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UK’s Farewill raises $25M for its new approach online will writing, funerals and other death services

2020, July 8 - 6:15pm

The daily updates on COVID-19 outbreaks, tragic stories of related fatalities, and our narrowed scope of life due to lockdown have all put the concept of mortality — and for some the sad business of actually dealing with a death — squarely into focus for many people. Today, a startup that’s building out a suite of services related to that is announcing a round of funding on the back of a boost of growth in business.

Farewill, a UK startup that provides a platform for people write online wills, organise probate services (such as sorting out death duties and taxes on a person’s property) and order cremations, has raised £20 million ($25 million) in funding — money that it hopes will not only help the company grow its business but also to help in the process of coping with our own deaths and those of our loved ones.

“We want to help by destigmatising death,” said Farewill CEO Dan Garrett in an interview about the complexity of the proposition. “We all have to face death. It lives inside everyone. But for most of us, we are psychologically hardwired not to think about it, and as a process people have been largely at the behest of an industry that doesn’t think about its customers.”

The name is, as you may have guessed, a play on farewell. “Think of the pun, and you can start the company,” Garrett said with the hint of wryness in his voice that I’m not sure you can avoid at the moment, especially given the subject.

The round is being led by Highland Europe, with Keen Ventures, Rich Pierson of Headspace, Broadhaven Ventures, Venture Founders and previous investors Augmentum Fintech, Taavet Hinrikus of TransferWise and Kindred Capital also participating. It’s being described as a venture round — a Series A of just under $10 million was closed in January 2019 — and brings the total raised by Farewill to £30 million.

Farewill is currently only live in the UK but longer term has plans to expand to more countries. In its home market, Garrett (who co-founded the company with university friend Tom Rogers, who is the CTO and CPO) says that in the five years that Farewill has been operational, it’s become the biggest will writer in the country in what is a quite fragmented market: the startup accounts for one out of every 10 wills written, or a 10% market share.

The cremation funeral and probate services are more recent launches from December 2019. But even so, given the current state of play with lockdown, social distancing and sadly the rise in actual deaths, they too have seen a lot of activity.

Garrett said that Farewill’s cremation service, where the order for cremation and other details are all carried out online and costs on average one-fifth of the typical funeral — the idea being that families can then choose how to memorialise after that process, bypassing that more traditional funeral option — is now the third/fourth-biggest cremation provider in the country. It’s not all about the last few months, however: overall growth for the startup, he added, was 800% last year (before COVID-19) on a revenue basis.

Death by design

Just as death is not an easy topic for most people, it’s a complicated one for a startup to “disrupt.” Farewill’s origin story, in that context, is an interesting one.

Garrett — who studied engineering at Oxford as an undergraduate — said the the idea came to him while doing postgraduate work on a joint degree between Imperial College and the Royal College of Art on design and innovation.

He came into the degree with a lot of big ideas, inspired by companies like Airbnb. “There is just so much potential for design-led companies,” he said of his thinking at the time.

One of the remits that the course cohort was given, he said, was to think about the broader concept of aging and services to address that. As part of the course, he travelled to Japan — which has its own specific reverence for ageing and the death process — and based himself at an old people’s home in Tokyo for six months along with “a team of enthnographers and anthropologists.”

He came out of that with an insight he didn’t expect, he recalled. “I felt that at the end of my six months there, I’d failed in my role as a designer,” he said. “All we focused was on the superficiality of ageing: how can we make better cutlery, or beds or seating that helped them move around? It was all about mobility and the physical aspects. But what we didn’t get close to talking about was that most of these people were facing their mortality. And in care homes, you don’t have friends or family around.”

In other words, physical details and making life more manageable or enjoyable are fine, but Garrett didn’t feel that they got to the heart of the matter.

“To my mind, if you’re a designer, your responsibility is to get to the bottom of whatever the issue is,” he said. His dissertation, about dementia care, raised questions not about cutlery per se but person-centered approaches. “So much of it is about physical amelioration, not psychological aspects.”

So when he returned to the UK, he set to work trying to understand what he describes collectively as “the death industry.”

He spent two months doing “mystery shopping” (again, his term), regularly visiting funeral directors, saying he was coming to discuss a death — a hypothetical one, not a real one — to understand what process people went through when they walked through the door to arrange a real funeral. He made 20 or so trips like this, a number I’m guessing he might have thought twice about giving me after I gasped a little as he spoke.

“I made sure I didn’t waste too much of their time,” he said, in response.

(And it should be said here that he — and Farewill — have also tried to embody a transparent and ethical approach in the work throughout, which has also included making it easier to designate pledged legacy income in wills — that is, donations to causes. The aim is to reach £1 billion in pledged legacy income by 2023, with over £200 million raised so far and the numbers accelerating.)

He then also got a qualification in will writing and started offering services to his friends (free) who needed help to go through the probate process — which involves sorting out death duties, organising personal effects and the estate and so on.

All that hands-on experience was important, he said, to get to grips with what he wanted to build.

“I may have three masters degrees, but I am terrible at learning without actually doing something,” he said.

One big conclusion Garrett found was that the death industry is large and complicated, not least because of the subject matter, but also because it had no technical innovation at all around it.

“There is this profound human aversion to dealing with death, and that is a brilliant design challenge,” he said.

Indeed, like it or not, death is always around us, and perhaps particularly right now.

In the US — itself home to a number of startups focusing on death-related services — will writing companies have seen huge spikes in their business in the last several months. And even with the economic slowdown much of the globe is now seeing as a result of COVID-19, death care services (which don’t include will writing but everything after death), is projected to be a $102 billion industry globally this year.

It’s numbers like that, and Farewill’s execution in what it is doing, that has attracted investors.

“How about entirely removing the administrative pain for those grieving for their loved ones? How about providing an affordable, effortless and considerate service? That’s what the Farewill team is doing – with an extraordinary blend of compassion and tech-fueled efficiency,” said Stan Laurent, Partner at Highland Europe in a statement. “For too long, the wills and funeral industry has been largely geared towards profit over purpose. Since our first meeting with Dan, we knew that Farewill had the ingredients to radically disrupt the industry. We’re excited to back them as they broaden their ambition.”

“Farewill has made phenomenal progress since our initial investment 18 months ago,” added Tim Levene, CEO of Augmentum Fintech, in a statement. “They have grown by 10x and launched a suite of successful new products. This additional capital will provide further opportunity for the company to innovate an archaic industry, and become the leading digital platform in death services.”

(Farewill also recently won a Europa award for its contribution to social innovation.)

Categories: Business News

Enterprise architecture software company LeanIX raises $80M Series D

2020, July 8 - 4:00pm

LeanIX, the enterprise architecture software company founded out of Bonn in Germany, has closed $80 million in Series D funding. The round is led by new investor Goldman Sachs Growth. Previous investors Insight Partners and DTCP also followed on.

The Series D brings LeanIX’s total funding to over $120 million. The company says it will use the investment to continue international growth and to further develop its complementary solutions for cloud governance. In the last 12 months, LeanIX has opened new offices in Hyderabad (India), Munich (Germany) and Utrecht (Netherlands), and now has 230 employees worldwide (up from 80 when we last covered the company).

