Business News

InkHunter heads to YC to build a try-and-buy tattoo marketplace

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 5:10am

InkHunter, an augmented reality tattoo try-on app that was born out of a 48-hour hackathon back in the altogether gentler days of 2014, has bagged a place in Y Combinator’s summer 2018 batch, scoring itself the seed accelerator’s standard $120,000 deal in exchange for 7 percent equity.

We first covered InkHunter in April 2016 when it had just launched an MVP on iOS and was toying with building a marketplace for tattoo artists. Several months and 2.5 million downloads later, InkHunter launched its Android app, having spent summer 2016 going through the ERA accelerator program in New York.

At that time the team was considering a B2B business model pivot, based on licensing their core AR tech to e-commerce apps and other developers. Though they wanted to keep the tattoo try-on app ticking over as a showcase.

Fast-forward two years and it’s the SDK idea on ice after InkHunter’s app gained enough traction in the tattoo community for the team to revive their marketplace idea — having passed eight million users — so they’ve relocated to Mountain View and swung back around to the original concept of a try-before-you buy tattoo app, using AR to drive bookings for local tattoo artists.

“We are focusing on iterating from ‘try’ to ‘try and buy’ experience, based on feedback we got from our users. And this is our goal for the YC program, which places a lot of focus on growth and user interactions,” CTO Pavlo Razumovskyi tells us.

“Last time we have talked, we did not expect such adoption on the tattoo market. But when we saw really strong usage and feedback from the tattoo community, we decided to double down on that audience.”

The newly added booking option is very much an MVP at this stage — with InkHunter using a Typeform interface to ask users who tap through with a booking request to input their details to be contacted later, via text message, with information about relevant local tattoo artists (starting with the U.S. market).

But the team’s hope for the YC program is help to hone their approach.

Razumovskyi confirms they’ve started with a booking request concierge service in the U.S. without onboarding any tattoo artists into the planned marketplace as yet, and are merely hand-picking local tattoo artists to help users with bookings.

“While this approach doesn’t scale, it helps us to figure out problems and quickly iterate solutions,” he adds. “We are almost done with this stage, and close to launch an in-app search for tattoo artist into selected locations, listing only licensed artists with the large portfolio.”

InkHunter says close to half (45 percent) its users have expressed a desire to get a tattoo within the next few months, while it got more than 500 booking requests in the first week of the concierge feature.

Though you do have to wonder whether users’ desire to experiment with ink on their skin will also extend to a desire to experiment with different tattoo artists too — or whether many regular inkers might not prefer to stick with a tattooist they already know and trust, and whose style they like. (A scenario which may not require an app to sit in the middle to take repeat bookings.)

“We want to help them do this with as little regret as possible,” says CEO Oleksandra Rohachova of InkHunter’s tattoo-hungry users — so presumably the team will also be carefully vetting the tattoo artists they list on their marketplace.

The main function of the app lets users browse thousands of tattoo designs and virtually try them on using its core AR feature — which requires people spill a little real-world ink to anchor the virtual design by making a few pen marks on their skin where they want the tattoo to live. As use-cases for AR go it’s a pretty pleasing one.

InkHunter also supports taking and sharing photos — to loop friends’ opinions into your skin-augmenting decision, and help the app’s fame spread.

The team’s hope for the next stage of building an app business is once an InkHunter user has settled on the design and placement of their next tat, they’ll get comfortable about relying on the app to find and book an artist. And the next time, for their next tattoo too.

Categories: Business News

Comic sales are down as readers abandon print

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 4:06am

Comic book and graphic novel sales fell 6.5% in 2017 from a 2016 high of $1.015 billion. Graphic novels brought in $570 million while comic books brought in about $350 million.

A report posted to Comichron notes that comic stores are still the biggest source for revenue while $90 million is attributable to digital downloads.

“After a multiyear growth run, the comics shop market gave back some of its gains in 2017, with lackluster response to new periodical offerings and, consequently, graphic novel sales,” wrote Comichron’s John Jackson Miller. “The third quarter of 2017 saw the worst of the year-over-year declines, leading into what has turned out to be a stronger spring for stores in 2018.”

In a pattern that is now familiar in publishing, kids comics and graphic novels helped buoy the market. The same thing is happening regularly in the book market with kids titles selling briskly in print while adults abandon softcovers and hardcovers for digital downloads. While the “floppy” comic book is still clearly popular, the digital download is outpacing subscription sales but it still minuscule in comparison to print.

Interestingly, Comichron breaks up sales into comics, graphics novels, and digital downloads and it would be enlightening to compare digital sales broken up by book style. That said, it’s fascinating to see the medium change as consumption models shift to devices.

Categories: Business News

Knotel acquires 42Floors in order to build the blockchain of property

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 1:29am

Another day, another blockchain project. This time sources are reporting that Knotel – an office space rental service in Manhattan – has acquired 42Floors, a commercial real estate search engine in order to, according to founder Amol Sarva, get “access to data and technology on over 10 billion square feet of office space, driving further liquidity to Knotel’s marketplace while also accelerating its plans for a blockchain platform.”

The deal is not yet complete.

Knotel is building the Agile HQ platform, a way to rent office space for a few hours or a few months without getting stuck in a lease. The company has 1 million square feet of space in New York, San Francisco, London, and Berlin and it raised $100 million in funding. The company claims it has more has more buildings in New York than WeWork.

“42Floors built a powerful tool to organize a dark market that hasn’t changed in a hundred years,” said Amol Sarva, CEO of Knotel. “It’s still backroom and bilateral while the rest of the world is becoming digital and standardized. This is what leads to transactions that take months to close with a dozen middlemen – no reliable information. You can buy a house faster than you can rent a floor. Partnering together will help give owners and customers what they both want: truth.”

