Royal Dutch Shell, the energy giant known for its fossil fuel production and hundreds of Shell gas stations, is creeping into the electric vehicle-power business.
The company’s first DC fast charger from its newly acquired company Greenlots launched Monday at a Shell gas station in Singapore. Greenlots, an EV charging startup acquired by Shell in January, installed the charger. This is the first of 10 DC fast chargers that Greenlots plans to bring to Shell service stations in Singapore over the next several months.
The decision to target Singapore is part of Greenlots’ broader strategy to provide EV charging solutions across all applications throughout Asia and North America, the company said. Both Shell and Greenlots have a presence in Singapore. Greenlots, which is based in Los Angeles, was founded in Singapore; and Shell is one of Singapore’s largest foreign investors.
Singapore has been promoting the use of electric vehicles, particularly for car-sharing and ride-hailing platforms. The island city-state has been building up its EV infrastructure to meet anticipated demand as ride-hailing drivers and commercial fleets switch to electric vehicles.
Greenlots was backed by Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech investment firm, before it was acquired by Shell. The company, which combines its management software with the EV charging hardware, has landed some significant customers in recent years, notably Volkswagen. Greenlots is the sole software provider to Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal.
Clarification: Shell has other EV chargers. These are the first through its newly acquired company Greenlots.
Earbuds, a new startup from Austin founded by former Detroit Lions lineman Jason Fox, wants to bring the power of social media to your eardrums.
The company is one of a growing number of startups trying to rejuvenate the music streaming market by combining it with social networking so that audiences can listen to the playlists of their favorite athletes and entertainers… and their friends.
For Fox, the idea for Earbuds sprung from his experiences in the NFL, watching how other players interacted with crowds and hearing about the things fans wanted to know about their favorite players’ routines.
“We were playing Caroline in the first game of the season and Cam Newton was warming up right next to me,” Fox recalled. “He was jamming. Getting the crowd into it. And I was thinking there’re 85,000 people here and millions of more people watching at home… And I thought… how many people would love to be in his headphones right now?”
Earbuds founder Jason Fox
It wasn’t just Cam Newton who received attention. Fox said at every press conference one or two questions would be about what songs teammates played before games. On social media, players would take screenshots of their playlists and post them to platforms like Twitter or Instagram, Fox said.
The company has been out in the market in a beta version since February and has focused on lining up potential Earbuds devotees from among Fox’s friends in the NFL and entertainers from music and media.
“We made a decision to tweak something and make it very very heavily around influencers because that’s what’s really driving traffic for us,” Fox says.
Image courtesy of Earbuds
At its core, the app is just about making music more social, according to Fox. “There’s a social platform for everything, but in the days of terrestrial media distribution music has remain isolated,” he says.
Logging on is easy. Users can create a login for the app or use their Google or Facebook accounts. One more step to link the Earbuds app with Spotify or Apple Music (the company offers one month free of the premium versions of either service to new users) and then a user can look for friends or browse popular playlists.
A leaderboard indicates which users on the app have streamed the most music and users can create their own streams by adding songs from their libraries to build in-app playlists.
Earbuds isn’t the first company to take a shot at socializing the music listening experience. The olds may remember services like Turntable.fm, which took a stab at making music social but shut down back in 2013. Newer services, like Playlist, are also combining social networking features with music streaming. That site focuses on connecting people with similar musical tastes.
Fox thinks that the ability to attract entertainers like Nelly (who’s on the app) and athletes could be transformative for listeners. Basically these artists and athletes can become their own online radio station, he says.
Fox spent nearly a year meeting with streaming services, music labels, athletes, artists and college students (the app’s initial target market) before even working with developers on a single line of code. The initial work was done out of Los Angeles, but after a year Fox moved the company down to Austin and rebuilt the app from the ground up to focus more on the user experience.
Early partnerships with Burton on an activation had snowboarders streaming their music as they rode a halfpipe proved that there was an audience, Fox said. Now the company is working on integrations across different sports and even esports.
Fox raised a small friends and family round of $630,000 before putting together a $1.5 million seed to get the app out into the market. Now the company is looking for $3 million to scale even more as it looks to integrations with sports teams and other streaming services like Twitch (to capture the gaming audience).
The company currently has seven employees.
Earbuds is available on iOS.
The Los Angeles-based syndicated podcasting platform, which counts athletes, politicians, talk radio, and reality television stars like Adam Carolla, Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Austin, Kaitlyn Bristowe, Dan Patrick, Spencer and Heidi Pratt, Jim Harbaugh, Ladygang, Dr. Drew, Chael Sonnen, Rich Eisen, Barbara Boxer, is angling to get insight into potential new talent through the venture.
“We will see which podcasts are performing well and offer them the opportunity to partner and grow with PodcastOne, and provide them with all the resources the network offers, including production, talent booking, promotion, a dedicated sales team and more,” said PodcastOne chief executive, Peter Morris, in a statement. “As the leading ad-supported podcast network, we are embracing the over 700,000 podcasts out there, and are here to support the long-term growth of independent podcasters.”
Called Launchpad Digital Media, the new hosting service is pitching podcasters a free platform including unlimited hosting; access to analytics including listenership, geography, and device data; total ownership of direct monetization channels for a podcast’s subscriber base, and complete control over how podcasts are distributed via Apple, Spotify or other services.
The company is also billing itself as a discovery platform, offering free promotion for the services various podcasts across its own network of popular podcasting talent.
“Over the years, people have shared with us how hard it can be out there in the desert of independent podcasting: you have to pay to host and get your podcast heard; you get no help in discoverability; you’re scared to leave and stop paying your hosting platform because you might lose your subscribers; and it’s virtually impossible to get noticed by a major podcast network who can help you take your hard work to the next level,” said Morris, in a statement. “Launchpad was built with the independent podcaster in mind. We wanted to help solve these problems… for free.”