Founded in 2012, LeanIX operates in the enterprise architecture space and its SaaS might well be described as a “Google Maps for IT architectures”. The software lets enterprises map out all of the legacy software or modern SaaS that the organisation is run on. This includes creating meta data on things like what business process it is used for or capable of supporting, what tech powers it, which teams are using or have access to it, as well as how the different architecture fits together.

The idea is that enterprises not only have a better handle on all of the software from different vendors they are buying in, including how that differs or might be better utilised across distributed teams, but can also act in a more nimble way in terms of how they adopt new solutions or decommission legacy ones.

“Many well-known enterprises have successfully restarted their EA initiative with LeanIX,” says André Christ, LeanIX CEO and co-founder (pictured). “Due to its high usability and seamless integrations with other data sources, fast-growing businesses like Atlassian, Dropbox, and Mimecast have also kick-started their EA practices”.

Image Credits: LeanIX

To that end, LeanIX says it is currently working with 300 international customers and achieved 100% revenue growth in 2019. Specifically, 39% of total sales are generated in the U.S. market, and 57% in its home market of Europe.

Comments Christian Resch, Managing Director Goldman Sachs Growth, in a statement: “LeanIX is a thought leader in Enterprise Architecture. We were impressed by its strong revenue growth, the positive customer feedback and the company’s visionary concept: LeanIX develops software solutions to reduce complexity in IT application landscapes. Importantly, LeanIX’s software helps companies with their transition to, and maintenance of, both the cloud and modern microservices architecture”.

Alexander Lippert, Vice President at Goldman Sachs Growth, will join LeanIX’s board of directors.

Categories: Business News

Extra Crunch support expands into Argentina, Brazil and Mexico

2020, July 8 - 5:15am

We’re excited to announce that Extra Crunch is now available to readers in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. That adds to our existing support in the U.S., Canada, UK, and select European countries.

You can sign for Extra Crunch here.

Latin America has always caught the eye of big tech. For companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Uber, Latin America has represented a massive growth opportunity. But it’s not just big tech that’s investing in Latin America. The startup scene is booming. According to Crunchbase, VCs invested billions into Latin America in 2018 and 2019.

In 2018, the TechCrunch team took a trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil to host Startup Battlefield Latin America. We knew about the hot startup scene and massive investments, and wanted to meet the founders fueling the fire in person.

The excitement, wit, creativity, and energy of the entrepreneurs in Latin America was impressive. We were dazzled by the pitches from budding startup teams, and we were enlightened by the investors sharing their wealth of knowledge about the ecosystem. What we saw in person helped us tie the funding to the faces of the teams building the future. The entrepreneurial mentality of Silicon Valley doesn’t have borders; it’s alive and well across Latin America.

We wanted to bring Extra Crunch to Latin America to help support the startups and investors in this market because community has always been our top priority. We hope that Extra Crunch’s deep analysis and company building resources will help the Latin America tech community grow even stronger than it is today.

We’ve been polling our audience about expanded country support for over a year now, and Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have always been near the top of the list. Now, we’re delivering on the promise to bring Extra Crunch to everyone that asked for it.

We’re optimistic that Extra Crunch will be a big hit in Latin America, and we hope entrepreneurs and investors in the region who have not yet heard of TechCrunch will give it a try.

You can sign for Extra Crunch here.

What is Extra Crunch?

Extra Crunch is a membership program from TechCrunch that features research and reporting, reader utilities, and savings on software services and events. We deliver over 100 exclusive articles per month, with a focus on startup teams and investors.

Our weekly Extra Crunch investor surveys will help members find out where startup investors plan to write their next checks. Extra Crunch subscribers will be able to build a company better with how-tos and interviews from experts on fundraising, growth, monetization and other key work topics. Readers can also learn about the best startups through our IPO analysis, late-stage deep dives and other exclusive reporting delivered daily.

Here’s a taste of the articles you can expect to see in Extra Crunch:

Beyond articles, Extra Crunch also features a series of reader utilities and discounts to help save time and money. This includes an exclusive newsletter, no banner ads on TechCrunch.com, Rapid Read mode, List Builder tool and more. Committing to an annual or two-year Extra Crunch membership will unlock discounts on TechCrunch events and access to Partner Perks. Our Partner Perks can help you save on services like AWS, Brex, Canva, DocSend, Zendesk and more.

Thanks to all of our readers who voted on where to expand support for Extra Crunch, and thanks to all that participated in the Extra Crunch Beta in Latin America. If you haven’t voted and you want to see Extra Crunch in your local country, let us know here. We’re actively working on expanding support to more countries, and input from readers is greatly appreciated.

You can sign up or learn more about Extra Crunch here.

Categories: Business News

DocuSign acquires Liveoak Technologies for $38M for online notarization

2020, July 8 - 5:07am

Even in the best of times, finding a notary can be a challenge. In the middle of a pandemic, it’s even more difficult. DocuSign announced it has acquired Liveoak Technologies today for approximately $38 million, giving the company an online notarization option.

At the same time, DocuSign announced a new product called DocuSign Notary, which should ease the notary requirement by allowing it to happen online along with the eSignature. As we get deeper into the pandemic, companies like DocuSign that allow workflows to happen completely digitally are in more demand than ever. This new product will be available for early access later in the summer.

The deal made sense given that the two companies had a partnership already. Liveoak brings together live video, collaboration tooling and identity verification that enables parties to get notarized approval as though you were sitting at the desk in front of the notary.

Typically, you might get a document that requires your signature. Without electronic signature, you would need to print it, sign the document, scan it and return it. If it requires a notary, you would need to sign it in the notary’s presence, which requires an in-person visit. All of this can be streamlined with an online workflow, which DocuSign is providing with this acquisition.

It’s like the perfect pandemic acquisition, making a manual process digital and saving people from having to make face-to-face transactions at a time when it can be dangerous.

Liveoak Technologies was founded in 2014 and is part of the Austin, Texas startup scene. The company raised just under $28 million during its life as a private company. The firm most recently raised $8 million at a post-money valuation of $30.4 million, according to PitchBook data. Given the amount that DocuSign paid for the startup, it appears to have gotten a bargain.

This acquisition is part of a growing pandemic acquisition trend of sorts, where larger public enterprise companies are plucking early-stage startups, in some cases for relatively bargain prices. Among the recent acquisitions are Apple buying Fleetsmith and ServiceNow acquiring Sweagle last month.

DocuSign acquires Seal Software for $188M to enhance its AI chops

Categories: Business News

Dear Sophie: What does the new online classes rule mean for F-1 students?

2020, July 8 - 3:48am
Sophie Alcorn Contributor Share on Twitter Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives. More posts by this contributor

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie:

One of our founders is currently in the U.S. on an F-1 STEM OPT. Our company is sponsoring her for an H-1B visa, and we recently received an RFE.

What does yesterday’s F-1 visa international student immigration announcement mean for her? Is the H-1B going to be denied? Do we need a backup? What should we do?

