One of our favorite companies from the most recently Y Combinator batch has closed a seed round. This morning Quenly announced that it has closed a $2.262 million round, following its $800,000 pre-seed raise. TechCrunch covered the company in February, noting that the company was building something akin to the StockX for women’s formal wear.
Queenly runs a marketplace that allows individuals and small stores to resell dresses after they’ve been worn, allowing for more women to access the items they want to wear to a prom, quinceanera, or pageant at a lower price point. And as the service could help reduce net clothing waste, it could have a positive environmental impact as well.
The model has continued to find backers. According to co-founder Trisha Bantigue, the biggest check in Queenly’s seed round came from Dragon Capital, an investing group that she said quickly saw her startup’s potential, investing the day after they met. Notably, the seed round, which Bantigue had roughly half-filled even before its Y Combinator cohort’s launch event, did not have a lead investor. Instead, she described her most recent backers as more of a collection of investors that can bring different strategic value-adds to Queenly.
Brightlane Ventures put capital in, for example. Bantigue said that they provide candidate sourcing help. She also cited Amino Capital’s analytics knowledge, which will help her company’s technical co-founder Kathy Zhou. NextView Ventures also invested, an investor that Bantigue said had deep experience in resale marketplaces and commerce. Interlace Ventures and Shakti Capital also took part.
Queenly, long a team of two, intends to expand its staff to six full-time workers with its new funds. That means that Zhou will be supplemented by two more engineers, and Bantigue will be backed up by a head of growth, and a head of opps. Six full-time staff isn’t many, unless you’re starting from a base of two. Then it’s a trebling.
Queenly had set out to raise $1.5 million, but wound up raising $2.1 million, a number that grew to $2.262 million by the time that TechCrunch caught up with the company earlier this week.
Notably, Bantigue turned down a larger, $1.5 million check after closing around $1.1 million of the round. Why not on as much capital as possible? She said that Y Combinator and its managing director Michael Seibel had warned her startup cohort against raising too much money too early. And, she explained, her team is more focused on building long-term more “sustainable” growth than short-term “hypergrowth.” She cited startups that raised lots of capital quickly only to later burn out as a cautionary tale.
The new capital was raised using a simple agreement for future equity, or SAFE at a single cap.
Queenly’s model of allowing individuals and partner stores resale dresses provides it with two distinct supply sources. TechCrunch asked which is its key driver of growth. Per Bantigue, the partner selling model is still new, but thus far has yielded a simpler, and lower-friction supply source for her company.
TechCrunch was also curious about how the company handles quality, fraud and returns, especially in light of our recent, and illustrative dive into StockX which has a related set of hurdles to clear.
Bantigue explained that her firm has two main ways that dresses are vetted. For those priced at $300 or less, they ship directly from sellers to buyers, after submitting proof photos of the condition of the dress’s components. Those that cost more than $300 are routed through the company’s own operation, where it can provide stricter quality control.
With more capital than it has ever had, a growing team, and a large market that is largely offline today, the startup should have plenty of room to grow. Let’s see how far it can get with this new investment.
The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.
City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.
But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?
TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.
Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.
Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.
Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.
The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.
We all know the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption in a number of areas, particularly in the financial services space. Within financial services, there are few spaces hotter than B2B payments.
With a $120 trillion market size, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of fintechs focused on digitizing payments have been attracting investor interest. The latest is Routable, which has nabbed $30 million in a Series B raise that included participation from a slew of high-profile angel investors.
Unlike most raises, Routable didn’t raise the capital from a bunch of VC firms. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI and former president of Y Combinator, and Jack Altman, CEO of Lattice, led the round. (The pair are brothers, in case you didn’t know.)
SoftBank-backed unicorn Flexport also participated, along with a number of angel investors, including Instacart co-founder Max Mullen, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff (who also started TIME Ventures), DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, early Stripe employee turned angel Lachy Groom and Behance founder Scott Belsky.
The Series B comes just over eight months after Routable came out of stealth with a $12 million Series A.
CEO Omri Mor and CTO Tom Harel founded Routable in 2017 after previously working at marketplaces and recognizing the need for better internal tools for scaling business payments. They went through a Y Combinator batch and embarked on a process of interviewing hundreds of CFOs and finance leaders.
The pair found that the majority of the business payment tools that were out there were built for large companies with a low volume of business payments.
“After running enough customer development we identified a huge scramble to solve high-volume business payments, and that’s what we double down on,” Mor told TechCrunch.
Routable’s mission is simple: to automate bill payment and invoicing processes (also known as accounts payables and accounts receivables), so that businesses can focus on scaling their core product offerings without worrying about payments.
“A business payment is more like moving a bill through Congress, where a consumer payment is more like a tweet,” Mor said. “We automate every step from purchase order to reconciliation and by extending an API, companies don’t have to build their own inner integration. We handle it, while helping them move their money faster.”
Since its August 2020 raise, Routable has seen its revenue grow by 380%, according to Mor. And last month alone, the company tripled its amount of new customers compared to the month prior. Customers include Snackpass, Ticketmaster and Re-Max, among others.
“We’ve been beating every quarter expectation for the past 18 months,” he told TechCrunch.
The company started out focused on the startup and SMB customer, but based on demand and feedback, is expanding into the enterprise space as well.
It has established integrations with QuickBooks, NetSuite and Xero and is looking to invest moving forward in integrating with Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics Workday and SAP.
“A lot of our investment moving forward is to be able to bring that same level of automation and ease of use that we do for SMB and mid-market customers to the enterprise world,” Mor told TechCrunch.
Lead investor Sam Altman is in favor of that approach, noting that the recent booms in the gig and creator economies are leading to a big spike in the volume of both payments and payees.
“With the addition of enterprise capabilities, we think this can lead to an enormous business,” he said.
The round brings Routable’s total raised to $46 million. The company has headquarters in San Francisco and Seattle with primarily a remote team.
Sam Altman also told me that he was drawn to Routable after having experienced the pain of high-volume business payments himself and working with many startup founders who had experienced the same problem.
He was also impressed with the company’s engineering-forward approach.
“They can offer the best service by being embedded in a company’s flow of funds instead of the usual approach of just being an interface for moving money,” Altman said.
With regard to the other investors, Mor said the decision to partner with founders of a number of prominent tech companies was intentional so that Routable could benefit from their “deep enterprise and high-growth experience.”
As mentioned above, the B2B payments space is white-hot. Earlier this year, Melio, which provides a platform for SMBs to pay other companies electronically using bank transfers, debit cards or credit — along with the option of cutting paper checks for recipients if that is what the recipients request — closed on $110 million in funding at a $1.3 billion valuation.
For a long time, “revenue” seemed to be a taboo word in the startup world. Fortunately, things have changed with the rise of SaaS and alternative funding sources such as revenue-based investing VCs. Still, revenue modeling remains a challenge for founders. How do you predict earnings when you are still figuring it out?
The answer is twofold: You need to make your revenue predictable, repeatable and scalable in the first place, plus make use of tools that will help you create projections based on your data. Here, we’ll suggest some ways you can get more visibility into your revenue, find the data that really matter and figure out how to put a process in place to make forecasts about it.
You need to make your revenue predictable, repeatable and scalable in the first place, plus make use of tools that will help you create projections based on your data.
Aaron Ross is a co-author of “Predictable Revenue,” a book based on his experience of creating a process and team that helped grow Salesforce’s revenue by more than $100 million. “Predictable” is the key word here: “You want growth that doesn’t require guessing, hope and frantic last-minute deal-hustling every quarter- and year-end,” he says.
This makes recurring revenue particularly desirable, though it is by no means the be-all-end-all of predictable revenue. On one hand, there is always the risk that recurring revenue won’t last, as customers may churn and organic growth runs out of gas. On the other, there is a broader picture for predictable revenue that goes beyond subscription-based models.
Ross and his co-author, Marylou Tyler, outline three steps to predictable revenue: predictable lead generation, a dedicated sales development team and consistent sales systems. They wrote an entire book about it, so it would be hard to sum it up here. So what’s the takeaway? You shouldn’t base your projections on processes and results that aren’t repeatable and scalable.
