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.

Startups Weekly: Is Y Combinator’s latest cohort too big?

Greetings from Chittorgarh, one of my stops on a two-week excursion through Goa and Rajasthan, India. I’ve been a little too busy exploring, photographing cows and monkeys and eating a lot of delicious food to keep up with *all* the tech news, but I’ve still got the highlights.

For starters, if you haven’t heard yet, TechCrunch launched Extra Crunch, a paid premium subscription offering full of amazing content. As part of Extra Crunch, we’ll be doing deep dives on select businesses, beginning with Patreon. Read Patreon’s founding story here and learn how two college roommates built the world’s leading creator platform. Plus, we’ve got insights on Patreon’s product, business strategy, competitors and more.

Sign up for Extra Crunch membership here.

On to other news…

Y Combinator’s latest batch of startups is huge

So huge the Silicon Valley accelerator had to move locations and set up two stages at its upcoming demo days (March 18-19) to accommodate the more than 200 startups ready to pitch investors (who will have to hop between stages at the event). There will also be a virtual demo day live-streamed for some investors to watch “because there are so few seats.” Here’s what I’m wondering… At what point is a YC cohort too big? If investors aren’t even able to view all the companies at Demo Day, what exactly is the point? Send me your thoughts.

Deal of the week

Another week, another SoftBank deal. The Vision Fund’s latest bet is autonomous delivery. The Japanese telecom giant has invested $940 million in Nuro, the developer of a custom unmanned vehicle designed for last-mile delivery of local goods and services. The startup, also backed by Greylock and Gaorong Capital, will use the cash to expand its delivery service, add new partners, hire employees and scale up its fleet of self-driving bots. And while we’re on the subject of autonomous, TuSimple, a self-driving truck startup, has raised a $95 million Series D at a unicorn valuation.

Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman

The future of KPCB

TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos spoke with Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman, who joined Kleiner Perkins from Social Capital and Index Ventures, respectively. The pair talked about Kleiner Perkins, touching on people who’ve left the firm, how its decision-making process now works, why there are no senior women in its ranks and what they make of SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to [email protected] or @KateClarkTweets

Facebook almost bought Unity

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg considered a multi-billion-dollar purchase of Unity, a game development platform. This is according to a new book coming out next week, “The History of the Future,” by Blake Harris, which digs deep into the founding story of Oculus and the drama surrounding the Facebook acquisition, subsequent lawsuits and personal politics of founder Palmer Luckey. Here’s more on the acquisition-that-could-have-been from TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney.

Venture capital funds

Indonesia-focused Intudo Ventures raised a new $50 million fund this week to invest in the world’s fourth most populated country; InReach Ventures, the “AI-powered” European VC, closed a new €53 million early-stage vehicle; and btov Partners closed an €80 million fund aimed at industrial tech startups.

Xiaomi-backed electric toothbrush startup Soocas raises $30M

Startup cash

Jobvite raises $200M+ and acquires three recruitment startups to expand its platform play
Opendoor files to raise another $200M
DriveNets emerges from stealth with $110M for its cloud-based alternative to network routers
Figma gets $40M Series C to put design tools in the cloud
Xiaomi-backed electric toothbrush Soocas raises $30 million Series C
Malt raises $28.6 million for its freelancer platform
Elevate Security announces $8M Series A to alter employee security behavior
Massless raises $2M to build an Apple Pencil for virtual reality

Subscription scooters

Just when you thought the scooter boom and the subscription-boom wouldn’t intersect, Grover arrived to prove you wrong. The startup is launching an e-scooter monthly subscription service in Germany. Their big idea is that instead of purchasing an e-scooter outright, GroverGo customers can enjoy unlimited e-scooter rides without the upfront costs or commitment of owning an e-scooter.

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 General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos chat startups.

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Startups Weekly: Spotify gets acquisitive and Instacart screws up

Did anyone else listen to season one of StartUp, Alex Blumberg’s OG Gimlet podcast? I did, and I felt like a proud mom this week reading stories of the major, first-of-its-kind Spotify acquisition of his podcast production company, Gimlet. Spotify also bought Anchor, a podcast monetization platform, signaling a new era for the podcasting industry.

