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Elon Musk Says SpaceX ‘Starship’ Rocket Will Land On Mars In 3-4 Years



We’re aware that Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have a big dream of sending people to Mars. Although, it is a really tough task but Musk believes humans will land on Mars.

In a video call at a space conference, Musk stated that SpaceX could land a ‘spacecraft’ on Mars within the next three to four years.

Musk also mentioned that the SpaceX Starship which is the biggest and most powerful rocket ever created has a decent chance succeeding in its upcoming test flight.

During the event on Thursday, Musk mentioned that SpaceX doesn’t want to get people’s hopes up too much, especially considering the explosion that happened in April. He’s still very determined to see his dream of sending humans to Mars come true with the Starship rocket.

The SpaceX Starship is the most powerful rocket that can be used over and over. It’s made for lots of different jobs, like going between planets, taking people to Mars exploring the moon and maybe even going to other places in space.

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Google Pay will now display card perks, BNPL options and more




Google Pay is rolling out a number of updates that capitalize on its integrations with other Google products, like Android and the Chrome browser. Starting Wednesday, people who check out with Google Pay will be able to see their card benefits and perks before selecting a card, use “buy now, pay later” through partners like Affirm and Zip and fill in their card details through biometrics or a PIN, instead of by entering their security code.

The changes are designed to enhance the consumer experience of using Google Pay and make it a more competitive option against other payment methods, including the developer or retailer’s built-in payment system, often powered by businesses like Stripe, as well as the payment services from other tech giants, like Apple, Amazon and PayPal, for instance.

One of the most compelling features now rolling out is the ability to see each of the cards’ benefits and rewards before making a selection. Google notes that consumers who have multiple credit cards with different perks may not always remember which is the best card to use when. Some cards offer travel-related perks, for example, while others may offer dining perks or cash back. Now, when someone clicks into the Card Number box to pick a card from a list of saved payment methods, Google Pay will showcase relevant card benefits that accompany each card.

Image Credits: Google

This feature will initially support American Express and Capital One cards, but Google says it plans to expand to include more cards in the future. It also only works on Chrome desktop for the time being.

Another new feature is the introduction of the “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) option when checking out. Google began piloting this option earlier this year, but it’s now rolling out to more merchant sites and Android apps across the U.S. The tech giant is partnering with BNPL firms for this offering, including Affirm and Zip. At checkout, Google Pay users can either sign in to their existing accounts with these providers or sign up with a provider from the checkout screen, it says.

Image Credits: Google

In addition, Google is making it easier to confirm the card of choice without having to enter its security code — a number that people often have to manually look up.

Instead, Google will allow Chrome and Android users to verify their card details the same way they unlock their Android devices. That means users will be able to verify their card with a fingerprint, face scan or screen lock PIN. Users will also be able to set up device unlock that requires them to unlock their device before card details are shown. This feature is designed to keep card info safe from others who may have access to the device.

Image Credits: Google

The new features are rolling out now to Google Pay on the web and on Android.

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Peter Thiel-founded Valar Ventures raised a $300 million fund, half the size of its last one




The perception in Silicon Valley is that every investor would love to be in business with Peter Thiel. But the venture capital fundraising environment has become so difficult that even Valar Ventures, one of the VC firms he helped found, has raised a much smaller fund this year compared to previous ones. 

Thiel set up Valar in 2010 and appointed Andrew McCormack and James Fitzgerald to run it. Both previously worked at his family office (Thiel Capital) and at Clarium Capital Management, the now-defunct hedge fund Thiel founded. It’s not clear how much involvement Thiel has in Valar these days. His name hasn’t been listed on the firm’s website among the team’s partners in many years. 

The New York-based firm has successfully raised a $300 million Valar Fund IX, according to a May 17 SEC filing. While that’s a decently sized fund, it is less than half of the predecessor, which closed on $665 million in July 2022. Valar raised over $863 million in late 2021 for its fund VII, according to SEC filings.   

Valar isn’t the only firm to target less money for its latest fund amid a tougher fundraising climate for venture funds — regardless of the notable names attached to them. Tiger Global raised 63% less than its original target in its latest fundraise. Insight Partners also reduced its fundraising target last year. And Founders Fund, arguably Thiel’s most prestigious VC firm, slashed the target of its eighth venture capital fund in half in 2023, from around $1.8 billion to around $900 million, although it reportedly did so for strategic reasons, rather than in response to the fundraising environment (and it also simultaneously did raise a $3.4 billion second growth fund, Axios reported).

“Raising these funds in the current market is a significant vote of confidence in our team and strategy,”  Fitzgerald told TechCrunch in an email. However, he didn’t respond to TechCrunch’s question about Valar’s current relationship with Thiel. 

