Congress readies for Mueller report to be delivered on CDs

If there weren’t enough obstacles already standing between Congress and the results of the special counsel’s multiyear investigation, lawmakers are expecting to need an optical drive to read the document.

A Justice Department official told the Associated Press that a CD containing the Mueller report would be delivered to Congress tomorrow between 11 and noon Eastern. At some point after the CDs are delivered, the report is expected to be made available to the public on the special counsel’s website.

.@PaulaReidCBS reports the Mueller report will be delivered to the Hill on CDs tomorrow.

House Judiciary Committee staff was prepared for this possibility — among many — and checked they still have a computer with a working CD-ROM drive (they do).

— Rebecca Kaplan (@RebeccaRKaplan) April 17, 2019

Any Congressional offices running Macs will likely have to huddle up with colleagues who still have a CD-capable drive. Optical drives disappeared from Apple computers years ago. With people increasingly reliant on cloud storage over physical storage, they’re no longer as popular on Windows machines either.

Tomorrow’s version of the report is expected to come with a fair amount of detail redacted throughout, though a portion of Congress may receive a more complete version at a later date. The report’s release on Thursday will be preceded by a press conference hosted by Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. If you ask us, there’s little reason to tune into that event rather than waiting for substantive reporting on the actual contents of the report once it’s out in the wild. Better yet, hunker down and read some of the 400 pages yourself while you wait for thoughtful analyses to materialize.

Remember: No matter what sound bites start flying tomorrow morning, digesting a dense document like this takes time. Don’t trust anyone who claims to have synthesized the whole thing right off the bat. After all, America has waited this long for the Mueller report to materialize — letting the dust settle won’t do any harm.

Starbucks challenger Luckin’s fundraising spree continues with $150M investment

Coffee startup Luckin is continuing its fundraising spree as it sets its sight on becoming an alternative to Starbucks in China.

The a-year-and-a-half old company announced on Thursday that it closed a Series B-plus raise totaling $150 million. The fresh proceeds valued Luckin at $2.9 billion post-money, up from $2.2 billion just four months ago.

While many question Luckin’s cash-fueled expansion, Blackrock, which owns a 6.58 percent stake in Starbucks, shows its confidence in the Chinese startup by pumping $125 million through its private equity fund into Luckin’s new round.

With that, the New York-based investment firm has its bet on two contrasting models for China’s coffee consumption. While Starbucks zeroes in on the brick-and-mortar experience, Luckin is a network of last-mile coffee delivery centers plus places for people to pick up orders and sit down targeting busy white-collar workers.

In a move that would amp up its battle with Luckin, Starbucks teamed up with Alibaba’s food delivery unit Ele.me last August to put hot and cold drinks in people’s hands.

Luckin did not disclose how it will spend the fresh capital infusion, but the pace at which it’s raising suggests the startup is in dire need of cash. The new round arrived less than a year after it secured a $200 million Series A in July and another $200 million from a Series B in December.

Indeed, Luckin founder Qian Zhiya, a former executive at auto rental firm Car Inc, confessed the company burned through $150 million within just six months from launching. A big chunk of money had gone to shelling out deep discounts for consumers, while the coffee challenger’s offline expansion was as cash-intensive.

As of late, Luckin has opened 2,000 outlets consisting of small prep kitchens, pickup stations and cafes in 22 Chinese cities, up from 1,700 locations reached in December. That gives Luckin less than eight months to fulfill its ambition of becoming the “biggest coffee chain in China by the number of outlets run and cups sold.” The goal is to top 4,500 outlets by the end of 2019.

Starbucks, which made its foray into China 20 years ago, has also been aggressively putting up storefronts. It currently runs 3,600 stores across 150 cities in China, up from 3,300 last May.

When it comes to actual people using the service, Starbucks still enjoys a huge lead. The Luckin app that allows one to order and pay has 650 thousand unique downloads in March, data from research firm iResearch shows. Starbucks’s app is more than four times its size with 2.81 million unique downloads from the same period.

