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Sequoia backs a podcasting-focused, Clubhouse competitor from David Sacks

September 2, 2021, 3:07 PM UTC

David Sacks, who cofounded Yammer and sold it to Microsoft for about $1.2 billion in 2012, is launching his next startup.

On Thursday, the former Zenefits CEO announced the official launch of Callin, his live-audio, podcasting-focused startup, with $12 million in funding. Alongside Sacks’ Craft Ventures (the venture firm he founded after leaving Zenefits), Roelof Botha at Sequoia Capital and Adam Ross at Goldcrest Capital are leading the round.

Inspired by his frustrations producing episodes of his podcast, “All In,” Sacks says Callin aims to help users condense what can often be a multi-hour long session of cutting and cleaning audio into minutes by automatically turning  a recording into a written transcript. Users can then edit the audio much more quickly based on the written model as reading tends to be faster than speaking. Granted, the company has been in closed beta until now, and still lacks some features: Callin users currently can’t add music or background noise, though those are likely to be added with time.

So where might Callin compete with Clubhouse, the now $4 billion startup heavily backed by Andreessen Horowitz? Well, instead of recording a podcast behind closed doors, users on Callin can elect to make the recording process completely public and live, allowing others to ask questions and engage in the process—much like the bevy of live-audio platforms that have popped up like Clubhouse. And certainly, the rise of live-audio features in the pandemic had an impact in how Callin formed.

“What we’ve done here is synthesize these two concepts of podcasting and social audio,” says Sacks,  pointing to his cofounder, Axel Ericsson. While consumers can use Callin like a Clubhouse, Sacks says the end goal of the two platforms are different. “They’re primarily focused on the live experience. And we’re really focused on creating lasting content. For us, the room is really just the recording studio.”

Callin does have features that seem to, whether on purpose or not, address what some have hoped Clubhouse could one day add: Sharing a Clubhouse audio conversation can be difficult as it is ephemeral. Callin allows its users to cut content—called a highlight on the platform—and repost it on social media. Moments of connection on Clubhouse can be magical—though it can also be drudgery to sift through the cacophony of voices speaking in an hour-long conversation. Callin, as it seeks to focus on podcasting, allows its users to cut away parts of a conversation that may have been less than exciting.

When asked if he believes live-audio or podcasting would end up being the larger market, Sacks demurred, noting it’s hard to say for sure—though he believes the entirety of the audio market “might actually be bigger than YouTube because audio is so much easier to create.”

This all comes amid questions if the buzzy audio app maker, Clubhouse, has lost some of its early shine: Before a download bump catalyzed by its rollout on Android, downloads dropped from 9.5 million in February to 2.7 million in March, according to Sensor Tower data. Still, companies are continuing to drive into the live-audio space: Amazon is reportedly working on one, according to Axios. Spotify also launched Greenroom, which like Callin, allows users to record their sessions.

In short: The jury is still out on Clubhouse’s long-term success—but investors and social media companies are certainly finding lots of potential value in live-audio as a feature still.

MARC LORE IS BUILDING A CITY: There’s a weird salience to the news, as New York City is flooding. Billionaire Marc Lore, who sold his e-commerce company Jets.com to Walmart for $3 billion, wants to build a utopian, futuristic city called Telosa replete with indoor farming, autonomous cars, and energy-efficient buildings. In his mind, residents of this yet-to-be-built city in the West or Appalachia would have equal access to good healthcare and transportation. Lore isn’t alone in his attempts to build a city from scratch: BIll Gates is planning one outside of Phoenix. Crypto billionaire Jeffrey Berns has chosen Nevada. Oh, here’s a venture-backed startup looking to build a car-free neighborhood in Tempe, Ariz. Read more.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: 
@shenlucinda
Email: 
lucinda.shen@fortune.com

Jessica Mathews compiled the IPO section of this newsletter.

VENTURE DEALS

- HomeLight, a San Francisco-based real estate tech platform, raised $363 million. Zeev Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Group 11, Stereo Capital, Menlo Ventures, and Lydia Jett of the SoftBank Vision Fund.

- Insurify, a Cambridge, Mass.-based virtual insurance agent, raised $100 million in Series B funding. Motive Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Viola FinTech, MassMutual Ventures, Nationwide, Hearst Ventures, Moneta VC, Viola Growth, and Fort Ross Ventures.

- Cajoo, a French grocery delivery startup, raised $40 million from investors including Carrefour.

- Carbon Robotics, a San Francisco-based weed elimination robotics maker, raised $27 million in funding. Investors include Anthos Capital, Ignition Capital, Fuse Venture Partners, and Voyager Capital.

- Stockeld Dreamery, a Swedish plant-based cheese maker, raised $20 million. Astanor Ventures and Northzone led the round.

- Flat.mx, a Mexico City-based real estate marketplace, raised $20 million in Series A funding. Anthemis and 500 Startups led the round and were joined by investors including ALLVP and Expa.

