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Flybits nabs $35M to build consumer recommendation engines for the financial sector

2019, July 16 - 9:16pm

Financial service companies like banks have seen some of their business cannibalised over the years with the rise of digital-based alternatives — often in the form of apps — that provide lower fees, faster responsiveness, and more flexibility to consumers. Today, Toronto-based startup called Flybits is announcing $35 million in funding for a platform that it believes can offer these banks a way of continuing to capture their users’ attention, and to help them pivot into the next generation of services, financial or otherwise.

Today, a typical end product for a customer of Flybits’ services will use insights to upsell a customer by offering financial services, for example a bank providing an offer of a specific kind of loan or credit card that you are more likely to take; or to offer a loyalty program or rewards for usage. But the longer-term goal, said CEO and co-founder Hossein Rahnama, is to help its customers take on a bigger role as repositories that can be used for more than just money, and used beyond the walls of the bank.

“We don’t think banks will go away as some do, but we think that they could have a role not just as money vaults, but as data vaults: a place where you can deposit data, which you trust,” he said in an interview. Indeed, some of the funding will be used to put into action some of the AI and machine learning patents the startup has amassed, with the building of a “data” marketplace for banks, fintechs, and other data providers to partner and build more services together.

The Series C comes from an interesting group of investors that includes both strategic backers using Flybits’ services, as well as backers of the more non-strategic, financial kind. Led by Point72 Ventures (hedge fund supremo Steve Cohen’s VC fund), the list also includes Mastercard, Citi Ventures, and Reinventure (the fund backed by Australia’s Westpac Banking Corporation), Portag3 Ventures, TD Bank and Information Venture Partners. Valuation is not being disclosed, and prior to this the company had raised around $15 million.

Much like another marketing tech company, Near — which today announced $100 million in funding — the premise that underpins Flybits’ technology is that there is a lot of disparate data out there that, if it’s treated correctly, can uncover a lot more insights about consumer behavior, and that by and large many companies are missing this opportunity because they haven’t found the right way of merging the data to unlock insights.

While Near is applying this to location-based data and a range of different verticals, Flybits’ primary target has been banks and the data that they and other financial services providers already posses.

Many smaller startups in the world of financial services have stolen a march on bigger incumbents by building personalization into their products from the ground up. (Indeed, some like Step, aimed at teens, are so personalised that they will actually change their service mix as their customer base grows up and needs new products.) This is something that incumbents might have been more readily able to do in the old days, when people knew their bank managers and tellers and made daily trips into branches to transact. In the digital age they have fallen behind and are now catching up.

Flybits’ investors have spotted that and this in part is why they are banking on technologies like this to help bigger companies catch up, not just in financial services (although with banking alone estimated to be a €6.9 trillion industry, this is clearly a good start).

“Personalization is mission-critical for all D2C businesses in the digital age. Flybits’ integrated platform allows financial services firms to offer contextualized experiences, driving product awareness and adding significant value to the lives of their customers,” said Ramneek Gupta, Managing Director and Co-Head of Venture Investing at Citi Ventures, in a statement. “We look forward to partnering with Flybits in its next phase of growth as it continues to set the bar for hyper-personalized customer experiences.”

Indeed, it’s not just banks that are working on upselling, or that have large repositories of data that are not used as well as they could be.

“Mastercard and Flybits share a vision on using data driven insights to enrich consumers’ experiences.” said Francis Hondal, President, Loyalty & Engagement at Mastercard, in a statement. “Our ultimate goal is to develop products and services that engage consumers in a highly contextual manner. Through this collaboration with Flybits, we’ll be able to offer rich, personalized experiences for them throughout their journeys.”

Categories: Business News

Near raises $100M for an AI that merges online and offline behavior to build consumer profiles

2019, July 16 - 8:24pm

One of the holy grails in the world of advertising and marketing has been finding a way to accurately capture and understand what consumers are doing throughout the day, regardless of whether it’s a digital or offline activity. That goal has become even more elusive in recent years, with the surge of regulations around privacy and data protection that limit what kind of information can be collected and used. Now, a startup believes it’s cracked the code, and it’s raised a large round of funding that underscores its success so far and what it believes is untapped future demand.

Near, which has built an interactive, cloud-based AI platform called AllSpark that works across 44 countries to create anonymised, location-based profiles of users — 1.6 billion each month at present — based on a trove of information that it sources and then merges from phones, data partners, carriers and its customers, but which it claims was built “with privacy by design”, has raised $100 million.

The company believes that this Series C — from a single backer, Great Pacific Capital out of London — is one of the biggest rounds ever to be raised in this particular area of marketing technology. That’s not to say that others haven’t also been attracting investor attention (as one example, a direct competitor, Factual, raised $42 million last September).

Near is not disclosing its valuation, but founder and CEO Anil Mathews said in an interview that the company has been growing at a rate of 100% year-on-year and described it as “healthy” with its customer list including News Corp, MetLife, Mastercard and WeWork.

Near (not to be confused with the blockchain startup that raised $12 million last week; yes sometimes startups have the same name…) has to date raised $134 million, with other backers including Sequoia, JP Morgan, Cisco and Telstra (Canaan Partners had been an investor too but sold its stake in a secondary deal).

The problem that Near is tackling is not a new one. The wider swing that we’ve seen in consumer behavior to digital platforms and using connected devices has created an opportunity for (and demand from) companies to better track who is using their products and services, and also to proactively figure out who would be the best audiences to target for future business.

But there have been two catches to that pull: how best to capture activity when it’s not specifically digital (for example, going into a physical store), and how best to capture activity in a way that doesn’t encroach on customers’ privacy and right to be anonymous if they so choose — with the latter becoming more than just a principle in many jurisdictions, but fully-fledged rule of law.

Near’s approach is not entirely novel. Like many others that currently exist or preceded Near, the startup uses a collection of data points sourced from a variety of providers — in Near’s case, the list can include your mobile carrier, data providers that work with dozens or hundreds of apps to source activity, app providers directly, retailers and WiFi operators.

The similarities end there, however, said Mathews. He says Near has a (patented) technique based on machine learning algorithms and other inferential AI technology, which it uses to accurately merge all of these details together to create individual profiles, all without ever attaching a name or real identifiers of any kind to that profile.

“If you ask me, that’s actually the hardest problem we’ve solved,” he said. “There is no other company out there that works with all this data to unify it into individual identities.”

Using mobile device IDs, he said Near can “with a high degree of confidence” connect specific profiles with transactions. “But it’s the fact that we can perform the data fusion in a compliant way, marrying that data in a world where privacy and data safety matter,” that makes the company unique, Mathews added.

Rubicon Project, Factual and Blis are other providers that are building similar technology, he noted, but Near is the first to extend the offering far (so to speak): none others have the same global reach, making it a popular partner for multinationals researching for campaigns and product development.

Marketing research is one of the main features of AllSpark, the company’s flagship platform, where non-technical people can ask questions in natural language — example, show me how many women shop at Whole Foods in San Francisco — and you can get a data-based response, which you can then tweak with more tailored questions about the profile of a user, or use a dragging graphic tool on an interactive map to modify the geography, and so on.

Mathews notes that the “real” numbers that come up from such questions — in the case of the above query, it’s 71,904 women, by the way — are based on the figures of who is actually connected to the Near network. The ratios vary by city and country, but typically, he said that in the Bay Area, it’s capturing around 45% of any live audience (meaning, the actual number of female visitors is probably more like 150,000).

