Writer nets $100M for its enterprise-focused generative AI platform

Investors haven’t tired of generative AI startups yet — particularly those with clear enterprise applications. Case in point, Writer, which is developing what it describes as a “full-stack” generative AI platform for businesses, today announced it raised $100 million in a Series B funding round led by ICONIQ Growth with participation from WndrCo, Balderton Capital […]

Writer introduces product that could help reduce hallucinated content in its LLMs

As companies explore generative AI more deeply, one of the more confounding issues is the hallucination problem, where if the model doesn’t know the answer, it simply makes one up, whether it makes sense or not. To work in business, finding a way to mitigate this problem is paramount.

Today, Writer, the generative AI writing platform, announced Knowledge Graph in public beta, a tool which enables companies to collect all of the current source content across an organization in a graph database. Company CEO May Habib says that by making use of the customer’s own content, Knowledge Graph can act as a kind of content validator, checking it against the generated content

“The great thing about an LLM is that if it has actual information about what you’re trying to do, it will use that information,” she said. “Knowledge Graph provides the ability to easily get the information that matters — databases, knowledge bases, shared drives, chats — into embeddings so that it can be used by the LLM in service of the very specific use cases our customers build around.”

It will automatically highlight content that needs to be fact-checked, while suggesting a replacement statement based on the most relevant content in the Knowledge Graph when appropriate. And Writer will show its work, displaying the source of the content where the replacement material came from, giving the human employee the ability to accept or reject the suggestion.

The company defines Knowledge Graph as “a structured representation of information stored in graph format, which allows for fast retrieval of specific pieces of information.” It can connect directly to the company’s content sources or customers can manually move content by dragging it dropping it into the Knowledge Graph interface.

It’s a separate repository, so it’s not actually part of the content systems that contribute to the graph. What’s more, companies can host the Knowledge Graph themselves if they wish, or they can let Writer manage it for them.

It’s by no means fool proof because nothing is, but it is a step towards trying to help companies reduce the impact of a known problem. Customers can choose how often they update Knowledge Graph, typically it’s weekly, but it could be more or less often if the customer wants to configure it that way, Habib said. The longer you take between updates, the more content that is not included in the accuracy check.

The company also announced the availability of the ability to bring your own LLM to the Writer platform if you choose to do so. This would replace the Writer LLM. Some large organizations may want to maintain complete control over the content inside their organization and not use an external model. The Knowledge Graph can connect to these externally created LLMs, as well.

Both the ability to use an external LLM and the Knowledge Graph are available in open beta starting today. The two products had been in a closed beta prior to this. Writer was founded in 2020, and has raised $26 million to date, per Crunchbase.

Writer introduces product that could help reduce hallucinated content in its LLMs by Ron Miller originally published on TechCrunch

Nintendo’s ‘Breath of the Wild’ sequel ‘Tears of the Kingdom’ comes out next May

Nintendo finally revealed a name and a release date for the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game that defined the Nintendo Switch and quickly became one of best-loved, most critically acclaimed titles of the modern gaming era.

It’s been a long wait, but there’s only a little bit more waiting to do: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will hit the Nintendo Switch on May 12, 2023, a day that many a TechCrunch writer will be out sick with a sudden and vicious stomach flu (no further questions please).

The company introduced Tears of the Kingdom during a Nintendo Direct event Tuesday. From the looks of the brief teaser, the new game builds on Breath of the Wild’s gameplay, which saw sword and shield-toting silent protagonist Link scaling mountains, hang gliding through the skies and solving brilliant if occasionally maddening puzzles in shrines scattered throughout the map.

Nintendo’s promotional teaser begins with a fire-lit view of ancient engravings that depict various ominous prophecies and/or historical events before Link dashes through the scene and dives right off a cliff, catching a ride on a bigger, eagle-shaped hang glider and some kind of rock elevator suspended in the sky in the process.

