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The 15 Largest US Tech Startup Funding Rounds of February 2021

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Armed with some data from our friends at CrunchBase, I broke down the largest US startup funding rounds from February 2021. I have included some additional information such as industry, company description, round type, founders, and total equity funding raised to further the analysis.


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10. Standard Cognition $150.0M

Round: Series C
Description: San Francisco-based Standard Cognition provides an autonomous checkout tool that can be installed into retailers’ existing stores. Founded by Brandon Ogle, Daniel Fischetti, David Valdman, John Novak, Jordan Fisher, Michael Suswal, and TJ Lutz in 2017, Standard Cognition has now raised a total of $236.1M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include EQT Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital, Y Combinator, and SoftBank Vision Fund.
Investors in the round: CRV, EQT Ventures, SK Networks, SoftBank Vision Fund, TI Platform Management
Industry: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Retail, Retail Technology, Shopping
Founders: Brandon Ogle, Daniel Fischetti, David Valdman, John Novak, Jordan Fisher, Michael Suswal, TJ Lutz
Founding year: 2017
Location: San Francisco
Total equity funding raised: $236.1M



10. Rad Power Bikes $150.0M

Round: Venture
Description: Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes is an electric bike manufacturer that offers direct to consumer pricing on e-bikes and accessories. Founded by Mike Radenbaugh and Tyler Collins in 2007, Rad Power Bikes has now raised a total of $175.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include T. Rowe Price, Morgan Stanley, Vulcan Capital, The Rise Fund, and Fidelity Management and Research Company.
Investors in the round: Durable Capital Partners, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Morgan Stanley, T. Rowe Price, The Rise Fund, Vulcan Capital
Industry: CleanTech, Consumer Goods, Electric Vehicle, Manufacturing, Transportation
Founders: Mike Radenbaugh, Tyler Collins
Founding year: 2007
Location: Seattle
Total equity funding raised: $175.0M



10. OutSystems $150.0M

Round: Series E
Description: Boston-based OutSystems is a low-code platform that enables businesses to develop, deploy, and manage enterprise-grade apps. Founded by Paulo Rosado and Rui Pereira in 2001, OutSystems has now raised a total of $572.1M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Goldman Sachs, Tiger Global Management, Portugal Ventures, Armilar Venture Partners, and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
Investors in the round: Abdiel Capital, Armilar Venture Partners, Goldman Sachs, Guidepost Growth Equity, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Tiger Global Management
Industry: Data Integration, Developer Platform, Developer Tools, PaaS, SaaS, Software
Founders: Paulo Rosado, Rui Pereira
Founding year: 2001
Location: Boston
Total equity funding raised: $572.1M



10. Locus Robotics $150.0M

Round: Series E
Description: Wilmington-based Locus Robotics is a warehouse robotics company that manufactures autonomous mobile robots to support e-commerce. Founded by Bruce E. Welty in 2014, Locus Robotics has now raised a total of $249.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Prologis Ventures, Tiger Global Management, Scale Venture Partners, Bond, and Zebra Ventures.
Investors in the round: Bond, Prologis Ventures, Scale Venture Partners, Tiger Global Management
Industry: E-Commerce, Industrial Automation, Logistics, Robotics, Warehousing
Founders: Bruce E. Welty
Founding year: 2014
Location: Wilmington
Total equity funding raised: $249.0M



9. Vivino $155.0M

Round: Series D
Description: San Francisco-based Vivino is a wine app and online wine marketplace that provides users tools to buy better wine based on their unique tastes. Founded by Heini Zachariassen and Theis Sondergaard in 2010, Vivino has now raised a total of $218.8M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Kinnevik AB, Balderton Capital, Creandum, Sprints Capital, and PreSeed Ventures.
Investors in the round: Creandum, GP Bullhound, Kinnevik AB, Sprints Capital
Industry: Apps, Marketplace, Mobile Apps, Wine And Spirits
Founders: Heini Zachariassen, Theis Sondergaard
Founding year: 2010
Location: San Francisco
Total equity funding raised: $218.8M



