Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus, Musk is raging against the machine

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We’ve been drowning in AI news this week. Google’s I/O set the pace: At its keynote, the word “AI” came up on average once per minute throughout its two-hour keynote. Yowzers! Here’s the DL on Google’s AI plans.

OpenAI just dropped GPT-4o — the AI model that’s ChatGPT on steroids. This new “omni” wonder-child can handle text, speech, and video like a multitasking prodigy hopped up on espresso shots. Also, OpenAI’s co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever decided to jump ship. The guy who basically helped build the brain of our future AI overlords is off to chase some “personally meaningful” rainbows.

Meanwhile, OpenAI is now considering AI-generated porn. Yes, you read that right — it seems like our future involves robots with an artistic flair for NSFW content. The company wants to “responsibly” generate explicit images and text without violating laws or rights. Between you and me, letting Skynet dabble in adult entertainment seems anything but responsible, but I guess you’ll have to stay tuned for more updates on this roller-coaster ride because it seems we’re hurtling toward an X-rated tech dystopia faster than you can say “algo-rotica.”

Oh, and it’s also worth noting that Anthropic has let kids join the AI party, but only if developers play by the company’s rules. Teens can access third-party apps using Anthropic’s AI — just not Anthropic’s own apps — provided these apps include safety features like age verification and content filtering and a wall of “comply with COPPA” signs plastered to every surface.

Did anything happen outside of AI land? Sure, let’s take a look …

Most interesting startup stories from the week

Ready to hand over your love life to a robot? Bumble’s Whitney Wolfe Herd thinks it’s time for bots to date other bots, all in the name of fostering “healthy and equitable relationships.” Picture this: An AI “dating concierge” critiques your insecurities and then sends its own bot on a test run with another bot. If sparks fly, maybe you get a match! It’s basically Tinder meets “Black Mirror” episode “Hang the DJ” minus the dystopian charm. While some folks are snickering, others are wondering if living vicariously through digital avatars is any worse than swiping right on someone because they have a cute dog in their profile pic. Truly, the modernest of romances.

  • Ring ring, who is that? Your creaking bones: Ready to feel ancient? Oura’s new smart ring features promise to tell you just how decrepit your heart really is with the Cardiovascular Age metric. It’s like a magic mirror, but for your arteries.
  • From cradle to cradle: Gather ’round, exhausted parents and eco-warriors! Alora Baby is here to rescue you from the endless parade of landfill-bound baby gear. The startup has decided that your little angel’s leftover crib shouldn’t have a one-way ticket to Trashville. Instead, it’s pioneering “remanufactured” products that are as good as new (or so they claim).
  • Domo Arigato: Kyle Vogt, the man who, with Cruise, brought us self-driving cars that sometimes forget pedestrians exist, is back with a new venture: robots to do your chores. Vogt’s latest brainchild, the Bot Company, has already scored $150 million in funding. One can only hope these bots have better spatial awareness than his last project.
Man wearing Oura ring eating an orange slice
A man wears an Oura ring.
Image Credits: Oura

Most interesting fundraises this week

Ever lost a bet and ended up founding a company? Nicholas Johnson has, and now he’s here to save apartment-dwelling EV owners from the slow death of 120-volt outlets. Enter Orange Charger, peddling $750 smart outlets that’ll juice up your ride without landlords breaking into cold sweats over installation costs. The company raised a $6.5 million oversubscribed seed round

In a plot twist straight out of Silicon Valley’s soap opera, Permira is taking Squarespace private in a $6.9 billion cash deal. The website builder you probably used to start your probably-now-abandoned blog just got snapped up by some very serious people with very deep pockets. After riding the roller coaster of public trading and seeing its stock yo-yo like it was auditioning for Cirque du Soleil, Squarespace will be tucked away from prying market eyes once more.

  • Layer? I barely know ’er!: QuickBooks, meet your new nemesis: Layer. This San Francisco-based startup has just snagged $2.3 million to unseat the accounting giant by embedding bookkeeping tools directly into platforms like Square and Toast.
  • Spicy noms: In a world where Sysco and US Foods reign supreme, Pepper is the feisty underdog that’s shaking up the B2B food e-commerce scene. With a fresh $30 million cash injection led by ICONIQ Growth, Pepper is giving small distributors some serious tech muscle to fight back against the big boys.
  • Won’t you be my neighbor?: Welcome to the world of PayHOA, where Kentucky charm meets SaaS brilliance. This once-bootstrapped startup just pocketed a cool $27.5 million in Series A funding — seems that even your local HOA needs cloud-based financial wizardry these days.
Squarespace headquarters in New York, US, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023.
Image Credits: Bloomberg / Contributor / Getty Images

Other unmissable TechCrunch stories …

In the latest episode of “Elon Musk Does Whatever He Wants,” the social media platform formerly known as Twitter now flags the words “cis” and “cisgender” as slurs. Yes, really. While actual hate speech targeting marginalized groups skates by unscathed, using a term recognized by medical and government authorities will get you a full-screen warning. It’s almost like Elon is trying to make X a hostile environment for anyone who isn’t aligned with his new extremist fanbase. Never mind that the vast majority of people on the platform are cisgender — if you use the word (or just enjoy basic human decency), consider this your cue to exit stage left.

Oh, and apropos Musk doing whatever he damn well pleases … Guess what happens when you put Elon Musk and a profitable division in the same room? You fire it, of course! Tesla’s Supercharger network — an EV owner’s dream with its 50,000+ global charging ports — is now in complete disarray after Musk axed the entire team.

  • Are you gonna go my way?: Uber’s latest brainwave to solve the concert traffic nightmare: shuttle buses. Inspired by their success in India and Egypt, Uber is launching a shuttle service in U.S. cities this summer for concerts, sports events, and airport trips — because everyone loves being packed like sardines with strangers.
  • Crushing disappointment: Buckle up, folks, because Apple’s latest attempt at marketing the new iPad Pro is a masterclass in how to alienate your creative fanbase. In its “Crush” ad, they thought it would be super cool to show an iPad smashing traditional art supplies into oblivion. Spoiler: It wasn’t.
  • Are you on tonight?: Ever wonder how to manage a mob of frontline employees without losing your mind? Enter Sona, the superhero workforce management platform that just bagged $27.5 million to revolutionize shift scheduling and timesheets for all those who keep society running while we binge-watch Netflix.
  • Zeekr and you shall find: Zeekr, the Chinese luxury EV brand owned by Geely, made a grand entrance on the New York Stock Exchange, becoming the first major U.S. listing from China since 2021. Investors went wild, sending Zeekr’s stock price soaring 38% in minutes and valuing it at a cool $7 billion.
  • A lightweight solution to a heavyweight problem: In a world where everyone’s either on a fad diet or popping miracle weight-loss pills, Sammy Faycurry decided to actually do something useful: create a startup that helps registered dietitians start their own practices and get covered by insurance.

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