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Slack narrows losses, displays healthy revenue growth

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Accel, Airbnb, Andreessen Horowitz, Earnings, economy, Finance, initial public offering, Kleiner Perkins, operating systems, slack, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Spotify, t.rowe price, TC, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission | 0 comments

Workplace messaging powerhouse Slack filed an amended S-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday weeks ahead of a direct listing expected June 20.

In the document, Slack included an updated look at its path to profitability, posting first-quarter revenues of $134.8 million on losses of $31.8 million. Slack’s Q1 revenues represent a 67% increase from the same period last year when the company lost $24.8 million on $80.9 million in revenue.

For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019, the company reported losses of $138.9 million on revenue of $400.6 million. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million the year prior.

Slack is in the process of completing the final steps necessary for its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, where it will trade under the ticker symbol “WORK.” A direct listing is an alternative approach to the stock market that allows well-known businesses to sell directly to the market existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors, instead of issuing new shares. The method lets companies bypass the traditional roadshow process and avoid a good chunk of Wall Street’s IPO fees.

Spotify completed a direct listing in 2018; Airbnb, another highly valued venture capital-backed business, is rumored to be considering a direct listing in 2020.

Slack is currently valued at $7 billion after raising $1.22 billion in VC funding from investors, including Accel, which owns a 24% pre-IPO stake, Andreessen Horowitz (13.3%), Social Capital (10.2%), SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, IVP, Kleiner Perkins and many others.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Singapore’s Grain, a profitable food delivery startup, pulls in $10M for expansion

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in Asia, bangkok, Cento Ventures, ceo, Deliveroo, Food, food delivery, Foodpanda, funding, Fundings & Exits, grain, Honestbee, Impossible foods, munchery, online food ordering, openspace ventures, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Spotify, Startup company, TC, Thailand, transport, Travis Kalanick, Uber, United States, websites, world wide web | 0 comments

Cloud kitchens are the big thing in food delivery, with ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s new business one contender in that space, with Asia, and particularly Southeast Asia, a major focus. Despite the newcomers, a more established startup from Singapore has raised a large bowl of cash to go after regional expansion.

Founded in 2014, Grain specializes in clean food while it takes a different approach to Kalanick’s CloudKitchens or food delivery services like Deliveroo, FoodPanda or GrabFood.

It adopted a cloud kitchen model — utilizing unwanted real estate as kitchens, with delivery services for output — but used it for its own operations. So while CloudKitchens and others rent their space to F&B companies as a cheaper way to make food for their on-demand delivery customers, Grain works with its own chefs, menu and delivery team. A so-called ‘full stack’ model if you can stand the cliched tech phrase.

Finally, Grain is also profitable. The new round has it shooting for growth — more on that below — but the startup was profitable last year, CEO and co-founder Yi Sung Yong told TechCrunch.

Now it is reaping the rewards of a model that keeps it in control of its product, unlike others that are complicated by a chain that includes the restaurant and a delivery person.

We previously wrote about Grain when it raised a $1.7 million Series A back in 2016 and today it announced a $10 million Series B which is led by Thailand’s Singha Ventures, the VC arm of the beer brand. A bevy of other investors took part, including Genesis Alternative Ventures, Sass Corp, K2 Global — run by serial investor Ozi Amanat who has backed Impossible Foods, Spotify and Uber among others — FoodXervices and Majuven. Existing investors Openspace Ventures, Raging Bull — from Thai Express founder Ivan Lee — and Cento Ventures participated.

The round includes venture debt, as well as equity, and it is worth noting that the family office of the owners of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf — Sassoon Investment Corporation — was involved.

Grain covers individual food as well as buffets in Singapore

Three years is a long gap between the two deals — Openspace and Cento have even rebranded during the intervening period — and the ride has been an eventful one. During those years, Sung said the business had come close to running out of capital before it doubled down on the fundamentals before the precarious runway capital ran out.

In fact, he said, the company — which now has over 100 staff — was fully prepared to self-sustain.

“We didn’t think of raising a Series B,” he explained in an interview. “Instead, we focused on the business and getting profitable… we thought that we can’t depend entirely on investors.”

And, ladies and gentleman, the irony of that is that VCs very much like a business that can self-sustain — it shows a model is proven — and investing in a startup that doesn’t need capital can be attractive.

Ultimately, though, profitability is seen as sexy today — particularly in the meal space where countless U.S. startups has shuttered including Munchery and Sprig — but the focus meant that Grain had to shelve its expansion plans. It then went through soul-searching times in 2017 when a spoilt curry saw 20 customers get food poisoning.

Sung declined to comment directly on that incident, but he said that company today has developed the “infrastructure” to scale its business across the board, and that very much includes quality control.

Grain co-founder and CEO Yi Sung Yong [Image via LinkedIn]

Grain currently delivers “thousands” of meals per day in Singapore, its sole market, with eight-figures in sales per year, he said. Last year, growth was 200 percent, Sung continued, and now is the time to look overseas. With Singha, the Grain CEO said the company has “everything we need to launch in Bangkok.”

Thailand — which Malaysia-based rival Dahamakan picked for its first expansion — is the only new launch on the table, but Sung said that could change.

“If things move faster, we’ll expand to more cities, maybe one per year,” he said. “But we need to get our brand, our food and our service right first.”

One part of that may be securing better deals for raw ingredients and food from suppliers. Grain is expanding its ‘hub’ kitchens — outposts placed strategically around town to serve customers faster — and growing its fleet of trucks, which are retrofitted with warmers and chillers for deliveries to customers.

