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Descartes Labs snaps up $20M more for its AI-based geospatial imagery analytics platform

2019, October 11 - 9:25pm

Satellite imagery holds a wealth of information that could be useful for industries, science and humanitarian causes, but one big and persistent challenge with it has been a lack of effective ways to tap that disparate data for specific ends.

That’s created a demand for better analytics, and now, one of the startups that has been building solutions to do just that is announcing a round of funding as it gears up for expansion. Descartes Labs, a geospatial imagery analytics startup out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is today announcing that it has closed a $20 million round of funding, money that CEO and founder Mark Johnson described to me as a bridge round ahead of the startup closing and announcing a larger growth round.

The funding is being led by Union Grove Venture Partners, with Ajax Strategies, Crosslink Capital, and March Capital Partners (which led its previous round) also participating. It brings the total raised by Descartes Labs to $60 million, and while Johnson said the startup would not be disclosing its valuation, PitchBook notes that it is $220 million ($200 million pre-money in this round).

As a point of comparison, another startup in the area of geospatial analytics, Orbital Insight, is reportedly now raising money at a $430 million valuation (that data is from January of this year, and we’ve contacted the company to see if it ever closed).

Santa Fe — a city popular with retirees that counts tourism as its biggest industry — is an unlikely place to find a tech startup. Descartes Labs’ presence there is a result of that fact that it is a spinoff from the Los Alamos National Laboratory near the city.

Johnson — who had lived in San Francisco before coming to Santa Fe to help create Descartes Labs (his previous experience building Zite for media, he said, led the Los Alamos scientists to first conceive of the Descartes Labs IP as the basis of a kind of search engine) — admitted that he never thought the company would stay headquartered there beyond a short initial phase of growth of six months.

However, it turned out that the trends around more distributed workforces (and cloud computing to enable that), engineers looking for employment alternatives to living in pricey San Francisco, plus the heated competition for talent you get in the Valley all came together in a perfect storm that helped Descartes Labs establish and thrive on its home turf.

Descartes Labs — named after the seminal philosopher/mathematician Rene Descartes — describes itself as a “data refinery”. By this, it means it injests a lot of imagery and unstructured data related to the earth that is picked up primarily by satellites but also other sensors (Johnson notes that its sources include data from publicly available satellites; data from NASA and the European space agency, and data from the companies themselves); applies AI-based techniques including computer vision analysis and machine learning to make sense of the sometimes-grainy imagery; and distills and orders it to create insights into what is going on down below, and how that is likely to evolve.

This includes not just what is happening on the surface of the earth, but also in the air above it: Descartes Labs has worked on projects to detect levels of methane gas in oil fields, the spread of wildfires, and how crops might grow in a particular area, and the impact of weather patterns on it all.

It has produced work for a range of clients that have included governments (the methane detection, pictured above, was commissioned as part of New Mexico’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions), energy giants and industrial agribusiness, and traders.

“The idea is to help them take advantage of all the new data going online,” Johnson said, noting that this can help, for example, bankers forecast how much a commodity will trade for, or the effect of a change in soil composition on a crop.

The fact that Descartes Labs’ work has connected it with the energy industry gives an interesting twist to the use of the phrase “data refinery”. But in case you were wondering, Johnson said that the company goes through a process of vetting potential customers to determine if the data Descartes Labs provides to them is for a positive end, or not.

“We have a deep belief that we can help them become more efficient,” he said. “Those looking at earth data are doing so because they care about the planet and are working to try to become more sustainable.”

Johnson also said (in answer to my question about it) that so far, there haven’t been any instances where the startup has been prohibited to work with any customers or countries, but you could imagine how — in this day of data being ‘the new oil’ and the fulcrum of power — that could potentially be an issue. (Related to this: Orbital Insight counts In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture arm, as one of its backers.)

Looking ahead, the company is building what it describes as a “digital twin” of the earth, the idea being that in doing so it can better model the imagery that it injests and link up data from different regions more seamlessly (since, after all, a climatic event in one part of the world inevitably impacts another). Notably, “digital twinning” is a common concept that we see applied in other AI-based enterprises to better predict activity: this is the approach that, for example, Forward Networks takes when building models of an enterprise’s network to determine how apps will behave and identify the reasons behind an outage.

In addition to the funding round, Descartes Labs named Phil Fraher its new CFO, and is announcing Veery Maxwell, Director for Energy Innovation and Patrick Cairns, who co-founded UGVP, as new board observers.

Categories: Business News

Final day to save up to €600 on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019

2019, October 11 - 7:53pm

Tick tock, it’s now-o’clock, startuppers. The last few hours of super early-bird savings on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019 are slipping away faster than grains of sand through an hourglass. The bird bites the dust and prices go up as of 11:59 p.m. (CEST) tonight, 11 October.

Buy your passes to Disrupt Berlin now and, depending on which pass you choose, you can save up to €600. Who wants to pay more than necessary?

What’s high on your Disrupt must-see list? Maybe it’s the Hackathon, where up to 500 participants will compete in sponsored challenges to create solutions to real-world problems — in less than 36 hours. It’s intense, exhausting, caffeine-fueled fun, and we can’t wait to see which teams win the individual contests and which one team wins the €5,000 grand prize for best overall hack.

Perhaps you’re all about witnessing the glorious chaos that is Startup Battlefield? Who can blame you? It’s fast-paced action as 15-20 of the top early-stage startups take the Main Stage to deliver a convincing six-minute pitch and demo to a tough panel of expert technologists and veteran VCs. The follow-up Q&A is no joke, either. Talk about flop sweat. It’s worth the ride and the chance to take home the Disrupt Cup and $50,000.

Could be you’re looking to make business connections to keep your startup (founder or investor) dream moving forward. Set your GPS for Startup Alley, the exhibition floor where opportunity awaits. Hundreds of early-stage startups and sponsors will be in force to talk tech, share inspiration and meet potential customers, investors and collaborators. It’s a veritable breeding ground of opportunity, innovation and inspiration.

While you’re there, be sure to connect with our TC Top Picks. TechCrunch editors hand-pick this cohort of stellar early-stage startups, choosing only up to five to represent each of these tech categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education.

As always, we’ll feature a slate of amazing speakers on our different stages. Iconic technologists, boundary-pushing VCs, entrepreneurs who’ve persevered, done the work and reaped the rewards. They’ll be on hand to share their stories, tips and insights. You’ll find big topics on the Main Stage and an opportunity to have smaller, more intimate conversations with speakers in our Q&A Sessions.

So much to do at Disrupt Berlin 2019 and so little time to get the best price on passes. Super early-bird pricing ends tonight at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Don’t let the hours slip past you — buy your passes. It’s now-o’clock, baby!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Categories: Business News

CrunchMatch helps you network with ease at Disrupt Berlin 2019

2019, October 11 - 5:51pm

One of the most exciting aspects of Disrupt Berlin 2019, which takes place on 11-12 December, is networking with like-minded startuppers from around the world. But with thousands of attendees, hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in Startup Alley — and only two programming-packed days to take it all in — how the heck can you zero in on the right connections?

Never fear, we’ve got you covered and then some. Take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free business match-making service that takes the pain out of networking. No more wasting time talking to the wrong people.

Before we explain how CrunchMatch simplifies your Disrupt experience, we must ask a vital question. Did you buy your pass yet? If not, know this: super early bird pricing ends tonight at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Buy your ticket now, and save up to €600.

Where were we? Ah, yes…CrunchMatch can help everyone attending Disrupt Berlin ’19 — founders looking for developers, investors hunting hot prospects, technology service providers eager for new customers, founders looking for marketing help — the list is endless. Here’s how it works.

