Newly public CrowdStrike wants to become the Salesforce of cybersecurity

Like many good ideas, CrowdStrike, a seller of subscription-based software that protects companies from breaches, began as a few notes scribbled on a napkin in a hotel lobby.

The idea was to leverage new technology to create an endpoint protection platform powered by artificial intelligence that would blow incumbent solutions out of the water. McAfee, Palo Alto Networks and Symantec, long-time leaders in the space, had been too slow to embrace new technologies and companies were suffering, the CrowdStrike founding team surmised.

Co-founders George Kurtz and Dmitri Alperovitch, a pair of former McAfee executives, weren’t strangers to legacy cybersecurity tools. McAfee had for years been a dominant player in endpoint protection and antivirus. At least, until the emergence of cloud computing.

Since 2012, CrowdStrike’s Falcon Endpoint Protection platform has been pushing those incumbents into a new era of endpoint protection. By helping enterprises across the globe battle increasingly complex attack scenarios more efficiently, CrowdStrike, as well as other fast-growing cybersecurity upstarts, has redefined company security standards much like Salesforce redefined how companies communicate with customers.

“I think we had the foresight that [CrowdStrike] was going to be a foundational element for security,” CrowdStrike chief executive officer George Kurtz told TechCrunch this morning. The full conversation can be read further below.

CrowdStrike co-founder and CEO George Kurtz.

Startups Weekly: There’s an alternative to raising VC and it’s called revenue-based financing

Revenue-based financing is on the rise, at least according to Lighter Capital, a firm that doles out entrepreneur-friendly debt capital.

What exactly is RBF you ask? It’s a relatively new form of funding for tech companies that are posting monthly recurring revenue. Here’s how Lighter Capital, which completed 500 RBF deals in 2018, explains it: “It’s an alternative funding model that mixes some aspects of debt and equity. Most RBF is technically structured as a loan. However, RBF investors’ returns are tied directly to the startup’s performance, which is more like equity.”

Source: Lighter Capital

What’s the appeal? As I said, RBFs are essentially dressed up debt rounds. Founders who opt for RBFs as opposed to venture capital deals hold on to all their equity and they don’t get stuck on the VC hamster wheel, the process in which you are forced to continually accept VC while losing more and more equity as a means of pleasing your investors.

RBFs, however, are better than traditional debt rounds because the investors are more incentivized to help the companies they invest in because they are receiving a certain portion of that business’s monthly revenues, typically 1% to 9%. Eventually, as is explained thoroughly in Lighter Capital’s newest RBF report, monthly payments come to an end, usually 1.3 to 2.5X the amount of the original financing, a multiple referred to as the “cap.” Three to five years down the line, any unpaid amount of said cap is due back to the investor. When all is said in done, ideally, the startup has grown with the support of the capital and hasn’t lost any equity.

At this point, they could opt to raise additional revenue-based capital, they could turn to venture capital or they could tap a tech bank to help them get to the next step. The idea is RBF is easier on the founder and it allows them optionality, something that is often lost when companies turn to VCs.

IPO corner, rapid-fire edition

Slack’s direct listing will be on June 20th. Get excited.

China’s Luckin Coffee raised $650 million in upsized U.S. IPO

Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity unicorn, dropped its S-1.

Freelance marketplace Fiverr has filed to go public on the NYSE.

Plus, I had a long and comprehensive conversation with Zoom CEO Eric Yuan this week about the company’s closely watched IPO. You can read the full transcript here.

Second Chances

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Hosain Rahman, the man behind Jawbone, has managed to raise $65.4 million for his new company, according to an SEC filing. The paperwork, coincidentally or otherwise, was processed while most of the world’s attention was focused on Uber’s IPO. Jawbone, if you remember, produced wireless speakers and Bluetooth earpieces, and went kaput in 2017 after burning up $1 billion in venture funding over the course of 10 years. Ouch.

More startup capital

Funds!

On the heels of enterprise startup UiPath raising at a $7 billion valuation, the startup’s biggest investor is announcing a new fund to double down on making more investments in Europe. VC firm Accel has closed a $575 million fund — money that it plans to use to back startups in Europe and Israel, investing primarily at the Series A stage in a range of between $5 million and $15 million, reports TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden. Plus, take a closer look at Contrary Capital. Part accelerator, part VC fund, Contrary writes small checks to student entrepreneurs and recent college dropouts.

