Sports partnerships are more than just a deal for major crypto companies

In 2021, it felt like every week a crypto company joined forces with a sports team or athlete. Fast-forward to today’s stagnating crypto market: Those partnerships still exist, but they’re less talked about.

I wondered whether these alliances were paying off in a meaningful way, so I asked a few people from major crypto companies and blockchains like FTX, Ava Labs and Algorand to talk about it.

“Sports audiences tend to overlap with crypto,” Avi Dabir, vice president of business development at FTX, said to TechCrunch. “You can hit a mass market by partnering with trusted teams, brands and athletes and your sports viewer tends to be in finance and crypto and so on.”

“A lot of people didn’t know about crypto and the brands in crypto. Sports helped amplify and grow that.” Avi Dabir, vice president of business development at FTX

FTX was one of the first crypto companies to really dive into sports partnerships. It began talking about collaborations with sports entities in January 2021 because it wanted to enhance the value and awareness of its brand, Dabir said.

Last year, FTX signed a 19-year, $135 million agreement with the Miami Heat to rename its home court to FTX Arena. The company is also the official crypto exchange sponsor of Major League Baseball and has partnered with individual athletes like Tom Brady and Steph Curry.

“I really believe [the partnerships] paid off,” Dabir said. “The things we look at — some are measurable and some are not.” The obvious measurement is how many people signed up or downloaded the FTX app, but there are other aspects that are harder to quantify, he added.

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Lincoln’s latest EV concept is a grand tourer land yacht with a sprinkle of 1920s nostalgia

Lincoln revealed Thursday during Monterey Car Week its vision for future EVs — while commemorating its centennial year — with the debut of the Lincoln Model L 100 concept, an autonomous, battery-electric grand tourer that pays homage to the brand’s first luxury vehicle, the 1922 Model L.

The futuristic and massive concept has an aerodynamic, low-slung body that features a sweeping glass roof that opens and reverse-hinged doors that lift to bestow a “sense of ceremony” and provides the “Lincoln Embrace,” the company said. Taking that “Lincoln Embrace” theme even further, the Ford luxury brand notes that the wheel covers use lighting and sensors to “communicate motion, battery life and human presence.”

The vehicle’s exterior “cool, open-air blue” shade mixes metallic paint and frosted acrylic. This futuristic design sprinkles in some 1920s art deco touches like the hood ornament as well as a Kammback, or K-tail, rear end that slopes down and then abruptly cuts off for improved aerodynamics to complete the look.

Inside, the cabin is trimmed with recycled suede fabric in amethyst. The configurable cabin is one of the more eye-popping features, in which the front seats flip to face passengers in the rear seats, and “an interactive, center console chessboard” is placed where one might expect a steering wheel. The console features “a jewel-inspired chess piece controller that captures light and depth by redefining the vehicle controls inside the cabin,” according to the company.

Lincoln also said the car will have a “digital floor” but did not elaborate on what that means beyond that it combines interior lighting to “transport passengers to the sanctuary of tomorrow.”

Outlandish concepts like the Lincoln Model L 100 are often couched as design or research exercises that allow a company to explore what its future portfolio might look like. For Lincoln, it’s a process that will likely be used to determine interest in certain features or designs as it pushes forward with plans to fully electrify half of its offerings by 2050.

The Lincoln Model L is also part of an emerging trend among recently revealed concepts that hints where the entire industry is headed. Several American automakers, a list that includes Lincoln, have released concept cars this year that recall the nostalgia of the early 20th century.

Chrysler revealed at the New York Auto Show in April a Chrysler Airflow crossover concept named after the original Chrysler Airflow, which chief design officer Ralph Gilles called a “catastrophic failure” of the mid-1930s. Chrysler said the concept can travel up to 400 miles on a single charge and comes with fast-charging functionality as well as a long list of technologies, including the automaker’s STLA AutoDrive system, which it is developing with BMW to feature Level 3 automated driving capabilities.

Then there’s Cadillac InnerSpace, the electric, autonomous concept that debuted earlier this year and draws inspiration from the two-passenger runabouts the brand manufactured in 1902. The concept features a two-seat loveseat, wraparound digital screen and built-in ottoman, but no pedals or steering wheel.

The Lincoln Model …read more

Why do startup valuations go down when interest rates go up?

A new day, a new interest rate hike. A few serious faces from the Fed have announced that they will do whatever it takes to tame inflation. Wall Street invariably responds in the red, and startup outlets proclaim the tighter availability of capital and lower valuations.

But what is the actual connection between interest rates, startup capital and valuations?

