In China, Toutiao is literally big news.
Not only has its parent company ByteDance achieved a $75 billion valuation, two of its apps — Toutiao, a news aggregator, and Douyin (Tik Tok in China) — are chipping into WeChat’s user engagement numbers, no small feat considering the central role WeChat plays in the daily lives of the region’s smartphone users.
The success of Toutiao (its name means “headline”) prompts the question: why hasn’t one news aggregator app achieved similar success in the United States? There, users can pick from a roster of news apps, including Google News, Apple News (on iOS), Flipboard, Nuzzel and SmartNews, but no app is truly analogous to Toutiao, at least in terms of reach. Many readers still get news from Google Search (not the company’s news app) and when they do use an app for news, it’s Facebook.
The top social media platform continues to be a major source of news for many Americans, even as they express reservations about the reliability of the content they find there. According to research from Columbia Journalism Review, 43% of Americans use Facebook and other social media platforms to get news, but 57% said they “expect the news they see on those platforms to be largely inaccurate.” Regardless, they stick with Facebook because it’s timely, convenient and they can share content with friends and read other’s comments.
The social media platform is one of the main reasons why no single news aggregator app has won over American users the same way Toutiao has in China, but it’s not the only one. Other factors, including differences between how the Internet developed in each country, also play a role, says Ruiwan Xu, the founder and CEO of CareerTu, an online education platform that focuses on data analytics, digital marketing and research.
While Americans first encountered the Internet on PCs and then shifted to mobile devices, many people in China first went online through their smartphones and the majority of the country’s 800 million Internet users access it through mobile. This makes them much more open to consuming content — including news and streaming video — on mobile.
The Australian scene industry has, in the last few years, started to generate a swathe of startups that have broken through internationally. Prior to this current era, Australia was scene has very much a local market in tech terms, with only occasional breakouts, like Atlassian . In fact, it’s now gaining a reputation as a serial producer of high-quality tech platforms, the hottest of which right now is Canva, which recently raised an additional $85 million to bring its valuation to $3.2 billion, up from $2.5 billion in May. Investors in the company include Bond, General Catalyst, Bessemer Venture Partners, Blackbird and Sequoia China. Notably, Sydney-based AirTree Ventures also invested early.
So that momentum is further confirmed by the news that Airtree has closed its 3rd fund of $275m. This new fund comes after AirTree’s $250m fund in 2016 and a $60m fund in 2014. You can clearly see the buildup in these numbers.
John Henderson, Partner said: “The interest from investors in our fund is a stunning reflection on the performance of the entrepreneurs we’ve been lucky enough to back. We were humbled by overwhelming demand, but felt it was the right thing for our investors to maintain discipline and a consistent fund size across vintages.”
Australian venture capital was less than fashionable after the dotcom boom and bust, and local institutional capital in Australia and New Zealand all but disappeared, hence why we saw so few startups form the region.
AirTree’s $60m fund in 2014, broke that drought and Australia now boasts over 50 tech startups valued at $100 million, 14 over $500 million and produces one ‘unicorn’ per year on average.
Airtree has gone on to invest in Australian and Kiwi startups like Canva, Prospa, Secure Code Warrior, Athena, Flurosat, Brighte, Joyous, Thematic and A Cloud Guru. Prospa, Australia’s main online lender to small businesses, IPO’ed on the Australian Stock Exchange in June 2019.
Airtree can invest as little as $200k, but now has the firepower to own the pipeline all the way up the investment stack.
Craig Blair, Managing Partner commented: “As ex-founders, we have experienced the tough, lonely road ourselves. This empathy with the founder journey helps us focus on when to provide support and when to get out of the way. In our next fund, we’ll be expanding our suite of services and our network of connections, all designed to give our founders an unfair advantage.”
The VC also announced two promotions and a new executive hire:
• Elicia McDonald promoted to Principal, with a mandate to lead new investments
• Emily Close joining the investment team, promoted to Associate
• Melissa Ran leading AirTree’s Community and Advocacy efforts
AirTree’s latest fund is backed by six institutional investors from Australia including AustralianSuper, SunSuper and Statewide. The rest of the new fund comes from a range of successful entrepreneurs and family offices.
