Kia Kokalitcheva

Twitter is weighing whether to build a paid version of TweetDeck

Richard Drew / AP

Twitter is considering whether to build premium software geared toward power users of its service.

The company already owns TweetDeck, a program geared toward those who juggle multiple Twitter accounts and spend a lot of time on the social media service. A paid version could offer extra features and bypass advertising.

Andrew Tavani, managing editor of Women in the World, first spotted a message from Twitter about the potential service.

Still pondering: It appears the idea is still in the early stages and Twitter hasn't decided if it'll build this. "We're conducting a survey to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of TweetDeck," a Twitter spokesperson told Axios, adding that Twitter is "exploring several ways to make TweetDeck even more valuable for professionals."

Why it matters: Twitter acquired TweetDeck in 2011 from developer Iain Dodsworth, but hasn't done much with it since as far as expanding features and capabilities. This could be a welcome option for users for whom Twitter is a critical part of doing their job.


Theranos offers shares to investors if they promise not to sue


Theranos, the embattled blood-testing company, plans to offer additional shares to existing investors if they agree not to sue the company, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal citing anonymous sources. Theranos reportedly only has $200 million in cash left, but is already facing multiple lawsuits, including from former partner Walgreens and investor Partner Fund Management.

The deal: The shares would come from founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes' personal stake in the company, which would result in her losing her majority ownership. According to the Journal, early investors aren't included in the deal, and weren't even informed of it.

Murdoch exit: Theranos has reportedly agreed to buy back the stake Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of News Corp. and 21st Century Fox, purchased for $125 million in 2015.


Lystable raises $10 million to help employers manage freelancers

Lystable, a three-year-old startup that provides companies with software to manage freelance workers, has raised an additional $10 million in Series A funding. Peter Thiel's Valar Ventures led the new funding, with Max Levchin's Scifi VC, Kindred Capital, Goldcrest Capital, Glynn Capital, and Wilmont Ventures also participating.

Origin story: Founder and CEO Peter Johnston got the idea after seeing first-hand the inefficiencies of managing freelancers while working in Google's London office. Things like getting them access to the tools they needed for work and payments were challenging, he told Axios. His startup's name, Lystable, is derived from the fact that Johnston would create lists and spreadsheets to manage his contractors.

Uber-ification: Taking a cue from on-demand companies like Uber and TaskRabbit, which manage their labor force via software tools at large scales, Johnston hopes that traditional employers can think of their own staffing in the same way. Summoning contractors for a design job, for example, should be just as easy, says Johnston.

And while Johston says his company isn't focused on helping freelancers find the next client or gig, Valar Ventures partner James Fitzgerald told Axios that he wouldn't be surprised if Lystable does eventually build a marketplace for freelance gig. After all, once a certain fraction of the freelancer market is using Lystable for one job, connecting them to new ones would be the natural next move.

Expansion plans: With its new funds, Lystable plans to continue building out payments features into its software, soon add four more executives, grow its team to 75 employees by the end of the year, and continue to expand beyond the U.S.


Y Combinator's surge in foreign startups raises funding questions

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Roughly 40% of startups participating in the latest session of Y Combinator, the famed Silicon Valley startup accelerator, came from overseas—more than a 10% gain over prior sessions. And of the 22 countries represented, several were emerging markets like Nigeria, Ghana, Poland and Russia.

While the added diversity made this week's YC Demo Day more interesting, it also raises questions about fundraising prospects.

The case against: Several early-stage investors at Demo Day told Axios that they're unlikely to invest in these overseas startups. The most commonly cited reasons were lack of expertise—or even any knowledge—of their home markets, and how difficult it would be to work closely with a company so far away. Some added that their funds have provisions limiting how much they can invest into international companies, if at all. And even if some of these companies do get funded, the expectation is that the dollar amounts and valuations will be artificially low.

The case for: Many of the companies based in emerging markets are building very fundamental and clearly needed products, such as Wi-Fi services or online payments tech—areas with obvious opportunities for investment returns regardless of geography, argues Michael Siebel, CEO of YC's accelerator program. Second, most of them already are operating profitably or at least generate significant revenue, something that is back en vogue with VCs. And if these companies ultimately raise less than their stateside peers, Siebel says that such investments can stretch further. For example, Paystack, a Nigerian payments company that participated last year, raised just over $1 million, giving it enough runway for four years.


LinkedIn adds a section for trending news

Following in the footsteps of other social networks like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is adding a "Trending storylines" section to its main news feed that will feature news articles and commentary from others tailored to each user's interests.

In short, it's LinkedIn's take on Facebook's "Trending topics."

Why it matters: Consuming news has become one of people's main activities on social media, so it's no surprise that LinkedIn wants to add better ways for its users to do that on its service. It's also in line with the company's growing focus on increasing user engagement.

No fake news: Unlike other social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn isn't worried about fake news, mainly because users don't want to risk their professional reputation, as VP of product Tomer Cohen told Axios. And data seems to support this: LinkedIn was the most trusted social media service as a source of news in a recent study by the American Press Institute.


Airbnb takes new name in China


In an effort to grow its brand and business in China, Airbnb has a new name in the country: "Aibiying," or "welcome each other with love."

In Shanghai, the company is also rolling out its Experiences service, which lets travelers book activities run by local hosts, starting with 10 such activities. Experiences, which Airbnb launched in November, are now available in 20 cities around the world.

Why it matters: Airbnb kicked off its efforts in China in 2015, despite it being a difficult market for Western companies. Last year, it registered its Chinese operations as an independent business unit that handles users' data locally, and to date, Chinese travelers have stayed at Airbnb listings 5.3 million times around the world. The company also has 80,000 listings in China and guests have stayed at them 1.6 million times, according to Airbnb. But there have been challenges: It has yet to hire a CEO to lead its Chinese business and has reportedly looked to acquire at least one company to help it better compete locally.


