Just 7 days until the TC Early Stage early bird flies away

Budget-minded entrepreneurs and early-stage startup founders take heed — this is no time to procrastinate. We have only 7 days left of early-bird pricing to TechCrunch Early Stage 2023 in Boston on April 20.

Don’t wait…the early bird gets the…SAVINGS: Buy a $249 founder pass and save $200 before prices increase on April 1 — that’s no joke.

TC Early Stage is our only event where you get hands-on training with experts to help your business succeed. No need to reinvent the startup wheel — you’ll have access to leading experts across a range of specialties.

During this one-day startup bootcamp, you’ll learn about legal issues, fundraising, marketing, growth, product-market fit, pitching, recruiting and more. We’re talking more than 40 highly engaging presentations, workshops and roundtables with interactive Q&As and plenty of time for networking.

Here are just a few examples of the topics we have on tap. You’ll find plenty more listed in the event agenda.

How to Tell Your TAM: Dayna Grayson from Construct Capital invests in the rebuilding of the most foundational and broken industries of our economy. Industries such as manufacturing and logistics, among others, that formed in an analog world have been neglected by advanced technology. Dayna will talk about how, beyond the idea, founders can pitch investors on their TAM, including how they will wedge into the market and how they will eventually disrupt it.

How to Think About Accelerators and Incubators: Founders often hear they should get involved with an incubator or accelerator, but when is the “right” time for early-stage founders to apply to these types of startup support ecosystems, and how can they best engage if accepted? In this talk, Harvard Innovation Labs executive director Matt Segneri will cover everything from the types of incubators and accelerators available to early-stage founders, to what startups should consider before applying, and tips for getting the most out of these ecosystems.

How to Raise Outside of SV in a Down Market: Silicon Valley’s funding market tends to be more immune to macroeconomic conditions than elsewhere in the world. So how do you raise outside the Valley bubble? General Catalyst’s Mark Crane has ample experience on both the founder and VC side from all over Europe, as well as a firm understanding of the funding landscape in the northeastern U.S., so he’ll give practical advice on how to stay alive and thrive.

At TechCrunch Early Stage you’ll walk away with a deeper working understanding of topics and skills that are essential to startup success. Founders save $200 with an early-bird founder ticketcollege students pay just $99!

Just 7 days until the TC Early Stage early bird flies away by Alexandra Ames originally published on TechCrunch


The tide has shifted for solo GPs

Overheard at Techstars’ demo day

I went to an in-person demo day for the first time since 2019 this week, courtesy of 500 Global. There was a special, earnest energy in the room, partially because, as 500’s CEO Christine Tsai said, the 19 companies are sharing their vision for the future “around one of the darkest backdrops of Silicon Valley.” More to come on specific learnings, but below I thought I’d bullet point some of the tidbits I overheard while at the accelerator’s pitch session.

  • “I find it very insightful to compare your revenue growth with your team growth — I personally don’t like operations-heavy companies, I definitely want to see more investment in the R&D and product [teams],” Cindy BI, partner at CapitalX.
  • “We’re officially teenagers,” Tsai said on the accelerator’s 13th birthday.
  • “When you think of a brand, you probably think of something like Nike. But to Gen Z, some of the biggest brands are people,” Detoure founder and CEO Meghan Russell.
  • “We know how to get exits done,” Peter Wachira, CEO of Tripitaca, later adding, “We know how to get shit done.”

Welcome to Startups Weekly, a nuanced take on this week’s startup news and trends by Senior Reporter and Equity co-host Natasha Mascarenhas. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

It’s hard to be proactive after the tide has already shifted. However, that’s what we’re seeing happen in the solo GP world, where investors, hearing about institutional investor risk appetite changing, are extending fundraising timelines, cutting investment vehicle targets or planning to leave venture altogether. Some have learned it the hard way, while others, like Sahil Lavingia, are telling LPs to literally cancel their checks if they feel guilty about investing in venture capital while the market rocks and interest rates boom.

It’s a shift from the fund of fund mentality that felt commonplace last year, in which investment firms cut checks to early-stage, experimental investors to de-risk and even lead first checks into a generation of new startups. Now, the idea of backing just one, feels like a harder sell — depending on which institution you’re speaking to.

For my full take on this burgeoning tension within the venture world read my TC+ column“Are solo GPs screwed?”

I know some of us are still reeling from the SVB mess, which is still very much unfolding. My hope with this piece is to offer nuance on how the market moves on from here for a very specific subset of check writers. In other words, yes, there’s a dreary dark cloud that is now more visible than before. But umbrellas exist. Somewhere.

In the rest of this newsletter we’re talking AI, icons and demo days. As always, you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram to continue the conversation. You can also send me tips at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or on Signal at +1 925 271 0912. No pitches, please.

It’s never GM; it’s only AI

Now that I apparently live in Cerebral Valley, it’s quite easy to find investors, founders or my great friends in the middle of a passionate conversation about artificial intelligence. Heck, we even screencast ChatGPT trying to explain SVB during wine night, recently.

Despite the overactive news scene, thanks to ChatGPT plug-ins, Google’s entrance and Canva’s magic, the best piece I read all week came from our own Devin Coldeway. In this analysis, Coldeway published a head-to-head comparison of top generative AI tools — asking them to create everything from a phishing email to code.

Here’s what to know: In the AI world, the compounding effect is almost impossible to encapsulate. Tech keeps beating itself, and advancement is only to be celebrated with a grain of hopeful salt. But, see it yourself if you don’t believe me!

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

Overheard at Techstars’ demo day

I went to an in-person demo day for the first time since 2019 this week, courtesy of 500 Global. There was a special, earnest energy in the room, partially because, as 500’s CEO Christine Tsai said, the 19 companies are sharing their vision for the future “around one of the darkest backdrops of Silicon Valley.” More to come on specific learnings, but below I thought I’d bullet point some of the tidbits I overheard while at the accelerator’s pitch session.

  • “I find it very insightful to compare your revenue growth with your team growth — I personally don’t like operations-heavy companies, I definitely want to see more investment in the R&D and product [teams],” Cindy BI, partner at CapitalX.
  • “We’re officially teenagers,” Tsai said on the accelerator’s 13th birthday.
  • “When you think of a brand, you probably think of something like Nike. But to Gen Z, some of the biggest brands are people,” Detoure founder and CEO Meghan Russell.
  • “We know how to get exits done,” Peter Wachira, CEO of Tripitaca, later adding, “We know how to get shit done.”

Image Credits: ContemporAd / Getty Images

One of venture’s most iconic duos wants to have a word with you

I published a podcast interview with Kapor Capital’s Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor, the entrepreneurial investing couple behind the top-tier impact investing outfit. The duo published a book recently, so we talk about that, their choice to step away from investing and the legacy they’re continuing to build out.

Here’s one key moment from the podcast: “It’s also worth pointing out, in the early days, there were a couple of people, white men, who were thinking about working with us and decided we weren’t going to make enough money so they went elsewhere. So I hope they’re kicking themselves and I hope they’ve learned something,” said Kapor Klein.

