Formula E is so 2017. This year, it's all about Roborace, an upcoming F1-style competition. And the big new thing is that it's all about self-driving cars. I'm excited to announce that Roborace CEO Lucas DiGrassi will come to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin to talk about this crazy idea.
DiGrassi may sound like a familiar name already as he's also a racing driver. He has competed in Formula One, Formula E and the World Endurance Championship. He’s also the current Formula E Champion. Clearly, DiGrassi is much better at parallel parking than I’ll ever be.
Racing has always been a great way to break new grounds for car manufacturers. Many of the technologies that you can find in your current car were first developed for endurance and Formula One competitions.
And it seems logical that the next radical step involves removing the driver altogether. Roborace will be a competition with self-driving cars that run using electric motors. Cars will compete on the Formula E tracks.
Teams will share the same chassis, powertrain, sensors and Nvidia Drive PX 2 system on a chip. You can find radars, lidars and other sensors on each car. But, of course, each team will be able to customize their AI-powered algorithm to beat competitors.
Right now, Roborace is testing the racing format alongside Formula E events. Sometimes, it involves putting an actual human being in a development car called a “DevBot”.
I’m incredibly excited about meeting DiGrassi and talking about this new competition. And if you want to meet him too, you should buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.
In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.
Lucas DiGrassi is the CEO of Roborace, the world's first competition for human and artificial intelligent racing, making autonomous technology exciting and inspirational for a new generation of spectators.
Lucas is also a racing driver who has competed in Formula One, Formula E and the World Endurance Championship and is the current Formula E Champion.
He has been instrumental in building and growing the Formula E series over the past six years having joined as Special Advisor for the FE CEO Alejandro Agag back in 2012.
He is now bringing his business experience and extensive knowledge of racing, to Roborace, helping grow it into an established competition and cooperation of human and AI intelligence.
Roborace to replace F1 racing drivers with robots at Disrupthttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1733586
Formula E is so 2017. This year, it's all about Roborace, an upcoming F1-style competition. And the big new thing is that it's all about self-driving cars. I'm excited to announce that Roborace CEO Lucas DiGrassi will come to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin to talk about this crazy idea. DiGrassi may sound like a familiar name […]
Wed, 17 Oct 2018 07:17:42 +0000
Samsung Electronics is betting that acquiring Zhilabs, a real-time networks analytics startup based in Barcelona, will ease its transition from 4G to 5G technologies. Financial details of the deal, which was announced today, have not been disclosed. Zhilabs will be fully owned by Samsung, but it will continue to operate independently under its own management.
The acquisition of Zhilabs is part of Samsung’s initiative, announced in August, to invest 25 trillion won (about $22 billion) in businesses working on AI, 5G, components for self-driving vehicles, and biopharmaceutical technologies.
In a statement, Youngky Kim, Samsung Electronic’s president and head of networks business, said “5G will enable unprecedented services attributed to the generation of exponential data traffic, for which automated and intelligent network analytics tools are vital. The acquisition of Zhilabs will help Samsung meet these demands to assure each subscriber receives the best possible service.”
Founded in 2008, Zhilabs’ products are used by customers including Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Vodafone, and Telefonica to analyze and test network performance in real-time. Because its solutions allow service issues to be automatically detected and fixed, Zhilabs’ AI-based automation will help Samsung launch new services related to the industrial Internet of Things and smart cars.
Samsung acquires network analytics startup Zhilabs to help its transition to 5Ghttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1733825
Samsung Electronics is betting that acquiring Zhilabs, a real-time networks analytics startup based in Barcelona, will ease its transition from 4G to 5G technologies. Financial details of the deal, which was announced today, have not been disclosed. Zhilabs will be fully owned by Samsung, but it will continue to operate independently under its own management. […]
Wed, 17 Oct 2018 04:10:34 +0000
If you want to subscribe to both Scribd and The New York Times, you can now do it for a combined price of $12.99 per month — particularly impressive when you consider that a standard NYT digital subscription costs $15.99 on its own.
You sign up and pay through Scribd, but once you do, you’ll get separate logins. Those will give you full access to The Times’ website and apps, as well Scribd’s library of ebooks, audiobooks and more. (One caveat: You’ll need to be a new subscriber to both services.)
The two companies have worked together in the past, both on a student subscription and by incorporating selected Times articles into the Scribd service. This, however, looks like their biggest partnership yet.
When asked about the price, The Times’ vice president of customer experience and retention Dork Alahydoian said simply, “We felt the need to be competitive with other major services.”
He added that The Times is hoping use these kinds of bundles to find and retain new subscribers. However, it hasn’t done many of these partnerships in the past — basically, a promotion with Spotify is the only one in the United States.
“We definitely needed to make sure it was the right partner, the right audience, the right model,” Alahydoian said. In his view, Scribd was a good fit because it attracts a similar audience as The Times, namely educated readers who are “willing to pay for content.”
As for whether The Times might do more deals like this in the future, he said, “We’re always looking for the right partnership. It’s about making sure it’s an impactful relationship.”
Scribd, meanwhile, has been experimenting with subscription bundles of its own. In this case, CEO Trip Adler said he’s hoping to provide “everything you could want to read in one subscription.”
“By having such a great offering, we think we can really expand the number of people who pay for news and for books and for written content,” he added.
Scribd and The New York Times announce a joint $12.99 subscriptionhttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1733708
If you want to subscribe to both Scribd and The New York Times, you can now do it for a combined price of $12.99 per month — particularly impressive when you consider that a standard NYT digital subscription costs $15.99 on its own. You sign up and pay through Scribd, but once you do, you’ll […]
Wed, 17 Oct 2018 04:00:56 +0000
Many doubted The Civil Media Company‘s ambitious plan to sell $8 million worth of its cryptocurrency, called CVL.
The skeptics, as it turns out, were right. Civil’s initial coin offering, meant to fund the company’s effort to create a new economy for journalism using the blockchain, failed to attract sufficient interest. The company announced today that it would provide refunds to all CVL token buyers by October 29.
Civil’s goal was to sell 34 million CVL tokens for between $8 million and $24 million. The sale began on September 18 and concluded yesterday. Ultimately, 1,012 buyers purchased $1,435,491 worth of CVL tokens. A spokesperson for Civil told TechCrunch an additional 1,738 buyers successfully registered for the sale, but never completed their transaction.
Civil isn’t giving up. The company says “a new, much simpler token sale is in the works,” details of which will be shared soon. Once those new tokens are distributed, Civil will launch three new features: a blockchain-publishing plugin for WordPress, a community governance application called The Civil Registry and a developer tool for non-blockchain developers to build apps on Civil.
ConsenSys, a blockchain venture studio that invested $5 million in Civil last fall, has agreed to purchase $3.5 million worth of those new tokens. The purchase is not an equity; all capital from the token sale is committed to the Civil Foundation, an independent nonprofit initially funded by Civil that funds grants to the newsrooms in Civil’s network.
In a blog post today, Civil chief executive officer Matthew Iles wrote that the token sale failure was a disappointment but not a shock. Days prior, he’d authored a separate post where he admitted things weren’t looking good.
“This isn’t how we saw this going,” Iles wrote. “The numbers will show clearly enough that we are not where we wanted to be at this point in the sale when we started out. But one thing we want to say at the top is that until the clock strikes midnight on Monday, we are still working nonstop on the goal of making our soft cap of $8 million.”
A recent Wall Street Journal report claimed Civil had reached out to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Dow Jones and Axios, among others, but failed to incite interest in its token.
Separate from its token sale, Civil has inked strategic partnerships with media companies like the Associated Press and Forbes, both of which confirmed to TechCrunch today that the failed token sale doesn’t impact their partnerships with Civil.
Forbes became the first major media brand to test Civil’s technology when it announced earlier this month that it would experiment with publishing content to the Civil platform. As for the AP, it granted the newsrooms in Civil’s network licenses to its content.
