VCs should give up on the winner-takes-all approach to investing

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This week, DocSend dropped a big load of statistics about the VC activity over the past half year or so. For TC+, I did a deep dive into the trends that are starting to show up. Subscribe for the full story, but since you’re a trusty reader of this fair newsletter, I’ll give you the TL;DR:

  1. “Why now?” is becoming more and more important to investors — why should they part with their cash to invest in you in this exact moment? I’ve written more about “why now” in the context of pitching elsewhere, but it’s interesting to see that surface.
  2. Decks are getting shorter; last year, the average successful deck had 19 slides. Now the average is 16. Do more with less, get to the point.
  3. Financially, the world is a little bit wobbly right now, so investors want to see decks that show that founders know how to optimize for break-even, then profitability. You can always spend more money if you want to grow faster, but the business basics are getting more important.
  4. Financials overall are getting more scrutiny. There’s a stark change: Investors are spending 60% more time on the financials section of a pitch deck compared to a year ago. Get it right.
  5. Investors are getting weary about AI . . . If you’re going to slap AI/ML on a deck, it had better be because leaning on new technologies gives you a real, measurable advantage for your startup, not because it is the newest, hottest thing.

Okay. Lemme put my little soapbox away and look at what else has been alive in the land of startups this week!

Move slow and please don’t break things

A person getting into the back seat of a driverless Chevy Bolt operated by Cruise.

Image Credits: Cruise

“Move fast and break things” has been the mantra at Facebook/Meta for a long time. The idea is to not get shy about taking risks. That might work if the worst thing that can happen is that your aunt can’t see the picture of their niece for a few hours, but in the world of self-driving cars, that doesn’t work. This week, regulators laid down the law, telling Cruise to reduce its robotaxi fleet 50% following a crash (with a fire truck, no less. You know, those small, quiet, and subtle vehicles that are so easy to miss). Personally, I keep doing double takes when I see the little Chevy Bolt EVs cruising around in San Francisco without anyone in the driver’s seat, but maybe that’s just me.

One cool nugget of news is that CATL, who, among other things, supplies batteries to Tesla, showed off a battery that can charge 400 km in 10 minutes. Super cool. Apropos Tesla, our transportation team has been kept hella busy with the EV manufacturer this week. It said that the data breach impacting 75,000 employees was an insider job (whoops), and the company launched cheaper Model X and Model S options with less range and tried to reassure Chinese users on data security amid spying concerns. A grieving widow also sued the company over a deadly Model 3 crash and explosion. We would say that Musk has his hands full with his pet car company, but it seems his attention is mostly on making sure you won’t be able to “block” people anymore on the Platform Formerly Known as Twitter. That sounds like an idea. Not a good idea by any measure, but an idea nonetheless.

One aspect of EVs that’s worth keeping an eye on from a startup perspective is their insatiable need for batteries. That plays out in lots of different ways in different markets, but worth noting this week is Swedish EV battery maker Northvolt raising $1.2 billion to expand to North America and GM partnering with startup Mitra Chem to develop affordable EV batteries. And Rebecca took a closer look at the EV battery factory construction boom across North America.

Free falling: It’s rough out there in the stock markets. For example, EV maker VinFast is still worth more than Ford and GM even after its stock took a 19% nosedive.

Toot toot, pew pew: Harri and I had a ton of fun driving around in Las Vegas on an Arcimoto at CES this year. It strikes me as a bit of a head scratcher to hear that the startup hooked up with a defense contractor. The bombs and rockets industry isn’t known for its green cred, and the vehicles don’t seem rugged enough for even the lightest of off-roading, but it’s one to keep an eye on for sure.

Anywhere here is fine, driver: It seems like reports that people are getting hot and heavy in the back of robotaxis and the aforementioned crashes are a reminder that all press is good press: Cruise and Waymo are seeing a surge in robotaxi app downloads.

There’s a lot of crap out there

poop emoji on blue background

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

As we were dredging through the thousands of TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield 200 companies, we kept noticing that the trend we spotted at CES earlier this year continues: We are seeing a huge amount of waste recycling, poop and urine startups.

This past week, we saw two global payments companies release earnings with wildly different results. Uruguayan fintech company dLocal saw its stock surge by over 30% on Wednesday. Meanwhile, shares of Dutch payments processor Adyen sank “to their lowest level in more than three years” on Friday, as reported by Reuters and others. Christine and Mary Ann compare and contrast what’s going on in our sibling newsletter, The Interchange. Which, incidentally, is well worth subscribing to.

Apropos crap — after I went out of my way to buy a guest article on TechCrunch (spoiler alert: I failed, but I learned some things along the way), we rebooted our program for non-crap guest posts.

Okay, fine, it’s not all crap news this week, although there’s def some highs and lows:

That’s a heavy haircut: Fintech startup Ramp raises $300 million at a $ 5.5 billion valuation. That sounds pretty good, until you remember that the company last raised in March last year at a  $8.1 billion valuation. I wouldn’t like to be the CEO in the boardroom when they admit to having to take a 28% valuation cut. . . .

Hope springs infernal: Alex is one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for tech IPOs that I know, and he’s bouncing around like an overcaffeinated toddler at the idea that everyone’s talking about tech IPOs again. Read about it over on TC+.

There’s no stopping the AI train

Bot popping out of a computer screen to illustrate automated customer service bots.

Image Credits: Carol Yepes / Getty Images

Every time I do another Startups Weekly, I think, Maybe this time I won’t have a section on AI. And then I look at what is performing well on the site, before sighing and muttering, “Here we go again.” Artificial Intelligence continues to be hot, hot, hot.

This week, the tool that caught my eye was Moemate, an assistant that analyzes what is actually happening on your screen to offer context-aware advice and support. To me, it sounds like a bit of a privacy nightmare, but the idea is fascinating. Kyle reports spotty but curious results.

OpenAI goes shopping: As far as we know, OpenAI acquiring AI design studio Global Illumination is the first acquisition the company has made since it was founded seven years ago.

Content is king: Large language models are awesome and all, but the datasets contained within them are often kept a secret. That has some interesting issues. The Allen Institute for AI is taking a different tack and just dropped the biggest open dataset yet for training language models.

A network you can swim in: The lingo comes fast and hard in the land of artificial intelligence, and my favorite deep dive this week (pun intended) was Brian’s article on liquid neural networks — ones that can continue to adapt even after the model is trained.

Top reads on TechCrunch this week

Moar? You want moar?


Here’s another handful of the most-read startup stories on Ye Olde Teche Crunche:

  • People really love the ability to block weirdos: When Musk announced that Twitter/X might turn off the ability to block people, it seems like folks rage-quit the platform in droves. It got so intense, that Bluesky had to impose rate limits to improve network stability, because they got that much traffic.
  • Sorry, superconductors: We kinda already knew, but Tim confirmed it for us: LK-99 isn’t a room-temperature superconductor.
  • It would be a shame if people found out that cops are using phone hacking tech: LOL. So, of course, Lorenzo reported on Cellebrite asking police to keep its phone hacking tech “hush hush.”
  • Hush, little baby: I always thought that Sleepbuds were genius. Basically, noise-canceling headphones that just cancel noise and fit in your ears so you can sleep. Bose killed ’em off, but Brian reports that former Bose employees bought the IP from Bose and are resurrecting the product, with additional features added. Neat!

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