As wild as it sounds, the race is on to build a functioning space internet — and SpaceX is taking its biggest step yet with the launch of 60 (!) satellites tomorrow that will form the first wave of its Starlink constellation. It’s a hugely important and incredibly complex launch for the company — and should be well worth launching. A Falcon 9 with the flat Starlink test satellites (they’re “production design” but not final hardware) is vertical at launchpad 40 in Cape Canaveral. It has completed its static fire test and should have a window for launch tomorrow, weather permitting. Building satellite constellations hundreds or thousands strong is seen by several major companies and investors as the next major phase of connectivity — though it will take years and billions of dollars to do so. OneWeb, perhaps SpaceX’s biggest competitor in this area, just in funding after in March of a planned 650. Jeff Bezos has announced that Amazon will join the fray with the proposed 3,236-satellite Project Kuiper. Ubiquitilink has . And plenty of others are taking on smaller segments, like lower-cost or domain-specific networks. Needless to say it’s an exciting sector, but today’s launch is a particularly interesting one because it is so consequential for SpaceX. If this doesn’t go well, it could set Starlink’s plans back long enough to give competitors an edge. The satellites stacked inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing. “Tight fit,” pointed out CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX hasn’t explained exactly how the 60 satellites will be distributed to their respective orbits, but founder and CEO Elon Musk did note on Twitter that there’s “no dispenser.” Of course there must be some kind of dispenser — these things aren’t going to just jump off of their own accord. They’re stuffed in there like kernels on a corncob, and likely each have . A pair of prototype satellites, Tintin-A and B, have been in orbit since early last year, and have no doubt furnished a great deal of useful information to the Starlink program. But the 60 aboard tomorrow’s launch aren’t quite final hardware. Although Musk noted that they are “production design,” COO Gwynne Shotwell has said that they are still test models. “This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” she said at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, D.C. — they reportedly lack inter-satellite links but are otherwise functional. I’ve asked SpaceX for more information on this. It makes sense: If you’re planning to put thousands (perhaps as many as 12,000 eventually) of satellites into orbit, you’ll need to test at scale and with production hardware. And for those worried about the possibility of overpopulation in orbit — it’s absolutely something to consider, but many of these satellites will be ; at 550 kilometers up, these tiny satellites will naturally de-orbit in a handful of years. Even OneWeb’s, at 1,100 km, aren’t that high up — geosynchronous satellites are above 35,000 km. That doesn’t mean there’s no risk at all, but it does mean failed or abandoned satellites won’t stick around for long. Just don’t expect to boot up your Starlink connection any time soon. It would take a minimum of 6 more launches like this one — a total of 420, a happy coincidence for Musk — to provide “minor” coverage. This would likely only be for testing as well, not commercial service. That would need 12 more launches, and dozens more to bring it to the point where it can compete with terrestrial broadband. Even if it will take years to pull off, that is the plan. And by that time others will have spun up their operations as well. It’s an exciting time for space and for connectivity. No launch time has been set as of this writing, so takeoff is just planned for Wednesday the 15th at present. As there’s no need to synchronize the launch with the movement of any particular celestial body, T-0 should be fairly flexible and SpaceX will likely just wait for the best weather and visibility. Delays are always a possibility, though, so don’t be surprised if this is pushed out to later in the week. As always you’ll be able to watch the launch , but I’ll update this post with the live video link as soon as it’s available.
The co-founders of Possible Finance, from left to right: Prasad Mahendra, vice president of engineering; Tyler Conant, chief technology officer; and Tony Huang, CEO. has access to another chunk of cash to supercharge growth of its mobile-only loan program. The Seattle startup just landed a $30 million credit facility from Park Cities Asset Management, an alternative credit manager based in Dallas, Texas. This follows a $4.3 million investment round the company in February from various angels and venture capital firms. Possible Finance CEO said he was drawn to Park Cities because of its “unique understanding of the Texas consumer lending market and it’s regulatory challenges.” The startup today launched in Texas, its fifth U.S. state. Possible Finance offers loans of up to $500 and is similar to payday lenders, but with some differences. Borrowers have more time to pay back the money in installments and the repayments are reported to the credit agencies, helping people rebuild their credit. Traditional payday loans are structured differently, so those payments don’t count for credit scores, which can trap consumers in a costly cycle of borrowing. Using the Possible Finance app, people can apply for loans without a credit check and receive funds the next day. Possible Finance links to a customer’s bank account and uses machine learning to analyst financial transaction data to make credit risk decisions rather than relying on FICO credit scores. (Possible Finance screenshot) Since in April 2018, the company has originated 24,000 loans, up from 13,000 two months ago, and has more than 100,000 users on its waitlist. It has been growing revenue by 50 percent month-over-month and recently crossed a $1 million annual revenue run rate milestone. Huang said in February that he sees a “clear path” to profitability. In addition to Texas, Possible Finance also serves customers in Washington, California, Utah, and Idaho. It will launch in Ohio later this month. The company has ten employees. “We’re really proud of the fact that 40 percent of new customers every month come from organic, non-paid channels,” Huang said in an email. “By making a small dollar loan into a credit building opportunity, we’re helping everyday Americans improve their credit scores and achieve long-term financial wellness.” Huang and his co-founders — , vice president of engineering, and , chief technology officer — previously worked together at , the leading manufacturer of non-lethal Taser stun guns and policing software and supplies including in-car and policy body cameras. That experience instilled in them a passion for developing technology that serves a social good. As part of his role as product manager at Axon, Huang did ride-alongs with police across the country, giving him some insight into disadvantaged neighborhoods and reinforcing his commitment to helping underserved communities. Huang was nominated last year for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category at the .
