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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Himalaya Media launched in February as a San Francisco-based podcasting startup that had raised an eye-popping $100 million. But it didn't really have that much money in hand, nor were all the stated investors actually on board.

Why it matters: For startups, funding equals credibility. The publication of your inaugural press release is not the right time to fake it 'til you make it.

What the press release said:

The San Francisco-based startup has raised $100M from General Atlantic, SIG and Ximalaya FM and will use this to support the tech innovation, marketing, and content production and acquisition that are driving this launch.  

What actually happened: General Atlantic never invested in Himalaya Media, according to a firm spokeswoman. Instead, it had previously invested an undisclosed amount in Ximalaya FM, the established Chinese podcasting platform that Himalaya also lists as an investor. (Neither SIG nor Ximalaya FM responded to requests for comment, even to confirm that they had invested.) There is no SEC filing or other official public record of an investment into Himalaya.

  • Once Axios began making calls, Himalaya pulled down the press release (although versions of it remain on the Internet, and we've retained a copy).
  • Peter Vincer, Himalaya's original head of partnerships and marketing, says that Ximalaya FM is Himalaya's majority owner, though that was never disclosed in the press release or subsequent media coverage. (Vincer now leads a spin-out podcast studio, HiStudios, that is controlled by Himalaya.)

Himalaya CEO Yu Wang acknowledged to Axios that General Atlantic didn't invest directly in his company, and said he removed the press release because "some of the language... was a little bit confusing."

  • He also said the $100 million was a three-year commitment mostly from Ximalaya FM, of which Himalaya so far has received only around $10 million.
  • Wang said there are no financial or timing milestones that Himalaya must hit to receive the remaining money, but wasn't forthcoming when asked what how disbursements would be determined.
  • He volunteered to show Axios the equity commitment letter, which he claimed to have in front of him, so long as we didn't publish it. We agreed.
  • The letter never came. Instead, nearly a day later, we were told by an external spokesman to direct all questions to a representative of Ximalaya FM. We emailed that representative, but she never replied.

Be smart: There is a history of Chinese startups overstating fundraises, but it is highly unusual for a U.S.-based company to do so.

The bottom line: Many media outlets — including Axios, Variety, and Fast Company — reported on the supposed deal. Today, however, we know that some of the initial information was false, and it's impossible to validate the $100 million figure.

Go deeper

Reports: CIA finds "Havana Syndrome" unlikely caused by foreign campaign

CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill last April. Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

A preliminary CIA report rules out a foreign global campaign as the cause of American and Canadian diplomats affected by a mysterious illness known as "Havana syndrome," per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Some lawmakers had suggested the sometimes debilitating illness was due to directed energy attacks. But CIA officials told the New York Times that most of the 1,000 cases reported to the government could be "explained by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress." This finding has angered some victims, per the NYT.

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.

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