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Daily Crunch: Avataar raises $45M Series B to improve 3D e-commerce product visualizations

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 7, 2021! It’s Friday and the snow is falling like the dickens in my neck of the woods. But it was no snow day in the tech world. Not at all. In fact, one venture firm raised 10 figures of capital today. Can you guess who?

Before we jump in, today’s TechCrunch staff highlight is Grace Mendenhall, a member of the Equity team who is also a documentary film editor. And she’s frankly just the best. Now, the news! —Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • a16z reloads with $9B in new capital: The venture capital money arms race continued this week with news that Andreessen Horowitz has put together $9 billion to invest in venture deals, growth deals and biotech more specifically. As TechCrunch notes, the resulting dollar figure is a boost on the group’s last trio of similar funds. There is, it appears, an infinite capital appetite in today’s startup market.
  • Roblox pulls Chinese app: Five months after launching with Tencent in China, Roblox’s LuoBuLeSi was taken down. What happened? It may be that Roblox has some work to do on the data side of its service, something that it hinted at in a statement. Regardless, the move is yet another example of how hard it is for non-Chinese companies to build and sell digital products in the country.
  • India to investigate Google: In the wake of industry complaints from news groups, India’s Competition Commission “said Friday that Google dominates certain online services and its initial view is that Google has broken the local antitrust laws,” TechCrunch reports. Given how big and lucrative the Indian market is, this is not good news for Mountain View.

Startups/VC

Before we jump into all the startup news of the day, TechCrunch has a little treat for you. We got veteran venture capitalist Matt Murphy on the phone as 2021 came to a close to chat about prior tech booms, prior tech busts and what he sees as the strengths and weaknesses of today’s venture game. It’s a great weekend read.

And now, the news:

  • Pendulum raises $5.9M for narrative tracking: This is a fun one, as the company’s target market is utterly new to me. Per our reporting, Pendulum “helps companies, governments and other organizations track harmful narratives on social media platforms and elsewhere on the web.” I guess you and I currently do this by reading lots of tweets, but seeing a company build software for it makes good sense.
  • Peter Reinhardt leaves Twilio: Remember when Twilio bought Segment for $3.2 billion? It also bought Segment’s CEO, Peter Reinhardt, as part of the deal. Now, however, the exec is leaving to “be full-time CEO at Charm Industrial, a carbon mitigation startup he co-founded in 2018,” Ron Miller reports. I can’t quite connect charm and carbon, but we’ll keep an eye out for what the startup does next.
  • Avataar raises $45M for “life-sized 3D product evaluation”: No, this is not “Avatar,” like the movie. It’s Avataar, a U.S.- and India-based startup that helps consumers “visualize products in real-life size and feel in their living room” using their phones. Given that we all want to buy more stuff online, but it’s not always easy to picture a new footstool in situ, I like what the company is up to. Unsurprisingly, Avataar is working with e-commerce brands in categories like furniture.
  • Bfree wants to update the irksome business of credit collections: If you have ever gotten a call from a person who thinks that you owe them or someone that they represent money, you may have harkened back to how much more fun it was to get a root canal. Bfree, a “Nigerian credit management fintech,” as TechCrunch puts it, is working to build something that it considers to be more ethical debt collection. The company just raised $1.7 million and is busy recruiting in 16 markets, we report.
  • From the CES Beat: TechCrunch’s coverage of the great consumer electronics confab continued today, with posts up on the promises of elder tech and, well, all things metaverse, good and bad.

If you need even more startup news and notes and analysis this weekend, the Equity team has you covered.

After talking to marketing leaders for a year, here’s my advice for CEOs

Image Credits: Carol Yepes (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

This is a fantastic time to launch a startup, but if you’re trying to grow one — well, winter is coming.

We’ve already noted the impacts of new data regulations and consumers’ growing desire for more privacy, but here’s another log to toss on the bad news fire: As a percentage of company revenue, marketing budgets plummeted from 11% in 2020 to 6.4% last year.

“This is the lowest proportion allocated to marketing in the history of Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey,” the research company reported.

Rebecca Lynn, co-founder and general partner at Canvas Ventures, has had dozens of conversations with early-stage founders in recent months.

In a TechCrunch+ guest post, she covers the “downward pressure on the efficiency of marketing dollars” and shares several strategies that are producing results — as well as some “crazy” ideas “that seemed ridiculous at the time.”

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Apple keeps working on its fitness product: TechCrunch has news up today regarding Apple’s fitness product, the somewhat lamely named Fitness+. What’s new? Collections, which we write are ”curated series of workouts and meditations” that are targeted at a particular goal. Also new is what’s called “Time to Run,” an “audio running experience,” as we put it. Why doesn’t Apple just buy Peloton? I don’t know.
  • When does a Twitter Space become a podcast? We’re going to find out. Twitter is working on recording its live-audio product, called Spaces. And the social network is saying that it will include replay analytics. Which is super cool? Twitter’s product team is seemingly bringing its really solid 2021 product cadence into the new year.
  • And finally, from CES, a roundup of electric mobility two-wheelers for everyone out there who lives in a city that hasn’t given up its soul to provide more parking for lazy folks.

