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WeWork and Uber are proof valuations are meaningless

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Kate and Alex were back to cover a lot of late-stage news, which they rounded up with some early-stage notes toward the end. As a reminder, come check out the show at Disrupt SF if you are in town, we’ll be out amongst startups, chatting all things startups and money.

Up top, we dug into WeWork and the latest from the company’s continuing IPO saga. The question regarding the co-working company’s public offering has changed to whether the IPO will happen this year, not just at what price the firm can entice enough investment to actually get public.

Alex has written about the company’s cash appetite a few times now, which raise the question of how long the company can survive without some sort of large, external investment. If SoftBank is willing to commit more capital is an open question.

Moving along to Uber, the firm underwent layoffs again this week. More than 400 people, or 8% of the operations, were cut as the company attempts to streamline operations, cut costs and, well, take baby steps toward profitability.

Turning to the early-stage part of the world, there’s a new early-stage-focused venture fund out there, Work Life Ventures, which intends to put small checks into promising SaaS companies. The firm is led by SaaS School founder Brianne Kimmel, a well-known angel investor in the enterprise space. So far she’s backed three companies out of the fund, including recent Y Combinator standout Tandem.

We finished off the episode with… cereal. A company called Magic Spoon (their website is here, as promised) raised $5.5 million this week for its D2C breakfast business. Our take is that the price point is a bit too high for comfort in its current iteration. It’ll be interesting to see if the startup can lower its prices now that it has new capital.

We’ll be back in a week! Chat soon, and please stop telling us to become angel investors!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Spotify acquires SoundBetter, a music production marketplace, for an undisclosed sum

By Catherine Shu

Spotify today took another step in its efforts to build out services for artists to help diversify itself away from a business model predicated on paying music streaming royalties to labels: it has acquired SoundBetter, a music production marketplace for artists, producers, and musicians to connect on specific projects; and for people who are looking to distribute music tracks to those who want to license them.

SoundBetter has about 180,000 registered users and has paid out more than $19 million to musicians and producers to date, averaging around $1 million per month currently, itself taking a cut by way of a commission (of an undisclosed percentage) on each deal secured through the platform.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, meaning it’s unlikely to be a significant sum for the $24 billion streaming giant, which now has 232 million users, including 108 million Spotify Premium subscribers. New York-based SoundBetter had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors including 500 Startups, Foundry Group, Eric Ries and Verizon Ventures when it was still called Nautilus under AOL (disclosure: TechCrunch is part of Verizon Media). Its last funding — convertible debt from Drummond Road and others — was back in 2015.

SoundBetter is not being shut down with the acquisition: a spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that it will be business as usual as Spotify and the startup work on integrating SoundBetter’s services with Spotify for Artists, which currently offers musicians and others analytics on Spotify tracks and other services to help market themselves.

SoundBetter was founded back in 2012 by Shachar Gilad (CEO) and Itamar Yunger (CTO) and operates two main services. Its main business is an online marketplace for musicians to source singers, sound engineers, producers and other music and audio professionals to put the finishing touches on tracks (think Fiverr or Behance, but specifically for music). In June this year, it launched a newer marketplace called Tracks for people to license finished music, competing with the likes of Epidemic Sound (which earlier this year raised money at a $370 million valuation).

Interestingly, Spotify had tried to launch a direct music distribution platform in the past — including with an investment in DistroKid, a music distribution service that supports cross-platform uploads — but the effort never left the beta phase and was then shut down this past July. That decision possibly make more sense now, since the move might have been made to pave the way for SoundBetter.

Indeed, for Spotify, the deal is a signal that the company is going to continue investing in more behind-the-scenes services for artists and others in the music ecosystem, particularly in building up services that bypass (or at least exist alongside) those of traditional labels, and take some pressure off that side of the business. Last quarter, Spotify faced some criticism (and a drop in its share price) for missing its own targets for subscription growth

“As we build out our tools for creators, we want to give them the resources they need to thrive. SoundBetter has the same vision,” said Beckwith Kloss, VP Product, Creator at Spotify, in a statement.  “We’re excited that creators can generate income through SoundBetter, as well as benefit from its network of top professionals – from instrumentalists to songwriters to producers – as they perfect their tracks.”

Spotify has over the years amassed a growing list of assets that take the platform beyond basic music streaming, with a lot of attention of late focused on spoken word content, providing cloud-based studio services by way of SoundTrap (acquired by Spotify in 2017), and podcast platform Anchor (acquired last year).

But with music continuing to be the beating drum of the platform, Spotify will continue to build up that area of its business, too, not least because competitors like Apple are also continuing to build up its own services for artists that bypass traditional labels. 

SoundBetter already has a decent, if relatively small, business, with its fair share of big names. It claims that “Kanye West’s Producer, Hoobastank’s Drummer, Jamiroquai’s Guitarist, Beyonce’s Songwriter, Joe Cocker’s Bass player, Herbie Hancock’s Engineer, Morrissey’s Guitarist, The Killers’ Mixing Engineer, and George Michael’s Mastering Engineer” are among those using its services. This will give it a big boost in exposure: Spotify for Artists currently has 400,000 registered users, but the platform itself has become a cornerstone of digital music distribution.

SoundBetter offers the most comprehensive global marketplace for music and audio production professionals for hire in the world along with a member community spanning 176 countries and 14,000 cities worldwide,” said SoundBetter Co-Founder and CEO Shachar Gilad. “We are excited to benefit from Spotify’s global scale, resources, and vision to expand our network and drive more economic opportunities for artists of all levels.”

Quibi is partnering with the BBC on international news show for millennials

By Jonathan Shieber

The BBC and Quibi are partnering to make a new daily international news show for millennials.

