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Apple’s dangerous path

By Lucas Matney

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.

Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

the big thing

In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.

In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.

This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.

Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”

(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)

The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.

A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”

Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.

illustration of key over cloud icon

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch /

Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.

You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.

Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.

** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.

Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.

other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.

Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.

TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.

Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.

extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1 
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”

…Part 2
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’

All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”

Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

Private equity giveth, and private equity taketh away

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Alex and Grace and Chris gathered to dig through the week’s biggest happenings, including some news of our own. As a note, Equity’s Monday episode will be landing next Tuesday, thanks to a national holiday here in the United States. And we have something special planned for Wednesday, so stay tuned.

Ok! Here’s the rundown from the show:

That’s a wrap from us for the week! Keep your head atop your shoulders and have a great weekend!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Extra Crunch roundup: Cohort analysis, YC Demo Day recaps, building your supply chain

By Walter Thompson

The ongoing fintech revolution continues to level the playing field where legacy companies have historically dominated startups.

To compete with retail banks, many newcomers are offering customers credit and debit cards; developer-friendly APIs make issuance relatively easy, and tools for managing processes like KYC are available off the shelf.

To learn more about the low barriers to entry — and the inherent challenges of creating a unique card offering — reporter Ryan Lawler interviewed:

  • Michael Spelfogel, founder, Cardless
  • Anu Muralidharan, COO, Expensify
  • Peter Hazlehurst, founder and CEO, Synctera
  • Salman Syed, SVP and GM of North America, Marqeta

Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.

We’re off on Monday, September 6 to celebrate America’s Labor Day holiday, but we’ll be back with new stories (and a very brief newsletter) on Tuesday morning.

Thanks very much for reading,

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch


6 tips for establishing your startup’s global supply chain

Image Credits: Suriyapong Thongsawang (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The barrier to entry for launching hardware startups has fallen; if you can pull off a successful crowdfunding campaign, you’re likely savvy enough to find a factory overseas that can build your widgets to spec.

But global supply chains are fragile: No one expected an off-course container ship to block the Suez Canal for six days. Due to the pandemic, importers are paying almost $18,000 for shipping containers from China today that cost $3,300 a year ago.

After spending a career spinning up supply chains on three continents, Liteboxer CEO Jeff Morin authored a guide for Extra Crunch for hardware founders.

“If you’re clear-eyed about the challenges and apply some rigor and forethought to the process, the end result can be hard to match,” Morin says.

Our favorite startups from YC’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 1

Y Combinator’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 1

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Twice each year, we turn our attention to Y Combinator’s latest class of aspiring startups as they hold their public debuts.

For YC Summer 2021 Demo Day, the accelerator’s fourth virtual gathering, Natasha Mascarenhas, Alex Wilhelm, Devin Coldewey, Lucas Matney and Greg Kumparak selected 14 favorites from the first day of one of the world’s top pitch competitions.

Virtual events startups have high hopes for after the pandemic

Image Credits: Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

Few people thought about virtual events before the pandemic struck, but this format has fulfilled a unique and important need for organizations large and small since early 2020. But what will virtual events’ value be as more of the world attempts a return to “normal”?

To find out, we caught up with top executives and investors in the sector to learn about the big trends they’re seeing — as the sequel to a survey we did in March 2020.

We surveyed:

  • Xiaoyin Qu, founder and CEO, Run The World
  • Rosie Roca, chief customer officer, Hopin
  • Hemant Mohapatra, partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners India
  • Paul Murphy, former investor in Hopin with Northzone (currently co-founder of Katch)

Tracking startup focus in the latest Y Combinator cohort

Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim wrapped up TechCrunch’s coverage of the summer cohort from Y Combinator’s Demo Day with an evaluation of how the group fared in comparison to their expectations.

They were surprised by the number of startups focusing on no-and low-code software, and pleased by the unanticipated quantity of new companies focusing on space.

“It seems only fair to note that some categories of startup activity simply met our expectations in terms of popularity,” noting delivery-focused startups including dark stores and kitchens.

Popping up less than expected? Crypto and insurtech.

Read on for the whole list of startups that caught the eye of The Exchange.

Use cohort analysis to drive smarter startup growth

Image Credits: erhui1979 / Getty Images

Cohort analysis is what it sounds like: evaluating your startup’s customers by grouping them into “cohorts” and observing their behavior over time.

In a guest column, Jonathan Metrick, the chief growth officer at Sagard & Portage Ventures, offers a detailed example explaining the value of this type of analysis.

Questions? ​​Join us for a Twitter Spaces chat with Metrick on Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT. For details and a reminder, follow @TechCrunch on Twitter.

Fintech startup Jeeves raises $57M, goes from YC to $500M valuation in one year

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Last summer, Jeeves was participating in Y Combinator’s summer batch as a fledgling fintech.

This June, the startup emerged from stealth with $31 million in equity and $100 million in debt financing. 

Today, the company, which is building an “all-in-one expense management platform” for global startups, is announcing that it has raised a $57 million Series B at a $500 million valuation. That’s up from a valuation of just north of $100 million at the time of Jeeves’ Series A, which closed in May and was announced in early June.

While the pace of funding these days is unlike most of us have ever seen before, it’s pretty remarkable that Jeeves essentially signed the term sheet for its Series B just two months after closing on its Series A. It’s also notable that just one year ago, it was wrapping up a YC cohort.

Jeeves was not necessarily looking to raise so soon, but fueled by its growth in revenue and spend after its Series A, which was led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), the company was approached by dozens of potential investors and offered multiple term sheets, according to CEO and co-founder Dileep Thazhmon. Jeeves moved forward with CRV, which had been interested since the A and built a relationship with Thazhmon, so it could further accelerate growth and launch in more countries, he said.

CRV led the Series B round, which also included participation from Tencent, Silicon Valley Bank, Alkeon Capital Management, Soros Fund Management and a high-profile group of angel investors including NBA stars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, Odell Beckham Jr. and The Chainsmokers. Notably, the founders of a dozen unicorn companies also put money in the Series B including (but not limited to) Clip CEO Adolfo Babatz; QuintoAndar CEO Gabriel Braga; Uala CEO Pierpaolo Barbieri, BlockFi CEO Zac Prince; Mercury CEO Immad Akhund; Bitso founder Pablo Gonzalez; Monzo Bank’s Tom Blomfield; Intercom founder Des Traynor; Lithic CEO Bo Jiang as well as founders from UiPath, Auth0, GoCardless, Nubank, Rappi, Kavak and others.


The “fully remote” Jeeves describes itself as the first “cross country, cross currency” expense management platform. The startup’s offering was live in Mexico and Canada and today launched in Colombia, the United Kingdom and Europe as a whole. 

Thazhmon and Sherwin Gandhi founded Jeeves last year under the premise that startups have traditionally had to rely on financial infrastructure that is local and country-specific. For example, a company with employees in Mexico and Colombia would require multiple vendors to cover its finance function in each country — a corporate card in Mexico and one in Colombia and another vendor for cross-border payments.

Jeeves claims that by using its platform’s proprietary Banking-as-a-Service infrastructure, any company can spin up their finance function “in minutes” and get access to 30 days of credit on a true corporate card (with 4% cash back), non card payment rails, as well as cross-border payments. Customers can also pay back in multiple currencies, reducing FX (foreign transaction) fees.

For example, a growing business can use a Jeeves card in Barcelona and pay it back in euros and use the same card in Mexico and pay it back in pesos, reducing any FX fees and providing instant spend reconciliation across currencies. 

Thazhmon believes that the “biggest thing” the company is building out is its own global BaaS layer, that sits across different banking entities in each country, and onto which the end user customer-facing Jeeves app plugs into.

Put simply, he said, “think of it as a BaaS platform, but with only one app — the Jeeves app — plugged into it.”

Image Credits: Jeeves

The startup has grown its transaction volume (GTV) by more than 5,000% since January, and both revenue and spend volume has increased more than 1,100% (11x) since its Series A earlier this year, according to Thazhmon.

Jeeves now covers more than 12 currencies and 10 countries across three continents. Mexico is its largest market. Jeeves is currently beta testing in Brazil and Chile and Thazhmon expects that by year’s end, it will be live in all of North America and Europe. Next year, it’s eyeing the Asian market, and Tencent should be able to help with that strategically, he said.

“We’re building an all-in-one expense management platform for startups in LatAm and global markets — cash, corporate cards, cross-border — all run on our own infrastructure,” Thazhmon told TechCrunch. “Our model is very similar to that of Uber’s launch model where we can launch very quickly because we don’t have to rebuild an entire infrastructure. When we launch in countries, we actually don’t have to rebuild a stack.”

Jeeves’ user base has been doubling every 60 days and now powers more than 1,000 companies across LatAm, Canada and Europe, including Bitso, Kavak, RappiPay, Belvo, Runa, Moons, Convictional, Muncher, Juniper, Trienta, Platzi, Worky and others, according to Thazhmon. The company says it has a current waitlist of over 15,000.

Jeeves plans to use its new capital toward its launch in Colombia, the U.K. and Europe. And, of course, toward more hiring. It’s already doubled its number of employees to 55 over the past month.

Former a16z partner Matt Hafemeister was so impressed with what Jeeves is building that in August he left the venture capital firm to join the startup as its head of growth. In working with the founders as an investor, he concluded that they ranked “among the best founders in fintech” he’d ever interacted with.

The decision to leave a16z also related to Jeeves’ inflection point, Hafemeister said. The startup is nearly doubling every month, and had already eclipsed year-end goals on revenue by mid-year.

It is evident Jeeves has found early product market fit and, given the speed of execution, I see Jeeves establishing itself as one of the most important fintech companies in the next few years,” Hafemeister told TechCrunch. “The company is transitioning from a seed company to a Series B company very quickly, and being able to help operationalize processes and play a role in their growth and maturity is an incredible opportunity for me.”

CRV General Partner Saar Gur (who is also an early investor in DoorDash, Patreon and Mercury) said he was blown away by Jeeves’ growth and how it has been “consistently hitting and exceeding targets month over month.” Plus, early feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, Gur said.

“Jeeves is building products and infrastructure that are very difficult to execute but by doing the ‘hard things’ they offer incredible value to their customers,” he told TechCrunch. “We haven’t seen anyone build from the ground up with global operations in mind on day one.”

Tracking startup focus in the latest Y Combinator cohort

By Anna Heim

First, some housekeeping: Thanks to our new corporate parents, TechCrunch has the day off tomorrow, so consider this the last chapter of The Exchange for this week. (The newsletter will go out Saturday as always.) Also, Alex is off next week. Anna is taking on next week’s newsletter and may have a column or two on deck as well.

But before we slow down for a few days, let’s chat about the most recent Y Combinator Demo Day in thematic detail.

If you caught the last few Equity episodes, some of this will be familiar, but we wanted to put a flag in the ground for later reference as we cover startups for the rest of the year.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

What follows is a roundup of trends among Y Combinator startups and how they squared with our expectations.

A big thanks to the TechCrunch crew who covered the startup deluge live, and Natasha and Christine for helping build out our notes during our last few Twitter Spaces. Let’s talk trends!

More than expected

In a group of nearly 400 startups, you might think it’d be hard to find a category that felt overrepresented, but we’ve managed.

To start, we were surprised by the sheer number of startups in the cohort that were pursuing software models that incorporated no-code and low-code techniques. We expected some, surely, but not the nearly 20 that we compiled this morning.

Startups in the YC batch are building no-code and low-code tools to help developers build faster internal workflows (Tantl), build branded real estate portals (Noloco), sync data between other no-code tools (Whalesync), automate HR (Zazos), and more. Also in the mix were BrightReps, Beau, Alchemy, Hyperseed, Enso, HitPay, Whaly, Muse, Abstra, Lago, Inai and

At least 18 companies in the group name-dropped no- and low-code in their pitches. They are taking on a host of industries, from finance and real estate to sales and HR. In short, no- and low-code tools are cropping up in what feels like every sector. It appears that the startup world has decided that helping non-developers build their own tools, workflows and apps is a trend here to stay.

Our favorite startups from YC’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 2

By Natasha Mascarenhas

From beaming actors into the class room to plucking things out of space, the second day of Y Combinator’s S21 Demo Day was a fresh snapshot of what nearly 200 startup teams believe is the future of innovation.

Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go “oh wait, what’s this?”

Spark Studio

My experience with Indian culture is that it has a long history of valuing math and science over any other subject, which is why Spark Studio’s twist on online enrichment was refreshing. The YC company offers live, extracurricular learning classes for kids in Indian households — with a twist: The classes are about music, art and communication. As seen by the success of Outschool, small-group classes for school-going children can be a scalable way to supplement traditional education. Spark Studio is selling to kids between the ages of 5 to 15, which are highly impressionable, exploratory years.

Growing up, I was the only kid in my predominantly Indian family friend group who didn’t gravitate toward STEM. There were no services, other than the local library, to quench my interest in writing and reading. A service like Spark, if it gains the trust of parents, has the potential to make currently unconventional interests more conventional. And with over 400 students, and less than 2% churn, Spark Studio has early inklings it may be onto something. — Natasha

Here are all the companies from Day 2 of Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 Demo Day

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s continuing coverage of Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 Demo Day! This is Day Two. If you haven’t caught up yet on what happened during the first day, you can read our recap of all the presenting companies here, our favorites from that first set here, and a quick podcast about all of the above.

Today we’re back in the action, listening to a few hundred rapid-fire pitches throughout the day. What follows are short overviews of each company based on their one-minute pitch. Elsewhere on the site we’ll soon have our Day Two favorites for you to enjoy, so be on the lookout for that!

Day Two companies

Intellect: A mental healthcare service that provides teletherapy for employers in Asia. They’ve also got a free consumer app at the top of the funnel that has seen 2.5 million users since launching a year ago. The company says it’s grown to $500,000 ARR in the last six months.

MazumaGo: Banking and electronics payment service for construction companies. MazumaGo aims to help this antiquated industry move off of traditional banking and into a unified ledger. The banking infrastructure product puts credit and debit cards into customer hands, starting in the United States.

Pandai: Pandai is helping kids in elementary/high school in Southeast Asia boost their grades with a learning app that replaces take-home workbooks. With more than 1,600 paying subscribers using the app for almost an hour a day, Pandai may be on its way to helping thousands more get the A.

Image Credits: Locale

Locale: Think that DoorDash doesn’t have enough food options? Locale is betting that some folks want more options and are willing to pay for that access. The startup wants to help restaurants sell farther from their operations, and its model is showing some early traction. The company’s revenue (GMV, perhaps) scaled from $145,500 in July to $192,000 in August. The startup claims 70% retention month to month and an average order of just over $100.

Arrow: Arrow is building one-click-checkout-payment infrastructure for online sellers in Southeast Asia aiming to boost social commerce among small sellers. The team behind Arrow helped launch GrabPay and has already scaled GMV at the startup to $150,000.

Talentdrop: A hiring marketplace where open jobs are posted with “bounties.” If someone you refer is ultimately hired and stays a while, you get the bounty. The company says that $1 million in bounties have been posted to the site thus far.

Infina: A retail investing app aiming to be the Robinhood of Vietnam. Since launch in January, Infina has reached over $2.5 million in assets under management. Its first focus was breaking open mutual funds and fixed-income products, and now it wants to head into stocks and crypto for its younger user base.

BlackOakTV: Black millennials are bigger consumers of streaming content than other demographics, but comparatively little of that content is made with them in mind. Black Oak TV is a subscription streaming service by and for Black creators and stars — could the next Dave Chappelle or Issa Rae come from here instead of YouTube or TikTok?

HEO Robotics: This startup wants to leverage unused time on existing satellites that monitor the planet to find stuff in space. Not trash, like the startup that presented yesterday that wants to clean up space around Earth, but things like other satellites. HEO says that it is selling to the Australian government, and executed a live in-orbit demo during Y Combinator. There are going to be many more satellites in space over time, the company says, which could boost demand for its service.

Gallery : Gallery is building a platform to help developers quickly create self-stage staging environments, saving time and energy. The founding team has experience from Facebook and Goldman Sachs and hopes to tackle what it believes is a $5 billion market for mid-sized engineering teams alone.

Image Credits: Adra

Adra: AI to help dentists find cavities they might otherwise miss. It can also convert fuzzy X-rays into something a bit easier for patients to understand. Currently in a pilot with 20 dentists.

Tantl: Low-code APIs are hot, and a team of Google and Apple engineers are building Tantl to make it speedy, too. Tantl enables developers to build faster internal workflows — for $20 bucks a seat. Think skipping repetitive code, easy authentication and customer user interfaces. The SaaS business launched last week and has onboarded three customers.

Titipku: A huge amount of people in Indonesia want to do their local shopping online like so many of us already do, and Titipku is ready to make it happen. They’re “Instacart for Indonesia” and that’s that. Sales are already popping and the model is proven, so let’s just offer a preemptive congratulations on their success.

Flok: Flok is building what it describes as an Airbnb for corporate offsites. That means the startup is helping connect companies looking to host some IRL activities with a location that will be suitable. In a remote-first area, heading into a remote-friendly future, companies may spend more time and money bringing staff together sporadically. Flok wants to help those events come together. Per the startup, it takes around 15% of bookings and has booked 45 events so far worth around $200,000 in revenue.

Spark Studio: The team at Spark Studio is building a hub for online extracurricular courses designed for kids, reflecting the COVID-era changes to how kids learn on the web. The team is particularly focused on music, art and communication skills, hoping to streamline the wide offerings of the internet into a platform where high-quality, vetted content lives.

BrightReps: A no-code tool meant to help you shift your company’s customer response workflows from flowcharts/spreadsheets into something more easily updated and iterated upon. Founder Brittani Dunlap says the company is profitable with $740,000 in ARR.

Verihubs: Indonesia has a thriving fintech sector, with hundreds of startups and the well-known unicorn Gojek. Verihubs is launching a data and verification platform for regional fintechs to do stuff like authenticate customer identities and access financial data. The service has landed 45 customers, fueling $41,000 in monthly revenue.

Aleph: A lot of banks and fintech companies want to use the latest financial models but also prefer to rely on the good old spreadsheet. Aleph allows ordinary spreadsheets in Excel or Google Sheets to have specialized financial tools built right in and always up to date. The best of both worlds, if you really love spreadsheets and financial models!

Sirka: Noom is now so big that startups are looking to take its model to new markets. Sirka is one such company, with a focus on the Southeast Asian region. The startup wants to replicate Noom’s science-first approach to weight control, noting that there are 150 million overweight or obese folks in the SEA area. The startup also noted that its users lose 4% of their weight on average. Is that a lot? For me (Alex) at around 160 pounds, that would be around 6.4 pounds.

Watu: Watu wants to help retailers close the sale they almost made. The platform is building a shopping workflow that lives inside emails and allows shoppers to make a purchase without getting tossed back to the mobile web.