—Concerned in Cupertino

Dear Concerned:

To find out if an F-1 student is affected by the Trump administration’s international student ban, watch my latest YouTube Live. For more on the H-1B visa ban, please read last week’s Dear Sophie column.

International students have been allowed to take online classes during the spring and summer due to the COVID-19 crisis, but that will end this fall. The new order will force many international students at schools that are only offering remote online classes to find an “immigration plan B” or depart the U.S. before the fall term to avoid being deported.

At many top universities, international students make up more than 20% of the student body. According to NAFSA, international students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy and supported or created 458,000 jobs during the 2018-2019 academic year. Apparently, the current administration is continuing to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” when it comes to immigration.

Universities are scrambling as they struggle with this newfound untenable bind. Do they stay online only to keep their students safe and force their international students to leave their homes in this country? Or do they reopen to save their students from deportation, but put their communities’ health at risk?

For students, it means finding another school, scrambling to figure out a way to depart the States (when some home countries will not even allow them to return), or figuring out an “immigration plan B.” Yesterday’s video explores F-1 visa alternatives.

Fortunately, since your co-founder is on OPT, I don’t think the latest F-1 restrictions will affect her based on my initial reading of the tiny bit of info that trickled out of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) yesterday and the slightly broader SEVIS broadcast message guidance for schools. (“For the fall 2020 semester, continuing F and M students who are already in the United States may remain in Active status in SEVIS if they make normal progress in a program of study, or are engaged in approved practical training, either as part of a program of study or following completion of a program of study.”)

On the RFE front, I don’t know if it’s any comfort, but you’re definitely not alone: The percentage of H-1B petitioners that receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) has nearly doubled since 2016. Nearly 21% of petitioners received an RFE in fiscal year 2016 compared to more than 40% in 2019. During the first two quarters of the current fiscal year, 41% of all H-1B petitions received an RFE. Check out my podcast because we’ll be covering RFEs, Requests for Initial Evidence (RFIEs) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs) soon.

Just to be totally clear in answer to your first question: No, getting an RFE does not mean your H-1B application is more likely to be denied. In fact, an RFE offers a final opportunity to strengthen your petition for approval. Because the stakes are so high, I recommend consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer when crafting a response to an RFE.

Make sure U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your response to the RFE by the deadline printed on the RFE. Last week, USCIS extended its deadlines: The deadline for RFEs issued between March 1 and Sept. 11 is automatically extended by 60 calendar days after the due date due to the COVID-19 crisis and the budget shortfall facing the agency. If your response is not received by the deadline, USCIS will deny your company’s H-1B petition.

You always want to make sure you understand exactly what additional evidence USCIS is seeking from you. Check your original application package to make sure that the requested document or evidence was not included. Sometimes, USCIS mistakenly overlooks information already submitted. If that’s the case, resubmit the requested document in your response package. If you can’t provide a requested document, explain why and provide alternative evidence if possible. Otherwise, provide the document or evidence as requested.

Among the top reasons why USCIS issues an RFE are for failing to show that the position qualifies as a specialty occupation or that a valid employer-employee relationship exists. If the RFE you received is for either of these reasons, here’s a quick reminder of what USCIS is seeking for each requirement.

To qualify for an H-1B visa, your petition must have demonstrated to USCIS that the position sought by the international professional is a specialty occupation. You should have provided evidence that the job requires the understanding and application of highly specialized knowledge and that it usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree — or equivalent experience — in a particular specialty. In recent years, USCIS has narrowed its interpretation of what qualifies as a specialty occupation. For instance, it no longer considers computer programming to be a specialty occupation. USCIS has also challenged positions that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and positions with titles such as computer systems analyst, financial analyst, market research analyst and human resources manager.

Making the case that an employer-employee relationship exists is tricky when it involves a founder working for the company she helped create. An employer must demonstrate that it will control the work of the H-1B beneficiary. For founders, that means someone at the company — either the board of directors or a co-founder — would have to supervise the H-1B beneficiary and have the authority to fire the individual. There are lots of ways to set this up properly.

Once all the evidence and documents required to respond to the RFE are ready, they should all be submitted together in a single response package with the original copy of the RFE as the first page. Save a copy of the response package for your records and send the response to the correct location using tracking and proof of delivery options.

Given that U.S. embassies and consulates abroad have stopped issuing visas and green cards under the executive proclamations issued on April 22 and June 22 and due to the ongoing COVID-19-related travel restrictions, your co-founder should remain in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

For long-term immigration security for your co-founder, your startup should consider sponsoring her for one of the following green cards if she qualifies:

  • EB-1A green card for individuals with exceptional ability.
  • EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card, which is ideal for startup founders.
  • EB-2 green card for individuals with an advanced degree or exceptional ability, which requires a time-consuming PERM labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • EB-5 investor green card, for which your company could provide your co-founder with the investment funds for this option.

Apparently the Trump administration is not yet done with its efforts to further restrict legal immigration. They are taking a look at whether individuals currently in the U.S. on H-1B visas, as well as EB-2 green cards and EB-3 green cards limit opportunities for U.S. workers. Further restrictions or even expanded moratoriums may be put into place. Of course, I’ll cover it all here if and when it happens.

Let me know if you have more specific questions about an RFE. Good luck!

—Sophie

Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Categories: Business News

‘No code’ will define the next generation of software

2020, July 8 - 3:36am
Alex Nichols Contributor Share on Twitter Alex Nichols is a vice president at CapitalG, Alphabet's independent growth fund, where he focuses on growth stage investments in software. Jesse Wedler Contributor Share on Twitter Jesse Wedler is a partner at CapitalG, Alphabet's independent growth fund, where he focuses on growth stage investments in software.

It seems like every software funding and product announcement these days includes some sort of reference to “no code” platforms or functionality. The frequent callbacks to this buzzy term reflect a realization that we’re entering a new software era.

Similar to cloud, no code is not a category itself, but rather a shift in how users interface with software tools. In the same way that PCs democratized software usage, APIs democratized software connectivity and the cloud democratized the purchase and deployment of software, no code will usher in the next wave of enterprise innovation by democratizing technical skill sets. No code is empowering business users to take over functionality previously owned by technical users by abstracting complexity and centering around a visual workflow. This profound generational shift has the power to touch every software market and every user across the enterprise.

The average enterprise tech stack has never been more complex

In a perfect world, all enterprise applications would be properly integrated, every front end would be shiny and polished, and internal processes would be efficient and automated. Alas, in the real world, engineering and IT teams spend a disproportionate share of their time fighting fires in security, fixing internal product bugs and running vendor audits. These teams are bursting at the seams, spending an estimated 30% of their resources building and maintaining internal tools, torpedoing productivity and compounding technical debt.

Seventy-two percent of IT leaders now say project backlogs prevent them from working on strategic projects. Hiring alone can’t solve the problem. The demand for technical talent far outpaces supply, as demonstrated by the fact that six out of 10 CIOs expect skills shortages to prevent their organizations from keeping up with the pace of change.

