Business News

GGV’s Jeff Richards: ‘There is a level of resiliency in Silicon Valley that we did not have 10 years ago’

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 11:37pm

Earlier this week, GGV Capital’s Jeff Richards and Hans Tung joined TechCrunch for an Extra Crunch Live session. During our hour-long chat, we touched on startup profitability, the global venture capital scene, why GGV doesn’t have an office in Europe, how the venture industry is responding to its stark lack of diversity and other issues.

When it comes to useful bits of information, this was perhaps the most useful Extra Crunch Live discussion in which I’ve participated. One moment that stood out came early in the chat when we were talking about COVID-19-driven headwinds and tailwinds and how many startups might be in trouble. Richards said the following (emphasis via TechCrunch):

“You know, the one thing that’s been remarkable for me — I was in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur in the ’99, 2000 dot-com bubble, and 9/11. I was here in ’08, ’09 — I think there is a level of resiliency in Silicon Valley that we did not have 10 years ago and 20 years ago. I don’t have data to point to that. But we have been saying now for a few months that we’ve been blown away at the level of maturity, calmness, perseverance [and] resiliency that our companies and the founders and management teams have. On an emotional level, it’s been very heartwarming, because you hope to back the kind of people that are building real companies that can withstand challenges.

I think the corollary to that is you’ve seen companies that raised a ton of money and were burning a ton of cash and weren’t building very good businesses, a lot of those frankly went under in Q1 or are going under now. They haven’t been able to raise more cash and they’re just kind of dead.”

Both Richards and Tung were positive about their own portfolio companies’ recent performance and financial health (cash position, really). But it appears that not only are their portfolios doing well, but other startups are a bit more solid than in previous downturns.

On the flip side, however, there is a separate cohort of startups that were running inefficiently before and are now perhaps unfundable. Reading both points in unison, it appears that the startup market is bifurcating between the companies that will come out of the COVID-19 era unwounded, and those that are suffering. And the companies that weren’t the most cash hungry probably have the highest chance of being in the first bucket.

There’s a lot more to get to. So hit the jump for the full video and audio, and a few more of the best bits from the transcript. (You can snag a cheap Extra Crunch trial here if you need one.)

Oh, and don’t forget to stay up to date on coming chats. There’s still a lot to do.

The full chat

Here’s the full video rewind. Our favorite bits of the transcript follow:

Categories: Business News

As Q3 kicks off, four more companies join the $100M ARR club

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 11:30pm

Welcome back to our $100 million annual recurring revenue (ARR) series, in which we take irregular looks at companies that have reached material scale while still private. The goal of our project is simple: uncovering companies of real worth beyond how they are valued by private investors.

The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription.

It’s all well and good to get a $1 billion valuation, call yourself a unicorn and march around like you invented the internet. But reaching material revenue scale means that, unlike some highly valued companies, you’re actually hard to kill. (And more valuable, and more likely to go public, we reckon.)

Before we dive into today’s new companies, keep in mind that we’ve expanded the type of company that can make it into the $100M ARR club to include companies that reach a $100 million annual run rate pace. Why? Because we don’t only want to collect SaaS companies, and if we could go back in time we’d probably draw a different box around the companies we are tracking.

$100M ARR or bust

If you need to catch up, you can find the two most recent entries in the series here and here. For everyone who’s current, today we are adding Snow Software, A Cloud Guru, Zeta Global and Upgrade to the club. Let’s go!

Snow Software

Just this week, Snow Software announced that it has crossed the $100 million ARR mark, according to a release shared with TechCrunch. The Swedish software asset management company has raised a few private rounds, including a $120 million private equity round in 2017. But, unlike many American companies that make this list, we don’t have a historical record of needing extensive private capital to scale.

Categories: Business News

How Have I Been Pwned became the keeper of the internet’s biggest data breaches

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 11:00pm

When Troy Hunt launched Have I Been Pwned in late 2013, he wanted it to answer a simple question: Have you fallen victim to a data breach?

Seven years later, the data-breach notification service processes thousands of requests each day from users who check to see if their data was compromised — or pwned with a hard ‘p’ — by the hundreds of data breaches in its database, including some of the largest breaches in history. As it’s grown, now sitting just below the 10 billion breached-records mark, the answer to Hunt’s original question is more clear.

“Empirically, it’s very likely,” Hunt told me from his home on Australia’s Gold Coast. “For those of us that have been on the internet for a while it’s almost a certainty.”

What started out as Hunt’s pet project to learn the basics of Microsoft’s cloud, Have I Been Pwned quickly exploded in popularity, driven in part by its simplicity to use, but largely by individuals’ curiosity.

As the service grew, Have I Been Pwned took on a more proactive security role by allowing browsers and password managers to bake in a backchannel to Have I Been Pwned to warn against using previously breached passwords in its database. It was a move that also served as a critical revenue stream to keep down the site’s running costs.

But Have I Been Pwned’s success should be attributed almost entirely to Hunt, both as its founder and its only employee, a one-man band running an unconventional startup, which, despite its size and limited resources, turns a profit.

As the workload needed to support Have I Been Pwned ballooned, Hunt said the strain of running the service without outside help began to take its toll. There was an escape plan: Hunt put the site up for sale. But, after a tumultuous year, he is back where he started.

Ahead of its next big 10-billion milestone mark, Have I Been Pwned shows no signs of slowing down.

‘Mother of all breaches’

Even long before Have I Been Pwned, Hunt was no stranger to data breaches.

By 2011, he had cultivated a reputation for collecting and dissecting small — for the time — data breaches and blogging about his findings. His detailed and methodical analyses showed time and again that internet users were using the same passwords from one site to another. So when one site was breached, hackers already had the same password to a user’s other online accounts.

Then came the Adobe breach, the “mother of all breaches” as Hunt described it at the time: Over 150 million user accounts had been stolen and were floating around the web.

Hunt obtained a copy of the data and, with a handful of other breaches he had already collected, loaded them into a database searchable by a person’s email address, which Hunt saw as the most common denominator across all the sets of breached data.

And Have I Been Pwned was born.

It didn’t take long for its database to swell. Breached data from Sony, Snapchat and Yahoo soon followed, racking up millions more records in its database. Have I Been Pwned soon became the go-to site to check if you had been breached. Morning news shows would blast out its web address, resulting in a huge spike in users — enough at times to briefly knock the site offline. Hunt has since added some of the biggest breaches in the internet’s history: MySpace, Zynga, Adult Friend Finder, and several huge spam lists.

As Have I Been Pwned grew in size and recognition, Hunt remained its sole proprietor, responsible for everything from organizing and loading the data into the database to deciding how the site should operate, including its ethics.

Hunt takes a “what do I think makes sense” approach to handling other people’s breached personal data. With nothing to compare Have I Been Pwned to, Hunt had to write the rules for how he handles and processes so much breach data, much of it highly sensitive. He does not claim to have all of the answers, but relies on transparency to explain his rationale, detailing his decisions in lengthy blog posts.

His decision to only let users search for their email address makes logical sense, driven by the site’s only mission, at the time, to tell a user if they had been breached. But it was also a decision centered around user privacy that helped to future-proof the service against some of the most sensitive and damaging data he would go on to receive.

