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As e-bikes boom, FuroSystems raises its first venture funding round ahead of a new model launch

By Mike Butcher

With COVID-19 making commuters switch to bikes, and cities wanting cleaner air, the e-bike revolution is only just getting started. Further evidence of this is the news that today British e-bike manufacturer FuroSystems has closed its first institutional venture funding round of £750,000 with participation by TSP Ventures and European impact investment bank ClearlySo, as well as a number of angel investors.

Not unlike the ‘new wave’ of startup e-bike makers such as VanMoof and Cowboy, London-based FuroSystems is also bringing an interesting take on the e-bike concept. Key to its appeal is that its bikes are very light and can therefore be pedaled like normal bikes when not using the electric engine. Furthermore, their pricing is also highly competitive compared to conventional bikes.

Unlike many e-Bike makers, it also has a folding e-bike, the Furo X, whose carbon fiber frame makes it one of the lightest e-bikes in the world, weighing just 15kg. The high-density removable lithium-ion battery has a range of 55km. FuroSystems also makes a point of using industry-standard parts such as Shimano gears and hydraulic disk brakes, which makes it competitive with others such as Gocycle and Brompton.

These factors are helping to make them a hit amongst commuters.

As a result the company, which also makes electric scooters, says it has seen demand surge since the coronavirus lockdown, with year-on-year sales up fivefold. Unusually, the company says it has been profitable since it started, but this latest funding will be used to invest in R&D to create its next line of products.

CEO and co-founder Eliott Wertheimer, said in a statement: “We’re currently experiencing a once-in-a-century shift in transport, thanks to increasing awareness of the impact we are having on our environment along with a renewed desire to make healthier personal choices. Electric bikes and electric scooters are crucial to solving the mobility issues we see today, of congestion and pollution.”

Wertheimer added that part of the bike manufacturing is likely to be brought to Portugal in order to fulfill demand.

TSP Ventures CEO Chris Smith, commented: “The e-bike market has exploded in recent years with sales set to reach €10 billion by 2025 and FuroSystems is at the intersection of this burgeoning industry.”

The startup has also designed and manufactured the Fuze, a high-end e-scooter with over 800W of available peak power; double front and rear suspension; dual mechanical disc brakes; remote key lock and alarm system; reinforced inflatable pneumatic 10” wheels. The power and top-speed is able to be adjusted to comply with local regulations.

Upcoming will be the Aventa, an e-bike with aerospace-grade alloys; a boost system; hydraulic disk brakes; nine gears; high-performance clutch; integrated 504Wh battery; and the weight below 17kg. Prices for the Aventa will start at £1,399 and it will be available to pre-order from FuroSystems.com at the end of the month.

Founders Albert Nassar and Eliott Wertheimer met whilst studying mechanical and aerospace engineering respectively at the University of Bristol. Nassar went on to work with the autonomous drone inspection team at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory which later spun-out as Perceptual Robotics, whilst Wertheimer developed small nuclear batteries for tiny satellites in partnership with the European Space Agency and different UK universities. The pair reunited at Imperial College’s Business School in 2015, and created FuroSystems in 2017.

A16z is now managing $16.5 billion, after announcing two new funds

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) has closed a pair of funds totaling $4.5 billion, the firm confirmed in a blog post this morning. The firm has raised $1.3 billion for an early-stage fund focused on consumer, enterprise and fintech; and closed a $3.2 billion growth-stage fund for later-stage investments. The firm did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The funds may seem somewhat typical, given the size of new funds that venture firms have been raising in recent years. Still, these are extraordinary amounts given that a16z, with offices in Menlo Park and San Francisco, was founded just 11 years ago.

Just as extraordinary, they bring the firm’s total assets under management to $16.5 billion.

It was just 20 months ago that a16z closed its most recent pair of funds — a $2 billion late-stage fund, and a $740 million flagship early-stage fund.

