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Daily Crunch: Web3 project tool Thirdweb closes $5M round with help from Mark Cuban, Gary Vaynerchuk

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for Monday, December 13! The theme of today is crypto, or web3 if you prefer that rebranding. Why? Because it turns out that an NFT project is making a game, a new startup wants to bring crypto and no-code together and there are several other bits of web3 startup news on our pages today.

Yes, we also have our normal run of funding rounds, unicorn exits and the like. But, strap in for some token talk! —Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Chinese AI IPO on hold: The SenseTime IPO was set to raise around $767 million in a Hong Kong listing. However, after finding itself on an American technology blacklist as of Friday, the IPO is on hold. As Didi looks to delist from the American markets, seeing such a high-profile Hong Kong debut on hold is not a great look for Chinese tech liquidity.
  • Bored Ape Yacht Club game? If you aren’t a fan of the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT series — I am not, for what it’s worth — you may not be hype to hear it, but there’s a game coming from the image collection. If this is a hit, expect many games to be built atop other NFT IP. Quickly, I wonder what the market size is for this game, given that there are only 10,000 images in the series.
  • UK taking look at Microsoft-Nuance deal: A $19.7 billion deal between Microsoft and “speech-to-text specialist Nuance,” as TechCrunch put it, has picked up regulatory scrutiny by a U.K. watchdog. This is the prelude to an investigation, it appears, but the fact that Microsoft is even getting a second look could chill other large buys by the megacorps of the technology world.

Startups/VC

A few themes are obvious today, including the startup exit market and crypto. We’ll take those on first, and then close with the rest of the startup news of the day.

Exits:

  • So much for that IPO pop: A number of 2020 and 2021 IPOs had super strong first-day performances and early trading gains. This led to much complaining that tech offerings were being mispriced on purpose, to the benefit of banking customers. Well, we took a look back, and the numbers with a little time are far less clear than they once seemed.
  • Robot company Symbotics to go public via SPAC: After securing greater commitment from huge American retailer Walmart, Symbotics has decided to pursue a public listing via a SPAC, or blank-check company. Notably the deal will see the robot firm link with Softbank Investment Advisers’ SVF Investment Corp. 3.
  • E-motorcycle company LiveWire to go public via a SPAC: Have you ever heard the pneumonia-rattle of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle? Well, it turns out that the company also makes electric bikes. Who knew! The deal, per TechCrunch, will allow Harley to hold onto a good stake in the company while also injecting capital into the business. We’re just glad that the company is making bikes that don’t sound like their engines are filled with used dentures.

And then, crypto: 

  • Thirdweb raises $5M for the union of crypto and no-code: What Thirdweb is doing sounds cool. TechCrunch reports that the company’s software helps “developers build, launch and manage their web3 projects without writing any lines of code.” Anything that makes tech more generally accessible is fine by us, including, yes, crypto.
  • Fractal is an gaming NFT marketplace built on Solana: Did that make sense to you? If not, let me help. Fractal is a company that is building a market to sell gaming-related non-fungible tokens on the Solana blockchain, which rivals Ethereum and Bitcoin. How does gaming come into the speculative world of NFTs? Well, there are now play-to-earn games out there, where players are rewarded with NFTs instead of, say, internet points. So you can trade those on Fractal, I suppose.
  • NBA Top Shot takes another shot: Dapper Labs became known as the team behind the NBA Top Shot NFT series that was hot a while back. Now the company — worth some $7.6 billion — is back with its next product called The Warehouse. I can’t really improve on what our own Lucas Matney wrote, so here it is: The Warehouse is “an ambitious NFT storefront that the startups hope will serve as a hub for web3 digital identity, allowing users to create animated avatars and outfit them with crypto accessories.” As with all crypto projects, I have no idea if this is going to be a hit or a flop.

The rest of it:

  • Prior head of Twitter India is starting an edtech startup: Twitter and India get along about as well as any authoritarian government does with the social network. But now the company’s former head in the country, Manish Maheshwari, is “leaving the firm to launch an edtech startup, according to nine people familiar with the matter.” Something to keep an eye on.
  • SnapLogic now worth $1B: The NFT world may get more headlines than enterprise software lately, but that hasn’t stopped the more staid parts of startupland from still doing business. SnapLogic is indicative of that fact, raising $165 million at a new, higher valuation. The new unicorn helps companies bringing their work into the digital realm connect their various data sources and workflows.
  • Weird startup names are still here: Say hello to Whym, founded by ex-Snap employees. The startup is working on mobile e-commerce, a part of the larger digital purchasing world that could still use some work. I say that as someone who, at times, buys things on his phone and has dealt with all the fun that it entails. Whym just raised $4.3 million.
  • Notus wants to help you find the right influencer for your brand: The world of influencer marketing has become mature enough that finding one’s next in-market avatar is now a business. Notus has raised $1.25 million to build a software service to help brands of all sorts find whom they should hire to rep their stuff. Neat!

Conversational UX: The missing piece in your chatbot strategy

Image Credits: krung99 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

We don’t run many TechCrunch+ articles that are focused on basic best practices, but we make exceptions when it comes to posts about emerging technology — in this case, conversational UX.

It’s notoriously difficult for software to mimic human conversation. Many chatbots are so inept, it makes one long for the days of press 0 for an operator.

“Though chatbots are largely meant to handle simple customer service tasks, there is an opportunity to scale both customer service and sales messaging,” writes Raghu Ravinutala, CEO and co-founder of Yellow.ai, a conversational CX platform.

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

Big Tech Inc.

  • Reply to that Instagram with a TikTok Reel: TechCrunch noted today that Instagram, the Meta-built photo-sharing app, has introduced “Reels Visual Replies.” The feature will allow Instagram users to create short-form video replies to other posts. So it’s like personal gifs, I reckon. Which is cool if people use them. Let’s see.
  • Mozilla is a huge business: Sure, we moved to Chrome, but not everyone did. So many people, in fact, still use Mozilla products that the company should generate around $500 million this year. Not bad! And good news for browser competition.

TechCrunch Experts

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Are you all caught up on last week’s coverage of growth marketing and software development? If not, read it here.

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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

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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

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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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