We’ll email registered attendees when CrunchMatch launches and explain how to access the platform. Then you create a profile listing your specific business criteria, goals and interests. CrunchMatch (powered by Brella) waves its magic algorithm to find and suggests matches. And, subject to your approval, CrunchMatch proposes meeting times and sends out meeting requests.

If you’re wondering whether an automated, albeit curated, networking platform can really make a difference, listen up. In 2018, CrunchMatch facilitated more than 3,000 meetings. And Yoolbox — makers of a portable wireless charger — says the connections it made through CrunchMatch helped to increase its distribution.

Needmore encouragement? More than 95 percent of our CrunchMatch users reported that they’d use the platform again. And here’s what Caleb John, co-founder of Cedar Robotics, said about his experience using CrunchMatch.

“CrunchMatch is a great way to pitch your ideas to investors quickly. Instead of approaching each one individually, just type up your pitch and send it to 50 people. Even if only 10 percent get back to you, you still have five investors. It’s one of Disrupt’ best benefits.”

You have only two action-filled days at Disrupt Berlin 2019. Make the most of your time, save your shoe leather and tap into more opportunity with CrunchMatch. And don’t forget: the super early bird price disappears tonight at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Go buy your pass and save!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Categories: Business News

Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski to speak at Disrupt Berlin shortly after raising $460 million

2019, October 11 - 5:00pm

Klarna is quietly becoming a fintech giant. Following its latest founding round, the company is now valued at $5.5 billion. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Klarna co-founder and CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

If you live in Europe and regularly purchase stuff online, chances are you’ve used Klarna already. The company offers a simple way to pay for e-commerce purchases over multiple installments.

And it’s been massively successful in Europe. You could think as Klarna as a sort of credit card-alternative payment method. Even if you don’t have a credit card, you can choose to purchase something right now, pay after 30 days or pay over 3 or 4 installments without any interest.

This way, expensive payments become slightly easier for customers. And if there’s a problem with your purchase, Klarna ensures that you don’t have to pay or get your money back — your money never left your bank account in the first place.

Just like using a PayPal account, if you pay on another site that uses Klarna, you don’t have to enter your payment information again. Merchants that leverage Klarna gets paid instantly after a purchase, even if clients choose to pay later.

Klarna is also building a marketplace of stores. You can download the mobile app and search for products across multiple stores. This could become a great alternative to e-commerce giants like Amazon.

Up next, Klarna wants to grow its presence in the U.S. While it already has millions of customers and thousands of merchants, the company thinks there’s still a ton of potential in the U.S.

If you want to know how a Swedish startup plans to disrupt the credit card industry in the U.S., buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion — and many others. The conference will take place December 11-12.

In addition to panels and fireside chats, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.

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In 2005, Sebastian Siemiatkowski co-founded Klarna in order to provide safe and smooth online payments. He currently serves as its Chief Executive Officer. Over the past decade, he has overseen the company’s rapid growth across Europe and more recently into North America. Klarna is a now fully licensed bank with 60mn consumer and 170,000 merchant user base.

Sebastian has received multiple awards for his leadership, including runner up in the 2015 global EY Entrepreneur of the Year award, Leader of the Year by Adecco, and European Entrepreneur of the Year Award by TechTour. He holds a master’s degree from the Stockholm School of Economics.

Categories: Business News

Autonomous trucking startup Einride eyes US market with $25 million in new funding

2019, October 11 - 6:08am

Einride, the Swedish autonomous vehicle startup known for its futuristic pods designed to haul freight, has raised $25 million in a Series A round that will be used to fund its expansion into the United States.

The round was co-led by EQT Ventures and NordicNinja VC, a fund backed by Panasonic, Honda, Omron and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Other investors joining the round include Ericsson Ventures, Norrsken Foundation, Plum Alley Investments and Plug and Play Ventures. The startup has raised $32 million to date.

Einride’s self-driving vehicle isn’t quite a truck, although it’s meant to perform the same freight-hauling tasks. The company’s T-Pod electric vehicle, which was unveiled in 2017, has been running on public roads since May of this year.

Einride, which was founded in 2016, has landed several customer contracts, including logistics provider DB Schenker and supermarket chain Lidl. Einride has a commercial pilot with DB Schenker. The startup said it has also signed on “large U.S.-based retail companies,” without naming them.

The funds will be used to hire more people, invest in its software platform and expand internationally, notably the U.S., according to the company. Einride plans to open a U.S. office next year.

“Our ambition is to disrupt the transport industry and closing our series A brings us one step closer to that goal,” Einride co-founder and CEO Robert Falck. “The funding will allow us to start expanding in the U.S., deliver on our technology road map and to meet rapidly increasing customer demand.”

Categories: Business News

Top VCs, founders share how to build a successful SaaS company

2019, October 11 - 5:11am

Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, we hosted a panel on the Extra Crunch stage on “How to build a billion-dollar SaaS company.” A better title probably would have been “How to build a successful SaaS company.”

We spoke to Whitney Bouck, COO at HelloSign; Jyoti Bansal, CEO and founder at Harness, and Neeraj Agrawal, a partner at Battery Ventures to get their view on how to move through the various stages to build that successful SaaS company.

While there is no magic formula, we covered a lot of ground, including finding a product-market fit, generating early revenue, the importance of building a team, what to do when growth slows and finally, how to resolve the tension between growth and profitability.

Finding product-market fit

Neeraj Agrawal: When we’re talking to the market, what we’re really looking for is a repeatable pattern of use cases. So when we’re talking to prospects — the words they use, the pain point they use — are very similar from call to call to call? Once we see that pattern, we know we have product-market fit, and then we can replicate that.

Jyoti Bansal: Revenue is one measure of product-market fit. Are customers adopting it and getting value out of it and renewing? Until you start getting a first set of renewals and a first set of expansions and happy successful customers, you don’t really have product-market fit. So that’s the only way you can know if the product is really working or not.

Whitney Bouck: It isn’t just about revenue — the measures of success at all phases have to somewhat morph. You’ve got to be looking at usage, at adoption, value renewals, expansion, and of course, the corollary, churn, to give you good health indicators about how you’re doing with product-market fit.

Generating early revenue

Jyoti Bansal: As founders we’ve realized, getting from idea to early revenue is one of the hardest things to do. The first million in revenue is all about street fighting. Founders have to go out there and win business and do whatever it takes to get to revenue.

As your revenue grows, what you focus on as a company changes. Zero to $1 million, your goal is to find the product-market fit, do whatever it takes to get early customers. One million to $10 million, you start scaling it. Ten million to $75 million is all about sales, execution, and [at] $75 million plus, the story changes to how do you go into new markets and things like that.

Whitney Bouck: You really do have to get that poll from the market to be able to really start the momentum and growth. The freemium model is one of the ways that we start to engage people — getting visibility into the product, getting exposure to the product, really getting people thinking about, and frankly, spreading the word about how this product can provide value.

Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

 

Categories: Business News

To beat Amazon Go, Standard Cognition buys cashierless DeepMagic

2019, October 11 - 3:48am

Valued at $535 million, autonomous retail startup Standard Cognition has emerged as a soon-to-be tech giant and the best hope for merchants to compete with Amazon Go. Cashierless checkout is poised to transform brick-and-mortar commerce, and shop owners fear having to battle Amazon’s technology alone or partner with it, exposing data it could use against them.

The $86 million-funded Standard Cognition is racing to equip storefronts with an independent alternative using cameras to track what customers grab and charge them. But Amazon’s early start in the space poses a risk that it could patent troll the startup. So today, Standard Cognition announced it has acquired DeepMagic, a pioneer in autonomous retail kiosks.

“We’re not an aggressive company by any mean. My personal stance on patents is that maybe they’re not the way the world should work” says Standard Cognition CEO Jordan Fisher. “But given the larger player in the space, I think it’s the right thing to do so we have coverage and can protect ourselves.”

