Original Content podcast: ‘Tuca & Bertie’ explores friendship and sex with anthropomorphic birds

There’s some obvious overlap between “Tuca & Bertie” and “BoJack Horseman” — they’re both talking animal cartoons on Netflix; they have a similar look, courtesy of Lisa Hanawalt (designer on “BoJack Horseman” and creator of “Tuca & Bertie”); and “BoJack” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg co-wrote the first episode of the new show.

Plus, their respective first seasons follow a similar arc, kicking off with rapid-fire humor, then increasingly shading the jokes with serious character exploration as you get further into the story.

But as guest host Brian Heater helps us explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, “Tuca & Bertie” is a distinct show, with a distinct sense of humor — it’s zanier and raunchier, with a refreshing frankness about sex, not to mention a talented, diverse cast of voice actors led by Tiffany Haddish (Tuca) and Ali Wong (Bertie).

And where “BoJack” went deep into an exploration of its protagonist’s depression, “Tuca & Bertie” is more interested in the complexities of female friendship, all while remaining a funny show about birds that talk, go on dates and have jobs at companies like “Conde Nest.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro and a Very Serious Discussion about laugh tracks
8:47 Spoiler-free review of Tuca & Bertie
24:43 Spoiler discussion

Startups Weekly: Will the real unicorns please stand up?

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a newsletter published every Saturday that dives into the week’s noteworthy venture capital deals, funds and trends. Before I dive into this week’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about the sudden uptick in beverage startup rounds. Before that, I noted an alternative to venture capital fundraising called revenue-based financing. Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week: Unicorn scarcity, or lack thereof. I’ve written about this concept before, as has my Equity co-host, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm. I apologize if the two of us are broken records, but I think we’re equally perplexed by the pace at which companies are garnering $1 billion valuations.

Here’s the latest data, according to Crunchbase: “2018 outstripped all previous years in terms of the number of unicorns created and venture dollars invested. Indeed, 151 new unicorns joined the list in 2018 (compared to 96 in 2017), and investors poured more than $135 billion into those companies, a 52% increase year-over-year and the biggest sum invested in unicorns in any one year since unicorns became a thing.”

2019 has already coined 42 new unicorns, like Glossier, Calm and Hims, a number that grows each and every week. For context, a total of 19 companies joined the unicorn club in 2013 when Aileen Lee, an established investor, coined the term. Today, there are some 450 companies around the globe that qualify as unicorns, representing a cumulative valuation of $1.6 trillion. 😲

We’ve clung to this fantastical terminology for so many years because it helps us classify startups, singling out those that boast valuations so high, they’ve gained entry to a special, elite club. In 2019, however, $100 million-plus rounds are the norm and billion-dollar-plus funds are standard. Unicorns aren’t rare anymore; it’s time to rethink the unicorn framework.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Last week, I suggested we only refer to profitable companies with a valuation larger than $1 billion as unicorns. Understandably, not everyone was too keen on that idea. Why? Because startups in different sectors face barriers of varying proportions. A SaaS company, for example, is likely to achieve profitability a lot quicker than a moonshot bet on autonomous vehicles or virtual reality. Refusing startups that aren’t yet profitable access to the unicorn club would unfairly favor certain industries.

So what can we do? Perhaps we increase the valuation minimum necessary to be called a unicorn to $10 billion? Initialized Capital’s Garry Tan’s idea was to require a startup have 50% annual growth to be considered a unicorn, though that would be near-impossible to get them to disclose…

While I’m here, let me share a few of the other eclectic responses I received following the above tweet. Joseph Flaherty said we should call profitable billion-dollar companies Pegasus “since [they’ve] taken flight.” Reagan Pollack thinks profitable startups oughta be referred to as leprechauns. Hmmmm.

The suggestions didn’t stop there. Though I’m not so sure adopting monikers like Pegasus and leprechaun will really solve the unicorn overpopulation problem. Let me know what you think. Onto other news.

Image by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

IPO corner

CrowdStrike has set its IPO terms. The company has inked plans to sell 18 million shares at between $19 and $23 apiece. At a midpoint price, CrowdStrike will raise $378 million at a valuation north of $4 billion.

Slack inches closer to direct listing. The company released updated first-quarter financials on Friday, posting revenues of $134.8 million on losses of $31.8 million. That represents a 67% increase in revenues from the same period last year when the company lost $24.8 million on $80.9 million in revenue.