Since nothing is actually free, and since PodcastOne wants to get paid, the catch is the company’s own ability to insert pre- and mid-roll advertising into podcasts that are hosted on the new service.
So podcasters can manage their direct advertising, but they give PodcastOne the ability to slot in ads that the company chooses across any of the podcasts that agree to be hosted on the service. It gives the company access to both marquee talent for high value, big spending advertisers, and a way to flood other podcasts with whatever ads the company wants.
Ads that LaunchpadDM inserts won’t be longer than two total minutes per episode and podcasters can determine the location of the midroll spot when uploading the episode.
In the summer of 2018, parts of San Francisco’s public utilities turned gold. Manhole covers, drainpipes and gas line covers were gilded in protest by a pair of street artists, Erick Schmitt and Nick Bushman, and quickly became an obvious metaphor that “the San Francisco Bay Area has become an enclave unattainable to all but the most privileged.”
In his 1990 book, City of Quartz, Mike Davis envisioned another enclave of exclusion and elitism: Fortress LA. With San Francisco gold-plated, who’s to say Los Angeles is far behind?
As someone in the tech industry now based in LA, I am acutely aware that my field is seen as part of the problem. When we set up shop, we quickly realized that we must keep our community top of mind. We’ve all got to learn the lessons of gold-plated San Francisco.
The most important differentiation for tech companies to make is that gentrification doesn’t necessarily mean revitalization. The difference is evident in some of LA’s quickly changing neighborhoods and has invoked fierce reactions. Anti-gentrification activists in Boyle Heights and downtown have succeeded in their efforts to close at least one art gallery. They’ve picketed businesses like Weird Wave Coffee. Detergent attacks during gallery openings, anti-gentrification graffiti and harassment via social media have put owners on edge.
Activists have a point. Local communities don’t often see the benefits of gentrification that newer, more privileged people do in those hip new wine shops. Too often, they’re taking the place of family businesses or driving up the cost of living beyond the point where locals can compete. What’s more, families displaced by rising costs of living are at a much higher risk of becoming homeless.
Research shows that homelessness in LA has risen by a staggering 75% since 2012, with elderly people and single-parent households most affected. The majority of this displacement is attributed directly to the surge in rental prices brought on by gentrification.
Los Angeles doesn’t need to become another San Francisco.
As opposed to gentrification, revitalization is a collaborative effort, where the city’s urban planning department, existing community members and business owners (incoming and long-standing) decide on improvements that can create more equitable change for all involved.
In 1994, author John Elkington proposed something called a “triple bottom line.” Corporations, he said, should add a second and third key performance indicator of success: their people and their impact on the environment. I agree.
Initiatives that begin in the brains of company boards or directors intended for the communities they inhabit often miss a crucial partner — the communities themselves. Businesses can be positive for a community; make sure to do it responsibly.
Businesses should work with communities to execute a project that will have a direct impact on their lives. Instead of coming to the community with a solution, engage the community to help ideate and problem solve together. Smaller commitments that can be sustained over the long term have more impact than grand gestures that disappear within a few months.
In the words of Gina Belafonte, co-director of Sankofa, the social justice organization based in New York and LA, “The process in which it’s executed is the problem. They don’t look to the community for the solution. They try to just bring up solutions to the community. You need to give them not just buy-in but the feeling that, ‘This is our park, this is not a park that was brought here for us. We designed this park, we were part of the team to work with the architects to design that building.’ ”
A brand’s strongest ambassadors are the people who work for it. Many will be living in the neighborhoods struggling with changes. Incentivizing employees to get involved in community work or working with local schools can be a way of counteracting criticism.
We’ve all got to learn the lessons of gold-plated San Francisco.
One of the clearest opportunities, especially for tech companies moving into areas with low levels of science, tech, engineering and math levels (STEM), is in education where it’s badly lacking in public schools. The advantage here is twofold: the investment is designed to grow the talent pool from which your company can only benefit, and the positive impact is obvious to the community in the short and long term.
There are other opportunities for engagement: coding classes for public school students, scholarship opportunities for state and community college students and training programs for those interested in switching careers. Helping existing community members train for the kinds of jobs your company offers will allow locals to bridge the income gap so central to the destruction of existing communities.
Finally, one of the thorniest issues is gentrification’s role in disrupting local culture. The makeup of a place naturally changes when newer, more affluent residents move in, and, unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to this.
What’s at stake isn’t necessarily the loss of the community but the successful meshing of what came before with what is coming now. Drum circles, mariachi bands, block parties — these neighborhoods have histories, customs and rituals. Understanding what those are upon entering a new community is maybe the most important step a company and its new employees can take.
There are the surface solutions: investing in local galleries, sponsoring cultural programs and arts organizations. But then there are the less obvious opportunities, such as maintaining the architectural style of the neighborhood in the design of new office space, including the work of neighborhood artists in company projects or creative initiatives launched by your brand.
Ultimately, Los Angeles doesn’t need to become another San Francisco. This isn’t about finding comfortable ways of appeasing locals for the sake of positive PR. It’s about being more adept at stemming the turbulence that accompanies change and harnessing it in a way that benefits the community.
After all, empathy doesn’t simply apply to a company’s decision making, staff and customers. It applies to the communities we call home.
When Stackin’ initially pitched itself as part of Techstars Los Angeles accelerator program two years ago, the company was a video platform for financial advice targeting a millennial audience too savvy for traditional advisory services.
Now, nearly two years later, the company has pivoted from video to text-based financial advice for its millennial audience and is offering a new spin on lead generation for digital banks.
The company has launched a new, no-fee, checking and savings account feature in partnership with Radius Bank, which offers users a 1% annual percentage yield on deposits.