We don’t learn much from the short video but it looks like the free-roaming mobility that helped make the first game such a hit is back and then some. At least some of Tears of the Kingdom appears to be set among the clouds, with floating islands that could introduce even more verticality than what we saw in all of that huffing and puffing up mountains back in Breath of the Wild.

Nintendo’s ‘Breath of the Wild’ sequel ‘Tears of the Kingdom’ comes out next May by Taylor Hatmaker originally published on TechCrunch

Felicis, Lux Capital and Upfront Ventures tackle TAM at Disrupt

Perception is everything — especially when it comes to the value of software startups and total addressable markets (TAM). During 2020 and 2021, as COVID bit into the economy, tech products turned out to be more recession-resistant than expected. What’s more, tech companies grew faster than previously anticipated.

Those conditions combined to make TAM feel huge last year, which, in turn, led investors to pay far more for startup shares, calculated against their existing revenues. However, the growth rates of companies that caught a demand tailwind from COVID have dropped sharply, meaning that some TAM expectations were, perhaps, misplaced.

Where does that leave startups trying to measure their TAM today? Exploring the answer to that question is just one reason we’re thrilled that Kara Nortman, managing partner at Upfront Ventures; Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures; and Deena Shakir, a partner at Lux Capital, will join us onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt on October 18–20.

In a conversation called “Taking the BS Out of Your TAM,” these three experts will discuss how founders and investors should think about TAM and readjust their perceptions to avoid deluding themselves or their colleagues.

Kara Nortman is a managing partner at Upfront Ventures. Her portfolio includes investments in Parachute Home, Time by Ping, Endgame, Writer, Open Raven, Britive and Fleetsmith (acquired by Apple in 2020).

Prior to joining Upfront, Nortman co-founded Moonfrye, a children’s e-commerce company. She also spent seven years at IAC, where she co-led the M&A group, oversaw the initial investment in Tinder, and served as SVP and GM of Urbanspoon and Citysearch.

Nortman, a founding member of All Raise — a VC-led group dedicated to increased diversity in funders and founders — is also a founder of LA’s professional women’s soccer team, Angel City Football Club.

Aydin Senkut, the founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, is a super-angel turned multistage investor. Senkut has appeared on Forbes’ Midas List nine times and on the New York Times’ Top 20 Venture Capitalists list four times.

Since founding Felicis in 2006, he has earned notoriety as an early backer of iconic companies, including Credit Karma (acquired by Intuit), Fitbit, Guardant Health, Guideline, Notion, Opendoor, Pluralsight, Rovio, Shopify and Soundhound. Currently, his areas of focus include infrastructure, security and the future of health.

Deena Shakir is a partner at Lux Capital, where she seeks out extraordinary, mission-driven founders and invests in transformative technologies that improve lives and livelihoods.

Her portfolio investment areas include women’s health (Maven Clinic, Alife, Gameto, Adyn), digital health infrastructure (SteadyMD, H1, AllStripes, Everly Health), health equity (Waymark, Galileo, Miga), food tech (Shiru) and fintech (Mos, Ramp, Neo.Tax).

Prior to Lux, Shakir was a partner at GV, where she led product partnerships at Google (for health, search and AI/ML) and directed social impact investments at Google.org. As a Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Department of State, Shakir helped launch President Barack Obama’s first Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

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Writer’s GPT-powered CoWrite handles content ‘drudgery’ and leaves creativity to humans

Writer is an AI-powered tool for checking and guiding content creators in organizations where voice and branding are essential. Its new feature CoWrite does that writing itself — but don’t worry, this isn’t quite the content apocalypse we’ve been worried about.

CoWrite is the latest in a new wave of tools that use large language models like GPT-3, but modify them using “fine tuning,” a common phrase but with a special meaning in the machine learning world. Basically it means giving the big, general model a specific set of content to imitate more closely than the rest of the language it understands — a bit like telling an image creation model to make a picture in a certain style by feeding it examples.

