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#159 – Shopify Winter ’24 Edition, Amazon Rufus & shoppable TikTok videos

by | Feb 5, 2024 | Recent Newsletters

Hi Shopifreaks

I've got a jam-packed edition for you today that covers Shopify's latest bi-annual edition, Amazon's new AI assistant Rufus, and more!

But first I want to take a minute to give a shoutout to our News Partners for helping to fund our research and news production each week.

 Please check out the links below and show our partners some love.   

  • Flowspace – Manage your entire fulfillment operation and enable fast, efficient delivery to your customer .
  • eStreamly – Go live and sell seamlessly on your website, email, mobile app, blog & social media with shoppable videos.
  • OpenStore – Sell your Shopify business in as little as two weeks, and move on to what’s next.

I've got two new partners that I'll be onboarding in the coming weeks, but space is limited to only a couple spots left after that.

If your company is interested in learning more about becoming one of our News Partners, reaching our audience of merchants and e-commerce professionals, and supporting your favorite e-commerce newsletter, hit reply and let's schedule a Google Meet.

PS: What'd you think of our Shopify Apps Report? If you missed it last week, here's the link to download the free report.

In this week's edition I cover:

  • Shopify Winter '24 Edition 
  • Amazon's new AI assistant Rufus
  • TikTok's shoppable video feature
  • Facebook's 20th birthday and record setting day on the market
  • Senators drilling Mark Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs
  • Amazon and iRobots “mutual” breakup
  • Delta's new FedEx and UPS competitor
  • Even more tech layoffs in 2024  
  • Amazon's insanely fast drone delivery 

All this and more in this week's 159th Edition of Shopifreaks. Thanks for subscribing and sharing!

Stat of the Week 📈

10% of ads on Facebook & Instagram are by China-based advertisers, which equates to about $13B in ad revenue. — According to CNBC

JMP analysts estimated that Temu and Shein spent roughly $600M and $200M, respectively, on Meta ads in Q3 2023, accounting for about 3% of Meta’s total growth in the period.

Share this week's stat on X & LinkedIn.

1. Shopify releases Winter '24 Edition

Twice a year, Shopify releases a mega showcase of its latest features called Shopify Editions, a tradition that started two years ago.

I've since covered their Summer '22 Edition, Winter '23 Edition, and Summer '23 Edition.

Today we'll dive into their newly released Winter '24 Edition, which features 100+ platform features and updates.

I'll highlight some of the standout updates below, some of which you've seen me cover in previous editions, and others which were announced for the first time.

  • 2,000 variant limit – increased from 100 variants.
  • Combined listings – each variant can have its own description, media gallery, and descriptive URL, but can be purchased from a single product listing.
  • Semantic search – AI powered storefront search feature that goes beyond keywords to better understand a shopper's intent.
  • One-page checkout – reduced from three pages to one. (“Finally!” says merchants across the globe.)
  • Checkout extensibility – 14 new APIs and updates to customize Shopify checkout.
  • Draft orders – now support discount codes, automatic orders, and the ability to combine discounts.
  • Bundles up to 30 products – increased from 10 products.
  • Estimated loan amounts – customers can see this directly from the product page when using Shop Pay Installments.
  • POS Ship from Store – soon you'll be able to select a retail store as the fulfillment location. Read this ModernRetail article to learn more about this feature.
  • New permissions for B2B orders – merchants can now restrict access so sales reps can only place ordres and view customer info for their own accounts.
  • Trade theme – speaking of B2B, here's a new theme built from the ground up for wholesale businesses.
  • Markets Pro – Shopify's cross-border solution is now available to all US businesses.
  • Shopify Audiences – now with smarter retargeting algorithms and benchmarks for measuring performance
  • Shop Campaigns – rebranded from Shop Cash Offers and added estimates and analytics to the dashboard.
  • Shopify Magic – their suite of free AI enabled tools. Check out this Verge article to see examples of the editor in action.
  • Media Editor – lets you use generative AI to create product images for your store.
  • Shopify Capital – launched a new line of credit offering which lets merchants access only the funding they need versus the full limit, and pay interest only on that amount.
  • Term Loans – another financing option that lets merchants make static payments over a fixed payback period. See this BetaKit article for more info.

 You can checkout all 100+ updates on the Full Winter '24 Editions page. 

Which feature or update from Winter '24 Edition is going to have the biggest impact on your business this year? Hit reply and let me know.

