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SmileDirectClub’s former CEO is back with a new dental startup called Tend

2019, October 10 - 1:04pm

A growing number of newer dental brands has been attracting money from venture investors who are still kicking themselves for missing runaway hits. Most notable among these breakout companies is newly public SmileDirectClub, which sells teeth-straightening products directly to consumers and is beloved by analysts, even though its shares have slipped since its September IPO.

Among the many teeth-related startups to more recently attract private funding is Swift Health Systems, a five-year-old company that makes invisible braces under the brand INBRACE and just raised $45 million from VCs; Henry the Dentist, a two-year-old, mobile dental clinic that raised $10 million earlier this year; and Quip, a five-year-old maker of electric toothbrushes and oral care products that has garnered roughly $62 million from investors.

Still, a new company called Tend is especially notable, and not because it just raised $36 million in seed and Series A funding — which it did, led by Redpoint Ventures.

First and foremost, Tend sees an opportunity to reinvent the dentist’s office. How? Through tech-heavy dental “studios” that “prioritize” your comfort by featuring sleek waiting areas that it promises you’ll almost never need to use and by offering “Netflix in your chair” that you will enjoy while wearing the latest and greatest Bose headphones. (Tend says it will get your favorite show queued up before you arrive for your appointment, which you will breezily book online, and whose prices you can learn in advance, so you don’t suffer sticker shock later.)

A Fast Company reporter who visited the startup’s newly opened flagship space in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood was even offered a selection of only the finest toothpastes, including that of Marvis, an Italian brand that comes in such distinct flavors as Amarelli licorice, cinnamon, ginger and jasmine — not to mention “classic strong,” “whitening” and “aquatic.”

It all sounds faintly ridiculous, but also fairly nice, especially contrasted with traditional dentist offices, which tend to be both highly antiseptic and astonishingly vague about pricing.

There’s also a kind of precedent for what it’s doing. Specifically, improving on the patient experience has worked out well for One Medical, a venture-backed, tech-driven chain of 70 clinics that has become one of the largest independent groups in the U.S. (It’s also reportedly prepping an IPO.)

Little wonder that one individual participant in Tend’s new funding is Tom Lee, the physician who created One Medical in 2007 and led it as CEO until 2017. Other individual investors include Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa of Warby Parker; Zach Weinberg of Flatiron Health; and Bradley Tusk of Tusk Ventures.

Meanwhile, Tend’s co-founder and CEO is also no slouch, seemingly. Doug Hudson was the CEO of SmileDirectClub for three-and-a-half years, beginning in 2013. Before that, he founded two medical care companies that were acquired: Hearing Planet and Simplex Healthcare.

Whether that pedigree is enough to get the company going will take some time to know, but certainly it’s chasing after a huge market that can very plainly be made better. In the U.S. alone, the dental market is now a $137 billion industry, according to the research group IBIS World, and as Hudson notes in a new Medium post about his latest startup, dentistry has a Net Promoter Score of 1, which is just two points higher than dreaded cable companies.

Consumers “don’t accept this level of service in any other aspect of our lives. Not when shopping for glasses. Not when exercising at home with a stationary bike,” he writes, and it’s true. If Tend can improve the experience even a little bit and its prices are competitive, we’d guess it has a shot.

Categories: Business News

3 days left to save on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019

2019, October 9 - 6:07pm

What does Disrupt Berlin 2019 have in common with the movie “Three Days of the Condor?” Frankly, not much, except that there are only three days of the super early-bird special left before prices go up. The analogy may be a stretch, but the facts are real. Right now, you can save up to €600 depending on the pass you buy.

Remember, the super early-bird is an endangered species. Once the clock strikes 11:59 p.m. (CEST) on Friday, 11 October, the super early-bird pricing goes extinct. And who wants to pay more than necessary? Extinction will cost you, so don’t wait. Buy your passes to Disrupt Berlin today.

Once you secure your pass, you can start thinking about all the ways you want to experience Disrupt Berlin. Join an audience of thousands to watch some of the world’s top early-stage startups go head-to head in the Startup Battlefield. Between 15-20 teams will take the Main Stage to deliver a six-minute product pitch and demo to a panel of expert tech and VC judges.

It’s a fast, furious and epic pitch competition that culminates with one outstanding startup claiming the Disrupt Cup and the $50,000 equity-free prize. And all the participants get to bask in the warm, possibly life-changing spotlight of media and investor attention.

You’ll find even more early-stage startups exhibiting a wide range of technologies in Startup Alley, our expo floor and networking paradise. Among the hundreds of exhibitors, be sure to check out the TC Top Picks. TechCrunch editors hand-picked this cohort to find up to five of the best startups representing these tech categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education.

Have you heard about our Extra Crunch Stage? That’s where you’ll find fireside chats and panel discussions focused on founder and investor success. Plus, it’s the place to go for practical insights and how-to content. We’re talking advice you can take home and put to work in your business — straight from the mouths of the people who’ve done the hard work and earned their success.

So much to do and see at Disrupt Berlin 2019 and just three days of the super early-bird pricing left. The savings go extinct at 11:59 p.m. (CEST) on Friday, 11 October. Buy your passes to Disrupt Berlin, save a bundle, and we’ll see you in December!

