Hey, folks. You’ve made it to the end of the week — congrats, by the way — and to Week in Review (WiR), TechCrunch’s regular newsletter covering the week that was in tech. Here, in this humble little column of ours, we do our best to curate the top stories that emerged over the past five days. Hope you find it useful.
Just a few PSAs before we get on with the news. On May 24, TechCrunch Live, TC’s podcast about founder stories, will host Romi Gubes, the co-founder of Sensi.AI, in a discussion about how the company uses audio-based software to monitor patients and assist medical staff and family members with care. (Register for it here — it’s free.)
Meanwhile, TechCrunch City Spotlight will go virtual on June 7 with a focus on Atlanta, where speakers will present about building businesses in the exploding metro and startups will apply to participate in TC’s famed Battlefield 200.
Last but not least, Disrupt, TC’s flagship conference, will return September (September 19–21) in San Francisco. Expect six stages of presenters, including a new AI-focused stage, and plenty of surprises. Learn more here.
Now, without further ado, on to the news.
Young billionaire buys Forbes: Austin Russell, the 28-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar, which develops vision-based lidar and machine perception technologies primarily for self-driving cars, told The Wall Street Journal this week that he’s buying an 82% stake in Forbes Global Media Holdings in a deal that values the company at nearly $800 million.
New Teslas on the way: Tesla CEO Elon Musk teased two new electric vehicles Tuesday at the automaker’s 2023 annual shareholder’s meeting. Tesla previously hinted at new models during its Investor Day in March, displaying a photo with the company’s entire lineup and several unveiled car outlines. One of the vehicles looked to be the size of a van, roughly, and the other similar in appearance to a sedan or hatchback. Both are expected to be more affordable vehicles that sell at far higher volumes.
Free TV, but with a catch: Telly, a hardware startup led by Pluto TV co-founder Ilya Pozin, announced Monday that it’s giving away 500,000 of its new smart TVs for free. (Yes, we said free.) There’s a catch, though. Users must watch 24/7 ads while simultaneously streaming TV shows and movies.
ChatGPT goes mobile: This week, OpenAI announced the launch of an official iOS app that lets users access its popular AI chatbot on the go — months after the App Store was filled with dubious, unofficial services. The new ChatGPT app will be free to use and free from ads and will allow for voice input, the company says, but will initially be limited to U.S. users at launch.
Holmes headed to prison: After years of high-profile court proceedings, Elizabeth Holmes could actually be headed to prison — for real this time. The former Theranos founder and CEO was found guilty of defrauding investors last January, but has consistently delayed and appealed her sentencing to remain out of incarceration. Though the infamous biotech entrepreneur is still appealing her 11-year sentence, a panel of Ninth Circuit judges ruled that Holmes’ legal team has not raised enough of a “substantial question” to keep her out of prison.
Kustomer leaves Meta, raises money: Meta’s grand experiment in building an enterprise-ready customer service platform has come to a close. The parent of Facebook has officially spun out Kustomer, the CRM startup it acquired last year for around $1 billion. The new entity is starting life with an infusion of $60 million from backers Battery, Redpoint and boldstart, plus a major chop into its previous valuation — it’s now reportedly at $250 million.
Lock and hide: WhatsApp announced today that it’s introducing a new “Chat Lock” feature designed to give users an additional layer of security for their most intimate conversations. As the name suggests, the feature lets you “lock” a chat, which takes that thread out of the inbox and puts it behind its own folder that can only be accessed with your device password or biometric, like a fingerprint.
Humanoid robots FTW: Vancouver, British Columbia–based Sanctuary AI this week unveiled Phoenix, its stab at the humanoid robot form factor. The bipedal bot stands 5’7″ and weighs 155 pounds — not dissimilar from the humans it plans to augment (or replace, depending on who you ask). The system is capable of lifting payloads up to 55 pounds and traveling up to three miles per hour. No word on pricing — yet.
Need listening material for the weekend? Not to worry — TechCrunch has you covered (and then some). This week on Equity, the crew covered Vice going bankrupt, Twitter’s first acquisition with Elon Musk at the helm and what the future of venture debt could look like. Found featured Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, the co-founder and CEO at Samooha, a startup creating key infrastructure needed for data collaboration. Over on Chain Reaction, Sergey Nazarov, co-founder of Chainlink, talked about Chainlink’s protocol that provides an oracle network to power smart contracts. The TechCrunch Podcast did a deep dive on Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom for the Nintendo Switch. And TechCrunch Live profiled Richard Song, one of the co-founders of Persona, which built and offers a large suite of identity verification solutions, alongside Persona investor and Index Ventures lead Mark Goldberg.
TC+ subscribers get access to in-depth commentary, analysis and surveys — which you know if you’re already a subscriber. If you’re not, consider signing up. Here are a few highlights from this week:
The new rules of venture debt: The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was not the end of venture debt, but it was likely the end of companies raising debt with the same ease many were accustomed to. Rebecca writes about the state of venture debt in the wake of SVB and then First Republic Bank’s collapse and how it might change in the future.
Alibaba, in the clouds: Chinese tech giant Alibaba is shaking up its corporate structure in a series of moves that will allow large pieces of its business to raise capital and potentially even go public. That may not be a bad idea, when you consider that the conglomerate’s revenue rose a middling 2% in Q1 2023 and its profitability is trending downward (operating income declined 9%) from a year earlier.
AI in retail, maturing: As the retail sector grows increasingly reliant and focused on data and AI, it’s essential that retailers understand exactly how first-party data analysis can be crystalized into insights on customer behavior — and, in turn, a tangible competitive advantage. Hugh Cameron, head of data for Zitcha, looks at the three most important milestones along the road to predictive analysis in the retail media context.
Calling all early-stage startups! Apply to join the Startup Battlefield 200 cohort at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023. All finalists get expert training, VC networking, a booth at Disrupt, and the chance to compete for $100,000 in equity-free funds. Applications close May 31. Apply today.