Business News

Skymind raises $11.5M to bring deep learning to more enterprises

Startup News - 4 hours 55 min ago

Skymind, a Y Combinator-incubated AI platform that aims to make deep learning more accessible to enterprises, today announced that it has raised an $11.5 million Series A round led by TransLink Capital, with participation from ServiceNow, Sumitomo’s Presidio Ventures, UpHonest Capital and GovTech Fund. Early investors Y Combinator, Tencent, Mandra Capital, Hemi Ventures, and GMO Ventures, also joined the round/ With this, the company has now raised a total of $17.9 million in funding.

The inclusion of TransLink Capital gives a hint as to how the company is planning to use the funding. One of TransLink’s specialties is helping entrepreneurs develop customers in Asia. Skymind believes that it has a major opportunity in that market, so having TransLink lead this round makes a lot of sense. Skymind also plans to use the round to build out its team in North America and fuel customer acquisition there.

“TransLink is the perfect lead for this round, because they know how to make connections between North America and Asia,” Skymind CEO Chris Nicholson told me. “That’s where the most growth is globally, and there are a lot of potential synergies. We’re also really excited to have strategic investors like ServiceNow and Sumitomo’s Presidio Ventures backing us for the first time. We’re already collaborating with ServiceNow, and Skymind software will be part of some powerful new technologies they roll out.”

It’s no secret that enterprises know that they have to adapt AI in some form but are struggling with figuring out how to do so. Skymind’s tools, including its core SKIL framework, allow data scientists to create workflows that take them from ingesting the data to cleaning it up, training their models and putting them into production. The promise here is that Skymind’s tools eliminate the gap that often exists between the data scientists and IT.

“The two big opportunities with AI are better customer experiences and more efficiency, and both are based on making smarter decisions about data, which is what AI does,” said Nicholson. “The main types of data that matter to enterprises are text and time series data (think web logs or payments). So we see a lot of demand for natural-language processing and for predictions around streams of data, like logs.”

Current Skymind customers include the likes of ServiceNow and telco company Orange, while some of its technology partners that integrate its services into their portfolio include Cisco and SoftBank .

It’s worth noting that Skymind is also the company behind Deeplearning4j, one of the most popular open-source AI tools for Java. The company is also a major contributor to the Python-based Keras deep learning framework.

Skymind raises $3M to bring its Java deep-learning library to the masses

Categories: Business News

Music’s next big startup Splice raises $57.5M to sell samples

Startup News - 6 hours 43 min ago

Tech has a bad reputation for pulling money out of musicians’ pockets, but Splice is changing that. The audio sample marketplace and music production collaboration tool has now paid out $15 million to artists since 2013, doubling in the last year. Splice lets musicians sell their sounds for royalty-free use, and songs by Eminem, Ariana Grande and Marshmello that were powered by those samples have topped the charts. Splice charges $7.99 per month for unlimited access to its array of 3 million synthesizers, drum hits, vocal flares and other sounds. Despite being designed for serious musicians, Splice’s suite of tools now has 2.5 million monthly users, up from 1.5 million a year ago.

Steve Martocci

“Music is going through a beautiful moment,” says Steve Martocci, Splice’s co-founder and CEO who formerly built and sold GroupMe. “The tailwinds from the success of streaming are great. As more people realize how big the market it, how much people want to create music, there’s a huge opportunity here.”

Now Union Square Ventures and True Ventures are seizing on that opportunity, co-leading a $57.5 million Series C for Splice. “It’s all about scale,” Martocci tells me. “We’re investing in ourselves. Continuing to build new products. Continuing to work with bigger artists. We think there’s so much about the creative process and ecosystem of musicians that needs to be fixed. We want to diversify the content available so all artists in all genres feel like we have what they need.”

The round, which includes DFJ Growth, Flybridge, Lerer Hippeau, Liontree, Founders Circle Capital and Matt Pincus, brings Splice to $104.5 million in total funding. Splice wouldn’t disclose the valuation, but using the industry standard of selling 20 percent equity for a Series C, Splice could be valued in the ballpark of $285 million. That would make it one of the top music startups that isn’t selling streaming, tickets or hardware. Its success has also begun to draw competition from companies like Native Instruments, which launched its Sounds.com marketplace last year.

Splice’s subscription revenue is pooled and then doled out to artists based on whose samples got the most downloads. Creators range from bedroom tinkerers to Drake’s Grammy-winning producer Boi-1da. Martocci confirms that artists receive the majority of Splice’s sample marketplace revenue, saying, “they’re very favorable deals.” That’s especially great for the music production industry, because a lot of Splice’s sample creators aren’t celebrity DJs; Martocci says they’re audio engineers and other “people behind the scenes getting an opportunity to step into the light with an amazing revenue opportunity, but also an opportunity to be seen for their creative contributions.”

Splice began with a eureka moment at a concert. A friend asked Martocci why there weren’t great tools for producing music like there are for building software like GroupMe. After eventually leaving his chat app that Skype acquired, Martocci connected with Splice co-founder Matt Aimonetti and discovered he’d been an audio engineer for half of his life. They saw a chance to build a GitHub for music, with version control and admin permissions for making saving and collaborating on productions simple. By 2015 Splice had launched its Sounds subscription library, and the next year began selling rent-to-own software synthesizers to make avoiding piracy affordable for creators.

Fast-forward and Martocci tells me prioritization across Splice’s different product lines will be one of its big challenges. Luckily, he has a new crew of lieutenants to help. Former product lead for Apple Music and Beats by Dre VP Ryan Walsh has joined as chief product officer because, Martocci says, “he felt like his mission in music was unfinished.” Former chief financial officer of Marvel Entertainment Chris Acquaviva is now Splice’s CFO, who offers deep licensing expertise. And bringing the creator community vibe, MakerBot’s former CHRO, Kavita Vora, has become Splice’s chief people officer.

In an era when tech public image has been tested by non-stop scandals from the industry giants, Splice is pulling in ace talent that want to work on something unequivocally positive. Martocci tells me parents tell him that their kids spend all their time playing Fortnite and making music on Splice, but the latter is screen time they’re happy to encourage.

Categories: Business News

Skedulo raises $28M for its mobile workforce management service

Startup News - 7 hours 21 min ago

Skedulo, a service that helps businesses manage their mobile employees, today announced that it has raised a $28 million Series B funding round led by M12, Microsoft’s venture fund. Existing investors Blackbird and Castanoa Ventures also participated in this round.

The company’s service offers businesses all the necessary tools to manage their mobile employees, including their schedules. A lot of small businesses still use basic spreadsheets and email to do this, but that’s obviously not the most efficient way to match the right employee to the right job, for example.

“Workforce management has traditionally been focused on employees that are sitting at a desk for the majority of their day,” Skedulo CEO and co-founder Matt Fairhurst told me. “The overwhelming majority — 80 percent — of workers will be deskless by 2020 and so far, there has been no one that has addressed the needs of this growing population at scale. We’re excited to help enterprises confront these challenges head-on so they can compete and lean into rapidly changing customer and employee expectations.”

