Headphone startup Nura gets acqui-hired by Denon parent, Masimo

Every so often, a new startup crosses your radar and reminds you how exciting hardware can be. It’s a relative rarity in consumer electronics, a category dominated by corporations like Samsung, Apple and Sony, which are (perhaps understandably) somewhat risk averse.

Melbourne-based Nura was one such company. I distinctly remember the startup paying a visit to TechCrunch’s New York offices not long after I started here. The early prototype was a thing to behold — effectively a mess of wires and circuits in a large box. But the point was clear. Turned out wireless audio could be much better than what we’ve slowly grown accustom to over the years.

At the base of the firm’s various headphones was customizable audio profiles, created by mapping the unique architecture of the wearer’s ear. I beckoned a colleague over for a second opinion (and to make sure I wasn’t hearing things). They confirmed that there was, indeed, something next level — frequencies and elements in music that you miss altogether on a different pair.

The startup was recently acquired by Southern California medical device firm Masimo Corporation for an undisclosed sum. Nura will join fellow consumer audio brands under that umbrella, including Bowers and Wilkins, Polk Audio and Denon, which entered its portfolio when it acquired Sound United in April of last year.

The news was announced quietly a couple of weeks back in a press release titled, “Nura Joins Forces With Denon.” What easily might have been mistaken as a partnership deal was actually effectively an acquiring of Nura talent and technology.

“It was important to put the consumer first,” Masimo COO Blair Tripodi tells TechCrunch, when asked about the new reveal. “We chose to highlight the longstanding heritage and sound acoustics of Denon, so that fans would be as excited as we are for the future of Masimo AAT and the possibilities it unlocks.”

Tripodi did, however, confirm the acqui-hire, stating, “Nura was a technology tuck-in and acquisition-hire of engineering talent to support the Masimo Adaptive Acoustic Technology (AAT) platform.”

The company is cagey on specifics here, but the short version is that Nura’s tech is being folded up into Denon’s competing offering. Employees previously involved in research and development Nura will be folded into the same team at Denon. The company didn’t explicitly confirm layoffs, instead offering the line, “Our goal is to retain critical talent and integrate their employees into our business with the goal of advancing our AAT platform.”

It’s simple enough to read between the lines on that one, unfortunately. As for the former startup’s executives, Tripodi says, Nura’s existing leadership team will stay intact and will report into a number of Masimo leaders, depending on department function.

Masimo says that the plans don’t currently effect Nura’s offices, nor is it asking the employees it’s retained to relocate. As for timeline, Nura co-founder and CEO Luke Campbell adds, “Nura’s integration into Masimo AAT is well underway with the goal of bringing personalized audio to more customers around the world.”

In past conversations, Nura has prided itself in remaining fiercely independent. I’ve previously discussed the topics of acquisition or technology licensing, but the startup has long been committed to building its own hardware products. The portfolio grew quickly, as the startup explored various monetization models, including a fairly early exploration of the hardware as a service model, which has been viewed as an increasingly viable strategy for the consumer electronics market.

“It was always our vision to share the award-winning technology with as many people as possible,” Campbells says, when asked about the change in direction. “Masimo and the Masimo AAT platform presented us a chance to improve our existing technology framework, and I couldn’t be more excited about the future. Masimo’s industry-leading signal processing capabilities paired with Denon’s commitment to quality sound, will unlock opportunities that can take the personalized audio space to new heights.”

No one ever said hardware was easy. And while Nura continued to offer a differentiator, the earbud market has grown more crowded with each passing year. It can also be a punishing category for hardware makers who don’t also produce their own handsets. For many — or even most consumers — there’s a benefit in the interoperability of those devices. Often times those who opt for a different option are looking for a less expensive product, and prices has subsequently dropped considerably. Nura’s products, meanwhile, largely sat between $150-200.

Add into that supply chain issues and seemingly endless economic headwinds, and it’s easy to see how the path forward suddenly gets a lot cloudier than it might have seemed three or four years back. Nura declined to comment on what circumstances ultimately led it to sell to Masimo. Co-founder and CEO Kyle Slater left Nura in 2017 and most recently served as the CPO of Melbourne-based medical technology company, Seer. Third co-founder Dragan Petrović left in December.

