Business News

Now may be the best time to become a full-stack developer

Startup News - 6 hours 50 min ago
Sergio Granada Contributor Sergio Granada is the CTO of Talos Digital, a global team of professional software developers that partners with agencies and businesses in multiple industries providing software development and consulting services for their tech needs.

In the world of software development, one term you’re sure to hear a lot of is full-stack development. Job recruiters are constantly posting open positions for full-stack developers and the industry is abuzz with this in-demand title.

But what does full-stack actually mean?

Simply put, it’s the development on the client-side (front end) and the server-side (back end) of software. Full-stack developers are jacks of all trades as they work with the design aspect of software the client interacts with as well as the coding and structuring of the server end.

In a time when technological requirements are rapidly evolving and companies may not be able to afford a full team of developers, software developers that know both the front end and back end are essential.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the ability to do full-stack development can make engineers extremely marketable as companies across all industries migrate their businesses to a virtual world. Those who can quickly develop and deliver software projects thanks to full-stack methods have the best shot to be at the top of a company’s or client’s wish list.

Becoming a full-stack developer

So how can you become a full-stack engineer and what are the expectations? In most working environments, you won’t be expected to have absolute expertise on every single platform or language. However, it will be presumed that you know enough to understand and can solve problems on both ends of software development.

Most commonly, full-stack developers are familiar with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and back-end languages like Ruby, PHP, or Python. This matches up with the expectations of new hires as well, as you’ll notice a lot of openings for full-stack developer jobs require specialization in more than one back-end program.

Full-stack is becoming the default way to develop, so much so that some in the software engineering community argue whether or not the term is redundant. As the lines between the front end and back end blur with evolving tech, developers are now being expected to work more frequently on all aspects of the software. However, developers will likely have one specialty where they excel while being good in other areas and a novice at some things….and that’s OK.

Getting into full-stack though means you should concentrate on finding your niche within the particular front-end and back-end programs you want to work with. One practical and common approach is to learn JavaScript since it covers both front and back end capabilities. You’ll also want to get comfortable with databases, version control, and security. In addition, it’s smart to prioritize design since you’ll be working on the client-facing side of things.

Since full-stack developers can communicate with each side of a development team, they’re invaluable to saving time and avoiding confusion on a project.

One common argument against full stack is that, in theory, developers who can do everything may not do one thing at an expert level. But there’s no hard or fast rule saying you can’t be a master at coding and also learn front-end techniques or vice versa.

Choosing between full-stack and DevOps

One hold up you may have before diving into full-stack is you’re also mulling over the option to become a DevOps engineer. There are certainly similarities among both professions, including good salaries and the ultimate goal of producing software as quickly as possible without errors.  As with full-stack developers, DevOps engineers are also becoming more in demand because of the flexibility they offer a company.

Categories: Business News

Synthetaic raises $3.5M to train AI with synthetic data

Startup News - 7 hours 16 min ago

Synthetaic is a startup working to create data — specifically images — that can be used to train artificial intelligence.

Founder and CEO Corey Jaskolski’s past experience includes work with both National Geographic (where he was recently named Explorer of the Year) and a 3D media startup. In fact, he told me that his time with National Geographic made him aware of the need for more data sets in conservation.

Sound like an odd match? Well, Jaskolski said that he was working on a project that could automatically identify poachers and endangered animals from camera footage, and one of the major obstacles was the fact that there simply aren’t enough existing images of either poachers (who don’t generally appreciate being photographed) or certain endangered animals in the wild to train AI to detect them.

He added that other companies are trying to create synthetic AI training data through 3D worldbuilding (in other words, “building a replica of the world that you want to have an AI learn in”), but in many cases, this approach is prohibitively expensive.

In contrast, the Synthetaic (pronounced “synthetic”) approach combines the work of 3D artists and modelers with technology based on generative adversarial networks, making it far more affordable and scalable, according to Jaskolski.

Image Credits: Synthetaic

To illustrate the “interplay” between the two halves of Synthetaic’s model, he returned to the example of identifying poachers — the startup’s 3D team could create photorealistic models of an AK 47 (and other weapons), then use adversarial networks to generate hundreds of thousands of images or more showing that model against different backgrounds.

The startup also validates its results after an AI has been trained on Synthetaic’s synthesized images, by testing that AI on real data.

For Synthetaic’s initial projects, Jaskolski said he wanted to partner with organizations doing work that makes the world a better place, including Save the Elephants (which is using the technology to track animal populations) and the University of Michigan (which is developing an AI that can identify different types of brain tumors).

Jaskolski added that Synthetaic customers don’t need any AI expertise of their own, because the company provides an “end-to-end” solution.

The startup announced today that it has raised $3.5 million in seed funding led by Lupa Systems, with participation from Betaworks Ventures and TitletownTech (a partnership between Microsoft and the Green Bay Packers). The startup, which has now raised a total of $4.5 million, is also part of Lupa and Betaworks’ Betalab program of startups doing work that could help “fix the internet.”

Betaworks and Betalab unveil their first four startups working to ‘fix the internet’

Categories: Business News

Equity Shot: The DoJ, Google and what the suit could mean for startups

Startup News - 9 hours 17 min ago

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

It’s a big day in tech because the U.S. federal government is going after Google on anti-competitive grounds. Sure, the timing appears crassly political and the case is not picking up huge plaudits thus far for its air-tightness, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore it.

So Danny and I got on the horn to chat it up for about 10 minutes to fill you in. For reference, you can read the full filing here, in case you want to get your nails in. It’s not a complicated read. Get in there.

As a pair we dug into what stood out from the suit, what we think about the historical context and also noodled at the end about what the whole situation could mean for startups; it’s not all good news, but adding lots of competitive space to the market would be a net-good for upstart tech companies in the long-run.

And consumers. Competition is good.

You can read TechCrunch’s early coverage of the suit here, and our look at the market’s reaction here. Let’s go!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Categories: Business News

7 investors discuss augmented reality and VR startup opportunities in 2020

Startup News - 9 hours 30 min ago

For all of the investors preaching that augmented reality technology will likely be the successor to the modern smartphone, today, most venture capitalists are still quite wary to back AR plays.

