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Nuggs rebrands as Simulate with new cash, a new CTO and an expanded line of faux-meat foods

2020, July 9 - 4:05pm

Nuggs, the alternative-meat company founded by serial entrepreneur Ben Pasternak (who previously co-founded the social media app Monkey), has raised $4.1 million and gotten itself a new name and a new CTO as it looks to move beyond chicken nuggets.

Now called Simulate, Pasternak’s startup is readying the launch of new products including spicy nuggets, a “chicken burger product” and, eventually, a hot dog, which required a branding change to befit its newly broadened ambitions in the ultra-competitive industry out to reform consumers’ carnivorous impulses.

Since Pasternak first began pitching his direct to consumer chicken nugget replacements a bit over a year ago, the company has sold 1 million pounds of nuggets. Over the next week, Simulate’s frozen nuggets will make their debut in around 30 Gelson’s supermarkets in California. The company has plans to release its chicken patty within the next few months and a hot dog replacement, DOGGS, in the fourth quarter.

Pasternak began to rebrand earlier this summer when his company launched the second iteration of its nuggets in June.

In addition to his new brand, and new investors including Lerer Hippeau, AgFunder, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, former Whole Foods chief executive Walter Robb and model Jasmine Tookes, Pasternak also has a new chief technology officer.

Bringing on Thierry Saint-Denis, the former senior director of research and innovation at Danone, as CTO is a coup for the company. As a business, Nuggs seemed to be more of a marketing play backed by a savvy founder and a frozen food giant that wanted to make a play for the burgeoning market for meat substitutes and replacements. Now, with Saint-Denis, the company brings on a developer of food products that have reached nearly $1 billion in sales who holds more than 14 patents related to functional ingredients, probiotics and enzymes.

With the new executive in place, new and previous investors like McCain Foods, Rainfall Ventures, Maven Ventures, NOMO Ventures, MTV founder Bob Pittman and Casper founder Neil Parikh are now backing a company with a bit more technical heft behind it.

Not that Nuggs wasn’t improving its product line over the past year. Pasternak touts the company’s iterative approach to product development, embodied in its different “release notes” as the company toyed with different formulations.

That software-driven approach may also yield other sales options, like a subscription service, Pasternak said. “We have seen this core community of people obsessively purchasing the new versions. We are looking at launching some kind of beta testing subscription thing shortly.”

Categories: Business News

Joe Coffee raises another $1.3M to help more coffee shops take mobile orders

2020, July 9 - 4:01pm

Gone — or at least on hold for a long while — are the days of hanging around a coffee shop, poking around the internet on the free Wi-Fi while sipping the same coffee for three hours. The entire idea feels kind of alien right now. A little anxiety-inducing, even.

But coffee shops still want to find ways to safely stay in business, and people still want their coffee. With many states limiting orders to pickup/to-go, mobile ordering is seeing a massive uptick across the food industry. That’s great for Starbucks and anyone else who already had mobile ordering in place, but it leaves many smaller shops scrambling for a solution. Building your own app is complicated — and getting people to download it can be its own challenge.

For the last few years, Seattle-based Joe Coffee has been building a mobile ordering “network” for indie coffee spots — basically, a one-stop app for ordering from nearby coffee shops that aren’t Starbucks. The team had raised $2.2 million previously; after seeing a massive uptick in usage and interest from coffee shops in recent months, the company has raised another $1.3 million to scale up with demand.

CEO Nick Martin tells me that they’ve seen sales volume increase by roughly 20x since March. He also notes that they’ve seen the average tip increase by over 200% during the pandemic — a nice sign that people are trying to show love to the folks behind the counter right now.

This round — a second seed, as the company calls it — is led by Craft Ventures, and backed by Flying Fish Partners (which also invested in Joe’s previous funding).

Joe Coffee’s role here is a two-parter: On the consumer side, they provide the mobile app and web interface for taking orders and offering up promos, with a loyalty points system that works across the “Joe network.” On the coffee shop side, they’re providing signage to get customers into the app, the interface for baristas to process orders and set up deals, along with reporting/analytics to help figure out what’s working best. In exchange, they take 9% per order, which includes credit card processing fees.

Image Credits: Joe Coffee

Joe Coffee initially focused strictly on its home turf of Seattle, where it’s supporting around 300 coffee shops. They started to expand to other regions in August of last year, opening it up nationwide in January of 2020; today, Martin tells me, they’re working with more than 1,000 shops across the U.S.

Categories: Business News

Fisker raises $50 million to bring its all-electric Ocean SUV to market in 2022

2020, July 9 - 7:02am

Electric vehicle startup Fisker Inc. said Wednesday it has raised $50 million, much needed capital that will go toward funding the next phase of engineering work on the company’s all-electric luxury SUV.

The startup is aiming to launch the Fisker Ocean SUV in 2022.

The Series C funding round was led by Moore Strategic Ventures LLC, the private investment vehicle of Louis M. Bacon, the billionaire hedge fund manager.

“Since we first showed the car at CES earlier this year, reaction from customers and investors has been extremely positive,” Fisker Inc. Chairman and CEO Henrik Fisker said in a statement. “We are radically challenging the conventional industry thinking around developing and selling cars and this capital will allow us to execute our planned timeline to start producing vehicles in 2022.”

The company is also beefing up its executive lineup to help push the project along. Fisker said it has hired Burkhard Huhnke as its CTO. Huhnke was the former vice president of e-mobility for Volkswagen America and vice president of automotive at chipmaker Synopses.

As CTO, Huhnke will spread his time between the company’s R&D work in Los Angeles and its new Fisker Innovation Lab in Silicon Valley.

Building a car company isn’t easy. Just ask Fisker. The well-known automotive designer, who was behind the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Aston Martin DB9 and BMW Z8 among others, launched a startup called Fisker Automotive that aimed to produce a luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The flagship vehicle, the Fisker Karma, debuted at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, and first deliveries were in 2011. But the company ran into numerous challenges and production was suspended in November 2012 and ended in bankruptcy a year later.

China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and launched a new company called Karma Automotive . On a side note: Karma, which has had its own financial struggles, also announced Wednesday it had raised $100 million.

This time around, Fisker is focused on an SUV. The Fisker Ocean, which was officially revealed in January at CES 2020, starts at $37,499 before applying any federal income tax credit or state incentives.

Categories: Business News

Raising $22.5 million, Liftit looks to expand its logistics services in Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Ecuador

2020, July 9 - 5:45am

The Colombian trucking and logistics services startup Liftit has raised $22.5 million in a new round of funding to capitalize on its newfound traction in markets across Latin America as responses to the COVID-19 epidemic bring changes to the industry across the region.

“We’re focusing on the five countries that we’re already in,” says Liftit chief executive Brian York.

The company recently hired a head of operations for Mexico and a head of operations for Brazil as it looks to double down on its success in both regions.

Funding for the round was led by Cambridge Capital and included investments from the new Latin American-focused firm H20 Capital along with AC Ventures, the venture arm of the second-largest Coca-Cola bottler in LatAm; 10x Capital, Banyan Tree Ventures, Alpha4 Ventures, the lingerie brand Leonisa; and Mexico’s largest long-haul trucking company, Grupo Transportes Monterrey. Individual investor Jason Radisson, the former chief operating officer of the on-demand ride hailing startup 99, also invested.

