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Acquco t-shirt for Tesla giveaway

Start-ups are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire the top independent sellers on the Amazon Marketplace, creating a gold rush to “roll up” these mostly small businesses into larger entities that have better resources and can pour money into growth.

Competition to acquire these Amazon sellers has gotten so fierce that one player, Acquco, is giving away a Tesla Model Y to anyone who refers a seller that the company ends up buying.

Acquco, founded last year by Raunak Nirmal, has representatives at the annual Prosper Show this week in Las Vegas, where Amazon sellers convene to network and share tips. The company is handing out t-shirts and flyers that say, “Refer a Seller, get a Tesla.”

Nirmal said in an interview that as of Thursday the company had received about 200 referrals in a little over 24 hours since starting the program and launching the promotional web page. He said the company is willing to give away up to $10 million worth of Model Ys, which retail for a starting price of around $50,000.

“There are two options for rewards,” the web page says. “You can either get a Tesla — you will have $49,990 to put towards a Tesla model of your choice.  Alternatively, you can choose to take the cash directly!” 

The reward should be received within 45 days of the closing of the acquisition, the site says, and the recipient will owe income tax on the car or the cash.

The red-hot market for Amazon resellers

Much of Amazon’s dominance in e-commerce has come from its third-party marketplace, which is filled with millions of independent sellers who use the company’s logistics services, shipping, fulfillment centers and mammoth customer base to reach buyers.

Growing a business on Amazon has become increasingly complex in recent years due to a surge in Chinese counterfeits and other bad actors who set out to manipulate reviews and get rivals shut down. Aggregators are using those challenges as an opportunity to buy up promising products and storefronts, while using their scale and operational experience to clean up the marketplace for consumers.

Acquco has raised over $165 million in equity and debt to buy Amazon marketplace retailers, building a business with close to $200 million in revenue from those entities. It’s one of the busiest corners of the start-up market, as companies like Thrasio, which ranked 22nd on the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, along with Perch, Heyday, Branded and Boosted Commerce have raked in billions of dollars combined to pull together businesses that have grown up on Amazon.

Nirmal said the top sellers are so inundated with pitches that it’s difficult to get meetings with them.

“As a seller, when you get a message from someone about acquiring your business, you think of it as spam and go about your day,” said Nirmal, who previously spent over a year in Amazon’s marketplace business and also started his own brands and consulting businesses. “This is a unique opportunity to connect with friends, family and people that surround the sellers.”

While Nirmal didn’t attend the Prosper show, he sent a few of his 60 full-time employees, including the head of sales, to network and meet sellers. Acquco also had some contractors distributing flyers and handing out merchandise.

Acquco flyer for Tesla giveaway

Rivals Thrasio, Heyday and Perch had an even bigger presence at the show, as they were paid exhibitors with floor space and some speaking slots, according to Prosper’s website. It’s a big change from the last conference in 2019, when the rollup market was in its infancy. Thrasio was founded in 2018 and others followed over the next couple years.

Total attendance at Prosper appears to be up about 15% to 20% over the last in-person show in 2019, which attracted over 1,500 people, a conference representative said. The show began on Tuesday and wraps up on Thursday.

How to lure sellers

Casey Gauss, a vice president at Thrasio, attended the show as part of his company’s contingent. He told CNBC that he joined in April 2020 as employee number 26, and that the last time he checked last week, the company had a workforce of 930.

Thrasio has raised $1.75 billion, the most of any company in the space. While it’s not giving away Teslas, the company did host a pricey party Wednesday night at the Bellagio Hotel, called “Feast by the Fountains,” referring to the resort’s outdoor fountain show. Gauss said he expected about 180 people.

“Feast by The Fountains will offer 5-star American cuisine and an open bar of top shelf cocktails inspired by the top supper clubs around the world,” the website for the event said.

Gauss said that the topic of aggregators has been front and center at the show and that companies have to find clever ways to meet sellers.

“We tried to throw a nice event to allow high-end networking,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity, not only for us to hang out with prospective sellers that may want to sell to us and people that have sold to us. But also, we’re pretty intentional about just building good relationships in the community.”

For Acquco, this year’s Prosper is its first big event. The company said it’s trying to get its name out to more people — and the Tesla giveaway program is a way to make a splash.

David Lam, the company’s vice president of growth strategy, said he’s been working with Tesla’s enterprise sales team on the program. The start-up did not get reduced pricing on the Model Ys, but he expects that once the program reaches about 20 cars, a discount will kick in, and then perhaps a steeper discount at the 50th sale.

The new Tesla Model Y is introduced. Tesla has expanded its model range to include an SUV based on the current Model 3.
Hannes Breustedt | picture alliance | Getty Images

Tesla giveaways have become more commonplace among non-profits as a way to raise money and give people a chance to win through online raffles. The overall popularity of the cars is the main reason Tesla says it’s able to keep down marketing, promotional and advertising costs, which were “immaterial” over the past three years, according to its latest annual report.