On top of that, Himalaya, a free podcast app I’d never heard of until this week, raised a whopping $100 million in venture capital funding to “establish itself as a new force in the podcast distribution space,” per Variety.

The podcasting business definitely took center stage, but Lime and Bird made headlines, as usual, a new unicorn emerged in the mental health space and Instacart, it turns out, has been screwing its independent contractors.

As mentioned, Spotify, or shall we say Spodify, gobbled up Gimlet and Anchor. More on that here and a full analysis of the deal here. Key takeaway: it’s the dawn of podcasting; expect a whole lot more venture investment and M&A activity in the next few years.

This week’s biggest “yikes” moment was when reports emerged that Instacart was offsetting its wages with tips from customers. An independent contractor has filed a class-action lawsuit against the food delivery business, claiming it “intentionally and maliciously misappropriated gratuities in order to pay plaintiff’s wages even though Instacart maintained that 100 percent of customer tips went directly to shoppers.” TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey has the full story here, as well as Instacart CEO’s apology here.

Slack confidentially filed to go public this week, its first public step toward either an IPO or a direct listing. If it chooses the latter, like Spotify did in 2018, it won’t issue any new shares. Instead, it will sell existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors, a move that will allow it to bypass a roadshow and some of Wall Street’s exorbitant IPO fees. Postmates confidentially filed, too. The 8-year-old company has tapped JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America to lead its upcoming float.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman delivers remarks on “Redesigning Reddit” during the third day of Web Summit in Altice Arena on November 08, 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Horacio Villalobos-Corbis/Contributor)

It was particularly tough to decide which deal was the most notable this week… But the winner is Reddit, the online platform for chit-chatting about niche topics — r/ProgMetal if you’re Crunchbase editor Alex Wilhelm . The company is raising up to $300 million at a $3 billion valuation, according to TechCrunch’s Josh Constine. Reddit has been around since 2005 and has raised a total of $250 million in equity funding. The forthcoming Series D round is said to be led by Chinese tech giant Tencent at a $2.7 billion pre-money valuation.

Runner up for deal of the week is Calm, the app that helps users reduce anxiety, sleep better and feel happier. The startup brought in an $88 million Series B at a $1 billion valuation. With 40 million downloads worldwide and more than one million paying subscribers, the company says it quadrupled revenue in 2018 from $20 million to $80 million and is now profitable — not a word you hear every day in Silicon Valley.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to [email protected] or @KateClarkTweets

I listened to the Bird CEO’s chat with Upfront Ventures’ Mark Suster last week and wrote down some key takeaways, including the challenges of seasonality and safety in the scooter business. I also wrote about an investigation by Consumer Reports that found electric scooters to be the cause of more than 1,500 accidents in the U.S. I’m also required to mention that e-scooter unicorn Lime finally closed its highly anticipated round at a $2.4 billion valuation. The news came just a few days after the company beefed up its executive team with a CTO and CMO hire.

Databricks raises $250M at a $2.75B valuation for its analytics platform
Retail technology platform Relex raises $200M from TCV
Raisin raises $114M for its pan-European marketplace for savings and investment products
Self-driving truck startup Ike raises $52M
Signal Sciences secures $35M to protect web apps
Ritual raises $25M for its subscription-based women’s daily vitamin
Little Spoon gets $7M for its organic baby food delivery service
By Humankind picks up $4M to rid your morning routine of single-use plastic

We don’t spend a ton of time talking about the growing, venture-funded, tech-enabled logistics sector, but one startup in the space garnered significant attention this week. Turvo poached three key Uber Freight employees, including two of the unit’s co-founders. What’s that mean for Uber Freight? Well, probably not a ton… Based on my conversation with Turvo’s newest employees, Uber Freight is a rocket ship waiting to take off.