It also announced a separate, $515 million crypto-focused fund back in April of this year, its second such vehicle. And, in February, it rolled out its third biotech and healthcare investing fund, which closed with $750 million in capital commitments.

That’s a lot of capital to capture in one year. Then again, its limited partners have had reason to feel optimistic about its portfolio. In January, for example, the fintech company Plaid, whose Series C round a16z joined in late 2018, was acquired by Visa for a hefty $5.3 billion after raising roughly $310 million altogether.

The Justice Department recently sued to block the deal on antitrust grounds, but even if it’s unwound, industry observers like Plaid’s prospects.

The firm is also an investor in the soon-to-be-publicly traded accommodations marketplace Airbnb, though notably, according to Airbnb’s S-1, a16z does not own enough of the company to be listed on the filing, despite that it led the company’s Series B round in 2011 and despite that general partner Jeff Jordan sits on the company’s board and would need to list any ownership position as a result.

We’ve asked if it sold part or all of its stake, possibly earlier this year, and are awaiting word back.

Another of a16z’s portfolio companies, the pay-as-you-go lending company Affirm, has also filed to go public. Andreessen Horowitz first participated in the company’s Series B round back in 2015. It is also not listed on Affirm’s S-1 filing, meaning it owns less than 5% of the company.

And the firm is an investor in the game company Roblox, whose $150 million Series G round it led earlier this year. Roblox made its S-1 public earlier this week; a16z is not listed on it.

On the early-stage side, the firm is often characterized by its flashy deals, including its $100 million valuation of voice-chat app Clubhouse and $75 million valuation of Y Combinator graduate Trove.

A16z also recently launched a TxO accelerator, which uses a donor-advised fund to invest in underrepresented founders. Led by a16z partner Nait Jones, TxO has invested $100,000 each in an initial cohort of seven companies in exchange for 7% of ownership stake.

The donor-advised fund launched with $2.2 million in initial commitments, with Ben and Felicia Horowitz announcing they would match up to $5 million. Any returns from companies in the fund will be repurposed into the investment vehicle. The firm has declined to share the fund’s total size to date.

Currently, a16z employs 185 people, most recently hiring Anthony Albanese, the chief regulatory officer at the New York Stock Exchange, as an operating partner for its cryptocurrency team.

One of a16z’s biggest wins so far appears to be GitHub, which sold to Microsoft in a $7.5 billion all-stock deal in 2018 and from which a16z reportedly pocketed more than $1 billion. When it invested in the company, it wrote the biggest check it had issued at the time: $100 million. The terms were enough for a16z to win the deal against some tough competition, including Benchmark, which was also trying to woo GitHub at the time, as general partner, Peter Fenton, said recently.

It is also an early investor in the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which was last valued by its private investors at $8 billion and is reportedly contemplating an IPO, possibly early next year. And a16z owns a stake in Robinhood, the popular trading app that in September was valued at $11.7 billion.

Robinhood, too, is said to be contemplating an IPO in the near future.

 

Why some VCs prefer to work with first-time founders

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Repeat founders who have a proven track record, good references, and in the best cases, an exit to point to will have an easy time making inroads with venture capitalists. Earlier this week, for example, the former founders of Udemy and altMBA raised more than $4 million for a startup with no name or final product.

However, broad strokes in an environment as nuanced and dynamic as VC never make sense. As early stage evolves and more capital flows into the sector, some investors actually prefer first-time founders; it all depends on the type of venture capitalist you ask.

Last week, TMV co-founder Soraya Darabi joined the Extra Crunch Live stage to discuss her firm and investment theory.

“We look for founders who have not had a demonstrable exit before because we think that it can actually taint your perspective,” Darabi said during an Extra Crunch Live. “We look for, instead, founders [who] have had a front row seat of success, or had some product experience where you’re watching from third base but not necessarily the person that takes the whole show home.”