In their early days, startups usually grow via word of mouth, luck and sheer hustle. The problem is that it likely won’t lead to sustainable growth; as the saying goes, what got you here won’t get you there. In between, there is typically a phase of uncertainty and missed results that Ross refers to as “the hot coals.”
Before the hot coals, predicting revenue is vain at best, and oftentimes impossible. I, for one, remember being at a loss when an old-school investor asked me for five-year profit-and-loss projections when my now-defunct startup was nowhere near a stable money-making path. Not all seed investors expect this, so there was obviously a mismatch here, but the challenge is still the same for most founders: How do you bridge the gap between traditional projections and the reality of a startup?
Few companies have done better than Scale at spotting a need in the AI gold rush early on and filling that gap. The startup rightly identified that one of the tasks most important to building effective AI at scale — the laborious exercise of tagging data sets to make them usable in properly training new AI agents — was one that companies focused on that area of tech would also be most willing to outsource. CEO and co-founder Alex Wang credits their success since founding, which includes raising over $277 million and achieving break-even status in terms of revenue, to early support from investors including Accel’s Dan Levine.
Accel haș participated in four of Scale’s financing rounds, which is all of them unless you include the funding from YC the company secured as part of a cohort in 2016. In fact, Levine wrote one of the company’s very first checks. So on this past week’s episode of Extra Crunch Live, we spoke with Levine and Wang about how that first deal came together, and what their working relationship has been like in the years since.
Scale’s story starts with a pivot, and with a bit of rule-breaking, too — Wang went off the typical YC book by speaking to investors prior to demo day when Levine cold-emailed him after seeing Scale on Product Hunt. The Product Hunt spot wasn’t planned, either — Wang was as surprised to see his company there as anyone else. But Levine saw the kernel of something with huge potential, and despite being a relative unknown in VC at the time, didn’t want to let the opportunity pass him, or Wang, by.
Both Wang and Levine were also able to provide some great feedback on decks submitted to our regular Pitch Deck Teardown segment, despite the fact that Levine actually never saw a pitch deck from Wang before investing (more on that later). If you’d like your pitch deck reviewed by experienced founders and investors on a future episode, you can submit your deck here.
As mentioned, Levine and Accel’s initial investment in Scale came from a cold email sent after the company appeared on Product Hunt. Wang said the team had just put out an early version of Scale, and then noticed that it was up on Product Hunt — it was submitted by someone else. The community response was encouraging, and it also led to Levine reaching out via email.
“One of the side effects of that, one of the outcomes, was that we got this cold email from Dan,” he said. “We really knew nothing about Dan until his cold email. So like many great stories that started with a bold, cold email. And we were pretty stressed about it at the time, because in YC, they tell you pretty definitively, ‘Hey, don’t talk to a VC during the batch,’ and we were squarely in the middle of the batch.”
Wang and the team were so nervous that they even considered “ghosting” Dan despite his obvious interest and the prestige of Accel as an investment firm. In the end, they decided to “go rogue” and respond, which led to a meeting at the Accel offices in Palo Alto.
SaaS to support mid-sized companies’ financial planning with real-time data and native collaboration isn’t the sexiest startup pitch under the sun but it’s one that’s swiftly netted Abacum a bunch of notable backers — including Creandum, which is leading a $7M seed round that’s being announced today.
The rosters of existing investors also participating in the round are Y Combinator (Abacum was part of its latest batch), PROFounders, and K-Fund, along with angel investors such as Justin Kan (Atrium and Twitch co-founder and CEO); Maximilian Tayenthal (N26 co-founder and co-CEO & CFO); Thomas Lehrman (GLG co-founder and ex-CEO), Avi Meir (TravelPerk co-founder and CEO); plus Jenny Bloom (Zapier CFO and Mailchimp ex-CFO) and Mike Asher (CFO at Neo4j).
Abacum was founded last year in the middle of the COVID-19 global lockdown, after what it says was around a year of “deep research” to feed its product development. They launched their SaaS in June 2020. And while they’re not disclosing customer numbers at this early stage their first clients include a range of scale-up companies in the US and in Europe, including the likes of Typeform, Cabify, Ebury, Garten, Jeff and Talkable.
The startup’s Spanish co-founders — Julio Martinez, a fintech entrepreneur with an investment banking background, and Jorge Lluch, a European Space Agency engineer turned CFO/COO — spotted an opportunity to build dedicated software for mid-market finance teams to provide real-time access to data via native collaborative that plugs into key software platforms used by other business units, having felt the pain of a lack of access to real-time data and barriers to collaboration in their own professional experience with the finance function.
The idea with Abacum is to replace the need for finance teams to manually update their models. The SaaS automatically does the updates, fed with real-time data through direct integrations with software used by teams dealing with functions like HR, CRM, ERP (and so on) — empowering the finance function to collaborate more easily across the business and bolster its strategic decision-making capabilities.
The startup’s sales pitch to the target mid-sized companies is multi-layered. Abacum says its SaaS both saves finance teams time and enables faster-decision making.
“Prior to using Abacum, finance analysts in our clients were easily spending 50% to 70% of their time in manual tasks like downloading files from different systems, copy&pasting them in massive spreadsheets (that crash frequently), formatting the data by manually adding and removing rows, columns and formats, connecting the data in a model prone to manual error (e.g. vlookups & sumifs),” Martinez tells TechCrunch. “With Abacum, this entire manual part is automatically done and the finance professionals can spend their time analyzing and adding real value to the business.”
“We enable faster decisions that were not possible prior to Abacum. For instance, some of our clients were updating their cohort analysis on a quarterly basis only because the associated manual tasks were too painful. With us, they’re able to update the analysis weekly and take better decisions as a result.”
The SaaS also supports decisions in another way — by applying machine learning to business data to generate estimates on future performance, providing an AI-based reference point based on historical data that finance teams can use to inform their assumptions.
And it aids cross-business collaboration — allowing users to share and gather information “easily through workflows and permissions”. “We see that this results in faster and richer decisions as more stakeholders are brought into the process,” he adds.
Martinez says Abacum chose to focus on mid-market finance teams because they face “more challenges and inefficiencies” vs the smaller (and larger) ends of the market. “In that segment, the finance function is underinvested — they face the acute complexities of scaling companies that become very pressing but at the same time they are still considered a support function, a back-office,” he argues.
“Abacum makes finance a strategic function — we deliver native collaboration to finance teams so that they become the trusted business partner they want to be. We also see that the pandemic has accelerated the need for finance teams to collaborate effectively and work remotely,” he adds.
He also describes the mid market segment as “fairly unpenetrated” — claiming many companies do not yet having a solution in place.
While competitors he points to when asked about other players in the space are long in the tooth in digital terms: Adaptive Insights (2003); Host Analytics (2001); and Anaplan (2008).
Commenting on the seed round in a statement, Peter Specht, principal at Creandum, added: “The financial planning processes in many companies are ripe for disruption and demand more automation. Abacum’s slick solution empowers finance teams to be more collaborative, efficient and better informed with access to real-time data. We were impressed by their user-friendly product, the initial hiring of top talent, and crucially the strong founders and their extensive operational experience — including as CFOs and entrepreneurs who have experienced the problem first-hand. We are delighted to be part of Abacum’s journey to empower global SMEs to bring their financial operations to new levels.”
Abacum’s seed financing will be ploughed into product development and growth, per Martinez, who says it’s focused on wooing finance teams in the US and Europe for now.
CaptivateIQ, which has developed a no-code platform to help companies design customized sales commission plans, has raised $46 million in a Series B round led by Accel.
Existing backers Amity, S28 Capital, Sequoia, and Y Combinator also participated in the financing, which brings the San Francisco-based company’s total raised to $63 million since its 2017 inception.
CaptivateIQ must be doing something right. Its revenue has grown 600% year-over-year. To date, it has processed over $2 billion in commissions on its platform across hundreds of enterprise customers including Affirm, TripActions, Udemy, Intercom, Newfront Insurance and JMAC Lending.
“A big part of our growth is that we can help any company that offers a performance-based compensation plan, so we don’t have any restrictions with the types of businesses we work with,” said co-CEO Mark Schopmeyer. “We typically see conversations start with teams that have a minimum of 25 sales people, though we easily serve enterprises and public companies as well.”