Who knew that investing in female-focused brands could turn a profit for investors? Just kidding, I knew that and this week I have even more proof! This is L., a direct-to-consumer, subscription-based retailer of pads, tampons and condoms made with organic materials sold to P&G for $100 million. The company, founded by Talia Frenkel, launched out of Y Combinator in August 2015. According to PitchBook, it was backed by Halogen Ventures, 500 Startups, Fusion Fund and a few others.

Speaking of ladies getting stuff done, Bessemer Venture Partners promoted Talia Goldberg to partner this week, making the 28-year-old one of the youngest investing partners at the Silicon Valley venture fund. Plus, Palo Alto’s Eclipse Ventures, hot off the heels of a $500 million fundraise, added two general partners: former Flex CEO Mike McNamara and former Global Foundries CEO Sanjay Jha.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about the expanding podcast industry, Reddit’s big round and scooter accidents.

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Extend Fertility banks $15M Series A to help women freeze their eggs

Fertility services are raising venture cash left and right. Last week, it was Dadi, a sperm storage startup that nabbed a $2 million seed round. This week, it’s Extend Fertility, which helps women preserve their fertility through egg freezing.

Headquartered in New York, the business has secured a $15 million Series A investment from Regal Healthcare Capital Partners to expand its fertility services, which also include infertility treatments, such as in vitro and intrauterine insemination. The company has also appointed Anne Hogarty, the former chief business officer at Prelude Fertility and vice president of international business at BuzzFeed, to the role of chief executive officer. Hogarty replaces Extend Fertility co-founder Ilaina Edison, who had held the C-level title since the business launched in 2016. Edison will remain on the startup’s board of directors.

Extend Fertility, in its New York cryopreservation and embryology lab and treatment center, completed 1,000 egg-freezing cycles in 2018.

“A lot of amazing things have happened for women over the last century,” Hogarty told TechCrunch earlier this week. “Now, women are permitted and encouraged to seek higher education, pursue a career, follow their dreams and end up with a partner who’s the right partner, not just any partner. Doing all those things has pushed the window for when women want to start a family from their 20s to their 30s and unfortunately, one thing that has not changed in that time is the biological clock.”

Hogarty explained Extend’s fertility services are more affordable than other options because the service was built specifically with egg freezing in mind, and the company later expanded to offer infertility treatments, whereas other services were established to provide IVF and other infertility treatments and integrated cryopreservation tools later.

We are really purpose-built to be an egg-freezing-first company, where many legacy institutions that were providing infertility services have legacy costs that come with … inefficiencies bred over decades and outmoded technology in their labs that may not be the most efficient and effective,” she said. “We have a state of the art lab with the latest equipment.”

It’s the classic innovator dilemma,” she added. “Infertility services are extraordinarily expensive and reproductive endocrinology is a new area of medicine. There are a lot of people and institutions that have been taking inordinate amounts of money for their infertility services so they weren’t looking to serve this population of women looking to preserve their fertility.”

One egg-freezing cycle with Extend costs women $5,500, and additional cycles come at a sticker price of $4,000. Each cycle includes a fertility assessment, private consultation, anesthesia and any monitoring a patient may need during their cycle. The costs don’t include medication, however. Extend can prescribe medications — which typically cost between $2,000 and $5,000 for fertility patients — but they still need to go through a third party to get their prescriptions filled and paid for. 

For reference, FertilityIQ, an online platform for researching fertility care providers and treatments, says the typical cost per cycle for egg freezing is more than $17,000 in New York City or $15,600 in San Francisco. Most egg-freezing services, including Extend, do not accept insurance, as most insurance providers don’t cover the steep costs of fertility or infertility treatments.

Some companies, however, are beginning to offer benefits that cover these costs. Facebook and Apple, for example, began subsidizing egg-freezing procedures for employees in 2014. Spotify and eBay, for their part, will pay for an unlimited number of IVF cycles.

Hogarty said Extend’s price point makes it one of the lowest-cost players in the market.

“We want as many women as possible to benefit from the advances from egg-freezing technology,” she said.