TechCrunch Experts

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

If you have a software consultant that you think other startup founders should know about, fill out the survey here.

Read one of the testimonials we’ve received below!

Marketer: Ridhi Singh, founder, 91Ninjas

Recommended by: Anish Khadiya, itilite

Testimonial: “Ridhi and team 91Ninjas bring in good domain knowledge, high-quality thinking and focused execution. We chose them for their expertise, disciplined approach and excellent work ethic. Thanks to team 91Ninjas, our inbound marketing engine has picked up good momentum. After coming onboard, they rapidly kick-started work on multiple fronts. In particular, we witnessed good traction on the social media and content front. We saw a good surge in organic traffic on blogs and our search appearance on domain-specific keywords has improved a lot.”

Source: Tech

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Dashworks is a search engine for your company’s sprawling internal knowledge

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As a company grows, the amount of important information employees need to keep track of inevitably grows right along with it. And, as your tech stack gets more complicated, that information ends up split up across more places — buried in Slack threads, tucked into Jira tickets, pushed as files on Dropbox, etc.

Dashworks is a startup aiming to be the go-to place for all of that internal knowledge. Part landing page and part search engine, it hooks into dozens of different enterprise services and gives you one hub to find what you need.

On the landing page front, Dashworks is built to be your work laptop’s homepage. It’s got support for broadcasting company wide announcements, building out FAQs, and sharing bookmarks for the things you often need and can never find — your handbooks, your OKRs, your org charts, etc.

More impressive, though, is its cross-tool search. With backgrounds in natural language processing at companies like Facebook and Cresta, co-founders Prasad Kawthekar and Praty Sharma are building a tool that allow you to ask Dashworks questions and have them answered from the knowledge it’s gathered across all of those aforementioned Slack threads, or Jira tickets, or Dropbox files. It’ll give you a search results page of relevant files across the services you’ve hooked in — but if it thinks it knows the answer to your question, it’ll just bubble that answer right to the top of the page, Google Snippets style.

Image Credits: Dashworks

Right now Dashworks can hook into over 30 different popular services, including Airtable, Asana, Confluence, Dropbox, Gmail, Google Drive, Intercom, Jira, Notion, Slack, Salesforce, Trello, and a whole bunch more — with more on the way, prioritized by demand.

Giving another company access to all of those services and the knowledge within might be unsettling — something the Dashworks team seems quite aware of. Kawthekar tells me that their product is SOC-2 certified, that all respective data is wiped from their servers if you choose to disconnect a service, and that, for teams that are equipped to host the tool themselves, they offer a fully on-prem version.

This week Dashworks is announcing that it raised a $4M round led by Point72 ventures, backed by South Park Commons, Combine Fund, Garuda Ventures, GOAT Capital, Unpopular Ventures, and Starling Ventures. Also backing the round is a number of angels, including Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear and Gusto co-founders Josh Reeves and Tomer London. The company was also a part of Y Combinator’s W20 class.

Image Credits: Dashworks

Source: Tech

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Daily Crunch: Google will offer G Suite legacy edition users a ‘no-cost option’

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

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 28, 2022! It’s nearly blizzard o’clock where I am, so please enjoy the following newsletter as my final missive before hunkering down. In happier and better news, TechCrunch Early Stage is coming up in just a few months and not only am I hype about it, I’ll hopefully be there IRL. See you soon! – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Google invests up to $1B in Airtel: With a $700 million investment and $300 million in “multi-year commercial agreements” with Airtel, and Indian telco, Google has made its second major bet on Indian infra. Recall that Google also put money into Jio, another Indian telco. The deal underscores the importance of the country in the future of technology revenues.
  • What’s ahead for Europe: On the heels of news that European startups had an outsized 2021 when it came to fundraising, TechCrunch explored what’s ahead for the continent. Some expect a slowdown from peak activity, while others anticipate further acceleration. Regardless of which perspective you favor, European venture investment is expected to remain elevated for some time to come.
  • Zapp raises $200M: And speaking of European startups, Zapp, the U.K.-based quick-convenience delivery startup, just raised a massive Series B. The company previously raised $100 million, meaning that this round was big in absolute and comparative terms. As we see some consolidation in the fast-delivery space, this deal caught our eye.

