Startup News

Subscribe to Startup News feed Startup News
Startup and Technology News
Updated: 2 hours 43 min ago

Airobotics makes autonomous drones in a box

5 hours 13 min ago

Not far from Tel Aviv a drone flies low over a gritty landscape of warehouses and broken pavement. It slowly approaches its home — a refrigerator-sized box inside a mesh fence, and hovers, preparing to dock. It descends like some giant bug, whining all the way, and disappears into its base where it will be cleaned, recharged and sent back out into the air. This drone is doing the nearly impossible: it’s flying and landing autonomously and can fly again and again without human intervention — and it’s doing it all inside a self-contained unit that is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.

The company that makes the drone, Airobotics, invited us into their headquarters to see their products in action. In this video we talk with the company about how the drones work, how their clients use the drones for mapping and surveillance in hard-to-reach parts of the world and the future of drone autonomy. It’s a fascinating look into technology that will soon be appearing in jungles, deserts and war zones near you.

Categories: Business News

Kapwing is Adobe for the meme generation

5 hours 42 min ago

Need to resize a video for IGTV? Add subtitles for Twitter? Throw in sound effects for YouTube? Or collage it with other clips for the Instagram feed? Kapwing lets you do all that and more for free from a mobile browser or website. This scrappy new startup is building the vertical video era’s creative suite full of editing tools for every occasion.

Pronounced “Ka-pwing,” like the sound of a ricocheted bullet, the company was founded by two former Google Image Search staffers. Now after six months of quiet bootstrapping, it’s announcing a $1.7 million seed round led by Kleiner Perkins.

Kapwing hopes to rapidly adapt to shifting memescape and its fragmented media formats, seizing on opportunities like creators needing to turn their long-form landscape videos vertical for Instagram’s recently launched IGTV. The free version slaps a Kapwing.com watermark on all its exports for virality, but users can pay $20 a month to remove it.

While sites like Imgur and Imgflip offer lightweight tools for static memes and GIFs, “the tools and community for doing that for video are kinda inaccessible,” says co-founder and CEO Julia Enthoven. “You have something you install on your computer with fancy hardware. You should able to create and riff off of people,” even if you just have your phone, she tells me. Indeed, 100,000 users are already getting crafty with Kapwing.

“We want to make these really relevant trending formats so anyone can jump in,” Enthoven declares. “Down the line, we want to make a destination for consuming that content.”

Kapwing co-founders Eric Lu and Julia Enthoven

Enthoven and Eric Lu both worked at Google Image Search in the lauded Associate Product Manager (APM) program that’s minted many future founders for companies like Quip, Asana and Polyvore. But after two years, they noticed a big gap in the creative ecosystem. Enthoven explains that “The idea came from using outdated tools for making the types of videos people want to make for social media — short-form, snackable video you record with your phone. It’s so difficult to make those kinds of videos in today’s editors.”

So the pair of 25-year-olds left in September to start Kapwing. They named it after their favorite sound effect from the Calvin & Hobbes comics when the make-believe tiger would deflect toy gunshots from his best pal. “It’s an onomatopoeia, and that’s sort of cool because video is all about movement and sound.”

After starting with a meme editor for slapping text above and below images, Kapwing saw a sudden growth spurt as creators raced to convert landscape videos for vertical IGTV. Now it has a wide range of tools, with more planned.

The current selection includes:

  • Meme Maker
  • Subtitles
  • Multi-Video Montage Maker
  • Video Collage
  • Video Filters
  • Image To Video Converter
  • Add Overlaid Text To Video
  • Add Music To Video With MP3 Uploads
  • Resize Video
  • Reverse Video
  • Loop Video
  • Trim Video
  • Mute Video
  • Stop Motion Maker
  • Sound Effects Maker

Kapwing definitely has some annoying shortcomings. There’s an 80mb limit on uploads, so don’t expect to be messing with much 4K videos or especially long clips. You can’t subtitle a GIF, and the meme maker flipped vertical photos sideways without warning. It also lacks some of the slick tools that Snapchat has developed, like a magic eraser for Photoshopping stuff out and a background changer, or the automatic themed video editing found in products like Google Photos.

The No. 1 thing it needs is a selective cropping tool. Instead of letting you manually move the vertical frame around inside a landscape video so you always catch the action, it just grabs the center. That left me staring at blank space between myself and an interview subject when I uploaded this burger robot startup video. It’s something apps like RotateNFlip and Flixup already offer. Hopefully the funding that also comes from Shasta, Shrug Capital, Sinai, Village Global, and ZhenFund will let it tackle some of these troubles.

Beyond meme-loving teens and semi-pro creators, Kapwing has found an audience amongst school teachers. The simplicity and onscreen instructions make it well-suited for young students, and it works on Chromebooks because there’s no need to download software.

The paid version has found some traction with content marketers and sponsored creators who don’t want a distracting watermark included. That business model is always in danger of encroachment from free tools, though, so Kapwing hopes to also become a place to view the meme content it exports. That network model is more defensible if it gains a big enough audience, and could be monetized with ads. Though it will put it in competition with Imgur, Reddit and the big dogs like Instagram.

“We aspire to become a hub for consumption,” Enthoven concluded. “Consume, get an idea, and share with each other.”

Categories: Business News

Fastly raises another $40 million before an IPO

5 hours 47 min ago

Last round before the IPO. That’s how Fastly frames its new $40 million Series F round. It means that the company has raised $219 million over the past few years.

The funding round was led by Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners with participation from Sozo Ventures, Swisscom Ventures, and existing investors.

Fastly operates a content delivery network to speed up web requests. Let’s say you type nytimes.com in your browser. In the early days of the internet, your computer would send a request to one of The New York Times’ servers in a data center. The server would receive the request and send back the page to the reader.

But the web has grown immensely, and this kind of architecture is no longer sustainable. The New York Times use Fastly to cache its homepage, media and articles on Fastly’s servers. This way, when somebody types nytimes.com, Fastly already has the webpage on its servers and can send it directly. For some customers, it can represent as much as 90 percent of requests.

