No one knows how to hire, plus brand design and African tech

Editor’s Note: No one knows how to hire

Hiring is the lifeblood of the world. Few people do truly singular work; instead, nearly every facet of our civilization is built by groups of humans (and increasingly machines) working in tandem.

Image by PeopleImages via Getty Images

That presents quite the puzzle though: if teamwork is so critical to the functioning of, well, everything, why are we so god awfully bad at building teams?

Minus a couple of high functioning teams of course, the evidence for team rot is all around us. Startups go bust when teams of two (i.e. founders) can’t make simple decisions about the future of their business. Large companies exsanguinate cash while their teams spend eons debating the minutia of a pixel in the checkout flow. At even larger scale, massive infrastructure projects like California’s HSR fail because the right people weren’t planning and building it (plus ten other issues of course).

How do we get this so wrong, so consistently?

The first reason, and the one most challenging to overcome, is that human endeavors are fundamentally built upon aspirations. A startup is a dream, no different than improving Excel’s formula editor or adding traffic signals to an intersection. Action cannot happen without aspiration, and so we tend to be far more optimistic with all facets of a plan before execution.

Original Content podcast: On ‘Guava Island,’ Donald Glover mixes music and politics

It was hard to know what to expect from “Guava Island.”

Last year, Donald Glover and Rihanna filmed the mysterious project with director Hiro Murai (who’s also directed multiple episodes of “Atlanta” and the music video for “This is America”, then they said almost nothing about it until debuting the film at Coachella and releasing it on Amazon.

“Guava Island” turns out to be a 54-minute, fable-like story of a musician named Deni (Glover) and his girlfriend Kofi (Rihanna) on a fictional Caribbean island. Deni plans to throw a music festival for the community, but the island boss Red Cargo wants to stop him — if his employees stay out late to party, they might not show up for work the next day.

On this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Jon Shieber to discuss our reactions to the film.

It’s certainly filled with beautiful footage of Cuba, as well as wonderful musical moments — like a restaging of “This is America” that makes its anti-capitalist themes even more obvious. But the story as a whole feels underdeveloped, and it’s a bit mystifying that someone would cast Rihanna in musical, then fail to give her a single moment to sing.

We also discuss an obscure little show called “Game of Thrones,” which returned for its final season last week. We have thoughts on the season premiere, and on what’s coming for the next five episodes.

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!)

From lab-grown meat to fermented fungus, here’s what corporate food VCs are serving up

In a foodie’s ideal world, we’d all eat healthy, minimally processed cuisine sourced from artisanal farmers, bakers and chefs.

In the real world, however, most of us derive the lion’s share of calories from edibles supplied by a handful of giant food conglomerates. As such, the ingredients and processing techniques they favor have an outsized impact on our daily diets.

With this in mind, Crunchbase News decided to take a look at corporate food VCs and the startups they are backing to see what their dealmaking might say about our snacking future. We put together a list of venture funds operated by some of the larger food and beverage producers, covering literally everything from soup to nuts (plus lunch meat and soda, too!).

Like their corporate backers, startups funded by “Big Food” are a diverse bunch. Recent funding recipients are pursuing endeavors ranging from alternative protein to biospectral imaging to fermented fungus. But if one were to pinpoint an overarching trend, it might be a shift away from cost savings to consumer-friendliness.

“You think of food-tech and ag-tech 1.0, these were technologies that were primarily beneficial to the producers,” said Rob LeClerc, founding partner at AgFunder, an agrifood investor network. “This new generation of companies are really more focused on what does the consumer want.”

And what does the consumer want? This particular consumer would currently like a zero calorie hot fudge sundae. More broadly, however, the general trends LeClerc sees call for food that is healthier, tastier, nutrient-dense, satiating, ethically sourced and less environmentally impactful.

Below, we look at some of the trends in more detail, including funded companies, active investors and the up-and-coming edibles.

The new, new protein

Mass-market foods may get better but also weirder. This is particularly true for one of the more consistently hot areas of food-tech investment: alternative protein.