Writer’s tools already do this to a certain extent, ingesting style guides and other data to provide a live style-check service: “use this preferred word instead of that,” or “use active voice in headlines,” depending on what your organization likes.

But as founder and CEO May Habib explained, organizations with a strong brand presence are finding themselves underwater.

“The number of channels that they have to be present in continuously is just exploding. No matter how big a team is, they can’t keep up,” she said.

Writer’s solution is to use a fine-tuned GPT-3 model to straight-up generate the content in question, but with the understanding that it’s very much human-in-the-loop. Though Habib prefers the term “content automation” over “generated content,” since the latter has something of a negative connotation.

“The most important stuff is being done by people,” she emphasized. “When you put together a newsletter, half of it is drudgery, right? This is about freeing those people up to do the most creative part of their jobs, the campaigns, the strategy to win eyeballs, by operationalizing the things that work. This is for established, sophisticated content teams trying to do more.”

I wouldn’t know about the newsletter since I leave that particular drudgery to my colleagues, but it’s true that there’s a lot of rote work in any writing that can be minimized if you’re working from an existing framework. Even a rough outline helps, but the problem is that someone has to make the outline — drudgery again.

CoWrite isn’t meant to just blast out final copy, though GPT-3 with a bit of tuning could probably do that, depending on your expectations. In this case it’s more about producing a plausible blog post or newsletter that a content team can look at and say “something along these lines, but you actually wrote it.”

Animation showing how a blog post might be drafted out using CoWrite.

There are others working in this space — actually, it might be more accurate to say nearly every large company working in large language models is at least looking into it. But Habib said that it’s not just about having the capability, but integrating it with existing workflows at companies where content is a major factor.

“Most people that we talk to have access to the GPT-3 API, so they aren’t hearing about it for the first time. They’ve played with calls to the models themselves,” she said. “The difference for Writer is, this is an application meant for content people; it’s integrated with their style guide, taking their brand guidelines, branding tools, taxonomy. The interface is there already: We’re talking about three clicks from training headlines to generating them. There’s no one doing that right now.”

While this may bring to mind the “shitty dystopian ad-filled future” we all fear from language generators run amok, Habib believes that is closer to the early days of robotic process automation. The most likely outcome, as with automation at large, is that the “dirty, dangerous and dull” jobs will be left behind, which in the content world is stuff like doing a bullet outline for the weekly newsletter — dangerous, no, but certainly dull.

PSA: Owl City remixed Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’

My Chemical Romance yesterday released their first single since 2014. Kendrick Lamar just dropped a new album. But did you know that this morning, Owl City remixed Smash Mouth’s seminal hit “All Star”?

You might be wondering why we are covering this on TechCrunch, which is not a music website. My editor is probably wondering the same thing. But here are the tech angle(s):

  1. “All Star” is to internet culture as “Jane Eyre” is to gothic literature. It’s a classic. Especially with the rise of TikTok, songs are memes now — be honest with yourself, did you know who Capone was before the “oh no no no” song went viral? How many Gen Z-ers listened to Fleetwood Mac for the first time because of the Ocean Spray longboarding guy? Smash Mouth would have faded from relevance much earlier if “All Star” didn’t appear in the opening sequence of “Shrek,” a film that has become inextricable from its second life on the internet.
  2. Let’s not forget Owl City, the solo project of electronic (tech angle!) musician Adam Young. The dude knows he’s a one-hit wonder, and he’s in on the joke. He wrote the lyric, “You would not believe your eyes/if ten million fireflies/lit up the world as I fell asleep,” then goes on to claim that he got “a thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs.” Listen. I might be a writer who is shitposting about Smash Mouth on a Friday to distract herself from other things (uhh, Elon Musk), but I am a writer, and I’ll tell you, that lyric makes no fucking sense. But Owl City did what any butt of a joke on the internet had to do: he committed to the bit, cementing himself as an all star. When a fan asked him what he meant by that lyric — “does each firefly hug you 1,000 times, or do only 1/10th of the bugs give you a hug?” — Young wrote a long Facebook post (yes, Facebook, a tech company — tech angle!) confirming that he “was embraced 1,000 times by 10,000 luminescent insects.” Great stuff here.
  3. John and Hank Green helped shape the creator economy as we know it — their business DFTBA Records fulfills merchandise purchases for a number of independent internet personalities, and they co-founded VidCon, an annual convention about online video. Not to mention that they helm one of the longest-running, large internet communities via their YouTube channel, vlogbrothers. Online video? Big deal. How many letters from Congress have been written to TikTok recently? Tech angle. But to bring things back to “All Star,” the two forty-something-year-old men spent several months over the course of 2020 only uploading YouTube videos titled with lyrics from “All Star.” It was kind of a beautiful project.
  4. Owl City’s remix of “All Star” is only being distributed digitally. Is that a tech angle?

