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Yesterday — October 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

Don’t miss out: Apply for the TC Hackathon at Disrupt Berlin 2019

By Leslie Hitchcock

The popular TC Hackathon is back in action at Disrupt Berlin 2019 on 11-12 December. We’re limiting the competition to 500 participants and seats are going fast. Don’t miss your chance to put your creative skills to the test and compete against some of the world’s top code poets.

Oh, you’ll love this part — it won’t cost you anything to apply or to participate. Who doesn’t love free? Apply to the TC Hackathon today.

Our Hackathon will push you to be your very best. Here’s how it works. The event takes place during the Disrupt conference in a dedicated section of Arena Berlin and — how cool is this — all participants receive a free Innovator pass to the show.

You and your team (either the one you bring or the one you find onsite) will choose from a series of sponsored challenges (more on that in a minute). Then buckle up and get ready to buckle down, because you’ll have less than 24 hours to design, build and present something great. We’re talking working prototypes that address real-world problems.

Don’t worry, we’ll keep you fed and caffeinated throughout the competition so you can focus on building a product with the potential to change the way we live, work and play — and thus dazzle the judges with your skill and creativity.

The Hackathon judges review every completed project, and they’ll pick only 10 teams to move into the finals. That final round takes place on day two, and each team gets a mere two minutes to pitch and impress — in front of judges and an appreciative crowd — on the Extra Crunch stage.

Sponsors present a variety of prizes (including cash) to the winners of their specific challenges, and then TechCrunch chooses one team as the best over-all hack — and awards them a $5,000 prize.

We’ll announce the sponsors, challenges and prizes in the coming weeks. But for now, the sponsored contests, prizes and winners from the Hackathon at Disrupt SF 2018 will give you an idea of what you can expect. You can also check out Quick Insurance — the overall winner at the Disrupt Berlin 2017 Hackathon.

The TC Hackathon takes place during Disrupt Berlin 2019 on 11-12 December. Only 500 people will make the cut and seats are filling quickly. Come show us your tech skills and build something awesome. Apply to the Hackathon today.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

HuffPost is reportedly on the auction block

By Jonathan Shieber

Late last night the Financial Times reported that HuffPost, arguably one of the crown jewels of Verizon Media Group’s remaining network of media properties (which includes TechCrunch), is up for sale.

Verizon has been shedding media properties in a retreat from the strategy that it had begun to execute with the acquisition of AOL for $4.4 billion back in 2015. Through the AOL deal, chief executive Tim Armstrong became the architect of the telecommunications company’s media and advertising strategy.

Armstrong’s vision was to roll up as much online real estate as he could while creating a high technology advertising architecture on the back-end that could better target consumers based on their media consumption (which the telecom company would also own).

The idea was to provide a broad-based competitor to the reach of ad platforms on Google and Facebook which were also targeting users based on their browsing history and interests. The benefit that Google and Facebook had was that they had a more holistic view of what consumers did online and they positioned themselves as a distribution channel between media companies and users — essentially redistributing their articles and videos and hoovering up the ad dollars that had previously gone to those media companies.

The multi-billion dollar land grab continued when Verizon paid $4.5 billion for Yahoo in 2017.

Now it appears that Verizon has a multi-billion dollar case of buyer’s remorse. Part of the billions that Verizon spent on Yahoo was for the early social network Tumblr, which Yahoo had acquired for $1.1 billion back in 2013.

Earlier this year Verizon unloaded Tumblr for the cost of a luxury Manhattan apartment. That $3 million sale was presaged by the significant fall from grace of other former high-flying media and tech properties.

Vice was once worth $5.7 billion at the height of the media investment bubble, but earlier this year Disney wrote down its stake in the company to virtually nothing.

At least Vice is emerging as a survivor. the company has rolled up Refinery29. Vox Media is also doing well in the new world of media. It bought Recode back in 2015 and recently acquired the publisher behind New York Magazine to expand its purview into paper publications and get its hands on the popular New York websites Intelligencer, The Cut, Vulture, and Grub Street.

Other publications like Hello Giggles, which was founded by the actress Zooey Deschanel, were sold to Time Magazine. High-fliers like Buzzfeed, HuffPost, Vice and Vox have all had to lay off staff in recent months.

It’s been a wild ride for HuffPost, which began in 2005 as a collection of celebrity bloggers brought together under the auspices of Arianna Huffington, from whom the site took its name.

AOL acquired The Huffington Post back in 2011 in a deal that was valued at $315 million less than a year after picking up TechCrunch for $25 million.

Verizon announced layoffs across its media properties at the beginning of the year. It cut roughly 7 percent of its staff — or around 800 jobs — including some at HuffPost.

In a statement to the Financial Times, Verizon said that it would not comment on rumors and speculation.