Demand for protein-rich foods, combined with ethical concerns about consuming animal products, has, for a number of years, led investors to startups offering meaty tasting tidbits sourced from the plant world.

But lately, corporate food giants have been looking farther beyond soy and peas. Lab-grown meat, once an oddball endeavor good for headlines about $1,000 meatballs, has been attracting serious cash. Since last year, at least two companies in the space have closed rounds backed by Tyson Ventures, the VC arm of the largest U.S. meat producer. They include pricey meatball maker Memphis Meats (actually based in California), which raised $20 million, and Israel-based Future Meat Technologies, a biotech startup working on animal-free meat, which secured $2 million.

Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat.

If you cringe at the notion of lab-grown cell meat, then there’s always the option of getting your protein through microbes in volcanic springs. That’s the general aim of Sustainable Bioproducts, a startup that raised $33 million in Series A funding from backers including ADM and Danone Manifesto Ventures. The Chicago company’s technology for making edible protein emerged out of research into extremophile organisms in Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic springs.

Meanwhile, if you hanker for real dairy milk but don’t want to trouble cows, another startup, Perfect Day, is working on a solution. Per the company website: “Instead of having cows do all the work, we use microflora and age-old fermentation techniques to make the very same dairy protein that cows make.” Toward that end, the Berkeley company closed a $35 million Series B in February, with backing from ADM.

Fermentation

Perfect Day isn’t the only fermentation play raising major funding.

Corporate food-tech investors have long been interested in the processing technologies that turn an obscure microbe or under-appreciated crop into a high-demand ingredient. And lately, LeClerc said, they’ve been particularly keen on startups finding new ways to apply the age-old technology known as fermentation.

Most of us know fermentation as the process that turns a yucky mix of grain, yeast and water into the popular beverage known as beer. More broadly, however, fermentation is a metabolic process that produces chemical changes in organic substrates through the action of enzymes. That is, take a substance, add something it reacts with and voilà, you have a new substance.

Several of the most heavily funded, buzz-generating companies in the food space are applying fermentation, LeClerc said. Besides Perfect Day, examples he points to include the unicorn Ginkgo BioworksGeltor (another alt-protein startup) and mushroom-focused MycoTechnology.

Colorado-based MycoTechnology has been a particularly attractive investor target of late. The company has raised $83 million from a mix of corporate and traditional VCs, including a $30 million Series C in January that included Tyson and Kellogg’s venture arm, Eighteen94 Capital . Founded six years ago, the company is pursuing a range of applications for its fermented fungi, including flavor enhancers, protein supplements and preservatives.

Supply chain

Besides adding strange new ingredients to our grocery shelves, corporate food-tech investors are also putting money into technologies and platforms aimed at boosting the security and efficiency of existing supply chains.

Just like new foods, much of the food safety tech sounds odd, too. Silicon Valley-based ImpactVision, a seed-funded startup backed by Campbell Soup VC arm Acre Venture Partners, wants to employ hyper-spectral imaging to perceive information about contamination, food quality and ripeness.

Boston-based Spoiler Alert, another Acre portfolio company, develops software and analytics for food companies to manage unsold inventory. And Pensa Systems, which uses AI-powered autonomous drones to track in-store inventory, raised a Series A round this year with backing from the venture arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Is weirder better?

We highlighted a few trends in corporate food-tech investment, but there are others that merit attention, as well. Probiotics plays, including the maker of the GoodBelly drink line, are generating investor interest. New ingredients other than proteins are also attracting capital, such as UCAN, a startup developing energy snacks based on a novel, slow-digesting carbohydrate. And the list goes on.

Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat. But LeClerc noted that new products aren’t always better in the long run — they just might seem so at first.

“The question in the back of our head is: Are we ever creating margarine 2.0,” he said. “Just because it’s a plant product doesn’t mean it’s actually better for you.”