  • I was on comedian Alexis Gay’s podcast, Non-technical, earlier this month to talk about everything other than my day job. Come for the croissant hate; stay for the devil’s advocate advocacy.
  • Also, listen to Found, a podcast about the stories behind the startups. This week, the team published an interview with the brains behind “a genetics startup that looks to bring extinct species back to life to help with environmental conservation efforts.” Jaw = dropped.

Image Credits: Clark Studio

Etc., etc.

Seen on TechCrunch

Startup says the seaweed blobbing toward Florida has a silver lining

Hivemapper is 1M kilometers closer to goal of beating Google Maps

Twitter will kill ‘legacy’ blue checks on April 1

China reminds US that it can and will kill a forced TikTok sale

Seen on TechCrunch+

Threading the needle: Exploring 5 ideas with the founders of LGBT+ VC

Investors want best-of-the-best ESG data. Here’s how to give it to them

As TikTok and Coinbase face regulators, some questions are simpler than others

Pitch Deck Teardown: Prelaunch.com’s $1.5M seed deck

How Fellow bootstrapped for 8 years to build a coffee empire

Talk soon,


The tide has shifted for solo GPs by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch


This Week in Apps: TikTok goes to Congress, apps connect to ChatGPT, Microsoft’s mobile games store plan

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app economy in 2023 hit a few snags, as consumer spending last year dropped for the first time by 2% to $167 billion, according to data.ai’s “State of Mobile” report. However, downloads are continuing to grow, up 11% year-over-year in 2022 to reach 255 billion. Consumers are also spending more time in mobile apps than ever before. On Android devices alone, hours spent in 2022 grew 9%, reaching 4.1 trillion.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up heretechcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

TikTok tries to avoid a ban in U.S. congressional hearing

Image Credits: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Thursday’s testimony by TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew before the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce was largely unproductive. Representatives were often more interested in sharing their own opinions, posturing and shouting over the CEO’s answers to their questions, rather than attempting to learn any real intel about how TikTok works or what it does to protect its youngest users from harm.

Overall, it seemed the hearing was more for show than any sort of fact-finding mission — these reps already had their minds made up, for the most part, about whether or not the app should be banned.

During the hearing, however, a few legitimate questions were raised that had troubling responses. On the matter of Project Texas — TikTok’s plan to move all U.S. user data off of its own servers over to Oracle servers in the U.S. — it wasn’t clear how that would fully separate TikTok from its Chinese parent company ByteDance. As one line of questioning pointed out, TikTok employees use an internal software program known as Lark — a sort of Chinese Slack — to communicate with their ByteDance colleagues. TikTok’s CEO reports to ByteDance’s CEO, Liang Rubo. Chew also admitted that even under Project Texas there were exceptions that would allow data to leave the country for “interoperability purposes” and he would have to “get back to your team” on the specifics there. And when directly questioned about what sort of other software or IT services would still connect TikTok to ByteDance under Project Texas, Chew again said he would have to “get back to you” with his answers.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew Testifies At U.S. House Hearing

Image Credits: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In addition, the exec couldn’t confirm where TikTok sells its data. Chew said he didn’t “believe” they sold to data brokers, but said he would have to “get back” to Congress on who they may actually sell to.

While Chew may be correct that today’s TikTok isn’t doing more data collection than U.S. social giants, it’s being held to different standards. As a Chinese company with its hands on this data, there’s the potential for the CCP to meddle in TikTok’s operations, the politicians believe. Though that may not have happened yet, there is a threat posed by China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, which compels businesses to assist in intelligence-gathering operations, if asked. TikTok claims it wouldn’t comply, but how could it not, if ByteDance is its parent?

The House reps also asked a range of questions about minor safety. Ironically, it was TikTok that led the way in this area by being the first of the big social apps in the U.S. to roll out in-app parental controls and lock down teen accounts. Still, dangerous challenges have proliferated on its platform (though Meta was later revealed to have had a hand in which ones made the news!). And like other algorithmic-based platforms, there’s always a danger that its recommendations could surface harmful content at times.

However, some of the dangers of social media aren’t unique to TikTok alone. Social media usage overall is contributing to increased anxiety, depression, body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and other troubles, including suicide ideation, which is why it needs regulation or at least some basic guidelines. But today’s politicians don’t seem to be able to do the hard work of actually getting laws passed in this area, despite their bipartisan interest in doing so. They’d rather put on a show in Congress to make themselves look good to their potential voters so they can win their next election.

OpenAI launches ChatGPT plugins, and some of your favorite apps are already on board

OpenAI this week launched plugins for ChatGPT, which allow the bot to access third-party databases and other sources of knowledge, including those on the web. The company said it would start with a small set of users before rolling out access to the still now alpha stage product more broadly. OpenAI is also hosting its own plugins, including a web browser and code interpreter and is now extending plugin access to developers on its waitlist.

A number of companies consumers know and love have already built plugins for ChatGPT, including Expedia, FiscalNote, Instacart, Kayak, Klarna, Milo, OpenTable, Shopify, Slack, Speak, Wolfram and Zapier. For example, OpenTable’s plugin can search across restaurants for available bookings, while the Instacart plugin can place orders from local stores.

To get started, users pick a plugin to enable when they start a conversation on chat.openai.com. In a demo on OpenAI’s website, it shows a user asking in plain language for “one great restaurant suggestion on Saturday” and ” a simple recipe for Sunday” involving vegan food. The OpenTable plugin finds a local restaurant with a reservation, then follows detailed requests for returning the recipe info and ordering ingredients on Instacart. (If only this technology was available in Siri!) It’s easy to imagine a future where you could one day interact with these services through AI commands, not by tapping around on apps’ screens. And being able to talk naturally to the AI could make services easier to use for everyone, not just the technically inclined.

Microsoft plans a mobile games store

Microsoft is betting that incoming tech regulations will allow it a way to compete in the mobile gaming market alongside Apple and Google (and likely Epic Games, if things go its way). In an interview with the Financial Times this week, Microsoft gaming head Phil Spencer noted that the EU’s Digital Market Act (DMA) is expected to go into effect next March, which would allow companies to load their own app stores on Apple and Android devices. And Microsoft wants to do just that.

“We want to be in a position to offer Xbox and content from both us and our third-party partners across any screen where somebody would want to play,” Spencer told the FT.

Microsoft had already hinted at its plans to launch an Xbox-branded mobile game store that would leverage content from Activision Blizzard — assuming that deal gains regulatory approval. The game maker’s IP could help Microsoft seed a new game store thanks to its titles like Call of Duty Mobile and those from the Candy Crush franchise. Microsoft has also acquired a number of gaming studios over the past several years, including Ninja Theory, Playground Games and Bethesda owner Zenimax Media.

