Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about the flurry of IPO filings. Before that, I noted the differences between raising cash from angels vs. traditional venture capitalists.
Venture capitalists look for companies poised to disrupt markets untouched by innovative technology. Believe it or not, a very small percentage of jewelry shopping is done online, which means there’s a big opportunity — for the right team — to bring jewelry buyers and sellers to the 21st century.
Enter Pietra, a new startup that’s just raised $4 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Andrew Chen (Substack & Hipcamp investor). Robert Downey Jr.’s VC fund Downey Ventures and Will Smith’s fund Dreamers Fund also participated, as did Hollywood manager Scooter Braun, Michael Ovitz and supermodel Joan Smalls.
I spoke to the founding team, which includes Uber alum Ronak Trivedi and Ashley Bryan, who hails from fashion e-commerce site Moda Operandi. The pair bring a healthy mix of technology and fashion expertise to the mix. Trivedi tells TechCrunch he’s drawn on his Uber experience to recruit engineers from top tech companies and to advocate for fast growth. Meanwhile, Bryan has leveraged her fashion industry connections to establish relationships with luxury designers.
“Fashion is typically really under-resourced in terms of tech,” Bryan tells TechCrunch. “[The fashion industry] is great at the creativity part but it’s tough, especially with jewelry because you really have to put up a lot of capital.”
Pietra’s plan is to create a high-end marketplace for consumers to connect with jewelry designers. To do this, the team has adopted the standard marketplace approach, taking a 30% marketplace fee from sellers, as well as a 7% fee from buyers commissioning jewelry on the platform.
“Whether you do custom jewelry or engagement jewelry or you do jewelry for celebrities like Drake, you can come on Pietra and connect with a global marketplace,” says Trivedi.
The jewelry market is expected to be worth more than $250 billion by 2020, according to McKinsey research. And where there’s a billion-dollar market, there are VCs.
“Even though gemstones and jewelry have been at the center of art, commerce, and culture since the dawn of human civilization — going from stone jewelry created 40,000 years ago in Africa to the trade routes between East and West to Fifth Avenue in New York to the Instagram feed on your phone — the technology for discovering, designing, and purchasing jewelry online hasn’t evolved much at all,” writes a16z’s Chen, who overlapped with Trivedi during his Uber tenure.
Pietra completed its official launch this week. It has 100 designers on the platform and counting, along with what the founders say is a lengthy waitlist.
This week I published a long feature on the state of seed investing in the Bay Area. The TL;DR? Mega-funds are increasingly battling seed-stage investors for access to the hottest companies. As a result, seed investors are getting a little more creative about how they source deals. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and everyone wants a stake in The Next Big Thing. Read the story here.
Y Combinator graduated another batch of 200 companies this week. We were there both days, taking notes on each and every company. To make things easy on you, I’ve put together the ultimate YC reading list:
Here’s a look at some of the profiles we’ve written on the S19 companies:
We recorded two great episodes of Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital podcast, this week. The first was with YC CEO Michael Seibel, in which he speaks to trends at the seed stage of investing, changes at the accelerator program, including its move to San Francisco and more. You can listen to that one here. Plus, we had on Unusual Ventures co-founder and partner John Vrionis, who talked to us about direct listings versus IPOs and the future of DoorDash and Airbnb. You can listen to that one here.
Contributors Tyler Elliston and Kevin Barry share advice for B2B companies: “Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of B2B companies apply ineffective demand generation strategies to their startup. If you’re a B2B founder trying to grow your business, this guide is for you. Rule #1: B2B is not B2C. We are often dealing with considered purchases, multiple stakeholders, long decision cycles, and massive LTVs. These unique attributes matter when developing a growth strategy. We’ll share B2B best practices we’ve employed while working with awesome B2B companies like Zenefits, Crunchbase, Segment, OnDeck, Yelp, Kabbage, Farmers Business Network, and many more.” Read the full story here. (Extra Crunch membership required.)
A number of startups are bringing technology and innovation to the fertility industry, with a growing few focused specifically on male fertility.
