Equity podcast: Circle raises $110, VCs hunt liquidity, and the Vision Fund’s possible twin

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. Today Matthew Lynley, Connie Loizos and I were joined by Semil Shah, the founder of seed-stage fund Haystack and venture partner at Lightspeed. This week, we stuck to our roots: big rounds, venture capital liquidity thirst, one IPO, two Vision Funds, and three scooter jokes. Maybe more than three, but who is counting. First up we took on Circle’s new $110 million round, working to understand why the firm is raising new capital at such a huge valuation (~$3 billion!). Also in play: Circle’s new lead investor isn’t a venture capital shop, making the monetary infusion all the more interesting. (Oh, and here’s more on the Basis stable coin we brought up.) Next, we chatted through NEA’s plan to raise a fresh $1 billion to buy
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Our second round of judges for the TC Startup Battlefield Europe at VivaTech

TechCrunch Startup Battlefield will be held at VivaTech in Paris on May 24th. We want to find the best early-stage startup from across continental Europe, ahead of TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin. The best way to do that is to bring some fantastic investors and founders along to judge the startups. Here’s our second round of judges to be announced, and there’s more to come!
Ophelia Brown, Founder, Blossom Capital
Ophelia is the founder of Blossom Capital, an early stage venture fund that brings a wholly differentiated approach to investing. Blossom makes a small number of high conviction investments each year, which allows the team to work closely with their companies, helping them achieve their ambitious goals. Fascinated by user behaviour and design, Ophelia loves worked with founders with strong product DNA and design-oriented teams. Ophelia is also the founder of ALT “Ambitious Ladies in Tech” – a mentor programme that
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Funding Friday: Food Security for Puerto Rico

An AVC community member sent me to this GoFundMe project last weekend and I backed it. They are raising $20k to build two hydroponic vertical tower farms in two communities in Puerto Rico. A tower farm looks like this: This is from the project page:
Puerto Rican families need sovereignty over their own food supply. Before Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico was 80% reliant on imports to supply the island’s food. Now they are 100% reliant on imported food.  People need access to fresh water and food to live. There is no time to waste in launching the agricultural revitalization that Puerto Rico so desperately needs. The local government is financially over-extended and has limited support from FEMA. Lives depend on us.
And this is the team behind this project:
Green Food Solutions was co-founded by Electra Jarvis and Mary Wetherill. We are a vertical farming company. We sell, install,
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Job search engine Adzuna raises £8M Series C from Smedvig Capital

Adzuna, the meta-search engine for jobs, has raised £8 million in Series C funding from Smedvig Capital. The U.K. company’s previous backers include Index Ventures, Passion Capital, LocalGlobe, and over 400 Crowdcube investors. It takes total funding to £12 million. Founded by the team behind Gumtree, Zoopla and Qype, Adzuna essentially aggregates job listings across the web to offer a single destination to search for a job. It launched first in the U.K. in 2011 but has since expanded to 16 countries, in which co-founder Doug Monro tells me the U.K., U.S., Germany, Netherlands, France, and Brazil are its strongest markets. “We’re growing very quickly in several of the others. We are really excited about the growth we are seeing in the U.S. in particular,” he says. Across the 16 sites Adzuna operates, the jobs search engine is seeing 10 million
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Four short links: 18 May 2018

Efficient Meetings, Mixed Reality in Unity, Design Power, and AI's Exponential Curve of Cost
  1. Reaching Peak Meeting Efficiency -- solid advice for business meetings, including a taxonomy with some firm opinions.
  2. United Mixed Reality Toolkit -- a collection of scripts and components intended to accelerate development of applications targeting Microsoft HoloLens and Windows Mixed Reality headsets in Unity. See blog post.
  3. Reddit's New Design Increases Power Consumption by 68GW/Month -- this Reddit user shows their working.
  4. AI and Compute (OpenAI) -- since 2012, the amount of compute used in the largest AI training runs has been increasing exponentially with a 3.5 month-doubling time (by comparison, Moore’s Law had an 18-month doubling period).
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Ucare.ai is using AI to make healthcare more efficient in Southeast Asia