From there, you can save a query to return to it, or even use the Near platform to connect through to other services to craft and launch marketing campaigns. Notably, some features — such the ability for a client to upload or use cookie data into the platform to use it to build profiles — are not available in all markets, part of how Near keeps itself on the right side of company’s own data compliance policies as well as data protection rules in different markets.

Those kinds of integrations is likely one area that will start to get developed even more with this round of funding, to keep Near’s technology from being too siloed and removed from how marketers and researchers typically work.

Companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have made a huge business out of figuring out how to identify and target audiences and specific users with products and services, by way of advertising and more. I asked, and Mathews said, that he doesn’t see them as threats in this area simply because it would open a can of worms for them.

“They would get into a big privacy issue if they tried,” he said. “Companies like Google and Facebook have done [frankly] an amazing job at identifying audiences, but they are not designed for privacy. We started with privacy by design.”

Indeed, it was Near’s position as one of the “outliers” by emphasizing data protection and anonymity that Mathews said helped it get over the line with investors. “It’s a very tough funding environment for the industry we’re in, but we found interest because of our approach to privacy. That really helped us.”

Ketan Patel, CEO, GPC, echoed that sentiment. “Near provides insights into human behavior by analyzing where people are, and combining that with a multitude of data points to predict and influence behaviour,” he said in a statement. “Given it does this across the globe in a privacy protected manner, it is well-positioned to create an exciting new space that delivers value to both people, and those that wish to build relationships with them.”

Categories: Business News

N26 announces N26 You, a revamped premium account

2019, July 16 - 5:55pm

Challenger bank N26 has unveiled a new premium plan called N26 You. This plan replaces N26 Black with the same benefits and a few tweaks.

N26 is keeping its three-tier system with a free basic bank account, a premium account (N26 You) and a super premium account (N26 Metal). With N26’s free plan, you can pay anywhere in the world without any foreign transaction fee, but there’s a 1.7% markup on ATM withdrawals in a foreign currency.

N26 You costs the same price as the previous premium plan N26 Black, €9.90 in the Eurozone and £4.90 in the U.K. In addition to a travel and purchase insurance package, you can withdraw money without any foreign transaction fee. €9.90 is roughly what you’d pay in fees if you withdraw the equivalent of €580 with a free N26 account.

You can also create up to 10 Spaces to organize your money with savings goals, separate sub-accounts and more — free accounts can only create two Spaces.

And of course, you get a better looking card. N26 is reusing its pastel color palette to give you more options. You can now choose between five different colors — Aqua, Rhubarb, Sand, Slate and Ocean. The card has a minimal design with a tiny N26 logo in the top left corner, a transparent line at the bottom of the card and a solid color background.

N26 also plans to add perks to the N26 You plan, such as discounts on Hotels.com, WeWork, GetYourGuide, Babbel, Blinkist and Bloom & Wild. Those perks were limited to N26 Metal customers in the past, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the lineup will work once those perks are added to N26 You. If you’re an existing N26 Black customer, you automatically become an N26 You customer.

Changing N26 Black to a premium plan with multiple card designs might seem like a small detail, but it potentially opens up a lot of possibilities. You’ll soon be able to order an additional card.

Eventually, you could imagine having a blue card associated with your main account and a yellow card associated with a shared Space sub-account for instance. At least, that’s what I hope the company will do.

Categories: Business News

India’s budget hotel startup Oyo enters co-working business with $30 million Innov8 acquisition

2019, July 16 - 5:08pm

India’s Oyo has expanded its hotel chain business to over 80 countries and entered co-living spaces segment in recent years. The firm, which has raised about $1 billion since last September from several big names including Airbnb, has now identified a new business to target: co-working spaces.

The Gurgaon-headquartered firm on Tuesday announced Oyo Workspaces that is already operational across 10 cities in India with over 20 centres. It currently has the capacity to serve more than 15,000 people. More than 6,000 employees from firms such as Swiggy, Paytm, Pepsi, Nykaa, OLX, and Lenskart have already signed up for the service.

At a press conference in New Delhi, Rohit Kapoor, CEO of New Real Estate Businesses, said Oyo plans to have 50 Oyo Workspaces centres by the end of the year and aims to make it the largest co-working business in Asia by the end of next year.

As part of the announcement, Oyo confirmed that it has acquired Innov8, a co-working startup with over 200 employees and 16 operational centres. The four-year-old startup was acquired for about $30 million, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Innov8 is one of the three in-house brands that is part of Oyo Workspaces. The other two brands — Workflo and Powerstation — are aimed at people who are looking for economical offering. A user could access one of these co-working spaces for as low as Rs 6,999 ($102) a month. Innov8 has been positioned as a premium option.

India’s co-working space, still a relatively new business category locally, is worth $390 million — a fraction of some $30 billion office and commercial real estate business. Kapoor said Oyo believes it can not only become a market leader in the nation but also expand the size of the market itself. Oyo Workspaces will compete with a range of companies including 91Springboard, GoHive, Awfis, GoWork, and the global giant WeWork.

Oyo Workspaces will offer a range of services such as a Wi-Fi connection, in-house kitchen, housekeeping, storage and parking spaces,across all of its centres. It is also offering users monthly monthly and quarterly passes — currently being offered at heavily discounted rates — to further lower the price points of its co-working spaces.

Oyo, which serves more than half a million users each day across more than 850,000 rooms it operates, is aggressively expanding its business through partnerships with local players as it emerges as the third-largest hotel chain in the world. The six-year-old startup was valued at over $5 billion at its last funding round, TechCrunch reported earlier.

Oyo, which serves as both listings and reservations platforms, makes most of its money from fee-paying franchises and bookings. Kapoor said the company will use part of the $200 million Oyo has committed to invest in its India and Southeast Asia businesses this year.

Categories: Business News

Raisin picks up $28M backing from Goldman Sachs for its savings and investment marketplace

2019, July 16 - 4:00pm

Raisin, the fintech startup that offers a pan-European marketplace for savings and investment products, has picked up additional funding. Goldman Sachs has invested $28 million (€25m), following the company’s $114 million in Series D in February.

The new capital will be used by Raisin to build out its U.S. presence ahead of a 2020 launch across the pond. The startup announced its U.S. plans in May, saying that it wanted to enable U.S. savers to more easily shop around for a better interest rate and remove the friction associated with switching savings and deposit accounts. The deposits market in the U.S. is said to be $12.7 trillion.

Raisin also plans to enter two new European markets by the end of this year. The Raisin marketplace currently has six country specific savings platforms: Germany, U.K., France, The Netherlands, Spain, and Austria, in addition to a generic site for 28 European countries.

Founded in 2012 by Dr. Tamaz Georgadze (CEO), Dr. Frank Freund (CFO) and Michael Stephan (COO), and launched the following year, Raisin says that to date it has brokered €14 billion for more than 185,000 customers across Europe.

The Raisin marketplace offers more than 480 savings products from 80 European partner banks via its “deposits-as-a-service”. The fintech also has distribution partnerships with N26, Commerzbank, 02 Banking of Telefónica Germany and Yolt among others, as it attempts to ride the marketplace banking trend.