The reported 42Floors acquisition enables the company to bring new properties onto its platform and could let non-blockchain-based contracts move to the blockchain.

UPDATE – Text changed to reflect the type of business and ICO plans.

Categories: Business News

Hu-manity wants to create a health data marketplace with help from blockchain

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 1:28am

Imagine a world where you could sell your medical information to a drug company on your terms for a specific purpose like a drug trial. Then imagine you could restrict the company from using that data for anything else, including selling it to other medical data brokers, and enforcing those ownership rules on the blockchain.

That’s what Hu-manity.co, a data ownership startup wants to do and they are putting the pieces in place to create a data marketplace. This is not an easy problem to solve, but co-founder and CEO Richie Etwaru, sees it as a crucial cultural shift in how we treat data.

Etwaru, who wrote a book on using the blockchain and smart contracts in a business context called Blockchain Trust Companies, sees the blockchain as just a small piece of a much broader solution. It can provide a rules engine and enforcement mechanism, but he doesn’t see this as the gist of the company at all.

For Etwaru and Hu-manity it’s about viewing your data as your property, and giving you legal control of it. “We’re starting with the idea that your data is your digital property, and we are allowing you to have the equivalent of a title, like you have for your car,” he explained.

You may be wondering how they can bring this notion to business, which after all has been allowed to use your data for some time without your explicit permission, never mind pay you for it under a set of specific contractual terms. To achieve that, Hu-manity wants to create large pools of users that would make it attractive to the data buyers.

“We are pooling large communities together to be able to notify corporations that don’t respect digital data streams of property, because they take a very business centric view of regulations to opt out, then invite them back into a property centric view of data within the new terms and conditions defined by the marketplace,” he said.

They are starting with health data because Etwaru says that this data is often sold for medical studies, whether you know it or not — albeit with PII removed. The other thing besides market pressure, which could drive companies like big pharma to make contracts with individuals to buy their data, is that they get much better data when they understand the whole patient. Even if they could figure out who the patient is, and it’s becoming increasingly possible with digital fingerprinting, they are legally prohibited from contacting an individual to correct the record or to get a better understanding of their history.

Hu-manity plays a couple of roles here according to Etwaru, For starters, they are attaching a traceable title number to the data. Then they plan to set up the marketplace and help put the seller and buyer together, all the while providing a track and trace mechanism that allows the data owner to ensure their data is being used in a way they wish. In that sense, they are acting as a broker between buyer and seller.

Interestingly, Etwaru admits there is no set market value for this data, at least as of yet, although he believes an individual’s medical data sets could sell for between $200-$400. For now, the company is working with a group of economists to determine the best way to approach pricing. He doesn’t believe it’s a good idea for individuals to negotiate their own terms, and that we should let these market cooperatives determine the value. His company will take 25 percent of the selling price as a brokerage fee, regardless of how it ultimately works.

The company was founded last spring and has raised $5.5 million on a $50 million valuation. There are many issues to work out before that happens, and many ways for stumble along the way, but the company has a compelling vision and it will be interesting to see if it can pull this together and gain market traction.

Categories: Business News

Watch Blue Origin’s most critical rocket launch right here

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 11:57pm

The launch is scheduled for 11:00 am EDT on July 18, 2018.

Blue Origin is about to perform a critical rocket test. For the first time, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company will send its New Shepard rocket to its red line at the edge of space and then fire the escape motor on the capsule that will carry passengers. If this test goes well, Blue Origin’s New Shepard program could become operational as early as this year.

This is the ninth mission for the New Shepard program and the third time this reusable rocket was used.

About 20 seconds (and 100 feet) after the New Shepard booster and the crew capsule separates, the motor on the capsule will fire with 70K foot pounds of thrust, sending the capsule 50,000 km higher than it has gone before. After the motor fires, parachutes will hopefully deploy, allowing the capsule to return safely to solid ground. Separately, the booster will hopefully return to Earth and land so it can be reused again.

Inside the capsule is a crash dummy loaded with instruments to measure the forces of the rocket launch. Bezos dubbed the dummy “Mannequin Skywalker” because even the richest man in modern history is a nerd. Mannequin Skywalker will experience around 3Gs during the launch, a Blue Origin representative said.

Categories: Business News

Kik launches beta product after $100 million ICO

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 11:51pm

Kik made waves last year after a successful $100 million ICO. Now the company has released its first beta product related to its Kin token. Called Kinit, it’s a simple wallet that enables users to earn, store, and spend its tokens.

“Kinit is a fun, easy way to earn Kin, a new cryptocurrency made for your digital life. Earning Kin is just like playing a game, only better, because you get rewarded for completing fun daily activities like surveys, quizzes, interactive videos and more,” reads the Google Play Store description. You can download the app for Android here.

The Kin token is unique for a few reasons. First it is not a traditional ERC-20 token and is instead uses Ethereum for liquidity and the on the Stellar network to improve transaction speed. Further, the company is spending a great deal – about $3 million – to get developers to develop on the token through its KinEcosystem site. The Kinit app is the first effort to get normal users to adopt the tool.

The app makes it possible for users to generate a few dollars in value per day and then exchange those dollars for gift cards and perks. According to CCN, Kik has created a product without a business model and instead it wants to drive the adoption of the token through giveaways.

“Kinit is the first publicly available app dedicated to Kin. Our goal with Kinit is to get Kin into more consumers’ hands. It’s a major step towards making crypto truly consumer-friendly through fun and engaging experiences, and we plan to learn and iterate based on real-world user behavior. We’re excited to get even more people earning and spending Kin — all on the Kin Blockchain,” wrote Rod McLeod, Kik’s VP of communications. The app currently asks you to complete surveys in order to get discounts and gift card codes for products.