Neither Verizon Media nor HuffPost responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Three of the best tackle the thorny issue of Brexit for startups at Disrupt Berlin

By Mike Butcher

The turbulence of Brexit has left both UK and European startups alike wondering about the best path forward. From recruiting to acquiring investment to scaling into other parts of Europe, the challenges seem to be mounting. By December, who knows what will have happened on the Brexit landscape, such is the chaos.

At Disrupt Berlin in December, we’ll hear from investor Bindi Karia who has deep European ties, founder Glenn Shoosmith who’s expanding his startup internationally and German-born but UK-domiciled VC Volker Hirsch on how to make the right decisions in the face of these obstacles.

Bindi Karia works as a venture partner at large London-based VC Draper Esprit and has held positions in and around the tech industry for as long as she’s been working. She’s been a consultant at PwC Consulting, worked in corporate environments like Microsoft Ventures, served within a startup at Trayport, as an advisor across a number of organizations (Startup Europe, TechStars Startup Weekend, Tech London Advocates, European Innovation Council, WEF). She’s been a banker with Silicon Valley Bank and currently invests as a partner at a large London-based VC firm, as well as serving on the advisory board for seven different startups. She brings a wealth of knowledge to the conversation and understands the differing perspectives involved in each startup’s journey to success.

Volker Hirsch will bring us not only his perspective as a former entrepreneur-turned-VC but also as a German-born citizen living in the UK and dealing with Brexit. He is a Partner at Amadeus, working on its early-stage funds whose investment focus is on artificial intelligence & machine learning, autonomous systems, human-machine interfaces, cybersecurity, enterprise SaaS, digital health and medical technologies.

Volker founded or co-founded a total of 6 companies to date. He is currently co-founder of Blue Beck, a 40-strong mobile development house and a Venture Partner at Emerge Education, Europe’s leading early-stage EdTech investor.

Prior to joining Amadeus Capital, Volker was amongst the first angel investors in companies like Pi-Top, Bibblio (where he is also Chairman), Aula Education and Wonde. His personal investment portfolio comprises about a dozen investments with companies based across Europe and the US.

Previously, Volker was the Chief Strategy Officer at Scoreloop, a mobile social gaming platform, which he helped grow from (almost) inception to 450m users at its peak. When the company got acquired by BlackBerry in 2011, he served as BlackBerry’s Global Head of Business Development – Games.

Lastly, Glenn Shoosmith will bring his perspective as a founder with a substantial operation in the UK but who recently expanded into the US. Originally founded as BookingBug in 2008, the renamed JRNI (pronounced ‘journey’) has become one of the market-leading multichannel appointment scheduling and customer journey platforms, helping leading global retailers, banks, central and local governments enhance their customer experience and save costs. JRNI has a team of over 100 based in London, Boston and Sydney.

Glenn has been a passion advocate for London and the UK as a technology hub within Europe and in the past has helped shape government policy towards innovation and technology, both as an early advocate for Tech City, and an advisor and representative of the government nationally and internationally.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion — and many others. The conference will take place December 11-12.

Greylock GP Sarah Guo is as bullish on SaaS as ever

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where each week we discuss other people’s money and what sense their investment choices make (or don’t).

This week was honestly a treat. We had Kate Clark in the studio along with Alex Wilhelm and a special guest, Sarah Guo from Greylock Partners, a venture firm (obviously). Guo has the distinction of having the best-ever fun fact on the show.

We kicked off with Grammarly, a company that recently put $90 million into its accounts. We chatted about for whom it was built, and if we use it today. One thing that felt clear was that consumers are more willing than before to pay for their tooling. And that means that companies like Grammarly may prove strong investment candidates.

Next, we hit on two more rounds, namely Tiger Global’s investment into Lattice and Clari’s $60 million Series D. Starting with Lattice, a performance management company founded by none other than Sam Altman’s brother, Jack. The startup raised $25 million from Tiger Global, read more about that here.

Clari led us a to a discussion of vertical SaaS, and Guo’s views on the future of SaaS products (she’s bullish). Alex and Guo had a lot to say on this subject.

After talking over a few rounds the discussion turned to the Q3 venture market. A few things stood out from the data and projections. First, that early-stage fundraising was a little light in the quarter. It could be a single-quarter wobble, but the data was worth chewing on all the same. And, second, that Seed deal and dollar volume were hot once again.

And we wrapped with a discussion of Tempest, a new sobriety-focused startup that raised a $10 million round. Honestly, we aren’t sure how we feel about the business model. Please let us know if you have thoughts.