The reasons are plentiful, but all tend to circle around the idea that it’s too early for software and too expensive to try to take on Apple or Facebook on the hardware front.

Meanwhile, few spaces were frothier in 2016 than virtual reality, but most VCs who gambled on VR following Facebook’s Oculus acquisition failed to strike it rich. In 2020, VR did not get the shelter-in-place usage bump many had hoped for largely due to supply chain issues at Facebook, but VCs hope their new cheaper device will spell good things for the startup ecosystem.

To get a better sense of how VCs are looking at augmented reality and virtual reality in 2020, I reached out to a handful of investors who are keeping a close watch on the industry:

Some investors who are bullish on AR have opted to focus on virtual reality for now, believing that there’s a good amount of crossover between AR and VR software, and that they can make safer bets on VR startups today that will be able to take advantage of AR hardware when it’s introduced.

“Besides Pokémon Go I don’t think we have seen the engagement numbers needed for AR,” Boost VC investor Brayton Williams tells TechCrunch. “We believe VR is still the largest long-term opportunity of the two. AR complements the real world, VR creates endless new worlds.”

Most of the investors I got in contact with were still fairly active in the AR/VR world, but many still disagreed whether the time was right for VR startups. For Jacob Mullins of Shasta Ventures, “It’s still early, but it’s no longer too early.” While Gigi Levy-Weiss of NFX says that the market is “sadly not happening yet,” Facebook’s Quest headsets have shown promise.

On the hardware side, the ghost of Magic Leap’s formerly hyped glory still looms large. Few investors are interested in making a hardware play in the AR/VR world, noting that startups don’t have the resources to compete with Facebook or Microsoft on a large-scale rollout. “Hardware is so capital intensive and this entire industry is dependent on the big players continuing to invest in hardware innovation,” General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos tells us.

Even those that are still bullish on startups making hardware plays for more niche audiences acknowledge that life had gotten harder for ambitious founders in these spaces, “the spectacular flare-outs do make it harder for companies to raise large amounts with long product release horizons,” investor Tipatat Chennavasin notes.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Niko Bonatsos, General Catalyst

What are your general impressions on the health of the AR/VR market today?

We’re seeing some progress in VR and some of that is happening because of the Oculus ecosystem. They continue to improve the hardware and have a growing catalog of content. I think their onboarding and consumption experience is very consumer-friendly and that’s going to continue to help with adoption. On the consumer side, we’re seeing some companies across gaming, fitness and productivity that are earning and retaining their audiences at a respectable rate. That wasn’t happening even a year ago so it may be partially a COVID lift but habits are forming. 

The VR bets of several years ago have largely struggled to pan out, if you were to make a startup investment in this space today what would you need to see? 

Companies to watch are the ones that are creating cool experiences with mobile as the first entry point. Wave VR, Rec Room, VRChat are making it really easy for consumers to get a taste of VR with devices they already own. They’re not treating VR as just another gaming peripheral but as a way to create very cool, often celebrity-driven, content. These are the kinds of innovations that makes me optimistic about the VR category in general.

Most investors I chat with seem to be long-term bullish on AR, but are reticent to invest in an explicitly AR-focused startup today. What do you want to see before you make a play here?

In both AR/VR, a founder needs to be both super ambitious but patient. They’ll need to be flexible in thinking and open to pivoting a few times along the way. Product-market fit is always important but I want to see that they have a plan for customer retention. Fun to try is great, habit-forming is much better. Gaming continues to do pretty well as a category for VC dollars but it’d be interesting to see more founders look at making IRL sports experiences more immersive or figuring out how to enhance remote meeting experiences with VR to fix Zoom fatigue.

There have been a few spectacular flare-outs when it comes to AR/VR hardware investments, is there still a startup opportunity in AR/VR hardware?

Hardware is so capital intensive and this entire industry is dependent on the big players continuing to invest in hardware innovation. Facebook and Microsoft seem to be the main companies willing to spend here while others have backed away. If we expand our thinking for a minute, maybe the first real mainstream breakthrough AR/VR consumer experience isn’t visual. For VR, it might be the mobile experiences. For AR maybe AirPods or AirPod-like devices are the right entry point for consumers. They’re in millions of people’s ears already and who doesn’t want their own special-agent-like earpiece? That’s where founders might find some opportunity.

Tipatat Chennavasin, The Venture Reality Fund
Categories: Business News

Root targets $6B+ valuation in pending IPO, a boon for insurtech startups

Startup News - 10 hours 13 min ago

This morning Root Insurance, a neoinsurance provider that has attracted ample private capital for its auto-insurance business, is targeting a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion in its pending IPO.

The former startup follows insurtech leader Lemonade to the public markets during a year in which IPOs have been well-received by investors focused more on growth than profitability. In the wake of Lemonade’s strong public offering and rich revenue multiples, it was not impossible to see another, similar startup test the same waters.

Root’s $6.34 billion valuation upper limit at its current price range matches expectations for its bulk. The company is targeting $22 to $25 per share in its debut.

The startup will raise over $500 million from the shares it is selling in its regular offering. Concurrent placements worth $500 million from Dragoneer and Silver Lake raise that figure to north of $1 billion and could help boost general demand for shares in the company. Snowflake’s epic IPO came with similar private placements from well-known investors in what became the transaction of the year.

Will we see Root boost its target? And what does Root’s IPO price range mean for insurtech startups? Let’s dig into the numbers.

Root’s numbers

We’ve dug into Root’s business a few times now, both before and after it formally filed its IPO documents. This morning we will merge both sets of work, snag a fresh revenue multiple from Lemonade, apply it to Root’s own numbers, observe any valuation deficit and ask ourselves what’s next for the debuting company.

Will we see Root’s IPO price rise? Here’s how to think about the question:

Categories: Business News

Call analytics platform Invoca expands into sales, e-commerce and customer experience

Startup News - 11 hours 36 min ago

Invoca, which helps companies extract and use data from customer phone calls, is expanding today with the launch of products for e-commerce, customer experience and sales teams, as well as a new Invoca Exchange, where businesses can find all of the platform’s third-party integrations.