Anyway, if you want to distract yourself from the doom and gloom of tech, have you considered listening to Owl City’s remix of “All Star”? Have you read the very serious press release, in which Smash Mouth’s Paul De Lisle calls the song “a wonderfully creative and unique reimagining,” noting that it is an “honor” that Owl City remixed it? Did you know that Adam Young says “All Star” is one of his favorite songs of all time, and is he serious, or is that part of the joke? Did he really get 1,000 hugs from 10,000 lightning bugs each?

Okay, here’s the song:

Copper is building ‘the Instagram for book lovers’

Any book-lover knows the feeling: the incredible novel you’re reading ends with a viscous cliffhanger, and all you want to do is gab with other fans about what might happen next, but none of your friends have read the book. You might find fan discussions on Reddit, Tumblr or Discord, but it can be a bit of a crapshoot.

The founder and CEO of Copper, Allison Trowbridge wanted to build a social network that revolves around books, connecting authors and fans through in-app discussions and live events. As an author herself, she also wanted to help writers find new income streams, whether that’s through ticketed virtual events, or just generating enough conversation around a book that more people buy it.

“You have Twitch for the gamers, and Etsy for the crafters, and Spotify and SoundCloud for the musicians,” Trowbridge said. “Authors have never had a platform that’s built around their needs, and helping them reach an audience and do it in a way that’s authentic and engaging and can scale, but also creates depth in the relationships.”

Authors on Copper can host FaceTime-like discussions about their work, which they will be able to sell tickets for in a later version of the app. They can also engage in text-based forum discussions with fans, helping deepen their relationship with their readers. The app will always have a free version for both authors and fans, but later this year, Trowbridge wants to create a premium version of the app, which would offer paying users additional features.

Copper is part of a growing crop of companies that want to help connect authors with readers. Bookshop.org, Libro.fm and Folio have offered consumers an alternative to Amazon, while apps like The Storygraph are trying to dethrone the dormant Goodreads.

Image Credits: Copper

Though book sales are increasing each year, Trowbridge thinks there hasn’t been meaningful change in the way authors can grow their audience, sell more books and make writing a more sustainable career (if you’re lucky, your self-published book might go viral on TikTok, earn you a book deal and become a New York Times best-seller, but we can’t all be Olivie Blake).

Goodreads, for instance, remains a go-to platform for discovery, but its interface hasn’t visibly changed since Amazon bought it in 2013. Plus, Trowbridge noted, emerging authors are told to never look at the Goodreads reviews of their books (“You’ll never want to write another book again,” she jokes). It might be a useful platform for readers looking for book recommendations, but it’s not the most author-friendly website. Copper hopes to make a product that’s fun and useful for both readers and writers.

“For authors, you’re not just a writer. You’re kind of a micro-entrepreneur,” Trowbridge told TechCrunch. That statement might repulse some literary types, but promotion is a means to an end — unless if you’re an established superstar, you probably don’t have much help marketing the book you worked so hard on.”Once the book is written, you’re really doing a product launch, and you’re spending six months thinking about how to launch this product and sell it to an engaged audience that’s going to to buy it and read it.”