8. Skydio $170.0M

Round: Series D
Description: Redwood City-based Skydio uses artificial intelligence to create flying drones that are used by consumer, enterprise, and government customers. Founded by Abraham Bachrach, Adam Bry, and Matt Donahoe in 2014, Skydio has now raised a total of $340.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Andreessen Horowitz, IVP, Accel, Next47, and Thirty Five Ventures.
Investors in the round: Andreessen Horowitz, IVP, Linse Capital, Next47, UP Partners
Industry: Artificial Intelligence, Drone Management, Drones, Robotics, Software
Founders: Abraham Bachrach, Adam Bry, Matt Donahoe
Founding year: 2014
Location: Redwood City
Total equity funding raised: $340.0M



7. Plus.ai $200.0M

Round: Series B
Description: Cupertino-based Plus develops self-driving trucks to enable large-scale commercialization of autonomous transport. Founded by David Liu, Hao Zheng, Shawn Kerrigan, and Tim Daly in 2016, Plus.ai has now raised a total of $300.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital, Manbang Group, Mayfield Fund, and Lightspeed.
Investors in the round: China Growth Capital | CGC, CPE Capital, GSR Ventures, Guotai Junan International, Hedosophia, Lightspeed, Manbang Group, Mayfield Fund, SAIC, Sequoia Capital, Wanxiang International Investment
Industry: Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Vehicles, Logistics, Transportation
Founders: David Liu, Hao Zheng, Shawn Kerrigan, Tim Daly
Founding year: 2016
Location: Cupertino
Total equity funding raised: $300.0M



7. Highspot $200.0M

Round: Series E
Description: Seattle-based Highspot is an AI-fueled sales enablement platform that helps companies worldwide improve the performance of their sales teams. Founded by David Wortendyke, Oliver Sharp, Robert Wahbe, and Scot Gellock in 2012, Highspot has now raised a total of $394.6M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Salesforce Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Tiger Global Management, Madrona Venture Group, and Shasta Ventures.
Investors in the round: Bain & Company, ICONIQ Capital, Madrona Venture Group, OpenView, Salesforce Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Shasta Ventures, Tiger Global Management
Industry: Artificial Intelligence, Enterprise Software, SaaS, Sales Automation, Software
Founders: David Wortendyke, Oliver Sharp, Robert Wahbe, Scot Gellock
Founding year: 2012
Location: Seattle
Total equity funding raised: $394.6M



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6. Plume Design $270.0M

Round: Series E
Description: Palo Alto-based Plume is a SaaS platform that provides the delivery of technological services for connected homes. Founded by Adam Hotchkiss, Aman Singla, Fahri Diner, and Sri Nathan in 2015, Plume Design has now raised a total of $422.4M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Comcast, Spark Capital, Charter Communications, Insight Partners, and Qualcomm.
Investors in the round: Insight Partners
Industry: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Network Hardware, SaaS, Smart Home, Wireless
Founders: Adam Hotchkiss, Aman Singla, Fahri Diner, Sri Nathan
Founding year: 2015
Location: Palo Alto
Total equity funding raised: $422.4M



5. Reddit $367.9M

Round: Series E
Description: San Francisco-based Reddit is an online platform that enables users to submit links, create content, and have discussions about the topics of their interest. Founded by Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman in 2005, Reddit has now raised a total of $919.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Tencent Holdings, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Bracket Capital, and Initialized Capital.
Investors in the round: Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, Tencent Holdings, Vy Capital
Industry: Content, News, Social Bookmarking, Social Media, Social Network
Founders: Alexis Ohanian, Steve Huffman
Founding year: 2005
Location: San Francisco
Total equity funding raised: $919.0M



4. UiPath $750.0M

Round: Series F
Description: New York-based UiPath is a software company developing robotic process automation and artificial intelligence software. Founded by Daniel Dines and Marius Tirca in 2005, UiPath has now raised a total of $2.0B in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Tencent Holdings, Sequoia Capital, T. Rowe Price, Seedcamp, and Earlybird Venture Capital.
Investors in the round: Alkeon Capital, Altimeter Capital, Coatue, Dragoneer Investment Group, IVP, Sequoia Capital, T. Rowe Price, Tiger Global Management
Industry: Artificial Intelligence, Enterprise Software, Information Technology, Machine Learning
Founders: Daniel Dines, Marius Tirca
Founding year: 2005
Location: New York
Total equity funding raised: $2.0B



