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Eliminate DevOps waste with Japanese management practices

2020, August 15 - 2:02am
Liran Haimovitch Contributor Share on Twitter Co-founder and CTO of Rookout, Liran is an award-winning cybersecurity practitioner and writer who advocates for modern software methodologies.

Across the board, industries need to embrace modern workflows to keep up with the speed of startups. And out of all the various methodologies, I find the “lean methodology” to be the most intriguing of them all. It’s a unique combination of pragmatism and a higher purpose.

Lean methodology descends directly from the Toyota Production Systems (TPS), which is based on a philosophy of eliminating waste to achieve efficiency in processes. It relies heavily on the mindset of “just-in-time,” making only “what is needed when needed, and in the amount needed.” In software development, this means only developing the features your clients need, and only when they need them.

To emphasize the point and stir some creative juices, let’s look at the Japanese concepts of muda, mura and muri, and how this applies to being lean when we are building and shipping software.

Muda, mura and muri

Muda is the “waste” we are working to remove that is directly hurting efficiency. Waste is any activity that doesn’t create value, in the form of the products and services we offer. As every engineer knows, spending half the day in meetings is a painful waste of time.

Mura is “unevenness,” referring to any variance in the process itself or the output generated. In software development, “mura” causes unpredictability that makes it impossible to embrace a “just-in-time” mindset. If the quality of a new upcoming feature is uncertain, then additional time and resources will have to be reserved for quality assurance and bug-fixing efforts. It’s better to know upfront what you are going to get, how long it will take and what the cost will be.

Muri is “overburden,” which happens when we demand the unreasonable from our team, tools and processes. If we want to deliver a specific feature just-in-time, then we must allocate the appropriate time and resources. Giving our engineering teams too many simultaneous tasks, or failing to give them the tools necessary to succeed, will only lead to disappointment in time, quantity, quality or cost.

Forms of waste

Diving deeper into muda — what I consider the cardinal sin of lean methodology — here are the forms of waste we should always be on the lookout for:

  1. Overproduction – Producing more than is needed, or before it is required. Besides unneeded features, we often over-allocate computing resources, especially in non-cloud environments.
Categories: Business News

Thirty Madison raises $47 million for its direct to consumer treatments of hair loss, migraines and indigestion

2020, August 15 - 1:00am

Thirty Madison, the New York-based startup developing a range of direct to consumer treatments for hair loss, migraines and chronic indigestion, has raised $47 million in new financing.

After last week’s nearly $19 billion merger between Teladoc and Livongo, remote therapies and virtual care companies are all the rage among the healthcare industry, and Thirty Madison’s business is no exception. 

An indicator of just how important these companies are to the future of the healthcare business can be seen in the presence of Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc. (JJDC) in the latest round for Thirty Madison. 

Existing investors Maveron and Northzone also returned to back the company in a deal led by Polaris Partners. Thirty Madison has raised a total of $70 million so far. 

Founded just three years ago by Steven Gutentag and Demetri Karagas, Thirty Madison expanded from treating hair loss with its Keeps brand in 2018 to migraine treatments in early 2019 with Cove, and launched Evens (the company’s acid reflux treatment service) later that year. 

Thirty Madison has just begun offering urgent care consultations for users on a pay-what-you-will model.

And the company’s founders differentiate Thirty Madison’s business from their better-funded competitors like Hims and Ro by emphasizing that their company provides continuing care after a diagnosis and offers a range of treatment options for the conditions that the company treats. That, coupled with the more narrow focus on a few specific conditions, distinguish Thirty Madison from its peers in the industry.

“Over 59% of Americans suffer from at least one chronic condition, but few resources exist to help them connect the dots of their care,” said Amy Schulman, a partner with Polaris Partners and new director on the Thirty Madison board. 

 

Categories: Business News

Edtech exits are increasing, but by how much?

2020, August 14 - 11:23pm

Before the coronavirus made edtech more relevant, companies in the sector were historically likely to see slow, low exits. Despite successful IPOs by 2U, Chegg and Instructure in the United States, public markets are not crowded with edtech companies.

Some of the largest exits in the space include LinkedIn’s scoop of Lynda for a $1.5 billion in cash and stock and TPG’s purchase of Ellucian for $3.5 billion.

But both of those deals happened in 2015. Five years later, edtech is cooler and surging — but is it seeing exits? Are Lynda and Ellucian one-off success stories?

2U’s co-founder and CEO, Chip Paucek, said he is optimistic.

“We are a rare edtech IPO,” he told TechCrunch last week. “For a long time in edtech it was either ‘sell to Pearson or not.’”

Despite the sector’s slow past, Paucek said now is a good time to start an edtech company because the sector “is finally starting to hit its stride” with more back-end infrastructure and demand for online education.

This morning, let’s use some data to paint a picture of the landscape of edtech exits and bring some balance to this stodgy stereotype.

Boot the growth

There have been approximately 225 acquisitions in edtech between 2003 and 2018, according to Crunchbase data. RS Components sent me a graph in March to contextualize this timeframe a bit more:

Edtech deals over time. Graph credit: RS Components.

Categories: Business News

Impossible Foods gobbles up another $200 million

2020, August 14 - 4:21am

Impossible Foods has raised $200 million more for its meat replacements.

The new round values the company at a Whopper-sized $4 billion valuation, according to the data tracker PrimeUnicorn Index.

The new round was led by Coatue, a technology-focused hedge fund; another New York-based hedge fund, XN, also participated in the round.

