Wait, wasn’t layoff season meant to be over?

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New year, new opportunities, and now that 2023 is well and truly in our rearview mirror, the startup winter is behind us, yes? Well . . . it seems as if things are on the mend, but we’re not quite out of the woods yet. There’s been a flurry of new layoffs announced over the past little while, as startups are trying to wrestle themselves out from under the stark realities of balance sheets and P&Ls staring at each other sternly from across the chasm.

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Most interesting startup stories this week

Terraform logo on a smartphone screen

South Korean prosecutors seek arrest warrants for Terraform Labs co-founder, investors and engineers. Image Credits: Getty Images / Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images / LightRocket

It’s been a decade since Aileen Lee coined the term “unicorn” in a TechCrunch article to describe a startup valued at more than $1 billion. This week, she came back and took a deep dive into the unicorns of today. In “Welcome back to the Unicorn Club, 10 years later,” Lee offers a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of the Unicorn Club. Her piece reflects on the dramatic increase in the number of unicorns, the shift in their sector focus, and the changing venture capital landscape over the past decade. The number of unicorns grew 14x. More than three-quarters of them are B2B startups. And we’re likely to lose a bunch of them before they turn into “real” returns, mostly because a lot of this value is locked up in companies that are worth billions of dollars on paper only.

If you read only one article on TechCrunch this week, you’re doing it wrong because you’re reading my silly newsletter instead of the most interesting article we’ve published in a hot minute. If you’re only reading two things on TechCrunch this week, make it Startups Weekly — and Lee’s article.

Some more things that caught my curious eye:

U frontin’ bro: MrBeast made over $263,000 in ad revenue from posting his latest video on X, but the YouTube icon says he thinks this number is “a bit of a facade.”

What’s up, Durl?: The premise of the Rabbit R1 is that it does most, if not all, of what your smartphone can do, but it uses AI to accomplish all the tasks in response to natural language queries. And Darrell (pronounced “Durl” by people who wish to draw his ire) loves it, as you’ll note from his article.

Crashtocurrency: Singapore-based Terraform Labs (TFL), the company behind digital assets TerraUSD (UST) and Luna, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Delaware following the collapse of its cryptocurrencies in 2022.

Most interesting fundraises this week

Image Credits: Getty Images / metamorworks

Is it startup winter? Who knows, but that doesn’t stop a bunch of really interesting startups from raising absolutely buckets of cash.

Hello? Is this thing on?: There’s a lot of money in voice cloning. ElevenLabs, a startup developing AI-powered tools to create and edit synthetic voices, announced that it closed an $80 million Series B round co-led by prominent investors, just months after it raised its $19 million Series A.

Now it can afford business class: TravelPerk, a business travel management platform targeted at SMEs, has raised $104 million in a financing round led by SoftBank.

Vectoring in on success: Qdrant, the company behind the eponymous open source vector database, has raised $28 million in a Series A round of funding led by Spark Capital.

This week’s big trend: The Return of the Layoffs

Used Car Platform Vroom Gets 2020's Second-Best U.S. Debut

Image Credits: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg / Getty Images

If you’ve checked out the TechCrunch roundup of all the tech layoffs over the past year and a bit, you’ve probably come to a similar conclusion as we have: Things have been pretty bleak for a while. We held hopes that things were getting a little better, but this week has been . . . a lot.

Just from the last week . . .

Hitting the brakes: Vroom is shutting down its online used car marketplace, laying off 800 employees, or 90% of its workforce.

Credit declined: Expense management startup Brex, which was valued at $12.3 billion two years ago, laid off 282 people, or about 20% of its staff.

Game over: Riot Games is laying off about 530 employees, which represents 11% of its workforce, the Tencent-owned company announced on Monday.

Delivery slowdown: Indian food delivery startup Swiggy is cutting about 400 jobs, or nearly 7% of its workforce.

Everyone loves a Daylist: But Spotify let its creator go last month. <sad fanfare>

Big companies aren’t spared: It’s not strictly startups — a few of the bigguns are laying off employees too, including Amazon, TikTok, Microsoft/Activision and Google.

Other unmissable TechCrunch stories . . .

Every week, there’s always a few stories I want to share with you but that somehow don’t fit into the categories above. It’d be a shame if you missed ’em, so here’s a random grab bag of goodies for ya:

Where do you think you’re going?: One thing you can say about VR is that it’s inspiring a lot of creative solutions to different issues around the tech. Movement is a major one, of course, and Disney thinks it has just the thing.

Charge fast, drive hard: Unlike nearly every other lithium-ion battery chemistry, TAQ is an organic compound — not the free-range hippie type, but the kind made primarily of carbon. Lamborghini just licensed the MIT-developed tech.

Keep on truckin’: The ousted founder of bankrupt EV startup Lordstown Motors has launched a new company called LandX Motors that prominently displays the same electric pickup truck he once promised would beat Tesla, Ford and General Motors to market. Better late than never? Time will tell, but so far, we have many questions and not a lot of answers.