Stownest: On-demand, full-service storage spaces for India. They pack up your stuff, store it and bring it back when you need it. The company says it’s helped over 12,000 customers so far, handling over 20,000 pickups/deliveries.

Comet Health: A digital physical therapy platform that combines telehealth with video-based curriculum. Comet Health is launching with a focus on pelvic floor physical therapy and already ran a proof-of-concept pilot in Virginia.

Lemonade Finance: Africa’s banking system is evolving quickly, as we’ve seen from other startups in this batch. Lemonade Finance is a consequence of that — a bank for the millions of Africans who have left for other shores but still need to interact with accounts or people at home, send or receive money and so on. Having encountered this problem themselves, the founders built Lemonade Finance to make it simpler for the African Diaspora to bank abroad.

Parallel Bio: Coming up with ideas for new pharma products, testing them on non-humans and later scaling up to testing on our species takes a long time and is expensive. Parallel Bio claims to have created a human immune system in a petri dish, which can help with testing new drugs sans using humans on the front lines of testing. As with all biotech concerns, I (Alex) struggle to vet the company’s possibilities of a tech breakthrough, but the concept here is very neat.

Atmana: The team at Atmana is building a platform to help 15-30-year-olds break technology addictions, specifically addictions to gaming, porn and social media. The company is taking a serious approach with its $90 per year treatment plans, which combine support groups, accountability and education.

Float: Supply chain finance — in other words, they pay for your inventory upfront, you pay them back as it sells. Float co-founder Rob LaFave previously co-founded/sold Foodzie, while co-founder Zack Kim was the CTO of Zaarly. Float says they’ve deployed $50,000 in advances to five customers so far.

Kitchenful: Led by a former Hellofresh executive, Kitchenful thinks that grocery delivery’s commidification means it’s time for new innovation. The app gives users personalized recommendations for recipes — and then delivers the ingredients straight from a local grocery store. The team has landed partnerships with Walmart, Kroger, Target and REWE for logistics, and has launched in one city so far.

Image Credits: TransAstra

TransAstra Corporation: Space tugs are a hot item in space: small spacecraft that help get other spacecraft where they need to go. TransAstra, from a former Momentus CEO, is using a new, super efficient “solar thermal rocket engine” that he says accomplishes this type of mission better than anything out there. With millions in NASA money and hundreds of millions in LOIs, MOUs and contracts, TransAstra sounds like it’s well on its way to being the biggest name in space tugs.

Comadre: Nubank won’t control the entire Brazilian neobanking market if Comadre gets its way. The company is building a new digital bank for low-income families, a group of folks that it says have to pool their funds together to pay bills on time, so they need new tech. The startup intends to charge $8 per family per month, in addition to generating interchange incomes. Of course, fintech is a competitive market, but if Comadre can land a customer base, its revenue story writes itself.

Toku: The startup helps subscription companies collect revenues in Latin America where 15% of recurring charges fail. While traditional options rely on collection agencies, Toku taps cross-channel outreach to connect with subscribers and get them back in the fold.

Makani Science: This team has built what it says is the “world’s first wireless patch that can accurately and continuously monitor breathing.” Co-founder Michael Chu says the company expects to get FDA clearance within a year.

Verde: Small and medium-sized farms in Brazil may now have a new favorite credit card. Verde is a fintech platform that wants to make it easier for farmers to request and access loans. Beyond credit cards, Verde’s services include insurance and digital banks.

Anakin: Every e-commerce site wants to know exactly how every other e-commerce site is pricing the same goods, but it’s not always easy to do this systematically and comprehensively. Anakin fills this role, monitoring competing platforms for their clients and providing real-time pricing data so it can be undercut or otherwise responded to in order to snatch up that customer. With three “multibillion-dollar” companies paying half a million bucks a year already, Anakin seems well on its way to success. And maybe it’ll save you a few bucks as well.

TAG: Tag is building a neobank for Pakistan, a market that it claims features 100 million unbanked individuals out of a population of 250 million. The startup said that it is working with employers to help employees get their wages deposited into their TAG account instead of being handed out in cash. The company has local regulatory approval and is live in its market with a debit card product.

FirstIgnite: The team is building a marketplace that pairs companies with university experts to tackle challenges they’re facing. The team already has pilots with University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon, among others.

Perfekto: Pitched as “Imperfect Foods for Latin America,” Perfekto delivers a subscription box of tasty-but-not-necessarily-pretty produce. Co-founder Anahí Sosa previously led the rollout of Uber Grocery in Latin America, and says Perfekto is currently seeing $8,000 in monthly revenue.

SFA Therapeutics: As digital health matures, SFA Therapeutics is the latest to pitch a new focus on treating the root cause of disease, instead of suppressing symptoms for momentary relief. The team is betting on an oral solution for the over 100 million patients who suffer from autoimmune diseases (and who currently deal with painful injections as a mainstream solution). The therapeutics company has a Phase 1B trial underway and referenced “strong clinical data” on their drug’s use in combating psoriasis.

Levo: Levo is supercharged savings accounts in Mexico, providing up to three times the average yield (6.5% vs. 2.1%) by combining customers’ accounts and negotiating better deals with the banks and other financial organizations they work with. It’s a smart idea in use around the world but apparently not for individual savings accounts in Mexico — for now!

Laudable: The B2B sales process needs to move past the PDF world, Laudable reckons. The startup wants to help its customers find and share videos of their customers using their product to share instead of written testimonials. We have some questions about how its product works, but the startup scaled from $0 to $27,000 in MRR in two months, so it appears to be onto something. Also sales tech tools have raised quite a lot of money in the last year, so there’s likely appetite for Laudable.

Monto: Monto’s team is building a platform that provides companies in Mexico with the ability to give workers “salary on demand,” which isn’t an advance but allows workers to request the salary they have already earned between paychecks. Workers are charged a flat rate of $34.50 + VAT.

Mindstate Design Labs: Mindstate says it’s working on “next-gen” psychedelic therapeutics for treating things like PTSD. One thing they’re working on is a “safer MDMA” that they say doesn’t cause post-treatment depression and would allow for a “greater ability to redose for increased efficacy.”

Beau: Small businesses have finally been peer pressured into digitizing their operations for more seamless customer experiences — it only took a pandemic. Beau is building a no-code client workflow for customer communications. With Beau, these businesses can collect submissions, files, payments and send messages to build loyalty (and do their jobs). The minimum viable product has been launched to seven paying customers and 65 active companies.

Ruth Health: Pregnant women receive a lot of care but once the baby is born, there are months of health issues they still have to deal with — and little support provided by existing medical providers. Ruth Health is a telehealth clinic focused specifically on postpartum care, with $150 out-of-pocket sessions to address common women’s issues like painful sex and unwanted urination. Their rallying cry is “for vagina owners, by vagina owners!”

Image Credits: Axolo

Axolo: Offering what it calls a “war room for each pull request,” Axolo is a startup building in what we might call the developer productivity space. Its service creates a Slack channel around pull requests that helps engineers avoid swapping from Github back to their internal chats. The company says around 35 organizations are using its product today, and intends to monetize using a freemium model. Axolo will cost around $8 per engineer per month.

Ananya Health: The team at Ananya Health is building a portable medical device that can freeze abnormal cells much cheaper than existing solutions. The team is focused specifically on using the device to treat cervical “pre-cancer” in regions across the world where medical help is hardest to reach.

Noloco : A no-code tool for agencies/real estate firms/small businesses to easily build branded portals for interacting with clients, handling things like communication and file sharing. Co-founder Simon Curran says the company is currently seeing an MRR of $1,500.

Govly: Red tape has a way of bringing people together. Govly helps companies like Cisco and Nutanix come together to bid on government contracts. It wants to grow beyond a SaaS tool and into a marketplace that helps businesses sell into the government. The team hopes to be a better visualization into the business-to-government procurement space.

Walrus: Countless young people in India sign up for their first bank account every year. Walrus thinks it would be nice if they signed up with them — a neobank that offers a simple debit card and tools for saving, budgeting and investing. With a straightforward 1% transaction fee model it could be the simplest way for folks there to start banking.

Image Credits: Mach9

Mach9 Robotics: Ah the modern world, full of wonder and aging infrastructure. Sure, we’ve built a lot, but a lot of our infrastructure is fraying. And that means inspections are a pretty big deal. But inspecting stuff in the ground is a huge pain in the backside. Mach9 uses a thermal camera attached to a car to peer into the Earth and find infrastructure issues. The company claims three paid pilots.

Algo University: Algo University is taking the ISA learning model to India, training university students there to become solid software engineers. Students also have the option to pay upfront for the education platform, which teams live classes, assignments and contests to help students pick up skills that hopefully land them at top tech jobs.

Therify: Therapy works better when you’re talking to someone that you feel understands you. Therify provides mental healthcare as a benefit to companies, focusing on matching patients with therapists who have similar backgrounds. Co-founder James Murray says it’s currently running $100,000 in paid pilots with “four global companies.”

Jovian: The “Great Resignation” has led companies to get quite nifty with their benefits, with one impact being the rise of investment in employee education. To take advantage of these shifting employer habits, Jovian has an ambitious goal: be the best technical university online. The job-oriented training platform helps professionals shape up on data science and ML skills. It has a monthly revenue of $20,000 and is growing 35% month over month.

Argonaut: Practically every tech company that wants to scale will need to deploy infrastructure to the cloud, causing words like Kubernetes, Terraform and containerization to be uttered. Argonaut automates this deployment as much as possible to reduce or eliminate the need for specialized engineering work, so even dummies like me can launch a company.

Abhi: Here’s another startup working on the Pakistani market. Abhi wants to offer instant wage access to workers in the country. Early traction appears to be good, with some $15,000 in total payment volume in its first month. The startup claims to have 45 MOUs — a very non-GAAP sort of contract, if you will — that represent around 200,000 employees. If it converts a few of those into real agreements, Abhi should have enough volume to truly test its model in the country.

Dots: Dots (one of two companies called Dots in this cohort!) is building a software product to help automate online customer communities, plugging into platforms like Slack and Discord and allowing companies to automate certain tasks and help them ensure new community members don’t slip through the cracks.

Stack: Pitched as “Vanguard for India,” Stack is trying to make investing easier for the 130 million middle-income households in the region. Launched six weeks ago, they’ve got 1,000+ users with $250,000 under management.

Epinoma: CRISPR transformed biology, and the world’s understanding of the human genome. Epinoma, led by three biogenetic experts, builds off those learnings to apply them to the world of epigenetics. The first application for its protein is for the liquid biopsy market, which the team estimates is a $50 billion opportunity.

Koshex: Obviously the middle class in India needs somewhere to put their money. If they don’t want to use Stack (two entries above) then maybe they’ll go for Koshex, which bills itself as “Wealthfront for India.” Integrated with more than 40 financial institutions already, Kosher is prepared to handle billions of dollars worth of Indian small investments.

Shimmer: Therapy is good and if everyone could access regular therapy it would be good for the world. But there aren’t enough therapists, and the service is often too expensive for folks in need — if they can get access. Shimmer wants to bridge the need-coverage gap by offering online mental health support groups that are run by coaches. Peer support can be pretty key to helping with various issues, as anyone in recovery can tell you. The company has 105 users today and claims 2x the retention of traditional therapy.

FrontPage: Building on the retail investor boom, FrontPage wants to build a for India, helping market investors and traders find a community of people interested in the finance world while browsing trades, charts and new discussions taking place in real time.

HyperGlue: Once you’ve got a big audience, keeping track of what your users are saying about you all around the internet gets tough. HyperGlue analyzes things that people share in places like Reddit and Discord to give product managers an automated breakdown of what people are saying about your product  — the things they hate, the features they want, etc.

Oneistox: Online-cohort based classes for designers, architects and engineers — sold at roughly $900 bucks a pop. Oneistox wants to fill industry skill gaps through the virtual school, which mainly markets to those in their mid-20s and above. Early completion rates are 82%, dozens of percentage points above industry standards from massive open online course providers — signaling its format may just work.

Greenwork: With the huge infrastructure bill coming through, demand for skilled blue-collar labor will be jumping over the next few years. Greenwork wants to organize it with a LinkedIn-like site for these folks, often government-trained experts who need to find a project to apply their skills to. A recruitment and networking platform just for this valuable class of workers could be just the thing to get people back to work.

marketfeed: This is fun. Marketfeed is an app that trains users in India to trade stocks. Its founder claims to be akin to the Jim Cramer of India, with a boatload of YouTube subs to back up the claim. So far the app has reached around $100,000 in MRR. Seeing how popular trading has become in Europe and the United States in the last few quarters marketfeed’s general thrust makes sense.

Warrant: Warrant is building a platform that helps developers add authorization and access control to their web and mobile apps. The company’s API manages the complexity while users are able to define rules that meet the needs of their product.

SalaryBox: Not to be confused with “SalaryBook” from yesterday, SalaryBox is also aiming to be Gusto for India, helping the many millions of SMBs there to take their paper-based payroll (etc.) digital. The team says it’s seeing $18,000 in annual revenue just a few months after launch.

Evidence: Code! Code! Code! Evidence helps data teams replace drag-and-drop business intelligence tools with a code-based workflow, which a fancy way to say that it makes work more simple. The company is betting it can build the default front end for data management, as “every company becomes a data company.” Evidence of this? Evidence has 46 active projects after launching last week.

Female Invest: Investment is an industry dominated by men, but women command an increasing proportion of investable income. Female Invest aims to educate and mobilize this growing contingent and already has more than 17,000 paying subscribers in its community. Soon they’ll activate trading as well and fulfill their ambition of becoming the “Robinhood for women.”

Inversion Space: Instead of taking stuff to space, Inversion Space wants to bring some back from space. That’s an, ahem, inversion of what we tend to hear from space startups. The startup is building a return “capsule” that is four feet in diameter and wants to be able to drop stuff from space back to the planet in under an hour. Notably the startup claims some $225 million worth of LOIs, which may sound like a lot, but given what it costs to do anything in space, keep the number in scale. Inversion is targeting a first launch (drop?) in mid-2023.

Advantage Club: The team is building a wide-ranging platform for employee engagement, teaming perks, exclusive rewards and access to early wages. They’re hoping to bring multiple benefits into a single platform while catering to top customers with their deep web of more than 10,000 brand partners.

DigiBuild: Construction management software built on the blockchain to give a “verifiable single version of truth” to all owners/contractors/subcontractors/etc. Co-founder Rob Salvador says the company is currently seeing an MRR of $58,000, projecting that to grow to $75,000 by October.

Rivia.AI: D2C brands in India need better ways to get their products into ever-impatient consumer hands. Instead of forcing brands to rely on Amazon for two-day delivery speed, Rivia.AI is building its own fulfillment agency to help this customer base get the same outcome, but cheaper. By ignoring Amazon, Rivia.AI is helping e-commerce brands in India achieve two-day shipment, while the startup makes $0.65 on each delivery. Rivia.AI has 2,400 monthly transactions — and a mission to get to the billions.

Palla: Sending money across borders has never been easy. Or rather, if it’s easy, it’s expensive. Palla aims to make it both easy and cheap to send money to and from LatAm, from one person to another. They’re partnering with big fintech and banking companies to get thousands of folks signed up and ready to get cash from out of the country on their debit cards in seconds rather than hours.

Suplias: This is cool. There are 13 million small grocery stores in Africa, Suplias says, which it wants to help supply. The startup offers a B2B mobile marketplace that uses third-party logistics providers to get new inventory to small grocers rapidly. The digitization of SMBs in emerging markets is a well-known trend, but this is a bit different. And if the margins are good, it could scale pretty rapidly. Suplias claims $230,000 in GMV per month today, a figure that it says is growing by 40% each month.

Marble: Marble helps property owners manage their properties from afar. The platform handles rent collection and maintenance in addition to remote showings, collecting $50 per unit per month, significantly undercutting competitor pricing.

Zoios: Analytics for HR that the company says can predict who is going to quit, who is burned out, etc. Co-founder Christian Højbo Møller says they currently have 12 companies as customers paying for 500 seats and have hit an ARR of $24,000.

BoldVoice: Duolingo may be the best-known language learning app on the market, but BoldVoice has a deep focus in one area that unicorn is missing: smart speech. The startup wants to help non-native English speakers find (and flaunt) their voices. The startup uses short-form videos, taught by Hollywood accent coaches who traditionally help actors, to deliver content. The curriculum is built around three Ps: posture, to help with the physical feel of using an English R versus a Spanish R; phonology, the vowels and consonants; and porosity, which is the musicality of an accent. In two months, it has hit $5,000 in monthly revenue from over 200 paid uses. We wrote more about the startup on TechCrunch.

Sleek: Impulse buys on the internet aren’t actually any easier than big buys. You still have to go through the whole checkout process, except on the few shops that offer one-click fire-and-forget checkout. But what if I told you there was a startup offering a browser extension that makes every online shop have a one-click checkout … AND it gives you cash back? That’s the pitch with Sleek’s ML-powered checkout bot. By preventing cart rot they increase sales, collect the commissions and pass on the savings to you. Of course, you’re still out the cost of that impulse buy you would have left behind … but let’s not talk about that.

Cloudanix: Lots of companies now use more than one public cloud provider. So not just AWS, or just Azure, but GCP and others as well. Cloudanix wants to provide a unified dashboard to help companies keep all their public cloud work secure from a single dashboard. Per its website, the startup provides security monitoring and “remediation workflows” when needed. As the world becomes increasingly a multicloud domain, the company could find itself riding a secular shift.

FastFarma: A digital pharmacy that promises 30-minute medication delivery for Latin America, currently operating in Ecuador and Mexico. Co-founder ​​​​Santiago Ribadeneira says the company is currently doing $20,000 in monthly revenue.

Image Credits: Stipop

Stipop: An easy-to-install SDK that developers can use to add stickers to their consumer chat apps. Already has 150,000 stickers designed by 5,000 artists and has been integrated into over 100 apps. Stipop monetizes through brand-sticker partnerships.

Siglo: Internet service providers are complicated to work with, which is always a green light for savvy entrepreneurs. Siglo is disrupting the ISP market for urban communities in Latin America. Focusing on easy-to-pay and simplified processes, Siglos’ wireless home broadband service currently connects over 1,700 homes with $26,000 in monthly recurring revenue. Its revenue is growing 30% monthly.

Telivy: SMBs need cyber insurance, and Telivy wants to give it to them. It’s as simple as that. They specialize in this and offer better and cheaper coverage so that SMBs can meet compliance and other requirements easier.

CartX: Shopify’s huge growth is drawing startup attention. CartX wants to build something akin to Shopify for the Brazilian market. As companies like Nubank have shown, the Brazilian digital market can prove lucrative. So to see CartX work on its e-commerce infrastructure is not a surprise. The company, now around two years old, is doing just under $1 million in yearly revenue today.

HomeBreeze: A home repair marketplace that is aiming to get rid of the annoying back-and-forth estimate process, instead providing up-front fixed/guaranteed prices and instant service scheduling. They’re focusing on water heaters first. Co-founder Vineet Mehta says the company is seeing over $60,000 in monthly revenue after launching in May.

