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Written by Kate Clark

Millennials don’t want to get drunk. What do they want? Apéritifs.

Gen Z doesn’t want to get drunk. Millennials are tired of the obligatory after-work drinks.

Haus, a new startup selling apéritifs online, has a solution for them. The company’s beverages have a lower alcohol content than standard hard liquors on the market, which means you can drink one, even a few, without getting wasted. Made from distilled grapes, fresh herbs and botanicals, its natural ingredients and A-plus branding are sure to appeal to the younger demographic.

Launching today with pre-seed backing from venture capital funds Combine, Haystack and Partners Resolute, customers can begin ordering Haus’ citrus & flower-flavored debut apéritif (15% ABV), priced at $70 apiece. The goal, co-founder Helena Price Hambrecht explains, is to be the first fully direct-to-consumer player in an industry dominated by digitally-novice incumbent alcohol brands and distributors.

Haus enters the market at an opportune time. VCs — more than ever — are funneling cash to innovative beverage projects. This year, Bev, a canned wine business, raised $7 million in seed funding from Founders Fund. Liquid Death, which sells canned water for the punk rock crowd, attracted nearly $2 million in funding from angel investors like Away co-founder Jen Rubio and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. And More Labs, the company readying the launch of Liquid Focus, is backed with $8 million in VC funding, among others.

Haus is run by husband-and-wife duo Helena Price Hambrecht and Woody Hambrecht. The former has established herself in Silicon Valley, developing the brands of consumer-facing companies including the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox, Facebook, Fitbit and Instagram. Woody Hambrecht, for his part, has been a bona fide “booze guy” since a young age, making wine and managing 67 acres of wine grapes at the pair’s Sonoma County, Calif. ranch, where Haus is also headquartered.

Haus co-founders, husband-and-wife duo Helena Price Hambrecht (right) and Woody Hambrecht.

“We joke that it must have taken a Silicon Valley type to marry a wine & spirits guy because no one has done this before; it’s crazy,” Price Hambrecht tells TechCrunch. “I can make something that gets a shit load of users and press in my sleep and I married this wine & spirits guy who understands the compliance, fulfillment, legal and finance elements. The amount we can do together is insane.”

By “this,” she means launch a direct-to-consumer apéritif brand. It’s generally illegal to sell spirits online D2C aside from a small subset of liquors with lesser alcohol contents. Knowing this loophole, many restaurants across the U.S. have begun making cocktails using only this subset of liquors (thus avoiding the steep fees required to obtain a liquor license) but Price Hambrecht says no one has thought to create an online store for apéritifs for fear of going up against the old guard of the alcoholic beverage market.

Because Haus handles every part of the process, including a patent-pending production model, the old guard isn’t an issue, nor is scaling. Currently, Haus is making and bottling its beverages in a 3,000 square foot warehouse just North of the couple’s farm, with plans to purchase another 2,800 square foot warehouse as orders increase. Unlike wine or whiskey, which must age years before going to market, it only takes hours to make apéritifs, simplifying one of the more complex features of the wine & spirits business.

Later this year, Haus plans to raise additional seed capital to launch a subscription product in 2020, begin constructing brick-and-mortar apéritif shops for the millennial and Gen Z cohort and release a second and third product line. Ultimately, Haus wants not only to disrupt the liquor business but provide alternative beverages to young people looking for better options.

“I was going through my own dilemma of drinking,” Price Hambrecht said. “If you’re a person that is career-focused, you’re possibly drinking 4-plus nights per week. I love how it brings people together; it’s a foundation of society, but you’ve got all these downsides. I never want to be drunk, I never want to be hungover.”

“It’s a cultural problem that we are solving.”

Cameo raises $50M to deliver personalized messages from celebrities & influencers

Instead of emailing a term sheet, Ilya Fushman paid $150 to have ‘Deep Blue Sea’ actor Michael Rapaport send the Cameo founders Steven Galanis, Martin Blencowe and Devon Townsend a video message congratulating them on their $50 million Series B. A general partner at Kleiner Perkins, Fushman tapped Cameo’s own service, which sells personalized video messages from celebrities, influencers, athletes and thought leaders, to win over the startup amid what he says was a “highly competitive deal.”

Fushman and Galanis, Cameo’s chief executive officer, declined to disclose the startup’s valuation with the new funds, but Delaware stock authorization filings uncovered by PitchBook, as well as previous reporting from Axios’ Dan Primack, indicate a valuation of $300 million. The Chernin Group, Spark Ventures, Bain Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated in the round.

Chicago-based Cameo emerged in 2017 and quickly popularized a new type of thank you note, at least among the Gen Z crowd. For a low price of $5 to a whopping fee of $3,000, customers pay Cameo for lightly scripted messages from some of their favorite personalities. On the high end, messages from Snoop Dogg, a Cameo investor and member of its talent lineup, have sold for $3,000. A few words from the former basketball star and author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar run for $500. And for the low price of $55, YouTube star Joe Santagato will tell your best friend happy birthday.