2. Alexa is out. Rufus is in.

Amazon launched a brand new AI shopping assistant named Rufus to a small subset of customers in the US, with plans to roll out to additional US customers in the coming weeks.

From their announcement:

“Rufus is a generative AI-powered expert shopping assistant trained on Amazon’s extensive product catalog, customer reviews, community Q&As, and information from across the web to answer customer questions on a variety of shopping needs and products, provide comparisons, and make recommendations based on conversational context.”

Amazon says that Rufus can help with quesitons at the start of a shopping journey such as, “What are the differences between trail and road running shoes?”, and with more specific questions about individual products such as, “Are these durable?”

Other examples of what Rufus can do include:

  • General shopping questions such as, “What should I consider when buying headphones?”
  • Shopping for specific activities such as, “What do I need to start an indoor garden?”
  • Help comparing product categories such as, “What's the difference between lip gloss and lip oil?”
  • Answer questions about a specific product such as, “Is this pickleball paddle good for beginners?”

Customers who have access to Rufus beta can engage with the assistant through a chat dialogue box within the mobile app or by typing or speaking into the search bar, with the ability to dismiss Rufus at any point and return to Amazon's traditional search results.

If some of these capabilities look familiar, it may be because Walmart and Google have previously announced similar enhanced product searches to their platforms. See Edition #156 for some of their most recent announcements.    

A few weeks ago, I asked, “What about Alexa?”

Has Alexa been delegated to turning on / off the lights in your home and starting / stopping your Spotify playlist, while all the cool new AI shopping features get implemented elsewhere?

Alexa has become a household name during the past decade, and in my humble opinion, everything AI-powered at Amazon should be “Alexa.” She should follow me around the entire Amazon ecosystem as my personal assistant and gateway to shopping, customer service, and product comparison on Amazon.

However maybe customers' relationship with Alexa isn't as strong as I think, and Amazon is moving on. For the time being, it seems that Alexa is out, and Rufus is in.

PS: In Edition #157, I wrote about Amazon testing a new nameless AI shopping assistant, but at the time, it could only answer questions about a specific product. It could not perform product searches or make product comparisons, however Amazon mentioned that those features were on the horizon. Enter Rufus.

🔥 Shopifreaks Partner News

OpenStore hired longtime Meta executive, Gigi Melrose, who will serve as General Manager and Head of Growth. Melrose will be in charge of introducing OpenStore to e-commerce entrepreneurs in the US, expanding the company's portfolio of Shopify brands, and leading Marketing, Business Development, and Partnership teams.

3. Tiktok's new feature that makes all posts shoppable

 TikTok is attempting to fulfill the one wish that no user ever made which is, “I wish more videos were shoppable!”

The company is experimenting with a new feature that identifies items in videos and directs viewers to find similar items on TikTok Shop by clicking into a page of products.

Previously, only approved influencers and brands had the ability to tag products, but the new feature would bring e-commerce links into more videos on the app.

The new feature aims to integrate product placement into the platform   without the hard sell of too many product videos filling users' feeds. This approach is designed to provide a more enjoyable experience for visitors who primarily seek entertainment. 

The essence of the feature lies in its ability to automatically detect objects in videos, though I can't imagine it's perfect. I look forward to the inevitable TikTok trend where creators laugh at the mistakes TikTok makes when confusing one object for another.

“TikTok thought my black shirt was a trash bag!”

However even that jovial feature-mocking content will add to the entertainment of the app and fit perfectly into TikTok culture. Overall, whether it works well or not, I see this feature being a win for the platform.

TikTok is also exploring other ways to boost its e-commerce business including opening studios in Los Angeles where creators can livestream and sell products. Each of the upcoming three locations will accomodate multiple studios and dozens of creators a day. Manufacturers will be able to send sample products to the studios so creators can pitch items to their fans.

One thing I respect about TikTok is that they don't mess around. When they decide to go in on e-commerce, they go all in!   

4. Happy 20th Birthday Facebook

Facebook turned 20 years old yesterday, just three days after its stock added $197B to its overall valuation, which is more in one day than any company ever before, and just four days after a US Senator told Mark Zuckerberg he “had blood on his hands” for the tragic deaths of teenagers as a result of using his platforms. (See Story #5 below.)

Meta is now worth more than $1 trillion after its share price surged on Thursday upon its reports of $39B in profit for 2023 and 3.07B monthly users of Facebook alone.