Since its launch the company has raised $1.5 billion from investors, including Mirae Asset Global Investments and Temasek. The presence of these new public/private investment firms on Impossible Foods’ cap table could mean that the company is readying itself for an initial public offering, but that’s just speculation.

Impossible previously raised money from investment firms including Horizon Ventures and Khosla Ventures, as well as some of the biggest celebrities in the U.S., like: Jay Brown, Common, Kirk Cousins, Paul George, Peter Jackson, Jay-Z, Mindy Kaling, Trevor Noah, Alexis Ohanian, Kal Penn, Katy Perry, Questlove, Ruby Rose, Phil Rosenthal, Jaden Smith, Serena Williams, will.i.am and Zedd.

The most recent price per share is $16.15, an up round from Series F at $15.4139, according to PrimeUnicorn.

The company said it would use the funding to increase its research and development efforts and work on new products like pork, steak and milk, as well as expand its internationalization efforts and build out its manufacturing capacity.

“The use of animals to make food is the most destructive technology on Earth, a leading driver of climate change and the primary cause of a catastrophic global collapse of wildlife populations and biodiversity,” said the incredibly credentialed Dr. Patrick O. Brown, MD, PhD, CEO and founder of Impossible Foods, in a statement. “Impossible Foods’ mission is to replace that archaic system by making the most delicious, nutritious and sustainable meats in the world, directly from plants. To do that, Impossible Foods needs to sustain our exponential growth in production and sales, and invest significantly in R&D. Our investors believe in our mission to transform the global food system — and they recognize an extraordinary economic opportunity.”

Categories: Business News

How to get what you want in a term sheet

2020, August 14 - 3:59am

One of the most exciting moments in the life of every newly christened founder is the sweet relief of seeing a term sheet come in from an investor. After weeks, perhaps months (but hopefully not years!), of work fundraising and pitching, there is nothing like getting that email with a PDF attached to it laying out the terms and conditions of the VC relationship going forward.

Of course, that rejoicing dampens quickly as all the specific nuances of the deal suddenly come to the forefront. It’s one thing to get the valuation you want, or the amount of capital you are seeking, but what about the setup of the board of directors? What should you do about deal terms that may shape your startup for a decade or more?

The reality of term sheets, as our guest Lior Zorea discusses, is that the terms you agree to early on at a startup tend to be the terms that will carry through for the life of the company. That means getting that first term sheet right is critical for ensuring the financial and capital success of your business.

Categories: Business News

Five success factors for behavioral health startups

2020, August 14 - 3:19am
Courtney Chow Contributor Share on Twitter Courtney Chow is an associate with Battery Ventures in San Francisco who focuses on early and growth-stage internet, software and services companies. Justin Da Rosa Contributor Justin Da Rosa is a vice president with Battery Ventures in San Francisco. He focuses on consumer internet, online marketplace and software investments.

Telehealth, or remote, tech-enabled healthcare, has existed for years in primary medical care through companies like Teladoc (NYSE: TDOC)Doctors on Demand and MDLIVE.

In recent years, the application of telehealth had rapidly expanded to address specific chronic and behavioral health issues like mental health, weight loss and nutrition, addiction, diabetes and hypertension, etc. These are real and oftentimes very severe issues faced by people all over the world, yet until now have seen little to no use of technology in providing care.

We believe behavioral health is particularly suited to benefit from the digitization trends COVID-19 has accelerated. Previously, we’ve written about the pandemic’s impact on online learning and education, both for K-12 students and adult learners. But behavioral health is another area impacted by the fundamental change in consumers’ behavior today. Below are four reasons we think the time is now for behavioral health startups — followed by five key factors we think characterize successful companies in this area.

Telehealth can significantly lower the cost of care

Traditional behavioral healthcare is cost-prohibitive for most people. In-person therapy costs $100+ per session in the U.S., and many mental health and substance-use providers don’t accept insurance because they don’t get paid enough by insurers.

By contrast, telehealth reduces overhead costs and scales more effectively. Leveraging technology, providers can treat more patients in less time with almost zero marginal costs. Mobile-based communications enable asynchronous care that further helps providers scale. Access to digital content gives patients on-going support without the need for a human on the other side. This is particularly useful in treating behavioral health issues where ongoing support and motivation may be necessary.

Technology unlocks supply in “shadow markets” of providers

Globally, we face an extreme shortage of behavioral health providers. For example, the United States has fewer than 30,000 licensed psychiatrists (translating to <1 for every 10,000 people). Outside of big cities, the problem gets worse: ~50-60% of nonmetro counties have no psychologists or psychiatrists at all.

Even when providers are available, wait times for appointments are notoriously long. This is a huge issue when behavioral health conditions often require timely intervention.

We are seeing new platforms build large networks of certified coaches, licensed psychologists and psychiatrists, and other providers, aggregating supply in what has historically been a scarce and a highly fragmented provider population.

Behavioral/mental health issues are losing their stigma

We believe the stigma associated with mental illness and other behavioral health conditions is dissipating. More and more public figures are speaking out about their struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction and other behavioral health issues. Our zeitgeist is shifting fast, and there’s an all-time high in people seeking help as the Google Trends data below demonstrates.

Image Credits: Google

Note: The anomalous dip in March/April ’20 was driven by mandatory shelter-in-place due to COVID-19.

Policy and regulations are changing quickly
Categories: Business News

Six Toronto VCs discuss COVID-19 and the post-pandemic era

2020, August 14 - 1:58am

As North America’s fourth-largest city, Toronto is one of the world’s top startup ecosystems.

After spawning companies like Eventbrite and Crowdmark, Ontario’s capital has attracted international talent that complements its homegrown population of entrepreneurs and technical talent.