At the same time that IT and engineering teams are struggling to maintain internal applications, business teams keep adding fragmented third-party tools to increase their own agility. In fact, the average enterprise is supporting 1,200 cloud-based applications at any given time. Lacking internal support, business users bring in external IT consultants. Cloud promised easy as-needed software adoption with seamless integration, but the realities of quickly changing business needs have led to a roaring comeback of expensive custom software.

Categories: Business News

With partnerships at major children’s hospitals, Manatee seeks clinical validation of its CBT-based app

2020, July 8 - 3:08am

When Manatee founder Damayanti Dipayana’s brother was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the family took all the steps to ensure that he was properly cared for. All of the things that could have been an obstacle to getting treatment weren’t for Dipayana’s family.

A comfortably middle class background, a supportive family and ready access to care were all available, but still the therapy didn’t take. For Dipayana, it was witnessing the breakdown between the care provided at sessions and the differences in treatment at home that led her to create Manatee.

“Therapy just sucks for kids,” Dipayana said. “My brother hated it. It can’t be the best thing for children to put them in a room with an adult and have them talk about their problems for an hour.”

Now the graduate from Techstars Los Angeles has $1.5 million in funding from investors including the Michigan-based investment firm Grand Ventures; Telosity, a fund launched by Vinaj Ventures & Innovation that invests in companies improving children’s and young adults’ mental health; and the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact. Manatee will pursue clinical validation for its suite of apps and services to provide a continuum of care for children with cognitive and behavioral disorders. 

Beginning with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Manatee has started a trial with 10 clinicians and 50 families to evaluate the commercial use case for Dipayana’s service.

The first targets for care are anxiety and oppositional disorder, Dapayana said.

Image credit: Manatee

“I really want to focus on children. From a social [return on investment] perspective it seems insane to me that we don’t invest more in the early well-being of children,” said Dipayana. “If we did, then we probably wouldn’t have to deal with a ballooning juvenile detention system.”

From the company’s earliest days the stars seemed to align for Dipayana. She found her technical co-founder, Shawn Kuenzler, thanks to a post on AngelList. A veteran in the health tech startup world, Kuenzler ran engineering at Health Language and Zen Planner and has two exits under his belt. If that wasn’t serendipitous enough, Kuenzler’s wife is a clinical psychologist.

The two Denver-based entrepreneurs then took their startup on the road to the Techstars Los Angeles accelerator. It was there that they were introduced to contacts at companies including Headspace and LA Children’s Hospital that are paving the way for clinical validation of digitally delivered cognitive behavioral healthcare.

“We’re going to spend money and resources on launching our research with Children’s LA to understand the impact for a health system,” Dipayana said. “We position it as everyday therapy for kids. We provide the platform for providers to make it the day-to-day therapy for kids.” 

Manatee sells its services directly to healthcare systems to ensure that it can reach the broadest population of users rather than just ones who could afford to access the company’s app-based offerings. Doctors use Manatee as a clinical dashboard and way to communicate to both a child and their family around care plans and treatment.

“I thought about this really long and hard… Looking from my personal experience. Parents and families that have kids with autism… there’s so much snake oil that gets pushed down their throat that they’ll try anything,” Dipayana said. “It was very important to me that I understand the clinical workflow and understood how the workforce manages behavioral healthcare and whether the work we were doing was valuable.”

Categories: Business News

Kerry Washington is coming to Disrupt 2020

2020, July 8 - 2:49am

Kerry Washington’s fingerprints are all over Hollywood. The Emmy, SAG and Golden Globe-nominated actor, director and producer has touched myriad projects, from her role as Olivia Pope on “Scandal” (where she was the first African American woman since 1974 to headline a network drama) to her production of Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere” and Netflix’s “American Son” (she starred in both, as well). And let’s not forget her many director credits, including on “SMILF,” “Scandal,” and “Insecure.”

But Washington is much, much more than a Hollywood superstar.

She’s gotten deeper into the tech realm over the past few years, and not only by writing a check.

Washington participated in the $75 million investment in The Wing, a members’ only coworking space for women. She also invested in Community, the platform that gives stars and celebrities a more direct connection with their fans (you can “text” her using the number in her Twitter bio) and she invested in Byte, a D2C teeth-straightening platform (where she serves as creative ambassador).

Washington told TechCrunch in May that her portfolio is all about companies that she can be proud to be associated with.

“That pride comes from the quality of the product and how it improves the quality of people’s lives,” said Washington. “The idea of having a voice is really important.”

Whether it’s through creating space to come together, straightening a smile or giving people a more direct connection to their icons, her portfolio is exclusive when it comes to empowering people to use their voices.

Washington is also an activist.

She was honored with the NAACP’s President’s Award in 2013 and received the GLAAD Media Vanguard Award in 2015, as well as the ACLU Bill of Rights Award in 2016. In 2018, when the world went through a huge change in the form of #MeToo, Washington joined Natalie Portman, America Ferrera, Reese Witherspoon and others as a leader of the Time’s Up movement within Hollywood.

She’s also the co-chair of Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” campaign and the founder of Influence Change 2020, an initiative that partners with nonprofit organizations with the goal of increasing voter turnout.

It should go without saying, we’re absolutely thrilled to sit down for a conversation with Washington at Disrupt 2020.

We’ll ask her about her recent move toward tech investment and operations, and which sectors are most exciting to her as we head into the next couple years. We’ll also talk about the rapidly changing media landscape as platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Quibi, Disney+ and HBO take up more space in the ecosystem and networks look to evolve alongside the shift in user behavior.

As we head into a presidential election, in a year where the Black Lives Matter movement has risen to the forefront, we’ll also talk about her activism work and get her insights on where the tech world is falling short with regards to diversity, equity and inclusion and how it can do better.

There will be no shortage of topics to cover with Washington and we’re very excited about this conversation.

Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14-September 18 and will be virtual this year. Get your front row seat to see Kerry Washington speak with a Disrupt Digital Pro Pass or a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package before prices increase in a few short weeks. Can’t wait to see you there!

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Categories: Business News

How European seed firm Connect Ventures finds ‘product-first’ founders

2020, July 8 - 2:35am

Connect Ventures, the London-based seed-stage VC that was an early investor in Citymapper and Typeform announced a new $80 million fund last month to continue investing in “product-led” founders.

Launched back in 2012, when there was a shortage of institutional capital at seed stage in Europe and micro VC was a novelty in the region, Connect Ventures invests in B2B and consumer software across Europe, including SaaS, fintech, digital health and “future of work.”

Running throughout the firm’s investment thesis is a product focus, with the belief that product-led — or “product-first” — software entrepreneurs are the kinds of founders most likely to transform the way we live and work at scale.

Connect Ventures does fewer deals per year than many seed-stage firms, promising to place bets in a smaller number of early-stage companies. It recently backed scaling startups such as Curve and TrueLayer. Keeping a compact portfolio lets the shop throw more support behind its investments to help tip the scales toward success.

To learn more about Connect’s strategy going forward, I put questions to partners Sitar Teli, Pietro Bezza and Rory Stirling. We covered what makes a product-first founder, the upsides and downside of “conviction investing,” and the next digital product opportunities in fintech, health and the future of work.

