Virgin Galactic plans first rocket-powered test flight from New Mexico for next week

Virgin Galactic has revealed the flight window for the first rocket-powered flight of its VSS Unity spacecraft from the shiny new Spaceport America in New Mexico. The ship could be in the air as early as December 11.

This flight will be the third for Unity out of the future passenger spaceport, but the last two have been gliding flights, not propulsive ones. This will be the first time Unity has hit the throttle in nearly two years — back when it touched the edge of space at something like Mach 2.9.

Since then the company and its aircraft have moved home, from Mojave, California to the spaceport in New Mexico, where it hopes eventually passengers will come and lounge before taking off on a brief visit to space.

The glides, in which Unity is taken to a high altitude by a carrier craft, the VMS Eve, and let go to perform a controlled descent to Earth, show that everything is bolted on tightly and ready for the more substantial rigors of rocket thrust.

Originally this powered flight was intended to happen a bit earlier in the year, but COVID-19-related precautions led to delays. But weather permitting, next week should see Unity flying again.

This flight won’t be strictly for testing purposes, though: It will be taking up several payloads under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which contracts with smaller launch providers to perform experiments in and near space. Other aspiring space-travel companies, like Blue Origin, have also taken up payloads for brief visits to the edge of the atmosphere.

Of course COVID-19 is still a serious issue, so Virgin Galactic is limiting exposure by minimizing people on site: no media or guests, only essential personnel.

Equity Shot: Salesforce’s $27.7 billion-dollar Slack message

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Welcome to an Equity Shot all about the huge, and hugely interesting Salesforce -Slack deal, in which the enterprise social company will be subsumed for the mere price of $27.7 billion.

TechCrunch has notes on the deal here, and on what Salesforce expects the acquisition will do for its growth rate here.

Some of the drama, we admit, was removed when the deal was presaged several days ago, but that didn’t stop the Equity crew from having a lot to say on the matter. Here are some of the topics we discuss:

  • How big is this deal, both literally and figuratively?
  • We talk about the market reception and if the rumors correctly valued the deal
  • Does Slack deserve snaps or just a simple pat on the back?
  • What does the deal tells us about vertical SaaS tools?
  • The COVID-19 effect on remote tools
  • What does SoftBank have to do with this (and why does SoftBank always have something to do with everything)?
  • And whole lot of conversation and discussion on Microsoft and its competitor

We are back in two days’ time, so don’t wander too far. Chat soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Daily Crunch: Salesforce buys Slack for $27.7B

Salesforce announces its acquisition of Slack, Amazon brings the Mac mini to the cloud and Google Maps gets a newsfeed. This is your Daily Crunch for December 1, 2020.

The big story: Salesforce buys Slack for $27.7B

The acquisition, which was first reported last month, is now official.

“This is a match made in heaven,” said Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff. “Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world.”

This cash-and-stock deal should make Salesforce a more serious competitor in the enterprise communication market. It also seems that Slack (which went public last year) was an obvious target for a takeover, due to an underwhelming stock price and a net loss of $147.6 million during the two quarters ending on July 31 of this year.

The tech giants

AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud — This was just one of the announcements that Amazon Web Services made today at its re:Invent conference.

Google Maps takes on Facebook with launch of its own news feed — The feed is designed to make it easier to find the most recent news and recommendations from trusted local sources.

Facebook’s self-styled ‘oversight’ board selects first cases, most dealing with hate speech — The Facebook-funded body that the tech giant set up to distance itself from tricky content moderation decisions has announced the first set of cases it will consider.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SoftBank takes a $690M stake in cloud-based Swedish customer engagement company Sinch — Sinch provides cloud-based “omnichannel” voice, video and messaging services to help enterprises communicate with customers.

Voi, the European ‘micromobility’ rental company, raises $160M additional equity and debt funding — Voi says the new funding will be used to invest in technology development, fuel growth in current Voi markets and bring its latest e-scooter model to more cities.

