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Lime’s founding CEO steps down as his co-founder takes control

2019, May 24 - 10:27am

In an all-hands meeting this afternoon, the scooter and bike-sharing phenom Lime announced co-founder and chief executive officer Toby Sun would transition out of the C-suite to focus on company culture and R&D. Brad Bao, a Lime co-founder and long-time Tencent executive, will assume chief responsibilities, Lime confirmed to TechCrunch.

“Lime has experienced unprecedented growth in the global marketplace under the joint leadership of our co-founders Brad Bao and Toby Sun,” the company said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Fortunately, Lime’s structure allows for our executive leadership to be multipurpose and we are making a few changes to our team today to seize the opportunity ahead of us.”

Sun and Bao launched Lime together in late 2016. The San Mateo-based company had near-immediate success, attracting hundreds of millions in venture capital funding and reaching a valuation of more than $1 billion in only a year and a half’s time. Today, the company is valued at $2.4 billion and is expected to hit the fundraising circuit soon.

In addition to today’s CEO shake-up, Lime’s chief operating officer and former GV partner Joe Kraus has been promoted to the role of president. Kraus joined Lime full-time late last year after more than a decade at the venture capital arm of Alphabet.

Meet @tobysun and @Bradbao, our founders.#UnlockLife
Full Film: https://t.co/FyLLe86Ywt pic.twitter.com/0ndiBCTOIT

— Lime (@limebike) May 23, 2019

Bao, given his Tencent tenure, seems like a natural choice to lead Lime into a more mature phase of business. Sun, a former investment director at Fosun Kinzon, has less operational experience than his counterpart, who was most recently the vice president of the Chinese conglomerate’s gaming decision.

News of Sun’s demotion comes hot off the heels of a fresh new marketing campaign, featured above, in which the Lime co-founders describe the scooter-sharing startup’s origin story and grand ambitions. The company, backed by Bain Capital Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity Ventures, GV, IVP and a slew of other top-notch investors, is active in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and 27 cities internationally. As of June, riders had taken more than 50 million trips on one of Lime’s vehicles.

Lime raises $310 million Series D round led by Bain Capital Ventures and others

Categories: Business News

Canopy’s upscale co-working business adds a new location in SF on the heels of strategic funding

2019, May 24 - 9:39am

Canopy, an upscale, profitable developer of co-working spaces, has expanded its footprint in San Francisco to a third location on the heels of a strategic financing round.

Co-founded by the product designer Yves Behar, the second-generation design-build developer Amir Mortazavi and serial entrepreneur and medical office space developer Steve Mohebi, Canopy bills itself as a better-designed WeWork for high-powered adults (or aspiring high-powered adults).

Canopy co-founders Amir Mortazavi, Yves Behar and Steve Mohebi

The company opened its latest office space in the financial district of San Francisco and has plans to double its Jackson Square location with a new penthouse space.

Investors in the round were culled from Canopy members and a few institutional investment funds, including Structure Capital, Montage Ventures and Graph Ventures, and individuals like Erik Blachford, the former chief executive of Expedia, Mark Pincus, the former chief executive of Zynga and Spencer Rascoff, the co-founder of Zillow.

Canopy’s latest office will be at 353 Kearny Street and Pine. The ground floor will house a retail store in partnership with Monocle Magazine and contain 32 offices suitable for everyone from one person shops to larger teams of 10.

Like all of its offices, Canopy’s new building will be kitted out with Herman Miller sit-to-stand desks and Sayl chairs, and sound masking for privacy.

“Designing our spaces along with my friend and co-founder, Yves Behar, to serve the unmet demands of the premium segment has been a true labor of passion,” said co-founder and CEO, Amir Mortazavi, in a statement. “We build everything around our members’ needs — a generosity of space, abundant natural light, easy flow between private and shared spaces — to ensure the overall Canopy experience is at once inspiring and calm.”

The company boasts 300 members already and its founders say the business is already profitable. Canopy’s workspaces are not for everyone. Prices start at $100 per month to take advantage of the company’s addresses for people who want a virtual office. For folks who want 10 days’ worth of access to the co-working space’s common areas and an actual seat at a table, the price tag is $365 per month ($275 gets you 60 days of access out of a year).

Meanwhile, anyone who wants to be able to sit at an actual desk and work at a Canopy space better be willing to shell out $925 per month. That’s… not cheap.

Categories: Business News

Streem buys Selerio in effort to boost its AR teleconferencing tech

2019, May 24 - 7:51am

Streem, an AR startup that is meshing teleconferencing software with computer vision tech, has acquired a small U.K. startup called Selerio that’s also building out augmented reality technologies.

The startups were both members of betaworks’ VisionCamp accelerator program last year where they met and collaborated while tackling separate computer vision problems in the AR space.

Streem’s play is that they can create a kind of souped-up Skype call that enables home service providers to get more visual data in the course of chatting with home-owners. This can be something simple like character recognition that enables users to point their phone rather than reciting a 30-character serial number; the company can also take measurements or save localized notes.

The Portland startup has disclosed more than $10 million in funding, though they have also just closed a new bout of funding (they’re not sharing the amount yet).

Selerio’s focus is all about gaining a contextual understanding of a space. The startup was spun out of research from Cambridge University. The company has not disclosed its amount of seed funding, but betaworks, Greycroft Partners and GGV Capital are among its backers. All three of Selerio’s employees have joined Streem as part of the acquisition.

Categories: Business News

From launch to launch: Peter Beck on building Rocket Lab’s orbital business

2019, May 24 - 4:03am

Breaking into the launch industry is no easy task, but New Zealand’s Rocket Lab has done it without missing a step. The company has just completed its third commercial launch of 2019, and is planning to increase the frequency of its launches until there’s one a week. It’s ambitious, but few things in spaceflight aren’t.

