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Even Gwyneth Paltrow had a hard time raising VC – TechCrunch

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I spent the week in Malibu attending Upfront Ventures’ annual Upfront Summit, which brings together the likes of Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC’s elite for a two-day networking session of sorts. Cameron Diaz was there for some reason, and Natalie Portman made an appearance. Stacey Abrams had a powerful Q&A session with Lisa Borders, the president and CEO of Time’s Up. Of course, Gwyneth Paltrow was there to talk up Goop, her venture-funded commerce and content engine.

“I had no idea what I was getting into but I am so fulfilled and on fire from this job,” Paltrow said onstage at the summit… “It’s a very different life than I used to have but I feel very lucky that I made this leap.” Speaking with Frederic Court, the founder of Felix Capital, Paltrow shed light on her fundraising process.

“When I set out to raise my Series A, it was very difficult,” she said. “It’s great to be Gwyneth Paltrow when you’re raising money because people take the meeting, but then you get a lot more rejections than you would if they didn’t want to take a selfie … People, understandably, were dubious about [this business]. It becomes easier when you have a thriving business and your unit economics looks good.”

In other news…

The actor stopped by the summit to promote his startup, HitRecord . I talked to him about his $6.4 million round and grand plans for the artist-collaboration platform.

Backed by GV, Sequoia, Floodgate and more, Clover Health confirmed to TechCrunch this week that it’s brought in another round of capital led by Greenoaks. The $500 million round is a vote of confidence for the business, which has experienced its fair share of well-publicized hiccups. More on that here. Plus, Clutter, the startup that provides on-demand moving and storage services, is raising at least $200 million from SoftBank, sources tell TechCrunch. The round is a big deal for the LA tech ecosystem, which, aside from Snap and Bird, has birthed few venture-backed unicorns.

Pinterest, the nine-year-old visual search engine, has hired Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as lead underwriters for an IPO that’s planned for later this year. With $700 million in 2018 revenue, the company has raised some $1.5 billion at a $12 billion valuation from Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Valiant Capital Partners, Wellington Management, Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners and more.

Kleiner Perkins went “back to the future” this week with the announcement of a $600 million fund. The firm’s 18th fund, it will invest at the seed, Series A and Series B stages. TCV, a backer of Peloton and Airbnb, closed a whopping $3 billion vehicle to invest in consumer internet, IT infrastructure and services startups. Partech has doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice. And Sapphire Ventures has set aside $115 million for sports and entertainment bets.

The co-founder of Y Combinator will throw a sort of annual weekend getaway for nerds in picturesque Boulder, Colo. Called the YC 120, it will bring toget her 120 people for a couple of days in April to create connections. Read TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos’ interview with Altman here.

Consumer wellness business Hims has raised $100 million in an ongoing round at a $1 billion pre-money valuation. A growth-stage investor has led the round, with participation from existing investors (which include Forerunner Ventures, Founders Fund, Redpoint Ventures, SV Angel, 8VC and Maverick Capital) . Our sources declined to name the lead investor but said it was a “super big fund” that isn’t SoftBank and that hasn’t previously invested in Hims.

Five years after Andreessen Horowitz backed Oculus, it’s leading a $68 million Series A funding in Sandbox VR. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney talked to a16z’s Andrew Chen and Floodgate’s Mike Maples about what sets Sandbox apart.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

In a new class-action lawsuit, a former Munchery facilities worker is claiming the startup owes him and 250 other employees 60 days’ wages. On top of that, another former employee says the CEO, James Beriker, was largely absent and is to blame for Munchery’s downfall. If you haven’t been keeping up on Munchery’s abrupt shutdown, here’s some good background.

Consolidation in the micromobility space has arrived — in Brazil, at least. Not long after Y Combinator-backed Grin merged its electric scooter business with Brazil-based Ride, it’s completing another merger, this time with Yellow, the bike-share startup based in Brazil that has also expressed its ambitions to get into electric scooters.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos and Jeff Clavier of Uncork Capital chat about $100 million rounds, Stripe’s mega valuation and Pinterest’s highly anticipated IPO.



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US Border Patrol seizes thousands of fake vaccine cards and Pfizer stickers

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The US Border Patrol has reported seizing thousands of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards and Pfizer inoculation seals, the latest confiscation in what has been at least several thousand counterfeit cards found by customs officers this year. The latest batch arrived at the Port of Cincinnati in multiple shipments.

