Y Combinator bets on the booming podcast industry

Podcasts are exploding in popularity and Y Combinator, the startup accelerator known for its long list of unicorn graduates, is throwing its support behind a business tackling the podcast monetization problem. Among its latest and largest-ever cohort is Brew, a subscription-based app complete with original content.

Though Brew’s founders, Jijo Sunny, Madhavan Ramakrishnan, Aleesha John and Joseph Sunny, call Brew the “Netflix for podcasts,” the app differs from Luminary, which made headlines with the same tagline and a $100 million round earlier this month. Luminary, which hasn’t yet launched, will similarly operate under a subscription model, charging $8 a month for access to its podcasts. Instead of opening its platform to creators of any stature, the business is striking deals with established voices in the podcast industry, like Guy Raz of “How I Built This,” Adam Davidson of “Planet Money” and celebrities Trevor Noah and Lena Dunham.

Brew, on the other hand, charges [...]  read more

Decade in review: Trends in seed- and early-stage funding

We’ve decided to step back from the breaking news for a minute to conduct a review of seed and early-stage funding trends over the last decade for U.S.-based companies.

I’m fairly certain we can all agree that the environment for startups has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, specifically in two major ways:

  1. The development of seed funding as its own class and;
  2. The expansion of growth stage investing.

What we’ve also seen are recent concerns raised about the decline in seed stage funding by Mark Suster, a partner at UpFront Ventures, as there has not been commensurate growth in early stage funding (Series A and B), to meet this growth in seed-financed companies. This is often expressed as the Series A crunch.

So with venture funding at an all-time high, along with increased growth in supergiant rounds, now seems like an appropriate time to conduct this kind of review.

Setting the stage

First, let’s set the stage for our analysis and explain where our data comes from with a few quick facts:

  • Rounds below $1 million can be the most difficult to capture adequately as many angel and pre-seed deals are not reported.
  • Luckily, Crunchbase has an “active founder community” that adds early stage financings.
  • By “active founder community” we are referring to many founders who are active on Crunchbase adding their company, themselves as founders, and their fundings.
  • Around 47 percent of fundings below $5 million in the U.S. are added by contributors, as distinct from our analyst teams who process the news, track Twitter, and work directly with our venture partners.
  • For this study, we bucket U.S. funding rounds by size to indicate stage.
  • Given the high percentage of self-reported seed financing, data added after the end of a quarter needs to be factored in.
  • For this reason we use projected data for many of the Crunchbase quarterly reports in order to more accurately reflect recent funding trends. For the charts below we are using actual data, with some provisions for the data lag when discussing the trends.

Now, let’s take a look at the trends.

Rounds below $1 million are slumping

Since 2014 we have seen mostly double-digit [...]  read more

Uber said to be raising $1B at a $10B valuation for its self-driving car unit

Uber is in negotiations with investors, including the SoftBank Vision Fund, to secure an investment as large as $1 billion for its autonomous vehicles unit. The deal would value the business at between $5 billion and $10 billion, according to a Tuesday report from The Wall Street Journal.

Uber didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The news comes shortly after TechCrunch’s Mark Harris revealed the ridehailing firm was burning through $20 million a month on developing self-driving technologies, which means, according to our calculations, that Uber could have spent more than $900 million on automated vehicle research since early 2015.

According to the WSJ, the deal could close as soon as next month, shortly before Uber is expected to complete a highly-anticipated initial public offering. Uber, in December, filed the necessary paperwork with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to go public [...]  read more

Determined AI nabs $11M Series A to democratize AI development

Deep learning involves a highly iterative process where data scientists build models and test them on GPU-powered systems until they get something they can work with. It can be expensive and time-consuming, often taking weeks to fashion the right model. Determined AI, a new startup wants to change that by making the process faster, cheaper and more efficient. It emerged from stealth today with $11 million in Series A funding.

The round was led by GV (formerly Google Ventures) with help from Amplify Partners, Haystack and SV Angel. The company also announced an earlier $2.6 million seed round from 2017 for a total $13.6 million raised to date.

Evan Spark, co-founder and CEO at Determined AI says that up until now, only the largest companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft could set up the infrastructure [...]  read more

CXA, a health-focused digital insurance startup, raises $25M

CXA Group, a Singapore-based startup that helps make insurance more accessible and affordable, has raised $25 million for expansion in Asia and later into Europe and North America.