At the core of Skedulo, which offers both a mobile app and web-based interface, is the company’s so-called “Mastermind” engine that helps businesses automatically match the right employee to a job based on the priorities the company has specified. The company plans to use the new funding to enhance this tool through new machine learning capabilities. Skedulo will also soon offer new analytics tools and integrations with third-party services like HR and financial management tools, as well as payroll systems.

The company also plans to use the new funding to double its headcount, which includes hiring at least 60 new employees in its Australian offices in Brisbane and Sydney.

As part of this round, Priya Saiprasad, principal of M12, will join Skedulo’s board of directors. “We found a strong sense of aligned purpose with Priya Saiprasad and the team at M12 — and their desire to invest in companies that help reduce cycles in a person’s working day,” Fairhurst said. “Fundamentally, Skedulo is a productivity company. We help companies, the back-office and mobile workforce, reduce the number of cycles it takes to get work done. This gives them time back to focus on the work that matters most.”

Categories: Business News

Movius raises $45M for its business communications service

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 10:00pm

Atlanta-based Movius, a company that allows companies to assign a separate business number for voice calls and texting to any phone, today announced that it has raised a $45 million Series D round led by JPMorgan Chase, with participation from existing investors PointGuard Ventures, New Enterprise Associates and Anschutz Investment company. With this, the company has now raised a total of $100 million.

In addition to the new funding, Movius also today announced that it has brought on former Adobe and Sun executive John Loiacono as its new CEO. Loiacono was also the founding CEO of network analytics startup Jolata.

“The Movius opportunity is pervasive. Almost every company on planet Earth is mobilizing their workforce but are challenged to find a way to securely interact with their customers and constituents using all the preferred communication vehicles – be that voice, SMS or any other channel they use in their daily lives,” said Loiacono. “I’m thrilled because I’m joining a team that features highly passionate and proven innovators who are maniacally focused on delivering this very solution. I look forward to leading this next chapter of growth for the company.”

Sanjay Jain, the chief strategy officer at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and Larry Feinsmith, the head of JPMorgan Chase’s Technology Innovation, Strategy & Partnerships office, are joining the company’s board.

Movius currently counts more than 1,400 businesses as its customers, and its carrier partners include Sprint, Telstra and Telefonica. What’s important to note is that Movius is more than a basic VoIP app on your phone. What the company promises is a carrier-grade network that allows businesses to assign a second number to their employees’ phones. That way, the employer remains in charge, even as employees bring their own devices to work.

Categories: Business News

Iterable lands $50M Series C investment to expand cross-channel marketing platform

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 9:33pm

Iterable, a startup that helps companies build complex marketing campaigns across channels to reduce churn and increase usage, announced a $50 million Series C round today.

Investors include Blue Cloud Ventures, CRV, Harmony Partners, Index Ventures and Stereo Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $80 million.

Company co-founder and CEO Justin Zhu says the Iterable platform captures a constant stream of data from consumers from a variety of sources to give marketers the ability to build segments or event triggers based on consumer behavior.

“Customers are streaming real-time updates of who they are, where they’re purchasing, what they’re doing in the app, what they’re up to on the website, and we’re taking all that data and making it available in real time,” Zhu explained.

Photo: Iterable

This could allow marketers to contact people based on behaviors, such as a segment of people who haven’t opened the app in two weeks. Marketers also can use event triggers to automate contact. In the classic scenario of the abandoned shopping cart, a marketer could set a trigger to send an email or an SMS message two hours after the cart was abandoned to prompt the customer to come back.

As a platform, Iterable is offering a set of tools in a single solution that marketers would have had to buy separately. “In the past, what you typically would do is cobble together a variety of point solutions. You may buy a product just for mobile and buy one just for email. You may have engineers cobble together custom code to handle the lifecycle management. With Iterable, that can be all done in one place, and it can be done by a marketer, which would be the focus for their job,” Zhu said.

He said the company is streaming customer data from the various data sources directly to the marketers, so there is no data sharing involved with third parties. “This is a first-party data from our own customers,” he said.

The company is reporting triple-digit year-over-year growth, although it would not share specific revenue numbers. Iterable has 300 customers, including Box, DoorDash and Zillow. It currently has 200 employees spread across three locations, including the company headquarters in San Francisco and offices in Denver and New York City.

Zhu says the company’s vision is to be a global company, and with this funding it plans to expand into Europe and Asia as it continues to build the company.

Categories: Business News

Erectile pharmacy app Ro launches telehealth service for women

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 9:00pm

Six months ago, Roman, the cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction, dropped the ‘man’ to become ‘Ro.’ At the same time, the company raised a monstrous Series A funding round of $88 million and unveiled Zero, a product meant to help people quit smoking, a root cause of ED.

Now, Ro is addressing a different demographic. Today, it announces ‘Rory,’ a line of products for menopausal women. In total, Rory offers six products treating four conditions, with prices starting at $13 per month. Prescription medication and supplements for hot flashes, over-the-counter treatments for insomnia, prescription vaginal estrogen cream and an all-natural water-based lubricant for vaginal dryness, and Latisse, which helps grow eyelashes, are available for purchase and direct-to-consumer delivery.

All of these conditions, including hair loss and insomnia, can be associated with menopause, or the process, typically at midlife, in which a woman stops menstruating.

To use Rory, which launches in 47 states today, women must complete an online doctor’s visit before they can be prescribed a personalized treatment plan. Rory is also launching a Facebook group and an online community, called Roar, for menopausal women to provide support to one another and to discuss topics from sex positions that help with vaginal dryness to how to sleep better at night.

“We aren’t used to talking about issues like vaginal dryness,” Rory co-founder Rachel Blank told TechCrunch. “Right now, we have [millions] of women experiencing menopause. They are walking around and frankly, their vagina hurts and they are uncomfortable. Really, what we are building at Rory is a lot of the educational content around this to let women know they have choices and they can take control during this phase of life where they feel like their bodies are rebelling against them.”

Rory’s leadership team. From left to right: Melynda Barnes, Rachel Blank and Ro co-founder and CEO Zachariah Reitano.

Unsurprisingly, the Ro founders are all male. In order to launch Rory, the trio — Rob Schutz, Saman Rahmanian and Zachariah Reitano — had to bring on talent knowledgeable of women’s health. Rachel Blank, a former investor at General Catalyst, an investor in Ro, seemed like a natural choice. Blank joined Ro full-time in the fall after learning about the company’s long-term vision to create personalize healthcare for everyone. General Catalyst, for its part, had been an investor in Ro since its August 2017 seed round.

“I was watching their pitch and having had that experience myself and listening to the founders of Ro talk about how much of a difference this platform could make in the lives of men with stigmatized conditions, it really resonated with me that this could really be a powerful tool for women as well,” Blank said.

Blank herself was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder that can cause the development of a number of cysts in the ovaries, at 21-years-old. She is joined by Rory clinical director Melynda Barnes, a surgeon and otolaryngologist, and Ro co-founder and chief executive officer Zachariah Reitano, who oversees Ro’s growing portfolio of spinout brands.