Extend Fertility, which has previously raised $10 million, plans to use the latest investment to open labs in new markets and expand its infertility services.

Airbnb hires a global head of transportation

Airbnb made it easier for travelers to find a place to crash. Now it wants to make it easier for them to get around.

The $31 billion home-sharing giant has hired Fred Reid as its first-ever global head of transportation. Reid served as the founding chief executive officer of Virgin America from 2004 to 2007 after a three-year stint as the president of Delta Airlines. Most recently, Reid was president of the Cora Aircraft Program, a division of Kitty Hawk focused on the development of an autonomous electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

The hire suggests Airbnb has broad ambitions to further disrupt the travel and hospitality industry and given the 500 million guest arrivals to Airbnb listings the company says it will have recorded by the first quarter of 2019, integrating transportation services to better serve customers is a no-brainer.

“We’re going to explore a broad range of ideas and partnerships that can make transportation better,” Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said in a statement. “We haven’t settled on exactly what those will look like. I’m not interested in building our own airline or creating just another place on the Internet where you can buy a plane ticket, but there is a tremendous opportunity to improve the transportation experience for everyone.”

Founded in 2008, Airbnb has raised a total of $4.4 billion in venture capital funding from investors including Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz.

Spotify, eBay set standard for fertility benefits, study finds

The technology sector awards women and same-sex couples the most comprehensive fertility benefit packages, according to a survey by FertilityIQ, an online platform for fertility patients to review doctors and research treatments.

The company asked 30,000 in vitro fertilisation (IVF) patients across industries about their employers’ — or their spouse’s employer’s’ — 2019 fertility treatment policy, and allocated points based on their support for IVF procedures and egg freezing, among other services.

Silicon Valley semiconductor business Analog Devices and eBay led the ranking. The two companies offer employees unlimited IVF cycles with no pre-authorization requirement, meaning employees do not need permission from insurance providers before seeking certain medical services. Pre-authorization has historically impacted lesbian, gay or unpartnered employees from accessing care quickly or at all, FertilityIQ co-founder Jake Anderson explained

Spotify, Adobe, Lyft, Facebook and Pinterest were amongst the highest-ranked technology businesses, too.

“I think a lot of people see the tech sector as being unenlightened when it comes to family values but it’s still the sector that makes the fertility benefits the most widely acceptable,” Anderson, a former consumer internet investor at Sequoia Capital, told TechCrunch.

FertilityIQ’s fertility benefits survey results.

Despite an initial outpouring of skepticism, Facebook and Apple became leaders in the fertility benefit category when they began paying for their female employees to freeze their eggs in 2014. Since then, smaller firms have opted to beef up those benefits to stay competitive with their much larger and richer counterparts.

“The Lyfts, the Airbnbs and the Ubers of the world, who clearly need to compete for those companies for talent, have effectively matched those companies dollar-for-dollar despite a much smaller war-chest,” Anderson said. “These companies that are worth 1/1000th of these bigger companies are effectively going toe-to-toe to offer whatever women need.”

Anderson and his wife, FertilityIQ co-founder Deborah Anderson, noticed improved benefits in 2018 from companies implicated by the #MeToo movement, such as Vice Media, Under Armour and Uber.

“Silicon Valley is notorious for talent moving around on you but it’s probably not coincidental that some of the companies that were in the spotlight in the #MeToo movement have added really generous benefits,” Deborah Anderson told TechCrunch.

Uber, for example, now pays for its employees to complete two IVF cycles but still requires pre-authorization.

One in 7 Americans struggle with infertility and the rate of IVF procedures only continues to increase, with the latest data indicating a 15 percent year-over-year growth rate. IVF costs roughly $22,000 per cycle, per FertilityIQ’s survey, a cost which has similarly increased 15 percent since 2015.

That’s a whole lot of cash for a fertility patient to dole out. If companies foot the bill, they’ll have a better shot at retaining talent.

“Best we can tell, there is no question that employees that get this benefit and use it are more loyal and more likely to stick around,” Jake Anderson said. “The company that helps you build your family is the company that you remain committed to.”

