Rewriting the rules of internet infrastructure on the back of a napkin

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Friday, July 09, 2021 By Walter Thompson and Annie Siebert

Welcome to Extra Crunch Friday

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Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Did you see the viral videos of yesterday’s flooding in New York City subways?

In one, riders waded through brown, waist-deep water; another video showed a cascade rushing down a flight of stairs to a subway platform where passengers waited for a train.

Infrastructure doesn’t attract much attention until it fails. Domain name services (DNS), the system that directs readers to techcrunch.com when they say or speak it into their web browser, are much the same way.

For the latest entry in a series of longform articles that explore the inner workings of notable startups, we looked at NS1, an internet infrastructure company best known for its software-defined DNS.

Since its founding in 2013, NS1 has raised more than $100 million to build an engineering team and robust product portfolio that’s expanded to include DDI, which helps companies manage internal networks.

If you’re curious about how NS1 transformed “a slumbering and dreary yet reliable aspect of the internet” into “a strategic moat and an enterprise win” in just eight years, read on.

Part 1: Origin story: how three engineers decided to rebuild the internet’s core addressing system.

Part 2: Product development and roadmap: experimentation, open-source efforts and expanding beyond DNS.

Part 3: Competitive landscape: a look at the broader internet infrastructure market.

Part 4: Customer development: how their top competitor’s stumble became “the gift that kept on giving.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch — have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

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Startups have never had it so good

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Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim didn’t mince words in today’s Exchange.

“The venture capital market is racing ahead, foot on the gas, middle finger out the window, hair on fire.”

That’s their hot take after analyzing the Q2 data released so far about how much money VCs deployed across the globe between April and the end of June.

Leaning on data from CB Insights, Crunchbase News and FactSet, Alex and Anna walk through the data from the U.S. and a few other regions — and promise deeper regional dives next week.

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Pakistan’s growing tech ecosystem is finally taking off

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Image Credits: shan.shihan / Getty Images

So far this year, startups in Pakistan are on track to raise more than in the previous five years combined, according to Mikal Khoso, an early-stage investor at Wavemaker Partners.

“Even more excitingly, a large portion of this capital is coming from international investors from across Asia, the Middle East and even famed investors from Silicon Valley,” he notes in a guest post for Extra Crunch.

He’s identified three factors that are fueling investor interest: rapidly expanding mobile connectivity, an improved security situation, and critical legal and regulatory changes that are making the country more startup- and VC-friendly.

Drawing a map of Pakistan’s tech ecosystem, Khoso identifies local companies trying to grab a slice of grocery delivery, e-commerce, ride-hailing and other sectors before examining the challenges still in place.

“The segments in Pakistan that are likely to attract the best entrepreneurs and most investor capital in the years to come will be fintech, e-commerce and edtech,” says Khoso.

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Circle is a good example of why SPACs can be useful

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Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Yes, we’re all a bit over-SPAC-ed at this point. It’s just been a nonstop torrent of startups linking up with blank-check companies.

But Circle, a Boston-based technology company that provides API-delivered financial services and a stablecoin, is just “the sort of business that is correct for a SPAC-led debut,” Alex Wilhelm writes in The Exchange.

“It could not go public in a traditional manner in its current state of maturity,” says Alex.

“But a SPAC can get it a huge slug of cash at a price that it has locked in, allowing it to complete its growth into corporate adulthood while public. A gamble, sure, but one that will be very fun to watch.”

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Nextdoor’s SPAC investor deck paints a picture of sizable scale and sticky users

Nextdoor’s SPAC investor deck paints a picture of sizable scale and sticky users image

Image Credits: jhorrocks / Getty Images

The SPAC parade continued apace this week as Nextdoor announced it would go public via a blank-check company, with the community social network making its pitch based on scale, claiming users in one in three U.S. households.

Alex unpacks Nextdoor’s “clear-eyed look into [its] financial performance in both historical terms and in terms of what it might accomplish in the future,” noting that “our usual mockery of SPAC charts mostly doesn’t apply.”