AI is being applied across the board in many industries worldwide, and its scope of influence is only likely to continue to expand as Kaifu Lee, a noted AI expert who was formerly head of Google China, recently told TechCrunch. The main battle appears to be between companies in the U.S. and China, but this week a startup in Southeast Asia came out of stealth mode to show that innovation is present elsewhere in the world. Ucare.ai is focused on applying AI on the healthcare system to increase efficiencies and help patient coverage. It focuses on three distinct audiences: patients, health providers and those who pay the bills. In particular, the company uses deep learning and neural network algorithms to predict healthcare patterns in patients, and beyond, to reduce preventable hospitalization, and, in turn, save on costs and hassles. That also allows medical professionals and insurers to focus
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Elon Musk details his plan to rid LA of traffic with $1 rides on the Boring Co. ‘Loop’

This evening, Boring Company executives Elon Musk and Steve Davis offered a few more details about their plans to revolutionize LA urban transit, introducing the “Loop” which would eventually be composed of all-electric pods that transport up to 16 passengers at a time. Musk theorizes that the Loop could take Los Angeles residents from downtown LA to any terminal at the LAX airport within 8 minutes for about $1. Much of the focus of the presentation was to assure the public that the Boring Company’s efforts would not be disruptive to the public or heavily stress the city’s existing highway systems. While the company has been best known for its hat and flamethrower sales, its most daunting challenge is courting public opinion for its plans to upgrade LA’s transport infrastructure. The odd little presentation held at an LA synagogue started about 25 minutes behind schedule after a late arrival from Elon
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For Apple, this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day is all about education

Following Apple’s education event in Chicago in March, I wrote about what the company’s announcements might mean for accessibility. After sitting in the audience covering the event, the big takeaway I had was Apple could “make serious inroads in furthering special education as well.” As I wrote, despite how well-designed the Classroom and Schoolwork apps seemingly are, Apple should do more to tailor their new tools to better serve students and educators in special education settings. After all, accessibility and special education are inextricably tied. It turns out, Apple has, unsurprisingly, considered this. “In many ways, education and accessibility beautifully overlap,” Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s Senior Director of Global
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LocationSmart didn’t just sell mobile phone locations, it leaked them

What’s worse than companies selling the real-time locations of cell phones wholesale? Failing to take security precautions that prevent people from abusing the service. LocationSmart did both, as numerous sources indicated this week. The company is adjacent to a hack of Securus, a company in the lucrative business of prison inmate communication; LocationSmart was the partner that allowed the former to provide mobile device locations in real time to law enforcement and others. There are perfectly good reasons and methods for establishing customer location, but this isn’t one of them. Police and FBI and the like are supposed to go directly to carriers for this kind of information. But paperwork is such a hassle! If carriers let LocationSmart, a separate company, access that data, and LocationSmart sells it to someone else (Securus), and that someone else sells it to law enforcement, much less paperwork required! That’s what Securus told
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House committee accepts amendment to uphold ZTE ban

The bizarre recent tale of ZTE is getting another wrinkle. Earlier today, a bipartisan House Appropriations Committee unanimously voted to accept an amendment to uphold sanctions against the company.

The amendment to the 2019 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill is, of course, being viewed as a rebuke of the president, whose tweets over the weekend appeared to suggest a softening on the seven-year ban imposed by the Department of Commerce last month.

In fact, the amendment’s author, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, called out Trump by name on social media, adding in a press release tied to the news, “This amendment, which passed with the unanimous support of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, shows that, when the United States enacts sanctions, we stand behind them.”

