Startup News

Subscribe to Startup News feed Startup News
Startup and Technology News
Updated: 5 hours 8 min ago

Meet Uber’s newly promoted chief product officer, Manik Gupta

2018, November 16 - 3:06am

Manik Gupta got his first taste of solving logistics nightmares when, fresh out of college, he was delivering Palm Pilots around Singapore. He’d started a precursor to Groupon called BuyItTogether. “We were a full-stack marketplace where we were also delivering the goods. That’s what caused us to not have good profit margins. Actually, zero profit margins,” he recalls with a laugh.

His new gig isn’t earning profits either. Uber lost nearly $1 billion last quarter. But the company sees Gupta’s experience with delivery and maps as crucial to building an app that caters to people’s every desire so they never stray and keep earning it money. That’s why today Uber announced that it’s promoted its VP of maps and marketplace Manik Gupta to become its new chief product officer.

“We look at ourself at Uber as the starting point of all your transportation needs” Gupta tells me. “Here’s a company that’s causing this interesting change in user behavior. With my own knowledge and capability, I thought I could help the company get to the next level of understanding the real world, which is very different from digital habits.” His first big projects will be augmenting GPS for more accurate pickups and making Uber’s new rider and driver loyalty program work in every market.

From entrepreneurship to the massive supply chain of HP, to the top of Google India and now at Uber, Gupta is one of those technologists who lives to eliminate frustration. He framed nearly every question I asked him in the sense of problems and solutions. In the messy physical realm of clogged streets, that mentality goes a long way.

“I grew up in India and things weren’t always very structured” Gupta says when asked where that philosophy came from. “I learned to manage uncertainty and the importance of having a Plan B at a very early age. I faced a lot of real-time micro-problems needing micro-solutions and I guess I’ve honed this skill over time.”

Back in 1999 with BuyItTogether, there were no logistics networks. “We couldn’t get the retailers to do the delivery themselves. So we had to do it,” Gupta remembers, seeming like he’s still a bit exhausted by the experience. He eventually sold BuyItTogether to a Norwegian company called CoShopper and spent a few years bringing the service to Europe. “That was my first foray into doing things in the real world and being focused how we can move things from point A to point B as fast as possible.”

Manik Gupta’s first startup, the very 1990s “BuyItTogether”

From there he joined Hewlett Packard as it struggled to match Dell’s direct-to-consumer sales model, which he says “required building tons of muscles for HP.” After getting an MBA, he joined Google India in Bangalore. “My first week, my manager asked me what are the things I’m interested in, and told me ‘There’s something called Maps that no one seems to be owning. Do you want to work on that?'”

That opportunity would set him on the path to Uber. He launched Google Maps in India and managed MapMaker, the crowdsourcing tool that gave Google feet on the ground in tiny towns around the world. Gupta moved to Mountain View in 2011 to oversee Google’s push to make its own maps, which after seven years at the company set him up to join as Uber’s VP of maps and marketplace in 2015.

Now after nearly three years, and spending the last five months filling in since Uber’s VP of Product Daniel Graf left, Gupta is in the top product spot at Uber. Its previous CPO Jeff Holden who’d focused on flying cars left in May. Gupta is humble about the new gig, repeating “I’m here to help,” rather than to lead or become some tech luminary. He seems happy leaving that to Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

Knowing that Uber is spread across so many culturally distinct places, Gupta wants his teams to build what’s right for the world around them rather than trying to make Uber the same everywhere. “One of the things I learned back at Google is that you really have to empower teams that are locally situated.” For example, the India team was fully responsible for the development of its new Uber Lite app for emerging markets with slow connections and old phones.

One thing I hope he develops a coherent cross-border strategy for is helmets. With Uber’s bikes and scooters proliferating, people around the world are increasingly hopping on and hopping off. But the spontaneous nature of the experience means many riders aren’t wearing helmets. If that practice continues, major injuries will stack up. Not only is it a moral imperative that Uber develop a helmet solution, like something collapsible or that attaches to the vehicle between rides, but its relationship with local governments will depend on keeping citizens safe.

As for Gupta’s personal roadmap, he’s concentrating on rolling out the Uber Rewards rider loyalty and Uber Pro driver loyalty initiatives. “Both of these programs are just getting started, so I’m focused on getting them installed in the communities we serve.”

Drawing on his Google Maps experience, Gupta is developing a new way to make sure drivers and riders can always find each other. “We’re rethinking GPS to solve a major pain point for riders and drivers: pick up location. These locations are particularly tricky for GPS to find when they’re in “urban jungles” or areas with a lot of tall buildings” Gupta explains. “The technology we’re piloting in a handful of cities improves GPS performance in these cities by using maps and satellite signal strengths to help drivers find pick up points more easily.” The means you might not have to run across four lanes of traffic to get to your ride.

But knowing Uber’s history of culture issues, Gupta wants to ensure his team lives by Dara’s new mantra of ‘Do the right thing. Period.’ “This is a super important topic as well. I believe that the way you set culture starts at the top. Dara has been a phenomenal agent of change within the company. Over the course of this year we have attracted excellent talent for the product team — from the Facebooks and Googles of the world. We have this melting pot of people from all different backgrounds.” To build for everyone, he knows each of those voices must be heard.

Categories: Business News

Propel accelerates with $18M Series B to manage product lifecycle

2018, November 16 - 12:02am

We hear so much about managing the customer relationship, but companies have to manage the products they sell, too. Propel, a Santa Clara startup, is taking a modern cloud approach to the problem, and today it landed an $18 million Series B investment.

The round was led by Norwest Venture Partners. Previous investors Cloud Apps Capital Partners, Salesforce Ventures and SignalFire also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to more than $28 million.

“We are focused on helping companies design and launch products, based on how you go through the life cycle of a product from concept to design to make, model, sell, service where everybody in a company gets involved in product processes at different points in time,” company co-founder and CEO Ray Hein told TechCrunch.

Hein says the company has three core products to help customers track products through their life. For starters, there is the product life cycle management tool (PLM), used by engineering and manufacturing. Next, they have product information management for sales and marketing. Finally, they have service personnel using the quality management component.

The company is built on top of the Salesforce platform, which could account for Salesforce Ventures’ interest in the startup. While Propel looks purely at the product, Salesforce is more interested in the customer, whether from a sales, service or marketing perspective.

These same employees need to understand the products they are developing and selling and that is where Propel comes into play. For instance, when sales people are filling out an order, they need access to the product catalog to get the right numbers or marketing needs to understand the products they are adding to an online store in an e-commerce environment.

Traditional PLM tools from companies like SAP and Oracle are on-prem or have been converted from on-prem to cloud services. Propel was born in the cloud and Sean Jacobsohn, partner at Norwest Venture Partners, who will be joining the Propel board, sees this as a key differentiator for the startup.

“With Propel’s solution, companies can get up and running faster than with on-premise alternatives and pivot products in a matter of seconds based on real-time feedback gathered from marketing, engineering, sales, customers and the entire supply chain,” Jacobsohn said in a statement.

The company was founded in 2015. It currently has 35 employees; flush with these new funds, Hein intends to boost to 50 in the coming months.

Categories: Business News

Italic launches its marketplace for affordable luxury goods from top manufacturers

2018, November 15 - 11:26pm

A new startup called Italic says it’s already received more than 100,000 signups for a marketplace where you can buy handbags, eyewear and other luxury products directly from the manufacturers who work with the world’s best-known brands.

The marketplace is officially launching today. Italic is also announcing that it’s raised $13 million in funding from Comcast Ventures, Global Founders Capital, Index Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Kindred Ventures and others.

Founder and CEO Jeremy Cai previously co-founded the Y Combinator-backed hiring startup OnboardIQ (now known as Fountain.com), so this sounds like a pretty big change. However, Cai said he comes from a family in the manufacturing business, so he was acutely aware of the challenges facing manufacturers.

“The history of manufacturing has been about margins,” he said. “Even though they make the final product, they barely make a profit.”

Under the traditional model, it’s the brands that buy the goods from the manufacturers and make the real profit by marking up prices. So Cai saw an opportunity to remove the brands from the equation — Italic handles the consumer-facing side of the business, like product design and marketing, but it doesn’t actually buy anything. Instead, it operates more like a marketplace, connecting consumers and manufacturers.