In the earlier release, the company outlines what the future looks like for existing Nura users, writing, in part:

All Nura products will continue to be supported throughout the warranty period. Existing Nura customers can feel confident that their Nura device will be supported through this transition, including customer support and warranty support. The Nura app will continue to function as it does today, so you will still be able to create personalized hearing profiles and use all app functions.

Masimo says it will sell through the remainder of its Nura inventory, at which point it appears the Nura brand will be fully sunset. The startup’s underlying technology will be a Denon exclusive, moving forward, with no plans to license to third parties. Details on the first Denon product to support the combined adaptive sound technologies will be announced at some point this summer.

Headphone startup Nura gets acqui-hired by Denon parent, Masimo by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Airtable acqui-hires Walrus.ai’s founding team

Airtable today announced that it quietly acquired Walrus.ai, a no-code software testing platform, earlier this year.

‘Acquired’ may be overstating things a bit, though. Best I can tell, Walrus.ai’s homepage became unavailable a few months ago and Airtable tells me it has no plans to use any of the service’s technology. ‘Acquihire’ may be a better description, but neither Airtable’s Chief Product Officer Peter Deng and Walrus co-founder Scott White was quite ready to use this term.

“I think, at the end of the day, you want to work on things that align with the vision and the arc of what you’re trying to accomplish,” White told me.” Airtable is the natural evolution or the opportunity to fulfill the vision of what you set out to accomplish on a grander scale. And so I think of it as an evolution of what we’re working on, to be able to take that to the next level. I think it was an awesome opportunity.”

White and his co-founders Jake Marsh and Akshay Nathan will join the company, with White becoming the product lead for solutions at Airtable, Nathan an engineering manager in the company’s enterprise organization and Marsh joining as a software engineer. Only the co-founders are joining the company. Walrus.ai had previously raised $4 million is seed funding from investors like Homebrew, Felicis Ventures and Leadout Capital.

The two companies argue that their overall vision was very much aligned. While the Walrus team, aimed to make building end-to-end software tests easier by helping users write their tests in plain English, Airtable wants to turn all of its users into app developers.

“Democratizing software creation — really kind of making it easy to build software, it all started there,” said Deng when I asked him how this deal came about. “I got introduced to Scott and the Walrus team and it was very immediately apparent that we share the same vision. The vision of Walrus was to make building high-quality software easy for developers. But, you know, when we started talking, I was like: ‘well, let’s just make building software easier for everyone. Right? And how about that?’ I think there was just immediate click on the DNA of the co-founders and things that they were doing and things that we were doing, and we just started talking and it just felt more and more natural to just work together.”

At Airtable, Deng and White argued, the Walrus team would be able to expand on its original vision and that their skills would transfer to building a different kind of product. As White noted, Airtable aims to make it easy for its users to do very complex things and make that process easy and seamless. And at the same time, with enterprise being Airtable’s fastest-growing segment, its service is also now being used to manage very complex workflows.

“I think about our work on those two dimensions: about how to make the floor very low for a net new creator to come onto the platform and start building — and then making sure that our core capabilities and infrastructure will allow us to scale to these massive enterprise engagements,” White said about the work he is doing at Airtable now. Neither White nor Deng would say what exactly the Walrus team is working on now, beyond Deng saying that they are “working on big things together” that involves a number of initiatives to solve “end-user problems in a very elegant way.”

Twitter ‘acqui-hires’ the team from subscription news app, Brief

Twitter’s recent acquisition spree continues today as the company announces it has acqui-hired the team from news aggregator and summary app Brief. The startup from former Google engineers launched last year to offer a subscription-based news summary app that aimed to tackle many of the problems with today’s news cycle, including information overload, burnout, media bias, and algorithms that promoted engagement over news accuracy.

Twitter declined to share deal terms.