Ro has raised just over $90 million in venture capital funding to date, hitting a valuation of $154 million with its Series A, according to PitchBook. Its investors include Initialized Capital, Box Group and Slow Ventures, as well as angels like Y Combinator partner Aaron Harris, Benchmark’s Scott Belsky and the chief executives of Casper, Code Academy and Pill Pack.

Roman is a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction

 

Categories: Business News

Portworx raises $27M Series C for its cloud-native data management platform

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 8:30pm

As enterprises adopt cloud-native technologies like containers to build their applications, the next question they often have to ask themselves is how they adapt their data storage and management practices to this new reality, too. One of the companies in this business is the four-year-old Portworx, which has managed to attract customers like Lufthansa Systems, GE Digital and HPE with its cloud-native storage and data-management platform for the Kubernetes container orchestration platform.

Portworx today announced that it has raised a $27 million Series C funding round led by  Sapphire Ventures and the ventures arm of Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company. Existing investors Mayfield Fund and GE Ventures also participated, as well as new investors Cisco, HPE and NetApp, which clearly have a strategic interest in bringing Portworx’s storage offering to their own customers, too, and partnering with the company.

Portworx’s tools make it easier for developers to migrate data, create backups and recover them after an issue. The service supports most popular databases, including Cassandra, Redis and MySQL, but also other storage services. Essentially, it creates a storage layer for database containers or other stateful containers that your apps can then access, no matter where they run or where the data resides.

“As the cloud-native stack matures, Portworx’s leadership in the data layer is really what is highlighted by our funding,” Portworx CEO and co-founder Murli Thirumale told me. “We clearly have a significant number of customers, there is a lot of customer growth, our partner network is growing. What you are seeing is that within that cloud-native ecosystem, we have the maximum number of production deployments and that momentum is something we’re continuing to fuel and fund with this round.”

As Portworx CEO and co-founder Murli Thirumale told me, the company expanded its customer base by over 100 percent last year and increased its total bookings by 376 percent year-over-year. That’s obviously the kind of growth that investors want to see. Thirumale noted, though, that the company wasn’t under any pressure to raise at this point. “We were seeing such strong growth momentum that we knew we need the money to fuel the growth.” That means expanding the company’s sales force, especially internationally, as well as its support team to help its new customers manage their data lifecycle.

In addition to today’s funding round, Portworx also today announced the latest version of its flagship Portworx Enterprise platform, which now includes new data security and disaster recovery functions. These include improved role-based access controls that go beyond what Kubernetes traditionally offers (and that integrate with existing enterprise systems). The new disaster recovery tools now allow enterprises to make incremental backups to data centers that sit in different geographical locations. Maybe more importantly, Portworx now also lets users automatically save data in two nearby data centers zones as updates happen. That’s meant o enable use cases where zero data loss would be acceptable in the case of an outage. With this, a company could automatically backup data from a database that sits in Azure Germany Central and back it up to AWS Europe Frankfurt, for example.

Categories: Business News

Blameless emerges from stealth with $20M investment to help companies transition to SRE

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 8:26pm

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is an extension of DevOps designed for more complex environments. The problem is that this type of approach is difficult to implement and has usually only been in reach of large companies, requiring custom software. Blameless, a Bay Area startup, wants to put it reach of everyone. It emerged from stealth today with an SRE platform for the masses and around $20 million in funding.

For starters, the company announced two rounds of funding with $3.6 million in seed money last April and a $16.5 million Series A investment more recently in January. Investors included Accel,  Lightspeed Venture Partners and others.

Company co-founder and CEO Ashar Rizqi knows first-hand just how difficult it is to implement an SRE system. He built custom systems for Box and Mulesoft before launching Blameless two years ago. He and his co-founder COO Lyon Wong saw a gap in the market where companies who wanted to implement SRE were being limited because of a lack of tooling and decided to build it themselves.

Rizqi says SRE changes the way you work and interact and Blameless gives structure to that change. “It changes the way you communicate, prioritize and work, but we’re adding data and metrics to support that shift” he said.

Screenshot: Blameless

As companies move to containers and continuous delivery models, it brings a level of complexity to managing the developers, who are working to maintain the delivery schedule, and operations, who must make sure the latest builds get out with a minimum of bugs. It’s not easy to manage, especially given the speed involved.

Over time, the bugs build up and the blame circulates around the DevOps team as they surface. The company name comes because their platform should remove blame from the equation by providing the tooling to get deeper visibility into all aspects of the delivery model.

At that point, companies can understand more clearly the kinds of compromises they need to make to get products out the door, rather than randomly building up this technical debt over time. This is exacerbated by the fact that companies are building their software from a variety of sources, whether open source or API services, and it’s hard to know the impact that external code is having on your product.

“Technical debt is accelerating as there is greater reliability on micro services. It’s a black box. You don’t own all the lines of code you are executing,” Rizqi explained. His company’s solution is designed to help with that problem.

The company currently has 23 employees and 20 customers including DigitalOcean and Home Depot.

Categories: Business News

Tandem Bank launches ‘Autosavings’ account

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 6:00pm

Tandem Bank, the U.K. challenger bank, is launching a new savings account powered by its “Autosavings” feature designed to make it easier to save.

Paying 0.5 percent interest, the Tandem Autosavings account is effectively a flexible savings bank account built on top of Tandem’s existing bank account aggregation app and the various credit cards it offers. Based on a number of rules, it will automatically put money aside based on your spending habits and what its algorithm deems you can afford.

The first rule, known as “Round Ups,” will move the change from small purchases to your Tandem Autosavings account, enabling you to round-up to the next pound across spending on all of your connected bank accounts.

The second rule, dubbed “Safe To Save,” claims to use machine learning to calculate how much you can save based on the income and outgoings of your connected accounts. Within the Tandem app you can set your saving level using a slider from minimum to maximum savings, which aims to save between 5 and 15 percent of your income.

Outside of these rules, you can also choose to top up your Tandem Autosavings account at anytime. Money moved across to your Tandem Autosavings account is pulled via the debit card you have added to the app and transactions are processed by Stripe, as we previously reported.

“We spend a huge amount of time speaking with our users, understanding the challenges they face with their money, and what we can do to help,” Tandem’s Matt Ford tells me. “A consistent theme which arose for many of our users was the need to save. People either felt like they were unable to save at all (as they battle through to the end of the month), or were trying to save, but spending got in the way and they were unable to reach their goals fast enough”.

Ford says that Autosavings aims to solve these problems by drawing on “behavioural economics principles”. The idea is that by helping customers save small amounts each time they spend, Tandem is initiating a savings behaviour for customers who may have previously felt unable to save.

“Similarly, for those who need an extra boost, we have a rule called ‘safe to save’ which, based on a forecast of upcoming spending and bills, helps sweep any spare cash automatically aside into an interest-bearing Tandem savings account… We’re planning to roll out additional rules over time to find new ways to help customers kickstart and accelerate their savings behaviour”.

Perhaps crucially, Ford says that Tandem doesn’t “sweep” money immediately. Instead, savings are first added to a “virtual pot” that builds throughout the week, before moving across into your Tandem account.

