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Torch takes $10M to teach empathy to executives – TechCrunch

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When everyone always tells you “yes,” you can become a monster. Leaders especially need honest feedback to grow. “If you look at rich people like Donald Trump and you neglect them, you get more Donald Trumps,” says Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough about our gruff president. His app wants to make executive coaching (a polite word for therapy) part of even the busiest executive’s schedule. Torch conducts a 360-degree interview with a client and their employees to assess weaknesses, lays out improvement goals and provides one-on-one video chat sessions with trained counselors.

“Essentially we’re trying to help that person develop the capacity to be a more loving human being in the workplace,” Yarbrough explains. That’s crucial in the age of “hustle porn,” where everyone tries to pretend they’re working all the time and constantly “crushing it.” That can leave leaders facing challenges feeling alone and unworthy. Torch wants to provide a private place to reach out for a helping hand or shoulder to cry on.

Now Torch is ready to lead the way to better management for more companies, as it’s just raised a  $10 million Series A round led by Norwest Venture Partners, along with Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and West Ventures. It already has 100 clients, including Reddit and Atrium, but the new cash will fuel its go-to market strategy. Rather than trying to democratize access to coaching, Torch is doubling-down on teaching founders, C-suites and other senior executives how to care… or not care too much.

“I came out of a tough family myself and I had to do a ton of therapy and a ton of meditation to emerge and be an effective leader myself,” Yarbrough recalls. “Philosophically, I care about personal growth. It’s just true all the way down to birth for me. What I’m selling is authentic to who I am.”

Torch’s co-founders met when they were in grad school for counseling psychology degrees, practicing group therapy sessions together. Yarbrough went on to practice clinically and start Well Clinic in the Bay Area, while Keegan Walden got his PhD. Yarbrough worked with married couples to resolve troubles, and “the next thing I know I was working with high-profile startup founders, who like anybody have their fair share of conflicts.”

Torch co-founders (from left): Cameron Yarbrough and Keegan Walden

Coaching romantic partners to be upfront about expectations and kind during arguments translated seamlessly to keep co-founders from buckling under stress. As Yarbrough explains, “I was noticing that they were consistently having problems with five different things:

1. Communication – Surfacing problems early with kindness

2. Healthy workplace boundaries – Making sure people don’t step on each others’ toes

3. How to manage conflict in a healthy way – Staying calm and avoiding finger-pointing

4. How to be positively influential – Being motivational without being annoying or pushy

5. How to manage one’s ego, whether that’s insecurity or narcissism – Seeing the team’s win as the first priority

To address those, companies hire Torch to coach one or more of their executives. Torch conducts extensive 360-degree interviews with the exec, as well as their reports, employees and peers. It seeks to score them on empathy, visionary thinking, communication, conflict, management and collaboration, Torch then structures goals and improvement timelines that it tracks with follow-up interviews with the team and quantifiable metrics that can all be tracked by HR through a software dashboard.

To make progress on these fronts, execs do video chat sessions through Torch’s app with coaches trained in these skills. “These are all working people with by nature very tight schedules. They don’t have time to come in for a live session so we come to them in the form of video,” Yarbrough tells me. Rates vary from $500 per month to $1,500 per month for a senior coach in the U.S., Europe, APAC or EMEA, with Torch scoring a significant margin. “We’re B2B only. We’re not focused on being the most affordable solution. We’re focused on being the most effective. And we find that there’s less price sensitivity for senior leaders where the cost of their underperformance is incredibly high to the organization.” Torch’s top source of churn is clients’ going out of business, not ceasing to want its services.

Here are two examples of how big-wigs get better with Torch. “Let’s say we have a client who really just wants to be liked all the time, so much so that they have a hard time getting things done. The feedback from the 360 would come back like ‘I find that Cameron is continually telling me what I want to hear but I don’t know what the expectations are of me and I need him to be more direct,’ ” Yarbrough explains. “The problem is those leaders will eventually fire those people who are failing, but they’ll say they had no idea they weren’t performing because he never told them.” Torch’s coaches can teach them to practice tough-love when necessary and to be more transparent. Meanwhile, a boss who storms around the office and “is super-direct and unkind” could be instructed on how to “develop more empathic attunement.”

Yarbrough specifically designed Torch’s software to not be too prescriptive and leave room for the relationship between the coach and client to unfold. And for privacy, coaches don’t record notes and HR only sees the performance goals and progress, not the content of the video chats. It wants execs to feel comfortable getting real without the worry their personal or trade secrets could leak. “And if someone is bringing in something about trauma or that’s super-sensitive about their personal life, their coach will refer them out to psychotherapists,” Yarbrough assures me.