3. SpaceX $850.0M

Round: Venture
Description: Hawthorne-based SpaceX is an aviation and aerospace company that designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. Founded by Elon Musk in 2002, SpaceX has now raised a total of $6.0B in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Fidelity, Bank of America, Bracket Capital, Google, and Founders Fund.
Investors in the round: Sequoia, Valor Equity Partners, Coatue, D1 Capital Partners, Fidelity
Industry: Aerospace, Manufacturing, Space Travel, Transportation
Founders: Elon Musk
Founding year: 2002
Location: Hawthorne
Total equity funding raised: $6.0B



2. Databricks $1.0B

Round: Series G
Description: San Francisco-based Databricks is a data-and-AI company that interacts with corporate information stored in the public cloud. Founded by Ali Ghodsi, Andy Konwinski, Ion Stoica, Matei Zaharia, Patrick Wendell, Reynold Xin, and Scott Shenker in 2013, Databricks has now raised a total of $1.9B in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include BlackRock, Battery Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, T. Rowe Price, and Andreessen Horowitz.
Investors in the round: Alkeon Capital, Amazon Web Services, Andreessen Horowitz, BlackRock, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, CapitalG, Coatue, Discovery Capital, Dragoneer Investment Group, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Founders Circle Capital, Franklin Templeton Investments, Geodesic Capital, GIC, Green Bay Ventures, Greenoaks Capital, Microsoft, New Enterprise Associates, Octahedron Capital, Salesforce Ventures, T. Rowe Price, Tiger Global Management, Whale Rock Capital Management
Industry: Analytics, Information Technology, SaaS, Software
Founders: Ali Ghodsi, Andy Konwinski, Ion Stoica, Matei Zaharia, Patrick Wendell, Reynold Xin, Scott Shenker
Founding year: 2013
Location: San Francisco
Total equity funding raised: $1.9B



1. Robinhood $2.4B

Round: Convertible Note
Description: Menlo Park-based Robinhood is a stock brokerage that allows customers to buy and sell stocks, options, ETFs, and cryptocurrencies with zero commission. Founded by Baiju Bhatt and Vlad Tenev in 2013, Robinhood has now raised a total of $3.2B in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Ribbit Capital, Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and Greenoaks Capital.
Investors in the round: Ribbit Capital,
Industry: Cryptocurrency, Financial Services, FinTech, Stock Exchanges, Trading Platform
Founders: Baiju Bhatt, Vlad Tenev
Founding year: 2013
Location: Menlo Park
Total equity funding raised: $3.2B


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Source: https://www.alleywatch.com/2021/03/the-15-largest-us-tech-startup-funding-rounds-of-february-2021/

Start Ups

After a $13 million fundraise, Chingari onboards Salman Khan as brand ambassador and investor

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  • Earlier this week, Chingari had raised $13 million in a funding round from mobile entertainment solution provider OnMobile.
  • Meanwhile, Actor Salman Khan has joined the startup as a brand ambassador and an investor.
  • The details of the investment were not disclosed.

After a $13 million fundraise, Homegrown short video app Chingari is again making news after announcing that it has onboarded actor Salman Khan as a brand ambassador and an investor. Although, the details of investment made by Salman Khan were not disclosed.

Earlier this week, Chingari had received $13 million (about Rs 95 crore) in a funding round from Bengaluru-based mobile entertainment solution provider OnMobile in exchange for a 10% stake. To date, the startup has raised over Rs 100 crore in its funding rounds.

Commenting on the development, Sumit Ghosh, co-founder & CEO, said, “This is a really significant partnership for Chingari, our ethos is to reach out to every state of Bharat and it’s our pleasure to have Salman Khan on board as one of our global brand ambassadors and investors.”

The founder believes that the association will help Chingari to scale greater heights in the near future. “We wanted a brand ambassador who is in tune with the pulse of the nation, and Salman Khan in many senses cut across all genres and geography and is the best choice to be the face of the brand,” said, Aditya Kothari, Co-Founder & CSO, Chingari.

Deepak Salvi, Co-Founder & COO, Chingari, said, “we believe that Salman’s mass appeal will help us attract more users onto the platform.”

Also Read: Chingari receives $13 million funding from telecom firm OnMobile

“This engagement with Chingari will give an opportunity to a lot of users to showcase their unseen talent and give way to the next set of digital stars in India,” said, Vikram Tanwar, co-founder of UBT, Khan’s talent management firm.