Cue statement from Rana Yared, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs Principal Strategic Investments: “Raisin has developed a unique savings marketplace with a solid business model, impressive growth and a loyal customer base. We are excited to support the company’s outstanding management team in executing their vision”.

In addition to Goldman Sachs, Raisin’s backers include PayPal, Index Ventures, Ribbit Capital and Thrive Capital.

Categories: Business News

Curve, the ‘over-the-top’ banking platform, raises $55M at a $250M valuation

2019, July 16 - 8:01am

Curve, the London-based “over-the-top banking platform,” has raised $55 million in new funding. The startup lets you consolidate all of your bank cards into a single Curve card and app to make it easier to manage your spending and access other benefits.

Curve’s Series B round is led by Gauss Ventures, the U.S.-based fintech investor, alongside Creditease, IDC Ventures and previous backer Outward VC (formerly Investec’s INVC fund). A number of other early investors, including Santander InnoVentures, Breega, Seedcamp and Speedinvest also followed on.

The new round of funding values Curve at $250 million (or one-quarter unicorn, so to speak), and will be used by the company to continue adding more features to its platform and for further European expansion. The company claims 500,000 users and says it is on track to reach 1 million by the end of the year.

Curve is currently available in 31 countries across Europe, with around 30% of its customer base coming from outside the U.K. “We [have] identified a few countries where the organic pull is fantastic, and we are about to double down on them,” Curve founder and CEO Shachar Bialick tells me.

Like a plethora of fintech startups, Curve is building a platform that essentially turns your mobile phone into a financial control centre that re-bundles disparate financial products or functionality to offer a single app to help you manage “all things money.”

However, rather than building a new current account — as is the case with the challenger banks such as Monzo, Starling and Revolut — Curve’s “attack vector” is a card and app that lets you connect all of your other debit and credit cards (sans Amex) so you only ever have to carry a single card.

Once you’ve added your cards to Curve, you use the app to switch from which underlying debit or credit cards you wish the Curve Mastercard to spend, and can track and see a single and consolidated view of your spending regardless of which card was charged (and therefore which of your bank accounts the money was pulled from).

In other words, Curve isn’t asking to replace your existing bank accounts but is pitched as a cloud-based platform that runs “over-the-top” of existing banking and payments infrastructure. Historically, the over-the-top terminology has been used to describe the way video streaming services such as Netflix run “over-the-top” of existing broadband infrastructure.

“For Curve to succeed in its mission of bringing banking to the cloud, we need [to continue] to build the product; tiny experiences that together create a whole new offering,” Bialick continues. “Our money is everywhere and the job of connecting it all together to one seamless experience requires many resources, and especially many talented people. The latest Series B will enable Curve to re-bundle more of your money: experiences such as Curve Send (peer-to-peer payments), and Curve Credit (post transaction installments for any payment, anywhere).”

Alongside Curve’s all-your-cards-in-one functionality, the Curve app lets you lock your Curve card at a touch of a button, provides instant spend notifications, “zero FX fees” when spending abroad or in a foreign currency and the ability to switch payment sources retroactively. The latter is dubbed “Go Back in Time” and means if you make a purchase via Curve that gets charged to a card other than the one you intended, you have two weeks to change your mind.

More recently, Curve has re-vamped its cashback feature in a bid to draw in more customers for the premium versions of the Curve card. With the new Curve Cash programme, customers get 1% instant cash back on top of any existing rewards cards that they have plugged into the app, potentially earning customers double rewards on purchases. You simply pick from the list of retailers supported for cashback — you are allowed to choose between three and six retailers, depending on which Curve plan you are on — and then get 1% cashback for any purchases made at those stores.

Bialick claims that Curve’s over-the-top model is also producing higher engagement than many challenger banks, with customers spending on average £1,500 per month through the Curve platform. (As an imperfect reference point, challenger bank Monzo says that around 30% of its users top up their account by £1,000 or more per month). I’m also told that 15% of Curve’s users have added a challenger bank card to their Curve account, which also makes for an intriguing and even more nuanced comparison.

And whilst Curve is arguably trying to define a new market category — at least here in the West — and therefore isn’t the easiest of products to explain, Bialick says that existing Curve customers are the startup’s biggest advocates.

“There isn’t just one thing that pulls customers to Curve, there are as many pulls as [there are] the number of ‘money jobs’ one has. All your cards in one, fee-free spending abroad, ‘Go Back In Time,’ to name a few, all attract and retain our customer base. Indeed, awareness and brand building is key, especially amongst all the noise, but that’s where our customers are proving invaluable, telling their friends about Curve, which drives most of our adoption with 2,000 plus new accounts per day.”

To win in this new category of banking, Bialick says the company needs to steadfastly stick to its mission to reduce the number of steps it takes to carry out everyday money-related tasks. “The winners will be the companies… [that] create the most seamless experience, removing as much friction between the customer and their money.”

Categories: Business News

Why commerce companies are the advertising players to watch in a privacy-centric world

2019, July 16 - 4:37am
Justin Choi Contributor Share on Twitter Justin Choi is the founder and CEO of Nativo, which empowers brands and publishers through its advanced platform for content. More posts by this contributor

The unchecked digital land grab for consumers’ personal data that has been going on for more than a decade is coming to an end, and the dominoes have begun to fall when it comes to the regulation of consumer privacy and data security.

We’re witnessing the beginning of a sweeping upheaval in how companies are allowed to obtain, process, manage, use and sell consumer data, and the implications for the digital ad competitive landscape are massive.

On the backdrop of evolving privacy expectations and requirements, we’re seeing the rise of a new class of digital advertising player: consumer-facing apps and commerce platforms. These commerce companies are emerging as the most likely beneficiaries of this new regulatory privacy landscape — and we’re not just talking about e-commerce giants like Amazon.

Traditional commerce companies like eBay, Target and Walmart have publicly spoken about advertising as a major focus area for growth, but even companies like Starbucks and Uber have an edge in consumer data consent and, thus, an edge over incumbent media players in the fight for ad revenues.

Tectonic regulatory shifts

Image via Getty Images / alashi

By now, most executives, investors and entrepreneurs are aware of the growing acronym soup of privacy regulation, the two most prominent ingredients being the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act).

Categories: Business News

UK-based women’s networking and private club, AllBright, raises $18.8 million as it expands into the US

2019, July 16 - 4:12am

AllBright, the London-based women’s membership club backed by private real estate investment firm Cain International, has raised $18.8 million to expand into the U.S.

The company’s new round was led by Cain International and was designed to take AllBright into three U.S. locations — Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC.

The company said that the new facilities would be opening in the coming months.

Coupled with the launch of a new networking application called AllBright Connect and the company’s AllBright Magazine, the women’s networking organization is on a full-on media blitz.

Other investors in the round include Allan Leighton, who serves as the company’s non-executive chairman; Gail Mandel, who acquired Love Home Swap (a company founded by AllBright’s co-founder Debbie Wosskow); Stephanie Daily Smith, a former finance director to Hillary Clinton; and Darren Throop, the founder, president and chief executive of Entertainment One.

A spokesperson for the company said that the new financing would value the company at roughly $100 million.

The club’s current members include actors, members of the House of Lords and other fancy pants, high-falutin folks from the worlds of politics, business and entertainment.

The club’s first American location will be in West Hollywood, and is slated to open in September 2019. The largest club, in Mayfair, has five floors and boasts more than 12,000 square feet and features rooftop terraces, a dedicated space for coaching and mentoring, a small restaurant and a bar.