Tuli Health: Tuli Health is building software that helps pharmacies in the U.K. perform in-house diagnostic tests. It started with COVID testing but is now expanding into allergy testing. Co-founder Jiawei Li says the company has onboarded 147 pharmacies that have run over 7,000 diagnostic tests so far, accounting for $400,000 in revenue.

Alchemy: Sure, Shopify made it easier for businesses to sell online, but how do those same businesses create a dynamic, differentiated experience for their customers? Alchemy is a visual development platform that enables brands to build unique e-commerce experiences, sans the code. It launched in late July and has so far landed 11 initial customers accounting for $2,800 in monthly recurring revenue.

Okani: In LatAm, millions of people without primary care physicians either find a specialist by other means or end up going to the hospital instead. Okani acts as a digital primary care provider living in WhatsApp, so patients can meet with a doctor and get tailored referrals rather than take on the time and expense of a hospital trip.

Image Credits: The Breakaway

The Breakaway: Ah, do you need more motivation to get back on your indoor bike? Is your Peloton sitting idle because you are worried that Matt will judge you for not doing enough Power Zone Max rides? The Breakaway is building a “motivational coaching” application for fitness dweebs like me. Its iOS app will link to your Peloton, so you can, well, cycle more? Better? I would joke that surely the $50 you already pay Peloton is enough, but since we’re already paying that, why not tack on more to perhaps cycle a bit more?

Hypercontext: This company says it helps managers run better meetings by streamlining their meetings according to their team’s OKRs and providing a dedicated place for agendas, feedback, follow-up steps, etc. The team says its MRR is currently at $37,000, charging teams $7 per user per month.

Fella: Telehealth for men with obesity. Combines recently FDA-approved medication with health coaching, charging $150 per user per month. The company has worked with 13 patients so far after launching in Texas two months ago.

Bedrock AI: Some of the best gems sit in the footnotes of corporate filings, from 10-K annual reports to Form D filings. Bedrock AI’s software extracts key factoids to limit information overload and better supplement those who spend their days working though the fine text of public company data.

Hiration: LinkedIn may have disrupted resumes, but Hiration wants to disrupt LinkedIn’s role in the job search process. The startup is building a way for job seekers to quickly create efficient resumes. Through partnerships with over 80 institutions, including Stanford and The University of Texas at Austin, Hiration created 125,000 resumes in August. It has an annual recurring revenue of $500,000.

CellChorus: All kinds of medicines, therapies, vaccines and other research processes need to understand what effects they create on a cell-by-cell level, but observing this directly can be very difficult. CellChorus does it, though, and has trained a machine learning model to watch footage of cell interactions and automatically derive conclusions like which cells perform best and why. They’ve already got traction and have been in multiple prestigious journals, so while it’s not something you’ll be using at home, it could be standard issue tech in medical research soon.

Secoda: Secoda wants to aggregate your company’s data in a single place, so that internal teams can better work together and share metadata, queries and more. Part of its pitch is that current tools in its domain are more targeted at enterprise-scale companies, while it wants to target smaller startups to start. That’s a standard GTM model for YC startups, but in this case it doesn’t bother us. The company claims $40,000 in ARR today.

Flowly: Pairs virtual reality headsets with a heartrate sensor to generate visualizations that the team is proving can reduce pain (and thus, opioid usage). They’ve got a $1.2 million grant from the NIH, and co-founder Celine Tien says the company is currently seeing over $40,000 in monthly revenue. Records and analyzes conversations in drive-thru restaurants to help owners figure out the best ways to upsell. Co-founder Sasha Miagkyi says they’re currently analyzing 700,000 orders per month at over 50 restaurants.

Baraka : An investment app built explicitly for the Middle East. Baraka launched one month ago and has attracted over $340,000 in assets under management with 70% week-over-week growth. Its mission is to give local retail investors the ability to put money into the U.S. stock markets.

Image Credits: Genomelink

Genomelink: Once you’ve had your DNA sequenced and analyzed by 23andMe or Ancestry, what else can you do with it? Upload it to Genomelink and you can activate any number of “apps,” — other forms of analysis that show more traits that the big companies don’t list. It’s your genomic data; you can do what you want with it, right?

PAYZE: Pitched as “Stripe for former Soviet Union countries,” PAYZE takes the fragmented payment solutions in the region and unifies them into a single payment platform. Co-founder Giorgi Tsurtsumia says they’re working with 350 merchants 8 months post-launch.

Revery AI: Revery is building a “virtual dressing room” that helps online shoppers visualize how clothing they’re shopping for will actually look like on a person, tapping AI to impose clothing images on models while allowing users to customize said model to look more like they do.

Plug: One API to process payments across multiple providers. Alex Vilhena says they take a 1% cut while saving teams up to 30% in processing fees and have processed over $230,000 to date.

Abbot: This former GitHub team saw firsthand the power of a streamlined, remote-first operating system, and now it’s building tools for other startups to do the same. Abbot makes the traditional team chats on Slack or Discord into a command center to get tasks done. It reacts to messages by running programs, deploying software or, heck, even displaying the weather.

Mecho Autotech: Believe it or not, the global logistics revolution is powered by drivers in actual vehicles, and those vehicles need maintenance, which cuts into earnings. Mecho Autotech is tackling the issue in Nigeria, where truckers sacrifice a lot of income to shoddy or inconvenient repairs. Instead, Mecho will let them summon one of the 2,000 mechanics on demand via a web app to fix things when and where they’re needed.

mello: After the absurd last few years, it’s no surprise we’re seeing an uptick in companies focusing on burnout. Mello reduces burnout by regularly checking in with employees, detecting shifts in happiness/productivity and offering up ways you might help them dig their way out. Currently ties into Slack, with plans for Teams/Discord/Google integrations on the roadmap.

Quest: An audio Q&A platform where experts can share advice and stories in short audio clips; think a micropodcasting Quora. The startup is focusing specifically on business advice early on and has over 10 hours of content from speakers at companies like YC and Google.

Concord Materials: Helps construction companies check invoices for accuracy and detect unauthorized charges. Founder Anthony Valente says they’ve got contracts in place to verify over $20 million of GMV.

Baubap: Baubap is a microfinancing platform for the traditionally underbanked in Mexico. The already-profitable mobile-lending app doles out capital to its users with a 90% return rate. Baubap’s mission isn’t small: It wants to become the largest lender in Latin America.

Image Credits: SnapCalorie

SnapCalorie: Nobody likes counting calories, because (A) calories are great and (B) it’s a pain. But SnapCalorie could at least address B by providing a calorie estimate of a meal from a single image that they claim is more accurate than a nutritionist’s. The founder also co-founded Google Lens and the Cloud Vision API so he knows of what he speaks. Don’t make it too convenient though buddy, because then I would have to use it.

Bree: Zero interest cash advances (up to $100) in Canada; instead of fees, Bree allows users to tip the service when it’s been helpful. Co-founder Alexander Li says the company did $14,000 in advances and saw $1,800 of revenue in July.

Zuma: Zuma is building out an “AI leasing agent” that helps make the most of web interest by responding and following up on every lead. In eight months, the team has grown to $388,000 ARR.

Medium Biosciences: Uses machine learning to find new/novel enzymes for biotech companies. The company says by cutting out much of the trial-and-error, it cuts a 10-week process down to two weeks.

Hyperseed: Already backed by Silicon Valley investors, Hyperseed makes it easier for finance professionals to create custom pricing and billing applications. The full-stack development environment helps finance teams add their thoughts into tech stacks, doing what the no-code team thinks Excel can’t.

Glitzi: An alternative to actually going to a salon or spa to get beauty or grooming services, Glitzi is an on-call service that connects beauty professionals directly to clients. The clients get the convenience of home care and the pros make more for the personalized service and no fees or rent for spa space. Everyone wins, and of course everyone is beautiful … that means you!

StandardCode: An API meant to help gaming/social companies deal with COPPA/GDPR compliance, automating the ID/parental approval/age verification process. Charges $0.50 per verification.

Payhippo: Payhippo is building a loan platform for small businesses in Nigeria, hoping to help bring access to working capital that can make a difference. They say that many of these businesses they lend to aren’t able to get loans from the bank due to high collateral requirements and the scarcity of credit scores in the region.

Image Credits: MayaEats

MayaEats: Pitching itself as “Uber for kitchens,” MayaEats works with “underutilized” kitchens to analyze their region/potential audience and build a virtual brand to sell on platforms like DoorDash and Uber Eats. Vijayaraj Gopinath says they’ve already processed over 57,000 orders, accounting for $2 million in GMV and a monthly recurring revenue of $30,000.

Contalink: Startups love to build SaaS for sales teams, but Contalink is refreshingly looking at another team for its software-based tool: the accounting department. The platform helps accountants move off of desktop software into the electronic cloud, a shift the team claims will make bookkeeping a much faster task. Starting with a focus on Mexico SMBs, Contalink has landed 2,700 paying users with $50,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

Numary: Moving large amounts of money around within or between organizations is something that needs to be done constantly and flawlessly. Numary wants to be the next standard financial ledger for money movements, starting with an open source base and taking aim at developers — the power behind the power.

Stepful : Helps those without college degrees train for and find entry-level healthcare jobs. Charging $3,000 per student, co-founder Carl Madi says the company has graduated 36 students to date.

Vinco: Vinco is a corporate benefits startup aiming to connect employees at Latin American companies with online education opportunities. The startup’s service is live at more than 30 companies, promising a way to improve employee retention and satisfaction.

Invezo: An investing research/analysis tool for stocks and crypto assets, tying social media data (read: hype!) and financial data together. Lets you, for example, track mentions of a cryptocurrency over Reddit/Twitter/Google/etc. Co-founder Emmett Miller says they’ve doubled weekly active users to over 5,000 in the last month.

Chipax: Describing itself as a “Quickbooks for SMBs in LatAm,” Chipax wants to give business owners real-time visibility on receivables and payables. The startup is expanding its revenue opportunities with invoicing and B2B payments. It has landed $1.6 million in annual recurring revenue across over 1,100 customers.

Catena Biosciences: Autoimmune disorders are devastating and difficult to treat. Catena has a new approach born out of work at CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna’s lab. By attaching custom proteins to red blood cells, they can retrain the immune system to cease its mistaken and destructive response, potentially providing a treatment for Graves’ disease, celiac disorder, multiple sclerosis and more. Big Pharma is already nosing around, as you might expect, and I predict a large valuation quite soon. (But more importantly, treatments for serious disorders.) Connects to existing devices/products (like HVAC) in a building and controls them via API to reduce electricity costs, aiming for a 25% reduction and taking a cut of the savings.

Ancana: Ancana is a marketplace for fractional ownership of fully managed vacation homes, taking the idea of timeshares and Airbnb and creating a platform for shared homes where owners actually own a percentage of their property. Users collaborate with their co-owners to book time through the platform instead of relying on fixed timelines.

Keyri: A passwordless authentication API that taps your phone, QR codes and FaceID to sign you in to services without any passwords to type/share. Co-founder Zain Azeem says the company has four LOIs signed and is already working with 57 startups.

Fitia: The app creates personalized nutrition plans, using ingredients in local grocers, for LatAm users who want to lose weight. Users pay $55 per year, and the now-profitable startup attracts $70,000 in monthly revenue. Beyond trying to democratize the nutritionist, Fitia is also growing a database of over 1 million Latin American foods and recipes.

Evidently AI: Machine learning models are used almost universally in tech stacks, but telling when they’re failing and how isn’t as simple and established as something like “500 Error server not found.” Evidently wants to make tracking and debugging ML systems simpler and easier, so that faults can be identified and fixed faster. As authors of dozens of ML models themselves, the team thinks they’ve got the chops to do it. And who will naysay them?

Adaptyv Biosystems: A smaller, faster chip for biotech companies to synthesize and screen proteins. CEO Julian Englert says their chip is 100,000x smaller than existing options, allowing them to screen “millions of drugs instead of thousands.”; from the data they’ll gather, they’ll build “the world’s largest protein database.”

Awesomic: The team at Awesomic is building a design freelancing platform with a big emphasis on getting design jobs done quickly without the stress of hiring a designer.

Luable: Helps users in Latin America find saving accounts with better yields. Acting as a broker, Luable takes a 1.5% commission. The team says it currently has over $450,000 under management, averaging 2x growth month over month.

Render of a Craft aircraft flying over a city.

Image Credits: Craft Aerospace

Craft Aerospace: Craft Aerospace is designing and testing a totally novel new vertical take-off and landing aircraft designed to fly and land in and around cities, making regional travel faster and cheaper. The design of the aircraft is pretty wild, but it actually makes a lot of sense and could help change SF-to-LA into Tenderloin-to-Silverlake (well, maybe not that, but you get the idea). I wrote more about their new approach here.

Snowboard Software: If you know what the “Snowflake data cloud” is, Snowboard might be for you. Snowboard is a data catalog for Snowflake, allowing you to dig through your data on the platform faster, find data issues, etc. You can self-host it, or they’ll host for you; it’s free to start tinkering with, and you start paying after 1,000 indexed columns. The company says it’s currently seeing $15,000 ARR with four companies onboarded.

Jupe: First up, the Jupe founder who presented had an excellent hat. He was also living in a Jupe in a parking lot. Why? Because Jupe sells glamping-in-a-box. The company has booked some $6.5 million in revenue this year and claims to be profitable. It sells software and hardware and takes a pretty big cut of total spend. Er, is glamping a big industry? I have glamped. It was nice. Perhaps it is growing during the COVID era.

Hera: The team at Hera is building a Calendar app with an emphasis on productivity, with a number of overt and more subtle features aimed at helping people get the most out of their meetings without living in a bloated calendar app.

Astek.: Helps doctors find the right antibiotic faster — an hour, the company says, instead of days — in emergency situations. The company expects to charge $100 per test.

Protego: Founded by ex-Rappi entrepreneurs, Protego helps LatAm companies recover lost revenue. It automates the chargeback process, a process that currently requires quite a bit of manual labor. Since launch, it has attracted $4,300 in monthly recurring revenue and has turned its former employer into a pilot customer.

V-Flow Medical: Millions of Americans suffer from compressed pelvic veins, a dangerous condition usually treated with stents — which have a 20% failure rate. V-Flow has designed a device to treat the huge number of people who need an alternative treatment. With a track record of medical device approvals and exits behind them, the team says they have this whole thing mapped out and hopefully ready to keep hundreds of thousands of people healthy.

bloop: An extension for your code editor that surfaces code examples from each library’s official documentation. Works with VS Code, with support for other IDEs on the way.

Instacrops: An agtech startup focused on helping farmers in Latin America maximize their crop yields using technology like IoT sensors and drones while integrating data sources to help farmers make the best decisions with the best information available.

Bite Ninja: Bite Ninja wants drive-thru restaurants to use its freelancers (ninjas) to help others order and receive food (bites), allowing people to take drive-thru orders from home. One of the co-founders ran a BBQ restaurant chain called Baby Jacks, where he built out the initial concept. The team says it’s currently running pilots with five chains and would make $150,000 per restaurant location.

Pylon: One way to stand out in Y Combinator is to be a fully bootstrapped company making nearly double-digit revenue. That’s what Pylon, a platform to help water and electricity companies manage infrastructure, did in its pitch today. The profitable company improves its clients operations by detecting and reducing leakages, consumption theft and uncollected bills.

ClearMix: Organizing an in-person video team at a global company can be tough at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. ClearMix is a fully remote video production suite that lets video teams record and produce videos quickly and professionally, but entirely online. No doubt it’s going up against some heavy hitters in the Adobe vein, but the need is clear.

Sequin : A fintech play, Sequin wants to give women debit cards to help them build credit — the card features what the company called “live credit reporting” — so that more women can access debt products. The company plans to eventually build a credit card product as well. Per Sequin, it expects to generate around $60 per user per year thanks to interchange incomes.

Teamspace: A remote collaboration platform built by a Facebook product designer who worked on the company’s Workplace product. The startup hopes to reduce team misalignment by giving them a “shared canvas” where they can tackle problems together.

Repool : Pitched as “AngelList for hedge funds,” Repool wants to let more people build hedge funds. “Focus on trading, we’ll take care of the rest,” they say. Co-founder Kevin Fu says the company has two funds onboarded after launching two weeks ago, already accounting for $36,000 in ARR.

SigmaOS: A browser designed for work. SigmaOS wants to be the main tool startups use to access the web, with an interface meant to promote multitasking and collaboration. Flagship features include split-screen capabilities, browser-based collaboration pages and focus mode. The productivity software startup charges $10 a month — and claims it’s gaining one customer every two minutes.

Whalesync: No-code tools are definitely popular (there have been plenty in the last two days) but they don’t solve every problem. And it turns out they create at least one new one — keeping data in sync between no-code tools can be tough and your devs end up having to code a data pipeline anyway. Whalesync connects no-code tools with each other, staving off the “real” coding for another step or two.

Yummy: Co-founded by a Postmates alum, Yummy is building a super app for Venezuela that it intends to expand to Peru and Chile. The company’s application includes food, CPG and entertainment products and claims to have expanded to ride-hailing as well. Yummy says that it is doing $1.6 million in monthly GMV, a figure that is growing by 35% each month. If that growth keeps up, expect to hear more about the company.

Level: A fintech financing platform that buys loans from fintech startups helping them gain access to capital to scale faster. The company analyzes the fintech company’s performance and loan portfolio to source low-risk loans it can purchase at a discounted rate.

Inflow: A self-help app for helping people manage ADHD. The company is promising symptom improvement on par with in-person treatment while making it “100x more affordable and accessible.” Co-founder Levi Epstein says Inflow has 2,700+ paying members and is currently seeing $33,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

Keeper: Bookkeepers often stick to spreadsheets and email, so Keeper has built a software solution with them in mind. The startup gives bookkeepers a suite of tools to communicate with clients and deliver reports. Focusing on the quiet but complicated has helped Keeper hit $6,400 in monthly recurring revenue.

Jingu Health: Millions of women suffer from vaginal infections with no effective treatment, but Jingu Health is coming to the rescue with a powerful tool. They target the underlying cause of these infections by analyzing the microbiome with computational biology tools and reprogramming it (think “more of this, less of this,” not bioengineered microorganisms). They claim to have the first pill-based treatment. It’s even FDA approved even though it doesn’t need to be … just in case.

Echoes HQ: This one could prove controversial. Echoes wants to measure engineering output and align time spent to different corporate OKRs. If TechCrunch rolled this out to measure writer output, there would be pitchforks in the streets.* Precisely how much engineers want to have their work monitored so that a manager elsewhere can chide them for whatever they deem to be “less than productive” is not clear. However, given how tight the market is for technical talent, if this introduces any sort of material friction, it would drive regretted employee churn, as they say.

*And by streets we mean various Slack channels.

