Podcasting startup WaitWhat raises $4.3M as interest in audio content explodes

WaitWhat, the digital content production engine behind LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale podcast, has secured a $4.3 million Series A investment led by Cue Ball Capital and Burda Principal Investments.

Launched in January 2017, WaitWhat will use the cash to create additional media properties across a variety of mediums, including podcasts.

Investors are gravitating toward podcast startups as consumer interest in original audio content skyrockets. Podcasting, though an infantile industry that hit just $314 million in revenue in 2017, is maturing, raking in venture capital rounds large and small and recording its first notable M&A transaction with Spotify’s acquisition of Gimlet and Anchor earlier this month. The music streaming giant shelled out a total of $340 million for the podcast production platform and the provider of a suite of podcast creation, distribution and monetization tools, respectively. It plans to spend an additional $500 million on audio storytelling platforms as part of a larger plan to become the Netflix of audio.

WaitWhat, for its part, dubs itself the “media invention company.” Founded by June Cohen and Deron Triff, a pair of former TED executives responsible for expanding the nonprofit’s digital media business, WaitWhat is today launching Should This Exist, a new podcast hosted by Flickr founder and tech investor Caterina Fake.  Fake will interview entrepreneurs about the human side and the impact of technology in the show created in partnership with Quartz.

“People don’t just transact with content; they want to feel connected to it through a sense of wonder, awe, curiosity, and mastery,” Cohen said in a statement. “These are contagious emotions, and research shows they stimulate sharing. Where many media companies aim for volume — putting out lots of content with a short shelf life — we’re building a completely distinctive portfolio of premium properties that are continually increasing in value, inspiring deep audience engagement, and creating opportunities for format expansion.”

Other investors in the round include Reid Hoffman, MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and Liminal Ventures. WaitWhat previously raised a $1.5 million round from Victress Capital, Human Ventures and Able Partners, all of which have joined the A round.

California to close data breach notification loopholes under new law

California, which has some of the strongest data breach notification laws in the U.S., thinks it can do even better.

The golden state’s attorney general Xavier Becerra announced a new bill Thursday that aims to close loopholes in its existing data breach notification laws by expanding the requirements for companies to notify users or customers if their passport and government ID numbers, along with biometric data, such as fingerprints, and iris and facial recognition scans, have been stolen.

The updated draft legislation lands a few months after the Starwood hack, which Becerra and Democratic state assembly member Marc Levine, who introduced the bill, said prompted the law change.

Marriott-owned hotel chain Starwood said data on fewer than 383 million unique guests was stolen in the data breach, revealed in September, including guest names, postal addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, genders, email addresses, some encrypted payment card data and other reservation information. Starwood also disclosed that five million passport numbers were stolen.

Although Starwood came clean and revealed the data breach, companies are not currently legally obligated to disclose that passport numbers or biometric data have been stolen. Under California state law, only Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, banking information, passwords, medical and health insurance information and data collected through automatic license plate recognition systems must be reported.

That’s set to change, under the new California assembly bill 1130, the state attorney general said.

“We have an opportunity today to make our data breach law stronger and that’s why we’re moving today to make it more difficult for hackers and cybercriminals to get your private information,” said Becerra at a press conference in San Francisco. “AB 1130 closes a gap in California law and ensures that our state remains the nation’s leader in data privacy and protection,” he said.

Several other states, like Alabama, Florida and Oregon, already require data breach notifications in the event of passport number breaches, and also biometric data in the case of Iowa and Nebraska, among others.

California remains, however, one of only a handful of states that require the provision of credit monitoring or identity theft protection after certain kinds of breaches.

Thursday’s bill comes less than a year after state lawmakers passed the California Privacy Act into law, greatly expanding privacy rights for consumers — similar to provisions provided to Europeans under the newly instituted General Data Protection Regulation. The state privacy law, passed in June and set to go into effect in 2020, was met with hostility by tech companies headquartered in the state, prompting a lobbying effort to push for a superseding but weaker federal privacy law.

