More than two years after Julie Bornstein–Stitch Fix’s former chief operating officer–mysteriously left the subscription-based personal styling service only months before its initial public offering, she’s taking the wraps off her first independent venture.
Shortly after departing Stitch Fix, Bornstein began building The Yes, an AI-powered shopping platform expected to launch in the first half of 2020. She’s teamed up with The Yes co-founder and chief technology officer Amit Aggarwal, who’s held high-level engineering roles at BloomReach and Groupon, and most recently, served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bain Capital Ventures, to “rewrite the architecture of e-commerce.”
“This is an idea I’ve been thinking about since I was 10 and spending my weekends at the mall,” Bornstein, whose resume includes chief marketing officer & chief digital officer at Sephora, vice president of e-commerce at Urban Outfitters, VP of e-commerce at Nordstrom and director of business development at Starbucks, tells TechCrunch. “All the companies I have worked at were very much leading in this direction.”
Coming out of stealth today, the team at The Yes is readying a beta mode to better understand and refine their product. Bornstein and Aggarwal have raised $30 million in venture capital funding to date across two financings. The first, a seed round, was co-led by Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green and NEA’s Tony Florence. The Series A was led by True Ventures’ Jon Callaghan with participation from existing investors. Bornstein declined to disclose the company’s valuation.
“AI and machine learning already dominate in many verticals, but e-commerce is still open for a player to have a meaningful impact,” Callaghan said in a statement. “Amit is leading a team to build deep neural networks that legacy systems cannot achieve.”
Bornstein and Aggarwal withheld many details about the business during our conversation. Rather, the pair said the product will speak for itself when it launches next year. In addition to being an AI-powered shopping platform, Bornstein did say The Yes is working directly with brands and “creating a new consumer shopping experience that helps address the issue of overwhelm in shopping today.”
As for why she decided to leave Stitch Fix just ahead of its $120 million IPO, Bornstein said she had an epiphany.
“I realized that technology had changed so much, meanwhile … the whole framework underlying e-commerce had remained the same since the late 90s’ when I helped build Nordstrom.com,” she said. “If you could rebuild the underlying architecture and use today’s technology, you could actually bring to life an entirely new consumer experience for shopping.”
The Yes, headquartered in Silicon Valley and New York City, has also brought on Lisa Green, the former head of industry, fashion and luxury at Google, as its senior vice president of partnerships, and Taylor Tomasi Hill, whose had stints at Moda Operandi and FortyFiveTen, as its creative director. Other investors in the business include Comcast Ventures and Bain Capital Ventures
Microsoft wants to make it as easy as possible to migrate to Microsoft 365, and today the company announced it had purchased a Canadian startup called Mover to help. The companies did not reveal the acquisition price.
Microsoft 365 is the company’s bundle that includes Office 365, Microsoft Teams, security tools and workflow. The idea is to provide customers with a soup-to-nuts, cloud-based productivity package. Mover helps customers get files from another service into the Microsoft 365 cloud.
As Jeff Tepper wrote in a post on the Official Microsoft Blog announcing the acquisition, this about helping customers get to the Microsoft cloud as quickly and smoothly as possible. “Today, Mover supports migration from over a dozen cloud service providers — including Box, Dropbox, Egnyte, and Google Drive — into OneDrive and SharePoint, enabling seamless file collaboration across Microsoft 365 apps and services, including the Office apps and Microsoft Teams,” Tepper wrote.
Tepper also points out that they will be gaining the expertise of the Mover team as it moves to Microsoft and helps add to the migration tools already in place.
Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, says that moving files from one system to another like this can be extremely challenging regardless of how you do it, and the file transfer mechanism is only part of it. “The transition to 365 from an on-prem system or competing cloud supplier is never a migration, per se. It’s a rebuild, with a completely different UX, admin model, set of services, and operational assumptions all built into the Microsoft cloud offering,” Byrne explained.
Mover is based in Calgary, Canada. It was founded in 2012 and raised $1 million, according to Crunchbase data. It counts some big clients as customers including AutoDesk, Symantec and BuzzFeed.
One ongoing theme in the world of smart homes has been the emergence of gadgets and other tools that can turn “ordinary” objects and systems into “connected” ones — removing the need to replace things wholesale that still essentially work, while still applying technology to improve the ways that they can be used.
In the latest development, a smart home startup from Santa Barbara called Shine Bathroom has raised $750,000 in seed funding to help build and distribute its first product: an accessory that you attach to an existing toilet to make it a “smart toilet.”
It’s a dirty business, but someone had to do it.
Shine’s immediate goal is to flush away the old, ecologically unfriendly way of cleaning toilets; and to provide the tools to detect when something is not working right in the plumbing, even helping you fix it without calling out a plumber.
The longer-term vision is to apply technology and science to rethink the whole bathroom to put less strain on our natural resources, and to use it in a way that lines up with what we want to do as consumers, using this first product to test that market.
“Bathrooms are evolving from places where we practice basic hygiene to where we prepare ourselves for the day,” said Chris Herbert, the founder and CEO of Shine. “Wellness and self care will be happening more in the home, and this is a big opportunity.”
Shine’s first injection of money is coming from two VCs also based in Southern California: Entrada Ventures (like Shine also in Santa Barbara), and Mucker Capital, an LA fund specifically backing startups not based in Silicon Valley (others in its current porfolio include Naritiv, Everipedia and Next Trucking).
The Shine Bathroom Assistant, as the first product is called, is currently being sold via Indiegogo starting at $99, with the first products expected to ship in February 2020.
It’s a fitting challenge for a hardware entrepreneur: toilets are a necessary part of our modern lives, but they are unloved, and they haven’t really been innovated for a long time.
Herbert admitted to me (and I’m sure Freud would have something to say here, too) that this has been something of a years-long obsession, stretching back to when he made a trip to Japan as a sophomore in high school and was struck by how companies like Toto were innovating in the business, with fancy, all-cleaning (and all-singing and dancing) loos.
“We thought to ourselves, how could we make a better bathroom?” he said. “We decided that the answer was through software. When you take a thesis like that, you can see lots of opportunity.”