The new capital comes on top of Liftit’s $14.3 million Series A from some of the region’s top local investors. Firms like Monashees, Jaguar Ventures and NXTP Ventures all joined the International Finance Corp. in financing the company previously and all returned to back the company again with its new funding.

Investors likely responded to the company’s strong performance in its core markets. Already profitable in Chile and Colombia, Liftit expects to reach profitability across all of its operations before the end of the year. That’s despite the global pandemic.

Of the 220 contracts the company had with shippers, half of them went to zero and the other half spiked significantly, York said. While Liftit’s major Colombian customer stumbled, new business, like Walmart, saw huge spikes in deliveries and usage.

“Managing truck drivers is incredibly difficult, and trucking, in our opinion, is not on-demand,” said York. “At the end of the day the trucking market in all of Latin America is a majority of independent owners. They’re not looking for on-demand work… they’re looking for full-time work.”

Less than 1% of the company’s deliveries come from on-demand orders; instead, it’s a service comprised of scheduled shipments with optimized routes and efficiencies that are bringing customers to Liftit’s virtual door. 

“We do scheduled trucking delivery so we integrate with existing systems that shippers have and start planning how many trucks they’re going to need and the routes they’re going to take and … tee it up exactly what is going to happen regardless what the traffic conditions are so we have been able to reduce the delivery times for the trucks,” said York. 

Categories: Business News

Colvin raises $15M to rethink the flower supply chain

2020, July 9 - 5:17am

At first glance, Colvin — which recently announced that it has raised a $15 million Series B — might look like just another flower and plant delivery company, but co-founder and CEO Andres Cester said the startup has a much grander vision.

“We were born with the ambition the company that would redesign global flower trade,” he said.

Apparently, when Cester and his co-founder/COO Sergi Bastardas started researching the flower supply chain, they found an industry that was both “fragmented” in terms of growsers and sellers, but also surprisingly centralized, with the Aalsmeer Flower Auction in the Netherlands accounting for 77% of all flower bulbs sold globally.

With all the middlemen, Cester said flowers end up being more expensive (with the growers getting a smaller share of the overall payment), and it takes longer for the flowers to reach the consumer.

So the startup created a marketplace where consumers are buying flowers from straight the growers, with Colvin as the only intermediary. That results in average savings of 50% to 100% compared to online competitors, Cester said. (For example, the bouquets featured on the Colvin homepage all cost about €33 or €34).

And while the flower business is hurting overall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bastardas said consumers are turning to online options, with Colvin seeing a fourfold sales increase year-over-year, and delivery volumes worth $1 million in a single day. The challenge, he said, has been making sure to deliver those flowers within the promised time window.

Image Credits: Colvin

Cester said Colvin started by selling directly to consumers because it was a good way to build the supply from growers, and that consumer sales should a become a profitable, “cash-generating business.” However, the company’s big focus moving forward is building out its sales to flower wholesalers, who in turn sell to the retailers.

“We’re envisioning the B2B part of the business is going to drive most of the returns and valuation,” Bastardas added.

Colvin was founded in Spain and currently operates in Spain, Italy, Germany and Portugal. There are no plans to come to the U.S. anytime soon, but Cester said, “We believe that if we really want to … redesign how the flower industry works, we’re going to have to land in U.S. sooner or later.”

The startup has now raised a total of $27 million. The new round was led by Italian investment fund Milano Investment Partners, with participation from P101 sgr and Samaipata.

And if you’re wondering about the name, Bastardas said the company was named for civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin, who was arrested in several months before Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person.

It’s an incongruous choice for a flower startup, but Bastardas said the founders took inspiration from Colvin’s story and the idea that “from several small actions, we can really change an industry.”

Plant-focused startup The Sill raises $5M

Categories: Business News

In pandemic era, entrepreneurs turn to SPACs, crowdfunding and direct listings

2020, July 9 - 4:16am

If necessity is the mother of invention, then new business owners are getting very inventive in the ways in which they access cash. Relying on some long-tested and some new avenues to raise money, entrepreneurs are finding more ways to get public market cash faster than they would have in the past.

Whether it’s from Reg A crowdfunding dollars, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) or direct listings, these somewhat arcane and specialized financing vehicles are making a comeback alongside a rise in new funding mechanisms to get to market quickly and avoid the dilution that comes from private market rounds (especially since those rounds are likely to come at a reduced valuation given market conditions).

Some of these tools have existed for a while and are newly popular in an era where retail investors are driving much of the daily fluctuations of the public markets. Wall Street institutions are largely maintaining their conservative postures with regard to new offerings, so secondary market retail volume growth is outpacing institutional. Retail investors want into these new issues and are pouring into the markets, contributing to huge pops to new public offerings for companies like Lemonade this Thursday and creating an environment where SPACs and crowdfunding campaigns can flourish.

The rise of zero-commission brokerages and the popularization of fractional trading led by the startup Robinhood and adopted by every one of the major online brokers including Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, E-Trade and Interactive Brokers has created a stock market boom that defies the underlying market conditions in the U.S. and globally. For instance, daily trades on Robinhood are up 300% year-over-year as of March 2020.

According to data from the BATS exchange, the total trade count in the U.S. was up 71% and May trading was up more than 43% over 2019. Meanwhile, E-Trade daily average revenue trades posted a 244% increase in May over last year’s numbers.

Don’t call it a comeback

The appetite for new issues is growing and if many of the largest venture-backed companies are holding off on going public, smaller names are using SPACs to access public capital and reach these new investors.

Categories: Business News

PQShield raises $7M for quantum-ready cryptographic security solutions

2020, July 9 - 4:01am

A deep tech startup building cryptographic solutions to secure hardware, software, and communications systems for a future when quantum computers may render many current cybersecurity approaches useless is today emerging out of stealth mode with $7 million in funding and a mission to make cryptographic security something that cannot be hackable, even with the most sophisticated systems, by building systems today that will continue to be usable in a post-quantum future.

PQShield (PQ being short for “post-quantum”), a spin out from Oxford University, is being backed in a seed round led by Kindred Capital, with participation also Crane Venture Partners, Oxford Sciences Innovation and various angel investors, including Andre Crawford-Brunt, Deutsche Bank’s former global head of equities.

PQShield was founded in 2018, and its time in stealth has not been in vain.

The startup claims to have the UK’s highest concentration of cryptography PhDs outside academia and classified agencies, and it is one of the biggest contributors to the NIST cybersecurity framework (alongside academic institutions and huge tech companies), which is working on creating new cryptographic standards, which take into account the fact that quantum computing will likely make quick work of breaking down the standards that are currently in place.

“The scale is massive,” Dr Ali El Kaafarani, a research fellow at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute and former engineer at Hewlett-Packard Labs, who is the founder and CEO of PQShield said of that project. “For the first time we are changing the whole of public key infrastructure.”

And according to El Kaafarani, the startup has customers — companies that build hardware and software services, or run communications systems that deal with sensitive information and run the biggest risks from being hacked.

They include entities in the financial and government sectors that it’s not naming, as well as its first OEM customer, Bosch. El Kaafarani said in an interview that it is also in talks with at least one major communications and messaging provider exploring more security for end-to-end encryption on messaging networks. Other target applications could include keyless cars, connected IoT devices, and cloud services.

