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Upstart gaming studio Mountaintop starts its climb with $5.5M seed from friends and family – TechCrunch

Mountaintop, a sort of supergroup game development studio founded by veterans from a multitude of other major companies in the industry, has collected a $5.5 seed round from friends and family, and announced that their first title will be a PvP shooter. The company emerged last summer, headed by Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell and several […]

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Mountaintop, a sort of supergroup game development studio founded by veterans from a multitude of other major companies in the industry, has collected a $5.5 seed round from friends and family, and announced that their first title will be a PvP shooter.

The company emerged last summer, headed by Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell and several others from larger gaming concerns that decided to strike off on their own. The idea would be to create an independent studio free from the pervasive culture of crunch and toxicity frequently found (or reported) at bigger publishers and developers.

Being independent also means no allowance from a big publisher, so they needed to get some capital to work with. That manifested from the enviably deep pockets of their families and friends, who I suppose felt more than justified in funding the activities of people whom they know to be successful entrepreneurs and industry movers and shakers.

The $5.5 million seed will go towards their first title, which will be a PvP shooter. Now, this may give some pause, as PvP shooters number among the last five years’ biggest successes (Overwatch, PUBG, Fortnite, Apex) and most notable failures (Crucible, Battleborn, Paragon, Gigantic) — the latter seemingly in fruitless attempts to emulate the former.

But the opportunistic corporate me-too attitude that sunk many a game is unlikely to exist at Mountaintop, a small team with no shareholders breathing down their neck — except their friends and family, who will be too polite to do so. If they think they can make an interesting and commercially viable PvP shooter, I say have at it, I’m tired of the other ones.

It’ll be nice to know that the product came from a crunch-free environment as well — as we’ve seen with Supergiant’s “Hades,” people working on their own schedules to make something they care about can have remarkable results.

As Mitchell put it:

We all know great games and products can be built without crunch. It’s about thoughtful scoping, planning, execution every step of the way. That’s not to say that avoiding crunch is easy — it’s incredibly challenging, especially with unexpected curve balls along the way.

In the end though, it always comes down to leadership and the decisions they make. At Mountaintop, we’re committed to doing right by the team, always.

The company has grown from the founding team of five now to 20. Although Mountaintop wasn’t intended from the start to be a pandemic-proof setup, its remote-first approach did mean that hiring during COVID didn’t mean changing how they planned for the company to work. Currently they have people from Epic, Blizzard, Naughty Dog, Respawn, Infinity Ward, Ubisoft, Raven, Turtle Rock, Double Fine, PopCap, and (obviously) Oculus.

But among the team’s other priorities were diversity and inclusion. With 19 of the 20 people on staff men, and 18 of the 20 white, that seems to be presenting more of a challenge to them.

“We’re just getting started, but we’re building a studio with diversity and inclusion at the core, where everyone feels like they belong. We have a long way to go, but we’re committed to seeing it through,” said Mitchell. With a target headcount of about 50, there’s a still a lot of room to grow into that promise.

No indication when we’ll learn more about the game, but at the current cadence we can probably expect another tidbit of info this summer.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/04/upstart-gaming-studio-mountaintop-starts-its-climb-with-5-5m-seed-from-friends-and-family/

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Dollars, deals and the importance of nondilutive capital – TechCrunch

Today, on Juneteenth, we recognize the efforts this nation still needs to put toward addressing structural racism and disparities, including in the world of tech. This week, HBCUvc, a nonprofit that aims to diversify the world of venture capital, launched a million-dollar fund. Founder Hadiyah Mujhid told me that the capital would provide nondilutive financing […]

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Today, on Juneteenth, we recognize the efforts this nation still needs to put toward addressing structural racism and disparities, including in the world of tech.

This week, HBCUvc, a nonprofit that aims to diversify the world of venture capital, launched a million-dollar fund. Founder Hadiyah Mujhid told me that the capital would provide nondilutive financing to overlooked founders, which they define as Black, Indigenous and LatinX entrepreneurs, replacing the traditional angel round. But she also admitted that supporting founders wasn’t the only primary goal. Instead, she explained to me the importance of what she defines as “teaching capital.”

Similar to how teaching hospitals give aspiring doctors a way to practice and learn their craft before formally entering the field, the fund wants to do that for their some 230 aspiring investors that they already work with, many stemming from historically Black colleges and universities. Notably, nondilutive capital provides entrepreneurs with funding sans equity and a learning experience with lower stakes.