Categories: Business News

The need-to-know takeaways from VidCon 2019

2019, July 16 - 2:27am

VidCon, the annual summit in Anaheim, CA for social media stars and their fans to meet each other drew over 75,000 attendees over last week and this past weekend. A small subset of those where entertainment and tech executives convening to share best practices and strike deals.

Of the wide range of topics discussed in the industry-only sessions and casual conversation, five trends stuck out to me as takeaways for Extra Crunch members: the prominence of TikTok, the strong presence of Chinese tech companies in general, the contemplation of deep fakes, curiosity around virtual influencers, and the widespread interest in developing consumer product startups around top content creators.

Newer platforms take center stage

Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images

TikTok, the Chinese social video app (owned by Bytedance) that exploded onto the US market this past year, was the biggest conversation topic. Executives and talent managers were curious to see where it will go over the next year more than they were convinced that it is changing the industry in any fundamental way.

TikTok influencers were a major presence on the stages and taking selfies with fans on the conference floor. I overheard tweens saying “there are so many TikTokers here” throughout the conference. Meanwhile, TikTok’s US GM Vanessa Pappas held a session where she argued the app’s focus on building community among people who don’t already know each other (rather than being centered on your existing friendships) is a fundamental differentiator.

Kathleen Grace, CEO of production company New Form, noted that Tik Tok’s emphasis on visuals and music instead of spoken or written word makes it distinctly democratic in convening users across countries on equal footing.

Esports was also a big presence across the conference floor with teens lined up to compete at numerous simultaneous competitions. Twitch’s Mike Aragon and Jana Werner outlined Twitch’s expansion in content verticals adjacent to gaming like anime, sports, news, and “creative content’ as the first chapter in expanding the format of interactive live-streams across all verticals. They also emphasized the diversity of revenue streams Twitch enables creators to leverage: ads, tipping, monthly patronage, Twitch Prime, and Bounty Board (which connects brands and live streamers).

Categories: Business News

Brave Care, backed by Y Combinator, is an urgent care clinic just for kids

2019, July 16 - 1:40am

Brave Care is an urgent care facility for pediatric care that costs, on average, about 80% less than a pediatric ER visit. Darius Monsef and his co-founder came up with the idea shortly after a fateful week for the Monsef family, during which their four-year-old dove off a bike ramp and their one-year-old started having breathing problems.

For both visits, he went to a pediatric urgent care facility where his kids were thoughtfully and patiently treated by Dr. Corey A. Fish. Monsef and Fish went to coffee a couple of weeks later, and Fish revealed he wanted to build out more pediatric urgent cares but needed a business partner.

The duo brought on a COO, Maryam Taheri, and a CTO, Asa Miller, and Brave Care was born.

In 2015, there were approximately 30 million pediatric emergency room visits in the United States — 96.7% of them were treat-and-release visits.

It’s no surprise that parents are quick to pull the trigger on an emergency room visit when their kid is hurt or injured. But ER visits are incredibly expensive, leaving caring parents in a punishing situation.

The idea behind Brave Care is to provide a service that fits in between a child’s regular doctor and the emergency room.

“We don’t want the treatment of an injury or illness to be more traumatic than how you got it,” said Monsef.

Brave Care is built specifically for children, meaning that the waiting rooms are kid-friendly and the medical instruments are kid-sized and not intimidating. Plus, Brave Care goes the extra step to make sure little patients aren’t afraid, whether that means numbing gels for injections or offering medicine in liquid form.

For now, Brave only has one location, in the Portland area, but the vision is to expand the brand to many locations across the country. Brave also wants to introduce a triage tool to help parents at home who are making difficult decisions about what to do with a sick or injured kid.

“One thing parents often do is they try to Google for whatever symptom or problem their kid is having,” said Monsef. “And searching for a problem is pretty awful because search engines are trained to return the most interesting result, and I don’t want that. That’s terrifying. What I want is to reasonably narrow down the area of the problem so I can find a better answer.”

He went on to explain that sometimes it can be very difficult to search a symptom without the right terminology. For example, how do you describe a certain type of cough?

In the near future, Brave Care wants to introduce a self-guided triage tool for parents looking to understand the basics of the issue so they can make informed decisions on where they need to go, what they need to do and how urgently they need to do it.

[gallery ids="1855579,1855580"]

The triage product is currently in development and will launch soon.

Eventually, Monsef sees the opportunity to introduce an asynchronous telemedicine product, which would combine in a HIPAA-compliant messaging system the data collected from the self-serve triage tool with pictures and videos provided by the parent.

That said, Monsef believes that fully remote telemedicine leads to overprescription of antibiotics and says Brave Care will stay away from remote-only care in the short term.

“Without the right device in a consumer’s hand, there isn’t much we can do remotely,” said Monsef. “We can’t look in the ear or throat, or listen to the heart. But as consumers get more of these devices, we can improve remote care for kids.”

For now, however, Brave Care is simply focused on providing the best possible care to patients in its Portland facility.

Brave Care is in the current Y Combinator class and has raised a total of $1.45 million in funding.

Categories: Business News

‘The Operators’: Understanding your user – The art and science of UI/UX behind Facebook, Google, Mint, and Edmodo

2019, July 16 - 1:28am
Tim Hsia & Neil Devani Contributor Share on Twitter Tim Hsia is the CEO of Media Mobilize and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Neil Devani is an angel investor and venture capitalist focused on companies solving hard problems. More posts by this contributor

Welcome to this transcribed edition of The Operators. TechCrunch is beginning to publish podcasts from industry experts, with transcriptions available for Extra Crunch members so you can read the conversation wherever you are.

The Operators highlights the experts building the products and companies that drive the tech industry. Speaking from experience at companies like Airbnb, Brex, Docsend, Edmodo, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Mint, Slack, Uber, WeWork, etc., these experts share insider tips on how to break into fields like design and enterprise sales. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs to hire and manage experts in fields outside their own.

This week’s edition features Gülay Birand, UX Lead and Product Design Manager at Facebook, and Tim Rechin, Head of Design at Edmodo, the leading education technology company. Gülay and Tim share their experiences and explain design, UI/UX, how to build a career in these fields, and how entrepreneurs should think about them.

Gülay and Tim bring experience from other great companies including Google, Amazon, Mint, and SAP. Having seen and grown in their disciplines from a variety of companies and customer types, they share deep insight from across tech.

Neil Devani and Tim Hsia created The Operators after seeing and hearing too many heady, philosophical podcasts about the future of the world and the tech industry, and not enough attention on the practical day-to-day work that makes it all happen.

Tim is the CEO & Founder of Media Mobilize, a media company and ad network, and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Tim is an early-stage investor in Workflow (acquired by Apple), Lime, FabFitFun, Oh My Green, Morning Brew, Girls Night In, The Hustle, Bright Cellars, and others.

Neil is an early-stage investor based in San Francisco with a focus on companies solving serious problems, including Andela, Clearbit, Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Vicarious Surgical, and Kudi.

If you’re interested in becoming a designer, doing UI/UX research, furthering your career in that field, or starting a company and don’t know when to hire or how to manage this discipline, you can’t miss this episode!