The gap in the market the PQShield is aiming to address is the fact that while there are already a number of companies exploring the cutting edge of cryptographic security in the market — they include large tech companies like Amazon and MicrosoftHub Security, Duality, another startup out of the UK focused on post-quantum cryptography called Post Quantum and a number of others — the concern is that quantum computing will be utilised to crack even the most sophisticated cryptography such as the RSA and Elliptic Curve cryptographic standards.

This has not been much of a threat so far since quantum computers are still not widely available and used, but there have been a number of signs of a breakthrough on the horizon.

El Kaafarani says that PQShield is the first startup to approach that predicament with a multi-pronged solution aimed at a variety of use cases, including solutions that encompass current cryptographic standards and provide a migration path the next generation of how they will look — meaning, they can be commercially deployed today, even without quantum computers being a commercial reality, but in preparation for that.

“Whatever we encrypt now can be harvested, and once we have a fully functioning quantum computer people can use that to get back to the data and the sensitive information,” he said.

For hardware applications, it’s designed a System on Chip (SoC) solution that will be licensed to hardware manufacturers (Bosch being the first OEM). For software applications, there is an SDK that secures messaging and is protected by “post-quantum algorithms” based on a secure, Signal-derived protocol.

Thinking about and building for the full spectrum of applications is central to PQShield’s approach, he added. “In security it’s important to understand the whole ecosystem since everything is about connected components.”

Some sectors in the tech world have been especially negatively impacted by the coronavirus and its consequences, a predicament that has been exacerbated by uncertainties over the future of the global economy.

I asked El Kaafarani if that translated to a particularly tricky time to raise money as a deep tech startup, given that deep tech companies so often work on long-term problems that may not have immediate commercial outcomes.

Interestingly, he said that wasn’t the case.

“We talked to VCs that were interested in deep tech to begin with, which made the discussion a lot easier,” he said. “And the fact is that we’re a security company, and that is one of the areas that is doing well. Everything has become digitised, and we have all become more heavily reliant on our digital connections. We ultimately help make the digital world more secure. There are people who understand that, and so it wasn’t too difficult to talk to them and understand the importance of this company.”

Indeed, Chrysanthos Chrysanthou, partner at Kindred Capital, echoed that sentiment:

“With some of the brightest minds in cryptography, mathematics and engineering, and boasting world-class software and hardware solutions, PQShield is uniquely positioned to lead the charge in protecting businesses from one of the most profound threats to their future,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier to support the team as it works to set a new standard for information security and defuse risks resulting from the rise of quantum.”

Categories: Business News

GoHealth eyes multibillion-dollar valuation as it sets its initial IPO price range

2020, July 9 - 2:58am

GoHealth, a Chicago-based company that provides consumers with a digital portal to help them select insurance products, set an initial price range for its IPO today. The firm intends to price its equity between $18 to $20 per share in its debut.

As the company expects to sell 39.5 million shares in the offering, its IPO haul is huge. At the low-end of its range, GoHealth would raise $711 million, a figure that rises to $790 million at other end of its pricing spectrum. Including the 5.925 million shares the company will offer its underwriting team, its fundraise swells to between $817.65 million and $908.5 million.

Valuing the company at its IPO price range is a bit tough, as the firm was previously majority-sold to a buyout firm called Centerbridge in a deal that valued the firm at what Reuters reported as a $1.5 billion price-tag in 2019 (others confirmed the price). That transaction turned the company’s organization, and shareholding structure, into a muddle.

Unpacking the nCino and GoHealth IPO filings

Parts of its shareholding structure are simple. The firm’s Class A shares, for example, at the top end of its IPO price, are worth around $1.7 billion, including equity offered to underwriters. So, regardless of what happens with its other interests and shares, the IPO looks set to be a win for Centerbridge.

Next, there are several hundred million Class B shares that come with votes, but no “economic interest in GoHealth, Inc.” And, finally, there are LLC interests in the company, which correspond with Class B shares. Holders of LLC interests can swap them for “newly-issued shares of our Class A common stock on a one-for-one” when they’d like.

So, how does that all square out? When we properly count all the shares for the firm and apply its IPO price range, GoHealth could be worth between $5.6 billion and $6.3 billion, figures that we are glad other publications arrived at as well.

That’s a big price tag, but one befitting a company looking to raise $711 million to $908.5 million in its public debut.

A financial reminder

In Q1 2020, GoHealth posted $141.0 million in revenue, and net income of $1.4 million. Not a fat profit margin to be sure, but it did make money in the period, which is always popular, if out-of-date in today’s IPO market.

The company has grown nicely in recent years, with its S-1 filing touting 139% “pro forma growth” from 2018 to 2019. That’s great, given that GoHealth has at least some history of making money as well.

Turning to the most recent quarter, however, we find some red ink. In the quarter ending June 30, 2020:

  • GoHealth had revenues of “between $118.0 million and $130.0 million,” up 66.4% at the midpoint of that range compared to the year-ago period.
  • That growth came at a cost, with GoHealth reporting that its “net loss is expected to be between $20.0 million and $26.0 million, as compared to net income of $15.3 million for the three months ended June 30, 2019.”
  • However, for the bulls out there, GoHealth’s adjusted EBITDA — a heavily tuned “profit” metric — should be between $24 and $28 million in the quarter, up from $17.2 million in the year-ago period.

How investors will parse all that out and place a proper valuation on the firm is their job; have fun, ya’ll.

What about startups?

Sure, GoHealth raised capital while it was a private company, and, sure, its business is digital. But it’s not really the core substance of TechCrunch’s coverage, namely startups. The company is around 19 years old, for heaven’s sake.

But what matters for our purposes is that earlier this year there was a boom in insurance marketplaces raising capital, leading TechCrunch to write a piece entitled “Why VCs are dumping money into insurance marketplaces.” GoHealth is a related entity to those younger companies. If it has a good IPO, that’s good for its smaller brethren. If it struggles, or only attracts a slim, unattractive multiple, it could partially chill the fundraising climate for companies looking to follow in its footsteps.

Why VCs are dumping money into insurance marketplaces

Categories: Business News

Fintech startup nCino targets ~$2B valuation in impending IPO

2020, July 9 - 1:51am

As IPO season continues, another venture-backed tech company is moving closer toward going public. This week nCino filed an updated S-1 filing, providing an initial price range for its equity of $22 to $24 per share.

Indeed, nCino, a fintech startup that provides operating software to banks, intends to sell 7.625 million shares in its debut, worth $167.75 million to $183 million at those prices. Including shares offered to its underwriters, its haul grows to between $192.9 million and $210.5 million.

Discounting the extra shares, nCino is worth between $1.96 billion to $2.14 billion at its current price range.

The startup’s software is what nCino calls a “bank operating system,” providing banking software to help financial entities with lending, customer resource management, account opening and more. It’s a rich space for innovation, given the banking industry’s complexity and wealth. Smaller startups are also working along related lines.

Normally at this point in an IPO process we compare the debuting company’s valuation range with its final private valuation. However, it’s hard to find out what nCino was worth. PitchBook and Crunchbase are bare regarding its last private round, as are other data sources we checked.

