Startup Weekly: Drama on Tech Stars. Drama in AI. Drama everywhere.

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Welcome to Startups Weekly — Haje's weekly recap of everything you can't miss from the world of startups. Sign up Here to receive in your inbox every Friday.

Well, folks, looks like the Techstars drama has just taken a new plot twist. CEO Maëlle Gavet is on her way out, leaving co-founder David Cohen to return and save the day – or at least try to. Gavette's three-and-a-half-year tenure was a rollercoaster of controversy, from employee exits to shutting down accelerator programs faster than you could call a “pivot.” Despite an $80 million deal with JPMorgan turning into a Titanic-level disaster and a $7 million loss in 2023, she insists she wouldn't trade the experience for anything. As for Cohen? He is excited about his return as CEO.

The most interesting startup stories of the week

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

  • Man is looking for a home.: Human, the brainchild of former Apple execs and the 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 one wants to add a wearable gadget that's essentially a smartphone to its product portfolio. There are problems.
  • Sonos hugs your head.: Sonos has finally answered your prayers and dropped its “most requested product ever.” No, it's not a speaker that taxes you – it's the Ace headphones. For a cool $449, you can soon be rocking these over-ear beauties.
  • Coming soon in a cycle near you.: The UK has officially waved the checkered flag for “driverless cars” – that's what they call self-driving over there. How strange! Thanks to the Automated Vehicles Act, you may find yourself sharing the road with robot cars by 2026.
Beats by Sonos in the form of Sonos Ace headphones.
Image credit: Sonos

Trend of the week: AI drama

It looks like OpenAI's latest chatbot, Skye, did her best Scarlett Johansson impression and busted Hella! The AI ​​voice closely mimicked ScarJo's iconic voice. OpenAI swears it wasn't trying to recreate her sarcastic tone from “Her,” but the Internet couldn't help but notice the uncanny resemblance. CEO Sam Altman even tweeted “it” because, well, why wouldn't you really? Now that Johansson has advocated faster than saying “deepfake”, OpenAI has removed Sky's voice from its product, while legal maneuvers are underway to find a solution to the mess.

OpenAI, meanwhile, doesn't seem to be suffering too much. ChatGPT's mobile app hit the revenue jackpot with the launch of GPT-4o. Despite promising free access on the web, OpenAI decided that mobile users would be pushed to a $19.99 monthly subscription if they wanted in on the action. Plot twist: People are spending more than their Netflix subscriptions for this. In its first week alone, net income increased by 22%, bringing it up to $900,000 per day and $4.2 million in total from May 13 to 17.

  • ScarJo, don't do me, bro: Hollywood's elite can now hide their digital doppelgangers in CAA's high-tech “theCAAvault” as if it were Fort Knox for AI clones.
  • The whitest sausage fest in town: Despite years of complaints about women and people of color being overlooked in the AI ​​realm, Metta apparently decided that diversity was overrated. So, he assembled a team of entrepreneurial brothers to guide his AI strategy. Cool, cool, cool.
  • Hit the road, Jack: The latest news from Expedia reads like a soap opera script: CTO Rathi Murthy and SVP Srinivas Ratchamadhogu have been unceremoniously suspended for breaking some mysterious company policy. The travel booking company is keeping mum on the juicy details, citing privacy. Moorthy was touting the new AI features just days before his sudden exit – talk about bad timing!
Expedia saw a sudden turnaround as some senior staff were sent packing.
Image credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for City

This week's most interesting fundraisers

Bonjour! In the latest episode of “How Much Money We Can Throw at AI,” French startup H nabbed a whopping $220 million in seed funding. Yes, you read that right – Seed funding. With a founding team that boasts more former Google DeepMind employees than a Silicon Valley reunion, H aims to revolutionize productivity with its “frontier action models.” Translation: They are building robots to do our jobs better than us. Remind me why I'm sitting here typing this newsletter with my actual literal fingers? What is this, the 1920s?

  • Hardware is less difficult.: Forget everything you know about hardware engineering because the 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 may 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, the startup is promising to make accounting less painful for small and medium-sized businesses with its oh-so-pretty embedded features.
  • We don't need a fast road.: Forget robotics stuck in city traffic—the latest craze is self-driving vehicles that laugh at street maps. Overland AI and Potential are leading the off-road autonomous revolution, backed by VCs and Uncle Sam's Department of Defense.
Image credit: Overland AI

Other unforgettable stories from TechCrunch…

Welcome to the job market in 2023, where instead of flipping burgers, you can program a robot to do it for you. Brian has compiled a list of 81 robotics companies that are hiring faster than your “artificial intelligence.” Dive into robotics, from humanoids that can steal your job (or make your coffee) to drones that make sure your Amazon packages arrive before you click “order.” There's never been a more thrilling – or terrifying – time. So go ahead, apply now and secure your place in the brave new world of mechanical overlords 🤖.

  • Mo money, mo passenger?: 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 have Uber grumbling about higher costs.
  • Suze, baby, no bank for you.: Ten fintech startup Copper Banking is having a rough week. Its banking and debit products are a donzo thanks to the epic implosion of Synapse. The middleware provider crashed and burned in Chapter 11, then faced straight into Chapter 7 liquidation.
  • Won't you be my friend?: Bumble, the dating app that is now feeling the pinch due to widespread 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.
  • One Fast Horror: In a tragic twist that seems like it was ripped from an automotive horror movie script, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating an April crash where a VinFast VF 8 SUV “hug the decided to play “Oak Tree” — resulting in the death of a family of four in a fire.
  • Don't worry, we already have all your details.: Welcome to the digital age, where even your hotel check-in can serve as a spyware drama! At least three Wyndham hotels in the US have been caught red-handed with pcTattletale, a consumer-grade spyware app that secretly takes screenshots of guest details and customer information.
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