Grain’s journey is proof that startups in the region will go through trials and tribulations, but being able to bolt down the fundamentals and reduce burn rate is crucial in the event that things go awry. Just look to grocery startup Honestbee, also based in Singapore, for evidence of what happens when costs are allowed to pile up.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Get ready for a new era of personalized entertainment

Posted by on Apr 13, 2019 in Amazon, Artificial Intelligence, Column, computing, Content, Facebook, machine learning, Marketing, Multimedia, personalization, smart devices, Spotify, Streaming Media, streaming services, Twitter, virtual reality, world wide web | 0 comments

New machine learning technologies, user interfaces and automated content creation techniques are going to expand the personalization of storytelling beyond algorithmically generated news feeds and content recommendation.

The next wave will be software-generated narratives that are tailored to the tastes and sentiments of a consumer.

Concretely, it means that your digital footprint, personal preferences and context unlock alternative features in the content itself, be it a news article, live video or a hit series on your streaming service.

The title contains different experiences for different people.

From smart recommendations to smarter content

When you use Youtube, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, Netflix or Spotify, algorithms select what gets recommended to you. The current mainstream services and their user interfaces and recommendation engines have been optimized to serve you content you might be interested in.

Your data, other people’s data, content-related data and machine learning methods are used to match people and content, thus improving the relevance of content recommendations and efficiency of content distribution.

However, so far the content experience itself has mostly been similar to everyone. If the same news article, live video or TV series episode gets recommended to you and me, we both read and watch the same thing, experiencing the same content.

That’s about to change. Soon we’ll be seeing new forms of smart content, in which user interface, machine learning technologies and content itself are combined in a seamless manner to create a personalized content experience.

What is smart content?

Smart content means that content experience itself is affected by who is seeing, watching, reading or listening to content. The content itself changes based on who you are.

We are already seeing the first forerunners in this space. TikTok’s whole content experience is driven by very short videos, audiovisual content sequences if you will, ordered and woven together by algorithms. Every user sees a different, personalized, “whole” based on her viewing history and user profile.

At the same time, Netflix has recently started testing new forms of interactive content (TV series episodes, e.g. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) in which user’s own choices affect directly the content experience, including dialogue and storyline. And more is on its way. With Love, Death & Robots series, Netflix is experimenting with episode order within a series, serving the episodes in different order for different users.

Some earlier predecessors of interactive audio-visual content include sports event streaming, in which the user can decide which particular stream she follows and how she interacts with the live content, for example rewinding the stream and spotting the key moments based on her own interest.

Simultaneously, we’re seeing how machine learning technologies can be used to create photo-like images of imaginary people, creatures and places. Current systems can recreate and alter entire videos, for example by changing the style, scenery, lighting, environment or central character’s face. Additionally, AI solutions are able to generate music in different genres.

Now, imagine, that TikTok’s individual short videos would be automatically personalized by the effects chosen by an AI system, and thus the whole video would be customized for you. Or that the choices in the Netflix’s interactive content affecting the plot twists, dialogue and even soundtrack, were made automatically by algorithms based on your profile.

Personalized smart content is coming to news as well. Automated systems, using today’s state-of-the-art NLP technologies, can generate long pieces of concise, comprehensible and even inventive textual content at scale. At present, media houses use automated content creation systems, or “robot journalists”, to create news material varying from complete articles to audio-visual clips and visualizations. Through content atomization (breaking content into small modular chunks of information) and machine learning, content production can be increased massively to support smart content creation.

Say that a news article you read or listen to is about a specific political topic that is unfamiliar to you. When comparing the same article with your friend, your version of the story might use different concepts and offer a different angle than your friend’s who’s really deep into politics. A beginner’s smart content news experience would differ from the experience of a topic enthusiast.

Content itself will become a software-like fluid and personalized experience, where your digital footprint and preferences affect not just how the content is recommended and served to you, but what the content actually contains.

Automated storytelling?

How is it possible to create smart content that contains different experiences for different people?

Content needs to be thought and treated as an iterative and configurable process rather than a ready-made static whole that is finished when it has been published in the distribution pipeline.

Importantly, the core building blocks of the content experience change: smart content consists of atomized modular elements that can be modified, updated, remixed, replaced, omitted and activated based on varying rules. In addition, content modules that have been made in the past, can be reused if applicable. Content is designed and developed more like a software.

Currently a significant amount of human effort and computing resources are used to prepare content for machine-powered content distribution and recommendation systems, varying from smart news apps to on-demand streaming services. With smart content, the content creation and its preparation for publication and distribution channels wouldn’t be separate processes. Instead, metadata and other invisible features that describe and define the content are an integral part of the content creation process from the very beginning.

Turning Donald Glover into Jay Gatsby

With smart content, the narrative or image itself becomes an integral part of an iterative feedback loop, in which the user’s actions, emotions and other signals as well as the visible and invisible features of the content itself affect the whole content consumption cycle from the content creation and recommendation to the content experience. With smart content features, a news article or a movie activates different elements of the content for different people.

It’s very likely that smart content for entertainment purposes will have different features and functions than news media content. Moreover, people expect frictionless and effortless content experience and thus smart content experience differs from games. Smart content doesn’t necessarily require direct actions from the user. If the person wants, the content personalization happens proactively and automatically, without explicit user interaction.

Creating smart content requires both human curation and machine intelligence. Humans focus on things that require creativity and deep analysis while AI systems generate, assemble and iterate the content that becomes dynamic and adaptive just like software.

Sustainable smart content

Smart content has different configurations and representations for different users, user interfaces, devices, languages and environments. The same piece of content contains elements that can be accessed through voice user interface or presented in augmented reality applications. Or the whole content expands into a fully immersive virtual reality experience.

