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Early Snapchat employee debuts Yoni Circle, a social storytelling app for womxn

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An early Snapchat employee who once architected the “Our Stories” product, Chloë Drimal, has now launched her own social app, Yoni Circle. Described as a membership-based community, the app aims to connect womxn using storytelling — including through both live video chat sessions as well as with pre-recorded stories that are available at any time.

The company has been quietly operating in beta since April 2020, but is now making its public launch.

Drimal came up with the idea for a social storytelling app, in part, because she saw the potential when working on the Snapchat “Our Stories” product.

Image Credits: Yoni Circle; founder Chloë Drimal

“I got to see that storytelling connects us,” she explains. “I got to peer into global experiences like New Year’s Eve or witnessing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and I just saw firsthand how connected we are as people,” Drimal continues. “I got to see how that was affecting our Snapchat users and making them feel more connected to the world because of this art of storytelling,” she adds.

But another inspiration came from Drimal’s personal experience in being taken off the “Our Stories” product to work on other projects at Snap — a difficult time in her career that started to make her feel very alone. She later ended up having conversations with other women — often older women who shared their own experiences — who helped her realized that she wasn’t as alone as she first thought.

“Their stories empowered me to write my next chapter, and know that this wasn’t the end of my career as I dramatically thought as a twenty-five or twenty-four year-old. It really was just the beginning and it helped me see the healing of storytelling — but also the importance of what strangers being vulnerable can do,” she says.

After leaving Snap, where she had later run women’s initiatives, Drimal began hosting an in-person community focused around more structured storytelling circles. The community evolved to become what’s now the Yoni Circle app, whose beta version was built with help from former Snap engineer Akiva Bamberger, now a Yoni Circle advisor.

Image Credits: Yoni Circle

Today, the app has two main features: the interactive Storytelling Circles component and the more passive Yoni Radio.

The former allows members to join 60-minute moderated live video chat sessions with up to six womxn who connect with one another by listening to each others’ stories. During the Circle, a trained “Salonniere” guide will first lead the group through introductions, a breathing exercise, and will then introduce a storytelling prompt based on a specific theme, like “Stories on Gratitude,” or “Stories on Surprise,” for example.

The Salonnieres are not volunteers, but rather paid contractors who have undergone specific training to lead these sorts of sessions. Over time, they’ll also be able to gather members to paid web-based events, which could be things like yoga classes, book clubs, cooking classes and more.

Image Credits: Yoni Circle

The Circle sessions have a basic rule: take the stories with you, and leave the names behind. In other words, what’s shared in circles is meant to remain confidential, unless the member chooses to share it publicly. Anyone violating that rule will be banned.

Members are also advised to speak simply, leave their egos at the door, and respect differences. No one receives the topic beforehand, either, so members can’t rehearse their speeches and put on a “performance.” The act of participating is meant to be about authenticity and vulnerability.

During the session, each participant takes their turn to share their own story and will listen to the others’ in return. Users only speak when they have the “talking piece,” and they can react to another story with snaps, or by clicking a snap icon.

While the sessions may uplift members the way that group therapy does, they’re not really focused on addressing psychological issues. Instead, Drimal says members compare them to “a slumber party combined with a mindfulness class.”

Still, she says, members feel like participating is an act of self-care.

“You just feel lighter,” Drimal explains. “It’s hard not to listen to other stories, to see yourself and just be reminded that you aren’t alone in the highs and lows of life.”

Image Credits: Yoni Circle

Members can also opt to record their own stories and then set them as either public or private on their Yoni Circle profile. The team then curates the public stories to share as highlights on the app’s homepage, allowing users to listen at any time. This also powers the Yoni Radio feature.

Recently, the company had been testing a weekly broadcast of these recorded stories, but will soon trial a new “story of the day” feature instead.

The Yoni Circle app first launched into beta last April, just as the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. had begun. That led to people isolating themselves at home away from friends, extended family, and other social interactions — driving demand for new social experiences.