So far, Copper has secured $2.5 million in pre-seed funding led by Wave Capital, and including key individual investors like former Time Inc. executive Fran Hauser. Best-selling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant has also been a crucial advisor to the project.

As Copper launches out of private beta on iOS, the app has a waitlist of 6,000 potential users, half of whom are published authors. Trowbridge says Copper has had “several hundred” of these authors onboard during private beta.

A primary selling point of Copper is the promise of community, but community can’t exist without enough users. So, Copper will face a moment of truth in the coming months as it charges full-speed ahead in the age-old pursuit of user acquisition.

“Ultimately, we want to build the Instagram for book lovers,” Trowbridge said.

Finally, we know why there’s a rubber chicken on Twitter

The internet is full of mysteries. Who really wrote “My Immortal,” and was it supposed to be a satire? Who is behind the group of hackers known as Anonymous? And why can’t Elon Musk just log off?

But a new question arose about two and a half months ago, when writer and reverse engineer Steve Moser found some very silly images in the Twitter backend:

Among the 16 images that were unearthed, we’ve seen some of the tamer ones surface, like the bright green bird with speech bubbles. But these illustrations were so bizarre that they have been seared into my brain. A potato with a mouth talking to a potato with eyes? A broken eggshell giving a press conference? A calculator printing out a fried egg? Why so many eggs?

But perhaps the most mundanely strange illustration was just a floppy rubber chicken. We finally spotted our avian acquaintance in the wild, making us feel like this:

Starting today, Twitter users began reporting that if you search for something that yields no results, you see our fun little rubber chicken friend.

Here’s an example of how it looks:

a twitter search with no results, showing the rubber chicken image

Image Credits: Twitter

More and more of these unhinged illustrations are bound to start popping up on the bird site, and personally, we can’t wait. For one, it looks like our egg-at-press-conference buddy is about to have his big moment, and we’re happy for him (don’t worry, weird potato twins, your time will come).

Dorian’s no-code, interactive storytelling app turns fiction writers into game developers

As an interactive storytelling platform, Dorian is building a new way for writers to make money off of their fiction by turning their tales into choose-your-own-adventure mobile games. As users navigate the free-to-play app, they can spend in-app currency to unlock alternative story routes, directly putting a cut of the payment in the author’s pocket.

Today, Dorian is announcing that it raised a $14 million Series A round led by the Raine Group with participation from March Gaming, VGames, Gaingels and London Venture Partners, where Dorian co-founder and CEO Julia Palatovska was once an investor. Before that, she spent seven years at G5 Games, where she was Head of Business Development & Licensing.

“I spent about two years investing in some early stage startups, and I was very inspired and itching to go back into building, which is how the idea for Dorian came together,” Palatovska told TechCrunch. “I think the biggest inspiration and the idea here is, how can we enable more people to participate in the games industry?”

Available on iOS and Android, the no-code app allows anyone to turn their stories into interactive games, even if they have no experience with game design. Instead of publishing a short story, where writers are usually awarded a flat fee (or no pay at all, for smaller markets), Dorian offers a more continuous revenue stream. But the trade off is that nothing is guaranteed, especially on an emerging platform.

But Palatovska is optimistic about Dorian’s potential to support creatives.

“We have around 250 monetizing creators, and that’s growing quite fast compared to most creator platforms, where it takes years to start monetizing,” she told TechCrunch. “I think that’s exciting in light of this round, because we can reach significantly more creators, and fans who will be willing to support them. In terms of revenue, top creators are currently making around $15,000 in annualized revenue. We have a couple of creators who already started making Dorian their full time job, and this is just the beginning.”

Image Credits: Dorian

Dorian is similar to Episode, a viral interactive storytelling app produced by Pocket Gems. But on Episode, in order to monetize, writers need to accumulate at least 500,000 reads in a 60 day period, which is no easy feat. Dorian has no readership requirements before a creator can start monetizing. Any user over the age of 13 can monetize on Dorian through Tipalti, the same payout provider that Twitch and Roblox use.