Acquco says in the giveaway material that it accepts leads for businesses with at least $500,000 in revenue but Nirmal expects to generally buy sellers that have topped $1 million. Nirmal won’t say how many acquisitions he’s completed to date, but said that three deals have been signed this week that will bring in about $40 million in revenue. Those all came prior to the Tesla giveaway.

Nirmal said Acquco started marketing the program at Prosper and will continue this week with ads across social platforms and Google as well as through influencers.

“If there’s a business that looks good and fits into our partner profile, we want to give away these Teslas,” Nirmal said.

— CNBC’s Katie Schoolov and Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.

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Tesla issues recall on Semi over defective brake module, rollaway risk




Tesla issues recall on Semi over defective brake module, rollaway risk

Tesla Semi

Courtesy: Tesla

Tesla has issued a voluntary recall on the Semi, a first since the company began deliveries of the heavy-duty electric trucks to customers in December 2022.

According to recall filings posted on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 35 Semi trucks were affected. The trucks were built with an electronic parking brake valve module found to contain a defect by supplier Bendix in February 2023.

The defect left drivers vulnerable to “rollaway” incidents and increased the likelihood of a crash. According to a recall notice, the defective modules may “fail to move into the park position when the parking brake is activated” leaving drivers unaware their Semi could roll away. The parking brake component defect has not resulted in a crash or any damages, according to the filings.

While Tesla showed off the design of the Semi in late 2017, it only began producing the trucks in Nevada last year and began deliveries to early customer Pepsi at a marketing event late last year.

The Tesla Semi is finally here

In filings on the NHTSA site, Tesla said it will “replace the parking brake valve module with a revised part with improved internals that prevent air leakage and allow the driver to engage and disengage parking brakes.”

Elon Musk‘s electric vehicle maker is expected to issue its first-quarter 2023 vehicle production and deliveries report this weekend. Tesla has not previously broken out Semi production and delivery numbers in its quarterly updates.

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Signal President Meredith Whittaker learned what not to do from working at Google




Signal President Meredith Whittaker learned what not to do from working at Google

Meredith Whittaker, a former Google Manager who is now president at Signal.(Florian Hetz for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Florian Hetzt | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Meredith Whittaker took a top role at the Signal Foundation last year, moving into the nonprofit world after a career in academia, government work and the tech industry.

She’s now president of an organization that operates one of the world’s most popular encrypted messaging apps, with tens of millions of people using it to keep their chats private and out of the purview of big tech companies.

Whittaker has real-world reasons to be skeptical of for-profit companies and their use of data — she previously spent 13 years at Google.

After more than a decade at the search giant, she learned from a friend in 2017 that Google’s cloud computing unit was working on a controversial contract with the Department of Defense known as Project Maven. She and other workers saw it as hypocritical for Google to work on artificial intelligence technology that could potentially be used for drone warfare. They started discussing taking collective action against the company.

“People were meeting each week, talking about organizing,” Whittaker said in an interview with CNBC, with Women’s History Month as a backdrop. “There was already sort of a consciousness in the company that hadn’t existed before.”

With tensions high, Google workers then learned that the company reportedly paid former executive Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package despite credible sexual misconduct claims against the Android founder.

Whittaker helped organize a massive walkout against the company, bringing along thousands of Google workers to demand greater transparency and an end to forced arbitration for employees. The walkout represented a historic moment in the tech industry, which until then, had few high-profile instances of employee activism.

Google employees stage global walkout and ask for accountability

“Give me a break,” Whittaker said of the Rubin revelations and ensuing walkout. “Everyone knew; the whisper network was not whispering anymore.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Whittaker left Google in 2019 to return full time to the AI Now Institute at New York University, an organization she co-founded in 2017 that says its mission is to “help ensure that AI systems are accountable to the communities and contexts in which they’re applied.”

Whittaker never intended on pursuing a career in tech. She studied rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. She said she was broke and needed a gig when she joined Google in 2006, after submitting a resume on She eventually landed a temp job in customer support.

“I remember the moment when someone kind of explained to me that a server was a different kind of computer,” Whittaker said. “We weren’t living in a world at that point where every kid learned to code — that knowledge wasn’t saturated.”

‘Why do we get free juice?’

Signal app


At Signal, Whittaker gets to focus on the mission without worrying about sales. Signal has become popular among journalists, researchers and activists for its ability to scramble messages so that third parties are unable to intercept the communications.

As a nonprofit, Whittaker said that Signal is “existentially important” for society and that there’s no underlying financial motivation for the app to deviate from its stated position of protecting private communication.