Floww raises $6.7M for its data-driven marketplace matching founders with investors, based on merit — Having made more than 160 investments himself, founder Martijn De Wever says he recognized the need for a platform connecting investors and startups.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Bottom-up SaaS: A framework for mapping pricing to customer value — For the first time, individual employees are influencing the tooling decisions of their companies.

Who’s building the grocery store of the future? — Startups offering cashierless checkout, software analytics and robotics will clean up on aisle five.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander successfully lands on the moon — China’s Chang’e-5 mission will be the third ever to bring back soil or rock samples from the moon.

US shopping app downloads on Black Friday reached a record 2.8M installs — Many U.S. consumers spent this year’s Black Friday sales event shopping from home on mobile devices.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Lightspeed acquires restaurant software company Upserve for $430M

Lightspeed POS just announced the acquisition of Upserve, expanding Lightspeed’s presence in the restaurant industry.

The company already offers cloud-based point-of-sale software for restaurants and other businesses. It went public in Canada last year before recently debuting on the New York Stock Exchange and acquiring another point-of-sale company, ShopKeep, for $440 million.

The Upserve acquisition is similarly sized — Lightspeed will pay $123 million in cash, along with stock that will bring the total deal size to around $430 million.

Upserve was founded back in 2009 as Swipely, one of several startups encouraging users to share their purchase information with friends. It shifted its offerings to business tools around payments, marketing and loyalty, eventually rebranding as Upserve as it became increasingly focused on the restaurant market. It also raised funding from Vista Equity Partners.

According to the announcement, Upserve brought in $40 million in revenue during the 12-month period ending on September 30. The deal is also supposed to grow Lightspeed’s footprint by 7,000 locations.

“Combining forces with Upserve is a strategic next-step in Lightspeed’s vision of providing the most advanced commerce platform to high-performing businesses around the world,” said Lightspeed founder and CEO Dax Dasilva in a statement. “We believe this acquisition will accelerate the product innovation that has enabled Lightspeed customers to tackle the greatest challenge to their industry in decades and will add exceptional leadership to our teams in anticipation of the economic recovery of the global hospitality industry.”

The announcement also claims that the combination of Lightspeed and Upserve’s teams and technologies will “enable the industry to more easily navigate the new dining needs made permanent by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Elon Musk would consider having Tesla acquire a legacy automaker

Elon Musk would consider leveraging Tesla’s mega $554 billion market cap to buy a legacy automaker, but only if it was on friendly terms, the billionaire entrepreneur said Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner.

Musk, who received an award Tuesday from the media giant, discussed his various interests and businesses, notably SpaceX and Tesla, both of which he leads.

Döpfner noted that Tesla’s valuation far exceeds the market cap of incumbent automakers like BMW, Daimler and VW, which along with others in the industry once dismissed Musk’s ability to make electric vehicles mainstream. When asked if it would be a serious option to buy one of the legacy automakers, Musk said it was possible, but only under certain conditions.

“Well, I think we’re definitely not going to launch a hostile takeover,” Musk said. “So I suppose if there was a friendly one, if somebody said, ‘Hey, we think it would be a good idea to merge with Tesla,’ we certainly could have that conversation. But, you know, we don’t want it to be a hostile takeover sort of situation.”

Tesla today sits in an enviable position — although Musk said once again that its share price is too high. The company, which will join the S&P 500 Index on December 21, is now the most valuable automaker in the world, surpassing rivals that produce far more vehicles annually.

Investors have sunk money into Tesla shares largely because they view it more as a technology company than an automaker, even though the vast majority of its revenues today come from car sales.

Musk noted that automakers largely dismissed Tesla in its early days.

“When we first unveiled the Roadster in 2007, I mean, it was just basically, they just said, ‘Oh, well, you’re basically a bunch of fools,’ ” Musk remarked, adding that rivals are now far friendlier than in the past.

Scale AI hits $3.5B valuation as its turns the AI boom into a venture bonanza

Scale AI, the four-year-old data labeling startup, has discovered that selling the picks and shovels needed to develop and apply artificial intelligence is big business.

The company, which created a visual data labeling platform that uses software and people to label image, text, voice and video data for companies building machine learning algorithms, has raised another $155 million. The funding round, led by Tiger Global, pushes Scale’s post-money valuation to more than $3.5 billion. 