This also means the manufacturers are assuming more of the risk around the initial cost of creating the products, but Cai said that in return, they get much more of the upside. And apparently, Italic’s initial partners “jumped at the opportunity,” as “they’ve been waiting for an option like this to get to go direct-to-consumer.”

Under the Italic model, the manufacturers remain anonymous, but the company says customers will be able to purchase handbags and leather goods from factories that work with Prada, Christian Louboutin and Givenchy; eyewear from a factory that works with EssilorLuxottica; bedding factories that work with Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons; and leather jackets from the same factory as J Brand.

Cai said this model also means consumers will pay significantly less than they would for luxury goods — most of the handbags will cost less than $300, the prescription eyewear will cost less than $100, leather jackets will be around $425 and bedding will be priced between $80 and $120. You’ll certainly be able to find cheaper products elsewhere, but the idea is sell to “the middle 40 percent” of consumers who are interested in high-quality products but want to be “a lot more frugal and smart with their dollars.”

And while Cai declined to specify the commission that Italic is charging manufacturers, he did say it differs from product to product, and added, “Our manufacturers make several multiples more than they make with their current brand clients.”

During our conversation, Cai repeatedly emphasized the difference between Italic and many of the new direct-to-consumer brands that have emerged online (such as Warby Parker and Casper).

When I wondered whether the marketplace versus brand distinction will be lost on most consumers, he replied, “On the design side, we’re extremely intentional. We’re designing it with the messaging that we operate differently, you’re buying from a merchant who is an anonymous manufacturer. The sole intention is that when someone asks you, ‘Where did you get that handbag?’ you say, ‘I got this handbag from Italic, on Italic.’ The goal is to operate more like a retailer without any brands.”

At the same time, he acknowledged that Italic is itself a sort of brand, albeit with a unique business model.

“At the end of the day, it’s impossible to say we aren’t building a brand,” he said. “But the brand of Italic [should be that] we can consistently bring you high-quality products at an incredible price point.”

Italic will operate on a membership model, which Cai said will allow the company to control demand, since quantities are limited. It also allows the company to solicit product feedback from members, and there could be other benefits like shipping discounts. Members who sign up initially will get a year for free, but it will eventually cost $120 annually.

Categories: Business News

Spotify alums create Canopy content suggester that won’t steal your data

2018, November 15 - 11:05pm

Personalization comes at a steep price. All your data gets sucked up into a company’s servers where they can do whatever they want with it. But Canopy is a new content discovery startup that’s invented impressive technology that lets it learn about you anonymously while all your data stays on your device. Built by the co-founder and CTO of Echo Nest, the music data startup Spotify acquired to power its recommendations, Canopy wants to turn privacy into a competitive advantage. It plans to equip any content app with its tech that crunches your biographical and behavior data on your phone or computer so all it sends along are clues to what you want to see or hear next.

But first, Canopy will launch its own proof of concept app early next year that suggests long-form articles and podcasts based on your taste and activity. “There hasn’t been a great solution to private discovery. We think the reason people haven’t been excited about privacy is that they haven’t seen the opportunities,” says Canopy founder and CEO Brian Whitman. “We are totally changing the value exchange of the internet,” adds Canopy’s head of product strategy and former Spotify director of Music Publishing Annika Goldman. Matrix Partners is betting on Canopy’s privacy-safe vision for the future, leading a $4.5 million seed round for the startup.

That seems wise, considering Whitman built one of the world’s most beloved content recommendation engines: Spotify’s Discover Weekly. “I’ve been doing music recommendation stuff since 2000,” Whitman tells me. He left in 2015, and started to become disillusioned about “how much power we had put in algorithmic decision making and personalization. All your information goes to their servers.” Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal only confirmed his views. “All this data is now being used against people. You’re getting bad recommendations, bad ads, and people are being radicalized.”

A year or two ago he started discussing the idea of building a content recommendation engine that didn’t require your actual data as inputs. He came up with a solution where “Instead of sending thousands of data points to the server we can keep all that personal data on your phone,” Goldman explains. “Take Spotify for example. You listen to a song. It knows where you listened to that, it knows how long you listened to it, it knows what you did next — all this stuff they don’t need to know to make music recommendations. We condense and summarize all that information and send it as a single vector — effectively, a summary of things you might like and we make it impossible to reverse engineer the vector to understand the data behind it.”

She likens the system to a model of the content world on Canopy’s servers. Rather than sending it your past activity, personal info and intentions, it just sends a set of coordinates of where you want the recommendations to go next. The 11-person Canopy team is now building out its app that will ask you questions and watch your consumption behavior to tune its suggestions. Because podcasts and longer articles aren’t owned by any one service, they’re an easy starting point for Canopy, though it eventually hopes to be content agnostic. And since it never has to suck up your data, there’s no risk of it being stolen in a breach.

That’s a big selling point for Canopy’s software-as-a-service; it plans to license its tech to other apps. “Being able to build a platform that can understand your data without the liability of user data is game changing,” Whitman declares.

Still, the biggest question facing the company is, “Do people really care about privacy?” Every day we learn of a new hack attack, data exposure or company selling our private info, but we go right on surfing. Even Facebook’s growth rate has only dipped slightly in the wake of all its privacy troubles. But Goldman believes that’s because it’s become so overwhelming that people “have a head in the sand view on privacy. ‘Oh my god, all my data is out there. I’m at risk. What do I do about it?’ Well I want to give people a way to do something about it.” Namely, trust Canopy instead of the data grabbers.

But if people can’t be taught the value of privacy, it’s hard to see partners going to the trouble of building in Canopy’s system. Whitman admits that services would take a modest hit to their recommendation accuracy if they adopt Canopy. He’s hoping the long-term goodwill of users will offset that. On the horizon, he predicts “there’s a great awakening of awareness.”

Categories: Business News

WeWork hires Prabhdeep Singh to lead operations for its startup program WeWork Labs

2018, November 15 - 11:00pm

WeWork has hired Prabhdeep Singh to serve as the first global head of operations for its startup program WeWork Labs.

It’s a program that relaunched earlier this year, providing early-stage startups with desk space, educational programs and mentorship. Since the relaunch, the company says it’s opened in more than 24 locations in 14 cities across nine countries, and it’s already working with more than 1,000 startups.

“When you think about WeWork assets, it’s this massive global footprint that’s really at the nexus of startups, big corporations, small corporations, innovators, etc.,” Singh said. “With WeWork Labs, you can think of it as an innovation platform that supports these early-stage startups.”

Singh was most recently at Uber, where he held a number of roles, including head of enterprise at Uber Eats. He’s also led the corporate innovation division at Gerson Lehrman Group and co-founded the FinTech Innovation Lab, an incubator for financial tech startups.

While you can think of WeWork Labs as the co-working giant‘s take on an accelerator or incubator, Singh noted that there are a few key differences. For one thing, WeWork isn’t taking any equity: “We give you a really fair deal on discounted space in a WeWork area with a dedicated Labs manager.” (Pricing differs depending on the location — in Seattle, it’s $390 per person per month, while in Manhattan it’s $550.)

For another, WeWork Labs is simply working with a lot more startups.

“We’re thinking about this fundamentally differently,” Singh said. “We’re not [Y Combinator with] a class of 100 startups where you get the TechCrunch writeup and that helps you scale … The idea isn’t necessarily that someone is going to say, ‘You should give me a million dollars in VC because I’m in WeWork Labs.’ We hope to give them the tools to pitch to that VC, the tools for sales and marketing.”

Singh will be working with WeWork Labs’ global head Roee Adler — the company explained that while Adler is focused on the program’s bigger picture, Singh will be handling operations and overseeing the individual Labs managers in each location.

Singh said his background in corporate innovation could help WeWork Labs build more relationships with larger organizations looking to get connected with the startup community. For example, the program collaborated with Mercer over the summer on a “technology sprint.”

In addition, one of his goals is to continue expanding the programs to new locations — not just in the obvious startup hubs, but also “where we can add the most value.”

