Apple reportedly mulls acquisition of podcast network Wondery

Apple recently held acquisition talks with podcast producer Wondery, which is looking to sell itself for between $300 million and $400 million, according to a report Friday.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports Apple, Sony and two unnamed companies are in discussions to buy Wondery, producer of podcasts like “Bunga Bunga” and “Dr. Death.” Talks are ongoing, but the podcaster is looking to seal a deal in the coming months.

According to podcast monitoring firm Podtrac, Wondery’s network draws some eight million listeners a month. The producer holds rights to a slate of content that can be remodeled for mainstream media platforms, and is already using its podcast lineup to develop more than a dozen TV shows, the report said.

The firm also has ties to Apple, with one podcast, “WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork,” being adapted for Apple TV+.

Music streaming leader Spotify, which is making an aggressive push into podcasting, is reportedly not interested in placing a bid.

The talks come amid a concerted effort from Apple to build out its podcast offerings, including a rumored stable of original podcasts. In May, reports indicated that the tech giant was looking to hire a content executive to develop audio spinoffs of Apple TV+ shows and original podcasts that could later be adapted to the subscription video service.

Apple has made podcast related acquisitions in the past, including podcast search engine creator Pop Up Archive and, more recently, content curation specialist Scout FM. It is also said to be on the hunt for exclusive rights to existing podcasts.

Apple was a major force in establishing podcasting more than a decade ago (the term is derived from audio content made for consumption on iPod). After leaving the platform to grow organically, the iPhone maker in recent months has showed a renewed interest in the medium and is consistently updating its Podcasts app with new features.

VC and former politician Steve Westly is feeling electrified right now; here’s why

A former controller and CFO of the state of California, Steve Westly is passionate about government. The onetime eBay exec and early Tesla board member has also been a proponent of clean energy for roughly 30 years, so he’s feeling optimistic right now, with former U.S. VP Joe Biden amassing a growing number of electoral votes and widening his leading Donald Trump as he inches toward an election win.

We talked earlier today with Westly, who founded the venture firm The Westly Group 13 years ago and which is currently raising up to $250 million for a fourth fund, according to SEC paperwork filed earlier this week. We wanted to know whether he thinks Biden will be able to achieve any part of his climate plan in the likely scenario that Republicans continue to control the Senate. We also wondered what he makes of VCs leaving California, and where he sees the most opportunities right now. We kicked off our conversation with the news of the day. Our chat has been edited lightly for length.

TC: As we talk, Joe Biden looks to be on the cusp of winning the U.S. presidential election while Donald Trump continues to tweet about taking his claims about a rigged election to the Supreme Court. Are you concerned about that rhetoric, given that Republicans don’t seem to be pushing back against it?

SW: You have to be worried about such things, but I think most people are looking at the big picture. This is not going to be a 270 to 268 [electoral college] vote. Biden might get 290 to 306 [electoral votes]. It’s a decisive difference. He also received more than 4 million more [popular] votes than Trump. The people have spoken, and they’ve spoken loudly.

There are rules in most states that say if you aren’t within a percent or half a percent — i think [Biden has a] 1.6% [advantage] in Nevada and 1.4% [lead in] Arizona right now — there won’t be a recount. I think his lead in Pennsylvania will rise to 100,000, so the window [for a Trump win] is diminishing pretty quickly.

I am also seeing more Republican officials, like Senator Bob Toomey of Pennsylvania, saying that we count the votes, we follow the rules, what the president is doing is irresponsible, and it’s time to move on.

TC: You’re raising a fund that you’ve already told me you won’t talk about, citing SEC rules, but I’m wondering: has Westly Group’s mandate has changed over time? I remember when the firm was first formed that it was one of the only pure ‘cleantech’ venture firms, but it seems like it has broadened out a bit.

SW: Sustainable energy has become the new hot thing and it makes me laugh because I’ve been involved in energy for 30 years [including in government roles]. I wrote two books on the future of energy in the ‘80s, so I’ve been at this a bit.

Our thesis continues to be that there are revolutions occurring in smart energy, mobility and smart buildings, and they are being driven by renewable energy, which costs less than carbon-based fuels in virtually every part of the world today, from the U.S. to India to Africa. That’s not a political statement; it’s a fact.

Fully 70% of new energy coming online now is sustainable, so people are smart to pay attention to that. Because costs are going down and the cost of storage is going down precipitously — the cost of lithium ion batteries came down so much that we reached an inflection point in 2018, and the cost of a kilowatt per hour costs less than $150 now  — everybody is going electric.