The preference comes directly because of TMV’s investment cadence. TMV invests between $500,000 to $1.5 million into startups that have valuations between $10 million to $15 million. Startups that have heavy market signals or hype will likely exceed that range, and thus become out of reach. For example, a Y Combinator company raised $16 million in a seed round at a $75 million valuation before Demo Day.

As a result, TMV sources founders who have not yet made the leap and want an institutional investor to help them start their first company.

Founders don’t need to be full-time to start raising venture capital

By Natasha Mascarenhas

“More than 50% of our founders still are in their current jobs,” said John Vrionis, co-founder of seed-stage fund Unusual Ventures.

The fund, which closed a $400 million investment vehicle in November 2019, has noticed that more and more startup employees are thinking about entrepreneurship as the pandemic has shown how much room there is for new innovation. To gain a competitive advantage, Unusual is investing small checks into founders before they’re full-time.

Unusual, which cuts an average of eight checks per year into seed-stage companies, isn’t doling out millions to every employee who decides to leave Stripe. The firm is conservative with its spending and takes a more focused approach, often embedding a member from the firm into a portfolio company. It’s not meant to scale to dozens of portfolio companies a year, but instead requires a methodical approach.

One with a healthy pipeline of companies to choose from.

In an Extra Crunch Live chat, Vrionis and Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor and the firm’s newest partner, said lightweight investing matters in the early days of a company.

“There were a lot of teams that needed capital to start the journey, but frankly, it would have been over burdensome if they took on $2 or $3 million,” Leary said. “[New founders] want to be in a place where they have enough money to get going but not too much money that they get locked into a ladder in terms of expectations that they’re not ready to take advantage of.” The checks that Unusual cuts in pre-seed often range between $100,000 to half a million dollars.

Leary chalks up the boom to the disruption in consumer behavior, which opens up the opportunity for new companies to win.

Are VCs cutting checks in the closing days of the 2020 election?

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Before the 2016 election, Vice Ventures founder and general partner Catharine Dockery was bullish about the future of recreational cannabis in the United States.

“We saw quite a bit more optimism around national legalization, with the feeling that a wave of states legalizing recreational use would be the final push needed” to see drug reform, she said. It was good news for Dockery, who was planning to launch a firm investing in categories like cannabis, CBD, psychedelics and sex tech.

She announced a $25 million fund in June 2019, but the national policy landscape had shifted considerably.

“The vitriol and division around the election really haven’t left room for substantive discussions. I think this will eventually change, but don’t have high hopes for much policy debate until the election is complete, if at all,” she said. “In a time of uncertainty, we’re taking a small step back.”

Along with many VC firms, Vice Ventures has raised the bar regarding which startups it will fund, but several investors told TechCrunch they were split about how they’re making decisions in the closing days of the presidential campaign. After a booming summer, some said momentum is increasing, while others told us that expectations have never been higher for startups.

“If anything, the pace is increasing,” said Alexa von Tobel of Inspired Capital. Traditionally, she said founders scale back on fundraising efforts close to the winter holidays because investors’ vacation mentality is kicking in. This year, “I think we’ll continue to see founders taking advantage of the ample flow of capital right now and shore up resources so they can enter 2021 on strong footing,” she said.

While that may be good news for founders, von Tobel said Inspired Capital is not giving too much weight to the election internally.

“We think of ourselves as patient capital, focused on looking for the best companies no matter the timing,” she said. “While we know the election will create noise and have an impact on businesses long term, it does not have a place in our process right now.”

Inspired Capital invests more broadly in the early-stage environment, which plays a part in its ability to invest through crises and turbulence. It seems that firms that have more niche investment theses have been more likely to change their pace ahead of the election.

Menlo Ventures just closed its fifteenth early-stage fund with $500 million

By Connie Loizos

Menlo Ventures, the 44-year-old venture firm with offices in Menlo Park and San Francisco, is taking the wraps of its fifteenth early-stage fund today, a vehicle it closed with $500 million in capital commitments.

It’s the same amount that Menlo announced last year for a growth-stage fund, the second in the firm’s history.