Six investors we surveyed who work and live in the area said they believe Toronto will continue to thrive after the COVID-19 storm passes. Some of them focus exclusively on the region, while others invest elsewhere as well. As they explained, the city has a lot going for it: It’s diverse, has access to locally trained engineering and business workers, and the area has already fostered many companies that are doing very well.

Investors expect Toronto to remain a fintech hub

Fintech is one of the city’s top industries, and the investors in this survey expect this to continue. Stephanie Choo, head of investments at Portag3 Ventures, said “fintech continues to see massive tailwinds from the fallout from COVID-19 as incumbents struggle to fully digitize their offerings.”

Ameet Shah of Golden Ventures listed fintech as one of Toronto’s key industries. Eva Lau of Two Small Fish Ventures agreed, adding that “blockchain has also been doing well because many blockchain-related technologies or companies were started in Toronto.”

Other investors point to fintech business leaders in Toronto like CEOs Mike Katchen of Wealthsimple, Daniel Eberhard of Koho, Andrew D’Souza and Michele Romanow of Clearbanc and Kirk Simpson of Wave Financial.

Diversity is one of Toronto’s strengths

Nearly all of the surveyed investors cited diversity as a key reason to live and work in Toronto. Probal Lala, chairman of Maple Leaf Angels, says, “Beyond having a vibrant technology ecosystem, Toronto has one of the most diverse communities in North America and is not only a great place to find the intellectual horsepower and funding to build a great global startup, but also the mosaic of social communities that makes it a great place to live and raise a family.”

Choo said the United States’ current battles over immigration could benefit Canada. “Small, nimble teams that need to move fast may still choose to co-locate in person — and many will still want access to amenities that only a large, vibrant and diverse city like Toronto can offer.”

She also pointed to Toronto’s claim of being one of the most diverse cities in the world. “[This] not only makes the city interesting but also very welcoming for those who relocate from elsewhere; a strong startup and tech scene, and, lastly, a vibrant cultural and food scene, especially through the lens of cost-of-living compared to comparable major cities.”

Shopify’s executives are key players in Toronto’s ecosystem

Several VCs listed Shopify executives as local leaders, while others acknowledged the growing unicorn’s impact. Ameet Shah of Golden Ventures says, “Toronto has traditionally been strong in fintech, B2B SaaS, crypto and AI. The explosion of Shopify should also benefit companies focused on e-commerce and supply chain solutions.”

Adam McNamara and Ameet Shah, when asked about local business leaders, both listed Satish Kanwar. Kanwar is GM and VP of Product at Shopify after the company purchased Jet Cooper, a startup co-founded by Kanwar. McNamara also points to Farhan Thawar, Shopify’s VP of Engineering, as a local leader.

Who we spoke to:
  • Probal Lala, chairman, Maple Leaf Angels Capital Corporation
  • Stephanie Choo, head of investments, Portag3 Ventures
  • Adam McNamara, founding partner, Ramen VC
  • Ameet Shah, partner, Golden Ventures
  • Matt Golden, founder and managing partner, mGolden Ventures
  • Eva Lau, founding partner, Two Small Fish Ventures
Probal Lala, Maple Leaf Angels Capital Corporation

How much is local investing even a focus for you now? If you are investing remotely in general now, are you filtering for local founders?

Prior to COVID-19 hitting, a requirement for the majority of my investments was a face-to-face visit with the founding team. For the most part, this meant founders spending time in Toronto. As we primarily invest in seed and pre-seed, this usually meant local founders.

When the pandemic hit, we shifted our process to primarily Zoom meetings (including due diligence) and as a result the mix of founding teams has expanded beyond our typical catchment area (two-hour drive from the city) to a broader base. Investment cycles appear to have slowed a bit due to the remote approach but our reach to founding teams has expanded to a broader base of geographically distributed founding teams (Mostly Canadian although we have recently seen a number of international opportunities).

Categories: Business News

Mission Bio raises $70 million to help scale its tech for improving the development of targeted cancer therapies

2020, August 14 - 1:00am

California-based startup Mission Bio has raised a new $70 million Series C funding round, led by Novo Growth and including participation from Soleus Capital and existing investors Mayfield, Cota and Agilent. Mission Bio will use the funding to scale its Tapestri Platform, which uses the company’s work in single-cell multi-omics technology to help optimize clinical trials for targeted, precision cancer therapies.

Mission Bio’s single-cell multi-omics platform is unique in the therapeutic industry. What it allows is the ability to zero in on a single cell, observing both genotype (fully genetic) and phenotype (observable traits influenced by genetics and other factors) impact resulting from use of various therapies during clinical trials. Mission’s Tapestri can detect both DNA and protein changes within the same single cell, which is key in determining effectiveness of targeted therapies because it can help rule out the effect of other factors not under control when analyzing in bulk (i.e. across groups of cells).

Founded in 2012 as a spin-out of research work conducted at UCSF, Mission Bio has raised a total of $120 million to date. The company’s tech has been used by a number of large pharmaceutical and therapeutic companies, including Agios, LabCorp and Onconova Therapeutics, as well as at cancer research centers including UCSF, Stanford and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

In addition to helping with the optimization of clinical trials for treatments of blood cancers and tumors, Mission’s tech can be used to validate genome editing — a large potential market that could see a lot of growth over the next few years with the rise of CRISPR-based therapeutic applications.

Categories: Business News

Mirantis acquires Lens, an IDE for Kubernetes

2020, August 14 - 1:00am

Mirantis, the company that recently bought Docker’s enterprise business, today announced that it has acquired Lens, a desktop application that the team describes as a Kubernetes-integrated development environment. Mirantis previously acquired the team behind the Finnish startup Kontena, the company that originally developed Lens.

