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Yesterday — April 1st 2020Your RSS feeds

Original Content podcast: ‘Star Trek: Picard’ launches with a bumpy, memorable season

By Anthony Ha

Star Trek TV shows generally take a while to get good — but if any of them was going to have a strong start, you’d think it’d be “Star Trek: Picard.”

After all, it returns Patrick Stewart to the role that made him famous, that of onetime Starfleet captain Jean-Luc Picard. Plus, the writing team was led by Michael Chabon, author of beloved novels like “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.” (He also wrote a lovely New Yorker piece about writing for Star Trek while his father was dying.)

As we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the resulting show doesn’t quite avoid the standard first season growing pains, with a fast-paced pilot followed by several slow, setup- and exposition-heavy episodes. Throughout the season, the writers still seem to be figuring out what kind of show they want to be making, and it all ends with some preposterous, clunky twists in the two-part finale.

But even if “Picard” didn’t quite live up to our expectations, it’s still a pretty first season. It was genuinely moving to see Stewart on the bridge of a spaceship again, and to greet returning friends like Brent Spiner as Data (who died in the movie “Nemesis” but appears here in an opening dream sequence), as well as Jonathan Frakes as William Riker.

And despite its occasional clunkiness, the story finds new emotional notes for Picard, as he struggles to overcome decades of disillusionment and become the Picard we know. There’s also fresh science fictional territory, as “Picard” treats artificial intelligence and synthetic life more seriously than any previous Star Trek show.

You can listen to our review 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
0:19 “Star Trek: Picard” season 1 review
24:28 “Star Trek: Picard” spoiler discussion

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Stripe goes Fast for $20M, D2C tips and tricks and what’s happening to tech internships?

By Natasha Mascarenhas

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

The three of us were back today — Natasha, Danny and Alex — to dig our way through a host of startup-focused topics. Sure, the world is stuffed full of COVID-19 news — and, to be clear, the topic did come up some — but Equity decided to circle back to its roots and talks startups and accelerators and how many pieces of luggage does an urban-living person really need?

The answer, as far as we can work it out, is either one piece or seven. Regardless, here’s what we got through this week:

  • Big news from 500 Startups, and our favorite companies from the accelerator’s latest demo day. Y Combinator is not the only game in town, so TechCrunch spent part of the day peekin’ at 500 and its latest batch of companies. We got into some of the startups that stuck out, tackling problems within the influencer market, trash pickup and esports.
  • Plastiq raised $75 million to help people and businesses use their credit card anywhere they want. And no, it wasn’t closed after the pandemic hit.
  • We also talked through Fast’s latest $20 million round led by Stripe. Stripe, as everyone recalls, was most recently a topic on the show thanks to a venture whoopsie in the form of a check from Sequoia to Finix.1 But all that’s behind us. Fast is building a new login and checkout service for the internet that is supposed to be both speedy and independent.
  • All the Stripe talk reminded us of one of the startups that launched so it could beat it out: Brex. The startup, which has amassed over $300 million in known venture capital to date, recently acquired three companies.
  • We chatted through the highlights of our D2C venture survey, focused on rising CAC costs in select channels, the importance of solid gross margins and why Casper wasn’t really a bellwether for its industry.

After that we had two quick hits, namely Natasha’s look at how tech internships cancellations are impacting our future workforce, and the latest from Slack.

And that wraps up what felt like a refreshing show. We hope you think so too, and thank you for listening. Stay healthy, all.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

  1. What do you call a check from Sequoia? A cheque!

Original Content podcast: Hulu’s ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ is agonizing in all the right ways

By Anthony Ha

“Little Fires Everywhere,” a new miniseries on Hulu, can be hard to watch.

Based on Celeste Ng’s novel of the same name, it takes place in the planned community of Shaker Heights during the 1990s, where the arrival of artist Mia (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) sets something into motion that (we’re told in the opening scene) will eventually result in a fire that burns the lavish home of the wealthy Robinsons to the ground.

While the show has plenty of distinctive characters, it centers to a large extent on the prickly relationship between Mia and Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon). Every scene between them feels fraught, as Elena’s awkward and condescending attempts to prove that she’s a good person (and a not racist) are repeatedly rebuffed.

For reasons that it would be too spoiler-y to disclose here, the two of them eventually find themselves in conflict, and their children, along with Elena’s husband (it’s genuinely mind-blowing to see Joshua Jackson — Pacey from “Dawson Creek” — as a 40-something dad), get pulled in as well.