Bird CEO on scooter startup copycats, unit economics, safety and seasonality

Bird’s electric scooters were on full display at the Upfront Summit in Malibu last week, a two-day event that brings together the likes of Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC’s elite. 

Not only were a dozen or so brand spanking new scooters available to ride throughout the event but Upfront general partner Mark Suster, an investor in the startup, was seen riding a Bird on stage to the tune of Chamillionaire’s ‘Ridin’ Dirty.’ Plus, Bird founder and chief executive officer Travis VanderZanden was on site to mingle with attendees before closing the summit with a fireside chat with Suster himself.

The pair hit on a number of topics, including the unit economics, safety and seasonality of the scooter business. Neither confirmed Bird’s latest raise; the startup is said to be in the process of securing another $300 million at a $2.3 billion valuation, according to PitchBook. In a 12-month period, the company brought in more than $250 million at a roughly $1 billion valuation.

On unit economics: When Bird bursted onto the scene in 2017, VanderZanden knew he had to move quickly to beat copycats, he explained. Operating under Reid Hoffman’s ‘Blitzscaling’ philosophy, he dispersed hundreds of Alibaba-imported electric scooters that were, well, pretty shitty.

“Those things were fragile,” VanderZanden told Suster. “Clearly the unit economics didn’t work on those scooters but that was a test anyway … Once we knew people liked riding them, we quickly scrambled and started creating our own scooters. Bird Zero is the first iteration of that. What we see on the unit economics of those, it’s like night and day.”

The company unveiled Bird Zero, in October, equipped with a digital screen to display riders’ speed, a tougher exterior and improved battery life.

“2018 was about scaling,” he said. “2019 is about really focusing on the unit economics of the business.”

On seasonality: Some have critiqued Bird for poor unit economics, while others have pointed out that the success of the business is heavily dependent on…weather. No one wants to ride a Bird in the snow, slashing its revenue potential in the cold months. VanderZanden said he’s not concerned with seasonality and revealed Bird operates on a $100 million revenue run rate even in the winter. He did not, however, clarify if that run rate is based on fourth quarter 2018 projections — when Bird introduced Bird Zero — or 2018 annual revenue.

“Obviously, there is seasonality in the scooters business, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “Yes, it’s slower in December but this market is so big, even in our slow [weeks] most companies would love to have that in their worst [month] … We used to say when we’re heading into the holiday season that the Birds would migrate south but it turns out the logistics are really expensive, so the Birds hibernate. That’s a lesson we learned.”

On safety: In the year or so that scooters hit the mainstream in the U.S., there were casualties. Moreover, many — kids included — realized just how easy it is to get away with scootering sans helmet, while others rode throughout the night. Bird, to keep children off scooters, at least, requires customers to provide a driver’s license when they sign up. Given the number of issues that have arisen as scooters become increasingly popular, improved safety measures are bound to be in the news in the year ahead.

“Safety has to be prioritized over growth,” VanderZanden said. 

On electric bikes: Bird is one of few scooter businesses that doesn’t offer bikes. With all the capital its raised, will Bird make the leap? VanderZanden seemed lukewarm toward the prospect.

“Yeah, we think about it,” he said. “We [aren’t] religious [about] scooters per se, we just think it’s the thing people like the most so that’s where we started and we think that’s the best thing to do now. We get excited about micromobility generally… We are open and looking at all sorts of different short-range electric vehicles in the future.”

On Bird Platform: Last year, Bird began selling its electric scooters to entrepreneurs and small business owners, who can then rent them out as part of a service called Bird Platform. VanderZanden said the service has opened Bird up to tons of new markets.

“From early on at Bird, we had people asking ‘hey, how do we take Bird to my city,'” he said. “We thought why don’t we empower the local entrepreneurs to take Bird to their market… Now we have people from 77 countries from around the world that are interested in taking Bird to their market, which is exciting because there is no way we as a company could get there in the short-term. This is a way to bring Bird to the world.”