[gallery ids="1675786,1675785,1675788,1675787"]

With the rise of the product-less ICO it’s clear that Kik has the right idea. By encouraging usage they drive up the token price and token velocity and by launching a general beta full of cutesy imagery and text they are able to avoid the hard questions about developer adoption until far into the future. While the KinIt app is probably not what most Kin holders wanted to see, it’s at least an interim solution while the team builds out sturdier systems.

Categories: Business News

Y Combinator to give $10K to 100 grads of its online Startup School

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 11:49pm

Y Combinator wants to lure more companies into the funnel for its accelerator while democratizing free access to startup knowledge. It’s simultaneously moving up and down market to conquer the acceleration space, with both its recent Series A program for more mature startups and $1 million in grants for high potential founders from its extra-early-stage online course.

Today the entrepreneurship academy announced that the third year of its Startup School program will begin August 27, offering a 10-week set of lectures on how to build, grow and monetize a startup. More than 13,000 companies signed up last year, with 2,800 of the best receiving a YC alumni mentor, and 1,587 completing the program with an online Demo Day. It proved a powerful feeder, leading to 38 being admitted to YC’s core accelerator program that charges 7 percent equity for $120,000 in funding. Those included patent law firm Cognition IP, customer feedback platform Thematic and internet service provider Necto.

Startup School 2017’s participants came from around the world

But this year, YC is going to give 100 high-potential companies that complete the course a $10,000 grant for no equity in return. The cash comes from YC’s own bank account, filled from exits of its portfolio companies over the years and other revenue streams. These prizes could pique the interest of more founders around the world and keep them committed to following through with the self-directed learning. Interested companies can sign up here.

“Useful advice around how to grow products, how to sell, all the mechanics for starting a startup . . . there’s unending demand for that,” says Geoff Ralston, a YC partner and founder of RocketMail that was acquired and became Yahoo Mail. “In some countries it’s the only career path available,” he declares with a bit of the hyperbole Silicon Valley is known for. “In the U.S., it’s become way more mainstream than it ever was years ago.”

The last two years’ Startup School programs have included lectures from WhatsApp’s Jan Koum and Box’s Aaron Levie on how to build a product, Stripe’s Patrick Collison and Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann on hiring and culture, and investors Marc Andreessen and Ron Conway on how to raise money. YC won’t be running the program in partnership with Stanford University like last year, but still hopes to reach as many companies.

Box CEO Aaron Levie gives a Startup School lecture on building product

“Getting the most out of Startup School requires putting a lot in. I watched every lecture, took notes, attended all the office hours, and participated in the online community, and it was all worth it,” said Cognition IP co-founder Bryant Lee. “The learning experience will save you a ton of time down the road.”

Beyond the lectures and shot at the grants, YC will be offering participants more than $50,000 in credits to Amazon Web Services and other enterprise tools, plus discounted payment processing from Stripe. Graduates will also receive an online meeting with a YC partner later in the year to help them prep for applying to the core accelerator. Ralston says YC is already accustomed to vetting thousands of applications, so he’s confident it can sift through the Startup School students to find the gems.

The program effectively creates a vacuum that sucks in startups so YC can start forging a relationship with them. That’s critical, as it needs access to the best companies to make its program profitable since so many early-stage startups are destined to fail or end up generating paltry returns as acqui-hires by bigger corporations.

Startup School founders may be paired with a mentor like YC alum Christian Van Der Henst of Platzi for weekly online office hours

When asked if the “school” might delude some young wantrepreneurs, convincing them to abandon traditional higher learning or safer jobs to launch a company, Ralston countered, saying “I have to reject the idea that knowledge about what it takes to start a startup is weaponized or dangerous to people. I think there are way larger risks in the dynamicism and changes in the wold today than the risks of trying to start a startup or work at a startup and learn an incredible set of skills that are valuable in life or business.” At the very least, having their startup blow up in their face should build character.

“It can be tough for people if and when their startup doesn’t work out,” Ralston concludes. “But it can be tough when you work at a company for 10 years and get fired and don’t know where to go from there.”

Categories: Business News

Okta nabs ScaleFT to build out ‘Zero Trust’ security framework

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 11:45pm

Okta, the cloud identity management company, announced today it has purchased a startup called ScaleFT to bring the Zero Trust concept to the Okta platform. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

While Zero Trust isn’t exactly new to a cloud identity management company like Okta, acquiring ScaleFT gives them a solid cloud-based Zero Trust foundation on which to continue to develop the concept internally.

“To help our customers increase security while also meeting the demands of the modern workforce, we’re acquiring ScaleFT to further our contextual access management vision — and ensure the right people get access to the right resources for the shortest amount of time,” Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest said in a statement.

Zero Trust is a security framework that acknowledges work no longer happens behind the friendly confines of a firewall. In the old days before mobile and cloud, you could be pretty certain that anyone on your corporate network had the authority to be there, but as we have moved into a mobile world, it’s no longer a simple matter to defend a perimeter when there is effectively no such thing. Zero Trust means what it says: you can’t trust anyone on your systems and have to provide an appropriate security posture.

The idea was pioneered by Google’s “BeyondCorp” principals and the founders of ScaleFT are adherents to this idea. According to Okta, “ScaleFT developed a cloud-native Zero Trust access management solution that makes it easier to secure access to company resources without the need for a traditional VPN.”

Okta wants to incorporate the ScaleFT team and, well, scale their solution for large enterprise customers interested in developing this concept, according to a company blog post by Kerrest.

