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Something really scary is happening. It’s an internet-powered horror story unfolding in front of us in three interwoven acts: (1) AI technology is improving fast enough that I recently had a bit of an existential crisis, wondering if I, too, was an AI. (2) People have no idea what’s real and what isn’t on the internet. (3) With the 2024 presidential election coming up, we have a recipe for disaster.
We may be so comprehensively copulated at this moment in time that digging our way out might prove impossible. Brew a cup of coffee and take a breath; I’m exploring the full depth of my fears in “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a bot.”
Fintech keeps printing dollars, pounds, dinar and rupees
Earlier this year Mary Ann reported that even well-funded fintech companies were going through rounds of layoffs, but it appears that optimism has returned to the sector. This week, it transpired that celebrity investors (including Paris Hilton) piled into consumer savings startup Checkmate, and Kyle reported that Nymbus landed a $70 million round of funding to help drag banks away from legacy tech and into the new-fangled digital age.
Pay attention, though: You’d be wrong to believe that all of this innovation is happening only in the major, obvious financial centers of the world. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen major innovations all over the world, including a major Brazilian player plotting to serve 11 African markets, a startup helping Indonesians take control over their credit scores, a bank raising $78 million to expand operations across South Africa, Singapore and the Philippines, and stories coming out of India, Kenya, LatAm, France, etc. That’s great news for startups that are looking for growth through international expansion. The playbook is there, as are the investment dollars.
- PhonePe keeps on raisin’: Manish reports that PhonePe secures additional $100 million from General Atlantic, after the investor already invested $100 million last month.
- “Likely a job for big banks”: Mary Ann reports that LGBTQ+ focused neobank Daylight calls it quits.
- Like Mint, but for startups: Frederic reports that Firmbase raises $12M to modernize financial planning for startups.
Doing it for the LOLs
The social media landscape continues to evolve at neck- and thumb-breaking speeds, with stories coming thick and fast across the TechCrunch news desk. The surgeon general this week stuck an oar in, suggesting that social media “can have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.” As an adult who often finds that social media harms my mental health and well-being, color me a deep shade of unsurprised.
Some organizations are fighting back, including the state of Montana, who decided to try to ban TikTok altogether, citing it is taking action to “protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.” TikTok sued in return, claiming the ban violates the First Amendment.
Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis decided to just skip the announcement rally and announce his run for president on Twitter, which brought the entire social media platform crunching to a halt. I’m wondering if we’re starting to see why Elon Musk had an interest in buying Twitter: being front and center seems to be something he rather enjoys. Not gonna lie, though: I’m so profoundly bored of the whole “Elon buys Twitter” saga, but I can’t look away. I’m super grateful to Amanda and Alyssa for putting together a what-you-need-to-know about Elon Musk’s Twitter overview.
Misinformation continues to run rampant on social media, particularly illustriously illustrated by the incident that took place this week when a fake Pentagon attack hoax was posted by a Twitter Blue-verified Twitter user called @BloombergFeed, confusingly unaffiliated with Bloomberg.
- ChatGPT comes to iOS: Sarah reported that OpenAI launched an official ChatGPT app for iOS, which quickly became available in a dozen countries, hit 500,000 downloads in less than a week and has an Android app coming soon. If you’re still a bit hazy on what ChatGPT is, Kyle and Alyssa put together a ChatGPT primer for you.
- InstaTweet: Amanda summarizes everything we know about Instagram’s Twitter clone, which is getting released later this summer.
- The first cut is the deepest (baby, I know): In November, Meta had 87,000 employees. In the months since then, Amanda reports it has shed more than 21,000, and this week saw another round of layoffs; this time affecting 6,000 folks.
TechCrunch (virtually) in Atlanta
On June 7, TechCrunch will host City Spotlight: Atlanta. We have a slate of amazing programming planned, including a fireside chat with Ryan Glover, the co-founder of the fintech Greenwood, as well as a panel that examines the venture ecosystem within the Atlanta region and identifies the best ways to raise and meet with local venture capitalists. But that’s not all. If you are an early-stage Atlanta-based founder, apply to pitch to our panel of guest investors/judges for our live pitching competition; the winner gets a free booth at TechCrunch Disrupt this year to exhibit their company in our startup alley. Register here.
The highs and lows of hardware
Humanoid robots are forging ahead with literal leaps, and indeed, bounds. Brian has been on a roll, covering Figure’s humanoid robot’s first steps and the company’s $70 million fundraise. Meanwhile, Apptronik is teasing its to-be-revealed-this-summer robot, and Sanctuary AI showed off its slightly creepy looking ‘bot last week, as well. It seems like the current tizzy of excitement about robots that look a little like humans got an inhuman tail wind when Elon Musk showed off Tesla’s bipedal buddy in September last year.
These days, we very rarely cover startups that are running crowdfunding campaigns here on TechCrunch — and with pretty good reason. Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns are awesome, but, as I covered last month, there’s a lot of pitfalls when it comes to bringing a product to market, and even well-meaning hardware campaigns fail from time to time. Our very own Mark Harris was hired to do an in-depth report on a high-profile failed drone project a few years ago and discovered, in a nutshell, that the campaign’s founders were vastly over-optimistic and under-competent. There are many failure modes; even being highly successful and delivering well-performing products is no guarantee that the resulting company succeeds. To wit, even Pebble (the makers of the first commercially viable smart watch) had to shutter its doors eventually.
The reason I bring it up is that the team at Nuwa Pen (who I met at CES in January this year) just launched their Kickstarter. I wasn’t going to cover it until I saw the crowdfunding video and noticed something weird: The pen the company had shown me wasn’t capable of doing what the pen shown in the video was doing.
These things terrify me. Image Credits: Figure
- Robots in the sky: Aria reports that Gitai wants to build a robotic labor force for the moon and Mars.
- For fans of fresh air: Brian reports that Dyson upgrades its vacuums and air purifiers.
- Some reporters have no sense of self-preservation: Brian reports that, contrary to my first impression of Shift’s Moonwalker electric shoe-skates, it has so far resulted in zero injuries.
Everyone’s top reads on TechCrunch this week
- You can’t share that! Sarah reports that Netflix is rolling out a global password sharing crackdown in an attempt to protect its bottom line.
- Wait, do you want us to get hacked? Alex asks the excellent question, why aren’t venture capitalists flocking to fund cybersecurity startups? (TC+)
- Better late than never? Devin reports that 28 years later, Windows finally supports RAR files.
- Forcing humans to do the human work: Ivan reports that Apple reportedly limits internal use of AI-powered tools like ChatGPT and GitHub Copilot.
- There’s that P word again: Kate explores “profitability over growth,” as 5 investors explain their mantra for startups. (TC+)
- The GIF that keeps on giving: Paul reports that following a U.K. antitrust order, Meta sells Giphy to Shutterstock for $53 million after buying it for $400 million.
Calling all early-stage startups! Apply to join the Startup Battlefield 200 cohort at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023. All finalists get expert training, VC networking, a booth at Disrupt, and the chance to compete for $100,000 in equity-free funds. Applications close May 31. Apply today.