Startup News

Subscribe to Startup News feed Startup News
Startup and Technology News
Updated: 4 hours 14 min ago

Foursquare brings on Liz Ritzcovan as chief revenue officer

2018, July 10 - 10:37pm

Foursquare has just hired Liz Ritzcovan as Chief Revenue Officer.

Ritzcovan hails from BazaarVoice, where she also served as CRO. She previously held CRO positions at Sizmek and Parade Media Group, and before that, spent time at Yahoo, Time Inc, and Interbrand.

Though Foursquare has been around since 2009, things have changed a lot for the company. What started as a consumer-facing app to log and share location information has become a SaaS company focused on helping brands understand their customer’s real-world habits and convert those habits into meaningful transactions and experiences.

That started with the unbundling of the legacy Foursquare app into Foursquare (a Yelp competitor centered around recommendations) and Swarm (a social location check-in app). As of 2016, both apps have more than 50 million active users, which—along with insights from partners—has in turn yielded the data necessary to create enterprise tools.

For example, Pinpoint by Foursquare (an ad product) has more than half of the Ad Age 100 as advertisers, and Attribution by Foursquare (a measurement product) has doubled its revenue in 2017. And that doesn’t include the Pilgrim SDK and Places API, which helped contribute to Foursquare’s 50 percent revenue growth year over year for the past three years.

Ritzcovan is aware that, despite the growth of e-commerce, 90 percent of consumer spending and memorable experiences happen in the real world. But getting clients, usually internet-facing companies, to understand that is her new great challenge.

Here’s what she had to say in her announcement blog post:

So what is my first priority as CRO? Client centricity. Foursquare needs to deepen our connection with our partners: explaining to business leaders why it’s critical to leverage more than a single Foursquare solution—be it ad campaigns with Pinpoint, measurement with Attribution, or location-based CRM and messaging with our Pilgrim SDK and Places API—by taking all of these parts together and connecting the dots. Foursquare is more and more about bundling technology licensing, mapping capabilities, and marketing optimization in a suite of solutions. It’s the reason I joined, to help lead the team into packaging these broad “solution sets” for leading organizations and brands.

Categories: Business News

Toast raises $115M at a $1.4B valuation to create a one-stop management tool for restaurants

2018, July 10 - 10:00pm

While massive restaurant chains might have resources to build out their own management systems or integrate with larger point-of-sale providers, Toast — a provider of tools for restaurants to manage their business — is raising a big round of funding to go after everyone else.

Now Toast is a business valued at $1.4 billion, thanks to a fresh infusion of $115 million in its latest round of funding. At its core, Toast is a point-of-sale for restaurants, though over time it’s added more and more services on top of that. Now the goal is to be not just a point of sale, but offer a whole system to help restaurants operate efficiently. That can range from the actual point of sale all the way to loyalty programs and reporting on that information. The round was led by T. Rowe Price Associates, with participation from new investor Tiger Global Management and other existing investors.

“We’re just trying to keep our finger on the pulse to what matters to restauranteurs,” CFO Tim Barash said. “We hear a lot about the labor side of the equation. We’re working through what to do there. If you ask restaurants about the number one thing they’re thinking about, most respondents say it’s around labor — that’s a really big one.”

Starting off in 2011 as a point-of-sale business, the company now offers a complete suite of tools that help restaurants streamline both the front and back house of the restaurant. And as Toast collects more and more data on how restaurants are using its tools — like any startup with a lot of inbound data, really — it can start helping those restaurants figure out how to improve their businesses further. That might be modifying menus slightly based on what people are enjoying, or pointing them in the right direction as to when to make slight adjustments to their basic operations.

There’s also an online ordering part of the business. Toast helps restaurants boot up an online ordering part of their business quickly, in addition to offering tools to help streamline that process. A restaurant might deal with a flood of orders or throttle them if necessary. Businesses then get reports on their whole online ordering business, helping them further calibrate what to offer — and what might work better for the in-person experience as well.