To celebrate the occasion, the company announced its first-ever dividend of $0.50 a share, with payments set to begin on Mar 26th. Don't get too excited about the dividend though. It equates to about a 0.43% annual return based on today's share price. 

Where are the rest of those profits going, if not to the dividend? 

Apparently to funding extreme sports and piloting airplanes! 

Meta warned shareholders in its latest annual report that its CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other members of management participate in various high-risk activities, such as combat sports, extreme sports, and recreational aviation, which carry the risk of serious injury or death.

The 10-K read, “If Mr. Zuckerberg were to become unavailable for any reason, there could be a material adverse impact on our operations.”

Personally, I'd be more worried about TikTok taking a bigger share of ad dollars and Chinese retailers cutting back on ad spending on Meta than Mark Zuckerberg's Jiu Jitsu, but that's just me.

5. Tech CEOs get drilled by Congress over child safety

CEOs from Meta, X, TikTok, Discord, and Snap appeared before Congress on Wednesday to defend their companies against mounting criticism that they have done too little to protect kids and teens online. 

Mark Zuckerberg and Shou Chew were the only executives who agreed to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee without a subpoena.

The hearing was part of a concerted push to pass the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), a piece of legislation that forces tech platforms to take additional measures to shield children from harmful online content, such as providing minors with safeguards to protect their personal data and placing restrictions on the use of algorithms.

Critics of KOSA say that the bill would aggressively sanitize the Internet, promote censorship, and put transgender children at risk.

Highlights from the clown show of a hearing include:

  • Sen. Josh Hawley pressed Mark Zuckerberg to apologize to families of victims of online child exploitation.
  • Sen. John Kennedy asked Zuckerberg, “Does your user agreement still suck?”, to which he replied, “I am not sure how to answer that, senator.”
  • Sen. Tom Cotton asked Shou Chew, “Have you ever been a member of the Chinese communist party?” to which Chew replied, “Senator, I am Singaporean. No.”
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told the CEOs, as he called for revising Section 230, “As a collective, your platforms really suck at policing themselves.”
  • Mark Zuckerberg expressed support for legislation that would require parental control anytime a child downloads an app.
  • He pushed back at the idea that businesses like his should be responsible for managing parental consent systems for kids' use of social media apps, and suggested that the problem should be dealt with by the app store providers like Apple and Google.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham told Zuckerberg that he and the other companies “have blood on your hands” and that he has “a product that is killing people.” (Which they all attempt to use to get elected / re-elected.)
  • In the background of the hearing, demonstrators held photos of children who have been victims of online exploitation.

After the hearing, X CEO Linda Yaccarino wrote in a letter to current and former advertisers that the company is making a priority of keeping children safe online and supports a series of online safety bills proposed by US lawmakers, and urged them to come back to the platform.

6. Amazon isn't buying iRobot after all

I haven't seen a bigger will they won't they since Ross and Rachel on Friends! Turns out Amazon is making a major PIVOT! in its plans to acquire iRobot.

Amazon first announced its plans to acquire iRobot for $1.7B in cash in August 2022, and almost immediately, the FTC began investigating the deal.

Almost a year later, after the UK approved the deal, Amazon revised the acquisition bid, offering to pay 15% less than its original bid a year earlier.

Then, almost immediately after that went down, the European Commission opened its own in-depth investigation, warning Amazon that its preliminary assessment was that the deal would run afoul of antitrust regulations.

All that proved to be too much for the companies to move forward, and last week they decided to terminate the deal. However the breakup was “mutual” they said. As part of the agreement, Amazon will pay iRobot a $94M breakup fee, most of which will go towards repaying the $200M loan the company took out to stay afloat in 2022.

The companies released the following statements about the decision: 

Amazon: “This outcome will deny consumers faster innovation and more competitive prices, which we're confident would have made their lives easier and more enjoyable… Undue and disproportionate regulatory hurdles discourage entrepreneurs, who should be able to see acquisition as one path to success, and that hurts both consumers and competition—the very things that regulators say they're trying to protect.”

iRobot: “Fuck! Now what are we going to do?”

Actually, iRobot made the standard type of statement you'd expect in this scenario, about how they're disappointed but will continue to look to the future, blah blah.