But Yoni Circle doesn’t quite fit into the new live, interactive mobile market that’s developed as of late, led by apps like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

“I like to think we’ve carved out something different,” says Drimal. “It is intimate because we’re creating a safe space to be vulnerable…the things that I share in any circle I would never share on Clubhouse,” she says. “I think that’s also why we’ve been so focused on the way we grow our community. Yes, we’re looking to have millions of members, but we need to get there carefully.”

Currently, Yoni Circle is open to people who identify as womxn, and it involves an application process where you have to share who you are and what you’re looking to gain from the experience. Longer-term, the goal is to evolve the platform into a safe space that’s open to all.

Though the pandemic helped generate initial interest in the app  — it now has members from 1,000 cities across 80 countries — the startup sees a future in the post-pandemic market with in-person events that further connect its members.

Yoni Circle today is available on iOS for free. It will later monetize through an Audible-like credits model which provides access to the Circle sessions.

The L.A. and New York-based team of seven is backed by $1.3 million in pre-seed funding, led by BoxGroup. Investors include Cassius Family, Advancit, and angels including Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss, Mirror founder and CEO Brynn Putnam, Beme CTO Matt Hackett, early Snap engineer Daniel Smith.

Yoni Circle plans to raise a seed round in a few weeks.

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Investors still love software more than life

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Despite some recent market volatility, the valuations that software companies have generally been able to command in recent quarters have been impressive. On Friday, we took a look into why that was the case, and where the valuations could be a bit more bubbly than others. Per a report written by few Battery Ventures investors, it stands to reason that the middle of the SaaS market could be where valuation inflation is at its peak.

Something to keep in mind if your startup’s growth rate is ticking lower. But today, instead of being an enormous bummer and making you worry, I have come with some historically notable data to show you how good modern software startups and their larger brethren have it today.

In case you are not 100% infatuated with tables, let me save you some time. In the upper right we can see that SaaS companies today that are growing at less than 10% yearly are trading for an average of 6.9x their next 12 months’ revenue.

Back in 2011, SaaS companies that were growing at 40% or more were trading at 6.0x their next 12 month’s revenue. Climate change, but for software valuations.

One more note from my chat with Battery. Its investor Brandon Gleklen riffed with The Exchange on the definition of ARR and its nuances in the modern market. As more SaaS companies swap traditional software-as-a-service pricing for its consumption-based equivalent, he declined to quibble on definitions of ARR, instead arguing that all that matters in software revenues is whether they are being retained and growing over the long term. This brings us to our next topic.

Consumption v. SaaS pricing

I’ve taken a number of earnings calls in the last few weeks with public software companies. One theme that’s come up time and again has been consumption pricing versus more traditional SaaS pricing. There is some data showing that consumption-priced software companies are trading at higher multiples than traditionally priced software companies, thanks to better-than-average retention numbers.

But there is more to the story than just that. Chatting with Fastly CEO Joshua Bixby after his company’s earnings report, we picked up an interesting and important market distinction between where consumption may be more attractive and where it may not be. Per Bixby, Fastly is seeing larger customers prefer consumption-based pricing because they can afford variability and prefer to have their bills tied more closely to revenue. Smaller customers, however, Bixby said, prefer SaaS billing because it has rock-solid predictability.

I brought the argument to Open View Partners Kyle Poyar, a venture denizen who has been writing on this topic for TechCrunch in recent weeks. He noted that in some cases the opposite can be true, that variably priced offerings can appeal to smaller companies because their developers can often test the product without making a large commitment.

So, perhaps we’re seeing the software market favoring SaaS pricing among smaller customers when they are certain of their need, and choosing consumption pricing when they want to experiment first. And larger companies, when their spend is tied to equivalent revenue changes, bias toward consumption pricing as well.