The number of payees — defined as someone receiving a payout in CapitvateIQ’s system — was up four times in December 2020 from the year prior. Plus, the company had “back-to-back record months” from September through the end of the year in 2020, according to Schopmeyer.
He, co-CEO Conway Teng and CTO Hubert Wong founded CaptivateIQ after coming out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2017 cohort.
Left to right: Hubert Wong, Mark Schopmeyer and Conway Teng; Image Credits: CaptivateIQ
The company touts its SaaS platform as a combination of the familiarity of spreadsheets, with the scalability and performance of software, so that users can configure any commission plan “entirely on their own,” according to Teng.
“Calculating commissions is really complicated and mission critical – think of it like a very complicated form of payroll – each company has a unique commission plan that involves a lot more calculations and data than your typical salary payroll math,” Teng said. “Also, in recent years, companies have access to more data than ever, giving them room to incentive employees on more performance metrics.”
Today, CaptivateIQ has 90 employees, more than triple what it did one year ago.
In 2020, the startup saw a bump in the number of non-high technology companies buying its software, and as a result, CapitivateIQ is going to increase its efforts into those other verticals, according to Teng. So far, it has found success in particular in financial services, manufacturing, and business services, among other sectors.
The pandemic served as a tailwind to its business. Sales teams generally rely on in-person interactions to stay productive, Schopmeyer points out. Without those activities over the past year, “having the right incentives in place became ever more critical as companies required new ways to motivate teams during the shift to remote work.”
“We saw our product usage skyrocket at the beginning of the pandemic as businesses quickly adjusted incentives, team quotas, SPIFs, and other components of their comp plans to stay competitive,” he said.
The company plans to use its new capital to improve upon the user experience. Specifically, Teng said, it plans to introduce “more powerful data transformations, a richer set of formulas, and off-the-shelf templates.”
Another goal is to automate and streamline the commissions process from beginning to end, he added. The startup is expanding its data integrations to support “all major data systems” and introducing new dashboarding capabilities. It’s also enhancing existing collaboration workflows around approvals, inquiries and contracts.
Looking ahead, CaptivateIQ is exploring the potential of applying its technology to solve for use cases outside the world of commissions — something that it says its customers are already doing.
“It’s exciting to see what people have been building, and we’re looking forward to enabling new solutions as we continue to release more of our core technology platform,” Teng said.
Accel Partner Ben Fletcher said the pain point of calculating and reporting sales commissions kept coming up among portfolio companies, with CaptivateIQ frequently referenced. Those companies, he said, tried more enterprise-grade solutions — “spending hundreds of thousands on implementation to ultimately find that their products did not work.” They also tried other newer tools that also just didn’t work well.
“As we dug in and talked with more and more customers, it was abundantly clear — CaptivateIQ was the best product in the space,” Fletcher said.
Besides ease of use, the fact that CaptivateIQ is a no-code tool, is a big deal to Accel.
“Similar to UIPath, Webflow, and Ada, CaptivateIQ is able to bring the power of customer development and automation to an easy to use, drag-and-drop product,” Fletcher said.
As hot as the blockchain space appears to be these days, it’s still far from simple to get a decentralized application reliably up-and-running. The NFT boom and rising cryptocurrency prices have brought more attention to applications running on the blockchain, but the dominant cloud service platforms aren’t quite ready to make a full-commit to the needs of these developers.
QuikNode, which recently raised funding from Y Combinator and is in the process of wrapping its seed funding, has been building out a Web3 cloud platform for blockchain developers that can help them create and scale applications. The startup seems to be further along than most of its fellow YC batch mates, founded back in 2017.
At the moment, running a decentralized app can involve a lot of base infrastructure headaches that take developer attention away from their actual products. The initial setup can require days worth of downloads to sync to these networks for the first time while maintenance costs can also be high, the startup says. QuikNode allows app developers to rent access to nodes that let them operate on the blockchain network of their choice, enabling them to sidestep maintaining and monitoring their own node.
Alongside node management and maintenance, QuikNode’s product integrates developer tools and analytics to simplify running a decentralized app. The challenge for QuikNode will likely be maintaining an edge here in the shadow of cloud giants if the decentralized app market grows to a sizable (and consistent) presence on the web. QuikNode is itself a customer of these large cloud companies, opting to focus on software rather than building up physical data centers, nevertheless they’re still directly competing with these big players.
“I think we have about two years on Amazon, we’re on their radar,” CEO Dmitry Shklovsky tells TechCrunch.
For the time being, QuikNode’s small size gives it a distinct pricing advantage compared to nascent programs from other cloud providers. Plans start at just $9 for users launching the most basic applications, with structured plans increasing depending on the amount of “method calls” being performed. Renting a dedicated node is $300 per month. From there, the startup offers several chain-specific add-ons with options like Archive mode that give applications access all historical value states inside smart contracts on the network or Trace mode, which lets developers request nodes to re-execute transactions.
The team currently operates over 1,000 nodes and has around 400 customers. As QuikNode aims to scale their customer base, Shklovsky says that one of the best paths to customer acquisition have been guides educating decentralized app developers on how to connect to the most popular networks.
Currently, the largely Miami-based team supports networks on six chains including Ethereum, Bitcoin, xDai, Binance Smart Chain, Polygon and Optimism.
From the earliest days of the pandemic, it was no secret that video chat was about to become a very hot space.
Over the past several months investors have bankrolled a handful of video startups with specific niches, ranging from always-on office surveillance to platforms that encouraged plenty of mini calls to avoid the need for more lengthy team-wide meetings. As the pandemic wanes and plenty of startups begin to look towards hybrid office models, there are others who have decided to lean into embracing a fully remote workforce, a strategy that may require new tools.
PingPong, a recent launch from Y Combinator’s latest batch, is building an asynchronous video chat app for the workplace. We selected PingPong as one of our favorite startups that debuted last week.
The company’s central sell is that for remote teams, there needs to be a better alternative to Slack or email for catching up with co-workers across time zones. While Zoom calls might be able to convey a company’s culture better than a post in a company-wide Slack channel, for fully remote teams operating on different continents, scheduling a company-wide meeting is often a non-starter.
PingPong is selling its service as an addendum to Slack that helps remote product teams collaborate and convey what they’re working on. Users can capture a short video of themselves and share their screen in lieu of a standup presentation and then they can get caught up on each other’s progress on their own time. PingPong’s hope is that users find more value in brainstorming, conducting design reviews, reporting bugs and more inside while using asynchronous video than they would with text.
“We have a lot to do before we can replace Slack, so right now we kind of emphasize playing nice with Slack,” PingPong CEO Jeff Whitlock tells TechCrunch. “Our longer term vision is that what young people are doing in their consumer lives, they bring into the enterprise when they graduate into the workforce. You and I were using Instant Messenger all the time in the early 2000s and then we got to the workplace, that was the opportunity for Slack… We believe in the next five or so years, something that’s a richer, more asynchronous video-based Slack alternative will have a lot more interest.”
Building a chat app specifically designed for remote product teams operating in multiple time zones is a tight niche for now, but Whitlock believes that this will become a more common problem as companies embrace the benefits of remote teams post-pandemic. PingPong costs $100 per user per year.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
For this week’s deep dive, the Equity team got ahold of three founders from the recent Y Combinator batch (more here, and here) to chat through their experiences with a remote accelerator. TechCrunch was curious if the program lived up to founder expectations, how extreme timezone differentials were handled, and how easy it was to build camaraderie during a digital program. Oh, and how their demo day went.
Here’s who is on the show:
The short version is that the founders were generally happy with Y Combinator being remote, and that the setup allowing them to stay in their normal location was plus. We also asked the founders for learnings regarding how to best handle remote accelerators in the future.
More from Equity on Friday, at which point we’ll put Y Combinator aside for a good while.
According to a McKinsey report, the total number of mobile money services worldwide was 282 in 2017, with more than half of those operating in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2020, these numbers increased significantly, but the ratio remained similar. In 96 countries, there are 310 live mobile money services, according to a GSMA report. Out of that number, 171 are from Africa, while 157 are in sub-Saharan Africa.
In Tanzania, mobile money services can be relatively difficult to use due to unstable internet and high service fees. Benjamin Fernandes noticed this as a national television host while building a mobile money service to enable people to pay for TV subscriptions in East Africa back in 2011.
