Blog

Sandbox VR raises millions more in celebrity party round

How funding rounds are classified these days has much more to do with positioning than any VC definitions, but it’s still true that nothing has quite the pizazz as the “strategic investment” celebrity party round.

Sandbox VR, a location-based virtual reality startup that capped off a huge $68 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz at the beginning of the year, is bringing on some new investors in a $11 million “strategic” round, let’s call this one the Series A-listers round.

Yeah, there were a couple Silicon Valley folks, David Sacks and the Andreessen Horowitz Cultural Leadership Fund led the round, but they joined the much glitzier names of celebs including Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom and Will Smith. Other investors include Michale Ovitz, Honda Keisuke and Kevin Durant.  Some of the investors in this latest round don’t have much in common beyond being LPs in the Andreessen Horowitz Cultural Leadership Fund, which seems to be the glue holding these stars together.

topanga4

Sandbox VR operates physical spaces, generally in retail locations, that users can play multiplayer virtual reality games inside with friends. It’s a next-generation arcade of sorts that’s relying on expensive new technology to attract customers, but that formula hasn’t been a slam dunk for plenty of other VR startups, and it’s forced the leadership to get creative.

“It’s a difficult space to be in, because it’s one of those spaces where you have to be three startups in one,” Sandbox VR exec Siqi Chen told TechCrunch in an interview. “You have to build your own content, build your own technology and construct and operate retail locations.”

While most virtual reality startups that have raised substantial amounts of capital have had to dump it into R&D, Sandbox’s business is more focused on pinning virtual reality experiences to physical real estate giving the curious a hub to try out the technology.

Sandbox has plenty of obstacles ahead, the most dire of which will be building a content ecosystem that’s exclusive to the system. Even Facebook’s Oculus has struggled to court established studios to the system without bankrolling development, a process that could get very expensive very quickly for Sandbox. Consumer expectations are also quite high given the steep $48 ticket prices for the 30 minute experience. Sandbox recently partnered with CBS Interactive Studios to create a title based on Star Trek IP.

Sandbox will have to compete with consumer headsets like the Oculus Quest that are far cheaper and simpler than previous-generation at-home headsets. The startup will also have to find ways to deepen experiences while still relying on plenty of off-the-shelf consumer hardware. Sandbox’s success relies at least a bit on consumer VR headset adoption growing at a sluggish pace, something Facebook is still spending billions to accelerate.

Generating venture-sized returns will undoubtedly involve more than jacking up ticket prices for more immersive games, though we haven’t heard much of a grand vision from the young startup yet. Whatever Sandbox does, the team is going to have to walk in the same footsteps of many VR companies before it all while improving perceptions of the technology, something the company’s executives hope their new celebrity investor friends can help with.

For Sandbox, gathering attention from celebrities like Kanye West has already been part of the strategy. “Part of it is brand, in that VR is not perceived as a cool thing to do,” Chen says. “So having influential people onboard helps with that perception a bit.”

Sandbox has 16 locations planned by the end of 2020. The company has now raised a whopping $82 million.

Google picks up Microsoft veteran, Javier Soltero, to head G Suite

Google has hired Microsoft’s former Cortana and Outlook VP, Javier Soltero, to head up its productivity and collaboration bundle, G Suite — which includes consumer and business tools such as Gmail, Hangouts, Drive, Google Docs and Sheets.

He tweeted the news yesterday, writing: “The opportunity to work with this team on products that have such a profound impact on the lives of people around the world is a real and rare privilege.”

 

Soltero joined Microsoft five years ago, after the company shelling out $200M to acquire his mobile email application, Acompli — staying until late last year.

His LinkedIn profile now lists him as vice president of G Suite, starting October 2019.

Soltero will report to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian — who replaced Dianne Green when she stepped down from the role last year — per a company email reported by CNBC.

Previously, Google’s Prabhakar Raghavan — now SVP for its Advertising and Commerce products — was in charge of the productivity bundle, as VP of Google Apps and Google Cloud. But Mountain View has created a dedicated VP role for G Suite. Presumably to woo Soltero into his next major industry move — and into competing directly with his former employer.

The move looks intended to dial up focus on the Office giant, in response to Microsoft’s ongoing push to shift users from single purchase versions of flagship productivity products to subscription-based cloud versions, like Office 365.

This summer Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced that its cloud business unit had an $8 billion annual revenue run rate, up from $4BN reported in early 2018, though still lagging Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

He added that Google planned to triple the size of its cloud sales force over the next few years.

Google picks up Microsoft veteran, Javier Soltero, to head G Suite

Google has hired Microsoft’s former Cortana and Outlook VP, Javier Soltero, to head up its productivity and collaboration bundle, G Suite — which includes consumer and business tools such as Gmail, Hangouts, Drive, Google Docs and Sheets.

He tweeted the news yesterday, writing: “The opportunity to work with this team on products that have such a profound impact on the lives of people around the world is a real and rare privilege.”