Lens itself was most recently owned by Lakend Labs, though, which describes itself as “a collective of cloud native compute geeks and technologists” that is “committed to preserving and making available the open-source software and products of Kontena.” Lakend open-sourced Lens a few months ago.

Image Credits: Mirantis

“The mission of Mirantis is very simple: We want to be — for the enterprise — the fastest way to [build] modern apps at scale,” Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel told me. “We believe that enterprises are constantly undergoing this cycle of modernizing the way they build applications from one wave to the next — and we want to provide products to the enterprise that help them make that happen.”

Right now, that means a focus on helping enterprises build cloud-native applications at scale and, almost by default, that means providing these companies with all kinds of container infrastructure services.

“But there is another piece of the story that’s always been going through our minds, which is, how do we become more developer-centric and developer-focused, because, as we’ve all seen in the past 10 years, developers have become more and more in charge off what services and infrastructure they’re actually using,” Ionel explained. And that’s where the Kontena and Lens acquisitions fit in. Managing Kubernetes clusters, after all, isn’t trivial — yet now developers are often tasked with managing and monitoring how their applications interact with their company’s infrastructure.

“Lens makes it dramatically easier for developers to work with Kubernetes, to build and deploy their applications on Kubernetes, and it’s just a huge obstacle-remover for people who are turned off by the complexity of Kubernetes to get more value,” he added.

“I’m very excited to see that we found a common vision with Adrian for how to incorporate Lens and how to make life for developers more enjoyable in this cloud-native technology landscape,” Miska Kaipiainen, the former CEO of Kontena and now Mirantis’ director of Engineering, told me.

He describes Lens as an IDE for Kubernetes. While you could obviously replicate Lens’ functionality with existing tools, Kaipiainen argues that it would take 20 different tools to do this. “One of them could be for monitoring, another could be for logs. A third one is for command-line configuration, and so forth and so forth,” he said. “What we have been trying to do with Lens is that we are bringing all these technologies [together] and provide one single, unified, easy to use interface for developers, so they can keep working on their workloads and on their clusters, without ever losing focus and the context of what they are working on.”

Among other things, Lens includes a context-aware terminal, multi-cluster management capabilities that work across clouds and support for the open-source Prometheus monitoring service.

For Mirantis, Lens is a very strategic investment and the company will continue to develop the service. Indeed, Ionel said the Lens team now basically has unlimited resources.

Looking ahead, Kaipiainen said the team is looking at adding extensions to Lens through an API within the next couple of months. “Through this extension API, we are actually able to collaborate and work more closely with other technology vendors within the cloud technology landscape so they can start plugging directly into the Lens UI and visualize the data coming from their components, so that will make it very powerful.”

Ionel also added that the company is working on adding more features for larger software teams to Lens, which is currently a single-user product. A lot of users are already using Lens in the context of very large development teams, after all.

While the core Lens tools will remain free and open source, Mirantis will likely charge for some new features that require a centralized service for managing them. What exactly that will look like remains to be seen, though.

If you want to give Lens a try, you can download the Windows, macOS and Linux binaries here.

Categories: Business News

Ready, set, network: CrunchMatch is open for Disrupt 2020

2020, August 13 - 11:54pm

We’re so excited about today’s news that we’re stealing, ahem, borrowing boxing announcer Michael Buffer’s famous catchphrase, “Let’s get ready to rumble!

CrunchMatch, our free networking platform, is up and ready to help you build your business and expand your empire. Starting today — and for weeks to come — you can find, connect and meet with thousands of Disrupt 2020 attendees from around the world.

Bridging the physical distance of a virtual conference requires the best tools possible. We lifted the AI-powered platform’s hood and upgraded the CrunchMatch algorithm. The result? Faster, more precise matches for a better networking experience  — and the more you use it the smarter it gets.

We’ve simplified the onboarding process, too. When you register for Disrupt 2020, you’ll answer a few quick questions about your business preferences, and within minutes you’ll be automatically registered for CrunchMatch — and receive an email telling you how to access the platform.

Now that you’re ready for networking success, who are the people you need to help grow your business? Founders, investors, engineers, R&D teams, manufacturing mavens, supply-chain experts? The platform makes finding the right people a lot easier, and it helps keep you organized and on schedule.

“I used CrunchMatch to schedule meetings, and the digital aspect made connecting easier. It helped me stay organized, meet people and still have time to take in a piece of everything at Disrupt.” — JC Bodson, founder and CEO of Arbitrage Technologies.

CrunchMatch analyzes your preferences and automatically generates a list of attendees with similar goals and interests. You can also search manually by industry, job function, company name and more.

Use CrunchMatch to schedule 1:1 video meetings with potential investors, customers or founders; showcase your innovative products or interview prospective employees. And if that’s not enough, you can also take part in speed networking sessions that will be announced in the coming weeks!

Disrupt 2020 runs September 14-18, but you can start networking right now. Buy your pass to Disrupt, fire up CrunchMatch and get a giant head start on building the crucial relationships startups need to grow and succeed. Are you ready to rumble?

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Categories: Business News

Cube closes $5M Seed round to scale its financial planning software

2020, August 13 - 11:15pm

This morning Cube announced that it has closed a Seed round worth just over $5 million. The software startup, focused on financial planning and analysis (FP&A) work, raised $3.8 million of the total recently, with remaining $1.25 million having come in an earlier Pre-Seed round.