Scale and availability are one of the benefits of using a content delivery network. But speed is also another one. Even though the web is a digital platform, it’s very physical by nature. When you load a page on a server on the other side of the world, it’s going to take hundreds of milliseconds to get the page. Over time, this latency adds up and it feels like a sluggish experience.

Fastly has data centers and servers all around the world so that you can load content in less than 20 or 30 milliseconds. This is particularly important for Stripe or Ticketmaster as response time can greatly influence an e-commerce purchase.

Fastly’s platform also provides additional benefits, such as DDoS mitigation and web application firewall. One of the main challenges for the platform is being able to cache content as quickly as possible. Users upload photos and videos all the time, so it should be on Fastly’s servers within seconds.

The company has tripled its customer base over the past three years. It had a $100 million revenue run rate in 2017. Customers now include Reddit, GitHub, Stripe, Ticketmaster and Pinterest.

There are now 400 employees working for Fastly. It’s worth noting that women represent 42 percent of the executive team, and 65 percent of the engineering leads are women, people of color or LGBTQ (or the intersection of those categories). And if you haven’t read all the diversity reports from tech companies, those are great numbers.

Categories: Business News

Proportunity offers ‘help to buy’ loans based on predicting future house prices

2018, July 16 - 6:32pm

Proportunity, a London-based startup and Entrepreneur First alumni, wants to help first time buyers get on the property ladder earlier or purchase a home more to their liking.

The company, which recently became an FCA authorised mortgage lender, claims to use machine learning to accurately forecast future house prices and the areas of London that will see the highest growth in the next few years. Based on confidence in this modelling, it will soon begin offering equity loans to boost your deposit when buying a first home.

Specifically, once Proportunity has used its technology to help identify a property for sale that both fits your needs and offers good house price growth prospects, the startup will offer an equity loan of up to 15 percent of the property’s price. You then combine this loan with the money you have already saved for a deposit so that you can apply for a mortgage with a lower loan-to-value ratio, which in turn will command a lower interest rate.

The way it works is quite similar to the U.K. government’s “Help To Buy” scheme, except it isn’t restricted to a new build and you have to pay monthly interest on the loan from the get-go. Like Help To Buy, when you sell the house or remortgage it in five years time, you have to repay the Proportunity equity loan at 15 percent of the current market price. Therefore, if the price of the house has gone up, the amount you pay back will have also increased. In the unlikelihood that the price has gone down, the startup loses money.

Overall, however, since a Proportunity loan is interest-only until you pay it back, the company says the combined monthly repayments are less than if you took out a 95 percent mortgage to buy the same home. And unlike shared ownership schemes, you don’t have to pay rent on the 15 percent of your home funded by a Proportunity loan.

More broadly Proportunity is attempting to solve a very London-centric problem: house prices are so high and continue to rise that by the time you save up for a 20 percent deposit to secure a mortgage you can afford, property prices in the area you want to buy will have increased enough to put it out of reach again. Or you’ll be left buying a smaller property.

“One of the biggest societal challenges we face is getting the next generation onto the housing ladder,” explains CEO Vadim Toader, who founded Proportunity with CTO Stefan Boronea. “The biggest reason this is hard is that it’s increasingly difficult to save up for a deposit, even for buyers with qualifying salaries. But what if we could use technology to give people a leg up onto the housing ladder? It all starts with forecasting”.

To put its machine-learning house price forecasting to the test, in July last year Proportunity worked with Post Office Money to help first time buyers identify the best areas to buy, not just in terms of affordability but also in terms of future growth. “This was insightful, as we learned that there are 200,000 fewer first time buyers per year than there used to be, and 70 percent cite deposits as their biggest issue. If we can help these people find deposits, we can reverse the tide”.

That, of course, is where the U.K. government’s own scheme is meant to kick in. However, Help To Buy can only support around 40,000 first time buyers, says Toader, partly because it has a limited budget and partly because it only addresses new properties.

“The interesting thing is that many of those left out have two great characteristics,” he says. “First they have a good income and excellent prospects, and secondly they want to buy in an area where we project property prices will grow significantly. The simple issue is they can not afford a 20 percent deposit. We believe our technology can help”.

To that end, Proportunity has secured £5 million in credit to begin making equity loans. The startup itself — which is part of EF cohort 7 — has raised £2.7 million in funding to bring its equity loans to market and further develop its price forecasting technology.

Backers include Global Founders Capital, Concrete VC (backed by Starwood Capital Group), Savills, EF, Trusted Insights, and Le Studio VC, along with angel investors Matt Robinson (Nested), Chris Mairs (EF) , Charlie Songhurst, Nicolas Berggruen, and Julian Critchlow.

Lastly, I’m told that half of the Proportunity team, including Toader himself, is taking out a Proportunity loan. “We’re going through the process ourselves, sitting in the customer’s shoes to better understand it and fix it before releasing it to them. [I] guess it also shows we’re eating our own dog food”.

Categories: Business News

Furniture startups skip the showroom and go straight to your door

2018, July 15 - 3:00am
Holden Page Contributor Share on Twitter Holden Page is an editor and journalist at Crunchbase News.

Startups making delivery and transport easier than ever are a hit with venture capitalists, so it’s not a surprise that young tech companies delivering home staples — living room sets, dining room tables, couches and more — are raising big dollars.

From 2010 through 2017, venture investors have outfitted U.S.-based furniture startups with a little over $1.1 billion in funding across 96 known rounds. But that funding has not been spread equally over time, as the following chart shows:

Total dollars funneled into U.S.-based furniture startups, according to Crunchbase, hit an all-time high of $432.7 million across 12 rounds in 2011. Wayfair, an e-commerce site dedicated to selling furniture, raised a significant $165 million Series A that year, accounting for more than a third of the total deal volume.