Sized similar to an Amazon Echo or other connected home speaker, Shine’s toilet attachment is battery operated and comes in three parts: a water vessel, a sensor and spraying nozzle that you place inside your toilet bowl, and a third sensor fitted with an accelerometer that you attach to the main line that fills up the toilet’s tank. The vessel is filled with tap water (which you replace periodically).
That water is passed through a special filter that electrolyzes it (by sending a current through the water) and then sprays it with every flush to clean and deodarize. Shine claims this spraying technique is five times as powerful as traditional deodarizing spray, and as powerful as bleach, but without the harsh chemicals: the water converts back into saline after it does its work. (And to be clear, there are no soaps or other detergents involved.)
Alongside the cleaning features, the second part of the bathroom assistant is Sam, an AI on your phone. Linked up to the hardware and sensors, Sam identifies common toilet problems, such as leaks that trickle out hundreds of gallons of water, by measuring variations in vibrations, and when it does, it sends out a free repair kit to fix it yourself.
Users can also link up Sam to work with Alexa to order the machine to clean, check water levels, and do more in future.
The solution of monitoring vibrations is notable for how it links up with a past entrepreneurial life for Herbert and some of his team.
Herbert was one of two co-founders of Trackr, a Tile-like product that also played on the idea of making “dumb” objects smart: Trackr’s basic product was a small fob with Bluetooth inside it that could be attached to keys, wallets, bags and more to find their location when they were misplaced.
The company’s longer term goals extended into the area of IoT and how “dumb” machines could be made smarter by attaching sensors to them to monitor vibrations and sounds to determine how they were working — concepts that never materialised at Trackr but have found a new life at Shine.
On the other hand, Trackr is a cautionary tale about how a good idea can be inspiring, but not always enough.
The startup in its time raised more than $70 million, from a set of investors that included Amazon, Revolution, NTT, the Foundry Group and more. Ultimately, the basic concept was too commoditized (trackers are a dime a dozen on Amazon), Tile emerged as the market leader among the independents — a position it’s used to evolve its product — but even so, that’s before we’ve even determined if there really is a profitable business to be had here, and if platform companies potentially make their move to upset it in a different way.
Eventually, Trackr’s team (including Herbert) scattered and a new leadership team came in and rebranded to Adero . Now, even that team is gone, with the CEO Nate Kelly and others decamping to Glowforge. Multiple attempts to contact the company have been unanswered, although from what we understand, it’s not down for the count just yet. (Watch this space.)
“There is still something there, and I hope they can do something,” Herbert said of his previous startup.
Meanwhile, he and several of his ex-Trackr colleagues have now turned their attention to a new shiny challenge, the toilet and the bigger bathroom where it sits, and investors want in.
“We were impressed by Shine’s vision for a bathroom to better prepare us for our day head and saw a massively overlooked opportunity in the bathroom space” said Taylor Tyng from Entrada Ventures.
At the recent TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Senegalese VC investor Marieme Diop suggested that Silicon Valley’s unicorn IPO model might not be right for African startups.
The is largely because the continent’s startups face a vastly different macro business environment, Diop explained during a discussion of investing in Africa with 500 Startups’ Sheel Mohnot and IFC’s Wale Ayeni. In a subsequent conversation, she clarified an alternative approach for African startups to raise capital from public listings.
“It might be a better option to set lower revenue expectations and have startups list on local exchanges to raise capital from IPOs when they’re ready,” said Diop. “We may be able to create more gazelles at home than unicorns abroad,”
A gazelle at home could be a company valued at a $100 million or more and generating revenues of $15 to $50 million, according to Diop.
“We should have a discussion of setting a right valuation, a valuation that is more appropriate to African startups,” she said.
A VC investor at Orange Digital Ventures and co-founder of Dakar Angels Network, Diop’s perspective comes in the wake of Jumia’s going public on the New York Stock Exchange this April.
The e-commerce venture became the first VC-funded digital company operating in Africa to list on a major global exchange, a fact that may have raised expectations for additional $100 million revenue tech firms creating unicorns and IPOs in Africa.
The $100 million revenue point has served as the unofficial IPO benchmark for startups and investors; after reaching unicorn status in 2014, Jumia achieved it last year (with big losses in tow).
But as I mentioned in a previous Extra Crunch piece, it will be difficult for startups operating in Africa to hit that revenue mark, even with all the leaps and bounds occurring in the continent’s economies and tech sector. The overall operating environment is still fairly costly and challenging, compared to other regions.
To put the $100 million revenue benchmark in perspective for Africa, the continent’s entire tech VC funding only recently surpassed $1 billion annually, according to Partech data, which means the $100 million rule would requires a company to generate annual revenues up to roughly 10% of the yearly value of VC raised across the entire ecosystem.
Chad Hurley is hunting for what comes after fantasy sports. He envisions a new way for fans to play by watching live and cheering for the athletes they love. Beyond a few scraps of info the YouTube co-founder would share and his new startup’s job listings revealed, we don’t know what Hurley’s game will feel like. But the company is called GreenPark Sports, and it’s launching in Spring 2020.
“There is an absence of compelling, inclusive ways for large masses of sports fans to compete together” Hurley tells me. “The idea of a ‘sports fan’ has evolved – it is now more a social behavior than ever before. We’re looking at a much bigger, inclusive way for all fans of sports and esports teams to play.”
Hurley already has an all-star team. One of GreenPark’s co-founders Nick Swinmurn helped start Zappos, while another Ken Martin created marketing agency BLITZ. Together they’ve raised an $8.5 million seed round led by SignalFire and joined by Sapphire Sports and Founders Fund. “With this team’s impeccable track record and vision for the future of fandom, this was an investment we had to make,” said Chris Farmer, founder and CEO of SignalFire.
It all comes down to allegiance — something Hurley, Swinmurn, and Martin truly understand. Everyone is seeking ways to belong and emblems to represent them. In an age when many of our most prized possessions from photographs to record collections have been digitized, we lack tangible objects that center our individuality. Culture increasingly centers around landmark events, with what we’ve done mattering more than what we own.