The next focus for Toast, Barash said, is figuring out the labor side of the equation. That comes down to helping restaurants not only find new employees, but also figure out how to retain them in an industry with a significant amount of turnover. Attacking the hiring part of the problem is one approach, though there are other approaches like Pared, which looks to turn the labor market for restaurants into an on-demand one. But there’s obvious low-hanging fruit, like making it easier to switch shifts, among other things, Barash said.

“One in 11 working human beings work in restaurants,” Barash said. “I would say we’re still trying to figure out what we can do as a central platform of record, continuing to carry a high quality network of partners or us building some things ourselves. We’re early days in figuring them out. If you go to any restaurant in Boston, and look at all the help wanted signs, you can see the barrier to being successful is a lot of times more on the employee side than on the guest side. Then once you have them hired, you have to think about how you can retain those employees and make sure they’re engaged and successful.”

Toast isn’t the only startup looking to own a point-of-sale and then expand into other elements of running a business, though. Lightspeed POS, which also offers a pretty large set of tools for brick-and-mortar stores — including restaurants — raised $166 million late last year. There are also the obvious point-of-sale competitors like Square that, while designed to be a broad solution and not just target restaurants, are pretty widely adopted and can also try to own that whole restaurant management stack, from clocking in and out to getting reports on what’s selling well.

Categories: Business News

With Lime teaming up with Uber, can rival Bird afford to go it alone?

2018, July 10 - 10:00pm

Yesterday, we learned that 18-month-old, Bay Area-based electric scooter rental company Lime is joining forces with the ride-hailing giant Uber, which is both investing in the company as part of a $335 million round and planning to promote Lime in its mobile app. According to Bloomberg, Uber also plans to plaster its logo on Lime’s scooters.

Lime isn’t being acquired outright, in short, but it looks like it will be. At least, Uber struck a similar arrangement with the electric bike company JUMP bikes before spending $200 million to acquire the company in spring.

There are as many questions raised by this kind of tie-up as answered, but the biggest may be what the impact means for Lime’s fiercest rival in the e-scooter wars, 15-month-old L.A.-based Bird, which several sources tell us also discussed a potential partnership with Uber.

Despite recently raising $300 million in fresh capital at a somewhat stunning $2 billion valuation, could its goose be, ahem, cooked?

At first glance, it would appear so. Uber’s travel app is the most downloaded in the U.S. by a wide margin, despite gains made last year by its closest U.S. competitor, Lyft, as Uber battled one scandal after another. It’s easy to imagine that Lime’s integration with Uber will give it the kind of immediate brand reach that most founders can only dream about.

A related issue for Bird is its relationship with Lyft, which . . . isn’t great. Bird’s founder and CEO, Travis VanderZanden, burned that bridge when, not so long after Lyft acqui-hired VanderZanden from a small startup he’d launched and made him its COO, he left to join rival Uber.

Lyft, which sued VanderZanden for allegedly breaking a confidentiality agreement when he joined Uber, later settled with him for undisclosed terms. But given their history, it’s hard to imagine Lyft — which also has a much smaller checkbook than Uber — paying top dollar to acquire his company.

Where that leaves Bird is an open question, but people familiar with both Bird and Lime suggest the e-scooter war is far from over.

For example, though Uber sees its partnership with Lime as “another step towards our vision of becoming a one-stop shop for all your transportation needs,” two sources familiar with Bird’s thinking are quick to underscore its plans to expand internationally quickly and not merely fight a turf war in the U.S. (It already has one office in China.) 

That Sequoia Capital led Bird’s most recent round of funding helps on this front, given Sequoia Capital China’s growing dominance in the country and the relationships that go with it. Then again, Sequoia is also an investor in Uber, having acquired a stake in the company earlier this year. And alliances are generally temperamental in this brave new world of transportation. In just the latest unexpected twist, Lime’s newest round included not only Uber but also GV, the venture arm of Alphabet, which only recently resolved a lawsuit with Uber.