“One of the benefits of being part of WeWork is, we have this massive footprint already,” Singh said. “If you go to New York or Silicon Valley, there’s already 100 incubators or accelerators. If you go to the middle of the country, or China, or go to a place like São Paulo where we have four spaces already, this is really filling a market need.”

Categories: Business News

Apex.AI raises $15.5 million for autonomous-vehicle software

2018, November 15 - 11:00pm

Apex.AI is emerging out of stealth today with quite the claim — an operating system for autonomous vehicles that will never fail. Founded by long-time automated systems engineers Jan Becker and Dejan Pangercic, Apex.AI develops operating systems for various types of autonomous mobility platforms.

Today, Apex.AI is also announcing a $15.5 million Series A round led by Canaan with participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners, which invested in Apex.AI’s seed round.

Apex.AI’s software stack is designed to easily integrate into existing systems and serve as the enterprise version of the Robot Operating System, an open-source software middleware for robotics.

“Most companies have expertise building consumer applications, but not a lot of expertise, resources or people to work on safety-critical processes,” Becker told TechCrunch. “So we built a framework that allows developers that are not experienced building safe and secure systems to do just that.”

In order to never fail, Apex.AI has built redundancies into the system to ensure single failures don’t result in system-wide failures.

“We go through every line of code and guarantee that safety-critical processes get the amount of compute time needed to execute,” Becker said.

Apex.AI is application agnostic, meaning this can be used in all autonomous systems — ranging from cars to drones to flying taxis.

Apex.AI competes with the likes of Renovo, which earlier this year unveiled AWare OS designed for Level 4 autonomous driving.

“What excited us about Apex is they are solving a real problem,” Canaan partner Rayfe Gaspar-Asaoka told TechCrunch. “Now that we have the right technological pieces in place, how do we move this from R&D into mass production — fully self-driving vehicles for the average consumer to use. As that happens, the number one question will be how do we ensure that this vehicle in this whole system works 100 percent of the time. Safe and reliable all of the time.”

Voyage teams up with Renovo for self-driving car operating system

Categories: Business News

LocalGlobe, the London seed-stage VC, is raising a new fund aimed at Series B

2018, November 15 - 10:05pm

LocalGlobe, the seed-stage venture capital firm founded by father and son duo Robin and Saul Klein, and one of the most active firms in the U.K., is gearing up to launch a new separate fund aimed at Series B.

According to sources — and since confirmed by LocalGlobe — the VC firm is raising a sister fund to formally back the most promising startups in its portfolio to help them scale.

It isn’t unheard for LocalGlobe to follow on after seed during later funding rounds, having done so in successful companies such as Zoopla and TransferWise. However, the thinking here is to have a separate fund to make this more common, and provide LPs a way to double down on LocalGlobe’s most promising bets.

The new fund is to be called “Latitude,” whist a recent regulatory filing mistakenly and inadvertently surfaced “Senderwood,” the holding company of LocalGlobe and Latitude. It is not known how much Latitude is looking to raise from LPs, although this is aimed at Series B so I’d expect it to be larger than LocalGlobe’s most recent £75 million fund.

TechCrunch has also learned that Julian Rowe has joined Latitude as a Partner from JP Morgan, where having moved back from Silicon Valley he latterly was EMEA Head of Internet and Digital Media and worked closely with successful U.K. scale-ups like Farfetch and Deliveroo.

LocalGlobe’s Robin Klein will also be heavily involved in the new Series B fund, formalising a role he has increasingly taken at LocalGlobe. Saul Klein is the third member of the Latitude team.

LocalGlobe issued the following statement, confirming the existence of Latitude, but declined to comment further:

“LocalGlobe’s new and existing investors are excited about the opportunity to invest in UK tech companies, both at seed and as they scale up, justifiably since the U.K. has now produced 60 unicorns or 35% of the total from Europe and Israel. We are exploring the technicalities of laying the foundations of a new fund, to be known as Latitude, for launch in 2019. This will enable us to invest in the most successful companies that are coming through from previous LocalGlobe funds at Series B and beyond. Initial conversations with investors have been going well and they are excited about the prospect of a new way to invest in some of the UK’s best early stage tech companies.”

Update: Oscar Williams-Grut at Yahoo Finance reports that Latitude’s debut fund is looking to raise $200 million (£156.5m).

Categories: Business News

Bunch scores $3.8M to turn mobile games into video chat LAN parties

2018, November 15 - 10:00pm

The best parts of gaming are the jokes and trash talk with friends. Whether it was four-player Goldeneye or linking up PCs for Quake battles in the basement, the social element keeps video games exciting. Yet on mobile we’ve lost a lot of that, playing silently by ourselves even if we’re in a squad with friends somewhere else. Bunch wants to bring the laughter back to mobile gaming by letting you sync up with friends and video chat while you play. It already works with hits like Fortnite and Roblox, and developers of titles like Spaceteam are integrating Bunch’s SDK to inspire longer game sessions.

Bunch is like Discord for mobile, and the chance to challenge that gaming social network unicorn has attracted a $3.8 million seed round led by London Venture Partners and joined by Founders Fund, Betaworks, North Zone, Streamlined Ventures, 500 Startups and more. With Bunch already cracking the top 100 social iOS app chart, it’s planning a launch on Android. The cash will go to adding features like meeting new people to game with or sharing replays, plus ramping up user acquisition and developer partnerships.

“I and my co-founders grew up with LAN parties, playing games like Starcraft and Counter Strike – where a lot of the fun is the live banter you have with friends” Bunch co-founder and CEO Selcuk Atli tells me. “We wanted to bring this kind of experience to mobile; where players could play with friends anytime anywhere.” 

Bunch Team

Atli was a venture partner at 500 Startups after co-founding and selling two adtech companies: Manifest Commerce to Rakuten, and Boostable to Metric Collective. But before he got into startups, he co-founded a gaming magazine called Aftercala in Turkey at age 12, editing writers twice his age because “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” he tells me. Atli teamed up with Google senior mobile developer Jason Liang and a senior developer from startups like MUSE and Mox named Jordan Howlett to create Bunch.

“Over a year ago, we built our first prototype. The moment we tried it ourselves, we saw it was nothing like what we’ve experienced on our phones before” Atli tells me. The team raised a $500,000 pre-seed round and launched its app in March. “Popular mobile games are becoming live, and live games are coming to mobile devices” says David Lau-Kee, general partner at London Venture Partners. “With this massive shift happening, players need better experiences to connect with friends and play together.”

When you log on to Bunch’s iOS app you’ll see which friends are online and what they’re playing, plus a selection of games you can fire up. Bunch overlays group voice or video chat on the screen so you can strategize or satirize with up to eight pals. And if developers build in Bunch’s SDK, they can do more advanced things with video chat like pinning friends’ faces to their in-game characters. It’s a bit like OpenFeint or iOS Game Center mixed with HouseParty.

For now Bunch isn’t monetizing as it hopes to reach massive scale first, but Atli thinks they could sell expression tools like emotes, voice and video filters, and more. Growing large will require beating Discord at its own game. The social giant now has over 130 million users across PCs, consoles, and mobile. But it’s also a bit too hardcore for some of today’s casual mobile gamers, requiring you to configure your own servers. “I find that execution speed will be most critical for our success or failure” Atli says. Bunch’s sole focus on making mobile game chat as easy as possible could win it a mainstream audience seduced by Fortnite, HQ Trivia and other phenomena.

Research increasingly shows that online experiences can be isolating, and gaming is a big culprit. Hours spent playing alone can leave you feeling more exhausted than fulfilled. But through video chat, gaming can transcend the digital and become a new way to make memories with friends no matter where they are.

Categories: Business News

Standard Cognition raises $40M to replace retailers’ cashiers with cameras

2018, November 15 - 9:30pm

The Amazon Go store requires hundreds of cameras to detect who’s picking up what items. Standard Cognition needs just 27 to go after the $27 trillion market of equipping regular shops with autonomous retail technology.