“Together, we’ll work to bring Zero Trust to the enterprise by providing organizations with a framework to protect sensitive data, without compromising on experience. Okta and ScaleFT will deliver next-generation continuous authentication capabilities to secure server access — from cloud to ground,” Kerrest wrote in the blog post.

ScaleFT CEO and co-founder Jason Luce will manage the transition between the two companies, while CTO and co-founder Paul Querna will lead strategy and execution of Okta’s Zero Trust architecture. CSO Marc Rogers will take on the role of Okta’s Executive Director, Cybersecurity Strategy.

The acquisition allows the Okta to move beyond purely managing identity into broader cyber security, at least conceptually. Certainly Roger’s new role suggests the company could have other ideas to expand further into general cyber security beyond Zero Trust.

ScaleFT was founded in 2015 and has raised $2.8 million over two seed rounds, according to Crunchbase data.

Categories: Business News

Reali raises $20M for its flat-fee real estate platform

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 11:00pm

Reali, a real estate platform that replaces traditional real estate transaction fees with a flat-fee model, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series B funding round led by Zeev Ventures, with participation from Signia Venture Partners and other investors. This round brings Reali’s total funding to $30 million.

The basic idea behind Reali is to do away with the current agent-centric commission model and replace it with a technology platform and agents that are paid a flat fee per transaction. To do this more efficiently in the future, Reali is looking to machine learning and artificial intelligence.

We are fusing AI with human intelligence and optimized workflows around buyer and seller journeys — all towards a superior customer experience for real estate transactions that also result in significant savings for buyers and sellers,” Reali CEO and founder Amit Haller told me.

It’s no surprise, then, that much of the new funding will go toward expanding the company’s expertise in this area. In addition, the service is also looking at expanding its service geographically. Currently, it’s only available in the Bay Area and Sacramento. Reali now wants to add Southern California to this list. “We are in the process of recruiting and training a team of Reali Experts and on-the-ground Brand Ambassadors, and we expect to begin servicing buyers and sellers later this summer,” said Haller. “We will be covering all of California this year, followed by out-of-state markets.”

So far, Reali says, the platform has processed “hundreds of millions of dollars in homes bought and sold.” The company boasts that its agents are far more efficient than other brokers on a per-transaction basis and that they have a Net Promotor Score of 85.2. The company’s app has only been downloaded 30,000 times since January 2017, though that number doesn’t mean much given that the service is only available in a very limited area.

Categories: Business News

Custom framing startup Framebridge picks up $30 million Series C

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 10:26pm

D.C.-based Framebridge today announced the close of a $30 million Series C financing round led by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. with participation from existing investors SWaN & Legend Venture Partners, Revolution Ventures, and NEA.

Launched in 2014, Framebridge offers affordable and convenient custom framing via its website and mobile app. The idea for the company started when founder and CEO Susan Tynan went to get four National Parks posters framed. After a multi-hour consultation, she ended up spending $1,600.

“I left thinking ‘What did I just do?'” said Tynan. “The framing cost more than my couch, and that experience just really stuck with me.”

She poured herself into understanding how the framing industry works, and soon after, Framebridge was born.

On the consumer side, the process is really simple. Users can either upload a picture to be framed, or request shipping materials from Framebridge to send in an existing photo, poster, or piece of art. Users can then ship in their art and choose the framing style on the website or app, with the finished product returning back at their house within seven to ten days.

Because Framebridge does all its own production, the company has been able to implement some automation and refine the production process to lower cost. The highest price a user will pay on Framebridge is $199, with the lowest price at $39 for a framed 10×10 Instagram.

Unlike some other direct-to-consumer, custom-framing startups that outsource their products, Framebridge handles all of its own production. This means that, as the company grows, its margins get healthier and the business gets stronger.

Another benefit of in-house production is that Framebridge gets to see what its users are framing, which has turned out to be much more than your average poster or picture. Tynan recalled seeing baseball tickets, hand-written vows, and other sentimental items come through the facility, and said that up to 65 percent of the items Framebridge customers framed with the startup are things they wouldn’t have taken to a traditional custom framer.

Tynan says that balancing supply and demand is one of the biggest challenges of the company.

“Every time we sell something, we have to produce it,” said Tynan. “We’re getting more sophisticated as we grow, but we’re not a SaaS company. Unlike a lot of other startups, we had to get a lot of disciplines right from the very beginning.”

The new funding will go toward expanding manufacturing capabilities, refining the delivery process, marketing and brand awareness, as well innovation in the product itself.

Categories: Business News

Greycroft raises $250M for its fifth early-stage fund

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 9:49pm

Greycroft, the venture capital firm that’s backed companies like the Huffington Post, Plated and Venmo, is announcing that it has raised $250 million for its latest fund.

The firm was founded in 2006 by Alan Patricof, Ian Sigalow and Dana Settle, and it now invests from a fund for seed and Series A deals (this is its fifth early-stage fund) and a separate fund focused on growth investments. Recent bets include scooter startup Bird and podcast network Wondery.

Sigalow told me that for the most part, the firm’s strategy isn’t changing, though it has adapted to what he called “the rise of the institutional seed round” by making more seed investments of its own.

“I think it’s mostly a change in nomenclature,” Sigalow said — where a funding round of a few million dollars would previously have been called a Series A, it’s now considered seed funding. (And anything before that becomes “pre-seed.”) “There is, on the margin, more capital being deployed industry-wide now than there was five or 10 years ago. That’s true at every stage. Rounds have gotten slightly larger.”

And while Greycroft has offices in New York and Los Angeles, the firm notes that some of its recent successes have come from Birmingham, Alabama (Shipt, which was acquired by Target) and Chicago (Trunk Club, acquired by Nordstrom, as well as Braintree, acquired by PayPal).