If things progress as planned, the mobile apps and games market could have an entirely different shape in the years ahead. Netflix is also seemingly betting on this change, prepping its own vast library of games that come with a Netflix membership. For the time being, the games are just a perk of membership, but if one day Netflix could launch its own games store and fill it with titles, it seems it may choose to expand to paid games as well.



  • Google says it prevented over $2 billion in fraudulent and abusive transactions via Play Commerce last year, in an update likely designed to convince developers to not switch to third-party billing.
  • Google took down hundreds of loan apps from the Play Store in Kenya following the launch of a new policy, which requires digital lenders in the East African country to submit proof of a license to operate. The new policy went into effect in January.
  • Samsung said its devices will get up to four generations of One UI and Android OS upgrades. The company had previously promised 3 upgrades. The expanded commitment will be offered on select Galaxy S series, Z series smartphones, A Series and tablets.
  • Three large Android manufacturers in China — Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo — announced a partnership to make it easier to switch devices. The companies will offer a migration tool that will help consumers in China move their files and other phone data between the companies’ various smartphone models.
  • Google flagged several apps made by Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo as malware, alerted users who had the apps installed and suspended the company’s official app for security concerns while it investigates. Google Play Protect, the Android security mechanism, was also set to block users from installing the malicious apps.


  • Apple issues the Release Candidate versions of iOS 16.4, iPadOS 16.4, watchOS 9.4, tvOS 16.4 and macOS Ventura 13.3.
  • Apple’s iOS 16.4 includes new features like voice isolation for calls, which “prioritizes your voice and blocks out ambient noise around you,” says Apple’s release notes. It also sees the return of Apple Books’ curling animation and brings duplicate detection to iCloud Shared Photo Libraries.
  • Code in the iOS 16.4 beta also leaked what seem to be references to new AirPods and Beats earphones.
  • Apple fixed a bug that was allowing some Apple Music users to see other people’s playlists in their libraries.

App Updates


  • Adobe embraces generative AI. The company this week launched its new Firefly family of generative AI models and generative AI tools aimed at marketers, with its enterprise offering, Adobe Sensei Generative AI Services. Firefly offers a model designed to generate images and text effects from descriptions. The model will soon be able to create content across Adobe apps, including Express, Photoshop, Illustrator and Adobe Experience Manager after being given a text prompt. For now, it’s web-only while in beta.
Adobe Firefly

Image Credits: Adobe  

  • According to a new analysis of the AI app ecosystem from analytics provider data.ai, consumers this year have now spent more than $14 million in the 10 highest-earning apps that advertise their use of ChatGPT or OpenAI technologies. In February 2023, these 10 apps combined accounted for nearly $5.9 million in global consumer spending, the firm says. And within the first 20 days of March, the apps were averaging $232,000 in daily consumer spending, up 11% from the average of $210,000 in February.

Image Credits: data.ai


  • Snap unveiled a new business, AR Enterprise Services, which offers the company’s AR Lenses and Filters to brands. The SaaS business includes Snap tech like AR try-on, a 3D product viewer, Snap’s SDK for AR experiences, and more. Snap will work with clients to help customize their solutions, which can also be integrated directly into the business’ own apps and websites. The company says 250+ million people out of its 375 million daily active users now engage with AR on Snapchat.
Instagram's new Reminder Ads

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Ahead of its congressional hearing, TikTok rolled out updates to its community guidelines. The company said it overhauled the guidelines to make them easier to understand, and added new policies on AI and climate misinformation. Plus, it added more detail about its existing policies regarding civil and election integrity, age restrictions and expanded a section covering deepfakes.
  • TikTok also announced it had 150 million MAUs in the U.S., up from 100 million in August 2021. The company has over 1 billion MAUs globally.


  • Epic Games announced new animation tools that make it possible to create realistic facial animations using video captured from an iPhone, the Verge reported from GDC. The tools are an expansion of the company’s MetaHuman creator tools first introduced in 2021.
  • Epic also launched its Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) on the Epic Games Store as a public beta. The software includes many of the same tools Epic uses to create Fortnite, it said.
  • Plus, Epic announced it will now share 40% of Fortnite revenue with anyone who designs “islands” in the game, which includes the money the company earns from its in-game currency V-Bucks.
  • Roblox rolled out new AI tools, including Code Assistant, which allows game creators to use text prompts to create code, and Material Generators for creating 2D surfaces in games.
  • Netflix announced plans to release 40 more games this year and add Monument Valley to its lineup in 2024. Among the new titles are Ubisoft’s Mighty Quest: Rogue Palace, an unnamed Super Evil Megacorp game, and others. Monument Valley’s addition is interesting as that means the game will still be a paid download for non-Nextflix members and available through subscription on Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass.


Productivity / Learning

  • Microsoft debuted Loop, a Notion competitor that offers a hub for managing tasks and projects that also syncs across Microsoft 365 apps and workspaces on the web. The debut version is available to users with a Microsoft Account or Azure Active Directory account, but will “soon” arrive on iOS and Android.
  • Duolingo, a language learning app with over 500 million users, is working on a music app, TechCrunch learned. A job description seemingly confirms this plan, as it describes a candidate who is an “expert in music education who combines both theoretical knowledge of relevant learning science research and hands-on teaching experience.”


  • WhatsApp announced a new Windows client that brings performance improvements and better calling features. The app will allow for video calls with up to eight people and audio calls with up to 32 people, similar to its mobile counterpart. The company also said it will increase the number of people allowed in group calls going forward.
  • WhatsApp also updated its Communities product with new controls for group admins that give them the ability to decide who is able to join a group. It will also now make it easier to see which groups you have in common with someone.
WhatsApp groups features

Image Credits: WhatsApp



  • Spotify’s still relatively new audiobooks service expanded to Canada, bringing the experience to both English and French-speaking customers. The service now has 350,000 titles available and is live in the U.S. and other English-speaking markets.
  • Twitch said it’s laying off 400 employees as part of parent company Amazon’s larger plan to lay off 9,000 workers across divisions, including AWS and advertising.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • Utah’s Gov. Spencer Cox signed two bills that regulate social media apps, making it the first U.S. state to impose restrictions on the industry. The lack of federal regulation will likely see more states take the same path, which could become a massive headache for compliance, as each state’s rules may differ. Utah’s new regulations say that social media companies will have to age-verify all users, receive parents’ permission before minors can open social media accounts, restrict minors’ usage of social media from 10:30 pm to 6:30 am unless a parent changes the settings, limit personal data collection from minors and allow parents to access a minor’s accounts, including all their posts and private messages. Fines can be imposed for non-compliance. We guess Utah teens will be returning to texting pretty soon!
  • The subscription economy may be headed for a crackdown. The FTC this week proposed a “click to cancel” rule that would require sellers offering subscriptions to make it as easy for consumers to cancel their enrollment as it was to sign up. Watch out, Match and every meal delivery service ever invented!

