All posts in “Podcasts”

Crypto’s second bubble, Juul has 60 days and three Chinese IPOs

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

After a long run of having guests climb aboard each week, we took a pause on that front, bringing together three of our regular hosts instead: Connie Loizos, Danny Chrichton, and myself.

Despite the fact that there were just three of us instead of the usual four, we got through a mountain of stuff. Which was good as it was a surprisingly busy week, and we didn’t want to leave too much behind.

Up top we dug into the latest in the land of crypto, which Danny had politely summarized for us in an article. The gist of his argument is that the analogies relating crypto as an industry to the Internet may work, but most people have their timelines wrong: Crypto isn’t like the Internet in the 90s, perhaps. More like the 80s.

On the same topic, crypto companies formed a team lobbying effort, and a high-flying crypto fund is struggling to once again post strong profit figures.

Moving along, Juul is back in the news. Not, however, for raising more money or posting quick growth. Well, sort of the latter, as the government is after it. The Food and Drug Administration has put Juul on a countdown to get its act together regarding teens and smoking. That the financially-impressive unicorn is in as much trouble as it is nearly surprising.

Finally, we ran through the three most recent Chinese IPOs that hit our radar. Here they are:

  • Meituan Dianping: The Tencent-backed group buying, delivery, and everything company raised over $4 billion in its debut, which was impressive, but also short of expectations. The firm won’t begin trading until the 20th, but it’s one more massive deal that got done in 2018.
  • 111: We spent a minute on the show discussing what counts as a technology company thanks to 111. We voted that the Chinese online-to-offline pharmacy startup did in fact count. So, it’s in our list. Some notes on its debut can be found here.
  • NIO: Finally on our list was NIO, a Chinese electric car company with, as we have discussed on Equity before, a shockingly short history of revenue generation. Whether the company is a gamble or not, it did raise $1 billion in its own offering. And its stock is off like a rocket to boot.

And that was the end of things. Thanks for sticking with us, as always. Speaking of which, our 100th episode is coming up. Who should we bring onto the show to celebrate?

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Twitter’s livestreaming video app Periscope launches audio-only broadcasts

The rise of the podcast: Twitter rolls out audio-only feeds for its livestreaming video app, Periscope.
The rise of the podcast: Twitter rolls out audio-only feeds for its livestreaming video app, Periscope.

Image: Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Periscope, Twitter’s livestreaming video app, rolled out a brand new feature today that brings a new type of broadcast to the platform.

When updating Periscope to the latest version, the livestreaming video app now allows users to create audio-only broadcasts. The latest version description reads:

Ever want to just talk with your audience on Periscope? In this update you can go live with audio only, so your viewers can hear (but not see) you. To try out an audio-only broadcast, tap on the new microphone icon on the broadcast setup screen. You can select this option before you start your broadcast, or at any time while you’re live!

In a blog post, Twitter engineer Richard Plom went a bit further into how audio-only broadcasts came to be. According to Plom, Perscope users have long requested the feature and had previously created their own ad hoc workaround by covering the camera lense of the phone when broadcasting. During #HackWeek at Twitter, the development team got together and made this happen in one work week.

With this update, anyone can login to Periscope and stream and audio-only broadcast to their audience while still taking advantage of Periscope’s hearts, chatroom, and other interactive features. In place of video, the app creates an animated audiowave visual that renders to match the audio being broadcast by the streamer.

While not quite podcasting in its method of distribution, Periscope’s addition of an audio-only broadcasting feature due to user demand shows just how popular online audio shows and series’ continue to become.

Even as technology continues to improve which allows for even higher quality video uploads and livestreams, a growing audience of internet users prefer to strip away those visual features and just consume content as a podcast.

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Skype will soon let you record your calls

Get ready, podcasters. Skype will let you record your calls soon. 

It’s been almost 15 years since Skype, the over-the-internet audio call and video chat app, first launched. Since then, it’s been acquired by eBay for $2.5 billion, then Microsoft for $8.5 billion. Skype is also now available on a multitude of desktop and mobile operating systems.

But somehow, through all these years, Skype has been missing a basic feature: call recording. Users have constantly sought out workarounds after their requests for this feature to be baked into the software have seemingly gone ignored. But now, for the first time, Skype’s finally getting a built-in recording feature.

In a blog update Monday, Microsoft’s Skype team detailed the latest version of the app and announced they’ll soon be launching a completely cloud-based recording option built right into Skype itself. Once choosing to record the call, any audio, video, and shared screens will be picked up by the Skype recording feature. Everyone on the call will be informed that the call is being recorded. When the recording is completed, it will be available via a single downloadable file from Skype.