In 2015, Hunt obtained the Ashley Madison breach. Millions of people had accounts on the site, which encourages users to have an affair. The breach made headlines, first for the breach, and again when several users died by suicide in its wake.

The hack of Ashley Madison was one of the most sensitive entered into Have I Been Pwned, and ultimately changed how Hunt approached data breaches that involved people’s sexual preferences and other personal data. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

Hunt diverged from his usual approach, acutely aware of its sensitivities. The breach was undeniably different. He recounted a story of one person who told him how their local church posted a list of the names of everyone in the town who was in the data breach.

“It’s clearly casting a moral judgment,” he said, referring to the breach. “I don’t want Have I Been Pwned to enable that.”

Unlike earlier, less sensitive breaches, Hunt decided that he would not allow anyone to search for the data. Instead, he purpose-built a new feature allowing users who had verified their email addresses to see if they were in more sensitive breaches.

“The purposes for people being in that data breach were so much more nuanced than what anyone ever thought,” Hunt said. One user told him he was in there after a painful break-up and had since remarried but was labeled later as an adulterer. Another said she created an account to catch her husband, suspected of cheating, in the act.

“There is a point at which being publicly searchable poses an unreasonable risk to people, and I make a judgment call on that,” he explained.

The Ashely Madison breach reinforced his view on keeping as little data as possible. Hunt frequently fields emails from data breach victims asking for their data, but he declines every time.

“It really would not have served my purpose to load all of the personal data into Have I Been Pwned and let people look up their phone numbers, their sexualities, or whatever was exposed in various data breaches,” said Hunt.

“If Have I Been Pwned gets pwned, it’s just email addresses,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen, but it’s a very different situation if, say, there were passwords.”

But those remaining passwords haven’t gone to waste. Hunt also lets users search more than half a billion standalone passwords, allowing users to search to see if any of their passwords have also landed in Have I Been Pwned.

Anyone — even tech companies — can access that trove of Pwned Passwords, he calls it. Browser makers and password managers, like Mozilla and 1Password, have baked-in access to Pwned Passwords to help prevent users from using a previously breached and vulnerable password. Western governments, including the U.K. and Australia, also rely on Have I Been Pwned to monitor for breached government credentials, which Hunt also offers for free.

“It’s enormously validating,” he said. “Governments, for the most part, are trying to do things to keep countries and individuals safe — working under extreme duress and they don’t get paid much,” he said.

“There have been similar services that have popped up. They’ve been for-profit — and they’ve been indicted.”
Troy Hunt

Hunt recognizes that Have I Been Pwned, as much as openness and transparency is core to its operation, lives in an online purgatory under which any other circumstances — especially in a commercial enterprise — he would be drowning in regulatory hurdles and red tape. And while the companies whose data Hunt loads into his database would probably prefer otherwise, Hunt told me he has never received a legal threat for running the service.

“I’d like to think that Have I Been Pwned is at the far-legitimate side of things,” he said.

Others who have tried to replicate the success of Have I Been Pwned haven’t been as lucky.

“There have been similar services that have popped up,” said Hunt. “They’ve been for-profit — and they’ve been indicted,” he said.

LeakedSource was, for a time, one of the largest sellers of breach data on the web. I know, because my reporting broke some of their biggest gets: music streaming service Last.fm, adult dating site AdultFriendFinder, and Russian internet giant Rambler.ru to name a few. But what caught the attention of federal authorities was that LeakedSource, whose operator later pleaded guilty to charges related to trafficking identity theft information, indiscriminately sold access to anyone else’s breach data.

“There is a very legitimate case to be made for a service to give people access to their data at a price.”

Hunt said he would “sleep perfectly fine” charging users a fee to access their data. “I just wouldn’t want to be accountable for it if it goes wrong,” he said.

Project Svalbard

Five years into Have I Been Pwned, Hunt could feel the burnout coming.

“I could see a point where I would be if I didn’t change something,” he told me. “It really felt like for the sustainability of the project, something had to change.”

He said he went from spending a fraction of his time on the project to well over half. Aside from juggling the day-to-day — collecting, organizing, deduplicating and uploading vast troves of breached data — Hunt was responsible for the entirety of the site’s back office upkeep — its billing and taxes — on top of his own.

The plan to sell Have I Been Pwned was codenamed Project Svalbard, named after the Norweigian seed vault that Hunt likened Have I Been Pwned to, a massive stockpile of “something valuable for the betterment of humanity,” he wrote announcing the sale in June 2019. It would be no easy task.

Hunt said the sale was to secure the future of the service. It was also a decision that would have to secure his own. “They’re not buying Have I Been Pwned, they’re buying me,” said Hunt. “Without me, there’s just no deal.” In his blog post, Hunt spoke of his wish to build out the service and reach a larger audience. But, he told me, it was not about the money

As its sole custodian, Hunt said that as long as someone kept paying the bills, Have I Been Pwned would live on. “But there was no survivorship model to it,” he admitted. “I’m just one person doing this.”

By selling Have I Been Pwned, the goal was a more sustainable model that took the pressure off him, and, he joked, the site wouldn’t collapse if he got eaten by a shark, an occupational hazard for living in Australia.

But chief above all, the buyer had to be the perfect fit.

Hunt met with dozens of potential buyers, and many in Silicon Valley. He knew what the buyer would look like, but he didn’t yet have a name. Hunt wanted to ensure that whomever bought Have I Been Pwned upheld its reputation.

“Imagine a company that had no respect for personal data and was just going to abuse the crap out of it,” he said. “What does that do for me?” Some potential buyers were driven by profits. Hunt said any profits were “ancillary.” Buyers were only interested in a deal that would tie Hunt to their brand for years, buying the exclusivity to his own recognition and future work — that’s where the value in Have I Been Pwned is.

Hunt was looking for a buyer with whom he knew Have I Been Pwned would be safe if he were no longer involved. “It was always about a multiyear plan to try and transfer the confidence and trust people have in me to some other organizations,” he said.

Hunt testifies to the House Energy Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The vetting process and due diligence was “insane,” said Hunt. “Things just drew out and drew out,” he said. The process went on for months. Hunt spoke candidly about the stress of the year. “I separated from my wife early last year around about the same time as the [sale process],” he said. They later divorced. “You can imagine going through this at the same time as the separation,” he said. “It was enormously stressful.”

Then, almost a year later, Hunt announced the sale was off. Barred from discussing specifics thanks to non-disclosure agreements, Hunt wrote in a blog post that the buyer, whom he was set on signing with, made an unexpected change to their business model that “made the deal infeasible.”

“It came as a surprise to everyone when it didn’t go through,” he told me. It was the end of the road.

Looking back, Hunt maintains it was “the right thing” to walk away. But the process left him back at square one without a buyer and personally down hundreds of thousands in legal fees.

After a bruising year for his future and his personal life, Hunt took time to recoup, clambering for a normal schedule after an exhausting year. Then the coronavirus hit. Australia fared lightly in the pandemic by international standards, lifting its lockdown after a brief quarantine.

Hunt said he will keep running Have I Been Pwned. It wasn’t the outcome he wanted or expected, but Hunt said he has no immediate plans for another sale. For now it’s “business as usual,” he said.