On today’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we review “Little Fires Everywhere,” laying out all the ways that the show’s initial episodes impressed us. We also offer some general recommendations for what to stream while you’re stuck at home.

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
1:09 Streaming recommendations
11:15 “Little Fires Everywhere” review
39:34 “Little Fires Everywhere” spoiler discussion (spoilers for first three episodes)

Monday.com surpassed $130M ARR before the remote-work boom

By Alex Wilhelm

As efforts to flatten the spread of COVID-19 pushes employees from their offices, remote work is undergoing a surge in popularity.

Well-known remote-work-friendly companies like Zoom have seen a rise in usage, while Slack has already reported that it is successfully converting new users into paying customers, which is pushing up its growth rate.

The pandemic is creating economic and social upheaval, but for a specific cohort of software companies that help distributed teams work together, it’s proven useful in business terms. But even before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, execs from a standout project management company swung by TechCrunch HQ to chat with the Equity crew about their business and growth: Monday.com. 

What does an interview with Monday.com’s Eran Zinman (co-founder and CTO) and Roy Mann (CEO) have to do with COVID-19? Well, if remote-productivity-friendly services Slack and Zoom are seeing usage spikes amidst the changes, Monday.com is likely benefiting from similar gains. And during our chat with the company’s brass, the pair told TechCrunch that their company had crossed the $130 million annual recurring revenue (ARR) mark by mid-February. Add in a COVID-19 usage boost and perhaps Monday.com (which doesn’t have a free tier) is seeing its growth accelerate.

Previously, Monday.com announced that it had reached the $120 million ARR mark, and TechCrunch had inducted it into the $100 million ARR club earlier this year.

Revenue expansion was not our only topic. We also chatted with the pair of execs about customer acquisition costs and how to a run a SaaS business without terrifying burn. The Monday.com crew had more news up their sleeve, like when they expect the unicorn to become cash-flow positive. 

We’ve excised a larger-than-usual chunk of the interview for sharing, as there’s a lot to take in:

After the jump, we dig a bit deeper into the obvious IPO candidate

Google Podcasts is finally available on iOS

By Brian Heater

Just in time for our collective house arrests, Google has unveiled a redesigned version of Podcasts. The revamped version of the app is centered around discovery, broken up into three primary tabs.

There’s Home, which features your current feeds; Explore, which offers up popular and curated shows; and Activity, which offers a deeper dive into listening habits. Honestly, though, the big news here is that the app is finally landing in the iOS App Store.

Launched last summer, the app quickly became the top podcasting app on Android, because, well, Google. There’s been some limited cross-platform availability by way of a browser. Obviously, native app support is much more appealing for iPhone and iPad owners looking to see what kind of alternative Google is offering to Apple’s own popular Podcasts app.

Users’ listening habits on the app will be syncable across platforms by way of the Google Podcasts for Web. The iOS version is available for download starting today. The Android update, meanwhile, will be rolling out to users this week.

Survey shows growth in podcasts and voice assistants, little change in streaming

By Eric Peckham

A new annual survey taken before the current COVID-19 crisis led to restrictions of movement in much of the U.S. suggests good news for Amazon, Facebook’s dominance unthreatened and continued growth in podcasting.

Edison Research and Triton Digital released their annual Infinite Dial survey last week, compiling data on consumers’ use of smart speakers, podcasts, music streaming and social media from 1,500 people (aged 12 and older) to compare year-over-year changes. Here are a few interesting findings:

Voice assistants and smart speakers

Sixty-two percent said they use a voice-based virtual assistant, most commonly via a phone or a computer. There has been a lot written about interactive voice as the next major medium for human-computer interaction after mobile phones, so it’s noteworthy to see that use of the technology is still associated with personal computing devices rather than hands-free smart speakers placed in the surrounding environment.

Smart speaker ownership did increase to 27% of respondents, up from 24% in 2019, even though respondents owned an average 2.2 speakers. In fact, the cohort that owned three or more speakers increased from one-quarter to one-third of owners in just a year, with Amazon Alexa continuing to dominate market share.

How I (remotely) podcast

By Brian Heater

Over the last five-plus years of my podcast, I’ve turned down a number of interview offers with artists who weren’t able to meet face to face. I know a lot of folks who do great podcasts remotely, and I’ve even done a few (relatively okay) ones myself. But there’s really no replacement for being able to do an interview face to face. So much nuance is lost amongst the cloud compression algorithms.

