The men’s Sweet 16 tips off Thursday, as basketball fans enjoy a wild March
College basketball is delivering two electric NCAA tournaments, full of upsets: In both the men’s and women’s brackets, only half of the No. 1 seeds have made it to the Sweet 16.
Some of the thrills are courtesy of the transfer portal, which lets athletes swap schools without having to sit out a waiting period. The relatively new policy has been blamed for destabilizing college sports, but it’s also creating parity.
With the men resuming play Thursday, here’s a quick look at tip-off times for the Sweet 16, and where the tournament stands. (We’ll preview the women’s Sweet 16 before it begins on Friday.
The Big Dance’s floor is wide open
By this stage of the tournament, an air of destiny often begins to settle on one or two teams that have the right mix of talent and momentum to reach the final. But this year is kind of hard to pin down.
Neither of the two remaining No. 1 seeds, Alabama and Houston, have looked like the hands-down best team. Two other No. 1 seeds, Purdue and defending champion Kansas, are out. So are two No. 2 seeds.
Two teams are getting the Cinderella label, especially the lowest seed still playing: No. 15 Princeton. The Tigers are making the case that their offense and rebounding is good enough to hang with the country’s best teams.
Then there’s Florida Atlantic. The No. 9 seed has rejected the Cinderella label, saying its 33-3 record came from hard work and focus, not a fairy godmother.
It’s a good year for new blood, rather than blue-blood
Eleven conferences are represented in this year’s Sweet 16. To find a recent NCAA champion in the current field, you have to go all the way back to 2014 winners UConn.
This is the second time in three years that four of the top “blue blood” programs — North Carolina, Kansas, Duke and Kentucky — are not in the Sweet 16. From 1980 to 2019, at least one of those teams got this far in every year’s tournament.
Basketball goes through the portal
The NCAA changed its transfer portal system in April of 2021 to allow athletes to switch schools and play immediately. It’s had a big impact on spreading talent: Last year, about 1,650 Division I men’s college basketball players went into the portal.
Coaches and programs are still figuring out how to adjust — and how to retain top players. Michigan State’s head coach Tom Izzo, a frequent transfer portal critic, says there are pluses and minuses.
Rally bags $12M to build the future of e-commerce checkout
E-commerce had a moment during the global pandemic, but not only have things chilled since then, it’s gotten downright competitive as the economy cooled in the past year, according to Jordan Gal, co-founder and CEO of Rally.
“Founders in this space used to speak of optimism, but that has turned into realism, and people are more careful,” Gal told TechCrunch. “The pie seems to have stopped growing, and there’s more ferocious competition for what’s left in that pie.”
Gal went on to explain that merchants are having to make harder decisions, including whether they can afford to invest in software.
That’s why Rally, a composable checkout platform for e-commerce merchants, has broken up its business into two segments: the first to meet merchants where they are with integrations to commerce tools, like Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Magento and BigCommerce; the second to offer merchants a “headless” ecosystem.
The term “headless” refers to the ability to change the front end or back end of a website without affecting the other. Gal said he was not able to provide details just yet, but said Rally is close to announcing a partnership with companies specializing in front end and back end to offer headless-as-a-service.
Gal started Rally with Rok Knez to create checkout tools for merchants outside of the Shopify ecosystem. Both were previously involved with another checkout company, CartHook, and led the company to process nearly $3 billion in transactions for Shopify merchants before selling to Pantastic in 2021, Gal said.
Rally, which is working with 50 e-commerce merchants currently, provides one-click checkout with payment processing and tools for post-purchase offers that turns the purchase into a multi-revenue channel by allowing the merchant to inject offers after the checkout. For example, rather than going right to a “thank you” page, consumers would be offered the option of upgrading to a subscription or purchasing additional similar products in a way that doesn’t interrupt the payment flow.
Implementing the post-purchase offer has helped merchants increase revenue by over 12% on average, Gal said.
Meanwhile, over the past 12 months, Rally has doubled the size of its team and is “doing millions in monthly GMV (gross merchandise volume),” Gal said.
TechCrunch previously profiled the company when it raised $6 million in seed funding. Today, the company announced additional funding of $12 million in Series A funding. It was led by March Capital, which was joined by Felix Capital, Commerce Ventures, Afore Capital, Alumni Ventures and Kraken Ventures. The new investment, which closed in the first quarter of 2023, gives Rally $18 million in total venture-backed capital.
Gal plans to focus the new funding on go-to-market, including entering new markets, like enterprise and international, and expanding integrations beyond Swell, BigCommerce and others, including Salesforce Commerce Cloud, commercetools, Affirm and AfterPay. Rally will also focus on strengthening its fraud protection offering and build out web3 features, starting with allowing merchants to accept cryptocurrencies in their checkout.
“We want to establish a reputation as the best choice when a merchant is looking to either upgrade their checkout or build a new site without having to build their own checkout,” Gal said. “You can’t just build it and leave it alone, so merchants are looking for a partner that they can trust so they can focus on what they’re best at.”
So you want to launch an AI startup
t seems like it’s the best of times for founders thinking about launching an AI startup, especially with OpenAI releasing ChatGPT to the masses, as it has the potential to really put AI front and center in business and perhaps everything we do technologically. Who wouldn’t want to launch a startup right now with the energy and hype surrounding the industry?
But it also could be the worst of times for founders thinking about launching an AI startup, especially one that can grow and be defensible against incumbents in a fast-changing environment. And that’s a real problem for companies thinking about this area: AI is evolving so rapidly that your idea could be obsolete before it’s even off the ground.