The two companies said that the new programming, which will be featured as part of Quibi’s “Daily Essentials” programming, will be filmed in the Beeb’s central London headquarters five days a week and each segment will be five minutes long.

The show aims to catch viewers up with all the news from around the world in five minutes, according to the two companies.

“Since the BBC began life as a start-up in 1922 we have been focused on two things: innovating to reach our audiences in new ways; and providing trustworthy news and entertainment of the highest quality,” said BBC Global News chief executive, Jim Egan in a statement. “Technology is changing constantly, as is the world at large and we’re delighted to be working with an innovative new player like Quibi to bring young audiences a daily made-for-mobile global news update of the highest quality from our unparalleled network of international correspondents and experts.”

The BBC also has news programming distributed on Snap and Facebook’s Instagram. So the company seems to be covering its bases to ensure it doesn’t miss out on the potential next big thing in media platforms.

“BBC News is one of the most respected news brands around the globe, and in particular for millennials in America today,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder and chairman of the board of Quibi. “We’re proud to partner with them to create a daily international news report for Quibi.”

The deal with the BBC follows a July announcement that Quibi had also hooked up with NBC News for programming. As we reported at the time, that deal includes a six-minute morning and evening news show for Quibi’s service.

NBC News also runs a Snapchat news show called Stay Tuned that reaches millions, and recently launched its own digital streaming news network, NBC News Now, delivered through its NBC app.

The mobile-only streaming service is set for an April 2020 launch, and has already announced a big slate of programming from top-tier filmmakers and actors.

Some of the highlights include commitments from filmmakers Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro and Antoine Fuqua and producer Jason Blum to create series for the service, plus a show called “Inspired By” with Justin Timberlake.

As we’ve reported, subscribers to Quibi can also expect a show about Snapchat’s founding, an action-thriller starring Liam Hemsworth, a murder mystery comedy from SNL’s Lorne Michaels, a beauty docuseries from Tyra Banks, a Steven Spielberg horror show, a comedy from Thomas Lennon, a car-stunt series with Idris Elba and more.

Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey are starting a weekly podcast about The Office

By Greg Kumparak

Oh, be still my heart.

It’s not The Office reunion special/season/complete series everyone wants, but it’ll do for now: Jenna Fischer (Pam) and Angela Kinsey (… Angela) are setting up to release a podcast together.

Called “Office Ladies” (though I hope “Party Planning Committee” was at least in the running), they’re going to rewatch the show and talk about one episode each week.

It’ll be produced by the podcast hub/app Stitcher, but the company says it’ll also be on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and “anywhere podcasts are available.”

Despite having wrapped up in 2013, The Office is wildly popular right now. Much of this popularity seems to stem from it being available (and repeatedly bingeable) on Netflix, where it’s reportedly the service’s most watched show. This wave of popularity, swirled together with the stars’ own nostalgia from rewatching episodes they shot roughly a decade ago, seems like a setup for a pretty solid podcast.

The first podcast is set to ship on October 16th of this year. Alas, at one episode per week, that’ll only let them get through about a quarter of the series’ 201 episodes before it leaves Netflix in 2021 for whatever NBC’s streaming thing is going to be called.

If they’re having any of their co-stars make guest appearances, none have been announced yet — but if so, Jenna and Angela, just remember: Creed might need some editing.

Everyone Should Celebrate Their Love for Dungeons & Dragons

By Geek's Guide to the Galaxy
It took author Matt Bell a while to get there, but now he encourages everyone to do the same.

Pandora now lets you share music and podcasts to your Instagram Stories

By Sarah Perez

Pandora today announced a new integration with Instagram that will allow users to share their favorite music and podcasts to their Instagram Story. The feature comes well over a year after Spotify launched a similar integration with Instagram Stories, and only days after Spotify introduced sharing to Facebook Stories, as well.

In Pandora’s case, accessing the feature is also a quick and easy process — you just tap the “Share” button from the Now Playing screen in the app, then choose “Instagram Stories” as the destination.

A cover art card for the music or podcast will then be generated on your Instagram Story, which you can further decorate with text and stickers, as usual. You can also choose to send the story as a direct message to a friend or a group chat, instead of all your followers.

Where Pandora’s experience differs from Spotify’s is what happens when that story is viewed.

When a friend taps the “Play on Pandora” button from the Instagram story, they can gain direct access to that content — even if they don’t have a Premium account. Those who aren’t paid subscribers will be able to view a short ad then gain access to both the shared content as well as a session of free, unlimited, on-demand music.

This is made possible through Pandora’s Premium Access ad solution, which rewards users for watching video ads with free, on-demand sessions.

That means Pandora’s take on Instagram sharing won’t just be useful to artists looking to promote their music, or fans looking to engage their friends — it will also potentially serve as a way to convert free users to paid subscribers after they get a free taste of what Pandora has to offer.

The feature can also be used to promote podcasts, which a newer battleground between Spotify and Pandora these days. The former has spent on acquisitions and hosts a number of exclusive shows while Pandora is now benefitting from new owner’s SiriusXM’s talk radio programming and its own “Genome” classification technology. 

Pandora says the Instagram Story sharing feature is launching today for select users, and will support sharing songs, albums, podcasts, and playlists.

It’s rolling out to a limited number of Pandora users to start, and will gradually reach the rest of the user base in the weeks ahead.

Netflix Cancelling 'The OA' Is a Tragedy

By Geek's Guide to the Galaxy
The sci-fi drama is one of the most unusual and daring shows in years.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s new ‘Dark Crystal’ is a visual delight, no nostalgia needed

By Anthony Ha

“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” returns viewers to the world of Thra — a distant, magical planet ruled over by the sinister, long-lived Skeksis, who have lied their way into ownership of the titular crystal and dominance of the elf-like Gelflings.