Then again, other funds with big names attached to them are doing very well with their fundraising efforts. ICONIQ Growth this month successfully hit its $5.75 billion fundraising target for its seventh flagship growth fund, up from $3.75 billion for the sixth one. ICONIQ Growth is the late-stage investment unit of ICONIQ Capital, the private office of some of tech’s most prominent people, including Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey. And Wells Fargo again backed Norwest Venture Partners with $3 billion for its 17th vehicle, TechCrunch reported last month.

Whether or not Thiel is still involved, LPs may just not be as excited about Valar’s latest fund as they once were. 

“They raised too many funds and haven’t returned enough capital to their investors,” said an LP who asked to remain anonymous. “Their actual return on capital to investors has been very low. I would say outright poor.”

Like all VC funds, Valar has had its share of misses. The firm bet on cryptolender BlockFi which filed for Chapter 11 amid the crypto winter of 2022. Valar invested in Breather, which provided workspace on demand. After it raised $127 million, it sold its assets for a mere $3 million in 2021

Valar also backed German insuretech Coya. After raising $40 million in total funding, Coya sold to French-based insurance startup Luko in an all-stock deal in 2022. Then, a year later, Luko, which had raised about €72 million in funding, was placed in a receivership and finally sold to Allianz for €4.3 million earlier this year. 

Valar’s biggest success so far appears to be Wise, which debuted on the London Stock Exchange in 2021 with a market cap of $11 billion. The firm first backed the money transfer company during its Series A in 2013. The firm’s current portfolio companies also include Robinhood-competitor Stash, which was valued in 2021 at $1.4 billion, and crypto exchange Bitpanda, last valued at $4 billion. 

Many of its other investments are too young to call, like Majority, a digital bank for U.S. migrants, which has done a series of Series B extensions, but is, it tells TechCrunch, close to profitability. 

While Valar’s actual performance across all of its funds is not public information, therefore difficult to obtain, the firm’s 2020 vintage fund is so far down -2.3% in internal rate of return (IRR), according to public records from Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement (PSERS), one of Valar’s LPs. But it’s too soon to draw conclusions on the success of this fund, which is only three years old. Private funds typically take 10 years to mature, and this one covers the particularly awful period in venture where valuations hit unsustainable highs in 2021 then cratered in 2022. 

Valar, named after deities in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” (Thiel just about always names his companies after “The Lord of the Rings” characters), was initially focused on backing startups in New Zealand. But it quickly expanded beyond the small country to back companies based in Europe, the U.K. and the SF Bay Area, even though at one point Valar claimed to focus only on startups outside Silicon Valley. Today it says it specializes in fintech startups worldwide.

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Synapse, backed by a16z, has collapsed, and 10 million consumers could be hurt




Last year, the fintech startup world — star of the 2021 venture capital heydays — began to unravel as VC funding grew tight. As we step into mid-2024, large chunks of the sector today are a downright mess, especially the banking-as-a-service area which, ironically enough, experts last year told us was the bright spot. 

The bankruptcy of banking-as-a-service (BaaS) fintech Synapse is, perhaps, the most dramatic thing going on now. Though certainly not the only bit of bad news, it shows just how treacherous things are for the often-interdependent fintech world when one key player hits trouble. 

Synapse’s problems have hurt and taken down a whole bunch of other startups and affected consumers all over the country.

To recap: San Francisco-based Synapse operated a service that allowed others (mainly fintechs) to embed banking services into their offerings. For instance, a software provider that specialized in payroll for 1099 contractor-heavy businesses used Synapse to provide an instant payment feature; others used it to offer specialized credit/debit cards. It was providing those types of services as an intermediary between banking partner Evolve Bank & Trust and business banking startup Mercury.

Synapse raised a total of just over $50 million in venture capital in its lifetime, including a 2019 $33 million Series B raise led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Angela Strange. The startup wobbled in 2023 with layoffs and filed for Chapter 11 in April of this year, hoping to sell its assets in a $9.7 million firesale to another fintech, TabaPay. But TabaPay walked. It’s not entirely clear why. Synapse threw a lot of blame at Evolve, as well as at Mercury, both of whom raised their hands and told TechCrunch they were not responsible. Once responsive, Synapse CEO and co-founder Sankaet Pathak is no longer responding to our requests for comment.

But the result is that Synapse is now close to being forced to liquidate entirely under Chapter 7 and a lot of other fintechs and their customers are paying the price of Synapse’s demise. 

For instance, Synapse customer teen banking startup Copper had to abruptly discontinue its banking deposit accounts and debit cards on May 13 as a result of Synapse’s difficulties. This leaves an unknown number of consumers, mostly families, without access to the funds they had trustingly deposited into Copper’s accounts. 

For its part, Copper says it’s still operational and has another product, its financial education app Earn, that is unaffected and doing well. Still, now it’s working to pivot its business toward a white-labeled family banking product partnering with other, as yet unnamed, larger American banks that it hopes to launch later this year.