Settle said Greycroft tries to look at “opportunities in all kinds of markets.” Sigalow added that one of the “big unsung advantages” of being in LA and NYC is “true access to virtually direct flights everywhere.”

The firm also says that nearly half of its investments go into startups founded by women and other underrepresented groups — its female-founded startups include BaubleBar, BitPesa, Clique, Cuyana, Eloquii, HopSkipDrive, theRealReal, Thrive Global and theSkimm.

While many of Greycroft’s best-known investments have been consumer startups, Settle and Sigalow said the firm has always had a pretty even split between business-to-business and business-to-consumer models. It’s just that the consumer startups tend to get more attention from the press.

Sigalow also said that lately, more enterprise and non-consumer startups seem interested in working with Greycroft because of its consumer successes, because they’re looking to incorporate “what was traditionally B2C functionality.”

“I really think there’s an advantage to all these cross-discipline approaches,” he said.

Categories: Business News

Swim.ai raises $10M to bring real-time analytics to the edge

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 8:00pm

Once upon a time, it looked like cloud-based serviced would become the central hub for analyzing all IoT data. But it didn’t quite turn out that way because most IoT solutions simply generate too much data to do this effectively and the round-trip to the data center doesn’t work for applications that have to react in real time. Hence the advent of edge computing, which is spawning its own ecosystem of startups.

Among those is Swim.ai, which today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series B funding round led by Cambridge Innovation Capital, with participation from Silver Creek Ventures and Harris Barton Asset Management. The round also included a strategic investment from Arm, the chip design firm you may still remember as ARM (but don’t write it like that or their PR department will promptly email you). This brings the company’s total funding to about $18 million.

Swim.ai has an interesting take on edge computing. The company’s SWIM EDX product combines both local data processing and analytics with local machine learning. In a traditional approach, the edge devices collect the data, maybe perform some basic operations against the data to bring down the bandwidth cost and then ship it to the cloud where the hard work is done and where, if you are doing machine learning, the models are trained. Swim.ai argues that this doesn’t work for applications that need to respond in real time. Swim.ai, however, performs the model training on the edge device itself by pulling in data from all connected devices. It then builds a digital twin for each one of these devices and uses that to self-train its models based on this data.

“Demand for the EDX software is rapidly increasing, driven by our software’s unique ability to analyze and reduce data, share new insights instantly peer-to-peer – locally at the ‘edge’ on existing equipment. Efficiently processing edge data and enabling insights to be easily created and delivered with the lowest latency are critical needs for any organization,” said Rusty Cumpston, co-founder and CEO of Swim.ai. “We are thrilled to partner with our new and existing investors who share our vision and look forward to shaping the future of real-time analytics at the edge.”

The company doesn’t disclose any current customers, but it is focusing its efforts on manufacturers, service providers and smart city solutions. Update: Swim.ai did tell us about two customers after we published this story: The City of Palo Alto and Itron.

Swim.ai plans to use its new funding to launch a new R&D center in Cambridge, UK, expand its product development team and tackle new verticals and geographies with an expanded sales and marketing team.

Categories: Business News

BuzzFeed launches a new website for its real journalism

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 8:00pm

It’s not news at this point that BuzzFeed has a serious news organization — one whose reporting on Russia made it a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize this year.

But it’s also a news organization whose stories are published alongside the social media friendly quizzes and lists that BuzzFeed remains known for — which can be confusing, or even provide easy ammunition to those who want to criticize the reporting.

Yes, the company already taken steps to give the more serious reporting its own home and identity, with a BuzzFeed News app, a section on the main BuzzFeed site and a “BuzzFeed News” label on every story.

Still, Senior Product Manager Kate Zasada said the company’s own research has found that some readers “don’t completely understand” that while BuzzFeed is famous for GIF-filled lists, it also produces “deeply researched and fact-checked” journalism. (The snarky comments I get whenever I write about BuzzFeed seem to back this up.)

So the company is making that distinction a clearer with the launch of a new BuzzFeed News website.

News stories will still run on the main BuzzFeed homepage, and the BuzzFeed News site will include links to other BuzzFeed content. But it looks and feels more like a standalone site, giving the team what Zasada said is “a new domain and a new brand.”

The site won’t be divided into traditional topics like politics, sports and so on — Product Manager Sam Kirkland argued that these divisions “didn’t make much sense with how we work internally or how we consume news.” Instead, there’s a Trending News Bar at the top of the page, highlighting the most important topics of the day, as chosen by BuzzFeed News editors.

And while the new site will include advertising, such as links to sponsored BuzzFeed posts, Zasada said there won’t be any sponsored posts hosted on BuzzFeed News itself.

Of course, not every reader will actually find these stories by typing buzzfeednews.com into their web browser. But Zasada said that even if you click over from social media or elsewhere on the web, you’ll see each news article is accompanied by not just the BuzzFeed News logo, but also the Trending News Bar.

And it won’t just be photos and text dominating the page. Zasada said the site will also support YouTube videos and GIFs, and Editor in Chief Ben Smith added that the site will provide “a very seamless way” to promote BuzzFeed’s broadcast-style video programming like its Twitter series AM to DM and Follow This, a Netflix series about BuzzFeed reporters.

Smith also noted that while the company is creating a new home for its journalism, that doesn’t mean the site will be unrelentingly serious and highbrow. As we spoke yesterday afternoon, he said that some of the most popular BuzzFeed News stories included multiple articles about Trump, a long essay about Gwen Stefani and a story on the sadly neglected aerial tram emoji.