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

Tick-tock: Hurry and apply to TC Top Picks @ Disrupt Berlin 2019

2019, October 9 - 4:35pm

Early-stage startup founders know that M&Ms are essential ingredients for startup success. We’re not talking about the melt-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hand confection; we’re talking money and media.

Apply to be a TC Top Pick at Disrupt Berlin 2019 and — if you make the cut — you’ll receive a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package, the VIP treatment and plenty of exposure to both media and investors.

Don’t wait — the application deadline is 18 October at 12 p.m. (PT). Apply to be a TC Top Pick right now.

We’ll get into the details of how to apply in a moment, but here’s an example of why you should apply. Jana Rosenfelder, co-founder of Actijoy, found real value in her Top Pick experience at Disrupt SF 2018.

“Being a TC Top Pick was a door-opener, because the media paid so much attention. It made a big impression with people who visited our booth. Whenever I mentioned we were a Top Pick, it was like a trigger. It gave us more credibility, and everyone listened to us.”

You’re eligible to apply if your early-stage startup falls into one of the following tech categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education.

TC Top Picks is a competitive process, and TechCrunch editors review the applications looking for interesting startups that show solid potential. They’ll choose up to five startups for each category.

All TC Top Pick startups receive a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package, which includes one full day exhibiting in a dedicated space within Startup Alley — the Disrupt expo floor teeming with opportunity. Your package also includes access to the programming on all stages (including the Startup Battlefield competition), three Founder passes, the complete attendee list (via TC Events Mobile App), the list of attending press, use of the Startup Alley Exhibitor Lounge and CrunchMatch — our business networking platform.

Plus, a TechCrunch editor will interview each Top Pick live on our Showcase Stage, and we’ll promote that video across our social media platforms, which can help drive traffic to your site. It’s a marketing gift that keeps on giving.

As if that weren’t enough, you might pull a Legacy. Each exhibiting startup has a shot at being chosen as a Wild Card and competing in the Startup Battlefield. Last year, Legacy earned the Wild Card slot, and then went on to win the Startup Battlefield competition.

Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December, and this is your chance to bask in the attention of investors and global media. Apply to be a TC Top Pick before the clock runs out on 18 October at 12 p.m. (PT).

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

MIT is reviewing its relationship with AI startup SenseTime, one of the Chinese tech firms blacklisted by the U.S.

2019, October 9 - 4:16pm

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology said it is reviewing the university’s relationship with SenseTime, one of eight Chinese tech companies placed on the U.S. Entity List yesterday for their alleged role in human rights abuses against Muslim minority groups in China.

A MIT spokesperson told Bloomberg that “MIT has long had a robust export controls function that pays careful attention to export control regulations and compliance. MIT will review all existing relationships with organizations added to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List, and modify any interactions, as necessary.”

A SenseTime representative told Bloomberg “We are deeply disappointed with this decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce. We will work closely with all relevant authorities to fully understand and resolve the situation.”

The companies placed on the blacklist included several of China’s top AI startups and companies that have supplied software to mass surveillance systems that may have been used by the Chinese government to persecute Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups.

Over one million Uyghurs are believed to currently be held in detention camps, where human rights observers report they have been subjected to forced labor and torture.

SenseTime, the world’s mostly highly-valued AI startup, provided software to the Chinese government for its national surveillance system, including CCTV cameras. It was the first company to join a MIT Intelligence Quest initiative launched last year with the goal of “driv[ing] technological breakthroughs in AI that have the potential to confront some of the world’s greatest challenges.” Since then, it has provided funding for 27 projects by MIT researchers.

Earlier this year, MIT ended its working relationships with Huawei and ZTE over alleged sanction violations.

Categories: Business News

Southeast Asian real estate portal 99.co agrees to joint venture with iProperty, as their rival PropertyGuru prepares for IPO

2019, October 9 - 3:46pm

Southeast Asian real estate portal 99.co has agreed to form a joint venture with iProperty. As part of the deal, iProperty owner REA Group will invest $8 million of working capital into the venture, expected to be finalized by the second quarter of 2020.

99.co and REA Group, a real estate-focused digital advertising conglomerate that is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), say that the JV immediately makes 99.co the market leader in Indonesia and positions it to take the top spot in Singapore, as well. The deal also makes 99.co a more formidable rival to PropertyGuru. Backed by TPG Capital and KKR, PropertyGuru is expected to raise up to AUD $380.2 million (about USD $255.9 million) in an IPO on the ASX this month.

The joint venture is expected to be finalized by the second quarter of 2020 and 99.co will assume full control of REA Group brands iProperty.com.sg in Singapore and Rumah123.com in Indonesia. The JV will be led by 99.co’s management team, including co-founder and CEO Darius Cheung.

99.co’s last round of funding was a $15.2 million Series B, announced in August, that the company says took its valuation to over $100 million.

In a press statement, Cheung said “We are coming for market leadership. This is a key milestone that positions us instantly as number one in Indonesia, and well on our way to that in Singapore. Our innovative DNA plus REA’s unrivaled experience and resources makes this partnership a lethal combination Southeast Asia has not seen before.”

The company’s existing shareholders, including Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Sequoia Capital, MindWorks Ventures, Allianz X, East Ventures and 500 Startups, will have a combined stake of 73%, with REA Group holding the remaining 27%.