Funding and M&A

Image Credits: Flash

  • Newly launched Indian startup Flash offers a mobile app where consumers can create an email to be used on all shopping sites, allowing them to earn coupons and cash back instead of bogging down their inbox. The company raised $5.8 million in seed funding from a number of investors, including Global Founders Capital (GFC), White Venture Capital and Zinal Growth, and others.
  • OP3N, a startup described as the “Web3 version of WhatsApp meets Amazon,” and makers of blockchain chat app Superapp, raised $28 million in Series A funding, valuing the company at $100 million. The round was led by Animoca Brands and included Dragonfly Capital, SuperScrypt, Creative Artists Agency and NEA’s Connect Ventures, Republic Crypto, Avalanche’s Blizzard Fund, Galaxy Digital and Warner Music Interactive.
  • Snap quietly acquired Amsterdam-based 3D-scanning studio Th3rd in the second quarter of last year. The startup’s tech and team are helping with Snap’s AR efforts.



Image Credits: Zigazoo

Hoping to capitalize on the TikTok drama this week, startup Zigazoo announced the launch of a TikTok-like app for Gen Z users. The company previously offered a similar video app for Gen Alpha kids, but is now expanding to older teens. Its new Gen Z-focused app is a video thread-style platform, but unlike TikTok, it doesn’t allow users to comment. Instead, users can only respond to each other with other videos, which the company believes may reduce trolling. The startup hopes to create a more positive environment where users can share videos featuring dance, music, fashion, gaming, memes and more. You can read TechCrunch’s full review here.


Hipstamatic is back. Amid user complaints over the current state of Instagram, Hipstamatic returned to the App Store today with a relaunch of its social network for iPhone photography enthusiasts. Its refreshed app, which will today replace Hipstamatic X on the App Store, will offer a chronological feed, photo filtering tools, no ads and no TikTok-like feeds or videos. Users will earn stamps instead of likes, and will browse “stacks” of photos, instead of endless feeds.

During its decade-plus existence, the company had rolled out variations on its original concept, like its quirky Hipstamatic X for analog photography lovers, while also maintaining Hipstamatic Classicone of the first apps to receive Apple’s “App of the Year” award.

With its revamped app, the company will try to bring some of its earlier pizazz to a generation that’s chasing retro tech, opting for things like flip phones and wired headphones at times for the “aesthetic.” The app will monetize via a $4.99 per month subscription (or $29.99/year), which unlocks its premium filters, editing features and other perks like claiming your preferred username.


Image Credits: Woolly

The slow but steady Twitter exodus has brought a new abundance of third-party Mastodon apps like IvoryMammoth and Ice Cubes that connect users to the increasingly popular open source and decentralized social network. Today, we can add one more app to that list with the launch of Woolly, another solidly built iOS Mastodon client focused on offering a more customizable home screen, threaded views for reading longer conversations and a TweetDeck-inspired layout for the iPad.

The main differentiator between this app and others is its approach to home screen customization. With Woolly, users can pin things like multiple remote timelines, lists, bookmarks, search, hashtags or even other user profiles directly to the app’s main tab bar, enabling quick and easy access to your favorite content. Plus, on iPad, you can access a landscape view with columns, similar to TweetDeck. Read TechCrunch’s full review here.

This Week in Apps: TikTok goes to Congress, apps connect to ChatGPT, Microsoft’s mobile games store plan by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch


Ticketmaster sucks. Can blockchain be the cure?

elcome to the TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by the daily TechCrunch+ column where it gets its name. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

When The Cure’s frontman Robert Smith said he was “sickened” by Ticketmaster fees, many of us felt vindicated. The platform then refunded some fees, but scalpers are now at it, too, and selling entire Ticketmaster accounts instead of tickets. Is there still hope for concertgoers? — Anna

Playing monopoly

If you are longing for a Ticketmaster alternative, you’re not alone. Whether you are a fan of Taylor Swift, The Cure or Bad Bunny, reasons abound to resent the self-described “world’s leading live entertainment ticketing platform.”

Is all the hate warranted? Maybe not. Or rather, the platform might just be shouldering more than its share of responsibility. “It’s easy to blame Ticketmaster and say it’s their fault,” its former CEO Fred Rosen, who ran the company from 1982 to 1998, told CBC Radio in January. “What determines pricing is demand.”

Regulators in many countries beg to disagree. Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate questioned Live Nation, which acquired Ticketmaster in 2010, over concerns that it’s a monopoly.

Ticketmaster sucks. Can blockchain be the cure? by Anna Heim originally published on TechCrunch


‘So infuriating’: TikTokers are fuming over potential ban

Vitus Spehar, host of the TikTok channel Under The News Desk, hosts a live stream during a news conference outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

In the aftermath of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s brutal five hour Congressional hearing on Thursday, TikToker and disinformation researcher Abbie Richards summed up what so many creators were thinking: “It’s actually remarkable how much less Congress knows about social media than the average person,” Richards told TechCrunch.

Across TikTok, users mocked congresspeople for misunderstanding how technology works. In one instance, Representative Richard Hudson (R-NC) asked Chew if TikTok connects to a user’s home wi-fi network. Chew responded, bewildered, “Only if the user turns on the wi-fi.”

The ignorant questions weren’t unique to the government’s interrogation of Chew. At a high-profile hearing 2018, the late Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) infamously asked Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg how Facebook makes money if the app is free. Zuckerberg responded, “Senator, we run ads,” failing to stifle a smirk. During a tech hearing two years ago, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) created another notorious viral moment by asking Facebook’s global head of safety if she would “commit to ending finsta.”

As entertaining as these lapses in basic knowledge are, TikTok creators have serious concerns about the future of an app that’s given them a community, and, in some cases, a career.

TikTok creator Vitus “V” Spehar, known as Under the Desk News, has amassed 2.9 million followers by sharing global news in an approachable way. But in this week’s news cycle, they’re front-and-center (literally — they sat right behind the TikTok CEO as he testified).

“I think it’s really concerning that a government is considering removing American citizens from the global conversation on an app as robust as TikTok,” Spehar told TechCrunch. “It’s not just banning the app in the United States, it means disconnecting American citizens from Canada, the UK, Mexico, Iran, Ukraine and all of the frontline reporting you see from those countries, it just shows up on our [For You Page].”

Spehar is part of a group of TikTok creators who travelled to Washington, D.C. this week to advocate on TikTok’s behalf — and against the looming threat of a national ban. They participated in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon hosted by Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), a rare dissenting voice in Congress who raised questions about what he described as the “hysteria and panic” surrounding TikTok.

Vitus Spehar, host of the TikTok channel Under The News Desk, hosts a live stream during a news conference outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, March 22, 2023. (Nathan Howard/Bloomberg)

“Congress made clear that they don’t understand TikTok, they don’t listen to their constituents who are in the community of TikTokers — and are using this TikTok hysteria as a way to pass legislation that gives them superpowers to ban any app they deem ‘unsafe’ in the future,” Spehar said following the hearing.

Tech ethicists and creators alike share this frustration. Dr. Casey Fiesler, a University of Colorado Boulder professor of tech ethics and policy, believes that the national security concerns about the app are overstated.