Unpacking the nCino and GoHealth IPO filings

Notably, nCino has no preferred stock, so spelunking through different series of preferred equity sourced from S-1 data wasn’t possible. However, the company was healthy — and therefore, valuable — enough to raise more than $130 million across two rounds in 2018 and 2019, including an $80 million round from last October led by Salesforce Ventures and T. Rowe Price.

Regardless of where nCino priced toward the end of its life as a private company, its IPO is a likely win for both Salesforce and Insight Partners. The corporate venture arm of Salesforce and the well-known venture group own 13.2% and 46.6%, respectively, of nCino’s equity before IPO shares are counted; expected ownership for the two groups falls to 12.1% and 42.6%, respectively, when including anticipated IPO equity.

According to Crunchbase data, Insight Partners led nCino’s Series B and C in 2014 and 2015, while Salesforce Ventures led its $51.5 million 2018 round; Salesforce also took part in several of the company’s early rounds, helping to explain its double-digit stake in the firm.

So what?

Modern software companies, often called SaaS firms, set new valuation records this week on the public markets following earlier highs set in Q2. Their performance hints that nCino could find warm welcome from public investors.

Does that fact fit with the valuation that the above-detailed pricing indicates that nCino may achieve? Annualizing the company’s Q1 (the April 30, 2020 period) revenue results, nCino’s $178.9 million run rate would give it a revenue multiple of 11x to 12x at its expected IPO prices, a somewhat modest result by current standards.

Indeed, as nCino grew about 50% from Q1 2019 to Q1 2020, it feels light. The firm’s GAAP losses are slim compared to revenue as well for a SaaS business, though the company’s operating cash burn did grow from $4.6 million in its fiscal year ending January 31, 2019 to $9 million in its next fiscal year. Its numbers are mostly good, with some less-than-perfect results. Still, given its growth rate, an 11x-12x revenue multiple feels modest; that figure rises, of course, if we use a trailing revenue figure instead of our annualized number.

It would not be a shock, then, if nCino targets a higher price interval for its shares before it formally prices. The firm is expected to price next Tuesday and trade the next day, the same time frame as GoHealth. More when we have it.

Categories: Business News

Harvard biomedical engineering professor to launch nasal spray that could reduce COVID-19 transmission risk

2020, July 9 - 12:27am

A new product developed by Harvard Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering David A. Edwards is set to launch this fall, and claims to be able to provide a nearly 100% reduction in the particles present in exhaled air — thus reducing the potential transmission of SARS-CoV-2 both into, and out of, the lungs while breathing. That could mean a significantly reduced risk of contracting COVID-19, particularly for frontline health care workers when used in combination with other PPE like face masks.

The product, called FEND, and produced by Edwards’ tech startup Sensory Cloud, is set to be available in September. It’s a saline mixture (essentially a “salty mist”) that contains no drugs, and is instead directed from naturally occurring salts that are most often found in sea water. The mist, when delivered via deep nasal inhalation in misted form, has been shown in peer-reviewed research published on Tuesday by Sensory Cloud in medical journal QRB Discovery to clean upper human airways of particles that are less than a micron in size that aren’t typically filtered out by most conventional mask designs.

The study conducted by the company is based on a small-scale sample population of 10 volunteers, including five who are above 65, and five who are below that age, so it’s worth taking that into account when considering the results. Still, across the sample group, the researchers found that it reduced transmitted particles per liter of air by around 99% — with most of those particles blocked being ones that would’ve been too small to be filtered by conventional masks.

Sensory Cloud contends that FEND could provide “anyone at risk of SARS-CoV-2” with additional protection — in terms of scrubbing the airways of both inhaled particles for those who don’t yet have the virus, and also for preventing the expulsion of viral particles for those that do. Accordingly, while the company plans to launch it to the general public through its online sales platform, it is also “committing to facilitating access” of FEND once it becomes available to “needy at-risk populations” including frontline workers around the world. Sensory Cloud is also debuting a number of clinical trials this summer, the results of which should go a long way in terms of supporting their early small-scale study results, if positive.

The startup plans to price FEND, including the mister delivery device, at $49 for a two-pack — with individual refill bottles priced at $6 each afterward. Each refill provides around 250 total uses with each use providing the cleaning benefits described above for roughly six hours, based on the company’s research.

Categories: Business News

K4Connect, a startup bringing tech to senior living centers, closes its $21M Series B

2020, July 9 - 12:24am

K4Connect, a startup focused on bringing new technologies like voice assistance, home automation, digital messaging and more to older adults and those living with disabilities, has closed on $21 million in Series B funding. The B round had originally wrapped in October 2018, but was extended with the recent addition of $7.7 million led by Forte Ventures.

Others taking part in the round include existing investors Sierra Ventures, Intel Capital, AXA Venture Partners, the Ziegler Link•Age Fund, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest, Topmark Partners (formerly Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners) and Traverse. As a result of the new funding, Forte Ventures’ Louis Rajczi will join the startup’s board. To date, K4Connect has raised $31 million in venture funding.

Image Credits: K4Connect

Notably, the additional funds were raised amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has been disproportionately impacting older adults in care facilities, cutting off their communication from loved ones and disrupting their daily activities.

The K4Connect platform, which today serves over 800 continuing care, independent living and assisted living communities across the U.S., can help to address many of the challenges these communities are now facing.

The startup was co-founded in 2013 by Scott Moody, the entrepreneur whose biometrics company AuthenTec sold to Apple, where it became the basis for Touch ID.

Now K4Connect’s CEO, Moody had moved to Raleigh, N.C. to retire, but soon realized he still had energy left to start another company. Originally, the startup’s focus had been on bringing smart home technologies together through what’s now K4Connect’s patented operating system, FusionOS. But the team hadn’t initially narrowed in on a particular market.

That changed when Moody met a man, Eric, who was an advocate for the homeless and living with MS. He told the founder that when he wakes up in the morning, he has the energy for about a thousand good steps during his day — and how he uses those steps defines the quality of his life. He said the smart home tech K4Connect was developing could help him make his life better.

Moody immediately pivoted the company to redirect its focus on serving those in similar situations, which didn’t just include individuals living with disabilities but also the broader senior market.

Image Credits: K4Connect

Today, the FusionOS-powered platform integrates a suite of solutions designed for residents in independent or assisted living facilities as well as other care facilities. This includes tools to stay connected to their families through voice and video messaging, as well as those for accessing a digital resident directory, playing games and staying informed on the latest community news — ranging from COVID-19 updates to daily meal menus to updated visitation policies, or anything else the facility wants to broadcast.

For the facilities who purchase the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution for their communities, there are other productivity tools they can use, like those for event management, resident surveys, resident and family management, communications, prospect communications and more. Due the coronavirus outbreak, K4Connect is even developing an expanded video chat service that will allow residents to video call staff for their requests, instead of having staff enter their rooms.

Another key aspect to K4Connect’s solution is its smart home automation functionality.

The company provisions Alexa devices for residents, so they don’t have to configure devices themselves — they just plug them in. It also supports other home automation devices like smart thermostats, smart lights, motion sensors, sleep tracking devices and more. 