DeepMagic let customers swipe a payment card when entering a smaller kiosk or store, pick up items that are detected by cameras, and simply walk out while having their card charged. The idea is that businesses could operate satellite micro-storefronts in malls, apartment buildings and more without staff. DeepMagic was easier to deploy since the kiosks were built from the ground up to eliminate annoying checkout lines.

Standard Cognition CEO and co-founder Jordan Fisher

Standard Cognition meanwhile focuses on retrofitting full-sized grocers and other stores like one in minor league baseball team the Worcester Red Sox’s upcoming stadium and others it hasn’t announced. It currently has one experimental shop of its own in San Francisco. Roll outs with partners are more challenging because the startup doesn’t design the building form factor or inventory but is addressing a much bigger market of existing storefronts. It claims it can grow profit margins for shops by up to 100%.

Standard Cognition sees the smaller footprint spots outfitted by DeepMagic as a crucial piece of the autonomous retail landscape. So it’s acquiring DeepMagic’s technology, and bringing co-founder and CEO Bernd Schoner on as a consultant. Standard Cognition won’t pick up DeepMagic’s X staffers or pilot contracts, but it’s considering how to integrate the technology as ramped up its own deployments. “We were both tackling this problem with a strong focus on the power of computer vision, so it made sense to align ourselves with Standard.” Schoner tells TechCrunch. “We think Standard is in the best position to win this race.”

DeepMagic was mostly founder-funded, but the 5-employee company had raised $150,000 from angel investors since starting in New York in 2017. Yet Standard Cognition, which was founded a few months later, raised a $35 million Series B in July from EQT Ventures and Initialized. It has become a center of gravity in cashierless tech, having pulled in half the total $118 million invested in the space in 2018. Now it’s consolidating the space with the DeepMagic buy and its acquisition of retail mapping startup Explorer.ai in January.

The purpose of the buying spree is getting to market first. “Every day, the thing is speed. I think this is going to be a very fast market. Every day counts. One of my biggest jobs is to keep everybody as motivated today as they will be in 5 years” says Fisher. “6 months today will translate to 20% market share in 5 years. That’s crazy and it’s a huge motivating factor. Moving fast enough that we can get the lion share of the market is what keeps me up at night.”

The company also has to outpace fellow startups like direct competitor Zippin, Trigo, and Grabango. Along the way, Standard Cognition been focused on developing unbiased anti-theft technology that doesn’t care what a person looks like, just what items disappear from shelves. Fisher says it’s also looking into how it can make sure it doesn’t unabashedly grow unemployment. “We’re creating more jobs than we’re displacing right now” Fisher claims, saying it needs people for data labeling to train its artificial intelligence.

Standard Cognition’s co-founder and CEO hopes Amazon will find it just as challenging if it tries to move from running its own 18 or so Go stores to equipping other businesses. The startup also hopes to capitalize on fears about how Amazon might use partners’ data the way it does in ecommerce. “I don’t think that’s minor at all. Do they get the insights? Can they leverage that to have a better offering on Amazon.com and in their brick-and-mortar stores?” Fisher asks. “Our product offering has none of those strings attached. There’s no ulterior motives.”

Categories: Business News

Lab-grown meat could be on store shelves by 2022, thanks to Future Meat Technologies

2019, October 11 - 3:18am

Are consumers ready for meat grown in a lab?

Companies like Memphis Meats, Aleph Farms, Higher Steaks, Mosa Meat and Meatable are all trying to bring to supermarkets around the world meat made from cultivated animal cells, but the problem has always been the cost. 

Now, Future Meat Technologies has raised $14 million in new financing to build its first pilot manufacturing facilities to bring the cost of production of a cell-made steak down to $10 per pound — or $4 if the meat is combined with plant-based meat substitutes.

The $10 price tag is a whole lot lower than the $50 target that experts from the Good Food Institute were talking about back in April of this year — and represents a significant cost reduction that makes lab-grown meat a potentially commercially viable option much sooner than anyone expected.

“With this investment, we’re thrilled to bring cultured meat from the lab to the factory floor and begin working with our industrial partners to bring our product to market,” said Rom Kshuk, the chief executive officer of Future Meat Technologies, in a statement. “We’re not only developing a global network of investors and advisors with expertise across the meat and ingredient supply chains, but also providing the company with sufficient runway to achieve commercially viable production costs within the next two years.”

Unlike its other competitors, Future Meat Technologies doesn’t have any interest in selling its products directly to consumers. Rather, the company wants to be the supplier of the hardware and cell lines that anyone would need to become a manufacturer of lab-grown meat.

In a way, it’s not much different to the approach that Tyson Foods — an investor in Future Meat through its venture capital arm — has taken with farmers. Tyson contracts with poultry farmers to raise the chickens that the company slaughters and processes, and provides them with the means to raise the chickens for slaughter.

Future Meat production tanks for meat and fat

The secret to Future Meat’s success is its use of undifferentiated fibroblast cells that can be triggered with small molecules to turn into either fat cells or muscle cells. Once the fat and muscle starts growing, they’re placed in a culture with a specific resin that removes waste materials that have been an impediment to growth at large scales, according to chief science officer and founder Yaakov Nahmias.

While Future Meat doesn’t rely on fetal bovine serum to grow its meat products, it does use small molecules derived from CHO cells (Chinese hamster ovaries), which are used in new medical research and drug manufacturing.

“We have a specific resin to remove the toxins from the media and that allows the cells to continue to grow,” says Nahmias. “It is essentially a new bioreactor design… you can increase the yield to 80%.. For every liter of medium you don’t get 100 grams of biomass you can get 800 grams of biomass… [and] you don’t talk about mega $100 million factories.” 

Nahmias says using a refrigerator-sized bioreactor, a manufacturer could get about half a ton of meat and fat in about 14 days. In about one month, growers can make an amount of meat equivalent of two cows’ worth of meat (a cow takes about 12 to 18 months to raise for slaughter).

The former Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor first began thinking about the lab-grown meat business while on sabbatical. “It was at a Peet’s Coffee right next to the Charles River in Cambridge,” Nahmias recalled. “Somebody asked me what I thought about cultured meat… They asked me what I thought about it and I told them it was the stupidest idea I had ever heard in my entire life.”

Growing cells is expensive, Nahmias said at the time, and the fact that the organisms basically grow in their own excrement means that they can’t reproduce effectively to reach any kind of large scale. That’s when Nahmias had his “Eureka” moment. “You need cells that grow without any growth factor at all,” says Nahmias. “The only cells that can do that are the least differentiated cells, which are fibroblasts.”

With the new financing from investors — including S2G Ventures, a Chicago-based venture firm (and an early investor in Beyond Meat); Emerald Technology Ventures, a Swiss investment firm; Tyson Ventures (one of the most active strategic investors); and Bits x Bites (a Chinese investor in food and agriculture startups) — Future Meat can now test its business model and manufacturing capabilities at scale.

Future Meat leadership, Dr. Moria Shimoni, EVP of R&D; Yaakov Nahmias, CTO and founder; and Rom Kshuk, CEO

“You’re either growing fat or you’re growing muscle of a specific species,” says Nahmias. “Imagine a large truck going to that facility. [It’s] replacing the meat packing plant. From there the biomass goes through a process like extrusion. You can have thousands of these mass producing units. [It’s] going to a central facility where the meat comes out at the end. What we are doing is looking for parity and cost.”

For Nahmias, the fat’s the thing that brings the flavor for everything. “The fat gives you the aroma and the distinct flavor of meat,” says Nahmias. “This is the missing ingredient in Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat .”