Extra Crunch

Our paying subscribers are in for a treat this week. Our in-house venture capital expert Danny Crichton wrote down some thoughts on Uber and Lyft’s investment bankers. Here’s a snippet: “Startup CEOs heading to the public markets have a love/hate relationship with their investment bankers. On one hand, they are helpful in introducing a company to a wide range of asset managers who will hopefully hold their company’s stock for the long term, reducing price volatility and by extension, employee churn. On the other hand, they are flagrantly expensive, costing millions of dollars in underwriting fees and related expenses…”

Read the full story here and sign up for Extra Crunch here.

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about the notable venture rounds of the week, CrowdStrike’s IPO and more of this week’s headlines.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

Vertex Ventures hits $230M first close on new fund for Southeast Asia and India

Tis the season to be raising in India and Southeast Asia. Hot on the heels of new funds from Strive and Jungle Ventures, so Singapore’s Vertex Ventures, a VC backed by sovereign wealth fund Temasek, today announced a first close of $230 million for its newest fund, the firm’s fourth to date.

Vertex raised $210 million for its previous fund two years ago, and this new vehicle is expected to make a final close over the coming few months with more capital expected to roll in. If you care about numbers, this fund may be the largest dedicated to Southeast Asia although pedants would point out that the Vertex allocation also includes a focus on India, echoing the trend of funds bridging the two regions. There are also Singapore-based global funds that have raised more, for example, B Capital from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

Back to Vertex, it’s worth recalling that the firm’s third fund was its first to raise from outside investors — having previously taken capital from parent Temasek. Managing partner Chua Kee Lock told Bloomberg that most of those LPs signed on for fund four including Taiwan-based Cathay Life Insurance. Vertex said in a press release that it welcomed some new backers, but it did not provide names.

The firm has offices in Singapore, Jakarta and Bangalore and its most prominent investments include ride-hailing giant Grab, fintech startup InstaRem, IP platform PatSnap and Vision Fund-backed kids e-commerce firm FirstCry. Some of its more recent portfolio additions are Warung Pintar — which is digitizing Indonesia’s street kiosk vendors — Binance — which Vertex backed for its Singapore entity — and Thailand-based digital insurance play Sunday.

One differentiator that Vertex offers in Southeast Asia and India, beyond its ties to Temasek, is that there are connections with five other Vertex funds worldwide. Those include a new global growth fund, and others dedicated to global healthcare as well as startups in Israel and the U.S.

Others VCs operating in Southeast Asia’s Series A/B+ bracket include Jungle Ventures, which just hit first close on a new fund aimed at $220 million, Openspace Ventures, which closed a $135 million fund earlier this year, Sequoia India and Southeast Asia, which raised $695 million last year, Golden Gate Ventures, which has a third fund of $100 million, and Insignia Ventures, which raised $120 million for its maiden fund.

Growth funds are also increasingly sprouting up. Early stage investor East Ventures teamed up with Yahoo Japan and SMDV to launch a $150 million vehicle, while Golden Gate Ventures partnered with anchor LP Hanwha to raise a $200 million growth fund.

Five questions with the head of the Societal Challenges Division at the Israel Innovation Authority

I caught up with Naomi Krieger Carmy on her new role as the head of societal challenges division at the Israel Innovation Authority and what initiatives should startups in Israel be aware of....

This is a content summary only. Click on the post title to continue reading this post, share your comments, browse the website and more!

When it comes to elections, Facebook moves slow, may still break things

This week, Facebook invited a small group of journalists — which didn’t include TechCrunch — to look at the “war room” it has set up in Dublin, Ireland, to help monitor its products for election-related content that violates its policies. (“Time and space constraints” limited the numbers, a spokesperson told us when he asked why we weren’t invited.)

Facebook announced it would be setting up this Dublin hub — which will bring together data scientists, researchers, legal and community team members, and others in the organization to tackle issues like fake news, hate speech and voter suppression — back in January. The company has said it has nearly 40 teams working on elections across its family of apps, without breaking out the number of staff it has dedicated to countering political disinformation. 

We have been told that there would be “no news items” during the closed tour — which, despite that, is “under embargo” until Sunday — beyond what Facebook and its executives discussed last Friday in a press conference about its European election preparations.

