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Startups Weekly (Taylor’s Version)

December 11, 2021

Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

If you don’t understand this headline, let’s start with a quick history lesson.

Taylor Swift is rerecording all of her albums, but not in the name of nostalgia. Instead, Swift is taking on this much-anticipated project so that she can control her music instead of a separate music label. The first of her iconic albums came out this year, annotated with “(Taylor’s Version)” so longtime fans can stream music that benefits the star not the archival music owned by the label.

The startup lesson, baked within Swift’s bold move, is less of a leap than you’d think: 2021 reminded me of the power of self-advocacy and the importance of changing your mind.

In 2021, we saw employees begin to ask more from their employers. The Great Resignation was more than just a hiring nightmare, it was a concerted effort from employees to leave current jobs in pursuit of something more, less or balanced. Some even went the solo route, pursuing the glamor of the creator economy and betting on themselves. These individuals, like Swift, made me think about how to manage and scale influence as you mature in your career. Sometimes, that means rerecording all of your albums. Other times, it means speaking up about the gaslighting that happens in fundraising. 

Self-advocacy can often hinge on unlearning things you thought to be true. For Swift, she changed her mind on the role she wants to play in owning her music. In 2014, Swift turned to the WSJ to argue against streaming, piracy and file-sharing, saying that “music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.” In 2021, Swift turned her attention away from taking down Spotify and Apple Music, and instead focused on ownership as a channel to establish value.

This year, I changed my mind on a lot of stuff, from what constitutes an unconventional path to entrepreneurship to when it’s time to question the status quo (despite it being status quo). My job stayed the same — report on emerging fund managers and founders, and the contrarian decisions they make — but the way I executed looks differently. For example, I used to think asking founders about their competitors was a good litmus test for candidness, but now I ask the same folks for their most disagreeable belief on how to build — and it works far, far better.

The empowerment of the individual, and urge to Speak Now, has been a defining feeling of the year. For more on what I unlearned about startups this year, check out my TechCrunch+ column: “What I unlearned about startups this year.”

Before we jump into the rest of this newsletter, I want to pass on my condolences and prayers to anyone who knew Tyson Clark, a general partner at GV who passed away this week at the age of 43. Clark was one of the most prominent Black investors in the venture industry, with a respectful legacy that will clearly be missed by many.

For the rest of today, we’ll talk about diversity in money, climate versus crypto and the trucking creator economy. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @nmasc_ or on Instagram @natashathereporter. 

Diverse investor initiatives

Image Credits: Zane Venture FundWhen Shila Nieves Burney was doing first close for Zane Venture Fund, a venture capital firm she built to invest in diverse founding teams, she realized that she didn’t see any women by herself, and barely any people of color.

“This is a problem,” she said. “And I felt like that I could continue to raise like this, but I’m going to continue to make white men rich.” Today, the emerging fund manager announced the closing of a $1 million “diverse investor initiative” in which ZVF allocated 25 slots in its debut fund to LPs who identify as women and people of color. SEC filings show that Zane Venture Fund is seeking to raise up to $25 million for its debut fund,  so Burney’s carve-out plays a small yet empowering role in who benefits from the vehicle’s eventual returns.

Here’s what to know: While Burney explained that the broader fundraising environment for minority emerging managers “has slowed down tremendously” compared to earlier this year. It reminds her of when she was first fundraising in 2018, when LPs said that diversity was not a strategy nor differentiator. “I just keep on doing it as my thesis, and while that was the wave a year ago, it’s just cold right now … we’re finding our tribe of LPs.”

Money behind the money:

Sequoia dramatically revamps its fund structure as it looks to rethink venture capital model
Usage-based pricing is a company-wide effort
Breakout Ventures has a new, $112.5 million fund, backed by Tony Fadell, Chris Sacca, and others

If you’re not in crypto, you’re in climate

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Climate is shaping up to be the spotlight sector of 2022. Most recently, I scooped the launch of Climactic, a new firm built by former Lyft CSO and a Freestyle Capital co-founder. The duo is taking on the newly hot sector by focusing on companies that will help enterprises execute on their carbon emissions goals.

Here’s what to know: Kapoor admitted that Climactic expertise-specific climate knowledge is “light” compared to the “OG climate investors.” Entrepreneurs are largely asking Climactic for enterprise sales, marketing and pricing help; not nitty-gritty explanations on the bounds of cellular meat commercialization. The firm has employed a number of consultants who have been former head of sales and marketing at other companies, leading to cross-pollination between scientists in charge of revolutionary technology, and people who are less in the weeds.

Onto the next one:

How should we regulate DeFi?
Ledger to launch crypto debit card
Why the next big entrepreneur must come from climate tech
VC has a pivotal role to play in the climate fight, but it can’t do everything

And the startup of the week is…

Image Credits: Getty Images

TrueNorth! Built by Jin Stedge and Sanjaya Wijeratne, the early-stage startup raised $50 million this year to empower independent truckers to run their current businesses more efficiently. It helps with finding, booking and coordinating gigs, accepting payments and optimizing routes.

Here’s what to know: The business-in-a-box format may have gotten quieter in startup pitch land, but it’s still very much a viable strategy — especially in antiquated businesses. As I mentioned during the latest Equity, TrueNorth is giving me creator economy vibes (and is positioning itself to expand to many more, hopefully lucrative verticals).

Honorable mentions:

Andrew Chen of a16z on how startups get past a ‘cold start’ to survive, then thrive
Kenya’s fintech Kwara lands $4 Million in seed round from Breega, SoftBank to build neobank for credit unions
Deed raises $10M for its workplace giving platform
VCs eye investment in Polygon

TechCrunch Gift Guide 2021

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Gift Guide: The best non-business books for 2021 recommended by VCs
Gift Guide: The best business books for 2021 recommended by VCs
Gift Guide: Camping gear you won’t regret buying
Gift Guide: Give the gift of cannabis with these 9 high-tech smoking devices
Gift Guide: 15 gift ideas for gamers when the next-gen consoles aren’t an option
Gift Guide: 8 great gifts for anyone working from home
Gift guide: 11 gift ideas for the friend who is on way, way too many video calls
Gift Guide: The smart home starter kit
Gift Guide: The smarter home
Gift Guide: The best tech gifts for plant geeks
Gift Guide: 20+ STEM toy gift ideas for aspiring young builders

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Better.com CEO Vishal Garg apologizes to current employees for ‘blundering’ of mass layoffs; SPAC delayed

EV automaker Lucid Group under investigation by SEC

How one founder is taking on the customer knowledge gap in the cannabis industry

MrBeast’s ‘Real Life Squid Game’ and the price of viral stunts

Why the founder-friendly era needs a ‘VP of Nothing’

Seen on TechCrunch+

Silicon Valley’s share of US VC funding falls to lowest level in more than a decade

How Credit Karma, acquired amid COVID chaos, fared in its first year under Intuit

Samsara could become a decacorn in upcoming IoT-themed IPO

Dear Sophie: 2 questions about resuming consular appointments

First we SPAC, then we take down AWS

It’s been officially one year since I took over Startups Weekly. Thank you to the tens of thousands of people who newly subscribed, as this community is one of my favorite parts of the job. As one of my favorite thinkers always says, “Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not … unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.”


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