Hello and welcome to Last Week In Venture, the weekly roundup of venture deals inked with interesting companies you may have missed.
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It’s easy to overlook what companies outside the spotlight are contributing to startup ecosystems around the world. But that doesn’t mean their stories aren’t worth sharing.
Let’s dive in!
Market Hot Spot: Digital Media
A cluster of digital media deals bubbled up this week, which might come as a surprise to some. Venture-backed upstart news sites like The Outline and Tech In Asia are laying off writers while platforms like Facebook and Apple News put the squeeze on ad revenue for even the biggest publishers.
Nevertheless, investors committed capital to a number of digital media deals announced this week:
- The Infatuation, a side project between two musicians who just wanted a better way to recommend bars to friends, grew big enough to acquire restaurant site Zagat from Google in March. It raised $30 million in venture funding from WndrCo LLC, a tech and media holding company founded by former Disney and DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.
- Los Angeles-based ATTN produces snack-sized video infotainment targeted at younger audiences. Interestingly, ATTN’s main distribution channels are Facebook-owned platforms, including Instagram TV and the Facebook Watch streaming service. (Contrast this against all the content publishers focused on Youtube, a platform owned by Google.) ATTN’s flagship shows include a current events broadcast hosted by former Vice President Joe Biden and a food documentary series featuring Zooey Deschanel. ATTN raised $15 million in a Series C round led by Evolution Media, a media investment group co-founded by TPG Growth.
- Jellysmack, formerly known as Keli Network, is another video production company. According to Business Insider, the company “makes hit videos […] by digging through comments, reviews, and tweets to find out what trends people are talking about and then turns them into series.” The company’s videos generate 2.5 billion views per month across 170 million monthly users of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. (That’s up from 1 billion monthly views in August 2017.) Jellysmack raised $14 million in a Series A round led by Highland Europe. Partech, Interplay Ventures, and OneRagtime participated in the deal. Alongside the funding, the company announced that it hired media executives from Mashable and Red Bull to help with original content production, according to video news site Tubefilter.
- Last but not least, although it is not a venture funding round, we wanted to mention a $20 million grant given to The Markup, a nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom which, according to its website, is “a new publication illuminating the societal harms of emerging technologies.” Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Knight Foundation all contributed to the upstart publication, which is also taking donations from the public through its website. Given the biggest tech companies—public and private—are increasingly drawing criticism for privacy violations, misuse of personal information, raising rents, intensifying traffic, and making us sad and lonely, there’s gonna be a lot of muck to rake through.
Other Deals In Interesting Sectors
- Dutchie, a Bend, OR-based ordering platform for cannabis pickup and delivery rolled up $3 million in green to take root in Canada and other federally legal international markets. The round was led by Casa Verde Capital, a cannabis-focused venture fund co-founded by Calvin Broadus Jr., better known as Snoop Dogg. No word yet on whether Dutchie includes snack options for satiating future munchies.
- Quantum accelerator company Bleximo raised $1.5 million in a seed round led by Eniac Ventures. KEC Ventures, Creative Ventures, Boost VC, and Gyan Kapur participated. Unlike quantum computing concerns like Rigetti, D-Wave, and IBM, Bleximo is instead focused on building quantum co-processors that can operate alongside classical computers to accelerate progress in quantitatively-intense problem spaces, like molecular dynamics modeling in drug discovery.
- Austin, TX-based Hitch (which is in the middle of re-branding from Krew) raised a modest $223,100 in seed funding to build a business around a ride-sharing marketplace for inter-city travel. Hitch hopes to eventually connect budget-conscious travelers who needs to hop between cities to someone who’s driving their own car there. The Krew website says rides from Austin to Houston are $35, and that the company has facilitated over 1,000 rides to date. To be sure, Hitch faces the challenging of building up two sides of a marketplace business: the inter-city drivers on one side, and the riders on the other. This proved difficult for a little company called Zimride, which was founded back in 2007 as a way to connect college kids with rides back home. Zimride eventually gave up on inter-city travel, pivoted to local ride-hailing, and rebranded to Lyft. The rest is history.
And for those of you who made it to the end, a lagniappe: a little quacker having a swim. Have a ducking great weekend! 🦆