Six years later, he would start his own mobile money and wallet aggregator, NALA, to solve these issues. Its first mobile application allowed users to make mobile money payments and utilize mobile banking without an internet connection. The business grew to 250,000 users in over a year after its official launch.
Last year, the WorldBank predicted a sharp decline of international remittances to Africa. But even though Africa is still the most expensive region to send money to with averages of 10.6% in transaction fees, the opposite happened. There was an increase in remittance activity on the continent.
Kenya, for instance, had its highest-ever inbound remittance at $3 billion, while WorldRemit acquired Sendwave in August 2020 for $500 million and Mama Money claimed to have grown 500% within the year.
NALA also noticed an uptick in remittance requests where 1 in 7 users wanted to receive money internationally. This happened despite not being in that business at the time. It’s not hard to see why: Presently, over 70% of money sent to Sub-Saharan Africa is transacted through physical stores. When many over-the-counter services were suspended or limited due to coronavirus restrictions, people were left with expensive, unreliable or hard-to-access alternatives.
Combined with the increasing trend for digital-first financial services and listening to some users’ requests, NALA began testing international money transfers in August 2020 to facilitate payments from the U.K. to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. By building a multi-currency ledger where people can send money from the U.K. to Tanzania and back to the U.K., Fernandes says NALA can build a Wise for Africa.
“I believe international payments are only 1% built today. Until you can send money both ways seamlessly, our work isn’t done,” Fernandes told TechCrunch. “We believe African markets should be ‘sender’ markets, too; there is a lot of trade happening with other countries, and most of the money is sent via costly bank wires or at physical stores. It doesn’t need to be this way; it’s time for something better.”
Various platforms are trying to achieve this, but none specifically targets the East African region. That is NALA’s play, according to the CEO. “This is where we see a big advantage for us. We are local, we understand mobile money, we built bill payments on our previous product, and this is an extension of that,” he added.
Benjamin Fernandes (CEO, Nala)
Since graduating as the first East African company from Y Combinator in 2019, NALA has brought other interesting investors on board to support its mission. The most notable is Accel, which has been kept under wraps for some time. The VC firm rarely makes deals on the continent and has only invested in NALA and Egypt’s Instabug. Other backers include NYCA Partners and angel investors like Shamir Karkal (co-founder of Simple), Peeyush Ranjan (former Flipkart CTO and current head of Google Payments), and Thomas Stafford (DST Global).
NALA also enlisted the services of Nicolas Esteves, who was the VP of engineering at Osper and had a stint at Monzo to become the company’s CTO which, according to Fernandes, will considerably improve the company’s chances of achieving its goal. “When we brought someone of his calibre on our team, it just opened up the doors of what we could accomplish because he has built multi-currency ledgers across different large companies.”
For now, though, the company will be rolling out a beta product next month for U.K.-based customers sending money to Kenya and Uganda (Tanzania will come later). The company claims that the service will support instant payments to all major mobile money accounts and says it is closing some banking partnerships that will allow it to facilitate money transfers from East Africa to the U.K.
Medical and biotech had a strong showing at Y Combinator’s latest demo day, with nearly a dozen companies in the space catching my eye. The things a startup can accomplish in this space are astonishing these days, so don’t be surprised if a few of these companies are headline news in the next year.
Atom Bioworks has one of the shortest timelines and highest potential impacts; as I wrote in our second set of favorites from demo day, the company seems to be fairly close to one of the holy grails of biochemistry, a programmable DNA machine. These tools can essentially “code” a molecule so that it reliably sticks to a specific substance or cell type, which allows a variety of follow-up actions to be taken.
For instance, a DNA machine could lock onto COVID-19 viruses and then release a chemical signal indicating infection before killing the virus. The same principle applies to a cancer cell. Or a bacterium. You get the picture.
Atom’s founders have published the details of their techniques in Nature Chemistry, and says it’s working on a COVID-19 test as well as therapies for the virus and other conditions. It expects sales in the 9-figure range.
Another company along these lines is LiliumX. This company is going after “biospecific antibodies,” which are kind of like prefab DNA machines. Our own antibodies learn to target various pathogens, waste, and other items the body doesn’t want, and customized, injected antibodies can do the same for cancer cells.
LiliumX is taking the algorithmic approach to generating potential antibody stuctures that could be effective, as many AI-informed biotech companies have before it. But the company is also using a robotic testing setup to thin the herd and get in vitro results for its more promising candidates. Going beyond lead generation is a difficult step but one that makes the company that much more valuable.
Entelexo is one step further down the line, having committed to developing a promising class of therapeutics called exosomes that could help treat autoimmune diseases. These tiny vesicles (think packages for inter-cell commerce) can carry all kinds of materials, including customized mRNA that can modify another cell’s behavior.
Modifying cell behavior systematically could help mitigate conditions like multiple sclerosis, though the company did not elaborate on the exact mechanism — probably not something that can be explained in under a minute. They’re already into animal testing, which is surprising for a startup.
One step further, at least mechanically, is Nuntius Therapeutics, which is working on ways to deliver cell-specific (i.e. to skeletal muscle, kidney cells, etc) DNA, RNA, and CRISPR-based therapies. This is an issue for cutting-edge treatments: while they can be sure of taking the correct action once in contact with the target cell type, they can’t be sure that the therapeutic agent will ever reach those cells. Like ambulance drivers without an address, they can’t do their jobs if they can’t get there.
Nuntius claims to have created a reliable way to deliver genetic therapy payloads to a variety of target cells, beyond what major pharma companies like Moderna have accomplished. The company also develops and licenses its own drugs, so it’s practically a one-stop shop for genetic therapies if its techniques pan out for human use.
Beyond providing therapeutics, there is the evolving field of artificial organs. These are still highly experimental, partly due to the risk of rejection even when using biocompatible materials. Trestle Biotherapeutics is taking on a specific problem — kidney failure — with implantable lab-grown kidney tissue that can help get these patients off dialysis.
While the plan is to eventually create full kidney replacements, the truth is that for people with this condition, every week and month counts. Not only does it improve their chances of finding a donor or moving up the list, but regular dialysis is a horrible process by all accounts. Anything that reduces the need to rely on it would be welcomed by millions.
This Yale-Harvard tie-up comes from a team with quite a bit of experience in stem cell science and tissue engineering, including 3D printing human tissues — which no doubt is part of the approach.
Moving beyond actual techniques for fighting various conditions, the YC batch had quite a few dedicated to improving the process of researching and understanding those conditions and techniques.
Many industries rely on cloud-based document platforms like Google Docs for sharing and collaboration, but while copywriters and sales folks probably find the standard office suite sufficient, that’s not necessarily the case for scientists whose disciplines demand special documentation and formatting.
Curvenote is a shared document platform built with these folks in mind; it integrates with Jupyter, SaturnCloud, and Sagemaker, supports lots of import and export options, integrates visualization plug-ins like Plotly, and versions through Git. Now you just have to convince the head of your department it’s worth paying for.
A more specialized cloud tool can be found in Pipe|bio, which does hosted bioinformatics for developing antibody drugs like LiliumX. It’s hard to get into details here beyond that the computational and database needs of companies in biotech can be very specific and not everyone has a bioinformatics specialist on staff.
Having a tool you can just pay for instead getting a data science grad student to moonlight for your lab is almost always preferable. (Also preferable is not using special characters in your company name — just saying, it’s going to come up.)
Special tools can be found on the benchtop as well as the laptop, though, and the remaining companies are firmly in meatspace.
Forcyte is another company I highlighted in our favorite demo day companies roundups: It’s less about chemistry and molecular biology than the actual physical phenomena experienced by cells. This is a difficult thing to observe systematically, but important for many reasons.
The company uses a micropatterned surface to observe individual cells and watch specifically for contraction and other shape changes. Physical constriction or relaxation of cells is at the heart of several major diseases and their treatments, so being able to see and track it will be extremely helpful for researchers.
The company has positioned itself as a way to test drugs at scale that affect these properties and claims to have already found promising compounds for lung fibrosis. Forcyte’s team is published in Nature, and received a $2.5 million SBIR award from the NIH, a pretty rare endorsement.