Civil, of course, isn’t the only blockchain startup targeting journalism. Nwzer, Userfeeds, Factmata and Po.et, which was founded by Jarrod Dicker, a former vice president at The Washington Post, are all trying their hand at bringing the new technology to the content industry.
Which, if any, will actually find success in the complicated space, is the question.
Blockchain media startup Civil is issuing full refunds to all buyers of its cryptocurrencyhttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1733655
Many doubted The Civil Media Company's ambitious plan to sell $8 million worth of its cryptocurrency, called CVL. The skeptics, as it turns out, were right.
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 22:57:53 +0000
With Adobe’s acquisition of Marketo, I have been reflecting on what an amazing and pioneering company Marketo has been since it was founded in 2006. There are very few tech companies that have defined a new category, executed a successful IPO, been acquired by a private equity firm for more than four times the company’s initial IPO market value and now, at a price of $4.75 billion, become the largest acquisition of a world-class company like Adobe.
The credit for this dream-come-true Silicon Valley company goes to the co-founding team of Phil Fernandez, Jon Miller and David Morandi, who together built an amazing customer-first product, defined a breakthrough category and launched a marketing automation company that continues to delight and amaze partners and customers alike.
I had the unique pleasure of meeting the founding team in 2006 when they shared their vision and passion for marketing automation. At the time, all they had was a PowerPoint deck. But it was clear then that they had a special idea and the unique capability to build a breakthrough product to deliver on their vision.
In all honesty, I couldn’t know how truly extraordinary the company would become. Thankfully, I was lucky enough that the team chose me and my former partner Bruce Cleveland as their first investor and also was fortunate to serve on the board for 10 years. Most recently, I was thrilled that Phil joined me at Shasta. One of the qualities I admire most about Phil — which was apparent all those years ago and continues to this day — is that he never stops iterating to do things better or faster or more efficiently or more thoughtfully. Phil always carried a notebook that said “THINK” on the cover, which epitomizes how he approaches his work.
Phil recently shared his “10 Things I’d Do Even Better If I Did It Again” presentation with our team and our founder/CEO community. We believe his insights are “10 Must-Dos” for today’s software entrepreneurs. It’s hard for entrepreneurs to know the trade-offs required when making the tough decisions — especially early on – but what follows is what I learned from Phil, and the key takeaways from his talk that I believe can help more founders create iconic companies with lasting value. (Note: Click here to view excerpts of Phil’s talk.)
Have one person own revenue
If your company is like every other company, there are two executives — vice president of Sales and the chief marketing officer — who are regularly locking horns because they are each tasked with taking different approaches to the same goal of increasing revenue. How do you solve this?
Hire a chief revenue officer (CRO) who can see both perspectives, plus give the context that sales and marketing are missing. This seat understands the big picture and doesn’t belong in marketing or sales. The CRO needs to talk strategically about life cycle revenue — across the customer journey. She or he should be a storyteller who can look at the numbers and the models and explain it all in plain English to the executive team so that everyone understands. Like a chief people officer, you’re going to have to spend on a CRO — but it’s worth it in the long run.
Hire a chief people officer (CPO) ASAP
Your company needs a leader of “all things people” who can make sure your workplace is welcoming, diverse and responsive to employee needs. For the staff to have trust, this person needs to be in a role that is empowered by the organization and not just by the CEO. Hire the most senior, overqualified HR executive into your business as early as possible — Series A level — and have him or her report directly to the CEO. By constantly listening to people — which is really hard when you’re working really hard — the CPO will help build your culture and be the eyes and ears for the CEO. Investing early in HR will come back to you tenfold through employee retention, team morale and an enviable culture.
Give back when it makes no sense
The day you think you’ve got to get a product release out the door and there’s no time to do anything else is the day you get out and give back in whatever way makes sense for your company and your community. Give employees time off to volunteer. Pick a cause for your company to support. Or, consider starting a charitable foundation with pre-public stock. It will create a spirit and energy that will give back to your team five or 10 times whatever it is costing you.
Charge your first customer
Phil personally wrote a stupid thing on their website that said, “At Marketo, your success doesn’t have a price.” That copy stayed up for years as a testament to how customer-centric they were. They were proud that they weren’t charging for services. But as Phil said, that was a big mistake; they should have been charging from day one.
When you’re a startup, short-range thinking is seductive, but long-range thinking is powerful.
There really isn’t any friction about asking customers to pay for services. If you say, “Look, this product is great. It’s going to transform your business but it’s not easy and it will cost money,” they will spend it. Feature-level sales is a great way to justify why you are charging what you are charging, and it keeps customers renewing services and adding more features as their business grows and changes. To make this strategy work, gear your sales metrics toward incremental increases over time instead of pushing sales reps to sell as much as they can all at once. Customers will pay for quality products that meet their needs.
Build a world-class Rev Ops/Sales Enablement team
You need a VP-level Rev Ops/Sales Enablement executive by the time your company reaches $2-3 million in revenue. That individual must think holistically about how revenue is happening, from the early lead in the door and the sale to renewal and the up-sale; understanding full lifetime value and thinking about it in a modeling sense. She or he needs to be a storyteller — one who can look at the numbers, look at the models and then explain it in plain English to the executive team. That’s gold.
Focus on continuous ARPU expansion
Today, to increase ARPU (average revenue per user), you need to design feature-level packaging every bit as much as how you design product functionally. The same people on product management ought to be thinking together with Rev Ops and Sales about how you dish out the product, how you launch the pieces, how you turn on pieces and how you enable pieces. It becomes a part of the art of product design as much as the art of revenue design — and that’s where these two rules of thought really come together. Basically, you need to design an expansion pass.
Incubate new product initiatives
Marketo failed in defining a multi-product company, from when it was $30 million a year to when it was $300 million a year. If you’re going to bring a second product line into the company — whether it’s organic or inorganic — it needs to be incubated. It needs to have its own dedicated sales team and its own separate quotas. If you’re thinking about becoming a multi-product company, do not pass Go, do not collect $200; go read Geoffrey Moores’ Zone to Win, the only business book Phil has ever recommended.
Pursue constant technology renewal
The pace at which tech is moving and the competitive advantage that new tech is providing over old tech has never been like this during the past 35 years. Today, you need someone that’s charged with thinking not about product but about the future. You need to value technical currency. If you’re three years old on your technology and a new company enters your market — the degree of agility, pace and performance the new entrant has in running circles around your company will win over a five-year cycle. Every time.
Always be seeking more TAM
No matter how good your initial tenure is, no matter how good it feels, no matter how amazing you see your company, as the CEO, as a leader, have a Plan B. Know what’s next, know where you’re going next and make sure you’re always talking about it. Be absolutely zealous about ensuring you know the next piece of TAM you’re going to go after. Think about what’s going to happen if you have more money; what would you do next? Give yourself that opportunity to dream, but make it real, make it defensible.
Watch the clock during scale up
When you’re a startup, short-range thinking is seductive, but long-range thinking is powerful. Always be watching the time. The tension between operating leverage and scale-up investment is really dangerous. At Marketo, they got to it late and their growth slowed a little too much. Live in the real world and focus on cash and on making the investments so you have the capacity when you need it. Have a long-range planning process and understand the day when you’ll need $2 million of ramp capacity. Don’t let the tyranny of a seductive short-range model triumph over what the real world is telling you about the dynamics of growing the business. Understand what it takes to really scale.
10 lessons from Marketo’s growth to a multi-billion-dollar exithttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1728830
It’s hard for entrepreneurs to know the trade-offs required when making the tough decisions -- especially early on. Here are some suggestions.
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 22:00:47 +0000
“Conversational marketing” is a phrase that I hear a lot, but when the team at AdLingo uses it, they mean something specific — namely, bringing chatbots and other conversational assistants into online advertising.