In other words, he said, it’s a “general interest news organization” that covers the “full range” of relevant topics.

And even as it’s competing with all that other BuzzFeed content, it’s still drawing an audience. The company says BuzzFeed News stories receive 200 million pageviews each month, and that one third of BuzzFeed’s total audience reads news stories each month.

In Smith’s view, the new website reflects “an organizational change that’s already happened.”

“I don’t think anybody finds it confusing that ABC does news programming and scripted shows on prime time,” he said. “On the web, the conventions are less clear. I think we’re trying to be very clear. We feel our audience wants that.”

Categories: Business News

Self-driving car startup Zoox is raising $500 million at a $3.2 billion valuation

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 5:17am

Zoox, a once-secretive self-driving car startup, is closing a $500 million raise at a $3.2 billion post-money valuation, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Prior to the deal, Zoox was valued at $2.7 billion, Zoox confirmed to TechCrunch. The round, led by Mike Cannon-Brookes of Grok Ventures, brings its total amount of funding to $800 million.

Zoox’s plan, according to Bloomberg, is to publicly deploy autonomous vehicles by 2020 in the form of its own ride-hailing service. The cars themselves will be all-electric and fully autonomous. Meanwhile, ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft are also working on autonomous vehicles, as well as a number of other large players in the space.

Zoox, which turned four years old this month, is a 500-person company founded by Tim Kentley-Klay and Jesse Levinson. In the meantime, head over to Bloomberg for the full rundown.

Categories: Business News

Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman moves into Chairman role

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 3:00am

Scott Heiferman, Meetup CEO and cofounder, is today moving into the Chairman role at the community-building startup.

Meetup launched in 2003 with a simple goal: to give communities an easy way to meet up in real life. Since, the company has grown to 40 million members, with 320,000 Meetup groups and around 12,000 Meetups per day around the world.

Late last year, WeWork acquired Meetup for a reported $200 million. According to WeWork, thousands of Meetups were already happening in WeWork locations. Plus, WeWork has been holding its own events focused on community building, so the acquisition seemed like a natural fit.

That said, Heiferman has spent 16 years running Meetup on a day to day basis, and is ready to move into a visionary role and appoint someone else to take over leading the team and scaling the company out further. Meetup cofounder Brendan McGovern is moving on from the company, but didn’t share with TechCrunch his future plans.

In the meantime, Meetup is looking for a new CEO.

Here’s what Heiferman had to say in an email to the company:

Team,

Here’s a little summary…

Today I announced I’ll be moving into the role of Chairman at Meetup, and we’re starting the search for a new CEO. Brendan will move on from Meetup at that point.

We hired 100 people so far this year, so we want to add to Meetup’s leadership team. I’ll become Chairman to make room for a new CEO who loves the day-to-day of leading a big team to serve millions of people.

Meanwhile, I’m most obsessed with Meetup reinventing itself to help a billion people create real community in the 2020’s.

The ultimate goal of these changes is for Meetup to have much more positive impact in the world. To be great at the here-and-now. And great at the around-the-corner.

This is a big deal, I know. I care deeply about finding a CEO who will add to this team, grow us, expand us, and make us better than before; a bold move and a fresh generation of leadership.

Scott

FAQs

What’s happening?

We’re looking for a new CEO of Meetup. After we find a new CEO, I’ll move into the role of Chairman. Brendan will move on (when the new CEO comes) to pursue new adventures.

What’s Chairman; what’s CEO?

CEO leads the team and is ultimately responsible for decisions and results. Chairman is involved in strategy and vision.

Why are we looking for a new CEO?

I’ve always been open to the boldest moves to serve our mission — that’s why we joined WeWork last fall. WeWork believes in our potential and they see the incredible opportunity we have to grow and innovate to serve the next 100 million — or billion — members. But to get there, we need more attention and clarity on operational excellence. By stepping into the role of Chairman, where my primary job will be focusing on the vision of serving 10X more people, we can bring in a leader whose primary talent is larger-scale operations and methodical growth processes to complement my skills and accelerate Meetup’s growth.

When is this happening?

The search is kicking off now. It’s a top priority but it could take time to find the right person to join our team. I’m highly involved in the search – as are Shiva Rajaraman and Adam Neumann. I will remain CEO until our new CEO starts, keeping us moving toward our goals.

What are we looking for in a CEO?

It’s a very high bar. Thankfully it’s one of the best jobs in the world. A few of the key criteria:

–Huge belief in our mission and potential
–Success leading a 250+ team to significantly grow a technology product (ideally consumer marketplace/platform/network) by methodically and strategically focusing on key levers
–Operates with the integrity and authenticity that’s always been a part of Meetup

What will the process be for interviewing and selecting a new CEO?

Shiva, Adam and I are primarily involved in the search and decision. All 12 Meetup Leadteamers will interview final candidates. The new CEO will report to Shiva.

Will there be more changes the leadership team?

There aren’t any changes planned right now. But we’re always open to Changing the Company, and Meetup is going to continue evolving to have the impact we want to have in the world.

Categories: Business News

Ultimate Software is acquiring PeopleDoc for $300 million

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 2:21am

Public company Ultimate Software is acquiring French startup PeopleDoc for $300 million in cash and stock. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2018. These two companies both make HR solutions.

Ultimate Software has been around for a while. It went public in 1998 and switched to a software-as-a-service solution in 2002 — this solution is called UltiPro. It lets you manage all things HR, from payroll to benefits, time management, onboarding, performance management and more.

PeopleDoc is a younger French startup that has raised over $50 million. As the name suggests, PeopleDoc lets you centralized all HR documents related to you in a single location. They can come from multiple sources and systems, they’ll all be there.