In the same way as with the personalized user interfaces and smart devices, smart content can be used for good and bad. It can be used to enlighten and empower, as well as to trick and mislead. Thus it’s critical, that human-centered approach and sustainable values are built in the very core of smart content creation. Personalization needs to be transparent and the user needs to be able to choose if she wants the content to be personalized or not. And of course, not all content will be smart in the same way, if at all.

If used in a sustainable manner, smart content can break filter bubbles and echo chambers as it can be used to make a wide variety of information more accessible for diverse audiences. Through personalization, challenging topics can be presented to people according to their abilities and preferences, regardless of their background or level of education. For example a beginner’s version of vaccination content or digital media literacy article uses gamification elements, and the more experienced user gets directly a thorough fact-packed account of the recent developments and research results.

Smart content is also aligned with the efforts against today’s information operations such as fake news and its different forms such as “deep fakes” (http://www.niemanlab.org/2018/11/how-the-wall-street-journal-is-preparing-its-journalists-to-detect-deepfakes). If the content is like software, a legit software runs on your devices and interfaces without a problem. On the other hand, even the machine-generated realistic-looking but suspicious content, like deep fake, can be detected and filtered out based on its signature and other machine readable qualities.


Smart content is the ultimate combination of user experience design, AI technologies and storytelling.

News media should be among the first to start experimenting with smart content. When the intelligent content starts eating the world, one should be creating ones own intelligent content.

The first players that master the smart content, will be among tomorrow’s reigning digital giants. And that’s one of the main reasons why today’s tech titans are going seriously into the content game. Smart content is coming.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Spotify reportedly launches in India

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in India, Media, Spotify, TC | 0 comments

Spotify has reportedly launched for some users in India today, with plans to officially launch on Wednesday to everyone, Variety, citing sources with knowledge of Spotify’s plans, reports.

For the first 30 days, Spotify’s premium service will be free and then cost 119 rupees (about $1.67) per month. There are also single-day, weekly, monthly, three-month, six-month and annual plans. Similar to other streaming services available in India, Spotify will also offer a free, ad-supported product.

Spotify first announced its intent to launch in India last March. In November, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek cited licensing situations as a roadblock to its launch.

Last month, Spotify inked a global content deal with T-Series, a leading Indian film and music company with a catalog of more than 160,000 songs. As TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez has noted, the Indian market won’t be an easy one for Spotify to win. That’s because Spotify is up against local player Gaana, which already has more than 80 million users, Saavn, Wynk as well as the North American likes of Google, Apple and Amazon.

This is launch is happening in light of Spotify’s legal battle with Warner Music Group. Earlier this week, WMG asked an Indian court to block Spotify from being able to play music from its catalog.

TechCrunch has reached out to Spotify and will update this story if we hear back.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Spotify says it paid $340M to buy Gimlet and Anchor

Posted by on Feb 15, 2019 in Accel, anchor, BetaWorks, ceo, CrunchBase, daniel ek, Lowercase Capital, Media, microsoft windows, operating systems, podcast, podcast networks, Software, Spotify, stripes group, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, WPP, xbox | 0 comments

Spotify doubled down on podcasts last week with a double deal to buy podcast networks Gimlet and Anchor. Those acquisitions were initially undisclosed, but Spotify has quietly confirmed that it spent €300 million, just shy of $340 million, to capture the companies.

That’s according to an SEC filing — hat tip Recode’s Peter Kafka — which reveals that the transactions which were “primarily in cash,” Spotify said. Kafka previously reported that Spotify paid around $200 million for Gimlet, which, if correct, would mean Anchor fetched the remaining $140 million.

Those numbers represent an impressive return for the investors involved, particularly those who backed the companies at seed stage.

Gimlet raised $28.5 million from investors that included Stripes Group, WPP, Betaworks and Lowercase Capital, according to Crunchbase.

Anchor, meanwhile, raised $14.4 million. Crunchbase data shows its backers included Accel, GV, Homebrew and (again) Betaworks.

Those deals represent a good chunk of change, but Spotify still has more fuel in the tanks.

As we reported last week, it plans to spend a total of up to $500 million this year “on multiple acquisitions” as it seeks to further its position on podcasting which, to date, has been an after-thought to its focus on music. Less these deals, Spotify has around $160 million left in its spending budget for 2019.

In a blog post announcing the deals published last week, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek admitted that he didn’t originally release that “audio — not just music — would be the future of Spotify” when he founded the business in 2006.

“This opportunity starts with the next phase of growth in audio — podcasting. There are endless ways to tell stories that serve to entertain, to educate, to challenge, to inspire, or to bring us together and break down cultural barriers. The format is really evolving and while podcasting is still a relatively small business today, I see incredible growth potential for the space and for Spotify in particular,” Ek explained.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Startups Weekly: Spotify gets acquisitive and Instacart screws up

Posted by on Feb 9, 2019 in alex wilhelm, anchor, Bessemer Venture Partners, consumer reports, CrunchBase, funding, Fundings & Exits, Fusion Fund, gimlet, gimlet media, Instacart, josh constine, lime, Mark Suster, Megan Rose Dickey, Mike McNamara, Reddit, Sanjay Jha, Spotify, Startups, steve huffman, TC, Uber, upfront ventures, Venture Capital, web summit, Y Combinator | 0 comments

Did anyone else listen to season one of StartUp, Alex Blumberg’s OG Gimlet podcast? I did, and I felt like a proud mom this week reading stories of the major, first-of-its-kind Spotify acquisition of his podcast production company, Gimlet. Spotify also bought Anchor, a podcast monetization platform, signaling a new era for the podcasting industry.