This is all managed by way of the company’s “K4Community” solution powered by the underlying FusionOS technology. Residents can access this as an app on their own smartphones, on pre-provisioned tablets or even through digital signage in the facility itself.

The SaaS solution is priced based on per-resident basis and the cost depends on which modules the facility wants to use in their own setup. This can range from a few dollars per month per resident to tens of dollars per month per resident, Moody says, and includes support.

Image Credits: K4Connect

As it turns out, K4Connect had a bit of a head start in terms of working on solutions more specifically designed to meet the needs of its communities amid the coronavirus outbreak, thanks to advice from its investors.

“Having investors like Intel and AXA did provide a wider perspective,” says Moody. “I figured, look, they’re really concerned. They’re seeing this issue from a wider geographic perspective than we are,” he explains.

Moody already knew that even the flu impacted older adults more than the general population. Due to K4Connect’s market of seniors, he multiplied what investors were saying could be the impact of coronavirus by a much larger factor.

“We kind of saw it coming,” Moody admits. “Many people were not completely bought in yet at the end of February. But just at the start of March, we launched something called ‘Project COVID 911.’ I just thought it was going to have a significant impact on the economy, but more importantly, the people we serve. And we had to be in a position to react and support,” he adds.

“If I was wrong, then we were going to be more prepared. And if I was right, then we would be in a situation where we can actually help serve people,” says Moody.

K4Connect adjusted its roadmap to focus on specific areas, like communications, content delivery, and pre-provisioning the Alexa Dot speakers, in order to limit time spent installing in residents’ rooms, among other things. Today, its solution offers features like resident-to-resident video chat for those now stuck in their rooms, tools for booking time slots in the dining area for facilities limiting large groups, access to livestreamed content — like those yoga classes you can’t attend in person — and more.

With the added funding, K4Connect, now a team of 57 full time, plans to further expand into the senior market, including not only those in facilities and senior communities, but also those living in affordable housing on their own. The team is actively developing solutions for this market segment, Moody says.

“We are incredibly fortunate in our investor relationships in that they not only believe in our vision but equally value our mission,” Moody said, in a statement about the new funding. “Forte Ventures is a prime example of that relationship and we’re proud to welcome them to the bench of our valued investors. With their support, and all of our investors, we’re continuing to accelerate to serve as many older adults through technology as possible.”

Categories: Business News

Popshop Live gets $3 million to bring live streaming to shopping

2020, July 9 - 12:00am

Streaming video has become a huge part of our lives, whether it’s watching your favorite shows on Netflix or getting live TV through Hulu or YouTube or checking out your favorite gamers on Twitch. But streaming is trickling into other facets of our lives, too, whether it’s fitness or the move from physical events to virtual ones.

The next frontier? For Popshop Live, it’s shopping.

Popshop Live is an e-commerce platform that uses streaming video to let sellers both connect with their shoppers and sell their wares in a new way. The company has today announced the close of a $3 million funding round, led by Floodgate and Abstract Ventures, with participation from Long Journey Ventures, Cyan and Scott Banister, Shrug Capital, Backend Capital and Halogen Ventures. This brings the company’s total funding to $4.5 million.

Founded by Danielle Li, Popshop Live is a reimagining of the Home Shopping Network, or QVC, for the year 2020. Individual sellers, or established brands and stores, can get on the platform to create and host their own shows. The product also integrates with Shopify to help sellers manage their inventory and POS during the show without any additional hassle.

Popshop Live provides sellers with a playbook for best practices on running their own show. Sellers also get access to gamification features, show templates, real-time performance stats and metrics reports to give them a complete picture of how their show is performing across a wide range of data points.

Japan LA, one of the biggest stores on the platform, did more sales on Popshop Live than its offline and online sales combined on an average Saturday before the pandemic. Popshop Live told TechCrunch that Japan LA did $17,000 in sales with more than 1,500 individual checkouts in a single show. The company has even started reserving a portion of its inventory specifically for sale via Popshop.

“What I love most about our Popshop Live shows is that, with the live videos and interactive features, I’m able to respond to customers’ requests in real time, such as adding any products that the audience sees in the show on the fly,” said Jamie Rivadeneira, owner of Japan LA. “I also love that I’m able to bring the same energy as helping customers in person, but to hundreds of people at once.”

She added that Japan LA is considering setting up a dedicated studio space for Popshop Live shows.

Popshop Live 1 min reel from Popshop on Vimeo.

Sellers can share the link to their show on their social platforms or on their website and direct shoppers to the platform. Once users are on the platform they can browse other shows that they might be interested in.

Cyan Banister, an investor in the platform, also started her own show to sell stuff she had sitting around in her house. She chose to give the profits to charity and matched all sales through her show. In total, she sold $8,000 worth of stuff, and with the matching, gave $16,000 to charities.

I asked Banister if the pandemic, which has stalled offline retail sales significantly, had any impact on her decision to invest in Popshop Live.

“No,” said Banister concisely. “What Danielle is building can shine in or out of a pandemic. It might have been harder to get customers on board, so in a pandemic she benefits from that in that all of these stores need a way to sell their products.”

Banister added that it goes beyond giving businesses a new way to sell their products, as both sellers and shoppers are finding a community within Popshop Live.

The Popshop Live team consists of 17 people, with 70% people of color and 40% women.

The app is currently invite-only and available on iOS. However, readers can download the app here using the code “TECH20.”

Categories: Business News

Teal, with $5 million in funding, looks to help people land a job

2020, July 9 - 12:00am

Teal, a platform that looks to help people land jobs that they love, has closed a $5 million seed round, which was led by Flybridge Capital, with participation from Lerer Hippeau, Corigin Ventures, Aleph, Oceans Ventures, Hight Output, AVG Basecamp, and Kairos Angels.

Teal launched in November of 2019 with a system that did all of the heavy lifting for people seeking jobs, including resume consultations, searching listings, and sending application information to the right people. Essentially, Teal handled everything but the interview.

Since launch, the company has made a slight pivot to a product that’s more scalable, called Career Assist.

Fano explained that, with the original product (called Career Agent), there was a group of people who were very clear on what they wanted and saw great success on the platform. But there was also a group of people who were unsure about their career path that Teal was spending a tremendous amount of time and energy on, and they still weren’t seeing success.

“There was something kind of flawed in this model in that the people that want us the most and will pay us for the longest are going to be the least satisfied,” said Fano, adding that Career Agent was built more for job-hopping than helping people who were unemployed find a job. “So we decided to take all the learnings we’ve gotten through Career Agent and understand where things repeat and where there are inefficiencies that don’t get identified on an individual basis. When you do that for many people, you can start to identify those patterns.”

Career Assist is a curriculum that allows cohorts (of 20-30 people) to learn the best possible process for finding and landing a job they want. It includes a four-week workshop (eight classes in total) guided by experts who lead live sessions around everything from writing a resume to how to send in that resume (to the right person) to interview skills.

According to cofounder and CEO Dave Fano, applying for a job through a website is one of the worst things you can do. Instead, applicants should find the head of recruiting or HR and send them a direct email. There are also plenty of tactics, gleaned from the sales playbook, that increase an applicant’s chances of hearing back on an email.

Teal looks not only to give job-seekers a better, more interactive playbook for landing a job, but also pairs its members with other members who are going through the same thing, to offer emotional support and empathy during a time where people desperately need it.