Another wrinkle to consider is the exposure that Lime receives from Uber, which could prove double-edged, given the company’s ups and downs. Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, appears determined to steer the company to a smooth and decidedly undramatic public offering in another year or so. But for a company of Uber’s scale and scope, that’s a challenge, to say the least. (Its newest hire, Scott Schools — a former top attorney at the U.S. Justice Department and now Uber’s chief compliance officer — will undoubtedly be tasked with minimizing the odds of things going astray.)

Lime’s arrangement with Uber could potentially create other opportunities for Bird. First, by agreeing to allow Uber to apply its branding to its scooters, Lime will be diluting its own brand. Even if Uber never acquires the company, riders may well associate Lime with Uber and think, for better or worse, that it’s a subsidiary.

Further, Uber does not appear to have made any promises to Lime in terms of how prominently its app is featured within its own mobile app, which already crams in quite a lot, from offering free ride coupons to featuring local offers to promoting its Uber Eats business.

Consider that in January 2017, Google added to both the Android and iOS versions of its Google Maps service the ability to book an Uber ride. Uber might have thought that a coup, too, at the time. But last summer, Google quietly removed the feature from its iOS app, and it removed the service from Android just last month. If there wasn’t much outrage over the decision, likely it’s because so few users of Google Maps noticed the feature in the first place.

Lime’s arrangement could prove more advantageous than that. Only time will tell. But everything considered, whether or not Bird flies away with this competition will likely owe less to Lime’s new arrangement with Uber than with its own ability to execute. That includes making its own mobile app the kind of go-to destination that Uber’s has become.

Certainly, that’s what BIrd’s flock would argue will happen. Yesterday afternoon, Roelof Botha, a partner at Sequoia and a Bird board member, declined to discuss the Lime deal, instead emailing one short observation seemingly designed to say it all: “Travis [VanderZanden] is far more customer obsessed than competitor obsessed. That is a quality we look for in great founders.”

A Bird spokesperson offered an equally sanguine quote, saying that Bird is “happy to see our friends in the ride-sharing industry coalesce on the pressing need to offer a sustainable and affordable alternative to car trips.”

Categories: Business News

Lodgify, the SaaS for vacation rentals, books $5M in Series A funding

2018, July 10 - 6:00pm

Lodgify, the Barcelona-based SaaS for property owners to manage vacation rentals, today announced it has secured $5 million in Series A funding.

Existing backers Nauta Capital, Howzat Partners, and a number of angels participated, in addition to new investor Intermedia Vermögensverwaltung. It brings total funding for the Spanish startup to $7.3 million yo date.

Primary pitched as a way for property owners to grow their direct vacation rental bookings, as opposed to solely relying on platforms like Airbnb or Booking.com, the Lodgify SaaS enables the creation of a mobile-friendly website for each property. Crucially, this includes the ability to accept online bookings and take payment.

“Just like Shopify became the decentralised platform for businesses by democratizing access to e-commerce technology, Lodgify is empowering lodging operators with direct channel technology,” the company’s co-founder and CEO Dennis Klett tells me. “That allows them to build their own booking channel to generate more direct bookings”.

To help support this, Lodgify is attempting to fully automate the booking workflow for hosts: from booking management, to guest communication, to payment scheduling and refunding in case of refundable cancellations. “All these steps basically run on autopilot, empowering our hosts to be instantly bookable and eliminating time-consuming tasks for them,” Klett says.

As part of these efforts, the company is keeping an eye on the development of crypto currencies and “smart contracts. Perhaps somewhat optimistically, Klett says this would allow for “self-executing and risk-free bookings”.

He is also bullish on the potential for direct bookings to continually grow, noting that a number of vacation booking sites, such as Housetrip, Roomoroma and 9flats, have either consolidated or disappeared over the the last couple of years.

“The direct channel is emerging to become a significant channel on par with the two to three major online travel agencies left in the market,” says Klett. “Since Lodgify’s primary product focus is on direct channel technology, we have been able to help our customers to significantly grow their share of direct bookings. This will remain our primary product focus for the coming years”.