Although it has risen to prominence over the last two years at a remarkable rate, the appearance of Rocket Lab in the launch market isn’t exactly sudden. One does not engineer and test an orbital launch system in a day.

The New Zealand-based company was founded in 2006, and for years pursued smaller projects while putting together the Rutherford rocket engine, which would eventually power its Electron launch vehicle.

Far from the ambitions of the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin, which covet heavy-launch capabilities to compete with ULA to bring payloads beyond Earth orbit, Rocket Lab and its Electron LV have been laser-focused on frequent and reliable access to orbit.

Utilizing 3D printed engine components that can be turned out in a single day rather than weeks, and other manufacturing efficiencies, the company has gone from producing a rocket a year to one a month, with the goal of one a week, to match or exceed its launch cadence.

Seem excessive? The years-long backlog of projects waiting to go to orbit disagrees. There’s demand to spare and the market is only growing.

Peter Beck, the company’s founder and CEO, sat down with us to talk about the process of building a launch provider from scratch, and where the company goes from here — other than up.

Devin: To start with, why don’t we talk about the recent launches? Congratulations on everything going well, by the way. Any thoughts on these most recent ones?

Peter: Thanks, it’s great to be hitting our stride. We wanted electron to be an accurate vehicle and we’re averaging within around 1.4 kilometers. When you get into what that means, at those speeds it takes 180 milliseconds to travel 1.4 km, so we’ve got the accuracy down pat.

Categories: Business News

Indian PM Narendra Modi’s reelection spells more frustration for US tech giants

2019, May 24 - 3:30am

Amazon and Walmart’s problems in India look set to continue after Narendra Modi, the biggest force to embrace the country’s politics in decades, led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to a historic landslide re-election on Thursday, reaffirming his popularity in the eyes of the world’s largest democracy.

The re-election, which gives Modi’s government another five years in power, will in many ways chart the path of India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, as well as the local play of Silicon Valley companies that have grown increasingly wary of recent policy changes.

At stake is also the future of India’s internet, the second largest in the world. With more than 550 million internet users, the nation has emerged as one of the last great growth markets for Silicon Valley companies. Google, Facebook, and Amazon count India as one of their largest and fastest growing markets. And until late 2016, they enjoyed great dynamics with the Indian government.

But in recent years, New Delhi has ordered more internet shutdowns than ever before and puzzled many over crackdowns on sometimes legitimate websites. To top that, the government recently proposed a law that would require any intermediary — telecom operators, messaging apps, and social media services among others — with more than 5 million users to introduce a number of changes to how they operate in the nation. More on this shortly.

Growing tension

Categories: Business News

Automattic acquires subscription payment company Prospress

2019, May 24 - 3:01am

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Longreads, Simplenote and a bunch of other cool things, is acquiring a small startup called Prospress. Among other things, Prospress has developed WooCommerce Subscriptions, a recurring payment solution specifically designed for WooCommerce.

Given that physical and digital subscriptions are taking over the e-commerce world, it makes sense that Automattic wants to own WooCommerce Subscriptions. Charging customers on a regular basis is one of the most painful challenges when it comes to payment.

Prospress also works on a marketing automation tool to remind customers that they have abandoned their carts, follow up, cross sell and more. The company also has a tool to test your checkout functionality before going live. After the acquisition, the Prospress team will keep iterating on its own products and join the rest of the WooCommerce team.

This is a strategic acquisition more than anything else. Prospress has around 20 employees, so it’s not going to change the face of Automattic and its team of 900 people. But it’s an important move so that Automattic can own a bigger chunk of the (e-commerce) stack.

WooCommerce competitor Shopify doesn’t provide subscriptions out of the box. You have to use third-party products, such as Bold or ReCharge.

Like WordPress, WooCommerce is an open-source project — it integrates directly with WordPress. It means that anyone can download WooCommerce and host it on their servers. And the WooCommerce ecosystem is one of the main advantages of WooCommerce compared to obscure e-commerce solutions.

Many WooCommerce users probably host their e-commerce website on WordPress.com. But by controlling the payment module, Automattic can also generate some revenue if WooCommerce users choose to use WooCommerce Subscriptions as their payment solution.

Categories: Business News

Zero raises $20 million from NEA and others for a credit card that works like debit

2019, May 24 - 2:34am

Just ahead of the launch of the Apple Card, a startup that has its own take on modernizing the credit card industry, Zero, is announcing the close of its $20 million Series A. The new round of funding was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), and brings Zero’s total raised to date to $35 million, including both equity and debt funding.

Other investors in the round include SignalFire, Eniac Ventures, Nyca Partners and some unnamed school endowments. Zero had previously announced an $8.5 million raise in fall 2017, led by Eniac, and had raised $7 million in venture debt from Silicon Valley Bank.

Zero has a clever idea that targets millennials’ hesitance to sign up for credit cards.

Today, only 33% of millennials have a major credit card, a Bankrate survey found — largely because they’re wary of falling into the vicious debt cycle. Instead, this younger demographic often only carries a debit card. But that also means they’re missing out on credit card benefits — like points, rewards and cash back.

Zero’s idea is to offer a rewards credit card that works like debit.

The Zerocard itself is a World Mastercard, so it earns credit card cash back. But unlike a traditional credit card, it’s combined with an FDIC-backed checking account called Zero Checking. That means Zerocard and Zero Checking work together in the app, allowing cardholders to see one net number they can spend from.

That way, they won’t make the mistake of accidentally going over budget, as is often the case with traditional credit cards, which then benefit from charging interest on the unpaid balance.

Zero co-founder and CEO Bryce Galen says he had always liked optimizing his personal finances, but didn’t see the value in overspending to chase rewards.

“People spend 10 to 15% more on average just because they’re putting it on a credit card, and not seeing where they stand all the time,” he says. “Spending 10 to 15% more to chase 1 to 2% in rewards doesn’t make sense.”

