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The 15 Largest US Tech Startup Funding Rounds of January 2021

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Armed with some data from our friends at CrunchBase, I broke down the largest US startup funding rounds from January 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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12. TripActions $155.0M

Round: Series E
Description: Palo Alto-based TripActions provides a platform to help companies streamline elements of business travel like payments, rentals, and bookings. Founded by Ariel Cohen and Ilan Twig in 2015, TripActions has now raised a total of $636.5M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Goldman Sachs, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Greenoaks Capital, and Elad Gil.
Investors in the round: Addition, Andreessen Horowitz, Counterpart Advisors, Elad Gil, Greenoaks Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Zeev Ventures
Industry: Business Travel, Customer Service, E-Commerce, Payments, Software
Founders: Ariel Cohen, Ilan Twig
Founding year: 2015
Location: Palo Alto
Total equity funding raised: $636.5M



11. Cockroach Labs $160.0M

Round: Series E
Description: New York-based Cockroach Labs is a software company that develops a cloud-native SQL database for modern cloud applications. Founded by Benjamin Darnell, Peter Mattis, and Spencer Kimball in 2015, Cockroach Labs has now raised a total of $355.1M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Sequoia Capital, Altimeter Capital, GV, Tiger Global Management, and Greenoaks Capital.
Investors in the round: Altimeter Capital, Benchmark, Bond, FirstMark, Greenoaks Capital, GV, Index Ventures, Lone Pine Capital, Tiger Global Management
Industry: Cloud Computing, Database, Enterprise Software
Founders: Benjamin Darnell, Peter Mattis, Spencer Kimball
Founding year: 2015
Location: New York
Total equity funding raised: $355.1M



10. Divvy $165.0M

Round: Series D
Description: Lehi-based Divvy helps businesses manage payments and subscriptions, build strategic budgets, and eliminate expense reports. Founded by Alex Bean and Blake Murray in 2016, Divvy has now raised a total of $417.5M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Insight Partners, New Enterprise Associates, Pelion Venture Partners, PayPal Ventures, and Acrew Capital.
Investors in the round: Acrew Capital, Hanaco Venture Capital, Insight Partners, New Enterprise Associates, PayPal Ventures, Pelion Venture Partners, Schonfeld Strategic Advisors, Whale Rock Capital Management
Industry: Apps, Financial Services, FinTech, Payments, SaaS, Software
Founders: Alex Bean, Blake Murray
Founding year: 2016
Location: Lehi
Total equity funding raised: $417.5M



9. Color $167.0M

Round: Series D
Description: Burlingame-based Color is a population health technology company that enables the delivery of advanced healthcare through clinical genetics. Founded by Elad Gil, Nish Bhat, Othman Laraki, and Taylor Sittler in 2015, Color has now raised a total of $382.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, SV Angel, T. Rowe Price, and CRV.
Investors in the round: General Catalyst, T. Rowe Price, Viking Global Investors
Industry: Apps, Biotechnology, Electronic Health Record (EHR), Genetics, Health Care, Software Engineering
Founders: Elad Gil, Nish Bhat, Othman Laraki, Taylor Sittler
Founding year: 2015
Location: Burlingame
Total equity funding raised: $382.0M



8. OwnBackup $167.5M

Round: Series D
Description: Englewood Cliffs-based OwnBackup is a provider of cloud data protection and backup system for companies using Salesforce. Founded by Ariel Berkman, Daniel Gershuni, Eran Cohen, Ori Yankelev, and Sam Gutmann in 2015, OwnBackup has now raised a total of $267.3M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Salesforce Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Insight Partners, Vertex Ventures, and Innovation Endeavors.
Investors in the round: Innovation Endeavors, Insight Partners, Oryzn Capital, Salesforce Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Vertex Ventures
Industry: Cloud Computing, Cloud Security, Data Storage, Enterprise Software, SaaS
Founders: Ariel Berkman, Daniel Gershuni, Eran Cohen, Ori Yankelev, Sam Gutmann
Founding year: 2015
Location: Englewood Cliffs
Total equity funding raised: $267.3M



Make an impact on your bottom line and drive leads in 2021!

The AlleyWatch audience is driving progress and innovation on a global scale. There are a number of options to reach this audience of the world’s most innovative organizations and startups at scale including strategic brand placement, lead generation, and thought leadership in front of an audience that comprises the vast majority of key decision-makers in the NYC business community and beyond. Learn more about advertising to NYC Tech, at scale.



7. Lyra Health $187.0M

Round: Series E
Description: Burlingame-based Lyra helps companies improve access to effective, high-quality mental health care for their employees. Founded by David Ebersman and Dena Bravata in 2015, Lyra Health has now raised a total of $475.1M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include IVP, Casdin Capital, Venrock, Castlight Health, and Greylock.
Investors in the round: Addition, Baillie Gifford, Durable Capital Partners, Fidelity Management and Research Company
Industry: Employee Benefits, Health Care, Information Services, Information Technology
Founders: David Ebersman, Dena Bravata
Founding year: 2015
Location: Burlingame
Total equity funding raised: $475.1M



6. Quantum Metric $200.0M

Round: Series B
Description: Colorado Springs-based Quantum Metric is a cross-device digital intelligence platform that is designed to identify high-value revenue opportunities. Founded by Mario Ciabarra in 2015, Quantum Metric has now raised a total of $226.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Insight Partners, Bain Capital Ventures, Silicon Valley Bank, and Uncorrelated Ventures.
Investors in the round: Insight Partners, Uncorrelated Ventures
Industry: Analytics, Information Technology, Mobile Apps, Product Design, SaaS, Software
Founders: Mario Ciabarra
Founding year: 2015
Location: Colorado Springs
Total equity funding raised: $226.0M



