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Is it Wednesday already? The calendar tells me that it is. (Fun fact: My apartment’s so full of date-displaying smart displays that it’s a struggle not to trip over them.) Time sure flies when the Daily Crunch team entrusts you — meaning me — with TechCrunch’s newsletter of record. As always, there’s plenty of ground to cover, but I’ve done my best to ensure Haje and Christine have nothing to worry about while they enjoy much-needed time away from the daily grind. Rest up, folks. Y’all deserve it.
African fintechs are experiencing stratospheric growth — last year, the number of startups in the category increased 17.3% to 573, from 491 in 2019, according to local publication Disrupt Africa. An exciting new entrant is Thepeer, which powers infrastructure for mainly fintech businesses, from small to medium sized. Tage writes that the company is seeing success a year post-founding, with average month-on-month transaction growth of 161%. That’s impressive no matter how you slice it.
The TechCrunch Top 3
Not for the prudish — or the prudent: MindGeek, the parent company of porn streaming giant Pornhub, has seen less calamitous days. Devin writes that the CEO and COO — Feras Antoon and David Tassillo, respectively — abruptly resigned roughly a week following a New Yorker report on the company’s less-than-stellar moderation policies. It’s all speculation at this point, but financial uncertainty might’ve played a part. As profitable as adult film tends to be, MindGeek bore the brunt of a payment processor crusade against pornography platforms 2 years ago, with processors, including Mastercard, suspending payments to the company’s brands.
Brevity is(n’t) the soul of wit: Remember when Twitter, constrained by the limitations of SMS, limited its poor users to 140 characters? I do. But I’m old. New tweeters (twitterers?) might never know that tweets were once an exercise in self-editing, thanks to Twitter’s new feature — Twitter Notes — that would support the publishing of long-form content on the platform. Sarah has the story.
Better get out of here: Mary’s reporting on Better.com’s woes has been second to none, and this week, she published another big scoop: A large portion of the mortgage lender’s senior leadership has resigned, including the SVP and VP of sales. Their departures follow the exit of the EVP of customer experience, the SVP of capital markets and growth and a trio of high-level public relations folks. Facing a delayed IPO and continuing bad publicity, including a lawsuit, a turnaround for Better.com is looking increasingly remote.
Startups and VC
The economic downturn is hitting some industries harder than others, but one that seems immune — at least for now — is app development. The appetite for apps hasn’t died down, and neither, apparently, has demand for low-code platforms and APIs that make building them faster and easier. Appsmith, a low-code platform for building business apps, landed $41 million this week. Meanwhile, Courier nabbed $35 million to build a service for app notifications.
The hardware business has been less forgiving lately. Case in point: Nothing, the new company from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, announced that it won’t be bringing its first phone — the Phone (1) — to the U.S. The barrier was partly one of achieving carrier adoption in the U.S., as U.S. carriers are notoriously hostile to disfavored brands — particularly in a down market. But it’s unfortunate nonetheless.
Elsewhere in startup land:
Boxing on the go: Liteboxer debuted an ultra-portable, subscription-based fitness wearable that walks the wearer through workouts, optionally paired with music from a preloaded catalog. For those with small apartments especially, it could be a godsend, writes Brian.
Hotter than a warming planet: “Climate tech” might not be new, but it’s definitely hot — which isn’t surprising in light of dire predictions about the climate crisis. Underlining the state of affairs, Kiko Ventures emerged this week with a $450 million (£375 million) fund to invest in climate tech and “regenerative” technologies, Mike reports.
The accent, I can’t place it: A fascinating startup called Sanas has built AI that can change a person’s accent. Backed by Google, the company has announced $32 million in funding and claims to have a number of customers, including insurance giant Assurant and BPO leviathan Alorica. As per Ingrid, the tech sounds a little robotic and emotion-free, but that’s apparently intentional — Sanas designed it with call centers in mind.