Over the last few weeks, however, it has become increasingly clear that the option won’t be available for while, as we adjust to this new normal. I’ve spent some of the downtime assessing the options, and the best way forward, both for my own (again, relative) sanity and, hopefully, to provide some comfort for folks who are similarly stuck at home for the foreseeable future.

Couple of caveats here. First, this one. This event is going to fundamentally alter a number of aspects of our lives for a while. Things like the way we work, socialize and consume will be different for a while. We’re also going to have so, so many podcasts. Like a stupid number of podcasts from bored people attempting to be bored together. I’ve always felt that more podcasts is generally a net positive, but this event is certainly going to test that hypothesis.

Second is the usual caveat of this series: This is what works best for my current situation. Your mileage may vary.

One of the things I’ve realized in all of this is that people are pretty forgiving. Expectations shift a bit when you can flip on CNN and see conversations with pundits on bad webcams through spotty Skype connections. Suddenly a low-fidelity video podcast doesn’t seem so bad. Even so, you still want to present the best product you can, even in far less than ideal circumstances.

One of the nice things about this gig is all of the hardware that comes through for testing. For those who don’t have the means to pay for pricier studio options, there are now a number of solid USB microphone options on the market. Blue’s stuff is generally decent quality for most of your podcasting and remote meeting needs, but a number of different companies have entered the market as well, as podcasting has exploded.

Currently I’m using the AKG Lyra. I’m pretty satisfied with the sound quality here. It’s priced about the same as the Blue Yeti and $100 cheaper than the Yeti Pro. The design is pretty eye-catching, though for my set up, it’s entirely out of frame. The controls on the mic are simple, a definite plus for those looking to plug and play. Lights on the front clearly indicate which of the four patterns (front, front and back, tight stereo, wide stereo) you’re using. I’m sure tens of thousands of podcasts have suffered sound issues from people with decent USB mics who simply have the thing in the wrong mode.

I also highly recommend buying a clip on windscreen. The one pictured above is the EJT Upgraded Microphone Pop Filter. It has a small adjustable vise grip on the side that connects to a wide range of models. It seems like something minor, but those popped Ps make a bigger difference that you’d think while editing podcasts.

Honorable mention goes out to the powerful little Rode NT-USB Mini. It’s got surprisingly great sound for its size — though less surprising coming from a company like Rode. At $99, this has replaced the Blue Raspberry as my favorite low-cost, ultra-portable mic. I fully plan to make it a fixture in my suitcase when traveling is an option again. Also worth pointing out is the clever magnetic stand that pops up to reveal threads for mounting atop a mic stand.

I am still using one important piece of Blue gear, however. I really prefer a pair of over-ear headphones for this purpose, and the Mo-Fi are big, solid and comfortable, with large earbuds that block ambient sound (I live in a New York apartment building, mind). For most intents and purposes, whatever headphones you have lying around should work, but if you plan to do this for a while, I recommend investing in a solid pair of headphones.

I’ve been using the webcam built into my Mac for video podcasts. Again, people are pretty forgiving. I do, however, highly recommend doing some video tests before going live. For starters, figure out what’s in-frame. If you have the ability to move your computer around, find an aesthetically pleasing background. But what’s just as — or perhaps even more — import is lighting.

Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my setup. The current is… well, “jury-rigged” is probably the nicest way to say it:

Yes, it’s a small bedside lamp hung from a wall stud above my computer. Yes, you can see it in my glasses’ reflection when you watch the videos.

I’ve been using a handful of different options on the software side of things. Zencastr continues to be an excellent option for audio only. The software is custom built for podcasts and includes some excellent touches like simultaneously uploading individual tracks to the cloud. The company also greatly reduced the restrictions on their free tier to encourage amateur podcasting during this pandemic.

For another (unreleased) podcast I’m currently working on, we’re all using Skype and recording locally on Audacity. One of my co-hosts had too many connectivity issues with Zencaster, so we’re doing it more old-school.

This situation has found me playing around with video podcasts in earnest for the first time ever. I’ve been messing around with a number of different formats. My favorite so far is a combination of Zoom and YouTube Live. You’ll have to pay for a premium account to stream directly to YouTube or Facebook. It’s $14 a month for the lowest tier. I plan to keep subscribing at least through the end of the pandemic.

Zoom is great in that it lets you schedule a time and everyone else just has to log in. If you have a premium subscription, attendees can also dial in, in addition to the full webcam treatment. I recommend doing a couple of unlisted trial videos to make sure everything is up and running before you go live for the world. Also, have attendees call in a few minutes before the listed start time to make sure everything is working for everyone.