There are a lot of organizations right now that are starting funds [with] the primary goal of supporting founders. And that’s a goal of ours, but we’re hoping to have a ripple effect of training and really providing on-ramps for the next best-in-class investors … and in order to do that, they have to have a training vehicle.

While I’m not always a fan of rebranded names for capital, “teaching capital” is certainly a compelling framing. Track record is everything in this industry, and underrepresented folks often don’t have the benefit or privilege of access on their side — from a dollar or deals perspective. Scout programs have long existed to fill this gap, but I think that there is still a lacking of intentionality around who feels empowered to write an investment memo, ask questions and be new. This week, BLCK VC launched its scout program and Google for Startups launched a nondilutive financing instrument for Black founders, underscoring a growing focus in seeding diverse entrepreneurs.

HBCUvc’s fund was announced nearly one year after it almost shut down due to a lack of capital. Mujhid explained how the unjust killing of George Floyd led to the biggest one-day donation in her nonprofit’s lifetime, which “changed the trajectory of programming.” She also said that a lot of interest was a knee-jerk reaction, urging people to view this work as a long-term commitment.

Down the creative capital rabbit hole we go:

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll get into Waymo’s latest raise, the Nubank EC-1 and a Pittsburgh event that I can’t wait to nerd out about.

Waymo gets way more

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, raised $2.5 billion in its second-ever institutional round. Investors include Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz, AutoNation, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Temasek and, of course, Tiger Global.

Here’s what to know: Waymo is going external after some internal shuffling. The funding comes only months after CEO John Krafcik stepped down from his title after spending five years in that position. Last month, Waymo lost its CFO and head of partnerships.

For more, here are my favorite recaps of TC Sessions: Mobility:

The Nubank EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Another week, another EC-1! Marcella McCarthy wrote about Nubank, a Brazillian credit card and banking fintech company that just last week raised at a $30 billion valuation. It’s one of the most valuable startups in the world, with over 40 million users.

Here’s what to know: As McCarthy puts it in the piece, Nubank started by trying to solve a massive challenge: “How to rebuild the concept of a bank in a country where banking is widely hated, all while the incumbents heavily entrenched with the state worked to block every move.” Maybe, the story goes on to tell, it would start with California Street.

Check out each installment of the series below:

Around TC

In May, thousands of you read my Duolingo EC-1, a deep dive into Pittsburgh’s favorite edtech unicorn. Now, we’re taking you to Pittsburgh to hear from Karin Tsai, the head of engineering there, as well as Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian, Mayor Bill Peduto and a smattering of local startups.

Our TC City Spotlight: Pittsburgh event will be held on June 29, so make sure to register here (for free) to listen to these conversations, enjoy the pitch-off and network with local talent.

Also, a friendly reminder that we’re making a list of the best growth marketers for startups. You can help us by nominating your favorites into this survey.

Across the weekSeen on TechCrunch

Seen on Extra Crunch

Thanks for reading, as always. Take care everyone!

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/19/dollars-deals-and-the-importance-of-nondilutive-capital/

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Facebook rolls out new tools for Group admins, including automated moderation aids – TechCrunch

Facebook today introduced a new set of tools aimed at helping Facebook Group administrators get a better handle on their online communities and, potentially, help keep conversations from going off the rails. Among the more interesting new tools is a machine learning-powered feature that alerts admins to potentially unhealthy conversations taking place in their group. […]

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Facebook today introduced a new set of tools aimed at helping Facebook Group administrators get a better handle on their online communities and, potentially, help keep conversations from going off the rails. Among the more interesting new tools is a machine learning-powered feature that alerts admins to potentially unhealthy conversations taking place in their group. Another lets the admin slow down the pace of a heated conversation, by limiting how often group members can post.

Facebook Groups are today are significant reason why people continue to use the social network. Today, there are “tens of millions” of groups, that are managed by over 70 million active admins and moderators worldwide, Facebook says.

The company for years has been working to roll out better tools for these group owners, who often get overwhelmed by the administrative responsibilities that come with running an online community at scale. As a result, many admins give up the job and leave groups to run somewhat unmanaged — thus allowing them to turn into breeding grounds for misinformation, spam and abuse.

Facebook last fall tried to address this problem by rolling out new group policies to crack down on groups without an active admin, among other things. Of course, the company’s preference would be to keep groups running and growing by making them easier to operate.