Launched in 2014, 99.co was created to make real estate listings more navigable for renters and buyers in Singapore and other Southeast Asian markets. REA Group owns portals in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and China, and a property review site in Thailand. It is also a stakeholder in Move, the American real estate site, and Indian property portal PropTiger.

 

Categories: Business News

Looking for a job selling weed? EpicHint pitches training for cannabis dispensary ‘budtenders’

2019, October 9 - 9:57am

Adriana Herrera first came up with the idea for EpicHint, a training and staffing service for cannabis dispensaries, while she was surfing off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Decompressing after the dissolution of her last startup venture — her second attempt at running her own business — Herrera realized quickly that surfing and #vanlife wasn’t her ultimate calling.

The serial entrepreneur had previously founded FashioningChange, a recommendation engine for sustainable shopping, back in 2011. The company was gaining traction and had some initial support, but it ran into the buzzsaw of Amazon’s product development group, which Herrera claims copied their platform to build a competing product.

Undeterred, Herrera took some of the tools that FashioningChange had developed and morphed them into a business focused on online marketing to shoppers at the point of sale — helping sites like Cooking.com pitch products to people based on what their browsing history revealed about their intent.

By 2017, that business had also run into problems, and Herrera had to shut down the company. She sold her stuff and had headed down to Oaxaca, but kept thinking about the emergent cannabis industry that was taking off back in the U.S.

Herrera had a friend who’d been diagnosed with colon cancer and was taking medicinal marijuana to address side effects from the operation that removed his colon.

“When recovering from the removal of his colon, he’d run out of his homegrown medicine and go to dispensaries where he got the worst service,” Herrera wrote in an email. “He would ask for something for pain, nausea and sleep, and was always recommended the most expensive product or a product that was being promoted. He never got what he needed and had to self advocate for the right product while barely being able to stand.”

Herrera buckled down and did research throughout the course of 2018. She hit up pharmacies first as a customer, asking different “budtenders” for information about the product they were selling. Their answers were… underwhelming, according to Herrera. The next step was to talk to dispensary managers and research the weed industry.

By her own calculations, cannabis companies (including dispensaries and growers) will add roughly 300,000 jobs — most of them starting out at near-minimum-wage salaries of $16 per hour. Meanwhile, current training programs cost between $250 and $7,000.

That disconnect led Herrera to hit on her current business model — selling an annual subscription software for brands and dispensaries that would offer a training program for would-be job applicants. The training would give dispensaries a leg up for experienced hires, increasing sales and ideally reducing turnover that costs the industry as much as $438 million.

“The data is showing an average of a 30% turnover rate in 21 months,” says Herrera. “Looking at turnover and a lot of that comes down to bad hiring.”

The company is on its first eight customers, but counts one undisclosed, large, multi-state dispensary along with a few mom and pop shops.

Herrera also says that the service can reduce bias in hiring. Because dispensaries only hire candidates after they’ve completed the program, any unconscious bias won’t creep into the hiring process, she says.

Applicants interested in a dispensary can enroll in the dispensary “university” and once they complete the curriculum go through a standardized form to apply for the job.

“Our  recommendation to run and get the best results is to pre-train, pre-screen and have the graduates unlock the ability to apply.”

Categories: Business News

Report: WeWork expected to cut 500 tech roles

2019, October 9 - 8:27am

The WeWork saga continues this week with new reports the company may slash as many as 500 tech roles.

The co-working business, whose eccentric co-founder and chief executive officer Adam Neumann stepped down two weeks ago, is expected to let go of 350 employees within its corporate division, The Information reports. Initial cuts will be within the software engineering, product management and data science teams.

Another 150 roles may be dissolved as the company looks to sell several assets, including Managed by Q, Teem, SpaceIQ, Conductor and Meetup . New York-based WeWork has roughly 15,000 employees and expects to make as many as 2,000 layoffs, per reports, as the business attempts to cut costs and rewrite its narrative ahead of an eventual debut on the public markets.

WeWork unveiled its S-1 — littered with errors and sloppy work, per The Wall Street Journal — but decided to delay its initial public offering after Neumann stepped down and the company’s former vice chairman Sebastian Gunningham and former president and chief operating officer Artie Minson stepped in to serve as co-CEOs.

Now expected to go public in 2020 at a valuation as low as $10 billion, WeWork is also in negotiations with JPMorgan for a last-minute cash infusion to replace the capital expected from the postponed IPO, per reports. The company, now a cautionary tale, has been working with bankers in recent weeks to reduce the sky-high costs of its money-losing operation. The reported layoffs are said to be a part of the bankers’ strategy.

WeWork was previously valued at $47 billion despite losses of nearly $1 billion in the six months ending June 30.

WeWork did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

WeWork CEO Adam Neumann steps down

Categories: Business News

Dig into the key issues in venture today with investor and Techstars co-founder Brad Feld

2019, October 9 - 5:16am

Few can hold a candle to Brad Feld’s list of accolades in the startup, tech and venture world. As a multi-time founder of both startups and venture firms alike, Feld is widely known for having co-founded the Techstars accelerator — now a Silicon Valley and startup institution — as well as Foundry Group, the early and growth-stage venture fund that has raised nearly $2.5 billion over seven funds, in just over a decade.