And Stackin has raised $4 million in new cash from Experian Ventures, Dig Ventures and Cherry Tree Investments, along with supplemental commitments from new and previous investors including Social Leverage, Wavemaker Partners, and Mucker Capital.
“Stackin’ has a unique and highly effective approach to connect and communicate with an entire generation of younger consumers around finance,” said Ty Taylor, Group President of Global Consumer Services at Experian, in a statement.
Founded two years ago by Scott Grimes, the former founder of Uproxx Media, and Kyle Arbaugh, who served as a senior vice president at Uproxx, Stackin initially billed itself as the Uproxx of personal finance.
It turns out that consumers didn’t want another video platform.
“Stackin’ is fundamentally changing the shape and context of what a financial relationship means by creating a fun, inclusive and judgement free environment that empowers our users to learn and take action through messaging,” said Scott Grimes, CEO and co-founder of Stackin’, in a statement. “This funding allows us to build out new features around banking and investing that will enhance the relationship with our customers.”
Later this fall the company said it would launch a new investment feature that will encourage Stackin users to participate in the stock market. It’s likely that this feature will look something like the Acorns model, which encourages users to invest in diversified financial vehicles to get them acquainted with the stock market before enabling individual trades on stocks.
According to Grimes, the company made the switch from video to text in March 2018 and built a custom messaging platform on Twilio to service the company’s 500,000 users.
“In a short time, we have built a large customer base with a demographic that is typically hard to reach. Having financial institutions like Experian come on board as an investor is a testament that this model is working,” Grimes wrote in an email.
Los Angeles-based Ordermark, the online delivery management service for restaurants founded by the scion of the famous, family-owned Canters Deli, said it has raised $18 million in a new round of funding.
The round was led by Boulder-based Foundry Group. All of Ordermark’s previous investors came back to provide additional capital for the company’s new funding, including: TenOneTen Ventures, Vertical Venture Partners, Mucker Capital, Act One Ventures, and Nosara Capital, which led the Series A funding.
“We created Ordermark to help my family’s restaurant adapt and thrive in the mobile delivery era, and then realized that as a company, we could help other restaurants experiencing the same challenges. We’ve been gratified to see positive results come in from our restaurant customers nationwide,” said Alex Canter, in a statement.
A fourth generation restauranteur, Canter built the technology on the back of his family deli’s own needs. The company has integrated with point of sale systems, kitchen displays, and accounting tools, and with last mile delivery companies.
As the company expands it’s looking to increase its sales among the virtual restaurants powered by cloud kitchens and delivery services like Uber Eats, Seamless/Grubhub and others, the company said in a statement.
Although the business isn’t profitable, Ordermark is now in over 3,000 restaurants. The company has integrations with over fifty ordering services.
The Fortnite phenomenon — the wildly popular battle royale game from Epic Games — has manifested itself in concerned articles and cultural shoutouts, and now has sealed its place in the cultural firmament by wrapping up its first “World Cup,” which saw the company give away $30 million in prizes.
Congrats to all of our winners this weekend at the #FortniteWorldCup Finals
— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) July 28, 2019
The big winner in today’s solo challenge was 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, who won $3 million for beating out the competition in the solo tournament. And, as sports writer Darren Rovell noted on Twitter, Giersdorf’s prize pool is only $850,000 smaller than the pot for the winner of the U.S. Open, which is set to begin in a few weeks at the same stadium.
Indeed, the esports prize pool is one of the biggest awards for a popular competitive event. Wimbledon winners took home less than $3 million and Tiger Woods won $2 million for besting the field of competitors at the Masters.
Fortnite’s big moment is also a big deal for competitive esports in the U.S. The biggest prize pool for an esports event in the U.S. was likely meant to plant a flag and show that competitive gaming is something that can capture the attention of a younger audience that has drifted away from watching more traditional pastimes and watching less sports, according to a McKinsey study.
Courtesy of McKinsey
Giersdorf, who hails from Pennsylvania and plays professionally for the Los Angeles-based esports team, the Sentinels, became the inaugural Fortnite World Cup solo champion by putting in a dominant performance over the entire weekend of competition.
For folks who’ve never played the game (or had it explained to them), Fortnite involves dropping 100 players onto an island where they have to find weapons, build bases and try to eliminate the competition until only one player is left standing.
It’s a cartoon version of the Hunger Games, with no bloodshed, a lot of victory dances and hours of social networking.
The game has turned its publisher, Epic Games, into a multibillion-dollar business. Certainly, it’s one that can afford to front a $30 million prize purse for a few days of competition.
The tournament wasn’t just about solo play. The company had different rounds for the duos competition featuring two-player teams. That competition, which ended on Saturday, also featured a $3 million prize pool and was won by the European duo of Emil “Nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen and David “Aqua” W.
Epic pulled out all the stops it could for the multi-day event at Arthur Ashe stadium. In addition to pulling in some of the top names in live streaming and competitive esports to participate in the event, the company also brought in the DJ Marshmello for a performance.
The tournament pulled in nearly 9 million viewers on YouTube alone for the final day of the competition. More than 40 million people tried out for a slot in the World Cup finals.
And while the prize pot takes a significant chunk out of the $100 million that Epic has committed to spend on competitions this year, the returns in terms of the social capital and cachet that Epic has given to the esports world can’t be underestimated.
It’s certainly going to change the life of its first World Cup champion, a fact that Giersdorf knows all too well himself.
“Emotionally, right now, I don’t feel too much, except I know that this could pretty much change my life forever,” Giersdorf said in an interview with ESPN. “It’s just absolutely unreal.”
Marcus Hutchins, the malware researcher who became known as an “accidental hero” for stopping the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017, has been sentenced to supervised release for one year on charges of making and selling the Kronos banking malware.