Nahmias envisions products that are made using a combination of Future Meat’s lab-grown products and plant proteins that can approximate the full flavors of beef, chicken or lamb (all meats that the company says it is working with).

All Nahmias wants is for Future Meat to get to market; the founder doesn’t care whether that’s under Tyson’s brand or anyone else’s. “I want to be the largest company you’ve never heard of,” says Nahmias. “I want to make a product that is more sustainable and more cost-efficient, and is better for everybody.”

Like all of the other companies pursuing alternatives to animal husbandry, Future Meat, which was only founded last year, has a mission to reduce the environmental impact of meat eating. The company argues that its manufacturing model will reduce land use by 99% and emit 80% less greenhouse gas than traditional meat production.

“This continues our investment in Future Meat Technologies, which is focused on disruptive technologies related to our core business,” said Amy Tu, president of Tyson Ventures, in a statement. “We are broadening our exposure to alternative ways of producing protein to feed a growing world population.”

Ultimately the goal is getting to cost parity with regular beef. The company thinks a hybrid product could be $3 to $4, while the 100% biomass product would be roughly $10.

“We’re taking a yes and ‘Yes and’ as opposed to an either-or approach to the space,” says Matthew Walker, a managing director at S2G Ventures. “You will have animal-based meat, plant-based meat and you will have hybrid products. It’s more about the supply chain and the technological products that would bring this product to market. We think there’s room in the market for somebody to play that role.”

Nahmias and Kshuk think that’s the role Future Meat Technologies was born to play.

Categories: Business News

Nexkey raises $6M Series A round to make your company’s doors smarter

2019, October 11 - 1:42am

Nexkey, a company that provides a mobile access control solution for commercial buildings and workspaces, today announced that it has raised a $6 million Series A round led by Upfront Ventures. K9 Ventures, Mark IV Capital and Anand Chandrasekaran, the former Head of Platform for Messenger at Facebook, also participated in the round. Upfront also led Nexkey’s $4.8 million seed round.

The company can turn your smartphone into your door key and replaces the badge you probably use at work to get in and out of buildings. Nexkey offers an end-to-end solution that includes the app, as well as hardware controllers and lock cylinders for your doors that can replace  There is also an API to allow its solutions to connect to other applications and devices inside a workspace.

In many ways, Nexkey is similar to Openpath, which raised $7 million in a seed round that was also led by Upfront Ventures.

“We launched our platform into the market a little over 9 months ago and brought over 8,500 active users on the platform the first 6 months after launch,” Nexkey CEO Eric Trabold told me. “We wanted to continue this great momentum and therefore felt that the time is right to raise more capital to enable us to do so.”

Trabold says the company will use the new funding to expand its overall sales efforts from its current focus on California to the rest of the United States. He noted that the company wanted to better understand its users’ needs before expanding to other geographies.

The company also realized that it sat on a lot of data that was valuable to its customers. “We currently expose this via an audit trail right in our App and are going to build out other, more visual ways to expose this data to our customers,” Trabold said. “We’re going to have advanced reports that can be accessed or downloaded through our Web Portal. Those will help our customers to optimize how they operate their spaces, which means that they can now properly staff during peak times, analyze overall space utilization or look for anomalies that can trigger security events.”

The new funding, the company says, will also allow it to apply more resources to help it provide more value to its users based on this data.

Among the other things it learned from its early customers is that many of its users don’t always want to have their doors locked at all times and instead often want to keep them open for anybody during business hours. The company’s users that run co-working spaces and gyms also asked the company for an easier onboarding process and the ability to apply access rules to different user types, something it is currently beta testing in its iOS app.

Categories: Business News

Getting more people to open your emails

2019, October 11 - 1:33am
Julian Shapiro Contributor Share on Twitter Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, the growth marketing team that trains startups in advanced growth, helps you hire senior growth marketers, and finds you vetted growth agencies. He also writes at Julian.com. More posts by this contributor

We’ve aggregated the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this Growth Report.

This is how you’re going stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice you can’t get elsewhere.

Our community consists of 600 startup founders paired with VP’s of growth from later-stage companies. We have 300 YC founders plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo, and Ritual.

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve’s marketing webinars, Slack group, or marketing training program. See past growth reports here, here, here and here.

Without further ado, onto the advice.

Improving engagement for drip emails

Based on insights from Matt Sornson of Clearbit. Lightly edited with permission.

Personalizing your marketing emails increases conversion. But doing so at scale takes a lot of effort. Here’s how to get around that:

  • Run lead generation ads to your blog posts and to other long-form content on your site. Then tag users based on the posts they’ve read. Plus, prompt them to fill out useful quizzes. Store their quiz answers.
  • Push their engagement data into an automated emailing platform like Customer.io. And enrich their contact details with Clearbit to discover their job title and the industry they work in.
  • Now you can send automated yet personalized drip emails based on a person’s role, company, and interests. This results in higher conversion rates. Show recipients you know who they are and what they care about, and you’ll seem a whole lot less like spam.
Improving cold email response rates

Categories: Business News

Coinbase is launching Coinbase Pro mobile app

2019, October 11 - 1:00am

Cryptocurrency exchange company Coinbase is launching a mobile app for its advanced users today. You can now download the Coinbase Pro mobile app on iOS — the Android version is coming soon.

Coinbase Pro is the company’s exchange that lets you set up advanced order types, such as limit orders. Those are fairly standard features for a cryptocurrency exchange. But Coinbase set up a separate “pro” platform so that the main Coinbase.com exchange remains as simple and straightforward as possible.

And now, you can also use Coinbase Pro on your phone. I’ve been playing around with the app, and it features everything you’d expect. On the first tab, you can see a list of trading pairs.

If you tap on a pair, you can see real-time candles, the order book, your active orders as well as trade history for this specific pair. You can also set up an order to buy and sell cryptocurrencies from each trading pair page.

On the second tab, you can see your portfolio of crypto assets and its value in fiat currencies. You can deposit or withdraw cryptocurrencies from the mobile app. Unfortunately, if you want to deposit or withdraw fiat currencies (USD, EUR, GBP, etc.), the app tells you to head over to the website.

Finally, you can see your past and active orders, check your fees and limits.

Coinbase increased some of its trading fees on Coinbase Pro for low-volume accounts just last week. It is now more expensive to trade on Coinbase Pro if you trade less than the equivalent of $50,000 over 30 days. And if you trade less than $10,000 over 30 days, it now costs 0.50% in maker and taker fees.

Kraken charges 0.26% in taker fees if you trade less $50,000 in the past 30 days. Binance charges 0.1% in trading fees. With those new trading fees, it feels like Coinbase is indeed targeting pro users with Coinbase Pro.

Disclosure: I own small amounts of various cryptocurrencies.

Categories: Business News

Tiger Global values people management tool Lattice at ~$200M

2019, October 11 - 12:00am

The secretive New York-based hedge fund Tiger Global Management has led a $25 million Series C investment in Lattice, an employee performance and engagement management tool, with participation from the startup’s existing investors.

The round, which values Lattice in the ballpark of $200 million, says co-founder and chief executive officer Jack Altman, comes just six months after the business closed a $15 million Series B led by Shasta Ventures. The HR tool, founded in 2015 by Altman and Eric Koslow, is also backed by Thrive Capital, the Slack Fund, Khosla Ventures and Y Combinator.

Lattice, like many startups closing venture capital deals today, was not actively fundraising when approached by John Curtius of Tiger Global, a firm that invested in the likes of Spotify, Glassdoor and Flipkart. Rather than reject the sizable capital infusion that, according to Altman, included favorable terms, Lattice closed the deal and plans to invest additional cash in its sales and marketing efforts, among other opportunities.

“Tiger was excited by the vision to keep [expanding] this platform — to extend to the rest of people management,” Altman tells TechCrunch.