The tour looks to be a direct copy-paste of the one Facebook held to show off its US election “war room” last year, which it did invite us on. (In that case it was forced to claim it had not disbanded the room soon after heavily PR’ing its existence — saying the monitoring hub would be used again for future elections.)

We understand — via a non-Facebook source — that several broadcast journalists were among the invites to its Dublin “war room”. So expect to see a few gauzy inside views at the end of the weekend, as Facebook’s PR machine spins up a gear ahead of the vote to elect the next European Parliament later this month.

It’s clearly hoping shots of serious-looking Facebook employees crowded around banks of monitors will play well on camera and help influence public opinion that it’s delivering an even social media playing field for the EU parliament election. The European Commission is also keeping a close watch on how platforms handle political disinformation before a key vote.

But with the pan-EU elections set to start May 23, and a general election already held in Spain last month, we believe the lack of new developments to secure EU elections is very much to the company’s discredit.

The EU parliament elections are now a mere three weeks away, and there are a lot of unresolved questions and issues Facebook has yet to address. Yet we’re told the attending journalists were once again not allowed to put any questions to the fresh-faced Facebook employees staffing the “war room”.

Ahead of the looming batch of Sunday evening ‘war room tour’ news reports, which Facebook will be hoping contain its “five pillars of countering disinformation” talking points, we’ve compiled a run down of some key concerns and complications flowing from the company’s still highly centralized oversight of political campaigning on its platform — even as it seeks to gloss over how much dubious stuff keeps falling through the cracks.

Worthwhile counterpoints to another highly managed Facebook “election security” PR tour.

No overview of political ads in most EU markets

Since political disinformation created an existential nightmare for Facebook’s ad business with the revelations of Kremlin-backed propaganda targeting the 2016 US presidential election, the company has vowed to deliver transparency — via the launch of a searchable political ad archive for ads running across its products.

The Facebook Ad Library now shines a narrow beam of light into the murky world of political advertising. Before this, each Facebook user could only see the propaganda targeted specifically at them. Now, such ads stick around in its searchable repository for seven years. This is a major step up on total obscurity. (Obscurity that Facebook isn’t wholly keen to lift the lid on, we should add; Its political data releases to researchers so far haven’t gone back before 2017.)

However, in its current form, in the vast majority of markets, the Ad Library makes the user do all the leg work — running searches manually to try to understand and quantify how Facebook’s platform is being used to spread political messages intended to influence voters.

Facebook does also offer an Ad Library Report — a downloadable weekly summary of ads viewed and highest spending advertisers. But it only offers this in four countries globally right now: the US, India, Israel and the UK.

It has said it intends to ship an update to the reports in mid-May. But it’s not clear whether that will make them available in every EU country. (Mid-May would also be pretty late for elections that start May 23.)

So while the UK report makes clear that the new ‘Brexit Party’ is now a leading spender ahead of the EU election, what about the other 27 members of the bloc? Don’t they deserve an overview too?

A spokesperson we talked to about this week’s closed briefing said Facebook had no updates on expanding Ad Library Reports to more countries, in Europe or otherwise.

So, as it stands, the vast majority of EU citizens are missing out on meaningful reports that could help them understand which political advertisers are trying to reach them and how much they’re spending.

Which brings us to…

Facebook’s Ad Archive API is far too limited

In another positive step Facebook has launched an API for the ad archive that developers and researchers can use to query the data. However, as we reported earlier this week, many respected researchers have voiced disappointed with what it’s offering so far — saying the rate-limited API is not nearly open or accessible enough to get a complete picture of all ads running on its platform.

Following this criticism, Facebook’s director of product, Rob Leathern, tweeted a response, saying the API would improve. “With a new undertaking, we’re committed to feedback & want to improve in a privacy-safe way,” he wrote.

The question is when will researchers have a fit-for-purpose tool to understand how political propaganda is flowing over Facebook’s platform? Apparently not in time for the EU elections, either: We asked about this on Thursday and were pointed to Leathern’s tweets as the only update.

This issue is compounded by Facebook also restricting the ability of political transparency campaigners — such as the UK group WhoTargetsMe and US investigative journalism site ProPublica — to monitor ads via browser plug-ins, as the Guardian reported in January.

The net effect is that Facebook is making life hard for civil society groups and public interest researchers to study the flow of political messaging on its platform to try to quantify democratic impacts, and offering only a highly managed level of access to ad data that falls far short of the “political ads transparency” Facebook’s PR has been loudly trumpeting since 2017.