Google reportedly ends forced arbitration for employees

Google is finally ending forced arbitration for its employees, Axios reports. These changes will go into effect for both current and future Google employees on March 21.

For the contractors Google works with directly, it will remove mandatory arbitration from their contracts. The caveat, however, is that it won’t require outside firms that employe contractors to do the same.

This is a direct response to a group of outspoken Google employees protesting the company’s arbitration practices. Last month, a group of Google employees took to Twitter and Instagram tomorrow in an attempt to educate the public about forced arbitration. That came about one month after this same group of 35 employees banded together to demand Google end forced arbitration as it relates to any case of discrimination. The group also called on other tech workers to join them.

Forced arbitration ensures workplace disputes are settled behind closed doors and without any right to an appeal. These types of agreements effectively prevent employees from suing companies.

Following the massive, 20,000-person walkout at Google in November, Google got rid of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, offering more transparency around those investigations and more. Airbnb, eBay and Facebook quickly followed suit. Despite some progress across the industry, the end of forced arbitration across all workplace disputes is not widespread.

I’ve reached out to Google and will update this story if I hear back.

Verified Startup Lawyer: Stephane Levy

Stephane Levy got his start in the days of Silicon Alley almost two decades ago, and built up his practice with New York startups and beyond through all the ups and downs since then.

Today, as a partner at Cooley LLP, he works with a wide range of companies, from company formation, seed and later stage rounds, all the way through to M&A transactions and IPOs. He also teaches at Cornell University Law School as an adjunct professor, on legal matters affecting emerging companies and venture capital transactions.

“We met him in the very early days, and his help on all things relating to the company, investors, corporate decisions, fundraising, and just simple strategy has been spot on. He’s always someone I can rely on to give me honest feedback that will eventually play out to be true.” Sachin Kamdar, New York City, CEO, Parsely


On the New York startup scene

“I was probably one of a handful of tech lawyers in NY, at least of my vintage, working with startups and venture funds in the early and mid 2000s, so I kind of grew up doing that stuff in New York when most of the other corporate lawyers in the city were focused on more traditional M&A, private equity, capital markets, etc.”

When a client is having a rough time

“I’m not going to drop a company just because they are going through hard times or treat them any different. It’s a mixed bag out there, and at the end of the day you’ll have some really successful companies and some that are having a tougher time, but you have to take a long view. If a company is going through a really tough time — for example, they’re having trouble raising money — them not getting any attention from their lawyer will really compound some of the issues.”

What makes startup lawyers good

“The key is to try to bring your judgment to bare and say, “Listen, there’s going to be some risk. I’m not going to advocate you do everything on my punch list of ideal things you can be doing from a legal perspective, but if you have to focus on a few things to stay out of trouble for now, these would be them.” Not every lawyer is able to give that type of guidance or has, I guess, the experience or the judgment to be able to do that, but that’s something that entrepreneurs really value.”

Sample horror story

“Let’s say three founders take a third each and they don’t impose vesting. A year later, one of the founders leaves to go get a job somewhere and doesn’t want to give a portion of the equity back. Those are potentially really significant errors that could cost the company and the founders.  I just feel bad because the reality is we’ve automated a lot of our formation processes up front such that it really doesn’t cost much for founders to get state of the art documents in place from the get go.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This article is part of our ongoing series covering great lawyers and other experts who founders love to work with. More details here.

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Zoba raises $3 million to help mobility companies predict demand

Scooter-share, bike-share and ride-hailing are quickly becoming staple commodities in cities all over the world. As companies in those respective spaces try to improve their economics, Zoba is aiming to contribute to those goals by predicting demand for scooters, bikes and, eventually, rides in particular areas. To support Zoba’s mission, the company has raised $3 million seed round led by CRV with participation from Founder Collective, Mark Cuban and others.