The company is making these announcements as part of its virtual Invoca Summit. Ahead of the event, CEO Gregg Johnson (previously an executive at Salesforce) told me that customers have been asking Invoca to expand beyond its previous focus on providing “conversation intelligence” to marketing teams.

“‘We need to get aligned on how we support the revenue journey,'” Johnson recalled businesses telling him. “We were already going down this path, but when COVID hit, we tripled down on it.”

He argued that the data that Invoca provides has become even more important during the pandemic and related lockdowns, when businesses only had “two sources of feedback” — digital interactions and customer conversations. And while there are plenty of analytics tools for tracking online behavior, Johnson said, “Customer conversations are really important because they get at why” people are behaving in a certain way.

And at the same time, Johnson said call center teams have had to shift to working at home, which meant that they had to switch to online software and “everything broke,” while supervisors “no longer had any visibility into how agents were performing.”

Image Credits: Invoca

Invoca is trying to address these issues by making sure that marketing, sales, customer experience and e-commerce teams all have access to the same call data.

For example, he said that agents at Invoca customer BBQGuys need data to understand what products to recommend for their customers if the specific grill that they want isn’t available. Or a healthcare provider might use call data to predict and prepare when COVID cases might be rising in their area.

“We’ve always viewed ourselves as an application and a platform,” Johnson added. “We already give you ability to use this data at Invoca to automatically apply these insights without any human intervention at all. So for us, we thought through use cases to feed this data into other tools and created four solutions … that are really joined at the hip.”

Invoca for eCommerce, Invoca for Customer Experience and the existing Invoca for Marketing product are all available now, while Invoca for Sales is currently signing up beta testers for November.

The Invoca Exchange, meanwhile, already includes more than 40 integrations, including Google, Salesforce, Facebook, Adobe, Tealium, and Five9. The company is also announcing new partnerships with FullStory and Criteo.

Call intelligence platform Invoca grabs $30M Series D led by Morgan Stanley AIP

 

Categories: Business News

Beam is building a web browser that gathers knowledge from your web activity

Startup News - 12 hours 17 min ago

Remember Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer? Those applications from the 1990s used emphatic metaphors in their names to talk about a simple task — browsing the web. Today, nobody would say that Google Chrome is a web explorer.

Browsing the web has become an effortless — and often mindless — task. You grab your phone or computer, you open a new tab and you type a few words in the address bar.

Beam, a new startup founded by Dom Leca and Sébastien Métrot, is working on a brand new app that is both a web browser and a note app. Dom Leca previously founded Sparrow, an email app for macOS and iOS that was acquired by Google in 2012. Sébastien Métrot has been working for Apple for several years.

“Everybody complains that Instagram and Facebook fry your brain and make you waste time,” Leca told me. And yet, web browsers represent infinite knowledge and infinite possibilities.

If you’re very passionate about a niche topic, chances are you can learn a ton of things by reading stuff, watching videos, interacting on forums and more. But when you close your browser window, everything disappears.

Sure, there’s a web history feature — but it’s a long list of links with no connection. Sure, you can bookmark pages or take notes in another app — but it’s a cumbersome process.

More importantly, you might not know what’s important and what’s not. Most passion projects start with meaningless search queries.

Beam’s mysterious logo. Image Credits: Beam

Beam aims to bring meaning to your web history. Every time you search for something, it creates a new note card. Beam passively follows users as they click on links, open new pages and spend time looking at stuff.

When you close the tab, you have a new card — your search query is the title of the card and you can see all links under that note. You can then add text, remove links that weren’t that relevant, etc.

By combining passive note creation with a tiny nudge when you close a tab, you get to reflect on your web activity. It’s a way to learn more about yourself and your habits. Sure, you may realize that you waste a ton of time. But you might also realize that you care more than you thought about cooking and Russian classical music.

“From a certain point of view, I’m designing this for people who don’t take notes,” Leca said.

But even if you use a note app, they interrupt you as you need to switch between multiple apps. Leca invested in Roam Research and likes it a lot. But he doesn’t think it solves that amnesia affect when you browse the web.

The startup is already thinking about ways to expand beyond that simple concept. You could imagine a way to interact with content directly from your notes — click on a YouTube link to view the video directly in your card, click on a podcast link to see an automated transcript, etc.

Eventually, Beam could let you share cards with other users. You could browse other user profiles based on matches with your interests.

Beam is leveraging WebKit as the browser engine and is working on a Mac app for now. It’s going to take a few months before a public release, but it’s going to be an interesting company to follow.

The company raised $3.5 million (€3 million) from Spark, Alven, C4V, Amaranthine, Tiny Capital (Andrew Wilkinson), Tiny vc, Secret Fund, Antoine Martin, Simon Dawlat, Nicolas Cohen and Spetses. Loren Brichter (remember Tweetie for Mac?) and Oliver Reichenstein (iA Writer) are advising the company.

Categories: Business News

As startups accelerate in record Q3, Europe and Asia rack up huge VC results

Startup News - 13 hours 7 min ago

Venture capital activity in Europe and Asia saw a strong return to form in Q3, data indicates.

The two continents enjoyed more venture capital investment into their local startups than in some time, underscoring that strong VC results the United States saw in the third quarter were not a fluke, but part of a broader trend.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Data compiled by CB Insights shows a global acceleration in the number of dollars venture capitalists are putting to work around the globe as 2020 chews through its second half. The record figures that Q3 supplied stand in stark contrast to the fear that overtook startup-land in late Q1 and early Q2, when COVID-19 threw some young technology companies surprise turbulence.

But the dip in venture capital activity was short-lived. As many startups sold software, they found their wares suddenly in greater demand; across a host of verticals, startups benefited from an accelerated digital transformation as the world adapted to a new work environment. Aside from clear winners like video conferencing tools, other categories from remote learning to security tooling also got a bump.

The COVID-tailwind, as it is sometimes called, does not appear to be specific to the United States or North America. Instead, given what the venture capital data states, we can infer that startups the world around are enjoying a similar boost.1

Let’s get into the numbers to better understand what’s up in Europe and Asia. (As an aside, if you have data on African startups’ venture capital results, please email me as I am starting to poke around for a more global picture. Recent deal activity makes it plain that American media needs to do more and better reporting on the continent.)