Ad loopholes remain ripe for exploiting

Facebook’s Ad Library includes data on political ads that were active on its platform but subsequently got pulled (made “inactive” in its parlance) because they broke its disclosure rules.

There are multiple examples of inactive ads for the Spanish far right party Vox visible in Facebook’s Ad Library that were pulled for running without the required disclaimer label, for example.

“After the ad started running, we determined that the ad was related to politics and issues of national importance and required the label. The ad was taken down,” runs the standard explainer Facebook offers if you click on the little ‘i’ next to an observation that “this ad ran without a disclaimer”.

What is not at all clear is how quickly Facebook acted to removed rule-breaking political ads.

It is possible to click on each individual ad to get some additional details. Here Facebook provides a per ad breakdown of impressions; genders, ages, and regional locations of the people who saw the ad; and how much was spent on it.

But all those clicks don’t scale. So it’s not possible to get an overview of how effectively Facebook is handling political ad rule breakers. Unless, well, you literally go in clicking and counting on each and every ad…

There is then also the wider question of whether a political advertiser that is found to be systematically breaking Facebook rules should be allowed to keep running ads on its platform.

Because if Facebook does allow that to happen there’s a pretty obvious (and massive) workaround for its disclosure rules: Bad faith political advertisers could simply keep submitting fresh ads after the last batch got taken down.

We were, for instance, able to find inactive Vox ads taken down for lacking a disclaimer that had still been able to rack up thousands — and even tens of thousands — of impressions in the time they were still active.

Facebook needs to be much clearer about how it handles systematic rule breakers.

Definition of political issue ads is still opaque

Facebook currently requires that all political advertisers in the EU go through its authorization process in the country where ads are being delivered if they relate to the European Parliamentary elections, as a step to try and prevent foreign interference.

This means it asks political advertisers to submit documents and runs technical checks to confirm their identity and location. Though it noted, on last week’s call, that it cannot guarantee this ID system cannot be circumvented. (As it was last year when UK journalists were able to successfully place ads paid for by ‘Cambridge Analytica’.)

One other big potential workaround is the question of what is a political ad? And what is an issue ad?

Facebook says these types of ads on Facebook and Instagram in the EU “must now be clearly labeled, including a paid-for-by disclosure from the advertiser at the top of the ad” — so users can see who is paying for the ads and, if there’s a business or organization behind it, their contact details, plus some disclosure about who, if anyone, saw the ads.

But the big question is how is Facebook defining political and issue ads across Europe?

While political ads might seem fairly easy to categorize — assuming they’re attached to registered political parties and candidates, issues are a whole lot more subjective.

Currently Facebook defines issue ads as those relating to “any national legislative issue of public importance in any place where the ad is being run.” It says it worked with EU barometer, YouGov and other third parties to develop an initial list of key issues — examples for Europe include immigration, civil and social rights, political values, security and foreign policy, the economy and environmental politics — that it will “refine… over time.”

Again specifics on when and how that will be refined are not clear. Yet ads that Facebook does not deem political/issue ads will slip right under its radar. They won’t be included in the Ad Library; they won’t be searchable; but they will be able to influence Facebook users under the perfect cover of its commercial ad platform — as before.

So if any maliciously minded propaganda slips through Facebook’s net, because the company decides it’s a non-political issue, it will once again leave no auditable trace.

In recent years the company has also had a habit of announcing major takedowns of what it badges “fake accounts” ahead of major votes. But again voters have to take it on trust that Facebook is getting those judgement calls right.

Facebook continues to bar pan-EU campaigns

On the flip side of weeding out non-transparent political propaganda and/or political disinformation, Facebook is currently blocking the free flow of legal pan-EU political campaigning on its platform.

This issue first came to light several weeks ago, when it emerged that European officials had written to Nick Clegg (Facebook’s vice president of global affairs) to point out that its current rules — i.e. that require those campaigning via Facebook ads to have a registered office in the country where the ad is running — run counter to the pan-European nature of this particular election.

It means EU institutions are in the strange position of not being able to run Facebook ads for their own pan-EU election everywhere across the region. “This runs counter to the nature of EU institutions. By definition, our constituency is multinational and our target audience are in all EU countries and beyond,” the EU’s most senior civil servants pointed out in a letter to the company last month.