Acquisitions, more than IPOs, will create Africa’s early startup successes

Africa has made its global IPO debut. Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia—a $1 billion-valued company—began trading live on the NYSE last week.

The stock offering made Jumia the first upstart operating in Africa to list on a major global exchange.

This raises expectations for unicorns and IPOs to create the continent’s first wave of startup moguls. But unlike other markets, big public listings and nine-figure valuations could remain rare in Africa.

The rise of venture arms and startup acquisitions will factor more prominently than IPOs in creating Africa’s early startup successes.

I’ll break down why. First, a quick briefer.

Primer on African tech

Not everyone may be aware, but yes, Africa has a booming tech scene. When measured by monetary values, it’s minuscule by Shenzen or Silicon Valley standards.

3 fixes for Netflix’s “What to watch?” problem

Wasting time every night debating with yourself or your partner about what to watch on Netflix is a drag. It burns people’s time and good will, robs great creators of attention, and leaves Netflix vulnerable to competitors who can solve discovery. Netflix itself says the average user spends 18 minutes per day deciding.

To date, Netflix’s solution has been its state-of-the-art artificial intelligence that offers personalized recommendations. But that algorithm is ignorant of how we’re feeling in the moment, what we’ve already seen elsewhere, and if we’re factoring in what someone else with us wants to watch too.

Netflix is considering a Shuffle button. [Image Credit: AndroidPolice]

This week Netflix introduced one basic new approach to discovery: a shuffle button. Click on a show you like such as The Office, and it will queue up a random episode. But that only works if you already know what you want to watch, it’s not a movie, and it’s not a linear series you have to watch in order.

Here are three much more exciting, applicable, and lucrative ways for Netflix (or Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or any of the major streaming services) to get us to stop browsing and start chilling:

Netflix Channels

For the history of broadcast television, people surfed their way to what to watch. They turned on the tube, flipped through a few favorite channels, and jumped in even if a show or movie had already started. They didn’t have to decide between infinite options, and they didn’t have to commit to starting from the beginning. We all have that guilty pleasure we’ll watch until the end whenever we stumble upon it.

Netflix could harness that laziness and repurpose the concept of channels so you could surf its on-demand catalog the same way. Imagine if Netflix created channels dedicated to cartoons, action, comedy, or history. It could curate non-stop streams of cherry-picked content, mixing classic episodes and films, new releases related to current events, thematically relevant seasonal video, and Netflix’s own Original titles it wants to promote.

For example, the comedy channel could run modern classic films like 40-Year Old Virgin and Van Wilder during the day, top episodes of Arrested Development and Parks And Recreation in the afternoon, a featured recent release film like The Lobster in primetime, and then off-kilter cult hits like Monty Python or its own show Big Mouth in the late night slots. Users who finish one video could get turned on to the next, and those who might not start a personal favorite film from the beginning might happily jump in at the climax.

Short-Film Bundles

There’s a rapidly expanding demographic of post-couple pre-children people desperately seeking after-work entertainment. They’re too old or settled to go out every night, but aren’t so busy with kids that they lack downtime.

But one big shortcoming of Netflix is that it can be tough to get a satisfying dose of entertainment in a limited amount of time before you have to go to bed. A 30-minute TV show is too short. A lot of TV nowadays is serialized so it’s incomprehensible or too cliffhanger-y to watch a single episode, but sometimes you can’t stay up to binge. And movies are too long so you end up exhausted if you manage to finish in one sitting.

Netflix could fill this gap by bundling three or so short films together into thematic collections that are approximately 45 minutes to an hour in total.

Netflix could commission Originals and mix them with the plethora of untapped existing shorts that have never had a mainstream distribution channel. They’re often too long or prestigious to live on the web, but too short for TV, and it’s annoying to have to go hunting for a new one every 15 minutes. The whole point here is to reduce browsing. Netflix could create collections related to different seasons, holidays, or world news moments, and rebundle the separate shorts on the fly to fit viewership trends or try different curational angles.