Feld is equally, if not more, recognized outside of the investing world as a thought leader through both his widely followed blog “Feld Thoughts” and through authoring a number of books and guides to the startup and venture worlds. Feld recently published the fourth edition of his acclaimed and seemingly timeless book “Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer And Venture Capitalist” (which he co-authored with Foundry Group co-founder Jason Mendelson), which acts as a manual to raising venture capital by walking through tactical advice around negotiating a term sheet, what to consider when selling your business, arguments for and against convertible debt and much more.

TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos will be sitting down with Brad for an exclusive conversation this Thursday, October 10th at 11:00 am PT on Extra Crunch. Brad, Connie and Extra Crunch members will be digging into the latest edition of “Venture Deals,” Brad’s advice to founders and investors and his take on hot-button issues of the day (including dual-class shares, direct listings and what happened at WeWork).

Extra Crunch members will also have the opportunity to ask questions! We will pause during the call to take questions from Extra Crunch subscribers. Alternatively, you can email questions to eldon@techcrunch.com.

Tune in to join the conversation and for the opportunity to ask Brad and Connie any and all things venture.

To listen to this and all future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.

Categories: Business News

Startup says ‘Sober is the new black’

2019, October 9 - 5:09am

Maveron, Slow Ventures and Female Founders Fund have invested $10 million in a startup that claims it’s carving a new path to sobriety.

Tempest offers a $647 eight-week virtual “sobriety school” to help people, particularly women and “historically oppressed individuals,” get sober. The program is led by the company’s founder and chief executive officer Holly Whitaker, who conducts weekly video lectures and Q+As for participants. Offering their expertise as part of the package is marriage and family therapist Kim Kokoska; Valerie (Vimalasara) Mason-John, the co-founder of Eight Step Recovery; and wellness coach Mary Vance, among others.

Tempest teaches the underlying causes of addiction and the “importance of purpose, meaning and creativity in breaking addiction,” as well as how to manage cravings, how to navigate social situations as a non-drinker, how to develop a mindfulness practice and more. At the end of the program, participants can pay a $127 fee for an annual membership to the Tempest online community, where one can communicate with others who’ve completed the program.

Tempest Syllabus
Week 1: Recovery Maps + Toolkits
Week 2: Addiction & The Brain
Week 3: Habit and Night Ritual
Week 4: Yoga, Meditation and Breath
Week 5: Nutrition & Lifestyle
Week 6: Relationships & Community
Week7: Trauma & Therapy
Week 8: Purpose & Creativity
Week 8+ Wrapping Up + Next Steps

A snapshot of Tempest’s weekly coursework.

A holistic approach

Founded in 2014, New York-based Tempest has raised about $14.3 million in total VC funding. Whitaker previously spent five years at One Medical, where she was the director of revenue cycle operations. Since founding Tempest, which has enrolled 4,000 participants to date, Whitaker received a two-book deal from Random House to document her methodologies and path to sobriety. Her first book, ‘Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol,’ will be released on December 31.

Today, her business has 28 employees and plans to build out its team, invest in marketing — where it’s historically had very low spend — and explore business opportunities within the enterprise using cash from the $10 million Series A.

“Sobriety, and the refusal to partake in alcogenic culture, is subversive, rebellious, and edgy.” - Tempest

The company is careful to clarify it’s not a detox or 12-step program, like Alcoholics Anonymous, which is structured around the Twelve Steps to recovery. Rather, Tempest can be used in combination with other programs or therapies, or as a first step down the path to recovery. Whitaker explains Tempest isn’t only for the clinically addicted or those who consider themselves addicts or alcoholics. The company welcomes people who have rejected these labels or simply want to cut alcohol out of their life.

“Tempest grew out of my own experience,” Whitaker, who has previously struggled with alcoholism and an eating disorder, tells TechCrunch. “It was a response to the lack of desirable and accessible options to address problematic drinking, the lack of options available for people who don’t identify as alcoholics but struggle with alcohol and the lack of options that have been created for women and other individuals. Everything had been created for men.”

Tempest is tailored to the needs of women and historically oppressed individuals, says Whitaker, though all genders are welcome to complete its course. Taking a holistic approach to recovery, participants are encouraged to address the factors that led them to drink in the first place, including “love lives, poor nutrition, stress, anxiety, crap friendships, consumerism, lack of purpose, unresolved family of origin issues, disenfranchisement, poverty, tight or unmanageable finances, lack of connection, fear, shitty jobs we hate, depression, unprocessed trauma, lack of meaning, unfulfilled dreams, never-ending to-do lists, never-measuring-upness,” the company writes.

Tempest’s website

But what about A.A.?

I had the same question.

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), the most popular and accessible approach to recovery, is free and open to anyone willing to acknowledge they have a drinking problem. A nonprofit organization, A.A. has more than 115,000 groups worldwide. The 84-year-old program is built on peer-support groups that gather regularly for discussion meetings. Over time, more seasoned members can become “sponsors,” helping newer entrants work through the Twelve Steps.

Tempest, alternatively, is taking a for-profit approach, charging for its tech-infused method. And where A.A. emphasizes in-person support groups, Tempest relies on video streams. Increasingly, telemedicine startups are enticing customers with convenient options for health and wellness care but whether people will truly pivot to telemedicine, tele-therapy or virtual sobriety schools is still up for debate. As for Tempest’s similarities to A.A., Whitaker says: “The only thing they have in common is that they are working to help people quit alcohol.”

