Written by Anthony Ha

BigBrain aims to bring live mobile trivia back to glory

If you ask Nik Bonaddio why he wanted to build a new mobile trivia app, his answer is simple.

“In my life, I’ve got very few true passions: I love trivia and I love sports,” Bonaddio told me. “I’ve already started a sports company, so I’ve got to start a trivia company.”

He isn’t kidding about either part of the equation. Bonaddio actually won $100,000 on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, which he used to start the sports analytics company numberFire (acquired by FanDuel in 2014).

And today, after a period of beta testing, Bonaddio is launching BigBrain. He’s also announcing that the startup has raised $4.5 million in seed funding from FirstRound Capital, Box Group, Ludlow Ventures, Golden Ventures and others.

Of course, you can’t mention mobile trivia without thinking of HQ Trivia, the trivia app that shut down last year after some high-profile drama and a spectacular final episode.


Image Credits: BigBrain

But Bonaddio said BigBrain is approaching things differently than HQ in a few key ways. For starters, although there will be a handful of free games, the majority will require users to pay to enter, with the cash rewards coming from the entry fees. (From a legal perspective, Bonaddio said this is distinct from gambling because trivia is recognized as a game of skill.)

“The free-to-play model doesn’t really work for trivia,” he argued.

In addition, there will be no live video with a live host — Bonaddio said this would “very, very difficult from a technical perspective and very cost ineffective.” Instead, he claimed the company has found a middle ground: “We have photos, we have different interactive elements, it’s not just a straight multiple choice quiz. We do try to keep it interactive.”

Plus, the simpler production means that where HQ was only hosting two quizzes a day, BigBrain will be hosting 20, with quizzes every 15 minutes at peak times.

Topics will range from old school hip hop to college football to ’90s movies, and Bonaddio said different quizzes will have different prize structures — some might be winner take all, while others might award prizes to the top 50% of participants. The average quiz will cost $2 to $3 to enter, but prices will range from free to “$20 or even $50.”

What kind of quiz might cost that much money to enter? As an example, Bonaddio said that in a survey of potential users, he found, “There are no casual ‘Rick and Morty’ fans … They’re almost completely price sensitive, and since they’ve seen every episode, they can’t fathom a world where someone knows more about ‘Rick and Morty’ than they do.”

Daily Crunch: Europe charges Apple with antitrust breach

Apple faces an antitrust complaint in Europe, TikTok has a new CEO and YouTube TV disappears from Roku. This is your Daily Crunch for April 30, 2021.

Also, this is my last day at TechCrunch, and therefore my last day writing The Daily Crunch. It’s been a blast rounding up the news for all of you, and thank you to everyone who took the time to tell me they enjoyed the newsletter.

On Monday, TechCrunch will be debuting a more collaborative approach to The Daily Crunch — stay tuned!

The big story: Europe charges Apple with antitrust breach

The European Commission has filed preliminary charges against Apple, focusing on complaints by Spotify that Apple’s App Store policies — particularly its requirements around in-app purchase — are anti-competitive.

“The Commission takes issue with the mandatory use of Apple’s own in-app purchase mechanism imposed on music streaming app developers to distribute their apps via Apple’s App Store,” it wrote. “The Commission is also concerned that Apple applies certain restrictions on app developers preventing them from informing iPhone and iPad users of alternative, cheaper purchasing possibilities.”

Apple has 12 weeks to respond to the charges.

The tech giants

ByteDance CFO assumes role as new TikTok CEO — Eight months after former TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer quit in the midst of a full-court press from the Trump administration, TikTok finally has a new permanent leader.

Roku removes YouTube TV from its channel store following failed negotiations — Earlier this week, Roku warned customers that the YouTube TV app may be removed from its streaming media players and TVs, and it alleged that Google was leveraging its monopoly power during contract negotiations to ask for unfair terms.

Computer vision inches toward ‘common sense’ with Facebook’s latest research — One development Facebook has pursued in particular is what’s called “semi-supervised learning.”

Startups, funding and venture capital

Developer-focused video platform Mux achieves unicorn status with $105M funding — “I think video’s eating software, the same way software was eating the world 10 years ago.”

As concerns rise over forest carbon offsets, Pachama’s verified offset marketplace gets $15M — The startup is building a marketplace for forest carbon credits that it says is more transparent and verifiable thanks to its use of satellite imagery and machine learning technologies.