Lattice, which has raised a total of $49.2 million in venture capital funding to date, doubled its headcount this year as well as its paying user count, which has swelled to 160,000. The SaaS business has developed performance management software that allows employees to reflect on their performance and receive feedback from managers and peers. The tool also empowers employees and their managers to structure agendas for one-on-one sessions, send praise to other employees and draft goals and OKRs.

“In order to compete for talent today, you do need to build the type of company where people want to work — it’s not just a money thing,” said Altman.

Last fall, the San Francisco-based startup introduced Lattice Engagement, giving human resources teams a better idea of employees’ level of connection to their company. Last month, the company launched Lattice Pulse, which, in combination with Lattice Engagement and Lattice Performance, delivers real-time insight into employees and company culture.

“You can get away with not doing these things, but it doesn’t optimize this critical thing, which is how your people are,” explains Altman. “If you don’t pay attention to how your people are performing or how they are feeling, it would be like not listening to your customers. Your employees are like your internal customers. If you don’t care how they’re doing or how they’re feeling, you’re leaving unbelievably important information on the table.”

Lattice operates a SaaS business model, charging roughly $100 per user per year. The company sells primarily to small and medium-sized businesses, including Glossier and Asana and some 1,400 others. This year, Lattice struck a deal with Slack, one of its largest customers yet. Over time, the company plans to sell to larger enterprises.

“My hope is we can just keep on adding products and functionality to what we offer,” Altman said. “We have so many more ideas than we have people to build them.”

Categories: Business News

Parsley Health nabs $26 million Series B to launch telemedicine products

2019, October 10 - 11:39pm

Parsley Health, the NY-based service that focuses on the source of a medical issue rather than the symptoms, has today announced the close of a $26 million Series B round of funding led by White Star Capital, with participation from FirstMark Capital, Amplo, Alpha Edison, Arkitekt Ventures and Galaxy Digital. Flatiron Health founder Nat Turner and One Medical founder Tom Lee also participated in the round.

Parsley was founded in 2016 by Dr. Robin Berzin, who saw that the average American spends around 19 minutes/year with a physician. These visits are usually focused on symptoms, and resolving them, rather than understanding the core reasons why someone is struggling. After all, the CDC says that 70% of diseases in our country are chronic and lifestyle-driven.

Parsley Health offers a membership service that allows users to work with doctors to find the root of their issues and create lifestyle changes to resolve them.

The sign-up process includes a long survey that helps capture all kinds of information about the patient, from family health history to past procedures and lifestyle. The patient then schedules their first visit with a physician, which is meant to last 75 minutes to get the full scope of that patient’s health.

From there, users can see into their medical data and doctor’s notes through a web portal. They’re also given a health plan, which includes nutritional advice and access to their own health coach, and may be referred to a specialist, if needed.

One year of membership includes five annual visits with doctors (approximately four hours of doctor-patient time), along with five sessions with their health coach, who help patients stay on their plan with advice on how to get more sleep, eat better or get more physical exercise.

On the heels of the new funding, Parsley Health is launching a new telemedicine product, which is meant to give people across the country the same access to Parsley’s service as those who visit their brick-and-mortar locations. This includes diagnostic testing, personalized medical care from doctors who practice functional medicine, health coaching and 365-days-a-year access to their care team.

The first diagnostics product is called Comprehensive Hormone Care and is meant to help women dealing with PCOS, PMG, fatigue, weight gain, insomnia and anxiety to learn the root issue and create a care plan. This product will offer the option to get a one-time analysis with a health plan or to join as a full Parsley Health member and get coaching, re-testing and progress tracking.

To start, the telemedicine products will only be available in New York and California, but the company has plans to expand this product to all 50 states in the next six months.

Categories: Business News

India’s Vahdam Teas raises $11M to grow its tea-commerce business in the US and Europe

2019, October 10 - 10:28pm

Vahdam Teas, an India-based e-commerce startup that sells fresh tea in international markets, has closed a new financing round as it looks to expand its presence in the U.S. and Europe.

The three-year-old startup said it has raised $11 million in its Series C financing round. The round, which according to a person familiar with the matter valued the startup at about $40 million, was led by Sixth Sense Ventures. Existing investor Fireside Ventures, which has put money in a number of consumer-facing brands, also participated in the round.

Mankind Group Family office, Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, SAR Group Family office, Zomato co-founder Pankaj Chaddah and Urmin Group family office also participated in the new financing round. The startup, headquartered in New Delhi and New York, has raised about $16 million to date.

The startup was founded by 28-year-old Bala Sarda, who comes from a tea industry family. Vahdam Teas operates an eponymous e-commerce platform, and also works with giants such as Amazon, to sell tea directly to consumers in the U.S., Europe and other international markets.

Vahdam Teas cuts the middlemen suppliers to reduce the time it takes to ship tea to consumers. “If you look at the supply chain for exporting from India, it’s completely broken. The goods go through distributors, then get sold to exporters. Somewhere in the middle, brokers show up, too. Then an importer imports the tea. It all takes months to get a supply cycle to reach consumers. Unlike wine or whiskey, tea is best when it is fresh. Its ingredients lose flavor with time,” he explained.

To address this, Vahdam Teas built a supply chain network to source tea directly from hundreds of gardens in India. It stores all the goods in its warehouses in New Delhi and then exports directly to its entities in different markets. The faster delivery of tea and better control of the supply chain is one of the key differentiating factors for Vahdam Teas.

Today about 99% of its sales comes from outside of India, said Sarda, who noted that with the new capital the startup would explore expanding its business in India, too.

But much of the fresh capital would be invested in bulking up its supply chain network and setting up additional offices in the U.S. and Europe, he said in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this week. The startup also plans to launch new products and enter new markets in South Asia and UAE.

Vahdam Teas also wants to have a presence in the offline (brick and mortar) market, and bring its tea to 500-700 stores in the U.S. in the coming months. “We have aspirations to become an omni-channel brand,” he said.

India controls about 25% of tea production worldwide. But Indian brands almost have a “negligible presence” on the world map, said Nikhil Vora, founder and chief executive of Sixth Sense Ventures. “Vahdam is an interesting example of how a traditional business like tea can get disrupted. We’re impressed with the way Bala has sought to target the global markets first and create a brand salience and market innovative ethnic Indian tea flavors,” he added.

Tea is one of the biggest industries for laborers in India. Sarda said the startup donates 1% of its revenue to help these workers educate their children.

Categories: Business News

Grammarly raises $90M at over $1B+ valuation for its AI-based grammar and writing tools

2019, October 10 - 10:00pm

While attention continues to be focused on the rise and growing sophistication of voice-based interfaces, a startup that is using artificial intelligence to improve how we communicate through the written word has raised a round of funding to capitalise on its already profitable growth. Grammarly — which provides a toolkit used today by 20 million people to correct their written grammar, suggest better ways to write things and moderate the tone of what they are saying depending on who will be doing the reading — has closed a $90 million round of funding.

Brad Hoover, the company’s CEO, confirmed to TechCrunch that the funding catapults the company’s valuation to more than $1 billion as it gears up to grow to more users by expanding Grammarly’s tools and bringing them to more platforms. Today, Grammarly can be used across a number of browsers via browser extensions, as a web app, through mobile and on desktop apps, and through specific apps such as Microsoft Office. But the area where we communicate via the written word is expanding all the time — consider, for example, how much we use chat and texting apps for leisure and for work — so expect that list to continue growing.

“The mountain of digital communication is increasing, and in the workplace we have more distributed teams,” he said, “pointing to the importance of people presenting themselves in consistent and compelling ways.”

This latest round is being led by General Catalyst, which had also helped lead its previous and only other round, for $110 million in 2017, with participation from previous investor IVP and other, unnamed backers. It brings the total raised by the startup to $200 million.