5. MX Technologies $300.0M

Round: Series C
Description: Lehi-based MX Technologies is a fintech company that aims to connect people with their financial data in a way that automates their money experience. Founded by Brandon Dewitt and Ryan Caldwell in 2010, MX Technologies has now raised a total of $505.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include H.I.G. Capital, Battery Ventures, Point72 Ventures, TPG, and Pelion Venture Partners.
Investors in the round: Canapi Ventures, CapitalG, Digital Garage, Geodesic Capital, Greycroft, Pelion Venture Partners, Point72 Ventures, Regions Financial Corporation, TPG
Industry: Banking, Finance, Financial Services, FinTech
Founders: Brandon Dewitt, Ryan Caldwell
Founding year: 2010
Location: Lehi
Total equity funding raised: $505.0M



5. Blend $300.0M

Round: Series G
Description: San Francisco-based Blend is a digital lending platform that supports and simplifies applications for mortgages, consumer loans, and deposit accounts. Founded by Erin Collard, Eugene Marinelli, Nima Ghamsari, and Rosco Hill in 2012, Blend has now raised a total of $665.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Salesforce Ventures, Aura Financial, 500 Startups, Emergence, and SV Angel.
Investors in the round: Coatue, Tiger Global Management
Industry: Financial Services, FinTech, Lending, SaaS, Software
Founders: Erin Collard, Eugene Marinelli, Nima Ghamsari, Rosco Hill
Founding year: 2012
Location: San Francisco
Total equity funding raised: $665.0M


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5. Hinge Health $300.0M

Round: Series D
Description: San Francisco-based Hinge Health is a patient-centered digital clinic that treats chronic musculoskeletal conditions such as back and joint pain. Founded by Daniel Perez and Gabriel Mecklenburg in 2015, Hinge Health has now raised a total of $426.1M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Tiger Global Management, Insight Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Atomico, and Coatue.
Investors in the round: Coatue, Tiger Global Management
Industry: Employee Benefits, Fitness, Health Care, Medical, Therapeutics, Wearables, Wellness
Founders: Daniel Perez, Gabriel Mecklenburg
Founding year: 2015
Location: San Francisco
Total equity funding raised: $426.1M



4. Calendly $350.0M

Round: Series A
Description: Atlanta-based Calendly is an automated scheduling tool that takes the work out of connecting with others so that its users can accomplish more. Founded by Tope Awotona in 2013, Calendly has now raised a total of $350.6M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include OpenView, ICONIQ Capital, and Atlanta Ventures.
Investors in the round: ICONIQ Capital, OpenView
Industry: Productivity Tools, Scheduling, Software
Founders: Tope Awotona
Founding year: 2013
Location: Atlanta
Total equity funding raised: $350.6M



3. Roblox $520.0M

Round: Series H
Description: San Mateo-based Roblox is an online gaming and entertainment platform offering a shared digital experience that brings people together through play. Founded by David Baszucki and Erik Cassel in 2004, Roblox has now raised a total of $855.7M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Tencent Holdings, Altimeter Capital, Dragoneer Investment Group, Andreessen Horowitz, and Tiger Global Management.
Investors in the round: Altimeter Capital, Altos Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Dragoneer Investment Group, Investment Group of Santa Barbara, Tiger Global Management, Warner Music Group
Industry: Developer Platform, Gaming, Online Games, Online Portals, Software, Video Games, Virtual Reality
Founders: David Baszucki, Erik Cassel
Founding year: 2004
Location: San Mateo
Total equity funding raised: $855.7M



2. Lacework $525.0M

Round: Series D
Description: San Jose-based Lacework is a security platform for cloud generation that provides automated threat defense and intrusion detection for cloud workloads. Founded by Sanjay Kalra and Vikram Kapoor in 2015, Lacework has now raised a total of $599.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include Alumni Ventures Group, Altimeter Capital, Dragoneer Investment Group, Tiger Global Management, and AME Cloud Ventures.
Investors in the round: Altimeter Capital, Coatue, D1 Capital Partners, Dragoneer Investment Group, Liberty Global Ventures, Snowflake Ventures, Sutter Hill Ventures, Tiger Global Management
Industry: Cloud Security, Compliance, Security, Software
Founders: Sanjay Kalra, Vikram Kapoor
Founding year: 2015
Location: San Jose
Total equity funding raised: $599.0M



1. Sila Nanotechnologies $590.0M

Round: Series F
Description: Alameda-based Sila Nanotechnologies is a provider and manufacturer of revolutionary car batteries. Founded by Alex Jacobs, Gene Berdichevsky, and Gleb Yushin in 2011, Sila Nanotechnologies has now raised a total of $875.0M in total equity funding and is backed by investors that include T. Rowe Price, Matrix Partners, 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Sutter Hill Ventures.
Investors in the round: 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Coatue, Sutter Hill Ventures, T. Rowe Price
Industry: Electronics, Manufacturing, Nanotechnology
Founders: Alex Jacobs, Gene Berdichevsky, Gleb Yushin
Founding year: 2011
Location: Alameda
Total equity funding raised: $875.0M



Make an impact on your bottom line and drive leads in 2021!

The AlleyWatch audience is driving progress and innovation on a global scale. There are a number of options to reach this audience of the world’s most innovative organizations and startups at scale including strategic brand placement, lead generation, and thought leadership in front of an audience that comprises the vast majority of key decision-makers in the NYC business community and beyond. Learn more about advertising to NYC Tech, at scale.


Source: https://www.alleywatch.com/2021/02/us-startup-funding-top-largest-january-2021-vc/

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.

Coinsmart. Beste Bitcoin-Börse in Europa
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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