Plus, he adds, “half of all credit card points are never even redeemed.”

With Zerocard, the company does away with other credit card annoyances as well.

Zerocard doesn’t charge annual fees like many traditional credit cards do. And Zero Checking doesn’t add any additional ATM fees beyond what the ATM owner charges. It also does away with foreign transaction fees, minimum balance fees and overdraft fees — like many of today’s challenger banks.

Meanwhile, the Zero app is built with an eye toward what makes apps great.

Galen, who led product development for Zynga’s “Words with Friends” has experience in this department, while co-founder and COO Joel Washington previously co-founded car sales marketplace Shift. The executive team, combined, has backgrounds that include time at Affirm, Apple, Capital One, Dropbox, Google, Postmates, Silicon Valley Bank, Upgrade and Wells Fargo.

Overall, Zero’s design feels clean and simple, compared to the cluttered and dated apps from traditional banks. It has smart features, too, like a detailed transaction view that shows the vendor’s logo and location on a map to make it easier to recognize purchases.

“Zero creates an innovative debit-style experience, with an elegant design, and truly compelling rewards. It’s a fabulous banking experience,” said Hans Morris, managing partner of Nyca Partners and former president of Visa, Inc., in a statement. “Few people understand how complex it is to launch either a credit card or a checking account program, and I believe Zero is the first U.S. startup to launch both,” he said.

Zero launched in November 2018, but only to a small number of customers. Though officially open for business, it was functioning more like a public beta — though it didn’t call it that at the time. Meanwhile, its waitlist continued to grow.

Today, there are still 204,000 people waiting to be allowed in — something that Galen says is now going to happen.

“We haven’t launched to everyone on the waitlist yet, but we expect to within the next few weeks,” he says.

Another interesting twist on traditional credit cards is Zero’s path to card upgrades: it encourages but also rewards customers for telling their friends. By doing so, customers gain access to better-looking cards and higher cash-back percentages.

Zero customers start with a “Quartz” card offering 1% back on purchases. When a friend they refer joins, they receive a higher-level card called “Graphite” that offers 1.5% back. Two friends earns you the “Magnesium” card with 2% back and four friends gets you the “Carbon” card with 3% back. The Carbon card is also solid metal, capitalizing on the millennial trend of wanting their cards to look cool. And metal cards are in particular demand.

To receive the full cash-back rates, customers have to pay their balances in full by the due date, Zero says.

The company has partnered with Salt Lake City-based WebBank to issue the card, and deposits are held at Memphis-based Evolve Bank & Trust, an FDIC member. Zero makes money primarily on interchange and interest on deposits.

While some users may leave balances on the card that generate interest, Zero isn’t focused on that aspect of the business for revenue generation.

“Most companies in fintech today are launching undifferentiated debit cards as a feature or extension to their product for an additional engagement and monetization stream,” says Rick Yang, partner at NEA, as to why he invested.

“Zero is completely focused on their card programs and building a differentiated solution that actually provides a value proposition that resonates with consumers. We’ve also been fascinated by the growth of debit outpacing credit, and we think that our solution gives consumers the best of both worlds,” he adds.

Zero is currently iOS-only, but is working on an Android version that is expected to be ready in August.

Categories: Business News

DoorDash, now valued at $12.6B, shoots for the moon

2019, May 24 - 1:38am

More than five years ago, Sequoia partner Alfred Lin called Tony Xu, the founder of a small on-demand delivery startup called DoorDash, to say he was passing on the company’s seed round.

This was, of course, before venture capital funding in food delivery startups had taken off. DoorDash, launched out of Xu’s Stanford graduate school dorm room, wasn’t worth Sequoia’s capital — yet.

Today, venture capitalists are valuing the San Francisco-based company at a whopping $12.6 billion with a $600 million Series G. New investors Darsana Capital Partners and Sands Capital participated in the deal, which nearly doubles DoorDash’s previous valuation, alongside existing backers Coatue Management, Dragoneer, DST Global, Sequoia Capital, the SoftBank Vision Fund and Temasek Capital Management.

As for Sequoia’s Alfred Lin, he realized his mistake years ago and jumped in on DoorDash’s 2014 Series A, and has participated in every subsequent round since. DoorDash, a graduate of Y Combinator’s Summer 2013 cohort, is also backed by Kleiner Perkins, CRV and Khosla Ventures, among others. In total, the company has raised $2.5 billion in VC funding, making it one of the most well-capitalized private companies in the U.S.

SoftBank, via its prolific dealmaker Jeffrey Housenbold, was responsible for making DoorDash a unicorn in early 2018. The nearly $100 billion Vision Fund led DoorDash’s $535 million Series D, valuing the business at $1.4 billion. Just three months ago, the SoftBank Vision Fund, DST Global, Coatue Management, GIC, Sequoia and Y Combinator put an additional $400 million in the fast-growing business.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 05: DoorDash CEO Tony Xu speaks onstage during Day 1 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Xu told TechCrunch the company’s Series F was “a reflection of superior performance over the past year.” DoorDash was currently seeing 325% growth year-over-year, he said, pointing to recent data from Second Measure showing the service had overtaken Uber Eats in the U.S., coming in second only to GrubHub.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Xu said at the time. “If you just run the math on DoorDash’s course and speed, we’re on track to be number one.”

At a venture capital-focused summit hosted in April, Xu added that DoorDash was the largest delivery platform in America by “pretty wide margins,” explaining that it was, in fact, growing 4x faster than its next closest peer. In this morning’s announcement, the company added that it’s grown 60% since its late February Series F, with its annualized total sales hitting $7.5 billion in March, an increase of 280% year-over-year. 