The series is a prequel to Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s 1982 film “The Dark Crystal” — but two out of your three hosts at the Original Content podcast haven’t seen the original movie, so our opinions weren’t colored by nostalgia.

Like the Henson/Oz film, “Age of Resistance” relies on sophisticated puppetry to bring a complex fantasy world to life. It’s genuinely dazzling, with sprawling cities, steampunk machinery and all manner of fantasy creatures all fully realized, and often captured in fast-moving scenes of kinetic action.

On the other hand, for some of us, the puppetry wasn’t quite up to the task when the show got darker and more serious. It’s hard to care about family drama and romance when your lead characters have limited facial mobility, or to feel the weight of the show’s numerous death scenes (we’re not talking “Game of Thrones”-level here, but still) when the person dying is played by puppet.

To balance out our fantasy-heavy review, we kick things off by catching up on what Jordan and Darrell think of the latest season of “Bachelor in Paradise.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:50 “Red Sea Diving Resort” listener reaction
6:01 “Bachelor in Paradise” recap
26:10 “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” spoiler-free review

Could Peloton be the next Apple?

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we were back in the SF studio, with Kate and Alex on hand to chat venture, business, startups, and IPOs with Iris Choi. Choi is a partner at Floodgate, and one of the very few folks who have ever been invited back on the show.

Despite Floodgate being an early-stage firm, Choi was more than willing to dig into the week’s later-stage topics, starting with the Peloton IPO filing. Kate was stoked about the offering (her piece here, Alex’s notes here). Peloton, a fitness, media, hardware (and more) company, is a lot different than your run-of-the-mill enterprise SaaS exits.

Next Alex ran the team through a list of impending IPOs that we care about. There are a number of venture-backed companies looking to go public before the stock market falls apart. More on each when they price.

After the S-1 march, we turned to personnel news, namely that Instacart’s CFO is leaving the firm after about four years with the companyRavi Gupta is joining Sequoia Capital. We’ll tell you why.

Next, we touched on two rounds. First, a Kleiner deal into Consider, an app that brings power-tooling to email. And then we chatted about Inkitt, another Kleiner deal. Why the pair of early-stage rounds? Because Alex recently went to Kleiner to chat with its new partner team about where they’ll deploy capital in the future.

And that took us comfortably over our time. A big thanks to Choi for joining us, again, and you for sticking with the show. More next week!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

‘The Operators’: Finance in startups with Duda CFO Stephanie Hsiung and Zeus Living’s Head of Finance Mark Kang

By Arman Tabatabai
Tim Hsia & Neil Devani Contributor
Tim Hsia is the CEO of Media Mobilize and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Neil Devani is an angel investor and venture capitalist focused on companies solving hard problems.

Welcome to this transcribed edition of The Operators. The Operators features insiders from companies like Airbnb, Brex, Calm, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Slack, Uber, WeWork, and Zeus Living sharing their stories and tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

This week’s edition features two finance experts with experience from Calm, AdRoll, Morgan Stanley, Change.org, Zeus Living, and Duda. Listen in as they unpack how to build a career in finance at a tech startup and how founders should be thinking about hiring and managing this function.

Stephanie Hsiung is the CFO of Duda, a new and exciting enterprise website builder. Prior to taking the CFO role at Duda, Stephanie served as the VP of Finance at Calm, the leading meditation and mental wellness app and recent unicorn. She was also previously the VP of Finance at Change.org, and was at AdRoll before that.

Mark Kang is the Head of Finance at Zeus Living, which is one of the fastest-growing providers of furnished housing for business travelers. He brings experience from venture capital, banking at Morgan Stanley, where he managed IPOs, and also spent time at Barclays.

image1 6

Mark Kang, Neil Devanie, Stephanie Hsiung. Image via The Operators

Neil Devani and Tim Hsia created The Operators after seeing and hearing too many heady, philosophical podcasts about the future of tech, and not enough attention on the practical day-to-day work that makes it all happen.

Tim is the CEO & Founder of Media Mobilize, a media company and ad network, and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Tim is an early-stage investor in Workflow (acquired by Apple), Lime, FabFitFun, Oh My Green, Morning Brew, Girls Night In, The Hustle, Bright Cellars, and others.

Neil is an early-stage investor based in San Francisco with a focus on companies building stuff people need, solutions to very hard problems. Companies he’s invested in include Andela, Clearbit, Kudi, Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Solugen, and Vicarious Surgical.

If you’re interested in starting or accelerating your marketing career, or how to hire and manage this function, you can’t miss this episode!

The show:

The Operators features insiders from companies like Airbnb, Brex, Calm, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Slack, Uber, WeWork, and Zeus Living sharing their stories and tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

In this episode:

In Episode 6, we’re talking about finance. Neil interviews Stephanie Hsiung, the CFO of Duda, a new and exciting enterprise website builder, and Mark Kang, the Head of Finance at Zeus Living, one of the fastest-growing providers of furnished housing for business travelers.

Neil Devani: Hello and welcome to the Operators, where we talk to entrepreneurs and executives from leading technology companies like Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Calm about how to break into a new field, how to build a successful career, and how to hire and manage talent beyond your own expertise.

We skip over the lofty prognostications from venture capitalists and storytime with founders to dig into the nuts and bolts of how it all works. Hear from the people doing the real day to day work, the people who make it all happen, the people who know what it really takes… The Operators.

Today we’re talking to two finance experts with experience in investment banking and billion-dollar tech startups. I’m your host, Neil Devani and we’re coming to you from Digital Garage here in downtown San Francisco.