On top of that, Himalaya Media, a free podcast app I’d never heard of until this week, raised a whopping $100 million in venture capital funding to “establish itself as a new force in the podcast distribution space,” per Variety.

The podcasting business definitely took center stage, but Lime and Bird made headlines, as usual, a new unicorn emerged in the mental health space and Instacart, it turns out, has been screwing its independent contractors.

As mentioned, Spotify, or shall we say Spodify, gobbled up Gimlet and Anchor. More on that here and a full analysis of the deal here. Key takeaway: it’s the dawn of podcasting; expect a whole lot more venture investment and M&A activity in the next few years.

This week’s biggest “yikes” moment was when reports emerged that Instacart was offsetting its wages with tips from customers. An independent contractor has filed a class-action lawsuit against the food delivery business, claiming it “intentionally and maliciously misappropriated gratuities in order to pay plaintiff’s wages even though Instacart maintained that 100 percent of customer tips went directly to shoppers.” TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey has the full story here, as well as Instacart CEO’s apology here.

Slack confidentially filed to go public this week, its first public step toward either an IPO or a direct listing. If it chooses the latter, like Spotify did in 2018, it won’t issue any new shares. Instead, it will sell existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors, a move that will allow it to bypass a roadshow and some of Wall Street’s exorbitant IPO fees. Postmates confidentially filed, too. The 8-year-old company has tapped JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America to lead its upcoming float.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman delivers remarks on “Redesigning Reddit” during the third day of Web Summit in Altice Arena on November 08, 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Horacio Villalobos-Corbis/Contributor)

It was particularly tough to decide which deal was the most notable this week… But the winner is Reddit, the online platform for chit-chatting about niche topics — r/ProgMetal if you’re Crunchbase editor Alex Wilhelm . The company is raising up to $300 million at a $3 billion valuation, according to TechCrunch’s Josh Constine. Reddit has been around since 2005 and has raised a total of $250 million in equity funding. The forthcoming Series D round is said to be led by Chinese tech giant Tencent at a $2.7 billion pre-money valuation.

Runner up for deal of the week is Calm, the app that helps users reduce anxiety, sleep better and feel happier. The startup brought in an $88 million Series B at a $1 billion valuation. With 40 million downloads worldwide and more than one million paying subscribers, the company says it quadrupled revenue in 2018 from $20 million to $80 million and is now profitable — not a word you hear every day in Silicon Valley.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

I listened to the Bird CEO’s chat with Upfront Ventures’ Mark Suster last week and wrote down some key takeaways, including the challenges of seasonality and safety in the scooter business. I also wrote about an investigation by Consumer Reports that found electric scooters to be the cause of more than 1,500 accidents in the U.S. I’m also required to mention that e-scooter unicorn Lime finally closed its highly anticipated round at a $2.4 billion valuation. The news came just a few days after the company beefed up its executive team with a CTO and CMO hire.

Databricks raises $250M at a $2.75B valuation for its analytics platform
Retail technology platform Relex raises $200M from TCV
Raisin raises $114M for its pan-European marketplace for savings and investment products
Self-driving truck startup Ike raises $52M
Signal Sciences secures $35M to protect web apps
Ritual raises $25M for its subscription-based women’s daily vitamin
Little Spoon gets $7M for its organic baby food delivery service
By Humankind picks up $4M to rid your morning routine of single-use plastic

We don’t spend a ton of time talking about the growing, venture-funded, tech-enabled logistics sector, but one startup in the space garnered significant attention this week. Turvo poached three key Uber Freight employees, including two of the unit’s co-founders. What’s that mean for Uber Freight? Well, probably not a ton… Based on my conversation with Turvo’s newest employees, Uber Freight is a rocket ship waiting to take off.

Who knew that investing in female-focused brands could turn a profit for investors? Just kidding, I knew that and this week I have even more proof! This is L., a direct-to-consumer, subscription-based retailer of pads, tampons and condoms made with organic materials sold to P&G for $100 million. The company, founded by Talia Frenkel, launched out of Y Combinator in August 2015. According to PitchBook, it was backed by Halogen Ventures, 500 Startups, Fusion Fund and a few others.

Speaking of ladies getting stuff done, Bessemer Venture Partners promoted Talia Goldberg to partner this week, making the 28-year-old one of the youngest investing partners at the Silicon Valley venture fund. Plus, Palo Alto’s Eclipse Ventures, hot off the heels of a $500 million fundraise, added two general partners: former Flex CEO Mike McNamara and former Global Foundries CEO Sanjay Jha.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about the expanding podcast industry, Reddit’s big round and scooter accidents.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Musiio raises $1M to let digital music services use AI for curation

Posted by on Feb 7, 2019 in Artificial Intelligence, Asia, entrepreneur first, funding, Fundings & Exits, hazel savage, Media, Musiio, Singapore, Spotify, United States, wavemaker partners | 0 comments

Musiio, a Singapore-based startup that uses AI to help digital music companies with discovery and creation, has pulled in a $1 million seed round.

The capital comes from Singapore’s Wavemaker Partners, U.S. investor Exponential Creativity Ventures and undisclosed angels. The deal represents the first outside round for Musiio, which was founded at the Entrepreneur First program in Singapore where CEO Hazel Savage, a former streaming exec, met CEO Aron Pettersson. It also makes Musiio the first venture capital-backed music AI startup in Southeast Asia and one of the most notable EF graduates from its Asian cohorts.

We first wrote about Musiio last April when it had raised SG$75,000 ($57,000) as part of its involvement in EF, the London-based accelerator that has big ambitions in Asia. Since then, it has increased its team to seven full-time staff.