A strong Q3

The venture capital world’s center of gravity still lands somewhere in the United States, but here’s how the three continents managed in Q3 2020, looking at their raised venture capital dollars:

  • North America: $37 billion.
  • Asia: $24 billion.
  • Europe: $9 billion.

Asia’s result was its best since at least Q4 2018, as far back as our dataset goes. Europe’s total tied its high-water mark set in Q2 2019. But as a combined pair, venture capital outside North America might have just had its best quarter in years, if not ever.

Here’s the data in graphical format:

Image Credits: CB Insights, shared with permission

Categories: Business News

Sym raises $9M Series A for its security workflow platform

Startup News - 13 hours 10 min ago

Sym, a new platform that makes it easier for developers to integrate security and privacy workflows into their process, today announced that it has raised a $9 million Series A round led by Amplify Partners. Earlier this year, the company announced its $3 million seed round lead by Andy McLoughlin of Uncork Capital and Robin Vasan of Mango Capital. Angel investors include former Google CISO Gerhard Eschelbeck, Atlassian CTO Sri Viswanath and Jason Warner, the CTO of GitHub.

Sym co-founder Yasyf Mohamedali spent the last few years as CTO of health tech company Karuna Health. In that role, he became intimately familiar with working in a high-compliance industry, handling vendor reviews and security audits. To make those processes more efficient, his team built lots of small tools, but he realized that everybody else in the industry was doing the same.

Image Credits: Sym

“As an engineer, it’s frustrating when you see people building the same thing over and over,” Mohamedali told me. “For years, I had this kind of concept in my head of, ‘what if we just built it all once, and then people didn’t have to keep redoing the same thing over and over?’ And so when I stepped away from Karuna to start Sym, originally, what I wanted to do was exactly that — and specifically for HIPAA. It’s kind of a naïve approach where I was like, ‘you know, what, I’m just going to build all the tools, someone needs to do HIPAA and open source it as like a black box thing.”

What he realized, though, is that companies have their own security and governance workflows that tend to share the same core but also a lot of variabilities. So what Sym now does is offer these core tools and lets companies mix and match what they need from this developer-centric toolbox the company has created.

ServiceNow updates its workflow automation platform

“What we’re building is a set of workflow templates and primitives that map to that shared 20% core — and then a set of integrations that you can use to pull down those workflow templates, and codify that last mile variance by connecting those templates to all your different services,” Mohamedali explained.

What’s interesting about this approach is that Sym offers a Python SDK and lets developers create these workflows and integrations with only a few lines of code. In part, that’s due to the company’s philosophy of putting engineers back into control of security — the same way DevOps allowed them to reclaim control over infrastructure and Q&A. “DevOps is a thing. So now, DevSecOps needs to be a thing. We need to reclaim security. And we want to be the tool to do that with,” he said.

Mohamedali stressed that this was very much an opportunistic round, and for the next few months this raise won’t change anything in the company’s road map. But because Sym started signing up large customers — and had made commitments to them — now was a good time to raise, especially because the right partners came along. That means hiring more engineers, but over time, the company obviously also plans to build out its sales and marketing teams. The product itself, though, will remain in private beta until about the middle of next year. At that time, Sym will also launch a self-serve version of its platform.

New Box tools should help ease creation of digitally driven workflows

Categories: Business News

Unusual Ventures’ Sarah Leary and John Vrionis join Extra Crunch Live now

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 11:51pm

Today at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT, Unusual Ventures’ Sarah Leary and John Vrionis are joining us over at the Extra Crunch Live stage!

The Unusual Ventures team has investments spanning the consumer and enterprise space, including Robinhood, AppDynamics, Mulesoft, Winnie and more. That short list could be the basis for a fascinating chat, but I also want to hear their thoughts on the democratization of venture capital, their appetite ahead of the election and the future of remote work. A big goal of mine is to squash some of the buzzwords we hear on tech Twitter so we can get an honest take on where one VC firm is sitting right now in a chaotic year.

As we wrote last week, this year has been everything but business as usual for the venture and tech community. And we still have an election ahead of us! I’ll ask Leary and Vrionis to share their framework for working through a looming event such as a presidential election and get their ideas on how early-stage is working more broadly.

Thanks to all of you who have joined us for our ongoing live chat series, which has brought on big names in tech such as Sydney SykesAlexia von TobelMark Cuban and more (all recordings are still accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers to watch and learn from).

If you’re new, welcome! You’ll be able to ask our experts questions live as long as you’re an EC member (sign up for Extra Crunch here).

Come hang, bring snacks and prep some good questions. We’d love to have you.

Details

Below are links so you can make it:

Categories: Business News

Index nabs $2.6M seed to create BI dashboards without coding

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 11:00pm

Index founders, Xavier Pladevall and Eduardo Portet, have been friends since they were small children in the Dominican Republic. Both came to college in the U.S., and last year the two decided to launch a startup to help non-technical users build business intelligence dashboards without coding.

Today they get to keep building on that dream with the help of a $2.6 million seed investment from David Sacks, Slack, Gradient Ventures, Y Combinator and other individual investors.

What has attracted this investment is a couple of young founders who are passionate about making it simple to build a data dashboard without help from experts like engineers or data analysts.

“Essentially what we do is we help companies build their business metrics dashboards with as little code or technical knowledge as possible. The byproduct of that is that anyone in the company can build their own metrics for their teams,” co-founder Xavier Pladevall told TechCrunch.

End users can connect to a growing list of data sources and Index deals with building the queries and displaying the data for the users without data scientists or data analysts to help. For now, that includes Salesforce and Hubspot for CRM data, Stripe payments data and certain databases from Postgres and MongoDB.

Company co-founders Xavier Pladevall and Eduardo Portet. Image Credits: Index

As the founders build out the product, they want to stay lean with just the two founders and perhaps two additional engineers. “We’re actually looking to hire two people full time, and that’s going to take us to the Series A, and we’ve been very clear with investors about that,” he said.

As Latino immigrant founders, they want to build a company that’s diverse and inclusive. He says that’s it’s not hard for him and his co-founder to find people of color because they have formed friendships with a diverse  network of people they can tap into.