In June alone, Hunt loaded over 102 million records into Have I Been Pwned’s database. Relatively speaking, it was a quiet month.

“We’ve lost control of our data as individuals,” he said. But not even Hunt is immune. At close to 10 billion records, Hunt has been ‘pwned’ more than 20 times, he said.

Earlier this year Hunt loaded a massive trove of email addresses from a marketing database — dubbed ‘Lead Hunter’ — some 68 million records fed into Have I Been Pwned. Hunt said someone had scraped a ton of publicly available web domain record data and repurposed it as a massive spam database. But someone left that spam database on a public server, without a password, for anyone to find. Someone did, and passed the data to Hunt. Like any other breach, he took the data, loaded it in Have I Been Pwned, and sent out email notifications to the millions who have subscribed.

“Job done,” he said. “And then I got an email from Have I Been Pwned saying I’d been pwned.”

He laughed. “It still surprises me the places that I turn up.”

Related stories:

Categories: Business News

Dating app S’More adds blurred video calling and launches in LA

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 10:00pm

The pandemic hasn’t slowed down dating app S’More — at least according to CEO Adam Cohen-Aslatei, who said that the app’s daily active user count doubled in March and hasn’t gone down since.

“When people are working form home, they have much more time to dedicate to their relationships,” Cohen-Aslatei told me.

The app (whose name is short for “something more”) launched last fall and has supposedly attracted nearly 50,000 users. The goal is to move beyond the superficiality of most dating apps, where you first learn about another user and then unlock visual elements (like a profile photo) as you interact.

Cohen-Aslatei said the team has also spent more on marketing to attract a diverse audience, both in terms of racial diversity (something S’more reinforces by not allowing users to filter by race) and sexual orientation, with 15% of users identifying as LGBTQ.

Of course, dating someone new can be challenging when meeting up in-person poses real health risks, but Cohen-Aslatei said S’More users have gotten creative, like remote dinners where they order each other takeout from their favorite restaurants. And now that things are reopening (though some of those reopenings are getting pulled back), users are asking, “How do we transition these virtual relationships into IRL?”

Image Credits: S’More

To give users more ways to interact, the S’More team recently launched a video calling feature. But Cohen-Aslatei noted, “We had to to create it in a way that was really fitting for our app … Women actually don’t want to see a guy right away, when you don’t know if they’re a creep.”

So in S’more’s video calling, the video is blurred for the first two minutes, which means you’ve got to actually start an interesting conversation before you can see who you’re talking to, and before they see you (a concept that may be familiar to viewers of Netflix’s dating show “Love is Blind”).

S’More has also expanded geographically, launching last week in Los Angeles (it was already available in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago). And it recently started its a video series of its own on Instagram’s IGTV — the S’More Live Happy Hour, where celebrities offer dating advice.

“There’s this negative history of dating apps perpetuating negative online behaviors, fake images, catfishers,” Cohen-Aslatei said. “But now we’re going into a new era of authenticity, where we’re going from super vain to super authentic. S’more is one of those apps that’s going to lead you in that direction.”

S’More is a new dating app that looks to suspend physical attraction for something more

Categories: Business News

When life gives you lemons, print money with Lemonade

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 10:00pm

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Before we dive in, don’t forget that the show is on Twitter now, so follow us there if you want to see discarded headline ideas, outtakes from the that got cut, and more. It’s fun!

Back to task, listen, we’re tired too. But we didn’t let that stop us from packing this week’s Equity to the very gills with news and notes and jokes and fun. Hopefully you can chuckle along with myself and Natasha and Danny and Chris on the dials as we riffed through all of this:

Right, that’s our ep. Hugs from the team and have a lovely weekend. You are all tremendous and we appreciate you spending part of your day with the four of us.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Categories: Business News

US plans to rollback special status may erode Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 8:26pm

For two months, the people of Hong Kong waited in suspense after China’s legislature approved a new national security law. The legislation’s details were finally made public yesterday and almost immediately went into effect. As many Hong Kong residents feared, the broadly written new law gives Beijing extensive authority over the Special Administrative Region and has the potential to sharply curtail civil liberties.

In response, the United States began the first measures to end the special status it gives to Hong Kong, with the Commerce and State Departments suspending export license exceptions for sensitive U.S. technology and blocking the export of defense equipment.

Much remains uncertain. Hong Kong had also previously enjoyed many freedoms that do not exist in mainland China, under the “one country, two systems” principle put into place after the United Kingdom returned control to China. After announcing the new policies, the U.S. government said further restrictions are being considered. Under special status, Hong Kong had privileges including lower trade tariffs and a separate customs and immigration designation from mainland China, but now the future of those is unclear.

Equally opaque is how the erosion of special status and the new national security law will impact Hong Kong’s startups in the future. In conversations with TechCrunch, investors and founders said they believe the region’s ecosystem is resilient, partly because many companies offer online services — especially financial services — and have already established operations in other markets. But they are also keeping an eye on further developments and preparing for the possibility that key talent will want to relocate to other countries.

Categories: Business News

Let’s stop COVID-19 from undoing diversity gains

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 2:58am
Rachel Sheppard Contributor Share on Twitter Rachel Sheppard is the director of global marketing at global pre-seed accelerator Founder Institute and co-founder of the Female Founder Initiative.

Any disaster will have its harshest repercussions on people who were already marginalized. It’s unsurprising, then, that when it comes to jobs and businesses, the COVID-19 lockdown is impacting women and ethnic minorities more than anyone else.

In April, unemployment shot up to 15.5% among women, 2.5% higher than for men. The rate was also higher among African Americans and Latinx people than for white people, with Latinx reaching a record 18.9% unemployment.

Women, especially from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are going to be taking the lion’s share of caregiving responsibilities at home during the pandemic, making them more vulnerable to job cuts. At the same time, underrepresented employees in general may feel more marginalized than ever as job security is put on the line.

It’s been hard to get to where we are on diversity and inclusion. Slowly but surely, diversity and inclusion have become a highly visible element of any company. But as COVID-19 turned up the pressure for businesses around the world, that progress came under threat as D&I initiatives took a back seat. The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests reignited D&I efforts in magnitude, but how can we ensure that, as time passes, those efforts are maintained with energy and determination?

This may be the shock to the system that will make business leaders realize that diversity is not an accessory or PR stunt — it is an integral part of the daily lives of each and every member of your team. Today’s consumers and your co-workers demand socially conscious companies, which is why D&I is vital to making any startup a well-rounded business. It’s also imperative for supporting economic recovery on a larger scale. Forgetting to preserve and improve D&I as we battle through COVID-19 will not only set us back years in terms of equality, it will worsen our collective chances of getting through this turbulence unscathed.

D&I matters to your business’ survival

It’s understandable that most startups today will be in survival mode. But D&I cannot be cast aside as a nonessential part of your business. It’s quite the opposite. More diversity is a known indicator for better economic performance and improves a business’ chances of thriving through a recession.