Other investors who joined in on Luckin’s latest round included existing backers such as Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, Chinese government-controlled China International Capital Corporation, Dazheng Capital and Joy Capital, whose founding partner Liu Erhai sits on Luckin’s board.

Samsung responds to reviewer complaints about its Galaxy Fold phone

Samsung has issued a statement about its new, folding phone as early photos of tech reviewers with their shiny new toys were replaced on social media (and in numerous columns) with complaints from those same tech reviewers about problems with the phone’s screen.

Apparently a number of reviewers either mistakenly destroyed their phone screens or had the screens bork on them after a few days of use. It’s not a good look for Samsung.

However, our own Brian Heater had his hands on the Samsung phone, and has had nary a dent in his two days of use.

He wrote:

This sort of thing can happen with pre-production models. I’ve certainly had issues with review units in the past, but these reports are worth mentioning as a note of caution with a product, which we were concerned might not be ready for prime time only a couple of weeks ago.

At the very least, it’s as good a reason as any to wait a couple of weeks before more of these are out in the world before dropping $2,000 to determine how widespread these issues are.

All of that said, I’ve not had any technical issues with my Samsung Galaxy Fold. So far, so good. A day or so in does, however, tend to be the time when the harsh light of day starts to seep in on these things, after that initial novelty of the company’s admittedly impressive feat begins wane.

In its response, the company is bravely forging ahead and (sort of) blaming the messenger for not using the thing correctly. The phones will go on sale in the U.S. on April 26 as planned.

No less esteemed a tech reviewer than Recode’s Walt Mossberg called the response from Samsung “Really weak“.

Here’s the statement in full:

“A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.

Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.”

Consumers get another digital home health offering as Tyto Care and Best Buy launch TytoHome

Best Buy is partnering with the Israeli technology Tyto Care to become the official retailer for the company’s all-in-one digital diagnostics kit through its physical stores in California, the Dakotas, Ohio and Minnesota and through its online store.

Tyto previously sold its technology through healthcare plans, making its handheld examination device with attachments that act as a thermometer, a stethoscope, an otoscope and a tongue depressor available to families with insurance that wanted to reduce the cost of checkups through remote monitoring. The company’s handheld device comes with an exam camera so it can prompt users on where to position the device to get the most accurate readings.

Now, through Best Buy, consumers can buy the company’s kit for $299.99. Through a partnership with American Well, users of the TytoHome kit have access to the company’s LiveHealth Online consultation service (if they live outside of Minnesota or the Dakotas). Which means patients can use the device to perform a medical exam and send the information to a physician for a diagnosis any time of the day or night.

As part of the deal, Tyto Care is partnering with additional regional health care systems to provide medical care to consumers throughout the country. The first is Sanford Health, a Minnesota-based not-for-profit health system operating in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. 

For Best Buy the move builds on the company’s attempts to move quickly into providing digital healthcare services just like it provides technical support through its Geek Squad.

Last year the company bought GreatCall, which sells connected health and emergency response services to the AARP crowd.

“We’re excited to partner with Best Buy, LiveHealth Online, American Well and regional health systems to extend our on-demand telehealth platform across the U.S., enhancing primary care delivery,” said Dedi Gilad, the chief executive and co-founder of Tyto Care, in a statement.

The company, based in Herzliya, Israel, has raised $56.7 million to date from investors including Sanford Health, the Japanese Itochu Corp., Shenzhen Capital Group, Ping An, LionBird, Fosun Group, Orbimed and Walgreens.

The company said at the time that it would use the cash to expand in the U.S. and to other international markets in Asia and Europe.

“These strategic partnerships will enable us to gain further momentum and accelerate our growth, deepening our foothold in the U.S. and other new strategic markets,” said GiladTyto Care said in a statement at the time.

PathAI raises $60 million for its computer vision-based pathogen detection technology

With a clinical version of PathAI‘s computer vision-based pathogen detection service still at least one year from coming to market, the diagnostic technology developer has snagged $60 million in its latest round of financing.