Still, one wonders what kind of growth metrics DoorDash might be sharing to attract that kind of valuation multiple. The company has yet to disclose revenues and is not yet profitable, but has seen its price tag grow astronomically in just two years. Since March 2018, DoorDash’s valuation has skyrocketed from $1.4 billion to $4 billion with a $250 million Series E to $7.1 billion with a $350 million Series F and, finally, to nearly $13 billion with its Series G.

The $12.6 billion valuation makes DoorDash one of the 10 most valuable venture-backed companies in the U.S., surpassing Coinbase, Instacart and even Slack, according to PitchBook.

DoorDash is currently active in more than 4,000 cities in the U.S. and Canada, with hundreds of partners, including both restaurants and supermarkets (Walmart is using DoorDash for grocery deliveries). The company also operates DoorDash Drive, which allows businesses to use the DoorDash network to make their own deliveries.

Categories: Business News

Takeaways from KubeCon; the latest on Kubernetes and cloud native development

2019, May 24 - 1:13am

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois and Ron Miller discuss major announcements that came out of the Linux Foundation’s European KubeCon/CloudNativeCon conference and discuss the future of Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies.

Nearly doubling in size year-over-year, this year’s KubeCon conference brought big news and big players, with major announcements coming from some of the world’s largest software vendors including Google, AWS, Microsoft, Red Hat, and more. Frederic and Ron discuss how the Kubernetes project grew to such significant scale and which new initiatives in cloud-native development show the most promise from both a developer and enterprise perspective.

“This ecosystem starts sprawling, and we’ve got everything from security companies to service mesh companies to storage companies. Everybody is here. The whole hall is full of them. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between them because there are so many competing start-ups at this point.

I’m pretty sure we’re going to see a consolidation in the next six months or so where some of the bigger players, maybe Oracle, maybe VMware, will start buying some of these smaller companies. And I’m sure the show floor will look quite different about a year from now. All the big guys are here because they’re all trying to figure out what’s next.”

Frederic and Ron also dive deeper into the startup ecosystem rapidly developing around Kubernetes and other cloud-native technologies and offer their take on what areas of opportunity may prove to be most promising for new startups and founders down the road.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Categories: Business News

Andreessen pours $22M into PlanetScale’s database-as-a-service

2019, May 24 - 1:11am

PlanetScale’s founders invented the technology called Vitess that scaled YouTube. Now they’re selling it to any enterprise that wants their data both secure and consistently accessible. And thanks to its ability to re-shard databases while they’re operating, it can solve businesses’ troubles with GDPR, which demands they store some data in the same locality as the user to whom it belongs.

The potential to be a computing backbone that both competes with and complements Amazon’s AWS has now attracted a mammoth $22 million Series A for PlanetScale. Led by Andreessen Horowitz and joined by the firm’s Cultural Leadership Fund, head of the US Digital Service Matt Cutts, plus existing investor SignalFire, the round is a tall step up from the startup’s $3 million seed it raised a year ago. Andreessen general partner Peter Levine will join the PlanetScale board, bringing his enterprise launch expertise.

PlanetScale co-founders (from left): Jitendra Vaidya and Sugu Sougoumarane

“What we’re discovering is that people we thought were at one point competitors, like AWS and hosted relational databases — we’re discovering they may be our partners instead since we’re seeing a reasonable demand for our services in front of AWS’ hosted databases,” says CEO Jitendra Vaidya. “We are growing quite well.” Competing database startups were raising big rounds, so PlanetScale connected with Andreessen in search of more firepower.

A predecessor to Kubernetes, Vitess is a horizontal scaling sharding middleware built for MySQL. It lets businesses segment their database to boost memory efficiency without sacrificing reliable access speeds. PlanetScale sells Vitess in four ways: hosting on its database-as-a-service, licensing of the tech that can be run on-premises for clients or through another cloud provider, professional training for using Vitess and on-demand support for users of the open-source version of Vitess. PlanetScale now has 18 customers paying for licenses and services, and plans to release its own multi-cloud hosting to a general audience soon.

With data becoming so valuable and security concerns rising, many companies want cross-data center durability so one failure doesn’t break their app or delete information. But often the trade-off is unevenness in how long data takes to access. “If you take 100 queries, 99 might return results in 10 milliseconds, but one will take 10 seconds. That unpredictability is not something that apps can live with,” Vaidya tells me. PlanetScale’s Vitess gives enterprises the protection of redundancy but consistent speeds. It also allows businesses to continually update their replication logs so they’re only seconds behind what’s in production rather than doing periodic exports that can make it tough to track transactions and other data in real-time.

Now equipped with a ton of cash for a 20-person team, PlanetScale plans to double its staff by adding more sales, marketing and support. “We don’t have any concerns about the engineering side of things, but we need to figure out a go-to-market strategy for enterprises,” Vaidya explains. “As we’re both technical co-founders, about half of our funding is going towards hiring those functions [outside of engineering], and making that part of our organization work well and get results.”

But while a $22 million round from Andreessen Horowitz would be exciting for almost any startup, the funding for PlanetScale could assist the whole startup ecosystem. GDPR was designed to reign in tech giants. In reality, it applied compliance costs to all companies — yet the rich giants have more money to pay for those efforts. For a smaller startup, figuring out how to obey GDPR’s data localization mandate could be a huge engineering detour they can hardly afford. PlanetScale offers them not only databases but compliance-as-a-service too. It shards their data to where it has to be, and the startup can focus on their actual product.

They scaled YouTube — now they’ll shard everyone with PlanetScale

Categories: Business News

EFounders backs Yousign to build a European e-signature company

2019, May 24 - 12:11am

French startup Yousign is partnering with startup studio eFounders. While eFounders usually builds software-as-a-service startups from scratch, the company is trying something new with this partnership.

Indeed, eFounders wants to create all the tools you need to make your work more efficient. The startup studio is behind many respectable SaaS successes, such as Front, Aircall and Spendesk. And electronic signatures are a must if you want to speed up your workflow.