We often hear about how diversity means more innovation in a company. Consider just how important this is today. Facing a crisis with no precedent, weighing up a variety of insights and solutions is vital to finding an intelligent lockdown strategy. As business leaders, we need to know what the world around us looks like right now, and that means knowing what people of all backgrounds are experiencing.

We also can’t afford to not take into consideration the long-term effects of today’s actions. Survival can’t mean usurping what your company stands for. If you sacrifice diversity now, you might retain employees for the time being, because they’re scared of being jobless. But you will have undermined the trust that your workers place in you and you will be sure to lose them far more easily once the situation eases. This is very true for customers too — the crisis is driving the public to support purpose-driven and diverse businesses more than ever, and you will be left out if you don’t meet those values.

Even if you’re not hiring, work on diversity and inclusion

So how can a startup keep diversity a priority in this strange new world? Sure, you may not be hiring, but that’s not the only way to improve diversity. Take this time to revisit your internal culture. The virus is forcing us to see our business from different angles — we’re looking into the homes of our co-workers, hearing about the personal issues affecting their work lives and about the work issues affecting their personal lives. Let’s make sure your company culture is not part of the problem.

You need to be accessible. Are some of your employees scared to speak up about their issues? Is there a big morale problem that you haven’t been able to alleviate? If so, then you need to work on making your workspace more inclusive, open and friendly. This is more than building up team spirit with morning coffee Zoom get-togethers and after-work networking. It’s about weeding out any systems that bring repercussions to people who voice their concerns; it’s about encouraging them to do so; it’s about recognizing every member of a team and every person in a meeting, not just the executives present.

The lockdown has shown that many people can work remotely, effectively. Can you use this in future to give employees a greater chance of success — perhaps those who live far from the office, or who have children or elderly relatives to care for? Many HR departments are probably focusing efforts away from hiring at the moment and could instead be put in charge of employee success, which means identifying and addressing the unique concerns of each of your staff (you might even consider assigning a full-time staff member to this role).

This is key to making your company a welcoming place for underrepresented employees who are often more wary of their circumstances than their co-workers, both now and in the future. It will help them grow and want to stay in the company, as well as attract a more diverse employee pool in the future.

In case you are hiring, there are innovative solutions to help you attract more diverse applicants to your company. Joonko’s technology integrates to your applicant tracking system to boost the visibility of underrepresented potential hires. Pitch.Me aims to tackle bias by presenting candidate profiles anonymously, including only relevant information about experience and skills but with no information regarding gender, age or ethnic background. Services like DiTal help tech businesses connect with potential employees from diverse backgrounds.

Reassess what internal success looks like

Before COVID-19, the key performance indicators for your business might have been the number of sales per rep, or the number of leads generated in a week. Those quotas are now unrealistic, and more importantly, they’ll be tougher to reach for employees with less time on their hands. That means people with more caregiving responsibilities — often women — or with less disposable income, and statistics show that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be affected by the virus.

You have to create a work environment in which people with less time and resources can still achieve their professional goals. We typically hear that 80% of the most valuable work takes up 20% of a team’s time; well, let’s make sure your staff is focusing most of their efforts on that 20% of valuable energy. Build a new business plan that reassesses what the company needs to achieve in the near future, and set new metrics that hyperfocus on that bottom line. Think about how important it is to each of your co-workers’ morale to be able to meet their goals day in day out, despite today’s challenges. Furthermore, being adaptable for the benefit of your staff is an admirable quality that will not easily be forgotten.

An important note — helping everyone reach success means giving everyone the resources to do so. No one in your company should be unequipped to this “new normal,” which means good laptops or devices and speedy internet. Don’t hesitate to invest in people who need it.

Prioritize career development

Career development is vital for underrepresented employees, for whom upward mobility is always harder. People from minority backgrounds tend to have less robust business networks, exactly because they are the minority in the business world. We can never stop fighting this vicious cycle.

So take a look at your team and think about who you can help ascend in their career. Prioritize underrepresented people now because they are more likely to get hit harder by the lockdown and have a tougher recovery. Even if you don’t see it from an altruistic perspective, including underrepresented employees in your leadership now will lead to better economic local recovery and improved outcomes for your company.

One option is sponsorship programs in which you or other senior leaders advocate on behalf of selected employees (as well as acting as their mentors). Think of it as equally distributing the networks and influence accumulated by business leaders among a more diverse pool of people.

Bring diversity into your brand

We’ve looked inward, now let’s look outward. How can you change how your industry looks, even in times of crisis. To reach the huge visible changes we’ve seen in, for example, branding in the fashion industry, took influential people making decisions at powerful tables. But it would be ironically easy to see things regress to a more heterogeneous state.

Stopping this from happening means making those big decisions yourself, and uniting others in joining you. Leverage your brand and bring your internal diversity to the forefront of everything you do — the mentors who give their time to startup organizations, the speakers you put forward for online events. Make a conscious push for your external marketing to display as much diversity as possible, especially amid fears that the advertising space will compromise its diversity standards in response to COVID-19.

Support other underrepresented founders

If you have the resources, help struggling founders get through the lockdown. There may be small or mid-sized women or minority-led companies within your community that need your support. If you’re sending employees care packages and gifts, make the extra effort to source them from underrepresented local businesses. It’s not hard to do — there are organizations that can help you connect to such companies around the United States, such as Women Owned’s business directory and Help Main Street.

Large companies can work with Hello Alice to directly fund smaller companies founded by every underrepresented group in the United States, from veterans to LGBTQ+. IFundWomen is a large network of women-founded businesses you can choose to fund — or join — and it has a wing specifically for businesses owned by women of color. As a business leader you can always be seeking out diverse founders to collaborate with; For example, check out this amazing list of Latinx founders catering to the United States’ enormous Latinx markets, as well as finding solutions to improve diversity in business.

The NAACP has fought for equal rights for people of color for over a century. You can support them and their ongoing work, which ranges from campaigning for crucial reforms to spotlighting emerging Black-owned businesses.

Now’s not the time to slack on diversity. As tempting as it might be to think of it as an accessory, it’s just as vital now for your business to get through the pandemic and to stop your entire industry from losing decades of hard-earned progress in building a more equal society.

Categories: Business News

Lemonade and Accolade open sharply higher as public markets rally

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 1:45am

Despite today’s bucket of plus-and-minus economic data, stocks are heading higher in regular trading. And among the shares rising the most are today’s two venture-backed IPOs: Lemonade and Accolade.

TechCrunch wrote this morning that the firms’ aggressive IPO pricing arcs boded well for the IPO market itself, that investors were willing to price growth-y shares of unprofitable companies with vigor, which could help other companies looking at the public markets get off the sidelines.

Then the two companies opened sharply higher, and at the current moment stand as follows (Data via Yahoo Finance):

  • Lemonade: $61.62 per share, up $32.62 or 112.48%
  • Accolade: $34.39 per share, up $12.39 or 56.32%

Yep those are big numbers.

Expect the regular round of complaints that the firms were mispriced (maybe) and could have charged more from their equity in their public debuts (again, maybe). But for the two companies, it’s still a lovely day. Pricing above range and then seeing public investors frantically bid your equity higher is much better than the alternatives.

