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Welcome to the 2-Minute Drill -- a curated selection of the week's hottest stories from the world of tech, all in 2 minutes.

As a reminder, join us on Tuesday mornings at 8am PT / 11am ET in the Crossover Club on Clubhouse where we talk through the week's stories in more detail and with a rotating panel of special guests from the worlds of pro sports, entertainment and technology. 

As always, shoot me a note to learn more or if you just want to say 👋.


📱 650.468.9543
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👋 @ndl / the Crossover Club

On my whistle...


Flock Freight Soars to Unicorn Heights With a Fresh $215M
One of the biggest challenges the global economy faces as it looks to dig its way out of the pandemic are the bottlenecks and supply chain issues plaguing the global shipping industry. And we can't just blame it all on a 1,300 ft container ship wedging itself into the Suez Canal. While there are many steps in the global supply chain that each play a critical role in getting goods from point A to point B, one area that startups are innovating on is on helping goods get from port to their destinations faster and more efficiently.

This is the mission behind six-year-old Southern California-based trucking logistics startup Flock Freight. Flock Freight uses algorithmic pooling technology to allow less-than-truckload shippers to share trailer space in one full truckload. For those unfamiliar with the trucking and logistics industry, "less-than-truckload" (or "LTL) refers to the transportation of small freight or when freight doesn't require the use of an entire trailer. So, imagine your company imports a shipment of widgets from China, offloads them in Long Beach, and then needs them to be transported by truck to your warehouse in Fresno. To do this, it often requires a freight service like those large semis you see hauling down the highway. But what happens when your shipment only fills up half the truck?  Wouldn't it be more cost-effective (and more environmentally beneficial) if you could share that truck with another shipment that is going in the same direction? 

This is the idea behind Flock Freight, and a whole host of startups that have raised significant capital to take on the antiquated and inefficient freight and logistics industry. Leverage technology to better connect shippers and carriers by giving shippers high quality shared truckload service, while at the same time helping carriers maximize revenue with multi-stop loads -- not to mention reducing environmental impact.

This week, Flock Freight announced a massive $215 million Series D round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, pushing the company's valuation north of $1 billion. This is sure to not be the last investment into technologies disrupting the massive global logistics sector.

(more here)

Bonus Coverage: In related news, Flexport founder and CEO Ryan Petersen had a pretty epic weekend, showing the power of social media to affect positive change. Read his epic tweetstorm about specific actions the government can take to help address the supply chain bottlenecks at busy ports--and then the rapid response by the local legislators to make it happen. Did Ryan just save Christmas? :)


Saildrone Hits the High Seas With $100M In New Funding 
This week, Silicon Valley-based autonomous sea vessel startup Saildrone charted its course for a fresh $100 million Series C round of venture funding as it looks to provide valuable data on the wild blue yonder. This brings the 9-year-old startup's total funding to more than $189 million.

Saildrone's mission is to deliver knowledge from the oceans to its customers. To achieve this goal, the company manufactures a fleet of solar-powered robotic uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) that sail the ocean blue collecting intelligence on climate, mapping, and maritime security. Customers range from NOAA, for whom Saildrone sent a craft into the heart of a hurricane to better understand the increasingly violent nature of storms, to offshore wind developers.

While Saildrone skirts across the surface of the oceans, it also has the ability to study what goes on below the surface. Astonishingly, while oceans cover roughly 70% of the Earth's surface, 80% of the ocean floor still remains unmapped. In fact, more of the surfaces of the moon and Mars have been mapped than our own ocean floor.

Saildrone joins an increasingly-crowded field of startups looking to provide data and insights about our oceans. Back in March we covered Bedrock Ocean Exploration's funding round to become the SpaceX of the ocean floor, and other surface-based startups include Sea Machines, EcoDrone and Sea Proven.

While the sea exploration market is still young, Saildrone has the most navigation under its mainsail, having logged over 500,000 nautical miles and spent more than 13,000 days at sea. As the oceans play an ever-larger role in our climate, security, and global economy, expect to see more investment into unlocking the mysteries of the great blue yonder.

(more here)


Everyone's Talking About the...Metaverse! Metaverse! Metaverse!
We may not be in a true "metaverse" yet, but that hasn't stopped the term from becoming one of the buzziest words in the tech universe over the past year. Perhaps if we shout it three times from the headlines, it will magically appear like Beetlejuice!  The metaverse refers to a collective virtual shared space that combines physical reality with virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet--and for the fellow nerds in the room, the term traces its roots to Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash.