When a reader makes an in-app purchase to follow a paywalled route on a story, the payment is split 50-50 between Dorian and the author. But Dorian is different from other platforms (and the online fan fiction market more broadly) because creators are encouraged to make fan works from stories that already exist on Dorian. This is because of the creator agreement that writers sign before publishing a story on Dorian — writers retain their own IP, Palatovska says, but they are also giving permission for their stories to be iterated upon by other users.

Fan fiction writers tend to be on high alert any time monetization of their works is brought up. Last year, Tumblr users lashed out against the platform because they suggested that bloggers might paywall their fan art with its new subscription feature. Fan creators can also be skeptical because historically, they’ve been exploited. In 2006, a platform called FanLib raised $3 million in venture capital to launch a platform where copyright owners could host fan fiction contests to boost excitement among fans. But FanLib required submitters — even those who didn’t win the contest — to forfeit the rights to their work, allowing it to be used for commercial purposes (the platform was sold to Disney and shut down two years later). Then, Amazon’s Kindle Worlds tried another version of this, authorizing self-published writers to create stories in licensed fictional worlds if they gave up a cut of sales. It didn’t work either.

Dorian is targeting a different market — it’s not about writing “Harry Potter” fan fiction, but rather, building off of the stories of peer writers on the platform while helping the original authors retain some financial stake in the derivative works they inspire.

“Dorian owns the technology, but the creators keep ownership of the IP,” Palatovska explained. She said that if someone posted an original story on Dorian, and then down the line, the author decided that they want to publish a novel that draws from their Dorian story, that would be allowed.

In select cases, writers can monetize fan fiction based on more popular works — Dorian worked with Lionsgate to license the “Blair Witch Project” for a limited-time event last October. But, for example, if someone tried to profit off of “Supernatural” fan fiction on Dorian, that wouldn’t fly, since the IP owner hasn’t licensed that content to Dorian.

“The majority of creators on the platform have been writing fiction and fan fiction for years, and they have never monetized anything,” Palatovska said.

When a fan wants to tell a story based on a game originally published on Dorian, the original author would be able to choose what percentage of royalties to give to fan writers if their derivative stories make money. As long as these derivative creations exist within the Dorian ecosystem, it’s fair game. Still, if a fan writer were to take their derivative works outside of Dorian to monetize them, that’s where they might run into legal issues.

Dorian offers an additional monetization option through live streaming. Users can livestream themselves playing their own story to generate hype, or they can play through another user’s story (again, the original IP owner could decide the royalty split).

Image Credits: Dorian

Though the live stream feature helps creators develop an audience, it’s a bit of a bold move for a relatively new app with a small team. The app, rated for ages 12+, has a predominantly Gen Z audience, and if content moderation tools aren’t in place, something can go wrong very quickly.

“We’re new, so [content moderation] is definitely something that is on our minds,” Palatovska said. “We are very happy and lucky to have an extremely well-behaved and collaborative community. It’s nearly 100% female, including the streamers, so we have never had any issues yet. Of course, as we are growing, this might happen, but we’re building some protections.”

Currently, hosts can kick people out of their streams if they misbehave, and viewers can report harmful users. Dorian also has its own human moderation team that helps out when possible.

With its new infusion of capital, Dorian plans to grow its team and license IP to host more in-app events like its collaboration with Lionsgate. But as the Ukrainian founder grows her company from San Francisco, she is also coping with the brutal attacks on her home country and trying to help her family who remains in Ukraine.

Many tech startups are helping support Ukrainian refugees, but Palatovska’s connection to the conflict is deeply personal. Dorian donated $10,000 to the Ukrainian Army and an additional $10,000 to the 1K Project, which helps families impacted by the war. It’s estimated that over three million Ukrainians refugees have fled their country since February 24, and as Dorian creates more roles, the company says it will proactively seek out talent who fled Ukraine or want to relocate when it’s safe to do so.