GreenPark could seize upon this moment by helping us to align our identities with a team. This instantly unlocks a likeminded community, a recurrent activity, and a unified aesthetic. And when reality gets heavy, people can lose themselves by hitching their spirits to the scoreboard.
Rather than just tabulating results after the match like in fantasy sports, GreenPark wants to be entwined with the spectacle as it happens. “We’re going to be working with a mix of ways to visualize the live game – from unique gamecast-like data to highlight clips. The social viewing experience can be much more than just the straight live video” Hurley explains.
He came up with GreenPark after selling assets of his video editing app Mixbit to BlueJeans a year ago. Hurley already had an interactive relationship with sports…though one that’s reserved for the rich: he’s part owner of the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Football Club. Meanwhile, Swinmurn co-founded the Burlingame Dragons Football Club affiliated with San Jose’s team, and is on the board of Denmark’s FC Helsingør.
Those experiences taught them the satisfaction that comes from a deeper sense of ownership or allegiance with a team. GreenPark will give an opportunity for anyone to turn fandom into its own sport. “We shared a love of sports and set out to look into opportunities around legalized sports betting in the US” Hurley tells me.” But quickly they found “it was obvious the regulated space wouldn’t allow us to innovate as quickly as we wanted” and they saw a more opportunity amidst a younger mainstream audience.
“We’re not ready to disclose publicly the exact detailed gameplay yet” Hurley says. But here’s what we could cobble together from around the web.
GreenPark Sports lets you “Destroy the other teams’ fans” to “climb the leaderboards”, its site says cryptically. According to job listings, it will pipe in live game data, starting with the NBA and expanding to other leagues, and offer cartoon characters with facial expressions and full-body gestures to let users live out the highs and lows of matches. Don’t expect trivia questions or player stat memorization. It almost sounds like a massively multiplayer online fan arena.
As with blockbuster games Fortnite or League Of Legends, GreenPark is free-to-play. But a mention of virtual clothing hints at monetization, where you could spruce up avatars with digital team apparel. Hurley tells me “We are in the perfect storm of the thirst for innovation at the traditional league level, the next level of maturing for esports, investment in sports betting and overall dire need to better understand today’s largest populace of sports fans – Millenial / Gen Z.” The closed beta launches in the Spring.
There’s a massive hole to fill in the wake of the Draft Kings / FanDuel marketing sure a few years ago. Most apps in the space just carry scores or analysis, rather than community. “What’s amazing about being a fan of a team or player is the common bond you have with other fans” Hurley explains, “where even if you don’t know the other fans of your team – you are all in it to win it – together.”
Publications like The Athletic have proven there are plenty of fans willing to pay to feel closer to their favorite teams. The most direct competitor for GreenPark might be Strafe, that lets you track and predict the winners of esports matches.
People already spend tons of time on building fictional worlds like Minecraft and money outfitting their Fortnite avatar with the coolest clothes. If GreenPark can create a space for sports’ fan self-expression, it could create the online destination for legions of IRL enthusiasts that see who they root for as core to who they are.
The Australian scene industry has, in the last few years, started to generate a swathe of startups that have broken through internationally. Prior to this current era, Australia was scene has very much a local market in tech terms, with only occasional breakouts, like Atlassian . In fact, it’s now gaining a reputation as a serial producer of high-quality tech platforms, the hottest of which right now is Canva, which recently raised an additional $85 million to bring its valuation to $3.2 billion, up from $2.5 billion in May. Investors in the company include Bond, General Catalyst, Bessemer Venture Partners, Blackbird and Sequoia China. Notably, Sydney-based AirTree Ventures also invested early.
So that momentum is further confirmed by the news that Airtree has closed its 3rd fund of $275m. This new fund comes after AirTree’s $250m fund in 2016 and a $60m fund in 2014. You can clearly see the buildup in these numbers.
John Henderson, Partner said: “The interest from investors in our fund is a stunning reflection on the performance of the entrepreneurs we’ve been lucky enough to back. We were humbled by overwhelming demand, but felt it was the right thing for our investors to maintain discipline and a consistent fund size across vintages.”
Australian venture capital was less than fashionable after the dotcom boom and bust, and local institutional capital in Australia and New Zealand all but disappeared, hence why we saw so few startups form the region.
AirTree’s $60m fund in 2014, broke that drought and Australia now boasts over 50 tech startups valued at $100 million, 14 over $500 million and produces one ‘unicorn’ per year on average.
Airtree has gone on to invest in Australian and Kiwi startups like Canva, Prospa, Secure Code Warrior, Athena, Flurosat, Brighte, Joyous, Thematic and A Cloud Guru. Prospa, Australia’s main online lender to small businesses, IPO’ed on the Australian Stock Exchange in June 2019.
Airtree can invest as little as $200k, but now has the firepower to own the pipeline all the way up the investment stack.
Craig Blair, Managing Partner commented: “As ex-founders, we have experienced the tough, lonely road ourselves. This empathy with the founder journey helps us focus on when to provide support and when to get out of the way. In our next fund, we’ll be expanding our suite of services and our network of connections, all designed to give our founders an unfair advantage.”
The VC also announced two promotions and a new executive hire:
• Elicia McDonald promoted to Principal, with a mandate to lead new investments
• Emily Close joining the investment team, promoted to Associate
• Melissa Ran leading AirTree’s Community and Advocacy efforts
AirTree’s latest fund is backed by six institutional investors from Australia including AustralianSuper, SunSuper and Statewide. The rest of the new fund comes from a range of successful entrepreneurs and family offices.
Henderson added: “An important portion of our portfolio is already in New Zealand and we remain very focused on supporting that market. We’ve been investing meaningful resources and funds in New Zealand since 2014 and we’ll have more Kiwi news to share soon.”
The fund raise follows news that AirTree portfolio company Property-tech start-up :Different has raised a second round of capital from AirTree, alongside Brisbane-based real estate fund PieLAB, as it expands into Queensland.