Sure, there are a ton of well-established players in the space — DocuSign, SignNow, Adobe Sign, HelloSign, etc. But nobody has really cracked the European market in a similar way.

Yousign has been around for a while in France. When it comes to features, it has everything you’d expect. You can upload a document and set up automated emails and notifications so that everybody signs the document.

Signatures are legally binding and Yousign archives your documents. You also can create document templates and send contract proposals using an API.

The main challenge for Yousign is that Europe is still quite fragmented. The company will need to convince users in different countries that they need to switch to an e-signature solution. Starting today, Yousign is now available in France, Germany, the U.K. and Spain.

Yousign had only raised some money; eFounders is cleaning the cap table by buying out existing investors and replacing them.

“We can’t really communicate on the details of the investment, but what I can tell you is that we bought out existing funds for several millions of euros in order to replace them — founders still have the majority of shares,” eFounders co-founder and CEO Thibaud Elzière told me.

In a blog post, Elzière writes that eFounders has acquired around 50% of the company through an SPV (Single Purpose Vehicle) that it controls. The startup studio holds 25% directly, and investors in the eFounders eClub hold 25%.

Yousign now looks pretty much like any other eFounders company when they start. Of course, founders and eFounders might get diluted further down the road if Yousign ends up raising more money.

Categories: Business News

Using full-body MRIs, Ezra can now detect 11 cancers in men and 13 in women

2019, May 24 - 12:05am

When Ezra first launched about six months ago, the company was using magnetic resonance imaging machines to test for prostate cancer in men.

But the company’s founder, Emi Gal, always had a larger goal.

“One of the biggest problems in cancer is that there’s no accurate, fast, painless way to scan for cancer anywhere in the body,” Gal said at the time of his company’s debut.

Ezra raises $4M to diagnose cancer with MRIs, not painful biopsies

Now he’s several steps closer to a solution. Rather than having to do painful biopsies, which often come with significant side effects, Gal’s software can now be used to slash the cost for a full-body MRI scan designed to screen for 11 different types of cancer in men and another 13 types of cancer in women (who have more organs that are likely to develop cancer).

The scans take about an hour and cost just $1,950, compared with the $5,000 to $10,000 that a full-body MRI scan can cost.

That’s still a steep price for customers to pay out of pocket. Insurance companies won’t pay for Ezra’s screens… yet. The company is in talks with some insurance companies and expects to have some pilot projects up in the last quarter of 2018 and first quarter of 2020. The goal, says Gal, is to have Ezra covered by insurers and self-employed insurers.

It’s hard to overstate how vitally important early cancer screening is for patients.

The American Cancer Society estimates 1.7 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019. For 600,000 people that diagnosis will be a death sentence. Roughly half of cancer patients are detected in the late stage of the disease and only two out of 10 late-stage cancer patients survive longer than five years.

Gal knows the toll that can take on patients and families all too well. The serial entrepreneur, who started his first company at 20 and sold it at 30, volunteered at a hospice in his hometown of Bucharest, and became determined to come up with a screen to detect cancer earlier.

Gal started working on Ezra’s cancer-screening toolkit last year, with patient data taken from the National Institute of Health and supplemented with 150 cancer screens from additional patients.

Ezra initially came to market with a single test to screen for prostate cancer using machine learning to diagnose the screens coming off of an abbreviated MRI scan that takes 20 minutes.

All of the MRI sequences that Gal’s company uses are FDA approved, but the machine learning algorithms the company has developed have not been cleared yet.

While Ezra can screen for different cancers, the firm’s technology doesn’t offer a diagnosis. That’s still up to a physician and requires additional testing. “We’re turning MRIs from what is a diagnostic test into a screening test,” says Gal.

“What we’ve done is removed the sequences not necessary for screening and brought the liver scan down to 15 minutes [and] the total scanning time down to an hour,” Gal says.

Rather than building out its own network of MRI machines to conduct the tests, Ezra has partnered with the MRI facility network RadNet on testing. The company also offers post-diagnosis consultations to help direct patients who are diagnosed with cancer to seek proper treatment.

The company is currently working in nine centers across New York and intends to expand to San Francisco and Los Angeles later this year.

Gal’s vision for early cancer screening was appealing enough to rake in $4 million in financing from investors, including Founders Future, Credo Ventures, Seedcamp, Esther Dyson and other angel investors, including SoundCloud co-founder Alex Ljung.

Ultimately, Ezra’s success will hinge on whether it can continue to drive down costs with its direct-to-consumer pitch, or become a diagnostic tool that insurers embrace.

“Over time, our goal is to build different AIs for different organs to decrease the cost even further,” says Gal.

Categories: Business News

Indiegogo hires Reddit’s Andy Yang as new CEO

2019, May 23 - 11:05pm

Indiegogo has a new chief. Andy Yang will take over for outgoing CEO David Mandelbrot, who is stepping down. According to sources close to the company, several other Indiegogo employees are also leaving. Indiegogo has yet to confirm this claim or state the number or reason for their departure.

Mandelbrot announced the move on LinkedIn, citing “personal reasons” as why he’s leaving. He was at Indiegogo for six years, starting as SVP of Operations in August of 2013.

Andy Yang comes to Indiegogo from Reddit, where he was most recently leading its product team. He was previously the CEO of 500px.

Yang comes to Indiegogo at a critical time for the company. Consumers are increasingly becoming jaded by crowdfunding projects that leave backers without their promised product. Under Mandelbrot’s leadership, he helped Indiegogo net several key partners, including General Electric and Lego. The company also enlisted the help of several manufacturing and marketing professionals to help backers make projects into products.

TechCrunch requested an interview with Yang, but has yet to be granted that request.

