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Week in Review: Venture-backed loneliness

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Hello everyone and welcome back to Week in Review! Natasha here, subbing in for Lucas while he’s out. This week, we’ll talk about loneliness raising money and how Zoom fatigue is fueling innovation.

For everyone celebrating, happy holidays! Keep on the lookout next week for more festive content, including the launch of our annual TechCrunch Gift Guides.

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The big story

Over the last month, I spent time working out of virtual HQs. Dozens of founders are using spatial technology and gamification to create online worlds. Consumers are invited to congregate and create some of the spontaneity of in-person events, such as the work day or weddings. Founders are testing if the metaverse can be brought into the mainstream. After tossing a few succulents around myself, I was impressed (especially as a non-gamer) over how intuitive the platform felt. It feels special to bump into someone in 2020.

You can read more of my story here, which includes a demo video and pictures to give you a feel for the space. For today, though, I want to talk about what I think the rise of virtual HQs is not-so-subtly telling us.

Founders are trying to disrupt loneliness in this chapter of the coronavirus pandemic. There’s a shift in what the technology at its core is trying to fix, and it’s a little dynamic called Zoom fatigue.

For example, in March, we saw startups race to try to bring remote work to the masses. Now, in November, we’re seeing startups race to fix the broken, fatigued world of remote work.

The issue here, I think, is that founders are trying to innovate a solution to a lack of spontaneity and togetherness in our lives. Spontaneity, by definition, cannot be forced. And the community will always feel different in person. These inherent clashes make us, or at least me, question what technology’s constraints are. That said, virtual event platform Hopin and its $2 billion valuation shuts me right up.

Still, as we see startups chase to fix the next big pain point that everyone can agree on, it will be important to track what’s a venture-backable problem, and what’s a more existential one.

The round up

A White House in transition 

It’s been a busy week for a shifting White House and big tech. President Trump fired U.S. cybersecurity official Chris Krebs for debunking false election claims. Meanwhile, two platforms that have fed fires of misinformation, Facebook and Twitter, had yet another testimony in front of Congress. Big tech will likely continue to face backlash when the Biden Administration takes lead, especially when it comes to antitrust regulation. However, it’s not all bad news for tech: President-elect Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan and tech-friendly transition team could help out startups. More here.

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine

This week, Pfizer and BioNTech sought emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its COVID-19 vaccine, which is 95% effective. The news follows Moderna’s report that its vaccine is 94.5% effective. While proposed approval could get vaccines in the hands of high-risk populations, wide-spread vaccines likely won’t be available until 2021. Keep reading here.

Apple’s latest Intel

As my colleague Brian Heater puts it, “every refresh can’t be a revolution” in hardware product updates. That said, Apple’s latest trio of Macs has impressed. We have reviews on the Mac mini, Macbook Air, and MacBook Pro. Notably, the line is powered by Mac’s in-house microchips, pushing an effort that has been in the works since 2008. It’s a win for Apple, and loss for Intel, which had until now been powering Macs. Still, Intel seems to be taking its break-up with Apple alright, since announcing its own white-label laptop.

TC: Sessions Space is approaching fast

NASA and SpaceX successfully launched four astronauts — and a special guest — into space for their first operational Dragon Crew Mission. History has been made – which makes our upcoming event even more exciting and timely. This year, TechCrunch is hosting its first-ever dedicated space event on December 16 and 17. The TC: Sessions Space agenda is packed, and includes fireside chats with the head of the US Space Force, NASA executives and more. Get your tickets now.

Other stories

Thanks for reading,

Natasha

 

 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Virta Health’s behavioral diabetes treatment service is now worth over $1 billion

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A new $65 million investment led by the growth capital and public investment arm of Sequoia Capital will give Virta Health, a developer of a behavioral-focused diabetes treatment, a valuation of over $1 billion.

Virta’s approach, which uses a combination of approaches to change diet and exercise to reverse the presence of type 2 diabetes and other chronic metabolic conditions, has shown clinical success and attracted 100 health care payers to endorse the company’s treatments.

“We partnered with Virta for their ability to deliver unmatched health improvement and cost savings—two clear differentiators from other offerings on the market,” said William Ashmore, CEO of the State Employees’ Insurance Board of Alabama, in a statement. “Especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital that we provide our members the life-changing results Virta is known for delivering, through expert, virtual care delivered right to their home.”

The company said it would use the funding to expand sales and marketing efforts for its services as well as expand its research and development into other non-pharmaceutical therapies for metabolic conditions.

The financing came from Sequoia Capital Global Equities and Caffeinated Capital and brings the company’s total funding to over $230 million and gives it a $1.1 billion valuation, according to a statement.

Alongside Sequoia Capital Global Equities, Caffeinated Capital participated in the round, which brings total funding to more than $230 million and values Virta Health at over $1.1 billion.

Diabetes has long been an attractive condition for startups and has been the first target that companies focused on behavior changes to influence metabolic conditions aim to address. The reason why there are so many diabetes-focused businesses is because of the prevalence of the disease in the U.S. Almost half of adults in the U.S. suffer from obesity, pre-diabetes, or type 2 diabetes and the disease kills thirty people every hour. Diabetes also doubles the risk of death from COVID-19 infections.

Beyond the risks, the costs of treatment are skyrocketing. According to data from the American Diabetes Association released in March 2018, the total costs of treating diagnosed diabetes have risen to $327 billion in 2017 from $245 billion in 2012, when the cost was last examined.