We talked with managing director Venky Ganesan earlier this week about the new fund. It will not, notably, include longtime Menlo managing director Mark Siegel, who joined the firm 24 years ago after a business development stint at Netscape, and who — like peers Bill Gurley of Benchmark and Todd Chaffee of IVP — is now making room for some of the firm’s more recent additions.

Ganesan also said that Menlo, which invests in consumer, enterprise, frontier tech, and healthcare startups, might index a bit more on health-related bets, which is unsurprising but also interesting in an historical context.

Gilead Sciences was actually incubated at Menlo back in 1987, but the firm dropped its life sciences practice for roughly 20 years before resuscitating it in 2017, hiring Greg Yap as a partner to lead related investments. At the time, Yap’s mandate was to invest roughly 15% of the firm’s last, $450 million, early-stage fund into tech-driven life sciences, but Ganesan can imagine that even more of its new fund will be poured into tech-driven health and medical startups.

As for check sizes, Ganesan said that Menlo will continue to do the occasional seed round but that it’s far more focused on Series A and B deals, writing initial checks of between $8 million to $15 million at the Series A for a targeted 20% of each startup, and checks beginning at $12 million to $14 million at the Series B stage. (Its later-stage fund makes the bigger bets beyond that.)

Menlo has long counted Washington State as its anchor tenant, and this fund is no different, having secured a $125 million commitment from its investment board.

A newer investor, says Ganesan, is the State of New Mexico Investment Council, which is one of three new investors in the fund — all of which were introduced to Menlo through other investors, and all of which agreed to back the firm via Zoom.

Given the firm’s recent exits, institutional interest in the new fund isn’t surprising. Menlo led Uber’s Series B round back in 2011, and according to the firm, even before Uber’s IPO last year, Menlo had already earned $973 million — or a 93x return — on its $10.5 million investment by selling nearly half of its Uber stock to a syndicate led by SoftBank.

Another big win for the firm has been Roku, which makes a variety of digital media players for video streaming and went public in 2017. At the time, its shares traded at around $15 each; today its shares trade at $233 apiece.

Meanwhile, Menlo has active portfolio companies that also appear poised to produce returns for its investors. The consignment company Poshmark said late last month that it has confidentially submitted to securities regulators a draft registration statement for its IPO, for example. And Chime, a start-up that delivers banking services through mobile phone, closed a round of funding last month that valued the company at $14.5 billion.

True Ventures has $840 million more to invest in nascent and breakout startups

By Connie Loizos

True Ventures, the now 15-year-old firm with offices in Palo Alto, California, and San Francisco, is taking the wraps off two new funds this morning: It has closed its seventh early-stage fund with $465 million, and capped its fourth opportunity-type fund — used to back its own breakout portfolio companies — with $375 million.

It’s a lot of committed capital for True, which was founded and continues to be led by Jon Callaghan and Phil Black. Then again, the firm is larger than it once was, with 35 people across the firm, including 10 others on the investing side, as well as other colleagues across the firm’s finance, operations and platform teams.

It’s especially easy to understand why True would raise another, slightly larger opportunity fund (its last closed with $285 million in 2018, and its last early-stage fund closed with $350 million at the same time). It was through one such vehicle that True was able to invest so much in the consumer fitness company Peloton, including its Series F round.

When the company went public last fall, pricing at $7.2 billion, True was the company’s second-largest outside shareholder. Roughly one year later, Peloton is now valued at more than $38 billion by public market investors — and True is still involved.

We talked with Callaghan and Black earlier this week about how and when True unwinds a position like that in a publicly traded portfolio company. We also talked about the firm’s continued emphasis on creating a support network for its founders and their teams, whether they worry the center of startup investing is shifting out of the Bay Area and more. Much of chat, below, has been edited for length.

TC: New year, bigger funds?

PB: The numbers are bigger but a function of a lot of people who would like to be a part of what we are doing, for which we’re grateful. We also have a much larger team.

