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Okay, one final Form D note – TechCrunch

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Some more comments from readers on the changing culture around startups filing their Form Ds with the SEC, and then a short update on SoftBank and a bunch more article reviews.

We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the authors: Danny at danny@techcrunch.com or Arman at Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com if you like or hate something here.

Lawyers are pretty uniform that disclosure is no longer ideal

If you haven’t been following our obsession with Form Ds, be sure to read up on our original piece and follow up. The gist is that startups are increasingly foregoing filing a Form D with the SEC that provides details of their venture rounds like investment size and main investors in order to stay stealth longer. That has implications for journalists and the public, since we rely on these filings in many cases to know who is funding what in the Valley.

Morrison Foerster put together a good presentation two years ago that provides an overview of the different routes that startups can take in disclosing their rounds properly.

Traditionally, the vast majority of startups used Rule 506 for their securities, which mandates that a Form D be filed within 15 days of the first money of the round closing. These days though, more and more startups are opting to use Section 4(a)(2), which doesn’t require a Form D, but also doesn’t provide a “blue sky” exception to start securities laws, which means that startups have to file in relevant state jurisdictions and no longer have preemption from the SEC.

David Willbrand, who chairs the Early Stage & Emerging Company Practice at Thompson Hine LLP, read our original articles on Form Ds and explained by email that the practices around securities disclosures have indeed been changing at his firm and others:

We started pushing 4(a)(2) very hard when our clients kept getting “outed” thru the Form D and upset about it. In my experience, for 99% is the desire to remain in stealth mode, period.

[…]

When I started in 1996, Form Ds were paper, there was no internet, and no one looked. Now they are electronic and the media and blogs scrape daily and publish the information. It actually really is true disclosure! And it’s kind of ironic, right, which goes to your point – now that it’s working, these issuers don’t want it.

[…]

What I find is that the proverbial Series A is the brass ring, and issuers wants to call everything seed rounds (saving the title) until something chunky shows up, and stay below the radar too. So they pop out of the cake publicly for the first time with a big “Series A” that they build press around – and their first Form D.

Another piece of feedback we received was from Augie Rakow, the co-founder and managing partner of Atrium, which bills itself as a “better law firm for startups” that TechCrunch has covered a few times before. He wrote to us that in addition to the media concerns, startups also have to be aware of the broad cross-section of interested parties to Form Ds that hasn’t existed in the past:

Today, there is a bigger audience in terms of who cares about venture backed companies. Whether this spun off from the launch of the Facebook movie or the fact that over two billion people across the global have the internet at their fingertips via smartphones, people are connected and curious. The audience is not only larger but also encompasses more national and international interests. This means there are simply more eyes on trends, announcements, and intel on privately held companies whether they are media, investors, or your competitors. Companies that have a good reason to stay stealth may want to avoid attracting this attention by not making a public Form D filing.

For startups, the obvious advice is to just consult your attorney and consider the tradeoffs of having a very clean safe harbor versus more work around regulatory filings to stay stealthy.

But the real message here is for journalists. Form Ds are no longer common among seed-stage startups, and indeed, startup founders and venture investors have a lot of latitude in choosing how and when they file. You can no longer just watch the SEC’s EDGAR search platform and break stories anymore. Building up a human sourcing capability is the only way to get into those early investment rounds today.

Finally — and this is something that is hard to prove one way or the other — the lack of disclosure may also mean that the fears around seed financing dropping off a cliff may be at least a little bit unfounded. Eliot Brown at the Wall Street Journal reported just yesterday that the number of seed financings is down 40% according to PitchBook data. How much of that drop is because of changing macroeconomic conditions, versus changes in filing disclosures?

Quick follow up on SoftBank

Tokyo Stock Exchange. Photo by electravk via Getty Images

Last week, I also got obsessed with SoftBank. The company confirmed today that it intends to move forward with the IPO of its Japanese mobile telecom unit, according to WSJ and many other sources. The company is targeting more than $20 billion in proceeds, and its overallotment could drive that above $25 billion, or roughly the level of Alibaba’s record IPO haul.

One interesting note from Taiga Uranaka at Reuters on the public issue is that everyday investors will likely play an outsized role in the IPO process:

Yet SoftBank’s brand name is still likely to draw retail investors long accustomed to using SoftBank’s phone and internet services. Many still see CEO Son as a tech visionary who challenged entrenched rivals NTT DoCoMo Inc ( 9437.T ) and KDDI, and brought Apple Inc’s ( AAPL.O ) iPhone to Japan.