Speaking on the association with Chingari, Actor Salman Khan, said, “I like how Chingari has shaped in such a short span of time, into a platform for millions from rural to urban to showcase their unique talents and be seen by another million in no time.”

Chingari, which currently has 56 million users on its platform, has already partnered with Bengali streaming service Hoichoi and Ekta Kapoor’s AltBalaji to provide more content clips accessible to its users.

It counts iSeed, FJ Labs, Village Global, Republic Labs, AngelList India, and angels Jasminder Gulati, Guy Lelouch, Fabrice Grinda, and Brian Norgard as investors.

Follow IndianStartupNews on FacebookInstagramTwitter for the latest updates from the startup ecosystem.

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Source: https://indianstartupnews.com/news/after-a-13-million-fundraise-chingari-onboards-salman-khan-as-brand-ambassador-and-investor/

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Artificial Intelligence

Extra Crunch roundup: Tonal EC-1, Deliveroo’s rocky IPO, is Substack really worth $650M?

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For this morning’s column, Alex Wilhelm looked back on the last few months, “a busy season for technology exits” that followed a hot Q4 2020.

We’re seeing signs of an IPO market that may be cooling, but even so, “there are sufficient SPACs to take the entire recent Y Combinator class public,” he notes.

Once we factor in private equity firms with pockets full of money, it’s evident that late-stage companies have three solid choices for leveling up.

Seeking more insight into these liquidity options, Alex interviewed:

  • DigitalOcean CEO Yancey Spruill, whose company went public via IPO;
  • Latch CFO Garth Mitchell, who discussed his startup’s merger with real estate SPAC $TSIA;
  • Brian Cruver, founder and CEO of AlertMedia, which recently sold to a private equity firm.

After recapping their deals, each executive explains how their company determined which flashing red “EXIT” sign to follow. As Alex observed, “choosing which option is best from a buffet’s worth of possibilities is an interesting task.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch! Have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


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The Tonal EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

On Tuesday, we published a four-part series on Tonal, a home fitness startup that has raised $200 million since it launched in 2018. The company’s patented hardware combines digital weights, coaching and AI in a wall-mounted system that sells for $2,995.

By any measure, it is poised for success — sales increased 800% between December 2019 and 2020, and by the end of this year, the company will have 60 retail locations. On Wednesday, Tonal reported a $250 million Series E that valued the company at $1.6 billion.

Our deep dive examines Tonal’s origins, product development timeline, its go-to-market strategy and other aspects that combined to spark investor interest and customer delight.

We call this format the “EC-1,” since these stories are as comprehensive and illuminating as the S-1 forms startups must file with the SEC before going public.

Here’s how the Tonal EC-1 breaks down:

We have more EC-1s in the works about other late-stage startups that are doing big things well and making news in the process.

What to make of Deliveroo’s rough IPO debut

Why did Deliveroo struggle when it began to trade? Is it suffering from cultural dissonance between its high-growth model and more conservative European investors?

Let’s peek at the numbers and find out.

Kaltura puts debut on hold. Is the tech IPO window closing?

The Exchange doubts many folks expected the IPO climate to get so chilly without warning. But we could be in for a Q2 pause in the formerly scorching climate for tech debuts.

Is Substack really worth $650M?

A $65 million Series B is remarkable, even by 2021 standards. But the fact that a16z is pouring more capital into the alt-media space is not a surprise.

Substack is a place where publications have bled some well-known talent, shifting the center of gravity in media. Let’s take a look at Substack’s historical growth.

RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift

Business process organization and analytics. Business process visualization and representation, automated workflow system concept. Vector concept creative illustration

Image Credits: Visual Generation / Getty Images

Robotic process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.

E-commerce roll-ups are the next wave of disruption in consumer packaged goods

Elevated view of many toilet rolls on blue background

Image Credits: Javier Zayas Photography (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

This year is all about the roll-ups, the aggregation of smaller companies into larger firms, creating a potentially compelling path for equity value. The interest in creating value through e-commerce brands is particularly striking.

Just a year ago, digitally native brands had fallen out of favor with venture capitalists after so many failed to create venture-scale returns. So what’s the roll-up hype about?

Hack takes: A CISO and a hacker detail how they’d respond to the Exchange breach

3d Flat isometric vector concept of data breach, confidential data stealing, cyber attack.