Meet Alchemist Accelerator’s latest demo day cohort

An IoT-enabled lab for cannabis farmers, a system for catching drones mid-flight and the Internet of Cows are a few of the 17 startups exhibiting today at Alchemist Accelerator’s 18th demo day. The event, which will be streamed live here, focuses on big data and AI startups with an enterprise bent. The startups are showing their stuff at Juniper’s Aspiration Dome in Sunnyvale, California at 3pm today, but you can catch the whole event online if you want to see just what computers and cows have in common. Here are the startups pitching onstage. Tarsier – Tarsier has built AI computer vision to detect drones. The founders discovered the need while getting their MBAs at Stanford, after one had completed a PhD in aeronautics. Drones are proliferating. And getting into places they shouldn’t — prisons, R&D centers, public spaces. Securing these spaces today requires antiquated military gear that’s clunky and expensive.
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Technology innovation on the second half of the chessboard

EarthNow recently announced a $1 billion investment, perhaps the largest-ever Series A financing round, to build a global constellation of satellites. Ant Financial announced plans to raise $9 billion at an expected $150 billion valuation, making it the most highly valued privately held company. Last year, SoftBank embarked on a $100 billion investment fund, 30 times larger than any prior venture fund. The venture industry is scrambling to respond. Several established funds, including Sequoia, Khosla, Norwest and Battery, have recently announced by far their largest funds raised to date. Valuations and round sizes have doubled on average in the past five years. The speed and magnitude with which technology innovation is moving is mind-boggling, even for those of us who have worked at the center of it for decades. Staid industries for which technology seemed irrelevant are transforming themselves or being disrupted by the Connected World, innovation made
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PayPal confirms that it is buying payments startup iZettle for $2.2B in an all-cash deal

PayPal is taking its biggest bet yet on point-of-sale transactions, small businesses, and markets outside of the US, as it looks to raise its game against Square, Stripe and others in the world of payments: the company has confirmed that it is buying iZettle — the Stockholm-based payments provider commonly referred to as the “Square of Europe” — for $2.2 billion in an all-cash deal. The deal — which is expected to close in Q3 2018 — will see iZettle’s co-founder and CEO Jacob de Geer stay on leading iZettle. He will report to PayPal’s COO Bill Ready. Others in iZettle’s exec team will also stay on to run the business, which will become a “center of excellence” for in-store and offline payments in Europe, PayPal said. The timing of the deal is notable: it comes on the heels of iZettle filing for an IPO earlier this month (just nine
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Amazon picks up Nazi-hunting series produced by Jordan Peele

Amazon has given a 10-episode, straight-to-series order to The Hunt, a show created by David Weil and executive produced by Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele. The series follows a group of Nazi hunters living in New York City in 1977, who discover a broader Nazi conspiracy. As with other contemporary stories about fighting Nazis, I’m sure this will have absolutely no resonance with our current politics and culture. Amazon is already the home of The Man in The High Castle, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s alternate history novel in which the Nazis won World War II. Deadline reports that Sonar Entertainment (which is producing the series with Peel’s Monkeypaw Productions) was in talks with another network before Amazon jumped in. This is Amazon’s first series pickup since hiring NBC executive Jennifer Salke to take over Amazon Studios in February, following the departure of Roy Price amidst
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Selected’s recruiting platform matches teachers with schools they’ll love

A “dating app for teachers” is an odd but useful way to describe the startup Selected, which has just closed on $1.2 million in seed funding for its recruiting platform for educators. And, in all fairness, Selected said it first. The startup’s own website describes itself (a bit tongue-in-cheek) as a “dating app for job-seeking teachers and hiring schools.” Before you roll your eyes at the shorthand being used here, let’s skip ahead to the main point. And that is – like dating apps – Selected takes advantage of profile-matching technology in order to help teachers find good jobs they’ll want to keep. With Selected, this involves connecting candidates to schools based on mutual fit in terms of personal preferences, school culture, and teaching methods, among other things. The dating app comparison didn’t just come out of nowhere, though. The company began as a tutoring app in
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First speaker announcements for the Next stage at Disrupt SF (Sept 5-7)