- Revenue Grid, a Mountainview, Calif.-based revenue platform, raised $20 million in Series A funding. W3 Capital led the round and was joined by investors including ICU Ventures.

- Pixalate, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based fraud protection, privacy, and compliance analytics platform for advertising, raised $18.1 million. Western Technology Investment and Javelin Venture Partners invested.

- Onkos Surgical, ​​a Parsippany, N.J.-based musculoskeletal oncology company, raised $15 million in Series C funding. 1315 Capital led the round.

- Anima, a Tel Aviv-based design platform, raised $10 million in Series A funding. MizMaa Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including INcapital and Hetz Ventures.

- Shepherd, a San Francisco-based provider of insurance for commercial construction, raised $6.2 million in seed funding. Spark Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Susa Ventures, Procure Technologies, YC, Greenlight Reinsurance, and Oldslip.

- Responsibly, a Danish-based company with an ESG-focused supply chain scorecard, raised $2 million in pre-seed funding. Flash Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Pirate Impact.

- Sphere, a California-based company focused on green investments in  401(k) plans, raised $2 million in funding. Pale Blue Dot led the round.

- Wanderlog, a San Francisco Bay-area-based road trip planner, raised $1.5 million in seed funding from General Catalyst and Abstract Ventures.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Oaktree Capital Management invested $250 million in Priority Power, an Arlington, Texas-based energy services provider.

- Constant Contact, backed by Clearlake Capital Group and Siris Capital Group, acquired SharpSpring (NASDAQ: SHSP), a Gainesville, fla.-based software maker. 

- ECI Software Solutions, backed by Leonard Green & Partners and Apax Partners, acquired Deacom, a Chesterbrook, Pa.-based warehouse management software maker. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Francisco Partners acquired Follett School Solutions, the McHenry, Ill.-based K-12 materials and software unit in Follett Corporation. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Leonard Green & Partners invested in Tecta America, a provider of commercial roofing services backed by Altas Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Provation, backed by Clearlake Capital Group, acquired the endoPRO endoscopy informatics and software portfolio from PENTAX Medical. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Vista Equity Partners invested in Drift, a Boston-based sales platform. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- GHO Capital Partners acquired ClearView Healthcare Partners, a Newton, Mass.-bsed consulting firm focused on the life sciences, from RLH Equity Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Revalize, backed by TA Associates, acquired Attainia Holdings, BCA Technologies, LeadMethod, and MicroD, four software makers in the manufacturing space. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

EXIT

- Bain Capital acquired an over 40% stake in Berlin Brands Group, a Berlin-based buyer of brands selling on Amazon, from Ardian. It values it at about $1.2 billion including debt. 

- FAT Brands agreed to acquire Twin Peaks, a Dallas-based chain of sports lodges from Garnett Station Partners for $300 million. 

- CDPQ will acquire a majority stake in Wizeline, a San Francisco-based tech services provider, from Apax Digital Fund. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Onit acquired Bodhala, a New York City-based spend management software maker, from investors including Edison Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

OTHER

- Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU) is in talks to acquire Mailchimp, an Atlanta-based email marketing firm, for $10 billion, per Bloomberg.

- Xerox (NYSE: XRX) spun out CareAR, a $700 million company that combines CareAR, DocuShare, and XMPie. ServiceNow invested $10 million in the company.

- Terrascend will acquire Gage Growth, a Detroit-based cannabis producer listed in Canada, for $545 million.

IPO

- Binance, a Cayman Islands-domiciled cryptocurrency exchange, may target an IPO for its U.S. exchange in the next three years, according to The Information.

- Cue Health, a San Diego, Calif.-based maker of COVID tests, filed for an IPO. The company posted $15.4 million in revenue in 2020 and a loss of $19.3 million. ACME Capital, Decheng Capital, and Madrone Capital Partners back the firm.

- Samsara, a San Francisco-based A.I.operations company, filed confidentially for a public offering. Andreessen Horowitz, Dragoneer Investment Group, Tiger Global, and Warburg Pincus back the firm.

- Oxford Nanopore, an Oxford, UK-based rapid COVID test producer, is planning to go public in the country in the coming weeks, per Reuters. IP Group and Temasek back the firm.

- Building Materials Europe, a Netherlands-based building materials distributor, is making plans to go public in the country next year, per Bloomberg. A deal could value the company at $7.1 billion. Blackstone purchased the firm in 2019.

- Kepuni Holdings, a Chinese ocean communication and technology company, filed for an initial public offering. The company posted $9.4 million in revenue in 2020 and $1.4 million in net income.

SPAC

- Panini Group, an Italian collectibles and sports card company, is no longer in talks to go public via a merger with Slam Corp., per Bloomberg

F+FS

- Trinity Hunt Partners, a Dallas-based private equity investor, closed Fund VI with $460 million.

- True Global Ventures, a Singapore-based investor, closed True Global Ventures 4 Plus—a blockchain equity fund—with over $100 million.

PEOPLE

- Great Hill Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm, named Vinay Ramprasad and Neeraj Prathipati as vice presidents. It also promoted Tucker Albert to senior associate.

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