Voyage’s driverless future, ghost work, B2B growth strategies, and Black Hat takeaways

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Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future

In the autonomous vehicle space, startups have taken radically different strategies to building our AV future. Some companies like Waymo have driven all across different types of environments in order to rack up the datasets that they believe will be needed to effectively maneuver without a human driver.

That’s the opposite strategy of Voyage, where CEO and founder Oliver Cameron and his team have focused on driving safety in the incredibly constrained context of two retirement communities.

Our transportation editor Kirsten Korosec talked with the company and analyzes their approach in a new profile for Extra Crunch, and also drops some news about a partnership the company has brewing with a major automotive manufacturer.

Cameron, who shies away from discussing timelines, describes the company as inching toward driverless service.

Its self-driving software has now reached maturation in the communities it is testing in, and Voyage is now focusing on validation, according to Cameron.

Voyage has developed a few systems that will help push it closer to a commercial driverless service while maintaining safety, such as a collision mitigation system that it calls Rango, an internal nickname inspired by the 2011 computer-animated Western action-comedy about a chameleon.

This collision mitigation system is designed to be extremely fast-reacting, like a reptile — hence the Rango name. Rango, which has an independent power source and compute system and uses a different approach to perception than the main self-driving system, is designed to react quickly. If needed, it will engage the full force of the brakes.

Startup ads are taking over the subway

Public transit is just swimming in startup ads. From complete Brex takeovers of the San Francisco Caltrain station to the sleep puzzles posted by Casper across the New York City subway, startups have been taking advantage of this unique out-of-home advertising space. What’s the full story though? Our reporter Anthony Ha takes a look at how the subway ad market came to be in the past few years, and what the future holds for other marketers.

“You’re at the earliest stages, trying to figure out how to gain the mindshare of your customers [and] looking for incredibly affordable, efficient ways of doing that,” he recalled.

At the time, the subway fit that description. In fact, Handy co-founder and CEO Oisin Hanrahan said it was a “vastly mispriced” medium, allowing him to buy a month of ads on 10% of all subway cars for $40,000.

[Much has changed since then.] The biggest change? The fact that so many other startups are now looking to market themselves on the subway. [John Laramie, CEO of out-of-home advertising agency Project X] said that Outfront is now charging between $325,000 and $350,000 for a four-week “brand train” (an industry term for the 10% takeover that Hanrahan referred to early). And even with those prices, it’s sold out through early next year.

How ‘ghost work’ in Silicon Valley pressures the workforce, with Mary Gray

Our resident tech ethicist Greg Epstein has an interview with anthropologist and ethics of AI expert Mary Gray of Harvard and Microsoft Research, whose work explores the rise of “ghost work,” which is work that is intermediated by APIs so that the user doesn’t even realize that human work is taking place. It’s a deep dive into the challenges of labor into the 21st century and our obligations to each other as humans.

Epstein: We often forget that in order for us to have an on-demand service, we have to build an entire culture around ourselves where people are living a lot of their lives in readiness to meet our demands.

Gray:Exactly. [There is] a complete dependency on people making themselves available to us. What we have not worked out is recognizing the value of somebody making themselves available to us.

We have a long history of devaluing people who are compelled to serve us or just simply seem to be in the air available to us. This organization of labor by design means I am putting a good number of people in front of a consumer or a business, but they’ll never see them because there’s this invisible shield that makes them impossible to see.

But that is really what’s being offered: the availability of this collective pool of people. Won’t it be amazing if we can move culturally to a place where we actually value that availability?

How should B2B startups think about growth? Not like B2C

Growth is one of the most important skills for any startup, but there are huge differences between growing a consumer business versus an enterprise business. We have been guilty of focusing a wee bit too much on the consumer side, so let’s rectify that.

B2B growth marketers Tyler Elliston of Right Side Up and Kevin Barry of Right Percent have put a huge guide together of the B2B growth space, exploring how to identify your growth stage, finding B2B customers, targeting channels, and selecting the right marketing messages.