You’ll need to give yourself at least 24 hours for Zoom to connect to your Google/YouTube account, so I recommend doing that a couple of days in advance so you have time to troubleshoot.

Once you’re live, YouTube’s studio makes it easy to monitor the stream, comments and the like. I generally just set it to gallery mode to keep everyone on screen the entire time, save for musical performances, when I switch over to the single camera. Unfortunately, the watermark is present, unless you upgrade to a higher tier, but otherwise it does the trick. When you’re done, there’s a basic editor on board to trim the beginning and end of the broadcast.

These are, perhaps, not the most elegant solutions, but, again, people tend to be pretty forgiving about this stuff in the current climate. Sometimes they’re just happy to have someone keep them company — even if it’s only virtually.

Original Content podcast: Apple’s ‘Amazing Stories’ is thoroughly unamazing

By Anthony Ha

It’s been two-and-a-half years since the news first broke that Steven Spielberg would be rebooting his ’80s anthology series “Amazing Stories” for Apple’s then-unnamed streaming service.

Now, after some behind-the-scenes drama, “Amazing Stories” has launched on Apple TV+, with the first two segments currently available. The first, “The Cellar,” is a time travel romance, while “The Heat” is a combination ghost story/murder mystery/sports drama.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, it’s hard to tell exactly who this show was made for. Both of the episodes aired so far get pretty goofy, as if the show was made for kids — but they also move into surprisingly dark territory. Both start with familiar setups, then take some surprising twists and turns, but the results aren’t very satisfying.

In the end, it was hard for any of us to muster any enthusiasm for watching the show’s remaining three episodes.

You can listen to our full review 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
0:44 “Amazing Stories” review
25:50 “Amazing Stories” spoiler discussion

Kleiner’s new fund, Atrium is kaput and the latest data on seed rounds

By Alex Wilhelm

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

This week was packed with news, most of it pretty bad. But Zoom did well, so there’s that. Happily we had our dynamic pairing, Alex “Have I Died” Wilhelm and Danny “Good Hair” Crichton on hand to parse through it all. (A reminder that Equity now hits your podcast app twice a week now, so peep us Monday mornings!)

So what was on the docket? A host of things, starting with a big new early-stage fund:

  • Kleiner has more money, again. About a year after raising a $600 million vehicle, Kleiner Perkins raised a new, larger fund. Now flush with $700 million, the long-standing venture group has more money to play with than it has in recent memory. For early-stage deals, that is.
  • Atrium shut down after raising $75 million. Investors got some of their money back, but the company had to layoff its 100 employees. The lesson here is that famous backers and tenured founders can’t will something into existence that doesn’t work.
  • OYO is laying people off. Again. The major SoftBank Vision Fund-backed Indian hotel brand was supposed to be a massive hit. Now, with novel coronavirus and other challenges, it and global tourism are hitting snags.
  • We also poked at the Robinhood downtime that came during a period of sharp trading swings. The company has a lot of work to do to recover user trust, and continue to grow into its valuation. (More on that here.)
  • Zoom was the day’s good news, posting strong earnings (here), possibly indicating that remote-work companies are seeing demand for their products.

We closed on a pair of posts from Danny based on AngelList and DocSend data that shows how signaling risk for startups has changed over the years, and how many pre-seed investors the average founder talks to during their first fundraise.

That’s all from your friendly, local Equity crew. More soon!

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

Equity Shot: What’s Elliott Management and why is it coming after Twitter and SoftBank?

By Alex Wilhelm

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

After a long Shot hiatus, things keep happening that demand our attention. So, after digging into Tesla’s near-miss of the $1,000 share-price mark, we’re back to dig into Elliott Management’s imposition into Twitter’s world after sticking its nose into SoftBank earlier this year.

Alex and Danny had a few goals in this short, news-driven Equity episode: To talk about what the activist investor wants Twitter to do, and what it has wanted other tech companies to do in recent memory.

The tech world, sitting behind a contented wall of dual-class shares and founder-worship, may find activist investors grubby and irksome, but they don’t care. And Twitter, a company that has famously loped along with a part-time CEO for longer than — admit it — you thought it would, is, in retrospect, an easy target.

Now that the social media company makes money on a repeatable basis, it’s more the sort of target that non-venture investors might want to peek at. They can make sense of it.