“With a quick swipe, customers can remove any savings items added to the pot before it leaves their current account, and they get a push notification before the money movement occurs so they can ensure that they are comfortable with the saving amount,” he explains. “Also, for people who have aggregated their current account and have the safe to save rule activated, we’re continually monitoring on a day-to-day basis how much a customer can afford to save based on their sending and account balance”.

Meanwhile, Tandem has picked up pace over the last 18 months. Most recently the company launched a credit card for people who find it hard to quality for one. It followed the launch of a competitive fixed savings product, pitting it against a whole host of incumbent and challenger banks, and the original Tandem credit card offering cash-back and low FX rates.

All of Tandem’s products are managed via the Tandem mobile app, which also acts as a Personal Finance Manager (PFM), including letting you aggregate your non-Tandem bank account data from other bank accounts or credit cards you might have.

Like a plethora of fintechs, Tandem’s broader strategy is to become your financial control centre and connect you to and offer various financial services. These are either products of its own or through partnerships with other fintech startups and more established providers.

Categories: Business News

Welcome Pickups lands €3.3M funding to offer ‘in-destination’ travel services

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 5:00pm

Welcome Pickups, an Athens-based startup offering a range of “in-destination” travel services from the point of pickup onwards, has raised €3.3 million in Series A funding. The backing comes from VentureFriends, MarketOne, Howzat, Jabbar, and Openfund. Also participating is Alejandro Artacho, who founded Spotahome, and John Tsioris, founder of Instashop.

Launched in Greece in 2015, Welcome Pickups believes it has spotted an opportunity that moves local travel services beyond a “commoditized transfer service” to a more holistic in-destination travel experience. The idea is that from the moment you arrive at a new destination and until departure, Welcome Pickups will be able to accommodate all of your travel needs, spanning transfers, travel products, things to do, and travel information.

“The travel experience after the flight and hotel booking step is broken,” says Welcome Pickups co-founder and CEO Alex Trimis. “[The] in-destination vertical is a multi-billion dollar opportunity that remains fragmented and offline. Welcome, starting from transportation, will become its leader while assisting players in the other two segments to offer a better and more complete service”.

Trimis says the startup turns airport transfer into a travel experience by using this first step as a gateway to cover all other in-destination needs. To achieve this, Welcome Pickups claims to be creating the most robust and complete in-destination travel data-set in existence.

“Apart from the traveler’s problems, we are also sorting out a number of partner problems,” adds Trimis. This includes helping hotels and other short stay providers personalise their guest experience and optimise operations through the use of Welcome Pickups’ data.

More broadly, the draw is that by “safeguarding” the travel experience at destination, return bookings and recommendations are a lot more likely to happen.

To that end, Welcome Pickups says that in 2018 the company serviced over 400,000 travellers in 32 destinations. It estimates that it will welcome over 1 million travellers in 2019, and says it now employs a team of 60 people, mainly in Athens and Barcelona.

Meanwhile, the Greek startup will use the new funding to expand its product offerings, strengthen the core team and increase the Welcome Pickups
destination network. This will include adding more travel industry partners, such as cruise lines and airlines, and also enhance customer experience with a
traveller app.

Categories: Business News

Doctolib is now a unicorn with new $170 million round

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 3:01pm

French startup Doctolib has raised a new round of funding of $170 million (€150 million). The round is led by General Atlantic, with existing investors Accel, Eurazeo, Kernel and Bpifrance also participating. Some German healthcare entrepreneurs are also joining the round — the company isn’t detailing the names of those investors.

But Doctolib is detailing an important metric — its valuation. Based on this new round, Doctolib now has a post-money valuation of $1.13 billion (€1 billion). There’s a new unicorn in town.

Doctolib first started with a scheduling service for health practitioners. For €109 per month ($124), you can replace your calendar with Doctolib and let the startup take care of your week. Patients can book an appointment on Doctolib’s website and everything stays in sync between your own calendar and your public calendar.

More recently, Doctolib expanded to new countries and new types of practitioners. The company is now live in Germany and now also works with hospitals. Some hospitals have completely switched their scheduling system to Doctolib. Doctolib essentially became the leading cloud service for healthcare scheduling.

There are currently 75,000 practitioners and 1,400 healthcare facilities using Doctolib. The company works with 750 people and has offices in 40 different cities — it sounds like you need to have a local team in order to convince doctors in a specific area.

And now, the startup wants to expand to new services. In January, the company launched its telemedicine service. Existing Doctolib customers can now flip a switch and start accepting remote appointments.

This is a natural extension of Doctolib’s booking service. In addition to finding the right doctor and booking an appointment, you can now have a video consultation with a healthcare professional and get a digital prescription in your account.

Doctolib has focused on a limited feature set for years. But the company now has a shot at becoming a sort of Salesforce for the healthcare industry — a software-as-a-service company with a range of services to help practitioners switch from traditional software suites to browser-based applications.

For instance, Doctolib could expand beyond patient-to-doctor relationships and facilitate doctor-to-doctor collaboration as well.

With today’s funding round, the company will double the size of the team within the next three years across the board. In addition to sales people, the company will also double the size of the technology, product and design teams in order to launch new products. And finally, Doctolib will also expand to new countries.

Categories: Business News

Launching from YC, Eclipse Foods casts a long shadow over the $336 billion dairy industry

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 9:50am

Eclipse Foods may be the company that finally takes milk out of the dairy business.

Ever since the acquisition of WhiteWave Foods by the French dairy giant Danone for more than $10 billion, investors have been thirsting for a technology that would give consumers a better tasting, more milky (for lack of a better word) milk substitute than the highly valuable (but not very tasty) almond, soy and other plant-based dairy alternatives.

There are at least $37.5 billion worth of other reasons for investors’ interest in the milk-alternative category. That’s how much money will be spent on dairy alternatives by 2025, according to a newly released study by the market research firm Global Market Insights.

Enter Eclipse Foods. Founded by two veterans of the alternative sugars and proteins business, the company is going after the whole dairy industry, starting with a line of spreads and select additives for restaurants around San Francisco.

“We had an ‘oh shit’ moment when we got our plant-based milk to act just like the real thing,” says Thomas Bowman, Eclipse Foods co-founder and the former director of product development at Hampton Creek (now known as Just Foods). “We’re not pureeing nuts or seeds or legumes. We asked, ‘What are the properties of milk?’ and built this dairy base of the exact amino acids and fat profile.”

Thomas Bowman in the kitchen (Courtesy Eclipse Foods)

Joining Bowman on the journey to create the perfect milk substitute is Aylon Steinhart, a former specialist working with the Y Combinator -aligned food technology incubator and think tank, the Good Food Institute.

The two men met at the launch event for Just Egg, the fourth product to debut from Just Egg after the release of the company’s mayonnaise alternative, cookie dough and porridge.

“We started talking about ideas and landed on this dairy platform,” recalls Steinhart. “It’s a place where we can make a big change very fast given the technological breakthroughs that we solved for early on.”

The demand is certainly coming on strong. According to Steinhart about 80 percent of millennials are consuming dairy replacements at least once a week.

Aylon Steinhart (Courtesy Eclipse Foods)

Humans didn’t start out drinking milk. Over the 300,000-odd years that some form of homo sapiens has been stalking the planet, it has only been in the past 10,000-odd years that people decided to squirt the liquid out of a cow’s udders to consume it.