“By just trying on sobriety or questioning our drink-centric culture, you are profoundly ahead of the pack.” - Tempest

In selling its sobriety school, Tempest evokes a sense of coolness, with phrases like “Sober is the new black” and “Your hangover goes away. Your social life doesn’t,” plastered on its website. In providing a priced and more exclusive route to sobriety, one might question Tempest’s ethics and motivations as it builds a business that capitalizes off of substance abuse. Whitaker, in defense, explains a virtual school fit for the historically powerless is a necessary addition to existing options: “Our program is centered on individuals who have been held out of power, who have been told to shut up and listen,” she said. “We aren’t looking at white, upper-class men. We are looking at a queer person from 2019.”

According to survey data published by Recovery.org, 89% of A.A. attendees are white, while 38% are female.

Refusing ‘alcogenic culture’

Tempest’s branding takes a cue from the D2C playbook. The company, led by women, has the opportunity to become the brand that represents sobriety, and it’s taking it. Tempest’s Series A, coupled with the influx of new-age non-alcoholic beverage brands backed by VCs, is representative of the perceived shift away from alcohol among the younger generations.

Millennials are drinking less alcohol and, according to the World Health Organization, there are 5% fewer alcohol drinkers in the world today than in 2000. Tempest’s school seems to cater more to the cohort of people who view ditching alcohol as a lifestyle perk, not those who stop drinking due to addiction.

Tempest founder and CEO Holly Whitaker

Seedlip, a non-alcoholic spirits company, and India’s Coolberg Beverages, which makes non-alcoholic beer, recently raised VC to cater to a similar demographic. Meanwhile, CBD-infused beverage brands like Sweet Reason, Cann and Recess are trendy and raising venture money. None of these, of course, are solutions for someone struggling with alcohol. Capital flowing into these brands merely indicates venture capitalists’ belief that consumers are steering away from traditional liquor and toward new products fit for a generation that is drinking less alcohol.

“By just trying on sobriety or questioning our drink-centric culture, you are profoundly ahead of the pack and among good company,” Tempest writes on its website. “Remember: 70-80% of adults drink depending on where you live; drinking is basic. Sobriety, and the refusal to partake in alcogenic culture, is subversive, rebellious, and edgy.”

Tempest says it has completed an efficacy study performed in consultation with researchers affiliated with the University of Buffalo and Syracuse University. In several years’ time, we’ll know whether the countless think pieces claiming millennials are done with alcohol were indeed true and whether the VC money into these upstarts was wasted or pure genius. As for Tempest, even if just providing a designated place on the internet for discussions around the struggles or benefits of sobriety, it has the potential to make a big impact on those in recovery or those seeking a lifestyle change.

“Alcohol is very similar to cigarettes,” Whitaker said. “We are in a time that we think drinking alcohol is natural, that we are supposed to do it. I thought that would change because to me, alcohol is entirely toxic. We are approaching this tipping point of realizing how toxic and unnecessary it is.”

Tempest is also backed by AlleyCorp, Refactor and Green D Ventures. Maveron’s Anarghya Vardhana has joined the startup’s board of directors as part of the latest deal.

Startups Weekly: VCs are drunk on beverage startups

Categories: Business News

The budding industry of cannabis tech

2019, October 9 - 5:00am
Brian Kateman Contributor Share on Twitter Brian Kateman is president and co-founder of the Reducetarian Foundation. More posts by this contributor

From food and drink to health and wellness and beyond, there’s one plant we can’t seem to get enough of: cannabis. It seems like every consumer product nowadays is taking part in reefer madness.

Home cooks are taking edibles to new heights. In places like Denver and California, you can take cooking classes specifically centered around food made with Mary Jane. The editors of Vice’s “Munchies” even put out a cookbook last year called Bong Appétit: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Weed. And it’s only one of many.

But marijuana culture today isn’t all based around the stuff you (er, people you know) smoked in college. Cannabis, long known for its medicinal and therapeutic purposes, is a hot commodity in food tech and other consumer products nowadays. Far more than just a way to get high, cannabis in its various forms has been used medically throughout history and in modern times as a treatment for pain and nausea, and has been found anecdotally or in limited studies to treat glaucoma, epilepsy and anxiety, among other conditions and symptoms. Businesses have caught on, and not a moment too soon.

The food products that utilize marijuana are a far cry from the old classic pot brownies (not that there’s anything wrong with those!). Thanks to modern science, producers are able to separate the two main chemical compounds found in marijuana: THC and CBD. THC has therapeutic benefits, but it’s best known as the part of weed that gets you high. This is because it’s a psychoactive compound. CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive — it can (supposedly) provide many of the anti-anxiety, analgesic benefits of the plant without producing a high. For obvious reasons, this gives marijuana a new appeal. It’s now possible to reap the benefits of the plant without experiencing intoxication, so you can lessen anxiety or pain while still functioning normally.

It’s worth noting at this point that many of the health benefits of CBD and cannabis in general are not scientifically proven in statistically significant, peer-reviewed studies. This is for a number of reasons, most significantly that marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law in the U.S., making legality an issue in its study.

Clearly, the lack of scientific evidence isn’t diminishing anyone’s desire for herbal refreshment.