“One of the things we saw happening was this paradigm shift with users and consumers going towards more of a conversational medium,” he said. “Everything is becoming more conversational, whether it’s through devices such as your phone, your speaker and eventually your car … We asked ourselves, ‘Hey if this shift is happening, why can’t marketing be more conversational?'”
You may be wondering whether consumers are really clamoring to interact with ads, but Fatnani said he and his co-founder Dario Rapisardi were determined not to build “a solution that needs a problem,” so they spent months talking to marketers and chatbot developers.
Apparently, when they asked about what challenges everyone was facing, the big answer was “discovery.” As Fatnani put it, “Hey, I have this amazing conversational assistant, but it’s really hard for me to bring this in front of an audience.”
In his view, advertising provides the perfect medium to solve this problem. Instead of building a chatbot and just letting consumers find it on their own website or app, brands can integrate it into their advertising, allowing people who see the ad to ask questions and provide feedback.
“Imagine you want to launch a new soda drink in Brazil, a market that you’ve never entered before,” he said. “Imagine you can now run a conversational display ad and actually have people vote to say what kind of flavor would you like to drink.”
Or for a real example, there’s the Allstar Kia experience that you can see at the top of this post. The company’s director of internet marketing Chris Ferrall said in a statement that “AdLingo lets our customers browse inventory, determine car trade-in value and make an appointment with a salesperson — all within an engaging, interactive experience that meets them right where they are.”
To be clear, AdLingo isn’t building the chatbots. Instead, Fatnani said, “The brands and developers bring the conversational experience to us, and we distribute that experience all over the web.”
To do this, the platform integrates with chatbot tools like Dialogue Flow, Microsoftbot Framework, LiveEngage and Blip. It’s also partnered with Valassis Digital and LivePerson (the Kia campaign happened through Valassis).
How does this all fit into Google’s larger plans for advertising? Fatnani said it doesn’t, at least not yet.
“We are completely separate efforts in terms of our product roadmap and what we execute,” he said, later adding, “At this point, we just want to make sure we’re really, really focused on our customer.”
Google-incubated AdLingo uses chatbot integration to create conversational adshttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1733599
“Conversational marketing” is a phrase that I hear a lot, but when the team at AdLingo uses it, they mean something specific — namely, bringing chatbots and other conversational assistants into online advertising. The startup is part of Google’s Area 120 incubator, and co-founder and general manager Vic Fatnani said he’s worked on advertising at Google […]
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 18:31:48 +0000
Thirty Madison, the healthcare startup behind the hair loss brand Keeps, has brought in a $15.25 million Series A co-led by Maveron and Northzone.
The company provides a subscription-based online marketplace for men’s hair loss prevention medications Finasteride and Minoxidil. Keeps sells these drugs direct-to-consumer, working with manufacturers to keep the costs low.
On Keeps, a subscription of Minoxidil, an over-the-counter topical treatment often referred to by the brand name Rogaine, is $10 monthly. A subscription to Finasteride, a prescription drug taken daily, is $25 per month.
“It’s an end-to-end platform that is the single best place for guys who are looking to keep their hair,” Thirty Madison co-founder Steven Gutentag told TechCrunch.
Keeps is tapping into a big market. According to the American Hair Loss Association, two-thirds of American men experience some hair loss by the age of 35.
You may have heard of Hims, a venture-backed men’s healthcare company that similarly sells subscriptions to hair loss treatments, as well as oral care, skin care and treatments for erectile dysfunction. Keeps is its smaller competitor. For now, the company is focused solely on haircare, though with the new funds, Thirty Madison plans to launch Cove, a sister brand to Keeps that will provide treatments to migraine sufferers.
The company was founded last year by Gutentag and Demetri Karagas with a plan to develop several digital healthcare brands under the Thirty Madison umbrella.
“Going through this process myself of starting to experience hair loss, I was not sure where to turn,” Gutentag said. “I went online and looked up ‘why am I losing my hair,’ and if you search on Google, really for any medical condition, you usually walk away thinking you’re going to die … I was so fortunate that I got access to this high-quality specialist who could help me with my problem and I was in the position to afford those treatments, but most people don’t get that access.”
Keeps also provide digital access to a network of doctors at a cost of roughly $30 per visit.
TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos wrote last year that “it’s never been a better time to be a man who privately suffers from erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or hair loss” because of advances and investments in telemedicine. Since then, even more money has been funneled into the space.
Hims has raised nearly $100 million to date and is rumored to be working on a line of women’s products. Roman, a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction, raised an $88 million Series A last month and is launching a “quit smoking kit.” And Lemonaid Health, which also provides prescriptions to erectile dysfunction medications and more, secured $11 million last year.
Greycroft, Steadfast Venture Capital, First Round, ERA, HillCour and Two River also participated in Thirty Madison’s fundraise, which brings its total raised to date to $22.75 million.
Keeps parent company Thirty Madison raises $15 million to fight male pattern baldnesshttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1733539
Men's hair loss brand Keeps has raised $15 million in a round co-led by Maveron and Northzone.
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 17:48:41 +0000
Devoted Health, a Waltham, Mass.-based insurance startup, has raised a $300 million Series B and is enrolling to its Medicare Advantage plan members in eight Florida counties.
The company, which helps Medicare beneficiaries access care through its network of physicians and tech-enabled healthcare platform, has raised the funds from lead investor Andreessen Horowitz, Premji Invest and Uprising.
The company declined to disclose its valuation.
Devoted’s founders are brothers Todd and Ed Park — the company’s executive chairman and chief executive officer, respectively. Todd co-founded a pair of now publicly traded companies, Athenahealth, a provider of electronic health record systems, and health benefits platform Castlight Health. He also served as the U.S. chief technology officer during the Obama administration. Ed, for his part, was the chief operating officer of Athenahealth until 2016 and a member of Castlight’s board of directors for several years.
Venrock partners Bryan Roberts — Devoted’s founding investor — and Bob Kocher — its chief medical officer — are also part of the company’s founding team.
The Park brothers have tapped Jeremy Delinsky, the former CTO at Wayfair and Athenahealth, as COO; DJ Patil, a former data scientist at the White House, as its head of technology; and Adam Thackery, the former CFO of Universal American, as its chief financial officer.
Its board includes former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. As part of the latest round, a16z’s Vijay Pande will join its board, too.
The company says it’s committed to treating its customers as if they were members of its employees’ own families. For Patil, the startup’s head of tech, that’s made the entire process of building Devoted a very emotional one.
“I’ve cried a lot at this company,” Patil told TechCrunch. “You meet these seniors and they’ve done everything right. They’ve worked so incredibly hard their entire lives. They’ve given it their all for the American dream. They’ve paid into this model of healthcare and they deserve better.”
Devoted, which previously raised $69 million across two financing rounds in 2017 from Oak HC/FT, Venrock, F-Prime Capital Partners, Maverick Ventures and Obvious Ventures, has begun enrolling to its Medicare Advantage plan seniors located in Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk and Seminole counties. It will begin providing care January 1, 2019.
Its long-term goal is to offer insurance plans to seniors nationwide.
“We are responsible for these people’s healthcare, so we need to get it right,” Patil said.
With $300M in new funding, Devoted Health launches its Medicare Advantage plan in Floridahttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732661
Andreessen Horowitz has led the $300 million Series B, with participation from Premji Invest and Uprising.
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 16:00:02 +0000
It’s been a year since the launch of Substack, a platform that allows newsletter writers to build a subscription business. Today, on its first birthday, the startup has a simple message: Yes, people really are willing to pay for newsletters.
In fact, the company says there are more than 25,000 paying subscribers for Substack -powered newsletters (up from 11,000 in July). And newsletters published on the platform reach a total of 150,000 paying active readers.
Co-founder and CEO Chris Best described the pitch as, “We’ll do everything for you except the hard part,” namely writing the newsletter. It offers way to publish newsletters, charge a subscription fee and then decide which content only goes to paying subscribers.
