Meta launches Horizon Worlds in France and Spain

In an effort to expand its social platform for virtual reality, Horizon Worlds, Meta is launching it in France and Spain today — building on the existing three markets including the U.S., Canada, and the UK where it was already available. In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch with an unappealing photo and noted that it plans to expand the platform to more countries.

Image Credits: Mark Zuckerberg

Meta launched Horizon Worlds for all users above 18 years of age in the U.S. and Canada last year and made it available for users in the UK in June. In April, it also said that it is working on a web version to let people experience virtual worlds without owning a VR headset.

Over the last few months, the company has also added safety features like controls for voice chat and 4-foot personal boundaries around avatars in the Horizon Worlds platform.

Horizon Worlds is just one of the VR social apps offered by Meta, which has a vision of building a metaverse consisting of many such virtual worlds. The company expects that users will spend more time hanging out with their friends in these virtual spaces, and even spend money on in-app goods. But the company’s still very far away from achieving any of this.

Since its rebranding from Facebook to Meta, the company has poured a lot of money into building the metaverse in the last few quarters. The firm experienced its first-ever quarterly revenue decline in Q2 2022 but has been bullish on its metaverse bet paying off. In February, Meta said the Horizon World app had more than 300,000 monthly users.

“This is obviously a very expensive undertaking over the next several years. But as the metaverse becomes more important in every part of how we live from our social platforms, to entertainment, to work, and education and commerce, I’m confident that we’re going to be glad that we played an important role in building this,” Zuckerberg said during the quarterly earnings call for Q2 2022.

In April, Zuckerberg said the company lost $3 billion because of metaverse-building but he was hopeful that it’ll all come to fruition by 2030.

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Layoffs hit HBO Max as 70 employees lose their jobs

The rumored layoffs are coming true: Warner Bros. Discovery, the newly merged parent company to HBO, is cutting personnel costs.

Fourteen percent of staff under HBO and HBO Max chief content officer Casey Bloys will be laid off, impacting 70 employees. The New York Times reports that unscripted and live-action family programming for HBO Max, the streaming service, were most affected. Other cuts impacted HBO Max’s casting, acquisitions and international departments. Unscripted shows that are considered successful are expected to continue.

This restructuring comes after AT&T’s WarnerMedia officially merged with Discovery, Inc. in April. Under terms of the agreement, AT&T received $43 billion in cash and debt. But the company still has a debt load of $53 billion and is trying to cut costs to save $3 billion in 2023.

In major tech mergers, layoffs are expected to eliminate redundancies. But fans of HBO Max programming were enraged by the rumors of these layoffs, which began circulating in earnest a few weeks ago, worrying that original scripted shows like “Hacks,” “Our Flag Means Death” or “The Flight Attendant” would be cancelled. So far, HBO Max’s original scripted shows haven’t been impacted.

It makes sense why fans are concerned, though. As these rumors circulated, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav announced that the company would shelve the DC Comics adaptation “Batgirl,” even though the film was already finished and cost at least $70 million. Zaslav added that the sequel to an animated Scooby Doo movie wouldn’t be released either. To make matters worse, viewers noticed that HBO Max had quietly removed six original movies from its service, which featured talent like Anne Hathaway, Seth Rogen and Cole Sprouse.

It’s already been a rough year for the newly merged media mammoth. Warner Bros. Discovery also pulled the plug on its CNN+ streaming service just one month after launch, costing the company $300 million.

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Bumble experiments with group chats, polls and video calls for its new social networking feature, ‘Hive’

Dating app maker Bumble revealed more of its plans to strengthen its social networking features during last week’s Q2 earnings, which saw the company’s shares slump over its lowered financial outlook despite delivering a revenue beat. Now, new images show what Bumble has been developing as part of the larger revamp of its “Bumble BFF” friend-finding feature — a change that could help the app attract a new audience beyond just young singles. Specifically, Bumble BFF has been testing a new “communities” offering it’s calling “Hive,” which, the images show, may include support for features like group chat, polls and video calls.

Bumble briefly referenced its plans for Hive on its Q2 2022 earnings call with investors, noting Hive was a “next-generation offering” focused on helping people find “platonic connections through small communities.” In other words, a groups product.

“As we have shared before, our approach is built on the insight that people want to find friends, acquaintances and connections through shared struggles and common joys: moving to a new city, navigating parenthood, finding a partner for hiking, or really anything else in between,” founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd told investors.