But what CBD and other cannabis products lack in evidence, they make up for with enthusiasm. Companies and consumers alike are eager to try CBD in various products, from food to oils to skincare, in hopes of treating anxiety, sleeplessness and other woes. If you live in a place where CBD products are legal, you’ve probably seen them everywhere. Newsweek reported that CBD sales are estimated to grow 40-fold in the next four years, reaching a value of $23 billion. The big business of marijuana and CBD — California-based Arena Pharmaceuticals is the biggest publicly traded cannabis company in the world — is only growing.

You can already find CBD candies and oils at major national retail chains like CVS and Walgreens, and in states and municipalities where it’s legal, green connoisseurs can order CBD-infused lattes and cocktails. Even retailers like Sephora, Neiman Marcus and Barneys are selling curated displays of CBD-infused beauty and skincare products. The aforementioned Newsweek article reports that big names like Coca-Cola and Molson Coors Brewing are among the hordes of companies already working on their own CBD products. Clearly, the lack of scientific evidence isn’t diminishing anyone’s desire for herbal refreshment.

Except for the FDA, that is. The legality of marijuana and CBD is a confusing and often contradictory topic, and a hard one to keep track of because it’s changing all the time at the federal, state and municipal levels. But what can be ascertained is that because so much of the CBD industry is operating outside of any kind of government oversight, legally or otherwise, the quality of products can vary widely. This is something about which the FDA and independent doctors and pharmaceutical experts have raised concerns. Apart from companies making unfounded claims about the effects of their products, the actual ingredient makeup may be inconsistent, with some products containing less CBD than their labels claim. Little regulation and nascent standards of quality mean consumers might not always know what they’re getting.

But given the broad interest in CBD, that’s unlikely to remain the case forever. The FDA may have started cracking down on extralegal CBD product sales, but in the grand scheme of things, that only means that the agency recognizes the significance of the compound. CBD probably isn’t going away anytime soon, and among the food, drug, health and cosmetic industries, the race to do it best and biggest has already begun.

Categories: Business News

With $15M round and 100K tablets sold, reMarkable CEO wants to make tech ‘more human’

2019, October 9 - 4:03am

The reMarkable tablet is a strange device in this era of ultra-smart gadgets: A black and white screen meant for reading, writing, and sketching — and nothing more. Yet the company has sold 100,000 of the devices and now has attracted $15 million in series A funding from Spark Capital.

It’s an unusual trajectory for a hardware startup exploring a nearly unoccupied market, but CEO Magnus Wanberg is confident that’s because this category of device is destined to grow in response to increasingly invasive tech. Sometimes an anti-technology trend is the tech opportunity of a lifetime.

I reviewed the reMarkable last year and compared it with its only real competition, the Sony Digital Paper Tablet. It was launched not on Kickstarter or Indiegogo but with its own independent crowdfunding campaign — and considering we’ve seen devices like this attempt such a thing and either let down or rip off their backers, that alone was a significant risk.

Sony and reMarkable’s dueling e-paper tablets are strange but impressive beasts

The device has been a runaway success, though, selling over 100,000 units — and attracting investment in the process. When I talked with Wanberg and co-founder Gerst about their new A round, the conversation was so interesting that I decided to publish it in full (or at least slightly edited).

How did they get here? What would they have done differently? Is the threat of the “smart” world really a thing? Why fight tech with more tech?

Devin: So you guys raised some money, that’s great! But it’s been a while since we talked. I think it’s important to hear about the progress of unique companies that are doing interesting things. So first can you tell me a little about what the company’s been busy with?

Magnus: Well, we’ve created this wonderful product, the reMarkable paper tablet. We’ve been very focused on that effort, based on a love for paper and a love for technology, to see if we can find some ways to join these two together to help people think better. That’s sort of the the whole ethos of the company.

So for the last six years, we’ve just been grinding away… you know, we’re a small player up against the big guys on this. So we’ve been sort of fighting guerrilla warfare trying to trying to establish ourselves.

And we were successful, fortunately, when we did our pre-order campaign, because as we found out, we weren’t the only ones who who love this notion of thinking better with the paper tablet, seeing paper as a powerful tool for thinking and for creating.

Categories: Business News

Startup studio eFounders has a portfolio valuation of $1 billion

2019, October 9 - 1:40am

European startup studio eFounders has shared some metrics about its portfolio companies. The startup studio has launched 23 companies with a focus on software-as-a-service enterprise products.

While eFounders might not be a familiar name, some of the companies in its portfolio have become promising startups with impressive growth, such as Front, Aircall, Forest, Spendesk, Mailjet and others. Front is also company #85 in Y Combinator’s list of top 101 companies of all time.

And the big new metric is that the total valuation of all 23 companies has now reached $1 billion. Of course, eFounders is just a shareholder in those 23 companies, so eFounders itself isn’t a unicorn. But it’s still an impressive number.

At the end of 2018, eFounders’ portfolio valuation was at $541 million. At the end of 2017, the same metric was at $385 million.

Overall, eFounders companies have raised $254 million from VC funds and business angels, and employ 1,000 people, mostly in Paris, San Francisco and New York. And when you add up the annual recurring revenue of all those startups, they generate $107 million in ARR together.

If you don’t know the eFounders model, it’s quite simple. At first, the core eFounders team comes up with an idea and hires a founding team. In exchange for financial and human resources, the startup studio keeps a significant stake in its startups.

