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Podcast startup Himalaya may have never had $100 million in VC funding

Illustration of a microphone surrounded by exclamation points.
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.