is about to some new services on Monday. While everybody expects a video streaming service as well as a news subscription, a new report from Bloomberg says that the company might also mention its gaming subscription. Cheddar first back in January that Apple has been working on a gaming subscription. Users could pay a monthly subscription fee to access a library of games. We’re most likely talking about iOS games for the iPhone and iPad here. Games are the most popular category on the App Store, so it makes sense to turn this category into a subscription business. And yet, most of them are free-to-play, ad-supported games. Apple doesn’t necessarily want to target those games in particular. According to Bloomberg, the service will focus on paid games from third-party developers, such as Minecraft, NBA 2K games and the GTA franchise. Users would essentially pay to access this bundle of games. Apple would redistribute revenue to game developers based on how much time users spend within a game in particular. It’s still unclear whether Apple will announce the service or launch it on Monday. The gaming industry is more fragmented than the movie and TV industry, so it makes sense to talk about the service publicly even if it’s not ready just yet.
A report from shares some of the details about the long-rumored video streaming service from Apple. The company should unveil this service at a press conference in Cupertino on . While has been working on for its new streaming service, Bloomberg says that most of them won’t be ready for the launch later this month. Apple will probably share some teasers on stage, but the launch lineup will mostly feature third-party content. Apple is probably talking with everyone, but many premium cable channels still have to make up their mind about Apple’s streaming service. HBO, Showtime and Starz have to decide whether they want to be part of the launch by Friday. It’s unclear if Apple is going to feature some or all content from those partners. Many of them already have a streaming service on their own. And you can already access their libraries from the TV app on your Apple TV or iOS device. Apple could streamline the experience by letting you subscribe to various content bundles in its own streaming service. Amazon already provides something similar with . Netflix and Hulu will likely remain independent services as they compete directly with Apple’s original content effort. When it comes to Apple’s other announcement, the company should also unveil its Apple News subscription on March 25. Apple Texture last year and has been working on a digital magazine subscription for a while. Unsurprisingly, it looks like Apple News' magazine service is prepared to launch on macOS too — Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) Once again, details are still thin for this new service when it comes to pricing, availability outside of the U.S. and content. Last month, the WSJ that Apple has been working with Goldman Sachs on a credit card that would integrate deeply with the Apple Wallet app. Given that Apple’s event is about services, let’s see if the company talks about this new product as well.
