Welcome to Startups Weekly. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.
It seems like the fizzle has gone out of the VR conversation altogether, as every manufacturer and conversation is refocusing its attention on AR. That wasn’t particularly new, but Apple’s flagship headset is a huge leap away from virtual reality, embracing the blended world more fully.
Apple didn’t actually add much to the conversation so far — the headset hasn’t started shipping yet, after all — but you’d be a particularly spicy mixed blend of not-in-touch-with-reality spices to bet against the Cupertino giant these days. This represents a profound opportunity for startups.
Will we find the humanity in AI?
There’s an old joke: Bob says to his friend, peering into the infinite abyss of space: “Do you think there’s any intelligent life out there?” Anna replies: “Why would there be — there’s barely any down here.” Funny, yes, but the punchline keeps rattling around in my mind as the AI train continues to hurtle along the track. See, I don’t think artificial intelligence is inherently evil or good, but it has to be trained on something, and the best we’ve got is a lot of human knowledge. Humans may not be inherently evil, but my goodness, we aren’t particularly kind either.
This week, Devin notes that, in the midst of a writers’ strike, it was insensitive timing at best when Fable Studios showed off an AI-generated, fake episode of “South Park.”
Apple (you know, that giant company based in Cupertino. They make earbuds and stuff) was also in the news for AI for a bit. Relevant to startups, it removed an AI-powered content generator impersonating Meta’s Threads app. Less relevant to startups, but I imagine it’ll make a startup or two twitch nervously, the company is reportedly testing a ChatGPT-like AI chatbot. Maybe Siri will finally grow some smarts — because right now, she’s pretty astonishingly under par in the “smarts” department. I may rant about that a bit more in my column next week.
I’m not a Shein fan, honestly (essentially single-use clothing is so profoundly bad for the environment), but now there’s another reason to have an issue with the clothing manufacturer: Designers are pissed about Shein ripping off their work using AI and are suing the company.
You doodle it, Stability makes it good: You may have seen the “draw some circles, now draw the rest of the owl” meme that has been floating around the internet forever. This week, Stability AI took that meme to a whole new level with its Stable Doodle, a sketch-to-image tool.
Bonjour, Bard: Google’s Bard chatbot finally launches in the EU and supports more than 40 languages. As you might expect, though, the EU is keeping a close eye on it, as privacy advocates are keeping watch.
Fare thee well, Joanne: Roboticist Joanne Pransky died recently and has left a lasting impact on the industry, bringing a uniquely human element to conversations about robotics and automation. A much needed addition to the conversation, if you ask me.
Off the chain . . .
… or maybe the chain fell off. Fashion-forward bike company VanMoof met its demise this week, and we were left wondering how the popular e-bike pioneer could be pedaling toward bankruptcy last week, even as the market boomed. The company steered off the cliff this week with an official declaration of bankruptcy in The Netherlands.
Apropos transportation, Tesla announced that the first Cybertruck finally rolled off the manufacturing lines, years after it was promised. Tesla also announced one of the wilder things I’ve heard in a hot minute — as someone who has been driving a FSD Tesla for a while, and turned the functionality off because I kept fearing for my life, it brought a proper belly laugh to learn that Tesla is planning to license its FSD tech to other OEMs soon. It’ll be interesting to see what happens on both of those fronts, especially as the competition responds. Ford slashed its F-150 Lightning EV pickup prices, and the manufacturer goes heavy on the gas with its hands-off driving, as it releases BlueCruise 1.3.
When payday goes negative: It seems like Tesla’s director-level pay was a little excessive there for a moment, and they pay $735 million to settle claims they overpaid themselves.
Sure, it’s the humans: I rarely go for a drive without muttering under my breath about drivers doing spectacularly dumb things, but Cruise and Waymo blaming humans and their bad driving skills for robotaxi permit delays seems a bit rich. That people are bad drivers ought to be the No. 1 most predictable thing ever, no? The safety regulators got their feathers in a tizzy over the company’s ad, saying it was in poor taste to use accidents by human drivers as a sales tactic.
Wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t catch fire, tho?: Rebecca reports that NYC gig workers need help accessing safe e-bikes amid lithium battery fires.
Big trends in startup land
Startup layoffs have been in our headlines most of the year. Our Equity podcast mused that the tech startups might just be in the pruning phase at the moment.
Fundraising has gone up and down a bit over the past year, but one thing that has been the overarching theme is whether startups are able to get into profitability — or have a clear path to getting there, at least. That led Alex to analyze on TC+ whether software startups are actually good businesses.
Speaking of good businesses — it’s pretty universally understood that “Shark Tank” is entertainment and that there’s a round of due diligence that happens after the cameras stop rolling. But Manish reports that “Shark Tank India” investors fall short on pledges, which is grumpificating (yes, that’s definitely a word) some participants of the show.
TechCrunch+ spoke to a founder who decided to replace himself as CEO. It was a wonderfully frank and vulnerable conversation. You should read it. Although I’m biased — I wrote the piece — it’s a story that’s rarely told about startups, and yet it’s remarkably common.
There’s been some fun exits in the past week. Here’s a smattering of ’em.
A fast exit: Amanda reports that Passes acquired Fanhouse, after what appears to have been about 24 hours’ worth of negotiations, but some creators are apprehensive about the move.
Milking it: Christine reports that infant formula company Bobbie raised $70 million, spending a chunk of the money to acquire its competitor Nature’s One.
Milking it some more: It’s not often that a venture capital firm gets to back a startup again after it has exited — especially one that is still a private company; however, that’s what happened with Performance Livestock Analytics (PLA) this week.
Top reads on TechCrunch this week
Pew, pew, pew: Aria met the 19-year-old MIT dropout who’s working on “replacing gunpowder” for the defense industry.
Not a fan, then: Amanda reports that after about two and a half years as CEO, Ami Gan is leaving OnlyFans. Chief strategy and operations officer Keily Blair will take over as CEO.
I wix you would just build me a website already: Kyle writes that Wix’s AI Site Generator tool, announced today, will let users describe their intent and generate a website complete with a homepage, inner pages, and text and images — as well as business-specific sections for events, bookings and more.
And finally, I tried to buy an article on TechCrunch. I know, I write for TechCrunch, so that was a pretty weird thing to do, but I spent $800 on baiting some scammers. What I didn’t expect was to stumble into a Fiverr-powered rat’s nest of organized crime and scoundrels impersonating my colleagues.
Get your TechCrunch fix IRL. Join us at Disrupt 2023 in San Francisco this September to immerse yourself in all things startup. From headline interviews to intimate roundtables to a jam-packed startup expo floor, there’s something for everyone at Disrupt. Save up to $600 when you buy your pass now through August 11, and save 15% on top of that with promo code STARTUPS. Learn more.