“The risk seems to be entirely speculative right now and to me, I’m not sure how it is substantially worse than all of the things that are troubling about social media right now that the government has not been focusing on,” Fiesler said. She commands an audience of over 100,000 followers on TikTok, where she explores issues like the nuances of content moderation and other topics that might come up in her graduate courses.

“I don’t think there’s any way to frame this as a general data privacy issue without going after every other tech company,” Fiesler told TechCrunch. “The only thing that makes sense is that it’s literally only about the fact that the company is based in China.”

There is still no evidence that TikTok has shared data with the Chinese government. But reports have shown that employees at TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance have viewed American user data. An investigation last year revealed that engineers in China had open access to TikTok data on U.S. users, undermining the company’s claims to the contrary. Another report, corroborated by ByteDance, found that a small group of engineers inappropriately accessed two U.S. journalists’ TikTok data. They planned to use the location information to determine if the reporters had crossed paths with any ByteDance employees who may have leaked information to the press.

Still, TikTokers point to the distinction between sharing data with a private Chinese company and the Chinese government. For its part, TikTok has tried to appease U.S. officials with a plan called Project Texas, a $1.5 billion undertaking that will move U.S. users’ data to Oracle servers. Project Texas would also create a subsidiary of the company called the TikTok U.S. Data Security Inc., which plans to oversee any aspect of TikTok involving national security.

Spehar said that they favor solutions like Project Texas over U.S. government proposals like the RESTRICT Act, which would give the U.S. new tools for restricting and potentially banning technology exports from foreign adversaries.

“I don’t think we should be looking at things like the RESTRICT Act, or any kind of broad legislation that gives the government the power to say, ‘We’ve decided something is unsafe,’” they told TechCrunch.

Multiple congresspeople asked Chew about how TikTok moderates dangerous trends like “the blackout challenge,” in which children tried to see how long they can hold their breath. Children died from this behavior after it circulated on TikTok, but the game didn’t originate on the platform: As early as 2008, the CDC warned parents that 82 children had died from a trend called “the choking game.” One congressman even referenced “NyQuil chicken” as a dangerous TikTok trend, despite the fact that there is little evidence anyone actually ate chicken soaked in cough medicine and the trend originated years ago on 4chan.

“The moral panic over TikTok challenges is something I’ve debunked extensively, and then they just get parroted by these politicians that don’t understand what a moral panic is,” Richards told TechCrunch. “To utilize misinformation that I’ve written about so much and tried to debunk, and to see it used against TikTok was just so infuriating.”

Richards does acknowledge that TikTok’s best feature is also its worst: Anything can go viral. She believes TikTok’s “bottom-up” information environment does lend itself to misinformation, but that same dynamic also surfaces good content that would never get exposure on a different social network.

Richards is also a vocal critic of TikTok’s content moderation policies, which — like every other social network — are not always applied evenly. During Thursday’s hearing, Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) dramatically screened a month-old TikTok video depicting a gun alongside text threatening the leader of the House Committee that orchestrated Chew’s testimony. It’s an obvious violation of TikTok’s content guidelines, but Richards points out that it had very little engagement.

“In the context of TikTok, something having 40 likes is effective moderation,” Richards said. “That means the video isn’t reaching very many people.” She believes that a video like the one the Florida lawmaker highlighted shouldn’t be on the platform at all, but ultimately if it doesn’t reach many users then the potential for harm is limited.

Other creators expressed frustration that congresspeople failed to consider how TikTok has helped Americans, like LGBTQ+ people who found community on the app or small business owners who were able to grow beyond their wildest dreams after going viral.

Trans Latina creator Naomi Hearts, who has 1 million TikTok followers, was invited by TikTok to support the app in D.C. (TikTok compensated this group of creators, which included Spehar, by covering lodging and travel costs). She said that she met other TikTokers on the trip who used the app to gain traction for their small businesses.

She too found an audience on TikTok that she wasn’t able to build elsewhere, after struggling to grow a following on Instagram. But on TikTok, even small accounts have the potential to go viral, a phenomenon that can jumpstart a career when things work out.

“The message of the normal person… for example, me, who was just a plus sized trans woman who grew up in South Central Los Angeles and had a dream — my message was not there,” Naomi Hearts said, referring to Instagram.

Spehar also emphasized the role that TikTok plays in helping people connect well outside the bounds of their everyday surroundings.

“You can find communities that you can’t where you live,” Spehar said. “I think about kids in Northwest Arkansas and in Tennessee — TikTok is literally one of the reasons they’re not taking their lives, because they know they’re not alone.”

Although Richards mostly writes about disinformation on TikTok, she laments the positive sides of the app that could be lost if it gets banned in the U.S.

“Banning TikTok would ultimately harm marginalized communities the most, who are least represented by institutional news and organizations,” Richards said. “And if all of a sudden, that entire infrastructure disappears, they will just suddenly in be the dark.”

‘So infuriating’: TikTokers are fuming over potential ban by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunch


Avalanche wants to digitize all of the world’s assets on the blockchain

Welcome back to Chain Reaction, a podcast that interviews newsmakers in crypto to better understand the tech behind the hype and the people working to build a decentralized future.

For this week’s episode, Jacquelyn interviewed Emin Gün Sirer, the founder and CEO of Ava Labs.

Ava Labs has raised a total of about $640 million, according to Crunchbase, and is backed by firms like a16z and Polychain Capital. In recent months, Ava Labs has announced a number of partnerships with major brands and companies, like Amazon Web Services, which TechCrunch covered exclusively.

Ava Labs created the layer-1 blockchain Avalanche, a platform that lets developers build multifunctional blockchains and decentralized applications with a focus on speed and low transaction costs. The blockchain is compatible with Solidity, a language developers use to code, and allows them to build projects that can communicate across multiple networks. Hundreds of projects are a part of the Avalanche ecosystem, ranging from decentralized exchanges like 1inch to digital asset security firms like BitGo.

In terms of total value locked (TVL), Avalanche is currently the seventh-largest blockchain, with more than $1.1 billion secured across a $5.72 billion market cap, according to CoinMarketCap data.

The present and future of L1s

The company sees its underlying tech as a key driver for developer attention. “Looking around I decided we have to come up with our own architecture for scaling that no one else seems to be pushing at the moment,” Gün Sirer said.

Thus, a “marriage” of Avalanche’s consensus with its subnet architecture, which allows us to have multiple parallel chains dedicated to their own use cases, was born. “That coupling was the genesis of what I thought was a brand new approach,” Gün Sirer added.

Since then, Ava Labs has had one major focus. “The north star for us is to digitize all of the world’s assets on the Avalanche blockchain,” Gün Sirer said. “That’s what we set out to do and that’s what I’m so excited about.”

In recent years, a number of L1 blockchains have popped up across the crypto ecosystem, but Gün Sirer believes in three to five years from now the abundance of L1 blockchains will “be played out.”