Startups/VC

  • Are charter cities the future for African tech growth? TechCrunch’s Tage Kene-Okafor has a great piece up on the site noting that “African cities have the fastest global urban growth rate,” which is leading to overcrowding. Some folks think that “charter cities offer a solution.” Special economic zones of all types have been tried before – will they offer African tech a faster route forward?
  • Personalized learning is hot: Our in-house edtech expert Natasah Mascarenhas has a great piece out today on personalized learning startups – Learnfully, Wayfinder, Empowerly, and others – that are taking the lessons of remote schooling to heart and working to make products that work better for our kids. It’s an encouraging, fascinating story.
  • Rise wants to remake team calendaring: There is no shortage of apps in the market to help individuals and teams work together. But we might not need as many as we have. That’s why Rise is making me think. The team calendaring app just raised a few million, and could replace a few tools that myself and friends use. I wonder if the solution to the Tool Overload of 2022 is tools that do less, intentionally.
  • Canvas wants non-tech folks to be able to squeeze answers from data: Developers are in short supply, so no-code tools that allow folks who don’t sling code to do their own building are blowing up. Similarly, a general dearth of data science talent in the market is creating space for tools like Canvas, which “is going all in with a spreadsheet-like interface for non-technical teams to access the information they need without bothering data teams,” TechCrunch reports.
  • Zigbang buys Samsung IoT business: The IoT promises of yesteryear are coming true, and not. Samsara recently went public on the back of its IoT business. That was a win for the category. That Zigbang, a South Korean proptech startup, is buying Samsung’s IoT unit feels slightly less bullish.
  • Series F-tw? Once upon a time I would have mocked a Series F as indication that the company in question had failed to go public. But that was then. Today Series Fs are not that rare. Indian B2B marketplace Moglix just raised one, which doubled its valuation to $2.6 billion. Tiger co-led the $250 million round.

And if you are looking down the barrel of a blizzard, TechCrunch’s Equity podcast has your downtime covered. Enjoy!

European, North American edtech startups see funding triple in 2021

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

Pre-pandemic, VCs were notoriously reluctant to invest in education-related companies. Today, edtech startups are seeing higher average deal sizes, more seed and pre-seed funding from non-VC investors, and an influx of generalists.

According to Rhys Spence, head of research at Brighteye Ventures, funding for edtech startups based in Europe and North America trebled over the last year.

“Exciting companies are spawning across geographies and verticals, and even generalist investors are building conviction that the sector is capable of producing the same kind of outsized returns generated in fintech, healthtech and other sectors,” writes Spence.

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Northern Light Venture Capital’s He Huang says the Chinese robotics market is overheated: Per the investor, robotics in China is “riddled with speculation and overvalued companies,” calling the situation a bubble. It’s worth noting that China’s central government is working to retool where its tech investment dollars flow.
  • Robinhood goes down, back up: This morning, in the wake of the company’s lackluster earnings report, TechCrunch dug through why Robinhood’s stock sold off in after-hours, pre-market, and early trading sessions yesterday and today. And then Robinhood turned around and gained ample ground during the rest of the day. It’s a weird market moment, but good news for the U.S. fintech all the same.
  • Google to allow legacy G Suite users to move to free accounts: After angering techies still using the “G Suite legacy free edition” by announcing that it was ending the program and requiring payment, the search giant has decided to ”offer more options to existing users,” TechCrunch reports. Somewhere inside of Google, a business decision just met the market and was flipped on its head. Makes you wonder who is calling the shots over there, and if they previously worked for McKinsey.

TechCrunch Experts

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

Source: Tech

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3 experiments for early-stage founders seeking product-market fit

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At Human Ventures, we have a fund for pre-seed and seed-stage investments, a venture studio and an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) program.

Through this work, we’ve discovered a lot about how different founders fulfill their journey of customer discovery and product-market fit. One of the largest challenges for pre-seed and seed stage founders is determining where to start: There are a million things to do. What should you do at each stage?

We interviewed three founders from our portfolio, all of whom ran discovery experiments to find their product-market fit at different stages of their company’s development.

Here’s what they had to share:

Pre-MVP/customer discovery phase: Tiny Organics

Tiny Organics is a plant-based baby and toddler food company on a mission to shape childrens’ palates so they’ll choose and love vegetables from their earliest days. The company raised $11 million in their Series A in 2021 and is growing at over 500% annually.

Founders Sofia Laurell and Betsy Fore joined our venture studio as EIRs and went through a six-week discovery sprint. As Sofia explains, they knew they wanted to build something to make parents’ lives easier and threw a lot of initial ideas at the wall from the Finnish baby box 2.0 (Sofia is Finnish) to an easier way to create Instagrammable baby pictures.

They went through multiple exercises to test the viability of new parents’ most pressing and urgent needs:

  • Conduct a “Start with Why” exercise
  • Define the “Jobs to be Done”
  • Create a lean canvas for each (viable) concept
  • Define the user journeys
  • Conduct user surveys using platforms like pollfish.com and 1Q (instant survey tool)
  • Identify and define their customer personas
  • Conduct customer interviews and synthesize them
  • Construct concept prototypes

They also met prospective customers, conducting a focus group of 10-15 moms. When the founders asked them to text them what they were feeding their children along with pictures for a week, they realized the lack of healthy finger foods in the market, thus sparking the idea for Tiny Organics.

Source: Tech

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