Importantly, Scale is now a “break even” business and is set up to continue to add employees and expand into new markets in a sustainable way, Scale’s CEO and co-founder Alexandr Wang told TechCrunch. Scale will use the funds to grow its workforce from 200 people to about 350 by the end of next year. (Those employee numbers don’t include the tens of thousands contractors it uses to label data) It’s also focused on new markets and adding products and platform capabilities.

Scale got its start by supplying autonomous vehicle companies with the labeled data needed to train machine learning models to develop and deploy robotaxis, self-driving trucks and automated bots used in warehouses and on-demand delivery. Legacy automakers such as General Motors and Toyota, chipmaker Nvidia and a slew of AV startups, including Nuro and Zoox have used its platform.

More recently, Scale’s customers have spilled over into government, e-commerce, enterprise automation and robotics. Airbnb, OpenAI, DoorDash and Pinterest are some of its customers. That pace of expansion has accelerated in 2020, according to Wang. 

“One thing that we saw, especially in the course of the past year, was that AI is going to be used for so many different things,” Wang said. “It’s like we’re just sort of really at the beginning of this and we want to be prepared for that as it happens.”

Part of that preparation means evolving beyond being just a data labeler. Earlier this year, the company quietly launched Nucleus, an AI development platform that Wang describes as the “Google Photos for machine learning datasets.” Nucleus provides customers a way to organize, curate and manage massive datasets, giving companies a means to test their models and measure performance among other tasks.

“Nucleus is the first product of our future, I would say,” Wang said. “We definitely we see that the next biggest bottleneck for a lot of our customers is, ‘how are they going to have the suite of tools and suite of infrastructure that exists today for building out software? None of that exists for machine learning.”

The plan is to continue to build out Nucleus into a fully integrated platform that helps more companies be able to do AI, Wang said.

Scale made its first acquisition to support Nucleus with the purchase of a four-person startup called Helia. The team, which has expertise in real-time video and neural network training, will support Nucleus.

“The one thing that we were noticing across our whole customer base was that more and more customers, even beyond just the self drive folks were wanting to do AI on real-time video. And so it was becoming this expertise that we knew just wasn’t going to go away.”

Salesforce beats growth expectations as investors digest the Slack acquisition

Today after the bell, Salesforce reported its third-quarter earnings for its fiscal 2021, a period that ended October 31, 2020. The CRM giant reported top-line revenue of $5.42 billion, up 20% from the year-ago period. Salesforce also had net income of $1.08 billion and earnings per share of $1.15.

Analysts had expected the company to earn $0.75 per share off revenues of $5.25 billion, according to Yahoo Finance.

Shares of Salesforce were off after-hours, falling around 3.6% at the time of writing. It was not clear if the company’s share price performance was due to its Q3 results, or its raised Q4 guidance, or its new fiscal 2022 expectations, or the newly announced Slack deal.

As TechCrunch reported moments ago, Salesforce will buy Slack for $27.7 billion in a cash and stock deal that was fully priced into shares of the smaller company, which dropped a little over a point on the news, having risen by nearly 50% since the deal’s existence first leaked.

Holders of Slack will be rewarded for their patience. Now it’s up to Salesforce leadership to prove that the huge buy will help boost the company’s growth.

Salesforce told investors today that it anticipates Q4 fiscal 2021 revenues of $5.665 billion to $5.675 billion, which works out to growth of around 17% from the year-ago period. The company also anticipates that it will grow around 17% in Q1 of its fiscal 2022.

But Salesforce expects to grow 21% in all of its fiscal 2022. How does it intend to accelerate? Its projections include Slack:

Full Year FY22 revenue guidance includes contributions from Slack Technologies, Inc. of approximately $600 million, net of purchase accounting, and assumes a closing date in late Q2 and Acumen Solutions, Inc. of approximately $150 million, net of purchase accounting, and assumes a closing date within Q2.

So, Salesforce investors, after two anticipated quarters of 17% growth coming up, your company will accelerate up to 21% growth for the next fiscal year. Is that worth $27.7 billion?