That’s where today’s new set of features come in.

A new dashboard called Admin Home will centralize admin tools, settings and features in one place, as well as present “pro tips” that suggest other helpful tools tailored to the group’s needs.

Image Credits: Facebook

Another new Admin Assist feature will allow admins to automatically moderate comments in their groups by setting up criteria that can restrict comments and posts more proactively, instead of forcing admins to go back after the fact and delete them, which can be problematic — especially after a discussion has been underway and members are invested in the conversation.

For example, admins can now restrict people from posting if they haven’t had a Facebook account for very long or if they had recently violated the group’s rules. Admins can also automatically decline posts that contain specific promotional content (perhaps MLM links! Hooray!) and then share feedback with the author of the post automatically about why those posts aren’t allowed.

Admins can also take advantage of suggested preset criteria from Facebook to help with limiting spam and managing conflict.

Image Credits: Facebook

One notable update is a new moderation alert type dubbed “conflict alerts.” This feature, currently in testing, will notify admins when a potentially contentious or unhealthy conversation is taking place in the group, Facebook says. This would allow an admin to quickly take an action — like turning off comments, limiting who could comment, removing a post, or however else they would want to approach the situation.

Conflict alerts are powered by machine learning, Facebook explains. Its machine learning model looks at multiple signals, including reply time and comment volume to determine if engagement between users has or might lead to negative interactions, the company says.

This is sort of like an automated expansion on the Keyword Alerts feature many admins already use to look for certain topics that lead to contentious conversations.

Image Credits: Facebook

A related feature, also new, would allow admins to also limit how often specific members could comment, or how often comments could be added to posts admins select.

When enabled, members can leave 1 comment every 5 minutes. The idea here is that forcing users to pause and consider their words amid a heated debate could lead to more civilized conversations. We’ve seen this concept enacted on other social networks, as well — such as with Twitter’s nudges to read articles before retweeting, or those that flag potentially harmful replies, giving you a chance to re-edit your post.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook, however, has largely embraced engagement on its platform, even when it’s not leading to positive interactions or experiences. Though small, this particular feature is an admission that building a healthy online community means sometimes people shouldn’t be able to immediately react and comment with whatever thought first popped into their head.

Additionally, Facebook is testing tools that allow admins to temporarily limit activity from certain group members.

If used, admins will be able to determine how many posts (between 1 and 9 posts) per day a given member may share, and for how long that limit should be in effect for (every 12 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 28 days). Admins will also be able to determine how many comments (between 1 and 30 comments, in 5 comment increments) per hour a given member may share, and for how long that limit should be in effect (also every 12 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 28 days).

Along these same lines of building healthier communities, a new member summary feature will give admins an overview of each member’s activity on their group, allowing them to see how many times they’ve posted and commented, have had posts removed, or have been muted.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook doesn’t say how admins are to use this new tool, but one could imagine admins taking advantage of the detailed summary to do the occasional cleanup of their member base by removing bad actors who continually disrupt discussions. They could also use it to locate and elevate regulator contributors without violations to moderator roles, perhaps.

Admins will also be able to tag their group rules in comment sections, disallow certain post types (e.g. Polls or Events), and submit an appeal to Facebook to re-review decisions related to group violations, if in error.

Image Credits: Facebook

Of particular interest, though a bit buried amid the slew of other news, is the return of Chats, which was previously announced.

Facebook had abruptly removed Chat functionality back in 2019, possibly due to spam, some had speculated. (Facebook said it was product infrastructure.) As before, Chats can have up to 250 people, including active members and those who opted into notifications from the chats. Once this limit is reached, other members will not be able to engage with that specific chat room until existing active participants either leave the chat or opt out of notifications.

Now, Facebook group members can start, find and engage in Chats with others within Facebook Groups instead of using Messenger. Admins and moderators can also have their own chats.

Notably, this change follows on the heels of growth from messaging-based social networks, like IRL, a new unicorn (due to its $1.17B valuation), as well as the growth seen by other messaging apps, like Telegram, Signal and other alternative social networks.

Image Credits: Facebook

Along with this large set of new features, Facebook also made changes to some existing features, based on feedback from admins.

It’s now testing pinned comments and introduced a new “admin announcement” post type that notifies group members of the important news (if notifications are being received for that group).

Plus, admins will be able to share feedback when they decline group members.