That’s not to say Lodgify is ignoring Airbnb and Booking.com entirely. The startup’s software also supports both sites via “advanced API integrations,” making it easy to manage listings and for hosts to use Lodgify as a true multi-channel platform for direct and indirect bookings.

Meanwhile, I’m told Lodgify will use its Series A funding to scale the team, which now stands at 50 people, and to accelerate product development and increase marketing efforts globally. The company also recently hired Alex Vuilleumier as COO. He was previously a Director of Marketing at Expedia Group.

Categories: Business News

N26 updates its web app

2018, July 10 - 5:01pm

Fintech startup N26 wants to compete with traditional banks on all fronts. And it means providing a useful web interface to view your past transactions, transfer money and more. Most users likely interact with N26 through the mobile app. But it doesn’t mean web apps are useless.

Contrary to Revolut, N26 has had a web interface since day one. It lets you control most things in your account. For instance, you can add a new recipient and send money. You can configure notifications, get a PDF with your IBAN number and download banking statements.

You can also lock your card, reset the card pin, reorder one or block some features from the web. This way, if somebody steals your phone with a wallet case, you can still go to the website and disable your card.

With today’s update, N26 is mostly refining the design of the interface. The left column is gone, and you now get a feed of transactions front and center. When you press the download button, you can download bank statements, a CSV with all your past transactions in case you want to put them in Excel and the PDF with your IBAN number.

But the company seems to be really excited about one new feature in particular — dark mode. You can now switch the entire interface to black. This will be particularly useful when Apple introduces macOS Mojave with dark mode across the operating system.

You can now also tick a box when you log in to enable discreet mode. This feature hides your balance and transactions in case you don’t want your coffee shop neighbor to look at your bank account.

The new web app is responsive, which means that it works on computers with big screens as well as mobile phones. The information on your screen changes depending on the width of your browser window. The new N26 for web should be available now.

Categories: Business News

Retail startup Bulletin is giving brands new tools to manage their in-store presence

2018, July 10 - 5:44am

If you visited a Bulletin store, or bought products off its website, COO Ali Kriegsman said you might “pigeonhole” the company as a “feminist apparel brand” — a place to buy T-shirts and accessories with fun, provocative political slogans.

And yes, that is part of what draws consumers. But Kriegsman and her co-founder Alana Branston have also laid out their broader vision for a more flexible, WeWork-style approach to brick-and-mortar retail, one where brands essentially rent out shelf space in Bulletin stores.

So brands that may have only sold online can experiment with physical sales, while shoppers can purchase from a curated, constantly refreshed selection of brands and products.

“We’re building this more feminine retail company, but we are also part real estate company, and now, we are also part technology company,” Kriegsman said.

The “now” that she’s referring to is the launch of Bulletin Omni, a software platform that allows brands to apply to sell with Bulletin, manage their inventory and track their sales.

Bulletin has actually been working on something like this since I first talked to the team last year, but according to Maggie Braine, the company’s director of product and brand experience, Omni only just reached the point where the company is ready to roll it out to all of the 150 brands it works with. She said that without it, the company has mostly relied on “emails, phone calls, and a very, very large Google Doc” to manage the process.

Braine gave me a quick walk-through of Omni, showing me how a brand could, with just a few clicks, add a new product to its offerings in a given store, confirm once that product has actually arrived and then see how each product is selling in each store.

That’s “unheard of” in traditional retail, she said, where “there’s very little transparency” once goods are purchased by retailers. With Omni, Braine said the goal is to give brands the same kinds of data around physical purchases that they have access to when they promote and sell their products through online channels.

She also said the team plans to introduce ways for in-store staff to offer feedback to the brands — like whether a product isn’t selling because it’s too expensive.

Kriegsman said that if the software does well enough, she could imagine Bulletin becoming “a retail software destination,” where other companies buy the software to manage non-Bulletin stores.

Either way, she predicted that Omni will allow Bulletin itself to expand more quickly. The company currently has three New York City stores — one in SoHo, one in Williamsburg and a recently opened location near Union Square — with plans to open in additional cities later this year.