But while funding hasn’t surpassed 2011 levels, from that year through 2015, round counts steadily climbed. During this period, investments into seed and early-stage startups made up more than 70 percent of known deals.

Whether or not this cohort of seed and early-stage startups will act as fodder for late-stage investors is not yet clear. Before that happens, Stephen Kuhl thinks that there’s more work to be done.

Kuhl, the CEO of Burrow, a company that sells furniture over the internet, told Crunchbase News that “selling traditional furniture made in China or Mexico isn’t innovative, and as such we wouldn’t expect to see a lot of venture funding.” But that doesn’t mean that venture interest in the sector is doomed. Kuhl added that “a new company has to offer a unique product, experience and brand that is altogether [10 times] better than traditional offerings. Expect the money to follow the new brands that truly shake up the status quo.”

That may bear out. The funding data we examined tells one particular story: venture money has shown a preference for delivery and a consumer that doesn’t easily call the place they live in “home.”

Deliver, don’t move, furniture

For city dwellers, modular, utilitarian couches are taking hold. And it’s increasingly clear you don’t have to leave your couch to purchase one.

Let’s return to Burrow, which has raised a total of $19.2 million, according to Crunchbase. The startup has created a modular couch built for those who live in dense urban environments and may move often.

“Our customers are reflective of larger trends in the market. They’re more likely to be renters rather than homeowners,” Kuhl explained. “They’re likely to move multiple times over the course of a few years, and they crave thoughtful, high-quality goods.”

To account for this new type of customer, Burrow delivers each section of the couch in distinct packages. Burrow claims on its website that its direct to consumer business model and its ability to ship parts of couches, rather than one whole couch, removes “over 70 [percent] of standard shipping costs.” The couch also includes modern amenities such as a USB charger, and Burrow has also “launched an AR app that helps customers visualize a Burrow in their home,” according to Kuhl.

However, Burrow isn’t completely eschewing the showroom as part of its selling strategy. In a podcast interview with TotalRetail, Kuhl noted that the startup has “partner showrooms” in co-working spaces and other retail locations in more than 20 cities.

Of course, while modular design is helpful for city dwellers, there are those who enjoy a bit more of a personal twist. Interior Define, a Chicago-based startup, has raised $27.2 million to offer direct to consumer couches and dining room sets. And, according to Interior Define’s founder Rob Royer, its appeal is being driven by a new breed of consumers who are interested in brands that have “an authentic mission, deliver on a promised experience, and offer a real value proposition (not just a lower price).”

That said, both of these options still require that the furniture be owned — an unnecessary burden if you move often or just like fresh looks without the commitment. Through Feather, customers can subscribe to a whole living room, bedroom or dining room for as low as $35 a month. According to Crunchbase, the New York-based startup has raised $3.5 million from established venture firms such as Y Combinator and Kleiner Perkins.

There are also startups looking to simply help brands sell more furniture by using artificial intelligence and augmented reality. One such startup, Grokstyle, has raised $2.5 million for an app that identifies furniture by image as well as style and pricing preferences.

In general, streets, kitchens and even front doors are being claimed by venture-backed startups. What you sit on might as well be paid for, in part, by venture capitalists, too.

Categories: Business News

Chowly is raising $5.8 million to help restaurants manage on-demand delivery orders

2018, July 14 - 4:24am

Chowly, a point-of-sale system for restaurants, has raised nearly $4.7 million, according to an SEC filing. The company is targeting a total raise of $5.8 million.

The round is led by MATH Venture Partners with participation from Valor Equity, Chicago Ventures, Hyde Park Venture Partners and others. Chowly had previously raised just $700,000 from MATH Venture Partners, Domenick Montanile and others.

Chowly aims to help restaurants better manage the influx of delivery orders they receive from a variety of services, such as Grubhub, Delivery.com and Chownow.

In May, Square launched a point-of-sale system for restaurants that integrates on-demand delivery platform Caviar. Down the road, Square said it envisions third-party applications from companies like Postmates, UberEats and DoorDash.

Categories: Business News

Chad Rigetti to talk quantum computing at Disrupt SF

2018, July 14 - 1:41am

Even for the long-standing giants of the tech industry, quantum computing is one of the most complicated subjects to tackle. So how does a five-year old startup compete?

Chad Rigetti, the namesake founder of Rigetti Computing, will join us at Disrupt SF 2018 to help us break it all down.

Rigetti’s approach to quantum computing is two-fold: on one front, the company is working on the design and fabrication of its own quantum chips; on the other, the company is opening up access to its early quantum computers for researchers and developers by way of its cloud computing platform, Forest.

Rigetti Computing has raised nearly $70 million to date according to Crunchbase, with investment from some of the biggest names around. Meanwhile, labs around the country are already using Forest to explore the possibilities ahead.

What’s the current state of quantum computing? How do we separate hype from reality? Which fields might quantum computing impact first — and how can those interested in quantum technology make an impact? We’ll talk all this and more at Disrupt SF 2018.

Passes to Disrupt SF are available at the Early Bird rate until July 25 here.

Categories: Business News

Emptor looks to help companies more easily find contractors in the area

2018, July 14 - 12:00am

For any company looking to spin up some kind of operation in a new region, one of the first steps may be finding contractors in the area that can actually get the work started — but, especially as companies drift farther from cities, that can increasingly become a nightmare that’s quite familiar to Matt Velker.

That led to he and his co-founder Vignesh Venkataraman starting Emptor, a network to connect companies with local contractors in order to get those local projects off the ground effectively. That can range from actual construction to janitorial work or landscaping. A platform like Emptor seeks to take a lot of the ambiguity or guesswork out of finding a set of local companies to work with in order to get construction projects off the ground. It also adds a robust audit trail — ratings or otherwise — to ensure that the best contractors surface and that everyone knows which ones they should skip. The company is coming out of Y Combinator.