“Given the scope of the metabolic crisis in the U.S. and globally, it cannot be understated how game-changing Virta’s results and care delivery are,” said Patrick Fu, managing partner at Sequoia Capital Global Equities, in a statement. “Virta’s technology-driven, non-pharmaceutical approach has fundamentally changed how diabetes is cared for, and our collective belief in what is possible for population health improvement. This is the future of chronic disease care.”

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Salesforce applies AI to workflow with Einstein Automate

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While Salesforce made a big splash yesterday with the announcement that it’s buying Slack for $27.7 billion, it’s not the only thing going on for the CRM giant this week. In fact Dreamforce, the company’s customer extravaganza is also on the docket. While it is virtual this year, there are still product announcements aplenty and today the company announced Einstein Automate, a new AI-fueled set of workflow solutions.

Sarah Franklin, EVP & GM of Platform, Trailhead and AppExchange at Salesforce says that she is seeing companies facing a digital imperative to automate processes as things move ever more quickly online, being driven there even faster by the pandemic. “With Einstein Automate, everyone can change the speed of work and be more productive through intelligent workflow automation,” she said in a statement.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that combined these tools are designed to help customers get to work more quickly. “It’s not only about identifying the insight, it’s about making it easier to leverage it at the the right time. And this should make it easier for users to do it without spending more time and effort,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Einstein is the commercial name given to Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform that touches every aspect of the company’s product line, bringing automation to many tasks and making it easier to find the most valuable information on customers, which is often buried in an avalanche of data.

Einstein Automate encompasses several products designed to improve workflows inside organizations. For starters, the company has created Flow Orchestrator, a tool that uses a low-code, drag and drop approach for building workflows, but it doesn’t stop there. It also relies on AI to provide help suggest logical next steps to speed up workflow creation.

Salesforce is also bringing Mulesoft, the integration company it bought for $6.5 billion in 2018 into the mix. Instead of processes like a mortgage approval workflow, the Mulesoft piece lets IT build complex integrations between applications across the enterprise, and the Salesforce family of products more easily.

To make it easier to build these workflows, Salesforce is announcing the Einstein Automate collection page available in AppExchange, the company’s application marketplace. The collection includes over 700 pre-built connectors so customers can grab and go as they build these workflows, and finally it’s updating the OmniStudio, their platform for generating customer experiences. As Salesforce describes it, “Included in OmniStudio is a suite of resources and no-code tools, including pre-built guided experiences, templates and more, allowing users to deploy digital-first experiences like licensing and permit applications quickly and with ease. ”

Per usual with Salesforce Dreamforce announcements, the Flow Orchestrator being announced today won’t be available in beta until next summer. The Mulesoft component will be available in early 2021, but the OmniStudio updates and the Einstein connections collection are available today.

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A roundup of recent unicorn news

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So much for a December news slowdown.

The last few days have been so chock-a-block with news from a host of unicorns, we’ve all fallen behind. This morning, The Exchange is going into summary mode to help us better understand the full scope of recent unicorn activity.

Why unicorns? It would be fun to noodle on early-stage news — Salut raised $1.25 million this week and BuildBuddy picked up $3.15 million — but as we’re in the midst of an IPO cycle and 2021 could have even more public debuts than 2020, we have to keep current on unicorn updates.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


What will we cover, then? We’ll go back to Stripe’s possible new round and new valuation. We’ll touch on DoorDash and Airbnb’s expected IPO pricing, along with what we’ve learned from C3.ai’s own S-1 filings. There’s also Gainsight to talk about and the Slack -Salesforce deal.

That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There’s also recent news from Coinbase, Tanium, Postmates, Olive, Scale AI, Sinch, Gitlab and Kustomer. Then there are rounds for HungryPanda, Flock Freight and Flexe that might make them unicorns — or something rather close. (Update: Also Bizzabo, apparently.)

You can see why it all feels a little overwhelming. But don’t worry, we can get caught up together. Let’s go!

A cavalcade of unicorn updates

There’s no way to make it through all of this news in a reasonable number of words without employing bullet points. Out of respect for your time, I’ll be brief. That said, each of the following news items is worth digging into further if it catches your fancy.

Financial news

  • C3.ai dropped an initial pricing range for its IPO. Given how far the company’s growth has slowed, C3.ai’s comfortable expected IPO valuation underscores how interested public markets are in software and tech shops. As far as a bellwether public offering, we have our eyes fixed on C3 and its expected debut that should come next week.
  • DoorDash also released an initial price range this week with a valuation that could stretch to $32 billion on a fully-diluted basis. Simpler share counts give the company a valuation of between $23.8 billion and $27 billion at its $75 to $85 per share price target. Regardless of how you prefer to calculate market caps of public companies, DoorDash is expected to see a huge valuation bump in its debut. That’s great news for its investors and employees alike.
  • Stripe could be worth $100 billion in its next fundraise. We don’t have new gross payment volume data from the company, but its top line has to be in the billions given what we knew a while back. Why doesn’t Stripe go public? The only good answer to that question is, I reckon, that it is investing in some super complicated stuff that won’t pay off for a while, so it’s taking its time to set up for an even more glorious future as a public company. If it is just being shy, I’ll be cross.
  • Airbnb is back, baby! That’s pretty much all you need to know. In more granular detail, the company’s valuation could stretch to $35 billion in its IPO, though if you don’t count unexercised options and the like, the numbers run between $26.2 billion to $30.1 billion. No matter: The company’s IPO will be executed at a multiple of its mid-crisis valuation and can only be viewed as an impending fundraising success story. I have zero idea how the company will trade after floating, but Airbnb is about to raise quite a lot of much cheaper capital than it managed earlier in the year.

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