This issue impacts not just EU institutions and organizations advocating for particular policies and candidates across EU borders, but even NGOs wanting to run vanilla “get out the vote” campaigns Europe-wide — leading to a number to accuse Facebook of breaching their electoral rights and freedoms.

Facebook claimed last week that the ball is effectively in the regulators’ court on this issue — saying it’s open to making the changes but has to get their agreement to do so. A spokesperson confirmed to us that there is no update to that situation, either.

Of course the company may be trying to err on the side of caution, to prevent bad actors being able to interfere with the vote across Europe. But at what cost to democratic freedoms?

What about fake news spreading on WhatsApp?

Facebook’s ‘election security’ initiatives have focused on political and/or politically charged ads running across its products. But there’s no shortage of political disinformation flowing unchecked across its platforms as user uploaded ‘content’.

On the Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp, which is hugely popular in some European markets, the presence of end-to-end encryption further complicates this issue by providing a cloak for the spread of political propaganda that’s not being regulated by Facebook.

In a recent study of political messages spread via WhatsApp ahead of last month’s general election in Spain, the campaign group Avaaz dubbed it “social media’s dark web” — claiming the app had been “flooded with lies and hate”.

Posts range from fake news about Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez signing a secret deal for Catalan independence to conspiracy theories about migrants receiving big cash payouts, propaganda against gay people and an endless flood of hateful, sexist, racist memes and outright lies,” it wrote. 

Avaaz compiled this snapshot of politically charged messages and memes being shared on Spanish WhatsApp by co-opting 5,833 local members to forward election-related content that they deemed false, misleading or hateful.

It says it received a total of 2,461 submissions — which is of course just a tiny, tiny fraction of the stuff being shared in WhatsApp groups and chats. Which makes this app the elephant in Facebook’s election ‘war room’.

What exactly is a war room anyway?

Facebook has said its Dublin Elections Operation Center — to give it its official title — is “focused on the EU elections”, while also suggesting it will plug into a network of global teams “to better coordinate in real time across regions and with our headquarters in California [and] accelerate our rapid response times to fight bad actors and bad content”.

But we’re concerned Facebook is sending out mixed — and potentially misleading — messages about how its election-focused resources are being allocated.

Our (non-Facebook) source told us the 40-odd staffers in the Dublin hub during the press tour were simultaneously looking at the Indian elections. If that’s the case, it does not sound entirely “focused” on either the EU or India’s elections. 

Facebook’s eponymous platform has 2.375 billion monthly active users globally, with some 384 million MAUs in Europe. That’s more users than in the US (243M MAUs). Though Europe is Facebook’s second-biggest market in terms of revenues after the US. Last quarter, it pulled in $3.65BN in sales for Facebook (versus $7.3BN for the US) out of $15BN overall.

Apart from any kind of moral or legal pressure that Facebook might have for running a more responsible platform when it comes to supporting democratic processes, these numbers underscore the business imperative that it has to get this sorted out in Europe in a better way.

Having a “war room” may sound like a start, but unfortunately Facebook is presenting it as an end in itself. And its foot-dragging on all of the bigger issues that need tackling, in effect, means the war will continue to drag on.

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.

The Exit: an AI startup’s McPivot

Five years ago, Dynamic Yield was courting an investment from The New York Times as it looked to shift how publishers paywalled their content. Last month, Chicago-based fast food king McDonald’s bought the Israeli company for $300 million, a source told TechCrunch, with the purpose of rethinking how people order drive-thru chicken nuggets.

The pivot from courting the grey lady to the golden arches isn’t as drastic as it sounds. In a lot of ways, it’s the result of the company learning to say “no” to certain customers. At least, that’s what Bessemer’s Adam Fisher tells us.

The Exit is a new series at TechCrunch. It’s an exit interview of sorts with a VC who was in the right place at the right time but made the right call on an investment that paid off. 

Fisher

Fisher was Dynamic Yield founder Liad Agmon’s first call when he started looking for funds from institutional investors. Bessemer bankrolled the bulk of a $1.7 million funding round which valued the startup at $5 million pre-money back in 2013. The firm ended up putting about $15 million into Dynamic Yield, which raised ~$85 million in total from backers including Marker Capital, Union Tech Ventures, Baidu and The New York Times.