After a year or two, startups should have proven that they can raise a seed round and operate on their own. This way, eFounders can move on to the next project and start new companies. Up next, eFounders is already working on 5 new companies.

Categories: Business News

Robinhood revives checking with new debit card & 2% interest

2019, October 8 - 11:00pm

This time it actually has insurance. Zero-fee stock-trading app Robinhood is launching Cash Management, a new feature that earns users 2.05% APY interest on uninvested money in their account with the ability to spend it through a special Mastercard debit card. The waitlist opens today in the U.S. with the first users to be admitted soon. “If you have $5,000 in your account while you’re thinking about what to invest in, you’d have an extra $105 at the end of the year” thanks to Robinhood Cash Management’s interest, co-CEO Baiju Bhatt tells me.

The $7.6 billion-valuation startup first attempted something similar in December with Robinhood Checking, promising a stunningly tall 3% interest rate. But the product turned into a PR disaster when the Securities Investor Protection Corporation that was supposed to insure users’ funds declared Robinhood ineligible, with its CEO noting it had never agreed to cover checking accounts. That led Robinhood to shelve the feature, scrub its site of any mention of Checking and apologize.

Robinhood Cash Management’s debit cards, featuring the same design from the scrapped Checking launch

Now despite Bhatt claiming “Cash Management is a brand new program built from the ground up,” it will offer the same debit card design and network of 75,000 ATMs. It’s even using an identical promo image for its half-translucent green, black, white and American flag debit card designs. But each user’s funds will be covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation up to $1.25 million. To get around the $250,000 FDIC limit per bank, Robinhood is partnering with six banks that it will spread a user’s cash across as necessary to bundle up to that sum. Robinhood earns money by taking a chunk of the interchange fees from transactions on its debit card run in partnership with Sutton Bank, and from a fee paid by the six banks cash gets swept into.

To help it avoid further regulatory missteps, Robinhood yesterday added former SEC commissioner Dan Gallagher as its first independent board member. He joins the startup’s recently hired COO, CFO, chief compliance officer, VP of Risk & Compliance and VP of Legal & Regulatory to bring more supervision to Robinhood.

Robinhood co-founders and co-CEOs (from left): Baiju Bhatt and Vlad Tenev

The opt-in feature prevents users from missing out on earning interest if they keep money in their Robinhood account, and makes funds from stock sales quickly accessible via the debit card for spending or withdrawal. That convenience could give Robinhood an edge as its loses one if its key differentiators. Last week, its top incumbent competitors Charles Schwab, E*Trade and AmeriTrade all dropped their $4.95 to $6.95 fees on stock trades to match Robinhood’s free offering. That makes Cash Management and Robinhood Crypto even more critical to its continued growth. That’s necessary to justify the $7.6 billion valuation from its recent $323 million Series E raise led by DST Global that brings it to $860 million in total funding.

How Robinhood Cash Management works

“We decided the best thing to do is giving people the peace of mind that their money is held at these banks, while trying to pay back the very best interest rates,” Bhatt tells me. [Disclosure: I know Robinhood’s co-founders from college.]

With Cash Management, once users deposit cash into the Robinhood accounts and opt into the program, they’re eligible to earn interest. Any balance on their account, including returns from sales of securities or cryptocurrencies, is swept into the FDIC-insured partner banks via Promontory’s debit suite system. Those banks include Wells Fargo, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, U.S. Bank and Bank of Baroda. If one of those banks folds, the FDIC will make customers whole for up to $250,000, equaling $1.25 million across all six working with Robinhood. Users are able to opt out of specific banks.

There the cash earns a variable annual percentage yield (APY) that may fluctuate based on market factors like the Fed fund’s rate. Currently Robinhood offers a 2.05% APY, but refused to compare it to competitors. However, it ranks relatively high amongst popular banking options like these, according to Bankrate, especially given it has no minimum balance:

Robinhood Cash Management will also compete directly with Wealthfront Cash that launched in February and now offers 2.07% APY interest, but lacks a debit card or ATMs. Betterment Checking & Savings does provide a Visa debit card, but its current APY is 1.79%.

Cash Management users can select from the four debit card styles that are accepted anywhere that takes Mastercard, plus 75,000 ATMs. It also works with Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. There are no foreign transaction fees, maintenance fees or account minimum.

A variety of new Cash Management features are being added to the Robinhood app. You can get notifications and emails for all your transactions, and lock the card from your phone if you suspect fraud. You also can opt for location protection, which alerts you if your card is used too far away from your phone. An in-app ATM finder shows users where they can get cash without a fee.

“Partially we want this to be a good business but we also want this to be a big part of customer’s lives,” says Robinhood VP of product Josh Elman. Instead of nickel and diming Cash Management users, the startup monetizes by charging its partners. But the bigger strategy is to get more users on Robinhood in hopes some will subscribe to Robinhood Gold. There users pay a variable monthly fee depending on how much they want to borrow from the startup to trade on margin.

Robinhood co-CEO Baiju Bhatt speaks with TechCrunch’s Josh Constine at Disrupt SF 2018

“I think the main takeaway over the last year has been that since last December, our company has been very committed to building an organization that has a really strong culture [of compliance]” Bhatt concludes. “We’ve grown the leadership team over the last year with experience from risk and finance backgrounds. We think that’s reflected pretty clearly in how Robinhood operates and the diligence that went into building this new program.”

