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Google’s latest smartwatch app skipped its own watches for Apple’s

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YouTube Music launched yesterday on the Apple Watch, arriving before an official Wear OS version and only further illustrating Google’s ongoing issues with its competing wearable platform. The app — available to YouTube Music Premium and YouTube Premium subscribers — mirrors all the same features it launched with on iOS, but now in compact watchOS form. Users can stream, control playback, and even cast music from their wrist, complete with a nice complication for Apple Watch watchfaces.

Landing on the Apple Watch first shows Google’s commitment to growing YouTube Music’s audience. Apple still controls half the smartwatch market, so showing up is ultimately in Google’s favor. But skipping Wear OS at launch underlines how hobbled Google’s platform has been from the start. A small install base and slow development of processors from partner Qualcomm has led to Wear OS lagging behind competitors Apple and Samsung for years.

The release of Qualcomm’s newer chips, the Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 4100 Plus, aims to solve the speed issues that hurt past Wear OS devices. Paired with a Wear OS update this fall that focuses on streamlined interface elements, there’s hope Google’s partners can develop devices better suited to compete with Apple’s market dominance. Google has also reportedly been trying for quite some time to get its own internal smartwatch hardware off the ground, after a failed attempt back in 2016.

That could be where Fitbit, which Google acquired last year, comes in. Fitbit’s team makes an excellent addition to Google’s own, but acquiring the former’s trove of health data is another thing. Obstacles in the way of closing the deal from the EU and the long-term prospect of integrating the two companies’ hardware teams means the release of a true “Pixel Smartwatch” will take more time. Google hasn’t given up on Wear OS, but the path ahead is unclear — and the platform isn’t growing fast enough to be of bigger use to YouTube Music than the Apple Watch.

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Three astronauts are returning home after waiting out most of the pandemic in space

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This evening, three astronauts who have been living on board the International Space Station for the last six months will return back to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule, landing in the middle of the Kazakhstan desert. The trio have lived in space for nearly the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic and are now returning as cases are rising again across the world.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin launched to the ISS on the Soyuz back in early April, nearly a month after the World Health Organization had declared that the COVID-19 outbreak had become a pandemic. Thanks to the outbreak, the crew underwent a stricter quarantine than usual before they took off. Cassidy said he remained mostly isolated when he first arrived in Russia’s Star City ahead of the launch. “Had I been in normal quarantine, I probably could have gone out to some restaurants and left the immediate parameters of the Star City area and just been smart about where we went,” Cassidy said during press interviews on March 19th. “But not this time.”

The crew then traveled to their launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and went through the typical two-week quarantine that all astronauts undergo before launching.

Since arriving at the space station on April 9th, the trio have mostly lived alone as the pandemic ebbed and flowed on the Earth below. They did welcome some visitors over the summer, when NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley flew to the ISS aboard SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon capsule at the end of May. Their arrival marked the first time that people had flown to the ISS on board a privately made vehicle.

Behnken and Hurley only stayed for two months, returning to Earth on August 2nd. “It was lonely conversations I had with myself at dinner prior to their arrival,” Cassidy said the day before they left. “And with these last two months, it’s been fantastic to have buddies at the chow table to reflect on the day, think about tomorrow, and talk about world events.”

Cassidy, Vagner, and Ivanishin are leaving just as another crew of three are taking over control of the ISS. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov arrived at the ISS on October 13th. Ryzhikov took over command of the station yesterday, and the new trio will stay on the ISS until April. They’ll eventually be joined by four astronauts, all slated to fly on the second crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. That flight is tentatively planned for mid-November, though NASA and SpaceX have not confirmed a date yet. NASA is currently reviewing an engine issue that cropped up on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which carries the Crew Dragon to orbit.

After mostly avoiding the pandemic, Cassidy and his crewmates will now be returning to a world that is still focused on social distancing, wearing masks, and stopping the spread of COVID-19. In a tweet, Cassidy showed pictures of himself wearing a mask, claiming he was practicing for his “new reality.”

