2019: the year podcasting broke

Like any burgeoning art form, podcasts have a complicated relationship with corporate America.

The form’s appeal has long been its accessibility; for years, it’s been open to anyone with an idea, a little free time and a computer. The results haven’t always been stellar, but the medium’s potential is seemingly limitless.

The exact beginnings of podcasting are difficult to pinpoint — that, naturally, has been the nature of plenty of IP lawsuits, as those involved early on lay claim to the rapidly expanding industry. For the sake of brevity, let’s call 2004 the birth of podcasting, as that’s when the term was coined, at the pre-iPhone apex of iPod popularity. Conveniently, that arbitrarily chosen date puts pegs the medium at about 15 years old.

It also affords us the opportunity to borrow a tongue-in-cheek title from “1991: The Year Punk Broke,” a documentary that arrived roughly 15 years after the broadly acknowledged birth of a once-subversive music genre which found then-Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore sneering about “modern punk — as seen in Elle magazine.” While it’s true corporate America has long toyed with and circled podcasting, it seems likely that 2019 will be regarded as the year that podcasting had its “modern punk” moment, per Mr. Moore.

In other words, podcasting is an overnight success 15+ years in the making.

The numbers certainly bear it out. Spotify’s spending is probably the most commonly-cited flashpoint — and understandably so. While the music streaming service hasn’t given exact numbers, it announced plans to spend between $400 million and $500 million on the genre in hopes of catching up with Apple’s decade-and-a-half long head start.

Daring Foods will offer healthy, tasty plant-based chicken

Anyone who wants to eat a meatless burger has plenty of options — but what if you want to be a little healthier?

Daring Foods will soon be offering an alternative, in the form of plant-based chicken made from five non-genetically modified ingredients — water, soy, sunflower oil, salt and natural flavoring (a mix of paprika, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, mace, cardamom).

“We’re not here to be a gimmick, we’re here to be part of your life every day,” said Daring Foods co-founder and CEO Ross Mackay. “There’s a big need for plant-based food that’s actually healthy.”

The company started selling the first version of its Daring Pieces product in the United Kingdom at the beginning of this year.

Today, it announced that it has the backing of Rastelli Foods Group, a major U.S. food company supplying hotels, restaurants, retail markets and other commercial customers. In fact, Rastelli has committed $10 million to Daring, an investment that combines cash with infrastructure, sales and distribution support.

With Rastelli’s backing, Daring plans to launch in the United States in February, selling directly to consumers through its website, and also to restaurants and retailers. It sounds like the startup is committed to the U.S. market, and is shifting its headquarters from Glasgow to New York.

I had a chance to try Daring Pieces for myself, when Mackay cooked a light lunch for me earlier this month. He heated them on a pan with no extra seasoning, and they were ready in about eight minutes. He even encouraged me to eat it with my hands, to feel how Daring Pieces have the texture of real chicken.

As a vegetarian, I’m not exactly an authority on chicken, but I thought it tasted pretty close to the real thing. I even brought another portion home and cooked them for dinner a couple nights later.

Mackay is vegan himself, but he said his target audience is meat-eaters who are looking to a more plant-based diet. By focusing on chicken and white meat, he’s hoping to create what he calls a “second generation” of plant-based meat products — healthier than the first, and therefore a bigger part of everyday diets.

Plus, with Daring Pieces you don’t feel like you’ve had a heavy meal, and you can be comfortable knowing that there aren’t a bunch of artificial ingredients.

French startup EfficientIP secures $11M from Jolt Capital to fight DDoS attacks

French startup, EfficientIP, a network security and automation specialist, has secured an $11 million Series B investment from Jolt Capital in Paris. The investment will drive international expansion.

EfficientIP’s software discovers the DNS issues which are the primary cause of DDoS attacks. These are typically the largest types of attacks.

It’s platform is designed to make the IP infrastructure foundation more reliable, agile and secure.

David Williamson, CEO of EfficientIP commented, “Today’s investment will enable us to accelerate our expansion on a global scale. The market opportunity for DDI solutions is growing, and we look forward to capitalizing by increasing our sales force to meet current demand, and driving further innovation that really matters to continue satisfying tomorrow’s customer needs. Given Jolt Capital’s strong record in scaling tech companies globally, they are the ideal partner to support this growth phase.”

EfficientIP will also now enhance its ecosystem partnerships with companies like Cisco, VMware and ServiceNow.

It competes with US firms like Infoblox ($740m valuation and raised $120m) and BlueCat (also Series B) and new player NS1 ($78m Series C).

Guillaume Girard, a Partner at Jolt Capital, commented: “We’ve been tracking EfficientIP for some time, and have been impressed with their continued ability to deliver on ambitious growth plans. EfficientIP fits perfectly in our target scope, combining deeptech assets enabling leading-edge solutions and a highly motivated top-tier team in a market which is expanding quickly. Given its increasing market footprint with Fortune 500 customers, EfficientIP is well poised for strong growth.”

As the Nasdaq sets new records, a reminder how highly valued tech stocks are today

Today the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite closed at an all-time record high of 8,814.23, up 0.91% on the day.

The Nasdaq is up more than 32% on the year. Turning the clock back, the Nasdaq Composite is up around 60% from the end of 2016. Compared to the anti-records set in 2009 during the doldrums that followed the 2008 crisis, the Nasdaq is up a staggering 594%.

The huge run in value of technology stocks since the last recession is historic. And, given the length of the current global economic expansion, somewhat lost on regular folks.

Times are good, and it’s worth reminding ourselves of how good. After all, the private markets — the world of startups, venture capital and the next big companies — follow the public markets’ lead. If we understand what’s going on with tech stocks, we’ll better understand what is happening with your local startup cohort.