“Our job is to keep doing what we’re doing, which is to be friends with a bunch of different people because that is genuine and people can definitely tell you’re trying to meet some diversity quota versus when you’re generally a diversity-oriented type of company because it comes back to the founders themselves,” he said.

YC grad DigitalBrain snags $3.4M seed to streamline customer service tasks

The two founders and their families have been friends since they were children. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, they didn’t have access to computer science classes, but they did have access to the internet and they got the startup bug from reading U.S. tech publications like this one, and learned to code from YouTube videos and StackOverflow. They both came to college in the U.S. and both interned at large companies — Pladevall at Facebook and Portet worked at Metadata in New York.

The idea came together because Pladevalll was part of a team at Facebook building a similar tool for internal use. He decided that it would be a viable commercial idea for companies without the resources of Facebook. He came together with his childhood friend and began building the company in January as the pandemic hit.

He acknowledges the hardship of this year, but says it really helped them focus because there wasn’t anything else to do. While they are amazed at having $2.6 million in the bank, he says they still have the hunger that he believes is part of the immigrant founder ethos.

“It’s just hunger to just prove yourself and if coding is what it takes, learn how to code. If it’s going through an early visa process, which is by the way, way harder than raising millions of dollars and going through YC, in my opinion, [you do that]” he said. He said it’s about doing whatever it takes.

As the two friends take their first steps as a company, they have some early customers and continue to refine the product. With today’s funding they have some lofty goals for the next year, which include building out that product, reaching $1 million in ARR and building distribution for the dashboard.

If they can meet those goals, Pladevall says, they should be able to get their Series A. I wouldn’t bet against them.

As low-code startups continue to attract VC interest, what’s driving customer demand?

Categories: Business News

Stampli, an invoice management software startup, launches a payments product

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 11:00pm

Stampli, a collaborative invoice management software company, introduced a payments product today called Stampli Direct Pay.

The startup launched back in 2015 with a mission to simplify invoice management through collaboration (and a dash of AI). Interestingly, Stampli said it was uninterested at the time in providing a payments product alongside its collaborative suite, focusing instead on the process of procure to pay.

This latest announcement marks a shift in the company’s thinking. Cofounder and CEO Eyal Feldman explained that conversations with customers revealed just how frustrated many organizations are with the current B2B payments landscape.

Organizations have several options: cut and mail their own paper checks, use ACH, or sign on with a payments provider to use ‘e-payments.’

Cutting and mailing checks is a pre-historic, time-intensive activity that doesn’t really belong in 2020, while ACH (which comes at a very low, flat cost) often groups multiple transactions into a single sum, making it difficult for accounting to reconcile individual line item purchases.

“Under the misleading banner of “e-payments,” [payments providers] offer AP departments a rebate and promise vendors faster payment,” explained Feldman in a blog post. “However, in order for vendors to get the payment, they must accept payments as virtual credit cards, which come with up to a 3.5% credit card fee per transaction.”

And many payments providers do not provide the data extracted from invoices and transactions back to the organization as a way to stay sticky.

Stampli’s customers illuminated these problems for the startup, which used to be payments agnostic. With the launch of Stampli Direct Pay, the company is still payments flexible, letting organizations work with their existing or different payments providers. But Stampli now offers an option that aims to resolve many of these industry issues.

Because Stampli’s core product already tracks all the contextual and relevant info for every transaction, that information is readily available during payment approval. Direct Pay also offers ACH as a payment option, but separates individual transactions out for easy reconciliation. And for customers who want to stick with checks, Stampli Direct Pay offers a service that allows customers to approve digital checks which come directly from their bank account with their signature, with Stampli handling printing, stamping, and mailing.

Stampli also offers a vendor payment portal that extracts the needed data for each vendor and lets the customer own that data, which can be downloaded and taken to another payment provider.

The company has spent the last four years solving an entirely different problem.

Usually, teams purchase products or services and those invoices end up in the finance department with little to no context, setting off a game of duck duck goose within the organization as accountants try to get the information and approvals they need to pay out that vendor.

Stampli, which has raised $32 million to date, built out a collaborative platform that allows non-accountants to participate in the invoice management process in a way that’s straightforward and simple. Each invoice becomes a communications hub, allowing folks across various departments fill in the blanks and. answer questions about the purchase. Stampli also uses machine learning to recognize patterns around allocating costs, managing approval workflows, and the data that needs to be extracted from invoices.

Each invoice is turned into its own communications hub, allowing people across departments to fill in the blanks and answer questions so that payments are handled as efficiently as possible. Moreover, Stampli uses machine learning to recognize patterns around how the organization allocates cost, manages approval workflows and what data is extracted from invoices.

With the launch of Direct Pay, Stampli is poised to take on a variety of new competitors with an obvious differentiator. The company has processed more than $13 billion in invoices annually.

The team has also grown to more than 100 employees. Fifty-six percent of the company’s US workforce is non-white and 33 percent of the executive leadership team is female, according to Feldman.

Categories: Business News

Security testing firm NSS Labs ceases operations, citing coronavirus

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 10:32pm

Security testing company NSS Labs “ceased operations” last week, the company said in a notice on its website, citing impacts related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Austin, Texas-based company was quietly acquired by private equity firm Consecutive last October. But last week, the company was reportedly preparing for layoffs, according to Dark Reading, which first reported news of the company’s shuttering.

In a brief post on LinkedIn, NSS Labs’ chief executive Jason Brvenik hinted at layoffs, adding: “If you are in need of excellent people that exceed my high standards, please get in touch.” (Brvenik listed himself as a former chief executive on his LinkedIn profile.)

Former employees told TechCrunch that they had been laid off as a result of the company’s closure.

NSS Labs, founded in 2007, was one of the most well-known product security testing companies, allowing customers to use real threat data to stress-test their products and discover potential vulnerabilities and security issues.

But the last few years have been rocky. NSS Labs retracted its “caution” rating for CrowdStrike’s Falcon platform in 2019, after the two companies confidentially settled a lawsuit challenging the results. NSS Labs also dropped its antitrust suit against the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization (AMTSO), Symantec and ESET, after the testing giant claimed it had discovered evidence of the companies allegedly conspiring to make it harder to test their products.