Often artful and conclusive, they’d provide a sense of culture and closure that a TV episode doesn’t. If you get sleepy you could save the last short, and there’s a feeling of low commitment since you could skip any short that doesn’t grab you.

The Nightly Water Cooler Pick

One thing we’ve lost with the rise of on-demand video are some of those zeitgeist moments where everyone watches the same thing the same night and can then talk about it together the next day. We still get that with live sports, the occasional tent pole premier like Game Of Thrones, or when a series drops for binge-watching like Stranger Things. But Netflix has the ubiquity to manufacture those moments that stimulate conversation and a sense of unity.

Netflix could choose one piece of programming per night per region, perhaps a movie, short arc of TV episodes, or one of the short film bundles I suggested above and stick it prominently on the home page. This Netflix Zeitgeist choice would help override people’s picky preferences that get them stuck browsing by applying peer pressure like, “well, this is what everyone else will be watching.”

Netflix’s curators could pick content matched with an upcoming holiday like a Passover TV episode, show a film that’s reboot is about to debut like Dune or Clueless, pick a classic from an actor that’s just passed away like Luke Perry in the original Buffy movie, or show something tied to a big event like Netflix is currently doing with Beyonce’s Coachella concert film. Netflix could even let brands and or content studios pay to have their content promoted in the Zeitgeist slot.

As streaming service competition heats up and all the apps battle for the best back catalog, it’s not just exclusives but curation and discovery that will set them apart. These ideas could make Netflix the streaming app where you can just turn it on to find something great, be exposed to gorgeous shorts you’d have never known about, or get to participate in a shared societal experience. Entertainment shouldn’t have to be a chore.

Startups Weekly: Zoom CEO says its stock price is ‘too high’

When Zoom hit the public markets Thursday, its IPO pop, a whopping 81 percent, floored everyone, including its own chief executive officer, Eric Yuan.

Yuan became a billionaire this week when his video conferencing business went public. He told Bloomberg that he actually wished his stock hadn’t soared quite so high. I’m guessing his modesty and laser focus attracted Wall Street to his stock; well, that, and the fact that his business is actually profitable. He is, this week proved, not your average tech CEO.

I chatted with him briefly on listing day. Here’s what he had to say.

“I think the future is so bright and the stock price will follow our execution. Our philosophy remains the same even now that we’ve become a public company. The philosophy, first of all, is you have to focus on execution, but how do you do that? For me as a CEO, my number one role is to make sure Zoom customers are happy. Our market is growing and if our customers are happy they are going to pay for our service. I don’t think anything will change after the IPO. We will probably have a much better brand because we are a public company now, it’s a new milestone.”

“The dream is coming true,” he added. 

For the most part, it sounded like Yuan just wants to get back to work.

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IPO corner

You thought I was done with IPO talk? No, definitely not:

  • Pinterest completed its IPO this week too! Here’s the TLDR: Pinterest popped 25 percent on its debut Thursday and is currently trading up 28 percent. Not bad, Pinterest, not bad.
  • Fastly, a startup I’d admittedly never heard of until this week, filed its S-1 and displayed a nice path to profitability. That means the parade of tech IPOs is far from over.
  • Uber… Surprisingly, no Uber IPO news this week. Sit tight, more is surely coming.

$1B for self-driving cars

While I’m on the subject of Uber, the company’s autonomous vehicles unit did, in fact, raise $1 billion, a piece of news that had been previously reported but was confirmed this week. With funding from Toyota, Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Uber will spin-out its self-driving car unit, called Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group. The deal values ATG at $7.25 billion.

Robots!

The TechCrunch staff traveled to Berkeley this week for a day-long conference on robotics and artificial intelligence. The highlight? Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert debuted the production version of their buzzworthy electric robot. As we noted last year, the company plans to produce around 100 models of the robot in 2019. Raibert said the company is aiming to start production in July or August. There are robots coming off the assembly line now, but they are betas being used for testing, and the company is still doing redesigns. Pricing details will be announced this summer.