TechCrunch: Connect Ventures positions itself as a pan-European VC investing in “product-led” founders at seed stage. Can you be more specific with regards to check size, geography and the types of startups you look for?

Sitar Teli: Of course, I know it can be hard to differentiate seed funds at first glance, so it’s worth digging in one layer down. Connect is a thesis-led, seed stage, product-centric fund that invests across Europe. I know we’re going to dive into some of those parts later, so I’ll focus on our investment strategy and what we look for. We lead seed rounds of £1-£2 million (sometimes less, sometimes more) and make 8-10 investments a year. Low volume, high conviction, high support is the investment strategy we’ve executed since we started eight years ago.

Categories: Business News

Decrypted: Police hack criminal phone network; Randori raises $20M Series A

2020, July 8 - 2:08am

Last week was, for most Americans, a four-day work week. But a lot still happened in the security world.

The U.S. government’s cybersecurity agencies warned of two critical vulnerabilities — one in Palo Alto’s networking tech and the other in F5’s gear — that foreign, nation state-backed hackers will “likely” exploit these flaws to get access to networks, steal data or spread malware. Plus, the FCC formally declared Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as threats to national security.

Here’s more from the week.

THE BIG PICTURE How police hacked a massive criminal phone network

Last week’s takedown of EncroChat was, according to police, the “biggest and most significant” law enforcement operation against organized criminals in the history of the U.K. EncroChat sold encrypted phones with custom software akin to how BlackBerry phones used to work; you needed one to talk to other device owners.

But the phone network was used almost exclusively by criminals, allowing their illicit activities to be kept secret and go unimpeded: drug deals, violent attacks, corruption — even murders.

ENCROCHAT DISMANTLED!

An encrypted phone network used to exchange millions of messages between criminals to plan serious crimes across Europe.

A joint investigation by #Europol, @Eurojust @justice_gouv @Gendarmerie @Het_OM @Politie @EU_Justice @EUHomeAffairs @EC_AVService pic.twitter.com/t1QnY3QMno

— Europol (@Europol) July 2, 2020

That is, until French police hacked into the network, broke the encryption and uncovered millions of messages, according to Vice, which covered the takedown of the network. The circumstances of the case are unique; police have not taken down a network like this before.

But technical details of the case remain under wraps, likely until criminal trials begin, at which point attorneys for the alleged criminals are likely to rest much of their defense on the means — and legality — in which the hack was carried out.

Categories: Business News

NY-based autonomous reusable rocket startup lands Air Force contract

2020, July 8 - 1:30am

New York-based startup iRocket has landed a contract award from the U.S. Air Force to develop and build its fully autonomous small payload rockets, which the company says will be able to launch and propulsively land both its first and second stages, with the potential of launching small payloads on demand in as little as 24 hours.

iRocket is one of a few different companies looking to provide quick turnaround, rapid-response launch capabilities to serve a growing need among defense customers, particularly in the U.S., for those services. U.S. defense agencies are seeking this specifically to help them send up small satellites in greater numbers, with greater frequency, in order to help provide redundancy and address specific needs as they arise.

The iRocket Shockwave launch vehicles are intended to carry a payload with a maximum size of around 1,500 kg (around 3,300 lbs.) and are set to take off from sites including Spaceport Oklahoma and potentially Launch Complex 48 at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Flexibility in terms of launch sites, including inland in the continental U.S., is another way they can support for flexibility and responsive operations for the Department of Defense and others.

iRocket plans to fly its first launch in just under three years’ time, with a plan to begin offering on-orbit satellite servicing as one of its products by 2025. It has a long way to go before that, but there’s definitely plenty of institutional interest in this from deep-pocketed government and defense customers.

Categories: Business News

Quaestor is reinventing business metric collaboration for the startup party round era

2020, July 8 - 12:00am

Business is the foundation, of, well, business. For startups, finding a working business model and honing it through decision-making, smart hires, and relentless focus on the right metrics can be the difference between building a scalable company and collapsing into the next Luckin Coffee.

Given how important business performance and finance is, it’s not uncommon in the early days of a startup to hire an “outsourced CFO” — a part-time financial professional who helps with budgeting, basic forecasting, and preparing reports for investors. Those reports though are static, and don’t lead to great conversations around how a business is performing, how it can change, and what should happen next for all parties involved.

Quaestor wants to upend the static spreadsheets and PDFs sent to dozens if not hundreds of people on cap tables today with a software-first solution that allows executives and their investors to hold better, more intelligent conversations about business performance.

The idea for the company congealed in the offices of 8VC, where the firm’s partners like Joe Lonsdale and Alex Moore repeatedly watched companies struggling to present all of their business information to their investors in a time-efficient way. 8VC has a history of incubating projects just like Quaestor, such as CRM tool Affinity.

For Quaestor, the firm eventually brought together a trio of co-founders, with Lonsdale also officially co-founding the company. John Melas-Kyriazi is CEO, and formerly was with Spark Capital for five years as a VC. He left earlier this year, and is maintaining his board seats there. Kevin Hsu is head of product and was a product manager at cap table management startup Carta before joining 8VC as an EIR. Finally, Deny Khoung is head of operations and was formerly the director of design at 8VC.

The group has been riffing on the idea of improving collaboration around the fundamentals of startup metrics for months, but officially spun out of 8VC in March and raised $5.8 million led by 8VC with participation from Melas-Kyriazi’s former firm Spark as well as Abstract Ventures, Riot Ventures, Fathom Ventures and GFC.

Let’s head back to the product though. Quaestor connects founders, company executives, and investors all together to discuss a business and make sure everyone is on the same page regarding targets and metrics. “How do VCs and their companies interact around financial data, whether it’s documents like P&L / balance sheet / cash flow statement [or] individual financial KPIs like revenue, gross margin, net income, ARR, etc.,” Melas-Kyriazi explained. “How do companies share that information with their investors to keep them updated? How do investors support their companies in understanding what goals they should be setting?”

The goal with the platform is two-fold. One is to ingest financial data and automatically prepare it so that all those annoying Excel mistakes disappear and everyone can read from one consistent set of metrics. The other is to help guide everyone to focus on the metrics that matter. “Most entrepreneurs come from a product background or engineering or sales and they might not necessarily have worked in in finance before,” Melas-Kyriazi said. The goal with Quaestor is to help push them to think carefully about their finances.

Over time as cap tables get more complicated and more investors add their capital, the goal is that Quaestor can offer a single source of truth for all financial data, without requiring the CEO or an outsourced CFO to prepare individual reports for each firm.

Right now, the company is focusing its product on early-stage startups, but hopes to grow up with those companies as they scale, expanding its services to other types of companies over time. The company’s product has been in beta as it tests out its MVP.

Quaestor is now a team of eight, with several offer letters in motion (so that number is actively growing as I write this article). Melas-Kyriazi said that product development and early scaling are the key goals for the startup over the next year or two.

