Cook takes the stand, Axel Springer talks with Axios, and a supersonic company gets grounded

May 21, 2021
 
Friday! What a great day up until the last moments of tonight's Warriors' game, when the team's season ended in a painful overtime loss. [Sniffle.] We'll get 'em next year(?).
 
Before we go, we leave you with this week's StrictlyVC Download, with featured guest Anatoly Yakovenko, a longtime Qualcomm engineer-turned- founder of Solana, a blockchain platform that has captured the interest of serious crypto enthusiasts and seemingly a lot of other people, too. (As you may have seen here in the newsletter, we ran a story about Solana late last week that more than a quarter of a million people have since read.) We think you’ll find our longer conversation with Yakovenko as interesting.
 
Giant thanks to TechCrunch for partnering with us on the episode. Note that its virtual transportation event, TC Sessions: Mobility, is coming up fast (June 9). To understand the trends shaping the sector -- and to save 10% on your ticket  -- use the promo code STRICTLYVC at TechCrunch.com/mobility.
 
More Monday.:)
Top News
Apple CEO Tim Cook took the witness chair this morning for the first time as part of the Epic versus Apple antitrust case and proceeded to offer a "mild, carefully tended ignorance that left many of the lawsuit’s key questions unanswered, or unanswerable," says TechCrunch. He delivered a "big, fat, nothingburger" of a performance, adds Cult of Mac.
 
Meanwhile, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel told CNBC today that his social media company is happy to pay Apple’s 30% commission rate on in-app transactions. “We’re happy to do it in exchange for all of the amazing technology that they provide to us in terms of the software but also in terms of their hardware advancements,” Spiegel said. (The Information noted afterward that Snap generates nearly all of its revenue from advertising, which doesn't go through the app store; in short, it's no wonder that Spiegel can remain comparatively sanguine.)
 
And: California no longer will require social distancing and will allow full capacity for businesses when the state reopens on June 15, the state’s top health official said today. The AP has more here.
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Massive Fundings
 
Figure, the three-year-old, San Francisco-based consumer lending platform founded by SoFi founder Mike Cagney, has raised $200 million at a $3.2 billion post-money valuation co-led by 10T Holdings and Morgan Creek Digital. Other investors included Digital Currency Group, Ribbit Capital, DCM and DST Global. The company has now raised $425 million altogether. The Block has more here

Heyday, a 10-month-old, San Francisco-based startup that's trying to roll up businesses that sell on Amazon (as well as incubate and launch new ones), has raised $70 million in Series B funding led by earlier backers General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures and Arbor Ventures, as well as Heyday’s founders. The new investment brings the company’s total fundraising to more than $250 million. Crunchbase News has more here.
 
TaniHub Group, a five-year-old, Indonesian startup that helps farmers get better prices and more customers for their crops, has raised a $65.5 million Series B. The funding was led by MDI Ventures, the investment arm of Telkom Group, one of Indonesia’s largest telecoms, with participation from Add Ventures, BRI Ventures, Flourish Ventures, Tenaya Capital, UOB Venture Management, Vertex Ventures and earlier backers Intudo Ventures and Openspace Ventures. The company has now raised $94 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Big-But-Not-Crazy-Big Fundings
 
Found, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based services platform for the self-employed centered around built-in expense tracking and a tax savings account (its cofounder and CEO, Lauren Myrick, spent more than eight year with Square previously), just raised $12.8 million in seed funding led by Sequoia Capital. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Small Fundings
 
Cloud Campaign, a four-year-old, Boulder, Co.-based startup that helps marketing agencies manage many brands on social media, has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Oregon Venture Fund and Access Venture Partners. Tech Startups has more here.
 
NextBillion.ai, a two-year-old, Singapore- and Mountain View, Ca.-based startup that develops modular and configurable map and location data software, has raised $6.25 million in extended Series A funding, bringing its previously announced round to $13.25 million altogether. M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, led the newest tranche. More here.
 