Digital health investment is down

Despite notable rounds for digital health businesses like Ro, known for its direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction medications, investment in the digital health space is actually down, reports TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber. Venture investors, private equity and corporations funneled $2 billion into digital health startups in the first quarter of 2019, down 19 percent from the nearly $2.5 billion invested a year ago. There were also 38 fewer deals done in the first quarter this year than last year, when investors backed 187 early-stage digital health companies, according to data from Mercom Capital Group.

Startup capital

Byton loses co-founder and former CEO, reported $500M Series C to close this summer
Lyric raises $160M from VCs, Airbnb
Brex, the credit card for startups, raises $100M debt round
Ro, a D2C online pharmacy, reaches $500M valuation
Logistics startup Zencargo gets $20M to take on the business of freight forwarding
Co-Star raises $5M to bring its astrology app to Android
Y Combinator grad Fuzzbuzz lands $2.7M seed round to deliver fuzzing as a service

Extra Crunch

Hundreds of billions of dollars in venture capital went into tech startups last year, topping off huge growth this decade. VCs are reviewing more pitch decks than ever, as more people build companies and try to get a slice of the funding opportunities. So how do you do that in such a competitive landscape? Storytelling. Read contributor’s Russ Heddleston’s latest for Extra Crunch: Data tells us that investors love a good story.

Plus: The different playbook of D2C brands

And finally, for the first of a new series on VC-backed exits aptly called The Exit. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney spoke to Bessemer Venture Partners’ Adam Fisher about Dynamic Yield’s $300M exit to McDonald’s.

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about rounds for Brex, Ro and Kindbody, plus special guest Danny Crichton joined us to discuss the latest in the chip and sensor world.

Notes from the Samsung Galaxy Fold: day four

Apologies for skipping day three. This kept me extremely busy yesterday. Though the Galaxy Fold remained a constant companion.

Before you ask (or after you ask on Twitter without having read beyond the headline), no it’s hasn’t broken yet. It’s actually been fairly robust, all things considered. But here’s the official line from Samsung on that,

A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.

Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.

I’ll repeat what I said the other day: breakages and lemons have been known to happen with preproduction units. I’ve had it happen with device in a number of occasions in my many years of doing this. That said, between the amount of time it took Samsung to let us reviewers actually engage with the device and the percentage of problems we’ve seen from the limited sample size, the results so far are a bit of a cause for a concern.

The issue with the second bit  is that protective layer looks A LOT like the temporary covers the company’s phones ship with, which is an issue. I get why some folks attempted to peel it off. That’s a problem.

At this point into my life with the phone, I’m still impressed by the feat of engineering went into this technology, but in a lot of ways, it does still feel like a very first generation product. It’s big, it’s expensive and software needs tweaks to create a seamless (so to speak) experience between screens.

That said, there’s enough legacy good stuff that Samsung has built into the phone to make it otherwise a solid experience. If you do end up biting the bullet and buying a Fold, you’ve find many aspects of it to be a solid workhorse and good device, in spite of some of the idiosyncrasies here (assuming, you know, the screen works fine).

It’s a very interesting and very impressive device, and it does feel like a sign post of the future. But it’s also a sometimes awkward reminder that we’re not quite living in the future just yet.

Day One

Day Two

Boston Dynamics showcases new uses for SpotMini ahead of commercial production

Last year at our TC Sessions: Robotics event, Boston Dynamics announced its intention to commercialize SpotMini. It was a big step for the secretive company. After a quarter of building some of the world’s most sophisticated robots, it was finally taking a step into the commercial realm, making the quadrupedal robot available to anyone with the need and financial resources for the device.

CEO Marc Raibert made a return appearance at our event this week to discuss the progress Boston Dynamics has made in the intervening 12 months, both with regard to SpotMini and the company’s broader intentions to take a more market-based approach to a number of its creations.