Christina Ross, Cube’s CEO and founder, told TechCrunch that she started raising the most recent tranche of capital in March, winding up with a few term sheets within a few weeks. Eventually the startup picked Bonfire VenturesBrett Queener to lead the round, with Operator Collective, Clocktower Technology Ventures, Alumni Ventures Group, Techstars, and others taking part.

So, what is FP&A and why is Cube attracting so many interested investors? Let’s talk about both.

Attack the spreadsheets

There’s an old startup chestnut that I can’t source this morning, but goes something like this: If you want to know where to found a startup, just go to a big company, walk around until you figure out where they still use spreadsheets, and build something that will replace them. Voilà, you have a company.

Ross is doing something similar with Cube.

She detailed her work experience in an interview, noting stints at GE, at Deloitte doing financial work, at Rent The Runway as employee 34 and first head of finance, at Criteo where she was its North America head of finance, and, finally, at Eyeview as its CFO. She has helped growing companies manage and track their monetary resources, and draw a plan for the future.

Or in industry-speak, she has spent a lot of time doing FP&A, a business process where she says there are still too many old-fashioned spreadsheets.

That’s where Cube comes in. Ross noted during our chat that lots of what a CFO does is being automated, with Carta, Bill.com, Expensify, and other tools, but that FP&A is still something of a crap experience.

What Cube does is collect information from a company’s general ledger (think Quickbooks), CRM (say, Salesforce), and HRIS (ADP, perhaps) into a single repository. From there the company’s FP&A denizens can control and sort the data, viewing it using Cube’s own visualization tool, spreadsheets, or web interface.

Once you can see the information in a manner of your choosing, you can get to the real work of FP&A, namely sketching out the future. What is that sketch good for? Providing a company’s leadership with profit and loss forecasting, and other operating details.

In Ross’s conception, FP&A is actually pretty simple. Put away all the numbers, it’s just telling the story of the past, and writing the story of the future for any given company.

It’s a neat problem to solve, and one that Cube can charge handsomely for helping with. Pricing for the company’s service starts at $850 per month, and goes up from there (the startup also offers a discounted startup plan).

But don’t worry, Cube isn’t trying to build a slightly better note taking app and then begging people to please, please pay for a pittance for it. The startup wants to build a part of companies’ financial brains. And as its product will sit next to the nexus of spend and cash, the startup is probably right to demand a higher fee than we often see from less mission-critical SaaS products.

Its business-importance and price point, we presume, were part of why Cube didn’t struggle to raise during a pandemic. Based in New York City, the startup intends to triple its staff size in the next year now that it has closed its funding cycle.

Cube’s software isn’t something that I’ll ever use, but I’ve been at a startup at the time when it began to mature its accounting and finance functions. It’s a struggle to just get the numbers in line, let alone get the books so perfect that you can raise your eyes from the fine print to glance at the horizon. If Cube can help more companies do just that, it could do well for itself.

More when Cube shares growth numbers.

Software stocks set new records despite earnings, pandemic

Categories: Business News

Waymo COO Tekedra Mawakana is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

2020, August 13 - 11:10pm

In the past two years, Waymo has scaled up a robotaxi service in the Phoenix area, locked in or expanded partnerships with Volvo and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, acquired at least one company, launched a lidar business and ramped up testing of its automated trucks.

Standing at the front line of this change — and Waymo’s future — is Tekedra Mawakana, the company’s chief operating officer. In October, Mawakana will join our virtual stage at TC Sessions: Mobility. The virtual event, which will highlight the best and brightest minds in mobility, will occur over two days on October 6 and October 7.

Mawakana will join us to discuss Waymo, the business case of autonomous vehicles, as well as her career path, plans for the future and experience as an angel investor.

As COO, Mawakana oversees business strategy, operations, business development, global public policy, public affairs, marketing, communications and corporate social responsibility.

In short, Mawakana is the person behind Waymo who makes things happen.

Her two decades of experience leading teams at eBay, Yahoo, AOL and Startec Global Communications has prepared her for the ultimate job: ensuring Waymo’s technology is commercialized and widely adopted. Mawakana is already deep into that mission. She was responsible for the launch of Waymo’s first commercial service, Waymo One, in December 2018.

Mawakana is also a social impact-focused angel investor and serves on the Board of Industry Leaders for the Consumer Technology Association, and as a member of the Executive Committee on the board of Saving Promise. She previously served as the chairman of the board of the Internet Association, and on the Global Network Initiative’s board of directors.

You can attend both days of TC Sessions: Mobility at the early-bird price of $145, with group discounts available when you buy in bulk with others from your office. If you’re a student, you can get in for just $50. Early-stage startups can get additional exposure for their company and the ability to generate leads with a virtual startup exhibition package, which includes three (3) tickets for $335. Reserve your place today for TC Sessions: Mobility and save.

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Categories: Business News

A stampede of unicorn news

2020, August 13 - 11:04pm

With a hot IPO market and a world accelerating its shift to digital technologies amidst a pandemic, it’s a busy time for late-stage startups. Happily, the current moment is generating a wave of leaks and news. So much so, it’s actually been pretty hard to keep up.

In honor of the somewhat crazy week we’ve had, I’ve compiled the biggest and best bits of unicorn news, with two final items concerning companies that are not quite unicorns. Our goal is to get caught up so we can start next week sufficiently informed.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

As always with this sort of work, we’ll have to handle each entry quickly. But if you want to know what’s up lately with the most valuable private companies, this should provide a working summary.