Before starting Brief, co-founder and CEO Nick Hobbs was a Google product manager who had worked on AR, Google Assistant, Google’s mobile app, and self-driving cars, among other things. Co-founder and CTO Andrea Huey, meanwhile, was a Google senior software engineer, who worked on the Google iOS app and had a prior stint at Microsoft.

Image Credits: Brief

While Brief’s ambitious project to fix news consumption showed a lot of promise, its growth may have been hampered by the subscription model it had adopted. The app required a $4.99 per month commitment, despite not having the brand-name draw of a more traditional news outlet. For comparison, The New York Times’ basic digital subscription is currently just $4 per week for the first year of service, thanks to a promotion.

Twitter says the startup’s team, which also includes two other Brief employees, will join Twitter’s Experience.org group where they’ll work on areas that support the public conversation on Twitter, including Twitter Spaces and Explore.

While Twitter wouldn’t get into specifics as to what those tasks may involve, the company did tell TechCrunch it hopes to leverage the founders’ expertise with Brief to build out and accelerate projects in both those areas.

Explore, of course, is Twitter’s “news” section, where top stories across categories are aggregated alongside trending topics. But what it currently lacks is a comprehensive approach to distilling the news down to the basic facts and presenting balance, as Brief’s app had offered. Instead, Twitter’s news items include a headline and a short description of the story, followed by notable tweets. There’s certainly room for improvement there.

It’s also possible to imagine some sort of news-focused product built into Twitter’s own subscription service, Twitter Blue — but that’s just speculation at this point.

Twitter says it proactively reached out to Brief with its offer. As part of its current M&A strategy, the company is on the hunt for acquiring talent that will complement its existing teams and help to accelerate its product developments.

Over the past year, Twitter has made similar acqui-hires, including those for distraction-free reading service Scroll, social podcasting app Breaker, social screen-sharing app Squad, and API integration platform Reshuffle. It also bought products, like newsletter platform Revue, which it directly integrated. The company even held acquisition talks with Clubhouse and India’s ShareChat, which would have been much larger M&A deals.

“We’re really glad we ended up at Twitter,” Hobbs told TechCrunch.

“Andrea and I founded Brief to build news that fostered a healthy discourse, and Twitter’s genuine commitment to improve the public conversation is deeply inspiring,” he said. “While we can’t discuss specifics on future plans, we’re confident our experience at Brief will help accelerate the many exciting things happening at Twitter today,” he added.

Hobbs said the team remains optimistic about the future of paid journalism, too, as Brief demonstrated that some customers would pay for a new and improved news experience.

“Brief pioneered a fresh vision for journalism, focused on getting you just the news you need rather than as much as you could withstand,” remarked Ilya Kirnos, founding partner and CTO at SignalFire, who backed Brief at the seed stage. “That respect for its readers made SignalFire proud to support founders Nick Hobbs and Andrea Huey, who are now bringing that philosophy to the top source of breaking news — Twitter.”

To date, Brief had raised a million in seed funding from SignalFire and handful of angel investors, including Sequoia Scouts like David Lieb, Maia Bittner, and Matt Macinnis.

As a result of today’s deal, Brief will wind down its subscription app on July 31. The company says it will alert its current user base today via a notification about its forthcoming shutdown but the app will remain on the App Store offering new features that allow users to explore its archives.

Twitter acquihires team from Reshuffle to work on its API platform

Twitter today is announcing what the company calls a “strategic acquihire” of the API integration platform Reshuffle. The startup’s commercial technology, which allows developers to build workflows and connect systems using any API, will be wound down as a result of Twitter’s deal. However, Reshuffle’s entire team of seven, including co-founders Amir Shevat and Avner Braverman, will be joining Twitter where they’ll work to accelerate the work being done to modernize Twitter’s new, unified API.

The new Twitter API 2.0 was first introduced last year, having been rebuilt from the ground up for the first time since 2012. It now includes features missing from the older version, like conversation threading, poll results, pinned tweets, spam filtering, and more powerful stream filtering and search query language. It’s also been designed in a way that will allow Twitter to release new functionality faster as the company itself rolls out more features. For example, the API has added new support for newer features like “hide replies” and tweet annotations. And as Twitter’s pace of development has recently been sped up, the company now has even more significant product launches on the horizon, including the public release of Twitter Spaces (audio rooms) and soon, Super Follow (a subscription service for creators and their fans).