It was a good time. A big thanks to Guo for coming on the show, and a shoutout to the team that makes Equity happen: Chris Gates, and Henry Pickavet.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on iTunesOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

Last few hours to apply: TC Top Picks @ Disrupt Berlin 2019

By Leslie Hitchcock

This is it, startup founders. Today, October 18, is the last day and your final opportunity to be chosen as a TC Top Pick, to score a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and to shine a bright spotlight on your company at Disrupt Berlin 2019 on 11-12 December.

You have only a few hours left to beat today’s 12 p.m. (PT) deadline. It’s quick, it’s painless and it’s free. What are you waiting for? Apply to be a TC Top Pick while you still can.

Every early-stage startup needs exposure to survive and thrive. Exposure to potential customers, to accredited media and to investors with the backing to make dreams come true. Our TC Top Picks provides exposure to possibility.

If your startup falls into one of the categories listed below, we want you. TechCrunch editors will vet the applications and choose up to five startups that represent the best of each category: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education.

If you earn a TC Top Pick designation, you receive a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and a VIP experience. Your package includes one full day exhibiting in Startup Alley (the Disrupt expo floor), three Founder passes, press lists and invitations to networking parties, to name just a few perks.

Our Top Picks cohort generates a lot of curiosity, and Disrupt attendees flock to Startup Alley to meet and greet. It’s networking nirvana, where you can connect with potential customers, investors, mentors, collaborators — think infinite opportunity.

And yet another great opportunity awaits. TechCrunch editors interview each Top Pick startup live on the Showcase Stage. While we promote the interview video across our social media platforms, you can use it to drive traffic to your website and as a long-term marketing tool for pitching investors and customers.

And then there’s the Wild Card. TechCrunch editors will pick one early-stage startup exhibiting in the Alley to be the Wild Card, and that startup will compete in Startup Battlefield, our epic pitch competition. It’s a chance to win even more investor and media love along with the $50,000 prize. Last year, Legacy earned the Wild Card slot, and then went on to win the Startup Battlefield competition.

Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December. So much opportunity, so little time left to take advantage of it. The TC Top Picks opportunity is free, and the benefits are priceless. Don’t miss your chance — apply to be a TC Top Pick before 12 p.m. (PT) today, 18 October.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

How to radically change finance through startups at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin

By Danny Crichton

Fintech has been a very popular area for venture investment, and this is particularly true in Europe. Dozens of high-growth fintech startups have launched over the past decade, from challenger banks and neobanks to new payment services and better ways to save and invest wealth.

On the Extra Crunch stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, we wanted to dive deeper into what it takes to build a great fintech startup, and also radically reshape finance along the way. That’s why we invited two deep thinkers — Yoni Assia of eToro and Charlie Delingpole of ComplyAdvantage — to discuss how entrepreneurs today can affect the future of finance in the years to come, as well as the lessons learned from building their own successful fintech startups.

Assia has been a lifelong finance geek, day trading in his youth while learning computer science before eventually founding eToro in 2006. eToro’s social trading platform allows investors to follow peer investors and mirror their trades, all the while creating a hub for analysis and discussion around investment opportunities. The company has raised nearly a quarter billion dollars in venture capital according to Crunchbase.

Over the past few years, Assia has dived head first into the crypto world, and eToro now supports crypto trading in addition to more traditional public equities. Assia’s ambition has been to make eToro the single largest crypto trading platform in the world. Despite its popularity and success, eToro has almost always focused its efforts on the European and nearby market, and only this year officially launched its trading features in the U.S.

Delingpole has also had the entrepreneurial bug his entire life, and ComplyAdvantage is his third startup. ComplyAdvantage is an API-based know-your-customer/anti-money-laundering (KYC/AML) service for identifying the actors behind financial transactions. More than five years into the company, it has raised tens of millions in venture capital from the likes of Index Ventures and Balderton Capital to grow, and works with hundreds of customers processing data on tens of millions of names per day.

ComplyAdvantage’s product challenge is combining structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data in real-time to provide banks and other clients with risk assessments that are attuned to the changing nature of geopolitics every day. As such, Delingpole has had to work with everyone from financial asset control regulators to banking procurement directors to integrate his product into their workflows.

Together, Assia and Delingpole will discuss the changing landscape for fintech and how founders today can tackle the space.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin and join us on the Extra Crunch stage for an in-depth look at this white hot market.

Sequoia shares wisdom with Disrupt SF Battlefield competitors and Startup Alley Top Picks

By David Riggs

Editor’s note: James Buckhouse is design partner at Sequoia. 

Last Tuesday, the teams competing in Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF, as well as founders chosen as Top Picks in Startup Alley, visited Sequoia Capital’s office in San Francisco for a discussion with partners Jess Lee, Roelof Botha, Mike Vernal, Alfred Lin and James Buckhouse. The following is a partial transcript of the session, which was moderated by Buckhouse.

