Welcome, welcome, folks, to Week in Review, toptecheasy.com’s regular column that summarizes the past week’s news. If you want it in your inbox every Saturday, sign up here. Hopefully you are sitting comfortably on this wintry Saturday afternoon while enjoying a hot drink. Are you expecting Greg’s byline? Not to worry – he’s still enjoying parental leave, as I mentioned in the January 7th edition. Everything is good.
Before we get into it, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention once again that Boston’s TC Early Stage is on the horizon. With tickets starting at $99, it’s a worthwhile stop along the Eastern conference circuit, packed with expert-led workshops, case studies, and deep dives with tech founders. Some members of the toptecheasy.com editorial staff will be in attendance – don’t be a stranger if you see us on the show floor.
ChatGPT goes pro: OpenAI indicated this week that it will soon charge for ChatGPT, the viral AI-powered chatbot that can write essays, emails, poems and even computer code. A “pro” version of the tool, called ChatGPT Professional, delivers no blackouts, no throttling, and unlimited messages with ChatGPT – “at least 2x the normal daily limit”. The price hangs in the air.
Microsoft 365 goes Basic: Starting Jan. 30, Microsoft will introduce a lower-cost tier of Microsoft 365, its family of productivity software and cloud-based document editing services, the company announced Wednesday. Called Microsoft 365 Basic and priced at $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year, the subscription initially includes 100GB of storage, Outlook email, and access to support experts for help with Microsoft 365 and Windows 11.
Layoffs hit a news aggregator: SmartNews, the Tokyo-based news aggregation website and app, has let go 40% of its US and China workforce, or about 120 people, my colleagues Sarah and Kirsten report. The company was hit by the same macroeconomic factors that have led to a number of layoffs in the tech industry in recent months, in addition to complications arising from Apple’s implementation of App Tracking Transparency, or ATT.
Robotics also: Brian reports that this week Alphabet joined the growing list of tech giants implementing workforce cuts amid ongoing economic woes. The company’s robotics software company, Intrinsic, laid off 40 employees, a move that comes less than a year after Intrinsic acquired both Vicarious and Open Robotics — the latter announced less than a month ago.
Licensed Fun: The creators of Dungeons & Dragons content fight to protect their livelihoods, Amanda writes in a sobering deep dive. Wizards of the Coast (WotC), the Hasbro-owned game publisher, plans to update the game’s license for the first time in more than 22 years, releasing a new licensing system that would require any creator of D&D to content earning more than $750,000 in revenue is required to pay a 25% royalty to the company on every dollar above that threshold. In a piece of good newsWotC has delayed the rollout of the licensing scheme, following widespread backlash.
Colors, but E Ink: One of the cooler gadgets to emerge from the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show is the E Ink color screens, Harry writes. They can spit out 50,000 colors at 300 DPI – way, way above the last-generation model’s maximum 4,000 colors. E Ink says it wants to use them to build a magazine reading experience good enough to win over even the most demanding publishers.
Keys for days: My colleague (and boss!) Frederick reviewed the Keychron Q10 this week, a keyboard similar to Keychron’s other – but smaller – Alice-style board. He adopted the gasket mount and silicone gaskets, which provide a bit of flexibility while reducing ping and other noise. As for Alice’s layout (the keys aren’t in a straight line, but the left and right halves are slightly slanted), it was easy to get used to, he said – and he appreciated that the five macro buttons below the button could be assigned to anything you want. Read the full review for more.
Welcome home, welcome home: In a profile Mary Ann draws the curtains on Welcome Homes, a proptech startup launched by the co-founders of cloud service provider DigitalOcean. The New York City-based company – which recently raised $29 million – offers people a way to design and build new homes online, similar to other venture-backed companies (e.g. Atmos, Homebound) trying to address the housing shortage .
I hear deepfake voices: Microsoft’s new VALL-E AI model can replicate a voice with just three seconds of audio from the target speaker. But as my colleague Devin writes, it’s not necessarily cause for alarm — or rather, cause for more alarm than was already warranted by speech-duplicating technology. Voice replication has been the subject of intensive research for years, and the results are good enough to power numerous startups such as WellSaid, Papercup, and Respeecher. VALL-E is simply the latest illustration of its potential – and dangers.
Medium joins Mastodon: Online publishing startup Medium, originally created by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, is embracing the open source social platform Mastodon. Sarah reports that Medium has made its own copy — i.dm — to support authors and their publications with, among other things, a reliable infrastructure, moderation and a short domain name to make it easier for authors to share their username.
As always toptecheasy.com had a winning lineup of audio content for your listening pleasure this week – although I power be a little biased. Startup oriented Found it, toptecheasy.com startup battlefield editor Neesha Tambe spoke with Sheeba Dawood, the co-founder of Minerva Lithium, a clean energy technology provider, about the struggles she faces as a woman of color trying to innovate in the mineral production industry and what the future holds for the company. TC’s special crypto show, Chain reaction, featured an interview with Polygon Labs, one of the largest market shakers and layer-2 blockchains in the crypto space that is building on top of the Ethereum ecosystem. Meanwhile at Equity, Natasha, Mary Ann and Becca talked about incoming deals from Inflow, Deel and Fidelity; layoffs and lawsuits at Carta; Microsoft’s much-rumored investment in ChatGPT and OpenAI; and SBF’s Substack debut.
Here’s your regular reminder to subscribe to TC+ if you haven’t already. It’s where TC takes a comprehensive, exclusive look at trends, industries and emerging technologies. Here’s some of the most popular content on TC+ this week:
Crypto Roller Coaster: While some crypto-focused venture capitalists are optimistic for 2023, others see it as a dangerous time. Jaquelyn reports. Internal sentiment among VCs is a “wait and see” game, according to a source cited in the piece; competition in the marketplace is likely to increase as investors write fewer checks and become more selective.
ChatGPT, meet VC: Some investors are (cautiously) incorporating ChatGPT into their workflows, it turns out. Because ChatGPT is a specifically text-based support tool, automation could work its way into rejection letters, market maps, or even bits of due diligence, TC found — all to stay afloat in a changing business landscape. Natasha M, Christineand l have more.
Run when done: Pivots aren’t necessarily bad news. Brian Casey writes about how he flipped his deep tech startup to become a software-as-a-service company, albeit not without significant challenges. In his words, “Moving from hardware to SaaS was the right move for our electric motor design start-up, but the process wasn’t exactly linear.”