Spokespeople for NSS Labs and Consecutive did not immediately return requests for comment.

Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849.

Categories: Business News

Stotles secures funding for platform which brings transparency to government tenders, contracts

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 10:21pm

The public sector usually publishes its business opportunities in the form of “tenders,” to increase transparency to the public. However, this data is scattered, and larger businesses have access to more information, giving them opportunities to grab contracts before official tenders are released. We have seen the controversy around U.K. government contracts going to a number of private consultants who have questionable prior experience in the issues on which they are winning contracts.

And public-to-private sector business makes up 14% of global GDP, and even a 1% improvement could save €20 billion for taxpayers per year, according to the European Commission .

Stotles is a new U.K. startup technology that turns fragmented public sector data — such as spending, tenders, contracts, meeting minutes or news releases — into a clearer view of the market, and extracts relevant early signals about potential opportunities.

It’s now raised a £1.4 million seed round led by Speedinvest, with participation from 7Percent Ventures, FJLabs and high-profile angels, including Matt Robinson, co-founder of GoCardless and CEO at Nested; Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, COO at Go -Cardless; Charlie Songhurst, former head of Corporate Strategy at Microsoft; Will Neale, founder of Grabyo; and Akhil Paul. It received a previous investment from Seedcamp last year.

Stotles’ founders say they had “scathing” experiences dealing with public procurement in their previous roles at organizations like Boston Consulting Group and the World Economic Forum.

The private beta has been open for nine months, and is used by companies including UiPath, Freshworks, Rackspace and Couchbase. With this funding announcement, they’ll be opening up an early access program.

Competitors include: Global Data, Contracts Advance, BIP Solutions, Spend Network/Open Opps, Tussel and TenderLake. However, most of the players out there are focused on tracking cold tenders, or providing contracting data for periodic generic market research.

Categories: Business News

Jam raises $3.5 million to Figma-tize product collaboration

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 10:00pm

The web of collaboration apps invading remote work toolkits have led to plenty of messy workflows for teams that communicate in a language of desktop screenshots and DMs. Tracing a suggestion or flagging a bug in a company’s website forces engineers or designers to make sense of the mess themselves. While task management software has given teams a funnel for the clutter, the folks at Jam question why this functionality isn’t just built straight into the product.

Jam co-founders Dani Grant and Mohd Irtefa tell TechCrunch they’ve closed on $3.5 million in seed funding and are ready to launch a public beta of their collaboration platform which builds chat, comments and task management directly onto a website, allowing developers and designers to track issues and make suggestions quickly and simply.

The seed round was led by Union Square Ventures, where Grant previously worked as an analyst. Version One Ventures, BoxGroup and Village Global also participated, alongside some noteworthy angels, including GitHub CTO Jason Warner, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, Gumroad CEO Sahil Lavingia and former Robinhood VP Josh Elman.

Like most modern productivity suites, Jam is heavy on integrations so users aren’t forced to upend their toolkits just to add one more product into the mix. The platform supports Slack, Jira, GitHub, Asana, Loom and Figma, with a few more in the immediate pipeline. Data syncs from one platform to the other bidirectionally so information is always fresh, Grant says. It’s all built into a tidy sidebar.

Grant and Irtefa met as product managers at Cloudflare, where they started brainstorming better ways to communicate feedback in a way that felt like “leaving digital sticky notes all over a product,” Grant says. That thinking ultimately pushed the duo to leave their jobs this past May and start building Jam.

Why I flip-flopped on opposing remote work

The startup, like so many conceived during this period, has a remote founding story. Grant and Irtefa have only spent four days together in-person since the company was started, they raised their seed round remotely and most of the employees have never met each other in-person.

The remote team hopes their software can help other remote teams declutter their workflows and focus on what they’re building.

“On a product team, the product is the first tab everyone opens and closes,” Grant says. “So we’re on top of your product instead of on some other platform”

Jam’s interface

 

Categories: Business News

There’s a housing crisis, and Abodu wants to solve it fast with quality backyard homes

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 10:00pm

Housing prices have soared in many markets across the United States over the past decades as populations have grown, square footage has increased, and new unit construction has languished. Houses that were once tens of thousands of dollars have transformed due to zoning restrictions into million-dollar manses, leaving millions without affordable housing.

Few regions have been as hard hit by housing prices as the Bay Area, where the median price for an existing home last year averaged just shy of $1 million. For John Geary, who grew up in Cupertino and whose father is a single-family home real estate developer, “I’ve seen the just under-building of housing occur my entire life here.”

He eventually linked up with Eric McInerney when the two worked at Bain, and the two quickly became friends, living together in Chicago. Both were housing nerds and talked about the housing crisis regularly, and eventually, they started looking at a way to solve the affordability problem.

While California has handled the crisis with the glacial fervor you would expect of the republic, one major change on housing has been new state laws that have made it easier to build an ADU (accessory dwelling unit), which are smaller home units tucked into existing properties (for example, a one-bedroom detached home in the backyard of an existing four-bedroom house).

The changes around these housing units became more visceral for Geary when his father, who was developing a subdivision in San Juan Bautista south of San Jose, was mandated to include 15 ADUs in a neighborhood plan for 45 lots. There weren’t great options for including the housing units at any reasonable price, and other homeowners who had attempted to construct ADUs came to a similar conclusion — indicating a gap in the market that could potentially be filled.

Geary and McInerney saw an opportunity to capitalize on the sudden openness for ADUs in California, and launched Abodu. The startup, which is based in Redwood City in the Bay Area, offers three customizable housing models that it then manufacturers to order and can deliver to homeowners in as little as about 12 weeks.

The startup raised $3.5 million for a seed round led by former TechCrunch writer Kim-Mai Cutler, who is now a partner at Initialized Capital. Her famous “vomiting anarchists” essay helped to propel housing issues to public consciousness in the Bay Area and throughout the tech industry.

A finished and installed Abodu home. Photo via Abodu.