High-flying IPOs for Lemonade and Accolade may encourage other unicorns to go public

How the companies will fare when they report earnings (Q3 is upon us, making Q2’s earnings cycle just around the bend) will help settle their real valuations. But, for today at least, Lemonade and Accolade have done their yet-private brethren a solid by going up and not down.

Categories: Business News

The great stink in software pipelines

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 1:43am
Greg Law Contributor Share on Twitter Greg Law is the co-founder and CTO at Undo.io, a software failure replay platform provider.

It’s the summer of 1858. London. The River Thames is overflowing with the smell of human and industrial waste. The exceptionally hot summer months have exacerbated the problem. But this did not just happen overnight. Failure to upkeep an aging sewer system and a growing population that used it contributed to a powder keg of effluent, bringing about cholera outbreaks and shrouding the city in a smell that would not go away.

To this day, Londoners still speak of the Great Stink. Recurring cholera infections led to the dawn of the field of epidemiology, a subject in which we have all recently become amateur enthusiasts.

Fast forward to 2020 and you’ll see that modern software pipelines face a similar “Great Stink” due, in no small part, to the vast adoption of continuous integration (CI), the practice of merging all developers’ working copies into a shared mainline several times a day, and continuous delivery (CD), the ability to get changes of all types — including new features, configuration changes, bug fixes and experiments — into production, or into the hands of users, safely and quickly in a sustainable way.

While contemporary software failures won’t spread disease or emit the rancid smells of the past, they certainly reek of devastation, rendering billions of dollars lost and millions of developer hours wasted each year.

This kind of waste is antithetical to the intent of CI/CD. Everyone is employing CI/CD to accelerate software delivery; yet the ever-growing backlog of intermittent and sporadic test failures is doing the exact opposite. It’s become a growing sludge that is constantly being fed with failures faster than can be resolved. This backlog must be cleared to get CI/CD pipelines back to their full capabilities.

What value is there in a system that, in an effort to accelerate software delivery, knowingly leaves a backlog of bugs that does the exact opposite? We did not arrive at these practices by accident, and its practitioners are neither lazy nor incompetent so; how did we get here and what can we do to temper modern software development’s Great Stink?

Ticking time bombs
Categories: Business News

Pioneering CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna is coming to Disrupt

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 1:21am

Jennifer Doudna, a woman whose work has triggered the explosion in innovation in the field of synthetic biology and has given researchers around the world a way to program and reprogram the living world, will be speaking at Disrupt in September.

From her positions as the Chancellor’s Chair Professor in the University of California, Berkeley’s Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology Departments and a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, Doudna has been at the forefront of research into CRISPR gene editing technology.

It was only eight years ago that Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier first proposed that CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes (which direct immune responses in microbes) could be used to edit genomes. That discovery would prove to be one of the most significant advancements in the history of the human understanding of biology, and it has the potential to reshape the world.

Doudna describes her own journey into the field of biochemistry beginning back in Hawaii with the discovery of James Watson’s book “The Double Helix” on her father’s bookshelf. From an early age growing up in Hawaii as the daughter of a literature professor, Doudna knew she wanted to pursue a career in science. But it was Watson’s famous book that opened her eyes to the human side of science.

Now her scientific research and startup endeavors have the potential to open humanity’s eyes to the potential benefits of this revolutionary field of science. Because in addition to her research work, Doudna is also a co-founder of a number of companies including: Mammoth Biosciences, Caribou Biosciences, Intellia Therapeutics and Editas Medicine.

These companies are tackling some of the biggest challenges that the world faces. Mammoth is working on a new type of COVID-19 test, Caribou is pursuing novel cancer therapies, and publicly traded Editas is pursuing treatments for ocular, neurodegenerative, and blood diseases as well as cancer therapies.

There’s almost no industry where gene editing hasn’t had some sort of effect. From material science to food science and agriculture to medicine, CRISPR technology is creating opportunities to remake entire industries.

Genetically modified organisms are already making Impossible Foods meat replacements taste meaty; they’re used in Solugen’s bio-based chemicals; and CRISPR edited cells have been proven safe in early trials to treat certain kinds of cancer.

Given the breadth of applications and the questions that the technology’s application raises about how and what limitations researchers should put on the technology, there will be plenty for Doudna to discuss on the Disrupt stage, including but certainly not limited to her recently announced work on making college campuses safer via a fast saliva-based COVID-19 test.

Disrupt is all virtual in 2020 and runs September 14 to September 18, and we have several Digital Pass options to be part of the action or to exhibit virtually, which you can check out here.

Doudna joins an incredible line-up of Disrupt speakers including Sequoia’s Roelof Botha and Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes. We’ll be announcing even more speakers over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

(Editor’s Note: We’re watching the developing situation around the novel coronavirus very closely and will adapt as we go. You can find out the latest on our event schedule plans here.)

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Categories: Business News

Get your pitchdeck critiqued by Accel’s Amy Saper and Bessemer’s Talia Goldberg at Early Stage

Startup News - 2020, July 3 - 12:28am

The art of the pitchdeck. Few things are more critical to the success of startups seeding capital. And make no mistake, it is an art.

At TechCrunch Early Stage, our two-day virtual event focused on giving entrepreneurs all the resources they need to build incredible, high-growth early stage companies, we have plenty of content dedicated to the pitchdeck.

From a session on how to think like a PM for VC pitch success led by Lo Toney, to a session on how to time your fundraising sprint led by Jake Saper, to seed funding tips and tricks from Jeff Clavier, there’s something for everyone. Even if you don’t have a product, Charles Hudson will teach you how to sell your idea to investors.

The cherry on top of that pitch perfect sundae? The Pitchdeck Teardown.

Accel’s Amy Saper and Bessemer’s Talia Goldberg will lead the Pitchdeck Teardown, going over the look, feel and information provided within individual pitchdecks to share what they look for, what they don’t want to see, and how to get the best outcome when you send a VC your deck.

The coolest part is that the pitchdecks aren’t theoretical. Early Stage attendees can submit their pitchdecks ahead of time for a chance to see those decks critiqued live on stage.

Interested in being a part of it? Submit your pitchdeck here. But remember, you must be registered as an attendee of Early Stage to be selected.

TC Early Stage has so much to offer. The show will bring together 50+ experts across startup core competencies, such as fundraising, operations, and marketing. Cyan Bannister is set to explain how to get an investor to say yes to your startup. Asher Abramson will be sharing how to create growth assets for paid channels, lawyers James Alonso and Adam Zagaris will share how to draw up your first contracts, and Priti Choksi is hosting a session on how to get a company acquired rather than selling.

The two-day show features more than 50 sessions, but don’t worry; attendees will get transcripts for all of them. What’s more, most of the speakers, who happen to be investors, are participating in TechCrunch’s CrunchMatch, our platform that connects founders to investors based on shared interests. 

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Buy your ticket today, and you can sign up for the breakouts we are announcing today, as well as those already published. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can “drop” a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.)

Get your TC Early Stage pass today and jump into the inside track on the sessions we announced so far, as well as the ones to be published in the coming weeks.

Possible sponsor? Hit us up right here.