“Society at large doesn’t understand the subject of fertility,” Tom Smith, the co-founder and chief executive officer of men’s sperm storage startup Dadi tells TechCrunch. “People see it as a female issue.”
Dadi has raised a $5 million seed extension led by The Chernin Group, a private equity fund that typically invests in media, with existing investors including London seed-fund Firstminute Capital and New York’s Third Kind Venture Capital also participating. The company, which sends at-home fertility tests and sperm storage kits, closed a $2 million seed round earlier this year.
Dadi’s funding event comes shortly after another men’s fertility business, Legacy, raised a $1.5 million round for its sperm testing and freezing service. Both companies hope to leverage venture capital funding to become the dominant men’s fertility brand.
Bain Capital Ventures -backed Legacy, which won TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield competition at Disrupt Berlin 2018, allows men to get their sperm tested and frozen without visiting a clinic or meeting with a doctor. Founder and chief executive officer Khaled Kteily said the company, which is based out of the Harvard Innovation Labs in Boston, planned to use the capital to expand its sperm analysis and cryogenic storage services.
Sarah Steinle, head of marketing, Khaled Kteily, founder and CEO, and Daniel Madero, head of clinic partnerships at Legacy .
Like many startups today, Dadi and Legacy are capitalizing on the direct-to-consumer business model to educate men about their fertility. Customers of both Dadi and Legacy simply order a DIY sperm collection kit online, collect a sperm sample and send it back to the company for a full fertility report. Both companies offer sperm storage services too. Dadi charges a total of $199.98 for its sperm testing kit and one year of sperm storage, while Legacy asks for $350 for clinical fertility analysis and lifestyle recommendations. To store your sperm in Legacy’s cryogenic storage facilities, it’s an additional $20 per month.
One in six couples struggles to get pregnant after one year of trying. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, one-third of the infertility cases amongst those couples are caused by fertility problems in men, another one-third of issues are connected to women and the remaining cases are a result of a combination of male and female fertility issues. By making sperm storage more accessible, startups hope to encourage a conversation around family planning and fertility among young men.
“Men also have a biological clock,” Smith said. “From your late 20s and onward, your overall sperm count absolutely declines and, more importantly, the number of mutations that can be passed on to that potential child grows.”
Dadi, a New York-based company, plans to use its latest bout of funding to continue developing a number of yet-to-be-announced products, as well as offer new support services to customers who’ve taken Dadi’s fertility tests: “If we are going to live up to our overall objective of being this encompassing business helping men through the fertility stack, the next step for us is investing in next-step support,” Smith explains.
Dadi’s founding team lacks experience in the healthcare sector, which is likely to pose problems as the company expands and forges partnerships in the greater healthcare field. Smith previously led a custom emoji business, Imoji, which was acquired by Giphy in 2017. Dadi co-founder Mackey Saturday, for his part, was previously a graphic designer responsible for creating Instagram’s logo.
Aiming to make up for its lack of expertise, Dadi has formed a Science and Technology Advisory Board with participation from Dr. Michael Eisenberg, associate professor of urology at Stanford’s Medical Center, and Dr. Jacques Cohen, the laboratory director at ART Institute of Washington at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Legacy’s Kteily previously worked as a consultant focused on health & life sciences before serving as a senior manager at the World Economic Forum. Daniel Madero and Sarah Steinle, also Legacy co-founders, previously worked at Medifertil, a Colombian fertility clinic, and Extend Fertility, respectively.
In addition to Dadi and Legacy, other companies close to the space have recently secured notable investments including Hims, the provider of direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction (ED) and hair loss medication, which raised a $100 million this year. Another seller of ED meds, Ro, has raised a total of $91 million. And Manual, an educational portal and treatment platform for men’s issues, raised a £5 million seed round in January from Felix Capital, Cherry Ventures and Cassius Capital.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is looking for pitches on how to enhance and augment traditional creative arts through immersive technologies.
Through a partnership with Microsoft the foundation is offering a share of a $750,00 pool of cash and the option of technical support from Microsoft, including mentoring in mixed-reality technologies and access to the company’s suite of mixed reality technologies.
