The rise, and fall, of the pizza robots
Happy Thanksgiving everyone,
Whether you're about to carve up a turkey or tuck into a plant-based alternative of some kind, I wish you good cheer and season's greetings. Don't forget to tell your friends and family at the Thanksgiving table that they can sign up to receive the Trending newsletter here.
Before the crew here at BI Prime signs off, we're serving you this dispatch of fresh and nutritious tech news. Bon appétit!
This week: The rise - and fall - of the pizza robots
It's the ultimate Silicon Valley idea: robots for making pizza. The concept was so Silicon Valley it was even parodied in the HBO comedy "Silicon Valley."
But the robots are real (or at least they were). They are the creation of a startup called Zume. Its main financial backer is SoftBank.
Remember SoftBank? That's the Japanese tech conglomerate that pumped billions of dollars into WeWork, and some say, enabled the excesses that led to WeWork's demise. As Megan Hernbroth reports, Zume is starting to show similar signs of distress.
The company has experienced a string of top executive departures in recent months, including the interim chief financial officer, the chief marketing officer, the head of talent, the head of recruiting, and the general counsel. Even the lawyer tapped to replace the GC is leaving after just a few weeks on the job.
You might suggest re-programming some of those pizza robots to handle all these vacant senior management jobs, but it turns out that Zume has quietly moved away from robots and from pizza. The company is now focused on compostable food packaging and "mobile kitchens," or, food trucks.
Insiders tell Megan that Zume has been struggling to rein in spending while sleepwalking between strategies and business models. Yet, according to Vox, SoftBank is currently exploring another investment in Zume that would value it at $4 billion.
A source tells Megan that SoftBank's previous infusion of $375 million caused chaos at Zume, encouraging undisciplined and unsustainable practices. Throwing more money at Zume now might be like overloading a pizza with too many extra toppings. At some point, it just doesn't taste good anymore.
Read the full story here:
Zume, the robotic pizza maker that SoftBank valued at $1 billion, has lost several top execs and appears to have moved away from robots, even as it seeks new money
Honey badger got paid
You might have seen reports last week that PayPal acquired a company called Honey for a cool $4 billion.
What was lost in the news coverage is the fact that, one, the deal was all cash, and, two, Honey had raised only a modest $47 million in funding.
In other words, the founders and venture capital firms of this startup just got a massive payday.
And the VCs are not the names you often see; there's no Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, or GV here.
As Melia Russell reports, Honey was backed by a handful of lesser-known VC firms with names like Mucker Capital, Ludlow Ventures, and Bam Ventures.
William Hsu, a managing partner at LA-based Mucker Capital, passed on Honey when the startup first approached him in 2012. Two years later, he invested $120,000 in Honey's seed round.
"It was the biggest check we'd ever written," he says.
"I guess in some ways we were smart, and in some ways we were lucky," Hsu adds.
Read the full story here:
Honey faced rejection from VCs for 2 years before a group of seed investors put in $1.8 million. Now some are celebrating 300 times returns after it sold for $4 billion.
Meet Zuck's pivot team
Remember Mark Zuckerberg's so-called pivot to privacy? Facebook CEO announced the move in March, in the wake of a series of bruising privacy and security scandals.
The idea, as outlined by Zuckerberg, is to rebuild the Facebook universe so that it has two key realms: The "town square," where users share public posts on the Newsfeed, and the "living room," where users can expect their activities to remain private.
The Facebook living room is still very much under construction - and in some cases, facing significant regulatory obstacles. But if you're wondering who's leading the charge, Rob Price put together a list rounding up the insiders across Facebook's various products and services who are leading Zuckerberg's mission.
Check out the list of Zuckerberg's privacy-pivot team here:
Now check out some of the other recent tech highlights:
- Wall Streeters are speculating that Microsoft could buy Bloomberg. Here's why a deal might actually make sense.
- Microsoft is building a new team of technical trainers to grow its Azure cloud business and compete with Amazon Web Services
- As billions of dollars flooded in to Silicon Valley, some startups and founders got left behind. Here's why this VC thinks there's still good money to be made investing in them.
- An age of cybersecurity M&A is approaching. Here are the companies ripe for acquisition, according to a new report.
And more good stuff from across the BI newsroom:
- Michael Bloomberg built a $54 billion company. For 2 decades, women who worked there have called it a toxic, sexually charged nightmare
- Private equity giants like Blackstone and KKR are loading up on industry specialists to help squeeze out returns, and that's creating a new power dynamic inside the firms
- An internal doc reveals Amazon is ditching the trucking industry's most common pay practice - and it's a brilliant maneuver that could give the e-commerce giant a massive advantage
- The DNA-testing 'fad' is ending. We spoke to the CEOs of Ancestry and 23andMe about how they're fighting back.
OK, that'll do it for this week.
Have a good Thanksgiving. Please don't put any pomegranates in the stuffing.
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