Japanese households are commonly seen as an attractive target in IPOs with their 1,829 trillion yen in financial assets, even if they are traditionally risk-averse with over 50 percent of assets in cash and deposits.

More than 80 percent of the shares will be offered to domestic retail investors, a person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Pavel Alpeyev at Bloomberg noted that “SoftBank is looking to tempt investors with a dividend payout ratio of about 85 percent of net income, according to the filing. Based on net income in the last fiscal year, that would work out to an almost 5 percent yield at the indicated IPO price.” A higher dividend ratio is particularly attractive to retired individual investors.

Despite SoftBank’s horrifying levels of debt, Japanese consumers may well save the company from itself and allow it to effectively jump start its balance sheet yet again. Complemented with a potential Vision Fund II, Masayoshi Son’s vision for a completely transformed SoftBank seems waiting for him in the cards.

Notes on Articles

Tech C.E.O.s Are in Love With Their Principal Doomsayer – Nellie Bowles writes a feature on Yuval Noah Harari, the noted philosopher and popular author of Sapiens. Bowles investigates the paradoxical popularity of Harari, who sees technology as creating a permanent “useless class” and criticizes Silicon Valley with his now enduring popularity in the region. Interesting personal details on the somewhat reclusive Israeli, but ultimately the question of the paradox remains sadly mostly unanswered. (2,800 words)

Why Doctors Hate Their Computers – Atul Gawande discusses learning and using Epic, the dominant electronic medical records software platform, and discovers the challenges of building static software for the complex adaptive system that is health care. His observations of the challenges of software engineering will be well-known to anyone who has read Fred Brooks, but the piece does an excellent job of exploring the balancing act between the needs of technocratic systems and the human design needed to make messy and complicated professions work. Worth a read. (8,900 words)

Picking flowers, making honey: The Chinese military’s collaboration with foreign universities – An excellent study by Alex Joske at the Australia Strategic Policy Institute on the hundreds of military scientists from China who use foreign academic exchanges as a means of information acquisition for critical scientific and engineering knowledge, including in the United States. China’s government under Xi Jinping has made indigenous technology development a chief domestic priority, and the U.S. innovation economy is encouraged to increasingly guard its intellectual property. (6,500 words)

The Digital Deciders – New America report by Robert Morgus who investigates the fracturing of the internet, which I have written about at some length. Morgus finds that a small group of countries (the “digital deciders”) will determine whether the internet continues to be open or whether nationalist interests will close it off. Let’s all hope that Iraq believes in freedom of expression and not Chinese-style surveillance. Worth a skim. (45 page report, but with prodigious tables)

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The best portable projectors for 2021

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We love the idea of casting a large screen whether it’s to binge-watch a series over the weekend, deliver business presentations during the weekdays, or project photos from the smartphone anytime in between. These conveniences grow manifold with the portable projectors that are mini-sized to fit right into your backpack and transform any surface into a large screen, ideally 100-inch plus, without any hassle.

We have rounded up the best 4K ultra-short throw projectors on the market previously. But if that’s not your budget or it doesn’t really fall in your scope somehow, here’s a list of (in no particular order) the best mini projectors worth your cash. Some of these may feel old but they are as good to hit the road with. Without ado then – here are the best portable projectors in 2021.

ViewSonic M2

There is still time before you start traveling for business like you did say about two years back. When you do, the ViewSonic M2 will be the right portable projector to haul along in the bag for presentation anytime, anywhere. The full HD (1920x1080p resolution) LED projector is compact for office settings and lightweight to be carried along. It provides 1,200 lumens of brightness and offers over 30,000 hours of light source usage.

What We Like

– Interesting kickstand design
– Good brightness
– Dual Harman Kardon speakers

What We Don’t Like

– No built-in battery

The $732.99 ViewSonic M2 is even more interesting because of its short throw lens that allows the projector to cast up to 100-inches from only 9 feet away. Built-in dual Harman Kardon Bluetooth speakers for amazing audio, the projector runs Android and lets users download apps to project directly for entertainment. The ViewSonic M2 supports HDMI and USB Type-C input modes and is compatible with PCs, Macs, smartphones and all sorts of media players.