 

Soltero joined Microsoft five years ago, after the company shelling out $200M to acquire his mobile email application, Acompli — staying until late last year.

His LinkedIn profile now lists him as vice president of G Suite, starting October 2019.

Soltero will report to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian — who replaced Dianne Green when she stepped down from the role last year — per a company email reported by CNBC.

Previously, Google’s Prabhakar Raghavan — now SVP for its Advertising and Commerce products — was in charge of the productivity bundle, as VP of Google Apps and Google Cloud. But Mountain View has created a dedicated VP role for G Suite. Presumably to woo Soltero into his next major industry move — and into competing directly with his former employer.

The move looks intended to dial up focus on the Office giant, in response to Microsoft’s ongoing push to shift users from single purchase versions of flagship productivity products to subscription-based cloud versions, like Office 365.

This summer Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced that its cloud business unit had an $8 billion annual revenue run rate, up from $4BN reported in early 2018, though still lagging Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

He added that Google planned to triple the size of its cloud sales force over the next few years.

Don’t miss the Q&A Sessions at Disrupt Berlin 2019

The early-stage startup community knows that the Disrupt Main Stage is the place to hear and learn from iconic founders, technologists and investment leaders. And the speakers you’ll hear at Disrupt Berlin 2019 on 11-12 December will follow that grand tradition.

Hold up a sec. Don’t have a ticket yet? Buy your early bird pass today and save up to €500.

Okay, back to the point at hand. “Always leave them wanting more” — a phrase often attributed to P.T. Barnum — also applies to the Disrupt Main Stage. “More” is what Disrupt attendees frequently tell us they want after hearing our featured guests speak. More time to engage, to ask questions, to take a deeper dive into critical issues and emerging trends.

And that’s where the Q&A sessions come into play. They’re a series of smaller, moderated panel discussions — and a place where audience members can interact and ask their top-of-mind questions. Panels consist of a TechCrunch editor to moderate and subject experts, many of whom are the very people who held forth on Main Stage.

Each Q&A Session takes place on the Extra Crunch Stage and, while the topics vary, they focus primarily on these tracks — Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Gaming, Investor Topics, Media, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS, Space and Social Impact & Education.

If you’re not familiar with our new Extra Crunch Stage, that’s the place to find fireside chats, panel discussions and to learn all kinds of actionable, how-to tips from successful founders and investors. You know, things you can actually use in your business once the show ends.

Here’s an important aspect you need to understand about our Q&A sessions. The only way to experience a session is to be there in the flesh. We do not record or livestream the content for these sessions. Keep in mind that seating is limited in this smaller, more intimate setting, and it’s strictly first come, first served. Bottom line: get there early if you want a seat.

Whether you want the 40,000-foot view of the Main Stage or the up-close-and-personal take of the Q&A sessions, you find it — and everything in between — at Disrupt Berlin 2019 on 11-12 December. Get your early bird passes now and save up to €500. We can’t wait to see you in Berlin!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Dara Khosrowshahi says Uber remains committed to India but offers no concrete plans

Uber said on Tuesday that it has won a bid to work with subway system in India’s capital in one of its rare announcements in India, a key overseas market where it is facing an upheaval battle with local giant Ola.

The ride-hailing giant said it has partnered with Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to deploy parking spots and introduce new products at 210 subway stations in Delhi, Gurgaon, and Noida. Neither of the parties offered a clarification on how many years it would take for these deployments to materialize.

The company has also started to roll out a software update to its app to include real-time public transportation options from within the Uber app. It’s the same feature — which is limited to offering details such as navigation data — that Uber introduced in several markets in recent months as it attempts to make Uber app “an operating system” for a user’s every transportation need.

But the company, which has retreated some of its businesses in India, had nothing more concrete to say. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said onstage that Uber was “here to stay in India” — a familiar promise that he made in Southeast Asia early last year before selling the local business to Grab a month later — but avoided a question about future of UberEats, the ride-hailing firm’s food delivery option.

In recent months, many restaurants have ceased their tie-up with UberEats, and the company has lowered the discounts it was bandying out to compete with local rivals Swiggy and Zomato .

UberEats has lost more than a third of its business in India in recent months, industry sources told TechCrunch. Last year, Uber held talks with both Swiggy and Zomato to sell its UberEats business in the country but failed to attract any meaningful offer, people familiar with the talks said.

Bhavik Rathod, UberEats’ India and Southeast Asia head, Deepak Reddy, head of central operations for UberEats in India, and several more executives have resigned in recent weeks, people familiar with the matter said. Uber’s spokespeople have not returned TechCrunch’s emails since last month.

At the event today, Uber executives miserably escaped questions surrounding UberEats’ future in India. Uber’s local rival Ola, which leads the market, is increasingly expanding its footprint in the nation. In an interview in 2017, Khosrowshahi said India was one of the key regions where the company planned to invest heavily.