She noted Bumble had recently expanded its alpha tests of the new Bumble BFF feature to the Greater Toronto area where Bumble users have since created thousands of these online communities known as “Hives.”

Image Credits: Bumble Hives via Watchful

The promise of platonic social networking is one the company believes could help it find engagement beyond the world of online dating. During its tests, Bumble said the weekly average number of sessions for BFF members increased by two-thirds, and their weekly time spent in-app was up 16%.

According to new images released by product intelligence firm Watchful, Bumble’s Hive includes a variety of now-standard social networking features. It shows BFF members can create profiles, join interest groups led by admins, publish posts, engage in group chats, create and respond to polls and more. There’s also an option for group video calls within the “Hives.”

Image Credits: Bumble Hives via Watchful

Video is not entirely new to Bumble, however.

The company also told investors it has been testing both video and audio in select markets as a way to enhance member profiles with “richer and more dynamic” content. This could additionally help Bumble better compete against a growing number of video-focused dating apps, like Snack, S’More, Desti and others.

Image Credits: Bumble Hives via Watchful

More broadly, Bumble’s latest updates aim to address the shift among younger, Gen Z users who are inclined to embrace apps that allow them to socially “hang out” online — like livestreaming app …read more

The phishing catch of the day is Twillio (and other TC news)

This week on the TechCrunch Podcast Natasha Mascarenhas is back to talk about VC-backed aperitif company Haus being forced to sell. Then we’re joined by Carly page to talk about a recent phishing campaign that targeted Twilio and many other internet companies. And as always, we’ll catch you up on the tech news you may have missed this week.

Articles from the episode:

Other news from the week:

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Signal says 1,900 users’ phone numbers exposed by Twilio breach

End-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal says attackers accessed the phone numbers and SMS verification codes for almost 2,000 users as part of the breach at communications giant Twilio last week.

Twilio, which provides phone number verification services to Signal, said on August 8 that malicious actors accessed the data of 125 customers after successfully phishing multiple employees. Twilio did not say who the customers were, but they are likely to include large organizations after Signal on Monday confirmed that it was one of those victims.

Signal said in a blog post Monday that it would notify about 1,900 users whose phone numbers or SMS verification codes were stolen when attackers gained access to Twilio’s customer support console.

“For about 1,900 users, an attacker could have attempted to re-register their number to another device or learned that their number was registered to Signal,” the messaging giant said. “Among the 1,900 phone numbers, the attacker explicitly searched for three numbers, and we’ve received a report from one of those three users that their account was re-registered.”

While this didn’t give the attacker access to message history, which Signal doesn’t store, or contact lists and profile information, which is protected by the user’s security PIN, Signal said “in the case that an attacker was able to re-register an account, they could send and receive Signal messages from that phone number.”

For those affected, the company says it will unregister Signal on all devices that the user is currently using — or that an attacker registered them to — and will require users to re-register Signal with their phone number on their preferred device. Signal also advises users to switch on registration lock, a feature that prevents an account from being re-registered on another device without the user’s security PIN.

Although the Twilio breach impacts a fraction of Signal’s 40 million-plus users, users have long bemoaned how Signal — considered one of the most secure messaging apps — requires users to register a phone number to create an account. Other end-to-end encryption apps, such as Wire, allow users to sign up with a username. While Signal has slowly moved to end its reliance on phone numbers, such as with the introduction of Signal PINs in 2020, this incident will likely reignite calls for it to move faster.

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SoftBank, Sequoia China back this ERP startup enabling China’s online exporters

Thanks to cross-border e-commerce platforms, China continues to be a major exporter of consumer goods for the world in the online shopping age. It’s not just marketplaces like Amazon and AliExpress that are enabling Chinese businesses to sell abroad. Behind the scene, a group of startups are making the software that allows exporters to more easily figure out what to sell and how to sell.

Dianxiaomi, roughly translated as ‘shop assistant’, is one of these ecommerce SaaS providers. The company just secured $110 million in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund II and Sequoia Capital China. Other prominent investors, including Tiger Global Management, GGV Capital, and Huaxing Growth Capital, also participated.

The financing lifts the company’s total investment to $210 million in 2022 alone.