Career Assist was originally launched for free, but has since moved to a paid model, costing users $149 for full access to the four-week program. Since April, more than 200 people have landed new jobs after going through the course.

Fano, a serial entrepreneur who sold his first company, CASE, to WeWork, has a much broader vision for Teal than getting a job. There are many situations over the course of a person’s career where they can benefit from guidance and expertise, such as negotiating contracts, asking for a promotion or a raise, or resigning.

Teal wants to stay with workers throughout the entirety of their career to help them navigate these more challenging situations.

Teal plans on using the funding to continue growing the team, which is currently at 12 people, with a 50/50 split between men and women.

Fano says that one of the greatest challenges for the company is also one of its biggest opportunities. He explained that most people think they need an individual, bespoke career coach because of the general complexity of individual careers.

Fano believes that by combining resources that exist with data from its existing user base, Teal can cover a broader set of situations and circumstances for people than an individual coach may be able to while still being able to give specific advice from this collective data set.

“Building up that data set is one of the bigger challenges, and that’s why these things don’t exist,” said Fano. “But that’s also why we’re taking the approach that we are, focusing on things that don’t scale, and so far we’ve seen that people are very willing to interact with us because we’ve shown we’ve got their best interest at heart.”

He added that the company has no interest in becoming a B2B tool that sells into the HR department, but rather wants to focus on the end-consumer.

Categories: Business News

Trump’s sudden reversal on student visas will be felt in Silicon Valley

2020, July 9 - 12:00am

Growing up in the Philippines, Andreia Carrillo always liked the stars. It’s what brought her to the United States to study astronomy, and why she wants others to follow in her footsteps and study the stars.

“Though, we’ll see if that happens now,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo is one of the hundreds of thousands of students affected by a recent rule change, issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to no longer allow international students from staying in the U.S. if their university moves classes fully online.

The rule change, published Monday, lands as the threat of the coronavirus pandemic grows across the country, forcing some universities to shift to digital-only operations for the fall.

News of the rule change caught immigration lawyers by surprise. The Trump administration said nothing more about the policy beyond a tweet from the president: “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!,” a decision over which the federal government has little authority. It’s a sharp reversal from the administration’s position in March — at the height of the pandemic’s spread in the U.S. — allowing students to retain their lawful immigration status even as in-person classes were suspended across the country.

SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2020

The sudden rule change puts universities in a difficult dynamic: administrators can let campuses stay open to keep international students in the country but run the risk of spreading the virus; or close up, maintain social distancing, and international students be damned.

But the knock-on effect will be felt across the U.S., not just by the students, the universities whose revenue largely depends on higher tuition fees from international students, or even the college towns whose economies rely on schools keeping their doors open. The rule change will also impact the fields that these students pursue, largely engineering, math, and computer science, and the rate of innovation that can be sustained in a country without the core, often invisible, talent behind it.

After all, one of the most popular destinations for international students is the state of California, the heart of Silicon Valley.

Eric Tarczynski, the founder of Contrary Capital, says that he’s seen “scores of entrepreneurial people come to universities from abroad explicitly because it’s their gateway to building a company in the United States.

“To some extent, it’s their Ellis Island, and we’ve funded several companies this way,” he said. He pointed to alternative programs, like Lambda School, will help the same talented students shift online.

New York University president Andrew Hamilton said in response to the government’s rule change that “requiring international students to maintain in person instruction or leave the country, irrespective of their own health issues or even a government mandated shutdown of New York City, is just plain wrong and needlessly rigid.”

“If there were a moment for flexibility in delivering education, this would be it,” he wrote..

NYU will join a chorus of other schools in reaching out to federal officials to ask them to revoke the rule change. Harvard and MIT have gone further by suing ICE to stop the rule change going into effect.

“The coronavirus has become a vehicle for the administration to continue in its advancement of anti-immigrant policies,” Tahmina Watson, an immigration lawyer, told TechCrunch. “With the election looming in a few months, the administration is looking for every possible angle to block immigration.”

“The invisible wall is real and gets higher every day,” said Watson.

One option for schools is going to the hybrid model route where some classes are taught live and others are taught online. Harvard, for example, said it will bring up to only 40% of undergraduates to campus this fall. Universities that go virtual may struggle to justify their traditionally exorbitant tuition fees.

The rule change touches on a nerve that has been agitated throughout the pandemic: how remote education shapes what we can learn, and more importantly, who can have the opportunity to learn. Some have noted that a remote shift might harshly impact international students who have spotty connections in other countries. Others say that higher education’s appeal in the U.S. is largely the network it provides.

In Carrillo’s case, there was no opportunity to study astronomy in the Philippines. She had to come to the U.S. if she wanted to pursue her dream career path.

The rule change is likely to face legal challenges. Watson noted that Monday’s policy has questionable legality. The administration referred to it as a “temporary final rule,” which she says essentially avoids the rule going through a more typical public comment period.

“I am sure schools, among others, would have a lot to say about this policy,” said Watson. “If the administration wants to change long standing policy, the Administrative Procedure Act should be followed at every step.”

The rule, thus, awaits more direction and clarity from the administration. Until then, it is up to colleges and students to figure out how to process the drastic step.

One international student who attends graduate school at University of Washington, who asked to remain anonymous fearing their visa status, said that the rule change puts their research and scholarship at risk if they are forced to go back to their home. If their school opts for a hybrid model, they worry about their health.

“I’ve never felt so disrespected in the United States,” the student said. “If only the international students are required to go back to class, and there is a chance of getting the virus, you’re risking the international students to get infected, they said.

When Carrillo heard the rule change, she said she panicked and emailed her department. To her relief, her current college — the University of Texas, Austin — will take a hybrid approach to classes in the fall. She can stay in the country, for now.

But the news isn’t a complete sigh of relief. International students, like Carrillo, are used to feeling a false sense of security under the Trump administration.

“I feel so shitty for wanting things to be hybrid,” she said. “Morally I want things to be safer and have things online, but then that would also mess up my stay here.”

To create the jobs our economy needs, the US must expand immigration

 

Categories: Business News

Permutive raises $18.5M to help publishers target ads in a new privacy landscape

2020, July 8 - 11:47pm

Permutive is announcing that it has raised $18.5 million in Series B funding, as the London-based startup works to help online publishers make money in a changing privacy landscape.

CEO Joe Root, who co-founded the company with CTO Tim Spratt, noted that publishers are facing increasing regulation, while web browsers are phasing out support for third-party cookies — all good news for privacy advocates, but with a real downside for publisher ad revenue (blocking cookies causes an average 52% decline in ad revenue, according to a Google study last year, though other estimates have been dramatically lower).

Permutive tries to address these issues by allowing publishers to utilize their own first-party data more effectively. Root estimated that without cookies, web visitors break down to 10% who are logged in and authenticated, while 90% are anonymous, and he said, “We use the insight and understanding from that 10% to make predictions about that 90%.”

So from a single anonymous pageview, Permutive can collect 20 or 30 data points about visitor behavior, which it then uses to try to project who that visitor might be and what they might be interested in. Root also noted that the company’s technology relies on edge computing, allowing it to process data more quickly, which is crucial for publishers who may only have a few seconds in which to show a visitor an ad.