Categories: Business News

As Palantir preps IPO, a look back at its growth history

2020, July 7 - 11:45pm

Yesterday evening Palantir, the quasi-secretive data mining and analysis firm, publicly announced that it has privately filed to go public.

The disclosure came in the wake of Palantir raising new capital, taking on hundreds of millions of dollars before its planned public offering. According to Crunchbase data, Palantir has raised billions while private, making its debut a marquee affair in the worlds of technology, startups and venture capital.

As TechCrunch reported yesterday, Palantir has a controversial product history, including helping locate immigrants for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, connecting databases for intelligence agencies and recently winning no-bid contracts to gather data about the COVID-19 pandemic for the White House Pandemic Task Force.

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The company’s filing comes after a long incubation period; it’s been 17 years since Palantir’s founding in 2003. Since then, its reported financial performance and fundraising history have become sufficiently convoluted that I couldn’t tell you this morning how big the company really is or how much it raised before its most recent investment.

Palantir’s reported history

To prep us for its eventual public IPO filing, let’s go back in time and collect data points from Palantir’s reported history. This way when we do get the company’s S-1 filing, we’ll better understand what we’re looking at.

Even with companies that aren’t privacy conscious, it can be hard to craft a comprehensive history of their business activities from when they were private. With Palantir, it’s even trickier.

Still, leaning on more than a decade of TechCrunch reporting, Crunchbase data, other publications and Craft.co, what follows is a reasonable look at what has been reported about Palantir through time.

Categories: Business News

Nayya, bringing transparency to choosing and managing healthcare plans, raises $2.7 million

2020, July 7 - 11:00pm

Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator -backed Nayya is on a mission to simplify choosing and managing employee benefits through machine learning and data transparency.

The company has raised $2.7 million in seed funding led by Social Leverage with participation from Guardian Strategic Ventures, Cameron Ventures, Soma Capital, as well as other strategic angels.

The process of choosing an employer-provided healthcare plan and understanding that plan can be tedious at best and incredibly confusing at worst. And that doesn’t even include all of the supplemental plans and benefits associated with these programs.

That’s where Nayya comes in. When enrollment starts, employers send out an email that includes a link to Nayya’s Companion, the company’s flagship product.

Companion helps employees find the plan that is right for them. The software first asks a series of questions about lifestyle, location, etc. For example, Nayya founder and CEO Sina Chehrazi explained that people who bike to work, as opposed to driving in a car, walking or taking public transportation, are 20 times more likely to get into an accident and need emergency services.

Companion asks questions in this vein, as well as questions around whether you take medication regularly or if you expect your healthcare costs to go up or down over the next year, without getting into the specifics of chronic ailments or diseases or particular issues.

Taking that data into account, Nayya then looks at the various plans provided by the employer to show you which one matches the user’s particular lifestyle and budget best.

Nayya doesn’t just pull information directly from the insurance company directory listings, as nearly 40 percent of those listings have at least one error or are out of date. It pulls from a broad variety of data sources, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to get the cleanest, most precise data around which doctors are in network and the usual costs associated with visiting those doctors.

[gallery ids="2012505,2012506,2012507"]

Alongside Companion, Nayya also provides a product called ‘Edison,’ which it has dubbed the Alexa for Helathcare. Users can ask Edison questions like “What is my deductible?” or “Is Dr. So-and-So in my network and what would it cost to go see her?”

The company helps individual users find the right provider for them with the ability to compare costs, location, and other factors involved. Nayya even puts a badge on listings for providers where another employee at the company has gone and had a great experience, giving another layer of validation to that choice.

As the healthtech industry looks to provide easier-to-use healthcare and insurance, the idea of ‘personalization’ has been left behind in many respects. Nayya focuses first and foremost on the end-user and aims to ensure that their own personal healthcare journey is as simple and straightforward as possible, believing that the other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place when the customer is taken care of.

Nayya plans on using the funding to expand the team across engineering, data science, product management and marketing, as well as doubling down on the amount of data the company is purchasing, ingesting and cleaning.

Alongside charging employers on a per seat, per month basis, Nayya is also looking to start going straight to insurance companies with its product.

“The greatest challenge is educating an entire ecosystem and convincing that ecosystem to believe that where the consumer wins, everyone wins,” said Chehrazi. “How to finance and understand your healthcare has never been more important than it is right now, and there is a huge need to provide that education in a data driven way to people. That’s where I want to spend the next I don’t know how many years of my life to drive that change.”

Nayya has five full-time employees currently and 80 percent of the team comes from racially diverse backgrounds.

Categories: Business News

8 Black investors discuss the intersection of race, tech and funding

2020, July 7 - 10:12pm

Since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers heightened awareness about racial justice, the experiences of Black people in tech — and the industry’s lack of racial diversity — are getting new attention.

In the tech ecosystem at large, the industry is still predominantly white and male, and venture capital is no different. Just 3% of investment partners are Black, according to a 2018 survey from by the National Venture Capital Association and Deloitte. Meanwhile, more than 80% of VC firms don’t have a single Black investor and just 1% of venture-backed startups have a Black founder, according to BLCK VC.

“Venture capital certainly plays a role,” GV Principal Terri Burns told TechCrunch about the overall lack of diversity in tech. “VC is a tool that can enable businesses to scale greatly and quickly, and historically, this tool hasn’t been equally distributed. For example, VC has traditionally focused on founders from a small number of institutions and pedigrees that are not particularly diverse (in 2016 we learned from Richard Kerby, general partner at Equal Ventures, that 40% of VCs went to either Harvard or Stanford). With more equal distribution of funds across backgrounds, underrepresented people will have a greater chance at success.”

Burns shared the above and more as part of our survey of a handful of Black VCs in tech. Burns, and others, described what they’re looking for in their next investment, identified overlooked opportunities that are ripe for innovation and offered advice for founders navigating COVID-19 amid this racial justice uprising.

“Both COVID-19 and the racial justice uprising have had really profound impacts on our society and the tech ecosystem,” Precursor Ventures Managing Partner Charles Hudson told TechCrunch. “For me, the main takeaway from COVID-19 is that planning in an uncertain environment is extremely stressful for founders. Advice that made sense in March and April might not apply in May and June. We went from a world where it felt like we might shelter-in-place through the fall to an attempted reopening of the economy. I think the racial justice uprising is a different thing. It’s bigger than technology, it’s about our society coming to grips with some really important, structural issues.

“While I think everyone is really struggling with the impacts of COVID-19, I think employees and founders of color are being particularly impacted by the racial justice issue and it is weighing heavily on the minds and hearts of many who are trying to process what’s happening while also trying to be productive and engaged at work. I think it’s important to be aware of that and do what you can to support folks who are struggling under the weight of this.”

Below, we’ve gathered insights from:

Arlan Hamilton, managing partner, Backstage Capital

Image Credits: Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

What are the industries you’re most interested in right now?

I am into things that promote sustainability, that are clever. I like the senior care industry, but also pushing that a little further into senior activity and thriving entrepreneurship, et cetera. And media. I think media has a really interesting, exciting opportunity right now because of the way representation is so important, has always been, but it’s even more now. I’m seeing more and more interesting and unique media options rather than the status quo.