Torch’s direct competition comes from boutique executive coaching firms around the world, while on the tech side, BetterUp is trying to make coaching scale to every type of employee. But its biggest foe is the stubborn status quo of stiff-upper-lipping it.

The startup world has been plagued by too many tragic suicides, deep depression and paralyzing burnout. It’s easy for founders to judge their own worth not by self-confidence or even the absolute value of their accomplishments, but by their status relative to yesterday. That means one blown deal, employee quitting or product delay can make an executive feel awful. But if they turn to their peers or investors, it could hurt their partnership and fundraising prospects. To keep putting in the work, they need an emotional outlet.

“We ultimately have to create this great software that super-powers human beings. People are not robots yet. They will be someday, but not yet,” Yarbrough concludes with a laugh. IQ alone doesn’t make people succeed. Torch can help them develop the EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient, they need to become a boss that’s looked up to.



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Musk says Twitter will offer “amnesty” to suspended accounts • TechCrunch

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Elon Musk said Thursday Twitter will grant “a general amnesty” to accounts that had been suspended from the platform beginning next week. The CEO posted a poll the day earlier over whether the platform should restore affected accounts.

The news comes within a week of Musk also ending former president Donald Trump’s ban from the platform after running a similar poll. Trump was banned after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but said he doesn’t intend to return to the platform.

Musk’s poll to users included a caveat that suspended account holders could rejoin the platform “provided they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” Around 3.2 million users responded to the poll, which voted 72.4% in favor of amnesty.

“The people have spoken. Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk said, using a Latin phrase that means “The voice of the people is the voice of god.”

Historically, Twitter has banned accounts that glorify hate and harassment, have the potential to incite violence or rampantly spread misinformation that can lead to harm. Some high profile individuals who were banned include MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell after he made a series of claims that Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election; former Trump advisor and former executive chairman of Breitbart Steve Bannon after he said Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded; and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes for violating the site’s policy of prohibiting violent extremist groups.

It’s unclear from Musk’s brief tweet how Twitter will deal with content moderation in the future, now that more potentially problematic voices will be returning to the platform. These concerns have only been exacerbated by Musk’s mass layoffs and the general exodus of employees who’d rather quit than be “hardcore.”

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Amazon is working on a TV series about FTX drama with Russo Brothers • TechCrunch

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The FTX drama is not over yet — and Amazon wants a piece of it. The company is partnering with Russo Brothers, best known for Marvel movies, to make a show on the spectacular collapse of the giant cryptocurrency empire.

Amazon has partnered with the duo’s production house AGBO to make the show, which will go into production in Spring 2023, Variety first reported. Amazon is also trying to rope in the brothers to direct the show, the report added.

The company confirmed the news in a statement and said “Hunters” creator David Weil will write the pilot.

“We are excited to be able to continue our great working relationship with David, Joe, Anthony, and the AGBO team with this fascinating event series I can’t think of better partners to bring this multifaceted story to our global Prime Video audience,” Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said.

The Russos are also working with Amazon to create a multinational international spy series called “Citadel.”

“This is one of the most brazen frauds ever committed. It crosses many sectors — celebrity, politics, academia, tech, criminality, sex, drugs, and the future of modern finance,” the Russos said of the upcoming show surrounding FTX in a statement. “At the center of it all sits an extremely mysterious figure with complex and potentially dangerous motivations. We want to understand why.”

FTX collapse

FTX and its former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried have been at the center of media coverage across the world after the celebrated cryptocurrency exchange imploded earlier this month.

Coindesk reported earlier about the concerning finances of Alameda Research, the trading firm founded by Bankman-Fried and intertwined closely with the exchange. The report triggered a set of events, culminating in Binance chief executive Changpeng “CZ” Zhao unveiling plans to sell FTX’s native token FTT that it had received as part of an investment exit from the firm.

The move shook the confidence of retail investors and prompted a bank run on FTX and unraveled fraudulent misuse of FTX customers’ data.

Bankman-Fried, who along with his firm have attracted regulatory scrutiny in recent weeks, attempted to salvage FTX by signing a deal to be acquired by Binance, its chief rival then. Binance pulled out of the deal after finding FTX had dug too deep of a hole in its balance sheet. Within days, FTX filed for bankruptcy with Bankman-Fried stepping down from the CEO post.

In the aftermath of this chaos, Bankman-Fried gave a Vox reporter an interview over Twitter direct messages in which he criticized regulators and expressed regrets about filing for bankruptcy and walked back on many of the long-believes he had portrayed about himself to the world. Reports have since also found that FTX used corporate funds to purchase houses for employees and owes the top 50 creditors over $3 billion.