The company’s tech is used by doctors to analyze cell samples taken from patients to determine the presence or absence of bacterium, viruses, cancerous cells or other disease causing agents.

These days, PathAI’s technology is used less in hospitals for patient care and more by pharmaceutical companies developing new drugs,  according to the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Dr. Andy Beck.

Our biggest focus today is a research platform we use it to examine new therapeutics for serious diseases,” Beck says. “We see that as a really important problem for patients… accelerating how we get safe and effective medicines to patients.”

That’s an attractive market given that pharmaceutical companies have more money to spend on new technology than hospitals.

When the company does work with pathologists, they’re using the technology for research purposes, says Beck. Any clinical diagnostic work would have to go through trials and be approved by regulators, he says.

“For this direct clinical use it’s in the one to two year timeframe,” he says. 

General Atlantic led the company’s latest round with additional capital coming from previous investors General Catalyst, 8VC, DHVC, REfactor Capital, KdT Ventures, and Pillar Companies.

PathAI has grown its staff to over 60 employees in the past year, and the company has signed partnerships with Bristol-Myers Squibb and Novartis .

As a result of the financing, General Atlantic managing director, Dr. Michelle Dipp will take a seat on the company’s board.

“PathAI’s work could radically improve the accuracy and reproducibility of disease diagnosis and support the development of new medicines to treat those diseases,” said David Fialkow, Managing Director at General Catalyst, in a statement. 

100 Car2go Mercedes hijacked in Chicago crime spree

Car2go, free-floating car-sharing service owned by Daimler, temporarily shut down its service in Chicago on Wednesday after dozens of Mercedes-Benz vehicles were stolen using the app.

The Chicago Police Department was alerted by Car2Go that some of their vehicles may have been rented by deceptive or fraudulent means through a mobile  app, a spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement to TechCrunch.

The news was first reported via tweet by Brad Edwards, a reporter with CBS Chicago. Edwards reported that sources said that many of the vehicles were allegedly used to commit other crimes. CPD did not provide any details about how the vehicles were used and said the investigation was ongoing.

Breaking: “Car 2 Go” app “hacked” in Chicago. As many as 100 Mercedes / high-end cars missing / stolen. Many being used to commit crimes. > 12 people in custody so far. Per sources. Developing. @cbschicago

— Brad Edwards (@tvbrad) April 17, 2019

Car2go launched in Chicago last June, the first time in four years that the company added a U.S. city to its ranks. The car-sharing company lets customers rent out vehicles on a short-term basis. Daimler’s diminutive Smart cars were once the lone option for Car2go customers. The company has expanded its offerings in recent years and now offers Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA, as well as the two-door Smartfortwo vehicles.

CPD said 100 vehicles are still unaccounted for. It is believed that 50 vehicles, all of them Mercedes-Benz remain in the greater Chicago area. Police are questioning more than a dozen persons of interest.

CPD said it’s working with Car2go to determine whether there are any other vehicles whose locations cannot be accounted for.  At this time the recoveries appear to be isolated to the West Side, CPD said.

While the perpetrators appear to have gained access to the vehicles through “fraudulent means,” Car2go emphasized that no personal or confidential member information has been compromised.

TechCrunch received a tip from a user who received this “temporary pause in service” message when trying to use the app. Car2go confirmed the shut down and added that it will provide an update as soon as possible.

Car2go is going through a branding and organizational transition. Daimler  AG and BMW Group officially agreed to merge their urban mobility services into a single holding company back in March 2018 with a 50 percent stake each. In February, the companies announced plans to unify their services under five categories by creating five joint ventures — Reach Now, Charge Now, Park Now, Free Now and Share Now.

Pinterest prices IPO above range

Pinterest priced shares of its stock, “PINS,” above its anticipated range on Wednesday evening, CNBC reports. The company will sell 75 million shares of Class A common stock at $19 apiece in an offering that will attract $1.4 billion in new capital for the visual search engine.