At first, humans couldn’t even consume the stuff without getting at least a little nauseous. They needed to develop a genetic mutation to even process the lactose sugars properly.

“The first time that we see the lactase persistence allele in Europe arising is around 5,000 years BP [before present] in southern Europe, and then it starts to kick in in central Europe around 3,000 years ago,” assistant professor Laure Ségurel of the Museum of Humankind in Paris, told the BBC earlier this year.

Ségurel speculates that the health benefits of consuming milk might have been related to the exposure (and potential inoculation) to various diseases that may have otherwise spread from the animals to the humans that were raising them.

If that was the rationale, it’s increasingly unnecessary for modern living, and may indeed be more of a hazard to human health.

Global meat and dairy producers could count among the largest contributors to climate change if their growth remains unchecked, according to a report from the nonprofit Grain.

They estimate that meat and dairy consumption should be reduced by 81 percent in order to meet global emissions reduction targets.

 

With the production of Eclipse’s dairy alternative, there’s no animal required.

“We have an off-the-shelf platform right now. The only additive will be water,” says Bowman.

And unlike other alternative dairy products, Bowman and Steinhart claim that theirs actually tastes good. And, as a Michelin-starred chef, Bowman should know.

The company’s first line of products will be a line of cream cheeses, including one for the bagel and schmear-loving crowd. However, the majority will be more millennial-focused, according to Steinhart.

“There will be various unique flavors that are culinarily focused,” he said.

Expect the first products to debut in an exclusive pilot with Wise Sons and through the ice cream maker Humphry Slocombe, a leader in high-end ice cream in SF.

However companies decide to label their Eclipse-based products, they certainly shouldn’t call them vegan, according to Bowman.

“Vegan cheese is gross,” he says.

Categories: Business News

Alcohol e-commerce startup Thirstie raises $7M

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 5:43am

Thirstie announced today that it has raised $7 million in Series A funding, and that it’s partnering with Drinkworks to power the e-commerce experience for the cocktail-making machine created by Keurig and Anheuser-Busch.

Co-founder and CEO Devaraj Southworth suggested that this is emblematic of the company’s current direction — rather than building a consumer app for alcohol delivery (which is what Thirstie focused on initially), the company now works with alcohol brands like Dom Perignon, Clos19 and Maker’s Mark to create e-commerce and delivery experiences.

Southworth said this is appealing to brands because “there’s a whole new generation of digital-first, mobile-first consumers and there’s an opportunity to increase revenue.” More important, he said, is “the data opportunity — the data belongs to our brand partners, the data doesn’t belong to a marketplace.”

And while Thirstie is now focused on building an enterprise business, it’s still taking advantage of the network of alcohol retailers that the company created for its consumer app.

Thirstie is powering on-demand delivery for Dom Pérignon

Southworth explained said that while Thirstie allows you to order a bottle directly from the Dom Perignon website, it’s actually routing orders “through the network,” so they’re fulfilled by licensed retailers. This means alcohol brands can build a direct relationship with consumers while remaining compliant with the three-tier alcohol distribution system.

And from the Thirstie perspective, this also means building a substantial business without having to invest millions of dollars into marketing a consumer app.

Currently, Thirstie said it supports on-demand delivery in more than 30 cities, and can also ship to any location where shipping alcohol is legal.

Looking ahead, Southworth plans to continue developing Thirstie’s data technology — not just creating dashboards where brands can view their own customer data, but also doing more to aggregate that data to give brands an anonymized, industry-wide view.

“Down the road, there are some very interesting products we can build that can — if the brands are interested — be shared,” he said. “It will be more of a shared marketplace, so all of the brands are going to benefit.”

Thirstie has now raised a total of $12 million, with the new funding coming from Queens Court Capital.

“While some companies have taken capital from industry players to rapidly accelerate the growth of their business, Thirstie realized this could create bias if done too early,” said former Citibank CEO Joe Plumeri (who invested through Queens Court) in a statement. “We admire that Thirstie decided it was more important to scale at a pace that is manageable and allows them to remain independent, and we’re excited to help them achieve their goals.”

Categories: Business News

The top 10 startups from Y Combinator W19 Demo Day 1

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 5:10am

Electric-vehicle chargers, heads-up displays for soldiers and the Costco of weed were some of our favorites from prestigious startup accelerator Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 Demo Day 1. If you want to take the pulse of Silicon Valley, YC is the place to be. But with more than 200 startups presenting across two stages and two days, it’s tough to keep track.

You can check out our write-ups of all 85 startups that launched on Demo Day 1, and come back later for our full index and picks from Day 2. But now, based on feedback from top investors and TechCrunch’s team, here’s our selection of the top 10 companies from the first half of this Y Combinator batch, and why we picked each.

Ravn

Looking around corners is one of the most dangerous parts of war for infantry. Ravn builds heads-up displays that let soldiers and law enforcement see around corners thanks to cameras on their gun, drones or elsewhere. The ability to see the enemy while still being behind cover saves lives, and Ravn already has $490,000 in Navy and Air Force contracts. With a CEO who was a Navy Seal who went on to study computer science, plus experts in augmented reality and selling hardware to the Department of Defense, Ravn could deliver the inevitable future of soldier heads-up displays.

Why we picked Ravn: The AR battlefield is inevitable, but right now Microsoft’s HoloLens team is focused on providing mid-fight information, like how many bullets a soldier has in their clip and where their squad mates are. Ravn’s tech was built by a guy who watched the tragic consequences of getting into those shootouts. He wants to help soldiers avoid or win these battles before they get dangerous, and his team includes an expert in selling hardened tech to the U.S. government.

Middesk

It’s difficult to know if a business’ partners have paid their taxes, filed for bankruptcy or are involved in lawsuits. That leads businesses to write off $120 billion a year in uncollectable bad debt. Middesk does due diligence to sort out good businesses from the bad to provide assurance for B2B deals, loans, investments, acquisitions and more. By giving clients the confidence that they’ll be paid, Middesk could insert itself into a wide array of transactions.

Why we picked Middesk: It’s building the trust layer for the business world that could weave its way into practically every deal. More data means making fewer stupid decisions, and Middesk could put an end to putting faith in questionable partners.

Convictional

Convictional helps direct-to-consumer companies approach larger retailers more simply. It takes a lot of time for a supplier to build a relationship with a retailer and start selling their products. Convictional wants to speed things up by building a B2B self-service commerce platform that allows retailers to easily approach brands and make orders.

Why we picked Convictional: There’s been an explosion of D2C businesses selling everything from suitcases to shaving kits. But to drive exposure and scale, they need retail partners who’re eager not to be cut out of this growing commerce segment. Playing middleman could put Convictional in a lucrative position, while also making it a nexus of valuable shopping data.

Dyneti Technologies

Dyneti has invented a credit card scanner SDK that uses a smartphone’s camera to help prevent fraud by more than 50 percent and improve conversion for businesses by 5 percent. The business was started by a pair of former Uber employees, including CEO Julia Zheng, who launched the fraud analytics teams for Account Security and UberEATS. Dyneti’s service is powered by deep learning and works on any card format. In the two months since it launched, the company has signed contracts with Rappi, Gametime and others.

