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Startups, be careful who you sell to
July 18, 2023

Startups, be careful who you sell to

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Welcome to Startups Weekly. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.

As a photographer, the saga of Amazon buying Digital Photo Review (DPReview among friends) before slowly grinding it into the ground and then suddenly announcing they were closing the site, and then going ‘j/k, we’re selling it after all’ has given me a lot of pause for thought. You do occasionally see startups that end up getting acquired in ways that seem a little peculiar, and I’m not sure if Amazon was ever a great place for DPReview to land.

Amazon jettisoning the brand out makes me wonder what’ll happen with IMDb and Goodreads — two other much-loved brands that seem to be a strange fit with where Amazon is these days.

For startups, the lesson here, in my opinion, is that you’ve got to find an acquirer that is mission-aligned and able to invest in the long-term future of your business. If not, you’re in for a world of frustration. If you’re ready to walk away and call it a day, perhaps it’s okay — but if you have hopes to continue to build and develop what you started, figure out whether the acquirer has a budget and is willing to continue to invest in your company.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is intellectual property. I kicked off a brand-new TC+ series about IP (intellectual property), starting with strategy. Stay tuned for a lot more over the next few months!

Hard times in hardware land

This week, a much-beloved bike company, VanMoof, went into bankruptcy protection. The interesting quirk here is that the bikes can be unlocked and tracked using your phone. If the company goes away, what happens to the app? Curiously, one of the bike company’s competitors came to the rescue, releasing an app to let VanMoof owners continue to unlock — and ride — their bikes.

The VanMoof challenge drives forward the conversation around what happens with software-enabled hardware when something happens to the companies that develop them. When my own company, Triggertrap, went out of business, we decided to open source the apps, but that, too, is a subpar solution: As much as we all love open source, the learning curve to download, compile, and load an app onto your phone is well beyond the reasonable skill level of the average consumer — including the typical VanMoof owner.

Apropos bikes, our transportation team took a look at the best electric bikes in 2023 for every type of rider, as well as…what’s causing the battery fires in e-bikes.

Well that sounds uncomfortable: I took a closer look at Proclaim, the startup that raised  $15 million so you can pressure-wash your mouth.

You spin me right round, baby, right round: Brian wonders, If you don’t buy Jony Ive’s $60,000 turntable, are you really a music fan?

Sure, that seems like a reasonable way to read a newspaper: Brian takes a look at a $3,000, 32-inch e-ink display that brings newspaper front pages to your wall.

Next-gen batteries: I explored the quest for solid-state EV batteries (TC+), and the companies that are building tech in this space.

Putting the fun in funds

Alex posits on TC+ that, as the value of startup exits craters, poor liquidity may be harming the ability of VCs to raise capital. If you’re a startup wondering if perhaps you should eschew VC altogether, we’ve got some great bootstrapping advice from Nord Security co-CEO/co-founder Tom Okman in his article You don’t need VC to develop a consumer tech product.

I was excited to see that Flexport’s Ryan Petersen — who was replaced as CEO by Amazon veteran Dave Clark — has found a new role as a partner at Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

There’s another interesting trend happening, where funds that traditionally focused on SaaS are taking a much closer look at AI. Notion Capital raises €300 million for its fifth fund, and Sapphire Ventures plans to invest over $1 billion in enterprise AI startups.

It’s been a tumultuous year, and it was fascinating to read Karan’s piece on TC+, where 15 investors lift the lid on the biggest surprises of 2023 so far.

Hitting the brakes has consequences: On Equity this week, the team reminds startups that reducing growth could make you less fundable.

Measuring their way to success: For TC+, I talked with a VC firm that’s using personality tests and AI to find its next investments.

To da moon? Well, at least to da cloud: Alex reports that cooling inflation in the U.S. brings slight relief to tech valuations (TC+).

So, what is the health of startup land?

If it is true that from great turbulence come great opportunities, we should all be surfing on an ocean of opportunity right now.

Taking a look at the 2023 tech layoffs, there’s a trend emerging: It seems like the worst may be behind us. Still, things are wobbly, and while the total number of people losing their jobs in tech is declining, the era of tech layoffs is evolving in an interesting way (TC+) — fewer tech workers are being shown the door, but more companies are doing it. In other words, we’re seeing more companies make smaller cuts.

AI continues to grow and thrive, but we’ve also seen a number of startups taking down rounds to stay in business.

Indian online pharmacy startup PharmEasy is among them, as it reportedly plans to raise a new round of funding at a 90% markdown from the previous valuation.

In the land of crypto, Celsius Network is in hot water. The startup, once valued at more than $3 billion, is getting sued by the SEC, CFTC and FTC, allegedly for a scheme to defraud its users.

Rearranging the story: You’ve probably stumbled across my Pitch Deck Teardown series, where I examine successful pitch decks and share the good, the bad, and the laughably hideous. For Nokod Security’s $8 million seed deck (TC+), I got so confused by the narrative that I rearranged the whole deck. It’s probably one of the better teardowns I’ve done, so have a peek!

Doing well while doing good: Over on Deal Dive, Becca writes that there’s still investor appetite for triple-bottom-line companies, even as the market is tougher than it’s been in the past.

It’s not too late to hop on the AI bandwagon: Will Poole contributed a story to TC+ detailing 5 steps for speeding ahead with generative AI in just three months.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a cloud computing startup?: DigitalOcean acquires cloud computing startup Paperspace for $111 million in cash.

This aquaculture grew a unicorn horn: Catherine reports that Indonesian aquaculture startup eFishery nets a $200 million round of investment at a valuation north of $1 billion.

That headline is a bit of a hard cell, if you ask me: I reported on Sourcetable’s $3 million round of funding, as the company claims the future of spreadsheets is spreadsheets.


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