Image Credits: Litnerd

Litnerd : Litnerd wants to help make kids better readers by keeping them more engaged in reading. They livestream actors into the classroom on a weekly basis to act out and advance stories the kids have spent the last few days reading, provide lesson plans for teachers and more. We wrote about Litnerd here!

DocVita: Telehealth has exploded during the pandemic. DocVita is looking to scale telehealth in India further with a platform that connects consumers with generalists and specialists across a wide network. The founders have experience in the healthcare software industry and have scaled the company to $12,000 in monthly GMV after just a few months on the market.

Waterplan: Tech and water may not usually mix well, unless you’re Waterplan. The startup helps industrial facilities mitigate water risk, a growing threat due to climate change and deterioration. It has $345,000 in annual recurring revenue thanks to 12 pilot customers.

Moxion Power: I (Alex) half expect this company to announce a SPAC-led deal to go public in the next month. It’s building large, mobile batteries that construction sites and other commercial operations can use to provide power in locations where they today use generators. Lower emissions is a win. The company expects to get its first production facility online in Q1 2022. Given the huge interest in EV tech more generally today, we like Moxion’s chances of raising the capital it needs to give its business a shot.

Lightly: A machine learning startup that helps ML teams prioritize the data most in need of labeling, pointing them to the data subsets that will have the biggest impact on their overall model accuracy.

Beeper: You probably use like a half dozen chat apps. Beeper merges them all together  — even iMessage, through some hackery involving forwarding messages from a Mac or jailbroken iPhone — and adds things like unified search. Co-founders Eric Migicovsky and Brad Murray previously worked together at Pebble, the early smartwatch company Eric founded.

Rendalo Maq: A digital broker for construction equipment in LatAm. Clients turn to Rendalo Maq to procure and handle fleet management for construction companies in the region. While the startup’s software is focused on used equipment and rentals, it’s also a marketplace and operating system.

Basis: Look, if you’re in business automation like me, you understand that a dynamic end-to-end data pipeline is worth its weight in bitcoin. Was that convincing? Okay, I’m not in business automation but I can guess that with the amounts of data coming in and the number of places it needs to go, you want a big-time solution, and that’s what Basis wants to be. “Yes code” instead of no code, giving superpowers to your dev team so they don’t have to hire a specialist in data handling just to make things work.

Levro: Something that I’ve noticed among lots of smaller companies is building in many countries at once. That means that business itself is increasingly global. Which is great for remote workers, but a bit wonky when it comes to payments and banking. Levro appears to be prepping to help smooth the currency situation by offering a multicurrency banking service. The company dangled a hook during its pitch, offering free payments up to a transaction cap for folks tuned into Demo Day. Let’s see if that helps it drive early sign-ups. Its website currently only lets folks sign up for updates, so it may be some time until we fully grok Levro’s early traction.

Zazos: A no-code tool for HR teams that helps them build the exact functionality they need and leave out what they don’t while allowing customizations across interfaces, permissioning and data integrations.

Filadd: Helps students in Latin America pass their college entrance exams, then provides them with 24/7 access to tutors until they graduate. Co-founder Joaquin Olmedo says the company is currently seeing $800,000 in annual revenue.

testRigor: A better way to test for quality assurance. TestRigor has created technology that allows companies to run tests that better emulate the way end users engage with their applications. The software claims to be faster, non-engineer friendly, and thus more scalable for its clients. Netflix is one of the customers fueling testRigor’s $700,000 annual recurring revenue.

Heimdal: Heimdal pulls valuable minerals out of seawater while simultaneously sequestering carbon dioxide, producing carbon-negative materials for the concrete and glass industries. Cement manufacturing is notoriously a huge polluter, so with regulations coming in, they and everyone else are jonesing for green processes and raw materials. I wrote this up in more detail here!

Unbox: QA doesn’t get enough love in the ML world, but it matters. ML models can be biased as heck, or simply broken. Unbox wants to help ML team members, both technical and not, to find issues in ML models and create tests to check to make sure that fixes work. The team hails from Apple. Unbox did not share growth metrics.

Fizz: Fizz is building a debit card that helps college students in the U.S. start building out their credit without having to learn lessons about overzealous credit use the hard way. Building good credit early is critical but can be tough for college students operating on tight budgets, Fizz is building a platform designed for college students specifically.

Mentorcam: A marketplace connecting people with those they admire for advice — sorta like Cameo for 1:1 advice. Charging $20-$300 per video, they saw $7,000 in gross sales in August. Notably, the company says, nearly half of its users are repeat customers.

Telmai: Data quality can make or break a startup, so Telmai wants to be the reliable sidekick that sniffs out inaccuracies or anomalies before you do. The data observability platform uses a no-code onboarding process and claims it can begin working for clients within minutes. Beyond fighting bad data, Telmai offers high-level visualization, and soon, proactive alerts and user inputs for correctness. For data analytics teams, which are constantly deciding whether to escalate a blip, Telmai is meant to take some of the guesswork out of their days and more broadly simplify operations.

Amenli: Amenli is the first licensed online insurance broker in Egypt. Able to sign customers up in a few minutes for low-cost premiums around $200 per year, it’s hard to see how this can be anything but a runaway success assuming they do it right. Go get it, Amenli!

Nash: This is fun. Nash has built software atop mass-market delivery APIs (it listed DoorDash and Uber, among others) to allow other companies to offer same-day delivery. Why is it neat? Because SMBs can’t code, having another company plug them into delivery networks could unlock the delivery market for companies that can’t afford an engineering team. Per Nash, it has a 10% take rate and is doing around $60,000 in GMV.

Byte Kitchen: Byte Kitchen wants to build ghost kitchens that make the best dishes from the best restaurants in the country, licensing brands and recipes and bringing them access to more markets. Its first kitchen is live, and the team says its has “20+ LOIs with popular restaurants.”

Tenyks: Helps AI developers figure out how/why their computer vision systems are doing what they’re doing and build more reliable systems. With both co-founders having Ph.D.s in “Explainable AI,” this one seems like a good fit. Founder Botty Dimanov says they’re currently working with one customer, with four more getting set up now and seven+ on the waitlist.

Maroo: “Save the date” doesn’t exactly scream stable revenue, so Maroo is building a payments service for the wedding industry. The startup is rethinking how the business owners within the wedding industry — from caterers to that charming venue you eye every time you drive past it — receive payments. As for the happy couple, Maroo offers a buy now, pay later service for a more accessible financing option,

Tavus: Here’s one that might make you squint a little. Tavus wants to replace written outreach (think sales emails and such) with computer-generated deepfakes. Yes, you read that correctly. Customize the name, company and other aspects and get hundreds of tailored videos that look just like someone recorded a video message just for the recipient. Is it a good idea? We’ll see … but like it or not it’s here, and it seems to be effective. Let you and I proceed into this strange new world together, my friend.

Enso: The team at Enso is building a data processing tool that helps automate developer processes that require a ton of repetitive manual work. The no-code platform wants to put components built by its community of experts into the hands of data scientists.

Brite: When your employer offers you a zillion different benefits/insurance options, Brite helps you wade through it and figure out what’s right. Co-founder Ben Hale says they’ve already worked with over 400,000 employees (across 250+ employers) and are seeing an MRR of $28,000.

Metlo: The truth wins, and that’s a lesson for life and for startups. Metlo, built by former Facebook and Uber engineers, helps companies store their business metrics (like “daily active users”) in a standardized, transparent way across different tools without a bunch of duplicated work. In seven weeks, the startup landed four design partners.

MergeQueue: When you’ve got 20 engineers all coding separately to build a new feature, it can take as long to integrate and reconcile their work as it does to do it in the first place. MergeQueue automates code submission workflows to avoid build failures that result in costly code reviews and delays. The team encountered this issue at Google (easy to imagine) and hacked together their own solution there — now they’ve built something for everyone else to use.

CostCertified: Bringing price transparency to an opaque market is never too bad an idea. CostCertified wants to make the worlds of construction materials and labor more transparent with a marketplace and “real-time quoting engine” that it has built. Per the startup, it has around $250,000 in ARR from SaaS revenues today and intends to take a 1% cut of GMV in the future.

General Catalyst, Abstract back Wanderlog’s $1.5M round for collaborative travel

By Christine Hall

Twin brothers Harry and Peter Yu grew up traveling all over, an aspect of their lives that continued even into their careers. What they didn’t enjoy was figuring out all the logistics, which has become more difficult during the pandemic: vacations that could be taken quickly now require more planning and even reservations.

“People travel differently, but the common denominator is that everyone uses some kind of document to plan and share their trip information,” Harry Yu told TechCrunch. “We saw a need for something that is better than spreadsheets and ‘copy-and paste.’ ”

So they launched Bay Area-based Wanderlog in 2019 to enable users to gather and record their travel plans. The free itinerary maker and road trip planner takes the best parts of Google Docs and Maps and enables users to import the information and map out the trip. You can even add lists of places you’d like to visit, and Wanderlog will recommend the best way to get there. Reservations can also be added, Peter Yu said.

Wanderlog demo. Image Credits: Wanderlog

The company announced Wednesday it raised $1.5 million in seed funding from General Catalyst and Abstract Ventures.

“Wanderlog has built a product that has a unique understanding of how users plan trips and share their experiences — it’s no surprise that people love using it,” General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos said via email. “General Catalyst is proud to invest in Wanderlog as they change the way we travel together, and we’re excited by the growth Peter, Harry and the entire Wanderlog team have achieved.”

The company, which was part of Y Combinator’s 2019 cohort, plans to use the new funding to expand its web and mobile app features, including offering restaurant recommendations, based on Google and Yelp reviews, for those who don’t want to do a bunch of searching and reading reviews.

The founders declined to share growth metrics, but said the platform is already facilitating thousands of trips per week. Customers are already sharing with the founders that the app is good for communication among a large group, where everyone can see what the plans are and discuss them, Harry Yu said. In addition, they just launched a subscription service and are seeing good early metrics.

Wanderlog is among a number of travel startups attracting venture capital dollars as travel restrictions have begun to ease amid the pandemic. For example, just over the past month companies like Thatch raised $3 million for its platform aimed at travel creators, travel tech company Hopper brought in $175 million, Wheel the World grabbed $2 million for its disability-friendly vacation planner and Elude raised $2.1 million to bring spontaneous travel back to a hard-hit industry.


Reframe your Metaphors, and other lessons from Y Combinator S21 Day 1

By Natasha Mascarenhas

After a 17-hour marathon through nearly 200 startup pitches, the Equity team was fired up to get back on Twitter and chat through some early trends and favorites from the first day of Y Combinator’s demo party. We’ll be back on the air tomorrow, so make sure you’re following the show on Twitter so you don’t miss out.

What did Natasha and Alex chat about? The following:

  • First impressions: We started by going through top-line numbers, geographic breakdown, and how the accelerator is doing when it comes to the representation of diverse founders. The last bit had a tiny bit of progress, but diversity continues to be an issue in YC’s batches — even as cohort size grows. We also chatted about what startups pitching can work on: like better mics, which are cheap and good.
  • Our early favorites: Metaphor, Lumify, Alex’s favorite duo Indian real estate plays, Akudo, Reframe and Playhouse.
  • And some hmmm moments, including our thoughts on Writesonic, which Natasha has a potentially paranoid theory on.

TechCrunch has extensive coverage of the day on the site, so there’s lots to dig into if you are in the mood. More tomorrow!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Our favorite startups from YC’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 1

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first-half of its nearly 400 company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators.

The TechCrunch team stuck to its tradition of covering every single company live (but, you know, from home,) so you’ll find all of the Day 1 companies here. For those who want a sampling of standouts, however, we’re also bringing you a host of our favorites from today’s 1-minute pitch off extravaganza.

As reporters, we’re constantly inundated with hundreds of pitches on a daily basis. The startups below caught our picky attention for a whole host of reasons, but that doesn’t mean other startups weren’t compelling or potential unicorns as well. Instead, consider below as a data point on which startups made us do a double take, be it due to the size of the market opportunity, the ambition exhibited by the founding team, or an idea that was just too clever to pass up.


Genei is, dare I say, a refreshing mix up between robots and writers. The startup has a simple goal: automatically summarize background reading so content creators can grab the top facts, attribute, and move onto the next graf. Writing is innately an art, so I find Genei’s positioning as a tool for writers instead of a replacement out to take their jobs as smart. Better yet, it’s launching by targeting some of the hardest workers in our industry: freelance writers. These folks often have to balance consistent pitches, diverse assignments and tight deadlines for their livelihood, so I’d presume a sidekick doesn’t hurt. Down the road, I could totally see this startup playing the same role as a Grammarly: a helpful extension of workflows that optimizes the way people who write for a living, write. — Natasha

Here are all the companies from Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 Demo Day, Part 1

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Today Y Combinator kicked off the Demo Day cycle for its Summer 2021 cohort. The collection of early-stage startups on day one-of-two alone numbered in the hundreds, meaning that we had to assemble a team here at TechCrunch just to cover it all.

But before we get into notes on each company that presented, a few notes on the cohort itself. Per Y Combinator leadership, the 377 (!) startups in this cohort have founders from 47 different countries, and 37% of the founders in this cohort were from underrepresented groups (which YC’s Michael Seibel says the accelerator defines as Black, Latinx or female.)

The international breakdown of the batch parallels that of this past winter. Nearly 50% of YC startups are based outside of the United States, with India, U.K. and Mexico making up the largest part of that percentage.

What follows is a list of the 180+ companies in the order that they pitched, and our notes on each pitch. TechCrunch will follow up this post with a list of our favorites. So, enjoy the below and happy hunting to all the founders and investors!

(Oh, and if you’re somehow hungry for more, don’t worry: another equally huge batch is scheduled to present tomorrow.)

Day One Companies

Endla: Software meant to increase production and reduce costs associated with oil/gas wells. The company says it can save about $40,000 per well per year.

Phykos: Autonomously grows seaweed to capture carbon, selling offsets to companies to uphold their climate commitments. Built by GoogleX mechanical and software engineers.

MadEats: MadEats is an online ghost kitchen food delivery service in the Philippines. It has built several major local restaurant concepts and is building affordable, high-margin brands to serve direct to consumers.

Financial Choice: Financial Choice wants to boost the yields that consumers can earn from their checking accounts. In today’s market, cash earns incredibly low yields at rest. So, Financial Choice wants to invest checking account funds, while preserving access for users for when they need their money. The startup claims to have reached $4.4 million AUM thus far. We’re curious about the tax implications of the model, but the concept of earning more yield from liquid holdings is attractive.

Atlas: This startup is building software to let restaurants in Southeast Asia move more operations online, aiming to help restaurants create a closer bond with consumers that food delivery platforms have pulled away.

Apollo: A debit card that rewards users with stocks. Making purchases with the card earns the user a fractional share of a stock, plus “a chance to win” full shares.

Strive Education: With 3.7 million students in Asia, Strive Education uses 1:1 live classes to teach high school math through coding games. The company has $20,000 monthly recurring revenue and is growing 30% monthly.

Image Credits: Brex

PlusIdentity: A password manager for startups, focused first on a Slack app that hits the high points of enterprise-level options (Okta) and consumer apps (LastPass). Only one month old, they already have 10 startups signed up and aim to be the next identity management platform for the startup world.

HitPay: HitPay brings together two startup trends that have captured investor interest in recent quarters, namely no-code tooling and payments. The company wants to help SMBs in the South East Asian market accept payments from what it describes as a market that is fragmented. So far the company has reached $5.4 million in total payment volume (TPV) per month, a figure that yields $35,000 in monthly revenue.

AOA Dx Inc.: AOA is building blood tests that help detect ovarian cancer early when survival rates are much higher. The founding team has two successful exits in the health startup space behind them and their product has already shown early success in a 600-person patient study.

Cococart: An online store builder that claims to have a setup process 10x faster than Shopify. The team says they’re currently working with over 2,000 active merchants.

Metaphor: What’s the metaphor for taking on Google? Metaphor is a language-model-based search engine. With this technology, users can search by ideas; think queries like “one of the most promising startups in the health tech space is” or “a smart essay about love is” instead of relying solely on keywords.

Tinai: Ninety percent of small businesses in Vietnam still keep at least some of their financial records using pen and paper. Tinai aims to help modernize this with a digital bookkeeping service — and after only six weeks they have 1,200 active merchants and are handling USD$1.8 million worth of transactions.

Image Credits: Turion Space

Turion Space: Space trash removal! It’s a well-known issue that the orbit around Earth is littered with crap of all sorts, junk that is circling the planet at high speeds. Turion Space wants to build spacecraft that can get that shit out of orbit, and it also wants to service satellites and mine asteroids. You have to start somewhere, we suppose. Space companies are hard to judge at this stage, but we can say that the TAM Turion is pursuing is, well, as big as the planet.

Cero: The team at Cero is building software to help hospitals automate communications with patients over WhatsApp. The team has banked $95,000 in monthly revenue helping their customers communicate with more than 600,000 patients.

Aqua: Investment platform to allow individuals to invest in private equity funds without requiring them to have a ridiculously high net worth.

Warpfy: Built by the founders of Wayfair Asia, Warpfy is on a mission to acquire and grow e-commerce stores into global brands. It will help brands bring distribution multichannel, breaking out of a tradition of Amazon roll-ups as a key way to grow.

Momo Medical: With a growing elderly population worldwide, nurses in hospitals and long-term care facilities are stretched thin. Momo Medical has made an IoT-equipped bed sensor that tells nurses who is sleeping, who is rising, and who may be having trouble, all in one interface. The increase in productivity could help offset the worldwide nursing shortage. They’re already signing contracts and have $250,000 ARR.

Image Credits: Milky Way AI

Milky Way AI: No, Milky Way AI is not building computer intelligence to scan the stars. Instead, it’s building computer intelligence to scan the shelves. Perhaps Milky Way refers to the candy bar, instead of the interstellar body. The startup has built a mobile app that allows CPG companies to scan shelves and check what goods are in stock. Per the startup, it has four brands working with it today wirth $11,000 in monthly revenue. And two new contracts that could push its revenues into the seven figures.

Slip: Slip is building a marketplace for top developers to create and monetize courses helping young coders hone their skills. The team is looking to get their product into the corporate learning space and get major tech companies providing their courses to employees.

MindFi: A corporate wellness/mental health platform for companies in Asia, offering employees “microclasses,” guided exercises and assessments meant to help with mental well-being.

Opkit: Founded by early members of Brex’s engineering team, Opkit helps surgery centers optimize how they buy medical devices. The tech plugs into health electronic systems and then provides dashboards that illustrate which surgeries are the most expensive for the center. Then, the purchasing software gives recommendations on what customers should buy to limit costs.

Deskimo: With employees fluidly moving from home to office to shared workspaces, hybrid work is a global trend. Deskimo aims to embrace that flexibility by aggregating managed office space into a single app and renting it out by the minute. They’re launching in southeast Asia first but hope to become a global hybrid work platform.