Using spatial analytics, Zoba aims to better understand the relationships between different phenomena in order to improve the efficiency of cities. Mobility is Zoba’s first focus, Zoba co-founder Dan Brennan told TechCrunch. More specifically, Zoba looks to better understand the relationship between demand and environmental data (e.g. weather), as well as city layout. From there, Zoba helps mobility companies determine the best places to put their vehicles.

“The key is this type of spatial analytics and machine learning is very specific,” Brennan said. “You don’t see a lot of data scientists trained in this. What we do is say, ‘no matter what skill set of your data scientist, you can look at all this spatial and temporal stuff.’ We’ll make it like you have three really highly-trained spatial data scientists.” 

Zoba would not disclose which companies it’s working with, but just that it’s working with some of the industry leaders in bike, scooter and car share. Down the road, Zoba also envisions working with on-demand delivery companies, as well as urban logistics companies.

“The world is experiencing a Cambrian explosion of smart mobility and logistics services, all requiring geo-based forecasting and optimization,” CRV General Partner and Zoba board member Izhar Armony said in a statement. “We knew after meeting with the Zoba founders that they’re the best team to tackle this hard problem. What they’re doing will change the way we live and we’re excited for what’s to come.”

About.me acquired by mobile-first small business startup Broadly

Personal homepage startup About.me has been acquired. Again! The company, once bought by Aol for a reported $35 million, decided a couple years after the deal to go it alone, and spun About.me back out to become an independent company. Today, About.me announced it’s being acquired by the Oakland-based startup Broadly.

About.me founder and True Ventures partner Tony Conrad called the deal “definitely a meeting of the minds,” as About.me has been more recently focused on helping people and companies showcase their professional talents and skills, while Broadly creates tools that help small businesses stay connected to their customers.

Today Broadly offers web chat, text, email, online review collection, and team messaging – all in its own mobile app.

However, it’s biggest draw is its online review platform that makes it easier for happy customers to quickly leave the business a positive review on any review site, including Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, and others.

Last September, Broadly raised $10 million in Series B funding co-led by original investor Foundry Group and new partner Calibrate Ventures. The funding was allocated towards further product development and hiring – both things which an About.me acquisition can now help to speed up. The company also last year launched its small business-focused web chat feature in its app, and snagged the #107 spot on the 2018 Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in the U.S., which cited its 2017 revenue as $4.7 million.

Terms of the About.me deal were not disclosed, but it is an all-stock acquisition we understand and one Conrad feels positive about.

In addition, the majority of About.me’s team is joining Broadly as a result of the acquisition which will bring Broadly’s total team to over 75. This includes About.me’s CEO Mindy Lauck, whose background includes time at Adobe Systems, NBC-Universal, and E*Trade Financial. She becomes Broadly’s Vice President of Product following the deal’s closure.

Conrad said he wanted to find About.me a new home with a company that was a good fit.

“It was important to the About.me leadership team to join forces with a company that had a strong go-to-market strategy and a similar level of passion for serving small business owners, who are an integral part of
keeping our economy strong and vibrant,” said Conrad. “We found that in Broadly and see the very real potential for powerful future growth as a result of this alignment,” he added.

At Broadly, Lauck will be focused on expanding the company’s existing product suite to support the full range of the small business owners’ needs – that will include About.me’s technology. The plan is to offer the About.me pages to Broadly’s small business user base going forward.

“The About.me product is another frictionless mechanism for helping small businesses promote themselves and start capturing leads, which aligns well with our mission and brand,” said Josh Melick, CEO and Co-founder of Broadly, in a statement. “More personally, we’re thrilled to welcome the About.me team to the Broadly family – we’re even stronger together,” he added.

Trump calls for 6G cellular technology, because why the heck not

We’ve been covering the battle for 5G between the U.S. and China for some time. The White House has made 5G technology a national security priority, and industry leaders have followed up that charge with additional investment in the fledgling technology.

What 5G exactly is though remains mostly a mystery. Is it new bandwidth? Edge computing? Decentralized cloud processing technology? Autonomous vehicles? Something else? I get pitched a dozen stories a day about the “5G revolution” and no one can tell me exactly what’s in it for me other than long presentations in hotel ballrooms about bandwidth (ironically, often without any cell reception).