AAXA P7

AAXA P7 is one of the smallest mini projectors to deliver true native 1080p resolution. This next-gen solid-state mini projector integrates compact 4th generation Texas Instruments Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology – found in movie theaters – to makes the native 1920×1080 pixel resolution possible.

What We Like

– Full HD resolution
– Great performance for its size
– Delivers big picture in low light

What We Don’t Like

– Limited contrast ratio
– No zoom

Provided with rated brightness of 600 lumens, better than some of the other projectors in a similar form factor, the AAXA P7 doesn’t support Wi-Fi but comes with VGA, USB and HDMI options for connectivity. It also features a card reader to project content directly. The versatility of this compact projector is supported by a tripod provided alongside. Backed with 30,000 hours luminous LEDs, the P7 projector produces a 120-inch image. Its MSRP has been dropped to $419 from the initial $499.

Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12

One of the more refined portable projectors from Epson, the EF12 touts 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution with 1,000 lumens brightness. Designed primarily for streaming enthusiasts in the work-from-home era, this 4K compatible (downconvert), smart streaming laser projector comes with built-in Android TV and support for HDR.

What We Like

– Up to 150-inch projection
– Built-in Android TV for direct access to apps
– Nice design, superior sound

What We Don’t Like

– Limited brightness and contrast

If you want to continue your binge-watching sessions on a screen measuring up to 150-inches, pack it and take it along in your travel bag after use, the $899.99 Epson EF12 is a delightful option. It lets you play movies, series and videos directly from Hulu, HBO or YouTube over wireless connectivity with true audio by Yamaha, right out of the box.

LG CineBeam PH550

The extremely portable and lightweight LG CineBeam PH550 LED projector features built-in TV tuner and can project TV shows with nice video and image quality. The LED-based DLP projector comes with 550 lumens rated brightness but is slightly low on resolution. The projector has only 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution and it delivers up to 100-inch screen.It is priced at $499.

What We Like

– Small structure big delivery
– Onboard rechargeable battery
– Built-in TV tuner

What We Don’t Like

– Very low resolution
– Expensive

Enabling entertainment or a professional set up is not at all difficult with this LG projector. It is Bluetooth compatible and features an HDMI port. It comes packed with a rechargeable battery onboard offering 2.5 hours of backup. The LG PH550 features wireless mirroring to connect with a smartphone or tablet and has 30,000 hours lamp life (virtually it will never need replacement).

Anker Nebula Solar

While the Anker Nebula Capsule II is a very capable projector in its own right, our preference lies with the Solar Portable. Arguably, Anker Nebula Solar is the finest portable projector in the company’s portfolio with the right blend of features to deliver immaculate picture quality both outdoors and indoors. It can be mistaken for a solar-powered projector because of its moniker, but the Nebula model is far from renewably powered. It does come with built-in battery.

What We Like

– Great features for its petite size
– Decent picture and sound
– High resolution and HDR support

What We Don’t Like

– Dreary sound

The Nebula Solar features 1080p resolution and supports HDR10. It can cast up to 120-inches screen with a good degree of brightness for impressive picture quality. The projector has 400 lumens of brightness and it runs Android TV. The onboard battery runs for almost 3 hours but this can be beefed up with the provided USB-C charging cable. Currently Anker is selling it at $469.99.

Kodak Luma 350

A flagship offering in the Luma series of Kodak’s palmtop projectors, the Kodak Luma 350 is powered by Android to let the users download apps in a jiffy and stream content directly without the phone’s intervention. The projector comes with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, HDMI and USB for connectivity.

What We Like

– Built-in Android
– Rechargeable battery onboard
– Plenty of connectivity options

What We Don’t Like

– Average video quality
– Very minimal resolution

Preinstalled with apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Twitch and YouTube, this LED-based DLP projector delivers content in 150 ANSI lumens brightness. The projector has an 854x480p resolution, 3,500:1 contrast ratio and is designed primarily for casual video watching. Built-in with 3-watt speaker, the LED projector has a rated lifetime of 30,000 hours and features 7,500mAh battery, good enough to last a couple of days between charges. The $536.99 price tag has been slashed by Kodak and you can pick one up for $299.99.