Image Credits: Lumify

Lumify: We’re all familiar with the concept of super apps for consumers. First popularized in Asia, they may bring together ride-hailing, food delivery, e-commerce and chat. But what about a super app for nurses? Lumify thinks the idea has legs. Its app can help nurses find whatever they need, from scrubs to shifts it claims. The company has generated $275,000 in revenue so far this year from a userbase of 15,000 nurses. The concept makes sense. Nurses are busy, in demand and earn good wages; why not sell to them?

Crew: Crew is building a recruiting-centric CRM designed to make it easier to reach out to candidates. The company’s software is designed to help recruiters tackle proactive outreach with tooling designed for each part of the hiring process, keeping things streamlined and personalized.

Akute Health: Akute makes a medical records management system for the ever-increasing number of digital health companies, so each one doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Founder Sharud Agarwal says Akute has 40 customers accounting for a total of 20,000 patients.

Writesonic: AI-powered copywriting tool for marketing material. Launched in February, Writesonic hit $36,000 in monthly ARR through 100% organic user acquisition.

REPROSENT: Cancer patients’ daily symptoms could be crucial to understanding their needs and the effectiveness of treatment, but it can be hard to collect them regularly. Reprosent is an app for patient self-reported data that has seen over 80% daily use, providing a steady stream of helpful data for caregivers. They’re already signing up major care centers.

Pinglend: This is an interesting company. Pinglend wants to let people pledge items and, in return, offer credit based on those assets. Per the company, its model will allow it to loan money to users at around 20% of the rate that pawn shops or payday lenders charge. The company has yet to launch, but as it is playing in a space rife with consumer abuse, it will have questions over its head as it proves out its model. The company wants to “graduate” its users to unsecured credit cards in time.

AppX: AppX has built a platform that helps social media creators build their own apps that play to their strengths and monetize their audiences better than personal websites do. The company started with educational creators and is looking to expand with gaming and fitness creators.

Image Credits: Caire Health

Caire Health: AI meant to help “diagnose brain bleeds in seconds.” Co-founder Anmol Warman says he expects FDA approval within six months, and the company is currently running trials with multiple hospitals.

Membo: A premium way to grocery shop. Membo is a next-day grocery delivery service in Europe that optimizes for freshness and quality, instead of 15-minute speed. The startup does $30,000 monthly GMV and makes money through a per-order commission fee.

Soraban: Accounting firms aren’t the most futuristic office environments, and Soraban aims to modernize them with a back-office platform that brings them into the 21st century.

Abatable: Robo-advising is old hat by this point, technology that has become table stakes for consumer investing services that focus on long-term holding. But Abatable wants to bring robo-advising into the carbon-removal game, creating portfolios that “focus on carbon removal.” Given the rising focus on more socially and environmentally conscious investing around the world, it’s a neat idea.

Varos: Varos helps companies understand how their performance stacks up against the competition by creating anonymized databases of customer data. The startup is tackling the $21 billion planning software market with a specific focus on marketing, product and finance teams.

Friz: A bank specifically tailored for freelancers (focusing on South Asia and Southeast Asia), making it easier to get loans for those without fixed monthly paychecks.

Zensors Inc: Google analytics for the physical world. The startup is a software-only AI solution that connects to security cameras dispersed around airports, transit hubs and stores — helping companies offer actionable advice to better the customer experience. Its software footprint currently impacts over 1 million people a week.

Kodda: Getting insurance in LatAm is a dated process, and Kodda aims to bring a Lemonade-like experience to the millions of people there. Users can sign up in 90 seconds and make claims in minutes; so far the company has 250 paying customers and it says not one has left.

Cache: Gopuff is a big deal these days, having raised roughly eighty zillion dollars. But the Cache team thinks that there is still room in the on-demand market for convenience goods. The startup operates so-called “dark” stores to give goods to on-demand drivers. Dark stores in general are a hot commodity these days, thanks to rising delivery needs.

Akudo: A neobanking startup in India geared toward providing teenagers with credit cards, hoping to help young people in the country manage their money in a smart way. The company combines a credit card, savings account and rewards with tools to help increase financial literacy.

Image Credits: SenpAI.GG

SenpAI.GG: AI-powered video game coach. They’re building a tool that uses overlays and a voice assistant to help you figure out the best move to make, or the best character to pick. Olcay Yilmazçoban says they currently have over 450,000+ monthly active users and are seeing 20% growth month over month. See our previous coverage of SenpAI here.

Iona Mind: Iona Mind is a mental health app that wants to teach people how to overcome anxiety and depression. The company’s content is derived from evidence-based protocols and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The platform is sold directly to employers that are growing their benefit programs and searching for ways to boost engagement.

Storylane: Selling a digital product or service is a lot easier when the customer can try it for themselves. Storylane lets marketing teams deploy personalized product demos to prospective customers, which they have found increases conversions considerably.

Ivy Homes: Opendoor is worth more than $10 billion as a public company today, so it is not a huge surprise to see a startup working on bringing the model to other countries. Ivy is taking the concept to India, where it claims the real estate market is obscured by a lack of information. The company has secured a $500,000 credit line and has bought its first property. So, it’s early days for Ivy, but given the scale of the market they are taking on, that’s no sin.

Liv Labs Inc.: The startup is building fitness programs that help women deal with incontinence, building exercise programs that help women strengthen their pelvic floor muscles and decrease risks of pee leaks, an issue the startup says 27 million American women struggle with.

Sitenna: Helps wireless carriers speed up the process of finding new sites to put up towers — a particularly well-timed idea, as 5G requires considerably more towers to work well. The company says it can shorten the process of finding a location from 24 months to 6 months. Read our past coverage of Sitenna here.

Ferveret: Ferveret, inspired by nuclear plants, has created a liquid-cooling technology for data centers. The startup helps reduce costs and carbon footprint while improving server performance. So far, Ferveret has landed two paid pilot contracts with Enel and Crusoe Energy.

Coulomb AI: Electric vehicles run on batteries, and batteries degrade with use — but exactly how much? When should companies replace theirs? What’s the cost of preventative maintenance? Couloumb AI aims to provide battery analytics for any and all EV companies (focusing first on fleets in India and government applications) and hopes to become the standard analytics platform worldwide.

Arengu: If the startup market can support a host of companies just working to improve checkout flows, there may be room for tech upstarts just focused on sign-up flows, right? That is the bet at Aregenu, which is building signup flow for other companies. Its pitch noted that a host of major companies devote whole teams to this work, something it points out that smaller firms can’t afford. If the fundraising history of checkout companies is any indicator, we expect Arengu to raise a mountain of money by Thursday.

Yemaachi Biotechnology: The biotech startup is aiming to diversify the cancer diagnostics and therapeutics testing pipeline by collecting and sequencing samples across Africa, an effort to help Africa’s genetically diverse population get more accurate treatment. The founding team has decades of experience in the health research field.

q&ai: Analyzes company sales calls to provide insights for the sales team to help them tune messaging.

Image Credits: GamerPay

GamerPay: An escrow-style system for selling digital items and skins in games (starting with CS:GO) to hopefully reduce the rampant scams.

BluumBio: Companies are under pressure to reduce their environmental impact, and BluumBio allows them to do this simply by seeding bioengineered plants and bacteria at sites polluted by microplastics, heavy metals or petroleum byproducts. These engineered organisms have regulatory approval and are heading to their first field trial this fall, and the company already has lucrative partnerships lined up.

Goodkind: I hate being called on the phone, so I am not exactly sure if promising me that in the future more companies will video call me than ring me up is a great idea, but Goodkind thinks its vision of the future is going to be big business. Powering video messaging for “B2C teams,” the company has racked up $375,000 in ARR, a figure it claims is growing by 28% on a month-over-month basis. That figure could rise if its pipeline comes through by a factor of more than two.

Matidor: Matidor is a project management platform combining geospatial data with team collaboration software. The startup has $80,000 in ARR and is chasing the $4 billion natural resources market.

Promakhos Therapeutics: Promakhos is a therapeutics platform focused on curing inflammatory diseases using bacteria. The company’s first drug is focused on reversing symptoms in Crohn’s disease patients. They’re also looking to help patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and Type I diabetes.

Whaly:  A no-code platform for modeling your business data, automatically imported from tools like Hubspot, Google Ads, Google Analytics, etc.

Vital: An API for collecting at-home health data. Using at-home lab tests and fitness wearables like Oura or Fitbit, Vital aggregates data without requiring one to step foot into a doctor’s office. The developer-designed API is currently in closed beta.

Moving Parts: Rebuilding your UI to accommodate new features or migrate to a new code base can be costly and time consuming. Moving Parts is a component library from former Apple and SoundCloud designers full of “Apple-quality” UI bits and pieces that companies can drop in and customize to cover common needs like sign-up and log-in processes.

Monet: The concept of getting workers access to their earnings ahead of traditional paydays is heading to Latin America thanks to Monet, which claims its service will work with any worker in the region who has both a bank account and a salary. No employer buy-in required. That’s frankly pretty cool. Monet claims to have 6,000 users waiting to use its service. That should be enough early demand to prove its model. Let’s see how it scales.

Enerjazz: A battery-swapping network for the 2 million electric vehicles in India. The company is hoping to build out a sizable network that’s well positioned to cater toward the electrifications of India’s 8 million rickshaws and 187 million scooters.

Image Credits: Ivella

Ivella: A bank for couples, beginning with a debit card that automatically splits expenses between two users.

Malloc: A mobile app that prevents other mobile apps from recording and sharing data without the user’s approval. It notifies users when a mobile app uses their camera or microphone and offers a monitoring console to understand how long those features are being used. Malloc’s spyware tracker has 80,000 active users and over 100,000 users to date.

Flowbo Inc.: Flowbo wants to help creators access funding, fast. Instead of forcing creators to rely on payment from traditional brand deals or sponsors, they can upload proof of those income streams to get a loan upfront. Then, creators are invited to pay money back over time through a percentage fee based on total monthly revenue.

Synth: Synth is building software to help knowledge workers better recall the information that they consume, be it in video format or text. The founder said that current software products like Roam just don’t cut it. We’ll need to play with this to truly understand it, but the concept is neat.

Humane Genomics: The startup is building a development platform for making artificial viruses focused on cancer therapeutics. The team has helped design hundreds of ​​unique oncolytic viruses and was previously working on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that it recently discontinued efforts on.

Mailmodo: A no-code platform for easily building forms and widgets to embed within emails.

SafeBeat Rx: SafeBeat Rx wants to replace hospitalization for new arrhythmia patients through its take-home kit that combines EKG software with FDA-cleared hardware. While the concept of software replacing a hospital stay may seem like a moonshot, the startup recently completed a 103 patient pilot to test out its hypothesis. It estimates that the take-home kit will be on the market within one year.

Karbon Card: It’s Brex for India. With $110,000 already coming in monthly and 1,100 companies already signed up, this is about as sure a thing as you’re going to find in this list. Expect a trillion dollar valuation by the end of the week.

Digistain: One of several startups in this cohort taking on the cancer market, Digistain wants to use infrared scanning to better understand which breast cancer patients are truly a fit for chemotherapy. Its view is that more folks than needed get chemotherapy, which is not only expensive but can actually kill you. I am not an expert on regulatory approval, but using tech to avoid taking poison juice to the jugular sounds pretty great.

Odwen: Odwen is building a massive warehouse network in India, aiming to leverage underutilized space at existing warehouses with a tech-enabled platform that helps users with storage needs find their own solution across a wide network.

Rinse: Pitched as “One Medical for dental,” Rinse is looking to make it easier to book same-day dental cleanings and exams — because more checkups = less drilling.

Swipe: A billing and payments solution for Indian small and medium-sized businesses. The over 1,000 businesses that use Swipe today are able to create easy invoices, WhatsApp-friendly payment links and more. Swipe has hit over $1 million in monthly transaction volume. As my colleague Alex Wilhelm put it, Swipe is Stripe, with a W.

Nasdisc: The market for vinyl records has exploded over the last couple decades as these collectibles have reentered the vogue. Nasdisc thinks it’s time for a modern, dedicated vinyl marketplace like those that exist for sneakers and other hot C2C goods. They’re live now and doing $1,000/week in sales, so maybe it’s time to pull out those old records and make a buck or two.

PropReturns: Working against a similar problem set as Ivy Homes, PropReturns wants to bring more data to the Indian real estate market, which it also views as somewhat poor today. But instead of buying homes, PropReturns wants to facilitate transactions. It has facilitated some $3.9 million in property value. That generated $74,000 in revenue. Let the Make India’s Property Market Better Startup War begin!

DiveHealth: Dive helps migraine sufferers find the right treatment among the dozens of migraine drugs on the market today. Users take a genetic test, fill out a questionnaire and receive a custom treatment plan. Twenty million Americans currently suffer from migraines, so it’s a huge opportunity.

Zinite: This team wants to help companies build better performing chips within the same product real estate with what it says is “only high-performance transistor which can be built along the z-axis.”

Kiwi Biosciences: Built by an IBS patient and former IBS digital health founder, Kiwi has created an enzyme that helps customers digest food better by breaking down common dietary triggers. It charges $50 a month for the patent-pending enzymes — and as of last pull, Kiwi has $23,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

Algen Biotechnologies: Born out of CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna’s lab, Algen aims to treat cancers with no known effective drugs by applying machine learning to RNA messaging and finding ways to change it. They’ve already found one oral inhibitor for one such cancer and aim to enter clinical trials within 18 months — and of course Big Pharma is already sniffing around.

Kalam Labs: Kalam Labs wants to use games to help kids from 6 to 14 years old learn STEM. Targeting the Indian middle class, the company has racked up 1,500 paying customers and has reached $15,000 in MRR. The company won’t expand north to China, however, as that country is cracking down on paid edtech services. And cutting back on gaming hours for minors. Whatever. The edtech market in India is hot, and this could fit into it neatly.

Pillar: Pillar is building a health coaching platform to help Americans live healthier lifestyles and minimize costs associated with lifestyle-based diseases. The startup is aiming to build a solution that easily plugs into corporate health platforms, allowing clients to easily access health coaches.

SalaryBook: Pitched as “Gusto for India,” SalaryBook helps SMBs in India handle payroll, employee attendance and expenses. The company says it has 80,000 employers on the platform already.

Coinfeeds: Former Robinhood and Uber machine learning specialists are building a Bloomberg for crypto. The startup tracks and aggregates news, as well as social sentiment, for crypto enthusiasts. Users can customize their news feed to get specific information about their portfolio coins and also track broader trends such as upcoming tokens and legal developments.

Gobillion: Gobillion is taking the highly successful Pinduoduo model of group purchasing and applying it to India’s daily grocery buyers. Customers can band together and save 25%-40% by purchasing in bulk — and the team, vets of India’s e-commerce world, know how to get the retail giants on board.

Commery: An interesting flip on the commercial real estate marketplace. Commery lets tenants submit an ask for real estate, which brokers work to match. Brokers pay the startup. So far it has snagged 25 listings. The timing of this company is interesting thanks to a shift in the world away from IRL work, but as Commery also works with industrial spaces it could still have a market to sell into.

Neodocs: Neodocs is building a platform for instant lab tests that users in India can complete with their smartphone. The company has created a test helping track parameters with insights on liver health, kidney health, digestion, hydration and more.

Mentum: An API for fintech companies in Latin America to offer investment services. Currently available in 13 Latin American countries.

Nino Foods: With over $165,000 in monthly revenue, Nino Foods is building a cloud kitchens service for premium brands in India. Brands using Nino include Francesco’s Pizzeria and Nino Burgers. The startup is already profitable in three Mumbai locations.

Banner: Commercial real estate managers are handling billion-dollar projects in Excel, where a transposed digit or errant click can lead to a multimillion-dollar error. Why not have an OS for commercial real estate that makes it safer and more convenient? Oh, that’s what Banner is? Great!

Pideaky: A Square for Latin America. The startup helps neighborhood corner stores digitize payments, billing and internet operations, ultimately increasing revenue for these customers. It has $42,000 in monthly recurring revenue and is growing 30% monthly.

Talus Bio: Talus Bio is a drug discovery biotech startup focused on studying gene regulatory proteins in their natural cell environments. The company hopes this new platform will help further grasp the role of these proteins in various diseases and facilitate therapeutics that tackle them.

Freterium: A collaborative platform for managing shipments and transports, aiming to replace the complicated spreadsheets the industry uses today.

Nabla Bio: The startup co-develops antibody drugs “that are more likely to get approved” with pharmaceutical companies. The company has partnered with three top-tier companies resulting in $800,000 in revenue.

Clear: Skin care is super important to a whole lot of people, and they happen to also spend quite a bit on it. Clear is a debit card just for cosmetics and skin care, giving cash back on numerous brands. But it also grants access to a social media community of skin care enthusiasts who can share their routines … full of useful data for cosmetics companies, too!

Image Credits: Playhouse

Playhouse: Playing on the trend of browsing Zillow “for fun,” Playhouse is a mobile app for quickly perusing video listings of homes for sale. Co-founder Alex Perelman says the company’s most engaged users are watching 50+ videos on their first day alone.

Genuity: Genuity is building a SaaS platform that helps enterprises manage their IT and source business software. It’s a space with plenty of entrenched players, but Genuity is hoping to win over customers with an inexpensive offering that helps IT professionals get done what they need to.

InstaKin: Helps immigrants in the U.S. manage projects and tasks back in their home countries, connecting them with verified vendors from afar and handling payments securely.

Odiggo: The services platform helps Middle East/North Africa (MENA) consumers get car services within minutes. Some cities demand car owners have brand new tires or even limit dustiness of the vehicles, so Odiggo is in the business of completing those requests. In July, the company had $500,000 in GMV and $44,000 in revenue.

Covie: If you have an app or service that needs to check or track a customer’s insurance coverage to work, Covie wants to make it easy to do that right in the app. Most rental and car insurance policies are supported and they’re signing up providers and aggregators to simplify this process for everyone.

ShipBlu: Promising “Amazon level logistics” for companies in MENA, ShipBlu does 24-hour delivery with live tracking. Co-founder Ali Nasser says that 47 merchants have signed on so far.

Dime: Dime is building an NFT marketplace that’s more accessible to users looking to buy digital collectibles with USD not crypto. Crypto wallets are notoriously complicated, and Dime is hoping that they can combine the benefits of the blockchain with easier user onboarding.

Nomod: Helps international merchants process payments on their phone, minus the need for Square-style hardware.

Verano Health: Flagged as the nonprofit of the batch, Verano Health wants to help Medicaid patients access telehealth services. The startup uses SMS and digital coaching to help diabetic, underserved patients navigate their condition. Verano Health is raising $2 million in donations and, per the founder, expects to be profitable by 2023.

Pluggy: Pluggy is Plaid for Brazil: a simple way for developers to access users’ financial data, like bank accounts and investments, within an app or service. They’re totally focused on Brazil and already cover 90% of the banks there. With thousands of users already signed up they seem to be well on their way.