Henderson added: “An important portion of our portfolio is already in New Zealand and we remain very focused on supporting that market. We’ve been investing meaningful resources and funds in New Zealand since 2014 and we’ll have more Kiwi news to share soon.”
The fund raise follows news that AirTree portfolio company Property-tech start-up :Different has raised a second round of capital from AirTree, alongside Brisbane-based real estate fund PieLAB, as it expands into Queensland.
Late last night the Financial Times reported that HuffPost, arguably one of the crown jewels of Verizon Media Group’s remaining network of media properties (which includes TechCrunch), is up for sale.
Verizon has been shedding media properties in a retreat from the strategy that it had begun to execute with the acquisition of AOL for $4.4 billion back in 2015. Through the AOL deal, chief executive Tim Armstrong became the architect of the telecommunications company’s media and advertising strategy.
Armstrong’s vision was to roll up as much online real estate as he could while creating a high technology advertising architecture on the back-end that could better target consumers based on their media consumption (which the telecom company would also own).
The idea was to provide a broad-based competitor to the reach of ad platforms on Google and Facebook which were also targeting users based on their browsing history and interests. The benefit that Google and Facebook had was that they had a more holistic view of what consumers did online and they positioned themselves as a distribution channel between media companies and users — essentially redistributing their articles and videos and hoovering up the ad dollars that had previously gone to those media companies.
The multi-billion dollar land grab continued when Verizon paid $4.5 billion for Yahoo in 2017.
Now it appears that Verizon has a multi-billion dollar case of buyer’s remorse. Part of the billions that Verizon spent on Yahoo was for the early social network Tumblr, which Yahoo had acquired for $1.1 billion back in 2013.
Earlier this year Verizon unloaded Tumblr for the cost of a luxury Manhattan apartment. That $3 million sale was presaged by the significant fall from grace of other former high-flying media and tech properties.
Vice was once worth $5.7 billion at the height of the media investment bubble, but earlier this year Disney wrote down its stake in the company to virtually nothing.
At least Vice is emerging as a survivor. the company has rolled up Refinery29. Vox Media is also doing well in the new world of media. It bought Recode back in 2015 and recently acquired the publisher behind New York Magazine to expand its purview into paper publications and get its hands on the popular New York websites Intelligencer, The Cut, Vulture, and Grub Street.
Other publications like Hello Giggles, which was founded by the actress Zooey Deschanel, were sold to Time Magazine. High-fliers like Buzzfeed, HuffPost, Vice and Vox have all had to lay off staff in recent months.
It’s been a wild ride for HuffPost, which began in 2005 as a collection of celebrity bloggers brought together under the auspices of Arianna Huffington, from whom the site took its name.
AOL acquired The Huffington Post back in 2011 in a deal that was valued at $315 million less than a year after picking up TechCrunch for $25 million.
Verizon announced layoffs across its media properties at the beginning of the year. It cut roughly 7 percent of its staff — or around 800 jobs — including some at HuffPost.
In a statement to the Financial Times, Verizon said that it would not comment on rumors and speculation.
Neither Verizon Media nor HuffPost responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.
French startup MadBox is raising a $16.5 million (€15 million) Series A funding round from Alven. The company is developing mobile games and handles everything from start to finish, from game design to publishing and user acquisition.
MadBox is a young player in the mobile game space. The company is the result of the merger of two tiny Paris-based game studios in July 2018. After a couple of months, the startup released its first game, Dash Valley. And the game quickly ended up trending in the top 50 of top free game downloads in the App Store in the U.S.
The company has released a handful of games since then. At some point, MadBox had three games in the top 10 charts in the U.S. (once again, free game downloads) — StickMan Hook, Sausage Flip and Idle Ball Race. Overall, MadBox has generated 100 million game downloads.
“The core method at MadBox is that we internalize everything,” co-founder and CEO Jean-Nicolas Vernin told me. “We try to automate as many thing as possible.”