Walk into one of its partners’ stores and overhead cameras identify you by shape and movement, not facial recognition. Open up its iOS or Android app and a special light pattern flashes, allowing the cameras to tie you to your account and payment method. Grab whatever you want, and just walk out. Standard Cognition will bill you. It even works without an app. Shop like normal and then walk up to kiosk screen, the cameras tell it what items you nabbed, and you can pay with cash or credit card. That means Standard Cognition stores never exclude anyone, unlike Amazon Go.

“Our tagline has been ‘rehumanizing retail'” co-founder Michael Suswal tells me. “We’re removing the machines that are between people: conveyor belts, cash registers, scanners…”

The potential to help worried merchants compete with Amazon has drawn a new $40 million Series A funding round to Standard Cognition, led by Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan’s Initialized Capital. CRV, Y Combinator, and Draper Associates joined the round that builds on the startup’s $11 million in seed funding. Just a year old, Standard Cognition already has 40 employees, but plans to hire 70 to 80 more over the next 6 months so it can speed up deployment to more partners. Suswal wouldn’t reveal Standard Cognition’s valuation but said the round was roughly in line with the traditional percentage startups sell in an A round, That’s usually about 20 to 25 percent, indicating the startup could be valued around $160 million to $200 million pre-money.

Instead of some lofty tech solution that requires a whole new store to be built around it, Standard Cognition gets retailers to pay for the capital expenditures to install its low number of ceiling cameras and a computer to run them. They can even alter their store layout without working with an engineer as they pay a monthly SAAS fee based on their store’s size, SKUs, and product changes.

Standard Cognition’s founding team

Amazon Go uses thousands of cameras to track what you pick up

Suswal tells me “Retailers’ two biggest complaints are long lines and poor customer service.” Standard Cognition lets stores eliminate the lines and reassign cashiers to become concierges who make sure customers find the perfect products. “It’s already fun to shop, but I think it’s going to become a lot more fun in the future” Suswal predicts.

Having seven co-founders is pretty atypical for startups, but it’s helped Standard Cognition move quickly. The crew came together while all working at the SEC. They’d meet up as part of a technology research group, discussing the latest findings on computer vision and machine learning. Suswal recalls that “After about a year, we said ‘if we were going to productize this somehow, what would we do?” They settled on retail, and narrowed it down to autonomous checkout. Then a bombshell dropped. Amazon Go, the first truly signficant cashierless store, was announced.

“We initially thought ‘oh no, this is bad.’ And then we quickly came to our senses that this was the best thing that could happen” Suswal explains. Retailers would be desperate for assistance to fight off Amazon. So the squad quit their jobs and started Standard Cognition.

In September, Standard Cognition opened a 1,900 sq ft flagship test store on Market St in San Francisco, besting Amazon to the punch. Customers can stuff items in their bags, reconsider and put some back, and stroll out of the store with no stop at the cashier. Standard Cognition claims its camera system is 99 percent accurate, and is trained to identify the suspicious movements and behavior of shoplifters.

The store is part of a sudden wave of autonomous retail startups including Zippen that opened the first one in SF, fellow Y Combinator startup Inokyo that launched a bare-bones pop-up in Mountain View, and Trigo Vision which is partnering with Israeli an grocery chain for more than 200 stores.

Now with plenty of capital and eager customers, Standard Cognition is equipping stores for its first four partners — all public companies. Three refuse to be named but include US grocery, drug store, and convenience store businesses. The fourth is Japan’s pharmacy chain Yakuodo. Standard Cognition is already working on its store mapping for its cameras and will begin camera installation next month, though it will be a little while until it opens.

Japan is the perfect market for Standard Cognition because their aging population has produced a labor shortage. “They literally can’t find people to work in their stores” Suswal explains. Autonomous checkout could keep Japanese retailers growing. And because 70 percent of transactions in Japan are cash-based, it also forced the startup to learn how to handle payments outside of its app. That could make Standard Cognition appealing for retailers that want to embrace the future without abandoning the past.

Getting long-running retail businesses to invest in evolving may be the startup’s biggest challenge. Since they have to pay up front for the installation, they’re gambling that the system will reliably increase sales or at least decrease labor costs. But if it makes their stores too confusing, they could see an exodus of customers instead of an influx.

As for Standard Cognition’s impact on the labor class, Suswal admits that “the major chains will have some reduction . . . no one is going to get fired but fewer people will get hired.” He believes his tech could actually save some jobs too. “I was walking around NYC talking to (small chains and mom-and-pop) retailers about problems they face, and an alarming number of them told me ‘we’re closing in a year. We’re closing in 6 months.’ And it was all tied to the next minimum wage hike” Suswal tells me.

Reducing labor costs could keep those shops viable. “These stores can stay open with a reduction of labor so people are keeping their jobs, not losing them” he claims. Whether that proves true will take some time, but at least Standard Cognition’s tech could incentivize merchants to retrain their clerks for more fulfilling roles as concierges.

Categories: Business News

Plus-sized clothing startup Dia&Co gets another $70M from Sequoia, USV

2018, November 15 - 8:34pm

The retail industry has and continues to fail the growing number of American women size 14 or larger, says Nadia Boujarwah, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Dia&Co, a personal styling service for plus-sized women.

According to Plunkett Research, nearly 70 percent of women in the U.S. are plus-sized; Dia&Co wants to expand the options available to that growing demographic. Today, the New York-based startup is announcing that it’s brought in another $70 million in venture capital funding from existing backers Sequoia Capital and Union Square Ventures (USV).

“I’ve been a plus-sized woman my whole life and no one can convince me that this isn’t a failure of retail,” Boujarwah told TechCrunch. “The current state of the plus size market is in no way reflective of how [it] should look going forward. There is so much work ahead of us.”

Dia&Co co-founder and chief executive officer Nadia Boujarwah.

Boujarwah started Dia&Co in 2015 with Lydia Gilbert. To date, the pair have raised $95 million and accumulated 4 million users on the Stitch Fix-like direct-to-consumer marketplace. The latest investment represents a previously unannounced $30 million Series B led by Sequoia and a $40 million Series C led by USV. As part of the Series C, USV partner Rebecca Kaden will join the startup’s board of directors; Sequoia partner Alfred Lin already sits on the board.

Dia&Co has also hired Francis Nzeuton as its chief financial officer. Most recently, Nzeuton led finance for Amazon’s U.S. consumables business.

Boujarwah declined to disclose Dia&Co’s latest valuation.

Walmart to acquire women’s plus-size clothing brand ELOQUII

Categories: Business News

Lies, damn lies, and HQ2

2018, November 15 - 6:56pm

There are few things certain in our world except for the uplifting tendencies of technology. I’ve spent the past few years trying to prove this to myself, at least, by interviewing hundreds of thinkers on the topic. I’ve come to a singular conclusion: when tech moves into a city, be it an iOS dev shop or a robotic facility for making widgets, things change primarily for the better. Given the recent rush to gain 25,000 or so jobs from Amazon’s HQ2 and the subsequent grumbling by cities passed over, it is difficult to refute this, but I’d like explore it.

Many cities have gained from tech, both historically and recently. Pittsburgh, for example, had a plan to become a tech city back in the early 1990s after seeing the value coming out of Carnegie Mellon and the other universities in town. Anecdotally, Pittsburgh remained a fairly depressed steel town until at least 2000. I recall walking on CMU’s campus one weekend, long after my graduation in 1997, and marveling at how the small school had blossomed thanks to an influx of tech money. Next to halls named after dead and gone thinkers and makers was the Gates building, built with the largesse of the biggest tech maker in recent history. Then Uber moved in and all hell broke loose. In 1997 the Lawrenceville neighborhood was a rundown riverfront redoubt full of brown fields and finely-made hovels. Then Uber landed there. Now it’s become the hub for multiple research and tech companies and the neighborhood has blossomed, even rating it’s own corporation and team of boosters who invite you to dine in a spot once associated with dive bars and non-ironic pierogi. A few weeks ago I enjoyed Nashville hot chicken and Manhattans in what was once a funeral home for steel workers.