Joining me today is Stephanie Hsiung, CFO of Duda, an enterprise website builder, and formerly the VP of finance at Calm, the leading meditation and mental wellness app. She was also the VP of Finance at Change.org and AdRoll before that.

Also joining us is Mark Kang, Head of Finance at Zeus Living, a rising provider of furnished housing for business travels. They have 1400 homes under management in four major metro areas. Mark has experience as a venture capitalist as well and was previously a banker at Morgan Stanley and Barclays. Stephanie and Mark, thank you for joining us.

Stephanie Hsiung: Thank you for having us.

Mark Kang: Yes, thanks for having us.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Red Sea Diving Resort’ awkwardly mixes fiction and reality

By Anthony Ha

“The Red Sea Diving Resort,” a new film on Netflix, is based on the true story of Mossad agents who took over an abandoned holiday resort in Sudan to smuggle Jewish Ethiopian refugees out of the country.

As we explain in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the film feels like it’s made in the “Argo” mold, fashioning a political thriller out of a too-crazy-for-fiction events. But it’s not as well-made as “Argo,” while struggling with the same challenges — mixing serious and comedic tones, and balancing real-world politics with blockbuster thrills.

The balance feels particularly awkward with “Captain America” actor Chris Evans playing the Mossad agent leading the operation. He’s not bad in the role, but there’s not much substance or complexity to it, and his presence underlines the feeling that we’re watching a Hollywood fantasy.

The film also skimps on providing any broader political context. Maybe it deserves credit for not holding the audience’s hand, but as a result, all we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys. Meanwhile, none of the refugees — not even Kabede, who’s played by Michael K. Williams of “The Wire” — fully emerges a three-dimensional character.

Before our review, we discuss the apparent end of Disney and Sony’s agreement making Spider-Man part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, news that prompted outrage and petitions from unhappy fans.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
2:25 Spider-Man news
14:37 “Red Sea Diving Resort” review
37:02 “Red Sea Diving Resort” spoiler discussion

Nobody’s Watching the Best Giant-Monster Movies

By Geek's Guide to the Galaxy
"Colossal," "A Monster Calls," and "I Kill Giants" are terrific sci-fi films with weird, big themes. They all failed to connect with audiences.

Gadget Lab Podcast: You’ve Got Microplastics

By WIRED Staff
WIRED’s Matt Simon joins the show to talk about microplastics—what they are, why they’re a nightmare, and whether you should fret about eating them.

The myth of ‘stage agnostic’ investing

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we were helmed by Kate Clark, Alex Wilhelm, and yet another extra special guest. Unusual Ventures co-founder and partner John Vrionis joined us to talk soil investing (yes, it’s a thing), seed investing, growth investing and all the somewhat meaningless funding stages.

Vrionis was a longtime investor at Lightspeed Venture Partners and has made big bets on a number of companies, including AppDynamics, Heptio, and Mulesoft.

It was a great episode that kicked off with some conversation around DoorDash, the food delivery company that continues to make headlines week after week. We’d like to stop talking about the company, but it intrudes regularly into our notes.

This time DoorDash bought a few companies, purchases that appear set to allow the firm to boost its investment and research into self-driving delivery robots. (Kate saw one in the wild recently!)

Next we went deep into the subject of seed. John, of course, has been a seed investor for years and has lots to say on the topic. Mostly, we discussed Kate’s latest piece on mega-funds making an increasing number of deals at the earliest stage. John doesn’t think “stage-agnostic” investing makes any sense. You need experts at each stage making bets on a specific type of company. In his words, ‘a heart surgeon wouldn’t deliver your baby, right.”

Then we moved onto one of our favorite subjects, namely direct listings, the IPO market, and if money is too often left on the table. The question takes on extra import when we see results like Dynatrace’s IPO, which rose around 50 percent its first day. It seems likely that we’ll see other companies pursue the sort of direct listings that Spotify and Slack managed.

That segued us brilliantly into our final topic: Airbnb and its financial health. The firm, we reckon, is a good candidate for a direct listing itself. We talked over its numbers, and if we were to sum our perspectives, we’d say that Airbnb is about as impressive as we expected.

All that and we had fun, as usual.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Watch YC CEO Michael Seibel chat startups, prices and tech’s center of gravity

By Kate Clark

This week, nearly 200 startups convened at Y Combinator Demo Day to pitch venture capitalists, angels and other folks looking to spend some money.

YC chief executive officer Michael Seibel took some time out of his busy schedule to join us on a special episode of Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast. Given that we had Seibel to chat with, Kate and Alex decided to drop the regular format and riff interview-style about what the accelerator program is up to.

We discussed the new startup batch (roundups here, here, and here), recent changes to the program, rising deal prices, SAFEs versus convertible notes and the future of technology in San Francisco. Regarding price, here’s what Seibel had to say:

“It’s a competitive market where investors are bidding against each other. So if you see pricing go up you have to ask yourself the question, ‘where is the money supply coming from?’ The big trend over the last six years has been institutional investors moving from just kind of Series A funds and growth funds down to the seed level. When you looked at Demo Day when I was going through the first time it was full of angels – people investing off their own personal balance sheet. And if you look at the room today it’s full of funds. The reality is that, as the pool of capital increases in the seed world, the seed investors are competing against each other and one of the easier ways for investors to compete is to bid up price.”

But, Seibel continued, YC doesn’t necessarily consider the situation a net-positive, because companies that raise such huge rounds can spend money as though they had reached the fabled “product-market fit,” when in reality they have not. They just have money, which can feel the same but is not.

