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Literati raises $40M for its book club platform

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Literati has raised a $40 million Series B to pursue an unusual startup opportunity — namely, book clubs.

Founder and CEO Jessica Ewing (a former product manager at Google) explained that the Austin-based company started out with book clubs for kids, before launching its Luminary brand for adult book clubs last year. And the Luminary clubs live up to the name — they’re curated by notable figures such as activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, NBA star Stephen Curry, entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, journalist Susan Orlean and the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

When you sign up for a Literati book club, you receive a print edition of each month’s selection with a note from the curator. You also get access to the Literati app, where you can discuss the book with other readers, and where curators host author conversations. For example, Curry is leading a book club focused on nonfiction about people who “transcend expectations” (he invested in Literati as well), while Yousafzai chooses books by women “with bold ideas from around the world.”

Ewing told me that she’s trying to build the first “new, innovative bookseller” since Amazon launched 25 years ago. And she’s doing that by focusing on curation.

“There’s too much choice, too many lists, it’s completely overwhelming for most people,” she said. She argued that it helps to enlist celebrities and other big names to do that curation: “Books are aspirational. No one aspires to play more video games, people aspire to read more … People want their books to be recommended by someone a little bit smarter than they are.”

Literati CEO Jessica Ewing

Literati CEO Jessica Ewing

Ewing’s hope for Literati is to create “the next great literary social network,” bridging the gap between celebrity-driven lists like Oprah’s Book Club and Reese’s Book Club and what she described as “the wine-and-cheese, super intimate model.”

I would love to see in-person meetups once we’re out of the COVID environment,” she added. “But I also think there’s everything in between. We’re enabling threaded discussions [in the app] right now, and it’s cool to have asynchronous conversations about the books.”

And on the children’s book side, Literati is also working to build personalization tools designed to recommend the best books for each child.

“To me, this is one of the most exciting applications: How do we make this generation of kids love reading by pairing them with the right books?” Ewing said.

Literati previously raised $12 million in funding from Shasta Ventures and others, according to Crunchbase. The new round was led by Aydin Senkut of Felicis Ventures, with participation from Dick Costolo and Adam Bain of 01 Advisors, Founders Fund, General Catalyst, Shasta, Silverton Partners, Springdale Ventures and, as previously noted, Stephen Curry.

“I wanted to start my own book club with Literati, because their mission to better the world through reading naturally aligns with my values as an entrepreneur and father,” Curry said in a statement. “I was a fan before I was an investor, and am so proud to be a part of a company that works to better the lives of others, one book at a time.”

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Qualcomm veteran to replace Alain Crozier as Microsoft Greater China boss

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Microsoft gets a new leader for its Greater China business. Yang Hou, a former executive at Qualcomm, will take over Alain Crozier as the chairman and chief executive officer for Microsoft Greater China Region, according to a company announcement released Monday.

More to come…

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Autonomous drone maker Skydio raises $170M led by Andreessen Horowitz

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Skydio has raised $170 million in a Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Growth Fund. That pushes it into unicorn territory, with $340 million in total funding and a post-money valuation north of $1 billion. Skydio’s fresh capital comes on the heels of its expansion last year into the enterprise market, and it intends to use the considerable pile of cash to help it expand globally and accelerate product development.

In July of last year, Skydio announced its $100 million Series C financing, and also debuted the X2, its first dedicated enterprise drone. The company also launched a suite of software for commercial and enterprise customers, its first departure from the consumer drone market where it had been focused prior to that raise since its founding in 2014.

Skydio’s debut drone, the R1, received a lot of accolades and praise for its autonomous capabilities. Unlike other consumer drones at the time, including from recreational drone maker DJI, the R1 could track a target and film them while avoiding obstacles without any human intervention required. Skydio then released the Skydio 2 in 2019, its second drone, cutting off more than half the price while improving on it its autonomous tracking and video capabilities.

Late last year, Skydio brought on additional senior talent to help it address enterprise and government customers, including a software development lead who had experience at Tesla and 3D printing company Carbon. Skydio also hired two Samsara executives at the same time to work on product and engineering. Samsara provides a platform for managing cloud-based fleet operations for large enterprises.

The applications of Skydio’s technology for commercial, public sector and enterprise organizations are many and varied. Already, the company works with public utilities, fire departments, construction firms and more to do work including remote inspection, emergency response, urban planning and more. Skydio’s U.S. pedigree also puts it in prime position to capitalize on the growing interest in applications from the defense sector.

a16z previously led Skydio’s Series A round. Other investors who participated in this Series D include Lines Capital, Next47, IVP and UP.Partners.

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Space startup Gitai raises $17.1M to help build the robotic workforce of commercial space

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Japanese space startup Gitai has raised a $17.1 million funding round, a Series B financing for the robotics startup. This new funding will be used for hiring, as well as funding the development and execution of an on-orbit demonstration mission for the company’s robotic technology, which will show its efficacy in performing in-space satellite servicing work. That mission is currently set to take place in 2023.

Gitai will also be staffing up in the U.S., specifically, as it seeks to expand its stateside presence in a bid to attract more business from that market.

“We are proceeding well in the Japanese market, and we’ve already contracted missions from Japanese companies, but we haven’t expanded to the U.S. market yet,” explained Gitai founder and CEO Sho Nakanose in an interview. So we would like to get missions from U.S. commercial space companies, as a subcontractor first. We’re especially interested in on-orbit servicing, and we would like to provide general-purpose robotic solutions for an orbital service provider in the U.S.”

Nakanose told me that Gitai has plenty of experience under its belt developing robots which are specifically able to install hardware on satellites on-orbit, which could potentially be useful for upgrading existing satellites and constellations with new capabilities, for changing out batteries to keep satellites operational beyond their service life, or for repairing satellites if they should malfunction.

Gitai’s focus isn’t exclusively on extra-vehicular activity in the vacuum of space, however. It’s also performing a demonstration mission of its technical capabilities in partnership with Nanoracks using the Bishop Airlock, which is the first permanent commercial addition to the International Space Station. Gitai’s robot, codenamed S1, is an arm–style robot not unlike industrial robots here on Earth, and it’ll be showing off a number of its capabilities, including operating a control panel and changing out cables.

Long-term, Gitai’s goal is to create a robotic workforce that can assist with establishing bases and colonies on the Moon and Mars, as well as in orbit. With NASA’s plans to build a more permanent research presence on orbit at the Moon, as well as on the surface, with the eventual goal of reaching Mars, and private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin looking ahead to more permanent colonies on Mars, as well as large in-space habitats hosting humans as well as commercial activity, Nakanose suggests that there’s going to be ample need for low-cost, efficient robotic labor – particularly in environments that are inhospitable to human life.

Nakanose told me that he actually got started with Gitai after the loss of his mother – an unfortunate passing he said he firmly believes could have been avoided with the aid of robotic intervention. He began developing robots that could expand and augment human capability, and then researched what was likely the most useful and needed application of this technology from a commercial perspective. That research led Nakanose to conclude that space was the best long-term opportunity for a new robotics startup, and Gitai was born.

This funding was led by SPARX Innovation for the Future Co. Ltd, and includes funding form DcI Venture Growth Fund, the Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, and EP-GB (Epson’s venture investment arm).

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