Presiding Judge J. P. Stadtmueller described Hutchins, 25, as a “talented” but “youthful offender” in remarks in court Friday.
The judge said Hutchins’ time had been served and will face no time in jail.
“It’s going to take the people like [Hutchins] with your skills to come up with solutions because that’s the only way we’re going to eliminate this entire subject of the woefully inadequate security protocols,” said Stadmueller.
The judge said he took into account Hutchins’ age at the time of the offenses, and gave him credit for “turning a corner” in his life before charges were brought.
Stadtmueller said his sentence is likely, however, to bar him from re-entering the United States.
In a statement, Hutchins said he made some “bad decisions” as a teenager. “I deeply regret my conduct and the harm that was caused,” he said.
“I have no desire to go back to that life,” he said, and apologized to the victims of the malware he created.
Hutchins, a British citizen who goes by the online handle @MalwareTech, was arrested in Las Vegas by federal marshals in August 2017 while boarding a flight back to the U.K. following the Def Con security conference. The government alleged in an indictment that he developed Kronos, a malware that steals banking credentials from the browsers of infected computers. The indictment also accused him of developing another malware known as the UPAS Kit. Hutchins was bailed on a $30,000 bond.
Since his indictment he has been living in Los Angeles.
Hutchins initially denied creating the malware. But after prosecutors filed a superseding indictment, he later pleaded guilty to the two primary counts of creating and selling the malware. Eight remaining charges were dropped following his change in plea.
Prosecutors said Hutchins faced up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $500,000 fine.
In a statement following his guilty plea, he said he regretted his actions and accepted “full responsibility for my mistakes.”
Prosecutors said although Hutchins and an accomplice had generated only a few thousand dollars from selling the malware, Kronos allowed others to financially benefit from using the malware.
Hutchins’ indictment came four months after he was hailed as a hero for registering a domain name that stopped the spread of the WannCry cyberattack, which knocked tens of thousands of computers offline with ransomware in a few hours.
The ransomware attack, later blamed on North Korean hackers, spread across Ukraine, Europe and the U.K., encrypting systems and knocking businesses and government departments offline. The U.K.’s National Health Service NHS was one of the biggest organizations hit, forcing doctors to turn patients away and emergency rooms to close. Hutchins, who at the time of the attack worked for Los Angeles-based Kryptos Logic from his home in the south of England, registered the domain in an effort to understand why the ransomware was spreading. It later transpired the domain acts as a “kill switch” and stopped it dead in its tracks.
In the week after, the kill switch became the target of powerful botnets hoping to knock the domain offline and spark another outbreak.
Hutchins told TechCrunch last month that the WannaCry attack was one of the most stressful and exhausting moments in his life.
Since the attack, however, Hutchins received additional acclaim for his malware research on new infections and botnet activities. He has been praised for live-streaming his work so others can learn how to reverse-engineer malware. Many in the security community — and further afield — have called on the court to grant Hutchins clemency for his recent concerted efforts to protect users from security threats.
Prosecutors acknowledged Hutchins’ reformed character in a sentencing memo filed this week, saying Hutchins has “since made a good decision to turn his talents toward more positive ends.”
When reached, a Justice Department spokesperson deferred comment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, which did not immediately comment.
Spin, the electric scooter company acquired by a Ford subsidiary for around $100 million, is launching a new electric scooter with a sturdier frame, improved braking system, bigger tires and longer-range battery.
In short, this third-generation product is built to handle the kind of abuse that a shared dockless scooter is subjected to on a daily basis. It’s also designed to be more secure. The company has added custom security screws that were developed to thwart vandalism and tampering.
The design improvements should improve the riding experience and, in theory, attract more customers. However, more customers is only one important piece of the scooter game. Gross profit margin is the other.
Spin launched a pilot program in June to test the new scooters in Baltimore. The pilot showed “promising results for increasing gross profit margin, while decreasing costs associated with theft and vandalism,” according to the company.
“In our testing of the next edition Spin scooter, we have seen a significant increase in utilization and our customers are taking more rides and traveling longer distances,” co-founder and COO Zaizhuang Cheng said in a statement.
The third-edition Spin scooter has 10-inch tires, a feature meant to better absorb shock from potholes and other rough road conditions. Other features include a wider and longer platform, a battery with 37.5 miles of range and and an upgraded authentication system. The company also revealed a new logo as part of a brand refresh across its scooters, app and website.
Spin, which is housed under the automaker’s subsidiary Ford Smart Mobility LLC, will deploy the new scooter next month in Berkeley, Calif., Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. Other U.S. cities will be added in the future.
Spin has been ramping up across the U.S. The company is the exclusive operator in 11 markets and has more than quadrupled the number of dockless scooter markets in which it operates to 47 cities and college campuses.
Its aim is to be in 100 cities and college campuses by the end of the year.
Postmates’ cooler-inspired autonomous delivery robot, which will roll out commercially in Los Angeles later this year, will rely on lidar sensors from Ouster, a burgeoning two-year-old startup that recently raised $60 million in equity and debt funding.
Postmates unveiled the first generation of its self-described “autonomous rover” — known as Serve — late last year. The vehicle uses cameras and light detection and ranging sensors called lidar to navigate sidewalks, as well as a backup human who remotely monitors the rover and can take control if needed.
A new second-generation version made its debut onstage earlier this month at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech event. This newer version looks identical to the original version except a few minor details, including a change in lidar sensors. The previous version was outfitted with sensors from Velodyne, a company that has long dominated the lidar industry.
The supplier contract is notable for Ouster, a startup trying to carve out market share from the giant Velodyne and stand out from a global pack of lidar companies that now numbers close to 70. And it could prove substantial for the company if Postmates takes Serve to other cities as planned.
Lidar measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. It’s considered by most in the self-driving car industry a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.