Image Credits: TarikVision (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The cyber world has entered a new era in which attacks are becoming more frequent and happening on a larger scale than ever before. Massive hacks affecting thousands of high-level American companies and agencies have dominated the news recently. Chief among these are the December SolarWinds/FireEye breach and the more recent Microsoft Exchange server breach.

Everyone wants to know: If you’ve been hit with the Exchange breach, what should you do?

5 machine learning essentials nontechnical leaders need to understand

Jumble of multicoloured wires untangling into straight lines over a white background. Cape Town, South Africa. Feb 2019.

Image Credits: David Malan (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Machine learning has become the foundation of business and growth acceleration because of the incredible pace of change and development in this space.

But for engineering and team leaders without an ML background, this can also feel overwhelming and intimidating.

Here are best practices and must-know components broken down into five practical and easily applicable lessons.

Embedded procurement will make every company its own marketplace

Businesswomen using mobile phone analyzing data and economic growth graph chart. Technology digital marketing and network connection.

Image Credits: Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images

Embedded procurement is the natural evolution of embedded fintech.

In this next wave, businesses will buy things they need through vertical B2B apps, rather than through sales reps, distributors or an individual merchant’s website.

Knowing when your startup should go all-in on business development

One red line with arrow head breaking out from a business or finance growth chart canvas.

Image Credits: twomeows / Getty Images

There’s a persistent fallacy swirling around that any startup growing pain or scaling problem can be solved with business development.

That’s frankly not true.

Dear Sophie: What should I know about prenups and getting a green card through marriage?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I’m a founder of a startup on an E-2 investor visa and just got engaged! My soon-to-be spouse will sponsor me for a green card.

Are there any minimum salary requirements for her to sponsor me? Is there anything I should keep in mind before starting the green card process?

— Betrothed in Belmont

Startups must curb bureaucracy to ensure agile data governance

Image of a computer, phone and clock on a desk tied in red tape.

Image Credits: RichVintage / Getty Images

Many organizations perceive data management as being akin to data governance, where responsibilities are centered around establishing controls and audit procedures, and things are viewed from a defensive lens.

That defensiveness is admittedly justified, particularly given the potential financial and reputational damages caused by data mismanagement and leakage.

Nonetheless, there’s an element of myopia here, and being excessively cautious can prevent organizations from realizing the benefits of data-driven collaboration, particularly when it comes to software and product development.

Bring CISOs into the C-suite to bake cybersecurity into company culture

Mixed race businesswoman using tablet computer in server room

Image Credits: Jetta Productions Inc (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cyber strategy and company strategy are inextricably linked. Consequently, chief information security officers in the C-Suite will be just as common and influential as CFOs in maximizing shareholder value.

How is edtech spending its extra capital?

Money tree: an adult hand reaches for dollar bills growing on a leafless tree

Image Credits: Tetra Images (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Edtech unicorns have boatloads of cash to spend following the capital boost to the sector in 2020. As a result, edtech M&A activity has continued to swell.

The idea of a well-capitalized startup buying competitors to complement its core business is nothing new, but exits in this sector are notable because the money used to buy startups can be seen as an effect of the pandemic’s impact on remote education.

But in the past week, the consolidation environment made a clear statement: Pandemic-proven startups are scooping up talent — and fast.

Tech in Mexico: A confluence of Latin America, the US and Asia

Aerial view of crowd connected by lines

Image Credits: Orbon Alija (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Knowledge transfer is not the only trend flowing in the U.S.-Asia-LatAm nexus. Competition is afoot as well.

Because of similar market conditions, Asian tech giants are directly expanding into Mexico and other LatAm countries.

How we improved net retention by 30+ points in 2 quarters

Sparks coming off US dollar bill attached to jumper cables

Image Credits: Steven Puetzer (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s certainly no shortage of SaaS performance metrics leaders focus on, but NRR (net revenue retention) is without question the most underrated metric out there.

NRR is simply total revenue minus any revenue churn plus any revenue expansion from upgrades, cross-sells or upsells. The greater the NRR, the quicker companies can scale.

5 mistakes creators make building new games on Roblox

BRAZIL - 2021/03/24: In this photo illustration a Roblox logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Image Credits: SOPA Images (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Even the most experienced and talented game designers from the mobile F2P business usually fail to understand what features matter to Robloxians.