Kilobaser is taking aim at the growing DNA synthesizing space; companies often contract with dedicated synthesizing labs to create batches of custom DNA molecules, but at a small scale this might be better done in-house.
Kilobaser’s benchtop machine makes the process as simple as using a copier, letting people with no technical know-how. As long as it has some argon, a reagent supply and microfluidic chip (sold by the company, naturally), it can replicate DNA you submit digitally in under two hours. This could accelerate testing in many a small lab that’s held back by its reliance on a separate facility. The company has already sold 15 machines at €15,000 each — but like razor blades, the real money is in the refills.
Reshape Biotech is perhaps the most straightforward of the bunch. Its approach to automating common lab tasks is to create custom robots for each one. That’s it! Of course, that’s easier said than done, but given the similarity of many lab layouts and equipment, a custom robotic sampler or autoclave could be adopted by thousands as (again) an alternative to hiring another part time grad student.
There were several other companies in the biotech and medical space worth looking at in the batch, but not enough space here to highlight them individually. Suffice it to say that the space is increasingly welcoming to startups as advances in tech and software are brought to bear where insuperable barriers to entry once left such possibilities remote.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a common disorder that can cause irregular periods, infertility or gestational diabetes in women. And the condition is far from rare: PCOS impacts one in 10 women, meaning there’s a big market of people out there that want better support and risk-screening to navigate the symptoms.
That’s where Veera Health comes in. The startup is an online clinic aimed at helping women in India navigate PCOS through risk-screening, mental health support and answers about effects such as acne and weight gain. If the startup does its job right, it can help bring earlier diagnosis to women around the world.
“The big issue around polycystic ovary syndrome is that there [are] a lot of different symptoms, and very often women take a long time to actually get diagnosed in the right manner,” CEO and co-founder Shashwata Narain said. “We want to provide a higher level and quality of guidance so she can have open eyes experience as she goes through her treatment process.”
Veera Health’s subscription-based program takes the medical history of a patient to better understand symptoms and any existing reports. About 60% to 70% of the patients that Veera Health has worked with so far are pre-diagnosed and are looking for a solution, so the startup then starts to pick apart potential risk factors and suggests a holistic treatment plan. The startup has a team of specialists, from clinical nutritionists to dermatologists and gynecologists, that it works with on a contractual basis to approve any plan given to a patient. The startup has employed a number of care managers, which is basically an employee in charge of handling weekly and daily communication with the patient about these plans.
The company uses published research on assessment and management of PCOS as a framework for its suggestions.
Veera Health officially launched three months ago and already has made $10,000 in revenue, growing at 300% month over month in paid customers.
Veera Health isn’t covered by insurance, so patients pay out of pocket for the services. In India, Narain says, outpatient care is “almost entirely an out-of-pocket market” and insurance is largely focused on hospitalization expenses. By using Veera Health, the co-founder estimates that by aggregating all these services into one spot, Veera Health can stop customers from spending “thousands and thousands of rupees” and playing specialist hopscotch.
In fact, one study shows that PCOS clinics have had a high retention in patients compared to other single-care providers.
The co-founder says the biggest challenge for Veera Health is educating women about how to prioritize their own health and get past the stigma of PCOS.
“It’s a challenge because you want to get as much information out there and make sure women are paying attention to their health, yet at the same time there’s a lot of stigma on [PCOS] and around women’s health to begin with.”
We know of at least one investor that thinks the conversation is ready to be had, anyway. Veera Health recently graduated from Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 cohort as one of the 39 companies based in India, the highest concentration from the accelerator yet.
Narain says that Veera Health is uniquely positioned to help women during the pandemic. Her sister and co-founder, Shobhita, was diagnosed with PCOS so experienced firsthand the confusing path to diagnosis.
“Because of the pandemic, there’s a lot more openness to online solutions,” she said. “People are at home, not able to exercise and are much more stressed out. This had a ramp up in the level of awareness on [PCOS] and the search for solutions.”
But with the venture capital market red-lining its engines while public markets remain sympathetic to growing, unprofitable companies, there’s lots going on. So, as a follow-up to our first late-stage roundup that we published yesterday morning, here’s another.
This time we’re discussing IPO news from DigitalOcean (context), Kaltura (context), Robinhood (context), and Zymergen, and big rounds for Lattice and goPuff. That’s a lot to chew on, but I’ll be brief and to the point.
Today’s most pressing news is that DigitalOcean, a provider of cloud services to small businesses, priced its IPO at $47 per share last night. That was right at the top of its public-offering price range of $44 to $47. Before counting shares reserved for its underwriters, DigitalOcean is worth just under $5 billion.
And the company raised a gross $775.5 million in the offering, giving DigitalOcean a massive war chest to pursue its vision. As the company has proved increasingly unprofitable on a GAAP basis in recent years, the extra cash isn’t a problem: DigitalOcean plans to reduce its aggregate debt load with some of the proceeds, which will improve its profitability.
The company won’t trade for hours, so we’re done with DigitalOcean for now. File it in your mind as a win, as the company raised $50 million last year at a $1.1 billion valuation (PitchBook data). That’s a quick 5x.
Next up from the IPO treadmill is Kaltura, which released a first guess of its market value as a public company. Targeting $14 to $16 per share in its impending debut, the video software company is worth around $2 billion at the top end of its range, not counting shares reserved for its underwriting banks or other shares tied up in vested options and recruited stock units (RSUs).
We’ve reached the end of Y Combinator’s biggest Demo Day, which saw more than 300 companies pitching back-to-back over eight hours.
Earlier, we highlighted some of the companies that caught our eye in the first half of the day. Now we’re back with our favorite companies from the second half. From a marketplace to help you resell formalwear to a startup that offers self-driving street cleaners, it’s quite the mix.
If you’d like to browse all of the companies from this batch YC has a catalog of publicly-launched W21 companies here.
Heading into this particular demo day, I had my eyes peeled for startups focused on delivering services via an API instead of offering managed software. Happily, there have been a number to dig into, including Pitbit.ai, Bimaplan, Enode and Terra.
Terra stood out to me because it solves a problem I care deeply about, namely fitness data siloization. My running data is stuck in one app, biking data in another, and my weight-lifting data is stuck in my head, though I doubt Terra has an API for that interface quite yet.
What Terra does is permit fitness app developers to better connect their services, which permits the sharing of data back and forth. Presenters likened their startup to Plaid — a popular thing to do in recent quarters — saying that what the fintech startup did for banking data, Terra would do for fitness and health information.
Getting developers to sign on will be tricky, as I presume all of the apps I use in an exercise context would prefer to be my main workout home. But I don’t want that, so here’s hoping Terra realizes its vision.
Calling itself “Shopify for beauty and wellness” in Latin America, AgendaPro wants to help small businesses in the region book customers online and collect payments.
The company’s idea isn’t as radical as some companies that we heard from today — Carbon capture! Faster drug discovery! — but the company did share several metrics that made us sit up. First, AgendaPro has reached $152,000 in MRR, or just over $1.8 million in ARR. And representatives shared that its gross margins are 89%. As far as software margins goes, that’s pretty damn good.
The startup has more than 3,000 merchants using its service at the moment, and it claims that there are more than four million businesses that it could service. If AgendaPro can get software and payments revenues from even a respectable fraction of those companies, it will be a big, big business. And who doesn’t love vertical SaaS?
One of the holy grails of biochemistry is a programmable DNA machine. These tools can essentially “code” a molecule so that it reliably sticks to a specific substance or cell type, which allows a variety of follow-up actions to be taken.
For instance, a DNA machine could lock onto COVID-19 viruses and then release a chemical signal indicating infection before killing the virus. The same principle applies to a cancer cell. Or a bacterium. You get the picture — and it looks like Atom Bioworks has something a lot like this.
Y Combinator is slowly growing its stake in education companies, as the sector balloons with newfound demand from remote learners. In its latest batch, the famed accelerator had its highest number of edtech startups yet: 14 companies from around the world, working on everything from teacher monetization to homework apps to ways to train software engineers in an affordable fashion.