Uber will release its first diversity report this month

Jeff Chiu / AP

Uber, whose CEO has long resisted releasing company data on employee demographics, will release its first report by the end of the month, HR chief Liane Hornsey said on Tuesday during a conference call with reporters.

Hornsey, along with board member Arianna Huffington and regional manager Rachel Holt, reiterated past statements about the company's commitment to change, during the call, but offered few specifics. Huffington also continued to defend CEO Travis Kalanick.

Other highlights from the briefing:

  • It plans to complete its internal investigation, led by former attorney general Eric Holder, by the end of April. Huffington added that whatever those results are, they "will be honored by everyone at Uber."
  • Uber said its workforce doubled last year.
  • The board is in the midst of interviewing COO candidates and is pleased with quality of interested candidates, according to Huffington.
  • Last week, Uber had another record week in US ridership, continuing a trend Axios previously reported.

Gender imbalance: Several journalists pointed out that all executives on the call were women, while CEO Travis Kalanick and board member and investor Bill Gurley were busy with interviewing potential COO candidates. Hornsey and Huffington both said that they were also involved with the COO search.


WeWork is raising $300 million

WeWork, the office rental company recently valued at $16 billion, is raising $300 million in new funding, according to a legal filing obtained by Axios through CB Insights, an investment database. The company's new valuation is slightly higher than when it last raised funds in March 2016: $51.81 a share, up from $50.19.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing anonymous sources, that SoftBank has invested $300 million in WeWork as part of its upcoming Vision Fund, though documents reviewed by Axios do not name any backers. WeWork declined to comment.

Real estate ambitions: Earlier this month, WeWork also filed a document related to an upcoming investment vehicle to purchase real estate, something the company hasn't done before (it signs long-term leases for the buildings in which it operates). WeWork declined to comment on the filing, but it lists several managing directors from private equity firm Rhone Group, including at least two who specialize in real estate according to their LinkedIn profiles.


Why Parker Conrad went back to 'startup bootcamp'

In 2013, Parker Conrad appeared at Y Combinator Demo Day to unveil a startup called Zenefits. He would later be ousted from that company, and yesterday reappeared on the YC stage to pitch his new company, Rippling.

Despite it being Conrad's third startup and recently raising $7 million, here's why he chose to again go through Y Combinator's program:

Creating urgency: "When you start a new company, it kinda feels like you're unemployed," Conrad told Axios shortly after his Demo Day presentation. A program like Y Combinator can motivate and bring structure to a founder's work, he added. "When I was still at Zenefits, I always said that if I were to start all over again, I would go through YC."

Secret sauce: The program's weekly dinners, which feature guest speakers and let founders chat with other participants, are the secret sauce. "Each time, it seems like everyone else has accomplished so much... no one likes feeling like they're not keeping up."

More to learn: Despite being on his third startup and second time through Y Combinator's accelerator, Conrad says there's always new things to learn from the dinners' new guest speakers or from mentors. Much of Y Combinator's leadership has also changed since 2013, when it was still being run by co-founder Paul Graham, for example.


How YC is helping the ACLU get more tech savvy

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Y Combinator, the famed Silicon Valley startup accelerator, has been accepting non-profits into its program since 2013, but none have been of the size and caliber as the ACLU. The 98-year-old organization took part in Y Combinator's latest session after a conversation about working together on a project led YC to extend an invitation to the ACLU into its program.

Joining YC as a non-profit: Just like other non-profits who joined Y Combinator's program, the ACLU received $200,000—$100,000 as the standard donation to all non-profits, and the rest from YC president Sam Altman personally. However, unlike others who moved at least temporarily to the Bay Area to attend the program's events and meet with mentors, YC sent folks to New York City to work with the ACLU at its headquarters. Cadran Cowansage, one of YC's software developers, has been on-site for the last four weeks working with the team.

The work: One of the most visible projects YC helped the ACLU with its digital tools is the latter's new People Power grassroots initiative, which provides local organizers with guides to putting pressure on their local officials. "We will continue to do important work in the courts but with tech platforms and tech tools, it will allow us to take our work into the streets," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told Axios.

Other projects YC has been helping with include the ACLU's emails to members, migrating its data to Salesforce, revamping its Mobile Justice app.

Lesson from working together: "Very often we're dealing with crises of the moment, but the YC folks are helping us think through longer term tech planning," Romero told Axios, adding that ways to use online tools to engage the ACLU's members offline have been an area of particular focus. "We're cutting edge lawyers and policy advocates but we don't pretend to be cutting edge when it comes to tech," he also said.

For Cowansage, this was her first experience working with a non-profit organization, she told Axios. Along with being pleasantly surprised with the high level of commitment from volunteer engineers, she said it also gave her a perspective on how companies and individuals can most effectively work with an organization like the ACLU.

What about the backlash and concerns over YC having influence over the ACLU? "I think it's great that there's a lot of debate in our democracy about the work of the ACLU but we have regularly worked with for-profit entities who work with our interests and help us achieve our goals" so it's not a concern for Romero, he told Axios. He adds that when YC offered to help the non-profit, it was "a no-brainer" to take them up on it. "I think they have the right values," he said of YC.

For her part, Cowansage emphasized YC is "not giving any sort of advice about how the ACLU should handle the donations they received," and that she's been solely focused on the organization's tech projects.

The story has been updated to clarify that $100,00 of donations came from YC and the rest from president Sam Altman personally.