Startup Capital

Online lender SoFi has quietly raised $500M led by Qatar
Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky just-raised another $200M for his new company Tempus
Less than 1 year after launching, Brex eyes $2B valuation
Password manager Dashlane raises $110M Series D
Enterprise cybersecurity startup BlueVoyant raises $82.5M at a $430M valuation
Talkspace picks up $50M Series D
TaniGroup raises $10M to help Indonesia’s farmers grow
Stripe and Precursor lead $4.5M seed into media CRM startup Pico

Funds

Maveron, a venture capital fund co-founded by Starbucks mastermind Howard Schultz, has closed on another $180 million to invest in early-stage consumer startups. The capital represents the firm’s seventh fundraise and largest since 2000. To keep the fund from reaching mammoth proportions, the firm’s general partners said they turned away more than $70 million amid high demand for the effort. There’s more where that came from, here’s a quick look at the other VCs to announce funds this week:

~Extra Crunch~

This week, I penned a deep dive on Slack, formerly known as Tiny Speck, for our premium subscription service Extra Crunch. The story kicks off in 2009 when Stewart Butterfield began building a startup called Tiny Speck that would later come out with Glitch, an online game that was neither fun nor successful. The story ends in 2019, weeks before Slack is set to begin trading on the NYSE. Come for the history lesson, stay for the investor drama. Here are the other standout EC pieces of the week.

Equity

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I debate whether the tech press is too negative or too positive in its coverage of tech startups. Plus, we dive into Brex’s upcoming round, SoFi’s massive raise and CrowdStrike’s imminent IPO.

Apple bumps the App Store cell connection download cap up to 200 MB

Good news: Apple now allows you to download bigger apps over a cellular connection than it used to.

Bad news: there’s still a cap, and you still can’t bypass it.

As noticed by 9to5Mac, the iOS App Store now lets you download apps up to 200 MB in size while on a cell network; anything bigger than that, and you’ll need to connect to WiFi. Before this change, the cap was 150 MB.

And if you’ve got an unlimited (be it actually unlimited or cough-cough-‘unlimited’) plan, or if you know you’ve got enough monthly data left to cover a big download, or you just really, really need a certain big app and WiFi just isn’t available? You’re still out of luck. That 200 MB cap hits everyone. People have found tricky, fleeting workarounds to bypass the cap over the years, but there’s no official “Yeah, yeah, the app is huge, I know.” button to click or power user setting to toggle.

The App Store being cautious about file size isn’t inherently a bad thing; with many users only getting an allotment of a couple gigs a month, a few accidental downloads over the cell networks can eat up that data quick. But it really does suck to open up an app you need and find it’s requiring some update that exceeds the cap, only to realize you’re nowhere near a friendly WiFi network. At least give us the choice, you know?

On the upside, most developers seem to be pretty aware of the cap; they’ll hack and slash their app install package until it squeaks under the limit, even if it means downloading more stuff through the app itself post-install. Now, at least, they’ve got 50 more megabytes of wiggle room to start with.

Teams autonomously mapping the depths take home millions in Ocean Discovery Xprize

There’s a whole lot of ocean on this planet, and we don’t have much of an idea what’s at the bottom of most of it. That could change with the craft and techniques created during the Ocean Discovery Xprize, which had teams competing to map the sea floor quickly, precisely, and autonomously. The winner just took home $4 million.

A map of the ocean would be valuable in and of itself, of course, but any technology used to do so could be applied in many other ways, and who knows what potential biological or medical discoveries hide in some nook or cranny a few thousand fathoms below the surface?

The prize, sponsored by Shell, started back in 2015. The goal was, ultimately, to create a system that could map hundreds of square kilometers of the sea floor at a 5-meter resolution in under a day — oh, and everything has to fit in a shipping container. For reference, existing methods do nothing like this, and are tremendously costly.

But as is usually the case with this type of competition, the difficulty did not discourage the competitors — only spurred them on. Since 2015, then, the teams have been working on their systems and traveling all over the world to test them.

Originally the teams were to test in Puerto Rico, but after the devastating hurricane season of 2017, the whole operation was moved to the Greek coast. Ultimately after the finalists were selected, they deployed their craft in the waters off Kalamata and told them to get mapping.

Team GEBCO’s surface vehicle.