The show:

The Operators highlights the experts building the products and companies that drive the tech industry. Speaking from experience at companies like Airbnb, Brex, Docsend, Edmodo, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Mint, Slack, Uber, WeWork, etc., these experts share insider tips on how to break into fields like design and enterprise sales. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs to hire and manage experts in fields outside their own.

In this episode:

In Episode 3, we’re talking about design and UI/UX. Neil interviews Gülay Birand, UX Lead and Product Design Manager at Facebook, and Tim Rechin, Head of Design at Edmodo.

Neil Devani: Hello and welcome to The Operators, where we talk to the people building the companies of today and tomorrow. We publish every other Monday and you can find us online at Operators.co.

Today’s episode is very special, we are talking to two UI/UX experts who have designed and researched products that have been touched by billions of people. I’m your host, Neil Devani and we’re coming to you today from the Vault of Joi here at Digital Garage in downtown San Francisco.

Joining me is Tim Rechin, Head of Design at Edmodo, the leading classroom and education community with 100 million users globally. Also joining us is Gülay Birand, a UX lead and product design manager at Facebook.

Gülay works on the newsfeed product used by billions of people every day. Thank you for joining us, if you could tell us more about yourselves and your work it would be great to hear more.

Gülay Birand: Thank you, my name is Gülay Birand. I’m a product design manager at Facebook . I’ve been at Facebook for about three months. Prior to that I was at Google for about 8 years, and I led a horizontal team on Google Cloud Platform for about four years, leading growth and engagement, support, and product excellence initiatives.

Prior to that I did a bit of a tour to Google, so I worked on search, identity, a couple of other areas like mobile ads, and before that I was at T-Mobile where I was building mass market and franchise home experiences, mainly on Android. And prior to that I was at Amazon leading experiences for the very first Kindle, so that was a lot of fun.

Devani: And Tim tell us more about yourself and how you got here.

Tim Rechin: Yeah, so I’m currently at Edmodo, leading up design and that’s really across the entire platform that serves our teachers, students and parents in the US and globally. And before Edmodo, I was at Facebook, and I was on the Feed Ads team and responsible for the lead ads product that we launched that year. Before that I was at Mint, so doing personal finance and some of you may be using Mint.

Devani: I’m definitely using Mint, its great, I love it.

Rechin: And then before that SAP, Yahoo, eBay, and then Elance very early on which is now Upwork.

Devani: Very cool, all companies that I’ve used, products that I enjoy, thank you for helping create them.

Birand: Thank you.

Devani: So it’d be great if you could tell folks more about what you do every day. Who are the folks in your company that you are interacting with, what are your responsibilities, what does it mean to do the job that you do?

Rechin: That’s a good question, it’s a bit mixed. Just for some context, Edmodo is a company a little over 100 people and so our product teams are in the 6-7 product managers range. I lead a team of 3 designers. So my day to day is really getting to work and really trying to figure out what’s going on, so this year is a particularly busy year as we get ready for back to school.

And so we have a lot of concurrent projects going, so one of the things I like to do when I get in is level set, kind of see how my day is and I’ll go check in with the different teams. That’s part of the work I do, working with the different product teams and the strategy.

So like I said, we are working on lots of different projects, so it’s really just keeping everyone aligned and making sure that designers are delivering things on time, that any issues or gaps are being filled and we can go answer those questions that are coming from product managers and designers. In some cases too, there is a project that is about to be kicked off, so everything is not clean, phased, there are always these things that kind of pop up.

So I will find myself in meetings in talking about strategy to figure out how to kick off those projects or what our go-to-market is for back to school.

Categories: Business News

Serena Williams, Mark Cuban invest $3 million in Mahmee, a digital support network for new moms

2019, July 15 - 9:00pm

Tennis superstar and mom to a 22-month-old, Serena Williams has joined Mark Cuban to invest $3 million seed funding in Mahmee, a startup working toward filling the critical care gap in postpartum care.

For those who’ve never given birth or who (count your blessings!) never had any mishaps in the hospital or afterwards, the weeks and months following childbirth can be extremely hard on the new mom, with estimates as high as one in five women suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety and about 9% of women experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth — and those are just the mood and mental health disorders.

Physical recovery, even for those with a healthy, run-of-the-mill birth, takes at least six weeks — eight weeks if you’ve had a C-section. And then there are all the medical complications. Williams, who has a history of blood clots, ended up basically shouting at the doctors to give her a CT scan that saved her life.

The real issue, at the heart of all this, according to Mahmee co-founder Melissa Hanna, is that “the data is fragmented.” She says this is why she built a network to get new moms the support they need — from their community, other moms and medical providers.

Mahmee provides not only online group discussions with other moms going through the same thing and at the same stage but also connection to your medical provider. On top of that, it adds support from a trained “maternity coach” who can flag if something is wrong.

One example Hanna used was a new mom who was exhibiting symptoms of septic shock. The co-founder says a coach was able to call this mom on the spot and get her to contact her OB-GYN right away.

There are other online services like Postpartum Support International (PSI) and the Bloom Foundation, which both provide a sort of digital network and resources for new moms, but Hanna believes it is that missing link to medical professionals after mom has gone home from the hospital that really makes a difference.

“We’re so focused on delivering a healthy baby that mom gets side-lined,” she told TechCrunch. Adding in a statement, “And this industry is lacking the IT infrastructure needed to connect these professionals from different organizations to each other, and to follow and monitor patients across practices and health systems. This missing element creates gaps in care. Mahmee is the glue that connects the care ecosystem and closes the gaps.”

While other sites mentioned above are free to use, Mahmee, which goes beyond social support to providing engagement and patient monitoring, makes money through group and individual video calls (the introductory session with a coach is free) and various support groups. There are also different payment tiers starting at $20 a month and up toward $200 per month where new parents can ask unlimited questions through a HIPAA-secure, online dashboard connecting them with their medical providers and Mahmee coaches.

Do new moms need to pay someone to help them out and monitor them medically after they get home from the hospital? Possibly. Some local hospitals and medical networks also provide various types of help — both through counseling and new parent support groups. But often it can take weeks to get a counseling session at a busy hospital and your OB may have too many patients to call and check up on you. Having this type of support could just save your life — and, if anything else, checking in with a group of moms going through the same thing could be the key to saving your sanity.

Hanna admits it’s early days for her startup, but tells TechCrunch there are more than 1,000 providers in the Mahmee network so far. She plans to use the $3 million to grow her team, including engineers, clinicians and sales staff, and hints she’s working on several partnerships within the healthcare industry right now.

Categories: Business News

48-hours only: 2-for-1 sale on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019

2019, July 15 - 8:32pm

We’re in a celebratory mood here at TechCrunch — it’s Prime day after all. So we’re setting you up for serious savings on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019, which takes place on 11-12 December. Das ist wunderbar!

Jump on this classic buy-one-get-one — BOGO — deal that starts today and ends tomorrow, July 16, at 11:59 p.m. (GMT). Buy an Innovator, Founder or Investor pass and you’ll score a second one free. Treat your co-worker or friend to two days of the best of the European tech scene. Talk about value. But this BOGO goes bye-bye in just 48 hours, so don’t wait. Buy your passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019 now.