James Buckhouse: We partner from idea to IPO and beyond, but it’s partnering at the idea stage that we love the most — that moment when anything is possible. And it’s happened throughout Sequoia’s history. YouTube incubated in our office. Dropbox was an unreleased demo. Stripe didn’t have a single line of code. Apple was just two dudes named Steve. And so our favorite place to be is in the earliest moments.

We’re not here tonight to share with you lessons of our great wisdom on how company building ought to go. We’re here tonight to say that we understand how hard it is. And the three partners that you’ve got here to talk with tonight — Roelof BothaJess Lee and Mike Vernal — are people who have actually been in the trenches building companies themselves.

Customers

James Buckhouse: Great companies like Apple, Amazon and Zoom all have this one thing in common: customer obsession. That’s an easy thing to think about when you already have a billion customers, and you already have a bunch of money. But what do you do when you’re at the pre-seed stage and you want to be customer-obsessed but you don’t even have a product yet, let alone any customers? How do you even begin?

Jess Lee: I think at the very earliest of stages, all that really matters is product market fit. A common mistake we see is that a founder is only obsessed with the product, and then goes on to think, “I have my product. Let me go find a market that works for this,” when it should actually be the other way around. You should look at the market first, and then get to know the customers in that market by doing customer research.

There’s a great book by Erika Hall where she discusses how to ask the right questions to customers in order to really understand their pain points, their motivations and their needs. That’s a hallmark of some of the best companies that we’ve seen, even at the earliest stages. They spend a lot of time talking to customers and understanding what they want. Something we at Sequoia like to recommend when we work with seed and pre-seed-stage companies is to actually take the time to write down a set of customer personas. Who are your prototypical or your archetypes of different types of customers? In the very early days, you might think, “I know the customer. I can remember this. I don’t need to write it down.” But as soon as you add one new team member, who maybe isn’t as familiar with your customer, a lot of things get lost in translation.

For my company Polyvore, which was in the women’s fashion space, I had a lot of engineers on my team who were men and didn’t understand women’s fashion very well. I would always beat my head against the wall wondering why a feature they designed didn’t quite make sense, and it’s because we did the personas exercise a little bit too late. It made me wish we’d done it earlier. Once we had three very clear personas, I started to notice everything ran more smoothly. I found, whether it was the sales team or the engineering team, people started to clearly communicate the idea of what our customer really wanted. People made better decisions at all levels. That’s why at Sequoia we always encourage even our earliest-stage companies to write their customer research down immediately, way before they think they need it.

Product

James Buckhouse: How does an early-stage startup make sure that they’re on the right track and building the right product?

Mike Vernal: The key thing to me is actually not being data-driven; it’s much more about being hypothesis-driven. The problem is people think about product as art. But I actually think of product as being equal parts art and science. And I think the science part of it, which is really important, especially at an early stage, is being clear about what your hypotheses are, what you think is going to work, why you think it’s going to work and really sort of pressure-testing that on a logical level. And, if you are able to, actually pressure-testing it with real data.

One of Jess’s techniques, which I think is great, is the notion of fake doors. If you want to know whether something’s actually going to hum in the market, whether people are going to care about it, build a landing page for it. Build a sign-up button for it. Run a bunch of ads for it. Test a bunch of different marketing copy and see if people actually want the product. I’ve seen a bunch of companies use this to great effect.

I think that in general the mistakes people make with product is, one, being too artistic and not scientific enough about things. And then two, to Jess’s point, the most important thing before you have a product is finding product market fit. Usually, finding product market fit in a category is a function of two or three important things. Identifying those important things and testing them to get clarity around that first, then designing the full product, is way better than just starting with a masterpiece, and then slowly painting over and over the masterpiece until you get to something that is great.

James Buckhouse: For enterprise companies, Roelof, can you talk a little bit about the Sales Ready Product and Templeton compression approach?

Roelof Botha: If you go to our website and search for Sequoia Sales Ready Product or Templeton, you’ll find very useful content that we put together. The insight came from one of the best leaders that we’ve worked with, in a variety of companies, who argued to not just go for an MVP, a Minimal Viable Product, if you’re building an enterprise company, but what he termed a Sales Ready Product, an SRP.

The difference is that a Minimal Viable Product just gets over the hurdle but doesn’t convince your customer to jump out of their seats to buy your product. When we invested in Cisco in the late 1980s, the first product they shipped had so many bugs it didn’t work. But the product solved such an important need for the customer that they came back to Cisco and asked if they could fix it since they needed the product to work so badly because there was a fundamental problem in trying two networks at the time. And that to me was a Sales Ready Product. You’ve got something that, even if it’s not perfect, really solves your customer’s pain point.