Funds at crypto app Juno were also impacted by Synapse’s collapse, CNBC reported. A Maryland teacher named Chris Buckler said in a May 21 filing that he was blocked from accessing his funds held by Juno due to the problems related to the Synapse bankruptcy, 

“I am increasingly desperate and don’t know where to turn,” Bucker wrote, as reported by CNBC. “I have nearly $38,000 tied up as a result of the halting of transaction processing. This money took years to save up.”

Meanwhile, Mainvest, a fintech lender to restaurant businesses, is actually shutting down as a result of the mess at Synapse. An unknown number of employees there are losing their jobs. On its website, the company said: “Unfortunately, after exploring all available alternatives, a mix of internal and external factors have led us to the difficult decision to cease Mainvest’s operations and dissolve the company.”

Based on Synapse’s filings, as many as 100 fintechs and 10 million end customers could have been impacted by the company’s collapse, industry observer and author of Fintech Business Weekly Jason Mikula estimated in a statement to TechCrunch.

“But that may understate the total damage,” he added, “as some of those customers do things like running payroll for small business.”

The long-term negative and serious impact of what happened at Synapse will be significant “on all of fintech, especially consumer-facing services,” Mikula told TechCrunch.

“While regulators don’t have direct jurisdiction over middleware providers, which includes firms like Unit, Synctera, and Treasury Prime, they can exert their power over their bank partners,” Mikula added. “I’d expect heightened attention to ongoing due diligence around the financial condition of these kinds of middleware vendors, none of which are profitable, and increased focus on business continuity and operational resilience for banks engaged in BaaS operating models.”

Perhaps not all BaaS companies should be lumped together. That’s what Peter Hazlehurst, founder and CEO of another BaaS startup Synctera, is quick to point out. 

“There are mature companies with legitimate use cases being served by companies like ours and Unit, but the damage done by some of the fallouts you’re reporting on are just now rearing their ugly heads,” he told TechCrunch. “Unfortunately, the problems many folks are experiencing today were baked into the platforms several years ago and compounded over time while not being visible until the last minute when everything collapses at the same time.”

Hazlehurst says some classic Silicon Valley mistakes were made by early players: people with computer engineering knowledge wanted to ‘disrupt’ the old and stodgy banking system without fully understanding that system.

“When I left Uber and founded Synctera, it became very clear to me that the earliest players in the ‘BaaS’ space built their platforms as quick solves to tap into a ‘trend’ of neo/challenger banking without an actual understanding of how to run programs and the risks involved,” Peter Hazlehurst said. 

“Banking and finance of any sort is serious business. It requires both skill and wisdom to build and run. There are regulatory bodies protecting consumers from bad outcomes like this for a reason,” he adds.

And he says that in those heady early days, the banking partners – those that should have known better – didn’t act as the backstop when choosing fintech partners. “Working with these players seemed like a really exciting opportunity to ‘evolve’ their business, and they trusted blindly.”

To be fair, the BaaS players, and neobanks that rely on them, aren’t the only ones in trouble. We are continuously seeing news reports about how banks are being scrutinized for their relationships with BaaS providers and fintechs. For example, the FDIC was “concerned” that Choice Bank, “had opened…accounts in legally risky countries” on behalf of digital banking startup Mercury, according to a report by The Information. Officials also reportedly chastised Choice for letting overseas Mercury customers “open thousands of accounts using questionable methods to prove they had a presence in the U.S.”

Kruze Consulting’s Healy Jones believes that the Synapse situation will be “a non-issue” for the startup community moving forward. But he thinks that regulatory clarity for consumer protection is needed.

The FDIC needs to “come out with some clear language about what is and is not covered with FDIC insurance in a neobank that uses a third party bank on the backend,” he said. “That will help keep the neo-banking sector calm,” he said.

As Gartner analyst Agustin Rubini told TechCrunch, “The case of Synapse underscores the need for fintech companies to maintain high operational and compliance standards. As middleware providers, they must ensure accurate financial record-keeping and transparent operations.”

From my point of view, as someone who has covered fintech’s ups and down for years, I don’t think all BaaS players are doomed. But I do think this situation, combined with all the increased scrutiny, could make banks (traditional and fintech alike) more hesitant to work with a BaaS player, opting instead to establish direct relationships with banks as Copper hopes to do. 

Banking is highly regulated and highly complicated and when Silicon Valley players get it wrong, the ones who get hurt are everyday human beings.

The rush to deploy capital in 2020 and 2021 led to a lot of fintechs moving quickly in part as an effort to satisfy hungry investors, seeking growth at all costs. Unfortunately, fintech is an area where companies can’t move so quickly that they take shortcuts, especially ones that shirk compliance. The end result, as we can see in the case of Synapse, can be disastrous.

With funding already down in the fintech sector, it’s very likely that the Synapse debacle will impact future prospects for fintech fundraising, especially for banking-as-a-service companies. Fears that another meltdown will happen are real, and let’s face it, valid.

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