“It was a very arduous and audacious challenge,” said Jyotika Virmani, who led the program. “The test itself was 24 hours, so they had to stay up, then immediately following that was 48 hours of data processing after which they had to give us the data. It takes more trad companies about 2 weeks or so to process data for a map once they have the raw data — we’re pushing for real time.”

This wasn’t a test in a lab bath or pool. This was the ocean, and the ocean is a dangerous place. But amazingly there were no disasters.

“Nothing was damaged, nothing imploded,” she said. “We ran into weather issues, of course. And we did lose one piece of technology that was subsequently found by a Greek fisherman a few days later… but that’s another story.”

At the start of the competition, Virmani said, there was feedback from the entrants that the autonomous piece of the task was simply not going to be possible. But the last few years have proven it to be so, given that the winning team not only met but exceeded the requirements of the task.

“The winning team mapped more than 250 square kilometers in 24 hours, at the minimum of 5 meters resolution, but around 140 was more than 5 meters,” Virmani told me. “It was all unmanned: An unmanned surface vehicle that took the submersible out, then recovered it at sea, unmanned again, and brought it back to port. They had such great control over it — they were able to change its path and its programming throughout that 24 hours as they needed to.” (It should be noted that unmanned does not necessarily mean totally hands-off — the teams were permitted a certain amount of agency in adjusting or fixing the craft’s software or route.)

A 5-meter resolution, if you can’t quite picture it, would produce a map of a city that showed buildings and streets clearly, but is too coarse to catch, say, cars or street signs. When you’re trying to map two thirds of the globe, though, this resolution is more than enough — and infinitely better than the nothing we currently have. (Unsurprisingly, it’s also certainly enough for an oil company like Shell to prospect new deep-sea resources.)

The winning team was GEBCO, composed of veteran hydrographers — ocean mapping experts, you know. In addition to the highly successful unmanned craft (Sea-Kit, already cruising the English Channel for other purposes), the team did a lot of work on the data processing side, creating a cloud-based solution that helped them turn the maps around quickly. (That may also prove to be a marketable service in the future.) They were awarded $4 million, in addition to their cash for being selected as a finalist.

The runner up was Kuroshio, which had great resolution but was unable to map the full 250 km2 due to weather problems. They snagged a million.

A bonus prize for having the submersible track a chemical signal to its source didn’t exactly have a winner, but the teams’ entries were so impressive that the judges decided to split the million between the Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers and Ocean Quest, which amazingly enough is made up mostly of middle-schoolers. The latter gets $800,000, which should help pay for a few new tools in the shop there.

Lastly, a $200K innovation prize was given to Team Tao out of the U.K., which had a very different style to its submersible that impressed the judges. While most of the competitors opted for a craft that went “lawnmower-style” above the sea floor at a given depth, Tao’s craft dropped down like a plumb bob, pinging the depths as it went down and back up before moving to a new spot. This provides a lot of other opportunities for important oceanographic testing, Virmani noted.

Having concluded the prize, the organization has just a couple more tricks up its sleeve. GEBCO, which stands for General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, is partnering with The Nippon Foundation on Seabed 2030, an effort to map the entire sea floor over the next decade and provide that data to the world for free.

And the program is also — why not? — releasing an anthology of short sci-fi stories inspired by the idea of mapping the ocean. “W lot of our current technology is from the science fiction of the past,” said Virmani. “So we told the authors, imagine we now have a high resolution map of the sea floor, what are the next steps in ocean tech and where do we go?” The resulting 19 stories, written from all 7 continents (yes, one from Antarctica), are available for download here.

 

Slack narrows losses, displays healthy revenue growth

Workplace messaging powerhouse Slack filed an amended S-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday weeks ahead of a direct listing expected June 20.

In the document, Slack included an updated at look at its path to profitability, posting first-quarter revenues of $134.8 million on losses of $31.8 million. Slack’s Q1 revenues represent a 67% increase from the same period last year when Slack lost $24.8 million on $80.9 million in revenue.

For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019, the company reported losses of $138.9 million on revenue of $400.6 million. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million the year prior.

Slack is in the process of completing the final steps necessary for its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, where it will trade under the ticker symbol “WORK.” A direct listing is an alternative approach to the stock market that allows well-known businesses to sell existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors directly to the market, instead of issuing new shares. The method lets companies bypass the traditional roadshow process and avoid a good chunk of Wall Street’s IPO fees.