JC: More than 90% of our LPs re-upped; we had way more demand than we had supply for, including because we think it’s important to bring in new capital from new relationships every time we raise a fund, usually from people who we’ve known for a long time. We’re actively engaged with our LP base, and it provides us with new thinking.

TC: Are many, or any, of these VC firms? It seems increasingly that everyone is an investor in everyone else’s fund.

PB: We have funds of funds, like Greenspring Associates and Foundry Group Next [as investors]. I do think you see [venture funds investing in venture funds] when it comes to smaller, sub $50 million funds, but it’s not applicable for us.

TC: Over time, you’ve written fairly small early checks for 20% of a company. Is that still possible to do in this market?

JC: Our core business remains exactly the same. We’re writing $1 million to $3 million from day one to a founder or small team. We’ve kind of honed it in terms of how we look at things . . . we’ve invested $15 million into our platform dating back 10 years or so [to bring to bear the breadth of our team and broader network]. If I’m on your board, and I’m your only point of contact, then I’m the weak link.

TC: You have Founder Camp, True University and numerous culture initiatives. How would you rate the firm in terms of diversity?

JC: We’re working hard to do better, but we’re not good enough as an industry, and we’re part of that industry. We’ve funded incredibly powerful women entrepreneurs and some people of color but not enough, and we’re looking at long-term solutions right now. We’re also very focused on fellowships [through which True has recruited 165 college students over the years to work at True-backed startups, half of whom have landed full-time employment with the companies afterward, says the firm].

We’ve always focused on gender equality and skewed more heavily toward women in the last two classes, but we’re also focused on diverse candidates and on diverse backgrounds. We need to provide more pathways into tech and startups, and through fellowships, we can access students before they’re thinking about career tracts.

TC: One of your portfolio companies, Peloton, is having an especially good year. Have you sold out of that position? How do you think about returning money to LPs after a company goes public?

JC: We are still holders of the company’s stock and I’m still on board.

PB: It’s really case-by-case whether we sell the shares or distribute them. It takes time because we’re such large shareholders typically, that our ability to get capital back is gated by public markets and [the] volume [of what we own]. As for whether we distribute cash or shares, usually LPs like the shares. A lot of family offices and fund of funds would prefer the shares because they refer them over to their public [market] groups. Certain others, especially European investors, prefer cash for tax or other reasons.

TC: We’re starting to see more SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies, launched by venture funds. What do you make of these?

PB: Jon and I have been around long enough to remember when SPACs were a four-letter word. I think they’re a better instrument today than 20 years ago. Some of our companies are thinking about them; there’s a lot of curiosity around what it means to raise a SPAC or go public via a SPAC. People are in information-finding mode. We as a firm have not thought we should raise a SPAC ourselves.

JC: I think the innovation around access to capital is really interesting. I think it’s too soon to tell how it will work out for the founders and the companies. It is pretty complicated. We’re watching it closely.

TC: True is often ahead of the curve. You were investing in hardware companies like Fitbit and Peloton ahead of a lot of other generalist firms. The same was true of digital health and biology. What’s interesting to you right now?

JC: Our job is to listen to what our founders are sending to us, and one space we’re thinking about is the future of work — what happens not in one year but five years. The second is a theme that we’re calling the roaring ’20s, and by that I mean we’re studying post-World War I and World War II and how consumer behavior changed and what might happen after this pandemic when there is a vaccine.

TC: Can you drill down a bit more on these?

JC: We’re thinking about art, music, dining, travel, entertainment . . . What happens when Broadway opens up? You can imagine hybrid experiences. Regarding the future of work, I’m not sure we’ll spend a lot of time on Zoom initially [once the world has re-opened], but [we think about] virtual access to everything so employees who are remote have more [at their fingertips], along with what happens to suburbs versus cities, which we already have some insight into through [past and current portfolio companies] Blue Bottle [Coffee] and Sweetgreen and Madison Reed .

