|Friday afternoon! [Forward somersault.] Hope you have a terrific weekend weekend, everyone.
Also! We’re just so excited to see a bunch of you a little more than a month from now at our INSIDER event at the beautiful San Francisco offices of New Enterprise Associates. We still have a limited number of seats left, so don’t wait too long if you’re planning to come.
We should have another announcement about the evening for you soon. In the meantime, thank you everyone who is already participating in the evening, including sponsors Anduin, a company cofounded by Joe Lonsdale and Alin Bui that helps companies close private market transactions, and the global law firm MoFo, which prides itself of giving startups expert advice without taking itself too seriously.
Bitcoin prices are rebounding right now following possibly the largest cryptocurrency hack yet.
The FT reported today that Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital are keen to invest tens of millions of dollars in the messaging app Telegram, which claims to have 170 million monthly users and is planning to raise up to $1.2 billion(!) by selling its own digital currency through an ICO. More here.
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Founders, innovators, and key Fortune 1000 leaders together with policy and regulatory thinkers are gathering to navigate today’s shifting business landscape, including the Genentech CEO Ian Clark, former DNC Chair and author Donna Brazile, Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. One room. Three days. This is Shift Forum. February 26-28 in SF. StrictlyVC readers use CODE: STRVC for a 20 percent discount.
|A Young Startup with a Timely Offer: Fighting Propaganda Campaigns Online
The prevalence of so-called fake news is far worse than we imagined even a few months ago. Just last week, Twitter admitted there were more than 50,000 Russian bots trying to confuse American voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
It isn’t just elections that should concern us, though. So argues Jonathon Morgan, the cofounder and CEO of New Knowledge, a two-and-a-half-year-old, Austin-based cyber security company that’s gathering up clients who are looking to fight online disinformation. (Worth noting: the 15-person outfit has also quietly gathered up $1.9 million in seed funding led by Moonshots Capital, with participation from Haystack, GGV Capital, Geekdom Fund, Capital Factory and Spitfire Ventures.)
We talked earlier this week with Morgan, a former digital content producer and State Department counterterrorism advisor, to learn more about his product, which is smartly using concerns about fake social media accounts and propaganda campaigns to work with brands that are eager to preserve their reputation. Our chat has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
Tell us a little about your background.
How did that experience lead to you focusing on tech that tries to understand how social media platforms are manipulated?
When ISIS was employing techniques to jam conversations into social media, conversations that were elevated in the American press, we started trying to figure out how they were pushing their message. I did a little work for the Brookings Institution, which led to some work as a data science advisor to the State Department — developing counter-terrorism strategies and understanding what public discourse looks like online and the different between mainstream communication and what that looks like when it’s been hijacked.
Now you’re pitching this service you’ve developed with your team to brands. Why?
The same mechanics and tactics used by ISIS are now being used by much more sophisticated actors, from hostile governments to kids who are coordinating activity on the Internet to undermine things they don’t like for cultural reasons. They’ll take Black Lives activists and immigration-focused conservatives and amplify their discord, for example. We’ve also seen alt-right supporters on 4chan undermine movie releases. These kinds of digital insurgencies are being used by a growing number of actors to manipulate the way that the public has conversations online.
We realized we could use the same ideas and tech to defend companies that are vulnerable to these attacks. Energy companies, financial institutions, other companies managing critical infrastructure — they’re all equally vulnerable. Election manipulation is just the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the degradation of our discourse.
Heetch, a four-year-old, Paris, France-based ride-sharing service, has raised $20 million in funding. Investors include Felix Capital, Via ID, Alven Capital,Idinvest Partners and InnovAllianz. TechCrunch has more here.
Occipital, a 10-year-old, San Francisco-based developer of mobile computer vision applications, has raised $12 million in Series C funding led by Foundry Group. The company has now raised $33 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here.
Songtradr, a 3.5-year-old, Santa Monica, C.-based music licensing platform, has raised $4 million in Series A funding led by Richard White, the CEO and founder of WiseTech Global. Los Angeles Business Journal has more here.
Sun Basket, a 3.5-year-old, San Francisco-based organic meal delivery service, has raised $42.8 million in Series D funding led by August Capital. The company separately secured $15 million in debt from Trinity Capital Investment. VentureBeat has more here.
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Treble is a PR agency with a unique value prop for both VC firms and startups: we expedite exits. We like to partner early, carve out brand differentiation and reverse engineer your brand into breaking news. Headquartered in Austin, with Silicon Valley roots, we specialize in emerging tech (SaaS, AI, IoT, cybersecurity, blockchain, crypto and more). Contact us here.
ESPN, a unit of Walt Disney Co., is considering a sale or spinoff of the Nate Silver-founded FiveThirtyEight property, says The Big Lead. More here.
Ford will acquire Autonomic and TransLoc, two of its partners, in deals that will help its new mobility business take shape. TechCrunch has much more here.
Amazon’s Super Bowl ad, featuring Jeff Bezos. It’s his first-ever appearance in an Amazon ad.
Liza Landsman, president of Jet.com, is leaving the company just a little more than a year after she was elevated to her current role, multiple sources tell Recode. More here.
Ryan Morris, a young investor who joined Global Founders Capital six months ago in the Bay Area, has joined Plus Capital, a new L.A. firm, as an associate. More here.
The Department of Justice’s special counsel Robert Mueller and his office have interviewed Facebook staff as part of its Russia probe. Wired has more here.
Sapphire Ventures to looking to hire two people into its fund investments team, a group that makes primary investments in venture capital funds. (Some of its current stakes include in August Capital, Point Nine Capital, and Data Collective.) Both of the roles — a vice president and an associate — are based in Palo Alto, Ca. More here.
The dirty war over diversity inside Google.
Dell is reportedly mulling a return to the market four years after going private.
Lyft had its own “God View” and employees were reportedly using it track former paramours and celebrities, among other things.
Lawyers are increasingly getting paid in cryptocurrency to show they’re aligned with their new clients.
Your sloppy bitcoin drug deals will haunt you for years.
How to buy bitcoin with a credit card — though you probably should not.
Selling airborne opulence to the upper, upper, upper class. (This is pretty fascinating.)
The Boring Company flamethrower. (Legal everywhere but California and Maryland.)