Carmakers haven’t wanted to say this publicly because it freaks out shareholders, but we’re headed toward a world where the majority of energy will be sustainable in the near future and most of the cars will be electric and that will happen a lot faster than people think.

Buildings play a key role, too, because they’ve historically been dumb; now they’re digitized buildings with power storage, and soon every home, building, hospital, and university [will run off digitized energy] and you‘ll see arbitrage happening continuously between buildings, homes, and vehicles, where people won’t pay a penny for electricity or gasoline every again. A decade ago when I said this, people thought I was nuts, but now California requires that all newly constructed homes must have solar panels.

TC: With things moving more quickly in that direction, what does all this lost revenue mean for PG&E, the company that powers most of Northern California and whose infrastructure is already crumbling and causing wildfires?

They should follow the lead of smart utilities like Duke [a Westly Group investor] and European companies that are moving beyond traditional revenue streams to new revenue streams. Every utility today has a menu, and if yours only features electricity ions and gas molecules, that’s not a good menu. It’s like saying we have soup and meat, period. These companies should have a special menu for residential customers and a different menu for commercial and industrial customers and they should be thinking about installing power walls and putting solar on roofs; they should be thinking long-term contracts, like even financing electric vehicles.

TC: PG&E is in a bad spot, but California may be, too, as a lot of people leave the Bay Area, citing taxes, among other reasons. Are you worried about a broader movement out of the state and what it could mean?

SW: This is the big question of the next 10 years. California is about to face a wall of debt. We’ve gone from a surplus to what could be a $40 billion deficit in a very short period [because of COVID-19].

This year will be covered a little because there’s still an active IPO market [as capital gains are taxed the same as income, making the state heavily dependent on the stock market]. But there are 12.6 million Americans out of work, and a disproportionate number of them are in California, so likely a Democrat-controlled legislature will try and start to pass a series of taxes.

Prop 15 [which would have taxed properties based on their current market value rather than purchase price and would have increased property taxes on commercial properties] failed, so this will be an ongoing issue. Still, if we continue to raise taxes, we run the risk of losing entrepreneurs to other states. I know firsthand many friends who have moved to Austin. We need to have a balanced approach to managing out expenses without pushing people off to other states.

TC: Any bright ideas on that front?

SW: I was the CFO of California, and your option beside taxing more is spending less. Those are the choices.

Longer term, we need a major overhaul of the tax system so we aren’t aren’t so dependent on capital gains, which is a roller coaster system where when you hit a trough in the market, you have to go and lay off a bunch of teachers, then try to hire them back when the economy is better.

TC: It’s looking like Joe Biden is going to win the election, but there’s also a strong chance that he’ll be working with a Republican-controlled Senate. Meanwhile, climate change was not in the top five concerns for voters of either party. Does this can get kicked down the road again?

No, it just means they’ll have to work together and that he’ll have to go directly to the issues that are most popular to get them through.

Trump had no clue that sustainable energy is immensely popular today and that some of the states that used to block green initiatives — including Texas, North Dakota, and South Dakota — are increasingly becoming wind and solar powers, such that their senators who used to say, ‘natural gas forever’ are also saying that solar and wind are employing more and more people in their states.

What do you see as first steps?

SW: Biden will bring the U.S. back into the Paris climate agreement. You’ll also see him at the front of this global movement toward the electrification of everything, and there will be support for EVs and support for sustainable energy.

You’ll also see some sort of penalties or restrictions on carbon-based fuels because of the increased data we have that carbon in the atmosphere is causing public health problems, reducing air quality and that large insurance companies are having to pay for [these things]. Now that Munich Re and others say, ‘We pretty much know what the cost is, and we’re charging you back,’ the government can use that data to charge carbon producers appropriately.

TC: Traditional energy companies– the biggest carbon emitters — say they’ve resolved to address this problem. Do you think that’s mostly optics?

SW: A lot is optics, but it’s also a realization that you either change your business model or you go down with the ship. You don’t want to take the Kodak approach. You want to be Apple and reinvent yourself.

Extra Crunch roundup: B2B marketplaces, edtech M&A, breaking into the $1M ARR club

I’ve worked at TechCrunch for a little over a year, but this was one of the hardest weeks on the job so far.

