When scaring us is great for business

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All right, all right, all right. Over the past few days, I’ve been listening to Matthew McConaughey’s memoir Greenlights, as read by the author. I honestly don’t know what compelled me to listen to it or how it ended up on my Audible app. I don’t even really like audio books. I knew the man had depth, but I swear I’m still reeling. Of course he has led a wild, crazy, outlaw life. Of course he has a bunch of great stories. But I’d never expect him to throw me for a considerable spin. It has little to do with startups and everything to do with finding yourself in the world — which means it has everything to do with startups. In any case: highly recommended.

It was, indirectly, the inspiration for my column this week, where I was reflecting on how app activation metrics are at odds with our mental health in many ways. That is particularly true for apps like Nextdoor, Citizen and the Ring doorbell app, which pipes fresh hot terror to your pocket 24/7. And, like the gullible, amygdala-powered animals we are, we respond. Maybe it’s time to opt out.

The TechCrunch team is getting pretty psyched about TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in a couple of weeks. I’ll be onstage, among other things, interviewing Rajeev Rajan, the new(ish) CTO of Atlassian, and begrudgingly accepting sartorial advice from random strangers — that could be you!

On those cheerful notes . . . onward to what’s happening in startup land this week!

The highest lows and the lowest highs

Red ball on curved light blue paper, blue background

Image Credits: PM Images / Getty Images

Ho’boy, startup life sure ain’t for the fainthearted, and there’s a lot of highs and lows happening all around us at the moment.

Medobed, an startup that promises medicine delivery in 10 minutes, was initially selected in Y Combinator’s S23 batch. The accelerator changed its tune, severing its ties with the Indian firm. A partner at the venture firm has also suggested to many prospective investors to not engage with the startup.

Apropos changing its mind — Chamet is a popular but controversial live video chat app. Google decided to yank the app from the Play Store. Big Goog didn’t give a specific reason but waved in the general direction of its “questionable user-generated content” policy.

Someone get a crash cart: Ingrid reported on Babylon Health succumbing to insolvency — after it was valued at almost $2 billion not that long ago. Today, it’s worth about $5,000 on paper. Yowzers.

Self-protesting protestors: People love a good scandal, and protestors rallied at Cruise HQ in San Francisco this week. But it appears that the particular incident they were protesting may have been overblown. It was alleged that an ambulance was blocked by a Cruise self-driving vehicle, but TechCrunch saw video footage of an incident where an ambulance was unimpeded in this case.

Sell, sell, sell: Benitago raised $380 million or so to buy up a bunch of e-commerce brands that do business on Amazon. This week, it filed for bankruptcy as the market contracted.

The ghost in the shell

ai assisted translation

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

The deal pace might be slowing a little (maybe?) but AI continues to be sizzling.

One interesting trend in the market is that we continue to see incumbents adding new features and functionality. A lot of our readers were curious about Kyle’s report that Zoom is rebranding and expanding its generative AI features, amid some privacy concerns along the way.

OpenAI wants its conversational AI agent ChatGPT everywhere, and that includes classrooms — despite the immense potential for misuse and confusion there. Taking the bull by the horns, the company has proposed a few ways for teachers to put the system to use. In addition to students rampantly cheating on their work with AI, that is.

Drop in, tune out, make shit up: My favorite AI piece this week came from Kyle. It’s well documented that AI models can “hallucinate” plausible-sounding information that’s extrapolated incorrectly from existing data. That may not be solvable with current-gen systems, but it may not be as bad as we think, he writes.

It knows if you’ve been tweeting, it knows when you’re asleep: Sarah reports that X’s privacy policy confirms it will use public data to train its AI models.

The lean startup gets faster, smarter, AI-ier: Last week, I spoke with the father of the lean startup, Steve Blank. He’s pretty psyched by AI and says it will revolutionize the “lean startup” movement, making startups leaner, meaner, and, well, AI-ier.

A healthy dose of startup news

Hands holding green happy smile face paper cut, good feedback rating and positive customer review, experience, satisfaction survey ,mental health assessment, child wellness,world mental health day concept

Image Credits: ThitareeSarmkasat (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

As someone who is more than a little neuro-spicy myself, I’m pretty excited about Sam Altman backing Mentra, which aims to match neurodivergent jobseekers with ideal jobs. It’ll be interesting to see how that one shakes out (and whether the hirers are able to absorb hiring specifically for neurodivergent folks).

Bladder health isn’t the sexiest subject in the world, so it probably won’t surprise you there are so few startups focused on the area. Just one, in fact, according to its founder Peony Li — who’s just closed a $4.24 million seed round for her London-based bladder health startup set to expand into the U.S.

Fitter. Happier. More productive: Teale has secured a funding round of $11 million earlier this summer. The company provides a mental health platform for employees and helps HR managers when it comes to preventing burnout or quiet quitting.

A roof over your head: Hiring isn’t that similar to renting an apartment — or is it? Rent Butter believes that figuring out how risky a tenant is goes beyond your standard background check and credit score, and wants to help landlords rethink risk when it comes to screening tenants.

P-AI-n killers: The opioid epidemic has had a whack-a-mole kind of complexity, stumping researchers for the better part of two decades. Assistant professor at UC Berkeley School of Public Health Jerel Ezell argues that AI might be the spark that ends the opioid epidemic.

Top reads on TechCrunch this week

As ever, a slew of our most-read stories are already included above, but here are a few of the shining beacons on the hill (or, at least, those that climbed the rankings in our analytics tool) over the past week:

Pause for laws: Free Fire, by Garena, was banned in India over national security concerns. Now Free Fire is relaunching a year after it was banned.

Paws for faux pas: Oh dear, bargain supermarket chain Lidl got itself into a lidl bit of trouble after its aimed-at-kids Paw Patrol snacks listed a website on the packaging that showed adult content.

Pause just because: Texas passed a law that requires those who want to enjoy some internet smut have to go through an ID check. It turns out that’s hard to do, and the state cannot yet enforce ID checks on porn sites.

Pause for applause: Anker introduces some clever new travel chargers that make it easier to take your gadgets on the road. Just in time for Disrupt, too!

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