Earlier this month at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, we sat down with Box’s Aaron Levie and PagerDuty’s Jennifer Tejada to discuss their respective companies’ paths to an IPO, the general IPO landscape and the pros and cons of going public. With a lot of recent IPOs faltering and increased pressure on startup valuations, now is as good a time as ever to think about the role IPOs play in a company’s lifespan.
“I think it’s really important to think of the IPOs, the beginning, not the end,” said Tejada. “We all live in Silicon Valley and that can be a little bit of an echo chamber and you talk about exits all the time. The IPO is an entrance, right? It is part of the beginning of a long journey for a durable company that you want to build a legacy around. And so, it is a moment — it’s the start of you really sharing a narrative backed by financial data to help people understand your current business, the potential for your business, the market that you’re in, etc. And I think we tend to talk about it like it’s the be-all end-all.”
That’s something Levie definitely agrees with. “I think we have too much of a fixation on the IPO moment versus just building durable business models and how do they end up translating into valuations. The valuation that you get at an IPO is due to variety factors.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 02: (L-R) PagerDuty CEO & Chairperson Jennifer Tejada, Box Co-Founder/Chairman & CEO Aaron Levie, and TechCrunch Writer Frederic Lardinois speak onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 at Moscone Convention Center on October 02, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
It’s no secret that Box and PagerDuty had very different experiences as they got ready to go public. Box announced its S-1 only a few days before a major market crash back in 2014. PagerDuty, on the other hand, went public earlier this year, with solid financials and very little drama.
Tejada, in many ways, attributed that to the work she and her team did to get the company ready for this moment. “I get asked a lot by CEOs that are thinking about getting ready to go public, ‘you know, what was your playbook? How do you do this?’ And I think instead of thinking about what’s the playbook, you need to be intellectually honest about what your business looks like,” she said. In her view, CEOs need to focus on the leading indicators for their business — the ones they want the market to understand. But she also noted that the market needs to understand a company’s potential in the long run.
“You want to make sure that the market understands where you think the business can go and gets excited about it, but that they don’t over-rotate in their expectations, because dealing with really high expectations creates a lot of downstream difficulty.”
Tilting Point announced yesterday that it has acquired Gondola, a company that aims to increase to improve game monetization by optimizing in-game offers and video ads.
Tilting Point CEO Kevin Segalla described his company’s model as “progressive publishing” — usually, mobile game developers starting working with Tilting Point because they need help with user acquisition, and then develop a deeper publishing relationship over time.
“With a select group of our development partners, we’ll acquire an IP, and we’ll … have them take the engine that they already have and create a whole new game,” Segalla said. “It’s really a dual effort between us and the developer.”
To accomplish all this, the company has built artificial intelligence tools to improve user acquisition. But the other side of that equation, in Segalla’s view, is increasing the lifetime value of the users acquired.
“At the end of the day, scaling a game boils down to two simple things, [cost per install] and LTV,” he said. “Strong developers are working to improve the LTV of their players, but there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that with the right toolset you can use to improve the lifetime values. That’s what Gondola is about … We’ve been following for years, and we said, ‘Let’s bring this in-house.'”
Gondola currently offers four modules: Target Optimization (choosing the best offer for a player), Rewarded Video Ad Optimization (choosing the right amount of virtual currency to reward a player for watching a video ad), Store Optimization (choosing the right store items to show a player) and Currency Optimization (choosing the best virtual currency amounts for offers and promotions).
The financial terms of the acquisition — Tilting Point’s first — were not disclosed. As part of the deal, Gondola CTO André Cohen is joining Tilting Point as its head of data science, while his co-founder and CEO Niklas Herriger remains involved as an executive advisor.
Bloomberg Beta, a San Francisco-based outfit that uses Bloomberg LP’s money to make bets on startups, has closed its third fund with $75 million, according to Roy Bahat, who’d previously run the online media company IGN and who operates the fund as an equal partnership with Karin Klein and James Chan. (Klein formerly ran Bloomberg’s new initiatives; Chan was formerly a principal with Trinity Ventures.)
We talked with Bahat briefly last night about the new vehicle to ask how its capital will be deployed. Bahat stressed that the idea is to continue on the firm’s current path, which is to write checks of between $500,000 to $1 million initially; to loosely target ownership of around 10% in the startups it backs; and to fund companies that are focused on the future of work, which has long been an area of interest for Bahat and his colleagues.
That can mean an instant messaging platform like Slack, in which Bloomberg Beta had and continues to have a small stake, following its direct offering. It also can mean backing a company like Flexport, a San Francisco-based freight forwarding and customs brokerage company that appears to be among Bloomberg Beta’s biggest bets. (According to Crunchbase, the outfit has backed Flexport — valued most recently at $3.2 billion — at its seed, Series A and Series B rounds.)
Others of Bloomberg Beta’s portfolio companies include the augmented writing platform Textio; the insurance broker Newfront Insurance; the continuous delivery platform LaunchDarkly; and Netlify, a cloud computing company that sells hosting and serverless backend services for static websites.
What it won’t back: financial tech startups. Given where its money comes from, it’s “too close to home,” says Bahat.
In late August, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that Bahat would be part of his Future of Work Commission, which will be “tasked with making recommendations to help California leaders think through how to create inclusive, long-term economic growth and ensure workers and their families share in that success.”
As part of his role on that commission, and as an investor in some companies that cater to independent contractors, we asked Bahat what he makes of AB 5, the new California law for contract workers that aims to address inequality in the workplace but has been met with resistance from numerous industries and players. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are even preparing to file a ballot initiative to exempt themselves from the law.
Bahat suggested he’s not sure what to think quite yet, either. “How workers get classified is one of the issues” the commission will be studying, he said.
“We haven’t figured out how to make it all work; this story is still unfolding.”
French startup MadBox is raising a $16.5 million (€15 million) Series A funding round from Alven. The company is developing mobile games and handles everything from start to finish, from game design to publishing and user acquisition.
MadBox is a young player in the mobile game space. The company is the result of the merger of two tiny Paris-based game studios in July 2018. After a couple of months, the startup released its first game, Dash Valley. And the game quickly ended up trending in the top 50 of top free game downloads in the App Store in the U.S.