Like many people, I’ve been distracted in recent days. As I write this, I have one eye on my keyboard and another on a TV that sporadically broadcasts election results from battleground states. Despite the background noise, I’m completely impressed with the TechCrunch staff; it takes a great deal of focus and energy to set aside the world’s top news story and concentrate on the work at hand.

Monday feels like a distant memory, so here’s an overview of top Extra Crunch stories from the last five days. These articles are only available to members, but you can use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one or two-year subscription. Details here.


B2B marketplaces will be the next billion-dollar e-commerce startups

Marketplaces created for B2B activity are surging in popularity. According to one report, transactions in these venues generated around $680 billion in 2018, but that figure is predicted to reach $3.6 trillion by 2024.

The COVID-19 pandemic is helping startups that innovate in areas like payments, financing, insurance and compliance.

Even so, according to Merritt Hummer, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures, “B2B marketplaces cannot simply remain stagnant, serving as simple transactional platforms.”

The startups that are first to market with innovative “adjacent services will emerge as winners in the next few years,” she advises.

Software companies are reporting a pretty good third quarter

For this morning’s edition of The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm interviewed three executives at cloud and SaaS companies to find out how well Q3 2020 has been treating them:

  • Ping CFO Raj Dani
  • JFrog CEO Shlomi Ben Haim
  • BigCommerce CEO Brent Bellm

As one Twitter commenter noted, Alex doesn’t just talk to the best-known tech execs; he reaches out to a wide range of people, and it shows in the quality of his reporting.

Will new SEC equity crowdfunding rules encourage more founders to pass the hat?

New Regulation Crowdfunding guidelines the SEC released this week allow companies to directly raise up to $5 million each year from individual investors, an increase from the previous limit of $1.07 million.

“Life has gotten easier in other ways as well for founders pursuing this fundraising type and the platforms that seek to simplify it,” reports Lucas Matney, who interviewed Wefunder CEO Nicholas Tommarello.

Funding for seed-stage startups slumped 32% last quarter compared to 2019, so “the tide could be turning” for founders who were reluctant to raise from a giant pool of small dollars, Lucas found.

3 tips for SaaS founders hoping to join the $1 million ARR club

Reaching scale is paramount for software companies, so growth is a top priority.

In a guest post for Extra Crunch, Drift CEO David Cancel explains that too many SaaS and cloud companies waste time trying out a number of solutions before finding the right recipe.

“I can tell you that there absolutely is a repeatable process to building a successful SaaS business,” he says, “one that can reliably guide you to product-market fit and then help you quickly scale.”

Implementing a data-driven approach to guarantee fair, equitable and transparent employee pay

Companies that hope to eliminate longstanding inequities in the workplace can’t just rely on doing what they think is right. Without a data-driven approach, subjective judgments and implicit bias tend to negate good intentions.

Many startups don’t hire full-time HR managers until they’ve reached scale, but this comprehensive post lays out several critical factors for creating — and maintaining — a fair pay model.

4 questions as Airbnb’s IPO looms

News broke this week that Airbnb plans to to raise approximately $3 billion in a public filing that would allow it to reach a valuation in the $30 billion range.

Our expert unicorn wrangler Alex Wilhelm says curious investors should ask themselves the following:

  • Will Airbnb be able to show a near-term path to profitability?
  • How high-quality is Airbnb’s revenue after the pandemic?
  • Is there anything lurking in its recent financings that public investors won’t like?
  • Will Airbnb be able to show year-over-year revenue gains?

Starling Bank founder Anne Boden says new book ‘isn’t a memoir’

“People at the end of their career write memoirs,” Starling Bank founder Anne Boden told TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear. “I’m at the beginning.”

In Boden’s new book, “Banking On It,” she shares the story of how (and why) she decided to found a challenger bank, eventually parting with colleagues who launched competitor Monzo.

“This is really putting down on paper where we are at the moment,” she said. “It’s been written over several years, and I’m hoping to use this to inspire a generation of entrepreneurs.”

Pandemic’s impact disproportionately reduced VC funding for female founders

Natasha Mascarenhas and Alex Wilhelm collaborated on Monday’s edition of The Exchange to report on how investors became less likely to fund female founders since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drawing on data from multiple sources, Alex and Natasha found that startups led by women and mixed-gender founding teams received 48% less VC funding in Q3 2020 than in Q2, even though overall funding bounced back.

“From fear in late Q1, to a middling Q2, to a boom in Q3,” they wrote. “It was an impressive comeback. For some.”