Grammarly today operates on a freemium model, where paid tiers give users more tools beyond grammar checks and conciseness to include things like “readability” detection, alternative vocabulary and tone suggestions (not to be confused with tone policing) and plagiarism checks, with tiers that are priced at $11.66, $19.98 and $29.95 per month. Hoover would not say how many of its users are taking paid tiers or how much the company makes from that, but he did confirm that, like others offering freemium, the majority of users are free ones.

(And like other free users, they are subject to cookies and the rest, but the company confirms to me that it doesn’t make any money from that, and only from its subscriptions revenues.

“We don’t sell or rent user data to third parties for any reason, including for them to deliver their ads. Period. Our business model is a freemium model, in which we offer a free version of our product as well as Grammarly Premium and Grammarly Business, which are paid upgrades,” a spokesperson said. “The only way Grammarly makes money is through its subscriptions.”

It notes that the lengthy privacy policy is going to be updated to make it shorter, but acknowledges the length can be off-putting.

“It is a fair critique to say that our privacy policy is longer and wordier than it needs to be. In an effort to comply with various disclosure requirements imposed by laws around the world, we have erred on the side of completeness and detail, sacrificing brevity in the process,” a spokesperson said. “Indeed, the sheer length of our privacy policy may be a barrier to users reading all the way through the document. The explicit statements we make about not selling or renting personal data and not sharing it for the purposes of advertising are contained toward the end.”

It’s worth noting that the company has been profitable almost from the start, when it was founded as a bootstrapped outfit in 2009 by Alex Shevchenko and Max Lytvyn, who continue to respectively work on product and revenue at the company (Hoover is the startup’s longtime CEO, having joined back in 2011).

Its singularity of focus and simple message — it’s only available in English and only for written communications, with no plans to expand currently into other languages or other mediums like audio — has partly been the reason why Grammarly has found interesting traction in the market, but it’s also a consequence of the endeavor itself. The company brings together not just a vast trove of data about proper grammar, but using AI techniques around machine learning and natural language processing it is constantly synthesizing new words and phrases and styles to improve the help that it provides to users, to solve what is essentially an everyday problem for many people: writing well.

“Grammarly is solving real challenges that people face every time they pick up a device to answer a text, answer a work email or cold email a potential client,” said Hemant Taneja, who led the investment for General Catalyst, in an interview.

“While there are large companies attempting to innovate in this space, creating intuitive AI that complements our natural communication abilities isn’t their primary focus. It’s not even their third, fourth or twentieth focus. For Grammarly, helping people communicate more effectively is their sole goal. And that’s why, despite any competition, they’ve got more than 20 million daily active users.” That 20 million figure is more than three times the number of users Grammarly had in 2017.

Nevertheless, a number of would-be competitors have emerged to provide similar tools or those that directly compete with slightly different propositions. Google, for example, today gives you prompts of what to say when responding to an email, in the form of stock sentences or cues while you are writing. Hoover says these are less of a worry to Grammarly for a couple of reasons. The first is its approach to be available around whatever you might be writing, and the second is it’s platform-agnostic state, which means it’s potentially wherever you are writing, too.

“We haven’t seen any impact from the rise of platform-based aids,” Hoover said.

Looking ahead, he added that while Grammarly will be making its way to more platforms, the company will be creating more tools specifically to better court enterprise customers and the use cases that are more specific to them.

While that will not (yet) extend to verbal communication or other languages beyond English, there will be more tools built on the concept of “style guides” for people in specific departments, such as customer service, to remain consistent in their language and how they speak for the company to the outside world.

“One of the reasons enterprises use Grammarly is to increase effectiveness both internally and externally,” Hoover said. “This isn’t a tool to write on behalf of users but to be used as a coach.” This is also where the tone tool fits into the spectrum, he added.

“We surveyed our users and the results suggested that a majority were concerned about the appropriate tone that they used in written communication,” he said. “That’s not surprising because unlike spoken or in-person communications, you can’t use non-verbal tones to get an idea across, so you can be misinterpreted.”

Categories: Business News

Clari snags $60M Series D on valuation of around $500M

2019, October 10 - 9:00pm

Clari uses AI to help companies find key information like the customers most likely to convert, the state of orders in the sales process or the next big sources of revenue. As its revenue management system continues to flourish, the company announced a $60 million Series D investment today.

Sapphire Ventures led the round with help from newcomer Madrona Venture Group and existing investors Sequoia Capital, Bain Capital Ventures and Tenaya Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $135 million, according to the company.

The valuation, which CEO and co-founder Andy Byrne pegged at around a half a billion, appears to be a hefty raise from what the company was likely valued at in 2018 after its $35 million Series C. As TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden wrote at the time:

For some context, Clari, according to Pitchbook, had a relatively modest post-money valuation of $83.5 million in its last round in 2014, so my guess is that it’s now comfortably into hundred-million territory, once you add in this latest $35 million.

Byrne says the company wasn’t even really looking for a new round, but when investors came knocking, he couldn’t refuse. “On the fundraise side, what’s really interesting is how this whole thing went down. We weren’t out looking, but we had a massive amount of interest from a lot of firms. We decided to engage, and we got it done in less than three weeks, which the board was kind of blown away by,” Byrne told TechCrunch.

What’s motivating these companies to invest is that Clari is helping to define this revenue operations category, and has attracted companies like Okta, Zoom and Qualtrics as customers. What they are providing is this AI-fueled way to see where the best sales opportunities are to drive revenue, and that’s what every company is looking for. At the same time, Byrne says that he’s moving companies away from a spreadsheet-driven record keeping system, enabling them to see all of the data in one place.

“Clari is allowing a rep to really understand where they should spend time, automating a lot of things for them to close deals faster, while giving managers new insights they’ve never had before to allow them to drive more revenue. And then we’re getting them out of ‘Excel hell.’ They’re no longer in these spreadsheets. They’re in Clari, and have more predictability in their forecasting,” he said.

Clari was founded in 2012 and is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif. It has more than 300 customers and just passed the 200 employee mark, a number that should increase as the company uses this money to begin to accelerate growth and expand the product’s capabilities.

Clari platform aims to unify go-to-market operations data

Categories: Business News

Electric moped startup Revel raises $27.6 million as it eyes new markets

2019, October 10 - 7:00pm

In less than two years, Revel has gone from an idea to a shared electric vehicle startup with more than 1,400 mopeds across Washington, D.C., and Brooklyn and Queens, New York. Now, it’s ready to grow up — and beyond these three cities — with a fresh injection of $27.6 million in capital raised in a Series A round led by Ibex Investors.

The equity round included newcomer Toyota AI Ventures and further investments from Blue Collective, Launch Capital and Maniv Mobility.

The capital will, as it often does with startups, allow Revel to scale up. CEO and co-founder Frank Reig said this growth will extend to its fleet of scooters within the cities it currently operates as well as expand into new markets. Reig wouldn’t name where the New York-based startup will launch next, although he provided some hints. Large U.S. cities with the right population density and more temperate weather are at the top of the list.

Revel is targeting about 10 cities by mid-2020, Reig added.

How that growth occurs, and who is behind its operations, is what Reig believes differentiates Revel from other shared electric vehicle providers such as scooter startups that have had a record of deploying in cities before getting approval from local authorities.

Many startups in the shared industry, including Revel, talk up their focus on safety and desire to be responsible partners with cities. Revel’s choice of vehicle — along with a few other decisions — helps it stick to those promises.

“These mopeds are motor vehicles,” Reig noted. “This means there’s no regulatory gray area: you have to have a license plate. To get that license plate you have to register each vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state and show third-party auto liability insurance. And then because it’s a motor vehicle, it’s clear that it rides in the street, so we’re completely off sidewalks.”