“Every time you’re building [projects in new regions you have to find an entirely new set of suppliers,” Velker said. “Often in rural areas when there isn’t a saturation of contractors like there is in a large metro, that discovery process within a reasonable time frame was the biggest challenge. Especially within the construction industry, there’s a huge deviation in terms of the quality of the companies you work with. We definitely had a lot of pains with unreliable contractors who weren’t getting the job done to spec or on time, or things that came close to fraud. It comes with the territory when you work with that volume of companies in a short period of time.”

Companies first go to Emptor and describe the projects they want and what kinds of pricing structure they are offering. Then, kind of like Thumbtack or other marketplaces, Emptor matches those projects with qualified contractors and then compares those bids in order to select the best offer. It aims to be a replacement for the time spent searching around Yelp or Google, where there may be listings and pages but not a high volume of ratings — or ones that are even accurate to begin. Even after the search, getting the whole process started can take weeks, another period Emptor hopes to shrink by streamlining that process.

Right now Emptor mainly focuses on facilities and maintenance, though should something like this take off it could add other elements of contract work that companies need. The approach also aims to be more granular, giving companies more ways to identify the needs of the project that might not necessarily just be quantitative. After all, better data about a company’s actual needs that flows into some algorithm can produce better matching, and that can also go down to the actual way compensation would work on that project.

“Having just one number for what a project will cost is convenient from the supplier and buyer perspective, but it’s missing out on the ability to build structured data that you can analyze,” Velker said. “The companies are deciding, ‘what do I need to know, how many years have you done in business.’ You want to be explicit about how are we going to make this decision. If price is a factor, how much of a factor is it, so they can spec things out and there’s transparency to the buyers.”

But while it’s an attempt to try to bridge that gap between the company and a service provider, it’s one that many companies have tried to fill before. There are tools like Angie’s List and others for finding contractors, though Velker says those are primarily geared toward consumers — and some end up bending the apps in order to fill the needs they have for contractors without some kind of formal platform to use. Velker acknowledges the theory behind all these tools is pretty similar, though he hopes Emptor will be able to tackle the specific needs companies might have that he’s experienced himself.

Categories: Business News

Instacart taps Postmates to help with deliveries in SF during peak demand

2018, July 13 - 11:41pm

Instacart has tapped Postmates to offer better delivery services during peak hours in a San Francisco pilot.

While Instacart will still handle all the shopping for its customers, it will hand off some deliveries to Postmates at times when there is high demand on the Instacart platform.

Postmates, obviously, has offered delivery-as-a-service for merchants and brands since its inception, and some of those brands, such as Walmart, offer their own delivery services. But this marks the first time that Postmates has offered delivery-as-a-service to a business that itself is already a delivery service.

This comes at a time when the grocery space is at an inflection point. Amazon’s nearly $14 billion acquisition of Whole Foods has spurred a race to offer quick and convenient grocery delivery from a number of the bigger players, such as Target and Walmart. On top of that, the grocery industry is highly fragmented, offering a huge opportunity for the catch-all of Instacart’s service.

But quantity means almost nothing without quality, and Instacart’s pilot with Postmates is meant to ensure that delivery times don’t lag in the late morning and early afternoon, when most Instacart orders are set to be delivered.

Instacart’s Northwest General Manager Michelle McRae explained that there is a load balance involved in the partnership with Postmates.

“Like many on-demand services, Instacart sees demand peaks on certain days and at certain times,” said McRae. “The pilot is a way to offer delivery during peak hours and utilize Postmates delivery staff at times where Postmates would be most underutilized. Instacart users overwhelmingly prefer mid-morning and mid-afternoon, where is different from when people want hot, prepared food.”

McRae also stressed that the pilot would not affect current Instacart shoppers or delivery contractors, as Postmates is simply offering delivery capacity during peak demand times.

Perhaps more interesting, Postmates sees a big opportunity to work with on-demand services in offering extra delivery either at or below the cost of hiring more delivery people.

“We definitely see this as a bigger part of Postmates’ future,” said Postmates SVP Dan Mosher. “Most brands are moving toward a world where they want to provide quick convenient delivery but they don’t have the capabilities. As we scale, we have the delivery density to drive economics in a really cost-effective way, not only to restaurants and retailers but to other on-demand services as well.”

He added that enterprise delivery services will never eclipse Postmates’ direct-to-consumer business.

The pilot is currently only going down in San Francsico, but Instacart said that it is considering expanding it to other geographies and other delivery services as the pilot continues. The deal is not exclusive, as Postmates is currently working with Walmart to help deliver their groceries to customers.

Categories: Business News

Guru announces new AI and Sync features for knowledge sharing platform

2018, July 13 - 9:00pm

It’s one thing to have a great business idea, but connecting all of the disparate pieces of information and people needed to build it can be a frustrating growing pain — and one that the internal knowledge sharing company Guru is trying to fix.

Guru launched in 2015 as a Chrome extension to help revenue and customer service teams have easy access to all of their company’s information the moment they needed it by congregating relevant “cards” of information written by different internal teams. Since its launch, Guru has extended its company to include a web app, and Slack bot. Today, Guru unveiled a new AI, and syncing and impact analytics features aimed to improve the overall experience of the platform.

“Customer facing teams want to be responsive to their customers and feel confident in knowing what they want to communicate to them,” Guru CEO and co-founder Rick Nucci told TechCrunch. “They want to respond quickly and they want to respond accurately. These features further reduce the time it takes for them to dig up information and by reducing that time they’re solving issues faster and helping the customer have a better experience with them.”

With the introduction of AI Suggest to its Chrome extension, users will be able to access relevant company information without needing to search for it first. And because the extension can work wherever they work, there’s no time wasted returning to a single site. In its announcement, Guru says that this AI will learn a user’s search patterns overtime and grow to better understand their needs and improve efficiency.

While AI Suggest is specific to Guru’s Chrome extension, its Sync feature is universal across the company’s several implementations. With Sync, users can easily congregate and access not only information created natively on Guru but also information stored in a wiki, intranet or web-based applications.

“Companies have knowledge everywhere, and it’s not necessarily realistic that they’ll be able to move all of that into Guru,” Nucci said. “[But this allows] the team using Guru to still have one place to search.”

To get a better picture of how companies are using their knowledge, Guru has also incorporated impact analytics into its web app to help companies see where knowledge is best being utilized and where any gaps might be.

Nucci told TechCrunch that these new features are part a scaling plan the company is implementing with the help of a $9.3 million Series A funding round last summer with new investor Emergence Capital (as well as previous backers FirstMark Capital and MSD Capital). In addition to the new features announced today, Guru also has plans to expand its product into other areas of company knowledge management including HR and IT.

 

Updated: 10:43 AM ET / July 13th

Categories: Business News

Headout lands $10M Series A to help tourists book last-minute outings

2018, July 13 - 8:53pm

Imagine being in a new city with a few hours to kill, but no idea what to do. Headout is a travel app that enables tourists to book outings at very short notice, in most cases on the same day. The startup announced today that it’s raised a $10 million Series A led by returning investors Nexus Venture Partners and Version One Ventures to support its ambitious growth targets.

Over the next 18 months, co-founder and CEO Varun Khona says the startup wants to expand from 20 cities to 100 cities in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. The app recently added French, German and Spanish in select markets and aims to have all of its inventory available in 12 languages by the end of next year. Its bookings includes sightseeing tours, museum tickets and shows.

Headout’s Series A brings its total raised to $12 million. Its seed round was announced in 2015, when TechCrunch first profiled the company. The startup claims it has grown eight times over the past 12 months and is profitable.

As it enters new markets, however, Headout will be up against a roster of competitors that also offer experience bookings for tourists. These include Klook, TripAdvisor-owned Viator, Get Your Guide and Airbnb’s Experiences feature.

Khona says Headout’s main edge is tailoring its inventory and technology platform for “spontaneous last-minute mobile use cases.” It’s also a managed marketplace, meaning it standardizes pricing and quality, with the hope of creating a consistent experience across all outings. The startup says this focus on combining quality with unit economics means it’s enabled customers to save an average of 18% on last-minute bookings.

Categories: Business News

Octi raises $7.5M to create augmented reality that understands human movement

2018, July 13 - 8:19am

The team at Octi says it’s building a crucial piece of the augmented reality puzzle — the ability to understand the human body and its movement.

Co-founder and CEO Justin Fuisz told me that most existing AR technologies (including Apple’s ARKit) tend to be “plane-based” — in other words, while they can make something cool appear against a real-world background, it’s usually on a flat surface, like a table or the floor.

Octi, on the other hand, recognizes where people are in-camera, and it can use that understanding to apply a variety of different effects.

For example, Fuisz and his team showed me how they could dance around their office while bright, squiggly lines overlaid their bodies — and then they erased their bodies entirely. They also showed me how effects could be tied to different gestures, like how a “make it rain” motion could result in dollar bills flying out of their hands.

To do this, Octi says it’s built sophisticated machine learning and computer vision technology. For starters, it looks at a human being and detects key points, like eyes, nose, hips and elbows, then uses those points to construct a model of a skeleton.

Fuisz suggested that the technology could be applied to a number of different industries, including fashion, fitness, entertainment and gaming. In fact, the company is announcing a partnership and strategic investment from the OneTeam Collective, the accelerator of the NFL Players Association. As a result, Octi plans to create and distribute avatars of more than 2,000 NFL players.

In addition, Octi is announcing that it has raised $7.5 million in seed funding from Shasta Ventures, I2BF Ventures, Bold Capital Partners, Day One Ventures, Human Ventures Live Nation and AB InBev, plus individuals, including former Pandora and Snap executive Tom Conrad, WeWork Chief Product Officer of Technology Shiva Rajaraman, Adobe Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky, A&D Networks Chairman Abbe Raven and Joshua Kushner.

If you want to try this out for yourself, the startup has its own iOS app — Fuisz described the app as a technology showcase for potential partners, but he added, “The app is available to the public and is totally awesome.”

Categories: Business News

Robinhood CEO Baiju Bhatt to talk fintech at Disrupt SF

2018, July 13 - 5:58am

Robinhood has gone from being a little consumer-facing fintech app to an absolutely giant consumer-facing fintech app.

The company, which launched in 2013, has ballooned to a $5.6 billion valuation on the heels of a $363 million Series D financing round led by DST Global. The app has also grown to 5 million users, as of today, with more than $150 billion in transaction volume.

But the app, which lets people trade stocks and options for free, is also dabbling in the wondrous world of cryptocurrencies, setting the stage for a potential transition from “fun app” to legitimate financial institution.

That’s why we’re absolutely thrilled to have Robinhood co-founder and CEO Baiju Bhatt join us on the Disrupt SF 2018 stage.

The key to everything here is that Robinhood offered a simple consumer demand: free transactions on financial services. Unlike incumbents E*Trade and Scottrade, there are no trading fees on Robinhood, giving average consumers the chance to dip their toes in the market without any added barriers to entry.

At Disrupt, we’ll ask Bhatt about how Robinhood Crypto is progressing and what the company has in store as we head into next year.

Bhatt joins a wide array of big name speakers, from Dara Khosrowshahi to Reid Hoffman to Kirsten Green. It’s going to be an absolutely terrific show and we sincerely hope to see you there.

Tickets are available here.

Categories: Business News

Ransomware technique uses your real passwords to trick you

2018, July 13 - 4:52am

A few folks have reported a new ransomware technique that preys upon corporate inability to keep passwords safe. The notes – which are usually aimed at instilling fear – are simple: the hacker says “I know that your password is X. Give me a bitcoin and I won’t blackmail you.”

Programmer Can Duruk reported getting the email today.

Woah. This is cool. A Bitcoin ransom with using what I think is passwords from a big leak. Pretty neat since people would be legit scared when they see their password. The concealed part is actually an old password I used to use. pic.twitter.com/clEYiFqvHY

— can (@can) July 11, 2018

The email reads:

I’m aware that X is your password.

You don’t know me and you’re thinking why you received this e mail, right?

Well, I actually placed a malware on the porn website and guess what, you visited this web site to have fun (you know what I mean). While you were watching the video, your web browser acted as a RDP (Remote Desktop) and a keylogger which provided me access to your display screen and webcam. Right after that, my software gathered all your contacts from your Messenger, Facebook account, and email account.

What exactly did I do?

I made a split-screen video. First part recorded the video you were viewing (you’ve got a fine taste haha), and next part recorded your webcam (Yep! It’s you doing nasty things!).

What should you do?

Well, I believe, $1400 is a fair price for our little secret. You’ll make the payment via Bitcoin to the below address (if you don’t know this, search “how to buy bitcoin” in Google) .

BTC Address: 1Dvd7Wb72JBTbAcfTrxSJCZZuf4tsT8V72
(It is cAsE sensitive, so copy and paste it)

Important:

You have 24 hours in order to make the payment. (I have an unique pixel within this email message, and right now I know that you have read this email). If I don’t get the payment, I will send your video to all of your contacts including relatives, coworkers, and so forth. Nonetheless, if I do get paid, I will erase the video immidiately. If you want evidence, reply with “Yes!” and I will send your video recording to your 5 friends. This is a non-negotiable offer, so don’t waste my time and yours by replying to this email.

To be clear there is very little possibility that anyone has video of you cranking it unless, of course, you video yourself cranking it. Further, this is almost always a scam. That said, the fact that the hackers are able to supply your real passwords – most probably gleaned from the multiple corporate break-ins that have happened over the past few years – is a clever change to the traditional cyber-blackmail methodology.

Luckily, the hackers don’t have current passwords.

“However, all three recipients said the password was close to ten years old, and that none of the passwords cited in the sextortion email they received had been used anytime on their current computers,” wrote researcher Brian Krebs. In short, the password files the hackers have are very old and outdated.

To keep yourself safe, however, cover your webcam when not in use and change your passwords regularly. While difficult, there is nothing else that can keep you safer than you already are if you use two-factor authentication and secure logins.

Categories: Business News

As product development incorporates more feedback, development toolkit productboard raises $8M

2018, July 13 - 4:34am

Since its debut on the TechCrunch Disrupt stage in September 2016, demand for a service like productboard, which gives companies a holistic view of product development and encourages input from across an organization, has only gotten more acute, according to company chief executive Hubert Palan.

Now, with an $8 million commitment from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, with participation from Index Ventures, Credo Ventures, Reflex Capital and Rockaway Capital, alongside a host of angel investors, the company is looking to expand its sales and marketing and product development efforts to bring the benefits of its toolkit to more companies.

In the two years since TechCrunch last saw productboard, the company’s user base has grown significantly, from 100 customers in 2016 to more than 1,200 companies today, spanning a broad range of industries.

For Palan, the company’s growing user base (which now includes medical device companies, academic publishers and news organizations in addition to traditional digital product developers) is proof of a new demand in the market for more inputs around product design and development.

“Every company is now a digital company,” Palan said. “So every company needs to worry about digital product design.”

The company’s toolkit still includes features that allow it to hoover up information from customer support tickets, emails, input from sales teams and user research, to organize and prioritize features that need to be built.

But now, the company’s services allow anyone in an organization (with the proper access) to provide feedback and track the process of product development.

“Product Excellence is no longer optional,” said Palan in a statement. “These days competitors arise in a matter of months, not years. Customer loyalty is declining and users will happily switch to a competing solution that offers a better product experience. It’s more critical than ever to get the right products to market faster.”

As part of the financing, Kleiner Perkins’ new general partner, Ilya Fushman, will join the company’s board of directors. Fushman, who was integral in locking down productboard’s seed financing when he was at Index Ventures, has a long product history from his time at Dropbox, and is a welcome addition to the company’s board, Palan said.

While Fushman’s imprimatur is one sign of the company’s viability, the investment from strategic angel investors like Intercom co-founders Eoghan McCabe and Des Traynor; Clark Valberg, the co-founder of InVision; and Larry Gadea, the founder of Envoy, is still another.

“Product management is a core function in every technology organization, but few dedicated tools exist for it,” said Fushman, in a statement. 

Categories: Business News

Japanese startup Paidy raises $55M Series C to let people shop online without a credit card

2018, July 12 - 10:12pm

Paidy, a fintech startup that enables Japanese consumers to shop online without using a credit card, announced today that it has raised a $55 million Series C. The round was led by Japanese trade conglomerate Itochu Corporation, with participation from Goldman Sachs.

The Tokyo-based startup says this brings its total funding so far to $80 million, including a $15 million Series B announced two years ago. One notable fact about Paidy’s funding is that it’s raised a sizable amount for Japanese startup, especially one with non-Japanese founders (its CEO and co-founder is Canadian and Goldman Sachs alum Russell Cummer, left in the photo above with CTO and co-founder Lee Smith).

Paidy was launched because even though Japan’s credit card penetration rate is high, their usage rate is relatively low, even for online purchases. Instead, shoppers pay cash on delivery or at convenience stores, which function as combination logistics/payment centers in many Japanese cities.

This is convenient for buyers because they don’t have to enter a credit card online or worry about fraud, but a hassle for businesses that often need to float cash for merchandise that hasn’t been paid for yet or deal with incomplete deliveries.

Paidy makes it possible for people to buy online without creating an account or using their credit cards. Instead, if a merchant uses Paidy, its customers are able to check out by entering their mobile phone numbers and email addresses. Then Paidy authenticates them with a four-digit code sent through SMS or voice. Every month, customers settle their bills, which include all transactions they made using Paidy, at a convenience store or through bank transfers or auto-debits (installment and subscription plans are also available).

The value proposition for businesses is that Paidy can increase their customer base and guarantee they get paid by using machine learning algorithms to underwrite transactions. The company claims that there are now 1.4 million active Paidy accounts, with the ambitious goal of increasing that number to 11 million by 2020 by expanding to bigger merchants and offline transactions.

In a press statement, Cummer said “We are extremely honored that Paidy’s business concept was highly valued by one of Japan’s most prestigious business conglomerates, ITOCHU. Through this tie-up, we expect to launch new merchants in order to deliver Paidy’s frictionless and intuitive financial solution to a much broader audience.”

Categories: Business News

Spring Health raises $6M to help employees get access to personalized mental health treatment

2018, July 12 - 10:00pm

In recent months, we’ve seen more and more funding flowing into tools for mental wellness — whether that’s AI-driven tools to help patients find help to meditation apps — and it seems like that trend is starting to pick up even more steam as smaller companies are grabbing the attention of investors.

There’s another one picking up funding today in Spring Health, a platform for smaller companies to help their employees get more access to mental health treatment. The startup looks to give employers get access to a simple, effective way to start offering that treatment for their employees in the form of personalized mental wellness plans. The employees get access to confidential plans in addition to access to a network and ways to get in touch with a therapist or psychiatrist as quickly as possible. The company said it has raised an additional $6 million in funding led by Rethink Impact, with Work-Bench, BBG Ventures, and The Partnership Fund for New York City joining the round. RRE Ventures and the William K. Warren Foundation also participated.

“…I realized that mental health care is largely a guessing game: you use trial-and-error to find a compatible therapist, and you use trial-and-error to find the right treatment regimen, whether that’s a specific cocktail of medications or a specific type of psychotherapy,” CEO and co-founder April Koh said. “Everything around us is personalized these days – like shopping on Amazon, search results on Google, and restaurant recommendations on Yelp – but you can’t get personalized recommendations for your mental health care. I wanted to build a platform that connects you with the right care for you from the very beginning. So I partnered with leading expert on personalized psychiatry, Dr. Adam Chekroud our Chief Scientist, and my friend Abhishek Chandra, our CTO, to start Spring Health.”

The startup bills itself as an online mental health clinic that offers recommendations for employees, such as treatment options or tweaks to their daily routines (like exercise regimens). Like other machine learning-driven platforms, Spring Health puts a questionnaire in front of the end employee that adapts to the responses they are giving and then generates a wellness plan for that specific individual. As more and more patients get on the service, it gets more data, and can improve those recommendations over time. Those patients are then matched with clinicians and licensed medical health professionals from the company’s network.

“We found that employers were asking for it,” Koh said. “As a company we started off by selling an AI-enabled clinical decision support tool to health systems to empower their doctors to make data-driven decisions. While selling that tool to one big health system, word reached their benefits department, and they reached out to us and told us they need something in benefits to deal with mental health needs of their employee base. When that happened, we decided to completely focus on selling a “full-stack” mental health solution to employers for their employees. Instead of selling a tool to doctors, we decided we would create our own network of best-in-class mental health providers who would use our tools to deliver the best mental health care possible.”

However, Spring Health isn’t the only startup looking to create an intelligent matching system for employees seeking mental health. Lyra Health, another tool to help employees securely and confidentially begin the process of getting mental health treatment, raised $45 million in May this year. But Spring Health and Lyra Health are both part of a wave of startups looking to create ways for employees to more efficiently seek care powered by machine learning and capitalizing on the cost and difficulty of those tools dropping dramatically.

And it’s not the only service in the mental wellness category also picking up traction, with meditation app Calm raising $27 million at a $250 million valuation. Employers naturally have a stake in the health of their employees, and as all these apps look to make getting mental health treatment or improving mental wellness easier — and less of a taboo — the hope is they’ll continue to lower the barrier to entry, both from the actual product inertia and getting people comfortable with seeking help in the first place.

“I think VC’s are realizing there’s a huge opportunity to disrupt mental health care and make it accessible, convenient and affordable. But from our perspective, the problem with the space is that there is a lot of unvetted, non-evidence-based technology. There’s a ton of vaporware surrounding AI, big data, and machine-learning, especially in mental health care. We want to set a higher standard in mental healthcare that is based on evidence and clinical validation. Unlike most mental health care solutions on the market, we have multiple peer-reviewed publications in top medical journals like JAMA, describing and substantiating our technology. We know that our personalized recommendations and our Care Navigation approach are evidence-based and proven to work.

Categories: Business News

Intelligent recruiting platform Greenhouse picks up another $50M

2018, July 12 - 8:00pm

Finding the right talent is a make-or-break situation for any company — especially smaller ones, which might not have the robust tools (or pocket books) of larger companies like Google that have a complete system in place. Recruiting platform Greenhouse hopes to make that process a little bit easier, and it has caught the attention of investors.

The company said it has raised a new $50 million financing round from Riverwood Capital, bringing its total funding to $110 million. Greenhouse definitely isn’t the only company that’s starting to pick up a significant amount of funding recently by trying to crack open the process of talent acquisition and make it a little more data-driven. But as the cost and difficulty of collecting enormous amounts of data on different kinds of human activity has dropped with the emergence of new machine learning tools, the problems behind recruiting may also be one that can get a lot of help from employing the same data science rigor that powers a smart Google search result.

“Hiring tools and software in the market had been built for the previous generation, with an applicant tracking mindset to cover the basics of collecting resumes on your website,” Greenhouse CEO Daniel Chait said. “We saw that winning companies in the talent market were ones who were able to attract the right talent, identify difference makers in a sea of LinkedIn profiles, make really smart decisions in who to hire, deliver winning experiences, use data to optimize. They needed tools to accomplish those goals and much broader than the recruiting software.”

The typical consumer’s experience with Greenhouse has probably been a bunch of job listings on a website somewhere, where an employee can submit an application or additional information that the company wants. Under the hood, Greenhouse provides companies with ways to find the right funnels for their applications — whether that’s something like GlassDoor or smaller niches on the Internet with more isolated pockets of talent — and discover the right employees for the roles that are available. Data is collected on all this behavior, which in turn helps Greenhouse give better recommendations for companies as to where to find potential recruits that fit their needs.

All that has to be packaged together with a generally nice user experience, both for the typical consumer and for the companies. That can boil down to actually understanding the right questions to ask, the right requirements to post in a job listing, and also making sure the process is pretty quick for people that are applying for jobs. Greenhouse implements scorecards to help interviewers — which can turn out to be a big group, depending on the position — determine whether or not candidates are the right person for the job in a more rigorous manner. And Greenhouse also hopes to work with companies with its tools to eliminate bias in the recruiting process to produce a more diverse set of hires.

“Companies are continuing to invest in recruiting and talent acquisition software,” Chait said. “As issues of talent and hiring have become more central at the C-suite, companies continue to invest in this area. Companies are starting to see the difference between HR and talent acquisition as its own specialty. If you’re a big company that has an all-in-one HR suite, it’s all well and good to have payroll and benefits in your org chart in one place, but when it comes to hiring, it’s very dynamic.”

Greenhouse is still pretty dependent on its partners, but the startup has a wide array of companies that it works with to ensure that all the right tools are available to clients to find the right candidates. If a change is coming on LinkedIn — one of the biggest homes of candidate profiles on the planet — Greenhouse is going to work with the company to ensure that nothing breaks, Chait said. Greenhouse provides an API-driven ecosystem to ensure that its tools reach all the right spots on the Internet to help companies find the best talent.

But Greenhouse isn’t the only recruiting-driven company to attract a significant round of funding. It isn’t even the only one to do so in the last month — Hired, another recruiting platform, said it raised $30 million just weeks ago to create a sort of subscription model to help funnel the right candidates to companies. But all this interest, including Greenhouse, is a product of attempts to try to find the right talent in what might be unexpected spots powered by machine learning tools that are now getting to the point where the predictions are actually pretty good.

Categories: Business News

Meero raises $45 million for its on-demand photography service

2018, July 12 - 7:07pm

Have you ever wondered why photos on Airbnb, UberEats and your favorite hotel platform always look so good? French startup Meero has been working on a marketplace and AI-powered technology to make it easy to get good photos of products and places.

The company has raised a new $45 million round led by Alven Capital and Idinvest. Eight months ago, Meero already raised $15 million from Global Founders Capital, Aglaé Ventures, Alven Capital and White Star Capital.

“We focused on this idea because we wanted to make the web beautiful,” co-founder and CEO Thomas Rebaud told me last year. “We realized that we are all on Instagram and that photos are beautiful. But then, you go on a marketplace and photos aren’t great.”

The company first looked at the real estate market and partnered with real estate companies to optimize the photography process as much as possible.

It starts with finding a photographer. Instead of working with hundreds of photographers in hundreds of cities, Meero lets you find a photographer in over a hundred countries. Prices, contracts and processes are all standardized in order to avoid any surprise. Meero takes a cut on every transaction.

After the shooting, photographers usually have to spend hours selecting and editing the best photos. This usually takes even longer than the shooting itself.

Meero has been working on AI-powered algorithms so that you don’t have much to do. You upload your photos, and the service will automagically take care of the editing. By speeding up this process, a photographer can work on more projects. And Meero can also cut variable costs drastically — this is key when it comes to Meero’s scalability.

With today’s funding round, the startup is going to open new offices in the U.S. and somewhere in Asia. Meero will also hire more computer vision experts in France.

Meero currently has 40,000 clients and processes a new transaction every 30 seconds. Clients usually get photos within 24 hours. The company now also lets you order videos from the same platform.

Categories: Business News

Pointy raises $12M Series B to help bricks and mortar retailers fight Amazon

2018, July 12 - 4:00pm

Pointy​,​ the​ ​startup​ ​that​ offers tech to help ​bricks and mortar​ ​retailers put their stock online so that it can be discovered via search engines, has picked up $12 million in new funding. The Series B round is led by Polaris Partners and Vulcan Capital, and brings total funding for the Irish company to $19 million.

Founded on the premise that people often resort to e-commerce behemoths like Amazon because they can’t find the same item locally, Pointy has developed a hardware and cloud software solution that makes it easy to create a bespoke website as means of making local stock discoverable online. Specifically, the ​”Pointy​ ​box”​ hardware ​gadget connects to a store’s barcode scanner and automatically puts scanned items on a Pointy-powered website for the store.

Store pages are then optimised for search engines, so that when you search for products locally — say your favourite artisan beer — a Pointy-powered result shows up and encourages you to visit the store and make a purchase. In other words, this is about helping local retailers drive more footfall, but with very little additional overhead.

Pointy CEO and co-founder Mark Cummins says the Series B round will be used by the startup to accelerate growth and build on increased uptake by U.S. retailers. It currently counts 5,500 retailers using Pointy in total, with 70 percent from the U.S, and the remaining in Canada, U.K. and Ireland. “To put the U.S. number in context, just under 1 in 200 U.S retailers is now using Pointy,” a company spokesperson tells me.

Since we last covered Pointy, it has extended its reach considerably via partnerships with Lightspeed, Clover and Square, which allows retailers using these POS systems to use the Pointy platform for free because it doesn’t require the purchase of the $499 Pointy device. The startup has also partnered with Google via the search giant’s new See What’s In Store (SWIS) program so that shoppers can discover what a store sells within Google’s search and maps pages.

“For all the hype around e-commerce and the media narrative of ‘Retail Apocalypse’, people still make the vast majority of their purchases in local stores,” adds Cummins in a statement. “But local retailers have lost out in not having their products visible online — we solve that problem for them”.

Meanwhile, Pointy’s previous backers include Draper Associates, Frontline Ventures, and notable angel investors such as Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress), Lars Rasmussen (co-founder of Google Maps), Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of TransferWise), and Michael Birch (co-founder of Bebo).

Categories: Business News

Pages