Booming edtech M&A activity brings consolidation to a fragmented sector

Natasha Mascarenhas has owned TechCrunch’s edtech beat since she came aboard at the start of 2020, just a few months before the pandemic led to widespread school closures.

She’s reported on countless funding rounds and interviewed founders and investors who are active in the space, but she recently spotted a new trend: “M&A activity is buzzier than usual.”

4 takeaways from fintech VC in Q3 2020

Alex Wilhelm shrugged off his Election Day distractions long enough to write a column that comprehensively examined fintech investment activity over the last quarter.

In Q3 2020, “60% of all capital raised by financial technology startups came from just 25 rounds worth $100 million or more,” he reports.

Are these mega-rounds funding “the next crop of unicorns?” It’s too early to say, but it’s clear that pandemic-fueled uncertainty is driving consumers into the arms of companies like Robinhood, Chime, Lemonade and Root.

In 1,316 words, Alex captures the state of play in insurtech, banking, wealth management and payments investing: “Now, we just want to see some ******* IPOs.”

New GV partner Terri Burns has a simple investment thesis: Gen Z

Five years ago, Terri Burns was a product manager at Twitter. Today, she’s the first Black woman — and the youngest person — to be promoted to partner at Google Ventures.

In a Q&A with Natasha Mascarenhas, Burns talked about her plans for the new role, as well as her investment thesis.

“I don’t know what it actually means to build a sustainable business and venture is a really great way to sort of learn that,” said Burns.

GV General Partner MG Siegler talks portfolio management and fundraising 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic

Are founders and investors really leaving Silicon Valley for greener pastures? Now that investors are limited to virtual interactions, are they being more hands-on with their portfolio companies?

In an Extra Crunch Live chat hosted by Darrell Etherington, GV General Partner MG Siegler talked about how the pandemic is — and is not — shaping the way he does business.

“I do feel like things are operating in a pretty streamlined manner, or as much as they can be at this point,” he said.

“But, you know, there’s always going to be some more wildcards — like we’re a week away, today, from the U.S. election.”

Thank you very much for reading Extra Crunch; I hope you have a great weekend.

Daily Crunch: Netflix tests a linear video channel

Netflix takes an old-fashioned approach for its latest feature, Amazon plans a new data center in India and we review the PlayStation 5. This is your Daily Crunch for November 6, 2020.

The big story: Netflix tests a linear video channel

Today in surprising product strategies: Netflix is testing a linear channel in France called Netflix Direct, according to Variety.

To be clear, it’s not a regular TV channel but rather something you access on Netflix’s website. But like a broadcast or cable channel, it ditches streaming’s on-demand side. Instead, you watch whatever movie or TV show is playing right now.

Netflix previously tested a Shuffle button, so apparently it’s very interested in exploring a viewer experience where you just turn the TV on and veg out. The service says it’s testing this in France because “many viewers like the idea of programming that doesn’t require them to choose what they are going to watch.”

The tech giants

Review: Sony’s PlayStation 5 is here, but next-generation gaming is still on its way — Devin Coldewey writes that the new generation of consoles is both a hard and an easy sell.

Amazon to invest $2.8 billion to build its second data center region in India — The investment will allow Amazon to launch an AWS Cloud region in Hyderabad by mid-2022.

Steve Bannon’s show pulled off Twitter and YouTube over calls for violence — Bannon had his show suspended from Twitter and an episode removed by YouTube after calling for violence against FBI director Christopher Wray and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Challenger bank Starling is out raising a new £200M funding round — Having raised £363 million to date, including a £100 million state-aid grant, Starling now boasts 1.9 million customers.

Chinese autonomous vehicle startup Pony.ai hits $5.3 billion valuation — The company has raised more than $1 billion since its founding, including $400 million from Toyota.

Provizio closes $6.2M seed round for its car safety platform using sensors and AI — The startup has a “five-dimensional” sensory platform that supposedly perceives, predicts and prevents car accidents in real time and beyond the line-of-sight.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Startups making meat alternatives are gaining traction worldwide — New partnerships with global chains like McDonald’s in Hong Kong, the launch of test kitchens in Israel and new financing rounds for startups in Sydney and Singapore point to abounding opportunities.

Software companies are reporting a pretty good third quarter — It’s great news for startups looking for capital heading into 2021.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Europe urges e-commerce platforms to share data in fight against coronavirus scams — The concern here is not only consumers being ripped off, but also the real risk of harm if people buy a product that does not actually protect them as claimed.