Ouster’s strategy has been to cast a wider net for customers by selling its lidar sensors to other industries, including robotics, drones, mapping, defense, building security, mining and agriculture companies. It’s an approach that Waymo is also pursuing for its custom lidar sensors, which will be sold to companies outside of self-driving cars. Waymo will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology.
Ouster’s business model, along with its tech, has helped it land 437 customers to date and raise a total of $90 million.
The contract with Postmates is its first major customer announcement. COAST Autonomous announced earlier this week that it was using Ouster sensors for its a low-speed autonomous shuttles. Self-driving truck companies Kodiak and Ike Robotics have also been using the sensors this year.
Ouster, which has 125 employees, uses complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology in its OS1 sensors, the same tech found in consumer digital cameras and smartphones. The company has announced four lidar sensors to date, with resolutions from 16 to 128 channels, and two product lines, the OS-1 and OS-2.
Car shoppers now have several new options to avoid long-term debt and commitments. Automakers and startups alike are increasingly offering services that give buyers new opportunities and greater flexibility around owning and using vehicles.
In the first part of this feature, we explored the different startups attempting to change car buying. But not everyone wants to buy a car. After all, a vehicle traditionally loses its value at a dramatic rate.
Some startups are attempting to reinvent car ownership rather than car buying.
My favorite car blog Jalopnik said it best: “Cars Sales Could Be Heading Straight Into the Toilet.” Citing a Bloomberg report, the site explains automakers may have had the worst first half for new-vehicle retail sales since 2013. Car sales are tanking, but people still need cars.
Companies like Fair are offering new types of leases combining a traditional auto financing option with modern conveniences. Even car makers are looking at different ways to move vehicles from dealer lots.
Fair was founded in 2016 by an all-star team made up of automotive, retail and banking executives including Scott Painter, former founder and CEO of TrueCar.
Doctours, a Los Angeles-based online platform for booking trips and treatments for medical and dental care around the world, is expanding its services to 35 countries.
Founded by serial travel entrepreneur Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, whose last company TripScope was acquired by Travefy, Doctours aims to connect patients with doctors to receive access to quality, affordable healthcare around the world.
The cost of care in the U.S. continues to climb, leading patients with few options but to travel to the best facilities offering the lowest cost care. Some companies that provide insurance benefits to their employees, like Walmart, are opting to pay for better care upfront by transporting their workers to facilities to receive appropriate care, rather than pay later for shoddy treatment.
Doctours sort of expands that thesis in an international context.
“When it comes to medical and dental treatment, there is no longer any reason to limit ourselves based on where we live,” said O’Shaughnessy, in a statement. “There is an increasingly advantageous global marketplace available with highly trained practitioners offering quality healthcare solutions at affordable prices and, although medical and dental tourism is a safe and cost-efficient solution, the current market is extremely fragmented and challenging to navigate. Doctours eliminates this fragmentation and allows anyone to easily and affordably access international medical and dental treatments and procedures.”
Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, founder, Doctours
The company, which is backed by investors including investors in Doctours include the former CEO of Expedia, Erik Blachford, Texas billionaire and CEO of multi-strategy holding company, Cathexis, William Harrison, and Charles Cogliando of Mosaic Advisors, offers more than 330 different medical and dental procedures and has a global service area that includes Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean, Thailand, Dubai, Brazil, Germany and Costa Rica.
Currently working out of Quake Capital’s Austin incubator, the company helps patients search for and compare the cost of procedures, connect with doctors and book everything from in vitro fertilization to stem cell therapy, cosmetic and reparative plastic . surgery, weight loss surgery, dental work and Lasik.
Once the procedure is booked, Doctours puts together itineraries that provide different options for flights and hotels based on the needs of the patient, the company said.
The company also offers specialized medical tourism insurance to all of its customers, according to O’Shaughnessy. And the company vets its doctors by ensuring that they are Joint Commission International accredited physicians. Roughly 70% of the company’s doctors were trained at universities and medical schools in Europe or the U.S., O’Shaughnessy wrote in an email.
Doctours is certainly entering a lucrative market. Medical and dental tourism is a $439 billion global market growing at a rate of 25% per year, according to data provided by Doctours. In 2018 alone, 14 million patients traveled abroad to seek healthcare, according to the company.
Over the past year, Songtrust has added another 55,000 artists to its rights management service.
The company, a subsidiary of Downtown Music Publishing, a publishing and rights management firm that manages rights for artists such as John Lennon, One Direction and Santigold, now has 205,000 artists on its roster and has 2 million songs it tracks.
The company has also opened three offices in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Nashville to complement existing locations in New York, London and Amsterdam.
The company’s growth follows that of a music industry that continues to enjoy a renaissance (at least in terms of dollars spent).
The global recorded music market grew 9.7% in 2018 to $19.1 billion, according to data from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (which has been tracking the industry since the days when the dominant technology was the record player).
Much of that growth is now coming from streaming, the IFPI reports, with streaming revenues growing 34% year over year and accounting for 47% of total revenue thanks to paid subscription services. There were 255 million users of paid services by the end of 2018 — and Songtrust can attribute much of its growth to the opacity in how that money makes its way back to artists.
Increasingly, those artists are having to track their performance in international markets as well. Latin America continues to be the fastest gorwing region for music consumption, followed by Asia and Australasia. Most of that growth is due to K-Pop, since South Korea accounts for 17.9% growth in money spent alone.
All of this movement shows no sign of abating, according to the bankers that track these kinds of things. Goldman Sachs recently projected that the industry could grow to over $130 billion in revenue over the next decade.
The future of rocket manufacturing has touched down in Mississippi.
At NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, nestled in Hancock County, Miss., right on the border of Louisiana, the Los Angeles-based 3D-printed spacecraft manufacturer, Relativity Space, is planning a massive $59 million expansion to make a permanent manufacturing hub in this bucolic corner of the southeast.