For those just starting their journey in Roblox game development, these are the most common mistakes gaming professionals make on Roblox.

CEO Manish Chandra, investor Navin Chaddha explain why Poshmark’s Series A deck sings

CEO Manish Chandra, investor Navin Chaddha explain why Poshmark’s Series A deck sings image

“Lead with love, and the money comes.” It’s one of the cornerstone values at Poshmark. On the latest episode of Extra Crunch Live, Chandra and Chaddha sat down with us and walked us through their original Series A pitch deck.

Will the pandemic spur a smart rebirth for cities?

New versus old - an old brick building reflected in windows of modern new facade

Image Credits: hopsalka (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cities are bustling hubs where people live, work and play. When the pandemic hit, some people fled major metropolitan markets for smaller towns — raising questions about the future validity of cities.

But those who predicted that COVID-19 would destroy major urban communities might want to stop shorting the resilience of these municipalities and start going long on what the post-pandemic future looks like.

The NFT craze will be a boon for lawyers

3d rendering of pink piggy bank standing on sounding block with gavel lying beside on light-blue background with copy space. Money matters. Lawsuit for money. Auction bids.

Image Credits: Gearstd (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding copyright issues, fraud and adult content, and legal implications are the crux of the NFT trend.

Whether a court would protect the receipt-holder’s ownership over a given file depends on a variety of factors. All of these concerns mean artists may need to lawyer up.

Viewing Cazoo’s proposed SPAC debut through Carvana’s windshield

It’s a reasonable question: Why would anyone pay that much for Cazoo today if Carvana is more profitable and whatnot? Well, growth. That’s the argument anyway.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/02/extra-crunch-roundup-tonal-ec-1-deliveroos-rocky-ipo-is-substack-really-worth-650m/

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Start Ups

Want to take a road trip with Kevin Costner? Investors are betting you might

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Woody Sears has long been interested in storytelling. After spending several years in sales after nabbing an MBA from Pepperdine — and following the debut in 2007 of the first iPhone — he founded a storytelling app called Zuuka that built up a library of narrated and illustrated kids’ books for the iPhone and iPad.

Sears later sold that company to a small New York-based outfit called Cupcake Digital. But Sears, who is based in Santa Barbara, Calif., isn’t done with stories yet. Instead, he just raised $1.6 million in seed funding for his second and newest storytelling startup, HearHere, a subscription-based audio road-trip app that, with users’ permission, pushes information to them as they’re driving, giving them informational tidbits in three- to five-minute-long segments about their surroundings, including points of interest they might not have been aware of at all.

The idea is to surface the unknown or forgotten history of regions, which makes sense in a world where more people have returned to road trips and parents have grown desperate to pull their kids’ attention away from TikTok. In fact, Sears’s neighbor, Kevin Costner, liked the idea so much that he recently joined its five-person team as a cofounder and narrator and investor, along with Snap Inc., the law firm Cooley, Camping World CEO and reality TV star Marcus Lemonis, AAA, and numerous other individual investors, including from NextGen Venture Partners.

Because we, too, like history and road trips (and okay, fine, Kevin Costner), we talk with Sears and Costner earlier today to learn why they think they’ll succeed with HearHere when other content-rich geo-location based apps have fallen short of meaningful adoption.

Excerpts from that chat follow, edited lightly for length.

TC: You’re creating an audio map of the U.S., so how many stories do you have banked as we speak?

WS: We’re up to 5,500 stories across 22 states, and we’ll be nationwide by summer. The mission is to connect people to the places that they’re traveling through, lending people stories about the history, the natural wonders, and the colorful characters who’ve lived in that area. We also do stories about sports and music and provide local insights.

TC: That’s a lot of content to gather up, edit down, then record. What does the process look like? 

WS: At the end of the day, the content is king, and we take great care with these stories, producing them with a team of 22, researchers, writers, editors and narrators, most whom come from a travel journalism background. We really feel like we get the best end result through that team approach.

Eventually, we’ll open up to third-party content contributors, where we’re hosting both professional content and also user-generated content.

TC: Is there an AI component or will there be?

WS: We more see this as augmented reality in that these stories really do overlay the landscape and give you a different perspective while traveling. But AI and machine learning are things that we’ll incorporate as we start to move into foreign languages and better tailor the content for the end user.