Categories: Business News

Why I flip-flopped on opposing remote work

Startup News - 2020, July 2 - 11:52pm
David Cancel Contributor Share on Twitter David Cancel, a five-time entrepreneur and author of the book "Conversational Marketing," is CEO and founder of Drift. More posts by this contributor

Most people would agree that a chief revenue officer is a pretty significant hire, but I have yet to meet mine in person. Right now, our only face-to-face interaction is over video. In fact, that’s how our relationship began — like many business leaders during this pandemic, I had to hire Todd through a series of video calls.

The pandemic has caused me to question and reevaluate many of my own assumptions. This not only led me to hire our CRO remotely, but it is ultimately why I also decided to allow employees to work from home until 2021.

While it’s tempting to call this a pivot, those who have worked with me would probably describe it more accurately as a flip-flop. I used to believe that you could build an in-person culture or a remote work culture, but that a hybrid of the two was destined to fail.

The realities of COVID-19 have not just changed my outlook, but transformed the way I think about how work should get done —and how leaders need to show up for their team, even if they can’t “show up” in any physical sense.

The remote work debate changed in an instant

Before the pandemic, the debate over remote work revolved around its perceived impact on productivity, collaboration, employee engagement and culture.

Categories: Business News

QuestDB nabs $2.3M seed to build open source time series database

Startup News - 2020, July 2 - 11:08pm

QuestDB, a member of the Y Combinator summer 2020 cohort, is building an open source time series database with speed top of mind. Today the startup announced a $2.3 million seed round.

Episode1 Ventures led the round with assistance from Seedcamp, 7percent Ventures, YCombinator, Kima Ventures and several unnamed angel investors.

The database was originally conceived in 2013 when current CTO Vlad Ilyushchenko was building trading systems for a financial services company and he was frustrated by the performance limitations of the databases available at the time, so he began building a database that could handle large amounts of data and process it extremely fast.

For a number of years, QuestDB was a side project, a labor of love for Ilyushchenko until he met his other co-founders Nicolas Hourcard, who became CEO and Tancrede Collard, who became CPO, and the three decided to build a startup on top of the open source project last year.

“We’re building an open source database for time series data, and time series databases are a multi-billion-dollar market because they’re central for financial services, IoT and other enterprise applications. And we basically make it easy to handle explosive amounts of data, and to reduce infrastructure costs massively,” Hourcard told TechCrunch.

He adds that it’s also about high performance. “We recently released a demo that you can access from our website that enables you to query a super large datasets — 1.6 billion rows with sub-second queries, mostly, and that just illustrates how performant the software is,” he said.

He sees open source as a way to build adoption from the bottom up inside organizations, winning the hearts and minds of developers first, then moving deeper in the company when they eventually build a managed cloud version of the product. For now, being open source also helps them as a small team to have a community of contributors help build the database and add to its feature set.

“We’ve got this open source product that is free to use, and it’s pretty important for us to have such a distribution model because we can basically empower developers to solve their problems, and we can ask for contributions from various communities. […] And this is really a way to spur adoption,” Hourcard said.

He says that working with YC has allowed them to talk to other companies in the ecosystem who have built similar open source-based startups and that’s been helpful, but it has also helped them learn to set and meet goals and have access to some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, including Marc Andreessen, who delivered a talk to the cohort the same day we spoke.

Today the company has seven employees, including the three founders, spread out across the US, EU and South America. He sees this geographic diversity helping when it comes to building a diverse team in the future. “We definitely want to have more diverse backgrounds to make sure that we keep having a diverse team and we’re very strongly committed to that.”

For the short term, the company wants to continue building its community, working on continuing to improve the open source product, while working on the managed cloud product.

Categories: Business News

High-flying IPOs for Lemonade and Accolade may encourage other unicorns to go public

Startup News - 2020, July 2 - 10:49pm

If you’d predicted in late March and early April that Q3 would kick off with a wide-open IPO market and receptive investors, I doubt anyone would have believed you. If you suggested that valuations would look pretty good as well, you might even have been laughed at.

And yet, here we are.

The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription.

Yesterday Lemonade and Accolade priced above their expected ranges, with Lemonade pricing above its raised range and Accolade selling more shares than expected. It’s hard to read the moves as anything other than the market demanding growth-oriented equities and not worrying too much about profitability.

Or more precisely: It’s the golden moment to go public for unprofitable unicorns seeking liquidity but worried about defending their private-market valuations. This sentiment is backed up by Agora’s solid pricing and explosive debut in recent days.

How long this public market moment will last is not clear. With the United States recording 50,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day yesterday and the national economy beginning to slow once again, perhaps the window is short. Perhaps not — we were wrong before about the IPO market in 2020, so let’s not get too hasty to make more predictions — but it is clear that Q4 2019 wasn’t the only time when unicorns might have been able to attract the prices they wanted.

This morning let’s briefly go over the final pricing for Lemonade and Accolade and give them new revenue multiples ahead of their first days as trading entities. We need to start their public life knowing how they were valued ahead of their debut so that we can better understand the next set of companies that are bold enough to get off their backside and go public.

Roll out the welcome mat

We’ve abused every possible IPO metaphor in recent weeks. Open windows. Warm waters. But without cliché, we can state that IPOs are performing very well in recent weeks, with IPO Boutique reporting this morning that 17 of the last 27 IPOs have priced above the range that they first set.

Categories: Business News

Top LA investors discuss the city’s post-COVID-19 prospects

Startup News - 2020, July 2 - 10:20pm

When it comes to venture capital, Los Angeles is a city on the rise.

In the past year, it’s seen one of the most profitable venture-backed exits of any tech ecosystem (with the $4 billion sale of Honey to PayPal) and investors are minting billion-dollar companies in the region at a torrid pace. It’s also the city where investors are spending the most money outside of venture capital’s big major hubs: San Francisco, Boston and New York.

While Los Angeles has a lot going for it, that also means it potentially has a lot to lose in the current economic downturn. California continues to be hard-hit by COVID-19, despite local and state officials working to reopen businesses.

TechCrunch surveyed some of the city’s leading investors in sectors like property technology and cannabis to get their take on how the city may survive — and potentially thrive — in a new era ushered in by the response to the pandemic.

From larger fund investors like Mark Suster and Kara Nortman at Upfront Ventures to Dana Settle at Greycroft Partners; to early-stage investors like Will Hsu at Mucker Capital; TX Zhuo at Fika Ventures, the responses were generally upbeat about the future opportunities for Los Angeles startups.

Even specialist fund investors like Karan Wadhera of the cannabis-focused investment firm Casa Verde Capital and Brendan Wallace at the real estate-focused firm Fifth Wall believe that Los Angeles will thrive in the post-COVID world.

As Mucker Capital co-founder Hsu writes, “There are far more great companies than there are venture dollars here in LA. Investors in other cities should continue to see LA as an underserved ecosystem with huge opportunities.”

  • Mark Suster, managing partner, Upfront Ventures
  • Kara Nortman, partner, Upfront Ventures
  • Will Hsu, Mucker Capital
  • Dana Settle, Greycroft Partners
  • Karan Wadhera, Casa Verde Capital
  • Brendan Wallace, Fifth Wall
  • TX Zhuo, Fika Ventures

Image Credits: Getty Images/ROBYN BECK/AFP

Mark Suster, managing partner, Upfront Ventures

How much is Upfront focused on investing in the local LA ecosystem versus less geographically focused? 