“It’s a really simple idea,” Best said — and in his view, that’s part of what makes it powerful.
At the same time, the startup has been adding more features like gift subscriptions, podcast support and subscriber-only comments, which have the bonus of reducing troll-ish commentary from random visitors.
“We can be like, ‘Comments are for people that are paying,'” Best said. “That actually fixes a lot of the problem.”
Substack launched with Sinocism, a China-focused newsletter written by MarketWatch co-founder Bill Bishop, and apparently the paid subscription sign-ups on Bishop’s first day added up to six figures in annual revenue. Since then, writers like Judd Legum (who quit his job as editor in chief of ThinkProgress to launch his newsletter Popular Information), Toast founders Nicole Cliffe and Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Slate political correspondent Jamelle Bouie have also used Substack to create paid newsletters (though again, it’s not all behind a paywall — the platform allows them to publish a mix of free and paid content).
“One of the things striking to us is the kinds of writers,” Best added. “It’s not a particular genre or type of writer, it’s not the subject matter that determines [success]. The kinds of writers who make it work are people who have a dedicated following, that have a particular point of view that makes them indispensable.”
Best also said this is “the kind of thing you want to do whole hog.” In other words, the successful writers are passionate about their subjects and committed to the newsletter format and subscription business model, rather than asking, “How can I diversify my revenue?”
At the same time, co-founder Hamish McKenzie (a journalist himself) noted that Substack isn’t just a platform for well-known writers to start charging their existence audience for their work. For example, there’s Petition, which was launched on Substack as an anonymously-written newsletter about corporate restructuring and bankruptcy.
The Substack team didn’t get specific about plans for the year two, but Best and McKenzie made it clear that they think this reflects a broader shift away from a news and commentary model driven by social distribution and monetized by ads.
“The core thing is really simple,” Best said. “The core thing is: Publish some stuff, get people to love it and then charge them for it.”
Substack celebrates its first birthday with 25K paying newsletter subscribershttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1733445
It’s been a year since the launch of Substack, a platform that allows newsletter writers to build a subscription business. Today, on its first birthday, the startup has a simple message: Yes, people really are willing to pay for newsletters. In fact, the company says there are more than 25,000 paying subscribers for Substack -powered […]
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 15:15:57 +0000
Paperspace wants to help developers build artificial intelligence and machine learning applications with a software/hardware development platform powered by GPUs and other powerful chips. Today, the Winter 2015 Y Combinator grads announced a $13 million Series A.
Battery Ventures led the round with participation from SineWave Ventures, Intel Capital and Sorenson Ventures. Existing investor Initialized Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total amount to $19 million raised.
Dharmesh Thakker, a general partner with Battery Ventures sees Paperspace as being in the right place at the time. As AI and machine learning take off, developers need a set of tools and GPU-fueled hardware to process it all. “Major silicon, systems and Web-scale computing providers need a cloud-based solution and software ‘glue’ to make deep learning truly consumable by data-driven organizations, and Paperspace is helping to provide that,” Thakker said in a statement.
Paperspace provides its own GPU-powered servers to help in this regard, but co-founder and CEO Dillon Erb says they aren’t trying to compete with the big cloud vendors. They offer more than a hardware solution to customers. Last spring, the company released Gradient, a serverless tool to make it easier to deploy and manage AI and machine learning workloads.
By making Gradient a serverless management tool, customers don’t have to think about the underlying infrastructure. Instead, Paperspace handles all of that for them providing the resources as needed. “We do a lot of GPU compute, but the big focus right now and really where the investors are buying into with this fundraise, is the idea that we are in a really unique position to build out a software layer and abstract a lot of that infrastructure away [for our customers],” Erb told TechCrunch.
He says that building some of the infrastructure was an important early step, but they aren’t trying to compete with the cloud vendors. They are trying to provide a set of tools to help developers build complex AI and machine learning/deep learning applications, whether it’s on their own infrastructure or on the mainstream cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
What’s more, they have moved beyond GPUs to support a range of powerful chips being developed to support AI and machine learning workloads. It’s probably one of the reasons that Intel joined as an investor in this round.
He says the funding is definitely a validation of something they set out to work on when they first started this in 2014 and launched out of Y Combinator in 2015. Back then he had to explain what a GPU was in his pitch decks. He doesn’t have to do that anymore, but there is still plenty of room to grow in this space.
“It’s really a greenfield opportunity, and we want to be the go-to platform that you can start building out into intelligent applications without thinking about infrastructure.” With $13 million in hand, it’s safe to say that they are on their way.
Paperspace scores $13M investment for AI-fueled application development platformhttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1733375
Paperspace wants to help developers build artificial intelligence and machine learning applications with a software/hardware development platform powered by GPUs and other powerful chips. Today, the Winter 2015 Y Combinator grads announced a $13 million Series A. Battery Ventures led the round with participation from SineWave Ventures, Intel Capital and Sorenson Ventures. Existing investor Initialized […]
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 13:12:25 +0000
Instacart chief executive officer Apoorva Mehta wants every household in the U.S. to use Instacart, a grocery delivery service that allows shoppers to order from more than 300 retailers, including Kroger, Costco, Walmart and Sam’s Club, using its mobile app.
Today, the company is taking a big leap toward that goal.
San Francisco-based Instacart has raised $600 million at a $7.6 billion valuation, just six months after it brought in a $150 million round and roughly eight months after a $200 million financing that valued the business at $4.2 billion.
D1 Capital Partners, a relatively new fund led by Daniel Sundheim, the former chief investment officer of Viking Global Investors, led the round.
Instacart is raking in cash aggressively but spending it cautiously. The company still has all of its Series E, which ultimately totaled $350 million, and the majority of its $413 million Series D in the bank, a source close to the company told TechCrunch. That means, in total, Instacart has $1.2 billion at its fingertips. Currently, according to the same source, the company is only profitable on a contribution margin basis, meaning it’s earning a profit on each individual Instacart order.
In a conversation with TechCrunch, Mehta said the company didn’t need the capital and that it was an “opportunistic” round, i.e. the capital was readily available and Instacart has ambitious plans to scale, so why not fundraise. Instacart plans to use the enormous pool of capital to double its engineering team by 2019, which will include filling 300 open engineering roles in its recently announced Toronto office, he said.
As far as an initial public offering, it will happen — eventually.
“It will be on the horizon,” Mehta told TechCrunch.
“2018 has been a really big year for us,” he added. “The reason why we are so excited is because the opportunity ahead of us is enormous. The U.S. is a $1 trillion grocery market and less than 5 percent of that is bought online. It’s an enormous category that’s highly under-penetrated.”
In the last six months, Instacart has announced a few notable accomplishments.
As of August, the service has been available to 70 percent of U.S. households. That’s due to the expansion of existing partnerships and new deals entirely, like a recently announced pilot program between Instacart and Walmart Canada that gives Canadian Instacart users access to 17 different Walmart locations across Winnipeg and Toronto, Ontario.
The company has also completed several executive hires. Most recently, it tapped former Thumbtack chief technology officer Mark Schaaf as CTO. Before that, Instacart brought on David Hahn as chief product officer and Dani Dudeck as its first chief communications officer.
The six-year-old Y Combinator graduate has raised more than $1.6 billion in venture capital funding from Coatue Management, Thrive Capital, Canaan Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and several others.
Instacart raises another $600M at a $7.6B valuationhttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1733180
D1 Capital Partners has led the $600 million round for Instacart.
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 13:00:43 +0000
In today’s world of Slack, email and a gazillion other web apps and services, it’s become increasingly hard to search for information. Did your boss Slack you or email you that information about your bonus? Or did they share it via a Google Doc? Who knows? Clearly not you, but Journal knows.
Journal, a machine learning and natural language processing-powered platform designed to search across all your web services and tools, today announced a $1.5 million seed round led by Social Capital. Since receiving the funding about a year ago, Journal has been able to launch a beta community of users. Today, Journal is publicly launching its Mac app, web app and Chrome extension.