Heirlume raises $1.38M to remove the barriers of trademark registration for small businesses — Heirlume’s machine-powered trademark registration platform turns the process into a self-serve affair that won’t break the budget.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Optimism reigns at consumer trading services as fintech VC spikes and Robinhood IPO looms — But services that help consumers trade might need to retool their models over time to ensure long-term income.

Amid the IPO gold rush, how should we value fintech startups? — If there has ever been a golden age for fintech, it surely must be now.

The health data transparency movement is birthing a new generation of startups — Twin struggles seem to be taking place: a push for more transparency on provider and payer data, and another for strict privacy protection for personal patient data.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Cloud infrastructure market keeps rolling in Q1 with almost $40B in revenue — That’s up $2 billion from last quarter and up 37% over the same period last year.

The second shot is kicking in — A new episode of the Webby-nominated Equity podcast.

Pitch your startup to seasoned tech leaders, and a live audience, on Extra Crunch Live — We’re bringing the pitch-off format to Extra Crunch Live.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Roc Nation’s VC Neil Sirni lays out his investment strategy

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation announced in 2017 that it was forming a venture investment arm called Arrive. And the firm has been busy since then — co-founder and President Neil Sirni said Arrive has made 29 investments thus far.

At the same time, Sirni hasn’t really said much about those investments publicly, or about the broader strategy. So he reached out to me a few months ago, suggesting that he was ready to provide more details about Arrive.

“We’re now three years, 29 investments in and expanding – so it felt like the right time to start opening up a bit,” he said.

Over the course of a few back-and-forth emails, we discussed how Arrive fits into the larger aims of Roc Nation, how Sirni (a former Goldman Sachs executive) makes investment decisions and where he’s focusing next. (Spoiler: Southeast Asia is a big part of that answer.)

He was also eager to provide testimonials from Arrive’s portfolio companies — for example, founder Aaron Rasmussen said that “when Arrive commits to your mission, they commit,” while Helm co-founder and CEO Giri Sreenivas said that the firm “brings something that I don’t see in traditional institutional investors – legitimate operational expertise around brand and marketing.”

You can read our email Q&A, lightly edited for length and style, below.

What is Arrive and how does it fit into the larger Roc Nation umbrella?

Arrive is Roc Nation’s venture platform. Roc Nation is a full-service music and sports management, music publishing and entertainment company founded by Jay-Z. Roc Nation and its affiliated companies have built a diversified business that employs several hundred people. These businesses include artist and athlete representation, a portfolio of spirit brands, an apparel line, a philanthropy division that manages four charitable organizations, a content streaming service, a digital team that oversees social media accounts with over 1.4 billion followers, a sales and marketing division that works on countless partnerships with Fortune 500 companies, communications, video production and live event production, among others.

The Roc Nation infrastructure can add value to many different types of businesses across various stages, which is why we created Arrive. For consumer-facing businesses, Arrive leverages the Roc Nation infrastructure to help companies with branding, creative, marketing, communications, and other services. For enterprise, we use our broad network of B2B relationships to help with business development.

Being a strategic venture investor on the cap table of a portfolio company is not only about the investment but also how much human capital a fund can deploy to drive long-term, real and unique value for entrepreneurs and their businesses. So, we’re leveraging the broader Roc Nation platform to help portfolio companies and, in turn, receiving access to great entrepreneurs.

What kinds of investments do you normally make — types of companies, size of investment, etc?

We’re relatively sector and stage agnostic. We have dedicated capital in an early-stage fund that tends to focus on Series A to Series C, but we’ve also started to SPV growth and pre-IPO investments as we lay the foundation for a dedicated growth vehicle later this year.

How do you make investment decisions? Is Jay-Z involved in the process?

We gravitate toward companies that we can provide meaningful assistance to but that are outside of Roc Nation’s core industries of music and traditional sports. Thanks to our platform, that is an extremely broad opportunity set. To date, we’ve made 29 investments under the Arrive umbrella in everything from fintech, insurtech, edtech, health & wellness, social, and gaming. Geographically, we’re investing roughly 80% in North America, primarily the US, and 20% across Southeast Asia, namely, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam. As a strategic investor, we never lead deals and always co-invest.

Our long-term focus is on driving real and unique value for our portfolio companies. If we remain hyper-focused on this mission, we believe we have the opportunity to build an enduring brand as a top tier strategic investor.

Jay-Z approves every Arrive opportunity; he, Juan Perez, and Desiree Perez are overwhelmingly supportive of Arrive and what we’re collectively trying to accomplish.