Abodu offers three housing models today: a studio, a one-bedroom, and a two-bedroom, with prices starting at $189,000, $199,000 and $259,000 respectively. Those prices include standard installation, foundations, and utilities, but exclude city permit fees, which Geary says can range from $1,500 to $7,000. Additional, more premium options and finishes are available as well. Homeowners can buy the units online or visit the units in-person at the company’s showroom in Redwood City.

“They’re built entirely offsite to local building codes. So the same construction process, same materials, same requirements that you face building something in your backyard from the ground up. We meet all those, we just build them in a factory instead of someone’s backyard,” Geary explained.

From there, the house is put on a truck, driven to the destination, and a crane lifts the unit over the existing house on the property and places it into the intended location.

The interior of an Abodu home. Photo via Abodu.

Currently, it takes about 10 weeks to construct the unit in the factory, and 10 days to setup a backyard to host the unit. So as the unit starts to reach the finishing steps at the factory, construction crews begin to prep the property for installation. “From a homeowner’s perspective, the disruption that occurs in their life is really centered in that back quadrant of the project. So instead of months and months and months [with traditional construction], it’s only two weeks,” Geary explained.

Customers can work with Abodu to acquire standard home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) or cash-out mortgage refinancing to pay for their unit.

The company currently has 10 employees and shares its office in the same facility as its showroom in Redwood City.

Geary says that when the company first started, the focus was on homeowner-investors looking to extract rents from their backyards. But with the pandemic, there is now a greater need for families to have more flexible housing options, with kids returning home and older family members looking to separate from others to prevent infection.

Categories: Business News

Soleadify secures seed funding for database that uses machine learning to track 40M businesses

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 9:40pm

Usually, databases about companies have to be painstakingly updated by humans. Soleadify is a startup that uses machine learning to create profiles for businesses in any industry. The first of the company’s products is a business search engine that keeps over 40 million business profiles updated, currently used by hundreds of companies in the USA, Europe and Asia for sales and marketing activities.

It’s now secured $1.5 million in seed-round funding from European venture firms GapMinder Venture Partners and DayOne Capital, as well as several prominent business angels, through Seedblink, an equity crowdfunding platform based out of Bucharest, Romania.

The company plans to use the funds to further improve their technology, build partnerships and expand their marketing capabilities.

On top of Soleadify’s data, they build solutions for prospecting, market research, customer segmentation and industry monitoring.

The way it’s done is by frequently scanning billions of webpages, identifying and classifying relevant data points and creating connections between them. The result is a database of business data, which is normally only available through laborious, manual research.

Golden raises $14.5M to build a wiki-style database of tech knowledge

Categories: Business News

Austin-based Verifiable raises $3 million for its API toolkit to verify healthcare credentials

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 9:30pm

Before Nick Macario launched Verifiable, the Austin-based company that just raised $3 million for its API toolkit that verifies healthcare credentials, he ran a series of other businesses designed to offer public credentials for professionals.

His first foray into the world of identity management services was the personal website builder, branded.me. After that company was sold, Macario launched Remote.com, an outsourced provider of human resources services that was constantly running background checks and verifying employee credentials.

That’s where Macario got the idea for Verifiable and struck on a market opportunity that’s exploding thanks to the proliferation of telemedicine and on-demand services, and the shortage of qualified medical candidates to fill positions and meet growing demand.

Administration expands telemedicine for Medicare and encourages health plans to boost offerings

This boom in remote medical services is one reason why Macario, working with co-founder and chief technology officer Vivekanand Rajkumar, was able to raise $3 million from investors including Tiger Global, Liquid2 Ventures, Struck Capital, Soma Capital, Jack Altman, Max Mullen, and Sahil Lavingia.

“We’re at an inflection point with healthcare,” said Macario. “There are large volumes of healthcare verifications and certifications that are being verified manually… and the lack of infrastructure and credentialing is a big part of the bottleneck holding healthcare back.”

Verifiable is working with Dock, a blockchain-based ledger company that issues digital credentials and anchors them to a public ledger.

Verifiable provides an API that connects to hundreds of primary sources to keep updated records on the 17 million licensed healthcare providers working in the U.S.

Companies like Talkspace, Sesame and Verge Health are already using the  API to automate real-time verifications for more than 50,000 healthcare providers.

“From a broader scale, we’re automating credentialing processes, but specifically we’re automating licensing verification and monitoring,” Macario said.

The Verifiable chief executive estimates that several billions of dollars in revenue and fines are lost every year because healthcare providers don’t keep up with the credentialing and licensing practitioners need to work in the U.S.

“It’s not a one-and-done verification,” says Macario. “You need to check on a monthly basis to make sure that providers are compliant.”

Online ID verification is seeing a spike in demand driven by COVID-19

Verifiable’s management service can range anywhere from two to 10 dollars depending on how deeply a potential employer wants to dive to confirm the standing and licensing of their practitioners. The price is based on the number of verifications and the number of healthcare providers that need to be verified.

And while Verifiable is starting with a specific focus on verification, the company has much bigger vision. “Where we’re excited about going is identity and healthcare provider data. It connects to many different areas of healthcare,” Macario said.

 

Categories: Business News

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and AR, raises $7.3M from EQT and BlueYard

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 8:49pm

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and augmented reality (AR), has raised a $7.3 million round led by European fund EQT Ventures. Existing investor BlueYard (Berlin) also participated.

Vectary makes high-quality 3D design more accessible for consumers, garnering over one million creators worldwide, and has more than a thousand digital agencies and creative studios as users.

With the coronavirus pandemic shifting more people online, Vectary says it has seen a 300% increase in AR views as more businesses start showcasing their products in 3D and AR.

Vectary was founded in 2014 by Michal Koor (CEO) and Pavol Sovis (CTO), who were both from the design and technology worlds.

Google wakes up from its VR daydream

Tokyo-based virtual reality game developer Thirdverse gets $8.5 million Series A

The complexity of using and sharing content created by traditional 3D design tools has been a barrier to the adoption of 3D, which is what Vectary addresses.

Although Microsoft, Facebook and Apple are making it easier for consumers, the creative tools remain lacking. Vectary believes that seamless 3D/AR content creation and sharing will be key to mainstream adoption.

Designers and creatives can use Vectary to apply 2D design on a 3D object in Figma or Sketch; create 3D customizers in Webflow with Embed API; and add 3D interactivity to decks.