Imagine experiencing all that Disrupt Berlin has to offer knowing that you got two passes for the price of one. That’s some serious ROI before you even step foot in Berlin. Don’t miss the Startup Battlefield — our legendary pitch-off with $50,000 cash at stake. The competition is always fierce and fascinating. Last year was epic. Who knew tech could help address reduced sperm motility? Berlin’s reigning Startup Battlefield champ, Legacy, did.

If you’re set to network, head straight to the Startup Alley expo hall. It’s packed with hundreds of startups showcasing their considerable tech talents. It’s also home to a cadre of outstanding startups — our TC Top Picks. We vet applications and choose up to five startups that represent the best in a range of tech categories. It’s another great way to gain invaluable exposure. The vetting process for Startup Battlefield and the TC Top Picks program officially starts a bit later this summer, but you can get a head start on things by filling out an application at apply.techcrunch.com.

We’re building our 2019 speaker roster as we speak. As always it will feature world-class speakers and panelists — founders, investors and icons — who share their experiences, advice and insight. Last year, we had the pleasure of hearing Frank Salzgeber (European Space Agency), Lizzie Chapman (ZestMoney) and Rafal Modrzewski (ICEYE) — just to name a few.

Sign up for our mailing list to stay current as we announce the speakers, workshops, demos events and other surprises in the weeks ahead.

Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December, and we pack a lot of value into two short days. Double your ROI and take advantage of our 48-hour BOGO sale. Buy your Innovator, Founder or Investor passes before July 16 at 11:59 p.m. (GMT) and get another pass free. That’s two passes for one super early-bird price. Das ist wunderbar! Buy your BOGO passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Categories: Business News

Customer data management company Amperity raises $50M

2019, July 15 - 8:00pm

Amperity is announcing that it has raised $50 million in Series C funding.

The company offers what co-founder and CEO Kabir Shahani said is the ability to “ingest every piece of atomic-level data remotely related to a customer and assemble it into a customer 360.”

To illustrate how Amperity can help businesses use their customer data more intelligently, Shahani (pictured above with his co-founder and CTO Derek Slager) said a company with a branded credit card could start sending targeted offers based on customer activity, while a retailer could start sending promotions targeted at online-only customers to bring them into physical stores.

And just to be clear: This is only using first-party data collected by the brand itself, not third-party data purchased from other companies. In fact, when I brought this up, Shahani told me he has a “very strong and convicted belief in the sanctity of the relationship between the consumer and brands.”

Amperity says that in 2018, its annual recurring revenue grew 355% year-over-year. Although the startup only launched in 2016, it’s already signed up an impressive roster of customers, like Starbucks, Gap Inc., TGI Fridays and Planet Fitness.

Amperity update gives customers more control over Customer Data Platform

Shahani said that when they sign up with Amperity, most of these businesses are already trying to use customer data to improve their messaging, but they aren’t able to do so in “a real-time, in-the-moment, frequent way,” and they aren’t effectively merging data from different channels into a single profile.

He also argued that while Salesforce and Adobe have announced plans to move into this market, it was “kind of an intention announcement” — “There aren’t any real customers behind it, there aren’t any real use cases deployed.”

As the large marketing clouds build up their offerings, Shahani suggested that Amperity will still have the advantage of a “network effect,” with businesses recommending the company’s platform to each other, and will also benefit from an interest in standalone, “best-in-class” products.

“The marketing cloud phenomenon of 10 years ago, 15 years ago has certainly burned a lot of companies,” Shahani said.

Amperity has now raised a total of $87 million. The new funding comes from Tiger Global Management, Goldman Sachs, Declaration Partners, Madera Technology Partners, Madrona Venture Group and investor Lee Fixel (who previously backed Amperity through his role at Tiger).

“It’s been exciting to watch this team execute against their vision and develop the deep technical capability required to become the clear category leader,” Fixel said in a statement.

Among other things, the money should help Amperity beef up its sales and marketing — Shahani said it didn’t start seriously hiring a sales team until a year ago, and it didn’t hire its first chief marketing officer until three months ago.

Categories: Business News

Hero Labs raises £2.5M for its ultrasonic device to monitor a property’s water use and prevent leaks

2019, July 15 - 5:00pm

Hero Labs, a London-based startup that is developing “smart” technology to help prevent water leaks in U.K. properties, has raised £2.5 million in seed funding. The round is led by Earthworm Group, an environmental fund manager, with further support via a £300,000 EU innovation grant and a number of unnamed private investors.

The new capital will be used by Hero Labs to accelerate development of its first product: a smart device dubbed “Sonic” that uses ultrasonic technology to monitor water use within a property, including the early detection of water leaks.

Founded in 2018 by Krystian Zajac after he exited Neos, a smart home insurer that was acquired by Aviva, Hero Labs was born out of the realisation that a lot of smart home technology either wasn’t very smart or didn’t solve mass problems (Zajac had also previously ran a smart home company focusing on ultra high net-worth individuals that delivered bespoke designs for things like motorised swimming pool floors or home cinemas doubling up as panic rooms).

Coupled with this, the Hero Labs founder learned that water wastage was a very costly problem, both financially and environmentally, with water leaks being the number one culprit for property damage in the U.K. ahead of fires, gas explosions or break-ins combined. This sees water leaks cost the U.K. insurance industry £1 billion per year, apparently.

“My vision for the company is to solve real-life problems with truly smart technology,” Zajac tells me. “From working at Neos and alongside some of the world’s largest home insurers I understood the problems that impacted ordinary homeowners and their families on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps most surprisingly, I learnt that water leaks are far and way the biggest cause of damage to homes… I also wanted to do more for the environment in my next venture after learning that water leaks waste 3 billion litres of water a day in the U.K. alone”.

To that end, the Sonic device and service is described as a smart leak defence system. Aimed at anyone who wants to prevent water leaks in their property — including homeowners, landlords, facilities management, property developers and businesses — the ultrasonic device typically attaches to the piping below your sink and “listens” to the vibrations coming off the interconnected pipes.

Sonic then monitors the water flow using machine learning and its algorithms to identify usage and detect anomalies. This requires the technology to understand the difference between appliances, running taps and even flushing toilets so that it can build up a picture of normal water usage in the home and in turn identify if that pattern is broken. Crucially, if needed, Sonic can automatically shut off the water supply to prevent a water leak damaging the property or its possessions.

Will a full launch planned for later this year, Sonic is targeting consumers as well as small businesses initially. “We are [also] in discussions with insurers who might subsidise the product or give it away completely for free to certain more affluent customers to minimise the risk of water escape,” adds Zajac.

Categories: Business News

Kibus is like a Keurig for your pet

2019, July 14 - 10:03pm

In a pitch during a recent meeting at Brinc’s Hong Kong headquarters, the Barcelona-based team behind Kibus Petcare was quick to point out that most millennials consider pets “a member of the family.” That sort of statement manifests itself in various ways, of course, but for many, that means preparing home cooked meals for their dogs and cats.

As a rabbit owner myself, that fortunately mostly just means rinsing off some arugula in the sink once a day. For those other pet owners, however, the prospect is a fair bit more complex, putting the same or even more work into prepping meals for their furry companions.

The pitch behind Kibus is an attempt to split the difference. The company’s appliance is designed to offer something like a home cooked meal for a dog or cat with a fraction of the required effort. The system accepts plastic cartons filled with freeze dried pet food. Pour in some water and the system will heat it up, cooking the foodstuffs in the process.