“We’re passionate about helping people use information effectively,” Journal co-founder and CEO Samiur Rahman told TechCrunch. “In this case, we want to help people manage their knowledge. So we want to help individuals to leverage all of the places that they have information right now.”
It was that thesis that led Rahman and his team to land on wanting to build a suite of tools that “acts as a second brain for people. That’s obviously a long way away but that’s what our long-term vision is.”
Based on the demo Rahman showed me, Journal looks pretty darn useful. I had an opportunity to install it, but I was hesitant to do so. That’s because Journal requires viewing permissions to your email, apps and other services with which you sync Journal.
That’s scary for a couple of reasons — the main one being privacy. For example, what happens if Journal gets hacked? Or if the government requests data from Journal?
Well, Journal uses zero-knowledge encryption that ensures Journal employees can’t read or decrypt the information of the user. Here’s a bit more information on how Journal handles security:
Journal asks for view permission to the apps a user integrates so that we can enable search across their apps.To keep users’ information safe, all data in Journal is encrypted both in transit and at rest.Data such as the contents of files, emails, messages, etc. are encrypted using the Fernet symmetric encryption method, which uses AES-128 in CBC mode + HMAC-SHA-256 with a random IV. This means that the data can’t be decrypted without the secret key. Our file systems where the conceptual index is stored is encrypted using Amazon KMS, which uses AES-256 in GCM mode.The secret key is a combination of a hash from the OAuth access key for the account you’ve integrated and a Journal secret key. If our database gets hacked somehow, the hacker would need to also be able to get access to our separate authentication store and our secret key to decrypt your information.
I’m not a security expert, so I asked my colleague, TC Security Editor Zack Whittaker, for some insight. He told me Rahman’s explanation makes sense, further explaining that what Journal does is essentially split the private keys needed to access your data. Whittaker said that’s smart, but that he’s more concerned about general trust.
Journal has access to a treasure trove of data — much of which would be very valuable to advertisers. Right now, advertising is not part of Journal’s revenue plans, but that could change.
“I can’t say for certainty that we won’t, but I think ad-based revenue ends up creating some really bad incentives, especially when you’ve got all this really private data about people and their usage patterns. The very likely route is that we end up going through companies that pay for teams to use.”
As with most tech products these days, it comes down to how much do you trust the company and how much do you care about your data?
And depending on who you are, you may have a stronger threat model — that is, what threats you face based on who you are. Black communities, for example, are at a greater risk of surveillance by the government than white communities. So you adjust your behavior based on your personal threats.
Privacy concerns aside, Journal looks like a really useful product. But we’ll see if I get around to setting it up.
Journal raises $1.5 million to bring Google-like search to your personal lifehttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732837
In today’s world of Slack, email and a gazillion other web apps and services, it’s become increasingly hard to search for information. Did your boss Slack you or email you that information about your bonus? Or did they share it via a Google Doc? Who knows? Clearly not you, but Journal knows. Journal, a machine […]
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 13:00:40 +0000
TechCrunch Disrupt is the world’s biggest and most impactful tech startup conference, and we can’t wait to bring the hype to Berlin.
We’re very proud of the show we’ve put together and are thrilled to give you a look at what’s in store.
Editor’s Note: Not all of our speakers are included on this agenda as we like to keep a couple tricks up our sleeves. ;)
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 29
Hear from Roborace’s new CEO and former F1 driver Lucas Di Grassi on how Roborace is merging human driving and artificial intelligence to build a better racing series. Including a sneak peak at their latest vehicle! Main Stage @ 9:05AM
The world has been shocked by the plight of refugees from both war zones and natural disasters in the last few years. But the tech world has stepped up to the plate to assist refugees and NGOs, in this case with ReDI School’s hugely successful code school for refugees and NaTakallam’s global platform for refugees to teach languages. Main Stage @ 9:25AM
Payments company Adyen has achieved that rare thing all startups hope for but many do not achieve: it went public as a profitable company with a huge IPO pop. Hear how a startup quietly built up a payments empire under the radar, out of Amsterdam. Main Stage @ 9:45AM
Saul Klein has long had an outsized imprint on Europe’s tech scene, as an operator, founder and investor, as well as the mastermind behind the global meet up concept OpenCoffee and the “YC of Europe,” Seedcamp. We’ll talk with Klein about creating a sustainable ecosystem, as well as how Europe now competes against faster-growing markets, including in China. Main Stage @ 10:05AM
The hottest startups compete for the Disrupt Cup, $50,000 USD, and eternal glory. Main Stage @ 10:50AM
Readdle, a strartup out of Ukraine, has racked up 100 million downloads of its popular PDF app, and is now making a bold move into other productivity tools, all without a single dime of funding. It can be done! Hear Denys Zhadanov tell his startup’s story. Main Stage @ 11:55AM
The hottest startups compete for the Disrupt Cup, $50,000 USD, and eternal glory. Main Stage @ 1:15PM
It’s time to say it: there won’t be a single global leader in the ride-sharing industry. Many companies will survive and compete in dozens of countries with different offerings. But how do you beat Uber at its own game? Main Stage @ 2:40PM
Investing in Crypto and Blockchain startups has never been hotter. We’ll hear from these key pioneers in the field who are feeling their way in this brand new arena. Main Stage @ 3:45PM
As startups stay private longer and more people want to gamble on them, CEO Kaidi Ruusalepp will discuss the risks and rewards of would-be investors turning to Funderbeam’s secondary market. Main Stage @ 4:10PM
The hottest startups compete for the Disrupt Cup, $50,000 USD, and eternal glory. Main Stage @ 4:30PM
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 30TH
Topia’s Brynne Kennedy will discuss building the tools that enable companies to manage the 21st century mobile workforce. Main Stage @ 9:25AM
Thanks to a unified market, fintech startups have boomed in Europe. And yet, with so many megarounds and startups doing the same thing, are we experiencing a fintech fever? Main Stage @ 9:45AM
Babbel is now managing the top-grossing language learning app in the world. It’s a European success story. The company is now facing a new challenge: conquering the U.S. Main Stage @ 10:10AM
The car industry has never been so exciting. Everybody is working on the car of the future, which will represent the perfect combination of automation, connectivity, electric motors and mobility services. But who will do it better: Startups or car giants trying to reinvent themselves? Including a sneak peak of Sono’s new vehicle. Main Stage @ 11:05AM
Accel London has built a very strong brand in Europe over the past 18 years, with bets that include Deliveroo and Supercell. Yet staying relevant means continuing to bet on winners. How does Accel think about its heritage and its future, and what does that mean for the startups looking to work with the firm? Main Stage @ 11:30AM
Mike Collett has built a reputation as a savvy investor in deep-technology software and is now an investor in one of Europe’s hottest space-tech startups, ICEYE, which ICEYE recently became the first company to launch a Synthetic-Aperture Radar satellite under 100 kilograms which can scan the globe in 3D. Where does space technology go from here? Main Stage @ 1:00PM
STARTUP BATTLEFIELD FINALS
The hottest startups compete for the Disrupt Cup, $50,000 USD, and eternal glory. Main Stage @ 1:45PM
With a $100M warchest, Truecaller has gone from a simple anti-spam service to a payments and chat service for huge new markets like India. Meanwhile, Zest is India’s first completely automated consumer digital lending platform which is giving consumers there new options in financing. We’ll get into how these two pioneers are expanding. Main Stage @ 3:30PM
Threads, a startup out of London, has found the perfect way to sell to its target millennial customer: forget the web and focus on messaging apps instead. That bold choice has helped the company land tons of clients and millions in backing from VCs who want in on the action. Hear from founder Sophie Hills about how she got here, and what will come next. Main Stage @ 4:20PM
Starling has now convinced hundreds of thousands of people, but it is still far behind the biggest consumer banks. Anne Boden has worked in the banking industry for decades, so she knows what’s missing to jump from a small competitor to a dominant player. Main Stage @ 4:40PM
Join us at Disrupt Berlin (29-30 November) today!