Following Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), the Fed is increasing interest rates to “cool the economy” and prevent a further rise in inflation.

Despite the focus on interest rates, it is the second aspect — inflation and the consequent government response — that will have the most significant consequences for founders and the public.

If your customers benefit from inflation, then there’s a good chance that your company will too.

Inflation affects your customers, providers and capital

The startup literature around inflation impact on startups focuses on cutting costs, getting to default positive, controlling burn and slowing hiring. But some of these measures, albeit useful during recessions, are too general to be helpful. Instead, a better way to prepare for inflation is to understand how price increases affect your business.

Each business has three major components: customers, providers (including employees) and capital. How is inflation influencing each of these factors?

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Bolt founder Ryan Breslow is not going away

Ryan Breslow has had a tumultuous 2022. It’s not slowing him down.

Few outside of Breslow’s world even knew his name a year ago. Then Bolt, a “one-click” checkout tech company that evolved from an earlier idea of his, announced $355 million in Series E funding at a reported $11 billion valuation. Suddenly, the startup was on everyone’s radar, as was Breslow. The now 28-year-old Miami resident was riding so high that he couldn’t help but take a kind of victory lap. Having struggled at one point to win over Silicon Valley investors, he began publishing thoughts on Twitter that most might never dare share publicly, including to call rival Stripe and famed accelerator Y Combinator “mob bosses” that will pull “every power move imaginable” to squash competitors.

While Breslow found some support for his perspective online, he was also criticized for the comments — including by powerful investors — and one week later, he stepped down as the CEO of Bolt and became its executive chairman.

Breslow, who still owns a major stake in Bolt, told us the development had nothing to do with his antics. But it was hard to believe Breslow’s attention-grabbing tweets — which kept coming — weren’t rattling Bolt’s investors to some degree. Certainly, it has been a rocky road since. Further funding that was reportedly in the works has not materialized. The company has been accused in the press of inflating its customer metrics and overstating its tech capabilities. By late May, citing changing market conditions, Bolt announced it was laying off roughly one-third of its employees, or 250 people — some of whom had taken out personal loans from the company in order to exercise their stock options.

Meanwhile, partnerships that Breslow teased publicly have yet to be announced. Bolt employees are also reportedly frustrated that Breslow sold $10 million worth of shares to investors during that Series E round back in January, when Bolt’s board had not allowed them to sell their own holdings.

Some founders might lay low after so much blowback. Breslow — who is both affable and cagey in conversation — is instead barreling ahead with several decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) infrastructure projects, including a programmable funding protocol called Juicebox.

He is also at work on several other startups, including a “people-powered pharma” startup called Love that he co-founded and that is very much of its era. Specifically, Love aims to launch a DAO where members, who buy “Love tokens” with Ethereum or another reserve currency, can discuss homeopathic and other pharmaceutical alternatives, then vote on which of them should be tested in clinical trials. The DAO will then underwrite the studies.

The idea — and it’s all theoretical at this point — is to take on big drug companies by copying how they work.

If you’re thinking that it could be challenging to produce concrete clinical data …read more

Looks like time is up for Snap’s Pixy drone

Snap may have flown a bit too close to the sun in its development of the palm-sized selfie drone, Pixy. Following a late-April announcement, the social media firm has already begun pumping the brakes on the project, per a Wall Street Journal report. CEO Evan Spiegel has apparently relayed the message that the hardware is one causality of re-prioritization, amid broader economic concerns.

All is not lost for the product, exactly. Snap will apparently continue selling through its already existing limited inventory of the $250 device. The company declined to offer a comment on the report.

The firm hasn’t exactly been a hardware powerhouse. The Pixy joined the company’s Spectacle glasses, which have been something of a mixed bag — though the product recently shifted from the novelty of face-worn cameras to a product focused on the burgeoning AR category. Pixy, it seems, won’t be afforded the luxury of finding market fit. Hardware is hard, of course. Meta has notably been going through its own recent struggles with its Portal devices.

Even so, it’s hard to know precisely how seriously Snap was taking its efforts with the Pixy. The system was, itself, a bit of a brightly colored toy, lacking in the sophistication (and years of development) of a DJI. Hell, even DJI ultimately killed off its closest equivalent, the Spark, in a bid to streamline its consumer offerings — and don’t even get me started on the whole GoPro Karma debacle (it involves the drones falling out of the sky, for starters).

Between higher-end products from companies like DJI and much cheaper knockoff systems, there may not ultimately be a lot of consumer drone market to play around in. That, coupled with some internal Snap restructuring, means Pixy simply wasn’t long for this cruel world. But hey, now you’ve got a collector’s item and a strange little piece of tech history on your hands.