The NYSE-listed business had planned to sell its shares at between $15 to $17 and didn’t increase the size of its planned offering prior to Wednesday’s pricing.

Valued at $12.3 billion in 2017, the initial public offering gives Pinterest a fully diluted market cap of $12.6 billion.

The IPO has been a long time coming for the nearly 10-year-old company led by co-founder and chief executive officer Ben Silbermann . Given Wall Street’s lackluster demand for ride-hailing company Lyft, another consumer technology stock that recently made its Nasdaq debut, it’s unclear just how well Pinterest will perform in the days, weeks, months and years to come. Pinterest is unprofitable like its fellow unicorns Lyft and Uber, but its financials, disclosed in its IPO prospectus, illustrate a clear path to profitability. As for Lyft and Uber, Wall Street analysts, among others, still question whether either of the businesses will ever achieve profitability.

Eric Kim of consumer tech investment firm Goodwater Capital says despite the fact that Pinterest and Lyft are very different companies, Lyft’s falling stock has undoubtedly impacted Pinterest’s offering.

“They are so close together, it’s hard for those not to influence one another,” Kim told TechCrunch. “It’s a much different category, but they are still both consumer tech and they will both be trading at a double-digital revenue multiple.

The San Francisco-based company posted revenue of $755.9 million in the year ending December 31, 2018 — 16 times less than its latest decacorn valuation — on losses of $62.9 million. That’s up from $472.8 million in revenue in 2017 on losses of $130 million.

The stock offering represents a big liquidity event for a handful of investors. Pinterest had raised a modest $1.47 billion in equity funding from Bessemer Venture Partners, which holds a 13.1 percent pre-IPO stake, FirstMark Capital (9.8 percent), Andreessen Horowitz (9.6 percent), Fidelity Investments (7.1 percent) and Valiant Capital Partners (6 percent). Bessemer’s stake is worth upwards of $1 billion. FirstMark and a16z’s shares will be worth more than $700 million each.

Zoom — another tech company going public on Thursday that, unlike its peers, is actually profitable — priced its shares on Wednesday too after increasing the price range of its IPO earlier this week. The price values Zoom at roughly $9 billion, nearly surpassing Pinterest, an impressive feat considering Zoom was last valued at $1 billion in 2017 around when Pinterest’s Series H valued it at a whopping $12.3 billion.

Profitability, as it turns out, may mean more to Wall Street than Silicon Valley thinks.

Co-Star raises $5 million to bring its astrology app to Android

Nothing scales like a horoscope.

If you haven’t heard of Co-Star, you might just be in the wrong circles. In some social scenes it’s pretty much ubiquitous. Wherever conversations regularly kick off by comparing astrological charts, it’s useful to have that info at hand. The trend is so notable that the app even got a shout out in a New York Times piece on VCs flocking to astrology startups.

This week, the company behind probably the hottest iOS astrology app announced that it has raised a $5.2 million seed round. Maveron, Aspect, 14w and Female Founder Fund all participated in the round, which follows $750,000 in prior pre-seed funding. The company plans to use the funding to craft an Android companion to its iOS-only app, grow its team and “build features that encourage new ways get closer, new ways to take care of ourselves, and new ways to grow.”

TechCrunch spoke with Banu Guler, the CEO and co-founder of Co-Star about what it was like talking to potential investors to drum up money for an idea that Silicon Valley’s elite echo chambers might find unconventional.

“We certainly talked to some who were dismissive,” Guler told TechCrunch in an email. “But the reality is that interest in astrology is skyrocketing… It was all about finding the right investors who see the value in astrology and the potential for growth.”

“There are people out there who think astrology is silly or unserious. But in our experience, the number of people who find value and meaning in astrology is far greater than the number of people who are turned off by it.”