Or more precisely, if you’ve been confused about why every startup is worth a bajillion (plus or minus) dollars, this is why.

A record run

Putting today’s Nasdaq level into historical context is a bit difficult. It has been so long since the last, lasting correction in the value of technology companies that their aggregate share price chart is simply up and to the right. Can you recall the last time tech stocks dropped real value, and stayed down?

Probably not. The reason why is that compared to the post-2008 expansion, the 2000-era technology bubble appears small, pathetic and short-lived. Via YCharts, here’s a look at the Nasdaq Composite going back into the ’80s:

That, in a nutshell is why there are so many unicorns in the market; that chart is why SaaS multiples are still around 10-11x ARR (per Bessemer, which is rebuilding its cloud index page at the moment). That chart is a part of why Uber’s valuation got ahead of its real value. It’s also why venture capital funds have gotten larger, private equity deals more expensive and SoftBank may raise a second Vision Fund despite a host of high-profile wobbles. It’s how Microsoft added mow than 50% of its total value this year.

You get the idea.

The stock market is incredibly strong right now, a fact that is pushing lots of private investors to pay more for growth in anticipation that companies’ revenue multiples will stay high (as dictated by public comps, or what larger companies are willing to pay for startups). So long as the Nasdaq keeps going up, that bet makes the punters look smart.

So what?

We could have written this post a few times in the past week, let alone this year.  Of course, we can’t post a similar entry every time a tech-focused index hits a new record high — you’d fine it repetitive. But we also can’t not mention it every time, as it is critical to recall that today’s warm climate for startups is predicated on a public market trend that will not — cannot — last.

When will things change? No one knows. So far this December there’s no mini-crash to worry about. Things just look good, and healthy, and flush with new records.

Consumer sous vide startup Nomiku is winding down operations

Founded in 2012, Nomiku became a plucky Silicon Valley darling by bringing affordable sous vide cooking to home kitchens. A Kickstarter project that same year generated $750,000, several times its $200,000 goal. The company scored a glowing TechCrunch profile the following year, as well, thanks in part to a great backstory.

Today, however, the company noted on its site and various social media channels that it is winding down operations:

Well, I am sorry to say that we have reached the end of the road. It is with a heavy heart (and deep-felt gratitude for your patronage) that we are writing to let you know that we are discontinuing the Nomiku Smart Cooker and Nomiku Meals effective immediately, and suspending operations. While we still believe in the concept, we simply were not able to get to a place of sustainability to keep the business going. Thank you very much for your support, it has meant a lot to myself and everyone here at Nomiku.

“The total climate for food tech is different than it used to be,” Lisa Fetterman said in a call to TechCrunch. “There was a time when food tech and hardware were much more hot and viable. I think a company can survive a few hurdles, and a few challenges [ …] For me, it was the perfect storm of all these things.”

In total, the company raised more than $1.3 million over two Kickstarter campaigns, putting it in the upper echelons of food crowdfunding. In 2015, the startup joined Y Combinator and launched a cooking app called Tender, featuring recipes from prominent chefs.

In some ways, Nomiku appears to be a victim of its own popularity. The company was able to bring a cost-prohibitive cooking technology down to an affordable price point, only to see the market flooded by competitors. Fetterman highlighted some of those issues in a recent Extra Crunch interview.

In 2017, Samsung Ventures invested in the company, with plans to integrate it into its SmartThings connected platform. That same year, Nomiku began to pivot into subscription meal plans, but had difficulty getting the word out. Fetterman says the company was seeking funding toward the end, but ultimately couldn’t make things work.

Even with a buzzy company and a great product, the startup world can still be unforgiving. 

India shuts down internet once again, this time in Assam and Meghalaya

India maintained a shutdown of the internet in the states of Assam and Meghalaya on Friday, now into 36 hours, to control protests over a controversial and far-reaching new citizen rule.

The shutdown of the internet in Assam and Meghalaya, home to more than 32 million people, is the latest example of a worrying worldwide trend employed by various governments: preventing people from communicating on the web and accessing information.

And India, the world’s second largest internet market with more than 650 million connected users, continues to exercise this measure more than any other nation.

On Thursday, India’s president Ram Nath Kovind approved the Citizenship Amendment Bill, a day after the country’s Parliament passed it. The law offers a path to Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three neighboring countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh) — not for the country’s own Muslim minority.

Shortly after the bill was passed, protests broke out in the streets in the northeastern states of Assam and Meghalaya, where residents have long been concerned about immigration from the aforementioned nations. In Meghalaya, texting services have been suspended, too.

Soldiers are seen through the wreckage of a vehicle which was set on fire by demonstrators during a protest against the government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Guwahati on December 13, 2019. (Photo by BIJU BORO/AFP via Getty Images)

To contain the situation, the Indian government sent in troops and shut down the internet — a measure that the United Nations has condemned in the past, calling it a violation of human rights.

Officials in the state of Assam said, “Social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and YouTube are likely to be used for spreading of rumors and also for transmission of information like pictures, videos and text that have the potential to inflame passions and thus exacerbate the law and order situation.”

There is currently no official word on when the internet services would be resumed at these two places.

Preventing people from a medium that enables them to stay in touch with one another, and access news and information, is becoming a common phenomenon in several nations, though none come close to India.

Access Now, a digital rights group, reported earlier this year that India alone had about 134 of 196 documented shutdowns in 2018. According to Internet Shutdowns, a service operated by New Delhi-based digital advocacy group Software Law and Freedom Centre, there have been about 91 documented cases of internet shutdowns in India this year.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government shut down the internet for 133 days after stripping the majority Muslim territory of its autonomy in August. The service has only been partially restored.