Their departure gets underway today at around 4:10PM ET, when the crew will climb inside their Soyuz and close the capsule’s hatch. The trio will then undock from the station at around 7:32PM ET and the Soyuz will slowly distance from the station for the next two and a half hours. The capsule’s engines will fire at around 10PM ET, taking the Soyuz out of orbit and putting it on course for Earth. The Soyuz should land around 10:55PM ET, according to NASA.

NASA plans to provide coverage of every major event tonight on its dedicated channel, so check back throughout the night to watch Cassidy and his crewmates make their way home.

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Cruise is doubling down on shared autonomous rides with new COVID protocols

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Cruise, the self-driving car company owned by General Motors, is doubling down on the Origin, its steering wheel-and-pedal-less autonomous people mover introduced late last year. With the COVID-19 pandemic discouraging many people from using shared ride services, the company unveiled new safety protocols intended to keep people socially distant during trips and the vehicle sanitized between fares.

Cruise is also applying for permission from the federal government to mass-produce the Origin. The vehicle’s lack of traditional human controls means that the company will need an exemption from the federal government’s motor vehicle safety standards, which require vehicles to have a steering wheel and pedals. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) only grants 2,500 such exemptions a year. (There is legislation to increase that number to 25,000, but it is currently stalled in the Senate.)

In 2018, GM submitted a petition for permission to deploy a fully driverless Chevy Bolt but never received a final response from NHTSA. That exemption will now be withdrawn in favor of the petition related to the Origin, Cruise says.

The new protocols, as well as the exemption, are also meant to send a message that Cruise is still committed to safely launching a shared robotaxi service in the near future. The coronavirus pandemic has jolted the transportation world, leading to a steep drop in ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. Those companies are now trying to mount a comeback based mostly on strict rules requiring masks and cleaning supplies.

Cruise hasn’t launched its ride-hail service yet, nor has it revealed an actual working version of the Origin. But the company wants to get ahead of any speculation that COVID will destroy any demand for shared mobility service in the future.

“COVID-19 changed everything, including the way many people think about shared vehicles,” Robert Grant, VP for global government affairs at Cruise, writes in a blog post. “Sharing anything, it now feels, is a threat to our health.”

Grant says that the Origin’s cabin will be fitted with a plastic partition running down the center. Only two passengers will be allowed in the vehicle at a time, and the company’s venting system will keep the air circulating. Masks will be required, and hand sanitizer and wipes will be made available. The vehicle won’t have a driver, so these protocols will only apply to passengers.

Cruise has a beta ride-hailing service, but it’s only available to employees, and the company won’t say when it will be available to the broader public. Cruise also won’t say when the Origin will roll out, but promises to share more information about its production plans in the future. The vehicle will be manufactured at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which was recently renamed Factory Zero.

Cruise is under pressure from its investors, namely Softbank, to launch a commercial taxi service. The company recently received a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test fully driverless cars, without human safety drivers, in San Francisco.

The company’s safety drivers have been complaining about a lack of safety standards during the pandemic and subsequent wildfires. They accuse Cruise of deploying its self-driving cars during the spring lockdown in defiance of public health orders banning nonessential travel. And they say Cruise isn’t doing enough to keep them safe during these public health crises.

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This serial founder is taking on Carta with cap table management software she says is better for founders

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Yin Wu has cofounded several companies since graduating from Stanford in 2011, including a computer vision company called Double Labs that sold to Microsoft, where she stayed on for a couple of years as a software engineer. In fact, it was only after that sale she she says she “actually understood all of the nuances with a company’s cap table.”

Her newest company, Pulley, a 14-month-old, Mountain View, Ca.-based maker of cap table management software aims to solve that same problem and has so far raised $10 million toward that end led by the payments company Stripe, with participation from Caffeinated Capital, General Catalyst, 8VC, and numerous angel investors.

Wu is going up against some pretty powerful competition. Carta was reportedly raising $200 million in fresh funding at a $3 billion valuation as of the spring (a round the company never official confirmed or announced). Last year, it raised $300 million. Morgan Stanley has meanwhile been beefing up its stock plan administration business, acquiring Solium Capital early last year and more newly purchasing Barclay’s stock plan business.

