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Elon Musk thinks Twitter is real life

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This should come as no surprise, but Elon Musk doesn’t see a downside to being extremely online.

Okay, so I’ve got 127 million followers and it continues to grow very rapidly

“Let me check my Twitter account,” he said in a Tesla earnings call Wednesday evening. “Okay, so I’ve got 127 million followers and it continues to grow very rapidly.”

Just look at that scoreboard.

“That suggests that I’m reasonably popular,” Musk continued. “Might not be popular with some people. But for the vast majority of people, the follow account speaks for itself.”

It’s a bizarre statement from someone who is quite literally on trial on the basis that his tweets have caused measurable chaos, both for himself, his investors, and his company. Musk is facing potentially billions of dollars in damages from a class of Tesla investors who allege that Musk’s tweets misled them and said that relying on his statements to make trades cost them significant amounts of money.

“I’m reasonably popular”

That 2018 tweet has already cost him $40 million — $20 million from Tesla and $20 million from him personally — in order to settle a securities fraud lawsuit from the SEC. Twitter is free for most people to use, but for Elon Musk, the costs have been disproportionately high.

On the earnings call, Musk rattled off a quick pitch for Twitter, noting that it’s an “incredibly powerful tool” that drives demand for Tesla’s vehicles (the company just instituted a massive price cut to account for flagging demand) and suggesting that other automotive CEOs should tweet like him to drive sales. (Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess tried doing exactly that; he was out of a job a year later.)

It’s fair to say that Musk’s Twitter usage has been a disaster. His acquisition of the social media company has diminished his own net worth and left him saddled with debt. A growing number of Tesla owners who bought into his early claims of a more sustainable future are now embarrassed to be seen driving one of his cars. His investors are begging him to stop tweeting, but of course, Elon Musk will never stop.

Twitter, it is often said, is not real life. But to Musk, it’s all that and more.

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Berlin-based design platform Kittl raises $11.6M Series A to take on Adobe and Canva • TechCrunch

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PST, subscribe here.

Did you know you can buy 3D printed key caps to replace, say, your escape key with a cat? Today, that’s our delightful little morsel of whimsy, courtesy of Frederic’s review of a new keyboard (scroll all the way to the bottom for a photo of the adorable little kitteh). — Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Mike writes that Kittl is carving out a piece of the graphics world dominated by giants like Canva and Adobe, raising $11.6 million in Series A capital for its design platform that it says “easily turns ideas into graphic products” without the tough learning curve of other platforms.
  • This startup is turning up the heat: European smart thermostat startup Tado was planning to go public, but instead went after another round of funding, gathering up $46.9 million as it pursues profitability. Paul has more.
  • “It’s always crypto winter being a Black founder”: That’s how Iddris Sandu, Spatial Labs’ founder, described going after funding for his web3 company. The infrastructure and hardware company picked up $10 million in seed funding to create products and shopping experiences using augmented reality, Dominic-Madori writes.

Startups and VC

Fintech startup Stripe has set a 12-month deadline for itself to go public, either through a direct listing or by pursuing a transaction on the private market, such as a fundraising event and a tender offer, according to sources familiar with the matter. The news comes as a surprise considering the rather dry public market activity in the tech world, Mary Ann and Natasha M report.

There was a brief, beautiful moment for a few months in 2021 when it felt like robotic investments might be immune to broader market forces. We all fundamentally and implicitly understood this to not be the case, but it was a nice moment nevertheless, Brian muses. Now, however, it’s becoming clearer that the thing we thought was happening with robotic investments is definitely happening.

Another handful of tech-newsy goodness:

Teach yourself growth marketing: How to perform growth experimentation through A/B testing

Image Credits: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Despite the myth, sharks don’t need to keep swimming to keep breathing. Early-stage startups, on the other hand, are not so fortunate.

If driving growth is a priority, companies must run an ongoing series of A/B tests that can help refine marketing messages and make their product pipelines more relevant to customers’ needs.

In part three of a five-article series on growth marketing fundamentals, Jonathan Martinez explains how to properly manage A/B tests, identify statistical significance when reviewing data, and prioritize experiments that maximize reach and impact.

Three more from the TC+ team:

TechCrunch+ is our membership program that helps founders and startup teams get ahead of the pack. You can sign up here. Use code “DC” for a 15% discount on an annual subscription!

Big Tech Inc.

In a census of its own making, GitHub says it has 100 million active users, Paul reports. This is a substantial jump from the 3 million it had 10 years ago and even a healthy increase from just three months ago when Microsoft, which acquired the company five years ago, announced GitHub had over 90 million users.

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies in the United States and Europe got together to seize Hive’s ransomware infrastructure, including leak sites and decryption keys, Carly reports. She writes that Hive is “one of the most prolific ransomware operations,” focusing mainly on healthcare and public health entities, claiming responsibility for breaches at Illinois-based Memorial Health System in August 2021 and most recently targeting Tata Power, a top power-generation company in India, in October.

And we have four more for you:

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Jumia’s investors rethink their stakes — for better and worse • TechCrunch

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Baillie Gifford, the Edinburgh-based asset management firm long known to have a penchant for pre-IPO tech companies, has reduced its shares in African e-commerce giant Jumia, per the latest 13G/A filing released by the asset manager.