So imagine my surprise this morning when Trump tweeted that U.S. companies need to work harder and faster on building out the tech behind 5G, but also in the process called for …. 6G technology.

I want to just say that no, 6G isn’t a thing. I have only received one PR pitch for 6G in the last few months, which said: “Waveguide over copper runs at millimeter frequencies(about30 GHz to 1 THz) and is synergistic with 5G/6G wireless. A type of vectoring is applied to effective separate the many modes that can propagate within a telephone cable.” No, not a thing.

But it could be a thing. Maybe the government is secretly pioneering the next generation of the next generation of telecom technology. Or maybe, just maybe, our president, branding expert that he is, realized that if you are going to sell 5G, you might as well inflate the number to 6G and really get people’s taste buds salivating.

No comment from cleaning supplies company Seventh Generation, but if I were them, I’d be getting worried.

JFrog acquires Shippable, adding continuous integration and delivery to its DevOps platform

JFrog, the popular DevOps startup now valued at over $1 billion after raising $165 million last October, is making a move to expand the tools and services it provides to developers on its software operations platform: it has acquired Shippable, a cloud-based continuous integration and delivery platform (CI/CD) that developers use to ship code and deliver app and microservices updates, and plans to integrate it into its Enterprise+ platform.

Terms of the deal — JFrog’s fifth acquisition — are not being disclosed, said Shlomi Ben Haim, JFrog’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview. From what I understand, though, it was in the ballpark of Shippable’s most recent valuation, which was $42.6 million back in 2014 when it raised $8 million, according to PitchBook data.  (And that was the last time it had raised money.)

Shippable employees are joining JFrog and plan to release the first integrations with Enterprise+ this coming summer, and a full integration by Q3 of this year.

Shippable, founded in 2013, made its name early on as a provider of a containerized continuous integration and delivery platform based on Docker containers, but as Kubernetes has overtaken Docker in containerized deployments, the startup had also shifted its focus beyond Docker containers.

The acquisition speaks to the consolidation that is afoot in the world of DevOps, where developers and organizations are looking for more end-to-end toolkits not just to help develop, update, and run their apps and microservices, but to provide security and more — or at least, makers of DevOps tools hope they will be, as they themselves look to grow their margins and business.

As more organizations run ever more of their opertions as apps and microservices, DevOps have risen in prominence and are offered both toolkits from standalone businesses as well as those whose infrastructure is touched and used by DevOps tools. That means a company like JFrog has an expanding pool of competitors that include not just the likes of Docker, Sonatype and GitLab, but also AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Azure and “the Red Hats of the world,” in the words of Ben Haim.

For Shippable customers, the integration will give them access to security, binary management and other enterprise development tools.

“We’re thrilled to join the JFrog family and further the vision around Liquid Software,” said Avi Cavale, founder and CEO of Shippable, in a statement. “Shippable users and customers have long enjoyed our next-generation technology, but now will have access to leading security, binary management and other high-powered enterprise tools in the end-to-end JFrog Platform. This is truly exciting, as the combined forces of JFrog and Shippable can make full DevOps automation from code to production a reality.”

On the part of JFrog, the company will be using Shippable to provide a native CI/CD tool directly within JFrog.

“Before most of our users would use Jenkins, Circle CI and other CI/CD automation tools,” Ben Haim said. “But what you are starting to see in the wider market is a gradual consolidation of CI tools into code repository.”

He emphasized that this will not mean any changes for developers who are already happy using Jenkins or other integrations: just that it will now be offering a native solution that will be offered alongside these (presumably both with easier functionality and with competitive pricing).

JFrog today has 5,000 paying customers, up from 4,500 in October, including “most of the Fortune 500,” with marquee customers including the likes of Apple and Adobe, but also banks, healthcare organizations and insurance companies — “conservative businesses,” said Ben Haim, that are also now realizing the importance of using DevOps.