The company has released a handful of games since then. At some point, MadBox had three games in the top 10 charts in the U.S. (once again, free game downloads) — StickMan Hook, Sausage Flip and Idle Ball Race. Overall, MadBox has generated 100 million game downloads.
“The core method at MadBox is that we internalize everything,” co-founder and CEO Jean-Nicolas Vernin told me. “We try to automate as many thing as possible.”
In addition to reusing assets from one game to another, MadBox also tries to apply the same method when it comes to user acquisition and marketing. “People often tell us that we have a data-driven culture that is disproportionately developed in our company,” Vernin said.
MadBox has a careful approach when it comes to growth. The company hires slowly and doesn’t release dozens of games in a year.
With 30 to 40 employees and a business model mostly based on ads, the company is currently profitable. MadBox now wants to tackle a wider range of mobile games, from hyper casual to idle games and less casual games. The startup is also opening a second office in Barcelona.
“We are a generation of friends who have worked for well-known casual game studios. And we all think that big game productions will have to become simpler so that people can play them like casual games — and vice versa,” Vernin said. And MadBox wants to be there when these two worlds collide.
Airbnb may be another overvalued “unicorn,” but it’s no WeWork.
The Information this morning reported new Airbnb financials — indicating a massive increase in operating losses — that immediately call Airbnb’s future into question. Precisely, Airbnb lost $306 million on operations on $839 million in revenue, namely as a result of marketing spend, in the first quarter of 2019. In total, Airbnb invested $367 million in sales and marketing, representing a 58% increase year-over-year, in Q1. The company is gearing up for a major liquidity event next year and is making a concerted effort to rake in new customers, as any soon-to-be-public business would.
Given WeWork’s sudden demise, coupled with Uber and Lyft’s lukewarm performances on the stock markets, many have wondered how Wall Street will respond to Airbnb’s eventual IPO prospectus. Will money managers have an appetite for another over-valued Silicon Valley darling? Or will the market compete like mad for shares in the massive home-sharing marketplace?
But Airbnb, again, is no WeWork, and I wager Wall Street will have a much friendlier approach to its offering. For one, Airbnb’s co-founder and chief executive officer Brian Chesky isn’t dropping $60 million on private jets — I don’t think. CEO behaviors aside, Airbnb has more capital in the bank than it has raised in its entire 11-year history, which is a whole lot of money. This is all according to a source who is familiar Airbnb’s financials and shared this detail with TechCrunch following The Information’s Thursday morning report. As for Airbnb, the company told TechCrunch, “we can’t comment on the figures, but 2019 is a big investment year in support of our hosts and guests.”
Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2014
Airbnb has attracted more than $3.5 billion in equity funding at a $31 billion valuation and has even more locked away in its bank account. Additionally, Airbnb has an untouched $1 billion credit line, the source said. Presumably, the referenced credit line is the 2016 $1 billion debt financing from JPMorgan, CitiGroup, Morgan Stanley and others.
Moreover, Airbnb has been “cumulatively” free cash flow positive for some time, meaning that it’s seen more money coming in than going out during recent quarters, according to our source. It has been reported that Airbnb surpassed $1 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2019 and in the third quarter of 2018, but we’re guessing the business did not top $1 billion in Q4 of 2018 or Q1 of 2019 because it if had, that information would probably have been “leaked.”
Finally, Airbnb has been profitable on an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) basis for two consecutive years, the company announced in January. Gross bookings, meanwhile, are growing, as is Airbnb’s business offering and its experiences product.
Eskos, a Charlotte, NC startup that creates software to help craft breweries and other beverage companies organize their businesses, announced an $8 million Series A today led by Noro-Moseley Partners, and Atlanta, GA venture firm.
Prior to taking this funding, the company had bootstrapped for the previous five years, building a business with 1700 customers in 40 countries. The company has created an entire suite of tools to track everything from what’s in the tank, to recipes, raw materials, inventory and so on — everything you need to run a brewery, cidery or wine making business.
Prior to launching the company in 2014, the founders were thinking about building software for this market niche, so they went around and asked brewers what they were using to track their businesses. Some were just tracking it manually using clipboards and whiteboards. Others were using ERP software like SAP, Netsuite or Microsoft Dynamics. Some were using Google Sheets.
McKinney said he couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a set of tools specifically geared for this market, so he and co-founder and CTO Greg Forehand did what any good entrepreneurs would do. They built it. Today’s product includes an app to track the business on a mobile phone, and the ability to set up a drag and drop workflow for the entire operation.
He says he and Forehand actually came up with the business idea independently. He became aware of Forehand in an early sales call. It was certainly odd that two people in the same city came up with the same idea at the same time. Eventually the two met and decided to join forces and form a business together.
It turned out to be a good decision. Upon launching in 2014, the business took off immediately. They got covered in a brewing industry publication, Brewbound, which helped spread the message. By the end of the first year they had 100 breweries on the platform. He said that word also spread by word of mouth, and although they planned on concentrating on the US market for starters, before they knew it they were getting calls from breweries in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Today he says they have customers just about any place there is a brewery across 40 countries.
The company currently has 32 employees, including just two sales people, who also help the customers with initial setup for their particular needs. They have expanded from beer to cider to wine, and over time they hope to expand into other food and alcoholic beverage markets.
McKinney has big plans for the money. He wants to hire 40 new employees by the end of 2020 including sales and marketing folks, as well as software engineers. He says he recognizes that this will be a big change for his small operation, but it’s something they have been planning for and discussing over the last 8 months as they went through the process to find funding.
“I believe very much in being transparent with our team internally, so that nothing is really a surprise. Our team is pretty pumped about the opportunity for our customers and the things we’re going to build, and also getting some new team members in place,” he said.
Clay Wilkes had already been retired for six years when he launched Galileo Financial Services in 2000.
The serial entrepreneur who had been an early pioneer in telecommunications technologies (like voice over internet protocols) saw the need for better connectivity between secondary services and financial institutions 19 years ago, just as new digital services around payroll processing, transit vouchers, store cards, and other services were launching.
Now the company runs the backend integrations with financial institutions for some of the biggest names in financial technology and has just raised $77 million in financing from Accel Partners.