Announcing the Disrupt Berlin Agendahttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732702
TechCrunch Disrupt is the world’s biggest and most impactful tech startup conference, and we can’t wait to bring the hype to Berlin. We’re very proud of the show we’ve put together and are thrilled to give you a look at what’s in store. Editor’s Note: Not all of our speakers are included on this agenda […]
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 08:00:48 +0000
JobUFO, the Berlin-based startup that has built a video focussed app to help facilitate better job applications, has raised €2 million in seed funding. Leading the round is IBB and Hevella Capital, with the investment to be used for growth.
Claiming to re-invent the way companies handle the application process, JobUFO has developed an online/mobile application form that focuses on the personality of the candidate. This includes being asked to created a CV in a specific format and the ability to record or upload a personal application video. The JobUFO application form can be embedded anywhere online, such as a company’s career page or job ad, so that it becomes the preferred way to receive applications.
“The HR market is overloaded with too many information and recruiting tools,” JobUFO co-founder and CEO Thomas Paucker tells me when asked to describe the problem being tackled. “This makes it very hard to find the best process of applying to a job. That’s why everybody is writing the same motivational letters. You still need a laptop and there is no real first impression of yourself when you apply. Recruiters do not read motivational letters because someone else could have written it. The longer a recruiting process is, the higher the average dropout rate of an applicant”.
To remedy this, the JobUFO mobile app or web-version enables applicants to quickly create a “DIN-correct” CV in combination with a guided video of up to thirty seconds. Paucker says the idea is to be able to give a good first impression at the very moment the application is received. JobUFO powered applications are pushed directly into a company’s application tracking system via the JobUFO API.
“Recruiters get more and reliable applications without changing their daily routine,” he says. “Applicants get recommendations based on big data and are guided nearly fully automatically during their whole work life. Additionally we automate the communication between those two groups to focus on the main goal: filling the vacancy with someone who fits and likes the job”.
To that end, in two years since being founded, JobUFO has grown its customer base to over 30 well-known companies operating in Germany. They include Deutsche Bahn, Edeka, Evonik, Hertz, and Ikea. In 2018 alone, over 60,000 applications have been generated.
“Digitalisation is changing the recruiting sector,” adds Paucker, noting that younger applicants have no prior knowledge of a more traditional application process and are much more akin to using consumer apps such as Instagram and YouTube. “Since we guide the applicants directly through the application process, JobUFO is particularly popular with this younger target group,” he says.
In addition, the “talking application photos” concept is resonating with recruiters and HR managers since the last mile to the applicant is often the most time-consuming and least scalable. “The company sees the video as well as the checked data of the applicant directly in its own applicant management system. For both sides, this is an uncomplicated process that continues to spur us on to expand,” says the JobUFO CEO.
Video-based recruitment startup JobUFO scores €2M seedhttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732571
JobUFO, the Berlin-based startup that has built a video focussed app to help facilitate better job applications, has raised €2 million in seed funding. Leading the round is IBB and Hevella Capital, with the investment to be used for growth. Claiming to re-invent the way companies handle the application process, JobUFO has developed an online/mobile […]
Tue, 16 Oct 2018 08:00:00 +0000
Only six months ago Barcelona-based TravelPerk bagged a $21 million Series B, off the back of strong momentum for a software as a service platform designed to take a Slack-like chunk out of the administrative tedium of arranging and expensing work trips.
Today the founders’ smiles are firmly back in place: TravelPerk has announced a $44 million Series C to keep stoking growth that’s seen it grow from around 20 customers two years ago to approaching 1,500 now. The business itself was only founded at the start of 2015.
Investors in the new round include Sweden’s Kinnevik, Russian billionaire and DST Global founder Yuri Milner and Tom Stafford, also of DST. Prior investors include the likes of Target Global, Felix Capital, Spark Capital, Sunstone, LocalGlobe and Amplo.
Commenting on the Series C in a statement, Kinnevik’s Chris Bischoff, said: “We are excited to invest in TravelPerk, a company that fits perfectly into our investment thesis of using technology to offer customers more and much better choice. Booking corporate travel is unnecessarily time-consuming, expensive and burdensome compared to leisure travel. Avi and team have capitalised on this opportunity to build the leading European challenger by focusing on a product-led solution, and we look forward to supporting their future growth.”
TravelPerk’s total funding to date now stands at almost $75 million. It’s not disclosing the valuation that its latest clutch of investors are stamping on its business but, with a bit of a chuckle, co-founder and CEO Avi Meir dubs it “very high.”
Gunning for growth — to West and East
TravelPerk contends that a $1.3 trillion market is ripe for disruption because legacy business travel booking platforms are both lacking in options and roundly hated for being slow and horrible to use. (Hi Concur!)
Helping business save time and money using a slick, consumer-style trip booking platform that both packs in options and makes business travelers feel good about the booking process (i.e. rather than valueless cogs in a soul-destroying corporate ROI machine) is the general idea — an idea that’s seemingly catching on fast.
And not just with the usual suspect, early adopter, startup dog food gobblers but pushing into the smaller end of the enterprise market too.
“We kind of stumbled on the realization that our platform works for bigger companies than we thought initially,” says Meir. “So the users used to be small, fast-growing tech companies, like GetYourGuide, Outfittery, TypeForm etc… They’re early adopters, they’re tech companies, they have no fear of trying out tech — even for such a mission-critical aspect of their business… But then we got pulled into bigger companies. We recently signed FarFetch for example.”
Other smaller-sized enterprises that have signed up include the likes of Adyen, B&W, Uber and Aesop.
Companies small and big are, seemingly, united in their hatred of legacy travel booking platforms — and feeling encouraged to check out TravelPerk’s alternative, thanks to the SaaS being free to use and free from the usual contract lock ins.
TravelPerk’s freemium business model is based on taking affiliate commissions on bookings. Down the road, it also has its eye on generating a data-based revenue stream via paid-tier trip analytics.
Currently it reports booking revenues growing at 700 percent year on year. And Meir previously told us it’s on course to do $100 million GMV this year — which he confirms continues to be the case.
It also says it’s on track to complete bookings for one million travelers by next year. And it claims to be the fastest growing software as a service company in Europe, a region which remains its core market focus — though the new funding will be put toward market expansion.
And there is at least the possibility, according to Meir, that TravelPerk could actively expand outside Europe within the next 12 months.
“We definitely are looking at expansion outside of Europe as well. I don’t know yet if it’s going to be first U.S. — West or East — because there are opportunities in both directions,” he tells TechCrunch. “And we have customers; one of our largest customers is in Singapore. And we do have a growing amount of customers out of the U.S.”
Doubling down on growth within Europe is certainly on the slate, though, with a chunk of the Series C going to establish a number of new offices across the region.
Having more local bases to better serve customers is the idea. Meir notes that, perhaps unusually for a startup, TravelPerk has not outsourced customer support — but kept customer service in-house to try to maintain quality. (Which, in Europe, means having staff who can speak the local language.)
He also quips about the need for a travel business to serve up “human intelligence” — i.e. by using tech tools to slickly connect on-the-road customers with actual people who can quickly and smartly grapple with and solve problems, versus an automated AI response which is — let’s face it — probably the last thing any time-strapped business traveler wants when trying to get orientated fast and/or solve a snafu away from home.
“I wouldn’t use [human intelligence] for everything but definitely if people are on the road, and they need assistance, and they need to make changes, and you need to understand what they said…” argues Meir, going on to say ‘HI’ has been his response when investors asked why TravelPerk’s pitch deck doesn’t include the almost-impossible-to-avoid tech buzzword: “AI.”
“I think we are probably the only startup in the world right now that doesn’t have AI in the pitch deck somewhere,” he adds. “One of the investors asked about it and I said ‘well we have HI; it’s better’… We have human intelligence. Just people, and they’re smart.”