The reality is that terminating this deal leaves iRobot in a very difficult position:

  • Their CEO Colin Angle knows it because he stepped down from his roles as CEO and board chair the same day the deal came to an end.
  • The company then immediately hired a turnaround expert, Jeff Engel, who will report directly to the board.
  • iRobot also announced that it'll layoff 30% of its workforce by March, with plans to offshore its noncore engineering functions to lower-cost regions.
  • It's reducing its marketing budget by $30M (although to be fair, it's gotten a lot of free press lately).
  • It's abandoning its line of air purifiers and its robot lawnmower.
  • Lastly the company is reducing its real estate footprint by closing offices and facilities and cutting its research and development budget.

The $1.7B $1.4B cash infusion would've been a lifeboat for iRobot, which now has to make it on its own in a market that's gotten extremely competitive during the past few years.

7. Delta takes on FedEx & UPS with its new delivery service

Delta Airlines is taking on FedEx and UPS with the launch of its new shipping and last mile delivery service geared towards e-commerce retailers.

Delta Cargo, the company's cargo unit, is launching the offering through its new DeliverDirect platform, which it developed in collaboration with logistics technology firm SmartKargo.

Delta says that DeliverDirect uses its domestic airlines network of more than 2,500 daily flights to offer small-parcel two-day door-to-door delivery coast to coast, and that it will soon launch next-day delivery as well.

Alison Ricker, managing director of Delta Cargo, said, “DeliverDirect gives e-retailers an alternative transportation solution that fits their customers' requirements.”

DeliverDirect will offer:

  • Customized pick-up times for shippers.
  • Simultaneous tracking of up to 10 deliveries.
  • Geofence notifications of approaching deliveries.
  • Dedicated cargo capacity.
  • Signature-required deliveries.
  • Photo-proof of delivery.
  • Flat and customizable rates.
  • One question though — will Delta's DeliverDirect overbook packages on its fleet and then bump them to tomorrow's delivery?

    Jokes aside though, I welcome new players to the package delivery space, however, I question whether Delta is going to be able to compete on the ground for the last-mile — in both price and when it comes to finding and hiring drivers. The space is competitive.      

    In regards to price, the website says, “We offer both flat rates and customizable rates with no accessorial fees,” but doesn't list its rates, instead prompting visitors to reach out to their sales department.

    If you have any additional information about Delta's rates or last-mile solution, hit reply and let me know.

    8. Layoffs continue in 2024

    Last month I reported (story #8) on a fresh wave of layoffs to hit the industry following new years. Unfortunately, another wave has hit just a few weeks later.

  • PayPal is laying off 9% of its workforce, or around 2,500 employees in an effort to “rightsize” the company. CEO Alex Chriss wrote in a letter to staff that the decision to cut jobs would allow the company to “move with the speed needed to deliver for our customers and drive profitable growth.”
  • Block plans to lay off around 1,000 employees, its second round of layoffs in two months. However the layoffs weren't a surprise, as CEO Jack Dorsey had been talking about it for months (probably hoping people would leave on their own accord prior).
  • Google is ending its contract with Appen, an Australian data services company that Google contracted with for around 2,000  of its third-party search quality raters. Appen said it had no prior notice and that the cancellation would result in a loss of $82.8M of revenue at a gross margin of 26% for the company.
  • Noom, the weight loss app, laid off an unknown amount of roles in coaching and engineering roles as part of the company's efforts to “build a more efficient company focused on meeting the evolving needs of our customers.”
  • iRobot is laying off 350 of its employees, or roughly 31% of its staff, following the announcement that Amazon was no longer acquiring the company. iRobot's CEO Colin Angle also stepped down. More on that in Story #6 above.  
  • Zoom cut about 150 jobs, or about 2% of its total workforce. However the company says it will still be hiring in 2024, focusing on areas like AI, sales, and engineering.
  • Okta, the identity management company, is laying off 400 employees, or around 7% of its headcount. CEO Todd McKinnon said in his message that the “reality is that costs are still too high.”
  • Best of luck to all the folks impacted by this round of layoffs.

    9. Other e-commerce news of interest

    Amazon delivered a box of cookies by drone to a customer in College Station, Texas just 15 minutes and 29 seconds after they ordered it. (Bet they weren't as good as my cookies.) The drone service is currently limited to just two cities and available between 9:30am and 5pm on certain days, but Amazon plans on expanding the service this year with new locations in the US, Italy, and the UK.

    Facebook and Instagram are planning to permit the promotion of spot Bitcoin ETFs to their collective 3B users, matching Google's policy which updated to allow Bitcoin ETFs a few days prior. Opening these platforms to spot Bitcoin ETF ads could broaden their reach primarily with baby boomers who are less familiar with cryptocurrency investments.