The startup takes a unique route to insurance. Rather than going to consumers directly, it taps corporations to offer their employees health flexible options. That’s to say that instead of rigid plans that force employees to use a certain gym or particular healthcare, a collection over 1,000 programs and options can be tailored to let employees pick what’s relevant or appealing to them. The ultimate goal is to bring value to employees to keep them healthier and lower the overall premiums for their employers.

“Our purpose is to empower personalized choices for better living for employees,” CXA founder and CEO Rosaline Koo told TechCrunch in an interview. “We use data and tech to recommend better choices.”

The company is primarily focused on China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia where it claims to works [...]  read more

Harvard-MIT initiative grants $750K to projects looking to keep tech accountable

Artificial intelligence, or what passes for it, can be found in practically every major tech company and, increasingly, in government programs. A joint Harvard-MIT program just unloaded $750,000 on projects looking to keep such AI developments well understood and well reported.

The Ethics and Governance in AI Initiative is a combination research program and grant fund operated by MIT’s Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman-Klein Center. The small projects selected by the initiative are generally speaking aimed at using technology to keep people informed, or informing people about technology.

AI is an enabler of both good and ill in the world of news and information gathering, as the initiative’s director, Tim Hwang, said in a news release:

“On one hand, the technology offers a tremendous opportunity to improve the way we work —
including helping journalists find key information buried in mountains of public records. Yet we
are also seeing a range of negative consequences as [...]  read more

Startups Weekly: What’s up with YC? Plus, mobility layoffs and Airbnb’s grand plans

Where to begin… Netflix darling Marie Kondo is hitting up Sand Hill Road in search of $40 million to fund an ecommerce platform, Y Combinator is giving $150,000 to a startup building a $380,000 flying motorcycle (because why not) and Jibo, the social robot, is calling it quits, speaking to owners directly of its imminent shutdown.

It was a hectic week in unicorn land so, I’m just going to get right to the good stuff.

Changes at Y Combinator

Where to begin! Not only did the prolific accelerator announce long-time president Sam Altman would be making an exit, but TechCrunch scooped the firm’s decision to move its headquarters to San Francisco. Y Combinator is going through a number of changes, outlined here[...]  read more

Remix picks up $15 million to help cities make better decisions around transit

A San Francisco-based startup just raised $15 million to solve the complicated problem of transit infrastructure in urban environments. Remix was founded by Tiffany Chu, Dan Getelman, Danny Whalen, and Sam Hashemi in 2014 following a project they built during their Code For America fellowships.

The $15 million Series B round was led by Energy Impact Partners, bringing total funding to $27 million.

Remix allows cities to plan public transit infrastructure, quickly computing how a change in a certain bus or train route or the addition of a bike lane might affect the city overall, all through a drag and drop menu. The platform also looks at how to manage private transportation options like ridesharing, dockless bikes and scooters, etc.

“This is an industry that has changed faster in the last five years than it did in the last 50,” said Chu, cofounder and COO. “One of our challenges is explaining to people, the community, what are the impacts of certain decisions around the way things [...]  read more

The Khashoggi murder isn’t stopping SoftBank’s Vision Fund

Money talks in the startup community, especially when SoftBank comes knocking with the megabucks of its Vision Fund.

Despite the public outcry around the firm’s dependence on money from Saudi Arabia in the wake of that country’s assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, deal flow for Softbank’s Vision Fund appears to be back to normal.

The $100 billion megafund has done 21 deals over the last two quarters, that’s as more than in the other quarters of the previous year combined, according to data from Crunchbase, thanks to an uptick from Asia. Since the October 2 murder, there have been 11 investments in U.S. companies, seven in Asia, two in Europe and one in Latin America. Just this week, the fund completed a near $1.5 billion investment in Southeast Asia-based ride-hailing company Grab.

While U.S. and European firms have more options, and therefore, perhaps deserve more scrutiny, Softbank’s cash is increasingly the only game in town for startups in Asia, where [...]  read more

Matterport raises $48M to ramp up its 3D imaging platform

The growth of augmented and virtual reality applications and hardware is ushering in a new age of digital media and imaging technologies, and startups that are putting themselves at the center of that are attracting interest.

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Matterport, which started out making cameras but has since diversified into a wider platform to capture, create, search and utilise 3D imagery of interior and enclosed spaces in immersive real estate, design, insurance and other B2C and B2B applications, has raised $48 million. Sources tell us the money came at a pre-money valuation of around $325 million, although the company is not commenting on that.

From what we understand, the funding is coming ahead of a larger growth round from existing and new investors, to tap into what they see as a big opportunity for building and providing (as a service) highly accurate 3D images of enclosed spaces.

The company in December appointed [...]  read more