Startups Weekly: Drama at Techstars. Drama in AI. Drama everywhere.

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.

Well, folks, it looks like Techstars’ drama just got a new plot twist. CEO Maëlle Gavet is making her exit, leaving co-founder David Cohen to swoop back in and save the day — or at least try to. Gavet’s three-and-a-half-year tenure was a roller coaster of controversy, from employee exodus to shutting down accelerator programs faster than you can say “pivot.” Despite an $80 million deal with JPMorgan turning into a Titanic-level disaster and losing $7 million in 2023, she insists she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. As for Cohen? He’s excited about his return as CEO.

Most interesting startup stories from the week

Linktree just hit 50 million users, proving that everyone and their grandma now has a link-in-bio. From a humble 2.7 million in 2019 to this astronomical number, they’re basically the popular kid at school that everyone wants to sit with. Linktree is rolling out social commerce features so creators can slap storefronts on their pages and earn commissions from big brands like Adidas and Sephora. With over $300 million in monthly sales already flowing through those links, it’s clear they’re not messing around.

  • Humane looking for a home: Humane, the brainchild of ex-Apple execs and creator of the $700 Ai Pin that no one asked for, is now reportedly looking for a buyer. Apparently, it’s hoping to fetch between $750 million and $1 billion, just in case someone wants to add a wearable gadget that’s basically a smartphone with commitment issues to its product portfolio.
  • Sonos hugs your head: Sonos has finally answered your prayers and dropped their “most requested product ever.” No, it’s not a speaker that does your taxes — it’s the Ace headphones. For a cool $449, you can soon flaunt these over-ear beauties.
  • Coming soon to a roundabout near you: The U.K. has officially waved the checkered flag for “driverless cars” — that’s what they call self-driving over there. How quaint! Through the Automated Vehicles Act, you might find yourself sharing the road with robot cars by 2026.
Beats by Sonos, in the shape of the Sonos Ace headphones.
Image Credits: Sonos

Trend of the week: AI Drama

Looks like OpenAI’s latest chatbot, Sky, did its best Scarlett Johansson impression and got hella busted! The AI voice was flirting too closely with ScarJo’s iconic voice. OpenAI swears it wasn’t trying to re-create her sultry tones from “Her,” but the internet couldn’t help but notice the uncanny resemblance. CEO Sam Altman even tweeted “her” because, well, why wouldn’t you, really? Now that Johansson has lawyered up faster than you can say “deepfake,” OpenAI yanked Sky’s voice from its product, while the legal machinations are rumbling around to find a solution to this mess.

OpenAI, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be hurting all that much. ChatGPT’s mobile app just hit a revenue jackpot with the launch of GPT-4o. Despite promising free access on the web, OpenAI decided to nudge mobile users toward a $19.99 monthly subscription if they wanted in on the action. Plot twist: People are shelling out more than their Netflix subscriptions for it. In its first week alone, net revenue spiked by 22%, raking in up to $900,000 daily and totaling a whopping $4.2 million from May 13 to 17.

  • Don’t ScarJo, me, bro: Hollywood’s elite can now stash their digital doppelgängers in CAA’s high-tech “theCAAvault” like it’s a Fort Knox for AI clones.
  • The whitest sausage-fest in town: Despite years of complaints from women and people of color about being sidelined in the realm of AI, Meta apparently decided diversity is overrated. So, it assembled a team of business bros to guide its AI strategy. Cool, cool, cool.
  • Hit the road, jack: Expedia’s latest news reads like a soap opera script: CTO Rathi Murthy and SVP Sreenivas Rachamadugu have been unceremoniously kicked to the curb for breaking some mysterious company policy. The travel booking giant is keeping mum on the juicy details, citing confidentiality. Murthy was just touting new AI features days before her sudden exit — talk about bad timing!
A general view of atmosphere at launch of new Citi and Expedia travel credit cards on September 17, 2014 in New York
Expedia saw a sudden change as some senior staff was sent packing.
Image Credits: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Citi

Most interesting fundraises this week

Bonjour! In the latest episode of “How Much Money Can We Throw at AI,” French startup H just snagged a cool $220 million in seed funding. Yes, you read that right — seed funding. With a founding team that boasts more ex-Google DeepMind employees than a Silicon Valley reunion, H is aiming to revolutionize productivity with their “frontier action models.” Translation: They’re building robots to do our jobs better than we can. Remind me why I’m sitting here typing this newsletter with my actual literal fingers? What is this, the 1920s?

  • Hardware is less hard: Forget what you know about hardware engineering because Rollup is here. The startup has been lurking in the shadows for three years, quietly raising $5.6 million from big names like Andreessen Horowitz and Thiel Capital.
  • Many Layers: QuickBooks might be the daddy of accounting software, but it looks like there’s a new kid on the block: Layer. Fresh off a $2.3 million raise, this startup is promising to make accounting less painful for small and medium-sized businesses with its oh-so-fancy embedded features.
  • We don’t need no steeenking roads: Forget robotaxis stuck in city traffic — the latest craze is self-driving vehicles that laugh in the face of road maps. Overland AI and Potential are leading this off-road autonomy revolution, backed by VCs and Uncle Sam’s Defense Department.
An ATV autonomously drives itself in off-road environment
Image Credits: Overland AI

Other unmissable TechCrunch stories …

Welcome to the job market in 2023, where instead of flipping burgers, you could be programming a robot to do it for you. Brian compiled a list of 81 robotics companies that are hiring faster than you can say “artificial intelligence.” From humanoids that might steal your job (or make your coffee) to drones ensuring your Amazon packages arrive before you’ve even clicked “order,” there’s never been a more thrilling — or terrifying — time to dive into robotics. So go on, apply now and secure your place in the brave new world of mechanical overlords 🤖.

  • Mo money, mo passengers?: Buckle up, Minnesota! Uber and Lyft drivers are getting a raise thanks to a new state deal, but don’t get too comfortable in that backseat. Starting in 2025, drivers will make more money — rates that left Uber grumbling about higher costs.
  • Soz, kiddo, no bank for you: Teen fintech startup Copper Banking is having a rough week. Its banking and debit products are donezo thanks to Synapse’s epic implosion. The middleware provider crashed and burned into Chapter 11, then face-planted straight into Chapter 7 liquidation.
  • Won’t you be my friend: Bumble, the dating app that’s now feeling friend-zoned by the broader decline in its core market, has decided to swipe right on Geneva — a community-building platform. Apparently realizing that “Netflix and chill” doesn’t always translate to lifelong partnerships, Bumble aims to expand its focus from one-on-one connections to group hugs and friendship bracelets.
  • VinFast horror: In a tragic twist that sounds like it was ripped from the script of an automotive horror movie, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating an April crash where a VinFast VF 8 SUV decided to play “hug the oak tree” in California — resulting in the fiery death of a family of four.
  • Don’t worry, we have all your details already: Welcome to the digital age, where even your hotel check-in might star in a spyware drama! At least three Wyndham hotels in the U.S. have been caught red-handed with pcTattletale, a consumer-grade spyware app that’s been sneakily taking screenshots of guest details and customer info.

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