Ultimately, the thing that’s going to kill you, Seibel says, isn’t fundraising or who you raised from. The thing that’s going to kill you, he says, is that you didn’t build something your customers wanted.

Watch a clip from the interview here:

To hear more from Seibel and watch four more video clips discussing YC, the new class, and the startup game in San Francisco and beyond, become an Extra Crunch member. You can learn more and try it for free. 

Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in

By Jonathan Shieber
Omer Kaplan Contributor
Omer Kaplan is CMO and co-founder at ironSource.

By the end of 2019, the global gaming market is estimated to be worth $152 billion, with 45% of that, $68.5 billion, coming directly from mobile games. With this tremendous growth (10.2% YoY to be precise) has come a flurry of investments and acquisitions, everyone wanting a cut of the pie. In fact, over the last 18 months, the global gaming industry has seen $9.6 billion in investments and if investments continue at this current pace, the amount of investment generated in 2018-19 will be higher than the 8 previous years combined.

What’s interesting is why everyone is talking about games and who in the market is responding to this and how.

The gaming phenomenon

Today, mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spend, and 10% of all time spent in-app. It’s predicted that in 2019, 2.4 billion people will play mobile games around the world – that’s almost one third of the global population. In fact, 50% of mobile app users play games, making this app category as popular as music apps like Spotify and Apple Music and second only to social media and communications apps in terms of time spent.

In the US, time spent on mobile devices has also officially outpaced that of television – with users spending 8 more minutes per day on their mobile devices. By 2021, this number is predicted to increase to over 30 minutes. Apps are the new primetime and games have grabbed the lion’s share.

Accessibility is the highest it’s ever been as barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. From casual games to the recent rise of the wildly popular hyper-casual genre of games which are quick to download, easy to play, and lend themselves to being played in short sessions throughout the day, games are played by almost every demographic stratum of society. Today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 (compared with 27.7 in 2014), the gender split is 51% female, 49% male, and one-third of all gamers are between the ages of 36-50. A far cry from the traditional stereotype of a ‘gamer’.

With these demographic, geographic, and consumption sea-changes in the mobile ecosystem and entertainment landscape, it’s no surprise that the game space is getting increased attention and investment, not just from within the industry, but more recently from traditional financial markets and even governments. Let’s look at how the markets have responded to the rise of gaming.

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on games

The first substantial investments in mobile gaming came from those who already had a stake in the industry. Tencent invested $90M in Pocket Gems and$126M in Glu Mobile (for a 14.6% stake), gaming powerhouse Supercell invested $5M in mobile game studio Redemption Games, Boom Fantasy raised $2M from ESPN and the MLB and Gamelynx raised $1.2M from several investors – one of which was Riot Games. Most recently, Ubisoft acquired a 70% stake in Green Panda Games to bolster its foot in the hyper-casual gaming market.

Additionally, bigger gaming studios began to acquire smaller ones. Zynga bought Gram Games, Ubisoft acquired Ketchapp, Niantic purchased Seismic Games, and Tencent bought Supercell (as well as a 40% stake in Epic Games). And the list goes on.

Wall Street wakes up

Beyond the flurry of investments and acquisitions from within the game industry, games are also generating huge amounts of revenue. Since launch, Pokemon Go has generated $2.3B in revenue and Fortnite has amassed some 250M players. This is catching the attention of more traditional financial institutions, like private equity firms and VCs, who are now looking at a variety of investment options in gaming – not just of gaming studios, but all those who had a stake in or support the industry.

In May 2018, hyper-casual mobile gaming studio Voodoo announced a $200M investment from Goldman Sachs’ private equity investment arm. For the first time ever, a mobile gaming studio attracted the attention of a venerable old financial institution. The explosion of the hyper-casual genre and the scale its titles are capable of achieving, together with the intensely iterative, data-driven business model afforded by the low production costs of games like this, were catching the attention of investors outside of the gaming world, looking for the next big growth opportunity.

The trend continued. In July 2018, private equity firm KKR bought a $400M minority stake in AppLovin and now, exactly one year later Blackstone announced their plan to acquire mobile ad-network Vungle for a reported $750M. Not only is money going into gaming studios, but investments are being made into companies whose technology supports the mobile gaming space. Traditional investors are finally taking notice of the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole and the explosive growth it has produced in recent years. This year alone mobile games are expected to generate $55B in revenue so this new wave of investment interest should really come as no surprise.

A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon Go game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Government intervention

Most recently, governments are realizing the potential and reach of the gaming industry and making their own investment moves. We’re seeing governments establish funds that support local gaming businesses – providing incentives for gaming studios to develop and retain their creatives, technology, and employees locally – as well as programs that aim to attract foreign talent.

As uncertainty looms in England surrounding Brexit, France has jumped on the opportunity with “Join the Game”. They’re painting France as an international hub that is already home to many successful gaming studios, and they’re offering tax breaks and plenty of funding options – for everything from R&D to the production of community events. Their website even has an entire page dedicated to “getting settled in France”, in English, with a step-by-step guide on how game developers should prepare for their arrival.

The UK Department for International Trade used this year’s Game Developers Conference as a backdrop for the promotion of their games fund – calling the UK “one of the most flourishing game developing ecosystems in the world.” The UK Games Fund allows for both local and foreign-owned gaming companies with a presence in the UK to apply for tax breaks. And ever since France announced their fund, more and more people have begun encouraging the British government to expand their program saying that the UK gaming ecosystem should be “retained and enhanced”. But, not only does the government take gaming seriously, the Queen does as well. In 2008, David Darling the CEO of hyper-casual game studio Kwalee was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to the games industry. CBE is the third-highest honor the Queen can bestow on a British citizen.