In short, having tech brings about what Richard Florida called the “creative class.” This group of makers, be they chefs, artists, coders, or engineers, all come to a place and almost inevitably improve it. In some cases this creative class is disparate, spreading throughout a city like a symbiotic fungus. In other places they are centered in a single neighborhood, working their magic from the core out. I’ve seen this in many places but none more clearly than in Toledo, Ohio or Flint, Michigan where a small core of artists are working mightily to turn a city in ruin into a place to live.

And I understand that all is not rosy in the world urban growth. Uber drivers in creative-classed cities are usually people displaced from their cheap rents by rich hipsters. As a friend noted, when you gentrify a place where to those who cannot afford artisanal kombucha, let alone the rent, go? They are either thrust into the suburbs – an irony that should give cities like Grosse-Point-ringed Detroit pause – or they vanish from view even though they exist in plain sight. Nowhere is this clearer then in the refuse-strewn streets of San Francisco.

Yet cities with deep, systemic problems still debase themselves to get tech jobs. They offer tax abatements, $1 land leases, and produce cloying videos to prove that they, alone, are the hardest working of the bunch. The first and most galling effort appeared when Foxconn, a massive manufacturing company, promised to land like an alien invasion force in rural Wisconsin. The idea there was simple: Foxconn wanted tax cuts in exchange for “creating” “jobs” – scare quotes in both cases necessary. As it had in Brazil before, Foxconn promised more than it could ever deliver. From a Reuters report:

Foxconn has created only a small fraction of the 100,000 jobs that the government projected, and most of the work is in low-skill assembly. There is little sign that it has catalyzed Brazil’s technology sector or created much of a local supply chain.

Manufacturing jobs are not tech jobs. In the end these true manufacturing jobs will end up going to countries with historically cheap labor pools and Foxconn will use its tax breaks to build a facilities in the US to help it abate future cross-border taxes. The jobs that it will create will be done by robots and only the smartest in these rural counties will get jobs… watching robot arms lift flatscreens off of an assembly line for years. Gone are the days of ubiquitous middle class manufacturing jobs and they will never come back. The sooner the heartland accepts this the better.

So cities turn to true tech. Cities know that tech helps and they bow to its captains of industry. But why won’t tech help cities?

Tech companies reduce inefficiencies. Self-driving car companies are aimed at reducing the number of inefficient truckers on the road. Drone companies are aimed at reducing the number of inefficient postal carriers on the sidewalk. And always-on audio assistants and smart devices are there to reduce our dependence on nearly every facet of a local ecosystem including the local weatherperson, the chef with an empty restaurant but hundreds of Seamless orders, and the local cinema. They know that when they land in a place they take over, much like Wal-Mart did in its early heyday. The benefits of this takeover are myriad but the erosion of culture they bring is catastrophic. Yet mayors still don silly hats and dance a merry jig to get them to move to their blighted areas. After all, it’s far easier than actually doing something.

The answer for cities, then, is to build from within. Pittsburgh didn’t get Uber because it prayed for that rude beast to stalk its shores. It got Uber because it built one of the best robotics programs in the country. Denver and Boulder aren’t tech hubs because they gave anyone a massive abatement. They became tech hubs because they became places that techies wanted to congregate and they built networks of technologists who left their cubicles on a weekly basis and met for lunch. That’s right: in many cases, all it takes for a tech scene to thrive is for the CTOs of all the major organizations to meet over curry. The network effects created by this are manifold. In fact, some of the biggest complaints I heard in many cities was that the CTOs of corporations who called those cities home – Chase Bank, GrubHub, etc. – rarely stepped out of their carefully manicured cubicle farms. An ecosystem cannot thrive if its most successful hide. Just ask Detroit.

Cities must subsidize creative districts, not creative destruction. Cities must woo technologists with a network of rich angels, not bribery. Cities must prepare for a future that doesn’t yet exist and hope that some behemoth will find a home there. Otherwise they’re sunk.

This sort of forward thinking is done in dribs and drabs across the country. Every city has its accelerators full of potential failure. These companies quickly discover that without seed capital, St. Louis or Chicago might as well be the Death Valley. Detroit has worked hard to create a startup culture and it seems to be working but in many cases these startups are folded, Borg-like into Quicken Loans and cannot stand on their own. The south is stuck in energy production and invests little in things that would draw technologists to the beautiful cities along the coast.

Maybe this is because startups make no money. Maybe this is because innovation is expensive. And maybe the lack of long-term strategy exists because mayoral staffs turn over so quickly in these convoluted times. These are valid excuses but woe betide the city that clings to them.

New York and Virginia got HQ2 because their cultures are mercenary at worst and transient at best. They already knew the hard bargain of technology versus culture and were willing to make the deal. The tens of thousands of folks who will walk through Amazon’s doors on the first day will change Long Island City for the better and no other city will claim those benefits (and detriments.) Tech is a business. It doesn’t care where it lands as long as there are enough college-educated behinds to sit on blue inflatable desk balls and enough mouths to drink free nitro coffee. It bypasses places that are seemingly entrenched in political infighting and failed innovation and it will continue to do so until cities do for themselves what Amazon will never do: future-proof their place in the world and create a place for generations to grow and change.

 

Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash

Categories: Business News

Urban Massage re-brands to ‘Urban’ as it launches wellness services beyond massage

2018, November 15 - 5:00pm

Urban Massage, the London-headquartered startup that lets you book a vetted massage therapist “on-demand”, is expanding into new wellness services in addition to changing its name.

Now simply called Urban, the company, which operates in several U.K. cities along with Paris, is adding the ability to book an expert nail technician, GOsC-regulated osteopath, or skin therapist. It will utilise the same logistics tech and app experience that enables therapists to be booked with as little as an hour’s notice.

Founder Jack Tang tells me the move into new wellness categories forms part of a wider strategy to build Europe’s leading “holistic wellness” platform. This will see the company add fitness, yoga and other mental wellbeing-focused activities in the near future, including meditation.

Further ahead, Urban has plans to integrate digital therapy services, such as counselling.

Urban founder Jack Tang

Tang says that since Urban launched back in 2014, it has provided 389,000 treatments, and today sees a 42 percent repeat rate for bookings. The company claims 101,000 active users, and 2,500 active therapists on its platform. Its wellness practitioners have collectively earned £16.4 million via Urban in the past four years, and, I’d suggest, in a much fairer deal than the “self-employed” terms often offered to massage therapists by hotels or spas.

As a side note, I’m a user of Urban, and book a regular massage after I injured my neck and shoulder earlier this year. Tang says this is pretty common, in that many people only embrace massage therapy to combat pain, but afterwards discover the longer term wellness benefits, especially in terms of managing stress within a major city.

He also says that customers were asking for additional wellness category products. Notably, many of Urban’s registered massage therapists have related expertise and treatment skills and also wanted a way to utilise them within a familiar platform.

Since TechCrunch last covered Urban, a lot has happened, including an unannounced funding round: In August 2016, Urban closed £3.5 million in a Series A led by Felix Capital. “We got on and focused on delivering best experiences to our customers,” says Tang, refreshingly. With no current neck pain, I reply that this was probably the right decision.

In February, Urban acquired two competitors: Milk Beauty, on the consumer side, and B2B focussed Freauty to bolster its corporate wellness offering. Most recently, the company raised a further £3.5 million in an equity crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs. This saw Urban add 800-plus new investors, the majority of whom are current customers, therapists, and staff, along with existing VC backers.

And this March, Urban launched “Urban Curates,” a collection of at-home treatments in collaboration with top beauty and wellness brands including the likes of Estee Lauder Companies, and Unilever Prestige. This, Tang explained, is viewed as a new retail channel for brands, whereby consumers want to make “experience-led” purchases as an alternative to the high street.

Categories: Business News

Legrand acquires smart home startup Netatmo

2018, November 15 - 4:15pm

French hardware startup Netatmo got acquired by the biggest manufacturer of switches and sockets in the world, Legrand. Terms of the deal are undisclosed.

Legrand and Netatmo already collaborated together on some products. Back in 2017, the company announced that it would work with industrial groups to connect everything in your home, starting with Legrand and Velux.

With Legrand’s “Céliane with Netatmo” switches and power outlets, you could build a house with a smart electrical installation from day one. This way, you could have a wireless master switch near your entrance, activate some outlets using Amazon Alexa and control your home from Messenger.