According to the filing, Baillie Gifford disclosed ownership of 18.75 million shares in Jumia, representing 13.69% of the company. In Jumia’s previous filing from a year ago, the asset management firm had 19.85 million shares, owning 10.06% of the company at the time. That’s a 5.50% decrease in shares and a 0.67% drop in ownership.

The Scotland asset management firm, well into its centenarian years, has been an early backer of reputable private and public tech companies such as Amazon, Google, Salesforce, Tesla, Airbnb, Spotify, Lyft, Palantir and SpaceX. It has also invested in deals across other geographies, including China’s Alibaba and NIO, and African-based internet businesses Naspers and Jumia.

Baillie Gifford bought Jumia shares in 2019, three years after the e-commerce giant went public. The Scottish mortgage trust firm, which is Jumia’s largest institutional investor, has sold and bought back a portion of its shares every January since then, with this recent move being its most significant share drop yet. Baillie Gifford remains the e-commerce platform’s largest shareholder.

Last November, following several years of reporting losses, Jumia made changes to its management after installing Francis Dufay as acting CEO to replace co-founders Sacha Poignonnec and Jeremy Hodara, who resigned from their co-CEO roles. The move came with instant cuts across various product lines and redundancies, including letting go of a few executives from its Dubai office. All this is to chase profits that have eluded the company.

In Q3 2022, the African e-tailer made considerable progress in trimming its losses by 13% from $52.5 million to $45.5 million, its lowest in six quarters. Despite this progress, public confidence in the e-commerce outfit seems to have waned. Jumia has seen its share price reduced by 51% within the past year and saw its stock drop to $3.88 per share after Wednesday’s news; it trades slightly above $4 with a market cap of $404 million. The e-tailer closed the third quarter with a liquidity position of $284.7 million, among which $104.3 million is in cash and cash equivalents.

Baillie Gifford’s decision to sell some of its shares may have to do with Jumia’s performance on the bourse. On the other hand, it could be the investment firm’s way of cutting back on the mounting losses it began to incur last year, particularly around growth stocks, which have taken massive hits in the face of rising interest rates and recession fears (last week, the investment group admitted 2022 was a “humbling year” after it lost more than $14 billion on stakes in Tesla and Shopify, according to Financial Times). Yet that doesn’t explain why the fund group, with over $230 billion AUM, increased its position in other loss-making companies, such as Chinese EV maker NIO and Wix.com, this past week. Jumia’s next earnings call next month should shed more light on the matter.

It’s not all gloom for Jumia, though, as other large shareholders, including D. E. Shaw, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, took a different route and increased their shares in the company, owning 2.21%, 1.27% and 1.40%, respectively, per Nasdaq.

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Ford is helping dealerships make mobile service an option for more customers

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Ford is ramping up its remote service offerings to save customers a trip to their dealership for things like oil changes and recall repairs. The updated program promises that more Ford owners nationwide can get access to complimentary pickup and delivery of their vehicles, as well as mobile repair options.

Mobile services from Ford won’t operate from a central location, though. It will still be up to dealerships to offer remote services and to choose what services to provide at a customer’s home or business. Ford is, however, lending dealers a hand to get the services up and running. “We’ve been working with multiple teams at Ford to offer our customers more ways to personalize vehicle service,” stated Ford National Dealer Council chairman and dealership owner Tim Hovik in a press release.

Historically, dealership models have fragmented the vehicle purchasing and service experience for customers, which can leave the impression — good or bad — on the manufacturer instead of the dealer.

The FordPass app lets you book appointments, but I personally couldn’t find any dealership that provided mobile service options yet.

The FordPass app lets you book appointments, but I personally couldn’t find any dealership that provided mobile service options yet.
Image: Umar Shakir / The Verge

Some companies like Tesla, however, continue to disrupt dealership models. By eschewing dealerships, Tesla controls the purchasing and service experiences for its cars entirely in-house. The automaker is particularly known for its mobile techs that can be booked in-app to come to customers’ driveways and do things like replace smelly air filters in Model 3 vehicles.

But Ford is attempting to catch up to the times. In this week’s press release, Ford cites a JD Power customer service index study that concludes customers with remote experiences for vehicle repair are more likely to recommend their car brand. Last year, it split its combustion car business from its electric offerings so that it could better compete with Tesla with transparent pricing and online ordering.

Customers are expecting a modern online car purchasing experience with an intuitive mobile app that supports them, working off a baseline set by Tesla. That’s where Ford has an opportunity because dealerships that play ball can send out trained technicians for “light repairs and routine maintenance,” saving customers time and improving their ownership experience.

In practice, Ford’s online and mobile service offerings still live and die by the dealership though. FordPass, the automaker’s sort of catch-all smartphone app, lets customers do things like remotely see their car’s status, get support and recommendations, and book service appointments. At time of writing, I attempted to book an appointment for my Ford Focus EV on the app, but I couldn’t find any dealerships that offered mobile service (I’m a FordPass rewards member, too). In fact, the dealership I purchased the car from did not support booking anything through the app.

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