Algofi: A lending market built on the Algorand blockchain. Algofi’s Owen Colegrove says they hit over 2,000 users a week after launching. Scispot is building a project management platform for bio companies leveraging automation to help track projects, samples and inventory while collaborating with team members.

Image Credits: Muse

Muse: A no-code editor for building immersive 3D websites, charging $12 per site per month. Co-founder Benjamin Ha says users have built 300+ websites so far.

FloatPays: Payday lending can be one way to bring financial inclusion and access to underserved communities, and FloatPays wants to make it on-demand. The startup is building a wage access service built for African businesses and has landed 34 customers so far. It has also engaged with financial institutions, landing distribution partnerships with two African banks.

Zeit Medical: Zeit has created a wearable headband that warns users and caregivers of early signs of stroke while sleeping, preventing damage to the brain from progressing too far before treatment. I wrote them up here!

Kurios: Online courses for professionals in Latin America. Co-founder Carlos Lau says the company is currently seeing $60,000 revenue and 25% growth per month, with 90% of users completing their courses.

Buoyant Aero: Buoyant is using electric blimps to move air freight over medium-range distances, which the startup says is 4x more efficient than using small aircraft. The company has built four airships and is aiming to tackle the $6 billion rural U.S. middle-mile freight market. We wrote about them here!

Infiuss Health: Many clinical trials lack African participants, resulting in side effects/shortcomings that go undiscovered for far too long. Infiuss is a platform meant to allow U.S. and EU pharma companies to more efficiently run clinical trials in Africa.

KaiPod Learning: The Boston-based startup wants to be the go-to place for online learners and learning pod families to get in-person interactions into their curriculum. KaiPod learning grows through launching centers, reminiscent of Kumon and WeWork, that welcome children to swing by during the school day — either for a refresh in existing curriculum, or for some social activities with peers. Read more about Kaipod here.

SolarMente: SolarMente is a marketplace for solar rooftops focusing on Europe. They’re bringing in $120,000/month already for installations and financing, at about $10,000 per home. Spain is their first market because electricity costs are high — so SolarMente takes over the whole process, soup to nuts, and hopes to do so for millions more.

idemeum: Helps small/medium-sized businesses manage employee access to their ever-growing collection of SaaS apps, aiming to replace manual password-sharing with biometrics.

Revolve Surgical: Revolve is building surgical robots for operating rooms, aiming to create a device that’s much smaller (and cheaper!) than the incumbent solution.

Hotswap: Helps you onboard companies when they’re looking to switch from another vendor, breaking vendor lock-in and automating the import of complex data from one platform to another.

A woman sits in a chemotherapy clinic in a chair with Luminate's headset on.

Image Credits: Luminate / Wild Island Pictures

Luminate Medical: Hair loss from chemotherapy is one of the medical world’s most recognizable side effects, and Luminate may have a solution: a compression therapy helmet that prevents the drug cocktail from reaching and damaging the hair follicles. It’s on its way to clinical trials and FDA approval — you can read more about the company’s tech here.

Filta: Face filters are hugely popular on Snapchat and other apps, and Filta aims to monetize them with an NFT market for limited edition filters that creators can sell to their fans. Look for them on the app store in November.

Coinrule: Helps individual/retail investors automate their crypto trading. The team says it’s currently seeing $80,000 monthly recurring revenue, with an average of 30% MoM growth over the last 12 months.

Customily: A design tool for helping online stores sell more personalized products. Companies can use Customily to design, sell and print customizable products, letting users take control with their embeddable tool.

Union54: An API to help companies (think banks, fintechs and large retailers) issue debit cards in Africa.

HeyCharge: Patent-pending technology for customer-friendly indoor EV charging. HeyCharge wants to bring low-cost EV charging to offices and apartment buildings. Two unique bits of the startup’s tech: It claims to work offline and underground, a rarity for the industry.

Clarity: Clarity is a workspace for teams that focuses on simplicity without losing too much in capability. With document collaboration, project management and task tracking built in, it’s meant to reduce your tab load, organize and centralize.

QOA: Cocoa-free chocolate developed through precision fermentation, with the goal of making chocolate “10x more sustainable and 20% cheaper.”

Careerist: Edtech meets SaaS in Careerist’s job placement learning platform. The startup trains job seekers through live and self-paced training taught by third-party tutors. The adaptive learning software is meant to help candidates prep for tech interviews. Once a candidate is well equipped, Careerists uses automation to help them apply for jobs. The startup doesn’t require tuition until candidates are placed.

Abstra: A Figma-inspired no-code app builder meant for designers. Bruno Vieira Costa says the product, currently in beta, is seeing $2,000 in monthly recurring revenue with seven customers.

2Cents: 2Cents is building an Ethereum protocol for communities, basically bringing web3 dynamics to users wanting to create a Reddit-like community, turning active members into “owners” of the community.

Lago: Growth teams need to segment and sync customer data across lots of channels, like marketing, sales and more, but the existing tools for this are expensive, require engineering work and are generally enterprise-oriented. Lago does it no-code style so smaller teams can onboard quickly and simply with no extra hires or second mortgages.

Matrubials Inc.: Another startup in the health tech space, Matrubials is creating milk-derived therapeutics to target bacterial infections. It’s starting with a product that targets recurrent bacterial vaginosis with an antimicrobial peptide that attacks the bad bacteria, but not the healthy biome it is attacking. The company plans to target other infections in the future.

Encuadrado: Encuadrado is a payments and booking provider that helps entrepreneurs in the service industry in Latin America manage customer onboarding and logistics while minimizing unnecessary administrative work.

Reframe: An app that aims to use psych concepts to help users drink less and provides them with a private/anonymous support community. Co-founder Vedant Pradeep says 80% of their users see a “significant reduction” in alcohol consumption within two months.

Hypercore: Helps lenders automate workflows and access real-time analytics through software. The team estimates that more than 90% of private lenders use Excel or antiquated systems to manage processes, so Hypercore would be a welcome, albeit late, addition amid the broader landscape of digitization. The startup has $3,500 in monthly recurring revenue and launched officially during the accelerator.

Safer Management: Safer Management helps public schools track attendance, an important metric for funding — and, of course, education. It’s a modern system of QR codes and facial recognition that reliably tracks who’s in class. They’re already in 75 schools and two colleges and pulling in $621,000 yearly.

Fluke: Google Fi is a MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator here in the United States. Fluke is building something similar, but for Brazil. The company says that Brazilian mobile carriers offer poor service, which they want to take on. The startup also won our heart for talking about its CAC and LTV results, both of which it claims are better than its in-market competition.

Pipekit: Pipekit is looking to help enterprise customers scale their data pipelines quickly, with a control panel for Argo workflows, allowing for speedy implementation.

Image Credits: Zen

Zen: Webcam-based posture correction software that alerts the user when they’re slouching. Meant to be offered as a perk to employees to reduce a company’s workers’ comp costs.

Meticulous: A tool to catch bugs in web applications. The startup reduces the need for manual/integration testing, freeing up developer time to work on more complicated issues. The startup has two pilots and one secured deal for its software.

Fingo Africa: Fingo Africa has a simple proposition: a pan-African neobank backed by the biggest traditional bank on the continent. It plans to cut fees from 10% of payments to 1% and make money anyway with volume. Sounds like it’s going to work to me.

SliceQ: Sure, some startups are building delivery robots and ordering systems that include new tech. But SliceQ wants to take a very old tech and refurbish it for the modern world. The service lets restaurants take orders over the phone using automation technology. The startup claims that its service helps its customers boost sales by 10%, and it helped process $200,000 in GMV last month.

Carbonfact: The sustainability startup is creating a carbon footprint database for consumer products, helping certify companies that have low-carbon-output product offerings and providing a tool for comparing a company’s sustainability efforts to industry averages. In the past 10 weeks, the company has onboarded 20 brands to the platform.

Cloudthread: Analytics meant to help engineers build for the cloud more cost-efficiently, and incorporate cost into engineering decision-making.

Pabio: This startup wants to make furnishing your apartment a light lift, metaphorically speaking. For a monthly subscription, Pabio creates a 3D scan of your apartment, has it professionally furnished by an interior designer, and then offers rent-to-own furniture that matches your aesthetic. The service is currently available in Switzerland but is soon expanding to other countries.

Plai: Plai is an ad tool for microbusinesses that lets people like Etsy sellers and YouTubers launch targeted ads from their phones in seconds. It’s a simple, low-risk way to get your brand out there, and with more people than ever working for themselves, that’s an attractive proposition.

ContraForce: ContraForce wants to bring security alerts and other related incidents into a single place. The company claims five customers and $75,000 in current ARR. Security breaches plague businesses of all sizes, with ContraForce pitching itself as more of a product for the SMB market.

Inspector Cloud: Inspector Cloud is building computer vision software that helps consumer brands track how their products are being displayed at physical retailers. The analytics software help brands audit their network and analyze the effectiveness of stores selling their products.

Image Credits: Deed

Deed: A modern, super pretty take on the backend powering your employee’s charity/donation/volunteering system. Handles donation matching, volunteer hours, etc. Already working with companies like Airbnb, Stripe, Doordash and Adidas. We wrote about Deed here.

Genei: Too long, didn’t read? Good, meet Genei. This startup has created a way for content writers to get cliff notes on background reading to boost productivity, and speed up the time it takes to comprehend a complicated topic. Automatic summarization may be the use case that robots and writing can actually pull off, versus the controversial world of article generation. It’s starting by selling to freelance writers and has $9,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

Orderli: It’s Square, but for Europe! Easy to explain, probably super hard to build. Orderli works as a point-of-sale system and is already in 57 bars and pubs and pulling in over $600,000 in receipts.

Portão 3: The market for products to make corporate travel and expenses is never-ending, as most existing products are awful. Portão 3 (Gate 3) wants to make better travel and expense software for the Latin American market. The company is notable in that expense management and travel management are sometimes distinct products. Brex is not Travelocity, for example. But by bringing both together the company could offer a more cohesive solution than other products.

Pactima: Pactima is building an e-signature platform that reaches the use cases that DocuSign can’t, letting users tap real-time video-signing when a witness is required as well as in-person digital signing.

Shopscribe: Subscriptions for local shops! Think coffee shops pre-selling a weekly coffee at a discount, or nail salons selling regular manicures. Shopscribe takes a 10% cut of each subscription.

Preki: A way to help LatAm businesses create cheap, easy-to-use websites. In July, Preki hit $4,000 in GMV, and its Shopify-competitive software currently services 208 merchants.

Aleph Solutions: A tool for offline businesses to bring their services online. Aleph Solutions is building an online marketplace for resellers, which it monetizes through a SaaS and transaction fee whenever a sale occurs. It revealed 18% month-over-month growth, with $115,000 monthly recurring revenue.

Datlo: Datlo is building a data analysis service for Latin American companies. It wants to help customers’ sales and marketing teams import large datasets, sort them and visualize the results. So far it has landed two large Brazilian banks as customers and reached $20,000 MRR. Our question is how the product is tuned for the Latin American market as opposed to the larger world. Regardless, it sounds cool.

TrackChain: TrackChain is an online freight marketplace for Latin America that’s looking to streamline logistics for shippers and carriers moving freight through the region. The company currently has 600 carrier companies onboard.

Chari: Next-day item procurement for small retailers in North Africa. The company says it’s seeing a monthly GMV of $1.4 million after launching 18 months ago.

Palenca: Palenca lets employers in LatAm share and check employment records, do background checks and identity verification, then offer financial services based on that data. You know they’re going to be a success because, as the founder noted, they’re literally the only option for this! Hopefully this kind of accountability benefits the workers as well as the employers.

Flow Club: A virtual coworking space modeled on group fitness classes and social clubs intended to motivate people to work in sprints. Join for a few hours when you need that push to stop procrastinating — and who doesn’t every once in a while in this day and age?

Onfolk: The success of Gusto in the United States in terms of both securing capital and customers is drawing startups into creating similar companies targeted for their home markets. Onfolk is building a Gusto-like service for Europe. Given the number of companies in the larger EU, it won’t lack for TAM. And since it intends to monetize through B2B SaaS, investors shouldn’t struggle to understand how it intends to scale.

Pide Directo: The startup is building a white-labeled solution for local businesses in Latin America to sell and deliver to their customers, teaming an online storefront, marketing service and delivery network.

Codex: Deeper collaboration for programmers, built especially for remote/async teams. Lets you, for example, highlight code in your editor, determine who wrote it and request information without switching screens.

Image Credits: Tablevibe

Tablevibe: Customer loyalty is an important objective for restaurants, so Tablevibe wants to find ways to better track and engage folks while they’re chowing down. The startup helps capture feedback through QR-code-based surveys, exchanging loyalty incentives for insights. So far, the early-stage startup has landed 100 paying customers, tracked 25,000 experiences and positioned itself ahead of the industry’s digitization beyond Toast.

Lernit: Lernit is a corporate learning platform aimed at the LatAm market. Companies can train their employees and track their performance gains, simply and with plenty of built-in features.

Café: The remote work boom is now so entrenched that startups are being built to make remote work better. Cafe is one of them. The company wants to help remote and hybrid workers figure out where to work from each day. Apparently the answer is not, well, in your home office. The company has $8,000 in MRR and sees a future where offices are optional and not mandatory.

Búho Contable: The startup is building a TurboTax for Mexico, building out a tech-enabled tax filing and accounting firm geared toward helping small businesses in the country navigate the process.

Payflow: A mobile app that allows employees in Spain and Latin America to “get paid whenever they want,” rather than waiting for their paycheck to come in monthly bursts. Free for employees, it’s sold to companies as a perk. The company says there are currently 40,000 employees on the platform.

Argus: A compliance tool for employees with investment restrictions. Personal trading can be complicated for employees at banks, law firms and crypto exchanges due to potential conflicts of interests and various other restrictions. Eventually, Argus wants to become an investment adviser for these employees — right now, it’s just starting by helping them not screw up.

Cabal: Cabal is a private workspace for founders, investors and advisers to update one another and organize things like equity distributions. Sure, you could do it in Slack or something, but this one is built with the startup and stakeholder crew in mind. Plus it’s cool to be able to say “join our Cabal.”

Hedgehog: Back to the robo-adviser theme, Hedgehog is an SEC-approved service that helps consumers buy crypto products. It claims to offer trades at the best possible price, and $70 million in AUM. Personalized crypto advice is a neat idea, given that mostly what we’re told on Twitter is either “hodl” or “go fuck yourself.” If Hedgehog can scale its AUM, Coinbase might swoop in with its checkbook.

Examedi: Examedi is a home healthcare marketplace for Latin America helping consumers match with healthcare providers and take at-home medical exams on their own schedule. The company grew 160% in August.

Potion: AI to help R&D teams (starting with beauty companies) formulate their products, replacing processes that generally require lengthy trial-and-error with simulation.

Trii: Launched six months ago, Trii is a U.S. and local stock investment platform for retail investors in LatAm. Across its 30,000 users, the startup has processed more than $60,000 in transactions and has $10 million in assets under management. Trii looks to circumvent local brokers, who have high fees and required minimums, with $2 per trade fee and no required minimum.

Synder: E-commerce companies need to do accounting too, but as we’ve seen suggested by other companies, it’s not particularly easy or simple. Synder aims to automate as much as possible, looping in all the major sales platforms and doing the bean-counting magic every company needs to do to make sure they’re actually making money. With 3,900 customers already, it seems plenty of folks were waiting for something like this.

OneSchema: CSV imports can be a bit of a mess, and cleaning up data is a huge pain in the backside. OneSchema wants to hammer on both issues at the same time with a spreadsheet UI that can correct CSV data, in theory allowing customers to upload data with fewer errors. Excel holds up much of the modern world, and lots of folks stuck making Microsoft’s spreadsheet tool work for their needs could use some help. Let’s see if OneSchema can help.

Image Credits: Onebrief

Onebrief: Talk about purpose built. Onebrief is a tool built to help military headquarters with their joint planning needs, while keeping things presentation-ready in order to boot out PowerPoint. The company says it recently signed a $350,000 deal with a four-star military HQ.

CostCertified: CostCertified is building a marketplace for players in the residential construction world, allowing suppliers, contractors and consumers to connect inside a single platform, ensuring that estimates stay accurate and minimizing surprises.

Legion Health: Helps psychiatrists and therapists sell their time to telehealth companies by the hour.

Ahazou: A SaaS-platform for local businesses in LatAm bring businesses online through services such as payment processing, digital marketing and reviews. It is the latest startup aimed at helping local shops, from nail salons to painters, prepare for a post-COVID landscape. Over 16,000 companies pay for Ahazou’s software, resulting in $1.2 million in annual recurring revenue. Still, it’s just a drop in the bucket for what the team estimates will be a $4 billion market of local business in LatAm.

Dots: If you’re a seller or service provider, the platform you sell on may very well not want to pay you in the way you want to be paid, whether that’s old-school ACH or instant transfer via Venmo or CashApp. Dots provides a single API to marketplaces that lets them pay out via any of those methods and more, simplifying the finances of everyone involved.

PaletteHQ: If you haven’t worked in a sales team, you might not be aware of how the commission process works. It varies company to company, and can change based on evolving corporate goals and product releases. So managing a commission setup that sales folks can understand — and therefore find motivating — is complex. Palette wants to shake up the issue with software and has reached $10,000 in MRR thus far. Twist: Sales people selling sales-focused software to sales team leaders? Surely that’s an advantageous market perch.

Inai: A no-code platform for handling payments globally. It hooks into your payment providers (like Stripe, Paypal), fraud tools (like Sift) and tax tools and wraps them all up in a easy to configure dashboard.

Artillery: Pitched as a “modern load testing” platform, Artillery hammers your product with traffic (millions of requests per second originating across 13+ different regions) so there are no surprises later. Analyzes customer and prospect data to help companies identify hidden revenue opportunities. The no-code scoring engine has attracted $185,000 in annual recurring revenue to help startups make sure they don’t leave any lucrative breadcrumbs behind. Non-obvious revenue may just pique investor interest, especially when it comes to serving their portfolio companies.

Protex AI: Protex AI is a computer vision company that identifies dangers in industrial workplaces before they become a problem. Maybe that’s workers too close to dangerous processes, or a machine starting to fail or something catastrophic — catching them even a second or two earlier might avoid disaster. Their first install caught 60% more safety violations than human monitoring, an increase that might alone justify the company’s $25,000 per site fee.

ContainIQ: An easy to install platform for monitoring Kubernetes events and metrics over time, with hooks like Slack support for alerting your team when things break.

Epsilon3, Inc.: Built by a team with hundreds of rocket launches under their belt, Epsilon3 is an “operating system” for spacecraft launches (and other complex operations) — effectively taking the ridiculously complicated but too often still paper-based procedures/workflows and making them digital.