The Knock team. (Knock Photos) When it comes to communication with customers, many apartment landlords still rely only on phone and email to connect with potential tenants and existing renters. wants to change that. The Seattle startup today announced a $10 million Series A round led by Madrona Venture Group to help grow its communications and CRM platform used by nearly 200 multifamily property management companies. The 52-person company has seen revenue grow by 11X over the past two years and is operating in nine U.S. cities. Total funding to date is $15.5 million. What Knock does: Knock’s technology facilitates communication between property managers and renters — responding to questions, organizing tours, etc. — and also manages customer relationships, bringing both services in one place. Knock’s product can be used with property management software systems such as Yardi and Realpage, and also provides back-end analytics data to highlight engagement and internal sales statistics. It integrates with communication tools such as Facebook Messenger and productivity apps including Outlook and Slack. Knock will use the fresh funding to invest in data science and analytics that can help property managers predict tenant turnover and reduce vacancy rates. Backstory: Knock, originally called ZipDigs, was co-founded in 2014 by and , two University of Washington grads who previously worked together at UBS Wealth Management. The entrepreneurs were frustrated with the leasing process, specifically with how difficult it was to communicate with landlords. “All these different communication channels in one centralized platform was just not available prior to Knock,” Petry said. , the company’s other co-founder, left in April 2018. More renters: Themelis said that almost every major metropolitan market is seeing a record amount of multi-family development. That’s good news for Knock. “With all that supply, there’s competition to get renters to move into those properties,” Themelis said. Competition: Some companies offer landlords lead management or communication tools, but Petry said none bring them together in the way that Knock does. Knock co-founders Tom Petry and Demetri Themelis. Investor insight: In a blog post, Scott Jacobsen, managing director at Madrona, detailed how Knock “grew from a booking widget for prospective tenants to a comprehensive CRM.” “By listening to customers and deeply understanding the pain points and friction (a behavior we see in all great founding teams), the Knock team has built the best CRM system for multi-family property managers and are just getting started in their ambition to build a comprehensive, modern marketing cloud for the industry,” Jacobsen wrote. Not that Knock: There’s another real estate startup called Knock that a $400 million round two months ago for its “home trade-in program.” Seattle real estate startups: Knock is one of several startups in the region building tech for the real estate industry. Others include , , , , , MoxiWorks, IMPREV, and Faira — not to mention industry giants such as Zillow Group and Redfin.
DiscoverOrg CEO Henry Schuck. (DiscoverOrg Photo) Vancouver, Wash.-based marketing and sales intelligence startup made its second acquisition in two months, announcing Tuesday the purchase of email verification and list cleansing service . DiscoverOrg will integrate NeverBounce technology into its own platform to enhance accuracy of emails and verification of other marketing data. Founded in Cleveland five years ago, NeverBounce has more than 100,000 users across the globe. The 15-person company will keep working out of Cleveland and continue selling its products as standalone solutions while partnering with DiscoverOrg. “Together, DiscoverOrg and NeverBounce are committed to ending the curse of bad sales and marketing data,” NeverBounce CEO Brad Owen said in a statement. This is the fourth acquisition for DiscoverOrg, which Boston-area enterprise marketing startup Zoominfo last month, RainKing in 2017, and iProfile in 2015. DiscoverOrg has nearly 15,000 customers and employs more than 500 people. The company’s backers include TA Associates, The Carlyle Group, and 22C Capital.
Telecom company has shared some of its plans when it comes to 5G service in the U.S. The company announced at MWC in Barcelona that mobile customers in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City can expect 5G service as soon as May 2019. If you don’t live in one of those cities, maybe you live in Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix or Washington D.C. Sprint also promises 5G coverage in those cities soon after the initial launch, at some point before the end of June 2019. Overall, Sprint expects to cover 1,000 square miles in nine cities by the end of the first half of 2019. It’s going to take years to roll out 5G coverage across the U.S. When it comes to devices, Sprint will sell smartphones that are compatible with its 5G network. The first one will be the . The company will also sell the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G at some point this summer. Sprint is also partnering with Google so that Google Fi customers can take advantage of Sprint’s 5G network if they have a compatible device. And that’s about all there’s to know. It’s still unclear whether 5G plans are going to cost more. Disclosure: Sprint competitor Verizon owns TechCrunch
Arry Yu. (Photo via ArryinSeattle.com) Find your “AJ.” Watch out for assholes. And know when to call it quits. closed the book last week on GiftStarter, her 4-year-old Seattle startup that aimed to personalize and simplify the process of purchasing gifts as a group. In an email to GeekWire, Yu said the biggest problem for GiftStarter was product-market fit. The company went through two accelerators, and 500 Startups, but struggled to acquire customers and nail down a robust business model. Yu let go of her employees in April 2016 but kept the company alive, even taking a major personal loan to try and fund it further. But she officially closed up shop last week. In a , Yu thanked her investors — local angels like Heather Redman, Gary Rubens, Rebecca Norlander, and Rudy Gadre — and other supporters. The entrepreneur also admitted that she should have shut down GiftStarter in 2016 and listed 10 lessons from her startup journey. “Startups are really hard,” Yu wrote. “Don’t do them light heartedly or just because it’s the trend. Don’t do it because you’re bored at work. Do it because you cannot exist in life without the big idea going big.” Among her other lessons for founders: “Find the ‘AJ,'” which is someone by your side “that’ll turn left and pounce 5 feet into the air when you just jump left” — a tip she learned from OfferUp founder Nick Huzar. She also advises startups to focus on finding a market before building a product; file proper documentation; and watch out for “assholes posing as advisors just for the vanity of it.” You can read the full post . Yu is now COO at , a Seattle startup formerly known as CakeCodes that lets people earn cryptocurrency by performing micro-tasks.