While Y Combinator isn’t the definitive source on what success in early-stage startups looks like — it quite literally has a post-mortem dinner after Demo Day to celebrate failure — it does serve well in providing an illustrative glance of how entrepreneurs are thinking about certain sectors in a given moment in time. Managing director Michael Seibel said that the number of startups in each sector isn’t a Y Combinator choice, but is in line with the concentration of applicants in each sector. In other words, YC is backing more edtech companies because more edtech companies are applying to the accelerator.
One dynamic worth pointing out here is that, of the 14 edtech startups in this batch, only two have a woman founder, UPchieve and Degrees of Freedom. Y Combinator provided aggregate batch diversity, stating that 19% of companies in W21 include a woman founder, and 10% of founders in the entire batch are women. It’s a slight uptick from the last batch, but not an immense jump.
diversity of the @ycombinator w21 batch:
19% of the companies have a woman founder (16% S20)
7% have a Black founder (6% S20)
13% have a Latinx founder (10% S20)
— natasha (@nmasc_) March 23, 2021
With this context, I will use the current edtech cohort within the batch to sketch out one version of the future of education in the eyes of this specific demographic of early-stage founders.
The current YC batch has 50% of its startups based outside of the United States, a first for the accelerator. The growing internationalization of Y Combinator might help partially explain the uptick in edtech companies. The growth of companies like India’s Byju’s, one of the most valuable edtech companies in the world, shows how consumer spending in education companies internationally is impressive, and it’s clear that early-stage edtech startups are taking note.
Only two of Y Combinator’s 14 edtech investments are from the United States, with the highest concentrations in South America and India.
The vast majority of startups in the current edtech batch charge consumers, instead of institutions or enterprises, for services. In some ways, edtech startups going for consumers instead of institutions isn’t new: it’s always been easier to convince a parent instead of a public school to pay for a service simply due to red tape. Consumers are an easier way to reach a venture-demanded scale, and that’s always been a truth of edtech.
Still, it’s noteworthy that we’re not seeing too much experimentation in business model here, despite the pandemic and that some schools have begun to invest more in edtech services.
A potential hurdle that these companies might face is access. If it costs to use your service, you can only educate so many people from specific income groups. As a result, income share agreements, or ISAs, were especially present in this batch, a set-up that allows a student to hold off on paying for an education until they are employed. Upon employment, said student has to give a percentage of their income to the company until their debt is paid. While the model is controversial, it was popularized by YC graduate Lambda School and continues to be one way to make the upfront cost of school more popular.
Acadpal, mentioned later, is an outlier here selling to schools in India. Before I move on to our next section, I do want to shout out two startups that I think embody the most ambitious bets in business model:
Despite the struggles of “Zoom University,” this batch of edtech founders clearly believe that the future of instruction is through online courses. This was perhaps the most overwhelming thread tying together all the companies in the sector: a bet on one of these companies is a bet that remote education will become status quo.
As previous sections show, a number of startups are offering online coding platforms for specific demographics. Now, I always have my inbox filled with different “Lambda School for X” startups, so seeing a variety of these startups pop up yet again isn’t exactly exciting. However, the pandemic did show how much community and network enhances a school experience. If these online schools can pull off strong partnerships with employers and alumni, I think there’s a huge opportunity here.
That said, where there’s big opportunity there’s always a lot of competition. These startups will have to find a way to differentiate themselves, like the one below:
There were bets on the infrastructure of how courses get done online, from course creation to completion.
To end, the edtech startups in the current YC batch are more complementary to each other than competitive. For a homework platform like Acadpal to succeed, it would be good news for a company like Codingal, which helps bring afterschool learning online, to get funding as well. For Unschool, which ties higher-ed to employment, a company like Degrees of Freedom could be a key partner or integration for students from a low-income background.
Edtech is growing — and fast — so the fragmentation of different plays is somewhat expected. And while this batch’s hard work starts now, it’s illuminating to understand where the earliest entrepreneurs out there are seeing promise.
It’s that time again! Today is Demo Day for Y Combinator’s latest accelerator batch — its largest to date, with more than 300 teams getting a minute each to pitch their companies to an audience of investors.
This is the third time YC has held its Demo Day via a Zoom livestream and the second time the entire program was entirely virtual. YC president Geoff Ralston outlined their thinking for this latest batch — and how/why they’ve expanded the program to over 300 companies — in a post this morning.
Want to see all of the companies? YC has a catalog of the entire Winter 2021 batch here (minus those that haven’t publicly launched), filterable by industry and region.
If you don’t have time to skim through it all, we’ve aggregated some of the companies that really managed to catch our eye. This is part one of two, covering our favorites from the companies that launched in the first half of the day.
As Alex Wilhelm put it last time we did one of these, “we’re not investors, so we’re not pretending to sort the unicorns from the goats.” But we do spend a lot of time talking with startups, hearing pitches and telling their stories; if you’re curious about which companies stood out, read on.
Prospa is building a neobank for small companies in Nigeria. The startup charges customers $7 per month and has reached $50,000 in monthly recurring revenue. That’s some pretty darn good traction. We found Prospa notable because Nigeria’s economy and population are rapidly growing, neobanks have succeeded in a number of markets thus far, and the company’s clear business model and early traction stood out.
And Prospa isn’t targeting a small market. It said during its presentation that there are 37 million so-called “microbusinesses” in its target country. That’s a lot of scale to grow into, and it’s really nice to hear from a neobank that isn’t going to merely pray that interchange revenues will eventually stack to the moon.
Image Credits: Blushh
Blushh, built by a team of ex-Google, Amazon, Harvard and BCG professionals, is creating a directory of short, sensual audio stories for women in Asia. The startup believes that there is a massive unmet need for adult content created for women, instead of men, signing up 100 paying subscribers within its first month on the market.
During their pitch, co-founder Soy Hwang said Blushh wants to do for sexual wellness what “Spotify and Audible did for music and audio books.” This startup stands out because it is taking on an untapped market ridden with stigma and lack of innovation. It’s a risk on several levels, and considering the fact that many venture capitalists today still have a “vice” clause that prevents them from investing in sex tech, it will be key to see how Blushh funds itself to keep growing.
TechCrunch caught up with BrioHR a few weeks ago when the startup announced that it had closed a $1.3 million round. During its presentation, the company announced that it had reached $13,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR), or $156,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR).
The company is building human resources software for companies in Southeast Asia, a market it considers fraught with old software and outdated business processes. The company is doing two things. First, building software to help manage and pay workers. The latter part of its work requires lots of localization, so it’s rolling out more slowly than the rest of its software.
If Southeast Asia is as fertile ground for modern HR software as the United States has been shown to be, BrioHR could find more than enough room to grow. I’m excited to see how far the company can scale its ARR with the round that we recently covered.
Strava walked so Charge Running could, well, run. The startup, founded by a former Navy SEAL, app connoisseur and kinesiology specialist, is an app that offers live virtual running classes. The consumer play is being framed by the team as a “Peloton for running” with motivation and social engagement during the run.
Last week a select group of 20 employees and guests gathered at an event space on the San Francisco Bay, and, while looking out at the Bay Bridge dined on a selection of choice elk sausages, wagyu meatloaf, and lamb burgers — all of which were grown from a petrie dish.
The dinner was a coming out party for Orbillion Bio, a new startup pitching today in Y Combinator’s latest demo day, that’s looking to take lab-grown meats from the supermarket to high end, bespoke butcher shops.
Instead of focusing on pork, chicken and beef, Orbillion is going after so-called heritage meats — the aforementioned elk, lamb and Wagyu beef to start.
By focusing on more expensive end products, Orbillion doesn’t have as much pressure to slash costs as dramatically as other companies in the cellular meat market, the thinking goes.
But there’s more to the technology than its bourgie beef, elite elk, and luscious lamb meat.
“Orbillion uses a unique accelerated development process producing thousands of tiny tissue samples, constantly iterating to find the best tissue and media combinations,” according to Holly Jacobus, whose firm, Joyance Partners, is an early investor in Orbillion. “This is much less expensive and more efficient than traditional methods and will enable them to respond quickly to the impressive demand they’re already experiencing.”
The company runs its multiple cell lines through a system of small bioreactors. Orbillion couples that with a high throughput screening and machine learning software system to build out a database of optimized tissue and media combinations. “The key to making lab grown meat work scalably is choosing the right cells cultured in the most efficient way possible,” Jacobus wrote.