In addition, Twitter’s API team is working to develop products that meet the various needs of different types of developers, including consumer-facing app developers, business and enterprise developers, and academic researchers. In January, Twitter’s API opened up to researchers, and Twitter promised more functionality would soon be on the way.

Reshuffle’s team will be immediately tasked with helping Twitter accelerate its API efforts and building tools for developers.

Reshuffle’s CEO Avner Braverman, who has nearly two decades of experience in both engineering and technical consumer-facing roles across startups and larger companies like IBM, will join Twitter’s Developer Platform team. Meanwhile, Reshuffle’s CPO Amir Shevat, whose previous roles included VP of Platform for Twitch, Head of Developer Relations at Slack, and Senior Developer Relations Manager at Google, will join Twitter as a senior member of the Developer Platform team.

“We’re doubling down on our investment and ambitions by bringing the Reshuffle team on board,” noted a Twitter blog post announcing the deal, co-authored by Twitter Revenue Product Lead Bruce Falck and Twitter Developer Platform Lead Sonya Penn. “Their experience building developer platforms will accelerate and enhance our work by building the tools that will make it easier and quicker for developers to find value on our platform,” it read.

Reshuffle’s existing product will wind down operations over the coming weeks, following the acquihire. However, the team will continue to maintain its open source project for the developer community, Twitter notes.

Image Credits: A photo of Reshuffle’s product


Twitter has been on an acquisition and acquihire spree in recent months, having bought newsletter platform Revue, which is already integrated into Twitter’s website; as well as teams from social podcasting app Breaker, screen sharing social app Squad, creative design agency Ueno; and last year, stories template maker Chroma Labs.

Twitter says it will continue to look for more acquihire opportunities in the future as a means of scaling its own teams and accelerating their work.

The company declined to share deal terms for the Reshuffle acquihire.

According to Pitchbook, Reshuffle was backed by $6.35 million in funding from investors including Cardumen Capital, Cerca Partners, Maverick Ventures, Meron Capital, Dell Technologies Capital, Engineering Capital, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Pitchbook says the business was valued at $11.85 million.

Priti Youssef Choksi explains how to get your startup acquired — not sold

Today, Priti Youssef Choksi is a partner with venture firm Norwest Venture Partners . But she previously spent five-and-a-half years at Google, where she worked on strategic partnerships, and nearly nine years at Facebook, where she began in corporate development and later focused on M&A.

Because Choksi knows firsthand how some of the biggest companies on the planet think about potential acquisition targets and how deals ultimately come together, we asked if she would share some of those insights with us during our recent founder-centric Early Stage event. The idea was to help attendees better how understand how — and why — certain acquisitions come together; her advice was so helpful that we wanted to share it more widely here.

So where to start? Choksi suggested people first understand the “build, partner, or buy” mentality of big acquirers. Indeed, while deals can look very much alike to outsiders (a deal is a deal is a deal), they are not. First, big companies will build internally if they are bolstering a strategic asset or what they need involves sensitive information or technology. A good example of something that Google would never buy, for example, is search tech, because search is the company’s crown jewel, she noted. Companies will meanwhile partner in order to fill a product or service gap or when they’re looking to stand up a new platform, she said, pointing to the early days of Google’s Android ecosystem.

As for when they finally go shopping, companies are driven by three things, said Choksi: talent, technology and traction. With talent, as you might imagine, companies may conduct an acqui-hire with the goal of filling a talent or leadership gap internally or to acquire niche skills that their current employees don’t already have, she said.

Companies meanwhile shop for technology when they need outside tech to boost their organic efforts. Choksi pointed to Luma.io by way of example. Back in 2013, the young company, which created a video-capture, stabilization and sharing app, was acquired by Instagram (which was itself already owned by Facebook); a week after it closed the Luma deal, Facebook launched video on Instagram largely based on Luma’s platform.