The company is focused on reducing inefficiencies for music curation using artificial intelligence by augmenting the important work of human curators. In short, it aims to give those without the spending power of Spotify the opportunity to automate or partially automate a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to scouring through music.

“Musiio won’t replace the need to have people listening to music,” Savage told TechCrunch last year. “But we can delete the inefficiencies.”

The Musiio team at its office in Singapore

The company’s first public client is Free Music Archive (FMA), a Creative Commons-like free music site developed by independent U.S. radio station WFMU. Musiio developed a curated playlist which raised the profile of a number of songs that had become ‘lost’ in the catalog. In particular, it helped one track double the number of plays it had received over eight years within just two days.

The FMA deal was really a proof of concept for Musiio, and Savage said that the company is getting close to announcing deals.

“Over the next month or two, there will be two or three commercial announcements,” Savage said this week. “We’re working with streaming companies and sync companies.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Why Spotify is betting big on podcasting

Posted by on Feb 6, 2019 in anchor, gimlet, Media, Podcasts, Spotify | 0 comments

Podcasting revenues hit $314 million in 2017, according to a third-party survey released last summer. It’s a large number for what’s been historically regarded as a niche and difficult to monetize medium, but still pales in comparison to the additional $400-$500 million Spotify says it’s willing to spend on the space this year alone.

Two major acquisitions announced early today already comprise a massive commitment to the category. The purchase of Gimlet was reported to have made up nearly half that figure, at $230 million. While no number has been revealed for the purchase of Anchor, Spotify no doubt paid a pretty penny for the buzzy creation/distribution platform, which has raised $14.4 million to date.

What, then, makes Spotify so confident that it will be able to get a return on such a massive investment? To hear the company talk about it, the service fell a bit ass backwards into the whole podcasting phenomenon. For one of the world’s largest audio platforms, Spotify was actually remarkably late to the game. Podcasting dates back at least until 2000, gaining popular momentum around 2004. A year later, Apple began supporting the technology with iTunes 4.9.

After a lengthy beta period, Spotify only opened its podcast submission program to all-comers last October. As Spotify struggles to stay ahead of Apple Music’s looming growth, however, the company is now apparently suddenly all-in on podcasting.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Spotify’s Chief R&D Officer Gustav Söderström admits that the company wasn’t doing a particularly good job serving up podcasting content. “The user experience was really poor,” he says. “There was no 15-second skip. In spite of that, we saw a lot of users listening to podcasts. It was kind of unexpected and we didn’t really understand why. It turned out people really wanted to have podcasts in Spotify with their music. If you look at radio, it’s not that surprising.”

What Spotify discovered was what many no doubt already suspected: Many users don’t necessarily need or want additional applications for all of their different audio types. Even more to the point, Spotify has excelled in one key place many other podcasting platforms have failed: discovery. It’s been a key piece in the company’s growth as the leading music streaming service and could serve to help resolve one of podcasting’s biggest pain points for most users.

Matt Hartman, partner at Betaworks — an early investor in both Gimlet and Anchor — says the massive acquisitions could help signal the beginning of a new wave of podcasting growth.

“This feels like a turning point to a third wave,” Hartman says. “Discovery is a big part of the structural issues that have been in podcasting in the past and with audio in general. And Spotify has a specific solution to that on the music side. Between discovery and monetization, I think that’s where it starts to go from niche to mainstream.”

The same firm that put podcasting revenue at $314 million for 2017 forecasts that the number will hit $659 million next year, marking a 110 percent increase. That’s a healthy bump, but still a ways away from returning Spotify’s investment in a category that’s currently split amongst countless different players — including, notably, Apple, whose iPod gave the medium its name.

Eventually, Spotify will monetize podcasts the same way it has music — through subscriptions and ad revenue. In the short term, Spotify will allow both Gimlet and Anchor to operate as they have. Gimlet in particular has demonstrated an ability to make money hand over fist. In addition to raising $28.5 million, the company has devoted a chunk of operations to created sponsored content — using its vast resources to create custom podcasts for brands looking to pay a pretty penny.

When I spoke to Gimlet’s founders following its last major round, they were happy to discuss what’s become a kind of intellectual property machine, having already licensed shows like Alex, Inc. and Homecoming to ABC and Amazon. But building companies and quality content take time. Acquiring them, on the other hand, just takes money — albeit a hell of a lot of it in this case. Spotify was late to the draw but is still hoping to ramp up quickly. So it bought one of the premier players in premium podcasting.

“The question is how much you want to invest, and only history decides if this is right or not,” says Söderström. “We think this is the right time to invest. We could have continued on our own, but we think this is a great acceleration of the strategy we already had […] This was a great chance for us to accelerate the amount of talent we have at Spotify.”

Spotify has long offered some exclusive content from Gimlet and other podcasting studios. It says it will continue to do so here, while making the majority of shows available on all platforms. Ditto for shows created through Anchor, which offers an easy method for pushing out to different services — the company recently claimed it was powering around 40 percent of new podcasts.

Even if these acquisitions do eventually make fiscal sense for Spotify, what does this “third wave” of podcasting ultimately mean for creators? The great promise of podcasting has always been a sort of democratization of content. Anyone with a computer and a microphone can create a podcast. But if the early days of the world wide web have taught us anything, it’s that all things trend toward the corporate in a capitalist society.

Anchor, a plucky startup out of New York, has offered a welcome respite, bringing novice podcasters the tools to build easy podcasts out of the box. Spotify tells me that the company will keep Anchor’s branding and products around as consumer-facing offerings to help on-board users (it wouldn’t offer the same promise for Gimlet’s brand). More recently, Anchor has also worked to make ad sales more accessible for budding podcasters).