Also on the cards (it therefore follows): More hiring (the team is at ~150 now and Meir says he expects it to push close to 300 within 18 months), as well as continued investment on the product front, including in the mobile app, which was a late addition, only arriving this year.
The TravelPerk mobile app offers handy stuff like a one-stop travel itinerary, flight updates and a chat channel for support. But the desktop web app and core platform were the team’s first focus, with Meir arguing the desktop platform is the natural place for businesses to book trips.
This makes its mobile app more a companion piece — to “how you travel” — housing helpful additions for business travelers, as nice-to-have extras. “That’s what our app does really well,” he adds. “So we’re unusually contrarian and didn’t have a mobile app until this year… It was a pretty crazy bet but we really wanted to have a great web app experience.”
Much of TravelPerk’s early energy has clearly gone into delivering on the core product via nailing down the necessary partnerships and integrations to be able to offer such a large inventory — and thus deliver expanded utility versus legacy rivals.
As well as offering a clean-looking, consumer-style interface intended to do for business travel booking feels what Slack has done for work chat, the platform boasts a larger inventory than traditional players in the space, according to Meir — by plugging into major consumer providers such as Booking.com and Expedia.
The inventory also includes Airbnb accommodation (not just traditional hotels), while other partners on the flight side include Kayak and Skyscanner.
“We have now the largest bookable inventory in the world,” he claims. “We’re way larger than old-school competitors… We went through this licensing process which is almost as difficult as getting a banking license… which gives us the right to sell you the same product as travel agencies… Nobody in the world can sell you Kayak’s flights directly from their platform — so we have a way to do that.”
TravelPerk also recently plugged trains into its directly bookable options. This mode of transport is an important component of the European business travel market, where rail infrastructure is dense, highly developed and often very high-speed. (Which means it can be both the most convenient and environmentally friendly travel option to use.)
“Trains are pretty complex technically so we found a great partner,” notes Meir on that, listing major train companies including in Germany, Spain and Italy as among those it’s now able to offer direct bookings for via its platform.
On the product side, the team is also working on integrating travel and expenses management into the platform — to serve its growing numbers of (small) enterprise customers who need more than just a slick trip booking tool.
Meir says getting pulled to these bigger accounts is steering its European expansion — with part of the Series C going to fund a clutch of new offices around the region near where some of its bigger customers are based. Beginning in London, with Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris slated to follow soon.
Picking investors for the long haul
What does the team attribute TravelPerk’s momentum to generally? It comes back to the pain, says Meir. Business travelers are being forced to “tolerate” horrible legacy systems. “So I think the pain-point is so visible and so clear [it sells itself],” he argues, also pointing out this is true for investors (which can’t have hurt TravelPerk’s funding pitch).
“In general we just built a great product and a great service, and we focused on this consumer angle — which is something that really connects well with what people want in this day and age,” he adds. “People want to use something that feels like Slack.”
For the Series C, Meir says TravelPerk was looking for investors who would be comfortable supporting the business for the long haul, rather than pushing for a quick sale. So they are now articulating the possibility of a future IPO.
And while he says TravelPerk hadn’t known much about Swedish investment firm Kinnevik prior to the Series C, Meir says he came away impressed with its focus on “global growth and ambition,” and the “deep pockets and the patience that comes with it.”
“We really aligned on this should be a global play, rather than a European play,” he adds. “We really connected on this should be a very, big independent business that goes to the path of IPO rather than a quick exit to one of the big players.
“So with them we buy patience, and also the condition, when offers do come onto the table, to say no to them.”
Given it’s been just a short six months between the Series B and C, is TravelPerk planning to raise again in the next 12 months?
“We’re never fundraising and we’re always fundraising I guess,” Meir responds on that. “We don’t need to fundraise for the next three years or so, so it will not come out of need, hopefully, unless something really unusual is happening, but it will come more out of opportunity and if it presented a way to grow even faster.
“I think the key here is how fast we grow. And how good a product we certify — and if we have an opportunity to make it even faster or better than we’ll go for it. But it’s not something that we’re actively doing it… So to all investors reading this piece don’t call me!” he adds, most likely inviting a tsunami of fresh investor pitches.
Discussing the challenges of building a business that’s so fast growing it’s also changing incredibly rapidly, Meir says nothing is how he imagined it would be — including fondly thinking it would be easier the bigger and better resourced the business got. But he says there’s an upside too.
“The challenges are just much, much bigger on this scale,” he says. “Numbers are bigger, you have more people around the table… I would say it’s very, very difficult and challenging but also extremely fun.
“So now when we release a feature it goes immediately into the hands of hundreds of thousands of travelers that use it every month. And when you fundraise… it’s much more fun because you have more leverage.
“It’s also fun because — and I don’t want to position myself as the cynical guy — the reality is that most startups don’t cure cancer, right. So we’re not saving the world… but in our little niche of business travel, which is still like $1.3 trillion per year, we are definitely making a dent.
“So, yes, it’s more challenging and difficult as you grow, and the problems become much bigger, but you can also deliver the feedback to more people.”
TravelPerk grabs $44M to take its pain-free SaaS for business travel globalhttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732631
Only six months ago Barcelona-based TravelPerk bagged a $21 million Series B, off the back of strong momentum for a software as a service platform designed to take a Slack-like chunk out of the administrative tedium of arranging and expensing work trips. Today the founders’ smiles are firmly back in place: TravelPerk has announced a $44 […]
Mon, 15 Oct 2018 23:01:29 +0000
A new technology from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University will add sound and vibration awareness to create truly context-aware computing. The system, called Ubicoustics, adds additional bits of context to smart device interaction, allowing a smart speaker to know it’s in a kitchen or a smart sensor to know you’re in a tunnel versus on the open road.
“A smart speaker sitting on a kitchen countertop cannot figure out if it is in a kitchen, let alone know what a person is doing in a kitchen,” said Chris Harrison a researcher at CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. “But if these devices understood what was happening around them, they could be much more helpful.”
The first implementation of the system uses built-in speakers to create “a sound-based activity recognition.” How they are doing this is quite fascinating.
“The main idea here is to leverage the professional sound-effect libraries typically used in the entertainment industry,” said Gierad Laput, a PhD student. “They are clean, properly labeled, well-segmented and diverse. Plus, we can transform and project them into hundreds of different variations, creating volumes of data perfect for training deep-learning models.”
From the release:
Laput said recognizing sounds and placing them in the correct context is challenging, in part because multiple sounds are often present and can interfere with each other. In their tests, Ubicoustics had an accuracy of about 80 percent — competitive with human accuracy, but not yet good enough to support user applications. Better microphones, higher sampling rates and different model architectures all might increase accuracy with further research.
In a separate paper, HCII Ph.D. student Yang Zhang, along with Laput and Harrison, describe what they call Vibrosight, which can detect vibrations in specific locations in a room using laser vibrometry. It is similar to the light-based devices the KGB once used to detect vibrations on reflective surfaces such as windows, allowing them to listen in on the conversations that generated the vibrations.
This system uses a low-power laser and reflectors to sense whether an object is on or off or whether a chair or table has moved. The sensor can monitor multiple objects at once and the tags attached to the objects use no electricity. This would let a single laser monitor multiple objects around a room or even in different rooms, assuming there is line of sight.
The research is still in its early stages, but expect to see robots that can hear when you’re doing the dishes and, depending on their skills, hide or offer to help.
This robot uses lasers to ‘listen’ to its environmenthttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732689
A new technology from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University will add sound and vibration awareness to create truly context-aware computing. The system, called Ubicoustics, adds additional bits of context to smart device interaction, allowing a smart speaker to know it’s in a kitchen or a smart sensor to know you’re in a tunnel versus on […]
Mon, 15 Oct 2018 21:30:04 +0000
Y Combinator has released the results of a survey, completed in partnership with its portfolio company Callisto, highlighting the pervasive role of sexual harassment in venture capital and technology startups.