Over to Germany, and the government has allocated €50M of its 2019 budget for the creation of a games fund. In Sweden, the Sweden Game Arena is a public-private partnership that helps students develop games using government-funded offices and equipment. It also links students and startups with established companies and investors. While these numbers dwarf the investment of more commercial or financial players, the sudden uptick in interest governments are paying to the game space indicate just how exciting and lucrative gaming has become.

Support is coming from all levels

The evolution of investment in the gaming space is indicative of the stratospheric growth, massive revenue, strong user engagement, and extensive demographic and geographic reach of mobile gaming. With the global games industry projected to be worth a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023, it comes as no surprise that the diverse players globally have finally realized its true potential and have embraced the gaming ecosystem as a whole.

After a breakout year, looking ahead to the future of podcasting

By Jonathan Shieber
Justine Moore Contributor
Justine Moore is a venture investor at CRV and co-founded Cardinal Ventures alongside her sister, Olivia.
Olivia Moore Contributor
Olivia Moore is a venture investor at CRV and co-founded Cardinal Ventures alongside her sister, Justine.

2019 has been a breakout year for podcasting. According to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial report, more than half of Americans have now listened to a podcast, and an estimated 32% listen monthly (up from 26% last year). This is the largest yearly increase since this data started being tracked in 2008. Podcast creation also continues to grow, with more than 700,000 podcasts and 29 million podcast episodes, up 27% from last year.

Thanks to this growing listener base, big companies are finally starting to pay attention to the space — Spotify plans to spend $500 million on acquisitions this year, and already acquired content studio Gimlet, tech platform Anchor, and true crime network Parcast for a combined $400 million. In the past week, Google added playable podcasts to search results, Spotify released an analytics dashboard for podcasters and Pandora launched a tool for podcasters to submit their shows.

We’ve been going to Podcast Movement, the largest annual industry conference, for three years, and have watched the conference grow along with the industry — reaching 3,000 attendees in 2019. Given the increased buzz around the space, we were expecting this year’s conference to have a new level of energy and professionalism, and we weren’t disappointed. We’ve summarized five top takeaways from the conference, from why podcast ads are hard to scale to why so many celebrities are launching their own shows.

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Rise of celebrity podcasters boosts listenership

We’ve officially entered the age of celebrity podcasters. After early successes like “WTF with Marc Maron” (2009), Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s The Thing” (2011) and Anna Faris’ “Unqualified” (2015), top talent is flooding into the space. In 2017, 15% of Apple’s top 20 most-downloaded podcasts of the year were hosted by celebrities or influencers — this jumped to 32% of the top 25 in 2018. And of all the new shows that launched in 2018, 48% of the top 25 were celebrity-hosted.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 1.21.50 PMThough podcasts are undermonetized compared to other forms of media, talent agents now consider them to be an important part of a well-rounded content strategy. Dan Ferris from CAA tells his clients to think of podcasting as a way of connecting with fans that is “much more intimate than social media.” Podcasts also help celebrities find a new audience. Ben Davis from WME said that while his client David Dobrik has a smaller audience on his podcast than on YouTube (1.5 million downloads per episode versus 6 million views per video), the podcast helps him reach a new group of listeners who stumble upon his show on the Apple Podcast charts.

While some podcast veterans grumble about the rise of celebrity talk shows, famous podcasters are good for the industry as a whole. Advertisers are drawn to the space by the opportunity to get to access A-list talent at lower prices. One recent example is Endeavor Audio’s fiction show “Blackout,” which starred Rami Malek, who was fresh off an Oscar win. Endeavor’s head of sales, Charlie Emerson, said brands might have to sign a “seven or eight-figure deal” to advertise alongside Malek’s content in other forms of media. Other podcasters also benefit from new listeners brought into the medium by their favorite stars — a Westwood One survey in fall 2018 found that 60% of podcast listeners report discovering shows via social media, where celebrities and influencers have huge existing audiences to push content to.

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Creator backlash against “walled garden” apps

Paid listening apps represent a fairly small percentage of podcast listenership, with production platform Anchor estimating that Apple Podcasts and Spotify control more than 70% of listenership. A venture-backed company called Luminary is trying to change this — it raised $100 million to launch a “Netflix for podcasts” this spring. Consumers pay $7.99/month to access Luminary-exclusive shows alongside podcasts that are free on other apps. Because podcasts have RSS feeds, distributors like Luminary can easily grab free content and put it behind a paywall. The platform, not the creator, benefits from this monetization.

Within days of Luminary’s launch, prominent podcasters and media companies (The New York Times, Gimlet and more) requested their shows be removed from the app. It’s interesting to note that YouTube has a similar premium plan — for $11.99/month, users can access and download ad-free videos. Unlike Luminary, however, YouTube, pays creators a cut of the revenue from these subscriptions based on how frequently their content is viewed.

Unsurprisingly, creator sentiment is more positive toward platforms like Spotify and Pandora . Though these companies do make money from premium subscribers who listen to podcasts, creators can choose whether or not to submit their shows. And podcasters benefit from making their shows discoverable to the existing user base of these platforms, which already dominate “earshare.” Spotify alone has 232 million MAUs, which dwarfs the 90 million people in the U.S. who listen to a podcast monthly.

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Industry anxiety around maintaining quality at scale

Podcast ad revenue has been scaling quickly, with $480 million in spend last year and a projected $680 million this year. Over the past four years, ad revenue has scaled at a 65% CAGR, and this growth is expected to continue. In its early days, the podcast ad market has largely been driven by D2C brands — you’ve probably heard hundreds of Casper, Blue Apron and Madison Reed ads. However, bigger brands are also starting to enter podcasting (Geico, Capital One and Progressive made the top 10 list for June 2019) due to the growing audience scale and increased precision around targeting and attribution.