Time for the show

All of this makes for a good TV, for sure. It also helps that startup founders doing things has become a sleeper hit of a genre in recent years as evidenced by hits like “WeCrashed” (Apple TV+) on the WeWork and Adam Neumann fiasco, “Dropout” (Hulu) on the Theranos-Elizabeth Holmes saga, and “Super Pumped” (Showtime) on Uber led by Travel Kalanick. So Amazon is keen to get a hit show centering on a controversial tech founder on its catalog. But we could see more adoption of the FTX story.

Earlier this week, Deadline reported that buyers — including Apple — are chasing to sign celebrated author Michael Lewis’ yet-to-be-published book. Lewis — who has previously written hits that were later adapted into movies such as “The Big Short,” “Moneyball,” and “The Blind Side” — had been closely following Bankman-Fried for over six months before the recent implosion.

Amazon’s show will be based on “insider reporting” from various journalists who have covered the issue extensively, according to Variety.

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Mark Cuban-backed streaming app Fireside acquires Stremium to bring live, interactive shows to your TV • TechCrunch

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Mark Cuban-backed streaming app Fireside, which today offers podcasters and other creators a way to host interactive, live shows with audience engagement, will soon expand to the TV’s big screen. Variety reported, and Fireside confirmed, it’s acquired the open streaming TV platform Stremium, which will allow Fireside’s shows to become available to a range of connected TV devices, including Amazon Fire TV, Roku, smart TVs and others.

Deal terms were not disclosed. Cuban retweeted Variety’s reporting but made no other public comment.

A company spokesperson confirmed the deal to TechCrunch, noting it was for a combination of IP and talent.

“Fireside has acquired all of Stremium including its full team and intellectual property,” the spokesperson said. “The company is the first interactive web3 streaming platform and the acquisition will help Fireside accelerate delivering on being the only platform that turns creators, celebrities, brands, and IP owners into the studio, networks, and streaming services of the future. Expect other major announcements coming soon on this front,” they added.

Launched just over a year ago, Fireside arrived on the heels of the pandemic-fueled demand for startups offering live entertainment as well as a growing number of startups catering to the creator economy.

Despite some early — and erroneous — comparisons between Fireside and other live audio platforms like Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse, the startup gained traction due to a differentiated feature set that also prioritizes video content. Shows on Fireside’s platform could be streamed live to its app, recorded, saved, or even simulcast to other social networks. The app additionally includes audience engagement tools and other features to aid creators with promotion, editing, measurement, distribution, monetization, and audience growth, all of which are part of Fireside’s end-to-end content production experience. More recently, the company had been exploring web3 technologies, including NFTs.

Co-founded by Cuban, early Yammer employee Mike Ihbe, and former Googler, YouTuber and Node co-founder Falon Fatemi, who sold her last company to SugarCRM, Fireside has managed to attract some high-profile creators like Jay Leno, Michael Dell, Melissa Rivers, Craig Kilborn, and screenwriter and Entourage creator Doug Ellin over the past year.

In a letter to Fireside investors published by Variety, Fatemi shared that the Stremium acquisition would help Fireside to offer a “second screen experience where the audience can use their phones to engage and interact in real-time while watching on their TVs.”

“Imagine watching a live cookalong show with your favorite chef simultaneously on your TV and your phone where you can interact and get invited to talk directly to them and even show them what you are cooking from the palm of your hand,” Fatemi explained. Plus, Stremium’s infrastructure would allow creators to upload, publish, program and distribute their live shows across both mobile and TV, she added. (Stremium confirmed to us the letter’s accuracy.)

TechCrunch this February reported Fireside was in talks to raise a $25 million Series A that valued its business at $125 million. That round has since closed, but Fireside hasn’t yet made a formal announcement about raise, investors, or its valuation. We understand this may be because Fireside is still adding some additional strategic investors to the deal, and it plans to detail the fundraise soon. Of course, the funding may have helped pave the way for Fireside to make this new acquisition.

Other investors in Fireside include the Chainsmokers, HBSE, Goodwater, Animal Capital, and NFL stars Larry Fitzgerald and Kelvin Beachum and former NBA star Baron Davis, in addition to Cuban. Ahead of its Series A, Fireside had raised around $8 million.

Stremium had been developing a service that allowed consumers to aggregate all their favorite channels using their “TV Everywhere” credentials and use a cloud DVR instead of downloading separate streaming apps. It also included a selection of free streaming channels. But the service faced an increasingly competitive landscape where there are now numerous ways to watch free streaming content, like Tubi, Pluto TV, The Roku Chanel, Freevee (formerly IMDb TV), Plex, and more. Meanwhile, cord-cutting is accelerating leaving fewer people with cable TV logins for Stremium to market its services to.

The Stremium website is now pointing visitors to Fireside and confirms the acquisition. Fireside is aiming to release its TV product sometime next year as a result of the deal.

 

 

 

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