Image Credits: Facebook

The changes are rolling out across Facebook Groups globally in the coming weeks.

That’s where today’s new set of features come in.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/16/facebook-rolls-out-new-tools-for-group-admins-including-automated-moderation-aids/

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Early-stage venture firm The Fund launches in Australia – TechCrunch

The Fund, the early-stage investment firm focused on pre-seed and seed startups, is going Down Under for its latest expansion. The Fund was founded in New York in 2018, before launching in Los Angeles, London, the Rockies and the Midwest, too. Co-founder Jenny Fielding, who is also managing director at Techstars New York, said The […]

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A group photo of The Fund Australia’s team (left to right): Elicia McDonald, Adrian Petersen, Georgia Vidler, Ed Taylor and Todd Deacon

The Fund Australia’s team (l to r): Elicia McDonald, Adrian Petersen, Georgia Vidler, Ed Taylor and Todd Deacon

The Fund, the early-stage investment firm focused on pre-seed and seed startups, is going Down Under for its latest expansion. The Fund was founded in New York in 2018, before launching in Los Angeles, London, the Rockies and the Midwest, too.

Co-founder Jenny Fielding, who is also managing director at Techstars New York, said The Fund decides on new areas for expansion based on demand from the local startup ecosystem, and earlier this year, it heard from a group of founders and operators who wanted to launch it in Australia, too.

In addition to participating in first check rounds, The Fund also builds communities of founders and other leaders from successful startups, who not only provide mentorship, but also capital as limited partners. The Fund now has a network of about 400 founders and has made around 120 investments across its funds.

In each of its regions, The Fund is led by an investment committee of four people. In Australia, they are: Techstars managing director Todd Deacon; venture firm AirTree principal Elicia McDonald; AfterWorks Ventures co-founder Adrian Petersen; and former Canva head of product Georgia Vidler. There will be 50 people in The Fund Australia’s limited partner base, including founders of startups like Culture Amp’s Rod Hamilton, Linktree’s Alex Zaccaria, Adore Beauty’s Kate Morris, and leaders from Canva and Safety Culture, too. The Fund Australia’s LPs will help source promising startups from their networks, and refer them to the investment committee for review.

The Fund is targeting $3.5 million USD and will invest in about 40 startups, writing check sizes of $50,000 to $100,000 USD over 24 months. Limited partners and other members of its community around the world will provide guidance as portfolio companies grow.

Deacon told TechCrunch that The Fund Australia’s focus on very early-stage startups is important because of the growing pre-seed/seed funding gap. He points to a report by StartupAus, an advocacy group for Australian startups, that angel and seed investment in Australia has fallen over the past few years, both in terms of number of deals and aggregate value.

The Fund’s hypothesis is that many early-stage funds, in Australia and other parts of the world, shift their focus to later stages as they raise larger funds, Deacon added. This happened in New York City, too, and was one of the contributing drivers for the creation of The Fund in the first place.

“There’s been this gap in early-stage funding. There’s those two points of building a really strong community—helping founders and then the funding gap, which we can help to solve to a certain degree. We’re bringing in checks in the early stage with a lot of power in providing founders access to that network,” he said.

Writing early checks lets The Fund see deal flow before other venture firms and limited partners, and small check sizes gives it an advantage with startups.

“We don’t take a huge proportion of their raise, yet we come with really high quality capital,” said Deacon. “We’ve got that investor network. For why some of our [LPs] are interested, it’s to generate a return, but they also want to give back and make Australia and New Zealand companies prosper.”

Being able to tap into The Fund’s international network is helpful for startups in Australia, where many companies eye international expansion from the start.

Australian unicorns like Atlassian and Canva are also helping strengthen Australia’s startup ecosystem, said Vidler. “It feels like an inflection point for me in the startup ecosystem, where now there’s all these original founders and a community of senior operators who are keen to give back and create and bolster the ecosystem here.”

The Fund Australia is sector agnostic and wants to create a diverse portfolio. The Fund has focused on gender parity since the start. Each region’s investment committee is comprised of two men and two women, about half of its LPs are women and over 40% of its total capital has gone to female founders. Vidler says this was a major draw for her.

“The pull for me, and I think for a big part of the network in Australia, and a lot of women in tech in Australia, is that they’re going to be super interested in investing in the next generation of female founders as well,” she said.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/15/early-stage-venture-firm-the-fund-launches-in-australia/

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