Dianxiaomi is strategically located in Shenzhen, the capital of export-oriented ecommerce activity in China. The city that’s home to Huawei, Tencent, and DJI is also known to house the most Amazon sellers in the world.

Dianxiaomi started out with a convenient tool that allowed sellers to list their products already sold on Taobao, Alibaba’s marketplace for Chinese consumers, on Wish with “one click”, said its founder and CEO Du Jianyin, a former R&D engineer at Baidu, in an interview.

From there, Dianxiaomi went on to create a suite of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for Chinese vendors on Wish, Amazon, eBay, AliExpress, Shopee, Lazada and the like. The target users are small and medium-sized sellers with 5,000 orders per day or less, the company told TechCrunch.

The SaaS provider itself is expanding overseas as well. It’s launched localized ERP products for sellers in Southeast Asia and Latin America, respectively. Globally, it claims to be serving 1.5 million users and has partnered with some 50 ecommerce platforms. In Southeast Asia, it has amassed 430,000 users that are selling within the booming region.

The company plans to open offices in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the U.K., where it looks to build a team of 20-100 staff to carry out customer service, operations, and other tasks in each country.

Landing in Southeast Asia is an obvious choice for many Chinese entrepreneurs, who see similar opportunities in the region as they did in their home market a decade ago.

“At its rapid growth rate, [Southeast Asia] is a bit like China from ten years ago. Second, the region is culturally similar with a big ethnically Chinese population, who can help promote the products. And third, orders from Southeast Asia have been growing at over 100% a year,” the CEO noted in the interview.

The financing for Dianxiaomi is one of the few deals that SoftBank has sealed this year in China, which for long was a major destination for the investment powerhouse. But amid a slowing economy and regulatory uncertainties, the company said last year that it would take a more “cautious” approach to backing Chinese startups.

In January, SoftBank and Sequoia Capital China injected funding into a similar venture called Shoplazza, a Canada- and …read more

5 things you may have missed in Disney’s latest earnings

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The Walt Disney Company announced better-than-expected results last week when it unveiled its earnings for the second quarter of 2022 (the company’s third fiscal quarter.)

The data point that caught the most attention? That total Disney DTC subscriptions — including Disney+, but also Hulu and ESPN+ — reached 221.1 million.

Many headlines subsequently focused on Disney’s overall streaming subscription tally now being higher than Netflix’s. This focus is understandable — who doesn’t love a rivalry? But it’s also notable because their numbers are trending in the opposite direction.

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As you may remember, Netflix lost almost 970,000 net subscribers during the three-month period ended June 30. That was less than anticipated in April, when it predicted a net loss of 2 million subscribers. And its 220.67 million subscriber count isn’t very far from Disney’s. But the contrast between their fates is still headline-grabbing, for good reason.

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Helbiz reports revenue increase but dwindling cash reserves

Helbiz started out as a shared micromobility company but has since expanded to include ghost kitchens, media streaming and, most recently, a taxi service. The company reported its second-quarter earnings Monday after the bell. The startup was the first scooter operator to go public via the SPAC route, and many in the industry wish it wasn’t so after consistently meh earnings reports.

Since Helbiz’s public debut in August 2021, its earnings reports have shown a company that burns through dwindling cash reserves, doesn’t pull in enough revenue to make up for its high costs of operations and keeps pivoting away from core operations into new, and sometimes strange, business units.

While Helbiz’s revenue has increased slightly quarter over quarter and year over year, Monday’s report tells a similar story.

Before we dig into the financials, a little context. In late June, Helbiz signed a letter of intent to buy Wheels, another shared micromobility operator, by the end of the year. In the midst of this, there were multiple times when Helbiz employees in U.S. and Serbian offices had to wait for delayed payments. Sources told TechCrunch that aside from late paychecks, Helbiz is suffering from chronically late scooter shipments and a general lack of company structure.

Despite lackluster earnings, Helbiz’s stock is trading higher than its public market rival Bird, which also announced earnings today. Today, at $1.43 after hours, Helbiz is up 12.6%. That is largely attributable to Helbiz CEO Salvatore Palella’s acquisition of 252,636 shares of the company at an average price of $3 — a transaction that is valued at $757,908. Also, that number is still a far cry from the $10.92 at which Helbiz opened.

