$1B round raised. Boeing's investments. Theranos drama.

Has a Chinese news app finally cracked the digital media code? 

Toutiao, which means “headlines” in Chinese, is like an AI-powered version of Buzzfeed. The more its 700 million users click on its stories and headlines, the more the app learns what their interests are and serves them customized stories and ads, the more they click ... and so on.

Toutiao raised a huge $1B round this week from investors including Sequoia Capital China and CCB International. 

That makes it the largest round to a private digital media company we’ve ever tracked (our digital media category includes content sites as well as curation/aggregation apps like Toutiao, but excludes social networks). Toutiao recently purchased Flipagram and plans to expand geographically.

Toutiao is an outlier right now. Elsewhere investors are mostly staying away from digital media plays. And that’s understandable. It’s hard for stand-alone general-audience content sites to eke out significant ad revenue when they’re competing for attention against other ad giants like Facebook, Google, and even Amazon.

Mode Media and aggregation app Prismatic are among the companies in this category that have shut down in the last two years.

Even Buzzfeed raised a flat round in 2016. 

Can AI-powered content buoy this category as it has Toutiao?



This week in data:
  • 492: As hype builds, the pile-up of VCs actively investing in the private AI space has increased from 127 in 2012 to 492 in 2016, representing a more than three-fold increase. Active corporate investors also grew, from 18 in 2012 to 173 in 2016. See more stats in our State of AI report released earlier this week.
  • 1%: In the closest Round 2 match-up of our March Madness bracket to select the most innovative product since the iPhone, Samsung's Full HD 3D TV trails behind Eero's WiFi router by less than 1 percentage point. Both are in competition to win the title along with the remaining 32 tech and non-tech products. Voting for round 2 closes this Sunday, so be sure to cast your votes.

  • 100: For the second year in a row, we worked with The New York Times to identify and rank the top venture capital professionals across the globe using the CB Insights Investor Mosaic algorithm. Out of the 100 top VCs on the list, which can be seen here, Bill Gurley of Benchmark ranks first.
  • $45M: Insurance tech startup Trov raised $45M in Series D funding from investors including Munich Re and Suncorp Group, both of which entered into partnerships with Trov in 2016. We compiled a list of other startup-insurer partnerships, as well as notable deals and startup hires through the first quarter of 2017.
  • 2: Boeing launched a venture capital arm known as HorizonX and invested in two startups this week: Upskill, a wearable technology company, and Zunum Aero, an electric passenger plane developer. Boeing vice president Steve Nordlund says the company is “not aiming to profit from the ventures directly but instead to access technology used in autonomous vehicles, machine learning, additive manufacturing and wearable devices.” Boeing’s investment activity can be traced back to the 1960s in our history of CVC report.

  • $80M: The amount raised by WeCash, a China-based credit assessment and scoring company. Investors in the round included China Merchants Capital, Forebright Capital Management, and SIG Asia Investments. WeCash is one of the 100+ companies using AI in the financial services space.

  • $1B: Jeff Bezos announced his plans to sell $1B worth of Amazon stock annually to help fund his spaceflight company Blue Origin, according to this source. The Amazon CEO was speaking at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs where he outlined his plans for the company, a move that could help stay competitive with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. We’ll be digging into Amazon’s acquisition, investment, and research strategy soon in our Amazon Strategy Teardown briefing.
  • $90M: Cohesity, an enterprise data storage platform, raised a $90M Series C. The round was co-led by GV and Sequoia Capital with participation from Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Cohesity was founded by Mohit Aron, cofounder of storage solution platform Nutanix which went public at a $2.2B valuation in September 2016, as seen on our Unicorn Exits Tracker.
  • $25M: The reported amount Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes owes her blood-testing company. Last year, the company shut down its clinical blood testing labs and saw its departure from the unicorn club. As a result of the investigation into Theranos, we put together a list of 12 other blood-testing startups.
  • $1.5B: Cybersecurity company Okta went public this morning raising $187M at a $1.5B valuation. The company previously filed to go public last month, with an original goal of raising $100M. Prior to trading on the Nasdaq, Okta was one of the most well-funded and highest-valued cybersecurity companies in the private market. It is also on our Unicorn Exits Tracker.

  • $3M: LeafLink, a wholesale management platform for the cannabis industry, raised $3M in seed funding. Investors in the round included Casa Verde Capital, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, and Wisdom VC. Leaflink joins a host of other companies on our market map of cannabis startups, and LHV joins other high-profile VCs including Founders Fund in betting on the legal cannabis industry. You can also see a full list of startups in the space in our Cannabis Collection on the CB Insights platform.

  • $15 - $500: Amazon announced the launch of Amazon Cash, a service that allows users to add up to $500 in cash directly into their Amazon accounts in a single transaction. Users receive a barcode that they can then use to deposit the money at participating retailers — including CVS Pharmacy and Speedway — at no extra fee. The service aims to reduce the need for customers to have bank cards to use Amazon, potentially appealing to those who rely heavily on cash or do not have access to debit or credit cards.
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