On growth: Given the number of stories on Bird and its competitors in the tech press, it’s easy to forget that most of the startups in the space have launched in the last year or so. VanderZanden took a moment to remind the venture capitalists in the audience that in that time, Bird has expanded to 100 cities. Impressive, yes, but let’s remember the manner in which Bird introduced scooter fleets to new markets. The company showed up unannounced in Santa Monica, for example, a decision that resulted in a lawsuit in the startup’s own hometown.

“It’s pretty incredible that 100 cities have opened their arms and embraced electric scooters,” VanderZanden said.

On Bird’s future: VanderZanden explained that despite a long-held interest in transportation — his mother was a public school bus driver for 30 years — he’s only recently come to understand the industry’s most urgent needs. He plans to put more energy in transportation infrastructure in 2019 as a result.

“The deeper I get into transportation, the more I realize we don’t need autonomous vehicles, we need tunnels, all we need are more bike lanes,” he said.

 

Startups Weekly: Even Gwyneth Paltrow had a hard time raising VC

I spent the week in Malibu attending Upfront Ventures’ annual Upfront Summit, which brings together the likes of Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC’s elite for a two-day networking session of sorts. Cameron Diaz was there for some reason, and Natalie Portman made an appearance. Stacey Abrams had a powerful Q&A session with Lisa Borders, the president and CEO of Time’s Up. Of course, Gwyneth Paltrow was there to talk up Goop, her venture-funded commerce and content engine.

“I had no idea what I was getting into but I am so fulfilled and on fire from this job,” Paltrow said onstage at the summit… “It’s a very different life than I used to have but I feel very lucky that I made this leap.” Speaking with Frederic Court, the founder of Felix Capital, Paltrow shed light on her fundraising process.

“When I set out to raise my Series A, it was very difficult,” she said. “It’s great to be Gwyneth Paltrow when you’re raising money because people take the meeting, but then you get a lot more rejections than you would if they didn’t want to take a selfie … People, understandably, were dubious about [this business]. It becomes easier when you have a thriving business and your unit economics looks good.”

In other news…

The actor stopped by the summit to promote his startup, HitRecord . I talked to him about his $6.4 million round and grand plans for the artist-collaboration platform.

Backed by GV, Sequoia, Floodgate and more, Clover Health confirmed to TechCrunch this week that it’s brought in another round of capital led by Greenoaks. The $500 million round is a vote of confidence for the business, which has experienced its fair share of well-publicized hiccups. More on that here. Plus, Clutter, the startup that provides on-demand moving and storage services, is raising at least $200 million from SoftBank, sources tell TechCrunch. The round is a big deal for the LA tech ecosystem, which, aside from Snap and Bird, has birthed few venture-backed unicorns.

Pinterest, the nine-year-old visual search engine, has hired Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as lead underwriters for an IPO that’s planned for later this year. With $700 million in 2018 revenue, the company has raised some $1.5 billion at a $12 billion valuation from Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Valiant Capital Partners, Wellington Management, Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners and more.

Kleiner Perkins went “back to the future” this week with the announcement of a $600 million fund. The firm’s 18th fund, it will invest at the seed, Series A and Series B stages. TCV, a backer of Peloton and Airbnb, closed a whopping $3 billion vehicle to invest in consumer internet, IT infrastructure and services startups. Partech has doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice. And Sapphire Ventures has set aside $115 million for sports and entertainment bets.

The co-founder of Y Combinator will throw a sort of annual weekend getaway for nerds in picturesque Boulder, Colo. Called the YC 120, it will bring toget her 120 people for a couple of days in April to create connections. Read TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos’ interview with Altman here.

Consumer wellness business Hims has raised $100 million in an ongoing round at a $1 billion pre-money valuation. A growth-stage investor has led the round, with participation from existing investors (which include Forerunner Ventures, Founders Fund, Redpoint Ventures, SV Angel, 8VC and Maverick Capital) . Our sources declined to name the lead investor but said it was a “super big fund” that isn’t SoftBank and that hasn’t previously invested in Hims.