From the Skype blog:

Call recording—Take call snapshots to the next level with call recording. Capture a special Skype calls with loved ones or record important meetings with colleagues. Call recording is completely cloud-based, and as soon as you start recording, everyone in the call is notified that the call is being recorded—so there are no surprises. Call recordings combine everyone’s video as well as any screens shared during the call.

Skype’s built-in call recording may be late, but late is better than never as everyone looks to get into the podcasting game. The lack of an out of the box solution in Skype may have been a barrier to those new podcasters.

Despite its lack of a built-in recording option, Skype has remained popular with podcasters and reporters thanks to its ease of use, freemium model (Skype to Skype calls are 100% free), and broad adoption over the many years it’s been around. A simple Google search shows that since the rise of the podcast, Skype has been the recommended go-to service when podcast hosts are looking to interview their remote guests. Many of these content creators used third-party applications to get around the missing feature. Third-party Skype recording applications like the Mac app Ecamm Call Recorder for Skype and the Windows app Evaer have become very popular. These apps have successfully managed to fill a glaring hole where an obvious feature should be, but issues have risen whenever Microsoft would push out a Skype update.

Back in April, Microsoft began rolling out Skype for Content Creators, which for the first time gave Skype users an official avenue to record and publicly stream their audio calls and video interviews. Using the “Content Creators” mode, users are able to connect third-party software, like Wirecast, to record or stream the audio/visual Skype output directly. However, the Skype for Content Creators feature has yet to launch for most users and still requires additional software in order to function.

While Skype’s embrace of call recording is very much a welcome development, newer services like Discord, which already have built-in recording options, have been pulling in content creators looking for an easier way to record. 

Even with Skype’s newly announced recording option, some content creators won’t be wooed by cloud recording. Call recording services like Zencastr have been appealing to the podcasting market thanks to its local recording feature. That means that each person on the call records their end of the conversation right on their computer. Zencastr then automatically uploads the guest(s) feed directly to Dropbox so the podcast host has access to each recording. This provides the podcast producer with more control over the mix of the episode, as each caller is on their own separate track. Additionally, with local recording, any issues related to the quality of the call due to a bad internet connection are minimized.

In a statement to Mashable, a Skype spokesperson confirmed that Skype’s built-in call recorder will output a simple cloud-based recording, with all audio and video as a single file. It was also confirmed that even with Skype for Content Creators, the audio coming in from Skype is mixed.

Mashable has reached out to Microsoft for additional comment regarding consent to being recorded using Skype’s upcoming built-in call recorder. We’ll update when we hear back.

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Twitter buys a startup to battle harassment, e-cigs are booming, and a meditation app is worth $250M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley Editor Connie Loizos and I jammed out on a couple topics as Alex Wilhelm was out managing his fake stock game spreadsheets or something. (The jury is out on whether this was a good or bad thing.)

First up is Twitter buying Smyte, a startup targeting fixes for spam and abuse. This is, of course, Twitter’s perennial problem and it’s one that it’s been trying to fix for some time — but definitely not there yet. The deal terms weren’t disclosed, but Twitter to its credit has seen its stock basically double this year (and almost triple in the past few years). Twitter is going into a big year, with the U.S. midterm elections, the 2018 World Cup, and the Sacramento Kings probably finding some way to screw up in the NBA draft. This’ll be a close one to watch over the next few months as we get closer to the finals for the World Cup and the elections. Twitter is trying to bill itself as a home for news, focusing on live video, and a number of other things.

Then we have Juul Labs, an e-cigarette company that is somehow worth $10 billion. The Information reports that the PAX Labs spinout from 2015 has gone from a $250 million valuation all the way to $10 billion faster than you can name each scooter company that’s raising a new $200 million round from Sequoia that will have already been completed by the time you finish this sentence. Obviously the original cigarette industry was a complicated one circa the 20th century, so this one will be an interesting one to play out over the next few years.

Finally, we have meditation app Calm raising a $27 million round at a $250 million pre-money valuation. Calm isn’t the only mental health-focused startup that’s starting to pick up some momentum, but it’s one that’s a long time coming. I remember stumbling upon Calm.com back in 2012, where you’d just chill out on the website for a minute or so, so it’s fun to see a half-decade or so later that these apps are showing off some impressive numbers.

That’s all for this week, we’ll catch you guys next week. We apologize in advance if Alex makes it back on to the podcast.