As companies ranging from Facebook to nascent Web 3 startups all race to bring Ready Player One to life, a host of startups are raising funding to straddle the line between a virtual meeting tool in today's remote world, and a virtual universe for everything from events, to gaming, to social hangouts. While the topic warrants a full deep dive on its own, for our purposes on the 2-Minute Drill, here are just a few of the companies innovating in the space and raising funding:
  • Gather. A platform for building customizable 2D spaces to support a future where remote work and play becomes the norm. Leverages spatial audio and personalization-focused features to emulate the experience of being in a 3D live workspace. Raised $26 million in venture funding. (2MD coverage)
  • Topia. A marketplace for visual creators to offer up digital settings that users can purchase as the backdrop for their meetings or events. Think Little Italy or a Teahouse or Arcade where a company can host a virtual business event, or friends can hang out socially. Raised $5m in venture funding
  • mmhmm. Created by Evernote founder Phil Libin, mmhmm offers a suite of tools to help spruce up the experience by offers more interactive graphics and the ability to create content in boxes next to the speaker. Raised $140 million in venture funding. (2MD coverage)
  • Hopin. Virtual events platform designed to connect distributed communities. Raised $1 billion in venture funding. (2MD coverage)
Of course, in addition to these startups (and many others) there are the massive gaming platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite that are increasingly demonstrating social network and metaverse-like qualities through hosting online events ranging from concerts by Travis Scott and Marshmello to political fundraisers.

While the term may well be overhyped, what is certainly clear is that as more of our lives take place online, it is likely that more and more will transpire in digital spaces that look nothing like a Zoom call or earlier predecessors like Second Life. In the meantime, I'll be over here in my haptic chair ready to plug into the Matrix, Oasis, or whatever comes next!


Cometeer Brings the Science to Coffee With Two Buck Pucks
As I write this segment, I am currently sipping on a cup of coffee that I made by taking a small thumb-sized capsule out of my freezer, running it under the tap for 10 seconds, pouring out a mostly-frozen coffee "puck" into my mug, and then topping it off with some hot water to melt it. This ain't your grandma's Maxwell House, that's for sure. It's direct-to-consumer frozen coffee startup, Cometeer.

Started nine years ago and based out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Cometeer is the latest startup using technology to disrupt the more than $100 billion global coffee industry. More than 2.25 billion cups of coffee consumed in the world every day, and in the US alone, 64% of Americans report drinking at least one cup of coffee per day. The elephant in the coffee shop is Seattle-based Starbucks, with nearly 30,000 locations worldwide, 40% of the US coffee market, and more than $26 billion in annual revenue. And for a quick cup of coffee in the home, companies like Keurig and Nespresso have grown rapidly with their pod/cartridge based systems (and subscription revenue).

Cometeer's approach is what happens when you get a bunch of coffee-crazed mad scientists in the lab to reimagine how coffee gets from plant to roast to first sip. It alls starts with sourcing fair-trade beans from coffee farmers, and then selecting top-quality roasters. From there, the technology takes over, with the startup investing millions into a proprietary flash freezing process that turns the beans into mini caffeinated pucks that are sealed in flavor-preserving capsules that can last in the freezer for up to three years.

The company announced a new $35 million round of funding this week, following a $50 million round back in April 2020. While I have no financial stake in the company, one of the founders kindly hooked me up with a variety pack to test out a few months back, and even this coffee snob was impressed. The startup was previously only available to a private group of subscribing members, but this week it also opened up the waiting list, making Cometeer available to all. Capsules cost around $2 each, with the base shipment of 32 capsules coming in at $64.

(more here)

Athletes + Entertainers in Tech: Superplastic
This week, Burlington, Vermont-based creator of animated celebs, vinyl toys & digital collectibles Superplastic announced a fresh $20 million round of Series A funding from Google Ventures, Index, Founders Fund, and syndicate of angels and celebs. This brings the four-year-old startup's total funding to nearly $40 million (last covered by us here).

In past issues of the 2-Minute Drill we have covered the rise of digital celebrities such as Lil Miquela -- a computer-generated (ie not real) persona created out of thin air, who has built a massive social media following and is even generating very real revenues. We have also covered the rise of celebrity avatars such as those created by Genies--and their foray into becoming a creative marketing agency for real life celebs' digital personas.

Superplastic has developed popular animated characters such as Janky & Guggimon, each with their own social media profiles and followings. For example, Superplastic describes Janky as "A self-proclaimed streetwear icon, achieved by dumpster diving for discarded ‘fits on movie sets and outside of celebrity’s homes in Beverly Hills," and proudly boasts that "he got his start as a stuntman following the release of a viral video being run over by Travis Scott’s “ASTROWORLD” trailer."

As to be expected in today's market, the company is also diving deep into NFTs, with Janky and Guggimon selling more than $7 million worth of the digital collectibles so far this year. But as opposed to most NFT projects that start with minting the digital images (eg Apes, Creatures, Punks, etc) and then building out the ecosystem after, Superplastic created this unique universe of digital characters with millions of followers first, and added the NFTs after.

It's hard to put Superplastic in a box--which I would imagine they take great pride in. In some ways they are a weird dystopian Disney, and in others they are the new Marvel Universe, and in others they are akin to MediCom (makers of Be@rbricks). But as their digital characters gain followings, participate in branded collabs like with Gucci and celebs such as Travis Scott, we look forward to seeing how the company continues challenging the norms as we march toward a new age in digital presence and entertainment.

Athletes + Entertainers involved include: entertainers The ChainsmokersJared Leto, Justin Timberlake and manager Scooter Braun.

(more here)

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Disclaimer: The content in this newsletter is for informational purposes only and should NOT be taken as legal, business, tax, or investment advice. It also does NOT constitute an offer or solicitation to purchase any investment or a recommendation to buy or sell a security.

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