If you’re wondering whether this approach has any privacy or regulatory implications of its own, Root suggested Permutive spends “a lot of time making sure we are ideologically aligned with [European privacy regulation] GDPR and ideologically aligned with the browsers.”

Joe Root – Permutive

For one thing, “We don’t believe data should be portable across applications,” which is why Permutive is focused on helping publishers use their own data. For another, Root said Permutive is committed to “the destruction of identity in the adtech ecosystem.”

“Using data isn’t a problem — it’s when you attach data to an identity,” he added. So without identity, “Instead of saying, ‘Here is an ad for Anthony, look up everything you know from Anthony,’ we say, ‘Here is an ad for a user interested in tech media.’ One model leaks data and the other doesn’t.”

Root also suggested that these shifts will allow ad dollars to move back to the premium publishers who have more engagement with and data from their readers — publishers who he argued have “up until now funded the long tail” with their cookie-based data.

This approach is reflected in the publishers Permutive already works with, including BuzzFeed, Penske, The Financial Times, The Guardian, Business Insider, The Daily Telegraph, The Economist, Bell Media, News UK and MailOnline.

Founded in 2014, Permutive previously raised $11.5 million, according to Crunchbase. The Series B was led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from EQT Ventures and previous investors.

“Today, Permutive is the U.K. category leader in its field and is beating billion-dollar global businesses on a consistent basis in trial processes,” said Will Gibbs of Octopus Ventures in a statement. “The team has hired many incredible people and is now ready to replicate the success seen in the U.K. in the U.S. Given the evolving regulatory and customer priorities, Permutive’s technology could be genuinely pioneering in its field.”

The startup is also announcing that it has hired Aly Nurmohamed (former global managing director for publisher partners at Criteo) as its general manager for publishing and Steve Francolla (former head of global publisher strategy at LiveRamp) as head of partnerships.

Google wants to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome within two years

Categories: Business News

Ahead, a platform that connects psychiatrists with patients, raises $9 million

2020, July 8 - 11:15pm

In 2015, Andy Rink debuted Lully at a Y Combinator demo day. The product was meant to help children overcome night terrors. Lully had plans to launch into new markets, such as bed wetting, but clinical trials found that the new products simply weren’t effective enough for the company to feel comfortable launching, resulting in the company winding down and returning money to investors.

Today, Rink is onto his next big project: Ahead, a startup aimed at connecting patients with psychiatrists. It just got $9 million in funding led by Truepill.

Ahead is a platform that looks to help patients suffering from ADHD, depression and anxiety get the medical assistance they need through a combination of telehealth and in-person visits with providers. The company has its own clinics, and employs its healthcare providers as full-time employees.

While most telehealth platforms contract out their HCPs, Ahead believes that it’s in the best interest of both the providers and the patients to bring HCPs in house.

“We really care about the patient experience, and we care about having providers who really buy into our vision,” said Rink. “We think the best way to get a mental health condition treated is by having a close relationship with your provider. So, even though it’s more difficult, we’ve taken the stance of hiring only full-time providers to really deliver on that.”

Ahead focuses primarily on the psychiatrist-patient relationship for conditions that are often treated with medication, rather than talk therapy. Ahead currently has one psychologist on staff for therapy and has plans to expand into that category, but has initially focused on psychiatry, alongside a mix of nurse practitioners and physicians assistants.

Ahead is also partnered with Truepill, its main investor, to offer a tightly integrated prescription delivery service for free to patients. Ahead offers a patient portal that allows users to see their prescription and get delivery times, and soon the company will launch the ability to request refills through that portal.

The company onboards patients in a 12-minute online process that includes a patient questionnaire. From there, Ahead sends the patient a list of HCPs in their area, along with some background information about those providers, giving the patient the ability to choose who they’d like to be paired with. If all goes well, that patient is always paired with that same provider through the duration of their experience.

[gallery ids="2013007,2013008,2013009"]

The company does not currently accept insurance for visits with HCPs, but insurance can be applied toward medication costs. The first visit with an Ahead doctor is $275, and the price goes down for follow-up visits.

Ahead did 1,100 patient visits last month, with 15 healthcare providers on staff full-time and a total team of 33 people. Nearly 40% of employees are male, with nearly 60% female. The company said that all employees selected “unspecified” for race, so Ahead doesn’t have data to share publicly in that regard.

The company sees a real competitive advantage in the landscape by having physical clinics. With ADHD as the company’s primary focus, the company is able to treat the condition via medication, which requires at least one in-person visit before prescribing medicine.

Rink cites hiring as the greatest challenge for the company.

“We could take the approach of letting anybody that wants to work here walk in the door and start seeing patients, but we want to do it the right way,” said Rink. “We want to hire providers that are empathetic and caring and that the patients will love working with. As you know, mental health care is in high demand right now, so these providers have had a lot of offers and it’s hard to hire fast enough to meet our demand.”

Categories: Business News

As media revenue struggles, subscription startups see growth

2020, July 8 - 11:13pm

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been a friend to the media business. Its economic impacts slashed advertising budgets, diminishing a key revenue plank for many publications. The results of falling ad spend have been felt across the industry, with a wave of layoffs hitting publications large and small, niche and general.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, and now you can receive it in your inbox. Sign up for The Exchange newsletter, which drops every Friday starting July 24.

Other forms of publisher income, like events, have also been reduced. But the pain of 2020’s media downturn hasn’t been felt equally in the industry. Publications that had built subscription revenue bases were in a better position to weather declines in other media incomes than peers who hadn’t; revenue diversification can provide real shelter when the economy rapidly shifts.

Subscription incomes are not enough for publications to avoid all pain; The Atlantic’s subscription base famously surged during the early months of COVID-19, but the company still saw layoffs. The Athletic’s subscription business was predicated on sports events taking place — it too underwent cuts despite a membership-first model.

In this era, the healthiest publications tend to have a subscription component. The paywalled New York Times and Wall Street Journal are hiring, as is Business Insider, which launched a membership service in 2017. But not all subscription publications that are succeeding are large. Indeed, thanks to a growing set of publisher-friendly subscription services, there are a number of options in the market for supporting publications as small as a single author.

Perhaps most famously, Substack has seen good growth in the last year. The venture-backed newsletter-and-blogging service provides authors with the ability to charge for their writing. But other startups are competing in the space, helping publications derive more income directly from readers.

Pico, which provides paid-subscription tooling for publishers, has seen strong growth in the COVID-19 era. TechCrunch caught up with its co-founder Jason Bade to chat about what his company has seen in recent months. A few months ahead of COVID-19’s arrival, publishing platform Ghost launched its paid subscription product into beta. TechCrunch asked Ghost about the reception, and growth of the membership portion of its business to better understand today’s media market.

What emerges from data and conversations concerning the startup-supported media membership landscape is something hopeful. Some writers are going to build micro-pubs that can finance their existence. Larger publications have never had more available help to wean their businesses off of ads, pageviews and Google’s favor.

Categories: Business News

Nauta Capital launches fifth fund with €120M to back early-stage European B2B startups

2020, July 8 - 11:10pm

Nauta Capital, the pan-European venture capital firm that invests in B2B technology startups at seed and Series A, is launching its fifth fund.