Categories: Business News

Zenkit redesigns its project management app, adds public API and more

2019, May 23 - 11:00pm

There’s no dearth of Trello-style project management services, but while the core of Zenkit is exactly that, it’s also far more flexible than most, and offers plenty of ways to adjust the service to your style of work (and beyond Kanban). Today, the company is launching version 3.0 of its service and with that, it’s not just putting a fresh coat of paint on the service but also launching a number of new features for end users and developers.

With this new version, Zenkit moved to a unified user interface across mobile and desktop. The company is also placing a bet of progressive web apps. Indeed, As Zenkit CEO and co-founder Martin Welker told me, the company has now ceased developing native apps entirely.

“Existing frameworks such as Ionic are all component-based, which means they couldn’t accommodate the deep complexity we envisaged,” he said. “It became clear to us that we would need to write our own framework that accommodated the entire app, not just its components, in order to realize our vision. The implementation of the Zenkit framework not only aligned our design across all platforms, but it also had a radical impact on how our team develop.”

With this new version, Zenkit is also introducing new features, like published collections, for example. You can think of those as publish boards (or mindmaps, calendars, etc.) that you can share with people outside of your organization or embed on any website. Welker expects that users will use this to share project roadmaps or changelogs for their apps, for example, while freelancers and consultants may use it to share their project progress with clients. He also expects that event managers will use it to post public schedules for their conferences, for example.

Another feature this move also enables is split-screen support on iPad.

“Our redesign was triggered by the need to improve the Zenkit mobile experience, especially on tablets,” Welker said. “We know that tablets and phones are used differently, for different purposes, so the progressive web apps update makes Zenkit feel like it was designed as a native app for each device, while letting us immediately push updates and fixes from one central code source.”

Zenkit also adders Microsoft Teams support and the ability to log in with a Microsoft account, as well as iCalendar subscriptions.

There’s also now a public API, which is actually more interesting than it sounds. Because there is a generic database at the core of the service, developers will essentially be able to use Zenkit as a database backend for their own apps, too. It’ll be interesting to see how developers will use this service.

Categories: Business News

Hunters.ai raises $5.4M for its autonomous threat-hunting solution

2019, May 23 - 11:00pm

Hunters.ai, a Tel Aviv-based startup that built an AI-based threat-hunting solution, today announced that it has raised a $5.4 million seed funding round led by YL Ventures and Blumberg Capital.

Threat hunting has traditionally been a rather manual practice, where analysts try to actively identify potential threats to their systems. This has always been a very data-driven activity, though, so it’s no surprise that a number of startups are now looking to automate the process. Not all attacks are as easy to spot as an attacker who is trying to brute-force a password, for example. Sometimes, a sophisticated attacker may have the credentials to get into a network, for example. It’s then up to the hunter and hunting tools to recognize that there is unusual activity, because, in the end, these attackers always leave a few breadcrumbs in their wake.

The Hunters team tells me that it did a lot of market validation before deciding on its focus. “The main gap we saw is the level of talent, experience and understanding of the attack side inside of organizations,” Hunters CEO Uri May told me. “This led us to develop what we call the autonomous threat-hunting machine, which is taking our understanding of what threat hunting is and to take that to a lot of customers around the world in a scalable way.”

Similar solutions often rely on agents, scanners and other techniques that collect the data, but Hunters gathers its information by integrating with existing systems. The system then continuously analyzes this data and looks for abnormalities.

As May and Hunters CTO Tomer Kazaz stressed when I talked to them, the team wanted to provide users with more than just alerts, though. “We don’t call it alerts because it’s a full attack story because it’s more of a correlation of multiple alerts into an actionable attack story,” Kazaz said. “We always provide customers with some actionable action items.”

Over time, the company plans to integrate this dashboard with other security orchestration products.

“IT security teams must become faster and better at detecting and stopping attacks, and threat hunting is the obvious strategy of choice. But hiring the highly specialized and in-demand skills and knowledge needed is simply not possible,” said Ofer Schreiber, a partner at YL Ventures . “This leaves an attack detection gap and the cost of failure is a board-level concern. Deploying Hunters is like putting an army of highly skilled threat hunters to work to magnify your team’s power and close that gap.”

As is so often the case with Israeli security startups, May and Kazaz started their careers in the Israeli Defense Forces. The team also has Blumberg Capital’s Ehud Schneerson on its board. Schneerson is the former commander of Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of the NSA, an organization that has probably spawned more security startups in recent years than any university.

Hunters is now available to a limited set of customers, with general availability planned for late 2019.

Categories: Business News

Future launches $150/mo exercise app where real coaches nag you

2019, May 23 - 7:34pm

The only way to beat laziness is with guilt, so that’s what Future sells. It assigns you an actual human trainer who builds personalized workout plans and messages you throughout the day to make sure you’re doing them. It even gives you an Apple Watch to track your activity and ensure you’re not lying. Future actually got me to the gym where my coach kicked my ass remotely with a 30-minute lifting routine I’d never have stuck to by myself.

The catch? It’s probably the most expensive app you’ve ever seen, charging $150 per month.

Future officially launches today. Luckily it comes with a 1-month money-back guarantee that CEO Rishi Mandal says has only been redeemed once. It’s produced some stunning stats from its beta tests. 95% of users stuck with it for 3 months, and 85% kept training for 6 months. That’s unheard of it fitness tech.

Future’s welcome kit includes a water bottle and Apple Watch

The remarkable retention and Future’s potential to become a gateway for your exercise and nutrition spending have roped in some big name investors. Today it’s announcing an $8.5 million Series A led by Kleiner Perkins, building on its $3 million seed. Other backers include Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, and Caffeinated Capital. Athletes are betting on Future’s promise of democratizing the personal training they get, including Golden State Warrior Sean Livingston, and NFL stars Ndamukong Suh and Kelvin Beachum.