Callisto, a sexual misconduct reporting software built for victims, is a graduate of YC’s winter 2018 class. The company sent a survey to 125 of YC’s 384 female founders, asking if they had been “assaulted or coerced by an angel or VC investor in their startup career.”
Eighty-eight female founders completed the survey; 19 in total claimed to have experienced some form of harassment.
More specifically, 18 said that inappropriate experience consisted of “unwanted sexual overtures;” 15 said it was “sexual coercion;” four said it was “unwanted sexual contact.”
As part of the release of the survey findings, YC announced they’ve established a formal process for their founders to report harassment and assault within Bookface, the startup accelerator’s private digital portal for its founders.
“You can report at any time, even years after the incident took place,” YC wrote in the blog post. “The report will remain confidential. We encourage other investors to set up similar reporting systems.”
First Round Capital is another investor to recently poll its founders on issues of sexual misconduct. Similarly, the early-stage investor found that half of the 869 founders polled were harassed or knew a victim of workplace harassment.
As for Callisto, the 7-year-old non-profit said it will launch Callisto for founders, a new tool that will support victims. Using Callisto, founders can record the identities of perpetrators in the tech and VC industry. The company will collect the information and refer victims to a lawyer who will provide free advice and the option to share their information with other victims of the same perpetrator. From there, victims can decide if they want to go public together with their accusations.
Tech’s widespread sexual harassment problem is not new, but more women and victims of harassment have come forward in recent years as the #MeToo movement encourages them to name their harassers. Justin Caldbeck, formerly of Binary Capital, and former SoFi chief executive officer Mike Cagney are among the Silicon Valley elite to be ousted amid allegations of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era.
Y Combinator survey confirms what we already know — female founders are too often victims of sexual harassmenthttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732933
Y Combinator partnered with Callisto, a sexual misconduct reporting software built for victims, to survey its roster of female founders.
Mon, 15 Oct 2018 19:36:16 +0000
Grin, an electric scooter startup backed by Y Combinator, has raised a $45.7 million Series A to operate shared, electric scooters in Latin America.
Grin, which is based in Mexico City, had previously raised funding from Sinai Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures, 500 Startups, Monashees, Base10 Partners and others.
Currently, Grin only operates in Mexico City, but it has plans to expand to other cities throughout Latin America.
Electric scooters are clearly a hot space. U.S.-based companies like Bird and Lime have raised millions of dollars. Bird is currently valued at over $2 billion while Lime is valued at over $1 billion. Meanwhile, transportation behemoths Lyft and Uber have both staked their claim in the electric scooter space, both deploying them in Santa Monica, Calif. in the last month.
I’m getting in touch with Grin co-founder Sergio Romo shortly. More to come.
Electric scooter startup Grin raises ~$45 millionhttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732791
Grin, an electric scooter startup backed by Y Combinator, has raised a $45.7 million Series A to operate shared, electric scooters in Latin America. Grin, which is based in Mexico City, had previously raised funding from Sinai Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures, 500 Startups, Monashees, Base10 Partners and others. Currently, Grin only operates in Mexico City, but […]
Mon, 15 Oct 2018 17:20:44 +0000
Penta, the German fintech startup that offers a digital bank account targeting SMEs, has raised €7 million in Series A funding. Backing the company once again is Inception Capital, with total funding now at €10 million since Penta was founded in May 2016.
Launched in Germany in December, and powered by Banking-as-a-Platform solarisBank (rather than holding a banking license of its own), Penta is designed to meet the banking needs of small to medium-sized businesses, including startups.
The premise is that SMEs are currently underserved by incumbent banks, including account opening being cumbersome and much more difficult than it should be and exorbitant fees charged for making payments or international money exchange.
One of those is multi-card support to make it easier to manage company expenses. Dubbed ‘Team Access,’ the recently launched feature lets business owners issue multiple MasterCards to employees who need to make purchases on a company’s behalf.
Each card is linked to a business’ Penta account but can have custom rules and permissions per card/employee, in terms of how much money can be spent and where. More broadly, the feature is designed to cut down the time and cost of expense management for SMEs.
Notably, I’m told that the Berlin-based challenger bank, which has already grown to a team of 40 and plans to get to 100 over the next year, is seeing 68 percent of new customers switching from their existing business bank account, with the remaining 40 percent newly incorporated businesses.
That suggests many German businesses aren’t satisfied with the banking status quo, even if they’ve already crossed the account opening hurdle. Specifically, I understand that multi-card support has been one of the main draw, the kind of feature that older banks with legacy software often struggle to deliver.
Penta, the German challenger bank account for SMEs, raises €7M Series Ahttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732393
Penta, the German fintech startup that offers a digital bank account targeting SMEs, has raised €7 million in Series A funding. Backing the company once again is Inception Capital, with total funding now at €10 million since Penta was founded in May 2016. Launched in Germany in December, and powered by Banking-as-a-Platform solarisBank (rather than […]
Mon, 15 Oct 2018 08:00:16 +0000
Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-HQ’d company builder that invests in individuals “pre-team, pre-idea” to enable them to found new startups, is scaling up rapidly, as it promised to so. Already running programs in Paris, Berlin, London, Singapore, and Hong Kong, the so-called talent-first investor is setting up shop in Bangalore, India.
Although referred to as the “Silicon Valley of India,” Bangalore fits the EF bill quite well in terms of being a tech hub with latent potential, especially when measured by the small number of truly international startups it has produced. What’s also interesting — and something EF co-founder Matt Clifford noted on a brief call with me on Friday — is that India has long-been a source for tech talent generally but this has often been an export industry, spanning prominent leaders of major U.S. tech companies, right down to traditional development outsourcing. “It’s out chance to help reverse the brain drain,” is one way that Clifford framed it.
With that said, EF also notes that, according to Startup Genome, Bangalore’s startup ecosystem is valued at $19 billion, with an estimated 1,800-2,300 active tech startups. “The past decade has seen it shift from a purely skill-based factory model to a more startup mindset. There is a genuine interest in tech and an ability to attract highly skilled tech workers,” says the company builder.
To that end, EF will invest around $55,000 in each of the companies developed during its bi-annual Bangalore program, while also providing cohort members a monthly stipend of $2,500 as they develop their startup ideas in the first three months. Segments that EF will primarily focus on include defensible technology, AI, machine learning, and robotics, in addition to any opportunities spotted for deep tech consumer companies in India. Graduating startups from EF Bangalore will pitch to “leading regional and global investors” at Investor Day in Singapore next July, alongside counterparts from EF’s Hong Kong and Singapore programs.
Meanwhile, the latest EF expansion follows a $12.4 million funding round in 2017 led by Silicon Valley’s Greylock Partners, which also saw Greylock’s Reid Hoffman join the company builder’s board. The capital — to be used for operational purposes and separate from EF’s multiple investment funds — was raised to enable EF to scale its program in multiple tech startup/academic hubs around the world, and where it deemed the EF “secret sauce” can bring the most value. (Separately, I’m hearing EF is on the verge of closing a new, quite large investment fund.)
At the time of Greylock’s backing, Hoffman told TechCrunch he could see the company builder expanding to “20 or 30 or 40 cities, maybe even 50“. Having now reached six cities, that is starting to look a lot less lofty, even if it is far from proven how smooth scaling a company builder in the image of EF can be.
Entrepreneur First, the company builder backed by Greylock, lands in Bangalorehttps://techcrunch.com/?p=1732406
Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-HQ’d company builder that invests in individuals “pre-team, pre-idea” to enable them to found new startups, is scaling up rapidly, as it promised to so. Already running programs in Paris, Berlin, London, Singapore, and Hong Kong, the so-called talent-first investor is setting up shop in Bangalore, India. Although referred to as […]
Mon, 15 Oct 2018 05:00:49 +0000