The era of face-wearable computers

Welcome to Startups Weekly — your weekly recap of everything you can’t miss from the world of startups. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.

Holy hell, how is it Friday again? I feel like I wrote one of these newsletters just yesterday. There’s been a ton of exciting movement in the world of startups, though: Some highs, some lows, some drama, and some fun new trends.

My big contribution this week was a deep dive into the world of crowdfunding — and whether you should use it to raise money for your startup.

Okay, what else happened this week . . .

The most interesting startup story

Image Credits: Cory Green/Yahoo

Okay, so my newsletter is called “Startups Weekly,” but I want to dedicate a chunk of it to Apple. Why? Because, as I wrote last year, I think Apple’s Vision Pro is going to be a huge game changer for startups.

We’ve finally had our mittens on Apple’s face-wearable computer. And, what can we say, it’s pretty astonishing.

Brian spent an hour with the Apple Vision Pro back in January, and then blogged his little heart out as the Vision Pro finally arrived at his house, in a fascinating (and often hilarious) series of posts covering Day One and Day Two, and an in-depth review that concludes that it’s the best consumer headset out there, where he hopes that the current experience will feel antiquated a generation or two down the road. Although, there’s a powerful use case right now, in the form of immersive mindfulness.

There’s an opportunity here, though, especially in the enterprise.

600 apps at your fingertips: Developers are rapidly preparing over 600 new apps and games, joining over 1 million iOS and iPadOS compatible apps. This surge in app development flies in the face of concerns about developer interest due to Apple’s controversial compliance with the EU’s Digital Markets Act.

No YouTube app: With the release of the Apple Vision Pro headset, a third-party developer steps in to fill the YouTube app gap with Juno, a $5 one-time purchase app that leverages YouTube’s embed API for a native experience. The app offers features like resizable windows and playback controls, with plans for further enhancements.

Reasons to be excited: Lauren and Ivan collected some of the visionOS apps from smaller developers that users can try out when their headset arrives.

Most interesting fundraises this week

Utility worker repairing power lines under a blue sky

Image Credits: Getty Images/pkfawcett

In a world where tossing food into landfills seems as American as apple pie, startups are popping up like mushrooms to tackle the absurdity of food waste. Enter ProducePay, which decided that enough was enough. With a mission that honestly sounds more like a superhero’s vow than a business plan, ProducePay aims to wrangle the chaos of the fresh produce supply chain into submission. Armed with a hefty $38 million from its latest funding round, it’s set to take its crusade global. Because, really, in the face of a planet where throwing food away is a pastime, what’s a few million dollars among friends? Here’s to hoping their plan doesn’t rot on the vine.

Oh, how the mighty rivers of VC cash have dried up to mere trickles for cybersecurity startups. After a 2021 deluge where $23 billion casually rained down on the sector, 2023 saw these upstarts scooping up less than a third of that. Going against the current of financial drought, NinjaOne struts in, bagging a cool $230 million in Series C funding like it’s no big deal. Apparently, they weren’t even trying — investors just couldn’t resist throwing money at them. With this round, NinjaOne’s valuation hit $1.9 billion. In a world where cash is king, NinjaOne is smirking all the way to the bank, planning to sprinkle some of that VC gold on expanding its empire and making IT headaches a thing of the past.

A handful more:

It’s electrifying: Armed with a fresh $20 million and a dream to make fusion power a lot simpler, Thea Energy is betting big on software to do the heavy lifting. Forget about painstakingly precise magnet construction; Thea’s plan is to play plasma puppeteer with some clever coding.

Transforming, er, transformers: Over on the electric grid, transformers have been dutifully doing their one-trick pony act since the 1800s. Enter Amperesand, waving a $12.5 million seed round, ready to drag these grid guardians into the 21st century with solid-state tech.

Bitcoin on the stock market: We asked TechCrunch readers if they intended to buy bitcoin via one of the new spot ETFs, whether they owned bitcoin elsewhere, and what impact they expected these new investing vehicles to have on its value and on crypto.

This week’s big trend: It’s all social, all the time

Snap Pixy Drone

Image Credits: Snap Inc.