“Future manages to be both deeply personalized (and personable!) while being super convenient” says Krieger of one of his first investments since leaving Instagram. Future’s Mandal built his old startup Sosh while sitting next to Krieger at incubator Dogpatch Labs where Instagram was getting its start. “The always available nature of it means travel or a shifting schedule is no longer an excuse to not work out.”

How Future Works (Out)

Throughout the onboarding, Future flexes the money you spend to offer what feels like a luxury app experience.

Upon signup, you’ll answer some questions about your goals like slimming down or beefing up, and pick from a few expert trainers matched to your needs. You’ll do a 15-minute video chat with your trainer to get friendly, describe your schedule, and hammer out details of your workout plan. After you get your welcome kit with some swag and an Apple Watch, your trainer delivers your week’s worth of personalized daily routines that come with video instructions for each exercise. The Future app provides audio cues (and optional music) to guide you through the workouts while your trainer chimes in with personalized pointers and motivation via pre-recorded voice clips.

Future’s app guides you through workouts with instructional video clips and audio cues

But what’s unique about Future is that your trainer proactively checks in with you throughout your day to make sure you’re actually going to the gym or doing those pushups. Since you don’t switch between trainers with each workout like some apps, and since they have your activity and heart rate data from the Apple Watch, they can spot patterns of procrastination or flaking out. You’re prompted to give feedback after each sweat session that the trainer uses to tweak your plan. That personalization and prodding go a long way to making sure Future always fits your day and actually stays part of it.

For example, I wanted to burn a few pounds without burning too much time by adding a gym day or two plus some warmup strength training before my home Peloton rides. My trainer Renee Zernicke, a former University Of Wisconsin Director of Sports Performance for basketball, designed a 30-minute weight lifting circuit and some 10-minute bodyweight exercise plans for me. When I messaged her that I was doing a more intense spin class today, she remixed my warmup exercises to avoid legs so I wouldn’t be tired during my ride. So far she’s always responded within a few minutes, and been cheerful yet forceful. “I know your days are slammed, just wanted to check in and see if you were able to get to that spin class?” she messaged me at 6:30pm. That’s something even most in-person trainers don’t do.

Future matches you with several trainer options

I found most of the workout instructions to be easy to understand, and the audio cues make it easy to do routines without constantly staring at your phone. But the one thing you really lose with a text message trainer instead of an in-person coach is warnings when you’re doing something wrong. Bad posture or jerky motions could get you injured. It’s all a lot smoother if you know your way around a gym. Future could do more to gauge your familiarity with proper form for riskier exercises, and then either teach you or steer you away from them. I hope I’m so sore today because I’m getting built, not getting hurt.

Your Pocket Motivational Speaker

My trainer Renee encouraging me to get to the gym

Future was inspired by some scary facts. “70% of Americans are obsess and overweigh” Mandal tells me. “We spend $3.5 trillion per year on healthcare, yet we have pretty mediocre outcomes.” Mandal had gone through Stanford, worked at NASA, and been at Slide when it was acquired by Google. After selling his local experience app Sosh to Postmates, he became an entrepreneur-in-residence at Khosla Ventures which does many medtech investments. There Mandal realized health is largely determined by how you eat, sleep, deal with stress, take your medicine, and exercise.

Thanks to smart watches, that last one had become the easiest to measure while remaining the toughest to do right on your own. Mandal set out to learn what the fittest people, professional athletes, do for exercise. They all told them they relied on personal trainers to make all the workout plans and force them to do them. Home gyms or apps full of pre-made exercises weren’t enough. They needed someone to keep them accountable.

The trouble is that’s pretty expensive one-on-one. So Mandal teamed up with Justin Santamaria, a 10-year Apple veteran from the first iOS team who’d been working on iMessage and FaceTime. Together they designed Future in 2017 to make personal trainers cheap enough to be more accessible while retaining the personal connection that keeps trainees on track.

If you won’t shell out $150 per month to be nagged, there are plenty of apps like Sweat that let you choose between guided workouts. Hell, if you’ve got that much will power you could get any gym membership or just go running. But the closest thing to Future called Fit.net folded. AI trainers like Freeletics can’t make you feel guilty or inspired the same way. Lose It and MyFitnessPal can get fellow trainees to badger you, but Mandal found people don’t obey peers like a respected trainer.

The constant communication and sense of trust users develop with their coaches could give Future potential beyond subscription fitness. The app becomes a hub for your healthy behavior. Future already offers an in-app Shop where it recommends workout clothes, headphones, and water bottles. It’s easy to imagine it partnering with fitness equipment makers, health food lines, or other brands to score a cut of referred sales. “We become your most important relationship regarding your health. You only talk to your doctor two times to three times per year” says Mandal. But you might tell your trainer you’re looking for ways to eat healthier or sleep better. “Over time, that’s the opportunity.”

Still, the biggest hurdle is convincing people to pay over 10X their Netflix fee for a personal trainer they don’t see in person. Compared to the $1 apps we’re used to, Future can induce sticker shock. But compared to unused gym memberships, pricey private coaching, and potential health problems, Future could look affordable if well-to-do professionals squint right. Humans are sluggish. Most heathy habits lapse. But Future is building the closest thing to “press button, pay money, get fitter” — which in the end looks like getting someone to enthusiastically shame/support us from afar.

Categories: Business News

Beautystack raises £4M seed to help beauty professionals become financially independent

2019, May 23 - 5:00pm

Beautystack, the London startup that’s creating a beauty professional booking app with heavy focus on social, has quietly picked up £4 million in seed funding led by Index Ventures.

The company had previously raised pre-seed funding from LocalGlobe (led by Suzanne Ashman) and counts David Rowan (ex-Wired), Julien Codorniou (Facebook Workplace) and Audrey Gelman (The Wing) as angel investors.