Danny and Alex then talk about Elliott’s multi-billion-dollar investment in SoftBank, where the activist hedge fund wants the Japanese conglomerate to provide more transparency to investors to increase the value of its shares. The question is whether Elliott can win in Japan, where corporate governance remains comparatively docile, and whether it has learned any lessons operating in Asia after the firm suffered one of its few major defeats in South Korea a few years ago when it failed to block Samsung from merging two of its affiliates together.

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

Coronavirus corrections and the rise of remote work

By Alex Wilhelm

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

What a week. What an insane, heart-stopping, odd and stuffed week. I’m utterly exhausted. But, in better news, all of that is great fodder for podcast and chat, so today’s Equity is pretty OK, if I may say so.

Danny and I chewed through all the stuff that we couldn’t get out of our heads, like the markets falling apart and DoorDash’s initial movement toward going public. But in keeping with the real beating heart of Equity, we also went over four venture rounds and spent some time talking about SoftBank.

We were also a little tired, so come laugh with us and avoid taking things seriously for a few minutes.

Here’s the week’s rundown. And, yes, I did figure out my mic in the end:

We wrapped with whatever this is, other than utterly hilarious and terrifying. We wish you all a lovely weekend. Chat you Monday morning.

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

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Locke & Key’ offers spooky delights

By Anthony Ha

At times, it can be hard to tell exactly who “Locke & Key” was made for.

Adapted from a comic book series written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, the show tells the story of the Locke family after they move into the mysterious Keyhouse, where they soon discover hidden keys that can be used for a variety of magical purposes.

With its emphasis on adolescent romance and magical powers, “Locke & Key” often feels like a young adult adaptation, but it also strays into darker territory, with plenty of horror, as well as a persuasive focus on the family’s ongoing trauma following the violent death of husband/father Rendell Locke.

Despite some quibbles, your Original Content podcast hosts agree that the show manages to balance these different elements effectively, with surprising plot twists, creepy visuals and a particularly compelling sibling relationship between the two teenaged Lockes, Tyler (played by Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones).

In addition to reviewing the show, we also discuss the announcement that Netflix has acquired Adam McKay’s next film, “Don’t Look Up,” which will star Jennifer Lawrence. We had less to say about the movie itself and more about our respective attitudes towards a potential asteroid apocalypse.

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
0:35 “Don’t Look Up” discussion
14:19 “Locke and Key” spoiler-free review
29:48 “Locke and Key” spoiler discussion

Equity is not always the answer

By Alex Wilhelm

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

This week was a fun combination of early-stage and late-stage news, with companies as young as seed stage and as old as PE-worthy joining our list of topics.

Danny and Alex were back on hand to chat once again. Just in case you missed it, they had some fun talking Tesla yesterday, and there are new Equity videos on YouTube. Enjoy!

Here’s what the team argued about this week:

  • HungryPanda raises $20 million from 83North and Felix Capital. With a focus on Chinese food, Chinese language users and Chinese payment options like Alipay, it’s a neat play. According to TechCrunch, the service is live in 31 cities in the U.K., Italy, France, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S and is targeting $200 million in GMV by early Summer.
  • The Org raises $8.5 million, ChartHop raises $5 million. Hailing from two different product perspectives, these two org chart-focused companies both raised capital Thursday morning. That made them interesting to Alex as they formed yet another startup cluster, and Danny was transfixed by their differing starting points as businesses, positing that they will possibly move closer to each other over time.
  • DigitalOcean’s $100 million debt raise. The round — an addition of capital to a nearly profitable, SMB-focused cloud infra provider — split our hosts, with one leaning more toward a PE-exit and the other an IPO. Whether it can drive margins in the smaller-spend cloud customer segment will be critical to watch in the coming months.
  • (For more on venture debt writ large, head here.)
  • And finally, the E-Trade sale to Morgan Stanley, and what it might mean for Robinhood’s valuation. As Danny points out, the startup has found a good business in selling the order flow of its customers. Alex weighed in that the company has more revenue scaling to do before it grows into its last private valuation. So long as the market stays good, however, Robinhood is probably in good shape.

Equity is nearly three years old, and we have some neat stuff coming up that you haven’t heard about yet. Stay tuned, and thank you for sticking with us for so long.

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

Equity Shot: What’s going on with Tesla’s stock price?

By Alex Wilhelm

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

This is the first Equity Shot in what feels like a long time, so, let me explain. Most of the time Equity comes out on Friday. It’s a mix of news and chat and venture happenings. It’s fun! But sometimes, a topic comes up that demands more immediate attention. That’s what happened today as we stared at Tesla’s share price wondering what in the hell was going on.