“We’ve seen how immersive technologies can reach new audiences and engage existing audiences in new ways,” said Chris Barr, director for arts and technology innovation at Knight Foundation, in a statement. “But arts institutions need more knowledge to move beyond just experimenting with these technologies to becoming proficient in leveraging their full potential.”
Specifically, the foundation is looking for projects that will help engage new audiences; build new service models; expand access beyond the walls of arts institutions; and provide means to distribute immersive experiences to multiple locations, the foundation said in a statement.
“When done right, life-changing experiences can happen at the intersection of arts and technology,” said Victoria Rogers, Knight Foundation vice president for arts. “Our goal through this call is to help cultural institutions develop informed and refined practices for using new technologies, equipping them to better navigate and thrive in the digital age.”
Launched at the Gray Area Festival in San Francisco, the new initiative is part of the Foundation’s art and technology focus, which the organization said is designed to help arts institutions better meet changing audience expectations. Last year, the foundation invested $600,000 in twelve projects focused on using technology to help people engage with the arts.
“We’re incredibly excited to support this open call for ways in which technology can help art institutions engage new audiences,” says Mira Lane, Partner Director Ethics & Society at Microsoft. “We strongly believe that immersive technology can enhance the ability for richer experiences, deeper storytelling, and broader engagement.”
Here are the winners from the first $600,000 pool:
Project lead: Nicole Keating | Miami | @ArshtCenter
Developing forecasting software that enables cultural institutions to make data-centered decisions in planning their seasons and events.
Project lead: T.J. Black | Miami Beach | @TheBassMoA
Using 360-degree photography technology to capture and share the exhibit experience in an engaging, virtual way for remote audiences.
Project lead: Shane Richey | Bentonville, Arkansas | @crystalbridges
Developing mobile software to deliver immersive audio-only stories that museum visitors would experience when walking up to art for a closer look.
Project lead: Brian Kirschensteiner | East Lansing, Michigan | @msubroad
Creating a system of smart labels that combine ultra-thin touch displays and microcomputers to deliver interactive informational content about artwork to audiences.
Making theater and performance art more accessible for the deaf, hard of hearing and non-English speaking communities by integrating augmented reality smart glasses with an open access smart captioning system to accompany live works.
Developing a mobile app for classical music audiences that receives real-time program notes at precisely-timed moments of a live musical performance.
Encouraging public input on new forms of historical monuments through a digital tool that allows users to identify locations, topics and create designs for potential public art and monuments in our cities.
Prototyping a tool in the form of a smartphone/tablet app for cultural institutions to capture visitor demographic data, increasing knowledge on who is and who is not participating in programs.
Project lead: Norah Diedrich | Newport, Rhode Island | @NewportArtMuse
Enabling audiences to share immediate feedback and reflections on art by designing hardware and software to test recording and sharing of audience thoughts.
Producing touchscreen installations in public locations that allow users to create and share poetry by reflecting on and responding to historical documents, oral histories, and multimedia stories about current events and community issues.
Using crowdsourcing methods to improve Wikipedia descriptions of artworks in major collections so people can better access and understand art virtually.
Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its annual Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles.
Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts key panels and conversations from the event, including our panel on micromobility where TechCrunch VC reporter Kate Clark was joined by investors Sarah Smith of Bain Capital Ventures, Michael Granoff of Maniv Mobility, and Ted Serbinski of TechStars Detroit.
The panelists walk through their mobility investment theses and how they’ve changed over the last few years. The group also compares the business models of scooters, e-bikes, e-motorcycles, rideshare and more, while discussing Uber and Lyft’s role in tomorrow’s mobility ecosystem.
Sarah Smith: It was very clear last summer, that there was essentially a near-vertical demand curve developing with consumer adoption of scooters. E-bikes had been around, but scooters, for Lime just to give you perspective, had only hit the road in February. So by the time we were really looking at things, they only had really six months of data. But we could look at the traction and the adoption, and really just what this was doing for consumers.