Evolution in SaaS pricing will be slow, and never complete. But folks really are thinking about it. Appian CEO Matt Calkins has a general pricing thesis that price should “hover” under value delivered. Asked about the consumption-versus-SaaS topic, he was a bit coy, but did note that he was not “entirely happy” with how pricing is executed today. He wants pricing that is a “better proxy for customer value,” though he declined to share much more.

If you aren’t thinking about this conversation and you run a startup, what’s up with that? More to come on this topic, including notes from an interview with the CEO of BigCommerce, who is betting on SaaS over the more consumption-driven Shopify.

Next Insurance, and its changing market

Next Insurance bought another company this week. This time it was AP Intego, which will bring integration into various payroll providers for the digital-first SMB insurance provider. Next Insurance should be familiar because TechCrunch has written about its growth a few times. The company doubled its premium run rate to $200 million in 2020, for example.

The AP Intego deal brings $185.1 million of active premium to Next Insurance, which means that the neo-insurance provider has grown sharply thus far in 2021, even without counting its organic expansion. But while the Next Insurance deal and the impending Hippo SPAC are neat notes from a hot private sector, insurtech has shed some of its public-market heat.

Stocks of public neo-insurance companies like Root, Lemonade and MetroMile have lost quite a lot of value in recent weeks. So, the exit landscape for companies like Next and Hippo — yet-private insurtech startups with lots of capital backing their rapid premium growth — is changing for the worse.

Hippo decided it will debut via a SPAC. But I doubt that Next Insurance will pursue a rapid ramp to the public markets until things smooth out. Not that it needs to go public quickly; it raised a quarter billion back in September of last year.

Various and Sundry

What else? Sisense, a $100 million ARR club member, hired a new CFO. So we expect them to go public inside the next four or five quarters.

And the following chart, which is via Deena Shakir of Lux Capital, via Nasdaq, via SPAC Alpha:

Alex

 

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The Product Manager asterisk

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Product manager might be one of the most grey roles within a startup. However, as a company progresses and the team grows, there comes a time when a founder needs to carve out dedicated roles. Of these positions, product management might be one of the most elusive — and key — roles to fill.

Ken Norton, who recently left his job as director of product at Figma to consult rising PMs, thinks it’s easier to start with defining what they aren’t: the CEO of the product.

“Product managers need to realize that there is a lot of janitorial work that gets done in product management,” he said. “It’s not fun or glamorous, and it’s certainly not being the CEO of the product. It’s just stuff that needs to get done.” I wrote up a guide on how and when to hire your first product manager that expands on some of these insights, including how focus might be the biggest trait to interview for:

Hiring continues to be one of the hardest parts of building a startup, and those early employees can define the trajectory, culture and eventual success of it. Even during TC Sessions: Justice this past week, Precursor’s Sydney Thomas explained how startups need to make “pretty final decisions, pretty early on in what type of company you want to build.”

It’s a slight asterisk to the common narrative of how startups pivot every other day. It’s not that simple, and I’ll probably remind you of that every other week, dear Startups Weekly readers.

The rest of today’s newsletter will include notes on a hot up-and-coming edtech IPO, an exit that includes Jay-Z, and the latest in agricultural tech robots. Also, remember you can always find me on Twitter @nmasc_ or e-mail me at natasha.m@techcrunch.com.

The public markets get educated

It’s been yet another busy week for the public markets. I published a scoop earlier this week that Coursera is filing to go public soon, which would be one of the first debuts that will let us see how an education company’s finances changed, and accelerated, amid the pandemic’s impact on remote learning.

Here’s what to know: Like clockwork, Coursera’s S-1 dropped late Friday, giving us the first glance of the numbers behind the business. The startup tried to pain a picture of a path of profitability, with rising revenues as well as rising net losses. We get into the meat of it here. 

Image Credits: Fotograzia / Getty Images

What’s better than one billionaire? Two 

One of the biggest headlines of this past week was Square buying a majority stake of Tidal. A fintech and music collaboration might not seem that obvious, but the music economy remains one of the most under-tapped (and under-innovated) opportunities that remains out there.