TC: A lot of companies are making remote work permanent. Do you think this is as sweeping a trend as it seems, and how does that change the Bay Area if so?

JC: We had a virtual offsite recently and in the last 30 seconds, everyone was talking about whether we could get access to COVID tests so we could get everyone together.

People thrive on human contact; I think they need to be together. And my point of view is that the Bay Area is sill Florence in the Renaissance and that it will be just fine. It’s going to take a while, but this is still where a lot of talent wants to be for all kinds of reasons.

How to hire your first engineer: A guide for nontechnical founders

By Lucas Matney

For founders who have a startup idea — but few engineering skills to make it a reality — making the team’s first technical hire can be a daunting task.

Nontechnical founders will face greater challenges when it comes to sourcing and recruiting engineering talent, but another factor that raises the stakes: They must often act quickly to find someone who could very well end up with co-founder status.

We interviewed a handful of startup founders and technical leaders to get their thoughts about how nontechnical founders should approach the hiring process for engineer no. 1.

Their advice spanned how to handle technical interviews, sourcing technical talent, how to decide whether your first engineering hire should become CTO — and how to best kick the can down the road if you’re not ready to start worrying about bringing on an engineer quite yet. Everyone I spoke to was quick to caution that their tips weren’t one-size-fits-all and that overcoming limited knowledge often comes down to tapping the right people to help you out and lend a greater understanding of your options.

I’ve broken down these tips into a digestible guide that’s focused on four areas:

  • Sourcing technical candidates.
  • How to conduct interviews.
  • Making an offer.
  • Taking a nontraditional route.

Sourcing technical candidates

Knowing what you’re looking for obviously depends a good deal on what you need. Founders have more flexibility if they’re just aiming to get engineers on board so they can get an MVP out the door, but technical expertise is only part of the equation if you’re aiming to hire for someone that may end up being a co-founder or CTO.

Announcing the Startup Battlefield companies at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020

By Neesha A. Tambe

TechCrunch is thrilled to announce the 20 companies pitching in Startup Battlefield. Over the next five days, founders from around the world will be connecting in remotely to pitch live on the virtual TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 stage. Our most competitive batch to-date, startups will be vying for $100,000 in equity-free prize money, the attention of tier-1 investors and global press.

The competition is stiff. The selected startups have undergone a rigorous application process, with a 2% acceptance rate. This year’s batch is exceptional. From green engine design to social networking video tools, GIS construction management to central American banking platforms for women, adaptive Sub-Saharan African transportation to healthcare affordability , these companies make ground breaking innovations in their verticals. Startups featured run the gamut – water conserving vertical farming in India, screen-less interfaces, security tech, multi-lingual adaptive children’s learning toys, and even 3-D printed rocket fuel.

Teams have trained for weeks with the Startup Battlefield team to hone their pitches, polish their live demos, and strengthen their business launch strategy. Monday through Thursday, startups will pitch live for six minutes followed by a six minute Q&A session with our expert judges. On Friday, the finalist companies selected will pitch again for the final Startup Battlefield round – this time with a new set of judges.

Startup Battlefield starts on Monday, September 14th at 10:30am Pacific Time, with Startup Battlefield moderator and TechCrunch Senior Writer Anthony Ha. To watch the live stream simply log in to TechCrunch.com. You can also gain access to the full Disrupt 2020 experience here.

Let’s check out the companies:

Monday 

Session 1: 10:30am – 11:35am PT

Matidor, Clinic Price Check, Firehawk Aerospace, Satellite Vu, DaVinci Kitchen**

Tuesday

Session 2: 10:30am – 11:35am PT

SoloSuit, Tuverl, Latent AI, HacWare, Vibe**

Wednesday

Session 3: 10:30am – 11:35am PT

Jefa, Touchwood Labs, Rally.video, Luther AI, Kiri

Thursday

Session 3: 10:40am – 11:45am PT

Perigee, Urban Kisaan, Crover, ClearFlame Engines Technologies, Canix

Friday

Finals begin at 10:40am PT. Companies will be announced online Thursday night.