If you’ve ever used a traditional astrology app or website to look up your birth chart — that is, to determine the positions of the planets on the day and time you were born — then you’ve probably noticed how most of those services share more in common with ancient Geocities sites than they do with bright, modern apps. In contrast, Co-Star’s app is clean and artful, with encyclopedia-like illustrations and a simple layout. It’s not something with an infinite scroll you’ll get lost in, but it’s pleasant to dip into Co-Star, check your algorithmically-generated horoscope and see what your passive aggressive ex’s rising sign is.

In a world still obsessed with the long-debunked Meyers-Briggs test, you can think of astrology as a kind of cosmic organizational psychology, but one more interested in peoples’ emotional realities than their modus operandi in the workplace. For many young people — and queer people, from personal experience — astrology is a thoroughly playful way to take stock of life. Instead of directly predicting future events (good luck with that), it’s is more commonly used as a way to evaluate relationships, events and anything else. If astrology memes on Instagram are any indication, there’s a whole cohort of people using astrology as a framework for talking about their emotional lives. That search for authenticity — and no doubt the proliferation of truly inspired viral content — is likely fueling the astrology boom. 

“By positioning human experience against a backdrop of a vast universe, Co–Star creates a shortcut to real talk in a sea of small talk: a way to talk about who we are and how we relate to each other,” the company wrote in its funding announcement. “It doesn’t reduce complexity. It doesn’t judge. It understands.”

Kids on 45th just raised millions in seed funding to sell lightly used kids clothes — sight unseen

A seemingly endless number of startups has attracted funding in recent years to make life easier for people with money to spend. They’re sold nice clothes, chic shoes, cool office space, on-demand car services, on-demand laundry services, on-demand cleaning services, anti-aging therapies. It goes on and on.

Overlooked in the process is the overwhelming majority of Americans. In 2015, the top 1 percent of U.S. made more than 25 times what families in the bottom 99 percent did, a gap that has been growing. Most families aren’t spending money on making life easier or more glamorous for themselves because they can’t afford it. More, they’re often too busy to think much about it.

There are rare exceptions to startups that cater to more affluent populations. One company that comes to mind is Propel, a New York-based startup whose app helps food stamp recipients improve their financial health. Another is Yenko, a for-profit outfit committed to improving graduation outcomes.

Now, an even newer player has entered onto the scene whose proposition makes all the sense in the world for the many harried, overworked, and budget-conscious families out there. Called Kids on 45th, the nearly two-year-old, Seattle-based startup bundles up what it describes as nearly new clothing that suits the current season, and it sends it to customers sight unseen for far less than they would pay elsewhere, and requiring a lot less of their time.

The company ties back to a Seattle consignment store of the same name that’s been up and running since 1989. Entrepreneur Elise Worthy describes it as a “cornerstone” of the local parenting community, and she would know. She decided to buy the business two years ago, not only to save it when it teetered on the brink of closure, but to better understand how she might turn it to a scalable enterprise.  She learned plenty, too, including that when moms came into the store because their children had outgrown their clothes, they weren’t looking for anything specific. “They were just trying to solve a problem. They didn’t care if it was this pair or that pair; they just needed pants.”

The observation led to a revelation that Worthy could build an online business without creating an elaborate website with photos and clothing descriptions. In fact, she decided to build an anti-browsing experience that allows a shopper to say what sizes are needed, and what types of items (coats, pants, shirts), one sentence about his her kid’s style, and that’s it. It’s highly counterintuitive for today’s e-commerce landscape. But a customer mostly clicks a few boxes, then waits for however many items were ordered —  each priced between $3 and $4 — to arrive.

Part of what makes Kids on 45th work as a business is that it’s saving on a lot of fronts. Aside from not creating and maintaining a sophisticated, content-rich website, the company asks customers to donate any unwanted items locally, giving them account credits instead and avoiding what can be a crushing expense for e-commerce concerns: returns. According to the National Retail Federation, return rates on clothing are close to 40 percent when the merchandise is bought online.