The appearance came hot on the heels of a key acquisition for the company. In fact, Kinema was the first major acquisition in the company’s history — no doubt helped along by the very deep coffers of its parent company, SoftBank. The Bay Area-based startup’s imaging technology forms a key component to Boston Dynamics’ revamped version of its wheeled robot hand. With a newfound version system and its dual arms replaced with a multi-suction cupped gripper.

A recent video from the company demonstrated the efficiency and speed with which the system can be deployed to move boxes from shelf to conveyor belt. As Raibert noted onstage, Handle is the closest Boston Dynamics has come to a “purpose-built robot” — i.e. a robot designed from the ground up to perform a specific task. It marks a new focus for a company that, after its earliest days of DARPA-funded projects, appears to primarily be driven by the desire to create the world’s most sophisticated robots.

“We estimate that there’s about a trillion cubic foot boxes moved around the world every year,” says Raibert. “And most of it’s not automated. There’s really a huge opportunity there. And of course this robot is great for us, because it includes the DNA of a balancing robot and moving dynamically and having counterweights that let it reach a long way. So it’s not different, in some respects, from the robots we’ve been building for years. On the other hand, some of it is very focused on grasping, being able to see boxes and do tasks like stack them neatly together.”

The company will maintain a foot on that side of things, as well. Robots like the humanoid Atlas will still form an important piece of its work, even when no commercial applications are immediately apparent.

But once again, it was SpotMini who was the real star of the show. This time, however, the company debuted the version of the robot that will go into production. At first glance, the robot looked remarkably similar to the version we had onstage last year.

“We’ve we’ve redesigned many of the components to make it more reliable, to make the skins work better and to protect it if it does fall,” says Raibert.  “It has two sets [of cameras] on the front, and one on each side and one on the back. So we can see in all directions.”

I had have the opportunity to pilot the robot — making me one of a relatively small group of people outside of the Boston Dynamics offices who’ve had the opportunity to do so. While SpotMini has all of the necessary technology for autonomous movement, user control is possible and preferred in certain situations (some of which we’ll get to shortly).

[Gifs featured are sped up a bit from original video above]

The controller is an OEMed design that looks something like an Xbox controller with an elongated touchscreen in the middle. The robot can be controlled directly with the touchscreen, but I opted for a pair of joysticks. Moving Spot around is a lot like piloting a drone. One joystick moves the robot forward and back, the other turns it left and right.

Like a drone, it takes some getting used to, particularly with regard to the orientation of the robot. One direction is always forward for the robot, but not necessarily for the pilot. Tapping a button on the screen switches the joystick functionality to the arm (or “neck,” depending on your perspective). This can be moved around like a standard robotic arm/grasper. The grasper can also be held stationary, while the rest of the robot moves around it in a kind of shimmying fashion.

Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty simple. In fact, my mother, whose video game experience peaked out at Tetris, was backstage at the event and happily took the controller from Boston Dynamics, controlling the robot with little issue.

Boston Dynamics is peeling back the curtain more than ever. During our conversation, Raibert debuted being the scenes footage of component testing. It’s a site to behold, with various pieces of the robot splayed out on lab bench. It’s a side of Boston Dynamics we’ve not really seen before. Ditto for the images of large Spot Mini testing corrals, where several are patrolling around autonomous.

Boston Dynamics also has a few more ideas of what the future could look like for the robot. Raibert shared footage of Massachusetts State Police utilizing spot in different testing scenarios, where the the robot’s ability to open doors could potential get human officers out of harm’s way during a hostage or terrorists.

Another unit was programmed to autonomously patrol a construction site in Tokyo, outfitted with a Street View-style 360 camera, so it can monitor progress. “This lets the construction company get an assessment of progress at their site,” he explains. “You might think that that’s a low end task. But these companies have thousands of sites. And they have to patrol them at least a couple of times a week to know where they are in progress. And they’re anticipating using Spot for that. So we have over a dozen construction companies lined up to do test at various stages of testing and proof of concept in their scenarios.”