The company is going to be launching a Kickstarter campaign to sell the product, which is currently in prototype form. At launch, it will run around €199. That initial version will include user refillable pods, but in the future, they company plans to limit these to the pre-made variety, clearly going after a kind of ink cartridge approach to monetizing the system.

The pods will work out to around €1 a day, with the machine rationing out food to pets one to five times a day. Each should last about a week for an average pet, or somewhere in the neighborhood of three days for the largest dog. To start, the company is offering up five different food options (two for cats, three for dogs), with more coming down the road.

Users can monitor the system remotely and program in the sound of their own voice to call the pet over when it’s feeding time. The second version of the device will also include a camera for monitoring pets from afar.

Categories: Business News

Week-in-Review: Google’s never-ending autonomous road trip

2019, July 14 - 8:00pm

Hello, weekend readers. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how Alexa wasn’t forgetting what you requested because that data was more valuable than one might think.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The big story

In thinking about what to highlight in this week’s newsletter, I was tempted to talk about Zoom and Apple and Superhuman and the idea that secure communications can get screwed up when consent is bypassed, and I’m sure that’s something I’ll dig into down the road, but what intrigued me most this week was a single factoid from Google’s self-driving unit.

Waymo’s CTO told TechCrunch this week that the company has logged 10 billion miles of autonomous driving in simulation. That means that while you might have seen a physical Waymo vehicle driving past you, the real ground work has been laid in digital spaces that are governed by the laws of game engines.

The idea of simulation-training is hardly new; it’s how we’re building plenty of computer vision-navigated machines right now — hell, plenty of self-driving projects have been built leveraging systems like the traffic patterns in games like Grand Theft Auto. These billions of logged miles are just another type of training data, but they’re also a pretty clear presentation of where self-supervised learning systems could theoretically move, creating the boundaries for a model while letting the system adjust its own rules of operation.

“I think what makes it a good simulator, and what makes it powerful is two things,” Waymo’s CTO Dmitri Dolgov told us. “One [is] fidelity. And by fidelity, I mean, not how good it looks. It’s how well it behaves, and how representative it is of what you will encounter in the real world. And then second is scale.”

Robotics and AV efforts are going to rely more and more on learning the rules of how the laws of the universe operate, but those advances are going to be accompanied by other startups’ desires to build more high visual fidelity understanding of the world

There are plenty of pressures to create copies of Earth. Apple is building more detailed maps with sensor-laden vehicles, AR startups are actively 3D-mapping cities using crowd-sourced data and game engine companies like Unity and Epic Games are building engines that replicate nature’s laws in digital spaces.

This is all to say that we’re racing to recreate our spatial world digitally, but we might just be scratching the surface of the relationship between AI and 3D worlds.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

(Photo: by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Trump must unblock his Twitter critics
    Twitter is a consumer product, so politicians using it might feel like it’s their own personal account, but when they use it for political announcements it becomes an official communications channel, and using features like blocking stifles national free speech. So says an NY-based appeals court this week of President Trump’s habit of blocking critics. It’s undoubtedly a ruling that’s going to have far-reaching implications for U.S. political figures that use social media. Read more here.
  • Nintendo switches up the Switch
    The Nintendo Switch arrived on the scene with the bizarre notoriety of being a handheld system that was also a home console, but it’s not enough for the Japanese game company to capture the hybrid market, it’s looking to revisit the success it had back in the peak Nintendo DS days. The company announced the Switch Lite this week, which strips away a number of features for the sake of making a smaller, simpler version of the Nintendo Switch that is handheld-only and sports a longer battery life. Read more here.
  • Google and Amazon bury the home-streaming hatchet
    At long last, one of the stranger passive aggressive fights in the smart home has come to a close. Amazon’s Prime Video is finally available on Google’s Chromecast and YouTube is now on Fire TV after a years-long turf war between the two platforms. Read more here.
  • AT&T maxes out its HBO ambitions
    When AT&T bought HBO, via its Time Warner acquisition, execs made clear that they had acquired a premium product and planned to shift its standing in the market. The company announced this week that it will be launching a new service called HBO Max next year that will bring in new content, including “Friends.” Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Apple nips a security nightmare in the bud:
    [Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability]
  2. Amazon warehouse workers plan strike:
    [Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota plan to strike on Prime Day over labor practices]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another great week of deep dives. My colleague Zack Whittaker revisited the WannaCry ransomware that hit in 2017 with a lengthy profile and interviews with the researchers that stopped the malware dead in its tracks. After you dig into that profile, you can check out his Extra Crunch piece that digs further into how security execs and startups can learn from the saga.

What CISOs need to learn from WannaCry

“…There is a good chance that your networks are infected with WannaCry — even if your systems haven’t yet been encrypted. Hankins told TechCrunch that there were 60 million attempted “detonations” of the WannaCry ransomware in June alone. So long as there’s a connection between the infected device and the kill switch domain, affected computers will not be encrypted….”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked a bit about the future of car ownership and “innovation banking.”

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

Categories: Business News

Phuture Foods is creating a plant-based pork substitute for the Asian market

2019, July 14 - 7:08pm

We met with a handful of Brinc’s top startups earlier this week during a visit to the accelerator’s Hong Kong headquarters. The lion’s share of the demos involved hardware products, which has long been the organization’s core offering. Increasingly, however, food-focused startups like Phuture Foods have become an important focus.

Whereas stateside companies like Beyond and Impossible largely work to approximate beef, the Malaysian startup has been pioneering a plant-based pork substitute. The meat is in particularly high demand in the Asian market, where it’s targeting initial sales, beginning with Hong Kong in the next few months and then branching out into Singapore shortly after.

The foodstuff is designed to mimic the taste and texture of pork, using a variety of plants, including wheat, shiitake mushrooms and mung beans. The company has received support from Hong Kong-based angel investors, beginning with online sales, before rolling out to area supermarkets roughly five months from now.

Phuture’s primary value play is sustainability, an increasing important issue, particularly under the strain of population growth in areas like China. Price-wise, it hopes to hit a target of at or lower than that of actual pork products, which could certainly add appeal among consumers for whom ethical and environmental concerns aren’t at top of mind.

The foodstuff is halal, a key feature for markets like Malaysia and Singapore. The company is also exploring kosher certification, along with chicken and lamb substitutes.

Categories: Business News

Is blitzscaling killing early employee equity opportunities?

2019, July 14 - 12:38am

Silicon Valley has many dreams. One dream — the Hollywood version anyway — is for a down-and-out founder to begin tinkering and coding in their proverbial garage, eventually building a product that is loved by humans the world over and becoming a startup billionaire in the process.

The more prosaic and common version of that Valley dream though is to join an early-stage company right before its growth kicks into high gear. Sure, those early employees might only have a smidgen of equity, but that equity could be worth a whole heck of a lot if they join the right startup.

Every startup has a window of opportunity, a timeframe in which early employees can join while the stock option strike prices are low and the equity grants are high. Join before the big uptick in valuation, and suddenly what might have been an otherwise nice couple of hundred K dollars in the coming years becomes actually, well, in the Bay Area, a reasonably-sized domicile.

Yet, that opportune window seems to be shrinking in size, making it harder for potential startup employees to nail the timing necessary to garner their own best financial return.

For every Roblox, which as we profiled in-depth this week, took almost two decades to reach its current apotheosis, there is a Brex, which seems to reach unicorn status in no time at all. And such stories — while certainly anecdotal — seem to be more commonplace than ever.