Founded by former salon owner and brand consultant Sharmadean Reid in April 2017 before being joined by co-founders Dan Woodbury and Ken Lalobo, Beautystack is part booking platform for independent beauty professionals and part social app. The idea, Reid tells me, is to “close the loop” on seeing the results of a beauty treatment that you like and being able to book it.

“Girls see millions of images of beauty treatments on social media and have no idea about who did it, how much it cost or what it even is,” she says. “We want to close the loop on the journey of seeing what you want, liking it and booking it. With Beautystack we use visual menus so you can search and book what you like.”

Reid says Beautystack’s “see it, like it, book it” approach is also designed to solve a bigger problem that means many beauty services providers are at the bottom of the $450 billion beauty industry and “don’t get the earnings, tech solutions or income or respect they deserve.”

“In my opinion they are the foundation of the industry and with Beautystack our mission is towards gender quality by increasing the earnings of these ‘Beauty Pros.’ I want to turn the beauty professionals into the next beauty influencers and have them earning salaries comparable to beauty bloggers. They always have been influential, but now we want to push them to the forefront.”

She says doing that requires a cultural change as well as a technological one, and that Beautystack, which launched a beta in January, is taking the time to cultivate its supply and promote the beauticians on its app through articles and content, “and nurture their confidence and their careers.” It also provides the tools needed for beauty professionals to work independently and reduce the time spent managing social media, customer support and bookings.

“Our typical supply customer is a millennial or Gen-Z independent beauty professional,” adds Reid, “mainly women, who tend to create a lot of content around their work (images and video), which they then post on social media. After working all day, they then have to respond to Instagram DMs, comments, texts and WhatsApps for their appointment requests, and typically there will be at least 10 exchanges, including screenshots of imagery to close a booking [without payment].”

Beautystack founders

These beauty professionals are typically leaving a salon and either setting up private studios, operating mobile, working from home or renting chairs in a salon as opposed to a commission model. With Beautystack, Reid says the beauty pro’s time is better protected against cancellations, too, with a 50% upfront booking and 50% upon completion. An image of the beauty treatment sought is attached to each booking and the beauty pro can view the client’s profile to gauge their taste before they even walk through the door.

It’s this “networked environment” that in part makes Beautystack stand out from competitors, with the app employing social media mechanics to allow users to see what their friends have booked and to follow and like their posts. “We have a two-sided networked marketplace that has equal functionality. Other beauty scheduling systems operate like a classified directory,” says Reid.

With that said, Beautystack isn’t a walled garden. Initially built as a web app using React, each beauty pro gets their own website accessible through any modern web browser and linked to their profile within the Beautystack mobile app.

“Later down the line I think we will do more with their web profiles and enable partner integrations in finance and accounting to support more experiences for beauty pros,” adds the Beautystack founder.

Categories: Business News

Revolut launches Group Vaults as an alternative to joint accounts

2019, May 23 - 3:01pm

Fintech startup Revolut is making vaults collaborative. You can now create a vault with someone else and use it like a normal vault.

Originally, vaults were an alternative to savings accounts without any interest rate. You could create vault in any currency (including supported cryptocurrencies) and set some money aside. You can round up your expenses and add change to a vault, program regular transfers to your vault or add money whenever you feel like it.

If vaults are like a Word document, group vaults are like a collaborative document in Google Docs. Multiple persons can now interact with a group vault just like a normal vault.

This will be useful for couples who want a sort of joint account without opening a bank account, parents giving some money to their children, roommates creating a common pot to pay for group expenses, friends going on vacation, etc.

Revolut users have created 1 million normal vaults so far. They currently hold the equivalent of $95 million (£75 million).

In other news, Revolut mentioned a new app for younger customers —Revolut Youth. It's not available yet but the company is working on it.

There are now 4.9 million registered users on Revolut. Every day, 12,000 people sign up. Every month, Revolut processes $5.5 billion in transaction volume.

Categories: Business News

Documentary series Foundation is back with a season 2

2019, May 23 - 6:04am

Paris startup campus Station F and Le Studio Next have teamed up once again for a second season of Foundation, a documentary series about building a startup. If you liked the first season, you’ll feel right at home.

A video team followed the entrepreneurs working for three startups through their work issues, their personal life and their emotional reactions. You’ll feel like you know them after watching the series.

This year, Foundation focuses on three different startups that try to have a social impact. You’ll meet Jean Guo and Binta Jammeh, co-founders of Konexio, Ruben Hallali, founder of HD Rain and Olivier Jeannel, founder of RogerVoice.

So without further ado, here’s Foundation season 2:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Categories: Business News

Modsy scores $37M to virtually redesign your home

2019, May 23 - 5:29am

Modsy has raised some new cash as the computer vision startup looks to get physical and build more of the furniture it recommends. The startup announced that they have closed $37 million in Series C funding led by TCV. They’ve now raised north of $70 million to date.

The service combines computer vision tech with human designer know how to let users design the trendy home of their dreams. The process begins with a user snapping pics of their room (or multiple rooms) which Modsy then stitches into a complete 3D model of the room.

Prices range from $69 to $349 depending on what level of finesse you’re looking for.

From there Modsy designers drop in furniture from their partners like Crate&Barrel, Pottery Barn, West Elm and others, if you pay for their $149 single room premium package, you can chat with the designers and swap out pieces or try completely different styles. All-in-all the app gives you a lot of options for the price, although the startup’s main method of monetization isn’t these one-time packages, it’s earning cash when you buy the furniture that they suggest.

Earlier this year the company branched out into creating their own furniture line of sofas and chairs which they are injecting into their room designs and recommendations. This could allow the company to transform into more of a smart furniture company as opposed to an AR/ computer vision startup.

“I founded Modsy on the premise that in the future we would all be shopping from a personalized catalog-like experience within a virtual version of our real homes,” CEO Shanna Tellerman said in a statement. “This new round of funding will bring us even closer to this reality.”

Categories: Business News

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