Elon Musk’s Tesla tequila will run you $250 a bottle — Sure, why not.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Lead times suggest Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro models are most popular

A check of iPhone pre-order lead times on Friday suggests that the iPhone 12 Pro models appear to be Apple’s most popular in 2020, according to Loup Ventures.

In a short note published Friday, Gene Munster and David Stokman assert that lead times for the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max have “essentially mirrored” the two 2020 iPhone models released in October.

“Importantly, we were not expecting changes to lead times this morning given supply for the two most recent iPhones is likely greater than the supply for the two iPhones that began pre-orders on Oct. 16th,” the duo wrote.

However, iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 mini delivery dates began slipping soon after pre-orders became available at 5 a.m. Pacific (8 a.m. Eastern).

Lead times for the larger 6.7-inch model clocked in around seven to 17 days depending on color, capacity, and carrier. As of Friday morning, the iPhone 12 mini consistently showed an original Nov. 13 delivery date for all sizes and models.

That essentially mirrors what occurred when pre-orders for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro went live three weeks prior. Depending on specific variant, the iPhone 12 Pro lead times slipped from seven to 10 days to one to two weeks. Lead times for the iPhone 12 consistently stuck with an initial Oct. 23 delivery date.

As a takeaway, Munster and Stokman suggest that the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max in Pacific Blue with 128GB of storage ranked as Apple’s most popular handset configurations thus far.

Based on the early data, Loup Ventures maintains its 2021 iPhone revenue growth estimate of 15%, and is still modeling an average selling price of $818 for the 2020 Apple lineup.

Loup Ventures cautions that connecting lead times to demand is “more art than science,” and Apple watchers still don’t have visibility into actual iPhone supply. Still, Munster and Stokman note that extended delivery dates have historically been a decent indicator of demand.

Startups making meat alternatives are gaining traction worldwide

Startups that produce lab-grown meat and meat substitutes are gaining traction and raising cash in global markets, mirroring a surge of support food tech companies are seeing in the United States.

New partnerships with global chains like McDonald’s in Hong Kong, the launch of test kitchens in Israel and new financing rounds for startups in Sydney and Singapore point to abounding opportunities in international markets for meat alternatives.

In Hong Kong, fresh off a $70 million round of funding, Green Monday Holdings’ OmniFoods business unit was tapped by McDonald’s to provide its spam substitute at locations across the city.

The limited-time menu items featuring OmniFoods’ pork alternatives show that the fast food chain remains willing to offer customers vegetarian and vegan sandwich options — so long as they live outside of the U.S. In its home market, McDonald’s has yet to make any real initiatives around bringing lab-grown meat or meat replacements to consumers.

Speaking of lab-grown meat, consumers in Tel Aviv will now be able to try chicken made from a lab at the new pop-up restaurant The Chicken, built in the old test kitchen of the lab-grown meat producer SuperMeat.

The upmarket restaurant doesn’t cost a thing: it’s free for customers who want to test the company’s blended chicken patties made with chicken meat cultivated from cells in a lab that are blended with soy, pea protein or whey, according to the company.

CVE-2020-15259

ad-ldap-connector’s admin panel before version 5.0.13 does not provide csrf protection, which when exploited may result in remote code execution or confidential data loss. CSRF exploits may occur if the user visits a malicious page containing CSRF payload on the same machine that has access to the ad-ldap-connector admin console via a browser. You may be affected if you use the admin console included with ad-ldap-connector versions <=5.0.12. If you do not have ad-ldap-connector admin console enabled or do not visit any other public URL while on the machine it is installed on, you are not affected. The issue is fixed in version 5.0.13.

CVE-2020-3603

Multiple vulnerabilities in Cisco Webex Network Recording Player for Windows and Cisco Webex Player for Windows could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code on an affected system. The vulnerabilities are due to insufficient validation of certain elements of a Webex recording that is stored in the Advanced Recording Format (ARF) or Webex Recording Format (WRF). An attacker could exploit these vulnerabilities by sending a user a malicious ARF or WRF file through a link or email attachment and persuading the user to open the file with the affected software on the local system. A successful exploit could allow the attacker to execute arbitrary code on the affected system with the privileges of the targeted user.

CVE-2020-3595

A vulnerability in Cisco SD-WAN Software could allow an authenticated, local attacker to elevate privileges to root group on the underlying operating system. The vulnerability is due to incorrect permissions being set when the affected command is executed. An attacker could exploit this vulnerability by executing the affected command on an affected system. A successful exploit could allow the attacker to gain root privileges.