Sure, Tesla isn’t a private company (yet, at least), but as the company made it into the first-ever episode of Equity, how can we resist a dive into what is going on today?

Shares of the electric car company are surging — again — today, pushing ever-closer to the $1,000 per-share mark. So, Danny, myself and Chris on the turntables got together to riff and chat about what is going on.

For those of you who want some links, here you go:

Today was all about fun. The main, more serious (kinda) show is back Friday. Stay cool!

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

Want podcasts to remain independent? Support independent podcasts

By Brian Heater

Full disclosure one: I’ve hosted a lot of independent podcasts, with varying degrees of success.

Full disclosure two: This story is being hosted on a site owned by a corporate media giant. There’s even some chance that, by the time it’s published, the decision will be made to host it behind a paywall. The fact is, I’ve worked for a lot of big media companies throughout my professional career. It’s honestly the one way I’ve been able to make a consistent living as a professional writer living in New York City.

Independence is precisely what drew me to podcasting in the first place. Years of scraping together a living in editorial, I’d felt far removed from what drew me to writing and interviewing. Struggling in the industry involves a lot of writing things for other people, and those things you do write that you genuinely care about are, at best, heavily edited and often truncated (I’m old enough to remember when column space was still a thing).

I became nostalgic for my college days (as one days) as manager of KZSC, Santa Cruz’s legendary public radio station. I would spend hours hosting shows on weekends and come in late at night to spin records after our daily broadcasting obligations were done.

Toward the end of my time at the station (and college, generally), a fellow host and I were offered the opportunity to intern at a local radio station. A music director gave us a tour of an office space that housed several local stations, segmented into what looked like conference rooms, where hosts would spend a few hours prerecording spots for the week. A conversation around how the station determined its playlists left me with a similar sense of existential dread.

The situation was enough to end my career in radio before it started. Between publishing and radio, I guess I’ve always had a bit of a thing for dying mediums. But this was a bridge too far. I have a very vivid memory of standing in the station’s parking lot and remarking to my friend, “I guess that’s it for our careers in radio.” He nodded and we were on our way.

But podcasting felt hopeful. Like blogging before it, it presented a rare opportunity to embrace a medium in its relative infancy. That brief, hopeful period before the corporate interests utterly decimated the landscape as they inevitably do. I reached out to friend and former KZSC colleague, Jesse Thorn, who’d built his own mini-podcasting empire in the years since college.

I visit his home in Los Angeles, a room of which he’d turned into a podcasting studio (it has since moved to an official Maximum Fun office overlooking MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles). He’d also assisted in helping set up a veteran comedian named Marc Maron flirt with the world of podcasting — not sure if that guy’s show ever got off the ground.

My own ambitions — at least from a technological standpoint — were more grounded. When I started my most recent podcast, RiYL, five-plus years ago, I was working as a freelancer. I needed something mobile that I could could take to interview subjects wherever they were. The equipment has been refined somewhat, over the years, but the gear still fits into a laptop sleeve for maximum portability. Spoiler alert: Next week’s interview with New Pornographers frontman Carl Newman was quite literally recorded in a bathroom.

That broad spectrum of experience levels was precisely what made podcasting so appealing to so many. It felt like the promise of the internet fulfilled. You knew it would be hard — some combination of talent and timing and luck — but you could convince yourself that, if the stars aligned correctly, your shoestring show could make it to the top of the charts.

The unfiltered nature of it all was also immensely appealing to someone who grew up obsessed with self-produced punk and self-published zines. Those were always the names I wanted to get on my show and record for posterity. And every interview could be as long or as short as was warranted. Every medium inherits some parameters from its predecessors, but it truly breaks away when it grows beyond that. For that reason, I made a point producing a show made up exclusively of five-minute episodes and another that routinely passed the hour-long mark.

The medium is the message, and all that good stuff.

Late last year, I wrote a piece for TechCrunch titled “2019: the year podcasting broke.” It was, as I explained, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek homage to the documentary “1991: The Year Punk Broke,” which chronicled the mainstreaming of a once explicitly pop-cultural phenomenon. The early ’90s notions of co-opting punk seems fairly quaint in hindsight.

Similarly, 2019 feels like the tip of the spear for corporate investment in podcasting. Spotify’s planned spending of between $400 million and $500 million is jaw-dropping, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to other mediums. Corporations are going to go big on podcasting, easily one of the most intimate mediums with one of the most highly engaged audiences. Listening to a bunch of strangers talk about history or music or sports for an hour-plus gets into your brain in ways it’s hard to explain.