How do you come up with a startup idea that can endure in such a challenging and rapidly evolving landscape? The bottom line is that the same principles that apply to previously successful startups apply here, too. It just may be a bit harder this time because of how quickly everything is moving.
A bunch of successful founders and entrepreneurs spoke last week at the Imagination in Action conference at MIT. Their advice could help founders understand what they need to do to be successful and take advantage of this technological leap.
CB Insights compiled data from 2021 and 2022 to understand where VC investment money has been going when it comes to generative AI startups. Given the recent hype around this area, it’s reasonable to think that the volume of investment will increase, and perhaps the allocation will be different, but this is what we have for now.
New Zealander without college degree couldn’t talk his way into NASA and Boeing—so he built a $1.8 billion rocket company
This story is part of CNBC Make It’s The Moment series, where highly successful people reveal the critical moment that changed the trajectory of their lives and careers, discussing what drove them to make the leap into the unknown.
In early 2006, Peter Beck took a “rocket pilgrimage” to the U.S.
The native New Zealander always dreamed of sending a rocket into space. He even skipped college because of it, taking an apprenticeship at a tools manufacturer so he could learn to work with his hands, tinkering with model rockets and propellants in his free time.
By the time of his pilgrimage, he’d built a steam-powered rocket bicycle that traveled nearly 90 mph. He hoped his experiments were enough to convince NASA or companies like Boeing to hire him as an intern. Instead, he was escorted off the premises of multiple rocket labs.
“On the face of it, here’s a foreign national turning up to an Air Force base asking a whole bunch of questions about rockets — that doesn’t look good,” Beck, now 45, tells CNBC Make It.
Still, he learned that few companies were actually building what he wanted to build: lightweight, suborbital rockets to transport small satellites. On the flight back to New Zealand, he plotted his future startup, even drawing a logo on a napkin.
Convincing investors to back someone without a college degree in an industry where he couldn’t even land an internship wouldn’t be easy. Failure would push him even further away from his lifelong dream.
Beck launched the company, Rocket Lab, later that same year. In 2009, it became the Southern Hemisphere’s first private company to reach space. Today, it’s a Long Beach, California-based public company with a market cap of $1.8 billion. It has completed more than 35 space launches, including a moon-bound NASA satellite last year.
Here, Beck discusses how he turned his disappointment into opportunity, the biggest challenges he faced, and whether he ever regrets his decision to create Rocket Lab.
CNBC Make It: When you didn’t land an aerospace job in the U.S., you immediately started thinking about launching your own company. Why?
Beck: One of the things I’m always frustrated with is how long everything takes. Ask anybody who works around me: There’s a great urgency in everything. I don’t walk upstairs, I run upstairs. As we’ve grown as a company, it’s always a sprint.
I wish things would get faster. I’m always battling time.
How do you recognize a window of opportunity opening, and when is it worth the risk to jump through it?
Back your intuition and go for it.
I would classify my job as taking an enormous risk and then mitigating that risk to the nth degree. Given that, you have to see windows of opportunity and run into them.
The challenge is that, especially within this industry, you have to poke your head into the corner but not commit too deeply. Otherwise, you’ll get your head cut off. I start by being very analytical: “OK, we’re here. What happened for us to get here? And how do we get out of here?”
Sometimes, you can take big risks. Sometimes, you need to be very safe and methodical about how to back out of situations. Control the things you can control and acknowledge the things you can’t control.
Running a rocket company is kind of like that scene in “Indiana Jones,” where he’s getting chased by that giant ball. You have to flawlessly execute, because the moment that you don’t, the consequences can be terminal for the company pretty quickly.
What do you wish you’d known when you decided to start your own rocket company?
At the end of the day, I probably wouldn’t change anything. There were plenty of errors and failures along the way, but ultimately, those things create the DNA of a company.
Getting your first rocket to orbit is the easiest part. On rocket No. 1, you’ve got all your engineers and technicians poring over one rocket for a large period of time. Now, there’s one rocket that rolls out of that production line every 18 days. That’s just immensely more difficult.
Sometimes, it’s really good to have a bit of a bad day. Not during a flight, obviously, but during testing. Just when you think things are going good, you’re reminded of how hard this business really is. Every time that you take too much of a breath, you’ll be humbled very quickly.
What’s the biggest challenge you faced getting started?
Nothing happens without funding in this business. When I first started Rocket Lab, I ran around Silicon Valley trying to raise $5 million.
At that time, that was an absurd amount of money for a rocket startup. A rocket startup was absurd [in general], it was only SpaceX then. A rocket startup from someone living in New Zealand was even more absurd.
We grew up and tried to raise really small amounts of funding. That really shaped us about being ruthlessly efficient and absolutely laser-focused on execution. The hardest thing [we did] is actually the thing that shaped the company into the most successful form it could be.
When do you feel the most pressure?
The most terrifying thing I’ve ever done is the staff Christmas party. That’s the moment you realize that your decisions are responsible for these people’s livelihoods. As a public company, I take that even more seriously. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure.
On top of that, you have a customer. That can be a national security customer, where lives are depending on you delivering that asset to orbit. It can be a startup, and there can be hundreds of people at a company that you can destroy just by putting the payload into the ocean.
So I absolutely hate launch days. Now that we’ve done 35 launches, I’m not puking in the toilet like I used to. But man, I still really don’t enjoy it, because there’s just so much invested in each launch. So much responsibility.
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