Not that Galileo necessarily needed the money. The company has been profitable for years since its bootstrapped beginnings and counts fintech giants like Chime Banking, Robinhood, Monzo, and Transferwise among its customers. In fact, the debit and credit card service provider will process nearly $26 billion in financing by the end of the year, according to the company.
For financial services companies that are launching these days there are a few ways to get to market quickly. One is to partner with a financial institution that will handle the money for them in accounts that are FDIC assured and the other is to become a financial provider that’s fully regulated themselves.
Most companies have opted for the second route, and when they do, they need to find a way to hook into a bank’s financial system and the payment technologies that form the backbone of transaction processing through the debit and credit cards that a huge portion fo the world relies on to buy things.
Accel partner John Locke, who is joining the Galileo board of directors, calls the company almost the flip side of the Braintree and Stripe investments that power transactions for most online merchants.
Rather than focus on the companies that are taking online orders and processing payments, Galileo deals with the consumers who are spending the money and powers the ways in which companies are trying to offer new services to get those consumers to switch from traditional banks to their upstart challengers (ironically still mostly powered by traditional banks).
“Through the API what they’re doing is creating and managing accounts, authorizing merchant transactions, monitoring fraud, initiating disputes and chargebacks, being able to configure products and a wide variety of product,” said Wilkes. “We support [direct deposit accounts] and we do credit products… all of these capabilities are capabilities that fit on our platform.”
Wilkes wouldn’t talk about the company’s valuation except to say that it’s worth “a substantial amount”.
What he will talk about is how Galileo will use the money it’s raised. The Salt Lake City-based startup is planning to greatly expand its geographical reach beyond North America. It’s “actively pursuing opportunities in Brazil and Colombia and Argentina,” according to Wilkes. In fact, the company plans to open an office in Mexico City in the coming months to service new Latin American business.
Meanwhile it already has something of a stranglehold on the market in the United Kingdom. “The top five largest fintechs in the UK are all clients today,” Wilkes said.
Unlike other companies in the market that take a fixed percentage of transactions, Galileo charges a variable amount of a few cents for every transaction that it processes to connect a startup with its banking back end.
“We’re in a golden era of fintech innovation and Galileo has quietly built the API infrastructure layer powering the industry’s most innovative products,” said Locke in a statement. “Clay and his team have built a very impressive business with many parallels to companies like Qualtrics and Atlassian: bootstrapping first to build a quiet, profitable powerhouse and now, ready to go big globally. We’re excited to help Clay and team take Galileo to the next level.”
Pendo, the late stage startup that helps companies understand how customers are interacting with their apps, announced a $100 million Series E investment today on a valuation of $1 billion.
The round was led by Sapphire Ventures . Also participating were new investors General Atlantic and Tiger Global, and existing investors Battery Ventures, Meritech Capital, FirstMark, Geodesic Capital and Cross Creek. Pendo has now raised $206 million, according to the company.
Company CEO and co-founder Todd Olson says that one of the reasons they need so much money is they are defining a market, and the potential is quite large. “Honestly, we need to help realize the total market opportunity. I think what’s exciting about what we’ve seen in six years is that this problem of improving digital experiences is something that’s becoming top of mind for all businesses,” Olson said.
The company integrates with customer apps, capturing user behavior and feeding data back to product teams to help prioritize features and improve the user experience. In addition, the product provides ways to help those users either by walking them through different features, pointing out updates and new features or providing other notes. Developers can also ask for feedback to get direct input from users.
Olson says early on its customers were mostly other technology companies, but over time they have expanded into lots of other verticals including insurance, financial services and retail and these companies are seeing digital experience as increasingly important. “A lot of this money is going to help grow our go-to-market teams and our product teams to make sure we’re getting our message out there, and we’re helping companies deal with this transformation,” he says. Today, the company has over 1200 customers.
While he wouldn’t commit to going public, he did say it’s something the executive team certainly thinks about, and it and has started to put the structure in place to prepare should that time ever come. “This is certainly an option that we are considering, and we’re looking at ways in which to put us in a position to be able to do so, if and when the markets are good and we decide that’s the course we want to take.”
TruTag Technologies, a company that creates microscopic, edible barcodes to authenticate medications, food, vaping pods and other products, has raised a $7.5 million Series C. The funding, led by Pangaea Ventures and Happiness Capital, will be used to further commercialize its technology and develop new solutions.
Along with earlier rounds, this brings TruTag’s total funding to $25 million. Its clients include PwC, which uses the company’s technology in its Food Trust Platform quality assurance program for Australian beef exports.
A high magnification of TruTag particles, each of is an edible “chip” that authenticates the product it is applied to.
Called TruTags, the company’s tiny barcodes are made out of nano-porous silica, a material that has received GRAS (generally recognized as safe) notice from the U.S Food and Drug Administration, and can be placed directly on products or in packaging to track it through the supply and logistics chain.
TruTags are used with hyperspectral imaging technology, which is able to process much more wavelengths than other imaging methods, so it can collect more precise and detailed data from an image. When scanned, the barcodes provide information about where a product was manufactured, lot numbers, authorized distributors and safe use.
In email, TruTag chief executive officer Michael Bartholomeusz, who holds a PhD in materials engineering from the University of Virginia, told TechCrunch that the company sees the most growth opportunities in industries, such as pharmaceuticals, nutraceutical foods and cannabis, that deal with counterfeit products from the black market or the “grey market,” including products from unauthorized suppliers.
“TruTags material is an already approved excipient in pills by the FDA. Pharmaceuticals and food comprise a very large portion of the global counterfeiting problem, and given the very unique edible feature of TruTag’s solution, this is a core area of focus for the company,” he says.
For example, the technology can be used to lock vaping systems so they only work with authentic vaping pods, helping reduce the number of counterfeit pods on the market. Bartholomeusz adds that TruTags is close to coming to market in the CBD space.
TruTags’ ability to be placed directly on products, its edibility and instant authentication in one to five seconds differentiates it from other solutions. Bartholomeusz notes that other quality assurance tech include specialized symbols, inks and holograms, though many of those products have the disadvantages of being replicable by high-quality printers or relying on consumers’ ability to recognize them.