In addition to reusing assets from one game to another, MadBox also tries to apply the same method when it comes to user acquisition and marketing. “People often tell us that we have a data-driven culture that is disproportionately developed in our company,” Vernin said.
MadBox has a careful approach when it comes to growth. The company hires slowly and doesn’t release dozens of games in a year.
With 30 to 40 employees and a business model mostly based on ads, the company is currently profitable. MadBox now wants to tackle a wider range of mobile games, from hyper casual to idle games and less casual games. The startup is also opening a second office in Barcelona.
“We are a generation of friends who have worked for well-known casual game studios. And we all think that big game productions will have to become simpler so that people can play them like casual games — and vice versa,” Vernin said. And MadBox wants to be there when these two worlds collide.
Rocket Lab is launching its ninth Electron rocket today, with the launch set for 00:41 UTC (8:41 PM ET/5:41 PM PT) [Update: They’re now targeting 01:22 UTC (9:22 PM ET/6:22 PM PT)]. The mission, called “As The Crow Flies,” will be taking off from the company’s LC-1 launchpad in New Zealand, carrying a payload from Astro Digital to orbit.
The launch was actually supposed to take a different spacecraft up to low Earth Orbit, but the payload was swapped late last month – an unusual move for a rocket launch, and one that Rocket Lab is using to demonstrate the flexibility of its commercial service model. Rocket Lab’s other customer had a delay, and Astro Digital was ready to send up one of its ‘Corvus’ imaging satellites, so it got to move up the timing of its launch as a result.
Rocket Lab is currently on track to launch as planned, and the launch stream for the mission will be live above starting at around 20 minutes out from the T-0 launch window.
Jeffrey Katzenberg’s streaming service Quibi, due to launch in April, has partnered with CBS News to modernize “60 Minutes”-style programming for the era of bite-sized video. Instead of an hour-long newsmagazine, CBS News will launch “60 in 6,” which will condense original news stories into 6-minute long episodes, designed for consumption on mobile devices.
The deal will see 60 Minutes producing one original story per week, as part of Quibi’s licensing agreement.
“This is a perfect opportunity to bring 60 Minutes’ style of storytelling, in-depth reporting, and investigative journalism to a new audience,” said 60 Minutes executive producer Bill Owens, in a statement. “We are excited to launch ’60 In 6,’ as our digital footprint is more important than ever,” he said.
CBS isn’t the first news partner coming to the upcoming streaming service. NBC will build out a full production team exclusively for its Quibi programming, which will include a 6-minute morning and evening news show for the service. The BBC and Quibi, meanwhile, are developing an international news show for millennials, that’s five minutes in length.
“60 Minutes has been, is, and will continue to be the gold standard of storytelling news journalism,” added Jeffrey Katzenberg, Quibi founder and chairman of the board, in a statement. “Bringing their talent and resources to a new form of storytelling could not be more exciting for us at Quibi,” he said.
News programming is only one aspect to Quibi, which will also include a variety of entertainment offerings from big-name talent, like Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro, Antoine Fuqua, and producer Jason Blum, among others. Quibi will also feature 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.
Quibi’s premise is taking premium content and chopping it up into “quick bites” (hence the name), and delivering it to mobile viewers in both horizontal and vertical formats. The idea, essentially, is to build a Netflix for the Snapchat generation. This is a risky endeavor, given that the targeted demographic — Gen’s Y and Z — is quite happy with their Netflix subscriptions for higher-production value entertainment, and with YouTube for more casual video viewing from the creator community.
Quibi also seems to ignore the fact that most subscription-based video is still watched on TVs, not mobile devices. Meanwhile, on users’ phones, Quibi will have to compete with a range of other apps and games — including the new titles from Apple Arcade — as well as other time fillers, like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.
That said, having Katzenberg at the helm has brought a lot of industry support to Quibi. The company has raised $1 billion from Disney, WarnerMedia, 21st Century Fox and others, and was looking to raise more. It also said this summer it had booked $100 million in ad sales pre-launch.