“This agreement demonstrates again NASA’s commitment to work with our industry partners to expand commercial access to low Earth orbit,” said Dr. Rick Gilbrech, director, Stennis Space Center. “This helps NASA maintain focus on the ambitious Artemis program that will land the first female and the next male on the south pole of the Moon by 2024.”
Relativity already has four of its proprietary 3D printers running in its Los Angeles headquarters and plans to build out 12 larger units in its new Mississippi digs. The company ultimately expects to get 24 of its printers up and running.
Unlike other rocket manufacturers, Relativity uses 3D printers for almost all of the components it needs to assemble a spacecraft. The company says its technology significantly reduces the time it takes to manufacture a vehicle for space travel and the cost associated with that manufacturing.
At Stennis, the company has 220,000 square feet at its disposal to install second-generation printers, larger than the initial designs it has in its LA base of operations.
Initially, the company will be focused on the construction of its own Terran1 rocket design, and has signed up three customers, including Spaceflight Industries, Telesat and Mu Space for launches.
“We now have this benefit of being colocated with a testing facility,” says Tobias Duschl, the vice president of operations at Relativity, and a former executive at BMW and Tesla. “We can easily move components back and forth from production to testing. It’s going to be a huge benefit for our customers.”
Through a package with the state, Relativity is getting tax incentives for its investments in capital and is looking to hire an additional 200 employees for the Stennis manufacturing facility.
The agreement with NASA includes a nine-year lease on the 220,000 square foot building at Stennis, with an option to extend the lease for an additional 10 years, according to the company.
“The Mississippi Gulf Coast has a strong aerospace presence, and Relativity’s expansion at Stennis further positions our state as a leader in this prominent sector,” Governor Phil Bryant said. “The important work that will be done for Relativity by our skilled workforce will play a crucial role in developing new methods to connect to outer space and other planets.”
Relativity’s co-founder and chief executive, Tim Ellis, envisions the Stennis facility as more than just a manufacturing hub for spacecraft.
“We are investing not just a new rocket, but an entirely new way of production, with our large, mass-scale, 3D-printing factory,” Ellis says. “The exact same factory we built for the rockets is already applicable to other things. It’s highly automated (due to 3D printing), which reduces part counts, and simplifies the supply chain… and there’s no fixed tooling. The 3D printers can make similar structures for other industries.”
To date, Relativity has disclosed $45 million in financing according to Crunchbase, from investors including the billionaire Mark Cuban, Social Capital, Playground Global and Y Combinator.
The group has been roasting the tech scene in hubs across the U.S., including Seattle, where the company is based, as well as Los Angeles, Austin and San Francisco, since last summer.
It’s made out of current and former techies themselves. Co-founders Jesse Warren and Austin Nasso have a history at Microsoft . Warren recently left his full-time gig at the tech giant, while Nasso has yet to let go of the 9 to 5. Lee Yang, a producer on board the startup, is concurrently building a startup called Epitome.io.
The hope is that the traveling comedy show will gain followers across the U.S. and perform shows in dozens of cities. That way, the entire team can commit to the effort full-time.
At their shows, Socially Inept taps local comedic talent to roast willing local tech workers.
“On the one hand they are wealthy and intelligent which puts them in a sort of ‘elevated status.’ It’s hard to really punch down on a recent college grad who makes $130,000 per year,” Warren recently told GeekWire. “However, despite their high status they typically have many funny characteristics and interests such as their social awkwardness, obsession with self-help, inability to properly dress themselves, and fascination with the television series ‘My Little Pony.'”
The show is making its way back to San Francisco this Thursday for a night of tech-themed insults at Cobb’s Comedy Club. Warren and Nasso, along with local comedians Tony Zavala and Julie Ash will be doing the honors of roasting.
In a previous life, John Underkoffler spent his days in Los Angeles dreaming up all of the possible ways men and machines would interact as a science adviser on films like Minority Report.
Now, he designs those systems for the real world through his company Oblong Industries, which has labored to create a full stack of collaborative tools for business users that are every bit as high-tech as the one’s Underkoffler dreamt for the silver screen.
The first bolt in the quiver of tools that Underkoffler began building out over the course of 15 years spent at MIT’s Media Lab was Mezzanine. A multipurpose collaborative platform that allowed business users to share documents and interact in real time through a powerful combination of videoconferencing hardware and software.
In the age of Zoom though, Oblong’s tools have become more lightweight, and the company is steadily adding multi-share capabilities to platforms other than its own. That new gaggle of collaboration tools launched under the moniker of Rumpus, and Oblong has been partnering with different video services to add its services to their own.
The latest to get the Rumpus treatment is Cisco Webex. Now Cisco’s videoconferencing customers will get access to Rumpus’ personal cursors that point and emphasize content on shared screens, presence indicators to show who is looking where and at what, and emoji reactions to provide feedback without disrupting the flow of a meeting.
The company’s tools enable all of the users in a meeting to share their screens without competing for screen time.
“We’ve worked closely with Cisco over the last year to bring the capabilities of our flagship product, Mezzanine, to the Cisco suite of enterprise solutions for meetings paces. So as we completed Oblong’s own set of content-first collaboration offerings by building out Rumpus for pure-virtual work, it was obvious that Webex should be among the first conferencing solutions to be directly integrated,” said Underkoffler in a statement. “We’re thrilled to bring . the next level of engagement and productivity to millions of Webex users when their meetings require more than basic video and messaging.”
Rumpus is currently available for free to Mac computer users with Windows support coming soon.
Most of the buzz about esports focuses on high-profile professional teams and audiences watching live streams of those professionals.