The latest Customs and Border Patrol seizure of counterfeit COVID-19 cards was reported by the agency on September 16. A total of 1,683 blank COVID-19 vaccination record cards were seized across five shipments that arrived starting on August 16, according to the agency. As well, these shipments contained 2,034 Pfizer inoculation stickers.

The report came only one day after CBP officials in Pittsburgh reported that they’d likewise confiscated fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, though a lesser amount at 70. In the latest case, the agents noted that the cards originated from China and were being imported by people who lived in private residences in multiple states, including Texas and Maryland.

As with previous seizures involving counterfeit cards, the Customs officials noticed that the latest fake cards featured “substandard printing,” as well as misspelled words. Other confiscated counterfeit vaccination cards featuring the CDC logo have also been reported at ports in Anchorage, Chicago, and Memphis.

The FBI has repeatedly warned that making, buying, and selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards is illegal and could result in penalties. Despite this, many anti-vaxers continue to seek ways to fake vaccination records in an effort to get around vaccine mandates.

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HBO Max lures in new subscribers by cutting its premium price in half

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HBO Max, one of the largest streaming services on the market, is luring in new and returning subscribers by slashing the cost of its premium plan for up to half a year. The price decrease makes the premium plan cheaper than the ad-based plan, at least during the promotion, giving subscribers access to new theatrical movies from Warner Bros., HBO originals, and more.

HBO Max is now the destination for streaming HBO content; the platform’s parent company recently made the move to remove its now-defunct HBO app from Amazon’s Prive Video Channels platform, leaving those customers to finally make the transition to the new service.

That change happened earlier this week, with the new discount promotion coming only a couple of days later. The new deal is available only for the Ad-Free plan, which ordinarily costs $14.99/month but is temporarily lower at $7.49/month.

The ad-free plan includes access to 4K UHD resolution content, the ability to download for offline viewing, and the rest of Warner Bros. 2021 movie premieres with same-day streaming access. It appears the new promotional pricing is available for new and returning subscribers, as well as those who are jumping to HBO Max after Amazon Prime Video Channels lost access to HBO.

Overall, this is a great deal for those who want to catch up on their favorite HBO shows or stream the latest Warner Bros. theatrical movies from the comfort of their homes. The same-day theatrical movie releases only apply to 2021, however — it’s unclear whether this holiday season’s COVID-19 cases will fuel another series of lockdowns and whether Warner Bros. will extend its hybrid releases into 2022.

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Watch Apple break down the iPhone 13 differences

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It’s iPhone 13 preorder day, and if you’ve been scratching your head about whether to go iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, or iPhone 13 Pro Max, a new Apple video could help filter through the options. Announced on Tuesday, there’s no shortage of information out there on what changes Apple made in 2021, and what sets its four new smartphones apart.

Now, it probably shouldn’t come as a great surprise to you that Apple is very impressed by Apple’s new smartphones. If you’re hoping for unbiased, impartial commentary on the new iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, this really isn’t the video for that.

However, with Apple’s virtual event meaning no opportunity for hands-on reports from media, along with the fact that we’re not expecting the first round of reviews until sometime next week, for the moment we’ll have to take what we can get. Given the four-strong line-up again this year, too, it’s also an opportunity to compare and contrast if you’re on the fence about which iPhone model fits your particular needs. As ever, that’s not necessarily an easy decision.

Like was the case in 2020, for most people the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro seem likely to be the sweet spot in 2021. The iPhone 13 mini is most affordable, but the smaller display could leave it too small for some. We also need to see whether Apple’s claims that it has addressed the mini battery life are accurate, too.

At the other end of the scale, the iPhone 13 Pro Max clearly has appeal for those who don’t want to compromise: whether that’s on screen size, cameras, or anything else. With a starting price of $1,099, though, that’s a whole lot to spend on a new smartphone. Meanwhile, unlike with the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, there aren’t any obvious differences in the cameras this year.

Last year, the iPhone 12 Pro Max got sensor-shift image stabilization and a larger lens. This year, though, the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max have the same camera specs. It means you don’t have to find space in your pocket for the very largest handset if you want the very best camera tech Apple has to offer.

Clearly, you shouldn’t be basing your entire purchasing decision on Apple’s video. All the same, if you’ve been wondering about new features like macro photography support, the new Super Retina XDR display with its 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate, and the new AI-powered Cinematic mode, this video offers a more in-depth look than Apple had time for during its keynote on Tuesday.

Preorders of the iPhone 13 family are open now, with deliveries expected to begin next Friday, September 24.

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