At the time, consumers had learned through Uber and Lyft and others that you can just grab your cell phone and press a button, and that equates to transportation. And then we see through the sharing economy like Airbnb, people don’t necessarily expect to own every single asset that they use throughout the day. So there’s this confluence of a lot of different consumer trends that suggested that this wasn’t just a fad. This wasn’t something that was going to go away.
For access to the full transcription below and for the opportunity to read through additional event transcripts and recaps, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.
Kate Clark: One of the first panels of the day, I think we should take a moment to define mobility. As VCs in this space, how do you define this always-evolving sector?
Michael Granoff: Well, the way I like to put it is that there have been four eras in mobility. The first was walking and we did that for thousands of years. Then we harnessed animal power for thousands of years.
And then there was a date — and I saw Ken Washington from Ford here — September 1st, 1908, which was when the Model T came out. And through the next 100 years, mobility is really defined as the personally owned and operated individual operated internal combustion engine car.
And what’s interesting is to go exactly 100 years later, September 2008, the financial crisis that affects the auto industry tremendously, but also a time where we had the first third-party apps, and you had Waze and you had Uber, and then you had Lime and Bird, and so forth. And really, I think what we’re in now is the age of digital mobility and I think that’s what defines what this day is about.
Ted Serbinski: Yeah, I think just to add to that, I think mobility is the movement of people and goods. But that last part of digital mobility, I really look at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. And it’s really that intersection, which is enabling all these new ways to move around.
Clark: So Ted you run TechStars Detroit, but it was once known as TechStars Mobility. So why did you decide to drop the mobility?
Serbinski: So I’m at a mobility conference, and we no longer call ourselves mobility. So five years ago, when we launched the mobility program at TechStars, we were working very closely with Ford’s group and at the time, five years ago, 2014, where it started with the connected car, auto and [people saying] “you should use the word mobility.”
And I was like “What does that mean?” And so when we launched TechStars Mobility, we got all this stuff but we were like “this isn’t what we’re looking for. What does this word mean?” And then Cruise gets acquired for a billion dollars. And everyone’s like “Mobility! This is the next big gold rush! Mobility, mobility, mobility!”
And because I invest early-stage companies anywhere in the world, what started to happen last year is we’d be going after a company and they’d say, “well, we’re not interested in your program. We’re not mobility.” And I’d be scratching my head like, “No, you are mobility. This is where the future is going. You’re this digital way of moving around. And no, we’re artificial intelligence, we’re robotics.”
And as we started talking to more and more entrepreneurs, and hundreds of startups around the world, it became pretty clear that the word mobility is actually becoming too limiting, depending on your vantage where you are in the world.
And so this year, we actually dropped the word mobility and we just call it TechStars Detroit, and it’s really just intersection of those physical and digital worlds. And so now we don’t have a word, but I think we found more mobility companies by dropping the word mobility.
Our 14th Annual TechCrunch Summer Party is a mere two weeks away, and we’re serving up a fresh new batch of tickets to this popular Silicon Valley tradition. Jump on this opportunity, folks, because our previous releases sold out in a flash — and these babies won’t last long, either. Buy your ticket today.
Our summer soiree takes place on July 25 at Park Chalet, San Francisco’s coastal beer garden. Picture it: A cold brew, an ocean view, tasty food and relaxed conversations with other amazing members of the early-startup tech community.
TechCrunch parties have a reputation as a place where startup magic happens. And there will be plenty of magical opportunity afoot this year as heavy-hitter VCs from Merus Capital, August Capital, Battery Ventures, Cowboy Ventures, Data Collective, General Catalyst and Uncork Capital join the party.
There’s more than one way to make magic at our summer fete. If you’re serious about catching the eye of these major VCs, consider buying a Startup Demo Package, which includes four attendee tickets.
Check out the party details:
No TechCrunch party is complete without a chance to win great door prizes, including TechCrunch swag, Amazon Echos and tickets to Disrupt San Francisco 2019.
Buy your ticket today and enjoy a convivial evening of connection and community in a beautiful setting. Opportunity happens, and it’s waiting for you at the TechCrunch Summer Party.
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