With corporate involvement in podcasting come things like exclusives — company-produced programs that only exist on specific paid services (yes, I’m fully aware that I’m writing this on a site that recently launched a premium content tier, but we all need to monetize in the way we see fit). But the truth is the same with podcasters as it is with creatives in virtually ever medium: The people making the thing generally want as many people to engage with it as possible.

But the lure of a living wage is a powerful one. And making a living doing what you love almost invariably involves compromise at some level. I, for one, know that I’m incredibly lucky to have survived for as long as I have as a professional writer, living in one of the world’s most expensive cities. And yes, it’s a career that has included plenty of compromises — some I feel better about than others.

I also have plenty of friends who haven’t been so lucky — artists, writers, cartoonists and musicians who make wonderful art that I love that they simply can’t survive on. Welcome to capitalism, friends. It’s a real mixed bag.

The answer is the same as ever, though. If you like a thing, support it. And thankfully, doing as such is easier than ever. Whether it’s a network with a public radio-style fund drive like Maximum Fun or a Patreon-backed program like The Best Show. Support could mean buying a boxed mattress using their special coupon code at checkout or, for those fellow artists, just rating and reviewing or telling a friend.

I do believe the spike in podcast popularity will be good for its myriad providers in many ways. The rising tide and all of that good stuff. But I do worry that many of its most unique independent voices will get bulldozed as big companies rush to construct skyscrapers. It’s our job as listeners, fans and podcasters to make sure those voices aren’t drowned out.

Spotify mimics Apple’s design with new podcast show page updates

By Sarah Perez

Spotify’s ongoing investments in the podcast-streaming side of its business helped boost podcast listening on its service by 200% last year. But today, only 16% of Spotify’s monthly listeners are engaging with podcats — a number the company today hopes to nudge higher by redesigning the podcast side of its streaming app. The new layout now makes it easier to view information about podcasts and improves discovery of new shows.

In particular, Spotify has given podcast show trailers a more prominent position in its app.

Show trailers help podcasts find new listeners by offering a concise introduction to the podcast and its creators. A good trailer hooks listeners on the show’s concept by selling its strengths, or even by offering a snippet of content that makes listeners hungry to hear more.

In the updated version of Spotify’s app, these trailers are labeled “trailer” and are highlighted at the top of the episode list, separated from the content as Apple does in its own podcasts app.

The belief here is that listeners need an easier way to check out the different podcasts out there, without having to commit to full episodes. That’s more important than ever as Spotify’s podcast library expands. The app’s catalog now has over 700,000 podcasts across all sorts of topics — a figure that’s growing quickly. In January, Spotify was at the Consumer Electronics Show touting its “over 500,000” podcasts. By the time of this month’s earnings, it was using the higher number.

Also to aid in discovery, Spotify is adding descriptive show categories underneath the show’s description. These will be simple labels, like “true crime,” “personal stories,” “travel,” “relationships,” and more. This change is also focused on catching up with market leader Apple Podcasts, which already categorizes its podcasts in a similar way.

The other major change is to the landing page for podcast shows in Spotify, which are getting a revamp to be more readable at a glance.

The updated layout has moved the descriptions up to the top of the page, so you don’t have to swipe on a show to read about it. Before, Spotify would display the podcast’s thumbnail image at the top, and you’d swipe left to view the description. Now, the layout looks more like — yes, you guessed it — Apple Podcasts.

The combined changes do make Spotify’s app more usable for podcast listening and discovery — especially for people who are used to Apple Podcasts’ design and layout, but are now making the jump to Spotify. However, Spotify’s real advantage in podcasts isn’t just how it can mimic Apple’s better design, but how it’s catering to creators, investing in originals and exclusives, personalizing its recommendations, and now, its ads.

Spotify says the redesign is rolling out to its mobile app, starting today.

Original Content podcast: ‘Mythic Quest’ is a likable comedy with a single standout episode

By Anthony Ha

There’s plenty to like about “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” a new series on Apple TV+ — its sympathetic-but-critical portrayal of the video game industry, its goofy-but-likable characters and a couple of big surprises that come at the end of the season.

But what really stood out to us — as we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast — was a single episode, “A Dark Quiet Death.”