How all of that trickles down to content creators, however, remains to be seen. Music streaming like Spotify and Apple Music have been notoriously stingy when it comes to actually paying out musicians. And premium content, the kind Spotify was after in its Gimlet purchase, takes time and money, both things that are harder and harder to come by in this digital age.

Hartman disputes the music comparison, noting that podcasting is a nascent field without the same kind of precedent for monetization. “Podcasting wasn’t this massive industry that got disrupted,” he says. “It’s an industry that is figuring out its way and growing. Creators go into podcasting trying to find a new way to connect to audiences.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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TechCrunch Conversations: Direct listings

Posted by on Jan 19, 2019 in Airbnb, Banking, Barbara Gray, Barry McCarthy, Brady Capital Research, Brookline Capital Markets, chegg, Community, Cooley, Cooley LLP, Eric Jensen, Finance, funding, Government, Graham Powis, initial public offering, IPO, Jay R. Ritter, Jay Ritter, Josh Kuzon, Netflix, Pandora, Policy, Private Equity, Reciprocal Ventures, secondaries, slack, Spotify, Spotify IPO, Startup Initial Public Offering, TC, Technology Crossover Ventures, university of florida, Venture Capital | 1 comment

Last April, Spotify surprised Wall Street bankers by choosing to go public through a direct listing process rather than through a traditional IPO. Instead of issuing new shares, the company simply sold existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors directly to the market – bypassing the roadshow process and avoiding at least some of Wall Street’s fees. That pattens is set to continue in 2019 as Silicon Valley darlings Slack and Airbnb take the direct listing approach.

Have we reached a new normal where tech companies choose to test their own fate and disrupt the traditional capital markets process?  This week, we asked a panel of six experts on IPOs and direct listings: “What are the implications of direct listing tech IPOs for financial services, regulation, venture capital, and capital markets activity?” 

This week’s participants include: IPO researcher Jay R. Ritter (University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business), Spotify’s CFO Barry McCarthy, fintech venture capitalist Josh Kuzon (Reciprocal Ventures), IPO attorney Eric Jensen (Cooley LLP), research analyst Barbara Gray, CFA (Brady Capital Research), and capital markets advisor Graham A. Powis (Brookline Capital Markets).

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. Consider this a recurring venue for debate, where leading experts – with a diverse range of vantage points and opinions – provide us with thoughts on some of the biggest issues currently in tech, startups and venture. If you have any feedback, please reach out: Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.


Thoughts & Responses:


Jay R. Ritter

Jay Ritter is the Cordell Eminent Scholar at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business. He is the world’s most-cited academic expert on IPOs. His analysis of the Google IPO is available here.

In April last year, Spotify stock started to trade without a formal IPO, in what is known as a direct listing. The direct listing provided liquidity for shareholders, but unlike most traditional IPOs, did not raise any money for the company. Slack has announced that they will also conduct a direct listing, and it is rumored that some of the other prominent unicorns are considering doing the same.

Although no equity capital is raised by the company in a direct listing, after trading is established the company could do a follow-on offering to raise money. The big advantage of a direct listing is that it reduces the two big costs of an IPO—the direct cost of the fees paid to investment bankers, which are typically 7% of the proceeds for IPOs raising less than $150 million, and the indirect cost of selling shares at an offer price less than what the stocks subsequently trades at, which adds on another 18%, on average. For a unicorn in which the company and existing shareholders sell $1 billion in a traditional IPO using bookbuilding, the strategy of a direct listing and subsequent follow-on offering could net the company and selling shareholders an extra $200 million.

Direct listings are not the only way to reduce the direct and indirect costs of going public. Starting twenty years ago, when Ravenswood Winery went public in 1999, some companies have gone public using an auction rather than bookbuilding. Prominent companies that have used an auction include Google, Morningstar, and Interactive Brokers Group. Auctions, however, have not taken off, in spite of lower fees and less underpricing. The last few years no U.S. IPO has used one.

Traditional investment banks view direct listings and auction IPOs as a threat. Not only are the fees that they receive lower, but the investment bankers can no longer promise underpriced shares to their hedge fund clients. Issuing firms and their shareholders are the beneficiaries when direct listings are used.

If auctions and direct listings are so great, why haven’t more issuers used them? One important reason is that investment banks typically bundle analyst coverage with other business. If a small company hires a top investment bank such as Credit Suisse to take them public with a traditional IPO, Credit Suisse is almost certainly going to have its analyst that covers the industry follow the stock, at least for a while. Many companies have discovered, however, that if the company doesn’t live up to expectations, the major investment banks are only too happy to drop coverage a few years later. In contrast, an analyst at a second-tier investment bank, such as William Blair, Raymond James, Jefferies, Stephens, or Stifel, is much more likely to continue to follow the company for many years if the investment bank had been hired for the IPO. In my opinion, the pursuit of coverage from analysts at the top investment banks has discouraged many companies from bucking the system. The prominent unicorns, however, will get analyst coverage no matter what method they use or which investment banks they hire.


Barry McCarthy

Barry McCarthy is the Chief Financial Officer of Spotify. Prior to joining Spotify, Mr. McCarthy was a private investor and served as a board member for several major public and private companies, including Spotify, Pandora and Chegg. McCarthy also serves as an Executive Adviser to Technology Crossover Ventures and previously served as the Chief Financial Officer and Principal Accounting Officer of Netflix.

If we take a leap of faith and imagine that direct listings become an established alternative to the traditional IPO process, then we can expect:

  1. Financing costs to come down – The overall “cost” of the traditional IPO process will come down, in order to compete with the lower cost alternative (lower underwriting fees and no IPO discount) of a direct listing.
  2. The regulatory framework to remain unchanged – No change was / is required in federal securities laws, which already enable the direct listing process. With the SEC’s guidance and regulatory oversight, Spotify repurposed an existing process for direct listings – we didn’t invent a new one.