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While many attendees were excited by the massive growth in ad revenue, others worried that it may kill what makes podcasting special. They’re particularly concerned that podcasts may go the way of online video, with annoying, generic, low CPM ads. Podcast hosts typically read their own ads, and are often true fans of the product — they share personal stories instead of reciting brand talking points. This results in premium CPMs compared to most digital media — AdvertiseCast’s 2019 survey found an average CPM of $18 for a 30-second podcast ad and $25 for a 60-second ad, more than 2x the average CPM on other digital platforms.

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While these ads are effective, they’re time-consuming and expensive to produce. Big brands interested in podcast ads often expect to reuse radio spots — they aren’t used to the process of crafting and approving a host-read ad that may only reach 10,000 listeners. Podcasters, meanwhile, value their trust with listeners and don’t want to spam them with loud, unoriginal radio ads. The tension between maintaining the quality of ads while scaling quantity was an underlying theme of most monetization discussions, and industry veterans disagree on how it will play out.

Podcasts are still undermonetized — but there is hope!

Despite the growth in ad revenue and relatively high CPMs, the industry is significantly undermonetized. Using data from Nielsen, IAB and Edison, we calculated that podcasts monetize through advertisements at only $0.01 per listener hour — less than 10 times the rate of radio. Podcast monetization per listener hour has increased over the past year, up 25% by our calculations, but still substantially lags all other forms of media.

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Why are podcasts so undermonetized? Unlike many other forms of media, the dominant distribution platform (Apple Podcasts) has no ad marketplace. Creators have historically had to approach brands themselves or sign with podcast networks to construct custom ad deals, and the “long tail” of podcasters were unable to monetize. This is finally changing. Anchor, which reported in January that it powers 40% of new podcasts, has an ad marketplace that has doubled the number of podcasts that are running ads. Other popular platforms like Radio Public have launched programs for small podcasters to opt-in to ad placements.

The second major hurdle in monetization is attribution. Podcasts have historically monetized through direct response campaigns — a podcaster provides a special URL or promo code for listeners to use when making a purchase. However, many people listen to podcasts when exercising or driving, and can’t write down the promo code or visit the URL immediately. These listeners might remember the product and make a purchase later, but the podcaster won’t get the attribution. Thomas Mancusi of Audioboom estimated that this happens in 50-60% of purchases driven by podcast ads.

Startups are trying to bring better adtech into podcasting to fix this issue. Chartable is one example — the company installs trackers to match a listener’s IP address with a purchaser’s IP address, allowing podcasters to claim attribution for listeners who don’t use their URL or promo code. Chartable currently runs on 10,000 shows, and the early results are so promising that ad agencies expect to see higher CPMs and significantly more spend in the space.

Podcast fans of the future ≠ podcast fans today

As podcasting grows, the listener base is diversifying. Edison Research looked into data on “rookie” listeners (listening for six months or less) and “veteran” listeners (listening for 3+ years), and found significant demographic differences. Only 37% of veterans are female, compared to 53% of rookies. While the plurality of veterans (43%) are age 35-54, 54% of rookies are age 12-34. Rookies are also 1.6x more likely to say they most often listen to podcasts on Spotify, Pandora or SoundCloud (43% versus 27% of veterans). And social media is an important way that rookies discover podcasts — 52% have found a podcast from video and 46% from audio on social media, compared to 41% and 37% for veterans.

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These new listeners will have a profound impact on the future of podcasting, in both the type of content produced and the way it’s distributed. Industry experts are already noting significant new demand for female-hosted podcasts, as well as audio dramas that appeal to young people looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful story. They’re advising podcasters to share clips of their content on social media, and to leverage broader listening platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud for distribution.

International markets also represent an enormous opportunity for growth. Most podcast listeners today live in the U.S. or China, but content producers are starting to see significant demand elsewhere. Castbox’s Valentina Kaledina said that many fans abroad have resorted to listening in their non-native language, with the top 100 shows in each country comprising a mix of English and local language. Adonde Media’s Martina Castro, who recently conducted the first listener survey on Spanish-language podcast fans, said that 53% of the survey’s 2,100 respondents reported listening to podcasts in English — and only 20% of them use Apple Podcasts.

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Larger podcast producers are beginning to translate shows for non-English-speaking markets. Wondery CEO Hernan Lopez announced at the conference that the company’s hit show Dr. Death is now available in seven languages. Lopez noted that it was an expensive process, and he doesn’t expect the shows to generate profit in the near future. However, he believes that Wondery will eventually see a significant return from investing in the development of new podcast markets — and if they do, other podcast companies will likely follow in their footsteps.

‘Breaking Into Startups’: Torch CEO and Well Clinic founder Cameron Yarbrough on mental health & coaching

By Arman Tabatabai
Chad M. Crabtree Contributor
Chad M. Crabtree is the editor-in-Chief at Career KarmaCareer Karma, covering the Future of Work, Tech Education, and Startups.

There has long been a stigma associated with therapy and mental health coaching, a stigma that is even more pronounced in the business world, despite considerable evidence of the efficacy of these services. One of the organizations that has set out to change this negative association is Torch, a startup that combines the therapeutic benefits of executive coaching with data-driven analytics to track outcomes.

Yet, as Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough explains in this Breaking Into Startups episode, the startup wasn’t initially a tech-oriented enterprise. At first, Yarbrough drew on his years of experience as a marriage and family counselor as he made the transition into executive coaching, even referring to the early iterations of Torch as little more than “a matchmaking service between coaches and professionals.”