The startup, which is bundling clothes for newborns to kids up to age 16, also has systems in place that should enable it to scale, including an exclusive fulfillment relationship with one of the country’s few aggregators of thrift clothing. After paying for clothes that this partner deems to be in high-quality condition — it has plenty of options, thanks to the more than 20 billion pounds of clothing that Americans donate each year — Kids on 45th puts its staff of 15 stylists to work. “We optimize for the mom who is holding both her cell phone and her kid,” explains Worthy. “We want her to be able to check out in less than two minutes, then hand over that hunting experience to us.”

Kids on 45th has a few other things going for it, as well. First, it doesn’t charge on a subscription basis, unlike some other startups boxing up kids’ clothing, like Rockets of Awesome and Kidbox, and it insists that it doesn’t need to. “We don’t want to trap moms,” says Worthy. “We’ll send them reminder emails,” she says, and they come right back. “Our retention is on a par with companies that charge subscriptions. Moms return at the same rate on their own.”

The idea of ordering bundles of kids clothing is also catching on fast. Just yesterday, Walmart announced that it’s partnering with Kidbox to enable shoppers to purchase up to six different boxes from Walmart each year. Each will include four to five items and cost $48, said the company. That’s roughly the same average order size at Kids on 45th, says Worthy — though the startup sends off between 12 to 15 items for the same amount.

Not last, while Kids on 45th is decidedly unflashy, it’s capitalizing on one of of the biggest trends in the world right now: growing awareness about landfills throughout the U.S. that are teeming with textiles that could easily be recycled, if only there were more places for it to go.

Certainly, the young company has momentum. It says has already shipped more than half a million items just a year after launching its online business. It also just raised $3.3 million in seed funding. Its backers include Yes VC, Maveron, SoGal Ventures, Sesame Street Ventures & Collaborative Fund, Liquid 2 VC, and Brand Foundry Ventures. No doubt they’re looking for returns, as VCs do. But it’s also an investment about which they can feel good. After all, if Kids on 45th can intercept more of the lightly used goods in the world and put them to smart use, more power to it.

Notes from the Samsung Galaxy Fold: day two

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the technical difficulties multiple reviewers have been experiencing with their units. This sort of thing can happen with pre-production models. I’ve certainly had issues with review units in the past, but these reports are worth mentioning as a note of caution with a product, which we were concerned might not be ready for prime time only a couple of weeks ago.

At the very least, it’s as good a reason as any to wait a couple of weeks before more of these are out in the world before dropping $2,000 to determine how widespread these issues are.

All of that said, I’ve not had any technical issues with my Samsung Galaxy Fold. So far, so good. A day or so in does, however, tend to be the time when the harsh light of day starts to seep in on these things, after that initial novelty of the company’s admittedly impressive feat begins wane.

Using the device in the lead up to our big robotics event tomorrow, a number of TechCrunch co-workers have demanded a few minutes with the the device. The reviews so far have been mixed, with most calling out the thick form factor when closed, as well as the crease. The latter, at least, is really dependent on environmental lighting. In the case of the backstage area at this event, it’s harsh overhead office lighting, which tends to bring the crease out when the phone is facing the ceiling.

On the other hand, I used the phone to watch videos while using the elliptical at the gym this morning. Titled toward me, the crease wasn’t noticeable. It’s also one of the ideal use cases for the product.

Some more notes:

  • The company’s stated “day long” life is pretty on the money. I got just over 24 hours of standard use (subtracting my five hours on a plane).
  • The screen has a built-in protector that looks a lot like the kind of adhesive guard Samsung’s phones ship with. Don’t peel it off. You will damage the phone.
  • I accidentally (I swear) dropped it off a table. It survived unscathed.
  • So many fingerprints.
  • The green finish looks like gold under certain lights. I definitely would have gone in for blue.
  • We used the handset for a Google Hangout. It was kind of perfect. Kept open at an angle, it can prop itself up.
  • The snap to close is still satisfying.

Day One Notes