Let me handle that data for you: Proving that there’s money in data management, Ataccama today secured a $150 million infusion from Bain Capital Tech Opportunities. As I wrote in my brief, Ataccama’s success is reflective of the explosion in recent years of tools that allow businesses to connect, transform, analyze and serve data from all kinds of sources.
Elusive soft landings at SoftBank: The bad news at SoftBank got worse this week. On the heels of the firm’s disappointing performance, French businessman Michel Combes — who was appointed as CEO of SoftBank Group International in January — left the company, Connie reports. Troubled waters lie ahead as SoftBank plans to cut back its pace of new investments.
Charging toward M&A: In a fascinating piece, Rebecca writes about consolidation in the EV charging market, which has seen an infusion of cash in recent years amid enthusiasm — and government funding — for the technology. On the horizon is a wave of startups looking to commercialize and scale so-called DC Fast chargers.
Boring, but profitable: Let this be a lesson to HR tech naysayers: Investors still want a piece of the action. Personio, a startup out of Munich, Germany, that styles itself as a Workday and ServiceNow focused on the small and medium businesses, this week closed a $200 million round that values it at $8.5 billion. Ingrid has the story.
3 tips for biotech startups seeking non-dilutive capital to weather the downturn
This is a particularly difficult time for life sciences startups. Even if their tech is world-changing, it will still be years before it comes to market.
Most biotech founders who are looking to raise in this environment assume that dilutive capital is their only option, but that’s short-sighted, writes James Coates, Health and Human Performance principal at Decisive Point.
“In a downturn, non-dilutive grants or contracts from the government should be seen as more appealing than ever because they provide runway without dilution and make for great headlines.”
(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)
Big Tech Inc.
Thought the NFT trend was over and done with? Hah. Far from it. Signaling acute interest from Big Tech, eBay this week acquired Manchester-based NFT marketplace KnownOrigin, Aisha reports. Shopify, meanwhile, launched Tokengated commerce, a feature that the company describes as a way to “reward true fans and VIPs, by giving NFT holders exclusive access to products, perks, and experiences” by linking crypto wallets to Shopify online stores, Ingrid writes.
In other buzzwordy news, the metaverse — that nebulous mix of virtual and augmented reality — might be interoperable if certain tech giants have their way. Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, Unity and others this week formed the Metaverse Standards Forum, which seeks to make it easier for developers to build across platforms. But there are also some glaring absences, as Amanda notes, including companies like Niantic, Apple, Roblox and Snapchat — which are building consumer “metaverse” products as well.
Does all this talk of digital experiences have you yearning for something tangible? Give Ikea’s new tool a whirl. Lauren, recounting her experience with it, describes it as a way to visualize your own living space with furniture on your smartphone instead of traveling to an Ikea store. You’ll miss out on the Swedish meatballs, but the convenience might just make up for it.
Hot tub hack machine: Carly writes how a security researcher found vulnerabilities in Jacuzzi’s SmartTub interface that allowed access to the personal data of every hot tub owner. How horrifying is that?
We don’t have the votes: In the face of numerous sexual harassment lawsuits and investigations, Activision Blizzard has rejected an attempt by employees to get a seat on the company board to represent the voice of the staff. Disappointingly, just 5% of shareholders voted in favor, Amanda writes, while the majority reelected controversial CEO Bobby Kotick to the board.
Lawsuits abound: A Black former worker at Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant has rejected a $15 million payout from the automaker in a lawsuit alleging racial abuse by co-workers, Rebecca reports. It’s the latest legal spat involving the company after two former employees filed a lawsuit alleging the automaker didn’t provide the 60 days advance notice required by federal law during its recent round of layoffs.
Nuclear glow: NASA has the moon on its mind — and nuclear fission. This week, the agency announced that it’s contracting three suppliers to provide concept designs for nuclear fission energy systems designed for use on the moon. Exciting stuff, given the potential. Read Darrell’s report for the rundown.