The startup has also worked on an onboarding solution and other tools to automate HR processes as much as possible. For instance, you can use PeopleDoc to communicate with the HR team and notify them of a change.

Ultimate Software has around 4,100 customers, which represent around 38 million employees. So it’s clear that the company is going after big clients. Each customer employs 9,200 people on average.

PeopleDoc has a thousand customers and serves 4 million employees. While PeopleDoc is significantly smaller than Ultimate Software, it’s a notable acquisition for the startup.

Ultimate Software says that it plans to spend $75 million in cash when the acquisition closes. PeopleDoc shareholders will receive another $50 million a year later.

Finally, Ultimate Software is spending around $175 million in stock for the rest of the acquisition. The company has been doing incredibly well on the stock market, consistently going up over the past ten years.

There are two reasons behind the acquisition. First, Ultimate Software has been mostly focused on American customers. With today’s acquisition, Ultimate Software will be able to convince new international customers, particularly in Europe.

Second, PeopleDoc will continue to operate as a subsidiary as these two companies don’t exactly do the same thing. In fact, Ultimate Software will start distributing PeopleDoc’s services to its own customers next year.

Categories: Business News

Ocean Solutions Accelerator names its first wave of conservation startups

Startup News - 2018, July 18 - 12:46am

Early this year the Sustainable Oceans Alliance announced it would be starting its own accelerator with a focus on conservation. The nonprofit has just announced the Ocean Solutions Accelerator’s first wave of startups: a particularly varied and international lineup that’s easy to root for.

You may also remember that the SOA was one of the beneficiaries of the mysterious Pineapple Fund, administered by a mysterious cryptocurrency multimillionaire. No doubt that has helped get the accelerator on its feet in good time.

The startups — which I’m getting to, be patient — will receive an initial investment to cover the cost of relocating to the Bay Area for eight weeks this summer. There they will receive the loving care of the collection of academics, founders, officials and others in or around the Alliance, plus some important “personal development and executive training” intended to keep your company alive long enough to ship a product.

Interestingly, applications were only open to founders 35 years and under, presumably to get that young blood into the conservation game. Here are the five companies selected to take part:

SafetyNet, from London, makes light-emitting devices that attach to fishing nets and can be programmed to attract or discourage certain kinds of fish. This prevents a boat from catching — and subsequently throwing away — thousands of the wrong fish, a huge waste.

CalWave came out of Berkeley a couple of years ago and has been testing and refining its wave-harvesting renewable energy system, and in fact won a big Department of Energy grant just last year. Now presumably the team is looking to go from prototype to product and do some big installs.

Loliware’s edible cups.

Loliware has created seaweed-based straws and cups that are so compostable you can do it yourself — like, in your mouth. The items last for a day in a drink (or with a drink in them) but when you throw it away it’ll totally dissolve in about two months — or you could literally eat it. The New Yorkers were on Shark Tank and I’m guessing they ate one on camera. You can already order them on Amazon and people say they’re actually pretty tasty.

Etac, a Mexican company from Culiacan, has few details on its site, but SOA’s press release says the company “designs and produces functional nanomaterials for energy and environmental applications, such as oil spill and wastewater cleanup.” I believe them.

And because there can’t be an accelerator without a blockchain startup in it, there’s Blockcycle, based in Sydney, which aims to create a marketplace around waste materials that would normally go to the landfill but could also be valuable to recyclers, reusers and so on. (Turns out there was an uptick in blockchain applications after the Pineapple Fund thing.)

All five companies will present their ideas on September 11 at an event (specifically, a gala) timed to coincide with California Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. And then in October they’ll present again in Bali at the Our Ocean Youth Summit.

“These ocean entrepreneurs are a beacon of hope at a time when new, bold approaches are needed to fast-track innovation and sustain the health of our planet,” said SOA founder and CEO Daniela Fernandez. “By supporting these incredible startups, we are encouraging young people to take ownership of the environmental threats facing their communities, bet against consensus and re-invent existing markets to benefit, instead of harm, our climate, and ocean.”

Categories: Business News

Standard Cognition raises another $5.5M to create a cashier-less checkout experience

Startup News - 2018, July 17 - 9:00pm

As Amazon looks to increasingly expand its cashier-less grocery stories — called Amazon Go – across different regions, there’s at least one startup hoping to end up everywhere else beyond Amazon’s empire.

Standard Cognition aims to help businesses create that kind of checkout experience based on machine vision, using image recognition to figure out that a specific person is picking up and walking out the door with a bag of Cheetos. The company said it’s raised an additional $5.5 million in a round in what the company is calling a seed round extension from CRV. The play here is, like many startups, to create something that a massive company is going after — like image recognition for cashier-less checkouts — for the long tail businesses rather than locking them into a single ecosystem.

Standard Cognition works with security cameras that have a bit more power than typical cameras to identify people that walk into a store. Those customers use an app, and the camera identifies everything they are carrying and bills them as they exit the store. The company has said it works to anonymize that data, so there isn’t any kind of product tracking that might chase you around the Internet that you might find on other platforms.

“The platform is built at this point – we are now focused on releasing the platform to each retail partner that signs on with us,” Michael Suswal, Co-founder and COO said. “Most of the surprises coming our way come from learning about how each retailer prefers to run their operations and store experiences. They are all a little different and require us to be flexible with how we deploy.”

It’s a toolkit that makes sense for both larger and smaller retailers, especially as the actual technology to install cameras or other devices that can get high-quality video or have more processing power goes down over time. Baking that into smaller retailers or mom-and-pop stores could help them get more foot traffic or make it easier to keep tabs on what kind of inventory is most popular or selling out more quickly. It offers an opportunity to have an added layer of data about how their store works, which could be increasingly important over time as something like Amazon looks to start taking over the grocery experience with stores like Amazon Go or its massive acquisition of Whole Foods.