 

Announcing TechCrunch’s 2021 Event Calendar

We know that you’re hard at work building the next great startup so we want to get our events on your radar early for next year. We’re excited to announce our 2021 fully virtual events line-up. Mark your calendars!


TC Sessions: Justice
March 3, 2021

Join us virtually while we explore inclusive hiring, access to funding for Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, and workplace tools to foster inclusion and belonging. We’ll also examine the experiences of gig workers and formerly incarcerated people who are often left out of Silicon Valley’s wealth cycle. Rounding out the program will be a discussion about the role of venture capital in creating a more inclusive tech ecosystem. We’ll discuss all of that and more at the second installation of TC Sessions: Justice.

TC Early Stage
April 1-2, 2021   and   July 8-9, 2021

TechCrunch’s mission is to support early stage startups and that’s what TC Early Stage is all about. Designed for founders who are in their early innings, anywhere from pre-seed through Series A, we’re here to give entrepreneurs the info they need to get ahead. With that in mind, the event’s heart is dozens of breakout sessions run by experts and curated by TechCrunch editors focusing on topics like raising a first seed round, landing a series A, considering your first term sheet, recruiting a fabulous team and how to build a tech stack you won’t regret (to name a few). There is so much how-to content we’re coming to you twice in 2021 over four days total.

TC Sessions: Mobility
June 9, 2021

Explore the future of transportation with mobility mavericks for TechCrunch’s third TC Sessions: Mobility. Join us for a full day of online programming featuring the people leading the charge — creative thinkers, innovative makers, dedicated engineers and savvy investors across the mobility and transportation startup ecosystem.

TC Disrupt 2021
September 21-23

TechCrunch’s flagship event is back, hitting the airwaves on September 21-23, 2021. Join us for three days of non-stop online programming with two big focuses: How founders and investors are shaping the future of disruptive technology and startup experts providing actionable insights to entrepreneurs. It’s where hundreds of startups across a variety of categories tell their stories to the 10,000 attendees from all around the world. It’s the ultimate Silicon Valley experience where the leaders of the startup world gather to ask questions, make connections and be inspired.

TC Sessions: SaaS
November 3, 2021

TechCrunch editors will explore all angles of the SaaS market, from generating early market interest, to landing venture checks, to scaling, to selling and selling out. Software as a service has become the de facto startup business model thanks to its inherent revenue durability, and predictability. But how to best build, fund, and deliver SaaS products is constantly changing, and the modern founder can’t afford to be left behind.

Extra Crunch Live

In between our full and multi-day events, you can join us for Extra Crunch Live, an ongoing virtual speaker series complete with live Q&A exclusive for Extra Crunch members. Sign up for Extra Crunch to get access to special events, research and reporting and additional partner perks.

TechCrunch offers unparalleled opportunities for partners to engage directly with our attendees and speakers before the show, at the show, and after the show, as well as online. If you’re interested in learning more about how your company can sponsor TechCrunch events, please get in touch.

Salesforce buys Slack in a $27.7B megadeal

Salesforce, the CRM powerhouse that recently surpassed $20 billion in annual revenue, announced today it is wading deeper into enterprise social by acquiring Slack in a $27.7 billion megadeal. Rumors of a pending deal surfaced last week, causing Slack’s stock price to spike.

Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff didn’t mince words on his latest purchase. “This is a match made in heaven. Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world,” Benioff said in a statement.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield was no less effusive than his future boss. “As software plays a more and more critical role in the performance of every organization, we share a vision of reduced complexity, increased power and flexibility, and ultimately a greater degree of alignment and organizational agility. Personally, I believe this is the most strategic combination in the history of software, and I can’t wait to get going,” Butterfield said in a statement.

Every worker at every company needs to communicate, something that Slack can ably empower. What’s more, it also facilitates external communication with customers and partners, something that should be quite useful for a company like Salesforce and its family of offerings.