At about two years old, Cameo’s growth is exploding. In December, the company recorded roughly 100,000 transactions. By the end of this month, they will have done over 300,000, fulfilling an average of 2,000 video requests per day.

“People use Cameo as often as they used to go to Hallmark to buy a card,” Galanis tells TechCrunch. “We have power users that have literally bought hundreds of these and we have these interesting use cases. A lot of enterprise sales teams are buying these to get in front of a contact that maybe went cold. We are seeing customers using these as job offers.”

Cameo takes a 25% cut of every transaction made on its website. The team prefers to sell a higher volume of videos rather than make big sells, like that of Snoop Dogg, because the more videos delivered, the more are shared on social media and the more shared on social media, the more free advertising for Cameo. Because they’ve prioritized volume, they’ve increased revenue 5x year-over-year, Galanis explained, without detailing specific revenue figures.

With its latest infusion of capital, which brings its total to $65 million, Cameo plans to revamp its mobile app and implement purchasing features (currently, one can only buy Cameos on the company’s website). The real focus, however, will be on the international market.

Cameo has a roster of 15,000 celebrities that they believe could expand to 5 million. For now, the roster is majority American icons of sorts. To hire talent acquisition teams abroad, Cameo, which already has offices in London and Australia, is sending co-founder Martin Blencowe to London. He will focus on developing the London team, as well as identifying additional talent in Europe, South America and Asia. 

In addition to grand global ambitions, Cameo is looking to expand its range of talent. There is no shortage of B-list celebrities available for booking, but when it comes to CEOs, investors and business influencers, for example, Cameo is lacking. Kleiner Perkins’ Fushman recently became available for booking and to his surprise, an engineering team paid to have him give a shout out to one of their lead engineers almost immediately.

“Everybody’s got role models and this is a way for you to be more directly impacted,” Fushman tells TechCrunch. 

What emerged as a friendly way to treat friends has become an avenue for wedding proposals, “promposals,” baby gender reveals, teens coming out to their parents, sports fans roasting their nemeses and more. 

“It’s a new way for people to connect and the delight generated from this platform is unparalleled,” Galanis said.

Equity transcribed: Slack’s IPO, the VCs behind Facebook Libra, founder salaries and trouble in scooter-land

Welcome back to this week’s transcribed edition of Equity.

This week, TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton filled in for co-host Alex Wilhelm – who was out in preparation for his wedding this weekend – joining Kate to cover the big news of the week.

Kate and Danny dive straight into Slack’s IPO and the implications of its direct listing strategy, before shifting gears to discuss the launch of Facebook’s new ‘Libra’ cryptocurrency and the VCs backing the initiative.

The duo then took a look at Lime’s latest fundraising efforts and the potential headwinds facing scooter companies with an appetite for capital. Lastly, Kate and Danny talk about underappreciated tensions for founders, including getting pushed out of their own companies and handling their own salaries.

Crichton: Talking about founders and compensation, our correspondent, Ron Miller, talked to a bunch of VCs to ask how are founders paying themselves today? Obviously, the cost of living in the Bay Area, in New York and other startup hubs has increased dramatically. So VCs have had to become acutely aware of their founders’ financial means.

One of the things that really came out of this survey though, from my perspective, was just how high the numbers are. We surveyed small number. We put it out in the interviews. It came out to post-Series A people are starting to get paid around 200K. But the numbers, even a couple of years ago, I seem to recall was like $120 was the magic number around the Series A, $90K if you had a serious seed fund and like $60 to $80 if you are just getting started.

But the numbers that we saw out of this were significantly higher. I think that shows a lot about how the cost of living has just continued to creep up in San Francisco and in New York.

Clark: Yeah. I think the point is made in the story. If you live in San Francisco and you’re paying a mortgage and you have kids, of course, you need to make six figures really to get by, which is just an unfortunate reality. I can’t say I was surprised by how those salaries looked. Seeing $125K for a founder, if anything, I thought was maybe a little low.

But it reminded me of, nearly a year ago at this point, when I wrote something on how much VCs are paid. I had written it based off data that was provided to me from a consulting firm. People were just up in arms at what I had written because, and I understand looking back, I think it grouped VCs together as VCs who work at really big funds who are getting the 2% carry out of a multi-billion dollar fund and who are paid a lot more.

And there are of course VCs who run seed funds or any kind of fund. There are many different sizes of VC funds. Some VCs actually don’t have a salary at all and are up against the same challenges, if not even more difficult challenges, of a startup founder.

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Kate Clark: Hello, and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast. My co-host, Alex, is getting married this weekend so he’s not with us today, unfortunately. But we’ve got TechCrunch editor, Danny Crichton on the line. Danny, how are you?