I loved Sarah’s analysis this week of what the ever-glowing hell is going on at Twitter. In the wake of Twitter’s identity crisis under Elon Musk, the social media landscape is blooming with alternatives like Mastodon, Bluesky, and Meta’s Threads, creating a buffet of brief-post platforms. It’s a golden age for those fleeing X (formerly Twitter), but a headache for early adopters juggling half a dozen apps. Amid this chaos, Tapestry and other aggregators aim to be the Marie Kondo of social media, promising to tidy up our digital mess with a unified app. Good luck with that in a world where even the aggregators need aggregating.

There’s been a lot of movement in the social media startup world over the past couple of weeks. Perhaps most notably is Bluesky reaching for the, er, sky. After nearly a year as an invite-only application, Bluesky, funded by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, has opened to the public, positioning itself as a promising microblogging platform. Bluesky differentiates itself from its decentralized infrastructure, the AT Protocol, which is open source, allowing for transparency and the opportunity for developers to build on it. As the platform opens to the public, its CEO is facing her biggest challenge yet, and the platform got almost a million new users overnight.

As Bluesky is opening up, Meta’s Facebook is going the other direction. Meta’s announcement of shutting down its Facebook Groups API has left businesses and social media marketers in turmoil, signaling a significant shift in its operational philosophy. The closure is bad news for a lot of startups building tools on the API. It’s yet another reminder to build a company, not a feature.

X, née Twitter, had a hell of a boost this week, after Tucker Carlson’s announcement of his interview with Vladimir Putin propelled the X app to the top of the U.S. App Store, overtaking Instagram Threads. The interview, Putin’s first with a Western media outlet since the Ukraine invasion, is seen as a strategic move by Putin to reach a wider, potentially sympathetic audience through Carlson, known for his controversial stances.

Other tweet-sized morsels of social media news from this week:

Oh snap: Snap’s doing the corporate shuffle again, axing 10% of its workforce to “support growth,” which seems to be corporate speak for “we’re not making enough money.” This sequel to last year’s layoffs saga features a $55 million to $75 million tab for severance and a side of hierarchy trimming. Meanwhile, Snap’s hardware adventures flop harder than a Pixy drone in a recall.

Put that away: Meta is stepping up its game against sextortion with new updates and a global awareness campaign. The company is enhancing the Take It Down tool, which helps teens remove non-consensual intimate images from the internet. This initiative allows users to generate a digital fingerprint of the image without sharing the actual content.

TikTok on the rise: Pew Research Center once again shared its biennial peek into America’s social media closet, revealing — to nobody’s surprise — that platforms rise and fall like the tides. This year, they discovered the earth-shattering news that TikTok is in, BeReal is barely a blip, and Facebook somehow still clings to relevance like a cat to a screen door.

Other unmissable TechCrunch stories . . .

Every week, there’s always a few stories I want to share with you that don’t quite fit into the categories above. It’d be a shame if you missed ’em, so here’s a random grab bag of goodies for ya:

Baby Rivian: Rivian’s gearing up to launch the R2, a budget-friendly electric SUV, in a swanky Laguna Beach event. Despite their current financial hemorrhage, they’re betting big on this cheaper ride to finally turn a profit. Just don’t hold your breath; it won’t hit the roads until 2026.

New phone who dis: Okta’s playing the layoff game again, axing 400 souls (7% of its crew) in a bid to morph into a profit-making unicorn. Despite raking in cash with a 21% revenue bump, they’re still on a cost-cutting spree. Global employees are biting nails, waiting for the dreaded email. Meanwhile, Proofpoint’s joining the layoff league too. Tough times in tech town continue . . .

Oh thank goodness, browsing yourself is so tedious: Arc Browser is on a mission to dethrone Google by creating an AI that fetches web content directly, skipping the search engine middleman. With new tools like “browse for me” and “instant links,” it’s streamlining the search process, aiming to serve up the internet on a silver platter.

That worked out great last time: Adam Neumann, WeWork’s controversial ex-CEO, is eyeing a dramatic comeback by attempting to buy the bankrupt workspace giant.

Water good idea: Water filtration titan Brita has acquired Larq, the Bay Area innovator behind smart water bottles. Larq’s journey from a niche online brand to a key player in Brita’s global strategy underscores the evolving landscape of consumer goods in the digital age.

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