Hotglue: A developer tool designed to help create native SaaS integrations with data sources in minutes, aiming to help users sidestep jumping through development and maintenance hoops.

Extra Crunch roundup: Toast and Freshworks S-1s, pre-pitch tips, flexible funding lessons

By Walter Thompson

The digital transformation currently sweeping society has likely reached your favorite local restaurant.

Since 2013, Boston-based Toast has offered bars and eateries a software platform that lets them manage orders, payments and deliveries.

Over the last year, its customers have processed more than $38 billion in gross payment volume, so Alex Wilhelm analyzed the company’s S-1 for The Exchange with great interest.

“Toast was last valued at just under $5 billion when it last raised, per Crunchbase data,” he writes. “And folks are saying that it could be worth $20 billion in its debut. Does that square with the numbers?”

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Airbnb, DoorDash and Coinbase each debuted at past Y Combinator Demo Days; as of this writing, they employ a combined 10,000 people.

Today and tomorrow, TechCrunch reporters will cover the proceedings at YC’s Summer 20201 Demo Day. In addition to writing up founder pitches, they’ll also rank their favorites.

Even remotely, I can feel a palpable sense of excitement radiating from our team — anything can happen at YC Demo Day, so sign up for Extra Crunch to follow the action.

Thanks very much for reading; I hope you have an excellent week.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch

How Amazon EC2 grew from a notion into a foundational element of cloud computing

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

In August 2006, AWS activated its EC2 cloud-based virtual computer, a milestone in the cloud infrastructure giant’s development.

“You really can’t overstate what Amazon was able to accomplish,” writes enterprise reporter Ron Miller.

In the 15 years since, EC2 has enabled clients of any size to test and run their own applications on AWS’ virtual machines.

To learn more about a fundamental technological shift that “would help fuel a whole generation of startups,” Ron interviewed EC2 VP Dave Brown, who built and led the Amazon EC2 Frontend team.

3 ways to become a better manager in the work-from-home era

Image of a manager talking to his team via a video conference.

Image Credits: Jasmin Merdan (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Most managers agree that OKRs foster transparency and accountability, but running a team effectively has different challenges when workers are attending all-hands meetings from their kitchen tables.

Instead of just discussing key metrics before board meetings or performance reviews, make them part of the day-to-day culture, recommends Jeremy Epstein, Gtmhub’s CMO.

“Strengthen your team by creating authentic workplace transparency using numbers as a universal language and providing meaning behind your team’s work.”

The pre-pitch: 7 ways to build relationships with VCs

A person attracts people to his side with a magnet.

Image Credits: Getty Images under an Andrii Yalanskyi (opens in a new window) license

Many founders must overcome a few emotional hurdles before they’re comfortable pitching a potential investor face-to-face.

To alleviate that pressure, Unicorn Capital founder Evan Fisher recommends that entrepreneurs use pre-pitch meetings to build and strengthen relationships before asking for a check:

“This is the ‘we actually aren’t looking for money; we just want to be friends for now’ pitch that gets you on an investor’s radar so that when it’s time to raise your next round, they’ll be far more likely to answer the phone because they actually know who you are.”

Pre-pitches are good for more than curing the jitters: These conversations help founders get a better sense of how VCs think and sometimes lead to serendipitous outcomes.

“Investors are opportunists by necessity,” says Fisher, “so if they like the cut of your business’s jib, you never know — the FOMO might start kicking hard.”

Lessons from COVID: Flexible funding is a must for alternative lenders

Flexible Multi Colored Coil Crossing Hexagon Frame on White Background.

Image Credits: MirageC (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

FischerJordan’s Deeba Goyal and Archita Bhandari break down the pandemic’s impact on alternative lenders, specifically what they had to do to survive the crisis, taking a look at smaller lenders including Credibly, Kabbage, Kapitus and BlueVine.

“Only those who were able to find a way through the complexities of their existing capital sources were able to maintain their performance, and the rest were left to perish or find new funding avenues,” they write.

Inside Freshworks’ IPO filing

Customer engagement software company Freshworks’ S-1 filing depicts a company that’s experiencing accelerating revenue growth, “a great sign for the health of its business,” reports Alex Wilhelm in this morning’s The Exchange.

“Most companies see their growth rates decline as they scale, as larger denominators make growth in percentage terms more difficult.”

Studying the company’s SEC filing, he found that “Freshworks isn’t a company where we need to cut it lots of slack, as we might with an adjusted EBITDA number. It is going public ready for Big Kid metrics.”

This YC Summer batch features the largest group of African startups yet

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Y Combinator’s summer batch of 2021 features 377 startups from 47 countries. It’s the 33rd Demo Day of the well-known accelerator and holds the largest cohort yet. YC S20 had 198 startups, so that’s a 90% increase from last year.

About half of the companies represented are based outside the U.S. The countries with the most representatives (aside from the U.S.) include India, with 33 startups; the U.K., with 18 startups; Mexico with 17; Singapore with 12; and Canada and Brazil, 11 each.

While the Demo Day for this year’s winter batch was held in a day, it’s two days for this summer batch. Today, 189 companies will pitch, while the rest will pitch tomorrow.

African startups also increased from 10 in the winter batch to 15 this time around, a record for African startups in a single YC cohort.

“This is the largest batch we have ever funded and it’s about 50% international. As a result, it is not surprising that this is the largest cohort from Africa,” Y Combinator managing director and group partner Michael Seibel told TechCrunch when asked if any extra factor contributed to the rise in accepted African startups.

Another valid reason for the uptick could be that YC is getting more applications from Africa due to the recent success stories of Paystack and Flutterwave. At least, that’s the view shared by Kat Mañalac, the head of Outreach at YC.

“Alumni are always the best spokespeople and representatives for YC. A lot of African founders (and future founders) I’ve spoken to were encouraged by seeing Paystack do so well and get acquired. The success of a lot of our African alumni are inspiring more African teams to apply,” she told TechCrunch.

Nigeria leads the way again with five startups, while Egypt has four, Morocco has two, and Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and South Africa each have one. Here’s the list of African startups that made it to YC S21 in alphabetical order.

Amenli (Egypt)

Africa has the lowest insurance penetrations globally. In Egypt, the insurance penetration rate stands at a minuscule 1%.

Amenli, founded by Shady El Tohfa and Adham Nauman in 2020, is addressing an untapped $2 billion market, being the first licensed online insurance broker in the country.

Chari (Morocco)

This year, a wave of disruption of digitizing informal retail stores is sweeping across emerging markets, and Chari is joining in on the action.

Sophia Alj and Ismael Belkhayat founded Chari in 2020. The company allows traditional retailers in Morocco and some parts of North Africa to order consumer goods via its platform and handles free delivery to their stores. Chari has a fintech side by providing these retailers with credit.

Fingo (Kenya)

Neobanks have taken the world by storm and Africa is the last frontier for this brand of fintech innovation. Fingo is providing an alternative brand of banking to African millennials, starting from Kenya.

Founded by Kiiru Muhoya Gitari Tirima James da Costa and Ian Njuguna in 2020, the digital bank claims to offer fees 90% cheaper than traditional banks in Kenya, among other services.

FloatPays (South Africa)

In South Africa, up to 5 million employees borrow money to meet their monthly needs when they exhaust their salaries. However, the lending options for these employees come with outrageous interest rates.

Simon Ward founded FloatPays in 2019 as an on-demand wage access platform to help employees access, spend, save and manage their money.

Freterium (Morocco)

Managers of delivery businesses handle hundreds or thousands of delivery points every day. With a fleet made up of many trucks or vans, there’s a need to drop a delivery plan for each at different locations daily. How do they optimize for costs and efficiency at the same time?

Enter Freterium. The company allows contractors, manufacturers, distributors and logisticians to plan and optimize their B2B or B2C shipments while providing a cloud platform for real-time visibility of shipments, logistics infrastructure and seamless collaboration that breaks down traditional organizational silos. Omar El Kouhene and Mehdi Cherif Alami founded Freterium in 2018.

Infiuss Health (Nigeria)

A large number of Africans are exempt from clinical research studies due to time constraints. Per reports, it can take up to ten months to conduct such studies in these climes.

Infiuss Health says it is building a decentralized platform for remote research and clinical trials in Africa. How? By connecting researchers directly to patients who want to participate in clinical research studies in less than a week.

The company was founded by Melissa Bime and Mbah Charles in 2020.

Lemonade Finance (Nigeria)

There are millions of African immigrants in Europe and North America. Some have established businesses in both these regions and also in Africa.

In another digital banking play, Lemonade Finance provides multi-currency accounts for these migrants to enable seamless transactions and banking. The company was founded by Rian Cochran and Ridwan Olalere in 2020

Mecho Autotech (Nigeria)

Repairing one’s vehicle can be a painstaking process in Africa due to pricing and quality issues. The latter is because many of these professionals (mechanics) are unvetted.

Ayoola Akinkunmi and Olusegun Owoade started Mecho Autotech in 2021 as an on-demand auto maintenance and repairs platform. Mecho Autotech has created a network of vetted mechanics, and via an app, car owners can book and pay for their services.

Odiggo (Egypt)

Like its predecessor on this list, Odiggo connects car owners with mobile mechanics in the Middle East. On the platform, car owners can also access extra services, which include car washing and maintenance.

Although Odiggo lists as a Dubai-based company on the YC database, it has origins in Egypt and launched operations first in the North African country.

Payhippo (Nigeria)

Access to credit is still very much a problem to the millions of small and medium businesses in Nigeria, which make up most of the country’s businesses.

Founded by Zach Bijesse, Uche Nnadi and Chioma Okotcha in 2019, Payhippo provides loans to businesses that couldn’t ordinarily get loans or credit cards from banks or other financial institutions.

Pylon (Egypt)

Water and electricity distribution companies face losses from leakages and thefts when opening new revenue streams in emerging markets.

Pylon acts as an infrastructure management platform for these distribution companies and helps to reduce these losses. It was founded in 2017 by Ahmed Ashour and Omar Radi.

ShipBlu (Egypt)

When merchants start to grow their e-commerce businesses, it can be difficult to manage the end-to-end delivery and fulfilment needs. Several platforms are already offering solutions to this ever-growing need in Egypt, and ShipBlu is adding to that list.

Founded by Ahmed ElKawass, Abdelrahman Hosny and Ali Nasser in 2020, ShipBlu claims to offer a full suite of delivery services for e-commerce merchants from overnight to delivery to five- to seven-day delivery.

Suplias (Nigeria)

Another digitizing-informal-retail-stores play, this time from Nigeria. Suplias is a B2B marketplace where mom-and-pop stores in Africa buy inventory directly from manufacturers using a mobile app.

The company was founded by Stephen Igwue, Michael Adesanya and Sefa Ikyaator in 2019.

Union54 (Zambia)

African fintechs are in the business of providing virtual and physical cards to their customers. However, it doesn’t come easy and cheap when done in partnership with banks.

Union54 is an alternative and provides an API for them to issue debit cards cheaper and faster. It was founded by Alessandra Martini and Perseus Mlambo in 2021.

Yemaachi Biotechnology (Ghana)

Yaw Attua-Afari, Yaw Bediako, David Hutchful and Joyce Ngoi founded Yemaachi Biotechnology in 2020. The startup’s idea is to diversify precision cancer diagnostics and treatments across the continent, starting with Ghana.

An estimated 752,000 new cancer cases, 4% of the world’s total, occurred in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018. Yemaachi is working to lower the burden cancer causes by creating molecular diagnostics optimized for all Africans.

Extra Crunch roundup: Pre-pitch tactics, Warby Parker S-1, Israel’s fintech ecosystem

By Walter Thompson

Forget what you’ve heard: There are many shortcuts to success.

Tapping into someone else’s experience is a tried-and-true method, which is why two-time Y Combinator participant Chris Morton wrote a guest post for Extra Crunch with advice for founders hoping to be accepted by the famed accelerator.

Morton, who has also reviewed thousands of YC applications, shares his thoughts on when to submit an application, what to do if you miss the deadline and whether you’ll need to relocate if accepted.

“Remember that your application should be good enough to get an interview, not win a prize,” says Morton. “Go back to work instead of spending more time perfecting an application.”

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Robert Katai

Image Credits: Robert Katai under a license.

In an interview with reporter Anna Heim, Romania-based marketer Robert Katai discussed some of the methods he uses to help clients refine their content and branding strategies.

“Today, content creation is free — everybody can do it. The hard part is how you distribute and amplify that.”

Katai also shared his impressions of Romania’s startup ecosystem, suggestions for maintaining top-of-mind status with customers, and reinforced the often-overlooked need to continually repurpose content to grab mindshare.

Like our other growth marketing interviews, there’s no paywall.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week! I hope you have a fantastic weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch

Why global investors are flocking to back Latin American startups

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Latin America’s increasingly dynamic venture capital scene has been making headlines of late. To learn more about why investors are so enthusiastic, senior reporter Mary Ann Azevedo spoke to several who are actively engaged with the region:

  • Shu Nyatta, managing partner, SoftBank
  • Ethan Choi, partner, Accel
  • Julie Ruvolo, director of venture capital, LAVCA
  • Bill Cilluffo, partner, QED Investors
  • Ana Cristina Gadala-Maria, principal, QED Investors
  • Ross Darwin, principal, Owl Ventures

“I am not surprised by all the activity,” Mary Ann writes. “However, I am a bit taken aback by the sheer number of rounds, the caliber of firms leading them and the sky-high valuations.

“It seems that the region is finally, and deservedly, being taken seriously. This is likely just the beginning.”

Corporate venture capital follows the same trend as other VC markets: Up

Corporations are not remaining on the sidelines of the fiery 2021 venture capital game, Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim note in The Exchange.

After parsing data from CB Insights and Stryber and chatting with a handful of investors, Alex and Anna concluded that the corporate venture capital market looks a lot like other VC markets.

“Perhaps this should not be a surprise,” they write. “We’ve seen non-venture funds flow into the later stages of startup land, pushing VCs toward earlier-stage and more venture-y deals. Why would CVCs be immune to the same trend?”

Ramp and Brex draw diverging market plans with M&A strategies

Image Credits: Bryan Mullennix (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Corporate spending management startup Brex raised a $300 million Series C and acquired Buyer just a week after rival Brex announced it had acquired Israeli fintech Weav.

Ryan Lawler and Alex Wilhelm dug into the Ramp-Brex rivalry, and what those acquisitions say about their diverging strategies.

“From a high level, all of the recent deal-making in corporate cards and spend management shows that it’s not enough to just help companies track what employees are expensing these days,” they write.

“As the market matures and feature sets begin to converge, the players are seeking to differentiate themselves from the competition.”

Boston’s startup market is more than setting records in scorching start to year

Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim interviewed VCs and corralled data to present a detailed picture of Boston’s startup funding scene.

“Boston is benefiting from larger structural changes to at least the U.S. venture capital market, helping close historical gaps in its startup funding market and access funds that previously might have skipped the region,” they write.

“And local university density isn’t hurting the city’s cause, either, boosting its ability to form new companies during a period of rich investment access.”

Europe’s quick-commerce startups are overhyped: Lessons from China

Image of a motorcycle courier speeding down a street.

Image Credits: Andrew Holt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Half of the companies offering instant grocery delivery in Europe were founded last year as the pandemic reshaped most aspects of our existence.

To date, they’ve raised about $2 billion, but Picus Capital’s Alexander Kremer says startup lessons from China suggest that “instant delivery is not the magic bullet to crack the dominance” of old-school grocery players.

“If the performance of online grocery platforms in China (a market five to seven years ahead of Europe in terms of online retail) is anything to go by, a range of B2C business models would be more likely to displace the traditional grocery retailers.”

D2C specs purveyor Warby Parker files to go public

For The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm examines the S-1 filing from Warby Parker, “a consumer hardware company with two main sales channels, largely attractive economics, falling losses and rising adjusted profitability. You could even argue that it handled the pandemic well, despite COVID-19’s negative impact on its operations.”

But how are its growth prospects?

Dear Sophie: Can I still get a green card through marriage if I’m divorcing?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I received a conditional green card after my wife and I got married in 2019. Recently, we have made the difficult decision to end our marriage. I want to continue living and working in the United States.

Is it still possible for me to complete my green card based on my marriage through the I-751 process or do I need to do something else, like ask my employer to sponsor me for a work visa?

— Better to Have Loved and Lost

Using AI to reboot brand-client relationships

Artificial intelligence robot arm and businessman completing gear jigsaw puzzle (teamwork).

Image Credits: Getty Images under an alashi (opens in a new window)license.

Marketing automation can help boost key metrics, but it can also be a disservice to brands by perpetually devaluing goods and services, ShareThis’ Michael Gorman writes in a guest column.

Companies with a narrow focus on driving conversions are missing the bigger picture: AI can help create richer experiences that identify consumer actions and intent while also improving customer experiences.

“We live in a world rich with data, and insights are growing more vibrant every day,” he writes.

Israel’s maturing fintech ecosystem may soon create global disruptors

Abstract of israel map network, internet and global connection concept, Wire Frame 3D mesh polygonal network line, design sphere, dot and structure. Vector illustration eps 10. (Abstract of israel map network, internet and global connection concept, W

Image Credits: Thitima Thongkham (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Fintech startups based in Israel raised more than $1.8 billion in 2019, but in Q1 2021, companies in the category raised $1.1 billion.

Facilitating a wide range of services, more than a dozen fintech unicorns have already emerged in a country that has a population slightly smaller than Los Angeles County, many of them started by entrepreneurs who lacked financial backgrounds.

“So what is it about Israeli-founded fintech startups that stand out from their scaling neighbors across the pond?” asks Flint Capital’s Tel Aviv-based investor, Adi Levanon.

Forbes jumps into hot media liquidity summer with a SPAC combo

For The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm takes stock of Forbes’ SPAC combination during a week when POLITICO was snatched up for more than $1 billion by Axel Springer and just a few months after BuzzFeed went public via a blank-check company.

“Is it the most exciting debut? No,” he writes.

“But it does highlight that with enough sheer gumption, one can take a magazine business into the digital age and keep aggregate revenue growing. That’s worth something.”

Are B2B SaaS marketers getting it wrong?

A square peg forced into a round hole. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.

Image Credits: mevans (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Technical jargon is one of the most annoying aspects of technology marketing.

Sadly, it tends to perpetuate itself: Marketers are terrified of making a wrong move, so they tend to copy what everyone else is doing.

If you want to attract customers and drive higher conversions, cut the jargon.

“Do everything you can to be immediately understood and you’ll have a much better chance of cutting through the noise and pushing clear and persuasive benefits in a way no prospect can resist,” advises Konrad Sanders, CEO of The Creative Copywriter.

Stipop offers developers and creators instant access to a huge global sticker library

By Taylor Hatmaker

With more than 270,000 stickers, Stipop’s library of colorful, character-driven expressions has a little something for everyone.

The company offers keyboard and social app stickers through ad-supported mobile apps on iOS and Android, but it’s recently focused more on providing stickers to developers, creators and other online businesses.