Upfront invests about 40% of its investment dollars in the great LA market and invests about 40% split between the Bay Area and NYC. Upfront has always invested nationally and internationally with the final 20% and we have produced significant exits in Chicago, Baltimore, Paris, London and Las Vegas to name a few.

Where we do invest outside of LA of course we bring all of our contacts and relationships to bear, which makes us a logical choice for any startup raising capital where having access to the biggest influencers, media companies, academic institutions and medical professionals can help propel the company’s success.

How do you think COVID-19 will change entrepreneurial activity in Los Angeles?

It’s true that some startup businesses have been impacted by this pandemic but as we’re learning a few short months in, there has been much more acceleration of the trends leading toward technology growth that were already in place.

Specifically addressing some LA-based companies we can share with you the trends we see directly with demand data:

We already knew that telemedicine made sense for doctors and patients and now this trend has accelerated, regulations being lessened and cultural barriers overcome. We see a huge growth in food production and preservation (Apeel Sciences, for example) and food distribution (such as ChowNow). The need to reduce people in warehouses has propelled demand for robotics/automation for companies like inVia Robotics and the need for remote monitoring has helped LA-based DroneBase.

Categories: Business News

Meet BukuWarung, the bookkeeping app built for Indonesia’s 60 million “micro-merchants”

Startup News - 2020, July 2 - 8:32pm

In Indonesia, there are about 60 million “micro-merchants,” typically small store owners who sell food and other staple items, and have close relationships with their customers. Many often extend informal lines of credit to shoppers, but much of their financial tracking is still done with pen and paper ledgers. Chinmay Chauhan and Abhinay Peddisetty, the co-founders of BukuWarung, want to digitize the process with a financial platform designed especially for small Indonesian businesses. Their goal is to start with bookkeeping tools, before expanding into services including access to working capital.

The startup is currently taking part in Y Combinator’s startup accelerator program. BukuWarung has also raised seed funding from East Ventures, AC Ventures, Golden Gate Ventures, Tanglin Ventures, Samporna, as well as strategic angel investors from Grab, Gojek, Flipkart, PayPal, Xendit, Rapyd, Alterra, ZEN Rooms and other companies.

Chauhan and Peddisetty met while working together at Singapore-based peer-to-peer marketplace Carousell, where they focused on developing monetization products for sellers. Chauhan also worked on products for merchants at Grab, the largest ride-sharing and on-demand delivery company in Southeast Asia. But the inspiration behind BukuWarung is also personal, because both Chauhan and Peddisetty’s families run small neighborhood stores.

“We can look at this more deeply given the experience we have monetizing merchants at Grab and Carousell,” Chauhan said. “We also know good potential exists in Indonesia, where we can help 60 million micro-merchants come online and digitize. From a macro-level, we felt this would be a huge opportunity, and there is also the personal element of being potentially being able to impact millions of merchants.”

Paper records not only make tracking finances a labor-intensive process, but also means it is harder for merchants to gain access to lines of credit. Chauhan and Peddisetty told TechCrunch that their goal is to expand the company to financial services as well, doing for Indonesian merchants what KhataBook and OKCredit have done in India. Since launching last year, BukuWarung has signed up 600,000 merchants across 750 cities and towns in Indonesia and currently has about 200,000 monthly average users. The founders say their goal is to reach all 60 million micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses in Indonesia. It has already made its first acquisition: Lunasbos, one of the first Indonesian credit tracking apps.

BukuWarung founders Chinmay Chauhan and Abhinay Peddisetty

While preparing to launch BukuWarung, the founders traveled through Indonesia, speaking to almost 400 merchants about their challenges with bookkeeping, credit tracing and accounting. Based on those conversations, the two decided to start by focusing on a bookkeeping app, which launched 10 months ago.

Despite a partial lockdown in Indonesia from April to June, BukuWarung continued to grow because most of its users sell daily necessities, like groceries. In smaller cities and villages, merchants often offer credit lines because their customers’ cash flow is very tight, and many do not have a regular monthly paycheck, Chauhan said. “Everyone is buying and selling on credit, that is something we validated in our research.”

Then there is the community aspect, where many merchants are close to their customers.

“This changes depending on the location of the business, but business owners have often known a lot of people in their neighborhoods for a long time, and when it comes to credit, they typically offer 500 Indonesian rupiah all the way up to about one million rupiah [about USD $70.56],” Chauhan said. But when it’s time to settle bills, which often means going to customers’ homes and asking for payment, many merchants feel hesitant, he added.

“They will never chase or call the person. The app we built sends automatic reminders to customers, and this ‘soft message’ really helps merchants not feel shy while at the same time professionally giving customer reminders.”

While talking to merchants, BukuWarung’s founders also realized that many were using pay-as-you-go data plans and lower-end smartphones. Therefore, their app needed to be as lightweight as possible, and work offline so users could access and update their records anytime. This focus on making their app take up as little data and space as possible differentiates them from other bookkeeping apps, the founders said, and helps them sign up and retain users in Indonesia.

Chauhan and Peddisetty said the company will partner with financial tech companies as it grows  to give users access to online payment systems, including digital wallets, and financing.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Y Combinator partner Gustaf Alströmer said, “Building digital infrastructure for emerging economies is a huge opportunity, especially in the post-COVID world. And we believe BukuWarung is a team that can take on this challenge. We have seen this journey before with Khatabook and OkCredit in India and see that BukuWarung is on a similar growth trajectory to empower micro-businesses in Indonesia.”

 

Categories: Business News

OurPeople, the team communication and engagement platform, raises $2M

Startup News - 2020, July 2 - 5:00pm

OurPeople, the U.K. startup that’s built a team communication and engagement platform for desk-less workers, has raised $2 million in Series A funding.

Leading the round is Alpine Meridian, an investment firm that specialises in digital media, e-commerce and healthcare, and entrepreneur Robert Neveu, who also joins OurPeople as managing partner. It brings total funding to $3 million.

Founded in 2016 by Ross McCaw, Bristol-based OurPeople offers a secure mobile platform to let businesses communicate digitally with employees, ensuring teams can stay connected. The startup primarily works in industries with large numbers of desk-less workers, such as fitness and leisure. Clients currently include West Ham United Foundation, Virgin Active UK, Paulton’s Park and Serco Leisure.

McCaw — who used to be a part-time lifeguard and swim teacher — previously founded CoursePro to improve the way swim lessons were administered in the U.K. and other countries. At the time the company was fully acquired by Jonas Software in 2014, over a million swimmers had enrolled. After the success of CoursePro, he spotted another opportunity and launched OurPeople.

“I saw first-hand how companies struggled to communicate with their employees,” says McCaw. “Specifically their remote, desk-less team members who, more often than not, do not have access to a company email but who are the people with the most direct exposure to their customers”.

What really stood out was how many of the trainers were not engaging with company news and announcements. “This was bad for both the company and them. I looked at a number of other sectors and saw that this was a wider issue amongst many industries with high numbers of desk-less workers”.