Categories: Business News

Instacart hires its first chief communications officer, Dani Dudeck

2018, July 10 - 2:36am

Instacart, the grocery delivery platform valued at $4.2 billion, has today announced that it has hired its first chief communications officer in Dani Dudeck.

Dudeck has been in the communications world for the past 15 years, serving as VP of Global Communications at MySpace for four years and moving to Zynga as CCO in 2010. At Zynga, Dudeck oversaw corporate and consumer reputation of the brand before and after its IPO, helping the company through both tremendous periods of growth and a rapidly changing mobile gaming landscape.

Dudeck joins Instacart at an equally interesting time for the company. Though Instacart is showing no signs of slowing down — the company recently raised $200 million in funding — the industry as a whole is seeing growing interest from incumbents and behemoth tech companies alike.

Amazon last year acquired Whole Foods for nearly $14 billion, signaling the e-commerce giant’s intention to get into the grocery business. Plus, Target acquired Shipt for $550 million in December. Meanwhile, Walmart has partnered with DoorDash and Postmates for grocery delivery after a short-lived partnership with Uber and Lyft.

In other words, the industry is at a tipping point. Instacart not only needs to out-maneuver the increasingly competitive space, but continue to tell its story to both consumers and potential shoppers/employees alike.

Dudeck plans to hit the ground running after having been an Instacart customer since 2013.

Here’s what Dudeck had to say in a prepared statement:

We’ve been an Instacart family for years and as a mom it’s been a game changer for me. Our home is powered by Instacart because over the years, I saw how the products helped me better manage our household rhythm. Whether I’m doing a fast diaper delivery or fresh groceries for our weekly shopping, I love feeling like I can be in two places at once while getting to spend more time with my family. After getting to know the internal team, I was blown away by the strength of Instacart’s business and the unique culture they’ve created. By building on that success, we have a compelling opportunity to grow Instacart into a beloved, household name and turn Express into a must-have membership for families and busy people everywhere. I’m excited to join the management team and partner with them to accelerate their ambitious plans for future growth.

Categories: Business News

PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell to talk high school esports at Disrupt SF

2018, July 10 - 1:19am

The gaming world is evolving at a rapid clip. No longer is the idea of the lonely gamer a reality. Twitch and Discord have brought gamers together and given everyone the opportunity to see just how talented some of these young players are. Meanwhile, publishers and esports organizations have built out an infrastructure.

But there is plenty left to do, and PlayVS founder and CEO Delane Parnell is well aware of this.

We’re amped to announce that Parnell is joining us at TC Disrupt SF in September to talk about how high school esports could pave the way for even more growth in this industry.

PlayVS is a startup that has partnered with the NFHS to bring esports to the high school level, providing infrastructure around scheduling, refs, rules and state tournaments. Not only does this allow high school students to get extracurricular experience doing what they love (playing video games), but it offers a new way for esports orgs and colleges to look at the bright young talent coming up through the ranks.

PlayVS launched in April after securing its partnership with the NFHS. Through this partnership, the company will be able to bring organized esports to more than 18 states and approximately 5 million students across 5,000 high schools.

The company has since raised $15 million in Series A, and the inaugural season begins in October of this year.

We’re absolutely thrilled to get the chance to sit down with Parnell to discuss the launch of the platform and hear about how high school esports could set the tone for the industry as a whole.

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

Categories: Business News

Topbox raises $5M for its customer experience analytics service

2018, July 10 - 1:19am

Topbox helps businesses understand how their customers experience their products and where they run into issues by analyzing voice and text chats to surveys, social media posts and online reviews. Today, the company announced it has raised a $5 million funding round led by Telescope Partners, with participation from Cascade Angels, Flyover Capital and the Maryland Venture Fund.

Topbox CEO Chris Tranquill told me he first experienced the problem he’s trying to solve when he was running call centers with thousands of agents. All of the companies that contracted his services faced the same problem: understanding the friction points their customers were experiencing.