In a press statement, Matthew Cohen, director of technology at Pangaea, which focuses on investing in advanced materials technology, said “Pangaea is excited to partner with TruTag and help the company expand its team and product portfolio. We believe TruTag’s edible barcode technology will help increase consumer confidence and ultimately save lives. TruTag is making our world better by utilizing compelling advanced materials and advanced material process innovations to combat rising problems such as drug counterfeiting.”
Winnow, the U.K. startup that has developed smart kitchen tech to help commercial kitchens reduce food waste, is disclosing $12 million in Series B funding.
Backing the round is Ingka Group (a strategic partner to the IKEA franchisee system), Mustard Seed, Circularity Capital, D: Ax and The Ingenious Group. It follows a recent $8 million loan from The European Investment Bank (EIB), meaning that Winnow has added $20 million of capital in the last month.
Counting global clients such as IKEA and the Armani Hotel in Dubai, Winnow is on a mission to offer the hospitality industry technology to help cut down on food waste by making commercial kitchens ‘smarter.’ Its latest Winnow Vision product automates waste tracking by using computer vision to track what food is being discarded and therefore enabling kitchens to make better inventory decisions.
Notably, the Winnow system claims to have already reached and surpassed human levels of accuracy in identifying food being thrown away. “This means for clients, over time, these systems will enable their kitchens to automatically register food waste without any human interaction. Food will be thrown in the bin and the data will be captured automatically,” says the company.
More broadly, the idea, as Winnow founder and CEO Marc Zornes likes to put it, is that what gets measured, gets managed. The startups says that kitchens using Winnow tend to see a 40-70% reduction in food waste within 6-12 months, driving food cost savings between 2-8% in total.
Citing its main costs as “hardware and service delivery for each unit deployed,” Zornes says Winnow will use the new cash injection to further improve its technology and focus on “doubling down” on product development. This will include investing in new QA engineers to enhance development, through to front end developers to improve its reporting features.
Proportunity, the startup that provides “help to buy”-style equity loans primarily for first-time property buyers, has raised £2 million in additional funding.
Billed as a seed round, backing comes from Anthemis, the fintech investor, and Axel Springer Digital Ventures, the early-stage venture arm of European digital publisher Axel Springer. The startup and Entrepreneur First alumni had previously raised £1.7 million in equity and a credit line of debt financing.
Previous investors include Global Founders Capital, Concrete VC (backed by Starwood Capital Group), Savills, EF, Trusted Insights and Le Studio VC, along with angel investors Matt Robinson (Nested), Chris Mairs (EF), Charlie Songhurst, Nicolas Berggruen and Julian Critchlow.
Founded in 2016 by Vadim Toader and Stefan Boronea, Proportunity wants to help first-time buyers purchase a home that is more suited to their needs than a mortgage alone might afford.
It does this by providing an equity loan of up to 15% of a property’s value to enable the home buyer to effectively put down a bigger deposit and therefore secure a more competitive mortgage. This, claims the startup, also enables the home buyer to potentially purchase a larger or better-located property, and reduce the amount of interest charged by the mortgage lender in the long term.
The way it works, therefore, is quite similar to the U.K. government’s “Help To Buy” scheme, except it isn’t restricted to a new build and you have to pay monthly interest on the loan from the get-go. Like Help To Buy, when you sell the house or remortgage it in within five years, you have to repay the Proportunity equity loan at 15% of the current market price.
Therefore, if the price of the house has gone up, the amount you pay back also will have increased. In the event that the price has gone down, the startup loses money.
All of this is backed by Proportunity’s machine learning-based forecasting technology, which claims to be able to identify good-value properties in up-and-coming areas. The idea is that better use of data — from crime and school ratings to broadband speeds and pollution — can help reduce the risk of equity-based property loans both for the lender and borrower.
With regards to how many homes Proportunity has helped finance, the startup isn’t breaking out the exact numbers. However, co-founder Vadim Toader tells me it is “more than 20 and less than 100.”
He also says that two of the top five high-street lenders in the U.K. have lent alongside Proportunity on multiple homes, proving that the model can be made to work (a year ago it wasn’t clear how the market would respond to Proportunity’s equity loan offer). The company is currently working with 12 mortgage brokers in total.
“We’ve made partnerships with real estate agencies, and their mortgage broker arms, so they can refer the first-time buyers that come to them directly,” says Toader.
Meanwhile, I asked Toader to run through what assumptions have proven true so far or haven’t panned out.
He says that the team thought it would prove to be a complicated proposition to explain to customers, but actually they tend to get it quickly due to awareness of the U.K. government’s Help To Buy scheme.
He also thought Proportunity could help speed up the home-buying process, but a few parts, such as conveyancing, can still take a few months.
And despite Proportunity’s data play, “people do get emotionally attached to properties. Data helps them detach a bit, but not that much.”
Pensando, an edge computing startup founded by former Cisco engineers, came out of stealth mode today with an announcement that it has raised a $145 million Series C. The company’s software and hardware technology, created to give data centers more of the flexibility of cloud computing servers, is being positioned as a competitor to Amazon Web Services Nitro.
The round was led by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lightspeed Venture Partners and brings Pensando’s total raised so far to $278 million. HPE chief technology officer Mark Potter and Lightspeed Venture partner Barry Eggers will join Pensando’s board of directors. The company’s chairman is former Cisco CEO John Chambers, who is also one of Pensando’s investors through JC2 Ventures.
Pensando was founded in 2017 by Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero and Soni Jiandani, a team of engineers who spearheaded the development of several of Cisco’s key technologies, and founded four startups that were acquired by Cisco, including Insieme Networks. (In an interview with Reuters, Pensando chief financial offier Randy Pond, a former Cisco executive vice president, said it isn’t clear if Cisco is interested in acquiring the startup, adding “our aspirations at this point would be to IPO. But, you know, there’s always other possibilities for monetization events.”)