Five years after Andreessen Horowitz backed Oculus, it’s leading a $68 million Series A funding in Sandbox VR. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney talked to a16z’s Andrew Chen and Floodgate’s Mike Maples about what sets Sandbox apart.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to [email protected] or @KateClarkTweets

In a new class-action lawsuit, a former Munchery facilities worker is claiming the startup owes him and 250 other employees 60 days’ wages. On top of that, another former employee says the CEO, James Beriker, was largely absent and is to blame for Munchery’s downfall. If you haven’t been keeping up on Munchery’s abrupt shutdown, here’s some good background.

Consolidation in the micromobility space has arrived — in Brazil, at least. Not long after Y Combinator-backed Grin merged its electric scooter business with Brazil-based Ride, it’s completing another merger, this time with Yellow, the bike-share startup based in Brazil that has also expressed its ambitions to get into electric scooters.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos and Jeff Clavier of Uncork Capital chat about $100 million rounds, Stripe’s mega valuation and Pinterest’s highly anticipated IPO.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s artist-collaboration platform HitRecord raises $6.4M

In the early 2000s, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt was frustrated with the roles he was being offered. Instead of starring in critically acclaimed indies, he was typecast as “the funny kid on TV” due to roles like Tommy from “3rd Rock from the Sun.”

So like anyone who matured alongside the internet, he created a website where he could ideate, produce and share his work. More than 10 years later, he wants to turn that pet project, called HitRecord, into a full-fledged technology company.

Onstage at Upfront Venture’s annual summit outside of Los Angeles, Gordon-Levitt announced a $6.4 million Series A funding to do just that. Javelin Venture Partners has led the round, with participation from Crosslink Capital, Advancit Capital, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and MasterClass co-founder David Rogier.

Gordon-Levitt, known for starring in “Inception,” “Snowden” and, my personal favorite, “10 Things I Hate About You,” tells TechCrunch that HitRecord has a team of 24 employees, with himself at the helm as chief executive officer, co-founder Jared Geller serving as president and co-founder Marke Johnson as creative director. The trio plan to use the investment to transform HitRecord from a traditional production company to a new collaborative media platform.

The company provides an online portal for artists to work together on projects, “building off of each other’s contributions, to create things [they] couldn’t have made on [their] own.” If projects created within the HitRecord community are sold, the creators are paid based on their original contributions. Since 2010, HitRecord has paid its community roughly $3 million.

HitRecord hasn’t accepted outside capital, until now. Initially, Gordon-Levitt used his own cash to push the company forward, and for the last five years, the startup has been cash-flow positive. I sat down with Gordon-Levitt to learn more about what he’s been working on and why he decided to pursue venture capital dollars. The following conversation has been lightly edited for length.

TC: How do you explain HitRecord in one sentence?

JGL: It’s a collaborative media platform where people make all kinds of creative things together. I guess that’s one sentence, but if I can keep going… As opposed to places where people post things that they’ve made on their own, this is a place where people collaborate, right? So they submit their ideas onto the platform and then they find people who want to collaborate with them and then they’re able to make money if the projects [find] a buyer.

We’ve done all kinds of monetized productions, but I certainly wouldn’t include money in the third or fifth or even 10th sentence of why people come to HitRecord.

TC: HitRecord launched a decade ago… what inspired you to create it?

JGL: I started HitRecord as this little hobby message board with my brother and it grew very slowly. It came out of a time in my life when I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to be in sort of like more serious Sundance movies and everyone was like, ‘oh, but you’re the funny kid on TV’ and you know, it was really painful for me. I said, okay, you know what, I can’t just wait around for someone to give me a part. I want to make my own things. And I started making my own. I started making videos and songs and stories and stuff. And my brother helped me set up a website that we called HitRecord. We didn’t spend any money; we had no intention of making any money. It was just a fun thing we were doing.

TC: And now you want to expand it into a full-fledged tech platform. But… you’re cash-flow positive and you’ve built a solid community of avid users, why take venture money?