Of course, startups often manage to find a way to take down incumbents and a distraction for Carta, at least, in the form of a very public gender discrimination lawsuit by a former VP of marketing, could be the kind of opening that Pulley needs. We emailed with Yu yesterday to ask if that might be the case. She didn’t answer directly, but she did mention “values,” as long as shared some more details about what she sees as different about the two products.

TC: Why start this company? Has Carta’s press of late created an opening for a new upstart in the space?

YW: I left Microsoft in 2018 and started Pulley a year later. We skipped the seed and raised the A because of overwhelming demand from investors. Many wanted a better product for their portfolio companies. Many founders are increasingly thinking about choosing with companies, like Pulley, that better align with their values.

TC: How many people are working for Pulley and are any folks you pulled out of Carta?

YW: We’re a team of seven and have four people on the team who are former Y Combinator founders. We attract founders to the team because they’ve experienced firsthand the difficulties of managing a cap table and want to build a better tool for other founders. We have not pulled anyone out of Carta yet.

TC: Carta has raised a lot of funding and it has long tentacles. What can Pulley offer startups that Carta cannot?

YW: We offer startups a better product compared to our competitors. We make every interaction on Pulley easier and faster. 409A valuations take five days instead of weeks, and onboarding is the same day rather than months. By analogy, this is similar to the difference between Stripe and Braintree when Stripe initially launched. There were many different payment processes when Stripe launched. They were able to capture a large portion of the market by building a better product that resonated with developers.

One of the features that stands out on Pulley is our modeling feature [which helps founders model dilution in future rounds and helps employees understand the value of their equity as the company grows]. Founders switch from our competitors to Pulley to use our modeling tool [and it works] with pre-money SAFEs, post-money SAFEs, and factors in pro-ratas and discounts. To my knowledge, Pulley’s modeling tool is the most comprehensive product on the market.

TC: How does your pricing compare with Carta’s?

YW:  Pulley is free for early-stage companies regardless of how much they raise. We’re price competitive with Carta on our paid plans. Part of the reason we started Pulley is because we had frustrations with other cap table management tools. When using other services, we had to regularly ping our accountants or lawyers to make edits, run reports, or get data. Each time we involved the lawyers, it was an expensive legal fee. So there is easily a $2,000 hidden fee when using tools that aren’t self-serve for setting up and updating your cap table.

TC: Is there a business-to-business opportunity here, where maybe attorneys or accountants or wealth managers private label this service? Or are these industry professionals viewed as competitors?

YW: We think there are opportunities to white label the service for accountants and law firms. However, this is currently not our focus.

TC: How adaptable is the software? Can it deal with a complicated scenario, a corner case?

YW: We started Pulley one year ago and we’re launching today because we have invested in building an architecture that can support complex cap table scenarios as companies scale. There are two things that you have to get right with cap table systems, First, never lose the data and second, always make sure the numbers are correct. We haven’t lost data for any customer and we have a comprehensive system of tests that verifies the cap table numbers on Pulley remain accurate.

TC: At what stage does it make sense for a startup to work with Pulley, and do you have the tools to hang onto them and keep them from switching over to a competitor later?

YW: We work with companies past the Series A, like Fast and Clubhouse. Companies are not looking to change their cap table provider if Pulley has the tool to grow with them. We already have the features of our competitors, including electronic share issuance, ACH transfers for options, modeling tools for multiple rounds, and more. We think we can win more startups because Pulley is also easier to use and faster to onboard.

TC: Regarding your paid plans, how much is Pulley charging and for what? How many tiers of service are there?

YW; Pulley is free for early-stage startups with less than 25 stakeholders. We charge $10 per stakeholder per month when companies scale beyond that. A stakeholder is any employee or investor on the cap table. Most companies upgrade to our premium plan after a seed round when they need a 409A valuation.

Cap table management is an area where companies don’t want a free product. Pulley takes our customers data privacy and security very seriously. We charge a flat fee for companies so they rest assured that their data will never be sold or used without their permission.

TC: What’s Pulley’s relationship to venture firms?

YW: We’re currently focused on founders rather than investors. We work with accelerators like Y Combinator to help their portfolio companies manage their cap table, but don’t have a formal relationship with any VC firms.

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