Karma can do. And it explains some of Karma’s decisions to design and produce more of the vehicle’s components in house. Karma has developed its own inverters to maximize and maintain full software control for fast over-the-air updates as well as a proprietary 7.1-channel 570-watt Soloscape audio system, according to Todd George, the company’s VP of Engineering. The inverters convert DC current from the battery pack to power the AC drive motors, and to also capture AC power from the regenerative braking system to recharge the battery pack.
It’s a business angle that Karma hopes will give it the immediate and long-term capital it needs to stay afloat. Karma is backed and owned by Wanxiang, the massive Chinese auto parts supplier. But it will eventually need to stand on its own.