Revel caps the speed of its mopeds to 30 miles per hour. The company also provides two helmets — and single-use liners — on every ride and requires users to be licensed drivers aged 21 or older who pass an initial safe driving history check. About one out of every 12 applicants does not make it past this screening, according to Revel.

Any concerns about users bypassing the protective headgear are largely erased because both New York and Washington, D.C. have helmet laws, Reig said.

No gig workers

The company, unlike most on-demand mobility startups, does not have any gig economy workers, either. Revel only has full-time employees, said Reig, adding that it’s a decision he intends to stick with even as his company grows.

“We don’t use gig economy in anything we do and I see a ton of value in that,” Reig said. “We need a well-trained workforce that is really committed and cares about the vehicles, because if not it’s something we’re going to be throwing out every 60 days.”

Revel’s shared mopeds have a three-year asset life, Reig said, based on their in-house estimates. To ensure the mopeds last, which has become a key factor in the unit economics of shared mobility businesses, they remain on the street.

The mopeds are removed by employees for routine maintenance that occurs every four to six months. Otherwise, the mopeds aren’t loaded into vans by gig economy workers who make money by charging them up — a common practice with the small stand-up scooters that have inundated cities like San Diego and San Francisco. Instead, employees swap out the batteries on the mopeds, which have a range of about 50 miles.

20 months and 1,400 scooters

The idea for Revel was born out of Reig’s travels to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he witnessed locals on every form of two-wheeled vehicle.

“A sort of light bulb went off my head, and I asked myself, ‘why is it not a thing in the U.S?,’ ” Reig told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “I came back to New York, started studying the market more and saw all these electric moped operators had been popping up in Europe over the last few years and just realized that if I don’t do it, somebody else will.”

The company started with a small pilot of 68 mopeds in a few neighborhoods within Brooklyn. In May, after a nine-month pilot, Revel pulled the original mopeds it used in its limited pilot and replaced them with 1,000 new models built for two riders and equipped with kickstands for parking. With more mopeds in its fleet, Revel expanded the service to more than 20 neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. In August, Revel launched its service in Washington, D.C., where there are now more than 400 mopeds.

Revel rides cost $1 per person to start, followed by $0.25 per minute to ride and $0.10 per minute while parked. Revel says it will cut the cost by 40% for eligible riders — and give them a $25 credit — through its Revel Access program. Riders who use public assistance programs like SNAP or live in NYCHA housing are eligible for the program.

Categories: Business News

Only two days left to save up to €600 on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019

2019, October 10 - 5:16pm

We’re T-minus 48 hours and counting startup fans. You heard right — only 48 short hours stand between you and substantial savings on all passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019, which takes place 11-12 December.

Super early bird prices start at €345 + VAT and, depending on which pass you choose, you can save up to €600. But only if you beat the deadline, which strikes at 11:59 p.m. (CEST) on Friday, 11 October. Keep more euros in your wallet — buy your Disrupt Berlin passes today.

Disrupt Berlin offers awesome opportunities for startuppers of every persuasion — founders, investors, engineers, marketers — if you love tech startups, you’ll love the two program-packed days at Disrupt. It’s the crossroads of innovation and inspiration, and you just never know when you’ll meet the person who can move your business to the next level.

Here’s just a taste of the great speakers who will share their expertise from our various stages. Want to learn more about the European VC landscape? Don’t miss Tom Hulme, general partner for GV, the VC firm formerly known as Google Ventures.

Then there’s Oscar Pierre, the CEO of Glovo, a major player in the on-demand delivery app space. Talk about rapid growth. The service, which goes beyond ordering restaurant food to include groceries, pharmacy items, is live in 124 cities across 21 countries. Oh, and it employs more than 1,000 people and works with tens of thousands of independent delivery partners.

Creating enterprise software that helps automate repetitive tasks isn’t for the faint of heart, but Daniel Dines, founder and CEO of UiPath (currently valued at $7 billion) didn’t let that stop him. Listen in as he talks about his 15-year journey and, no doubt, a unique perspective on automation.

That’s just a sample of the Disrupt Berlin’s deep bench of expert speakers and, of course, there’s plenty of other startup goodness to experience. Don’t miss the always-epic Startup Battlefield pitch competition, explore and network with hundreds of stellar early-stage startups — including or hand-picked TC Top Picks — exhibiting the latest tech in Startup Alley. Check out the Hackathon to see which code-slinging team wins best overall hack.

It’s all waiting for you at Disrupt Berlin 2019, and it all starts with getting the best price possible. You have just 48 hours until the super early bird expires on Friday, 11 October at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Don’t wait another minute. Go buy your pass right now, and we’ll see you in Berlin!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Categories: Business News

New Vector scores $8.5M to plug more users into its open, decentralized messaging Matrix

2019, October 10 - 5:00pm

New Vector, a European startup founded in 2017 by the creators of an open, decentralized communications standard called Matrix to drive adoption and grow an ecosystem around an alternative messaging protocol for instant messaging and VoIP apps, has raised an $8.5 million Series A funding round.

Investors in New Vector’s Series A round include enterprise tech specialists Notion Capital and Dawn Capital, along with European seed fund Firstminute Capital.

The team has been showing what’s possible when you think outside the proprietary silo of the usual (messaging giant) suspects for several years now — launching a Slack rival called Riot.IM back in 2016, which runs on Matrix — to offer an open, customizable and secure alternative. (Secure because unlike Slack Riot does offer end-to-end encryption. Though not yet everywhere — but expanding e2e encryption is part of the plan for the Series A.)

Users of Riot can also choose to run the app on their own server so they’re in full control of data hosting. And the app includes a bridging feature to integrate with mainstream chat app rivals like Slack . So it’s a ‘cake and eat it’ approach to modern messaging tech: Control plus interoperability and transparency.

“Slack and WhatsApp have shown just how important instant messaging is for workplace productivity but combining this convenience with total sovereignty and security over data is more valuable than ever,” said firstminute capital’s Brent Hoberman, commenting on the funding in a supporting statement.

“Over the last few years it feels like we have gone backwards with communication platforms like Slack and WhatsApp that are walled gardens where users have very understandable concerns over whether their data is secure and how it is being used,” added Notion Capital’s Jos White in another statement. “At last the market has an alternative with the New Vector services that are based off the Matrix protocol offering open standards and delivering complete data ownership and security.”

New Vector’s Series A fast follows $5M it raised last year — when the team took in a strategic investment from an Ethereum-based secure chat and crypto wallet app called Status.

Earlier dev work on the Matrix protocol was funded with support from a large multinational telecoms infrastructure company for whom the founding team had previously built messaging apps. But that funding dried up as of August 2017, which was when they started casting around for alternatives — initially pitching supporters for donations.

Fast forward a couple of years and with growing momentum for their approach — the Matrix network has expanded to more than 11M users and 40,000 deployments this year, growing daily active users 400% since 2018 — they’ve landed a big chunk of VC in the bank.

This isn’t so surprising when you see some of the users they’re able to name check. Such as the US government; the French government (which forked Riot to launch its own messaging app called Tchap earlier this year, and has chosen Matrix to be its official comms platform); Wikimedia; KDE; and RedHat, to name a few. It also says it’s working with the UK’s National Heath Service and with Mozilla.

The plan for the Series A is thus to step on the gas and scale their hosting platform, burnish the product experience and beef up the protocol to be able to support more governments and enterprises seeking digital sovereignty, messaging autonomy and strong encryption to keep their secrets in increasingly volatile geopolitical times.

Just last week officials from the US, UK and Australian governments leaned on Facebook publicly, calling on the company not to expand its use of end-to-end encryption — unless or until it can ensure access to decrypted comms on warranted demand.