McCaw describes the OurPeople solution as a “highly-sophisticated yet simple to use” messaging service that ensures the right people in an organisation receive the information they need when they need it. He reckons it’s this targeted nature and being mobile-first that sets the communication platform apart from competitors.

“Generally our competitors come in one of two categories: the workplace social network or the consumer-style workplace chat groups. Both, in our opinion, create too much noise and chatter. They are not targeted enough,” says McCaw.

“Employees want to see content that is relevant to them and incredibly quick to read or watch. The employer, on the other hand, wants to know that the communication has been seen and acknowledged. To achieve this we have a ‘tagging’ system so that only the people that absolutely need to see that message receive it”.

Furthermore, the OurPeople founder says the platform is different because the startup is not attempting to create a workplace social network “where vital information can get lost in all the typical noise”.

“OurPeople is about crucial, relevant information at the right time that engages those hard to reach employees and won’t slow them down as they carry out their customer-facing duties. We make internal communications, especially with remote and desk-less colleagues, effective and efficient”.

Categories: Business News

Student-led accelerator Envision is shaking up which startups get funded

Startup News - 2020, July 2 - 5:04am

Meet Envision, a new startup accelerator. The group, built and run by a collection of students and recent graduates, just closed the application process for its first cohort of startups.

Its goal isn’t merely to find some companies and give them a boost, however. According to Annabel Strauss and Eliana Berger, two co-founders of Envision, it’s to shake up the diversity stats that we’ve all come to know.

“We started Envision because we believe in a future where womxn, Black, and Latinx founders receive more than 3% and 1% of venture funding, respectively,” they said in an email. “As a team of students, we wanted to take matters into our own hands to help founders succeed — it’s our mission to support entrepreneurs early in their journeys, and amplify voices that are often underestimated.”

According to its own data, Envision attracted 190 applications, far above its initial, stretch-goal of 100. From its nearly 200 submissions, the group intends to select 15 entrants. According to Strauss and Berger, their initial goal was to winnow it to just 10. But, the pair told TechCrunch in an interview, they doubled the starting cohort size based on the strength of applications.

Envision will provide an eight-week curriculum and around $10,000 in equity-free capital to companies taking part (the group is still closing on part of the capital it needs, but appears to be making quick progress based on numbers shared with TechCrunch).

Each of the eight weeks that Envision lasts will feature a theme, 1:1 mentorship, office hours with startup veterans and, at the end, a blitz of investor-focused mentorship, and an invite-only demo day. The core of the Envision accelerator rotates around the mentors and other helpers it has accreted since coming into existence in early June.

Envision, run by 11 college students and recent graduates, quickly picked up enough startup veterans to run its program (names like Ryan Hoover, Arlan Hamilton, Alexia Tsotsis), and seemingly ample corporate support. In an email this morning, Envision told TechCrunch that Soma Capital, Underscore VC, Breyer Capital, Grasshopper Bank and Lerer Hippeau have joined as sponsors. Indeed, looking at Envision’s partner page reads a bit like a who’s who of Silicon Valley and startup names that you know.

Talking to Envision I was slightly surprised how many students are involved in venture capital today. The Envision team is a good example of the trend. Strauss is involved with Rough Draft Ventures, for example, which is “powered” by General Catalyst. Quinn Litherland from the Envision team is also part of the Rough Draft crew. Contrary Capital, which TechCrunch covered this morning and focuses on student founders, is represented by Timi Dayo-Kayode, James Rogers, Eliana Berger, and Gefen Skolnick on the team.

For Strauss, Berger and the rest of the Envision team the pressure is now on to select intelligently from their 190 applications, and provide maximum boost to their first cohort. If the program goes well, and the demo day it has planned in two months proves useful to both startups and investors alike, I don’t see why Envision wouldn’t stage another class down the road. Though of course, it might want to follow in the footsteps of Y Combinator, TechStars and 500 Startups at that point and take an equity stake in the companies it works with.

Envision says in large letters at the top of its website that it is “helping diverse founders build their companies.” If the group succeeds in meeting that mark, it will be an implicit critique of the old-fashioned venture capital world that has historically not invested in diverse founders.

If a dozen college students and recent grads can spin up an accelerator in a few weeks, get nearly 200 applications, and select a diverse cohort to support, then what’s everyone else’s excuse.

Categories: Business News

AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

Startup News - 2020, July 2 - 4:47am

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit
Categories: Business News

Extra Crunch is now available in Greece, Ireland and Portugal

Startup News - 2020, July 2 - 3:05am

We’re excited to announce that we’ve added Extra Crunch support in Ireland, Portugal and Greece. That adds to our existing support in Europe as we are already in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the U.K.

Portugal’s 10 million citizens are no strangers to startup investment, with the country totting up 813 to date, according to Crunchbase. Notably, of that total, 113 have been announced in 2020 thus far.

That means that in 2020, despite COVID-19 and its ensuing economic impacts, Portugal is on track to best its 2019 startup round total of 206. And it’s not just small companies that Portugal is building. OutSystems, now based in Boston and worth north of $1 billion, was founded in the country, for example. As Europe recovers from COVID-19, perhaps Portugal can take a larger share of the continent’s startup activity. It appears to have the momentum it would need to do so.

There’s been data from the last few years to indicate that the Greek startup scene is also growing nicely. With larger seed deals and more deal volume, Greece has seen its startups raise more money, more quickly in recent years. It appears that 2020 is no exception to the trend. With 43 known startup rounds in the country so far in 2020, Greece is set to storm its 2019 total of 59. Indeed, the country could nearly double the number of startup deals it saw in 2019 during a pandemic-disrupted year.

In the past 18 months, the country has seen around 38% of its all-time total known startup deals. Surely that means the country is at a local maxima when it comes to startup activity.

Ireland is a startup powerhouse. Crunchbase has 2,327 known rounds for companies based in the country, including 539 in 2019 and 335 so far this year. So like our other two countries, we can spot acceleration in deal volume. Irish startups raised over $5 billion in 2020 so far, according to Crunchbase. There are going to be more names bubbling up from the island that are worth getting to know.

As a nation, Ireland has a history of startup successes. Software company FINEOS was founded in Ireland back in 1993, and today it’s a public company worth more than a billion dollars. Havok, another software company from the country sold to Microsoft in 2015. And Ireland has other neat tech startups that are still coming up, like Farmflo, to pick one from the list we made this morning.

We’re excited to welcome readers from Greece, Portugal and Ireland to our growing community of startups, investors and entrepreneurs.

You can sign up for Extra Crunch here.

What is Extra Crunch?

Extra Crunch is a membership program from TechCrunch featuring market analysis, weekly investor surveys and interviews on growth, fundraising, monetization and other work topics. Members can save time with access to an exclusive newsletter, no banner ads or video pre-rolls on TechCrunch.com, Rapid Read mode and our List Builder tool.

Committing to an annual and two-year plan will save you a few bucks on the membership price and unlock access to TechCrunch event discounts and Partner Perks. The Partner Perks program features discounts and savings on services from AWS, DocSend, Crunchbase and more.

Thanks to everyone who voted on where to expand next. If you haven’t voted and you want to see Extra Crunch in your local country, let us know here.

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

Categories: Business News

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