“Our strategy is the connected home. But there are some connected features that we can’t sell to consumers because those products are sold to professionals directly,” Netatmo founder and CEO Fred Potter told me at the time of the original announcement.

Netatmo’s team is going to be integrated into Legrand. Legrand plans to release more connected objects in the future. Netatmo founder and CEO Fred Potter is becoming CTO of Legrand’s research & development division. According to the announcement, Netatmo was generating $51 million (€45 million) in annual revenue.

Netatmo’s first product was a weather station. It works over Wi-Fi and was one of the first weather stations that you could check from your phone.

More recently, the company released security products, such as a connected camera that identifies faces on the device itself, a similar camera that works outdoor and a connected smoke alarm. Some people called Netatmo the “Nest of Europe” as the company also released smart thermostats and radiator valves.

Categories: Business News

Sweetgreen is officially a unicorn

2018, November 15 - 9:41am

Salad startup and retailer Sweetgreen recently raised a $200 million Series H round led by Fidelity that valued the company at more than $1 billion. This round brings Sweetgreen’s total amount of funding to $365 million.

With this additional $200 million in funding, Sweetgreen is setting its eyes on other food categories and looking to expand its delivery offerings. Sweetgreen is also looking at using blockchain technology to create more transparency in the supply chain.

“As a company we are focused on democratizing real food,” Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman said in a statement. “Our vision is to evolve from a restaurant company to a food platform that builds healthier communities around the world.

Sweetgreen has always been a tech-focused business with its order-ahead mobile app built in-house at the company. According to Forbes, Sweetgreen’s online ordering revenue is growing at 50 percent year over year. Since its launch in 2007, Sweetgreen has grown to 90 locations across eight states.

Categories: Business News

Pirate Studios raises $20M from Talis Capital for its ‘self-service’ tech-enabled music studios

2018, November 15 - 9:00am

Pirate Studios, the music technology company that operates fully automated and self-service 24 hour music studios, has secured $20 million. The investment was led by Talis Capital, the London-based VC family office.

Talis was already an existing backer of Pirate Studios, with Talis’ Matus Maar also named as a co-founder of the startup. Other investors include Eric Archambeau (Spotify investor and ex-partner at Benchmark and Wellington Partners), Bart Swanson of Horizons Ventures, and partners of Gaw Capital, the $20 billion Hong Kong-headquartered proptech fund.

The new funding will enable Pirate Studios to continue to expand across the U.K., Germany and the U.S., where it has been building what the startup describes as a community of musicians, DJs, producers and podcasters who need access to professional rehearsal, production and recording studios at affordable rates. The company charges as little as £4 per hour, depending on what kind of music studio space and facilities you book.

However, what really sets Pirate Studios apart from a lot of existing rehearsal rooms and music production and recording studios, is that the startup is employing a lot of tech to power the logistics around its service and, in theory, make it a lot more scalable. This includes online booking, 24 hour keycode access, and other IoT controls for managing facilities.

Perhaps even smarter, Pirate Studios offers “automated recording” and live streaming from many of its studios. This means that bands or DJs rehearsing in one of the company’s rooms can easily record their session via built in room mics and other inputs, and the studio’s cloud software will handle mixing and mastering afterwards. Likewise, rooms are set up to be able to video and audio stream sessions, too.

Both options tap into the YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify generation’s unstoppable appetite for more content from their favourite upcoming and established acts, as well as the dreaded music industry’s favourite new metric: how much social media reach an act has, which can in turn make or break a recording contract opportunity or the chance to get booked at larger, more lucrative live events.

I say all of the above as someone who was previously in quite a serious band and used to book rehearsal rooms on a regular basis. I’m also still in touch and collaborating with a number of gigging musicians and professional acts. However, during the last ten years, I’ve seen quite a few studios in London go out of business as property owners look to cash in, and even though there is something a little WeWork about Pirate Studios’ model (and being backed by relatively large amounts of VC cash at this stage) which makes me slightly uneasy, overall I’m very bullish on what the company offers.

Without a place to practice, hone your craft, in addition to somewhere to perform, rock ‘n’ roll really would be dead.

To that end, in just three years, Pirate has grown to 350 studios in 21 locations, including London, New York, and Berlin.

Cue statement from David Borrie, co-founder and CEO of Pirate Studios: “When we founded Pirate Studios our dream was to create innovative spaces to support emerging talent. We want to see music thrive and help musicians get their music out to their fans, through whatever route they think is most appropriate. We are building both the physical space to create, as well as the technology to record and share, that puts power back into the hands of musicians in a period when the digitisation of music continues to radically upset the old order of this industry”.

Categories: Business News

The Correspondent launches campaign to bring its ad-free journalism to the US

2018, November 15 - 7:29am

De Correspondent, a Dutch news organization aiming to “unbreak the news,” is planning to launch in the United States next year as The Correspondent. To fund its efforts, it’s hoping to raise $2.5 million from future readers.

Co-founder and CEO Ernst Pfauth (a former tech journalist who previously served as editor in chief at The Next Web) said this campaign is meant to test the waters of whether U.S. readers are interested in The Correspondent’s journalism. If it raises the money, it will launch in the U.S. next spring. If it doesn’t, it will reconsider those plans.

“We want there to be a critical mass that supports this,” Pfauth said. “We don’t want to launch, then see if enough people are interested.”

What the company has developed in the Netherlands, and what it’s hoping to replicate in the U.S., is a news organization with a direct connection to readers. For one thing, that means foregoing any ad revenue and relying entirely on readers for support. (Hence the crowdfunding campaign, where you can sign up by paying any amount you want.) It has a paywall, but any member can circumvent it and promote stories they think are important by sharing the individual links.

For another, it means treating readers as a key source for stories. In Pfauth’s view, by signing up as a “founding member,” you’re not so simply paying for a subscription, “You’re joining a cause. You not just giving us your money — though the money is essential — but you’re sharing your knowledge and spreading articles.”

If that sounds a bit touchy-feely, here’s a concrete example: Last year, the organization broke the news that a videotape and related documents showed that Shell had detailed knowledge about the dangers of climate change as far back as 1991. And apparently it obtained the crucial material from a reader.

Pfauth said that in most cases, reporters at The Correspondent will share their story ideas with members as soon as they start working on it, which allows readers to share their perspectives as the story develops. That can mean talking to doctors about hospital bureaucracy, or interviewing refugees about their experiences. It also means that The Correspondent encourages its journalists to spend 30 to 50 percent of their time going through the comments section (which it calls the “contributions” section), where only members can post.

Pfauth argued that all of this is crucial for breaking out of the limited perspective of so many news stories, where journalists “only talk to people who get paid to talk to the press.” That description struck close to home — I’m someone who spends a lot of their time dealing with PR pros who, yes, get paid to talk to me, or to entrepreneurs who are trying to convince me to write about their companies.

So how do you get people to share their perspective in a less self-interested (or, in the case of comments, less rant-y) way? Pfauth pointed to tactics like making sure to verify the identity of sources and asking “really specific questions.” But he also said, “Most people are idealistic about the thing they really care about. They want the information to be good.”

“You are going to find examples of other newspapers who have done things like this, but it’s always incidental, it’s not routine,” he added. “In our organization, we have this systematic approach to every story that we cover.”

Hi all,

My friends are launching a journalism startup called The Correspondent. It’s the opposite of pivot-to-video: in-depth, critical, ad-free. They’re trying to get enough memberships in advance so they can hire a bunch of journalists. More here —> https://t.co/KMv96DS2mX

— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 14, 2018

This strategy makes it harder to quickly cover breaking news, but in fact, Pfauth said that’s quite intentional.

“We tell our correspondents, please ignore the news — the news is about incidents,” he said. “Focus on the topics in your beat that are really changing our society.”

As part of this campaign, The Correspondent has also enlisted a number of high-profile “ambassadors” who support its mission. Those ambassadors include FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, Wikimedia’s Jimmy Wales, director Judd Apatow, journalist, musician Roseanne Cash, journalist and investor Om Malik and others.