What gets ignored is the entire base of amateurs wanting to compete in esports below the professional tier. This is like talking about the NBA and the value of its sponsorships and broadcast rights as if that is the entirety of the basketball market in the US.
Los Angeles-based PlayVS (pronounced “play versus”) wants to become the dominant platform for amateur esports, starting at the high school level. The company raised $46 million last year—its first year operating—with the vision that owning the infrastructure for competitions and expanding it to encompass other social elements of gaming can make it the largest gaming company in the world.
I recently sat down with Founder & CEO Delane Parnell to talk about his company’s formation and growth strategy. Below is the transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
Eric P: You have a fascinating background as a serial entrepreneur while you were a teenager.
Delane P.: I grew up on the west side of Detroit and started working at the cell phone store of a family friend when I was 13. When I turned 16 or so, I joined two guys in opening our own Metro PCS franchise. And then two additional franchises. And I was on the founding team of a car rental company called Executive Rental Car.
Eric P: And this segued into tech startups after meeting Jon Triest from Ludlow Ventures?
Delane P: He got me a ticket to the Launch conference in SF, and that experience inspired me to start a Fireside Chat series in Detroit that brought in people like Brian Wong from Kiip and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit to speak. Starting at 21, I worked at a venture capital firm called IncWell based in Birmingham, Michigan then joined a startup called Rocket Fiber.
We were focused on internet infrastructure – this is 2015-ish – and I was appointed to lead our strategy in esports. So I met with many of the publishers, ancillary startups, tournament organizers, and OG players and team owners. Through the process, I became passionate about esports and ended up leaving Rocket Fiber to start a Call of Duty team that I quickly sold to TSM.
Eric P: What then drove you to found PlayVS? Did it seem like an obvious opportunity or did it take you a while to figure it out?
Delane P.: What esports means is playing video games competitively bound to governance and a competitive ruleset. As a player, what that experience means is you play on a team, in a position, with a coach, in a season that culminates in some sort of championship.
Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a newsletter published every Saturday that dives into the week’s most noteworthy venture deals, fundraises, M&A transactions and trends. Let’s take a quick moment to catch up. Last week, I wrote about an alternative to venture capital called revenue-based financing and before that, I jotted down some notes on one of VCs’ favorite spaces: cannabis tech. Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets.
This week, I want to share some thoughts — questions, rather — on beverages. Just as my inbox has been full of cannabis-related pitches, it’s also been packed with descriptions of new…drinks. Perhaps the most noted so far is Liquid Death, canned water for the punk rock crowd, because why not? Liquid Death has attracted nearly $2 million in funding from angel investors like Away co-founder Jen Rubio and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Before I tell you about a few other up-and-coming beverage makers, I must beg the question: Does the beverage industry need disrupting?
Founders say yes. Why? For one, because millennials, according to various studies, are consuming less alcohol than previous generations and are therefore seeking non-alcoholic beverage alternatives. Enter Seedlip, a non-alcoholic spirits company, for example. Or Haus, launching this summer, an all-natural apéritif distilled from grapes that has a lower alcohol content than most hard liquors. Haus, like any good consumer startup in 2019, is shipped directly to your door.
Beverages are being disrupted, there's no stopping it. pic.twitter.com/DMEg88t4iO
— Kate Clark (@KateClarkTweets) May 21, 2019
Bev, a canned wine business that recently raised $7 million in seed funding from Founders Fund, thinks marketing in the alcohol industry is the problem. Founder Alix Peabody designed a line of female-focused canned rosé. If you’re wondering why alcohol needs to be gendered in such a way, you’re not alone. Peabody explained most alcohol brands cater to men, and that’s a problem.
“The joke I like to make is there’s a go-to type of alcohol for every type of bro and we just don’t have that for women,” Peabody told TechCrunch earlier this year.
Finally, the wellness movement is taking over, driving VCs toward some odd upstarts. From wellness chat and journaling apps to therapy substitutes to fitness companies, stick wellness in a pitch and investors will take a second look. More Labs, for example, is backed with $8 million in VC funding. The company is readying the launch of Liquid Focus, a biohacking-beverage that claims to “solve modern-day stressors without the negative side effects.” Finally, Elements, “an elevated functional wellness beverage formulated with clinical levels of adaptogens to give your body exactly what it needs in four categories (focus, vitality, calm, and rest) for specific cognitive functions” (damn, what copy), recently launched. It doesn’t appear to be funded yet, but let’s just give it a few months.
There’s more where that came from, but I’m done for now. On to other news.
I almost skipped IPO corner this week because no big-name companies dropped or amended their S-1s or completed a highly anticipated IPO, as has been the case basically every week of 2019. But I decided I better give a quick update on Luckin Coffee’s tough second week on the stock market. Luckin Coffee, if you aren’t familiar, is Starbucks’ Chinese rival. The company raised more than $550 million after pricing at $17 per share a little over a week ago. Immediately the stock skyrocketed 20 percent to a roughly $5 billion market cap; then came concerns of the company’s lofty valuation, major cash burn and uncertain path to profitability. Luckin has dropped around 25 percent since closing its debut trading day. It closed Friday down 3 percent.
Y Combinator, the popular accelerator program and investment firm announced this week that it has promoted longtime partner Geoff Ralston to president. This comes two months after former president Sam Altman stepped down to focus his efforts full-time on OpenAI. The promotion of Ralston is an unsurprising choice for YC, an organization that employs roughly 60 people, many of whom have been affiliated with it in one way or another for years.
The Los Angeles ecosystem is $76 million stronger this week as Fika Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital firm, announced its sophomore investment fund. Fika invests roughly half of its capital exclusively in startups headquartered in LA, with a particular fondness for B2B, enterprise and fintech companies. The firm was launched in 2017 by general partners Eva Ho and TX Zhuo, formerly of Susa Ventures and Karlin Ventures, respectively. The pair raised $41 million for the debut effort, opting to nearly double that number the second time around as a means to participate in more follow-on fundings.