One of the many new features at TechCrunch Disrupt SF (Sept. 5-7) is the addition of another stage, which we’re calling The Next Stage. The goal of The Next Stage is to deliver more insights and wisdom to Disrupt SF attendees, especially founders, to help them navigate the startup odyssey better and faster. The Next Stage is also where much of the programming for the 13 tracks at Disrupt SF will take place. We’re delighted to announce our first sessions on The Next stage. Consumer brands take forever to earn consumer confidence, unless you happen to be brands like Casper, AllBirds, Birchbox, Rent-the-Runway and Brandless, which became powerful brand names almost overnight.  What those brands have in common is Red Antler, a Brooklyn-based creative agency that has attained “brand whisperer” status according to Fast Company for its success standing up startup consumer brands. As a part of our New Retail
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Rackspace acquires Salesforce specialist RelationEdge

Rackspace today announced that it has acquired RelationEdge, a Salesforce implementation partner and digital agency. The companies did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition. At first, this may sound like an odd acquisition. Rackspace is still best known for its hosting and managed cloud and infrastructure services, after all, and RelationEdge is all about helping businesses manage their Salesforce SaaS implementations. The company clearly wants to expand its portfolio, though, and add managed services for SaaS applications to its lineup. It made the first step in this direction with the acquisition of TriCore last year, another company in the enterprise application management space. Today’s acquisition builds upon this theme. Gerard Brossard, the executive VP and general manager of Rackspace Application Services, told me that the company is still in the early days of its application management practice, but that it’s seeing good momentum as its gaining both
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Augmented reality display maker DigiLens nabs $25 million

Though content creators in the augmented reality space are still struggling to find engaging use cased for early mobile augmented reality platforms, there is still a feverish amount of excitement inside the space from big tech companies and makers of key components which are plugging along in developing technologies that will enable consumer AR headsets. One such startup, augmented reality display manufacturer DigiLens announced today that they have raised $25M of a Series C round from automotive parts manufacturing giant Continental. DigiLens manufactures “waveguide displays” which have been in use for a while but are pretty much the best technology available for making AR headset displays. While VR headset manufacturers are able to use conventional LCD or OLED displays to render an entirely new world while perhaps relying on passthrough feeds from cameras to simulate “mixed reality” environments, hardware manufacturers interested in making glasses-like AR headsets that aren’t incredibly ugly
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Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design

Every gamer with a disability faces a unique challenge for many reasons, one of which is the relative dearth of accessibility-focused peripherals for consoles. Microsoft is taking a big step towards fixing this with its Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device created to address the needs of gamers for whom ordinary gamepads aren’t an option. The XAC, revealed officially at a recent event but also leaked a few days ago, is essentially a pair of gigantic programmable buttons and an oversized directional pad. 3.5mm ports on the back let a huge variety of assistive devices like blow tubes, pedals, and Microsoft-made accessories plug in. It’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution by any means, more like a hub that allows gamers with disabilities to easily make and adjust their own setups with a minimum of hassle. Whatever you’re capable of, whatever’s comfortable, whatever gear you already have, the XAC
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EAT Club acquires healthy food startup Farm Hill

EAT Club, the corporate lunch service with a customer base that includes Flipboard, Mastercard and TaskRabbit, has acquired Farm Hill, a lunch box delivery service, to solidify and expand its presence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Farm Hill had previously raised $4 million in capital. EAT Club also brought on Doug Leeds, the former CEO at IAC Publishing and former executive in residence at August Capital, as its new CEO. Leeds is EAT Club’s third CEO since 2016, when its first CEO Frank Han moved into the COO role. Han left the company entirely in November 2017, according to his LinkedIn. Following Han’s departure as CEO, EAT Club brought on Mike Griffith, who served as president and CEO for less than two years. Griffith left in March because of a cultural mismatch of sorts, EAT Club co-founder Rodrigo Santibáñez told me. With
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