ASUS ZenBeam Latte L1

A new member on the block, the ASUS ZenBeam Latte L1 LED projector has a slightly low native resolution of 720p and 300 lumens brightness, but that doesn’t stop it from delivering up to 120-inch screen with minimum picture distortion or color difference. The coffee mug-shaped projector features operative controls on the top in circular orientation and includes wireless smartphone mirroring, USB Type-A and HDMI for connectivity.

What We Like

– Lovely design
– Powerful 10W Bluetooth speaker

What We Don’t Like

– Average brightness and resolution
– Lacks USB charging

Interestingly, ASUS packs the ZenBeam Latte L1 with a 6000mAh battery that provides the compact LED projector video playback time of 3 hours and 12 hours in case of audio. It features a rather powerful Harman Kardon 10W Bluetooth stereo speaker that enhances the bass and overall audio for an authentic theatre-esque experience.

Xgimi MoGo Pro

Xgimi MoGo Pro is one of the more versatile portable projectors you can lay your hands on. The compact 1080p resolution projector delivers impressive picture quality with decent contrast and features Android TV to stream movies and tons of other content without having to connect to an external device like a phone or a media player.

What We Like

– Runs Android TV with Chromecast
– Appealing design
– Doubles as Bluetooth speaker

What We Don’t Like

– No card reader
– No USB-Type C

The MoGo Pro works at Full HD with HDR support and also accepts 4K only to downconvert it to the supported resolution. Built-in with dual 3-watt speakers, the MoGo Pro supports both for output and input, meaning the projector can be used as a Bluetooth speaker. The projection from Xgimi’s device is pretty bright thanks to the 300 ANSI lumens of rated brightness. The battery onboard the projector lasts 2 hours while playing video in full brightness and almost 30 mins are increased in energy-saving mode.

Final thought

There is so much variety in the portable projectors currently available. Amid this list of options – or others that didn’t make it – your choice will depend on the requirement and budget. Of importance is also the type of content you want to stream (your need) and the size of the projection image you want.

Then finally you can arrive at a budget for a mini projector. A projector like this may not be a TV alternative in a bright room but in dimmer lighting the image quality is good and its space-saving aesthetics weigh heavier.

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OnePlus Buds Pro are here, should you buy or ditch

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The OnePlus Buds Pro have been finally launched. The company bills it as the “most advanced listening device” in the portfolio that now adds the third set of TWS earbuds. The advanced earbuds have been revealed alongside the OnePlus Nord 2 and there’s enough reason to be excited.

The new pair of buds are a major step up from the OnePlus Buds released last year as OnePlus looks to take on the popular options in the market with features that seem hard to ignore. So, should you jump the gun and buy the Buds Pro or wait for the other options? Let’s delve into the details to help you make a measured decision.

Design and looks

There has been a major design overhaul from the original OnePlus Buds with shorter stems and a horn-like driver casing profile. They get a more modernized aesthetic shape that seems to flow immaculately. This is well complemented by the dual-tone finish with matte plastic for the upper half and a cool shiny metal plating adorning the stems.

The design is definitely distinct from the other options on the market, and so far we love it. The same design language flows to its charging case that now has a lying down flat profile (compared to the original having vertical profile) where the earbuds rest. This also assists in the wireless charging aesthetics of the buds via Qi-certified pads/mats.

Another design feature worth mentioning is the freedom of using silicone replaceable eartips (in three sizes) as compared to the predecessor. This ensures you get a desired secure fit, which in turn helps in blocking out ambient noise for the ANC to work like a charm.

Specs and features

The biggest feature coming to the OnePlus Buds Pro is the smart adaptive noise cancellation. This helps toggle the amount of active noise cancellation being applied depending on the environment. The earbuds have three microphones each for either bud, capable of filtering noise levels almost up to 40dB. A big advantage over fixed level ANC earbuds that have a handful of presets only.

The 11mm dynamic driver delivers a punchy sound and with the Dolby Atmos audio, the earbuds are a pleasure for listening. For those who like the idea of binaural sounds, the earbuds come with the Zen Mode Air feature to play white noise in a jiffy via the headphone settings or the Hey Melody app.

OnePlus Buds Pro have the latest Bluetooth 5.2 for connectivity that promises stable connection and 94ms ultra-low latency Pro Gaming mode. Another highlight is the addition of IP55 water and dust resistance rating making this new accessory perfect for workouts and running as well. Even the charging case gets an IPX4 water resistance rating, which is an added bonus for the outdoorsy.