Fisher and I chatted at length about the company’s challenging rise and how Israel’s tech scene is still being underestimated. Fisher has 11 years at Bessemer under his belt and 14 exits including Wix, Intucell, Ravello and Leaba.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


Saying “No”

Lucas Matney: So, right off the bat, how exactly did this tool initially built for publishers end up becoming something that McDonalds wanted?

Adam Fisher: I mean, the story of Dynamic Yield is unique. Liad, the founder and CEO, he was an entrepreneur in residence in our Herzliya office back in 2011. I’d identified him earlier from his previous company, and I just said, ‘Well, that’s the kind of guy I’d love to work with.’ I didn’t like his previous company, but there was something about his charisma, his technology background, his youth, which I just felt like “Wow, he’s going to do something interesting.” And so when he sold his previous company, coincidentally to another Chicago based company called Sears, I invited him and I think he found it very flattering, so he joined us as an EIR.

After its first attempt botched the landing, SpaceIL commits to second Beresheet lunar mission

The minds behind Israel’s SpaceIL attempted lunar landing convened today to begin planning for a second lunar mission.

In an announcement yesterday, the chairman of SpaceIL, Morris Kahn, said that the leaders of the group behind the Beresheet launch would begin meeting to find a new group of donors for another run at a lunar landing.

On Thursday the first Israeli mission to the moon ended in failure when the organization’s spacecraft Beresheet (which means Genesis in Hebrew) crashed on the lunar surface.

“This is part of my message to the younger generation: Even if you do not succeed, you get up again and try,” Kahn said in a statement.

At a cost of $200 million the Beresheet mission would have been among the cheapest lunar landings ever attempted — and the first legitimate attempt by a private organization to make it to the moon (even though the SpaceIL organization had significant backing from the Israeli government).

The project started as an attempt to claim the Google Lunar Xprize, which was announced over ten years ago and was not awarded because no team could make an attempt at a landing within the timeframe specified. But, Beresheet’s developers labored on with help from Israel Aerospace Industries — the country’s state-owned aviation business.

In part, the cost of the lunar landing was defrayed by using existing launch technologies. Beresheet started its voyage by hitching a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

After spiraling out of earth’s orbit for a month and a half, the Beresheet spacecraft entered lunar orbit just over a week ago before making its attempted landing last Thursday.

The final maneuver was an engine burn that would slow the spacecraft’s descent onto the lunar surface so that it could park on the Moon’s Sea of Serenity.

The vehicle made it most of the way to the moon. It took a picture of the blue marble from about 22 kilometers above the lunar surface and — a few minutes later — was lost.

Both Peter Diamandis, the founder of XPrize, and Anousheh Ansari, the foundation’s current chief executive, spoke to TechCrunch about the landing last week.

“What I’m seeing here is an incredible ‘Who’s Who’ from science, education and government who have gathered to watch this miracle take place,” Diamandis said. “We launched this competition now 11 years ago to inspire and educate engineers, and despite the fact that it ran out of time it has achieved 100 percent of its goal. Even if it doesn’t make it onto the ground fully intact it has ignited a level of electricity and excitement that reminds me of the Ansari Xprize 15 years ago.”

Meanwhile, Ansari emphasized the potential to reinvigorate commercial interest in lunar exploration and experimentation that the landing could evoke.

“Imagine, over the last 50 years only 500 people out of seven billion have been to space — that number will be thousands soon,” she said. “We believe there’s so much more that can be done in this area of technology, a lot of real business opportunities that benefit civilization but also humanity.”

Naspers-owned PayU doubles down on India with $70M deal to buy Wibmo

PayU, the Naspers-owned payments company that competes with the likes of PayPal but focuses mainly on emerging markets, has made an acquisition to expand its business in India. It has acquired Wibmo, a startup based out of the US (Cupertino, to exact) that mostly operates in India. PayU is paying $70 million for the startup, bringing the total its invested in building its business to $500 million in the last two months.

Wibmo offers a range of payment processing services that cover security, risk and fraud, authentication, SME disbursements, mobile payments, QR codes and prepaid cards. It works with banks, merchants and offers consumer-facing services, too. The appeal to PayU appears to be an opportunity to own touchpoints across the payment process, a bridge to develop its own ecosystem, although Wibmo will keep its branding and run as a wholly-owned subsidiary.

The deal had previously been reported by Economic Times last month, and it speaks to ongoing consolidation.