Spotify completed a direct listing in 2018; Airbnb, another highly-valued venture capital-backed business, is rumored to be considering a direct listing in 2020.

Slack is currently valued at $7 billion after raising $1.22 billion in VC funding from investors including Accel, which owns a 24% pre-IPO stake, Andreessen Horowitz (13.3%), Social Capital (10.2%), SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, IVP, Kleiner Perkins and many others.

Facial recognition startup Kairos settles lawsuits with founder and former CEO Brian Brackeen

Facial recognition startup Kairos, founded by Brian Brackeen, has settled its lawsuit with Brackeen following his ouster from the company late last year. In addition to forcing him out of the company he founded, Kairos sued Brackeen alleging the misappropriation of corporate funds and misleading shareholders. In response, Brackeen countersued Kairos alleging the company and its CEO Melissa Doval intentionally destroyed his reputation through fraudulent conduct.

Now, both Kairos and Brackeen are ready to put this all behind them. Both parties have dropped their respective lawsuits and reached a settlement, which entails continuing to recognize Brackeen as the founder of Kairos.

“We are pleased to be putting this episode behind us, and the opportunity to keep the business focused on growth,” Doval said in a press release. “We thank Mr. Brackeen for working towards a resolution, and wish him the best for his future endeavors.”

Brackeen tells TechCrunch he’s excited about the settlement and can now move on to become an investor at Lightship Capital, a new fund where he serves as managing partner. The fund is geared toward supporting underrepresented founders and does not require board seats to invest.

“I have become the investor I didn’t have enough of…founder focused, principled, and growth minded,” Brackeen said in an email to TechCrunch. “Our firm puts founder support at the front of our thinking because we know what happens to shareholder value when you don’t. That’s the blessing that’s come from this chapter in my life. On to the next!”

Only 72 hours left to save an extra €200 on Disrupt Berlin 2019

The shot clock on serious savings is running out. You have just 72 hours left to sign up for the mailing list to receive €200 off the super early-bird price on any pass to Disrupt Berlin 2019. The official registration opens in three days, and once that happens, the clock runs out. Sad!

Here’s how our pre-registration deal works. Simply sign up for the Disrupt Berlin mailing list before registration officially opens, and we’ll email you a discount code to use when it’s time to buy your passes. That translates into serious savings. You can buy an Innovator pass to Disrupt Berlin for as low as €245 + VAT. Are you a founder or co-founder of a company? Then you can score a Founder pass for as low as €145 + VAT.

We’re talking less than the price of a super-early-bird ticket, and it’s the easiest money you’ll ever save. It’s also the easiest way to increase the already awesome ROI that comes from attending Disrupt Berlin.

You’ll join a diverse tech startup community of more than 3,000 attendees from more than 50 countries — it’s a global showcase of ideas, innovation and opportunity. Startup Alley, the exhibition hall, hosts hundreds of creative early-stage startups hell-bent on pushing the boundaries of technology. It’s the perfect place to explore, connect and find a promising startup investment, co-founder, customer, angel investor or media coverage.

You’ll also find the TC Top Picks in Startup Alley. This curated cadre — chosen by TechCrunch editors — represent some of the most innovative companies in their respective tech categories. Be sure to check them out.

And be sure to bear witness to Startup Battlefield. Over the years, this epic pitch-off has launched more than 850 companies, and that alumni community has collectively raised more than $8 billion in funding and produced 109 exits. You might recognize a few — like Vurb, Dropbox, Mint and Yammer. This Startup Battlefield will feature a fresh cohort of outstanding early-stage startups — we can’t wait to find them! They’ll compete head-to-head for $50,000 cash, the Disrupt cup and life-changing media and investor exposure.

Do you want to compete in the Startup Battlefield or be considered for the TC Top Picks program? Applications open later this summer, but you can get a head start by starting your application at apply.techcrunch.com.

We haven’t even mentioned the speakers, panels, workshops, demos, Q&A Sessions and all the other quality programming you’ll experience at Disrupt Berlin. That’s another great reason to join the mailing list. You’ll get the latest news and announcements — that’s great intel for planning your Disrupt strategy!

Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December, and registration officially opens in just 72 short hours. The clock is running — don’t miss your shot to save €200 — sign up for our mailing list today.

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