Raibert says the Spot Mini is still on track for a July release. The company plans to manufacture around 100 in its initial run, though it’s still not ready to talk about pricing.

If you watch one celebrity-filled, anally obsessed charity video before Earth Day, make it this one

Lil Dicky, the white comedy rapper with questionable taste but an impressive rolodex, has come up with a millennial’s Earth Day answer to the 80s celebrity-studded, charity hit “We are the World“.

Dicky isn’t tackling African famine, instead he’s come up with an oddly anally-fixated paean to the Earth’s climate and the disaster the world faces if there isn’t some collective action taken to reverse our current course of carbon emissions.

To hammer this message home, and raise money for Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change-focused foundation, the tricky Dicky with a fraught history has enlisted some very very powerful celebrity friends.

DiCaprio appears in the video, as does Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Halsey, Ed Sheeran, Snoop Dogg, Kevin Hart, Wiz Kalifa, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and the Backstreet Boys.

“Like a lot of people, I had a vague idea that something bad was happening here on Earth, but I didn’t really realize how insane our climate crisis is and how screwed humanity is about to be,” the artist told Vice’s music publication, Noisey, in an interview. “It’s full-on crazy! If we don’t get our act together now, and change a lot about our fundamental behavior, Earth will become unlivable alarmingly soon. Why did it take me so long to get wind of this? I feel like everybody on the planet should be talking about this 24/7. But that’s not the case. So I wanted to make the most entertaining and epic piece of content possible, to get everyone aware and talking. Because it’s now or never… Let’s save the Earth! We love the Earth!!!!”

The seven minute video has a host of cameos, a live action sequence, a farting skunk, Justin Bieber as a baboon singing about his anus, horny rhinos, and Snoop Dogg as talking weed. And it’s racked up over 7 million views and counting on YouTube.

Saving the planet never seemed so questionable.

Caterina Fake is known for her trend-spotting; here’s some of what she’s chasing now

Roughly a year ago, entrepreneurs Caterina Fake and Jyri Engeström decided to form a traditional venture outfit called Yes VC. Fast forward, and the duo has nearly closed on $50 million for their debut fund, including backing from Supercell founder Ilkka Paananen, former Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson and the family office of Nokia Chairman Risto Siilasmaa.

That investors would want to invest alongside them isn’t surprising. Fake famously co-founded the photo-sharing site Flickr, which sold to Yahoo, before co-founding Hunch, which sold to eBay. Engeström co-founded Jaiku, a mobile social network that sold to Google, before co-founding Ditto, a mobile local recommendations app that was acquired by Groupon. They’ve also written early checks as angel investors to a wide number of companies. Fake backed Kickstarter and Etsy, among tens of others; Engeström’s various bets include the popular clothing label Betabrand, and startups like Applifier (acquired by Unity Technologies) and Moves (acquired by Facebook).

Now, investing on behalf of San Francisco-based Yes VC, Fake and Engeström have invested in a dozen more startups, including a clothing retailer that we reported on earlier this week called Kids on 45th that’s not in Silicon Valley and doesn’t photograph what it sells to customers online — which is a big departure from nearly every other e-commerce concept we’ve covered. In fact, because we thought it was so interesting, we asked Fake to hop on the phone with us and share what else she’s seeing — and funding. Unfortunately, one of the most intriguing investments that we wound up discussing we can’t include (the founders would not be pleased), but we can share it soon. Our conversation has otherwise been lightly edited for length.

TC: Kids on 45th seems very unique in that it caters to those willing to buy kids clothing sight unseen in exchange for affordability and time savings. It’s rare to see an e-commerce company that’s not catering to status-conscious consumers.

CF: They are rare, my goodness. It’s a severely under-addressed market. Its [customers] tend to be middle-class and lower-income moms who are super busy working and don’t care about brands or or have a lot of time to select kids’ clothing. So many Silicon Valley startups cater to college dudes who are trying to get out of doing their chores, I find it kind of offensive. This is a company that supports moms who really need the support, who can’t afford to have their groceries delivered or their packages dropped off and picked up — who are really pulling their weight, and everyone else’s.