We’ll start with the Gong round, talk Palantir, peek at Stripe, chat about Airbnb’s results, detail a few other revenue milestones that were new to us, discuss Robinhood trading volume, gander at some Coinbase product news and a few other items, wrapping with a note on recent funding rounds from Parsable and Coda.

The theme, in case you were hoping for a unifying thread, is that the good times that took temporary flight in March and April, are back.

Today, it’s nearly hard to recall the fear that took over startup-land; sure, there are warning signs about cloud growth rates, but for many unicorns, we still live in boom times.

Let’s begin.

A  blessing of unicorns

As promised, we’re starting with the Gong round, which my dear friend Ron Miller covered for TechCrunch. The sales tech software company put together a $200 million round at a $2.2 billion valuation after raising several other rounds in recent quarters. As Ron reports, the company’s growth has been torrid, with 1,300 customers and 2.5x revenue growth “this year alone.” But most critically, Gong’s CEO Amit Bendov said that “there’s a lot of liquidity in the market.” Yep.

Categories: Business News

Root AI raises $7.2M seed round to deploy its harvesting robot amid COVID-19-fueled demand

2020, August 13 - 11:00pm

By all accounts, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of robotics and automation by months, if not years. The reasons are fairly clear — robotics don’t call in sick, nor are they disease vectors in the same manner as their human counterparts. As food production and agriculture are looking to be among the biggest winners from the trend, it’s little wonder that Root AI is announcing a new funding round.

The Boston-based startup has already been getting a fair bit of press (including on these very pages) with the promise of produce-picking robotics. This week it announced a seed round of $7.2 million, bringing the company’s total funding up to $9.5 million, courtesy of Rob May of PJC, First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, along with Jason Calacanis and Austin McChord of Outsiders Fund.

Image Credits: Root AI

There are, of course, a number of different robots focused on produce picking. It’s one of those jobs with a shortage of workers and a high turnover rate. What sets the company’s Virgo robot apart from the pack, however, is its ability to adapt. Most robotics are focused on a single type of produce, but Virgo’s dexterity and soft grippers are designed to work with different plants.

“The first commercial units will focus on tomato harvesting,” CEO Josh Lessing tells TechCrunch, “with future software updates planned to unlock new crops.” The robots are already out in the real world — albeit in extremely limited quantities. There are currently two units deployed in California fields, with plans for additional robots arriving in the U.S. and Canada later this year, in order to keep up with increased demand from COVID-19.

Categories: Business News

Extra Crunch Live: Join Eric Hippeau for a live Q&A right now

2020, August 13 - 10:45pm

While you may have heard this phrase several hundred too many times this year, it remains true: These are unprecedented times.

At least a dozen industries are in a state of flux, and only time (a relatively short amount of time) will tell if they can evolve quickly enough to stay in the game. A few of those industries include media, direct-to-consumer retail, travel and hospitality. With the pace of change up dramatically, it can be difficult to make heads or tails of these respective markets and the broader tech startup landscape.

Luckily, Eric Hippeau, cofounder and managing partner at Lerer Hippeau, is uniquely positioned to answer our most pressing questions, particularly around these industries. We’re very pleased to share with you that Hippeau will be joining us today for an episode of Extra Crunch Live. Extra Crunch members can catch the episode live, and ask their own questions directly to Hippeau, at 11am PT/2pm ET/6pm GMT.

Eric Hippeau served as CEO for the Huffington Post before co-founding Lerer Hippeau . He also served as chairman and CEO at Ziff-Davis, a former top publisher of computer magazines. He sits on the boards of BuzzFeed and Marriott International.

Lerer Hippeau portfolio companies include Axios, BuzzFeed, Genius, Chartbeat and Giphy. And while the firm has experience in media, that doesn’t mean the portfolio is squarely focused on it. Other portfolio companies include Casper, WayUp, Warby Parker, Mirror, HungryRoot, Glossier, Everlane, Brit + Co. and AllBirds, to name just a few.

We’ll chat with Hippeau about the rapidly changing media landscape, how direct-to-consumer companies can survive (and in some cases, capitalize) on the new world ushered in by the coronavirus, and get some pointers on how to pitch Lerer Hippeau for investment.

I’m also curious about Lerer Hippeau’s investment in startup studios (Betaworks and Expa) and to learn which sectors seem most attractive to the firm going into the back half of 2020.

As previously mentioned, Extra Crunch members can ask their own questions during the chat. If you’re not yet an Extra Crunch member, you can sign up right here.

We’re amped to have Hippeau join us and we hope you will, too!

Details:

Categories: Business News

Tune in tomorrow and watch five startups compete at Pitchers & Pitches

2020, August 13 - 12:59pm

Ever hear the expression, “every master was once a disaster?” Now apply that to developing a well-crafted pitch. It takes practice and honest feedback to make a masterful pitch, and that’s exactly what you’ll get when you participate in our next Pitchers & Pitches. It’s 50 percent competition, 50 percent masterclass and 100 percent free.

Join us tomorrow, August 13, at 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT as five randomly chosen Digital Startup Alley exhibitors present their rapid-fire pitches to a panel of TC editors and expert VCs. (take a peek at this session’s competitors and judges below).

Get ready to take notes, ask questions — this is an interactive educational event — and apply what you learn to pump up your own 60-second pitch. Here’s another reason to pay close attention to the live pitches; the viewing audience decides which founder throws the best pitch. It’s a competition after all, with a prize and everything.

And it’s a pretty awesome prize if we do say so ourselves. The winner walks away with a consulting session with cela, a company that connects early-stage startups to accelerators and incubators that can help scale their businesses.