“While we save no personal data in the cloud, and the system is built for privacy (no facial recognition among other safety features that come with being a non-cloud solution), we do use the internet for a couple of things,” Suswal said. “One of those things is to update our models and push them fleet wide. This is not a data push. It is light and allows us to make updates to models and add new features. We refer to it as the Tesla model, inspired by the way a driver can have a new feature when they wake up in the morning. We are also able to offer cross-store analytics to the retailer using the cloud, but no personal data is ever stored there.”

It’s thanks to advances in machine learning — and the frameworks and hardware that support it — that have made this kind of technology easier to build for smaller companies. Already there are other companies that look to be third-party providers for popular applications like voice recognition (think SoundHound) or machine vision (think Clarifai). All of those aim to be an option outside of whatever options larger companies might have like Alexa. It also means there is probably going to be a land grab and that there will be other interpretations of what the cashier-less checkout experience looks like, but Standard Cognition is hoping it’ll be able to get into enough stores to be an actual challenger to Amazon Go.

Categories: Business News

Certify acquires real-time expense management startup and YC alum Abacus

Startup News - 2018, July 17 - 8:55pm

Expense management software provider Certify is beefing up its artillery against rival Concur with the acquisition of Abacus, which enables companies to deal with expenses in real time. The deal’s financial terms were not disclosed. The addition of Abacus will help Certify, which includes other expense management solutions like Nexonia and ExpenseWatch under one umbrella, become a stronger rival to SAP-owned Concur by reaching new customer segments.

Founded by Omar Qari, Josh Halickman and Ted Power, Abacus says it was the first real-time expense reporting solution on the market when it launched in 2013. The Y Combinator alum, whose investors included General Catalyst, Bessemer Venture Partners, Google Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, currently counts 1,000 customers. Its team will join Certify and the Abacus product will continue to be independent.

Expenses are a bane for everyone involved: the employees who need to turn in receipts, the managers who have to approve them and everyone in the finance department who needs to reconcile corporate credit cards and make sure company policy is followed. Abacus eases their pain with features like automatic expense suggestions and Slack integration for employees.

For companies, it lets them set prompts to enforce spending limits and make sure details, like client names, are filled in correctly. If expenses need to be approved by specific managers or departments, Abacus routes them to the right person. Real-time analytics also help companies make quick budget decisions.

Abacus’ clients include Betterment, Dropbox, GLG and North American Substation Services. In an email, Qari, the CEO of Abacus, told TechCrunch that Abacus is a good fit for “companies that need out-of-the-box flexibility in approval flows, spending controls and ERP sync.”

For example, he said North American Substation Services, which provides installation, repair and maintenance work for high-voltage stations, uses Abacus to speed up its account receivables by billing back expenses closer to when they actually happened, while Dropbox chose Abacus to reimburse interview candidates more quickly.

Certify was acquired by K1 Investment Management last year and combined with expense management software providers Nexonia, ExpenseWatch and Tallie to serve a total of 10,000 businesses. Certify says this makes it the largest competitor to Concur.

Each brand operates independently, serving its own niche, like Abacus will. Qari said that “in a prospect overlap analysis, we found hardly any opportunities are common across the portfolio, highlighting how unique each brand’s segment is. The expense management industry’s typical customer profile is fairly fragmented, so it’s going to take multiple solutions approaching the space from multiple angles to fully satisfy market demand.”

Categories: Business News

Dialpad dials up $50M Series D led by Iconiq

Startup News - 2018, July 17 - 8:30pm

Dialpad announced a $50 million Series D investment today, giving the company plenty of capital to keep expanding its business communications platform.

The round was led by Iconiq Capital with help from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Amasia, Scale Ventures, Section 32 and Work-Bench. With today’s round, the company has now raised $120 million.

As technology like artificial intelligence and internet of things advances, it’s giving the company an opportunity to expand its platform. Dialpad products include UberConference conferencing software and VoiceAI for voice transcription applications.

The company is competing in a crowded market that includes giants like Google and Cisco and a host of smaller companies like GoToMeeting (owned by LogMeIn), Zoom and BlueJeans. All of these companies are working to provide cloud-based meeting and communications services.

Increasingly, that involves artificial intelligence like natural language processing (NLP) to provide on the fly transcription services. While none of these services is perfect yet, they are growing increasingly accurate.

VoiceAI was launched shortly after Dialpad acquired TalkIQ in May to take this idea a step further by applying sentiment analysis and analytics to voice transcripts. The company plans to use the cash infusion to continue investing in artificial intelligence on the Dialpad platform.

Post call transcript generated by VoiceAI. Screenshot: Dialpad

CEO Craig Walker certainly sees the potential of artificial intelligence for the company moving forward. “Smart CIOs know AI isn’t just another trendy tech tool, it’s the future of work. By arming sales and support teams, and frankly everybody in the organization, with VoiceAI’s real-time artificial intelligence and insights, businesses can dramatically improve customer satisfaction and ultimately their bottom line,” Walker said in a statement.

Dialpad is also working with voice-driven devices like the Amazon Alexa and it announced Alexa integration with Dialpad in April. This allows Alexa users to make calls by saying something like, “Alexa, call Liz Green with Dialpad” and the Echo will make the phone call on your behalf using Dialpad software.

According to the company website, it has over 50,000 customers including WeWork, Stitch Fix, Uber and Reddit. The company says it has added over 10,000 new customers since its last funding round in September, 2017.

Categories: Business News

Pages

Subscribe to Hardfocus International aggregator - Business News