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Streaming Tops Cable-TV Viewing for the First Time

Americans spent more of their TV-viewing time streaming content on services like Netflix, YouTube and HBO Max than they did watching cable TV, according to Nielsen. …read more

Quora is shutting down the English version of its Partner Program

Quora is shutting down the English version of its Partner Program on September 1, the company announced on its website. The Partner Program will remain active in other languages, including German, Japanese, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Hindi, Swedish, Dutch, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Indonesian, Danish, Finnish and Norwegian.

The Partner Program, which launched four years ago, is an invite-based initiative that works by paying users for asking questions on the platform. The money paid to partners is based on the traffic that is generated by their questions. The program was essentially introduced as a way for Quora to grow its platform while also helping users earn revenue for their contributions.

Quora says only the English version of the program is shutting down because other language versions of Quora are newer and smaller and still require help growing, whereas the English version doesn’t.

“The program did what it was supposed to do in the English language version of Quora, which was to get more good answers written to questions that we know people are searching for but which hadn’t yet been asked on Quora, and so it was time to bring it to a close,” Quora’s Head of Communications William Gunn said in a post. “Other language versions of Quora are newer and smaller, so there’s more room to promote growth by stimulating question asking to balance the supply and demand side of the knowledge ‘market’.”

The company sees the English version of the program as a success, noting that partners wrote tens of millions of questions that helped writers find questions to answer and helped readers find the answers they were looking for.

Quora says partners will continue to accrue program earnings until September 30 on any questions asked before September 1 of this year. After September 30, earnings will no longer accrue on your program content. The company says if you haven’t already linked a payment account, you have until December 1 to do so to ensure you get all of your earnings.

“Your efforts over the past four years really made a difference for Quora and we love hearing about the difference the program made in your lives,” the company said in an email to partners. “We are proud of the work we’ve been able to do together and now it’s time to move on. We appreciate all of your contributions to the Quora Partner Program and we look forward to continuing to share and grow the world’s knowledge with you.”

It’s worth noting that since its launch in 2018, the Partner Program has been criticized by some users who have said the earnings from the program were subpar, even if their posts reached notable traction.

Quora notes that it offers other ways for users to earn revenue on the platform, including its Quora+ offering, where subscribers pay a $5 monthly fee or a $50 yearly fee to access content that any creator chooses to put behind a paywall. Rather than paying select creators, …read more

Daily Crunch: HBO Max is pulling 36 shows this week — Here’s the list

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

G’day, crunch bunch! We’re both starting to get a little bit excited about TechCrunch Disrupt coming up in October. Would you believe that, even though we’ve been working together for a long time, this will be the first time that your trusty Daily Crunch co-writers will meet in person? There will be high fives, terrible puns and perhaps a shared beverage or two. Good times.

We’d love to see you there, too. Did you know that you can volunteer at TechCrunch Disrupt to attend for free? There’s a few opportunities left, so get your applications in pronto.  — Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Kimberly Bryant fired: Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant was fired by the organization’s board of directors eight months after Bryant was suspended. Natasha M and Dominic-Madori team up to dig into Bryant’s lawsuit against BGC, alleging both wrongful suspension and conflict of interest by new organization CEO Heather Hiles.
  • Meow: Have you ever just looked at a picture of a car and sworn you could hear the engine purr? Well, get ready to experience that with the new Dodge Charger EV concept. Kirsten tantalizes us with the car’s features and how it is “rewriting the rules” of a traditional electric vehicle.
  • Get out your pitchforks: HBO Max is cleaning out its closets in preparation for its merger with Discovery+, and that means it had to say “good-bye” to 36 titles. As Ivan reports, some creators are not thrilled about what was chosen to go.

Startups and VC

New York–based Life Extension Ventures is a new $100 million fund that claims it will focus on “longevity for people and planet.” In practice, that will mean backing founders who are accelerating the science around longevity, Mike reports.

Every aspect of a startup is about storytelling. Hiring your first employees into a startup is storytelling: You are spinning a story that contrasts with their steady, reliable job at an established company, pitching it against taking a chance on your startup. Acquiring early customers falls in the same category. Marketing? Same. Advertising? Same. Raising investment? Oh boy: Same. Haje explores why your startup needs a solid lead storyteller in place.