Categories: Business News

Meet Jennifer Tejada, the secret weapon of one of Silicon Valley’s fastest-growing enterprise software startups

2018, November 15 - 4:03am

PagerDuty, an eight-year-old, San Francisco-based company that sends companies information about their technology, doesn’t receive a fraction of the press that other fast-growing enterprise software companies receive. In fact, though it counts as customers heavyweight companies like Capital One, Spotify and Netflix; it employs 500 employees; and it has five offices around the world, it has largely operated out of the spotlight.

That’s changing. For one thing, the company is now a so-called unicorn, after raising $90 million in a September round led by Wellington and T. Rowe Price that brought its total funding to $173 million and its valuation to $1.3 billion. Crowded as the unicorn club may be these days, that number, and those backers, makes PagerDuty a startup of interest to a broader circle of industry watchers.

Another reason you’re likely to start hearing more about PagerDuty is its CEO of three years, Jennifer Tejada, who is rare in the world of enterprise startups because of her gender, but whose marketing background makes her even more of an anomaly — and an asset.

In a world that’s going digital fast, Tejada knows PagerDuty can appeal to a far wider array of customers by selling them a product they can understand.

It’s a trick she first learned at Proctor & Gamble, where she spent seven years after graduating from the University of Michigan with both a liberal arts and a business management degree. In fact, in her first tech job out of P&G, working for the bubble-era supply chain management startup I2 Technologies (it went public and was later acquired), Tejada says she became “director of dumb it down.”

Sitting in PagerDuty’s expansive second floor office space in San Francisco — space that the company will soon double by taking over the first floor — Tejada recalls acting “like a filter for very technical people who were very proud of the IP they’d created” but who couldn’t explain it to anyone without relying on jargon. “I was like, ‘How are you going to get someone to pay you $2 million for that?’”

Tejada found herself increasingly distilling the tech into plain English, so the businesspeople who have to sign big checks and “bet their careers on these investments” could understand what they were being pitched. She’s instilling that same ethos at PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009 to help businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage disruptions and alert engineers before things catch on fire but, under Tejada’s watch, is evolving into a service that flags opportunities for its customers, too.

As she tells it, the company’s technology doesn’t just give customers insights into their service ecosystem and their teams’ health, and it doesn’t just find other useful kernels, like about which operations teams are the most productive and why. PagerDuty is also helping its clients become proactive. The idea, she says, is that “if you see traffic spiking on a website, you can orchestrate a team of content marketers or growth hackers and get them in that traffic stream right then, instead of reading about it in a demand-gen report a week later, where you’re, like, ‘Great, we totally missed that opportunity.’”

The example is a bit analogous to what Tejada herself brings to the table, which includes strong people skills (she’s very funny) and a knack for understanding what consumers want to hear, but also a deep understanding of finance and enterprise software.

As corny as it sounds, Tejada seems to have been working toward her current career her whole life.

Not that, like the rest of us, she knew exactly what she was doing at all times. On the contrary, one part of her path started when, after spending four years as the VP of global marketing for I2 — four years during which the dot-com bubble expanded wildly, then popped — Tejada quit her job, went home for the holidays and, while her baffled family looked on, booked a round-trip ticket to Australia to get away and learn about yachts.

She left the experience not only with her skipper certification but in a relationship with her now-husband of 16 years, an Australian with whom she settled in Sydney for roughly 12 years.

There, she worked for a private equity firm, then joined Telecom New Zealand as its chief marketing officer for a couple of years, then landed soon after at an enterprise software company that catered to asset-intensive industries, including mining, as its chief strategy officer. When that private-equity backed company was sold, Tejada took a breath, then was recruited to lead, for the first time, another company: Keynote Systems, a publicly traded internet and mobile cloud testing and monitoring company that she steered to a sale to the private equity firm Thomas Bravo a couple of years later.

The move gave her an opportunity to spend time with her now teenage daughter and husband, but she also didn’t have a job for the first time in many years, and Tejada seems to like work. Indeed, within one year, after talking with investors who’d gotten to know her over her various roles, as well as eager recruiters, Tejada —  who says she is “not a founder but a great adoptive parent” — settled on the 50th of 51 companies she was asked to consider joining. It was PagerDuty.

She has been overseeing wild growth ever since. The company now counts more than half of the Fortune 50 as its customers. It has also doubled its headcount a couple of times since she joined roughly 28 months ago, and many of its employees (upwards of 43 percent) are now women, as well as engineers from more diverse backgrounds than you might see at a typical Silicon Valley startup.

That’s no accident. Diversity breeds diversity, in Tejada’s view, and diversity is good for business.

“I wouldn’t say we market to women,” says Tejada, explaining that diversity to her is not just about gender but also age and ethnic background and lifestyle choice and location and upbringing and expertise.

“We’ve made a conscious effort to build an inclusive culture where all kinds of people want to work. And you send that message out into the market, there’s a lot of people who hear it and wonder if it could possibly be true. And then they come to a PagerDuty event, or they come into the office, and they see something different than they’ve seen before. They see people they can relate to.”

Why does it matter when it comes to writing code? Because a big part of coding is problem-solving for one thing, says Tejada. “When you have people from diverse backgrounds chunking through a big hairy problem together, those different perspectives will get you to a more insightful answer.” Tejada also believes there’s too much bias in application development and user experience. “There’s a lot of gobbledygook in our app that lots of developers totally understand but that isn’t accessible to everyone — men, women, different functional types of users, people of a different age. Like, how accessible is our mobile app to someone who’s not a native-first mobile user, who started out on an analog phone, moved to a giant desktop, then to a laptop and is now using a smartphone? You have to think about the accessibility of your design in that regard, too.”

What about the design of PagerDuty’s funding? Before parting ways, we ask Tejada about the money PagerDuty raised a couple of months ago, and what it means for the company.

Unsurprisingly, as to whether the company plans to go public any time soon, her answers are variously, “I’m just building an enduring company,” and, “We’re still enjoying the benefits of being a private company.”

But Tejada also seems mindful of not raising far more money for PagerDuty than it needs to scale, even while there’s an ocean of capital surrounding it.

“Going back to the early ’90s, in my career I have not seen a market where there has been more ready availability to capital, between tax reforms and sovereign cash and big corporates and low interest rates and huge venture funds, not to mention the increased willingness of big institutional investors to become LPs.” But even while the “underlying drivers and secular trends and leading indicators” suggest a healthy market for SaaS technology for a long time to come, that “doesn’t mean the labor markets are going to stay the same. It doesn’t mean the geopolitical environments are not going to change. When you let the scarcity issue in the market drive your valuation, you’re also responsible for growing into that valuation, no matter what happens in the macro environment.”

Where Tejada doesn’t necessarily want to be so measured is when it comes to PagerDuty’s place in its market.

And that can be challenging as the company gains more traction — and more attention.

“If you do the right thing for your customers, and you do the right thing by your employees, all the rest will fall into place,” she says. “But the minute you take your eye off the ball, the minute you don’t earn the trust of your customer every day, the minute you stop innovating in service of them, you’re gonna start going backwards,” she says with a shrug.

Tejada recalls a conversation she had with her executive team last week, including with Alex Solomon, the company’s CTO and the one of three PagerDuty founders who remains actively engaged with the company. (Co-founder Andrew Miklas moved on to venture capital last year; Baskar Puvanathasan meanwhile left the company in March.) “They probably wanted to kill me,” she says laughing. “I told them I don’t think we’re disrupting ourselves enough. They’re like, ‘Jenn, let up.’ But that’s what happens to companies. They have their first success and they miss that second wave or third wave, and the next thing you know, you’re Kodak.”

PagerDuty, she says, “is not going to be Kodak.”

Categories: Business News

iBanFirst raises $17 million to help companies move money around the world

2018, November 15 - 4:01am

French startup iBanFirst is raising another $17 million (€15 million) from Serena Capital and Breega Capital, with existing investor Xavier Niel putting in more money, as well.

iBanFirst solves a very specific problem. If you operate a company that works with suppliers all over the world, chances are you waste a ton of money exchanging and sending money. iBanFirst wants to make currency conversion as easy as transferring money from your savings account to your current account.