“We always had this vision that being able to really understand those friction points with deep context — that’s what the key is — but really getting to that granular level of detail so that you can have that context to support a decision,” Tranquill said. Say you want to understand what issues customers are having with a new shoe. Ideally, Topbox will aggregate all of the data across all channels about that shoe and help the company understand who the wearers are and what issues they are experiencing.

Theoretically, companies could do this on their own, but all of this data exists in various silos and combining those disparate data sets is a major challenge. Topbox uses its technology to ingest this data (and it’s pretty agnostic about where it comes from) and then runs it through its classification models. Indeed, as Tranquill told me, it’s this model that’s the secret sauce behind the company’s ability to classify data.

It’s not just about getting a high-level overview of your customer’s reactions, though. Tranquill stressed that users can go deeper. “The big thing for us is granularity,” he told me. “I can find high-level data all day long, but can I find the root cause?” With a few clicks, any Topbox user should be able to understand what issues their customers are facing, no matter whether that’s a product issue, a shipping problem or something else.

Current Topbox customers include the likes of Orvis, Bed Bath & Beyond and Western Union. With this new round, Topbox expects to build out its go-to-market strategy and continue to develop its product. Currently, the company focuses on a number of verticals where its model works best (retailers, mobile telcos, cable and broadband providers and healthcare companies), and Tranquill tells me this is where it will focus its energy for now. The company will also soon launch a new user interface and bring on more machine learning experts as it looks to provide its users deeper insights into their data.

Categories: Business News

TaxScouts wants to make filing your tax return a lot less tedious

2018, July 9 - 5:00pm

TaxScouts, a U.K. startup founded by TransferWise and Marketinvoice alumni, is the latest online service designed to make filing your tax return a lot less tedious. However, rather than focusing on the bookkeeping part of the problem primarily tackled by cloud accounting software — which is often overkill if you are self-employed or simply earn a little additional income outside of your day job — the company combines “automation” with human accountants to help you prepare your tax submission.

“Doing taxes is either tedious when you have to do them yourself, or expensive when you hire an accountant,” says TaxScouts co-founder and CEO Mart Abramov, who was employee number 8 at TransferWise and also previously worked at Intuit, MarketInvoice and Skype. “We’re automating as much of the admin part of tax preparation as possible in our online app. We then connect you with a certified accountant who will take care of the entire tax filing process for you”.

The headline draw is that TaxScouts charges a flat fee of £99 if you pay in advance, and promises a turn-around of just 24 hours. To help with this, the web app walks you through your tax status, income and expenses without assuming too much prior knowledge. This includes asking you to upload or take a photo of any required documents, such as invoices or dividend certificates. The idea is that all of the admin is captured digitally and packaged up ready for your assigned accountant to take a look.

“As more of the menial tasks are handled by our app this allows accountants to focus on what they do best and not get stuck in admin,” explains Abramov. “They can focus on providing advice and expertise to make sure everything is done right. Our customers get both the benefits of getting a personal accountant and having a simple tool to manage it all, without the huge costs”.

Abramov tells me that TaxScouts’ typical customers are anyone who wants to have their self assessment done for them or who just wants help with tax preparation. This spans self-employed people — from construction workers to professional freelancers — entrepreneurs and company directors, and people who are entitled to some kind of tax relief or refund, such as investors on crowdfunding platforms. He also said that gig economy workers are a good fit.

Moving forward, TaxScouts plans to further develop the automation functionality, including plugging into more data sources beyond its existing integration with HMRC. Abramov says this could include a driver’s Uber data for tracking mileage claims, for example, while I can immediately see how the app could integrate with various fintech offerings that capture transactions and receipts.

To that end, the startup has raised £300,000 in “pre-seed” funding to continue building out the product. Backers include Picus Capital, Charlie Delingpole (co-founder of ComplyAdvantage and MarketInvoice), and Charlie Songhurst (former GM corporate strategy at Microsoft).

Categories: Business News

Pages