No longer a scrappy startup, the budding fintech giant must now grapple with much greater regulatory scrutiny. With more than 6 million users, the SEC won’t stand for it putting people’s finances in in jeopardy.

Categories: Business News

Forward Networks raises $35M to help enterprises map, track and predict their networks’ behavior

2019, October 8 - 10:17pm

Security breaches and other activities that cause network surges and outages are all on the rise in the enterprise, and today, a startup called Forward Networks, which has built a clever way to help businesses monitor their network traffic to identify when things are going wrong, has raised a round of $35 million to continue expanding its business to meet that demand.

The money, a Series C, is being led by Goldman Sachs, which in this case is both a strategic and financial investor. David Erickson, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, said the investment bank started out as a customer, and Joshua Matheus, MD for technology at Goldman Sachs, was so pleased with the results that he recommended the bank also invest in the company. Others participating in this round include Andreessen Horowitz, Threshold Ventures (previously DFJ Venture) and A. Capital, the three investors that were behind Forward Networks’ previous round of $16 million in 2017.

Erickson, along with other co-founders Nikhil Handigol, Brandon Heller and Peyman Kazemian, were all Stanford PhDs, and the company’s technology is based around work they did there around mathematical modeling. Here, that concept is applied to a company’s network to create essentially a replica of a company’s network architecture, which is in turn used to simulate individual processes and apps running on the network to figure out how they interact and what would represent “normal” versus “abnormal” behavior, which in turn is applied in real time to monitor the network and predict what might happen on it. This is not a fixing platform per se, but in developer operations, there is a fundamental need and gap in the market for products that help engineers identify what is not working in order to know what to try to fix.

If you are familiar with Honeycomb.io — a DevOps platform for running apps to determine when and where bugs or conflicts might arise (which itself recently raised funding) — this seems to be taking a similar approach, but on a network scale.

Considered together, it seems that we’re starting to see a new wave of services and platforms designed to provide more granular and intelligent pictures of how apps and networks behave in our modern technology landscapes.

Erickson tells me that today, the vast majority of Forward Networks’ customers are using the product to monitor on-premises rather than cloud architectures.

“We launched a public cloud product for AWS towards the end of last year, which today is in use by customers, but the dominant use case for us is on-prem,” Erickson said, who said that while the media (ahem) loves to talk about cloud, in many cases large enterprises have actually been slower to migrate processes in cases where legacy services still work well, and they still harbour distrust of public cloud security and reliability. “We see growth towards the cloud but it’s baby steps.”

The company has been growing steadily; today its network monitoring covers some 75,000 devices. In that context, Goldman Sachs is a significant client, with some 15,000 devices in its network alone.

Looking ahead, Erickson said that the funding would be used in part for R&D and in part to continue its business development. There are a number of other solutions and services out there that have identified the opportunity of providing better network management as a route to identifying security threats and other risks, so that also presents an opportunity for M&A for Forward, although Erickson declined to comment further on that.

“We continue to see the value that Forward Networks’ platform brings to large enterprises running complex networks,” said Bill Krause, board partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “They have solved a critical business problem, which presents a real growth opportunity.”

Categories: Business News

Contentstack raises $31.5M Series A round for its headless CMS platform

2019, October 8 - 8:30pm

Contentstack, a startup that offers a headless CMS platform for enterprises, today announced that it has raised a $31.5 million Series A round led by Insight Partners. Existing investors Illuminate Ventures and GingerBread Capital also participated in this round.

The company says that it saw its revenue grow by 4x in the first half of 2019 compared to the same time period last year. Without a baseline, that’s not exactly a meaningful number for a startup founded in 2018, of course, but sales cycles in the enterprise are notoriously long and the company does have a number of marquee customers like Shell, Walmart and Cisco.

The Contentstack founding team, Neha Sampat, Nishant Patel and Matthew Baier, recently sold Built.io to Software AG . “With Contentstack, the opportunity feels even larger, but there is also a strong sense of urgency,” said Sampat when I asked her about why she decided to raise at this point, which comes relatively late for a company with Contentstack’s ambitions. “Being able to do more right now and scale the company’s operations to match the opportunity right in front of us required more resources than the company’s organic growth would provide us.”

Sampat also noted that she believes that brands are not realizing that their customers don’t want billboards but customized experiences across channels. Yet, at the same time, they often don’t know what’s working and how to get the most value out of the content they create.

“The belief that a single platform or product can ‘do it all’ is being replaced with the realization you can do more, better by bringing together the best technologies the market has to offer,” she said. “This wasn’t an option before, because integrations were so complex and clunky. But now, with the emergence of extensible content experience platforms, companies can actually get to market FASTER using this approach, compared to using a single-vendor approach that wasn’t built for the modern era.”

The company tells me that it is getting traction across industries, but retail, travel/hospitality, sports/entertainment and tech are doing especially well.

Like most companies at the Series A stage, Contentstack says it will use the new funding to scale its sales and marketing team and build out its partner ecosystem and community around the product. Sampat also tells me that the company plans to expand beyond its core regions of the U.S., India and Europe by moving into the APAC region in the first half of 2020, mostly with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.

Categories: Business News

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