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Demand Curve: 10 lies you’ve been told about marketing

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In a guest column, Nick Costelloe, head of content for Demand Curve, notes that the content you stumble across in a Google search might not be “intentionally misleading,” it might not lead you in the right direction.

Here, he debunks 10 common myths about marketing — and offers suggestions for what to do instead.

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Investors find European unicorns reluctant to join SPAC boom

Investors find European unicorns reluctant to join SPAC boom image

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

The nonstop news of startups partnering up with SPACs in the United States had Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim wondering if the blank-check boom expanded to other countries.

“Unicorns are hardly unique to the U.S. startup ecosystem,” they write. “Are we seeing similar SPAC interest in Europe?”

Anna and Alex talked to investors to see why — or why not — European startups would take the SPAC path to become a public company.

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Can advertising scale in VR?

Can advertising scale in VR? image

Image Credits: da-kuk / Getty Images

It’s not hard to imagine how advertising could be valuable in VR: billboards on streetscapes, magazine covers on newsstands, cereal boxes in virtual kitchens.

But Facebook’s stab at experimental VR ads didn’t last very long; after an onslaught of negative feedback from players, the test was quickly scuttled.

That said, VR advertising has a ton of untapped potential — but it’s going to take a minute to reach profitable scale.

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What I learned the hard way from naming 30+ startups

What I learned the hard way from naming 30+ startups image

Image Credits: Juj Winn / Getty Images

If you’re starting a company, choosing a name can feel like a fraught choice. But actually, as long as you follow some basic guidelines, it shouldn’t lead to paralysis.

“The truth is that business names fall on a bell curve — you have a small number of outliers that actively contribute to your success and a small number of outliers that actively impair your ability to succeed,” Drew Beechler, who’s named more than 30 software startups, writes in a guest column. “The vast majority, though, fall somewhere in the middle in their impact on your business.”

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For successful AI projects, celebrate your graveyard and be prepared to fail fast

For successful AI projects, celebrate your graveyard and be prepared to fail fast image

Image Credits: Wachiwit / Getty Images

When you’ve invested a lot of time and energy in a project, it can be difficult to decide to shelve it — or worse, kill it.

But for AI projects in particular, teams must iterate quickly, Sandeep Uttamchandani, chief data officer of Unravel Data, writes in a guest column.

“In order to fail fast, AI initiatives should be managed as a conversion funnel analogous to marketing and sales funnels,” he writes. “Projects start at the top of the five-stage funnel and can drop off at any stage, either to be temporarily put on ice or permanently suspended and added to the AI graveyard.”

Uttamchandani walks through the five stages of the funnel and offers suggestions for when to start digging a hole for your project.

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Achieving digital transformation through RPA and process mining

Achieving digital transformation through RPA and process mining image

Image Credits: Jackie Niam / Getty Images

“Robots are not coming to replace us,” Alp Uguray is quick to note in a guest column about robotic process automation. “They are coming to take over the repetitive, mundane and monotonous tasks that we’ve never been fond of.”

That’s the good news. But RPA is still in the early stages, despite rapid growth through IPOs, acquisitions and funding rounds.

“Adoption of RPA and process mining in your organization will define the operational excellence of your firm,” he writes. “If you are behind in this race, just think of how your enterprise can continue to compete with fully digital peers. Your organization won’t want to be in the back of this race.”

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5 fundraising imperatives for robotics startups

5 fundraising imperatives for robotics startups image

Image Credits: Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

This guest post from three contributors from Next47, MassRobotics and Lux Capital looks at best practices for robotics startups looking to raise cash.

“There has never been a better time to pursue funding for robotics startups, but you are more likely to succeed if you build a fundraising strategy that is marked by the same sophistication and informed understanding you already bring to many other aspects of your new business,” the writers say.

Here, they lay out five strategies to ensure robotics startups get the funding they need.

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