“We were able to gather so many artists because we actually began as our own app that provided stickers,” Stipop co-founder Tony Park told TechCrunch. The team took what they learned from running their own consumer-facing app — namely that collecting and licensing hundreds of thousands of stickers from artists around the world is hard work — and adapted their business to help solve that problem for others.

Stipop was the first Korean company to go through Yellow, Snapchat’s exclusive accelerator. The company is also part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 cohort.

Stipop’s sticker library is accessible through an SDK and an API, letting developers slot the searchable sticker library into their existing software. The company already has more than 200 companies that tap into its huge sticker trove, which offers a “single-day solution” for a process that would otherwise necessitate a lot more legwork. Stipop launched a website recently that helps developers integrate its SDK and API through quick installs.

“They can just add a single line of code inside their product and will have a fully customized sticker feature [so] users will be able to spice up their chats,” Park said.

Park points out that stickers encourage engagement — and for social software, engagement means growth. Stickers are a playful way to send characters back and forth in chat, but they also pop up in a number of other less obvious spots, from dating apps to ecommerce and ridesharing apps. Stipop even drives the sticker search in work collaboration software Microsoft Teams.

The company has already partnered with Google, which uses Stipop’s sticker library in Gboard, Android Messages and Tenor, a GIF keyboard platform that Google bought in 2018. That partnership drove 600 million sticker views within the first month. A new partnership between Stipop and Coca-Cola on the near horizon will add Coke-branded stickers to its sticker library and the company is opening its doors to more brands that understand the unique appeal of stickers in messaging apps.

Park says that people tend to compare stickers and gifs, two ways of wordlessly expressing emotion and social nuance, but stickers are a world unto themselves. Stickers exist in their own creative universe, with star artists, regional themes and original casts of characters that take on a life of their own among fans. “Sticker creators have their own profession,” Park said.

Visual artists can also find a lot of traction releasing stickers, even without sophisticated illustrations. And since they’re all about meaning rather than refinement, non-designers and less skilled artists can craft hit stickers too.

“Stickers are great for them because it [is] so easy to go viral,” Park said. The company has partnered with 8,000 sticker creators across 25 languages, helping those artists monetize their creations and generate income based on how many times a sticker is shared.

Stickers command their own visual language around the world, and Park has observed interesting cultural differences in how people use them to communicate. In the West, stickers are often used in place of text, but in Asia, where they’re used much more frequently, people usually send stickers to enhance rather than replace the meaning of text.

In East Asia, users tend to prefer simple black and white stickers, but in India and Saudi Arabia, bright, golden stickers top the trends. In South America, popular stickers take on a more pixelated, unique quality that resonates culturally there.

“With stickers, you fall in love with [the] characters you send… that becomes you,” Park said.

As 5G demand grows, Sitenna helps telcos find more cell tower locations, faster

By Danny Crichton

The buildout of 5G networks continues apace, with wide-scale deployments across much of the developed world. Yet, one of the largest challenges with closing the gaps in coverage maps are constraints on 5G transmissions. Because of the spectrum that 5G technology uses compared to 4G, telecom operators need to install many times more towers to deliver the advertised bandwidth with the same quality signal that users expect.

Installing cell towers is a daunting proposition though. An operator has to find exactly the right location in terms of line of sight to users, then make sure the location has power and internet access, and then negotiate a contract with the property owner to keep the tower there for a decade or more. Now repeat tens of thousands of times (and maybe even more).

Sitenna, which will debut next week as part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 Demo Day, wants to radically speed up the process of selecting tower sites and securing contracts, creating a marketplace for landlords, tower operators and telcos alike.

Tower siting and access to poles have in some cases emerged as national infrastructure priorities. In the United States, the challenges around installing new towers — and new towers quickly — became a top priority of the FCC during the Trump administration, which launched a 5G FAST Plan to try to ease regulations around tower installation.

Sitenna’s founders Daniel Campion and Brian Sexton saw an opportunity with such programs to help with the movement. Over the past year, they have built out what is essentially a marketplace that on one hand, helps property owners figure out if they have an asset that’s worth investigating for telecom usage, and on the other, helps tower operators select and digitally sign deals for installation.

Sitenna co-founder and CEO Daniel Campion. Image Credits: Sitenna

The company launched in the United Kingdom in June, and “it kind of resonated,” Campion said, noting that 65,000 real estate assets and roughly 15% of the towers in the UK are now on the platform. The company has kicked off two pilots with Vodafone and its tower provider Cornerstone. He said the company intends to enter the U.S. market in the first quarter of next year.

While the company is starting with a marketplace, like many startups today, it is also augmenting that marketplace with B2B SaaS tools. In its case, that means tools for telcos to manage the process of onboarding a new tower location and then managing the asset. “Once they find the site, they ping pong emails back and forth,” Campion said. “So we have built some tools to help them on their workflows.”

Sitenna’s platform allows landlords and tower operators to inspect and transact tower locations. Image Credits: Sitenna

While there is definitely a large wave of tower installations underway now with the transition to 5G wireless, that wave doesn’t mean that tower installation will suddenly dry up in a few years. Campion notes that there is a “continual refresh of 15-20% on the carrier side” due to everything from changing usage patterns and building redevelopment to just standard hardware replacement.

And of course, there is always 6G, which while completely amorphous today, is a real thing that I get invites to conferences for. There’s always going to be a next generation of wireless, and Sitenna wants to become the center for managing that infrastructure.

Accounting platform Synder raises $2M to automate e-commerce bookkeeping

By Christine Hall

As Synder’s two co-founders Michael Astreiko and Ilya Kisel wrap up their time at Y Combinator, they also announced their seed round of $2 million from TMT Investments.

Though the round was acquired before going into the accelerator program, the Belarus-based pair wanted to wait to publicly share the milestone. As they focus their sights on their next journey of growth and expansion, the new funding will go toward attracting more clients, visibility and sales.

The company bills itself as an easy accounting platform for e-commerce businesses. It was originally founded as CloudBusiness in 2016 and developed accounting automation and management of business finances for small and mid-size businesses.

Astreiko and Kisel started Synder, in 2018 and a year later focused on the company full-time to develop an easy way for commerce companies to shift to omnichannel sales, something Astreiko told TechCrunch can be “a huge pain” due to the complexity of different payment systems and high fees.

“There are a lot of solutions on the market, but you still have to have special knowledge to operate within accounting or commerce,” Kisel said. “For us, the simplicity means that it is worth it if you can have access in several clicks to consolidated inventory, profits and liabilities. Small businesses sometimes are not sharing this information due to competition, but if something is working and easy, they will definitely share it.”

Synder does the heavy lifting for companies by connecting sales channels like Amazon, Shopify, eBay and Etsy into one platform that users can manage with one-click operations. It also created a way to help the accounting stream so that all of the different payment methods can still be used, Kisel said.

The company is already working with 4,000 clients, and will now be fast-tracking their expansion, but will need the right people on board to help the company grow, Astreiko said.

Igor Shoifot, a partner at TMT Investments, said he will join Synder’s board after the company graduates from YC. He likes the simplicity of what the company is doing.

“Often the best solutions are economical, succinct and elegant — you can be onboarded in 10 minutes,” he added. “There is really nobody that really provides a similar solution that was that easy or didn’t require downloading or installing something. I also like their focus on growth, the fact they have no burn and they are making money.”

Synder’s business model is a subscription SaaS model that starts off as a free trial, and users can purchase additional services inside the platform to fit small and large companies.

Its more than 15 employees are spread around Europe, and the company just started hiring in the areas of marketing and sales in the U.S.


Zeal banks $13M to offer employers a ‘build your own’ payroll product infrastructure

By Christine Hall

Embedded fintech company Zeal secured $13 million in Series A funding to continue developing its platform for building individualized payroll products.

Spark Capital led the Series A, with participation from Commerce Ventures and a group of individual investors, including Marqeta CEO Jason Gardner and CRO Omri Dahan, Robinhood founder Vlad Tenev, UltimateSoftware executives Mitch Dauerman and Bob Manne and Namely founder Matt Straz. The latest round now gives the company $14.6 million in total funding, which includes a $1.6 million seed round in 2020, CEO Kirti Shenoy told TechCrunch.

The Bay Area company’s origin was as Puzzl, a payment processing startup for the gig economy, founded in 2018 by Shenoy and CTO Pranab Krishnan. It was part of Y Combinator’s 2019 cohort. The pair had to pivot the company after needing to move some of its thousands of 1099 contractors to W2 employee status.

They went looking for payroll processors that could handle high volumes of payroll automatically, like ADP or Paycor, but found they didn’t match some of the capabilities Shenoy and Krishnan wanted, including to pay workers daily and customize earning components.

To ensure other companies didn’t run into the same problem, they decided to build a payroll API that enables their customers to build their own payroll products, even being able to pay their workers everyday. Traditionally, companies would layer together antiquated third-party payroll tools and spend millions of dollars on consulting fees. Zeal’s API tool modernizes the payroll process and takes on the payroll liability while managing the back-end payment logistics, Shenoy said.

Currently, enterprises use Zeal to pay large volumes of workers and keep payment data on their own native systems, while software platforms that sell business-to-business services use Zeal to build their own payroll product to sell to their customers.

“Our mission is to touch every American paycheck with our tax and payment technology, ensuring that American employees are paid correctly and efficiently,” Krishnan said.

And that is a complex goal: there are 200 million American employees, over $8.8 trillion of payroll is processed annually in the U.S. and the country’s 11,000 tax jurisdictions produce over 25,000 income tax code changes a year.

Meanwhile, Shenoy cited IRS data that showed more than 40% of small and medium businesses pay at least one payroll penalty per year. That was one of the drivers for Zeal’s latest product, the Abacus gross-to-net calculator, which payroll companies can use to ensure they are compliant in paying their income taxes.

The co-founders intend to use the new funding to build out their team and strengthen compliance measures to ensure its track record with enterprises.

“We are starting to win more enterprise deals and moving millions of dollars each day,” Shenoy said. “This has been a legacy space for so long, so companies want to work with a provider to move fast.”

Shenoy predicts that more companies will shift to hyper-customized experiences in the next five to 10 years. Whereas the default was a company like ADP, companies will want to control their own data and build products so their customers can do everything payroll-related from one platform.

As part of the investment, Spark Capital’s partner Natalie Sandman has joined Zeal’s board of directors. She previously invested in other embedded fintech companies like Affirm and Marqeta and thinks there are new experiences in the sector that APIs can unlock.

Sandman felt the payroll-building pain points herself when she worked at Zenefits. At the time, the company was trying to do the same thing, but there were no APIs to connect with. There were all of these spreadsheets to transfer data, but one wrong deduction would trickle down and cause a tax penalty.

Shenoy and Krishnan are both “customer-obsessed,” she said, and are balancing speed with thoughtfulness when it comes to understanding how their customers want to build payroll products.

She is seeing a macro shift to audience-driven human resources where bringing new employees online will mean embedding them into products that will be more valuable versus the traditional spreadsheet.

“To me, it is a no-brainer that APIs provide flexibility in the way wages and deductions need to be made,” Sandman said. “You can lose trust in your employer. Payroll is at the deepest trust point and where you want transparency and a robust solution to solve that need.”

You can’t hack your YC application, but here’s what to avoid

By Ram Iyer
Christopher Morton Contributor
Christopher Morton is COO of Cognito.

The Y Combinator application season is upon us. I have been through YC a couple of times and have reviewed thousands of applications as a volunteer in later years.

Typically, you hear advice focused on ways to improve your YC application so it gets accepted. Here are some tips on what not to do and why so many YC applications get rejected. I’ve also put down some advice about what else to anticipate and take into consideration as you navigate the application process.

In short, don’t overthink your application, and keep it simple and straightforward.

When should I submit my YC application?

When in doubt, read YC’s instructions and answer the question literally. Avoid verbose marketing lingo and keep answers short and concise.

The best applications are often those made at the last minute, because applicants do not overthink their responses and toil over details they think need to be shoved into a question. While I do not recommend submitting applications at the deadline because the system has had issues receiving submissions, you can capture the essence of last-minute submissions by being clear and concise.

Remember that your application should be good enough to get an interview, not win a prize. Go back to work instead of spending more time perfecting an application.

YC experiments frequently. For this batch and the last, there was an early deadline that would give accepted teams access to YC before the batch officially began. Applying early gives you an opportunity to land an interview in the early round and to update your application to be considered in the standard round.

Is it OK to submit my YC application late?

Avalo uses machine learning to accelerate the adaptation of crops to climate change

By Devin Coldewey

Climate change is affecting farming all over the world, and solutions are seldom simple. But if you could plant crops that resisted the heat, cold, or drought instead of moving a thousand miles away, wouldn’t you? Avalo helps plants like these become a reality using AI-powered genome analysis that can reduce the time and money it takes to breed hardier plants for this hot century.

Founded by two friends who thought they’d take a shot at a startup before committing to a life of academia, Avalo has a very direct value proposition, but it takes a bit of science to understand it.

Big seed and agriculture companies put a lot of work into creating better versions of major crops. By making corn or rice ever so slightly more resistant to heat, insects, drought or flooding, they can make huge improvements to yields and profits for farmers, or alternatively make a plant viable to grow somewhere it couldn’t before.

“There are big decreases to yields in equatorial areas — and it’s not that corn kernels are getting smaller,” said co-founder and CEO Brendan Collins. “Farmers move upland because salt water intrusion is disrupting fields, but they run into early spring frosts that kill their seedlings. Or they need rust resistant wheat to survive fungal outbreaks in humid, wet summers. We need to create new varieties if we want to adapt to this new environmental reality.”

To make those improvements in a systematic way, researchers emphasize existing traits in the plant; this isn’t about splicing in a new gene but bringing out qualities that are already there. This used to be done by the simple method of growing several plants, comparing them, and planting the seeds of the one that best exemplifies the trait — like Mendel in Genetics 101.

Nowadays, however, we have sequenced the genome of these plants and can be a little more direct. By finding out which genes are active in the plants with a desired trait, better expression of those genes can be targeted for future generations. The problem is that doing this still takes a long time — as in a decade.

The difficult part of the modern process stems (so to speak) from the issue that traits, like survival in the face of a drought, aren’t just single genes. They may be any number of genes interacting in a complex way. Just as there’s no single gene for becoming and Olympic gymnast, there isn’t one for becoming drought-resistant rice. So when the companies do what are called genome-wide association studies, they end up with hundreds of candidates for genes that contribute to the trait, and then must laboriously test various combinations of these in living plants, which even at industrial rates and scales takes years to do.

Numbered, genetically differentiated rice plants being raised for testing purposes.

“The ability to just find genes and then do something with them is actually pretty limited as these traits become more complicated,” said Mariano Alvarez, co-founder and CSO of Avalo. “Trying to increase the efficiency of an enzyme is easy, you just go in with CRISPR and edit it — but increasing yield in corn, there are thousands, maybe millions of genes contributing to that. If you’re a big strategic [e.g. Monsanto] trying to make drought tolerant rice, you’re looking at 15 years, 200 million dollars… it’s a long play.”

This is where Avalo steps in. The company has built a model for simulating the effects of changes to a plant’s genome, which they claim can reduce that 15-year lead time to 2 or 3, and the cost by a similar ratio.

“The idea was to create a much more realistic model for the genome that’s more evolutionarily aware,” said Collins. That is, a system that models the genome and genes on it that includes more context from biology and evolution. With a better model, you get far fewer false positives on genes associated with a trait, because it rules out far more as noise, unrelated genes, minor contributors, and so on.

He gave the example of a cold-tolerant rice strain that one company was working on. A genome-wide association study found 566 “genes of interest,” and to investigate each costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $40K due to the time, staff, and materials required. That means investigating this one trait might run up a $20M tab over several years, which naturally limits both the parties who can even attempt such an operation, and the crops that they will invest the time and money in. If you expect a return on investment, you can’t spend that kind of cash improving a niche crop for an outlier market.

“We’re here to democratize that process,” said Collins. In that same body of data relating to cold-tolerant rice, “We found 32 genes of interest, and based on our simulations and retrospective studies, we know that all of those are truly causal. And we were able to grow 10 knockouts to validate them, 3 in a 3-month period.”

In each graph, dots represent confidence levels in genes that must be tested. The Avalo model clears up the data and selects only the most promising ones.

To unpack the jargon a little there, from the start Avalo’s system ruled out more than 90 percent of the genes that would have had to be individually investigated. They had high confidence that these 32 genes were not just related, but causal — having a real effect on the trait. And this was borne out with brief “knockout” studies, where a particular gene is blocked and the effect of that studied. Avalo calls its method “gene discovery via informationless perturbations,” or GDIP.

Part of it is the inherent facility of machine learning algorithms when it comes to pulling signal out of noise, but Collins noted that they needed to come at the problem with a fresh approach, letting the model learn the structures and relationships on its own. And it was also important to them that the model be explainable — that is, that its results don’t just appear out of a black box but have some kind of justification.

This latter issue is a tough one, but they achieved it by systematically swapping out genes of interest in repeated simulations with what amount to dummy versions, which don’t disrupt the trait but do help the model learn what each gene is contributing.

Avalo co-founders Mariano Alvarez (left) and Brendan Collins by a greenhouse.

“Using our tech, we can come up with a minimal predictive breeding set for traits of interest. You can design the perfect genotype in silico [i.e. in simulation] and then do intensive breeding and watch for that genotype,” said Collins. And the cost is low enough that it can be done by smaller outfits or with less popular crops, or for traits that are outside possibilities — since climate change is so unpredictable, who can say whether heat- or cold-tolerant wheat would be better 20 years from now?

“By reducing the capital cost of undertaking this exercise, we sort of unlock this space where it’s economically viable to work on a climate-tolerant trait,” said Alvarez.

Avalo is partnering with several universities to accelerate the creation of other resilient and sustainable plants that might never have seen the light of day otherwise. These research groups have tons of data but not a lot of resources, making them excellent candidates to demonstrate the company’s capabilities.

The university partnerships will also establish that the system works for “fairly undomesticated” plants that need some work before they can be used at scale. For instance it might be better to super-size a wild grain that’s naturally resistant to drought instead of trying to add drought resistance to a naturally large grain species, but no one was willing to spend $20M to find out.

On the commercial side, they plan to offer the data handling service first, one of many startups offering big cost and time savings to slower, more established companies in spaces like agriculture and pharmaceuticals. With luck Avalo will be able to help bring a few of these plants into agriculture and become a seed provider as well.

The company just emerged from the IndieBio accelerator a few weeks ago and has already secured $3M in seed funding to continue their work at greater scale. The round was co-led by Better Ventures and Giant Ventures, with At One Ventures, Climate Capital, David Rowan and of course IndieBio parent SOSV participating.

“Brendan convinced me that starting a startup would be way more fun and interesting than applying for faculty jobs,” said Alvarez. “And he was totally right.”