“I think we already have way too many L1s and they’re essentially copying other people’s playbooks,” Gün Sirer said. “In many cases, they’re bringing something to the market that the market did not ask for.”

So what’s needed to make a good L1?

It has to be decentralized, secure and fast, Gün Sirer noted. “I think we’re in a good spot and I think people are going to converge,” he added.

We also talked about Gün Sirer’s background, why he launched the layer-1 blockchain, Avalanche, in 2020, whether the space has too many L1s and how blockchains can scale more efficiently.

And we discussed:

  • How the layer-2 vision is broken
  • U.S. regulatory crackdown on crypto
  • Ava Labs’ growth in Asian markets
  • The blockchain’s partnerships and business development
  • Ava Labs’ focal point for 2023 and beyond

Articles mentioned during the episode can be found here and here.

Chain Reaction comes out every other Thursday at 12:00 p.m. PT, so be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite pod platform to keep up with the latest in web3 and crypto.

Avalanche wants to digitize all of the world’s assets on the blockchain by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch


Rounds that matter: Fintech’s fortunes, DAO dreams, Asia’s reseller revival

Despite the slowdown in venture capital activity, there’s still a mountain of money flowing through startups today. TechCrunch+ is launching a series of posts looking at recent, notable venture rounds, exit activity and other news that relates to the financial side of building new technology companies.

While banks are dealing with the crisis kicked off by the failure of well-known, startup-friendly Silicon Valley Bank, upstart tech companies are still more than busy raising capital. They’re also looking for exits. More former than the latter, given the frozen IPO market. But while we wait for the reawakening of a key exit point for startups, we can still keep tabs on where and how the money is flowing into their world.

Remarkable rounds of the week

Etoro reloads at $3.5B valuation

  • After its SPAC deal failed to consummate, consumer trading service eToro was left without an expected new tranche of capital and a new valuation mark. However, it had previously secured a pledge for new funds if its SPAC deal fell through, capital that it has now raised.
  • The round matters for its size (nine figures), industry (fintech has taken a valuation pounding in recent quarters) and underlying financial results. Despite posting some growth since 2020 in 2022, the company shrank compared to the 2021 period last year. This means that we’re seeing a massive, consumer-fintech company set a new valuation under difficult conditions. Fintech founders should take note.

Seed Club Ventures sneaks out of stealth with $25M to make DAO dreams a reality

  • A lot of people assumed interest in DAOs, or decentralized autonomous organizations, had faded in the past year along with crypto bros’ fortunes. But it turns out there are still a number of people very invested in the concept of communities making their own decisions on how to spend millions of dollars.
  • Seed Club Ventures, a 63-member consortium of VCs, individual investors, family offices and various entities that still believe in web3, recently came out of stealth with a $25 million fund to help DAOs do just that.
  • This matters because that $25 million is going to go to really early-stage projects building much-needed tooling for DAOs. It has already backed projects like Guild, Stability AI, Lens and Metalabel. Such tooling will actually help take DAOs to a level where they can realize some, if not all, of the potential that fully decentralized systems bring.

IntegrityNext raises $109M to help companies ensure their supply chain is ESG-compliant

  • There’s a lot of politics around environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing policies for good reason: Compliance with ESG norms requires companies to examine the breadth and depth of their operations to ensure things are done responsibly. That can get expensive, tedious and take a really long time.
  • Munich-based IntegrityNext is doing something very special to help companies solve that problem: It helps companies audit their supply chains so they can quickly find out where and how they can optimize the supply chain and comply with ESG requirements.
  • This fundraise is really good news for European companies, because they will have an easier time of adopting previously “nice-to-have” ESG policies that are soon becoming “must-have” as regulations in the EU tighten up.

Kream rushes to a $742M valuation because fashion nerds like the circular economy

  • In a world of abundance, some things are rare, which is why reseller platforms for luxury goods exist. Spun out of Korean e-commerce giant Naver, Kream has only been around for two years, but the company has seen incredible success as fashion-savvy customers flooded its store, looking for high-end, rare sneakers, watches, bags, accessories and clothing.
  • Kream’s $168 million fundraise is interesting because the company is going to invest a lot in its peers to build a reseller network spanning a large swath of Asia — meaning someone in Japan can buy limited edition sneakers that were only launched in Japan.
  • It’s also great news for Asia’s growing reselling market, as it signals consumer interest in collectibles and other luxury items, which could drive further investment in this space.

Kredivo raises gigantic $270M Series D to make credit more accessible for underbanked Asians

  • It’s no secret that the massive underbanked population in Asia’s developing economies is a big market for fintech to disrupt, and Kredivo, which aims to increase access to credit in Indonesia and Vietnam, has certainly struck gold with a user base that’s about as big as Indonesia’s credit-card-holding population.
  • The company’s oversubscribed $270 million Series D is proof of the fact that there’s growth to be had in making people’s lives easier and helping them get access to banking services easily and seamlessly.

Other startup and venture capital news

The venture slowdown is slowing down even the fastest startup categories

  • It’s a sad reality of the world that even diamonds at times have no takers, and that seems to be panning out right now in startup land: Even previously hot API startups are suffering in the venture slowdown.
  • Per data from GGV, which tracks funding into 63 API companies, startups in this category raised about $2.15 billion in 2022, less than half of what they raised a year earlier. Deal counts have also been down. Q4 2022 saw such startups raising a paltry $134 million, which is lower than in the year’s previous three quarters. That’s got to be tough.
  • We care about this because even though API startups are leading the charge with usage-based pricing models, which is arguably the future of software sales, they’re still subject to wider market pressures. Their struggle indicates that no matter how hot a sector you’re in, dollars are likely to be increasingly harder to come by.

Coinbase execs are angry at the SEC raining on their parade

  • The crypto world isn’t happy with how lawmakers are treating it. Coinbase’s CEO recently pretty much said the government should just make up its mind about regulations already after the SEC sent it a Wells notice, which basically means the government is going to come after Coinbase and companies like it for “violations of the federal securities laws.”
  • We sorta agree with Coinbase here: There really isn’t much precedent for what the crypto world is going through, and fitting the SEC’s nearly century-old laws to the crypto economy feels very much like a square-peg-triangle-hole situation.
  • It’s clear the SEC needs to really cement its beliefs on how crypto should be traded so that the wider ecosystem can just follow the rules.

Roofstock cuts 27% of staff in second round of layoffs

  • Proptech startups are having a moment, and their employees seem to be paying for it. Rising mortgage rates and the general housing slowdown haven’t been good for companies that depended on people realizing their American dream.
  • But buying a house in this economy? A lot of people basically said, “yeah, right,” which basically led to Roofstock, which lets people buy and sell rental homes in dozens of U.S. markets, deciding that it needs to lay off 27% of its staff for the second time in less than two quarters.
  • The company’s trying to stay afloat in a sinking housing market, which makes sense, but what doesn’t is that it was valued at $1.9 billion just a year ago. This isn’t good news for the wider proptech market right now.