Battery life and charging

The battery of the OnePlus Buds Pro goes on for seven hours on a single charge without ANC and five hours with ANC enabled. That number can be stretched up to a duration of 28 hours (with ANC) and 38 hours in normal listening mode via the charging case.

Where the earbuds edge slightly ahead of the competition is the fast charging support courtesy of the Warp Charging technology. So we are talking about 10 hours of playback time with just 10-minutes of charging via the USB-C. Add to this the ability to charge the case by placing it on the back of a OnePlus 9 Pro, if you happen to own the phone.

Price and release date

The earbuds are all set to release in Europe on August 25 and in the U.S. and Canada on September 1, 2021. They might just nudge ahead of AirPods 3 or the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 in terms of the release date, which will be a slight advantage to win over the eager buyers. The OnePlus Buds Pro will come in two color options – white or matte black.

OnePlus Buds Pro will arrive at $149 – a lot more than the OnePlus Buds’ initial price tag of $79. However, they are more feature rich and look absolutely amazing compared to the predecessor. Given they have a nice ANC mode that price tag will be just right for many buyers. Of course, they do undercut the AirPods Pro by a good margin.

Options to consider

Given the number of options, the ones that are most reliable in terms of feature to price ratio have to be AirPods Pro, Beats and LG TONE Free FN7. Depending on what you want from the earbuds, some features you might miss more than others, it is good to have a four-way choice as all of these are interesting in their own right.

If price is a major consideration, the Beats Studio Buds are also a very feasible option depending on what features you value more. As an overall package, LG TONE Free FN7 earbuds are the best bet –given their set of features (bacteria-killing UVnano tech) and the balanced price point.

AirPods Pro brings added features like transparency mode or even a couple of extra microphones, but other than that, they are fairly comparable. OnePlus instead nudges ahead in some comparisons like the battery life, water-resistance rating and Bluetooth connectivity.

You would not want to count out the upcoming Nothing Ear (1) earbuds by Carl Pei, former co-owner OnePlus. The ANC earbuds are aggressively priced at $99 and they also boast impressive features. The niche earbuds is the first product developed by the tech wizard, and it’s already backed by some big names in the audio and tech industry.

Wrap up

It goes without saying, OnePlus has hit the nail on its head with the Buds Pro. The Chinese OEM has a very competitive feature list that’ll appeal to most buyers at the given price. OnePlus has truly made a leap forward from the previous offerings here, and there is no reason audio lovers will not cherish using them. Now that the availability has been announced, the decision to wait for other options like AirPods 3 or Galaxy Buds 2 is dependent on what you really desire.

However, in the current scenario, there is little reason for you to shy away from the Buds Pro. Until they land in our court and we review them thoroughly, the decision will largely depend on how the Buds Pro looks on paper. On paper, the earbuds look exciting, and they should do well in real-life usage too.

For us, they are a definite yes at this point in time. The attractive design sets them apart from the crowd that still follows more or less the same measured design approach.

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iPad mini rumors may have one key detail wrong: Analyst weighs in

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Apple is expected to release an updated iPad mini tablet later this year, one that may feature a mini-LED display. The latter rumor is a contentious one, with multiple claims that are at odds with each other. Only a day after a leak claiming the new model will feature a mini-LED panel, an analyst is stating otherwise.

Yesterday, July 22, a report surfaced at DigiTimes that claimed the next iPad mini model will feature a mini-LED display, building upon rumors that Apple will reveal a sixth-generation iPad mini model this year. Such hopes may have been quickly dashed, however, at least when it comes to the display.

A day later, analyst Ross Young took to Twitter to directly counter the DigiTimes report, saying simply, “No miniLED iPad Mini this year. Digitimes (sic) story was not correct.” Young went on to clarify that his statement referred to an iPad mini model for 2021, noting that he confirmed the details with Apple’s “supposed miniLED supplier.”

The analyst likewise points out that mini-LED displays are reserved for Apple’s high-end products, of which the iPad mini doesn’t qualify. Though this miniature slate has managed to persist through five solid generations, it doesn’t offer the same features as its larger siblings.

The iPad mini — at least in its current 5th-generation iteration — features Touch ID as with the base $329 iPad. Rumors claim the alleged 6th-generation model will feature around the same 7.9-inch display as the current version, likely also retaining Apple Pencil support while adding more powerful hardware.

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