  3. A level playing field for exits – Spotify listed without the traditional 180 day lock-up. In order to compete with direct listings, traditional IPOs may eliminate the lock-up (and the short selling hedge funds do into the lock-up expiry).

  4. Financing frequency; right church, wrong pew – Regardless of what people tell you, an IPO is just another financing event. But you don’t need to complete a traditional IPO anymore if you want to sell equity. Conventional wisdom says you do, but I think conventional wisdom is evolving with the realities of the marketplace. Here’s how we’d do it at Spotify if we needed to raise additional equity capital. We’d execute a secondary or follow-on transaction, pay a 1% transaction fee and price our shares at about a 4% discount to the closing price on the day we priced our secondary offering. This is much less expensive “financing” than a traditional IPO with underwriter fees ranging from 3-7% (larger deals mean smaller fees) and the underwriter’s discount of ~36% to the full conviction price for the offering. You simply uncouple the going public event from the money raising event.


Josh Kuzon

Josh Kuzon is a Partner at Reciprocal Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm based in NYC focused on FinTech and blockchain. An expert in payments and banking systems, Josh is focused on backing the next generation of FinTech companies across payments, credit, financial infrastructure, and financial management software.

I think the implications of direct listing tech IPOs are positive for venture capitalists, as it creates a channel for efficient exits. However, the threat of low liquidity from a direct listing is significant and may ultimately outweigh the benefits for the listing company. 

Direct listing tech IPOs offers a compelling model for company employees and existing investors in pursuit of a liquidity event. The model features a non-dilutive, no lock-up period, and underwriting fee-less transaction, which is a short-term benefit of the strategy. Additionally, as a publicly traded company, there are longer-term benefits in being able to access public markets for financing, using company stock to pay for acquisitions, and potentially broaden global awareness of an organization. However, these benefits come with tradeoffs that should not be overlooked. 

One concern is the circular problem of liquidity. Without a defined supply of stock, it can be difficult to generate meaningful buyside demand. A floating price and indeterminate quantity will dampen institutional interest, no matter how great the listing company may be. Institutions require size and certainty; not only do they desire to build large positions, but they need to know they can exit them if needed. Without consistent institutional bids, sellers are less motivated to unwind their stakes, for fear of volatility and soft prices.

I believe institutional investors and their brokers are crucial ingredients for a properly functioning public equities market structure. They help make markets more liquid and efficient and serve as a check on companies to drive better business outcomes for their shareholders. A lack of institutional investors could be a very expensive long-term tradeoff for a short-term gain.

For companies that have significant brand awareness, don’t need to raise additional capital, or already have a diverse institutional investor base, the direct listing model may work out well for them. Few companies, however, fit this profile. Many more will likely have to work a lot harder to persuade the capital markets to participate in a direct listing and even if successful, may ultimately come back to bite them as they evolve and require additional capital markets cooperation.


Eric Jensen

Eric Jensen is a partner at Cooley LLP. He advises leading technology entrepreneurs, venture funds and investment banks in formation, financing, capital market and M&A transactions, and in in the past seven years was involved in over 55 offerings, raising over $21 billion, for companies such as Appian, Atlassian, Alteryx, Avalara, DocuSign, FireEye, Forty Seven, LinkedIn, MongoDB, NVIDIA, Redfin, SendGrid, ServiceNow, Tenable, Zendesk, Zulilly and Zynga.

It is challenging to draw market lessons from a single completed “direct listing.” The degree of interest I am seeing, often without folks knowing what it means, shows that the IPO model has issues. So first I describe to a client what it means – an IPO without the “I” and the “O”, meaning you are not selling any stock and therefore you don’t have a set initial stock price. These factors mean that a direct listing is relevant only for a small subset of private companies – those that:

  1. Sold stock to a number of institutional buyers that are likely to hold or increase their interest once trading begins;
  2. Are large enough (and didn’t restrict transfers) such that an active trading market developed as a private company, to be used as a proxy for the public trading price;
  3. Don’t need to raise primary capital, and
  4. Want to make their mark by doing something different, at the expense of placing IPO stock in the hands of new investors they have selected.

There is no evidence to indicate that it accelerates public market access, any company that can do a direct listing could do an IPO. The SEC doesn’t go away, and compared to the highly tuned IPO process, SEC scrutiny is actually higher. As least based on Spotify, it doesn’t put investment bankers out of a job, nor does it dramatically reduce total transactions costs. Spotify had no lock-up agreement, so the VCs I know love this feature, but it is not inherent in a direct listing, and IPOs don’t require lock-ups.

In my book, too soon to tell if it is the reverse Dutch Auction of its day.


Barbara Gray

Barbara Gray, CFA is a former top-ranked sell-side Equity Analyst and the Founder of Brady Capital Research Inc., a leading-edge investment research firm focused on structural disruption. She is also the author of the books Secrets of the Amazon 2.0, Secrets of the Amazon and Ubernomics.

Although Spotify successfully broke free of its reins last April and entered the public arena unescorted, I expect most unicorns will still choose to pay the fat underwriting fees to be paraded around by investment bankers. 

Realistically, the direct listing route is most suitable for companies meeting the following three criteria: 1) consumer-facing with strong brand equity; 2) easy-to-understand business model; and 3) no need to raise capital. Even if a company meets this criteria, the “escorted” IPO route could provide a positive return on investment as the IPO roadshow is designed to provide a valuation uptick through building awareness and preference versus competitive offerings by enabling a company to: a) reach and engage a larger investment pool; b) optimally position its story; and c) showcase its skilled management team.