What are you looking for in your next investment?

I’m looking for people who can break down barriers within their industries, who can offer something exciting, and new, and innovative to their end user, and someone who is daring, and risk-taking, and not afraid to go against the grain. That’s really the main thing I’m looking for.

What are some overlooked opportunities that are ripe for innovation?

Again, I think senior care is something a lot of people are thinking about, thankfully. At the same time, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what value seniors can bring to the ecosystem, to even tech. I think you have millions and millions of people who have a gained experience that no one else has, that’s their junior, and you have all this technology at their fingertips. I’ve noticed that a lot of seniors I know have some sort of… it’s intuitive, some of this tech, like voice. They’re used to having to track down their children, and so they’re used to yelling out in the middle of an empty room, to be honest. I think that’s part of where it comes from.

They don’t have the same vanities that a lot of younger people have, and so they’re willing to take more risk when it comes to trying something new. It’s not necessarily something they want to be dangerous about because they are, by and large, taking care of themselves and caring about damage to their bodies, but they’re not afraid to look silly or to sound silly when they’re trying out a new device. I think that’s something that we can really tap into, because a lot of these people who are 70, 75, 80 years old, there’s still 20 years purchasing power there, at the least, and it’s just important that we don’t discard them and forget about them.

Categories: Business News

MonkeyLearn raises $2.2M to build out its no-code AI text analysis service

2020, July 7 - 10:00pm

A few years back, startups focusing on artificial intelligence had a whiff of bullshit about them; venture capitalists became inured to young tech companies claiming that their new AI-powered product was going to change the world as hype exceeded product reality.

But in the time since, AI-powered startups have matured into real companies, with investors stepping up to fund their growth. In niches, from medical imaging, of course, to speech recognition, machine learning and deep learning and neural nets and everything else that one might scoop into the AI bucket has seemed to have grown neatly in recent quarters.

Indeed, AI investing has become so popular amongst VCs that this publication wound up debating the finer points of AI-focused startup revenue quality earlier this year.

But AI is not the only startup niche appearing to enjoy tailwinds lately. No-code and low-code startups have also enjoyed increasing media recognition, and, as TechCrunch has covered, notable venture capital rounds.

Sitting in the middle of the two trends, a startup called MonkeyLearn wants to bring low-code AI to companies of all sizes. And the firm just raised $2.2 million. Let’s take a look.

No-code AI

Starting with the round, MonkeyLearn has raised $2.2 million in a round led by Uncork Capital and Bling Capital. Speaking with Raúl Garreta, a co-founder at the company and also its CEO, TechCrunch learned that MonkeyLearn started off as a more developer-focused service that provided machine learning tooling via an API. But after demand materialized from people who couldn’t code to use the company’s tech for text analysis, the company wound up heading in a slightly different direction.

Garreta gave TechCrunch a demo of the company’s service, which allows users to upload data — think rows of text in an Excel file, for example — and quickly train MonkeyLearn’s software to parse out what they are looking for. After the model is trained over the course of a few minutes, it can then be set to work on a full data set.

According to Garreta, text analysis has a lot of demand in corporate environments, from categories like support ticket sorting to sentiment analysis.

But MonkeyLearn’s product that TechCrunch saw is not the company’s final vision. Today the service focuses on data analysis. In time, Garreta wants it to do more with data visualization, providing graphing and other similar outputs to give more of a dashboard-feel to its product.

Demand

At the core of MonkeyLearn’s early market traction that helped it land its seed round is the ever-increasing need for non-developers to collect, parse, act on and share data inside of their workplace. If you’ve ever worked nearby to a startup’s marketing or customer success team, you understand this phenomenon. MonkeyLearn wants to give non-developer teams the tools they need to understand data sets without forcing them to go find the engineering team and argue for a spot on the roadmap.

“Our vision is to make AI approachable by providing a toolkit for teams to actually use AI in their daily operations,” Garreta said in a release. MonkeyLearn is theoretically well-situated in the market. Companies are increasingly data-driven at the same time as the market is strapped for employees who can make data sing.

The startup has a free tier, and a few paid tiers, along with add-ons and a one-off option. You can call that the “all of the above” pricing model, which is fine, given the youth of the company; startups are allowed to experiment.

After slower than anticipated early fundraising, MonkeyLearn told TechCrunch that it could have raised double in its seed round what it wound up accepting.

What plans does the company have for the new capital? A more aggressive go-to-market motion, and a more formal sales team, it said. As MonkeyLearn sells to to mid-market and enterprise firms, Garreta explained, a more formal sales team is needed, though he also emphasized that founders must start the selling process at a startup.

As with most seed companies that raise capital, there’s a lot to like with MonkeyLearn. Let’s see how well it executes and how fast it can get to a Series A.

Categories: Business News

Replenysh raises a $2 million seed round to streamline recycling for buyers and sellers

2020, July 7 - 10:00pm

Replenysh has been kicking since 2016, but up til now, the Orange County, California startup hasn’t done much press. That changes today, as the company announces that it has raised a $2 million seed round with the fairly lofty goal of transforming recycling in the U.S.

A press release outlining Replenysh’s plans offers up plenty of information about what’s wrong with recycling here in the States. Among some of the key figures are the fact that it can be up to 3x more expensive to recycle a ton of material rather than simply dropping it off in a landfill. Outside of the positive press around sustainability and the rare instance of corporate altruism, that’s a rather large fiscal penalty for doing the right thing.

For its part, the Replenysh team says it’s “building this new digital supply chain.” What that means in less buzzwordy terms is that the company is working to provide software solutions designed to benefit both those selling recycled goods and companies looking to acquire the materials. That latter bit is hotter market than you’re likely aware, as big corporations have set commitments to adopt recycled materials as part of larger pledges for sustainability.

Image Credits: Replenysh

The company’s primary value comes by way of its interfacing with the owners and employees at the thousands of recycling centers based in the U.S. Replenysh has developed a software dashboard that allows the centers to find the best price for materials and schedule shipments. On the buyer side, the company also offers means by which brands can find sufficient materials and foster relationships with the aforementioned recycling centers. The company says it already has relationships with hundreds of recycling centers it has helped connect with buyers from large retailers and big brands (though it’s not yet disclosing the names of either).

“The response to our technology and services has been exciting,” founder Mark Armen told TechCrunch. “Recycling centers benefit from our rate discovery, price transparency, and workflow automation tools – and we are just getting started. We envision a world where all materials circulate through an intelligent system of continual reuse, which brands, recycling centers, and collectors can tap into and propel. The result will be a regenerative economy that restores ecosystems, relationships, and value.”

Replenysh is still a lean team, with an eight-person headcount (plus one intern). While it was founded and began working on pilots way back in 2016, the company says it really began work in earnest when it incorporated last year. The $2 million seed round is led by Kindred Ventures, Floodgate Fund and 122WEST, with plans to further build out the technologies and Replenysh’s network.