Quibi will launch in April 2020, and “60 in 6” will be available at that time. The service will cost $5 per month, or $8 to go ad-free.
Contentstack, a startup that offers a headless CMS platform for enterprises, today announced that it has raised a $31.5 million Series A round led by Insight Partners. Existing investors Illuminate Ventures and GingerBread Capital also participated in this round.
The company says that it saw its revenue grow by 4x in the first half of 2019 compared to the same time period last year. Without a baseline, that’s not exactly a meaningful number for a startup founded in 2018, of course, but sales cycles in the enterprise are notoriously long and the company does have a number of marquee customers like Shell, Walmart and Cisco.
The Contentstack founding team, Neha Sampat, Nishant Patel and Matthew Baier, recently sold Built.io to Software AG . “With Contentstack, the opportunity feels even larger, but there is also a strong sense of urgency,” said Sampat when I asked her about why she decided to raise at this point, which comes relatively late for a company with Contentstack’s ambitions. “Being able to do more right now and scale the company’s operations to match the opportunity right in front of us required more resources than the company’s organic growth would provide us.”
Sampat also noted that she believes that brands are not realizing that their customers don’t want billboards but customized experiences across channels. Yet, at the same time, they often don’t know what’s working and how to get the most value out of the content they create.
“The belief that a single platform or product can ‘do it all’ is being replaced with the realization you can do more, better by bringing together the best technologies the market has to offer,” she said. “This wasn’t an option before, because integrations were so complex and clunky. But now, with the emergence of extensible content experience platforms, companies can actually get to market FASTER using this approach, compared to using a single-vendor approach that wasn’t built for the modern era.”
The company tells me that it is getting traction across industries, but retail, travel/hospitality, sports/entertainment and tech are doing especially well.
Like most companies at the Series A stage, Contentstack says it will use the new funding to scale its sales and marketing team and build out its partner ecosystem and community around the product. Sampat also tells me that the company plans to expand beyond its core regions of the U.S., India and Europe by moving into the APAC region in the first half of 2020, mostly with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
Shuttle startup Via and the city of Cupertino are launching an on-demand public transportation network, the latest example of municipalities trying out alternatives to traditional buses.
The aim is for these on-demand shuttles, which will start with six vans branded with the city of Cupertino logo, to provide more efficient connections to CalTrain and increase access to public transit across the city.
The on-demand shuttle service, which begins October 29, will eventually grow to 10 vehicles and include a wheelchair accessible vehicle. Avis Budget Group, another partner in this service, is the fleet management service that will maintain the vehicles.
In Cupertino, residents and commuters can use the Via app or a phone reservation system to hail a shuttle. The network will span the entire 11-square-mile city with a satellite zone surrounding the Sunnyvale CalTrain station for commuters, Via said Monday. Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf views the Via on-demand service as the next generation of “what public transportation can be, allowing us to increase mobility while taking a step toward our larger goal of reducing traffic congestion.”
The service, which will run from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, will cost $5 a ride. Users can buy weekly and monthly passes for $17 and $60, respectively.
Via has two sides to its business. The company operates consumer-facing shuttles in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York.
Via also partners with cities and transportation authorities, giving clients access to their platform to deploy their own shuttles. The city of Cupertino, home to Apple, SeaGate Technologies and numerous other software and tech-related companies, is one example of this. Austin’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority also uses the Via platform to power the city’s Pickup service. And Via’s platform is used by Arriva Bus UK, a Deutsche Bahn Company, for a first- and last-mile service connecting commuters to a high-speed train station in Kent, U.K.
In January, Via announced it was partnering with Los Angeles as part of a pilot program that will give people rides to three busy public transit stations. Via claims it now has more than 80 launched and pending deployments in over 20 countries, providing more than 60 million rides to date.
While city leaders appear increasingly open to experimenting with on-demand shuttles, success in this niche business isn’t guaranteed. For instance, Chariot, which was acquired by Ford, shut down its operations in San Francisco, New York and the UK in early 2019.