Without getting into spoilers, it’s probably safe to reveal that the episode mostly stands apart from the rest of the season, telling a self-contained story about two characters (played by Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti) who, after they create a quirky horror video game that turns into a surprise hit, discover that success isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Where the rest of “Mythic Quest” is a broad comedy (with the aforementioned likable characters and surprising plot), “A Dark Quiet Death” is more of a drama that quietly — but agonizingly — portrays the tensions between commerce and art. And if we have a criticism, it’s that the episode’s achievement can make the rest of the show feel a little silly in comparison.

We also discuss Anthony’s interview with the creators of the show and how “Mythic Quest” might have been shaped by the involvement of video game company Ubisoft. And before we begin the review, we react to this year’s Oscars.

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
0:27 Oscars discussion
17:54 “Mythic Quest” review
50:31 “Mythic Quest” spoiler discussion

Big meditation money, new VC funds, and how do you value Airbnb?

By Alex Wilhelm

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

After having a good time with NEA’s Rick Yang last week, we thought we’d bring on another venture capitalist. So this week Danny and I had Elliott Robinson from Bessemer swing over for the show. As it turned out, he was about as correct as guest as possible as not only did the topics of the week line up with where he invests, he’s also friends with some of the folks that we discussed on the show.

So what did we talk about? A whole host of things including two rounds:

Then we turned to two new funds, including Battery’s battery of new capital vehicles that add up to $2 billion. In this part of the discussion we also touched on capital velocity, and why some firms are writing the same number of checks, but still need more capital. On the other end of the capital spectrum, Equal Ventures put together its first fund, and we riffed on the health of the micro-fund ecosystem.

The news run continued, with our trio touching on Airbnb’s recent financial results, and our wonderment about how to price the firm, the closure of Brandless (RIP), and the issues at SoftBank.

All that and we had to leave Lyft’s fascinating earnings and Uber’s profit promises alone as we ran a bit long with just that set of topics. A good week, and we’re back Monday morning!

How to advertise a podcast in 2020

By Walter Thompson
Julian Shapiro Contributor
Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, a growth marketing team that trains startups in advanced growth, helps you hire senior growth marketers and finds you vetted growth agencies. He also writes at Julian.com.

We’ve aggregated many of the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this growth report.

This is how you stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Our community consists of 1,000 startup founders and VPs of growth from later-stage companies. We have 400 YC founders, plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo and Ritual.

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve’s marketing webinars, Slack group or marketing training program.

Without further ado, on to our community’s advice.

Make good ads popular, then re-release them

Equity Monday: Cherre raises $16M, Lyft’s critical earnings and WeWork’s profit hopes

By Alex Wilhelm

Good morning friends, and welcome back to TechCrunch’s Equity Monday, a short-form audio hit to kickstart your week. Regular Equity episodes still drop Friday morning, so if you’ve listened to the show over the years, don’t worry — we’re not changing it in the slightest. (Here’s last week’s episode, which included our first guest in a bit, NEA’s Rick Yang.)

We kicked off this morning with the latest economic news relating to the coronavirus outbreak in China, namely that a host of Chinese firms are looking for loans. Inside the group of companies seeking capital that Reuters reported are names that we know, like Didi and Meituan Dianping. At first it appeared that the coronavirus’ impact would be a bump in growth; now it appears to be a bit more serious.

It’s not just big companies that are impacted, mind. Small and private firms with supply chains in China are impacted as well, not to mention the country’s entire domestic startup scene.

Looking ahead, there are three key earnings reports on the horizon: Lyft, Alibaba and Shopify. Each matters for a different reason. Alibaba will provide a window into China, Shopify a look at how investors are valuing momentum plays and Lyft a health report for the on-demand world.

After Uber’s surprising results and ensuing adjusted profit promise (Q4 2020, not calendar 2021), Lyft is under fresh pressure to match the covenant. If it doesn’t change its profit forecasts, it could be punished. And that could shift the waters for smaller, private on-demand companies like DoorDash and Postmates, along with other mobility firms like Lime and Bird. On-demand companies have raised billions, so Lyft has more than its own investors riding shotgun for its Q4 2019 report.

There are no impending IPOs this week, but there were two rounds that we found interesting:

Finally, WeWork wants you to know that it is turning around. If that is the case is not clear, but its folks are back on CNBC to both beat back an activist attempt to push for change and talk up its own book. How close you think WeWork will end 2020 in the black is probably the next question to ask.

That’s it from us. Stay cool, and we will be back Friday morning with yet another guest from the venture capital world.

Equity drops every Monday and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

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