Although the concept of democratizing capital markets by providing equal access to all investors is appealing, if a large institution isn’t able to get an IPO allocation, they may be less willing to build up a meaningful position in the aftermarket. The direct listings option also introduces a higher level of pricing risk and volatility as the opening price and vulnerable early trading days of the stock are left to the whims of the market. Unlike with an IPO, with benefits of stabilizing bids and 90 to 180 days lock-up agreements prohibiting existing investors from selling their shares, a flood of sellers could hit the market.


Graham Powis

Graham A. Powis is Senior Capital Markets Advisor at Brookline Capital Markets, a division of CIM Securities, LLC. Brookline is a boutique investment bank that provides a comprehensive suite of capital markets and advisory services to the healthcare industry. Mr. Powis previously held senior investment banking positions at BTIG, Lazard and Cowen.

While Spotify’s direct listing in 2018 and recent reports that Slack is considering a direct listing in 2019 have heightened curiosity around this approach to “going public,” we expect that most issuers in the near-to medium-term will continue to pursue a traditional IPO path. Potential benefits of a direct listing include the avoidance of further dilution to existing holders and underwriter fees. However, large, high-profile and well-financed corporations, most often in the technology and consumer sectors, are the companies typically best-suited to pursue these direct listings. By contrast, smaller companies seeking to raise capital alongside an exchange listing, and with an eye on overcoming challenges in attracting interest from the investing public, will continue to follow a well-established IPO process.

A case in point is the healthcare segment of the US IPO market, which has accounted for one-third of all US IPO activity over the last five years. The healthcare vertical tilts toward small unprofitable companies with significant capital needs and, as a result, direct listings aren’t likely to become a popular choice in that industry. Since 2014, unprofitable companies have accounted for more than 90% of all healthcare IPOs completed. Furthermore, the biotechnology subsector has been by far the most active corner of the healthcare IPO market, and biotechnology companies are voracious consumers of capital. Finally, healthcare IPOs tend to be relatively small: since 2014, healthcare IPO issuers have raised, on average, only 47% of the amount raised by non-healthcare issuers, and more than half have already returned to the market at least once for additional capital.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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With trust destroyed, Facebook is haunted by old data deals

Posted by on Dec 19, 2018 in Apps, BlackBerry, Facebook, facebook platform, Facebook Policy, facebook privacy, Mobile, Netflix, Social, Spotify, TC, Yahoo | 1 comment

As Facebook colonized the rest of the web with its functionality in hopes of fueling user growth, it built aggressive integrations with partners that are coming under newfound scrutiny through a deeply reported New York Times investigationSome of what Facebook did was sloppy or unsettling, including forgetting to shut down APIs when it cancelled its Instant Personalization feature for other sites in 2014, and how it used contact syncing to power friend recommendations.

But other moves aren’t as bad as they sound. Facebook did provide Spotify and Netflix the ability to access users messages, but only so people could send friends songs or movies via Facebook messages without leaving those apps. And Facebook did let Yahoo and Blackberry access people’s News Feeds, but to let users browse those feeds within social hub features inside those apps. These partners could only access data when users logged in and connected their Facebook accounts, and were only approved to use this data to provide Facebook-related functionality. That means Spotify at least wasn’t supposed to be rifling through everyone’s messages to find out what bands they talk about so it could build better curation algorithms, and there’s no evidence yet that it did.

Thankfully Facebook has ditched most of these integrations, as the dominance of iOS and Android have allowed it to build fewer, more standardized, and better safeguarded access points to its data. And it’s battened down the hatches in some ways, forcing users to shortcut from Spotify into the real Facebook Messenger rather than giving third-parties any special access to offer Facebook Messaging themselves.

The most glaring allegation Facebook hasn’t adequately responded to yet is that it used data from Amazon, Yahoo, and Huawei to improve friend suggestions through People You May Know — perhaps its creepiest feature. The company needs to accept the loss of growth hacking trade secrets and become much more transparent about how it makes so uncannily accurate recommendations of who to friend request — as Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill has documented.

In some cases, Facebook has admitted to missteps, with its Director of Developer Platforms and Programs Konstantinos Papamiltiadis writing “we shouldn’t have left the APIs in place after we shut down instant personalization.”

In others, we’ll have decide where to draw the line between what was actually dangerous and what gives us the chills at first glance. You don’t ask permission from friends to read an email from them on a certain browser or device, so should you worry if they saw your Facebook status update on a Blackberry social hub feature instead of the traditional Facebook app? Well that depends on how the access is monitored and meted out.

The underlying question is whether we trust that Facebook and these other big tech companies actually abided by rules to oversee and not to overuse data. Facebook has done plenty wrong, and after repeatedly failing to be transparent or live up to its apologies, it doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. For that reason, I don’t want it giving any developer — even ones I normally trust like Spotify — access to sensitive data protected merely by their promise of good behavior despite financial incentives for misuse.

Facebook’s former chief security officer Alex Stamos tweeted that “allowing for 3rd party clients is the kind of pro-competition move we want to see from dominant platforms. For ex, making Gmail only accessible to Android and the Gmail app would be horrible. For the NY Times to try to scandalize this kind of integration is wrong.” But countered that by noting that “integrations that are sneaky or send secret data to servers controlled by others really is wrong.”

Even if Spotify and Netflix didn’t abuse the access Facebook provided, there’s always eventually a Cambridge Analytica. Tech companies have proven their word can’t necessarily be trusted. The best way to protect users is to properly lock down the platforms with ample vetting, limits, and oversight so there won’t be gray areas that require us to put our faith in the kindness of businesses.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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