The new vehicle has an initial close of €120 million and is expected to surpass the VC’s 2016 fund, which topped out at €155 million.

With offices in London, Barcelona and Munich, Nauta Capital has over half a billion under management and is supported by a team of 24 people, making it one of Europe’s largest B2B-focused VCs. The firm invests in companies mainly based in the U.K., Spain and Germany, as well as those based in other continental European countries with plans to significantly increase their presence in one of its key geographical hubs.

Describing itself as “sector-agnostic,” Nauta Capital’s main areas of interest include B2B SaaS solutions with “strong network effects,” vertically focused enterprise tech that is attempting to transform large industries, and deep tech applications that solve an array of challenges faced by large enterprises. More broadly, it says it targets “capital-efficient” B2B software companies.

In total, Nauta has led investments in more than 50 companies. They include Brandwatch, a U.K. digital consumer intelligence company with $100 million ARR; Onna, a knowledge integration platform that unifies workplace knowledge platforms for the likes of Facebook and Dropbox; PromoteIQ, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2019; zenloop, a Berlin-based experience management platform; and MishiPay, a mobile self-checkout technology.

LPs in this fifth fund’s first close include both existing and new investors from continental Europe and America. They span fund of funds, financial institutions, insurance companies and large family offices that lead large corporates with “strong synergies” with Nauta’s portfolio.

“We have doubled the first close compared to our 2016 fund in record time against a backdrop of a global pandemic,” says Carles Ferrer, Nauta’s London-based general partner, in a statement. “With more than 80% of the contributions received from existing LPs, we are humbled to see that our thesis has resonated with so many of our current LPs who have joined us again.”

That thesis has seen Nauta have the discipline to back companies that take a leaner approach, including during fundraising or leveraging cash efficiently to achieve growth, according to Ferrer. “At a time when we are navigating a global pandemic, where the global economy has taken a severe hit, it’s more apparent than ever that our conviction in capital-efficiency maximises sustainability and leads to greater long-term outcomes for entrepreneurs, regardless of their stage,” he says.

Meanwhile, Nauta is disclosing that the first company to be backed from its new fund is NumberEight, which has raised a $2.3 million seed round led by the VC. Based in the U.K., NumberEight offers a “contextual intelligence” platform for mobile devices that predicts consumer context to “enable the delivery of the right content at the right time,” while claiming to preserve user privacy by not sending or storing sensor data beyond the user’s device.

“The startup leverages advanced context recognition and on-device AI techniques to predict more than 100 contextual signals, such as “travelling to work on a bicycle,” thus providing mobile apps with real-time behavioural and situational consumer insights,” explains Nauta.

Nauta Capital launches €55M ‘sidecar’ fund to double-down on its later-stage portfolio

Categories: Business News

Slack snags corporate directory startup Rimeto to up its people search game

2020, July 8 - 11:02pm

For the second time in less than 24 hours, an enterprise company bought an early-stage startup. Yesterday afternoon DocuSign acquired Liveoak, and this morning Slack announced it was buying corporate directory startup Rimeto, which should help employees find people inside the organization who match a specific set of criteria from inside Slack.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

Rimeto helps companies build directories to find employees beyond using tools like Microsoft Active Directory, homegrown tools or your corporate email program. When we covered the company’s $10 million Series A last year, we described what it brings to directories this way:

Rimeto has developed a richer directory by sitting between various corporate systems like HR, CRM and other tools that contain additional details about the employee. It of course includes a name, title, email and phone like the basic corporate system, but it goes beyond that to find areas of expertise, projects the person is working on and other details that can help you find the right person when you’re searching the directory.

In the build versus buy equation that companies balance all the time, it looks like Slack weighed the pros and cons and decided to buy. You could see how a tool like this would be useful to Slack as people try to build teams of employees, especially in a world where so many are working from home.

While the current Slack people search tool lets you search by name, role or team, Rimeto should give users a much more robust way of searching for employees across the company. You can search for the right person to help you with a particular problem and get much more granular with your search requirements than the current tool allows.

Image Credit: Rimeto

At the time of its funding announcement, the company, which was founded in 2016 by three former Facebook employees, told TechCrunch it had bootstrapped for the first three years before taking the $10 million investment last year. It also reported it was cash-flow positive at the time, which is pretty unusual for an early-stage enterprise SaaS company.

In a company blog post announcing the deal, as is typical in these deals, the founders saw being part of a larger organization as a way to grow more quickly than they could have alone. “Joining Slack is a special opportunity to accelerate Rimeto’s mission and impact with greater reach, expanded resources, and the support of Slack’s impressive global team,” the founders wrote in the post.

The acquisition is part of a continuing trend around enterprise companies buying early-stage startups to fill in holes in their product road maps.

Rimeto lands $10M Series A to modernize the corporate directory

Categories: Business News

SetSail raises raises $7M to change how sales teams are compensated

2020, July 8 - 10:00pm

Most sales teams earn a commission after a sale closes, but nothing prior to that. Yet there are a variety of signals along the way that indicate the sales process is progressing, and SetSail, a startup from some former Google engineers, is using machine learning to figure out what those signals are, and how to compensate salespeople as they move along the path to a sale, not just after they close the deal.

Today, the startup announced a $7 million investment led by Wing Venture Capital with help from Operator Collective and Team8. Under the terms of the deal, Leyla Seka from Operator will be joining the board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $11 million, according to the company.

CEO and co-founder Haggai Levi says his company is based on the idea that commission alone is not a good way to measure sales success, and that it is in fact a lagging indicator. “We came up with a different approach. We use machine learning to create progress-based incentives,” Levi explained.

To do that they rely on machine learning to discover the signals that are coming from the customer that indicate that the deal is moving forward, and using a points system, companies can begin compensating reps on hitting these milestones, even before the sale closes.

The seeds for the idea behind SetSail were planted years ago when the three founders were working at Google tinkering with ways to motivate sales reps beyond pure commission. From a behavioral perspective, Levi and his co-founders found that reps were taking fewer risks with a pure commission approach and they wanted to find a way to change that. The incremental compensation system achieves that.

“If I’m closing the deal, I’m getting my commission. If I’m not closing the deal, I’m getting nothing. That means from a behavioral point of view, I would take the shortest path to win a deal, and I would take the minimum risk possible. So if there’s a competitive situation I will try to avoid that,” he said.

They look at things like appointments, emails and call transcripts. The signals will vary by customer. One may find an appointment with CIO is a good signal a deal is on the right trajectory, but to avoid having reps gaming the system by filling the CRM with the kinds of positive signals the company is looking for, they only rely on objective data, rather than any kind of self-reporting information from reps themselves.

The team eventually built a system like this inside Google, and in 2018, left to build a solution for the rest of the world that does something similar.

As the company grows, Levi says he is building a diverse team, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it simply makes good business sense. “The reality is that we’re building a product for a diverse audience, and if we don’t have a diverse team we would never be able to build the right product,” he explained.

The company’s unique approach to sales compensation is resonating with customers like Dropbox, Lyft and Pendo, who are looking for new ways to motivate sales teams, especially during a pandemic when there may be a longer sales cycle. This kind of system provides a way to compensate sales teams more incrementally and reward positive approaches that have proven to result in sales.

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