Helbiz’s Q2 2022 Financials

Helbiz closed out the second quarter with $4.4 million in revenue, which is up 46% from the same period last year and 33% from last quarter. Mobility, or shared micromobility rides, made up more than half of the second quarter’s total revenue at $2.7 million, up from $1.6 million in Q1.

Helbiz reported around 1.2 million rides in Q2, which is nearly double its Q1 rides, but only a slight increase YoY. Unlike Bird, Helbiz doesn’t appear to report the number of vehicles it has on the ground, nor its rides per vehicle per day.

The remaining $1.7 million in revenue came from “the incremental contribution from Media and Kitchen,” said Helbiz chief financial officer Giulio Profumo in a statement.

During Q3 2021, Helbiz launched Helbiz Live, a sports streaming platform that is currently showing Italy’s Series B soccer, NCAA football and basketball, and MLB games. Helbiz expects to generate $6 million during the first Series B season, some of which must have already been realized in Q2 2022.

Around the same time that Helbiz launched Live, it also introduced Helbiz Kitchen, a ghost kitchen delivery service. The company was coy about how much revenue the new service has brought in, but Kitchen apparently delivered …read more

Startup yachts, Adam Neumann and wait what year is it again?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, a podcast about the business of startups, where we unpack the numbers and nuance behind the headlines.

Natasha took over Equity Monday this week alongside Grace, as Alex enjoys some always-deserved vacation. Thankfully, there was way too much to get into. So much so that I recommend you listening to this podcast immediately before a whole news cycle breaks.

Here’s what we got into:

As always, you can follow Equity on Twitter @equitypod and me at @nmasc_. We are back Wednesday! Chat soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7 a.m. PDT and Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

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Mycel’s mushroom-based biomaterials sprout $10M in funding


Mycel, a South Korean startup making fungal-based biomaterials that can replace leather and meat, said it has raised $10 million (13 billion WON) in a pre-Series A round of funding.

Co-founder and CEO of Mycel Sungjin Sah told TechCrunch that the company uses mycelium, a root-like structure of mushroom, to make leather substitutes that can be used in car seats and luxury cosmetic products, and fashion products like shoes, clothes and bags. Mycel is in talks with global cosmetic brands to co-develop the mycelium-based leather products as well as cosmetics ingredients, Sah said, adding that it aims to commercialize its mushroom leather in 2023.

The Seoul-headquartered startup will use this new funding to open a production plant in South Korea for scaling the manufacture of its fungal-based biomaterials and double its headcount to 42 employees, Sah said in an interview with TechCrunch. The spin-off company from Hyundai Motor’s in-house startup program was founded in 2020 by former Hyundai Motor employees Sah, Sungwon Kim (COO) and Yunggon Park (CSO).

Mycel isn’t the only company using mycelium to make leather. There are at least eight companies across the globe using mycelium to make leather, per the 2021 Material Innovation Initiative report. These mycelium-based materials innovators have attracted investors to ramp up mushroom- and plant-derived leather. A San Francisco-based startup called MycoWorks raised $125 million in a Series C round early this year, while Bolt Threads also secured $253 million at a 1.15 billion valuation in September 2021. Ecovative Design also closed $60 million in March 2021.

Investors in Mycel’s latest financing round include Korea Development Bank, Industrial Bank of Korea, Hyundai Motor’s Zero 1 Fund, also known as ZER0 1NE 2 Fund, Stone Bridge, We Ventures and Spring Camp. Its pre-money valuation is approximately $40 million (50 billion WON), according to Sah.

The global wholesale market of next-generation fabrics to replace leather, silk, down, wool, fur and exotic skins with plant-based, microbe-derived, mycelium, recycled and other sustainable materials is projected to reach approximately $2.2 billion by 2026.

A range of fashion brands is searching for next-gen materials to partner with, per the 2021 MII report. In July, Global luxury brand Stella McCartney, which has been working with Bolt Threads since 2017, launched a limited run of 100 mushroom-derived leather bags. Additionally, Hermes collaborated with MycoWorks to make a handbag using mushroom-derived leather.

Image Credits: Mycel’s Myco leather

Mycel is also competing in the alternative protein space with fungi-based food developers like Mycorena and Quorn.

On top of the mushroom leather, Mycel develops a fungi-based biomaterial that can be used as an alternative protein to disrupt the meat sector — this biomaterial, which is different from Mycel’s mycelium in the leather, is a fungus but technically not mushrooms, Sah clarified. Back in 2020, …read more