And so to condense the whole theory behind this: Spend a little bit more time, probably another three months, maybe another four, five months, from when you would otherwise ship an MVP to ship an SRP. The reason it matters for an enterprise company is that your sales organization will be so much more effective. Your sales team will ramp up a curve far more steeply and you’ll get sales momentum much, much faster if you sell an SRP.

Culture

James Buckhouse: I’m going to do something a little bit unexpected here and call on Alfred in the back. Could you talk a little bit about what it was like at Airbnb, where they started with culture very early on?

Alfred Lin: Brian, Joe and Nate came and visited Zappos, where we offered tours, to see what the culture was all about (Alfred was COO of Zappos). At Zappos, we started writing down our core values a little late, when we were at about 300 people. And I told Brian, Joe and Nate that that was too late.

After that trip, they went back and wrote down their core values, before hiring their first employee. They knew that they had to create a new category. Home-sharing was not something that people really thought about. And so they needed people who were willing to champion the mission. And that was one of the first core values that they wrote down.

James Buckhouse: Oftentimes, people think that culture is the thing you do later on, once your business has grown large and suddenly you have a lot of people. But that’s not true. Culture matters a lot more than people think. And it matters earlier than people think. Jess, can you talk about your framework on core values?

Jess Lee: This is something we spend a lot of time on with seed and pre-seed companies, who think, “Oh, I already know my culture. I’ll wait to write it down later.” But it’s important to get it right up front. We encourage people to not pick too many core values. Generally, you want a framework that’s a core value and the behaviors you want that exemplify that core value. And most importantly, you need a story. You need some legendary anecdote or example from inside the company that really brings the core value to life.

To use Airbnb as an example, one of its core values is to be a cereal entrepreneur. The reason it’s cereal with a “C” is because at the time, Airbnb was running out of money. They weren’t sure they had product market fit, but they went to the Democratic National Convention to try the Airbnb idea when they were down to the wire in terms of money. In order to just get the word out about the business they made boxes of cereal that said “Obama-Os” and “Captain McCain.” It’s a good example of rolling up your sleeves and doing whatever it takes to get your business launched. Somehow, they actually managed to generate revenue that they put back into the business. The really memorable part of that is the cereal anecdote. Whatever it might be at your company, make sure that the lore lives on. That’s really what brings culture to life. It’s not just the value itself.

James Buckhouse: Roelof, can you talk a little bit about the culture at PayPal in the early days?

Roelof Botha: There are a couple of elements in that. One is this idea of intercept versus slope. For those of you that are fans of math or science, it comes naturally, but sometimes you get to hire people who have a high intercept. They have a lot of experience. In our case, we needed to hire people who knew a lot about financial services, because we as the early, young team didn’t. You hire people with intercept, but then you want people with slope. People who are going to learn very quickly. And at the end of the day, part of what made PayPal successful was that we had a good slope and we learned very, very quickly.

Our culture was very hard-working. We faced a bit of a crunch in June of 2000. We’d raised a bunch of money during the dot-com era, and then we were sitting with seven months of runway and no revenue, burning $10 million a month. It was a “you’re all-in” culture. Management meetings were on Saturdays, because that’s the kind of sacrifice we were going to make as a team to get to the other side. Culture was really important to the success of the company. We had a strong bond between us as team members because we were in the trenches. We had to figure out how to make this business work when the odds were against us and the press had given up on us.

Most people on the outside are going to think that you’re going to fail. Expect that. Don’t be surprised by that. Draw strength from that, and rally your team around your cause. You should ignore that kind of feedback.

Leadership

James Buckhouse: How do you discern a strong founding team?

Roelof Botha: My favorite, especially with companies at the seed stage, is to have no slides and to have a conversation with you about your business. What I find compelling is, the more I dig, the more excited I get, because your depth of knowledge, of understanding the problem that you’re trying to solve, shows itself. There are a lot of people who start companies for the wrong reasons, and they have very superficial knowledge. So as soon as you start to pressure test it, it’s clear that there’s no depth.

The founders who are the best are the ones that are so motivated to solve the problem they’re working on, they’ve researched everything. You would have found a simpler solution to the problem if you could, and you didn’t. That inspired you to start this company. As I ask you questions, you just have this depth of knowledge. You’ve thought about it so many levels deep. Those founders are the ones that keep coming up with new ideas, and that’s why their imitators don’t do so well. We see this in our industry. You come up with a great idea, TechCrunch writes about it, everybody around the world reads about it and now you’ve got 15 competitors in other countries going after what you’re doing. But guess what? They didn’t have the idea, you did. Since you had the original idea, you’ve thought about it more deeply and you can iterate faster than they can.

James Buckhouse: Jess, how about you? What do you look for to discern a strong founding team?