The startup claims its edge computing platform performs five to nine times better than AWS Nitro, in terms of productivity and scale. Pensando prepares data center infrastructure for edge computing, better equipping them to handle data from 5G, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things applications. While in stealth mode, Pensando acquired customers including HPE, Goldman Sachs, NetApp and Equinix.
In a press statement, Potter said “Today’s rapidly transforming, hyper-connected world requires enterprises to operate with even greater flexibility and choices than ever before. HPE’s expanding relationship with Pensando Systems stems from our shared understanding of enterprises and the cloud. We are proud to announce our investment and solution partnership with Pensando and will continue to drive solutions that anticipate our customers’ needs together.”
MyGate, a Bangalore-based startup that offers security management and convenience service for guard-gated premises, said today it has bagged more than $50 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its footprint in the nation.
Chinese internet giant Tencent, Tiger Global, JS Capital and existing investor Prime Venture Partners funded the three-year-old startup’s $56 million Series B financing round. The new round pushes MyGate’s total fundraise to $67.5 million.
MyGate offers an eponymous mobile app that allows home residents to approve entries and exits, communicate with their neighbors, log attendance and pay society maintenance bills and daily help workers.
The startup says it is operational in 11 cities in India and has amassed over 1.2 million home customers. Its customer base is increasing by 20% each month, it claimed. The service is handling 60,000 requests each minute and clocking over 45 million check-in requests each month.
The idea of MyGate came after its co-founder and CEO, Vijay Arisetty, left the Indian armed force. In an interview with TechCrunch, he said his family was appalled to learn about the poor state of security across societies in India.
“This was also when e-commerce companies and food delivery firms were beginning to gain strong foothold in the nation. This meant that many people were entering a gated community each day,” he said.
MyGate has inked partnerships with many e-commerce players to create a system to offer a silent and secure delivery experience for its users. The startup also trains guards to understand the system.
According to industry estimates, more than 45 million people in India today live in gated communities, and that figure is growing by 13% each year. The private security industry in the country is a $15 billion market.
Arisetty says he believes the startup could significantly accelerate its growth as its solution understands the price-sensitive market. Using MyGate costs an apartment about Rs 20 (28 cents) per month. Even at that price, the startup says it is making a profit. “Today, we are seeing more demand than we can handle,” he said.
That’s where the new funding would come into play for the startup, which today employs about 700 people.
The startup plans to use the fresh capital to expand its technology infrastructure, its marketing and operations teams and build new features. The startup aims to reach 15 million homes in 40 Indian cities in the next 18 months.
In a statement, Sanjay Swamy, managing partner at Prime Venture Partners, said, “It’s been great to see a fledgling startup execute consistently and holistically, and grow into a category-creating market-leader.”
The FrankOne coffee maker, fresh off a successful crowdfunding campaign, is now available for purchase, and I got a chance to test out one of the first run of these funky little gadgets. While it won’t replace my normal pourover or a larger coffee machine, it’s a clever, quick and portable way to make a cup.
Designer Eduardo Umaña pitched me the device a little more than a year ago, and I was taken by the possibility of vacuum brewing — and the fact that, amazingly, until now no one from Colombia had made a coffee maker (it’s named after Frank de Paula Santander, who kicked off the coffee trade there). But would the thing actually work?
In a word, yes. I’ve tested the FrankOne a few times in my home, and, while I have a couple reservations, it’s a coffee making device that I can see myself actually using in a number of circumstances.
The device works quite simply. Ground coffee goes in the top, and then you pour in the hot (not boiling!) water and stir it a bit — 30-50 seconds later, depending on how you like it, you hit the button and a pump draws the liquid down through a mesh filter and into the carafe below. It’s quick and almost impossible to mess up.
The resulting coffee is good — a little bit light, I’d say, but you can adjust the body with the size of the grounds and the steeping time. I tend to find a small amount of sediment at the bottom, but less than you’d get in a cup of French press.
Because it’s battery powered (it should last for ~200 cups and is easily recharged) and totally waterproof, cleaning it is a snap, especially if you have a garbage disposal. Just dump it and rinse it, give it a quick wipe and it’s good to go. It gets a bit more fussy if you don’t have a disposal, but what doesn’t?
I can see this being a nice way to quickly and simply make coffee while camping — I usually do a French press, but sometimes drip, and both have their qualities and limitations. The FrankOne would be for making a single cup when I don’t want to have to stand by the pourover cone or deal with disassembling the French press for cleaning.
It’s also, I am told by Umaña, great for cold brew. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t really like cold brew, but I know many do, and Umaña promises the FrankOne works wonders in a very short time — four minutes rather than an hour. I haven’t tested that, because cold brew tastes like bitter chocolate milk to me, but I sincerely doubt he would mention it as many times as he did if it didn’t do what he said.
There are, I feel, three downsides. First, you’re pretty much stuck with using the included glass carafe, because the device has to create a seal around the edge with its silicone ring. It didn’t fit in my biggest mug, but you might find an alternative should the carafe (which I have no complaints about — it’s attractive and sturdy) crack or get lost.
Second, it doesn’t produce a lot of coffee. The top line as indicated in the reservoir is probably about 10-12 ounces — about the size of a “tall” at a coffee shop. Usually that’s a perfect amount for me, but it definitely means this is a single-serving device, not for making a pot to share.
And third, for the amount of coffee it produces, I feel like it uses a lot of grounds. Not a crazy amount, but maybe 1.5-2x what goes into my little Kalita dripper — which is admittedly pretty economical. But it’s just something to be aware of. Maybe I’m using too much, though.
I reviewed the Geesaa a little while back, and while it’s a cool device, it was really complex and takes up a lot of space. If I wanted to give it to a friend I’d have to make them download the app, teach them about what I’d learned worked best, share my “recipes” and so on. There was basically a whole social network attached to that thing.
This is much, much easier to use — and compact, to boot. It’s a good alternative to classic methods that doesn’t try to be more than a coffee maker. At $120 it’s a bit expensive, but hey, maybe you spend that on coffee in a month.
And by the way, you can use the discount code “TC” at checkout to get 10% off — this isn’t a paid post or anything, Umaña’s just a nice guy!