Ultimately, Slack was ripe for the taking. Entering 2020 it had lost around 40% of its value since it went public. Consider that after its most recent earnings report, the company lost 16% of its value, and before the Salesforce deal leaked, the company was worth only a few dollars per share more than its direct listing reference price. Toss in net losses of $147.6 million during the two quarters ending July 31, 2020, Slack’s uninspiring public valuation and its winding path to profitability and it was a sitting target for a takeover like this one. The only surprise here is the price.

Slack’s current valuation, according to both Yahoo and Google Finance, is just over $25 billion, which, given its very modest price change after-hours means that the market priced the company somewhat effectively. Slack is up around 48% from its valuation that preceded the deal becoming known.

The new deal also puts Salesforce more on par — and in competition — with its arch rival and sometime friend Microsoft, whose Teams product has been directly challenging Slack in the market. Microsoft, which passed on buying Slack in the past for a fraction of what Salesforce is paying today, has made Teams a key priority in recent quarters, loathe to cede any portion of the enterprise software market to another company.

What really has set Slack apart from the pack, at least initially, was its ability to integrate with other enterprise software. When you combined that with bots, those intelligent digital helpers, the company could potentially provide Salesforce customers with a central place to work without changing focus because everything they need to do can be done in Slack.

Today’s deal comes after Salesforce’s purchase of Quip in 2016 for $750 million. Quip brought to the SaaS giant a way of socially sharing documents, and when paired with the Slack acquisition gives Salesforce a much more robust social story to tell than its internal option Chatter, an early attempt at enterprise social that never really caught on.

It’s worth noting that Salesforce was interested in Twitter in 2016, the same year that Microsoft was reportedly interested in Slack, but eventually walked away from that deal when shareholders objected, not wanting to deal with the controversial side of the social platform.

Slack was founded in 2013, but its origins go back to an online multiplayer game company called Glitch that was founded in 2009. While the game was ultimately a failure, the startup developed an internal messaging system in the process of building that company that later evolved into Slack.

The company’s historic growth helped Slack raise more than $1 billion while private, earning an impressive $7 billion valuation before going public last year. But while the Glitch-to-unicorn story appears simple, Slack has always faced entrenched competition from the likes of not only Microsoft, but also Cisco, Facebook, Google and even Asana and Monday.com.

For Slack, the path to the public markets was fraught with hype and outsized expectation. The company was famous, or as famous as an enterprise software company can be. At the time it felt like its debut was the start of a long tenure as an indie company. Instead, that public life has been cut short by a huge check. Such is the dog-eat-dog world of tech.

Elon Musk says SpaceX will attempt uncrewed Mars flight in two years, human landing in four to six

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was given an award from media giant Axel Springer on Tuesday, and he sat down to provide a wide-ranging interview that covered topics including space, Tesla, AI and even underpopulation. Musk addressed SpaceX’s Mars ambitions first, providing current timelines he’s working toward for reaching the red planet with SpaceX’s Starship, the next-generation spacecraft it hopes to fly in a new high-altitude test sometime later this week.

Musk said that he expects humans will land on Mars in around six years, and that he’s “fairly confident” in that timeline. That’s based on the fact that Earth and Mars are in sync in terms of their relative orbits around the sun approximately every 26 months. SpaceX plans to do an uncrewed launch and landing on Mars hopefully at the next opportunity in about two years from now. He added that with luck, a first human landing could happen during the next Mars-Earth synchronization after that, in four years instead of six.

Asked when Musk’s own first trip to orbit would happen, he answered “possibly two or three years,” though he qualified that his primary focus is to ensure the technology is in place to enable “a lot of people to go to Mars and make life interplanetary, and to have a base on the moon,” downplaying his own personal spaceflight goals.

He also reiterated his ambition to eventually be buried on Mars (though not due to accidental death on impact in a spacecraft crash) and talked about while he believes that becoming a spacefaring society is existential in his opinion, and will ultimately be necessary for human survival, he also hopes to make it fun, exciting and attractive rather than a necessary risk.

Starship is gearing up for its first big high-altitude flight test, as mentioned. It’ll be flying at SpaceX’s Texas development facility, and that test launch could happen as early as later this week, though the company still has to conduct a key static engine test fire of its prototype ahead of an actual flight.