DoorDash raises $600M at a $12.7B valuation
TransferWise completes $292M secondary round at a $3.5B valuation
Auth0 raises $103M, pushes its valuation over $1B
Canva gets $70M at a $2.5B valuation
Payment card startup Marqeta confirms $260M round at close to $2B valuation
Modsy scores $37M to virtually design your home
Sun Basket whips up $30M Series E
Zero raises $20M from NEA for a credit card that works like debit
Nigeria’s Gokada raises $5.3M for its motorcycle ride-hail biz
Our premium subscription service had another great week of interesting deep dives. This week, TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney went deep on Getaround’s acquisition of Drivy for his latest installment of The Exit, a new series at TechCrunch where we chat with VCs who were in the right place at the right time and made the right call on an investment that paid off. Here are some of the other Extra Crunch pieces that stood out this week:
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 discuss how startups are avoiding IPOs and VC’s insatiable interest in food delivery startups.
When Ezra first launched about six months ago, the company was using magnetic resonance imaging machines to test for prostate cancer in men.
But the company’s founder, Emi Gal, always had a larger goal.
“One of the biggest problems in cancer is that there’s no accurate, fast, painless, way to scan for cancer anywhere in the body” Gal said at the time of his company’s debut.
Now he’s several steps closer to a solution. Rather than having to do painful biopsies which often come with significant side effects, Gal’s software can now be used to slash the cost for a full-body MRI scan designed to screen for 11 different types of cancer in men and another 13 types of cancer in women (who have more organs that are likely to develop cancer).
The scans take about an hour and costs just $1,950, compared with the $5,000 to $10,000 that a full-body MRI scan can cost.
That’s still a steep price for customers to pay out of pocket. Insurance companies won’t pay for Ezra’s screens… yet. The company is in talks with some insurance companies and expects to have some pilot projects up in the last quarter of 2018 and first quarter of 2020. The goal, says Gal, is to have Ezra covered by insurers and self-employed insurers.
It’s hard to overstate how vitally important early cancer screening is for patients.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 1.7 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019. For 600,000 people that diagnosis will be a death sentence. Roughly half of cancer patients are detected in the late stage of the disease and only two out of ten late-stage cancer patients survive longer than five years.
Gal knows the toll that can take on patients and families all too well. The serial entrepreneur, who started his first company at 20 and sold it at 30, volunteered at a hospice in his hometown of Bucharest, and became determined to come up with a screen to detect cancer earlier.
Gal started working on Ezra’s cancer-screening toolkit last year, with patient data taken from the National Institute of Health and supplemented with 150 cancer screens from additional patients.
Ezra initially came to market with a single test to screen for prostate cancer using machine learning to diagnose the screens coming off of an abbreviated MRI scan that takes 20 minutes.
All of the MRI sequences that Gal’s company uses are FDA approved, but the machine learning algorithms the company has developed has not been cleared, yet.
While Ezra can screen for different cancers, the firm’s technology doesn’t offer a diagnosis. That’s still up to a physician and requires additional testing. “We’re turning MRIs from what is a diagnostic test into a screening test,” says Gal.
“What we’ve done is removed the sequences not necessary for screening and brought the liver scan down to 15 minutes [and] the total scanning time down to an hour,” Gal says.
Rather than building out its own network of MRI machines to conduct the tests, Ezra has partnered with the MRI facility network RadNet on testing. The company also offers post-diagnosis consultations to help direct patients who are diagnosed with cancer to seek proper treatment.
The company is currently working in nine centers across New York and intends to expand to San Francisco and Los Angeles later this year.
Gal’s vision for early cancer screening was appealing enough to rake in $4 million in financing from investors including Founders Future, Credo Ventures, Seedcamp, Esther Dyson and other angel investors including SoundCloud co-founder Alex Ljung.
Ultimately, Ezra’s success will hinge on whether it can continue to drive down costs with its direct-to-consumer pitch, or become a diagnostic tool that insurers embrace.
“Over time, our goal is to build different AIs for different organs to decrease the cost even further,” says Gal.
The Los Angeles ecosystem is $76 million stronger today as Fika Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital firm, announces its sophomore investment fund.
Fika invests roughly half of its capital exclusively in startups headquartered in LA, with a particular fondness for B2B, enterprise and fintech companies. The firm was launched in 2017 by general partners Eva Ho and TX Zhuo, formerly of Susa Ventures and Karlin Ventures, respectively. The pair raised $41 million for the debut effort, opting to nearly double that number the second time around as a means to participate in more follow-on fundings.
News of Fika’s second effort comes as investment in LA tech continues to reach record highs. In total, more than $60 billion was invested in LA startups in 2018. So far this year, companies headquartered in the area have attracted roughly $25 billion in equity funding, according to data collected by PitchBook.
“It’s still really underserved from a capital standpoint,” Zhuo said of the LA region. “We feel over the next couple of years, we’ll start to see repeat entrepreneurs come out of these LA companies. The timing is ripe for a fund like ours to capitalize on the opportunity.”
Ho, a former general partner and co-founder of San Francisco seed fund Susa Ventures, told TechCrunch LA is benefiting from the exodus of founders and investors from Silicon Valley: “A lot of the folks from up north have moved down here for better quality of life,” she explained.
“Silicon Valley has gotten a bad rap over the last couple of years so folks move down here, engineers come down here, founders come down,” Ho added. “I’ve watched the ecosystem grow over the last two decades.”
Fika Ventures focuses on the greater B2B ecosystem but has also supported companies solving social issues within housing, education and healthcare. Ho cited an investment in WeeCare, a startup that helps people launch curriculum-based home daycares within their own homes, as an example.