Why we picked Dyneti: Cybersecurity threats are growing and evolving, yet underequipped businesses are eager to do more business online. Dyneti is one of those fundamental B2B businesses that feels like Stripe — capable of bringing simplicity and trust to a complex problem so companies can focus on their product.

AmpUp

The “Airbnb for electric-vehicle chargers,” ampUp is preparing for a world in which the majority of us drive EVs — it operates a mobile app that connects a network of thousands of EV chargers and drivers. Using the app, an electric-vehicle owner can quickly identify an available and compatible charger, and EV charger owners can earn cash sharing their charger at their own price and their own schedule. The service is currently live in the Bay Area.

Why we picked ampUp: Electric vehicles are inevitable, but reliable charging is one of the leading fears dissuading people from buying. Rather than build out some massive owned network of chargers that will never match the distributed gas station network, ampUp could put an EV charger anywhere there’s someone looking to make a few bucks.

Flockjay

Flockjay operates an online sales academy that teaches job seekers from underrepresented backgrounds the skills and training they need to pursue a career in tech sales. The 12-week bootcamp offers trainees coaching and mentorship. The company has launched its debut cohort with 17 students, 100 percent of whom are already in job interviews and 40 percent of whom have already secured new careers in the tech industry.

Why we picked Flockjay: Unlike coding bootcamps that can require intense prerequisites, killer salespeople can be molded from anyone with hustle. Those from underrepresented backgrounds already know how to expertly sell themselves to attain opportunities others take for granted. Flockjay could provide economic mobility at a crucial juncture when job security is shaky.

Deel

Twenty million international contractors work with U.S. companies, but it’s difficult to onboard and train them. Deel handles the contracts, payments and taxes in one interface to eliminate paperwork and wasted time. Deel charges businesses $10 per contractor per month and a 1 percent fee on payouts, which earns it an average of $560 per contractor per year.

Why we picked Deel: The destigmatization of remote work is opening new recruiting opportunities abroad for U.S. businesses. But unless teams can properly integrate these distant staffers, the cost savings of hiring overseas are negated. As the globalization megatrend continues, businesses will need better HR tools.

Glide

There has been a pretty major trend toward services that make it easier to build web pages or mobile apps. Glide lets customers easily create well-designed mobile apps from Google Sheets pages. This not only makes it easy to build the pages, but simplifies the skills needed to keep information updated on the site.

Why we picked Glide: While desktop website makers is a brutally competitive market, it’s still not easy to make a mobile site if you’re not a coder. Rather than starting from a visual layout tool with which many people would still be unfamiliar, Glide starts with a spreadsheet that almost everyone has used. And as the web begins to feel less personal with all the brands and influencers, Glide could help people make bespoke apps that put intimacy and personality first.

Docucharm

The platform, co-founded by former Uber product manager Minh Tri Pham, turns documents into structured data a computer can understand to accurately automate document processing workflows and take away the need for human data entry. Docucharm’s API can understand various forms of documents (like paystubs, for example) and will extract the necessary information without error. Its customers include tax prep company Tributi and lending business Aspire.

Why we picked Docucharm: Paying high-priced, high-skilled workers to do data entry is a huge waste. And optical character recognition like Docucharm’s will unlock new types of businesses based on data extraction. This startup could be the AI layer underneath it all.

Flower Co

Flower Co provides memberships for cheaper weed sales and delivery. Most dispensaries cater to high-end customers and newbies that want expensive products and tons of hand-holding. In contrast, Flower Co caters to long-time marijuana enthusiasts who want huge quantities at low prices. They’re currently selling $200.000 in marijuana per month to 700 members. They charge $100 a year for membership, and take 10 percent on product sales.

Why we picked Flower Co: Marijuana is the next gold rush, a once-in-a-generation land-grab opportunity. Yet most marijuana merchants have focused on hyper-discerning high-end customers despite the long-standing popularity of smoking big blunts of cheap weed with a bunch of friends. For those who want to make cannabis consumption a lifestyle, and there will be plenty, Flower Co could become their wholesaler.

Honorable Mentions

Atomic Alchemy – Filling the shortage of nuclear medicine

Yourchoice – Omni-gender non-hormonal birth control

Prometheus – Turning CO2 into gas

Lumos – Medical search engine for doctors

Heart Aerospace – Regional electric planes

Boundary Layer Technologies – Super-fast container ships

Here are the 85+ startups that launched at YC’s W19 Demo Day 1

Additional reporting by Kate Clark, Greg Kumparak and Lucas Matney

Categories: Business News

Daily Crunch: 85+ startups launch at YC Demo Day 1

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 3:55am

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Here are the 85+ startups that launched at YC’s W19 Demo Day 1

With more than 200 companies, the Winter 2019 class is by far YC’s largest yet. It’s so large, in fact, the accelerator had to change the way it does Demo Day — rather than all pitches happening on one stage, they were split across two stages (the “Pioneer” and “Mission” stages) running in parallel.

We were there, and as we do with each class, we’ve brought back our notes on everything we saw.

2. Apple upgrades the iMac line with boosted processors and graphics

The perennial favorite all-in-one is getting some key upgrades that will narrow the gap between the line and the high-end iMac Pro. The key additions are ninth-generation Intel processors and Radeon Pro Vega graphics.

3. Nvidia AI turns sketches into photorealistic landscapes in seconds

This is MS Paint for the AI age.

4. Atlassian acquires AgileCraft for $166M

AgileCraft provides business leaders with additional insights into the current status of technical projects and helps them understand the bottlenecks, risks and dependencies of these projects.

5. Instagram launches shopping checkout, charging sellers a fee

“Checkout with Instagram” launches today in the U.S. with more than 20 top brands, including Adidas, Kylie Cosmetics and Warby Parker, which will no longer have to direct customers to their websites to make a purchase.

6. Devin Nunes is suing Twitter over mean tweets from parody account of his mom

Simultaneously complaining that Twitter silences its critics while asking Twitter to silence his critics is a curious legal strategy — but it’s par for the course for Nunes.

7. HP built a better version of the Oculus Rift

Lucas Matney says the new HP Reverb is probably the best PC-powered consumer VR headset out there, when balancing price and feature set.

Categories: Business News

Glossier triples valuation, enters unicorn club with $100M round

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 2:17am

Glossier, known for its flagship line of barely there beauty products, has landed a $100 million Series D led by Sequoia Capital. The round values Emily Weiss’ business at a whopping $1.2 billion, fully cementing the company as a startup “unicorn” and tripling the valuation it garnered with a $52 million Series C in 2018.

News of the round was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and later confirmed by Glossier.

“We are building an entirely new kind of beauty company: one that owns the distribution channel and makes customers our stakeholders,” founder and chief executive officer Emily Weiss said in a statement.

As part of the round, which included support from newcomers Tiger Global Management and Spark Capital and existing investors Forerunner Ventures, Thrive Capital, IVP and Index Ventures, Glossier has hired Vanessa Wittman as its chief financial officer. Wittman previously held the same role at Oath and Dropbox. She replaces Henry Davis, who left the direct-to-consumer makeup brand in late 2018. Other recent additions include Edith Chen, Glossier’s new vice president of supply chain operations, and Nick DeAngelo, vice president of operations.