    Southgate Global launched a new water activated tape dispensar aimed at reducing costs for e-commerce operation. The bond formed by the water-activated tape creates a permanent seal making it highly tamper resistant and removes the need for multiple layers of retaping, which speeds up the packing process. Of course, it takes customers 30 minutes with a chainsaw to get into their packages, but at least they'll get there quicker.

    Amazon's one-time password system, which debuted 18 months ago and is designed to ensure expensive items are delivered to the correct person, is backfiring on customers. The OTP system requires customers to give couriers a six-digit code before expensive items are handed over, but in many instances the item wasn't in the box or the wrong item was delivered, and the courier was long gone.

    Bird, the cloud communications platform for enterprises recently known as MessageBird, has rebranded after acquiring the domain name a couple years ago for several million dollars. The company is also launching a range of new products and cutting its price by 90% to go up against competitors such as Twilio.

    Bonanza is charging sellers who don't use its shipping label program a $2 shipping fee per order. The company announced this change in November, but made exceptions for sellers who used postage providers that connect directly with its API system. However sellers who were previously exempted say that Bonanza is now charging them the $2 fee too. The company is investigating the issue.

    Meta advertisers can now measure conversions that occur within one day of a video ad play with the introduction of the Engaged-view attribution setting. This new setting addresses a video trend where viewers prefer to complete their session before taking action on a video ad.

    eBay agreed to pay a $59M fine after the DOJ accused the marketplace of selling thousands of pill presses and encapsulating machines, some of which were used by trafficking rings to manufacture illegal counterfeit pills. It's the fourth largest settlement under the Controlled Substances Act and the first-ever settlement with an e-commerce company.

    Amazon completed a useful life study of its servers and decided they can be utilized for an extra year, which takes the working life from five to six years. The study predicts that the change will contribute $900M to net income in Q1 of 2024 alone.

    Mark Zuckerberg shot down the idea of Meta launching its own app store for iPhones during the company's Q4 earnings call on Thursday. He said, “They’ve made it so onerous, and I think so at odds with the intent of what the EU regulation was, that I think it’s just going to be very difficult for anyone, including ourselves, to really seriously entertain what they’re doing there.” Read more about Apple allowing 3rd party app stores in last week's edition (story #1). 

    Banks have been  making bank on gambling for the past six years, ever since a pivotal US Supreme Court decision that allowed legal gambling to spread to 37 states and counting. Now gamblers are having an easier time placing bets on their credit cards via online betting platforms, which is earning banks a ton of revenue. There are even bet now pay later platforms that allow users to place bets with borrowed funds that they can repay at 0% interest in four weekly installments.

    Meta says that it's optimistic about the competition, in response to Apple launching its mixed-reality headset, the Vision Pro. Meta execs view Apple's entry into the market as a validation for Zuckerberg's pivot to the metaverse, as well as a way to draw in more customers.

    X reinstated searches for Taylor Swift, after temporarily banning them in response to AI generated explicit images of the celebrity that were circulating its platform last week. X said that it will continue to be vigilant for any attempt to spread the content and will remove it if they find it.

    Push notifications from apps like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn and X are being exploited on the iPhone to invasively collect user data again, according to a report by Mysk which says that apps are sending device information and other analytics to remote servers even if the app isn't open on the device. Even though Apple doesn't allow iOS apps to run in the background, when a user receives a push notification, iOS activates the app temporarily so that it can customize the notification for the user.

    Americans are projected to spend $14.2B this Valentine's Day, which would be a record amount, according to a survey from the NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics. According to the survey, consumers are expected to reach new spending records in categories like jewelry ($6.4B), flowers ($2.6B), clothing ($3B), and going out ($4.9B).

    Google released the third iteration of its SEO starter guide, with this newest version being about half the size of the second version and primarily written for SEO newbies. The guide was originally released in 2008 as a PDF version and was last updated in 2017. The new “pocket-sized version” has a “better focus on a starter audience and the topics we think a person who's just dipping their toes in SEO should focus on and why,” according to Google.

    BigCommerce President Steven Chung is resigning from his position this month due to international relocation for personal and professional reasons he said. CEO Brent Bellm will serve as interim president following his departure while the company searches for a new president.