Here’s what to know: Square CEO Jack Dorsey used his other company, Twitter, to share more information about the $297 million deal. As part of this transaction, Tidal owner Jay-Z got a board seat with Square, triggering conversations about the future of musical NFTs. The deal also officially confirmed that Jay-Z isn’t just a businessman, he’s a business, man.

Singer Jay-Z performs before US President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Columbus, Ohio, on November 5, 2012. After a grueling 18-month battle, the final US campaign day arrived Monday for Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney, two men on a collision course for the world’s top job. The candidates have attended hundreds of rallies, fundraisers and town halls, spent literally billions on attack ads, ground games, and get out the vote efforts, and squared off in three intense debates. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Decentralized insect farming, anyone?

In this week’s Equity Wednesday episode, we brought on TC’s climate tech editor, Jonathan Shieber, to talk about the opportunities within agtech right now. We covered a lot within the 20-minute episode: from $100 million for mealworms, farm-to-grill robots and decentralized insect farming.

Here’s what to know: Farms have always had a compelling reason to turn to robotics to make tedious work much, much easier. We got into two different businesses and their approaches on how to serve farm robots, from SaaS leases to selling the robots one by one.

Image Credits: Fernando Trabanco Fotografía / Getty Images

Around TechCrunch

Thanks to all of you who tuned into TC Sessions: Justice this past week, it was so fun to hang — and make sure to give virtual kudos to my colleague, and showrunner, Megan Rose Dickey.

Next up is TechCrunch Early Stage, our yearly event that is all about tactical advice to help new and first-time founders navigate the Wild West world that is venture capital and startups. We just announced the judges of the pitch-off competition, and have already landed top-tier venture capitalists to share what you won’t find on Twitter: behind the scenes startup advice that is beyond 180 characters.

It’s the bootcamp you always wished you could attend, so get your tickets here.

Across the week

Seen on Extra Crunch

Understanding how investors value growth in 2021

Dear Sophie: Can you demystify the H-1B process and E-3 premium processing

11 words and phrases to cut from your VC pitch deck

Making sense of the $6.5B Okta-Auth0 deal

Seen on TechCrunch

SoftBank makes mountains of cash off of human laziness

Mary Meeker’s Bond has closed its second fund with $2 billion

The technology selloff is getting to be somewhat material

What China’s Big Tech CEOs propose at the annual parliament meeting

And finally…

I wanted to end by using this platform to address the rise of anti-Asian violence across our country. Conversations around how to be a more inclusive and anti-racist society need to be more loud, and more collaborative in order for change to actually happen. Intention around inclusion will impact the world we live in, the startups we create and the success of our collective. Here are some resources to donate, petition and learn.

Thanks,

N

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Tens of thousands of US organizations hit in ongoing Microsoft Exchange hack

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A stylized skull and crossbones made out of ones and zeroes.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Tens of thousands of US-based organizations are running Microsoft Exchange servers that have been backdoored by threat actors who are stealing administrator passwords and exploiting critical vulnerabilities in the email and calendaring application, it was widely reported. Microsoft issued emergency patches on Tuesday, but they do nothing to disinfect systems that are already compromised.

KrebsOnSecurity was the first to report the mass hack. Citing multiple unnamed people, reporter Brian Krebs put the number of compromised US organizations at at least 30,000. Worldwide, Krebs said there were at least 100,000 hacked organizations. Other news outlets, also citing unnamed sources, quickly followed with posts reporting the hack had hit tens of thousands of organizations in the US.

Assume compromise

“This is the real deal,” Chris Krebs, the former head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said on Twitter, referring to the attacks on on-premisis Exchange, which is also known as Outlook Web Access. “If your organization runs an OWA server exposed to the internet, assume compromise between 02/26-03/03.” His comments accompanied a Tweet on Thursday from Jake Sullivan, the White House national security advisor to President Biden.

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