TC: How do you prioritize which stories to tell as you’re building up this content library?

WS: The major historical markers are a big inspiration, but we’re looking for those lesser-known gems, too, and we look at travel patterns — the way that people move when they’re on leisure trips, meaning what interstate highways they’re taking and which scenic routes are most popular.

TC: How does the subscription piece work?

WS: You get five free free stories each month; for unlimited streaming, it’s $35.99 per year.

TC: Kevin, you must be approached a lot with startup ideas and investment opportunities. Why get so involved with this one?

KC: Obviously I’m story-oriented; that doesn’t come as a shock to anybody. But you’re right, a lot of ideas come to me.

Hearhere came through my wife, who said that Woody had something he wanted to talk about, and as she explained it to me, I got it, you know? That’s the shiny thing for me, storytelling and having the ability for a good story to come out, especially when it comes to our country.

So we had this meeting and he explained the concept to me, which is kind of equal to what I’d already been doing my whole life, which is stopping at the bronze plaques all over the country and reading about their historical significance —  those [moments] that kind of interrupt everybody’s trip except mine. [Laughs.] You know, [it’s] getting out and stretching my legs and reading a little history and dreaming while the rest of the people in the car are kind of moaning because we stopped our progress.

This is an extension of that for me, without getting out of the car, and with stories that can evolve and perhaps get longer. And I can become more involved in what I was driving past and the people in the car can maybe sense what it was that interested me enough to stop.

Image Credits: Hearhere

TC: You love history. 

KC: Hearhere is a lot more than history, but for me, it was the history [that I found so compelling]. And it’s how the foundation was set for me to become more involved in the company and understand it a lot better and then become somebody who wanted to be a part of the founding of it.

TC: AAA and Camping World are among the company’s strategic investors. How might they promote the app and what other partnerships have you struck to get Hearhere in front of people at the right time?

WS: Camping World also owns Good Sam Club, which is the largest organization of RV owners in the world, and AAA is a giant with 57 million members in the US, and they all see this as a way to fulfill something they’re aren’t currently doing for their audience; it’s making that bridge to digital, and we’re really excited to get this in front of their members and customers.

We also have partnerships with [the RV marketplaces] Outdoorsy and RVshare [and the RV rental and sales company] Cruise America. It’s a very hot market.

TC: There have been similar ideas. Caterina Fake’s Findery was an early app that aimed to help users discover much more about locations. Detour, a startup that provided walking audio tours of cities that was founded by Groupon cofounder Andrew Mason, seemed interesting but failed to take off with users. What makes you think this startup will click?

WS: I loved Detour. I ate up both of those.

I guess where I think [Detour] missed product market fit was the number of scenarios where you could use it and also, it was competing for people’s time. We chose to start with road trips because you have a captive audience; there’s only so much you can do when you’re driving in the car, unlike when you’re in a city, where there are all kind of options to explore its history, either through physical books or tour guides, and you had to carve out two hours of your time, and it’s easy to get distracted while you’re walking around.

We want to capture the places that are along the journey and lesser known and more untold and where people have the space to engage in it. Starting as short form helps. It’s also on-demand, so you don’t have to follow a pre-designated route. We’re not taking you on a specific tour, where you have to turn left or turn right.  We’re going to surface stories for you no matter what route you take.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/02/want-to-take-a-road-trip-with-kevin-costner-investors-are-betting-you-might/

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Start Ups

Seattle-area AI startup Darklight raises $5.1M to help companies automate cybersecurity tasks

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Darklight CEO Dan Wachtler. (Darklight Photo)

New funding: Seattle-area startup Darklight raised a $5.1 million round from undisclosed investors. Total funding to date is about $10 million.

The tech: Founded in 2014, Darklight’s software uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help automate workflow tasks. It will soon launch its first commercial cybersecurity product that automates the prioritization of vulnerability scanner results.

The 17-person startup is also working with the U.S. Army to help reduce cognitive burden on soldiers and analysts. The company’s technology traces its roots to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Leadership: Darklight is led by CEO Dan Wachtler, who previously CEO at IPSA International for more than 12 years and was president at root9B Holdings.

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Source: https://www.geekwire.com/2021/seattle-area-ai-startup-darklight-raises-5-1m-help-companies-automate-cybersecurity-tasks/

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