Equity  drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

Scout.fm turns podcasts into personalized talk radio

Scout.fm wants to change the way people listen to podcasts. Instead of scouring through the over 500,000 shows in your current podcast app, this startup’s new curated podcast service will just ask you a few questions to find out what you like, then create a podcast station customized to you. The experience is primarily designed for use on smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo devices, but is also available as iOS and Android applications.

The company was founded just over a year ago by Cara Meverden (CEO), previously of Google, Twitter, Indiegogo, and Medium; along with Saul Carlin (president and COO), previously head of publisher development at Medium, and before that, Politico; and Daniel McCartney, (CTO) previously an engineer at GrubHub, Klout and Medium.

At Medium, Meverden explains, they saw an explosion of people creating great written content; but now those publishers had begun to create great audio content, as well.

But unlike on Medium, which helps to guide readers to topics they like, people today have to seek out new podcasts for themselves. Scout.fm wants to offer a better system, and hopefully bring more listeners to podcasts as a result.

“We want to take podcast listening mainstream,” she says. “We think the key to that is making podcasts as easy to listen to as the radio – and we think that’s even more critically important, as we enter the smart speaker era.” 

The Scout.fm service began as a series of experiments on Alexa.

The company launched over 30 Alexa skills, including a “Game of Thones”-themed podcast radio that was popular while the show was airing on HBO. The goal was to test what worked, what topics and formats drew listeners, and gain feedback through calls-to-action to participate in user surveys.

The result is Scout.fm, a curated podcast service that’s personalized to your listening preferences – and one that improves over time.

Here’s how it works on the Alexa platform. You first launch the app by saying “Alexa, open Scout fm.” The app will respond (using a human voice actor’s voice, not Alexa’s) by explaining briefly what Scout.fm does then asks you to choose one of three types of talk radio stations: “Daily news, brain food, or true stories.”

The first is a news station, similar to Alexa’s “Flash Briefing;” the second, “brain food,” focuses on other interesting and informative content, that’s not day-to-day news; and the last is a true crime podcast station.

The voice app will then ask you a few more questions as part of this setup process to find out what other subjects appeal to you by having you respond, on a scale of one to ten, how much of a history buff you are, or how much you’re interested in culture, like art, film and literature, for example.

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On subsequent launches, the app will simply ask if you want to return to your “Brain Food” (or other selected) station. If you say no, you can try one of the other options.

However, once the setup process is over, the experience becomes very much like listening to talk radio.

A podcast will begin playing – Scout.fm favors those without ads at the very beginning – allowing you to listen as long as you’d like, or say “next” to move to the next one. Each new podcast episodes has a brief, spoken introduction that Scout.fm handwrites, so you know what’s coming up. Your listening can go on for hours, offering you a hands-free means of switching podcasts and discovering new favorites.

The app will also adjust to your preferences over time, removing those you tend to skip – much like how the thumbs down works on Pandora.

Scout.fm doesn’t include every podcast that’s out there. Instead, it’s a curated selection of a few hundred with high production values, narrative storytelling and tight editing.

“So if we listen to something and the two co-hosts kind of go on for half an hour at the beginning, that’s not a great podcast for this format,” Meverden says. “We want shows where they’re going to get right into it. That right away limits things, but there’s still an abundance of content.”

For example, some of the podcasts Scout.fm includes come from The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, ESPN, and podcast networks like Gimlet, Wondery, Parcast and others.

The same curated selection of podcasts is also available in Scout.fm’s mobile apps for iOS and Android, which work with the voice assistant on the phone. (For example, you can tap your AirPods to wake Siri then say “Next” to move between podcasts.)

“If you’re jogging, our apps are an excellent companion because you don’t have to go back to your phone and try to find a new thing to listen to,” notes Meverden.

Since Scout.fm’s launch, it has accrued 1.5 million minutes listened across its network of experimental apps ahead of today’s public debut. The Alexa user base listened for twice as long as mobile users.

Currently, the service is not generating revenue, but, in the future, the team envisions call-to-action ads that could work with the Alexa app to share more information about the products, as well as ways it could utilize the newer in-app purchase mechanisms for Alexa skills.

The company is backed by $1.4M in seed funding from Bloomberg Beta, Precursor Ventures, Advancit and #Angels.

“The Scout team’s unique insight is that podcasts, no matter how good, won’t go mainstream until it is much simpler for consumers to find and listen to the content that’s right for them,” said Charles Hudson, managing partner at Precursor Ventures, in a statement about the investment. “The fast adoption of smart speakers changes this. We can open up podcasts to an entirely new audience,” he said.

Scout.fm is available on Alexa, iOS and Android.