Polywork, a New York-based professional social networking startup whose founder, Peter Johnson, previously founded Lystable, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding led by Caffeinated Capital, with participation from YouTube cofounder Steve Chen, Twitch cofounder Kevin Lin, and PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, among others. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Secai Marche, a 2.5-year-old, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based agtech platform that helps farmers sell products into commercial channels, has raised $1.4 million from Rakuten Ventures and Beyond Next Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Slerp, a four-year-old, London-based startup that makes e-commerce software for the hospitality industry (predominantly restaurants), has raised $10 million in funding across a seed and Series A round, it is just now disclosing. Its backers include Eight Roads Ventures, Jigsaw VC, TrueSight Ventures,  Aldea Ventures, and angel investor Rumi Verjee. Tech.eu has more here.
 
Wysa, a six-year-old, Boston-based AI-enabled conversational mental health platform designed to provide early intervention to high risk individuals, has raised $5.5 million in Series A funding. W Health Ventures led the round, joined by Google Assistant Investment, pi Ventures and Kae Capital. Crunchbase News has more here.
Exits
 
Aerion Supersonic, an 18-year-old, Reno, Nev.-based company that planned to build business jets capable of silently flying nearly twice as fast as commercial aircraft, is shutting down, the company confirmed to CNBC today. The company is one of many that have raised capital and struck partnerships with aerospace companies with an eye toward luring monied passengers back onto supersonic planes for the first time since the Concorde's operations were ended in 2003.
 
German media conglomerate Axel Springer is in talks to acquire Axios, according to The Information, which notes that the company already owns Business Insider and is an investor in Group Nine Media, owner of digital sites such as The Dodo and news site NowThis. Axios, now five years old, raised its last batch of private funding -- a $27 million Series C round, in December 2019, at a pre-money valuation of $210 million, according to Crunchbase. More here.
 
Snap yesterday announced the latest iteration of its Spectacles augmented reality glasses, and today the company revealed a bit more news: it is also acquiring the startup that supplied the tech that helps power them: WaveOptics, a six-year-old, U.K.-based AR startup that makes the waveguides and projectors used in AR glasses. Snap is reportedly paying more than $500 million in cash-and-stock for the startup, which had raised $65 million from investors, including Bosch and Octopus Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.  
Going Public
 
A record stretch of tech IPOs isn’t delivering for new investors because of private market froth, observes CNBC. More here.
People
 
SoftBank Group said on Friday that Ron Fisher, a longtime lieutenant of Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son, is stepping down from its board of directors along with Arm CEO Simon Segars and independent director Yuko Kawamoto. Fisher joined SoftBank in 1995 after running a software company in the U.S., and helped Son expand SoftBank's international M&A activities. He has been a board member since 1997, Nikkei Asia has more here.
Data
 
According to the tech-powered real estate brokerage Redfin, a record high of 50% of homes sold for more than their list price during the four weeks ending May 16, up 23% from the same period a year earlier.
Sponsored By ...
 
NFTs are literally everywhere. But after taking the art world by storm, prices of NFTs have plunged about 70% from their high point in February. While the NFT craze might be dying down, the online art market is just heating up. That’s because investing platforms like Masterworks.io are securitizing blue-chip works by the best-selling artists of all time (Basquiat, Warhol, KAWS) and making them available for everyday investors. It’s no wonder that art has been a preferred investment of the ultra-wealthy for centuries. And for the first time ever, you can diversify your portfolio with art at a fraction of the entry point. Limited time bonus: StrictlyVC Subscribers can click here to skip the 25,000 person waitlist.* See important info.
Essential Reads
 
The new era of streaming chaos.
 
"Software is eating the world, and cars are next on the menu.”
 
Tales from the fringe of the crypto craze.
Detours
 
San Francisco's shoplifting surge.
 
Money diaries.

The Netflix algorithm for parenting.
Retail Therapy
 
Jewelry by Alexander Calder.
 
Octagon house.
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