To date, New York-based Glossier has brought in nearly $200 million in venture capital investment, making it one of the most well-funded privately held beauty businesses. What’s next for the company? Weiss tells The WSJ an initial public offering isn’t out of the question, but didn’t provide a timeline. It’s been about five years since Glossier went from blog to business; it still has plenty of time before investors are pushing for an IPO.

Since it launched as a beauty blog in 2010, Glossier has grown into a 200-person business with $100 million in annual revenue in 2018. It has established two brick-and-mortar shops and expanded from au naturel makeup to “dialed-up extras” fit for the Instagram crowd. The recent launch of its first spin-off brand, Glossier Play, hints at a future where Glossier is a multi-brand beauty empire competing with the likes of Ulta and Estée Lauder.

Should VCs be investing in beauty brands?

Makeup is a huge and growing industry venture capitalists have been sleeping on. Megan Quinn, a general partner at Spark Capital, who led the round in Glossier on the firm’s behalf, says online beauty sales are expected to reach $120 billion by 2024. She expects Glossier to win the beauty market as a result of its intimate connection with customers, word of mouth customer acquisition channel and community-building tactics.

“To say that [Weiss] is a force of nature obfuscates her true superpower: she is a fantastic listener,” Quinn writes in a blog post. “By weaving her unique point of view with the feedback loops of her community, she has built a platform to power additional brands that respond to her customer’s needs. More importantly, she has built a world-class team of product designers, supply chain experts, marketing muscle, and arguably one of the largest engineering teams in beauty to make it happen.”

Glossier launches its first spin-off brand, a line of Instagram-friendly ‘dialed-up’ beauty extras

Categories: Business News

Patreon ups its revenue cut, but grandfathers in old creators

Startup News - 2019, March 20 - 12:59am

Patreon couldn’t survive charging all creators just a 5 percent rake on the monthly subscriptions they earn from fans while building commerce tools like CRMs and merchandise to try to stay ahead of Twitch, YouTube and Google. But it also didn’t want to screw all its loyal early creators.

So today, Patreon is overhauling its pricing. Any creator can still get a 5 percent rate, but just for a Lite version without bonus tools or different fan tiers. All of Patreon’s extra features will now be in the Pro plan, with an 8 percent rate, but with existing creators grandfathered in at 5 percent. And the new Premium enterprise plan for 12 percent (9 percent for existing creators) will offer full-service merchandise sales, multi-user team accounts and dedicated customer support.

If you want the lower grandfathered rates, you’ll need to join Patreon in the next few weeks before the new rates go into effect in early May.

“With this change, Patreon is a long-term independent company that doesn’t need anyone else. That’s the move we’re making here,” says Patreon’s SVP of Product, Wyatt Jenkins. More sustainable pricing means creators won’t have to fear Patreon selling out in desperation to someone like Facebook that might neglect or exploit them.

Instead, Patreon CEO Jack Conte tells me he wants to balance powerful features with right-sized pricing for different creator types to become the platform-agnostic home for subscription patronage when tech giants are each trying to build their own. “To have a different membership for each distribution platform, that’s not going to work. You need a single place for the bottom of your distribution funnel,” Conte explains.

Balancing rates and resources

Patreon now has 3 million fans paying 100,000 creators more than half a billion dollars per year, and it will cross $1 billion in payouts in 2019 after six years in business. But Patreon was starving on its 5 percent rate, which some venture capitalists tell me is why they passed on its funding rounds totaling $105 million led by Thrive Capital and Index. Now it might make enough to keep the lights on, retain ownership and maybe even earn a profit one day.

Jenkins tells me Patreon spent a year talking to more than 1,000 creators to figure out how to re-price its offering. “People don’t like change. But I think in terms of change, we’re going to be able to invest in the different products in different ways. We can put a lot of horsepower into membership,” he explains. The company didn’t want to screw up like when it changed its payment processing rates a year ago, leading to creator backlash and some exodus. “We unilaterally did something that impacted creators’ patrons. That was the real landmine we stepped on.”

Patreon’s new rates

What Patreon discovered was some creators, especially individuals and hobbyists, didn’t care for bells and whistles. They wanted cheap and easy recurring payments so they can focus on their art, so Patreon made the 5 percent Lite plan that strips out the extra features but keeps the old rate.

More serious videographers, illustrators, comedians and pundits wanted to offer different price tiers for different levels of exclusive content. They need analytics, special offers, integrations with other productivity and commerce apps and priority customer support when things break. That’s what creators will get for 8 percent, unless they’re grandfathered in at 5 percent.

But Patreon also found there were whole media organizations with 50 employees built atop its patronage platform. They needed to be able to share accounts and get immediate support when necessary. Meanwhile, tons of creators see merchandise as a powerful way to lure in fans who want signed photos, stickers and other swag each month. “Eighty-five percent of our creators tell us we need merchandise. ‘We spend our days in the post office licking stamps. You can get great negotiation leverage since you have scale, so why aren’t you helping us with this?’ We can’t build that on 5 percent,” Jenkins tells me. They’ll all pay the 12 percent Premium plan price unless grandfathered in at 9 percent. Patreon will, in return, process, pack and ship all their merchandise.

Patreon is also changing its payment processing fees to make sure it doesn’t overpenalize smaller contributions, like creators’ popular $1 per month tiers. Now all transactions over $3 incur a 2.9 percent plus $0.30 fee similar to Stripe’s industry standard, while microtransactions under $3 cost 5 percent plus $0.10. Existing creators get the old rates, and people paying via PayPal from outside the U.S. get hit with an extra 1 percent fee.

The battle for fan subscriptions

Surprisingly, one of Patreon’s most popular creators told me they actually felt bad about being grandfathered in at a lower price, because why should they get special treatment compared to other artists who just might not be as tech savvy. That said, they weren’t going to voluntarily pay a higher rate. “I guess I’m not surprised,” Conte responds. “I’ve found that creators are really humble and selfless, always thinking about other people. I can imagine them saying ‘What about these people? Why am I paying less than them?”

If Patreon can power through the rate change without breaking momentum, it could have a bright future. It’s started a patronage trend, but leaked documents show Facebook plans to charge creators up to 30 percent like YouTube already does, and Twitch charges an astronomical 50 percent. But with far more restrictions on content and far more distrust accrued after years of forsaking creators and tense negotiations, Patreon’s neutral platform with the cheapest rate could remain the fan subscription leader at a time when ad revenue shares are proving inadequate to support turning one’s passion into their profession.

Patreon co-founder and CEO Jack Conte

When TechCrunch broke the news that Facebook planned to charge up to 30 percent, Conte said, “Honestly, it was relieving but really disappointing in some way. I think competition is good. I hope there are many membership products. I hope they’re successful and [give creators a choice]. Right now, it’s not a choice. Facebook’s product is not usable. The folks that have used Facebook’s product have turned it off. From a competitor standpoint, it confirmed my thought that Facebook doesn’t understand creators.”