Anyone can attend Pitchers & Pitches — and learn valuable tips in the process — but only companies exhibiting in Digital Startup Alley at Disrupt 2020 can compete. If you’d like a shot at competing in our next Pitchers & Pitches event on September 2, purchase a Disrupt Digital Startup Alley Package. You’ll be ready to exhibit and pitch your startup genius to thousands of disrupt attendees from around the world.

Attending Pitchers & Pitches also gives you time to check out the new virtual Disrupt platform before it goes live in September, meet and video network with other P&P attendees and connect with the five pitching founders in their virtual booth in the startup expo.

It’s time to name names — judges are standing by to give their best feedback for this session. The panel consists of two TechCrunch editors — Zack Whittaker and Natasha Mascarhenas and two leading VCs — Sydney Thomas and Curtis Rodgers. When it comes to pitches, this group’s heard ‘em all — the good, the bad and the ugly. Follow their advice and you might just make it into the first category.

And here are the five startups ready to wring every advantage out of tomorrow’s competition.

Myneral Labs Centrly Primeclass CarpeMed Cirtru

Register here for the next Pitchers & Pitches — tomorrow, August 13 at 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT. Learn to master your pitch and get ready to make the most of all the opportunities you’ll find at Disrupt 2020.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Categories: Business News

Stream, whose APIs help product teams build chat and activity feeds fast, just raised a $15 million Series A round

2020, August 13 - 12:24pm

Earlier this year, the founders of Stream,  a five-year-old, 60-person startup with offices in Boulder and Amsterdam, weren’t feeling so great about their prospects. As COVID-19 began its spread in the U.S., some smaller customers of the startup — whose APIs enable product teams to build chat and activity feeds for their applications — began to fold.

“It was really scary when [the virus] initially hit, because a lot of our smaller customers went out of business, which made us worry about what would happen to the larger ones,” recalls Thierry Schellenbach, who started Stream with Tommaso Barbugli, the lead engineer at his last startup.

“One [larger customer] did go bankrupt, which impacted our numbers.” But then a strange thing happened, he says. Companies in education and healthcare and online events and even religious communities began beefing up their online operations, and turning in part to Stream to do it.

Schellenbach understood the impulse  He and Barbugli created Stream to address a pain they felt firsthand at Schellenbach’s first company out of college — a social network that was ultimately acquired for a modest sum by a private equity firm in the Netherlands. Though it grew to “millions of users,” he says, its activity feed was routinely failing as the network scaled given the many moving pieces involved, and it took a “ton of engineering resources to keep it working well.”

Because the two knew the world needed more off-the-shelf software and specifically software focused on activity feeds, they began building it themselves.

Yet that’s not the only reason the company is gaining traction. Schellenbach attributes Stream’s resiliency in the pandemic to a decision 10 months ago to also begin developing a chat API (after seeing customers trying to build their own atop their activity feeds). Now, schools like Harvard, social media companies like Dubsmash, and the health information site Healthline are customers, and investors are beginning to take more notice, too.

Indeed, today the company is announcing it has closed a $15 million Series A round that was led by GGV Capital and included 01 Advisors, Knight, seed round lead investor Arthur Ventures, and other backers, including Datadog CEO Olivier Pomel and GitHub cofounder Tom Preston-Werner.

The round brings the company’s total funding to $20.25 million, and it was raised from many individuals who Schellenbach (based in Boulder), and Barbugli (based in Amsterdam), have never met in person, including the GGV team.

Schellenbach credits GGV for not hewing too closely to old models during these socially distanced days, as did “three or four” VCs with whom he’d spoken and who said he’d have to meet them in San Francisco in order to make a deal happen.

He also traces Stream’s fundraising success to the accelerator program Techstars, which Stream entered when it was just two months old back in 2015. As he explains, he and Barbugli had “no VC connections at the time, so Techstars was important to open up the fundraising side of things.”

Those references have only bred more references — and now, more than ever — it makes a difference, he observes.

“We’re lucky,” he says. Stream was introduced to GGV. GGV then introduced the team to Dick Costolo of 01 Advisors . Meanwhile, for “companies trying to raise a seed round, if you don’t have clear references, right now, it’s tough.”

Photo of Schellenbach and  Barbugli, circa 2015, courtesy of Stream.

Categories: Business News

Moka, the HR tool for Arm and Shopee in China, closes $43M Series B

2020, August 13 - 12:21pm

Investors are betting on the automation of human resources management in China. We reported last year that Moka, one of the key players in the space, secured roughly $27 million for its Series B led by Hillhouse Capital. This week, the startup announced closing a Series B+ at over 100 million yuan ($14.4 million), lifting its total raise for the B round to 300 million yuan ($43.2 million).

The startup declined to disclose its investors in the latest round, saying the proceeds will go toward recruitment, product innovation and business expansion. GGV Capital invested in its Series A round.

Chinese investors have in recent years shifted more attention to enterprise-facing products as the consumer tech market becomes crammed. Moka makes software to aid HR managers’ day-to-day operations, from posting job openings, discovering potential candidates, to managing current staff. For instance, Moka will alert the HR manager when employees update their resumes, a sign that they could be sniffing out new opportunities.

Moka’s newly appointed CEO Li Guoxing, a former engineer at Facebook. (Image Credits: Moka)

As the new round closed, Moka also appointed its co-founder Li Guoxing as its new chief executive officer. The five-year-old Beijing-based startup was founded by Li, a Facebook veteran, and Zhao Oulun, who was previously the CEO of the company. Zhao worked at the car-sharing service Turo in San Francisco before returning to China.