Co-founded by a deeply technical and highly experienced team of executives that’s led by Patricia Bubner, a former researcher at the German pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim. Joining Bubner is Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, a former director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, who was a post-doc at Berkeley with Bubner and serves as the company’s chief technology officer. Rounding out the senior leadership is Samet Yildirim, the chief operating officer at Orbillion and a veteran executive of Boehringer Ingelheim (he actually served as Bubner’s boss).
Orbillion Bio co-founders Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, CTO, Patricia Bubner, CEO, and Samet Yildirim, COO. Image Credit: Orbillion Bio
For Bubner, the focus on heritage meats is as much a function of her background growing up in rural Austria as it is about economics. A longtime, self-described foodie and a nerd, Bubner went into chemistry because she ultimately wanted to apply science to the food business. And she wants Orbillion to make not just meat, but the most delicious meats.
It’s an aim that fits with how many other companies have approached the market when they’re looking to commercialize a novel technology. Higher end products, or products with unique flavor profiles that are unique to the production technologies available are more likely to be commercially viable sooner than those competing with commodity products. Why focus on angus beef when you focus on a much more delicious breed of animal?
For Bubner, it’s not just about making a pork replacement, it’s about making the tastiest pork replacement.
“I’m just fascinated and can see the future in us being able to further change the way we produce food to be more efficient,” she said. “We’re at this inflection point. I’m a nerd, i’m a foodie and I really wanted to use my skills to make a change. I wanted to be part of that group of people that can really have an impact on the way we eat. For me there’s no doubt that a large percentage of our food will be from alternative proteins — plant based, fermentation, and lab-grown meat.”
Joining Boehringer Ingelheim was a way for Bubner to become grounded in the world of big bioprocessing. It was preparation for her foray into lab grown meat, she said.
“We are a product company. Our goal is to make the most flavorful steaks. Our first product will not be whole cuts of steak. The first product is going to be a Wagyu beef product that we plan on putting out in 2023,” Bubner said. “It’s a product that’s going to be based on more of a minced product. Think Wagyu sashimi.”
To get to market, Bubner sees the need not just for a new approach to cultivating choice meats, but a new way of growing other inputs as well, from the tissue scaffolding needed to make larger cuts that resemble traditional cuts of meat, or the fats that will need to be combined with the meat cells to give flavor.
That means there are still opportunities for companies like Future Fields, Matrix Meats, and Turtle Tree Scientific to provide inputs that are integrated into the final, branded product.
Bubner’s also thinking about the supply chain beyond her immediate potential partners in the manufacturing process. “Part of my family were farmers and construction workers and the others were civil engineers and architects. I hold farmers in high respect… and think the people who grow the food and breed the animals don’t get recognition for the work that they do.”
She envisions working in concert with farmers and breeders in a kind of licensing arrangement, potentially, where the owners of the animals that produce the cell lines can share in the rewards of their popularization and wider commercial production.
That also helps in the mission of curbing the emissions associated with big agribusiness and breeding and raising livestock on a massive scale. If you only need a few animals to make the meat, you don’t have the same environmental footprint for the farms.
“We need to make sure that we don’t make the mistakes that we did in the past that we only breed animals for yield and not for flavor,” said Bubner.
Even though the company is still in its earliest days, it already has one letter of intent, with one of San Francisco’s most famous butchers. Guy Crims, also known as “Guy the Butcher” has signed a letter of intent to stock Orbillion Bio’s lab grown Wagyu in his butcher shop, Bubner said. “He’s very much a proponent of lab-grown meat.”
Now that the company has its initial technology proven, Orbillion is looking to scale rapidly. It will take roughly $3.5 million for the company to get a pilot plant up and running by the end of 2022 and that’s in addition to the small $1.4 million seed round the company has raised from Joyant and firms like VentureSoukh.
“The way i see an integrated model working later on is to have the farmers be the breeders of animals for cultivated meat. That can reduce the number of cows on the planet to a couple of hundred thousand,” Bubner said of her ultimate goal. “There’s a lot of talking about if you do lab grown meat you want to put me out of business. It’s not like we’re going to abolish animal agriculture tomorrow.”
Image Credit: Getty Images
Y Combinator’s latest batch — W21 — features 350 startups from 41 nations. 50% of the firms, the highest percentage to date, in the new batch are based outside of the United States.
India is the second largest demographic represented in the new batch. The world’s second largest internet market has delivered 43 startups in the new batch, another record figure in the history of the storied venture firm. (For comparison, the W20 batch had 25 Indian startups, up from 14 in S20, 12 each in S19 and W19 and one each in W16, S15, and W15.)
“YC going remote has helped make YC more attractive to companies at different stages and far away geographies. For companies in India, founders no longer have to spend three months away from their customers or teams. Covid has also taught us that building a program that is remote and more software based makes YC more accessible to founders around the globe,” the firm said in a statement to TechCrunch.
“When it comes to choosing founders in India, we accept them based on the same criteria we judge companies from anywhere else. Founders must be able to communicate their local context to investors. That is an important skill.”
Here’s a list of startups, in no particular order, from India that have made it to YC W21, with some context — wherever possible — on what they are attempting to build.
Leap Club is attempting to build a Good Eggs for India. Leap Club users can order fresh and organic groceries sourced from local farms through the startup’s website or through WhatsApp. The startup says it delivers the item to customers within 12 hours of harvesting. Leap Club is already garnering over $14,000 in monthly revenue.
CashBook is building a cash account app for small businesses in India. There are over 60 million small businesses in the country, nearly all of which currently rely on traditional ways — pen and paper — for bookkeeping. The startup launched its app just six months ago and has already amassed 200,000 monthly active users. In the month of February, CashBook logged cash transactions of $511 million.
GimBooks is attempting to solve a similar problem as CashBook, though from a different angle. The startup says it offers industry-based invoicing and bookkeeping with integrated banking and payments. Its app has been downloaded over 1.4 million times, amassed over 11,000 paying customers and clocked revenues of over $450,000.
BusinessOnBot is banking on the popularity of WhatsApp in India, where the Facebook-owned app has amassed over 450 million monthly active users. BusinessOnBot says it is building Shopify on WhatsApp for direct-to-consumer brands and small and medium sized businesses, helping them acquire users and automate sales.
ZOKO is helping businesses do sales, marketing, and customer support on WhatsApp.
Prescribe is a Shopify for hospitals. Its platform is aimed at helping doctor’s offices run their business online. Users can book appointments, chat with the doctor, pay and refer friends on WhatsApp.
Chatwoot is an open source customer engagement suite alternative to Intercom and Zendesk. Over 1,000 companies are already using Chatwoot and it’s clocking $32,000 in ARR from six customers.
Weekday is helping companies hire engineers who are crowdsourced by their network of scouts. The startup says it has found a way to solve the biggest problem with referrals — that it doesn’t scale.
Fountain9 helps food brands and retailers reduce food wastage. According to some estimates, over $260 billion worth of food is wasted every year due to mismanaged inventory.
Dyte is attempting to build a Stripe for live video calls. The startup says a firm can integrate its branded, configurable and programmable video calling service within 10 minutes using the Dyte SDK.
YourQuote has built a writing platform, with over 100 million posts. It has over 250,000 daily active users. The startup clocked revenues of $200,000 last year and is profitable.
Fifthtry is building a Github for product documentation. The tool blocks code changes until documentation has been approved. It has piloted its tool with three companies, all of which have over 100 developers. The startup plans to launch its tool publicly next month.
Voosh is building a OYO for restaurants and dark kitchens in India, helping them improve their economics using tech.
Kodo is building a Brex for India, helping Indian startups and small businesses secure corporate credit cards. (Banks and other credit card companies are still not addressing this opportunity. The problem Brex solved in the U.S. is even acute in India, Deepti Sanghi, co-founder and chief executive of Kodo, said in the presentation.
Krab provides instant loans for trucking companies in India. India’s logistics market, despite being valued at $160 billion, remains one of the most inefficient sectors that continues to drag the economy. In recent years, a handful of startups have started to explore ways to work with trucking companies.
Bueno Fiance says it wants to help the next billion users in India get access to financial services. It says it wants to solve for short term cash needs of customers by using digital credit card over UPI. It was to build a Chime for India, and has amassed 70,000 customers.