WhatsApp’s e2e encryption is highly respected. But it’s also only as strong as Facebook’s implementation of it. Which isn’t exactly reassuring when the company is coming under high level pressure from its own government to backdoor its apps. So there’s both a security and privacy logic to wanting to eschew data centralization — even if it’s robustly encrypted.

Certainly for a certain type of highly security conscious enterprise and public sector user, which is where Matrix is intended to plug in.

If data is centralized it risks becoming a sitting duck for powerful interests to try to get at, as well as generating a wealth of metadata that the controlling commercial entity can absolutely data-mine. So a robust, decentralized messaging standard that doesn’t demand such trade offs will have obvious appeal to those with resources to custom fit and deploy their own apps.

(For the record, Matrix says its e2e encryption is based on the Double Ratchet Algorithm popularised by Signal but which has been extended to support encryption to chat rooms containing thousands of devices. It also says it uses Olm and Megolm cryptographic ratchets, which are specified as an open standard with implementations released under the Apache license, and which have been independently audited by NCC Group.)

New Vector CEO and Matrix co-founder Matthew Hodgson tells us that growth for Matrix is coming primary from the public sector and adjacent industries (which need to be able to communicate securely with government departments); from open source projects; cryptocurrencies; and activists and NGOs.

“The factors which drive decentralisation here are wanting to be able to have full autonomy and control over your conversations with zero dependencies on a megacorp like Facebook, Google or Slack… without wanting to create an isolated island, but participating in a wider global open Matrix network like the Web itself,” he says. “Also, developers wanting (at last!) an open platform to build communication apps on like the Web, rather than being locked into proprietary communication platforms from a big corp.”

Hodgson points out that governments are “highly decentralized” by nature (i.e. between different departments, ministries, citizens etc) — adding that they “really like end-to-end encryption, especially within a wider open network”.

Or, well, at least the bits of governments that aren’t calling for Facebook to backdoor its apps…

“We are the primary choice for an encrypted yet decentralised communication platform which can span multiple government departments — enforcing different security levels on different servers as needed, with zero vendor lock-in thanks to Matrix,” he continues. “It lets you get the entire public sector — be that academic, healthcare, military, citizens and their adjacent organisations (and adjacent countries!) on the same network, without surrendering control to Facebook, Google, Telegram or anyone else.”

“France and the US Department of Public Safety are already live, and several other countries are in the pipeline,” he adds on public sector deployments. “We expect Matrix to become the backbone for secure intra- and inter-governmental communication in the future.”

In France’s case the government has rolled Matrix out across all 16 ministries — to 5.5M users.

Talking of the future, the plan for the Series A is four-fold. Firstly: Invest in improving the user experience in Riot for the app to be, as Hodgson puts it, “properly mainstream” — aka: “a genuine alternative to WhatsApp and Slack for groups who need secure communication which is entirely within their control, rather than run by Facebook or Slack”.

Second, they’ll be turning on end-to-end encryption by default for all private conversations.

“Decentralised e2e encryption is Hard,” he says with emphasis. “But we are tantalisingly close to having the missing ingredients (cross-signed key verification; E2E-capable full text search; E2E-capable bots) finished — which means we can turn it on across the whole public network by default for private rooms. This is a huge deal, especially given the increasingly obvious risks of centralised end-to-end encryption (a la WhatsApp and Signal).”

Thirdly, the funding will go on building out their flagship Matrix hosting platform (Modular.im) and building it into Riot — “so that groups of users can easily hop onto their own self-sovereign servers”. 

“We already have folks like the Wikimedia Foundation, KDE and GNOME using Modular today (and hopefully Mozilla and NHSX in future), and we’ll be using the funding to get as many people on Modular as possible to help scale Matrix going forwards,” he adds. 

Finally they intend to work on combating abuse. As with any comms platform, there can be a dark side to the stuff people want to share. Throw in e2e encryption and decentralization and the question of how you moderate hateful communications could easily get overlooked. But New Vector is at least thinking about this problem.

“Matrix is a fascinating microcosm of the wider open internet, and the 11M addressable users spans the full spectrum of humanity,” says Hodgson. “We have some really interesting work going on here to empower users to filter out content they don’t want to see (rather than using centralised algorithms to do so), which could be applicable to the wider internet.”

“We’re hoping that the Matrix.org Foundation (the non-profit which control the Matrix protocol) will drive this work but it’s something which is very much on New Vector’s radar too,” he adds.

Asked about Matrix’s security and stability, Hodgson says this was the focus with the big 1.0 release in June — when the protocol exited beta.

“We launched a formal Security Disclosure Policy and hall of fame (https://matrix.org/security-disclosure-policy/) and the protocol has a pretty good security record — other than the drama over the launch of Tchap in France,” he says, referring to the security flaw that was found in the app immediately it launched.

“The researcher who found the flaw made an extremely loud noise about it, but in practice it wasn’t a flaw in the Matrix protocol itself — it was specific to the French deployment’s configuration, and was found prior to launch, and we addressed it within a few hours of being reported,” he adds. “Obviously it should have been spotted before being exposed to the internet, but subsequently France set up a successful bug bounty programme (https://yeswehack.com/programs/tchap) as well as a dedicated audit to avoid problems going forwards.

“Meanwhile we got our E2EE successfully audited by NCC Group back in 2016 (it hasn’t changed substantially since), and together with the E2EE-by-default work mentioned before, we’re continuing to focus on security & stability.”

Categories: Business News

GoCardless CEO Hiroki Takeuchi is coming to Disrupt Berlin

2019, October 10 - 5:00pm

GoCardless has been around for 8 years. But the company has experienced tremendous growth over the past couple of years. It now has a shot at becoming a global leader when it comes to payments via direct debit. Its co-founder and CEO Hiroki Takeuchi has become a fintech expert, and that’s why I’m excited to announce that Hiroki Takeuchi will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

GoCardless has a pretty self-explanatory name. While many small and big companies still rely on credit cards and sometimes even (gasp) cheques, GoCardless wants to make it easier to switch to direct debit payments. The company’s API lets you get started and accept recurring payments in no time.

The advantages are obvious. First, card payments were never designed for recurring subscriptions. They expire and lead to churn. If you’re running a subscription business with card payments, you’re basically leaving money on the table.

Second, card payments can be expensive. Stripe charges 2.9% + 30 cents for each transaction in the U.S. for instance. GoCardless costs 1% per transaction.

If you’re a global company, GoCardless has been slowly expanding its footprint with many supported direct debit schemes, such as SEPA in Europe, Bacs direct debit in the U.K., ACH debit in the U.S. and many more.

But GoCardless doesn’t want to stop at consumer subscriptions. The company thinks direct debit payments could represent a big opportunity for B2B use cases. It’s cheaper and provides a lot more visibility than cheques.

While many startups also talk about resilience, Hiroki Takeuchi actually knows what resilience feels like on a personal and professional level. TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear wrote a thoughtful interview with him shortly after a serious road accident that has left him paralyzed below his chest.

A few months ago, the company raised a $75 million Series E round with an impressive list of investors that included Adams Street Partners, GV, Salesforce Ventures, Accel Partners, Balderton Capital, Notion Capital and Passion Capital.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion — and many others. The conference will take place December 11-12.

In addition to panels and fireside chats, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.

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Hiroki is co-founder and CEO of GoCardless. Founded in 2011, GoCardless is a global leader in recurring payments. The business is on a mission to take the pain out of getting paid for recurring revenue businesses. More than 40,000 businesses around the world, from multinational corporations to SMBs, transact through GoCardless each month, and the business processes $10bn of payments a year.

Before starting GoCardless, Hiroki studied Mathematics at Oxford University and worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co.

Categories: Business News

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