Google will roll out new updates to reduce low-quality and unoriginal content in search results

Google announced today that it’s rolling out new Search updates over the next few weeks that will aim to make it easier for people to find high-quality content. The new ranking improvements will work to reduce the amount of low-quality or unoriginal content that ranks high in search results. Google says that the update will especially target content that has been created primarily for ranking on search engines, known as “SEO-first” content, rather than human-first content.

The company’s tests have shown that the update will improve the results users find when searching for content like online educational materials, as well as arts and entertainment, shopping and tech-related content.

“If you search for information about a new movie, you might have previously encountered articles that aggregated reviews from other sites without adding perspectives beyond what’s available elsewhere on the web,” the company explained in a blog post. “This isn’t very helpful if you’re expecting to read something new. With this update, you’ll see more results with unique information, so you’re more likely to read something you haven’t seen before.”

The new updates should help reduce the number of low-quality results from websites that have learned to game the system with content that is optimized to rank high in search results. Google says users should start to see content that is actually useful rank more prominently in search results. The company plans to refine its systems and build on these improvements over time.

The launch of the new improvements come as Google recently acknowledged that TikTok is cutting into its Search product. Senior vice president Prabhakar Raghavan, who runs Google’s Knowledge & Information organization, recently noted that younger users are often turning to apps like Instagram and TikTok instead of Google Search or Maps for discovery purposes. For instance, Raghavan said nearly 40% of young people go to TikTok or Instagram when looking for a place to eat, as opposed to Google Maps or Search.

TikTok already seems to be ready to capitalize on this, given the fact that it’s testing a new feature that enhances the popular short-form video app’s search functions, so it makes sense for Google to work toward improving its search engine. With these upcoming ranking improvements, Google is likely looking to regain users’ trust when it comes to delivering relevant and high-quality results.

In addition to announcing the search results ranking improvements, Google also said it’s launching an update in the coming weeks to make it easier to find high-quality and original reviews. The company began working on this last year, with the launch of a series of updates that were designed to show more helpful and in-depth reviews in search results, and the upcoming updates will build on these efforts.

Product review videos are a notable part of TikTok, so it’s no surprise that Google is working to surface higher-quality reviews on its search results page in order ensure that people come to its platform for reviews, as opposed to social media. If Google is able to …read more

Federal, state regulators put pressure on Tesla’s Autopilot safety

Tesla is coming under fire from federal and state regulators over both the safety and the capabilities of its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked Tesla on Thursday to answer questions about its cabin camera as part of an ongoing probe into 830,000 Tesla vehicles that include Autopilot. Tesla says the cabin camera is built with a driver monitoring system that can determine if a driver isn’t paying attention and send them noise alerts as a reminder to keep their eyes on the road while Autopilot is engaged.

After previously relying on a system that could detect when a driver’s hands were on the steering wheel, Tesla introduced its camera-based driver monitoring system in May last year.

The NHTSA probe also demanded information about how Tesla generates its quarterly safety reports, which a recent report from the Virginia Transportation Research Council found to be misleading.

Separately, in late July, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles accused Tesla of falsely advertising its Autopilot and so-called “full self-driving” (FSD) system, another more advanced ADAS that costs drivers an additional $12,000 for automated driving features like the parking feature Summon or Navigate on Autopilot, which navigates cars from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp.

Tesla responded Thursday by asking the California DMV for a hearing to present a defense against the claims that it misled prospective customers. According to the DMV’s process for dealing with accusations, Tesla is within its rights to request a hearing to defend itself. This might lead to a settlement discussion between the department and Tesla, after which the DMV will set a hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings, according to a DMV spokesperson.

The increased heat on Tesla comes as NHTSA investigates 16 crashes in which Tesla owners were potentially engaging Autopilot and then crashed into stationary emergency vehicles, resulting in 15 injuries and one fatality.

NHTSA’s nine-page letter demands that Tesla respond by September 19 to a variety of requests — like the role that Tesla’s cabin camera plays in enforcing driver engagement and detailed descriptions of how the automaker designed and engineered the system that enforces driver engagement and attentiveness, “including the evidence that justifies the period of time that the driver is permitted to have their hands off the steering wheel before receiving a warning…”.

NHTSA also asked Tesla to identify each lawsuit in the U.S. involving Tesla in which a party alleged that a motor vehicle crash was related to Autopilot, and to describe the process and methodology for Tesla’s vehicle safety reports.

Tesla has until October 12 to send detailed information from either the CAN logs or video/data clips regarding each incident vehicle on a separate list provided by NHTSA. The information NHTSA is looking for includes the amount of time Autopilot was engaged, the road class at the time of impact and data on both the system and the driver’s behavior just before …read more