Startups Weekly: Clash of the AI titans, and Europe is firing on all cylinders

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

Hold on to your Apple Watches, folks! At WWDC 2024, Apple finally decided to give Siri a brain transplant with something they’re calling “Apple Intelligence” (AI—get it?). Apparently, it’s so smart it’ll know more about your life than you do. Tim Cook promises it’ll be all about privacy and personal context — so intimate even your diary might feel neglected. And guess what? Siri’s makeover means we get Genmoji (yes, that’s real), because I just know you’ve been aching for an AI to craft your emojis. Also on the menu: typing queries into Siri like it’s 2010 again and a “Private Cloud Compute,” which sounds like techie speak for “We’re still spying on you but in a nicer way.” Look out for this new wave of iMagic rolling out soon! Here’s everything that was announced at WWDC!

Not everyone is psyched about the announcements, though: In the newest episode of “Tech Titans Throw Tantrums” this week, Elon Musk threatens to ban iPhones from Tesla, SpaceX, and xAI over Apple’s new ChatGPT integration. I guess that in Elon’s world, “cutting-edge innovation” is synonymous with banning the world’s most popular smartphone over an AI assistant feature that asks for permission before doing anything. Is Tim Cook quaking in his boots or just rolling his eyes? Answers on a postcard, plz.

Trend of the week: Circling the drain

In today’s episode of “The Mighty: How They Have Fallen,” we bring you the tragic tale of Byju’s, once a $22 billion edtech darling, now worth zero in BlackRock’s eyes. After missing financial targets, dealing with resignations faster than you can say “governance issues,” and getting publicly roasted by investors, Byju’s has become a cautionary tale for startups everywhere.

Now hold on to your cap tables, folks! Once the darling of Silicon Valley with dreams of becoming the ultimate stock trading overlord, Carta faces a valuation nosedive from $8.5 billion to a mere $2 billion — if they’re lucky. After getting caught red-handed misusing customer data and retreating from their secondary trading venture faster than you can say “PR disaster,” it’s clear that not all that glitters in startup land is gold. With lawsuits, toxic culture claims, and clients fleeing for bigger banks, it seems Carta’s high-flying days are grounded for good. Investors like Andreessen Horowitz must be thrilled …

More bad news:

  • Leaky snowflake: Buckle up, folks! Snowflake’s latest PR nightmare is here. Despite their claims of invincibility, they’ve been hit by a flurry of data breaches involving big names like Ticketmaster and LendingTree. The culprit? A former employee’s demo account with laughable security. Mandiant has revealed that hackers made off with a boatload of data from Snowflake customers.
  • Hard times for Apple third-party devs: Apple’s WWDC 2024 — where innovation meets imitation! Brace yourselves, third-party app developers, because Apple has once again “sherlocked” your favorite tools. Apple’s basically saying to these devs: “Thanks for the idea; we’ll take it from here.”
  • HR-rrrgh: Rippling, the HR startup, apparently has a “no soup for you” policy when it comes to former employees now working at competitors like Deel and Workday. Despite investor demand reaching over $2 billion (cue money bags), Rippling is playing gatekeeper with its massive tender offer, allowing only non-competitor ex-employees to cash in on their stock.
Snowflake's company logo at a conference in Barcelona
Image Credits: Joan Cros / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Most interesting fundraises this week

Welcome to the 2024 startup funding circus, where Y Combinator companies are performing a daring new act — raising tiny seed rounds with sky-high valuations and no lead investors. Angels are swooping in like hungry pigeons, leaving institutional investors scratching their heads and clutching their wallets. Will this high-wire act pay off or will it leave startups dangling without a safety net? Grab your popcorn; this version of the show is just getting started!

Damn, the Paris-based AI startup Mistral AI just snagged a whopping $640 million in its Series B funding. With General Catalyst leading the charge, this fresh-faced contender in the AI arena is now valued at a cool $6 billion. Co-founded by ex-Meta and DeepMind brainiacs, Mistral aims to take on big shots like OpenAI with their own shiny models and open source goodies. But don’t get too cozy; their top-tier models are locked tighter than Banque de France unless you’ve got an API pass.

  • Beh, sono tanti soldi: Italy’s startup scene is getting a caffeine boost with the new Italian Founders Fund (IFF) throwing €50 million into the ring. Aiming to close Italy’s startup funding gap, IFF plans to sprinkle its cash among 25 companies, making it rain on early-stage founders, tourist-in-Rome-without-Google-Maps-style.
  • Naysayers, eat crow: Urvashi Barooah was told she had a better chance of finding Bigfoot than breaking into venture capital. Rejected from every MBA program and scoffed at for her ambitions, she decided the haters were just free motivational speakers: She’s now a partner at Redpoint Ventures, handling their $650 million ninth fund.
  • Cash-ching: Meet Fizz, the debit card that’s here to save Gen Z from their credit-averse ways. Turns out, traditional banks just aren’t cutting it for the TikTok generation. Two Harvard and Cornell dropouts decided that building a financial empire was more appealing than finishing college. Who needs diplomas when you’ve got $14.4 million in seed funding led by Kleiner Perkins?
venture capital, VC, startups, Redpoint
Urvashi Barooah is Redpoint’s newest partner and will be focused on early stage.
Image Credits: Redpoint

Other unmissable TechCrunch stories…

Welcome to the world where cats finally get the VIP treatment they deserve — Meowtel has clawed its way to profitability, despite dog-obsessed VCs turning up their noses. Founder Sonya Petcavich, inspired by her own feline guilt trip, took $100,000 and a dream to create an elite cat-sitting service. With 2,200 sitters and over 95,000 successful sits under its belt (or should we say collar?), Meowtel is proving that cats aren’t just second-class pets.

Moar? Moar!

  • Rivian beats a path to a less gloomy future: Rivian’s roller-coaster ride through the EV landscape just got a lot less nausea-inducing. After juggling electric pickups, SUVs, delivery vans for Amazon, and even an ambitious IPO, Rivian has finally streamlined its chaotic existence. But grab your popcorn; the EV saga is far from over.
  • Raspberry Pi goes to LSE: Who would have guessed that the humble Raspberry Pi, beloved by tinkerers and hobbyists for making cheap, tiny computers, would grow up to ring the bell at the London Stock Exchange? With the company now valued at a modest £542 million (or $690 million if you prefer your numbers in dollars), their shares took an immediate 32% leap, because apparently everyone loves a good underdog story.
  • BeDollars: BeReal, the app that convinced 40 million people to share their mundane lives without filters, just got a €500 million lifeline from Voodoo. Apparently, keeping it real wasn’t paying the bills.
  • Smartphone meets dumbphone: Tired of your iPhone’s ever-increasing IQ making you feel like the village idiot? Enter Light Phone III, the phone that strips down your digital life to its minimalist core. With a shiny new OLED screen and absolutely zero social media apps, it’s perfect for those who enjoy living in tech denial.
  • To infinity … and back!: Hold on to your space helmets: SpaceX just pulled off the rocket equivalent of a triple axel with its latest Starship launch. Not only did they send this mammoth contraption skyward, but they also managed to bring both the booster and upper stage back. Musk’s team even threw in some heat-shield shenanigans for good measure, proving once again that rocket science isn’t rocket science …

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