That’s also why he hopes that one day the tech giants might just integrate Patreon rather than compete, and they could each get a cut of subscription revenue.

Looking forward, he says the toughest challenge for Patreon will be building three different products for three distinct types of creators without the infinite wallets of its rivals. “I think Patreon will be raising for a long time,” Conte says. That will fund Patreon’s plans for eventual international operations, where 40 percent of patrons and 75 percent of creators live. Right now Patreon is offered only in English and supports U.S. dollars. But if it can spin up local languages, currencies and payment processors, Patreon could be where creators around the world go to share with their biggest fans.

Categories: Business News

Custom framing startup Framebridge is opening two retail stores

Startup News - 2019, March 19 - 10:57pm

For a long while, you couldn’t swing a bag of cats around without hitting a retailer looking to create a digital presence. Now, the inverse is growing in popularity, with many digital-first retail brands looking to set up a brick-and-mortar shop.

The latest is Framebridge, a custom framing startup that has raised more than $67 million. The company is launching two new retail stores in the D.C. area, one downtown and one in Bethesda.

“We’ve tested a number of pop-ups, and there were people that had been to our site several times but wanted to see us in person,” said founder and CEO Susan Tynan. “At our pop-ups, average order values were 40 percent higher than they were online.”

The storefronts will still send orders through to the company’s production facility, which will ship final products to end-users. But for folks who come in the store, the hope is that the experience is hyper-similar to using the website.

Framebridge first launched in 2014 with a simple premise: take the pain out of custom framing. The startup lets users browse framing options on the website and see exactly what the piece would look like via website or app. Once the user chooses a frame, Framebridge sends a shipping label and materials to the user, who then sends it to be framed in the Framebridge framing center.

Putting the process online was one step, but bringing down the price was the real innovation here. Through some automation and a refined in-house production process, Framebridge is able to promise customers that the most they’ll pay through the service is $209.

That may sound steep, but folks familiar with the process of getting art framed know just how expensive it can get.

In fact, founder and CEO Susan Tynan came up with the idea for Framebridge after her own harrowing attempt to get four national parks posters framed. Many hours and $1600 later, she decided to shake up the framing industry and has gone on to raise upwards of $67 million from investors like T. Rowe Price, New Enterprise Associates and Revolution.

With the store openings, Framebridge hopes to bring the same simplicity to brick-and-mortar. The company integrated a new POS that allows users to have a nearly identical experience to that of the web and app storefront, allowing them to see their art on screen before they purchase. Plus, the pricing for each frame in every size is clearly marked right on the counter so no customer is ever shocked by the price tag at the end.

[gallery ids="1798965,1798966,1798967,1798968"]

Tynan says that the strategy around launching two stores was to learn as quickly as possible. One store is larger and downtown, whereas the other is slightly smaller and in the suburbs, giving Framebridge the chance to see what works in various environments.

Tynan also mentioned that they’ve put particular effort into making sure the stores are beautiful and inspiring, rather than intimidating.

“The reality is that performance marketing continues to get more expensive and real estate is getting less expensive,” said Tynan. “Framebridge is a distinct category that makes senes offline. And even in my own painful experiences getting things framed before, I didn’t ever hate that it was offline. I hated that it was expensive and intimidating.”

The 14th Street store downtown, located at 1919 14th Street NW in D.C., is opening today at 11am ET, with the Bethesda location, 4806 Bethesda Ave, opening in April.

Categories: Business News

Employee retention platform Peakon raises further $35M in a new round led by Atomico

Startup News - 2019, March 19 - 9:04pm

Peakon, the Denmark headquartered “employee retention platform,” has raised a further $35 million in funding. Described as a Series B extension, the round is led by European venture capital firm Atomico, with backing from existing investors, including EQT Ventures, IDInvest Partners, Balderton Capital, and Sunstone.

Originally offering “people analytics” by enabling companies to more regularly survey employees, Peakon has since evolved to become a fully fledged SaaS for employee retention. It claims to now tackle three critical areas. They are employee engagement, actionable insights to prevent employee problems before they arise, and competitor analysis through benchmarking employee engagement data against Peakon’s proprietary industry-wide data.

Peakon’s surveys are designed to be both fast and conducted weekly, rather than annually (as is the traditional way of surveying employees). They also adhere to standardised questions so as to enable industry wide comparisons. This means that companies using the employee retention software can not only get a more immediate feel for how engaged employees are at any given moment, but also use that data to drive operational decisions and competitor analysis.

For example, Peakon claims to be able to predict when certain employees are in danger of leaving 250 days in advance of doing so. As hiring gets increasingly competitive, this heads up is crucial as it theoretically provides enough time for management to attempt to prevent critical employees from leaving.

Zooming out further, Peakon’s use of standardised questions for the micro surveys it conducts on behalf of customers is enabling the company to build what it claims to be the largest real-time database of “how the world’s workforce is feeling”. By diving deep into this data — based on more than 30 million data points and rising — various macro trends can be established, such as comparing the fall in worker productivity before the winter holidays across countries and demographics.

Meanwhile, I’m told Peakon has grown extremely fast over the last year. This has included opening an office in New York where co-founder Kasper Hulthin is now based, while the company expects its U.S. headcount to be over 50 employees within the next 12 months. Peakon also has offices in U.K., Denmark, Germany, and New Zealand, and says current headcount sits at over 180.

Since launching in early 2016, Peakon’s customers have included the likes of Capgemini, Verizon, BMW, TrustPilot, Harrods and easyJet.

Adds Mattias Ljungman, Partner at Atomico: “As our world continues to change, traditional concepts of work are being redefined. Workers have to deal with constant change, and this is why it is more important than ever for companies to listen to their employees’ voices and create a positive culture through feedback and engagement. Yet, today companies are still struggling to measure their most important asset: their people. We were blown away by Peakon’s rigorous, data-driven approach to this problem”.

Categories: Business News

Axeleo Capital raises $51 million fund

Startup News - 2019, March 19 - 2:01pm

Axeleo Capital has raised a $51 million fund (€45 million). Axeleo first started with an accelerator focused on enterprise startups. The firm is now all grown up with an acceleration program and a full-fledged VC fund.

The accelerator is now called Axeleo Scale, while the fund is called Axeleo Capital. And it’s important to mention both parts of the business as they work hand in hand.

Axeleo picks up around 10 startups per year and help them reach the Series A stage. If they’re doing well over the 12 to 18 months of the program, Axeleo funds those startups using its VC fund.

Limited partners behind the company’s first fund include Bpifrance through the French Tech Accélération program, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Vinci Energies, Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas, Caisse d’Épargne Rhône-Alpes as well as various business angels and family offices.

The firm is also partnering with Hi Inov, the holding company of the Dentressangle family. Axeleo will take care of the early stage investments of Hi Inov, which represent $11.3 million (€10 million).

Axeleo is focusing on early stage rounds, from $565,000 to $4.5 million (€500,000 to €4 million) in anything B2B, from artificial intelligence to cybersecurity and SaaS. So far, the team has invested in Alsid, Vectaury, 365Talents, Jenji, Ermeo and others.

Categories: Business News

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