4 Indian investors explain how their investment strategy has changed since 2021

  • Indian startups started 2022 with a pretty good outlook since the global venture slowdown hadn’t gotten to the country yet. But arrive it did, leading to a 70% drop in funding in the second half of the year.
  • While we’re sure investors in the country saw it coming, how did they recalibrate their sensors to the new climate? After polling a few investors, Jagmeet found out that for starters, they slowed way down, choosing to make safer bets and generally making sure their portfolio companies have enough runway to last for however long this downturn is going to take.
  • Indian investors are also telling their startups to take a step back, solidify their business models and focus on the basics to get to the next milestone. And if needed, raise a down round, because life > death.

When the tech IPO market reopens, keep an eye on HR unicorns

  • Do you hear that? That’s Alex giggling in excited expectation of all the S-1s we’re likely to get if HR unicorns continue to grow as quickly as they have.
  • The startup group’s ARR growth and regular EBITDA output — and therefore, valuations — seem to be nearly immune to the slowdown as unicorns like Deel, Velocity Global, Gusto and Ripple continue to grow into new markets and categories.
  • This means that come IPO season, HR tech companies are going to likely be among the first out of the gate. We’re curious about one thing though: How long can the startups in question grow without going to war with each other, perhaps in the form of price cuts?

    Rounds that matter: Fintech’s fortunes, DAO dreams, Asia’s reseller revival by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch


Are solo GPs screwed?

Entrepreneur Ankur Nagpal raised a $70 million venture fund last year, called Vibe Capital, from over 200 investors. But now, as the market shifts and LPs are less interested in venture capital, the Ocho founder is shrinking the fund side by roughly 43%, canceling capital calls, and, ultimately, sending back money that had already been wired to the fund.

The contraction, Nagpal told TechCrunch, occurred because he’s busy building his own startup and the funding environment has shifted to more realistic expectations: “What looked like a $10 billion outcome is now a $1 billion dollar outcome.” As a result, he says he’s more confident on returning a higher multiple if he’s investing from a smaller fund size.

His LPs were surprised but “super happy” to get the capital back, Nagpal said. Since announcing the cut, the founder says that five different solo GPs have messaged him asking for introductions to LPS who just got capital back. “I think the reality is a lot of these people who are getting money back are actually not going to allocate it to venture anymore.” One of Nagpal’s biggest investors is Tiger Global, which has become notorious for retreating from venture fund bets. His other investors, namely venture funds, will likely use the capital to bet on new startups out of their own fund, he said.

In Nagpal’s case, the move will let him put 90% of his time into his new startup. But he says others in the solo GP world are going through a rough time. Many are shrinking fund goals, extending fundraising timelines, teaming up with investors to avoid team risk or even going toward placement agents, once taboo in the world of fundraising, to help them close investors in exchange for a fee. “Even the ones who are taking it seriously are actually now trying to build a firm, so you’re kind of becoming the thing that you were trying to replace,” he said.

It’s a shift from the fund of fund mentality that felt commonplace last year, in which investment firms cut checks to early-stage, experimental investors to de-risk and even lead first checks into a generation of new startups. At the time, Tiger announced its $1 billion fund to back other funds but has since reneged. Alexis Ohanian and Katelin Holloway’s fund, 776, dedicated $10 million of its $500 million set of funds to back emerging fund managers. (The firm did not respond to requests for comment on an update of the fund allocation.) Other efforts, like Spearhead, a platform to turn founders into angel investors built by AngelList’s Naval Ravikant and Accomplice’s Jeff Fagnan, appear to no longer be active.

The history of solo GPs

Before solo GPs were in the spotlight, they were set aside. LPs weren’t giving lone venture capitalists meaningful capital, but as entrepreneurs with massive networks sought to formalize some of their angel investing operations, the deal sweetened. Add in the fact that platforms like AngelList made it easier and cheaper to set up a fund and handle all associated admin fees, and the jokes started rolling: Anyone with opinions and a following on Tech Twitter could start a fund.

Are solo GPs screwed? by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch


Daily Crunch: Binance reopens after bug forces platform to suspend spot trading, deposits and withdrawals

Earlier this week, Haje Jan Kamps interviewed Prelaunch.com CEO Narek Vardanyan to get his perspective on how hardware startups can

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Friday Crunch is here! Friday Crunch is here! We are ready to go sit by the proverbial pool with an umbrella-ed drink in it. (Realistically, it’ll be the TV and a beer, while embodying fancy cocktails and a pool. The mind is powerful like that.) For now, on with the news! — Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Probably nothing to see here: For a few moments there, cryptocurrency giant Binance had to temporarily suspend spot trading, deposits and withdrawals, Manish reports. Everything was back to normal as of this morning.
  • Gone: Google removed hundreds of Kenya-focused loan apps from its Play Store following a new policy that digital lenders needed to provide proof of license, Annie writes. We watched something similar play out with the Indian government and lending apps in February.
  • Huge investment in EV: Ford is stepping on the accelerator when it comes to electric vehicles and will manufacture a next-generation electric truck at its $5.6 billion factory in Tennessee in 2025, Kirsten reports.

Startups and VC

Zigazoo, the startup known for its TikTok-style video-sharing app for kids, is launching a separate app targeted at Gen Z users, Lauren reports. The new app will take the flagship name and is meant for ages 13 and older, whereas the original kid-focused app is for Generation Alpha (ages 3–12) and has been rebranded to “Zigazoo Kids.” Previous users in the younger age range will be automatically migrated to Zigazoo Kids.

WebAssembly (Wasm for short) is an open standard that enables browser-based applications to run with near-native performance, Frederic reports. It has also expanded to support non-browser environments, which is what is driving a lot of the recent hype around it. But like any emerging technology, it needs a stronger tooling ecosystem to realize its full potential, and Dylibso raises $6.6 million to help developers take the tech to production.

And here are six more, as we are spinning our wheels getting ready for the weekend:

Pitch Deck Teardown: Prelaunch.com’s $1.5M Seed deck

Earlier this week, Haje Jan Kamps interviewed Prelaunch.com CEO Narek Vardanyan to get his perspective on how hardware startups can validate products before going to market.

In a follow-up, he analyzed the pitch deck for Prelaunch.com’s $1.5 million seed round, which showed investors how the company monetizes its product forecasts:

  • Cover slide
  • Summary slide
  • Market context slide
  • Problem slide
  • Solution slide
  • Problem with the existing solution slide
  • Product slide 1
  • Results slide
  • Product slide 2
  • Product slide 3
  • Product slide 4
  • Vision slide
  • Value prop slide
  • Traction and metrics slide
  • Business model and pricing slide
  • Market trends slide
  • Why now slide
  • Team slide
  • The Ask slide
  • Contact us slide

Three more from the TC+ team:

TechCrunch+ is our membership program that helps founders and startup teams get ahead of the pack. You can sign up here. Use code “DC” for a 15% discount on an annual subscription!