TechCrunch: What’s your biggest success story so far?

Neil Sirni: I’m very proud of being co-founder of Arrive and what it took to get here. In the grand scheme of things, we’re just getting started, but I’ve been an entrepreneur — after leaving a large public company — for over 10 years now. It’s been a roller coaster with many sacrifices, but I can understand and relate to our founders and their journey which makes this experience even more rewarding. The founders of Roc Nation have built their businesses brick by brick as well, so the entire organization is united by this entrepreneurial mindset. I still consider myself a founder and operator first, whose business happens to be making investments.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 20: Jay Z performs during Tidal X: 1020 at Barclays Center on October 20, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

Given that Arrive has been around for a few years, what made you feel like this is the time to start talking more openly about the fund?

When Arrive launched a few years ago, I hated the idea of talking about what we’re going to do. Instead, we wanted to quietly actually go do it; learn, improve, build and, in the process, demonstrate that we’re not, and never will be, tourists in the venture ecosystem. We’re now three years, 29 investments in and expanding – so it felt like the right time to start opening up a bit.

What’s an example of an investment where working with Arrive/Roc Nation led to gains beyond the financial investment?

Arrive functions like many other investors in that we spend time understanding a company’s vision and then try to provide them meaningful levers to pull to help drive their success. Our toolkit is unique thanks to the Roc Nation platform and network. We’ve found that both our portfolio companies and their other investors, typically traditional venture funds, find those levers complementary and additive to the cap table.

Arrive typically works with portfolio companies across three main areas. The first is creative and brand marketing.  The second is business development and partnerships. The third is communications.

Communications efforts are generally focused on driving short-term or immediate awareness. Many of our portfolio companies receive broader press coverage when we invest in them. That initial attention typically dies down within a week or two although those news stories remain as searchable assets that the company might not otherwise have. While this can be of some value, especially for consumer businesses, we believe it’s at the bottom of the list compared to the long-term benefits that can be derived from Roc Nation’s underlying infrastructure in brand marketing and business development.

In terms of creative and brand marketing, we’ve likely saved our earlier stage portfolio, in aggregate, over a million dollars by providing brand and agency work at no cost.  Examples of this include campaign ideation, graphic design, video production, hosting live events, and product integrations, among other activities.

For business development and partnerships support, we have leveraged our network to help portfolio companies launch their own internal philanthropic platforms, leveraged our B2B relationships to introduce new partners and customers, brought in other strategic investors in a targeted way, helped companies navigate endorsement deals, and recruited non-technical executive talent to join their companies.

We don’t pretend to be a magic bullet, no investor can be, but we’re focused on continuously improving and building on the services that we provide to our portfolio companies. The founder journey is never a straight line and we pride ourselves on being willing to do whatever we can on their behalf. Stephen Francis, SVP at Arrive, and I are accessible to our portfolio companies any day and time.

Do you see these investments as primarily strategic for Roc Nation, or are you focused on financial returns?

‘Strategic’ investor, in the context of Arrive, refers to the strategic value that we bring to the cap table of a portfolio company.  We leverage that strategic value to get into deals and form relationships with entrepreneurs in whom we have high conviction.  Our ultimate goal is financial return and Arrive’s investments are not meant to be strategic in nature for Roc Nation as an operating company. Instead, an investment from Arrive is meant to be strategic for the portfolio company.

You said you’re stage agnostic with capital devoted to different stages. Can you say anything more what the breakdown is in terms of early stage vs. later growth deals, and how that might change with the new growth fund?

Of our 29 investments, I would classify 25 as early stage and 4 as growth.  In regards to percentage of capital, the 4 growth investments account for a little over 35% of total capital deployed. When we do have a dedicated growth fund, I expect the volume of growth investments to pick up to roughly 3 – 6 per year.

 What are your priorities for 2021?

At a high level our priorities are to build out a larger team to ensure that we’re staying very engaged with the portfolio as we scale and to continue being aggressive in deploying more capital to back great companies.

On a more granular level I’m looking forward to physically getting back to Southeast Asia, namely Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, on a regular basis. We’re really bullish on the region and believe it’s only a matter of time before more venture funds deploy significant capital there. We started to invest a lot of time there in 2019 as part of our plan to deploy roughly 30% of our early-stage fund in the region. That expansion has been hindered by COVID-19. However, I’ll make quarterly trips once travel normalizes. There is nothing like in-person interaction to build relationships and trust, especially internationally.