The new CEO claimed that Moka acquires users at two-thirds of the industry average cost, with subscription renewal rate for its software as a service hovering above 100%. “The future of business competition definitely lies in the fight for talent,” he said. “So hiring will surely become a company strategy in the future.”

As of June, Moka had accumulated over 700 paid clients, from tech giants like Xiaomi, Didi, Arm China, Shopee and Alibaba, to fast-food giants Burger King and McDonald’s. Its team of 300 staff operates out of five major cities in China.

Categories: Business News

Minted.com CEO Mariam Naficy shares ‘the biggest surprise about entrepreneurship’

2020, August 13 - 7:50am

At TechCrunch Early Stage, Minted CEO and serial founder Mariam Naficy got into the weeds with us on some of the topics founders don’t often discuss. What’s the difference between expectations and reality when it comes to entrepreneurialism? How do you split responsibilities between co-founders? What’s the key to being great at hiring?

We also talked about some of the harder parts of being a leader, including how to handle layoffs and what to do with an employee who likes to rock the boat.

Minted is an e-commerce platform that connects indie designers with customers for products like stationary, art and home goods. The company has raised nearly $300 million and generates hundreds of millions in revenue. And it’s not Naficy’s first stint as a founder: she previously co-founded Eve, which she eventually sold for $100 million+, according to reports.

We covered a lot of ground in the interview, including some questions from the audience, which you can check out in the video below. You’ll also find a lightly edited transcript of the conversation.

The most surprising part of being an entrepreneur

I didn’t realize what was, I think, one of the biggest differences, which is how much, if you are successful, you become a leader of people, whether you are a reluctant leader of people or an enthusiastic leader of people. If you’re successful, your company will inevitably grow and you end up, believe it or not, being a role model for people. People actually look at you and they emulate your behavior and that is not something that I expected.

I thought I was just going to be making products and selling products. I just didn’t think that it was gonna be such a people job — a management job, a talent development job, a leadership job — and that people would care when you walked in the building every day whether you said hello to them in the morning. They would actually notice whether you said “hi” or not to them at the coffee bar when you’re half asleep. What you do every minute actually matters. Every minute of the day. So I think that’s probably the biggest surprise about entrepreneurship.

Being a sole founder versus starting out with a co-founder

Categories: Business News

Labster lands new cash to bring its virtual reality science lab software to Asia

2020, August 13 - 6:01am

You could Zoom call into your science class, or you could conduct a lab experiment in virtual reality. During the coronavirus pandemic, the latter has never felt more full of potential.

The global need for learning solutions beyond Zoom is precisely why Labster, a Copenhagen-based startup that helps individuals engage in STEM lab scenarios using virtual reality, is growing rapidly. Since March, the usage of Labster’s VR product has increased 15X.

On the heels of this unprecedented momentum, Labster joins a chorus of edtech startups raising right now, and announced it has brought on $9 million in equity venture funding. The round was led by GGV, with participation from existing investors Owl Ventures, Balderton and Northzone.

“COVID-19 has been a great awareness builder of Labster, opening teachers’ eyes to the good sides of online learning as opposed to Zoom-only learning, which is largely failing,” CEO and co-founder Michael Jensen told TechCrunch.

Labster sells its e-learning solution to support and enhance in-person courses. Based on the subscription an institution chooses, participants can get differing degrees of access to a virtual laboratory. Imagine a range of experiments, from understanding bacterial growth and isolation to exploring the biodiversity of an exoplanet. Along with each simulation, Labster offers 3D animations for certain concepts, re-plays of simulations, quiz questions and a virtual learning assistant.

Photo credit: Labster.

While the majority of Labster’s customers are private institutions, the company landed a deal with all of California’s community colleges during the pandemic. The partnership added 2.1 million students to Labster’s customer base, which Jensen said has been bolstered by a broader growth in annual license deals and partnerships.

With GGV on board, Labster is looking to strengthen position in Asia. Breaking into new markets often requires a strategic investor with eyes on the ground on how that market works, thinks and, most importantly, learns. Asian markets are specifically lucrative for edtech companies because consumer spend is higher compared to the North American market.

Jenny Lee, a Shanghai-based partner with GGV, will take a board seat at Labster.

Lee has expressed interest in how automation, virtual and AI-based teachers can help bridge the gap between K-12 markets and lack of good-quality teachers everywhere.

Jensen said that the capital will also be used to bolster the company’s mobile offering, since Asian markets have high mobile usage compared to North American and European markets.

The round is significantly smaller than Labster’s previous $21 million Series B, closed in April of 2019. And it contrasts sharply to the momentum that has benefited edtech companies like MasterClass, Coursera and, reportedly, Udemy into raising nine-figure rounds.

So naturally, I asked Jensen: why the conservative raise?

Jensen says that the $9 million check was a strategic growth check to bring on GGV (all existing investors in Labster also participated in the round). Since being founded in 2012, the company has been relatively conservative in raising cash. To date, inclusive of this round, Labster has raised $40 million in venture capital.

He argues the new money, thus, is offensive capital instead of defensive capital. It’s a strategic check to open a global door.

This isn’t the first time an edtech company has raised a smaller round than expected during the coronavirus pandemic. In April, edtech unicorn Duolingo raised a short $10 million to expand into Asia and bring on General Atlantic as an investor to expand into global markets.

Duolingo, however, is cash-flow positive. Jensen did not comment on if Labster has turned a profit, but adds that it was a “significant up round” that brought the company’s valuation to above $100 million.

“Our primary objectives continue to be rapid growth and global impact, not profits,” he told TechCrunch.

Edtech startups flirt with unicorn-style growth

Categories: Business News

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