Osso VR raises $14 million to bring virtual reality to surgical and medical device training

Categories: Business News

Perch raises $123.5M to grow its stable of D2C brands that sell on Amazon

Startup News - 2020, October 20 - 8:37pm

While Amazon gradually builds out its own-branded line of products, third-party sellers continue to account for a significant part of the transaction volume and growth on its marketplace — by one estimate, accounting for $200 billion of the $335 billion in gross merchandise value sold on Amazon in 2019. Today, in a twist on the economies of scale that has propelled much of Amazon’s growth, a Boston startup that has built a tech platform that it uses both to buy up and then run D2C brands sold on Amazon is announcing a major round of growth funding to expand its business.

Perch, which acquires D2C businesses and products that are already selling on Amazon, and then continues to operate and grow those operations, has raised $123.5 million in funding.

Perch plans to use the capital mainly to continue acquiring D2C businesses, as well as to build out its team and invest in its platform, “but we are profitable so we plan to use cashflows from the business to build the team and the funding toward acquiring additional winning brands and products,” said Chris Bell, Perch’s CEO and founder, in an interview over email.

The company currently counts women’s athleisure brand Satina, kitchenware from Flathead and Aulett and others, health and personal care brands among its stable of companies. There are just 10 on the platform today, and the funding is coming on the back of success so far, as well as ambitious plans to grow that to 50 by the end of 2021, and eventually hundreds or thousands of brands.

And before you think that this is just about running a lot of smaller businesses together, Bell adds that “technology is the most important part of our model.”

Some 40% of the startup’s team works on its platform, which is used to onboard “eventually thousands of brands at scale in an e-commerce-native environment.” The platform is used to help run analytics on sales, determine pricing and ad strategy, and inventory positioning and other marketing decisions. Longer term it will also be used to help figure out how to sell and balance products on social and retail channels (while ultimately selling through Amazon, for now).

The funding — which brings the total raised by Perch to over $130 million — is being led by Spark Capital, with previous backer Tectonic Ventures and new investor Boston Seed also participating. The startup is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

Amazon has grown in part on the principle of economies of scale, both in terms of procurement as well as in distribution. Both in the case of physical or digital goods, small margins on sales of a huge array of products adds up to strong returns; and the same goes for working out the costs for operating a logistics and distribution network.

Perch has essentially picked up on that idea and is developing its own take on it around the D2C model.

Direct-to-consumer businesses have been one of the big stories in e-commerce in the last decade: companies are leveraging the internet and newer innovations in manufacturing to build their own products and brands that they sell direct to customers, bypassing traditional retail chains, with some like Everlane, Warby Parker and Third Love finding huge success in the process.

But while a lot of those sales have focused around D2C companies developing their own sites or via social media, a very large proportion of the smaller players are also selling through marketplaces — and specifically Amazon’s marketplace.

As a larger category, they are growing fast — up 50% year-on-year in 2020, with some 86% of third-party sellers profitable.

But on an individual basis, most of them don’t necessarily have a strategy for how they will scale or exit the business eventually, so the opportunity here is to bring a number of these more promising smaller D2C brands into a bigger operation — the idea being to bring more economies of scale both to manufacturing those products as well as to collectively distributing them over Amazon.

“We typically do not retain the entrepreneurs or founders beyond a transition period, though we are open-minded if there is the right fit, though they are often excited to take some time off or start their next adventure,” said Bell. “For staff or contractors who work with the founder on the brand, we have a discussion with the founder and those individuals throughout the process and depending on need or mutual discussion we have retained some of those relationships.”

It’s Perch’s own realization of how to expand the economies of scale for D2C that has attracted investors here.

“The Perch team has the M&A, eCommerce, and Amazon experience to understand what makes a quality and scalable consumer product and take those products to the next level post-acquisition,” said Alex Finkelstein, General Partner, Spark Capital, in a statement. “We are beyond excited to lead this round. Perch is already off to an exceptionally strong start. Given the booming eCommerce market, I expect we will continue to see record numbers and additional acquisitions this year.”

Bell added that while any company can approach it to get acquired, it has a relatively strict set of criteria for what it would seriously consider.

“We look for winning products and brands,” he said. “What that means is the products need to have a proven track record of product-market fit, as evidenced through at least 18-24 months of profitable sales, great customer reviews, low return rate, no evidence of consistent product quality issues, and a trademarked brand that is recognized and enforced by their channel partners / marketplaces.”

There have been a number of companies that are trying to muscle in on Amazon’s supremacy in online retail markplaces in the US — including the likes of Walmart and Alibaba — but for now Amazon continues to be the main game in town, Bell said. (And no surprise there: one estimate in 2018 was that it was hovering at 49% marketshare in e-commerce in the U.S.)

“Amazon has created the leading third-party seller marketplace in a really differentiated way,” he said. “Not only do they have the most consumers visiting every day, but they also have the most maturity around technical integrations, brand protections, and a best-in-class fulfillment operation.”

He added that “Walmart is making good strides in terms of developing their seller services and technical integrations, and their announcement that they will be offering fulfillment for 3rd party merchants will help considerably. I expect they will continue to gain share, but they have a really long way to go to catch up with both consumers and marketplace sellers.” In terms of others, he also noted that “Google appears to be investing in their marketplace, but we haven’t seen as much traction there. Without an integrated fulfillment option, many sellers would prefer to use their Google ad dollars to send consumers to their own page to transact rather than through Google’s marketplace. Facebook/Instagram stores have promise but still very nascent.”

Interestingly, the Perch proposition provides a very different alternative to the e-commerce landscape that others see. Some like Shogun have built their business on premise that the only way foward is to move away from a reliance on third-party marketplaces like those of Amazon, Perch has doubled down on it, seemingly confident that it’s here to stay. And indeed, the bigger that Perch grows, the more likely it is that the bulked-up company has a chance of having some negotiating power of its own.

“We have some sales through standalone brand sites, but the vast majority of our focus is on the marketplace and we expect that to continue for the immediate future,” said Bell.

Categories: Business News

Pages

Subscribe to Hardfocus International aggregator - Business News