Categories: Business News

Northflank announces $2.6M seed to create end-to-end DevOps workflow in cloud

2020, July 7 - 10:00pm

Northflank, a startup from a couple of guys in their 20s, has been working on a full-stack DevOps platform in the cloud since their first year at university in 2016. Today the startup announced a $2.6 million seed investment and the launch of that platform.

The round was led by ​Kindred Ventures, ​Stride.VC​ and Amaranthine Partners with support from numerous CTO angel investors, who believe in the company’s vision.

Those CTOs like that the company is building a one-stop shop for DevOps in the cloud, says co-founder and CEO Will Stewart. “Northflank is what we call a full-stack cloud platform that allows a developer to sign up, connect their version control — GitHub, Bitbucket or GitLab — and immediately build and deploy all of their repositories via a Docker file,” he explained.

The two founders, Stewart and Frederik Brix, met in 2011 as young teens, through online multi-player gaming. Stewart was in London, while Brix grew up in Zurich. As they got older, they helped build online communities around their passion for gaming, and eventually decided to build an online DevOps platform together as they entered university because they saw first hand the issues they had running game servers in the 2015 timeframe.

Even though they were quite young at the time, they wanted to take advantage of the nascent cloud native tooling like Kubernetes and they began to tinker with it, and the idea of building their own platform began to take shape. They continued working on the idea while attending university and didn’t even meet in person until last year when they attended an accelerator together in Paris.

That led to £250,000 in angel money and bought them time to hire some additional engineers to build out the platform and get it ready for market. Today it provides a soup-to-nuts modern developer experience in a slick interface where you can schedule jobs and projects and manage and run builds.

They currently have a team of 9 people including the two founders. The pandemic did not change the way they worked since they have worked remotely from the start. Most of the team has never met in person. He says as an international, fully remote company, he can hire people from anywhere, and he’s hopeful that will lead to a more diverse workforce as they grow and develop as a company.

Stewart admits that making the transition from full time developer to managing a company has been challenging, but he’s learning as he goes. “It’s been an interesting learning process. It’s almost like diving in at the deep end. We obviously have to get at least some things right immediately like running payroll and the legal stuff,” he says.

He has leaned on accountants and lawyers to help, as well as financial services like Revolut and Transferwise. They have also set up spreadsheets to automate some activities like managing payroll.

Today marks the first day of the company with the platform going live, and the two founders have high hopes for the product they have been working on in some ways since they were kids. Now, they will try to grow a successful company based on all they learned through all of those experiences along the way.

Categories: Business News

Koyeb is a serverless startup that ingests, processes and stores data with multiple cloud providers

2020, July 7 - 10:00pm

Meet Koyeb, a new French startup founded by Yann Léger, Édouard Bonlieu and Bastien Chatelard who have previously worked at Scaleway for many years. Koyeb is a serverless startup that helps you manipulate data in different ways without worrying about your server infrastructure.

Competition has become incredibly fierce between cloud service providers, and Koyeb wants to take advantage of that. You can integrate Koyeb with multiple cloud service providers and let Koyeb do the heavy lifting.

For instance, you may store a ton of videos on an object storage bucket managed by DigitalOcean. Let’s say you want to re-encode those videos to optimize them for a new device. Koyeb can import data from this bucket, re-encode those videos and upload the new files to your bucket.

But Koyeb goes one step-further by letting you mix and match services and APIs. As cloud platforms become smarter, they provide services that go beyond running servers and storing data for you.

For instance, Google Cloud’s speech-to-text API is arguably better than Amazon Transcribe. Instead of having to manually set up a multi-cloud workflow, Koyeb can take video files from an AWS S3 bucket, transcribes the audio from those video files on Google Cloud and save the result on the AWS S3 bucket.

There are many use cases for Koyeb. It ranges from copying data from an S3-compatible object storage provider to another every day for redundancy to triggering data processing with API calls. Everything scales automatically and once a workflow is done, you no longer get billed for runtime.

There are already dozens of integrations with data sources (as input and output) and ready-to-use processing APIs. Everything can be configured in the web interface with multiple processing steps, using a command-line interface or the Koyeb API.

The company is just coming out of stealth and is already working on more product updates. For instance, you’ll be able to use Docker containers and custom functions in the future, which should enable a lot more workflows. But it’s a promising start.

Categories: Business News

Athlane looks to connect brands and esports streamers with a fresh $3.3 million in funding

2020, July 7 - 10:00pm

Athlane, the YC-backed company from the Summer ’19 cohort, is today ready to launch with a fresh $3.3 million in capital. Investors include Y Combinator, Jonathan Kraft (New England Patriots), Michael Gordon (President of Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club), Global Founders Capital, Romulus Capital, Seabed VC, and more.

The startup originally positioned itself as the ‘NCAA of esports’ but, after some time in stealth, has taken a new approach. Athlane is looking to be the connective fiber between streamers and brands, facilitating sponsorship and endorsement deals with more transparent data and analytics and a streamlined communications flow.

Athlane has products for both brands and streamers.

Brands can use the Athlane Terminal to manage their sponsorships. The Insights Hub uses proprietary data to help brands understand which streamers are followed by their target demographic, and whether or not the products will resonate with that fanbase. Insights also allow brands to see when a streamer’s viewership is growing.

From there, brands can send out sponsorship deals to streamers directly through the Athlane Terminal, and then track the ROI on that sponsorship deal throughout the campaign.

On the streamer side, the company has built out a platform called Athlane Pro, which lets streamers manage each task from their sponsors individually. Streamers can also use Athlane Pro to counter-offer inbound sponsorship deals or negotiate terms.

Streamers can also use Athlane’s machine learning algorithm to get clearer insights on their stream performance, such as whether their YouTube viewership overlaps with their Twitch viewership, or see which videos do better based on title or thumbnail. But more importantly, the Athlane Content Hub gives streamers the opportunity to understand if their fanbase specifically aligns with this or that brand, and gives them the tools to reach out directly to that brand and solicit a sponsorship.

Athlane has also built out a Shop tool that lets streamers build out a no-code storefront for their fans, which they can link to on their Twitch, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This storefront can be a repository for all the products that streamer is endorsing, allowing fans to see products from multiple brands in a single place.

“We have a number of proprietary partnerships with data providers including companies like Twitter,” said cofounder Faisal Younus. “For example, we have a partnership with the leading manufacturer of apparel in eSports, which ties back into our system so we can look at how merchandise is moving.”

That data, when paired with the data provided when a streamer signs in and integrates with the platform, becomes very precise, according to the company.

The startup charges brands using a tiered SaaS model, and streamers can do their first sponsorship for free on the platform. After the first sponsorship, streamers are charged a fee between $10 and $20 per deal. Athlane has also started working with agencies that represent brands and charges a discovery fee for talent those agencies find on the platform.

“COVID-19 has brought on very rapid growth on the viewership side, and because of that we’ve seen an intense interest from a number of brands while conventional entertainment is shut down,” said Younus. “A lot of media spend is going to go unspent, but there is also a higher risk appetite for spending a little bit in esports, and our challenge is making sure this industry growth is sustained.”

He added that helping brands understand the true ROI of that spend will be key.

Categories: Business News

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