Jess Lee: I do agree, and I think different investors look for very different things. There is probably a notion of founder/investor fit to some extent. For me, I especially appreciate a unique insight and depth of understanding of that customer and that market. But on top of that, the other thing I think about is grit. I think that being a founder is so hard. I felt like I was on the struggle bus the entire time. Either we weren’t doing well, which was a struggle, or we were doing really well and then we were in a state of hyper-growth, and that’s also really hard. Your job changes underneath you every six months. Because even if you’re successful, everything that used to work for you as the CEO or founder is now broken because your team is now 50 people instead of 10.

What is it driving you, to either solve this problem or just driving you in general? Because it’s just not easy, and folks who give up too easily or came into this because they thought being a founder was going to be really cool, it’s not that cool all the time, so I look for that. Sometimes it shows up in the form being really mission-driven, and you have some burning desire to solve the problem. Sometimes it’s just that you’ve been underestimated your whole life and you’re really mad about it, and you want to prove yourself. There are a lot of different ways to suss out grit, but that’s one big thing that I look for.

One thing I also like to see, that is not a must-have but I find very compelling, is if you’re a good storyteller. I think that at the end of the day you have to convince your family that you’re not crazy for quitting your job to pursue this thing. You’ve got to convince early employees to join you when you can’t pay them any money. You’ve got to convince early-stage seed investors to take a chance on you and give you money when there is nothing there yet. And you’ve got to convince customers. Being able to tell a good story, both taking something complicated and making it sound simple, as well as being able to influence and talk about why your approach is interesting and different, not just better than the competitors. I look for that as well. I think that’s important.

One area where I do disagree with Roelof is that I do prefer to see slides. I think it showcases your storytelling ability. I look at a lot of consumer companies and your attention to design and detail is also an interesting thing that you can suss out with slides.

James Buckhouse: How about you, Mike?

Mike Vernal: If you can’t describe the business in a minute or two, then you need to keep iterating. Some bad meetings end up as the following: Someone will come in with 40 slides and want to convey all of the knowledge in the 40 slides in excruciating detail.

I think a couple of things. One is, many investors look at a lot of companies all day long so they might actually know more about your space than you might think. Then two, if you need 40 minutes to explain the business, marketing and all of these other things, then for an investor meeting that might work because you have that time scheduled, but for the random engineer you meet at a party who you want to get excited about joining your company, that’s going to be really hard.

The best pitch is when I’m two minutes in and I’m like, “I get the business. This is super interesting. Let’s ask all these questions.” The tough ones are 40 minutes of being talked at, where there is no real interaction.

Capital strategies

James Buckhouse: Different types of companies need different types of capital strategies. How do you all think about how founders ought to think about their strategy for capital?

Jess Lee: It’s really important to think about three things: First, what is the actual cash you need for your business? If you’re a pure software business you don’t usually need as much as if you’re building hardware or you’re making physical goods.

Second, what is the valuation that actually makes sense? True valuation, when you become a public company, when you do M&A, is actually a function of your free cash flow, or a multiple of your revenue, so just being able to understand in the long, long-term what is a likely five, 10-year-out valuation, and then making sure you don’t overshoot that just because you can. That’s another first principle.

The third thing is ownership. Doing the math, if you don’t need to raise a lot of money, if you don’t need to raise as many rounds, at the end of the day when ideally your company is acquired for hundreds of millions of dollars, or billions of dollars, or you IPO, what is your ownership at that moment? We have founders like Dropbox, that when they went public, Drew and Arash owned nearly 40% of the company. So you have to think — would you rather have 40% of a $10 billion company, or would you rather have 2% of a $20 billion company? That ownership at the end of the day is really important. So you have to think about those three things, which is a pretty complicated equation.

It really hit home for me when my company, Polyvore, went through the M&A process and it suddenly hit me that all the acquirers were not using funny VC math. They were looking at our cash flow and the multiple of revenue. Luckily, we hadn’t raised that much money, as I’d wanted to keep as much ownership as possible. I was optimizing for ownership for the team. Because of that, we actually had a really nice outcome, where everybody made money because we hadn’t over-raised since we didn’t need to. We were a pure software-based, capital-efficient kind of company, but I think not enough founders think about that from first principles, starting from the early days. They just look at who’s raising what, and how much they could possibly get. They want to maximize that, when in reality, it’s not actually the right way to think about it.

Roelof Botha: When you raise money, you’re recruiting a partner. I see too many companies, especially seed-stage companies, make the mistake of accepting funding from whoever shows up, when that’s probably the most expensive equity you’ll ever sell in your business. You could potentially be selling it to people that are not going to be there six months or six years from now, helping you close a candidate, helping you wrestle with an important strategic decision or helping you refine your business model. Those people aren’t going to be there, so it’s a recruiting decision. Take it seriously. It’s also important to check their references. Your investor is going to do references on you. Why aren’t you doing references on them?