You first send money from your corporate bank account to your iBanFirst account. You can then convert and hold money in 28 currencies. iBanFirst shows you the interbank exchange rate and how many fees you’ll pay. But you’ll likely pay way less than using your traditional bank account.

With 100 employees and 2,000 clients, iBanFirst now focuses on clients who transfer at least €100,000 per year. “We’ve already done a €50 million transfer,” iBanFirst founder and CEO Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier told me.

After that, you can send money to a client, a supplier, a partner, etc. It’ll look like a local transfer and you’ll save money on fees.

Many companies already do that. But iBanFirst goes one step further by giving you banking information for each currency. If you’re an iBanFirst customer, you can share a Turkish IBAN, an American account number or Chinese banking details. It’s easier to get paid from all your clients.

With your French IBAN, the startup is doing something special. “We realized that some IBANs had a letter here and there,” Dusoulier said. “We called SWIFT, and they told us that we could put whatever we wanted for 10 characters.”

iBanFirst took advantage of that to create a sort of domain names for IBANs. If you want, you can put your company name in your banking information.

The company wants to add more currencies and more features. Thanks to the upcoming European regulation, you could imagine connecting to your regular corporate account from the iBanFirst interface to initiate a transfer. That would be much more straightforward than transferring money to iBanFirst before using it.

Categories: Business News

Unicorn shoe startup Allbirds debuts a high-top sneaker

2018, November 15 - 12:45am

Allbirds, the shoe startup that entered the unicorn club last month following a $50 million funding round, has unveiled its latest feet holders. Dubbed the Tree Topper, the high-top sneaker marks Allbirds’ fifth shoe style. The Tree Topper, which retails for $115, features merino wool knit, eucalyptus tree fiber fabric and sugarcane-based foam.

“The Tree Topper is a true representation of our approach to design and sustainability,” Allbirds Head of Design Jamie McLellan said in a press release. “With just the right amount of nothing and comfort as a non-negotiable, the Tree Topper is a playful canvas for showcasing our three hero materials.”

Allbirds, founded by Joey Zwillinger and Tim Brown, first launched in 2015. Since then, the shoe startup has raised $75 million in funding from investors like T. Rowe Price, Tiger Global, Fidelity Investments, Leonardo DiCaprio and others. Allbirds is worth a reported $1.4 billion.

The startup began as a direct-to-consumer online retailer but has since expanded into the traditional retail space with the launch of brick-and-mortar locations in San Francisco and New York.

Categories: Business News

Uber launches rider loyalty Rewards like credits & upgrades 9 cities

2018, November 14 - 11:05pm

Uber’s new loyalty program incentivizes you not to check Lyft or the local competitor. Riders earn points for all the money they spend on Uber and Uber Eats that score them $5 credits, upgrades to nicer cars, access to premium support and even flexible cancellations that waive the fee if they rebook within 15 minutes.

Uber Rewards launches today in nine cities before rolling out to the whole U.S. in the next few months, with points for scooters and bikes coming soon. And as a brilliant way to get people excited about the program, it retroactively counts your last six months of Uber activity to give you perks as soon as you sign up for free for Uber Rewards. You’ll see the new Rewards bar on the homescreen of your app today if you’re in Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego or anywhere in New Jersey, as Uber wanted to test with a representative sample of the U.S.

The loyalty program ties all of the company’s different transportation and food delivery options together, encouraging customers to stick with Uber across a suite of solutions instead of treating it as interchangeable with alternatives. “As people use Uber more and more in their everyday, we wanted to find a way to reward them for choosing Uber,” says Uber’s director of product for riders Nundu Janakiram. “International expansion is top of mind for us,” adds Holly Ormseth, Uber Rewards’ product manager.

As for the drivers, “They absolutely get paid their full rate,” Ormseth explains. “We understand that offering the benefits has a cost to Uber but we think of it as an investment,” says Janakiram.

So how much Ubering earns you what perks? Let’s break it down:

In Uber Rewards you earn points by spending money to reach different levels of benefits. Points are earned during six-month periods, and if you reach a level, you get its perks for the remainder of that period plus the whole next period. You earn 1 point per dollar spent on UberPool, Express Pool and Uber Eats; 2 points on UberX, Uber XL and Uber Select; and 3 points on Uber Black and Black SUV. You’ll see your Uber Rewards progress wheel at the bottom of the homescreen fill up over time.

Blue: $5 credits

The only Uber perk that doesn’t reset at the end of a period is that you get $5 of Uber Cash for every 500 points earned regardless of membership level. “Even as a semi-frequent Uber Rewards member you’ll get these instant benefits,” Janakiram says. Blue lets you treat Uber like a video game where you’re trying to rack up points to earn an extra life. To earn 500 points, you’d need about 48 UberPool trips, 6 Uber Xs and 6 Uber Eats orders.

Gold: Flexible cancellations

Once you hit 500 points, you join Uber Gold and get flexible cancellations that refund your $5 cancellation fee if you rebook within 15 minutes, plus priority support Gold is for users who occasionally take Uber but stick to its more economical options. “The Gold level is all about being there when things aren’t going exactly right,” Janakiram explains. To earn 500 points in six months, you’d need to take about 2 UberPools per week, one Uber X per month and one Uber Eats order per month.

Platinum: Price protection

At 2,500 points you join Uber Platinum, which gets you the Gold benefits plus price protection on a route between two of your favorite places regardless of traffic or surge. And Platinum members get priority pickups at airports. To earn 2,500 points, you’d need to take UberX 4 times per week and order Uber Eats twice per month. It’s designed for the frequent user who might rely on Uber to get to work or play.

Diamond: Premium support & upgrades

At 7,500 points, you get the Gold and Platinum benefits plus premium support with a dedicated phone line and fast 24/7 responses from top customer service agents. You get complimentary upgrade surprises from UberX to Uber Black and other high-end cars. You’ll be paired with Uber’s highest-rated drivers. And you get no delivery fee on three Uber Eats orders every six months. Reaching 7,500 points would require UberX 8 times per week, Uber Eats once per week and Uber Black to the airport once per month. Diamond is meant usually for business travelers who get to expense their rides, or people who’d ditched car ownership for ridesharing.

Keeping everyone happily riding

Uber spent the better part of last year asking users through surveys and focus groups what they’d want in a loyalty program. It found that customers wanted to constantly earn rewards and make their dollar go further, but use the perks when they wanted. The point was to avoid situations where riders says, “Oh I’ve been an Uber user for years. When something goes wrong, I feel like I’m being treated like everyone else,” Janakiram tells me. When riders think they’re special, they stick around.

One big missing feature here is a Rewards calculator. Uber could better gamify earning its perks if there was an easy way to see how many more monthly or total rides it would take to reach the next level. It’d be great to have a few little sliders you could drag around to see if I just take Uber X, how many of my average length trips would it take to level up.

Uber managed to beat Lyft to the loyalty game. Lyft just announced that its rewards program would roll out in December, allowing you to earn discounts and upgrades. But Southeast Asia’s Grab transportation service started testing a loyalty program back in late 2016 where you could manually redeem points for discounts. While Uber’s rewards are more predictable and automatic, it does seem to have cribbed Grab’s rewards period mechanic where you keep your perks through the end of the next cycle. We’ll see if Uber mistakenly gave too much away and will have to reduce the perks like Grab did, pissing off its most loyal riders.

One risk of the program is that Uber might make users at lower tiers or who don’t even qualify for Gold feel like second-class citizens of the app. “One thing that’s important is that we don’t want to make the experience for people who are not in these levels poor in any sense,” Janakiram notes. “It’s not like 80 percent of people will suddenly get priority airport pickups, but we do want to monitor very closely to make sure we’re not harming the service more broadly.”

Overall, Uber managed to pick perks that seem helpful without making me wonder why these features aren’t standard for everyone. Even if it takes a short-term margins hit, if Uber can dissuade people from ever looking beyond its app, the lifetime value of its customers should easily offset the kickbacks.

[Disclosure: Uber’s Janakiram and I briefly lived in the same three-bedroom apartment five years ago, though I’d already agreed to write about the redesign when I found out he was involved.]

Categories: Business News

Pages