JGL: You know, it started as just a hobby that I was doing for fun. We launched it as a production company as a way to do more ambitious, creative things and do it with everybody. But if you talk to our users, what people really enjoy is having that experience of being creative and being creative with other people because I think honestly, being creative is really hard alone. Venture money will not only allow us to do even cooler productions, but it’ll also allow this whole other world and more people to participate.

TC: Now that you’re venture-funded, how do you plan on making money for your investors?

JGL: So historically, the way we’ve made money was as a production company, and the collaborative efforts of our community and our staff made money because we turned something into a TV show, or we licensed it to a brand or we did any number of things that generated revenue. [HitRecord partnered with Ubisoft earlier this year to allow artists and musicians to contribute their own content to be used in its game, for example.] So moving forward, as we grow into a collaborative platform, the idea is that it’s not just our staff that’s leading these projects and letting people collaboratively finish them. The idea is anybody could come to start their own thing and there will be better tools to self-organize and find your collaborators.

TC: And how do you better monetize once you’ve expanded your user base?

JGL: I think, look, we were not ready to talk about exactly how we would make money that way. I think we have a number of ideas. There are ways that the internet gets monetized these days that I think incentivize the wrong things like attention for myself and I don’t want to enter into a business model that incentivizes that kind of behavior.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt attends the 2014 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on August 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage).

TC: What was the process of raising venture capital like? Did being Joseph Gordon-Levitt make it a little less terrible?

JGL: I think, honestly, it was a double-edged sword. I think there was justified skepticism and people would assume that oh, I’m an actor so I can’t start a company and I faced a certain amount of that skepticism. I don’t blame anybody for having that. The assumption is that there’s not any substance behind the company or the idea, that it’s all sizzle and no steak.

But we’re also not really a startup, per se. It’s not like I was going into these offices and saying, like, I have an idea. It’s like, here’s what we’ve done for the last 10 years and we’ve been cash flow positive five years. We know how to run a business. It’s just we’ve been running a production company business, now we want to run something that’s more like a technology business.

TC: What’s your long-term vision for HitRecord?

JGL: My ultimate goal is for my acting career and HitRecord to kind of become one in the same thing. I would love to be, you know, developing a movie not for a Hollywood studio, but like in this new collaborative way for HitRecord. I mean, we won an Emmy for our TV show. We’re about to release this special that we’re doing with Logic, the rapper, and he used the platform to lead a collaboration and make a song and a music video and we documented the process and that special is going to come out on YouTube. What I really want is to be able to put an app in Logic’s hand where he goes like, oh, I understand this and is able to use it instantly. We don’t have that app yet. This is why we raised capital.

Wellness startup Hims enters the unicorn club with $100M investment

Hims, known by many for its phallic New York subway advertisements, has raised an additional $100 million in venture capital funding on a pre-money valuation of $1 billion. The round was first reported by Recode and confirmed to TechCrunch by sources with knowledge of the deal.

A growth-stage investor has led the round, which is ongoing, with participation from existing investors. Our source declined to name the lead investor but did say it was a “super big fund” that isn’t SoftBank and that hasn’t previously invested in Hims.

Hims officially launched just over one year ago and has raised $197 million already, as well as incorporated a women’s wellness brand, Hers, to go alongside its flagship men’s wellness brand. The business sells sexual wellness products, skin care and hair loss treatments directly to consumers. In addition to erectile dysfunction medication, it offers the birth control pill to customers with prescriptions and Addyi, the only FDA-approved medication for women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

According to Recode, Hims spent months negotiating with investors, “with some of them balking at the valuation.” Meanwhile, our source says Hims passed on several viable terms sheets and had plenty of IVP — which led its last round — money in the bank ahead of their latest infusion.

$1 billion, a 2x increase from its previous valuation, is a hefty price tag for such an early-stage digital health startup. Then again, most valuations for venture-backed businesses are foolish.

San Francisco-based Hims is also backed by Forerunner Ventures, Founders Fund, Redpoint Ventures, SV Angel, 8VC, Maverick Capital and more.