“This is a strategic acquisition for PayU that combines our merchant network and Wibmo’s leadership in digital security,” Aakash Moondhra, Chief Financial Officer at PayU Global, told TechCrunch in an interview. “PayU is very bullish on India as a market.”

A Citi report issued late last year valued PayU’s India unit at $2.5 billion, and that’s no accident given the level of investment that the company has made.

PayU acquired Citrus for $130 million in 2016, and it has also made investments in Indian fintech startups that include PaySense and Zest Money. Elsewhere in the world, its deal-making has included investments in Creditas in Brazil, Germany’s Kreditech, U.S-based Remitly — which operates remittance worldwide — and Zooz in Israel.

Another key area for the business in India has been a move away from a wallet-based approach to financial services. PayU shuttered one of its wallet apps in India at the beginning of last year, and instead went after services that include credit and deferred payment options, via its LazyPay service. The business also has its core payment gateway service, which will be boosted by the addition of Wibmo.

Naspers itself is doubling down on India, where it has backed unicorns Swiggy, food delivery service that recently raised a $1 billion round, and education service Byju’s, which pulled in $540 million, with major deals announced in recent months.

The company, which is still best known for its early investment in Tencent, has reportedly set aside $1 billion for fintech-related M&A in India, according to a Bloomberg report published last month.

Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft is lost during historic lunar landing attempt

Israel’s SpaceIL almost made history today as its Beresheet spacecraft came within an ace of landing on the surface of the Moon, but suffered a last minute failure during descent. Israel missed out on the chance to be the fourth country to make a controlled lunar landing, but getting 99 percent of the way there is still an extraordinary achievement for private spaceflight.

Beresheet (“Genesis”) launched in February as secondary payload aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and after a month and a half spiraling outward, entered lunar orbit a week ago. Today’s final maneuver was an engine burn meant to bring down its relative velocity to the Moon, then brake to a soft landing in the Mare Serenitatis, or Sea of Serenity.

Everything was working fine up until the final moments, as is often the case in space. The craft, having made it perfectly to its intended point of descent, determined that all systems were ready and the landing process would go ahead as planned.

They lost telemetry for a bit, and had to reset the craft to get the main engine back online… and then communication dropped while only a handful of kilometers from the surface. The “selfie” image above was taken from 22 km above the surface, just a few minutes that. The spacecraft was announced as lost shortly afterwards.

Clearly disappointed but also exhilarated, the team quickly recovered its composure, saying “the achievement of getting to where we got is tremendous and we can be proud,” and of course, “if at first you don’t succeed… try, try again.”

The project began as an attempt to claim the Google Lunar Xprize, announced more than a decade ago, but which proved too difficult for teams to attempt in the timeframe specified. Although the challenge and its prize money lapsed, Israel’s SpaceIL team continued its work, bolstered by the support of Israel Aerospace Industries, the state-owned aviation concern there.

It’s worth noting that Beresheet did enjoy considerable government support in this way, it’s a far cry from any other large-scale government-run mission, and can safely be considered “private” for all intents and purposes. The ~50-person team and $200 million budget are laughably small compared to practically any serious mission, let alone a lunar landing.

I spoke with Xprize’s Founder and CEO, Peter Diamandis and Anousheh Ansari respectively, just before the landing attempt. Both were extremely excited and made it clear that the mission was already considered a huge success.

“What I’m seeing here is an incredible who’s who from science, education, and government who have gathered to watch this miracle take place,” Diamandis said. “We launched this competition now 11 years ago to inspire and educate engineers, and despite the fact that it ran out of time it has achieved 100 percent of its goal. Even if it doesn’t make it onto the ground fully intact it has ignited a level of electricity and excitement that reminds me of the Ansari Xprize 15 years ago.”

He’s not the only one. Ansari, who funded the famous spaceflight Xprize that bore her name, and who has herself visited space as one of the first tourist-astronauts above the International Space Station, felt a similar vibe.

“It’s an amazing moment, bringing so many great memories up,” she told me. “It reminds me of when we were all out in the Mojave waiting for the launch of Spaceship One.”

Ansari emphasized the feeling the landing evoked of moving forward as a people.

“Imagine, over the last 50 years only 500 people out of seven billion have been to space — that number will be thousands soon,” she said. “We believe there’s so much more that can be done in this area of technology, a lot of real business opportunities that benefit civilization but also humanity.”

Congratulations to the SpaceIL team for their achievement, and here’s hoping the next attempt makes it all the way down.