Betterhalf is building a Match.com for 100 million Indians. It says it is generating $75,000 in monthly revenues, a figure that is growing 30% every month.
Pensil is helping teachers who use YouTube monetize their courses. “YouTube is the largest education platform in India — but it’s not built for teachers,” said Surender Singh, co-founder of Pensil, at the presentation on Tuesday. The startup has built tools to allow teachers to create content, facilitate discussions, and collect payments.
AcadPal operates an eponymous app for India’s 10 million teachers to share homework with a tap. The startup is attempting to target a $1.4 billion market, which consists of over 400,000 private schools.
Pragmatic Leaders is attempting to build a platform to provide cost-effective alternative to an MBA. It is already clocking a monthly revenue of $112,000 and is cash-flow positive.
Splitsub is addressing a problem that tens of millions of users in India face — subscription fatigue. It says it has built a Pinduoduo for online subscriptions in India, allowing group buying and sharing of online subscriptions for services such as Netflix and Spotify.
Zingbus has built a platform for bus travel between Indian cities. (Several startups in India are helping users get cabs, three-wheelers autos, and two-wheelers bikes. Buses have remained largely untapped.)
Tilt is building a docked bike-sharing platform for Indian campuses. The startup, which has generated about $20,000 in revenues this month so far, says it has been profitable for the past 18 months.
FanPlay is a platform for social media influencers, helping them monetize by playing mobile games with their fans and followers.
In India only a fraction of the nation’s 1.3 billion people currently have access to insurance and some analysts say that digital firms could prove crucial in bringing these services to the masses. According to rating agency ICRA, insurance products had reached less than 3% of the population as of 2017.
An average Indian makes about $2,100 a year, according to the World Bank. ICRA estimated that of those Indians who had purchased an insurance product, they were spending less than $50 on it in 2017.
Three startups in the current batch are planning to disrupt this market, which is largely commanded by state and bank-backed insurers.
GroMo is an app for independent agents to sell insurance in India. Most insurance policies in India are sold by agents. The startup says it is already generating monthly revenues of over $200,000.
Bimaplan is attempting to replace the agents with an app and reach users by a referral network. The app launched last month and has already sold 700 policies this month.
BimaPe helps users better understand their policies, and make informed decisions about whether those policies are right for them. The startup, leveraging New Delhi’s new regulations, is using a government issued ID card to fetch insurance policies.
Codingal is an online, after school program K-12 students in India to learn computer science. There are roughly 270 million K-12 students in the country.
Unschool provides professional education for college students in India. The founders say, “As former leaders in youth-run organisations with 3,000 members and edtech startups in India, we saw how colleges are not preparing students for the real world.”
Flux Auto builds self-driving kits for trucks.
SigNoz is an open-source alternative to DataDog, a $30 billion company, helping developers find and solve issues in their software deployed on cloud. The startup says recent laws such as GDPR and CPRA have helped drive adoption of SigNoz.
Pibit.ai are APIs to turn unstructured documents into structured data.
Invoid creates identity workflows in India. It’s tapping into a huge market opportunity: About 11 billion know-your-customers authentication is conduced by firms in India each year.
Redcliffe Lifesciences performs genetic testing and IVF treatments across India. Its revenue in March has topped $600,000.
Veera Health is an online clinic that treats Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a lifelong condition that affects 10-20% women in India. The startup says it launched 12 weeks ago, and 85% members have reported feeling “in control” of their PCOS after 1 month.
Snazzy is SmileDirectClub for India. The startup says it sells clear aligners that are 70% cheaper than those sold by dentists.
BeWell Digital is building the operating system for India’s 1.5 million hospitals, labs, clinics and pharmacies by starting with insurance regulatory compliance.
Triomics is operating a SaaS platform for end-to-end automation of clinical trials.
In Africa, Y Combinator is known to be a major backer of most of the continent’s well-known startups.
Two of the most talked-about in the last two quarters — Flutterwave and Paystack — are YC-backed. Their successes (Flutterwave’s billion-dollar valuation and Paystack’s rare exit to Stripe) have greatly increased YC’s appeal in the eyes of founders on the continent with local investors clamoring to get their portfolio into the accelerator.
Unlike last year where Y Combinator held its Demo Day, both winter and summer in two days, it’s a single day for this Winter 2021 batch.
This is the accelerator’s third online demo day, its second all-virtual class and remote pitch session following its decision to go fully remote from the previous batch (Summer 2020).
A total of 319 companies pitched today from 41 countries drawing attention from more than 2,400 investors. However, only ten African startups pitched and similar to other batches; most of them are fintechs.
Other startups offer e-commerce fulfillment, edtech and B2B food marketplace services. Five startups represent Nigeria; three are from Egypt, and one from the Ivory Coast and Kenya. Here they are building.
Most of the gig workers in Egypt are unbanked, and it’s difficult for digital platforms to pay them for their services. The traditional method would be to use cash or third-party institutions.
Founded by Omar Ekram, Dayra is trying to solve this via an API. With its platform, Egyptian businesses can offer financial services including loans to unbanked workers and customers in the country.
While there has been a huge profusion of financial services that have emerged in recent years in Africa, there’s still a huge underserved gap in Francophone Africa. In fact, less than 25% of the population is banked.
Djamo acts as a challenger bank and offers banking solutions to break into this huge untapped market and help with financial inclusion in the region. Hassan Bourgi and Regis Bamba founded the Ivorian startup.
In African public schools, the student-teacher ratio can be as high as 50:1. This doesn’t aid effective learning. Other options like private schools can be costly.
Kidato, an edtech startup founded by Sam Gichuru, have classes with student-teacher ratios at 5:1. They also offer the same international curriculum as private schools in the country but collect much lower fees.
It takes days and sometimes weeks to send money from the U.S. to Nigeria and most African countries. There’s also the problem with expensive fees.
Flux, a Nigerian remittance startup, is using crypto to tackle this. Via an application and from a wallet, people can convert fiat into crypto and send it to the wallets of people in other countries who convert back to fiat if they choose. The startup was founded by Ben Eluan, Osezele Orukpe, and Israel Akintunde.
Financial stress plays a major role as a top distraction for employees. NowPay, a startup founded by Sabry Abuelenien and Mostafa Ashour, bridges that gap and provides several benefits for employers that choose to address this area of employee wellness proactively.
The company enables corporates to offer salary advances to employees. It also improves savings, spending, budgeting, and borrowing for employees by building products that tackle every vertical.
Due to the proliferation of financial services in Africa, it has become extremely difficult for banks and fintechs to combine users’ data from multiple points and make sense of it.
By streamlining various data in a single API, Mono helps companies and third-party developers retrieve vital information like account statements, real-time balance, historical transactions, income, expense, and account owner identification. Abdul Hassan and Prakhar Singh founded the company.
In the U.S. or the U.K, you can set up a business account in minutes but it can take hours and days in Nigeria. And most of this is still executed offline and on paper.
Prospa is a neobank for microbusinesses in Nigeria founded by Frederik Obasi and Rodney Jackson-Cole. It helps these businesses make international payments to more than 10 countries including China, Kenya, the U.K., and the U.S.
When merchants launch their e-commerce businesses, they can easily manage the end-to-end operations in the early stages. But as they begin to grow, managing their own operations can become difficult.
This is a burden for most businesses in Egypt and Flextock, a startup founded by Mohamed Mossaad and Enas Siam, solves it by providing an end to end fulfilment service. They manage a business inventory, pick, pack and ship orders while providing real-time visibility and insights into their products.
For some individuals and merchants, shipping can be a painstaking process. To operate efficiently, they partner with one or more service providers or build their delivery operations themselves.
Sendbox describes itself as a “fulfillment by Amazon for African merchants.” The company provides shipping, escrow payments, among other services, to social commerce merchants in Nigeria. Emotu Balogun and Olusegun Afolahan founded the company.
For small and mid-sized restaurants in Nigeria and most of Africa, food procurement can be a complex process to manage.
Founded by Tunde Kara, Olumide Fayankin, Gatumi Aliyu, and Wale Oyepeju, Vendease solves this problem by building a marketplace that allows restaurants to buy directly from farms and food manufacturers.