*As a part of Startup Alley, companies are eligible for the Wild Card. These are the companies selected for Wild Card and can compete in Startup Battlefield. They are selected only days before the event.

Use ‘productive paranoia’ to build cybersecurity culture at your startup

By Zack Whittaker

As any startup grows, getting new products out the door and securing that next round of funding are always top priorities.

But security, all too often, falls by the wayside. After all, why would you invest money in something that you hope never happens when you could be funneling cash back into the business?

Fostering a corporate culture that embraces cybersecurity best practices keeps customer data safe and your company’s reputation intact. But security isn’t something you can easily tack on later. It must be ingrained in your company’s culture, and it’s so much easier to start in the early days of your company than scrambling in the aftermath of a data breach.

But how do you get there?

At TechCrunch Early Stage, we asked Casey Ellis, founder, chairman and chief technology officer at Bugcrowd, to share his ideas for how startups can improve their security posture.

Bugcrowd helps companies dip into a huge pool of cybersecurity talent — including hackers and security researchers — to find vulnerabilities. By helping companies identify flaws, they can shore up their defenses before malicious hackers break in. Few know better than Ellis — who’s run Bugcrowd for close to a decade — which policies, procedures and protections companies have put in place to get there.

Extra Crunch subscribers can log in and watch the video below.

Curio, the curated audio platform for journalism, has closed $9M Series A funding

By Steve O'Hear

Curio, the burgeoning audio platform that offers a curated library of “expert” journalism, has closed a $9 million in Series A round funding.

The round is led by Earlybird, with participation from Draper Esprit, Cherry Ventures, and Horizons Ventures. It follows $2 million in previous backing from Cherry, 500 Startups and unnamed private angel investors, bringing the total amount raised to $11 million to date.

Founded in 2016 by Govind Balakrishnan, an ex-BBC strategist, and Srikant Chakravarti, a former solicitor, London-based Curio offers a curated library of journalism translated into and presented as audio, letting listeners get their daily fix of news and analysis. Over 50 publications are curated on the app including the likes of The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Financial Times, and specialist titles such as Wired, MIT Technology Review, and Aeon.

The audio articles are narrated by professional voice actors. Listeners can browse by new stories, most played, categories, and publication, and also discover new tracks on playlists curated bi-weekly by the Curio editorial team. In addition, you can click on “read along” on the app to access the original text in via publisher’s website, therefore helping to drive traffic to the original publisher.

“We are here to help people learn through quality journalism and great stories,” says Balakrishnan. “Curio is a premium audio platform with a curated library of expert journalism. It provides listeners with stories and insights on critical topics shaping our world, helping them learn and grow.

“Journalism has come to be narrowly associated with breaking news. However it encompasses thoughtful opinions, insightful analyses and bold investigations. Some of the biggest ideas shaping our world are being discussed by opinion formers on our publisher partners, and offer an unprecedented opportunity for consumers to learn and grow. Audio allows people to go deeper and learn as they go about their everyday lives”.

That thesis appears to be resonating with users. Balakrishnan tells me that Curio’s largest subscriber group is 24-35 year olds and the services reaches roughly the same number of women and men. “Over 60% of our current subscribers are not existing podcast/audio listeners,” he says. “In this sense we see a big opportunity in helping a broader range of people who are interested in quality journalism”. Noteworthy, 70% of Curio’s audience is outside the U.S. and roughly 40% is non-western markets.

To that end, Curio says it will use the injection of capital to strengthen its position in the U.S. and U.K. markets, while also expanding to other English-speaking parts of the world, including India, Australia, and South Africa. It also has a number of co-produced series and guest curations in the pipeline, alongside what it describes as “AI-led” personalisation and commissioning based on over 2 million monthly data points.

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