LinkedIn has great targeting capabilities for B2B but it’s very expensive. Very few companies achieve positive ROI and even fewer are able to scale it beyond $25,000/mo.

There is no other attention-based marketing channel besides Facebook that can target B2B customers at scale. Display networks, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. are not a great use of time for a startup since the scale is low and good ROI is rare.

[…]

The easiest channel to start testing is paid digital, because it has the fastest time to get results and smallest investment needed. You still need a minimum of $5k test spend in paid digital, and in reality closer to $20k, to get a good idea of long term cost per conversion.

If, however, you’ve spent your first $5,000 on advertising and have only seen a handful of conversions, you should probably stop there and re-evaluate either your product-market fit or your marketing strategy. Even for B2B, where deal size is bigger and leads can be pricier, your cost per lead should very rarely be over $500 (and will usually end up being much lower).

What security pros need to know from Black Hat & Def Con 2019

Our security editor Zack Whittaker survived the gauntlet that is Black Hat and Def Con, and he writes in with a dispatch from these top cybersecurity conferences to discuss the big trends that came out of those endless panels, PR pitches, and infinite convention center floor spaces.

This year we saw ordinary-looking charging cables that can hack your computer, we found out that cloud backups are easily exposed, robocall blocking apps aren’t as privacy-focused as you might think, and your corporate VPN and office printer are targets for hackers (and if they fail there they’ll just ship a hardware exploit to your mailroom.) Even students can easily hack their own school systems.

The obvious takeaways might be to never plug anything into your computer and that all your data is already ‘pwned’.

Local governments are forcing the scooter industry to grow up fast

Meanwhile in scooter land, the obvious takeaway might be that this is going to be a really hard industry. Local governments are seething about all kinds of issues, including battery fires, lack of access for low-income customers, geofencing around homeless areas in SF, and more. Our transportation writer Megan Rose Dickey reports on the challenges facing the industry and how its future is a bit tenuous.

Over on the East Coast, the ball was in the District of Columbia’s court. In June, after a battery on one of Skip’s scooters caught fire followed by improperly disposed of batteries creating a single-alarm fire in one of its warehouses, the District Department of Transportation forced the company to temporarily suspend operations.

Skip, however, is not the only micromobility entity that has experienced battery fires. About one week before that, Lyft pulled its e-bikes from its fleet of shared bicycles in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area in light of a couple of its batteries catching on fire.

And battery fires do not only affect electric bikes and scooters. You may remember the year of the exploding hoverboards, as well as exploding smartphones and laptops. What all of those have in common are lithium-ion batteries, which are very commonly used for portable electronics and now, personal electric vehicles. The downside to these types of batteries is potential overheating, which can lead to a failure mode called “thermal runaway” and result in a battery fire.

What will Tumblr become under the ownership of tech’s only Goldilocks founder?

TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon Media sold Tumblr this week to WordPress.com owner Automattic. We heard from Devin Coldewey earlier this week on his views of the challenges around advertising on the platform, but now we have Darrell Etherington, who sees a pretty positive outcome for Tumblr.

There’s never been a better acquisition for all parties involved, or at least one in which every party should walk away feeling they got exactly what they needed out of the deal. Yes, that’s in spite of the reported $3 million-ish asking price.

Why chipmaker Broadcom is spending big bucks for aging enterprise software companies

Finally this week, our enterprise reporter Ron Miller looks at Broadcom’s massive $10.7 billion acquisition of Symantec’s enterprise security business, which barely made a whimper last week.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, says that he used to be cynical about such deals, but says they may serve a useful purpose in the enterprise software ecosystem. “Now I see roll-ups like this as a kind of a natural part of the tech lifecycle. They provide senior housing and end of life services — hopefully responsibly,” he said.

ICYMI: Earlier this week:

Thanks

To every member of Extra Crunch: thank you. You allow us to get off the ad-laden media churn conveyor belt and spend quality time on amazing ideas, people, and companies. If I can ever be of assistance, hit reply, or send an email to danny@techcrunch.com.

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