TC: It’s in Seattle. How did you meet the company?

CF: We met [founder] Elise [Worthy] through [the consumer VC firm] Maveron. It was a little early for them so they introduced us. We often get referrals from Series A firms and from founders who know what we look for and what we like, and Maveron knew Elise was perfect for us.

Only three [of our new portfolio companies] are in the Bay Area, by the way. We have one in Portland, Maine; in Boise; in Vancouver. Silicon Valley is still Rome, but other places are becoming much stronger.

We’re also seeing a lot of stuff from women, partly because it’s a 50-percent female partnership here. There are so many awesome companies led by women and female entrepreneur networks. Our secret sauce is that we see a lot of these opportunities. Etsy I took all around the Valley for a seed round and everyone pooh-poohed it because they had this blind spot of not understanding businesses that cater to women. But there are huge opportunities all over the place.

TC: We talked when you were launching Yes VC and you were really enthusiastic about decentralization. Are you investing in blockchain startups?

CF: There isn’t a lot of compelling blockchain stuff that we’ve seen, though I do believe that the massive consolidation of power in the top five companies is not good for tech industry, startups or the broader ‘innovation ecosystem.’ What I find interesting lately is all the stuff going on in social platforms and online communities that are fine grained, meaning networks for specific or narrower communities, of developers, of women, of people dealing with a certain problem.

When Flickr started a year or two after Facebook, the Internet was so huge [and open] that it could serve these faceted networks. I think we’ve since seen the results of trying to be all things too all people —  nuns, white supremacists, truck drivers — [and] you shouldn’t serving all those people.

TC: You clearly think about these things a lot. You started a podcast this year, “Should This Exist,” about technologies that affect humanity. 

CF: It’s stuff I’ve been talking about all along and conversations I’ve been having online for a long time. In recent years, we’ve seen the effect of blitzscaling, and ‘move fast and break things,’ and development principles that the Valley has been flaming the flames of, so we ask [on the podcast]: Can this exist? Can it get funding? And should this exist? We’re putting out an episode every couple of weeks, and we’re halfway through this first season, with a plan to put out 10 episodes altogether.

We did one episode on ‘neuropriming,’ or zapping your brain to make it learn faster; another on AI therapy, with AI replacing people in the form of therapists and teachers and surgeons in diagnosing brain tumors. We’ve also talked about facial recognition and drones and supersonic flight, and stuff coming up in genetics — scary things with both huge potential to serve humanity and also to go really, terribly wrong. It’s important to [ask more questions] at the beginning of these industries rather than later, when we’re making a last-ditch effort to [solve the problems they’ve created].

TC: What are your theses right now when it comes to investing?

CF: All of our confreres in VC are like, ‘You got to have a thesis.’ It all sounds kind of like crap. What we did was retrospected all the stuff that has done really well [that we’ve helped fund], including Etsy and Cloudera, and what they had in common. One is a marketplace for handmade goods, the other an open-source tech platform, but what they have in common is that they were both at the vanguard of movements. Etsy became the vanguard of the DIY movement. Kickstarter [another early angel investment] became the vanguard of crowdfunding. Blue Bottle Coffee was the vanguard of the artisanal coffee movement. Public Goods [a membership club for natural and sustainable bathroom products] is in the vanguard [away from this] glut of marketing where you’re being constantly bombarded with messaging. It’s about simplification. Sometimes, you just want shampoo without being assaulted by branding first.

TC: What size checks are you writing?

CF: Typically, it’s a $500,000 check into a pre-seed deal, or we’ve gone as high as $1.5 million, writing follow-on checks selectively.

TC: Biggest investment out of the new fund?

CF: It may be either Kids on 45th or Public Goods.

TC: Are you seeing less frothy valuations in other markets?

CF: That’s true to some extent, but Valley fever is a contagion that takes hold as much in Indiana as California. It really is the case that the price is whatever the market will bear.