“We go out of our way in sometimes spending a lot more money and a lot more time to ensure that we have as little data as possible,” Whittaker said. “We know nothing about who’s talking to whom, we don’t know who you are, we don’t know your profile photo or who is in the groups that you talk to.”

Tesla and Twitter CEO Elon Musk has praised Signal as a direct messaging tool, and tweeted in November that “the goal of Twitter DMs is to superset Signal.”

Musk and Whittaker share some concerns about companies profiting off AI technologies. Musk was an early backer of ChatGPT creator OpenAI, which was founded as a nonprofit. But he said in a recent tweet that it’s become a “maximum-profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft.” In January, Microsoft announced a multibillion-dollar investment in OpenAI, which calls itself a “capped-profit” company.

Beyond just the confusing structure of OpenAI, Whittaker is out on the ChatGPT hype. Google recently jumped into the generative AI market, debuting its chatbot dubbed Bard.

Whittaker said she finds little value in the technology and struggles to see any game-changing uses. Eventually the excitement will decline, though “maybe not as precipitously as like Web3 or something,” she said.

“It has no understanding of anything,” Whittaker said of ChatGPT and similar tools. “It predicts what is likely to be the next word in a sentence.”

OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

She fears that companies could use generative AI software to “justify the degradation of people’s jobs,” resulting in writers, editors and content makers losing their careers. And she definitely wants people to know that Signal has absolutely no plans to incorporate ChatGPT into its service.

“On the record, loudly as possible, no!” Whittaker said.

WATCH: AI hype is real

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China’s chip industry will be ‘reborn’ under U.S. sanctions, Huawei says, confirming breakthrough




China's chip industry will be 'reborn' under U.S. sanctions, Huawei says, confirming breakthrough

The U.S. has placed major chip export restrictions on Huawei and Chinese firms over the past few years. This has cut off companies’ access to critical semiconductors.

Jaap Arriens | Nurphoto | Getty Images

China’s chip industry will be “reborn” as a result of U.S. sanctions, a top boss at Huawei said Friday, as the Chinese telecommunications giant confirmed a breakthrough in semiconductor design technology.

Eric Xu, rotating chairman at Huawei, issued fighting words against Washington’s tech export restrictions on China.

“I believe China’s semiconductor industry will not sit idly by, but take efforts around … self-strengthening and self reliance,” according to an official translation of Xu’s comments during a press conference.

“For Huawei, we will render our support to all such self-saving, self-strengthening and self reliance efforts of the Chinese semiconductor industry.”

Semiconductors have been a flash point in the broader U.S.-China battle for tech supremacy. Over the past few years, Washington has attempted to cut China and Chinese firms off through sanctions and export restrictions.

In 2019, Huawei was put on a U.S. black list called the Entity List, which barred American firms from selling technology to the Chinese company. This included chips for 5G products — where 5G refers to super-fast next-generation mobile networks. Chip restrictions against Huawei were tightened in 2020 and effectively separated it from the latest cutting-edge chips it required for its smartphones.

Washington then introduced broader chip restrictions last year, aiming to deprive Chinese firms of critical semiconductors that could serve artificial intelligence and more advanced applications.

The U.S. is concerned that China could use advanced semiconductors for military purposes.

Huawei’s Xu said these developments could boost, rather than hamper China’s domestic semiconductor industry.

“I believe China’s semiconductor industry will get reborn under such sanctions and realize a very strong and self-reliant industry,” Xu said.

Experts previously told CNBC that the latest round of U.S. restrictions are likely to hurt China’s semiconductor industry. Under the current rules, certain tools or chips that are made using American technology are not allowed to be exported to China.

The nature of the chip supply chain makes this very effective. U.S. tools are used across the chip production process, even if a semiconductor is manufactured in another country.

China’s domestic chip industry relies heavily on foreign technology, and it lacks companies that can match firms in the U.S., Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

China has made self-reliance a big priority amid the tech battle with the U.S., but experts agree this will prove an extremely difficult feat.

Huawei breakthrough

Chinese firms are now trying to develop tools required for semiconductors domestically.

Last week, Chinese media reported that Xu in a speech said that Huawei and other domestic firms jointly created electronic chip design tools needed to make semiconductors sized at 14 nanometers and above. Xu said those tools will be verified this year, which would allow them to be put into use.

The rotating chairman confirmed that he made this speech, but added those tools will “mean very little” for the Huawei business. It only means that Chinese firms have the design tools required domestically, he said.

The 14 nanometer figure refers to the size of each individual transistor on a chip. The smaller the transistor, the more of them can be packed onto a single semiconductor. Typically, a reduction in nanometer size can yield more powerful and efficient chips.

But Huawei ideally needs chips of a much smaller nanometer size for more advanced applications, which they are currently finding it difficult to obtain. The company is still reeling from the effects of U.S. sanctions — on Friday, it said net profit dropped 69% year-on-year in 2022, marking the biggest decline on record.

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