Big Tech Inc.

Remember yesterday when we discussed that Terraform Labs’ CEO Do Kwon was reportedly taken into custody? Well, Kate has an update, and it seems like Kwon was quite naughty, among other things, trying to flee to Dubai with falsified documents. Both the U.S. and South Korea seek Do Kwon’s extradition so he can face multiple charges. It’s not known yet where he will end up.

Now let’s round out our TikTok coverage from yesterday. It looks like CEO Shou Zi Chew did not impress the Congressional audience. We did learn some new things, thoughSarah reports that the social media giant scans public videos to determine users’ ages. Chew also denied that there was spying going on when ByteDance employees surveilled journalists. Taylor has more on that.

And we have five more for you:

Daily Crunch: Binance reopens after bug forces platform to suspend spot trading, deposits and withdrawals by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch


6 River Systems co-founder on the state of warehouse robots

Robots have conquered ProMat. The supply chain and logistics show is a kind of perfect microcosm of where the industry is heading. Many of the show’s main attractions have moved from center stage to the physical margins of the show floor, while competitors like 6 River Systems and Locus grab the spotlight — my interviews with both happened in conference areas located on the second floor of their massive booths.

Among other things, this proved an ideal setting for speaking with founders and executives of some of the space’s biggest players. Jerome Dubois ticks both of those boxes as the co-founder of 6 River Systems, and he now serves as VP of Shopify Logistics, following the e-commerce giant’s 2019 acquisition of the robotics firm.

We spoke about the role of Amazon in the company’s foundation and what the future looks like for robotic picking and interoperability.

TC: What is the 6 River story?

JD: I’ve been in the industry for 25 years. Got my start on the software side, so warehouse management systems — [at] a company called Yantra, which is now a part of IBM. I joined Kiva in 2008; was there through the acquisition. I was [Locus CEO Rick Faulk’s] predecessor and Bruce Welty was my customer. I’m the one who told Bruce that “we’re shutting your systems down.”

Small worlds inside of small worlds.

Yeah. But we have a ton of respect for that team. We’re the two leaders in this space, between Locus and us. Fetch is probably a distant third after that.

Both you and Fetch were acquired.

Yeah. We were acquired in 2019. Fetch was acquired [in 2021].

Why was that the right move? Had you considered IPO’ing or moving in a different direction?

In 2019, when we were raising money, we were doing well. But Shopify presents itself and says, “Hey, we’re interested in investing in the space. We want to build out a logistics network. We need technology like yours to make it happen. We’ve got the right team; you know about the space. Let’s see if this works out.”

What we’ve been able to do is leverage a tremendous amount of investment from Shopify to grow the company. We were about 120 employees at 30 sites. We’re at 420 employees now and over 110 sites globally.

Amazon buys Kiva and cuts off third-party access to their robots. That must have been a discussion you had with Shopify.

Up front. “If that’s what the plan is, we’re not interested.” We had a strong positive trajectory; we had strong investors. Everyone was really bullish on it. That’s not what it’s been. It’s been the opposite. We’ve been run independently from Shopify. We continue to invest and grow the business.

From a business perspective, I understand Amazon’s decision to cut off access and give itself a leg up. What’s in it for Shopify if anyone can still deploy your robots?

Shopify’s mantra is very different from Amazon. I’m responsible for Shopify’s logistics. Shopify is the brand behind the brand, so they have a relationship with merchants and the customers. They want to own a relationship with the merchant. It’s about building the right tools and making it easier for the merchant to succeed. Supply chain is a huge issue for lots of merchants. To sell the first thing, they have to fulfill the first thing, so Shopify is making it easier for them to print off a shipping label.

Now, if you’ve got to do 100 shipping letters a day, you’re not going to do that by yourself. You want us to fulfill it for you, and Shopify built out a fulfillment network using a lot of third parties, and our technology is the backbone of the warehouse.

Your technology was built for brownfield structures.

That’s correct. We can go in and just implement with the technology. We can go into existing customer warehouses without having to change anything. That allows for a very quick implementation timeframe. That’s one of the big advantages. We get to that double productivity in a matter of weeks, as opposed to having to wipe out a building and start fresh with a new system.

But if they want to go greenfield, you can start from scratch and actually build around the technology.

That’s right. Maybe 10% of our install base is greenfield.

Watching you — Locus or Fetch — you’re more or less maintaining a form factor. Obviously, Amazon is diversifying. For many of these customers, I imagine the ideal robot is something that’s not only mobile and autonomous, but also actually does the picking itself. Is this something you’re exploring?

Most of the AMR (autonomous mobile robot) scene has gotten to a point where the hardware is commoditized. The robots are generally pretty reliable. Some are maybe higher quality than others, but what matters the most is the workflows that are being enacted by these robots. The big thing that’s differentiating Locus and us is, we actually come in with predefined workflows that do a specific kind of work. It’s not just a generic robot that comes in and does stuff. So you can integrate it into your workflow very quickly, because it knows you want to do a batch pick and sortation. It knows that you want to do discreet order picking. Those are all workflows that have been predefined and prefilled in the solution.

With respect to the solving of the grabbing and picking, I’ve been on the record for a long time saying it’s a really hard problem. I’m not sure picking in e-comm or out of the bin is the right place for that solution. If you think about the infrastructure that’s required to solve going into an aisle and grabbing a pink shirt versus a blue shirt in a dark aisle using robots, it doesn’t work very well, currently. That’s why goods-to-person makes more sense in that environment. If you try to use arms, a Kiva-like solution or a shuttle-type solution, where the inventory is being brought to a station and the lighting is there, then I think arms are going to be effective there.

Are these the kinds of problems you invest R&D in?

Not the picking side. In the world of total addressable market — the industry as a whole, between Locus, us, Fetch and others — is at maybe 5% penetration. I think there’s plenty of opportunity for us to go and implement a lot of our technology in other places. I also think the logical expansion is around the case and pallet operations.

Interoperability is an interesting conversation. No one makes robots for every use case. If you want to get near full autonomous, you’re going to have a lot of different robots.

We are not going to be a fit for 100% of the picks in the building. For the 20% that we’re not doing, you still leverage all the goodness of our management consoles, our training and that kind of stuff, and you can extend out with [the mobile fulfillment application]. And it’s not just picking. It’s receiving, it’s put away and whatever else. It’s the first step for us, in terms of proving wall-to-wall capabilities.

What does interoperability look like beyond that?

We do system interoperability today. We interface with automation systems all the time out in the field. That’s an important part of interoperability. We’re passing important messages on how big a box we need to build and in what sequence it needs to be built.

When you’re independent, you’re focused on getting to portability. Does that pressure change when you’re acquired by a Shopify?

I think the difference with Shopify is, it allows us to think more long-term in terms of doing the right thing without having the pressure of investors. That was one of the benefits. We are delivering lots of longer-term software bets.

6 River Systems co-founder on the state of warehouse robots by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch