Startup News

Subscribe to Startup News feed Startup News
Startup and Technology News
Updated: 4 hours 45 min ago

Blueshift announces $15M Series B to expand AI-fueled cross-channel marketing tool

2019, April 23 - 10:00pm

Blueshift is startup founded by tech industry veterans, who saw first-hand how difficult cross-channel marketing was. They decided to launch a company and build a cross-channel marketing platform from the ground up that uses AI and machine learning to make sense of the growing amount of customer data. Today, the startup announced a $15 million Series B round to keep it going.

The round was led by Softbank Ventures Asia, a fund focused on AI startups like Blueshift . Previous investors Storm Ventures and Nexus Venture Partners also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $30 million, according the company.

Company co-founder and CEO Vijay Chittoor says the marketing landscape is changing, and he believes that requires a new approach to allow marketers to take advantage of the multiple channels where they could be engaging with customers from a single tool.

“If you thought about the world of customer engagement at Walmart or Groupon [or any other retailer] 10 years ago, it was primarily an email problem. Today, we as customers, we’re interacting with these brands on not just email, but also on mobile notifications, Facebook custom audiences and WeChat [and across multiple other channels],” he explained.

He says that this has created a lot more data, which it turns out is a double-edged sword for marketing pros. “I think on one end, it’s exciting for a marketer or a CMO to have more data and more channels. It gives them more ways to connect. But at the same time, it’s also more challenging because now you have to make sense of thousand times more data. And you have to use it intelligently on not just one channel like email, but you’re now trying to make sense of data across 15 different channels,” Chittoor said.

This a crowded field with big players like Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle, among others, offering similar cross-channel, AI-fueled solution. In addition startups are attracting huge chunks of money to attack this problem, including Klayvio pulling in $150 million a couple of weeks ago and Iterable, which landed $50 million last month.

He says his company’s differentiator is the AI piece, and it is this piece that the company’s lead investor in this round has been focusing on in its investments. The company plans to use this round to continue building out its marketing platform and show marketers how to communicate intelligently across channels wherever the consumer happens to be. Customers include LendingTree, Udacity and BBC.

Marketing tech vendors need to find right balance between digital and human interactions

Categories: Business News

The robot-recruiter is coming — VCV’s AI will read your face in a job interview

2019, April 23 - 9:00pm

With remote working becoming more of a norm than ever before, remote interviews have, in turn, become a necessity. But how can you truly assess someone from these? In addition, it’s easy to miss great candidates just because you don’t have time to interview all the candidates.

A number of startups have appeared to try and address the problem. HireVue,
which has raised $93M, has tried to address with an AI-driven ‘Hiring Intelligence’ platform. AllyO, which has raised $19M, is trying to make hiring more efficient by addressing the traditional inefficiencies of lost applicants and conversions due to poor candidate experience. And Arya is a seed stage start-up which uses machine learning to identify successful sourcing patterns and draws potential candidates out of online profiles.

Another player is applying algorithms to the hiring process.

VCV.AI, has now raised $1.7 million to automatically screens job candidates using facial and voice recognition. Yes, it looks like another episode of Black Mirror is on its way…

The investment comes from Japanese VC Will Group, Talent Equity Ventures, 500 Startups and angel investors, including Masahiro Takeshima of Indeed. The funding will help VCV continue to develop its technology and strengthen its position, and will also see it opening an office in Tokyo, Japan.

VCV claims it can help eliminate human bias from the hiring process with preliminarily screening of candidates, automated screening calls, and by conducting these robo-video interviews with voice recognition and video recording.

Through VCV, potential candidates can record a video using a computer or smartphone on iOS or Android. This functions like a real interview, as candidates don’t have the ability to prepare for the questions in advance. Additionally, facial and voice recognition identifies a candidates’ nervousness, mood, and behavior patterns to help recruiters assess whether a person is a good cultural fit for the company.

VCV says this doesn’t replace the job of a recruiter but enhances their toolset so they can find and screen a greater number of candidates more efficiently. The startup says this AI-led approach helps companies save over 20 hours of work with recruiting bots working 24/7 to find, chat, and interview potential candidates.

Clients already include PWC, L’Oreal, Danone, Mars, Schlumberger, and Citibank .

Arik Akverdian, founder and CEO of VCV.AI, said: “AI can improve and streamline the hiring process, while also helping to remove corrosive biases that all humans have. There’s no reason technological innovation shouldn’t transform this area of business—especially considering human talent is an organization’s most important asset.”

We will see how those biases play out once all our hiring is via AI…

Categories: Business News

Harness hauls in $60M Series B investment on $500M valuation

2019, April 23 - 8:32pm

Series B rounds used to be about establishing a product-market fit, but for some startups the whole process seems to be accelerating. Harness, the startup founded by AppDynamics co-founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal is one of those companies that is putting the pedal the metal with his second startup, taking his learnings and a $60 million round to build the company much more quickly.

Harness already has an eye-popping half billion dollar valuation. It’s not terribly often I hear valuations in a Series B discussion. More typically CEOs want to talk growth rates, but Bansal volunteered the information, excited by the startup’s rapid development.

The round was led by IVP, GV (formerly Google Ventures) and ServiceNow Ventures. Existing investors Big Labs, Menlo Ventures and Unusual Ventures also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $80 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Bansal obviously made a fair bit of money when he sold AppDynamics to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion and he could have rested after his great success. Instead he turned his attention almost immediately to a new challenge, helping companies move to a new continuous delivery model more rapidly by offering Continuous Delivery as a Service.

As companies move to containers and the cloud, they face challenges implementing new software delivery models. As is often the case, large web scale companies like Facebook, Google and Netflix have the resources to deliver these kinds of solutions quickly, but it’s much more difficult for most other companies.

Bansal saw an opportunity here to package continuous delivery approaches as a service. “Our approach in the market is Continuous Delivery as a Service, and instead of you trying to engineer this, you get this platform that can solve this problem and bring you the best tooling that a Google or Facebook or Netflix would have,” Basal explained.

The approach has gained traction quickly. The company has grown from 25 employees at launch in 2017 to 100 today. It boasts 50 enterprise customers including Home Depot, Santander Bank and McAfee.

He says that the continuous delivery piece could just be a starting point, and the money from the round will be plowed back into engineering efforts to expand the platform and solve other problems DevOps teams face with a modern software delivery approach.

Bansal admits that it’s unusual to have this kind of traction this early, and he says that his growth is much faster than it was at AppDynamics at the same stage, but he believes the opportunity here is huge as companies look for more efficient ways to deliver software. “I’m a little bit surprised. I thought this was a big problem when I started, but it’s an even bigger problem than I thought and how much pain was out there and how ready the market was to look at a very different way of solving this problem,” he said.

AppDynamics founder Jyoti Bansal wastes little time launching a new company

Categories: Business News

GV-backed KeepTruckin nabs $149M at $1.25B valuation

2019, April 23 - 7:00pm

KeepTruckin, a developer of hardware and software that helps truck drivers manage their vehicles and cargo, has raised $149 million in Series D funding. Greenoaks Capital has led the round, with participation from existing backers GV, IVP, Index Ventures and Scale Venture Partners .

The round values the business at $1.25 billion, according to KeepTruckin co-founder and chief executive officer Shoaib Makani.

Since it was founded in 2013, KeepTruckin has accumulated 55,000 unique customers, deploying its software in hundreds of thousands of vehicles. The San Francisco-headquartered company will use the latest investment to double its employee headcount to 2,000 in the next 12 to 18 months.

“Our technology really improves the life of the driver,” Makani told TechCrunch. “These are real people doing work that keeps our economy moving. Trucking is really the foundation of the American economy. More than 70 percent of all freight is moved over the road in a truck. This is how we eat, consume and produce; without it, our economy wouldn’t thrive.”

The Series D financing brings KeepTruckin’s total raised to $228 million, including a $50 million Series C that closed in March 2018.

KeepTruckin’s software is intended to bring the antiquated trucking industry into the digital age. Its platform provides electronic logs and fleet management tools, including GPS tracking and driver performance monitoring for fleet managers and dispatchers to track and communicate with their drivers.

“We are competing against paper and pencil,” Makani explained.

Makani left Khosla Ventures, where he had been an investor in early-stage consumer and enterprise companies since 2011, in 2013 to build KeepTruckin. At the time, the beginnings of a new sector focused on tech-enabled logistics was beginning to emerge. Since then, several companies have launched and scaled with similar focuses.

There’s Convoy in Seattle, for example, which also operates a network of connected-trucks. Uber Freight, the logistics and supply chain management business inside Uber. And Huochebang, a Chinese mobile app dubbed the “Uber-for-Trucks.”

“Trucking is forecasted to be a $1 trillion industry by 2024 and is the backbone of the global economy, yet has been underserved by technology but change is coming and KeepTruckin is at the leading edge,” Greenoaks managing partner Neil Mehta said in a statement. “KeepTruckin is building the technology that trucking companies need to compete in the modern economy. The network that KeepTruckin has built will enable it to change the way freight is moved on our roads.”

On-demand trucking app Convoy raises $185M at $1B valuation

Categories: Business News

Le Wagon launches part-time coding bootcamps

2019, April 23 - 4:10pm

Le Wagon has been steadily growing for the past few years. The bootstrapped French company now has 34 campuses across 22 countries. And now, Le Wagon is about to welcome a whole lot more students thanks to a new part-time program.

The startup has been testing a new part-time format in London and now wants to expand this program across all campuses. This way, students can keep working in their existing company and attend Le Wagon on Tuesday night, Thursday night and Saturday.

Le Wagon still focuses on its highly rated full-stack program. So far, nearly 5,000 students have attended this 9-week full-time bootcamp. You get to learn about front-end and back-end development, and you end up building your own project from start to finish.

After a couple of months, you should be ready to start a startup or join a startup as a software engineer. And Le Wagon is still scaling that program as the company expects to accept between 2,000 and 3,000 students in 2019 alone.

The part-time program has the exact same content and costs the same price — the full-time program in Paris currently costs €6,900. The part-time program is going live in Paris in August, and it should be live on most campuses by January 2020. And the company thinks a part-time program opens up many different possibilities.

If you have a family and kids, maybe you can’t afford to leave your job or take a sabbatical. Some high-ranked executives also want to be 100 percent sure they want to start a new career before leaving everything behind. According to Le Wagon co-founder and COO Romain Paillard, the new program should attract different profiles, which should improve the depth of the alumni community.

Many former students create their own startups. French startups founded by Le Wagon alumni have raised $48 million (€43 million) in total.

Of course, it’ll take a lot of motivation to go through the program. It’s like signing up for a part-time job in addition to your full-time job. Le Wagon will screen candidates as much as possible to see if they’re motivated enough to finish the program.

Many companies don’t want to let their employees attend Le Wagon right now because it means they’ll be gone for a couple of months. Le Wagon thinks companies will be more open-minded about a part-time program and support their employees.

This will be a nice addition to Le Wagon’s executive program. The company is just starting on this front and has attracted hundreds of employees working for big companies and looking for a short program to learn new skills.

Categories: Business News

Smartcar accuses $50M-funded rival Otonomo of API plagiarism

2019, April 23 - 10:22am

Ruthless copying is common in tech. Just ask Snapchat. However, it’s typically more conceptual than literal. But car API startup Smartcar claims that its competitor Otonomo copy-and-pasted Smartcar’s API documentation, allegedly plagiarizing it extensively to the point of including the original’s typos and randomly generated strings of code. It’s published a series of side-by-side screenshots detailing the supposed theft of its intellectual property.

Smartcar CEO Sahas Katta says “We do have evidence of several of their employees systemically using our product with behavior indicating they wanted to copy our product in both form and function.” Now a spokesperson for the startup tells me “We’ve filed a cease-and-desist letter, delivered to Otonomo this morning, that contains documented aspects of different breaches and violations.”

The accusations are troubling given Otonomo is not some inconsequential upstart. The Israel-based company has raised over $50 million since its founding in 2015, and its investors include auto parts giant Aptiv (formerly Delphi) and prestigious VC firm Bessemer Ventures Partners. Otonomo CMO Lisa Joy provided this statement in response to the allegations, noting it will investigate but is confident it acted with integrity:

Otonomo prides itself on providing a completely unique offering backed by our own intellectual property and patents. We take Smartcar’s questions seriously and are conducting an investigation, but we remain confident that our rigorous standards of integrity remain uncompromised. If our investigation reveals any issues, we will immediately take the necessary steps to address them.

Both startups are trying to build an API layer that connects data from cars with app developers so they can build products that can locate, unlock, or harness data from vehicles. The 20-person Mountain View-based Smartcar has raised $12 million from Andreessen Horowitz and NEA. A major deciding factor in who’ll win this market is which platform offers the best documentation that makes it easiest for developers to integrate the APIs. 

“A few days ago, we came across Otonomo’s publicly available API documentation. As we read through it, we quickly realized that something was off. It looked familiar. Oddly familiar. That’s because we wrote it” Smartcar explains in its blog post. “We didn’t just find a few vague similarities to Smartcar’s documentation. Otonomo’s docs are a systematically written rip-off of ours – from the overall structure, right down to code samples and even typos.”

The screenshot above comparing API documentation from Smartcar on the left and Otonomo on the right appears to show Otonomo used nearly identical formatting and the exact same randomly generated sample identifier (highlighted) as Smartcar. Further examples flag seemingly identical code strings and snippets.

Smartcar founder and CEO Sahas Katta

Otonomo has pulled down their docs.otonomo.io documentation website, but TechCrunch has reviewed an Archive.org Wayback Machine showing this Otonomo site as of April 5, 2019 featured sections that are identical to the documentation Smartcar published in August 2018. That includes Smartcar’s typo “it will returned here”, and its randomly generated sample code placeholder “”4a1b01e5-0497-417c-a30e-6df6ba33ba46” which both appear in the Wayback Machine copy of Otonomo’s docs. The typo was fixed in this version of Otonomo’s docs that’s still publicly available, but that code string remains.

“It would be a one in a quintillion chance of them happening to land on the same randomly generated string” Smartcar’s Katta tells TechCrunch.

Yet curiously, Otonomo’s CMO told TechCrunch that “The materials that [Smartcar] put on their post are all publicly accessible documentation, It’s all public domain content.” But that’s not true, Katta argues, given the definition of ‘public domain’ is content belonging to the public that’s uncopyrightable. “I would sure hope not, considering . . . we have proper copyright notices at the bottom. Our product is our intellectual property. Just like Twilio’s API documentation or Stripe’s, it is published and publicly available — and it is proprietary.”

Otonomo’s Lisa Joy noted that her startup is currently fundraising for its Series C, which reportedly already includes $10 million from South Korean energy and telecom holdings giant SK. “We’re in the middle of raising a round right now. That round is not done” she told me. But if Otonomo gets a reputation for allegedly copying its API docs, that could hurt its standing with developers and potentially endanger that funding round.

Categories: Business News

Vine reboot Byte begins beta testing

2019, April 23 - 7:01am

Twitter shut down Dom Hoffman’s app Vine, giving away the short-form video goldmine to China’s TikTok. Now a year and half since Hoffman announced he’d reimagine the app as V2 then scrapped that name, his follow-up to Vine called Byte has finally sent out the first 100 invites to its closed beta. Byte will let users record or upload short, looped vertical videos to what’s currently a reverse-chronological feed.

the byte beta we’ve been running with friends and family *feels* exactly like the vine friends and family beta, down to the weird but appealing randomness of the videos. that’ll change as we expand, but it’s a pretty good sign pic.twitter.com/rBbQrNtTJ7

— dom hofmann (@dhof) April 22, 2019

It will be a long uphill climb for Byte given TikTok’s massive popularity. But if it differentiates by focusing less on lip syncing and teen non-sense so it’s less alienating to an older audience, there might be room for a homegrown competitor in short-form video entertainment.

Hoffman tells TechCrunch that he’s emboldened by the off-the-cuff nature of the beta community, which he believes proves the app is compelling even before lots of creative and funny video makers join. He says his top priority is doing right by creators so they’ll be lined up to give Byte a shot when it officially launches even if they could get more views elsewhere.

For now, Hoffman plans to keep running beta tests, adding and subtracting features for a trial by fire to see what works and what’s unnecessary. The current version is just camera recordings with no uploads, and just a feed with Likes and comments but no account following. Upcoming iterations from his seven-person team will test video uploads and profiles.

One reassuring point is that Hoffman is well aware that TikTok’s epic rise has changed the landscape. He admits that Byte can’t win with the exact same playbook Vine did when it faced an open field, and it must bring something unique. Hoffman tells me he’s a big fan of TikTok, and sees it as one evolutionary step past Vine, but not in the same direction as his new app

Does the world need Vine back if TikTok already has over 500 million active users? We’ll soon find out of Hoffman can take a Byte of that market.

It’s time to pay serious attention to TikTok

Categories: Business News

The new new web

2019, April 23 - 4:35am

Over the last five years, almost everything about web development has changed. Oh, the old tech still works, your WordPress and Ruby On Rails sites still function just fine — but they’re increasingly being supplanted by radical new approaches. The contents of your browser are being sliced, diced, rendered, and processed in wholly new ways nowadays, and the state of art is currently in serious flux. What follows is a brief tour of what I like to call the New New Web:

Table of Contents
  1. Single-Page Apps
  2. Headless CMSes
  3. Static Site Generators
  4. The JAMStack
  5. Hosting and Serverlessness
  6. Summary

1. Single-Page Apps

These have become so much the norm — our web projects at HappyFunCorp are almost always single-page apps nowadays — that it’s easy to forget how new and radical they were when they first emerged, in the days of jQuery running in pages dynamically built from templates on the server.

Categories: Business News

Talk media and TED2019 key takeaways with TechCrunch’s Anthony Ha

2019, April 23 - 3:53am

Anthony just returned from Vancouver, where he was covering the TED2019 conference — a much-parodied gathering where VCs, executives and other bigwigs gather to exchange ideas.

This year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey got the biggest headlines, but the questions raised in his onstage interview kept popping up throughout the week: How has social media warped our democracy? How can the big online platforms fight back against abuse and misinformation? And what is the Internet good for, anyway? Wednesday at 11:00 am PT, Anthony will recap the five-day event’s most interesting talks and provocative ideas with Extra Crunch members on a conference call.

Tune in to dig into what happened onstage and off and ask Anthony any and all things media.

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

Down to Shop is a tongue-in-cheek mobile shopping network

2019, April 23 - 1:00am

Cyrus Summerlin and Max Hellerstein, who previously created the Push for Pizza app (which allowed users to order a pizza with the push of a button), are officially launching their new startup today, Down to Shop.

The app bills itself as both a modern reinvention of QVC and “the funnest way to shop.” It allows users to watch funny videos featuring products that can be purchased directly from the app.

In an email, Hellerstein said the pair created Down to Shop out of dissatisfaction with existing advertising and e-commerce. Summerlin described it as “a hypermedia commerce platform.”

“We’ve created a self-aware, fun and entertaining, interactive environment that gets customers to engage with brands like never before — because they want to,” Summerlin said. “What a concept!”

To do this, Down to Shop says it has recruited a creative team of Upright Citizens Brigade alums and Instagram influencers to star in its shows, which are written, filmed and edited in the startup’s Los Angeles studios. The content is built around four-week seasons, with daily episodes across five shows each season.

You can download the iOS app now, then swipe through different videos and games. Judging from the videos available at launch, the app is holding true to its promise of “content first, advertising second,” with laid-back, tongue-in-cheek shows that also happen to feature promoted products.

By playing games and watching videos, you also earn Clout, the in-app currency that be used to make purchases. As for the products available to purchase, the company says it’s already working with more than 60 brands, including Sustain Condoms, Dirty Lemon (water) and Pretty Litter (cat litter).

Down to Shop’s investors include Greycroft, Lerer Hippeau and Firstmark. The startup isn’t disclosing the size of its funding, but according a regulatory filing, it raised $5.9 million last fall.

Categories: Business News

Beyond Meat prices its public offering

2019, April 23 - 12:17am

Beyond Meat, the meat replacement company whose packages of Beyond Burgers line grocery store aisles across America, has priced its initial public offering.

The company is looking to raise roughly $200 million in the stock sale for its portfolio of burger, chicken and sausage replacements, selling 8.75 million shares of common stock at an upper limit of $21 per share that would value Beyond Meat at more than $1 billion.

The Los Angeles-based company’s public offering should be a nice windfall for the Chicago-based investors DNS Capital, an investment firm managing the private wealth of the Pritzker family, and Cleveland Avenue, founded by former McDonald’s executive Don Thompson; as well as the venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins and Obvious Ventures.

Another winner from the Beyond Meat public offering is the corporate investment arm of Tyson Foods . The meat processor and marketer invested in Beyond Meat back in 2016.

All told, Beyond Meat has raised $122 million from investors, including Obvious Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Cleveland Avenue, DNS Capital, Tyson Ventures, Bill Gates, S2G Ventures and a whole host of other firms, according to Crunchbase.

While Beyond Meat has increased its revenues steadily — from $16.2 million when it began selling its wares in 2016 to $87.9 million in 2018 — the company is still a loss-generating machine. Its operations were in the red to the tune of $29.9 million in 2018, down from $30.4 million a year earlier.

With the public offering, Beyond Meat becomes the first venture-backed meat replacement company to list its shares, but there are other startups waiting to follow suit. Impossible Burger is another well-financed startup making burger alternatives, as is the current king of animal-free condiments, Just, which is looking at lab-grown meat on its product roadmap.

Supporting all of this investment activity is the potential to carve out a huge chunk of the $270 billion consumers spent on meat in the U.S. in 2017 alone. Globally, consumers bought $1.4 trillion of meat, according to data from Fitch Solutions Macro Research cited by the company.

Meanwhile, consumption of plant-based meat replacements in the U.S. is growing at a steady clip. In the first half of 2018, Americans bought $670 million of meat replacement products, according to a Nielsen study commissioned by the Plant Based Food Association.

The company first filed for its public offering in November 2018.

Categories: Business News

Audioburst raises $10M to build AI-powered infotainment systems for cars, ad solutions

2019, April 23 - 12:00am

Audioburst, a startup that uses AI technology to extract the best bits from podcasts and talk radio to create new listening experiences, has raised an additional $10 million in strategic funding from Dentsu and Hyundai Motor Company. The new round is focused on helping Audioburst further expand into advertising and in vehicles. It also precedes the company’s planned launch into Japan at the end of 2019.

Dentsu and Hyundai join Audioburst’s other strategic investors, Samsung Ventures, Nippon Broadcasting, and Advanced Media, Inc., and bring the company’s total raise to date to $25 million.

The startup today ingests and indexes millions of audio segments per day, then uses AI technology — including Automatic Speech Recognition and Natural Language Understanding — to create products like a searchable library of audio, personalized audio feeds and news briefs, notifications and more.

Through an API, partners can integrate Audioburst’s personalized feeds into their own smart speakers, mobile, in-car infotainment systems and other products.

The investment from the international ad agency Dentsu, headquartered in Tokyo, will see the company working with Audioburst to create a market for personalized audio in Japan. Brands will leverage the technology to target listeners with more personalized ads based on an improved understanding of customers’ interests.

“Personalized advertising in the radio space has been limited to-date. In addition, the emergence of voice-activated services and audio content have provided a rapidly growing advertising opportunity for our clients,” noted Hideki Ishibashi, managing director of Dentsu Innovation Initiative, in a statement.

Audioburst is not alone in working to create personalized listening experiences as a channel for advertising — Spotify, for example, is doing this with music. And this year, it even opened up its flagship product, the personalized Discover Weekly playlist, to brand sponsorships. Pandora also lets advertisers personalize their messages by leveraging listener data. And as podcasts have become a new priority for streaming services like this, ad personalization will follow as listeners stream more non-music audio.

Meanwhile, Audioburst will work with Hyundai — which contributed half ($5 million) of the $10 million investment — to develop a new in-car infotainment system that includes a personalized audio search experience and playlists that customers can access via voice commands.

“At Hyundai, our mission is to have our cars connected by 2020 and provide our customers with the best possible in-car experience,” said Dr. Yun-seong Hwang, vice president of Hyundai Motor Company. “Partnering and investing in Audioburst ensures we will lead the charge in a data-driven first class audio experience.”

Hyundai’s investment follows a December 2018 Audioburst partnership with LGE, which focused on building new infotainment systems for automakers. That deal was the first to use Audioburst’s Deep Analysis API, which adds an additional level of metadata categorization in order provide a more in-depth understanding of the content users searched for. The Hyundai deal will now leverage this API, as well.

Audioburst also has strategic partnerships with Bytedance, Bose, Harman and more.

Categories: Business News

Confirmed: Pax Labs raises $420 million at a valuation of $1.7 billion

2019, April 22 - 7:00pm

Pax Labs, the popular vape maker, has today confirmed the close of a $420 million equity round, including from existing investors Tiger Global Management and Tao Capital Partners, and new investors including Prescott General Partners.

A Pax Labs spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the post-money valuation for Pax Labs is $1.7 billion.

The Information first reported the round, but we’ve confirmed the specific details, including funding amount and valuation.

Pax Labs launched in 2007 with the hopes of creating a cannabis vaporizer. Since then, the company has created vaporizers for just about every corner of the space, including the PAX Era for concentrates and the PAX 3 for flower.

Here’s what CEO Bharat Vasan said in a prepared statement:

PAX is investing heavily in growing its brand as well as developing innovative new products to scale and capture an enormous opportunity. This financing round allows us to invest in new products and new markets, including international growth in markets like Canada and exploring opportunities in hemp-based CBD extracts. We aspire to be the gold standard for safety and good stewards of a product that enhances many people’s lives. We are hiring and investing heavily in our people, who power PAX’s mission of establishing cannabis as a force for good.

It’s worth noting that Juul, the popular e-cigarette brand, and Pax Labs used to live under the same corporate umbrella before Pax Labs spun out of Juul in 2017.

Looking forward, Pax has plans to give users more insight into taking the guesswork out of cannabis. As cannabis becomes legal in more areas, the demographic seeking products in the space continues to grow. Pax wants to help, and believes it can do so through a combination of hardware and software, though Vasan wasn’t willing to go into details on the company’s forthcoming products and features.

“People know about different kinds of alcohol,” said Vasan. “They may know that they’re a beer person or a wine person. But none of that exists within cannabis. They see names like ‘Lemon Haze’ and ‘Cherry Fizz’ and they don’t know what that is. These are all really awesome names for a band but not great to let you know what you’re consuming. We want to provide more clarity around what that means.”

As I said, Vasan was not keen on offering more, but this sounds like more of a data play than a combo software/hardware play, which leads me to believe that we may see an acquisition in Pax Labs’ future. (To be clear, this fictional acquisition is based strictly on my conjecture and not based on any evidence at all.)

“Our biggest challenge is safe consumer access,” said Vasan. “Regulation is a good thing in this space. It makes standards higher and products more transparent.”

Categories: Business News

Resurgent HappyFresh raises $20M for its online grocery service in Southeast Asia

2019, April 22 - 2:45pm

It’s been a tricky past few years for HappyFresh, the startup seeking to bring Instacart-like grocery deliveries to Southeast Asia. It has been through a series of rebuilding measures, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel after it announced a $20 million Series C.

Launched in 2015, HappyFresh quickly raised $12 million to expand its vision of digital deliveries across Southeast Asia. In late 2016, however, the tough economics of its business saw it pull out of two markets, as it raised an undisclosed Series B. It then started 2017 with a new CEO and an effort to become financially sustainable.

Today, the service is active in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, where it works with supermarkets and other retailers to let customers order groceries online. Same-day delivery is provided by HappyFresh staff — the target is a one-hour window and the process is handled via its website and mobile apps.

HappyFresh has been pretty quiet of late but today it piped up to disclose its Series C, which is led by the Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund — a joint fund between South Korean financial firm Mirae and Line parent Naver — with participation from Line Ventures, Singha Ventures from Thailand and Grab Ventures, the investment arm of ride-hailing giant Grab. Other investors include Samena Capital from the Middle East, Vertex Ventures, Sinar Mas Digital Ventures (SMDV), 500 Startups and BeeNext.

Grab’s investment came last year — after HappyFresh joined as its inaugural platform partner — and HappyFresh CEO Guillem Segarra said the company decided to “opportunistically put a round together” since it had interest from others.

“Our vision has always been to be in every single household in Southeast Asia and to democratize grocery delivery,” Segarra told TechCrunch in an interview. “I believe that over the next five years, the grocery industry will change more than the last 50 and that’s driven by data and e-commerce.”

Specifically, he said that the company plans to use the new capital to double down on technology, which includes increased personalization for customers when they are shopping, as well as more efficient logistics. Segarra also revealed there are plans to kick back into expansion mode, albeit in a different way to how HappyFresh launched new markets in the past.

“When we look at expansion, we’re going to be very careful and go to those cities where we feel there’s a long-term profitability path [while we are also] making sure that before we go there we understand the appetite for our service,” he explained.

“Now it’s a very market-driven approach [to expansion] rather than to just put a flag on the map… you’ll see small rollouts into markets that make sense, we’re not in a rush,” he added.

Indeed, Segarra claimed that the company is already profitable in the markets in which it operates. Aside from initial cost-cutting, Segarra explained that the new focus on sustainability has come from focusing not only on technology and the retailers that HappyFresh works with, but also front-end partners, like Grab, that help create demand for its service among consumers.

“We learned a lot [from the past retrenchment and] for the last two years we focused on our core markets. You have to have the right set of partners, that’s from supermarkets to the top funnel that brings you traffic. We believe we have the right set of partners at the top of the funnel [and we will] go to new markets when we have enough firepower for the long run,” he explained.

HappyFresh’s funding comes at a time of crisis for its nearest rival HonestBee. Tech in Asia reports that the startup has “temporarily suspended” its Philippines business and made layoffs in the country, as well as Indonesia and Thailand. In total, the startup is said to have laid off 50-70 of its estimated 1,000 employees while top executives have quit the company in recent months.

Unlike HappyFresh, HonestBee is active across eight countries and has expanded to takeout food. The company also has a physical store located in Singapore that’s inspired by the efforts of Alibaba and JD.com in China.

Note 23:00 04/21: The original version of this story has been updated to correct that HappyFresh is active in Malaysia not the Philippines.

Categories: Business News

From lab-grown meat to fermented fungus, here’s what corporate food VCs are serving up

2019, April 21 - 2:30am
Joanna Glasner Contributor More posts by this contributor

In a foodie’s ideal world, we’d all eat healthy, minimally processed cuisine sourced from artisanal farmers, bakers and chefs.

In the real world, however, most of us derive the lion’s share of calories from edibles supplied by a handful of giant food conglomerates. As such, the ingredients and processing techniques they favor have an outsized impact on our daily diets.

With this in mind, Crunchbase News decided to take a look at corporate food VCs and the startups they are backing to see what their dealmaking might say about our snacking future. We put together a list of venture funds operated by some of the larger food and beverage producers, covering literally everything from soup to nuts (plus lunch meat and soda, too!).

Like their corporate backers, startups funded by “Big Food” are a diverse bunch. Recent funding recipients are pursuing endeavors ranging from alternative protein to biospectral imaging to fermented fungus. But if one were to pinpoint an overarching trend, it might be a shift away from cost savings to consumer-friendliness.

“You think of food-tech and ag-tech 1.0, these were technologies that were primarily beneficial to the producers,” said Rob LeClerc, founding partner at AgFunder, an agrifood investor network. “This new generation of companies are really more focused on what does the consumer want.”

And what does the consumer want? This particular consumer would currently like a zero calorie hot fudge sundae. More broadly, however, the general trends LeClerc sees call for food that is healthier, tastier, nutrient-dense, satiating, ethically sourced and less environmentally impactful.

Below, we look at some of the trends in more detail, including funded companies, active investors and the up-and-coming edibles.

The new, new protein

Mass-market foods may get better but also weirder. This is particularly true for one of the more consistently hot areas of food-tech investment: alternative protein.

Demand for protein-rich foods, combined with ethical concerns about consuming animal products, has, for a number of years, led investors to startups offering meaty tasting tidbits sourced from the plant world.

But lately, corporate food giants have been looking farther beyond soy and peas. Lab-grown meat, once an oddball endeavor good for headlines about $1,000 meatballs, has been attracting serious cash. Since last year, at least two companies in the space have closed rounds backed by Tyson Ventures, the VC arm of the largest U.S. meat producer. They include pricey meatball maker Memphis Meats (actually based in California), which raised $20 million, and Israel-based Future Meat Technologies, a biotech startup working on animal-free meat, which secured $2 million.

Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat.

If you cringe at the notion of lab-grown cell meat, then there’s always the option of getting your protein through microbes in volcanic springs. That’s the general aim of Sustainable Bioproducts, a startup that raised $33 million in Series A funding from backers including ADM and Danone Manifesto Ventures. The Chicago company’s technology for making edible protein emerged out of research into extremophile organisms in Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic springs.

Meanwhile, if you hanker for real dairy milk but don’t want to trouble cows, another startup, Perfect Day, is working on a solution. Per the company website: “Instead of having cows do all the work, we use microflora and age-old fermentation techniques to make the very same dairy protein that cows make.” Toward that end, the Berkeley company closed a $35 million Series B in February, with backing from ADM.

Fermentation

Perfect Day isn’t the only fermentation play raising major funding.

Corporate food-tech investors have long been interested in the processing technologies that turn an obscure microbe or under-appreciated crop into a high-demand ingredient. And lately, LeClerc said, they’ve been particularly keen on startups finding new ways to apply the age-old technology known as fermentation.

Most of us know fermentation as the process that turns a yucky mix of grain, yeast and water into the popular beverage known as beer. More broadly, however, fermentation is a metabolic process that produces chemical changes in organic substrates through the action of enzymes. That is, take a substance, add something it reacts with and voilà, you have a new substance.

Several of the most heavily funded, buzz-generating companies in the food space are applying fermentation, LeClerc said. Besides Perfect Day, examples he points to include the unicorn Ginkgo BioworksGeltor (another alt-protein startup) and mushroom-focused MycoTechnology.

Colorado-based MycoTechnology has been a particularly attractive investor target of late. The company has raised $83 million from a mix of corporate and traditional VCs, including a $30 million Series C in January that included Tyson and Kellogg’s venture arm, Eighteen94 Capital . Founded six years ago, the company is pursuing a range of applications for its fermented fungi, including flavor enhancers, protein supplements and preservatives.

Supply chain

Besides adding strange new ingredients to our grocery shelves, corporate food-tech investors are also putting money into technologies and platforms aimed at boosting the security and efficiency of existing supply chains.

Just like new foods, much of the food safety tech sounds odd, too. Silicon Valley-based ImpactVision, a seed-funded startup backed by Campbell Soup VC arm Acre Venture Partners, wants to employ hyper-spectral imaging to perceive information about contamination, food quality and ripeness.

Boston-based Spoiler Alert, another Acre portfolio company, develops software and analytics for food companies to manage unsold inventory. And Pensa Systems, which uses AI-powered autonomous drones to track in-store inventory, raised a Series A round this year with backing from the venture arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Is weirder better?

We highlighted a few trends in corporate food-tech investment, but there are others that merit attention, as well. Probiotics plays, including the maker of the GoodBelly drink line, are generating investor interest. New ingredients other than proteins are also attracting capital, such as UCAN, a startup developing energy snacks based on a novel, slow-digesting carbohydrate. And the list goes on.

Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat. But LeClerc noted that new products aren’t always better in the long run — they just might seem so at first.

“The question in the back of our head is: Are we ever creating margarine 2.0,” he said. “Just because it’s a plant product doesn’t mean it’s actually better for you.”

Categories: Business News

Acquisitions, more than IPOs, will create Africa’s early startup successes

2019, April 21 - 2:08am

Africa has made its global IPO debut. Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia—a $1 billion-valued company—began trading live on the NYSE last week.

The stock offering made Jumia the first upstart operating in Africa to list on a major global exchange.

This raises expectations for unicorns and IPOs to create the continent’s first wave of startup moguls. But unlike other markets, big public listings and nine-figure valuations could remain rare in Africa.

The rise of venture arms and startup acquisitions will factor more prominently than IPOs in creating Africa’s early startup successes.

I’ll break down why. First, a quick briefer.

Primer on African tech

Not everyone may be aware, but yes, Africa has a booming tech scene. When measured by monetary values, it’s minuscule by Shenzen or Silicon Valley standards.

Categories: Business News

Startups Weekly: Zoom CEO says its stock price is ‘too high’

2019, April 20 - 9:00pm

When Zoom hit the public markets Thursday, its IPO pop, a whopping 81 percent, floored everyone, including its own chief executive officer, Eric Yuan.

Yuan became a billionaire this week when his video conferencing business went public. He told Bloomberg that he actually wished his stock hadn’t soared quite so high. I’m guessing his modesty and laser focus attracted Wall Street to his stock; well, that, and the fact that his business is actually profitable. He is, this week proved, not your average tech CEO.

I chatted with him briefly on listing day. Here’s what he had to say.

“I think the future is so bright and the stock price will follow our execution. Our philosophy remains the same even now that we’ve become a public company. The philosophy, first of all, is you have to focus on execution, but how do you do that? For me as a CEO, my number one role is to make sure Zoom customers are happy. Our market is growing and if our customers are happy they are going to pay for our service. I don’t think anything will change after the IPO. We will probably have a much better brand because we are a public company now, it’s a new milestone.”

“The dream is coming true,” he added. 

For the most part, it sounded like Yuan just wants to get back to work.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here. Otherwise, on to other news…

 

IPO corner

You thought I was done with IPO talk? No, definitely not:

  • Pinterest completed its IPO this week too! Here’s the TLDR: Pinterest popped 25 percent on its debut Thursday and is currently trading up 28 percent. Not bad, Pinterest, not bad.
  • Fastly, a startup I’d admittedly never heard of until this week, filed its S-1 and displayed a nice path to profitability. That means the parade of tech IPOs is far from over.
  • Uber… Surprisingly, no Uber IPO news this week. Sit tight, more is surely coming.

$1B for self-driving cars

While I’m on the subject of Uber, the company’s autonomous vehicles unit did, in fact, raise $1 billion, a piece of news that had been previously reported but was confirmed this week. With funding from Toyota, Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Uber will spin-out its self-driving car unit, called Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group. The deal values ATG at $7.25 billion.

Robots!

The TechCrunch staff traveled to Berkeley this week for a day-long conference on robotics and artificial intelligence. The highlight? Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert debuted the production version of their buzzworthy electric robot. As we noted last year, the company plans to produce around 100 models of the robot in 2019. Raibert said the company is aiming to start production in July or August. There are robots coming off the assembly line now, but they are betas being used for testing, and the company is still doing redesigns. Pricing details will be announced this summer.

#TCRobotics pic.twitter.com/Vf4kUWH0fR

Lucas Matney (@lucasmtny) April 19, 2019

Digital health investment is down

Despite notable rounds for digital health businesses like Ro, known for its direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction medications, investment in the digital health space is actually down, reports TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber. Venture investors, private equity and corporations funneled $2 billion into digital health startups in the first quarter of 2019, down 19 percent from the nearly $2.5 billion invested a year ago. There were also 38 fewer deals done in the first quarter this year than last year, when investors backed 187 early-stage digital health companies, according to data from Mercom Capital Group.

Startup capital

Byton loses co-founder and former CEO, reported $500M Series C to close this summer
Lyric raises $160M from VCs, Airbnb
Brex, the credit card for startups, raises $100M debt round
Ro, a D2C online pharmacy, reaches $500M valuation
Logistics startup Zencargo gets $20M to take on the business of freight forwarding
Co-Star raises $5M to bring its astrology app to Android
Y Combinator grad Fuzzbuzz lands $2.7M seed round to deliver fuzzing as a service

Extra Crunch

Hundreds of billions of dollars in venture capital went into tech startups last year, topping off huge growth this decade. VCs are reviewing more pitch decks than ever, as more people build companies and try to get a slice of the funding opportunities. So how do you do that in such a competitive landscape? Storytelling. Read contributor’s Russ Heddleston’s latest for Extra Crunch: Data tells us that investors love a good story.

Plus: The different playbook of D2C brands

And finally, for the first of a new series on VC-backed exits aptly called The Exit. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney spoke to Bessemer Venture Partners’ Adam Fisher about Dynamic Yield’s $300M exit to McDonald’s.

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about rounds for Brex, Ro and Kindbody, plus special guest Danny Crichton joined us to discuss the latest in the chip and sensor world.

Categories: Business News

Fastly, the content delivery network, files for an IPO

2019, April 20 - 7:31am

Fastly, the content delivery network that’s raised $219 million in financing from investors (according to Crunchbase), is ready for its close up in the public markets.

The eight-year-old company is one of several businesses that improve the download time and delivery of different websites to internet browsers and it has just filed for an IPO.

Media companies like The New York Times use Fastly to cache their homepages, media and articles on Fastly’s servers so that when somebody wants to browse the Times online, Fastly’s servers can send it directly to the browser. In some cases, Fastly serves up to 90 percent of browser requests.

E-commerce companies like Stripe and Ticketmaster are also big users of the service. They appreciate Fastly because its network of servers enable faster load times — sometimes as quickly as 20 or 30 milliseconds, according to the company.

The company raised its last round of financing roughly nine months ago, a $40 million investment that Fastly said would be the last before a public offering.

Fastly raises another $40 million before an IPO

True to its word, the company is hoping public markets have the appetite to feast on yet another “unicorn” business.

While Fastly lacks the sizzle of companies like Zoom, Pinterest or Lyft, its technology enables a huge portion of the activities in which consumers engage online, and it could be a bellwether for competitors like Cloudflare, which recently raised $150 million and was also exploring a public listing.

The company’s public filing has a placeholder amount of $100 million, but given the amount of funding the company has received, it’s far more likely to seek closer to $1 billion when it finally prices its shares.

Fastly reported revenue of roughly $145 million in 2018, compared to $105 million in 2017, and its losses declined year on year to $29 million, down from $31 million in the year-ago period. So its losses are shrinking, its revenue is growing (albeit slowly) and its cost of revenues are rising from $46 million to around $65 million over the same period.

That’s not a great number for the company, but it’s offset by the amount of money that the company’s getting from its customers. Fastly breaks out that number in its dollar-based net expansion rate figure, which grew 132 percent in 2018.

It’s an encouraging number, but as the company notes in its prospectus, it’s got an increasing number of challenges from new and legacy vendors in the content delivery network space.

The market for cloud computing platforms, particularly enterprise-grade products, “is highly fragmented, competitive and constantly evolving,” the company said in its prospectus. “With the introduction of new technologies and market entrants, we expect that the competitive environment in which we compete will remain intense going forward. Legacy CDNs, such as Akamai, Limelight, EdgeCast (part of Verizon Digital Media), Level3, and Imperva, and small business-focused CDNs, such as Cloudflare, InStart, StackPath, and Section.io, offer products that compete with ours. We also compete with cloud providers who are starting to offer compute functionality at the edge like Amazon’s CloudFront, AWS Lambda, and Google Cloud Platform.”

Categories: Business News

Verified Expert Brand Designer: Ramotion

2019, April 20 - 1:05am

Ramotion is a remote branding and product design agency that has worked with Bay Area tech startups since 2014. While they typically do branding for funded, fast-growing startups, Ramotion has helped companies ranging from Bitmoji’s early brand identity to Mozilla’s rebrand. We spoke to Ramotion’s CEO Denis Pakhaliuk about their iterative approach, his favorite branding projects and more.  

Ramotion’s branding philosophy:

“We are a big fan of starting small: designing a small package, releasing it and then iterating on top of that. So, founders need to be focused on what’s really necessary right now for their next round of investment or product releases.”

On common founder mistakes:

“I think some founders think they need everything, but they actually need an MVP and product design. The same goes for brand identity. They need to have some key elements like colors, typeface and the logo. There is no need to do everything in the beginning, because the logo and brand identity becomes meaningful after it’s used. It’ll eventually improve.”

“They’re the reason we have such an amazing logo today.” Kevin Sproles, Austin, founder & CEO at Volusion

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.

Interview with Ramotion’s CEO Denis Pakhaliuk

Yvonne Leow: Can you tell me about your journey and how you came to create Ramotion?

Denis Pakhaliuk: Yeah, I started as a CG designer more than 10 years ago. I was doing computer graphics, CG modeling, digitalization of architectural design and automotive design. I was initially very focused on German cars and industrial design. Once iPhone 3G came out, I switched to doing UI design for mobile apps, which was a very hot topic at the time.

From that point I met a guy who just said, “Hey, I’m thinking of building an agency,” and so we decided to do it together. It started with a few people and now we have up to 30. We focus on different products, from small companies to more established brands, like Salesforce, among others. So yeah, it’s been a fun journey.

Yvonne Leow: At what point did Ramotion start working with startups?

Categories: Business News

How do you hire a great growth marketer?

2019, April 20 - 1:05am
Julian Shapiro Contributor Share on Twitter Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, a growth marketing agency that trains you to become a marketing professional. He also writes at Julian.com. More posts by this contributor

Editors Note: This article is part of a series that explores the world of growth marketing for founders. If you’ve worked with an amazing growth marketing agency, nominate them to be featured in our shortlist of top growth marketing agencies in tech.

Startups often set themselves back a year by hiring the wrong growth marketer.

This post shares a framework my marketing agency uses to source and vet high-potential growth candidates.

With it, early-stage startups can identify and attract a great first growth hire.

It’ll also help you avoid unintentionally hiring candidates who lack broad competency. Some marketers master 1-2 channels, but aren’t experts at much else. When hiring your first growth marketer, you should aim for a generalist.

This post covers two key areas:

  1. How I find growth candidates.
  2. How I identify which candidates are legitimately talented.
Great marketers are often founders

One interesting way to find great marketers is to look for great potential founders.

Let me explain. Privately, most great marketers admit that their motive for getting hired was to gain a couple years’ experience they could use to start their own company.

Don’t let that scare you. Leverage it: You can sidestep the competitive landscape for marketing talent by recruiting past founders whose startups have recently failed.

Why do this? Because great founders and great growth marketers are often one and the same. They’re multi-disciplinary executors, they take ownership and they’re passionate about product.

You see, a marketing role with sufficient autonomy mimics the role of a founder: In both, you hustle to acquire users and optimize your product to retain them. You’re working across growth, brand, product and data.

As a result, struggling founders wanting a break from the startup roller coaster often find transitioning to a growth marketing role to be a natural segue.

How do we find these high-potential candidates?

Finding founders

To find past founders, you could theoretically monitor the alumni lists of incubators like Y Combinator and Techstars to see which companies never succeeded. Then you can reach out to their first-time founders.

You can also identify future founders: Browse Product Hunt and Indie Hackers for old projects that showed great marketing skill but didn’t succeed.

There are thousands of promising founders who’ve left a mark on the web. Their failure is not necessarily indicative of incompetence. My agency’s co-founders and directors, including myself, all failed at founding past companies.

How do I attract candidates?

To get potential founders interested in the day-to-day of your marketing role, offer them both breadth and autonomy:

  • Let them be involved in many things.
  • Let them be fully in charge of a few things.

Remember, recreate the experience of being a founder.

Further, vet their enthusiasm for your product, market and its product-channel fit:

  • Product and market: Do their interests line up with how your product impacts its users? For example, do they care more about connecting people through social networks, or about solving productivity problems through SaaS? And which does your product line up with?
  • Product-channel fit: Are they excited to run the acquisition channels that typically succeed in your market?

The latter is a little-understood but critically important requirement: Hire marketers who are interested in the channels your company actually needs.

Let’s illustrate this with a comparison between two hypothetical companies:

  1. A B2B enterprise SaaS app.
  2. An e-commerce company that sells mattresses.

Broadly speaking, the enterprise app will most likely succeed through the following customer acquisition channels: sales, offline networking, Facebook desktop ads and Google Search.

In contrast, the e-commerce company will most likely succeed through Instagram ads, Facebook mobile ads, Pinterest ads and Google Shopping ads.

We can narrow it even further: In practice, most companies only get one or two of their potential channels to work profitably and at scale.

Meaning, most companies have to develop deep expertise in just a couple of channels.

There are enterprise marketers who can run cold outreach campaigns on autopilot. But, many have neither the expertise nor the interest to run, say, Pinterest ads. So if you’ve determined Pinterest is a high-leverage ad channel for your business, you’d be mistaken to assume that an enterprise marketer’s cold outreach skills seamlessly translate to Pinterest ads.

Some channels take a year or longer to master. And mastering one channel doesn’t necessarily make you any better at the next. Pinterest, for example, relies on creative design. Cold email outreach relies on copywriting and account-based marketing.

(How do you identify which ad channels are most likely to work for your company? Read my Extra Crunch article for a breakdown.)

To summarize: To attract the right marketers, identify those who are interested in not only your product but also how your product is sold.

Other approaches

The founder-first approach I’ve shared is just one of many ways my agency recruits great marketers. The point is to remind you that great candidates are sometimes a small career pivot away from being your perfect hire. You don’t have to look in the typical places when your budget is tight and you want to hire someone with high, senior potential.

This is especially relevant for early-stage, bootstrapping startups.

If you have the foresight to recognize these high-potential candidates, you can hopefully hire both better and cheaper. Plus, you empower someone to level up their career.

Speaking of which, here are other ways to hire talent whose potential hasn’t been fully realized:

  • Find deep specialists (e.g. Facebook Ads experts) and offer them an opportunity to learn complementary skills with a more open-ended, strategic role. (You can help train them with my growth guide.)
  • Poach experienced junior marketers from a company in your space by offering senior roles.
  • Hire candidates from top growth marketing schools.
Vetting growth marketers

If you don’t yet have a growth candidate to vet, you can stop reading here. Bookmark this and return when you do!

Now that you have a candidate, how do you assess whether they’re legitimately talented?

At Bell Curve, we ask our most promising leads to incrementally complete three projects:

  • Create Facebook and Instagram ads to send traffic to our site. This showcases their low-level, tactical skills.
  • Walk us through a methodology for optimizing our site’s conversion rate. This showcases their process-driven approach to generating growth ideas. Process is everything.
  • Ideate and prioritize customer acquisition strategies for our company. This showcases their ability to prioritize high-leverage projects and see the big picture.

We allow a week to complete these projects. And we pay them market wage.

Here’s what we’re looking for when we assess their work.

Level 1: Basics

First — putting their work aside — we assess the dynamics of working with them. Are they:

  • Competent: Can they follow instructions and understand nuance?
  • Reliable: Will they hit deadlines without excuses?
  • Communicative: Will they proactively clarify unclear things?
  • Kind: Do they have social skills?

If they follow our instructions and do a decent job, they’re competent. If they hit our deadline, they’re probably reliable. If they ask good questions, they’re communicative.

And if we like talking to them, they’re kind.

Level 2: Capabilities

A level higher, we use these projects to assess their ability to contribute to the company:

  • Do they have a process for generating and prioritizing good ideas? 
    • Did their process result in multiple worthwhile ad and landing page ideas? We’re assessing their process more so than their output. A great process leads to generating quality ideas forever.
    • Resources are always limited. One of the most important jobs of a growth marketer is to ensure growth resources are focused on the right opportunities. I’m looking for a candidate that has a process for identifying, evaluating and prioritizing growth opportunities.
  • Can they execute on those ideas? 
    • Did they create ads and propose A/B tests thoughtfully? Did they identify the most compelling value propositions, write copy enticingly and target audiences that make sense?
    • Have they achieved mastery of 1-2 acquisition channels (ideally, the channels your company is dependent on to scale)? I don’t expect anyone to be an expert in all channels, but deep knowledge of at least a couple of channels is key for an early-stage startup making their first growth hire.

If you don’t have the in-house expertise to assess their growth skills, you can pay an experienced marketer to assess their work. It’ll cost you a couple hundred bucks, and give you peace of mind. Look on Upwork for someone, or ask a marketer at a friend’s company.

Recap
  • If you’re an early-stage company with a tight budget, there are creative ways to source high-potential growth talent.
  • Assess that talent on their product fit and market fit for your company. Do they actually want to work on the channels needed for your business to succeed?
  • Give them a week-long sample project. Assess their ability to generate ideas and prioritize them.
Categories: Business News

Pages