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

Part of the reason for that fast early valuation growth is that Silicon Valley has simply learned how to grow even faster, even earlier. As venture capitalist Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh discuss in their book Blitzscaling, there are now frameworks and tried-and-true techniques to not just grow a startup, but to grow it at a dizzying rate. Through better marketing channels, growth strategies, and product development, we have indeed made progress at cutting at least some of the time to better valuations.

That rapid transformation from nothing to everything though gives very little time for early employees to discover a startup through the grapevine when the financial conditions are still interesting.

Half a decade ago, I wrote about the plight of early employees in an article I entitled “The Problem with Founders.” I wrote then that:

The secret of Silicon Valley is that the benefits of working at a startup accrues almost entirely to the founders, and that’s why people repeat the advice to just go start a business. There is a reason it is hard to hire in Silicon Valley today, and it isn’t just that there are a lot of startups. It’s because engineers and other creators are realizing that the cards are stacked against them unless they are the ones in charge.

The Problem With Founders

My reasoning then was simple: early employees take on pretty much just as much risk as their founders do, but for a fraction of the equity. Now, with startups jumping to unicorn status in sometimes as short as a handful of months, that risk-reward ratio seems to be even more off-kilter for those early employees.

And it doesn’t just have to be a Brex -scale transformation either. The rapid increase in the size and valuation of series A rounds of financing the past three years means that engineers and salespeople who might have an employee number in the low double digits are suddenly seeing their options struck at a couple of hundred million in valuation. Exits, meanwhile, aren’t suddenly getting richer to compensate.

I started to notice this pattern over the past few weeks in the course of several conversations with software engineering friends of mine who had gotten excited about very early-stage companies — say, just a handful of employees — but who walked away from their offer letters due to already sky-high company valuations.

Now, there is an argument to be made that joining these sorts of companies is precisely where the best opportunities lie. Sure, the valuations are already high, but these are startups with the financial resources and the backing that might allow them to compete effectively. So maybe the equity is smaller and more expensive, but ultimately, if the startup is more likely to be successful, the expected value function might actually be favorable.

Maybe. Yet it is also hard to see how these startups, which despite their rich valuations have barely laid any foundation for success, are a safer bet than a similarly-valued startup with years of experience under its belt and a growth strategy based upon dependable results. Even worse, early employees are perhaps taking even more financial risk, since the preference stack of the venture capital could mean that smaller exits are particularly unfavorable to them.

Plus, the shrinking opportunity window for leading startups means that the difference in financial outcome between two early employees — what could be millions of dollars upon an exit — could have been decided based on who joined the week before the other. That doesn’t seem fair or right, but is increasingly widespread in our industry.

As with most macroeconomic structural changes, there’s not much for anyone to do. Founders aren’t going to take lower valuations or less money just to make the lives of their early employees a bit more rosy, and certainly venture capitalists aren’t going to lowball their offers in a hyper-competitive investment environment. Indeed, the very excitement of a sudden unicorn may be the best attraction for candidates to hear a startup’s pitch and ultimately join.

But when it comes to that Silicon Valley dream of a nice house from a decent return on exit, it’s getting narrower and less widely-distributed. Blitzscaling is making a lot of people a lot of wealth, but early employees? Not so much.

Categories: Business News

Startups Weekly: Zoom, Superhuman and small reactions to big scandals

2019, July 13 - 9:00pm

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I noted the big uptick in VC spending in 2019. Before that, I struggled to understand WeWork’s growth trajectory.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, do that here, now, please, thanks.

Anyways, onto today’s topic. Venture capitalist’s favorite company, Zoom, endured its first high-profile scandal this week.

After security researcher Jonathan Leitschuh published a Medium post detailing a major security vulnerability within Zoom’s technology platform, the company patched its Mac video conferencing client to remove a rogue web server that allowed any website to join a video call without permission. Users can now update their client or download the new version from Zoom’s website. Apple has also pushed a silent update for Mac users removing the vulnerable component, a move meant to protect users both past and present from the undocumented web server vulnerability without affecting or hindering the functionality of the Zoom app itself.

Zoom only made the call to remove the insecure web server after intense pushback. I’m not here to share my own opinions on Zoom’s security or lack thereof, what I’d like to point out is the company’s poor reaction to the PR nightmare. Yes, Zoom ultimately provided a fix, but initially, it failed to solve the underlying issue.

Zoom’s major hiccup comes shortly after users and onlookers attacked the exclusive email service Superhuman. Superhuman tracks email you send and receive and gives you tools to help manage it. They do this on your behalf, but without the permission of the recipient of your emails.

Superhuman was much faster than Zoom to offer an official response amid complaints. Just a couple of days after a blog post outlining security flaws within the service went viral, Superman announced it was going to remove location logging altogether, get rid of all existing location data, turn off read receipts by default and make them an opt-in feature for users. This is all nice and good and definitely shifted attention away from the key issue: Pixel-tracking (embedding the commonly used advertising tool of a “pixel” in emails to report back to senders info like whether an email’s been opened or not). Superhuman still has the exact same pixel-tracking capabilities, what’s changed is that users just need to turn on the feature.

It may be recency bias, but I cannot think of a worse response to a security issue than what we've seen with Zoom over the past few days https://t.co/qmTOc5XGr8

— Greg Otto (@gregotto) July 10, 2019

Startups and public companies alike will do what they can to maintain features that benefit their businesses and will go to great lengths to shift consumer attention away from key issues, even when that means putting their own users at risk.

Anyways…

TC Sessions: Mobility

We hosted our first-ever mobility-focused conference this week in San Jose. In what was an incredibly successful, thought-provoking event, industry leaders gathered to discuss the issues plaguing startups, the future of micromobility, the scooter wars and more. A whole lot of mobility news corresponded with the event, including…

Startup Capital

Who raised money this week?

New VC funds

Which VCs closed new funds this week?

Snap’s startups

After generally being the butt of the public market’s jokes since its IPO, Snap is having a killer 2019, with its stock price nearly tripling in value. The successes are perhaps giving the company a moment to pause and think more about generating future value. Part of that equation is certainly the company’s Yellow accelerator that aims to invest in pre-seed startups that bring mobile users to shared experiences. We covered Yellow’s inaugural batch back in September; now TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney has the full rundown on Snap’s second class of bets.

Bumble and Badoo’s bad week

Following an extensive report in Forbes about Bumble’s parent company and its billionaire founder Andrey Andreev, the female-first dating app’s founder Whitney Wolfe Herd issued a statement on Tuesday. While Wolfe Herd says she was “mortified by the allegations” and “saddened and sickened to hear that anyone, of any gender, would ever be made to feel marginalized or mistreated in any capacity at their workplace,” the exec also detailed that “Badoo is currently conducting an investigation into the allegations, as well as compiling documentation to expose the factual inaccuracies that exist within the article.” We’ve got Wolfe Herd and Forbes’ statement in full here, as well as more on Forbes’ explosive investigation.

Extra Crunch

First of all, if you still haven’t signed up for Extra Crunch, I’m not sure what you’re doing. For a low price, you can learn more about the startups and venture capital ecosystem with exclusive deep dives, newsletters, resources and recommendations and fundamental startup how-to guides. Here are some of this week’s top-performing posts.

#EquityPod

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