    Santander named Petri Nikkilä, a former ING exec, as the new CEO of its digital bank Openbank, effective from May. Nikkilä will lead the bank, which initially launched in Spain in 1995 as a telephone-based bank but has since expanded services to include insurance, deposits, and app-based account services, in its current markets and promote its international expansion.

    Rocket Companies appointed Alex Rampell, who currently serves as General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz and previously co-founded Affirm and TrialPay, as an independent director to the company's board. Rampell also serves on the boards of several Andreessen Horowitz portfolio companies, including Branch, Brightside, Descript, Divvy, Earnin, FlyHomes, Loft, Mercury, Point, Propel, Sentilink, Super Evil Mega Corp, Wise Ltd and Very Good Security.

    Etsy appointed one of its activist investors, Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott Investment Management, as a director to its board, effective today, while Elliott Management takes a 13% investment in the company. Elliott Management is best known for the Enhancing Ebay letter they published to then CEO Devin Wenig in 2023, calling for substantial changes at the company.

    Shopee failed in court to prevent its former senior employee, Lim Teck Yong, from joining ByteDance, after claiming that Lim had breached non-competitive restriction terms of his employment. Shopee claimed that Lim had acquired information while participating in regular meetings where the company's strategies and priorities for all markets were shared and discussed, which is generally what happens when you work for a company.

    TechCrunch is shuttering its subscription service, TechCrunch+, which first launched as Extra Crunch in 2019 to offer compelling analyses of successful startups. The publication is refocusing on its core ad-supported reporting for now, but may relaunch a subscription again in the future.

    Walmart is looking to build 150 modernized stores over the next five years, which includes converting some smaller stores into bigger ones. This will mark the first time Walmart has opened a new store since November 2021.

    Amazon says it delivered packages to Prime customers at the fastest speeds ever in 2023, thanks to better inventory placement, a new regionalization model for shipments, and more same-day warehouses. The company says that it increased the number of items it delivered the same day or overnight by more than 65% YoY in the US, with more than 70% of Prime orders arriving same day or next day in the UK.

    10. Seed rounds, IPOs, & acquisitions

    TikTok completed its deal to take control of Tokopedia, Indonesia's biggest e-commerce platform for $840M, giving it 75.01% of the GoTo owned company. The deal allows TikTok to restart its online shopping business in the country after Indonesia banned online shopping on social media platforms in September.

    Leal, a Bogota, Colombia-based retail tech company that enables e-commerce businesses in Latin America to offer cashback and product rewards, raised $5M in a pre-Series B round led by LEAP Global Partners and Rakuten Capital, just two years after raising $10M in a Series A, bringing its total amount raised to $20.5M. The company works with more than 1,000 brands across 15 industries and will use the funds to grow in Mexico and create smarter data collection tools and automations.

    Amazon is selling its flagship SmartLess podcast hosted by Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes, as well as a selection of other shows to SiriusXM's podcast network, who inked a multiyear exclusive deal with the shows for $100M. In 2021, Amazon reportedly paid between $60M and $80M  for exclusive rights to SmartLess and any future shows developed by its podcast network.

    Newme, an Indian fast-fashion e-commerce startup dubbed “Shein for India,” is in talks to raise $15-$20M from Accel, an early investor in Flipkart and Myntra, at an $85M valuation. The new backing comes just a week after Newme raised $5.4M in seed funding led by Fireside Ventures.

    Sunbit, a Los Angeles-based BNPL firm, raised $310M in a debt warehouse facility led by Citi Group and Ares Management. The company plans to use the funds to expand its BNPL offering, which is right now comprised of auto repair and dentistry loans, through co-branded retail card partnerships.

    Xreal, a creator of AR glasses, raised $60M from an unknown investor, bringing its total amount raised to $300M. The company will put the funds towards R&D and to expand its manufacturing facilities. The funding comes after Xreal showed off its Xreal Air 2 Ultra Air glasses at CES 2024 earlier this year.

    Podcastle, a podcasting platform with AI features like a voice cloning tool and audio quality improvements, raised $13.5M in a Series A round led by Mosaic Ventures. The platform is concentrating on long-form content creation, both audio and video, to help teams collaborate and improve their workflow from ideation to recording and editing.

    Jeff Bezos plans to sell 50M shares of Amazon over the course of the next year according to a company filing, which at its current share price, equates to around $8.6B. If Bezos follows through with the plan, it would mark the first time he has sold Amazon stock since 2021.

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    Paul E. Drecksler
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