In time, Yarbrough identified a virtually untapped market for executive coaching — one that, by his estimate, could amount to a $15 billion industry. To demonstrate to investors the great potential of this growing market, he first built up a clientele that provided Torch with sufficient recurring revenue and low churn rate.

Only then was Yarbrough able to raise a $2.4 million seed round from Initialized Capital, Y Combinator, and other investors, convincing them that data analytics software could enhance the coaching process — as well as coach recruitment — enough to effectively “productize feedback,” as he puts it.

For Yarbrough and Torch, “productizing feedback” involves certain well-known business strategies that complement traditional coaching methods. For instance, Torch’s coaching procedure includes a “360 review,” a performance review system that incorporates feedback from all angles, including an employee’s manager, peers, and other people within an organization who have knowledge of the employee’s work.

The 360 review is coupled with an OKR platform, which provides HR departments and other interested parties with the metrics and analytics to track employee progress through the program. This combination is designed to promote the development of soft skills, which in turn drive leadership.

Torch has achieved considerable success, landing several influential clients in the tech sector through its B2B approach. But Yarbrough is clear that his goal with the company is to “democratize” access to professional coaching, in hopes of providing the same kind of mental health counseling and support to employees in all levels of an organization.

In this episode, Yarbrough discusses the history and trajectory of Torch, his experience scaling a company many considered unscalable, and the methods he uses to manage his own emotional and mental health as the CEO of an expanding startup. Yarbrough offers insights into the feelings of anxiety and dread common among entrepreneurs and provides a close look at how he has found business and personal success with Torch.


Breaking Into Startups: There’s a difference between a mentor and a coach. Today, I want to talk about that difference and in addition to the intersection between business and psychology, What Cameron Yarbrough, CEO of Torch and Founder of Well Clinic.

If you’re someone that is looking for a mentor or a coach as you break into tech, or if you just want to be surrounded by peers, make sure you download the Career Karma app by going to www.breakingintostartups.com/download.

On today’s episode, you’re going to understand the importance of therapy, mental health and coaches, as well as how historically, it has been inaccessible to people and how Cameron is using his background to democratize this for the world.

If this is your first time listening to the Breaking Startups Podcast, make sure you leave a review on iTunes and tell your friends. Listen to it on Soundcloud and talk about it on Spotify. If you have any feedback for us, positive or negative, please let us know. Without further ado, let’s break-in.

Cameron Yarbrough is the CEO of Torch. He’s one of the best executive coaches in the world. Not only are we going to be talking about coaching and mentoring for executives, but we’ll also be talking about coaching in general for everyone. We’re going to go into how he created his company.

Shell’s first Greenlots electric vehicle fast charger lands in Singapore

By Kirsten Korosec

Royal Dutch Shell, the energy giant known for its fossil fuel production and hundreds of Shell gas stations, is creeping into the electric vehicle-power business.

The company’s first DC fast charger from its newly acquired company Greenlots launched Monday at a Shell gas station in Singapore. Greenlots, an EV charging startup acquired by Shell in January, installed the charger. This is the first of 10 DC fast chargers that Greenlots plans to bring to Shell service stations in Singapore over the next several months.

The decision to target Singapore is part of Greenlots’ broader strategy to provide EV charging solutions across all applications throughout Asia and North America, the company said. Both Shell and Greenlots have a presence in Singapore. Greenlots, which is based in Los Angeles, was founded in Singapore; and Shell is one of Singapore’s largest foreign investors.

Singapore has been promoting the use of electric vehicles, particularly for car-sharing and ride-hailing platforms. The island city-state has been building up its EV infrastructure to meet anticipated demand as ride-hailing drivers and commercial fleets switch to electric vehicles.

Greenlots was backed by Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech investment firm, before it was acquired by Shell. The company, which combines its management software with the EV charging hardware, has landed some significant customers in recent years, notably Volkswagen. Greenlots is the sole software provider to Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Clarification: Shell has other EV chargers. These are the first through its newly acquired company Greenlots.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Wu Assassins’ is a punching, kicking delight

By Anthony Ha

When we reviewed “Another Life” last week, we described it as an old-fashioned science fiction space show, something that’s been absent from TV for the past decade or so. “Wu Assassins” is another new Netflix series, and it’s also is a kind of a throwback — this time to ’90s martial arts series like “Vanishing Son” and “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.”

As we explain in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, “Wu Assassins” — which tells the story of Kai, a San Francisco chef who receives mystical powers and must battle powerful nemeses known as the Wu Lords — has plenty of delightfully cheesy writing and special effects. But it’s set apart from those older shows in a couple key ways.

First, there’s the fact that Indonesian martial arts star Iko Uwais (who you might recognize from “The Raid” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) plays as Kai — he’s not a great dramatic actor, but once the action starts, he becomes a blur of punches and kicks.

The producers have surrounded Uwais with other other accomplished martial artists, so the resulting fight scenes are extraordinary. “Wu Assassins” includes a couple big set pieces, but even more remarkably, every single fight (and there are plenty) feels like it’s been choreographed for the perfect mix of beauty and brutality.

Even better, there’s Byron Mann’s performance as Uncle Six, a ruthless triad boss who has a long history with Kai. Mann brings real charisma and humanity to his performance, and he turns his dramatic scenes with Uwais into absolute highlight of the show. Plus, he’s just as compelling when he’s called upon to beat the crap out of his enemies.

In addition to praising “Wu Assassins,” we also discuss the CBS-Viacom merger and listener response to our review of “Another Life.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:40 “Another Life” listener response
11:51 CBS/Viacom merger
20:30 “Wu Assassins” review
33:52 “Wu Assassins” spoiler discussion

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