5 days left to save on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019

By Leslie Hitchcock

A show of hands, startuppers. Who’s ready to save some money on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019, our premier tech conference that takes place on 11-12 December? Then listen up, because our super early bird pricing ends in just five days. Right now, passes start at €345 + VAT and, depending on which pass you choose, you can save up to €600. Ka-ching!

Save your euros. Buy your passes to Disrupt Berlin before the Friday, 11 October at 11:59 p.m. (CEST) deadline. Then plan your strategy to make sure you take full advantage of Disrupt. Let’s look at what’s in store.

We’re talking two full days of programming. A roster of world-class speakers and panelists — founders, investors and icons. These are folks who have done the hard work in the trenches. They know how to succeed, and they’ll share their experiences, insights and advice.

We’re thrilled that our roster includes the likes of Julian Stiefel, co-founder/co-CEO of Tourlane. The company’s ongoing mission? Using a recent round of funding ($47 million) to address the challenging problems associated with booking group travel.

You’ll also hear from Jen Rubio, co-founder and chief brand officer of Away, one of the most successful consumer brands in years. How successful? The company, which launched in 2015, has sold more than 1 million suitcases, raised a $100 million round at a $1.4 billion valuation earlier this year and turned profitable in 2018. We’re guessing she might have just one or two tips for aspiring direct-to-consumer entrepreneurs.

Don’t miss the legendary entrepreneurial showdown that is Startup Battlefield. This epic pitch competition has, since its inception, launched 857 companies that have gone on to collective raise $8.9 billion and produce 113 exits. Be in the room and cheer on some of the world’s top early-stage startups as they compete for the $50,000 equity-free prize, investor love and global media attention.

Ready to network? There’s no better place to start than Startup Alley, the Disrupt expo floor. You’ll find hundreds of innovative early-stage startups exhibiting their tech products, services and platforms. Make connecting with the people who can help move your business forward by using CrunchMatch.

Our business-matching platform makes it easier to find and connect with people who share your business interests. You create a profile listing your specific criteria and goals. The CrunchMatch algorithm suggests matches and, subject to your approval, proposes meeting times and sends meeting requests.

When you’re in Startup Alley, be sure to keep an eye out for our TC Top Picks. These companies, curated and selected by TechCrunch editors, represent the best early-stage startups in these categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education.

An amazing slate of speakers, a world-class pitch competition, hundreds of exhibitors and full-tilt networking. That’s just a small taste of what’s waiting for you at Disrupt Berlin 2019  on 11-12 December. Why pay more than necessary? The super early bird pricing disappears on Friday, 11 October at 11:59 p.m. (CEST) deadline. Buy your passes here today.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Miss out on Startup Battlefield? Apply to TC Top Picks at Disrupt Berlin 2019

By Leslie Hitchcock

Did you miss the deadline to apply for Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Well don’t despair, founders. There’s more than one way to place your early-stage startup in front of thousands of influential technologists, investors and global media. Apply to be considered for our TC Top Picks program and the opportunity to exhibit in Startup Alley for free.

Deadline alert: You must apply to be a TC Top Pick by 18 October at 12 p.m. (PT). It’s simple to do and it’s free. Don’t let this opportunity slip through your time-strapped fingers.

TC Top Picks is a pre-conference competition. To be considered, your early-stage startup must fall within one of the following categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education.

Our TechCrunch editors — always on the hunt for the best early-stage startups — will vet each application and select up to five startups in each category. If you’re named a TC Top Pick, you’ll receive a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and a VIP experience at Disrupt Berlin.

What sort of startup catches TechCrunch’s discerning editorial eyes? Great question. Take a look at the list of TC Top Picks from Disrupt Berlin 2018.

The exclusive TC Top Pick cadre will exhibit in a prime location within Startup Alley and — thanks to plenty of pre-conference marketing — be on the receiving end of intense investor and media interest. One of the best perks is the live Showcase Stage interview. TechCrunch editors interview each Top Pick to showcase their company and product. We record the interview and promote the video across our social media platforms.

If you’re still kicking yourself for missing the Startup Battlefield deadline, here’s more good news. There’s always the possibility that you’ll compete as a Wild Card. Say what, now?

Out of all the startups exhibiting in Startup Alley, TechCrunch editors will choose one — the Wild Card — to compete in the Startup Battlefield. At Disrupt Berlin 2018, TC editors chose Legacy, and the feisty startup went on to win the Startup Battlefield and the $50,000 prize.

Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December, and TC Top Picks is your chance to place your extraordinary startup in front of the people who can move your business forward. If you want to exhibit in Startup Alley for free, do not miss this deadline. Apply to be a TC Top Pick before 18 October at 12 p.m. (PT). We’ll see you in Berlin!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Amid mounting concerns around vaping cannabis, entrepreneurs say regulators need to step up

By Jonathan Shieber

As concerns over the safety of vaping products for cannabis sweeps across the country, executives in the industry are passing the buck to regulators to come up with a solution.

The need for national regulation touches everything from how to bank cannabis businesses to how to manage the distribution of cannabis products, but the pain is most acute as vaping related illnesses sweep the United States.

To date, the CDC has recorded roughly 1,080 lung injury cases associated with using e-cigarette, or vaping products in 48 states and 1 U.S. territory. According to the agency, 18 deaths have been confirmed in 15 states, so far. And most of those patients report a history of using THC-containing products.

“I want the CDC and the regulatory bodies that are actually looking into the case to kind of investigate those causes and come back,” said Bharat Vasan, the former chief executive officer at Pax Labs, a marijuana vaporizer manufacturer,  speaking onstage at Disrupt San Francisco 2019. Vasan declined to address whether Pax Labs products could be considered 100% safe. “I think that’s a good question for the company,” said the former chief executive who had worked for Pax for over a year.

Both Vasan, who now runs a consumer and cannabis focused investment firm, Yellow Dog Ventures, and Eaze and Wayv founder Keith McCarty, think that more regulation would fuel growth and provide more stability for a market that’s already the fastest growing industry in the United States.

“It’s like the final stage of prohibition,” says Vasan. “It’s ending but it’s ending state by state by state for cannabis.”

Keith McCarty WayvDSC03851

New bills like the SAFE Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives, would allow national banks to work with cannabis companies. The lack of access to appropriate financial services has been one source of friction in the U.S. cannabis industry. Although it hasn’t stopped any number of entrepreneurs like Vasan, McCarty and others from launching businesses to serve the industry.

Still, it’s a bit of a scary time for many executives in the industry. Bruce Linton was ousted at Canopy Growth, and chief operating officer Ben Cook and General Counsel Lisa Sergi Trager, resigned from MedMen Enterprises. And there’s still a potentially toxic cloud of vapor hanging over the industry in the form of additives and chemicals that have been linked to wave of lung illnesses that swept through the country over the past year, according to the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control. From

Despite the headwinds for vaping, America is clearly becoming cannabis country. “It still happens to be the fastest growing industry in the world,” McCarty said. And even though venture capital investors can’t invest into the industry directly, the ancillary services, products,  and logistic requirements to build a fully functioning, mature industry, represents a significant opportunity for entrepreneurs.

“The market and the population is saying through sentiment that we want this,” said McCarty “[And] this industry continues to move in the right direction… up and to the right.”

At the same time, McCarty also sees the need for more government regulation to move the industry fully into the realm of legitimate, regulated enterprises and rid cannabis of the grey and black market operators that have far more freedom to sell harmful products, thanks to their under-the-table operations.

“We have three times as many illicit dispensaries as we do ones that are legal in the state of California,” says McCarty. “And what the voters voted in is safe access. Safe access is about availability of access points to be able to receive and consume cannabis based on the law and regulations.”

Ultimately, McCarty sees the support for the continuing integration of cannabis products as legal medical and recreational options as something that should have bi-partisan support.

“Our government should be looking at voter sentiment and the population . . . is overwhelmingly in support of cannabis  . . .well beyond that for medical and even for for recreational . . . so it’s probably one of the… only items on the agenda, too, that is bipartisan, like truly supported by parties,” McCarty says. “I’m talking about putting money towards schools, books, education as opposed to all the illicit things that we’re trying to break away from, like the illicit sale of things that you know that may be harming people from a health and wellness perspective.”

Ellen Pao calls out Twitter’s ‘public town square’ model as flawed

By Sarah Perez

Project Include CEO Ellen Pao, who has been working to foster diversity, inclusion and ethics in the tech industry, called out Twitter’s “public square” model as flawed — and a decision that indicates a lack of ethical consideration, on Twitter’s part.

The topic of Twitter came up on a panel at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 this morning, when Pao was asked her opinion as to whether Twitter should make exceptions to its platform rules for public figures — like President Trump, for example.

She said doesn’t believe that it should. And not just because the decision in and of itself raises ethical questions, but because of how these decisions can ultimately shape the direction of Twitter’s platform as a whole.

“I think it’s a question of ethics to break these exceptions — because you want to drive this growth that you want to use to fuel your stock price and to fuel recruiting, and to fuel this capitalism — that’s driving all sorts of decisions without thinking about the long-term direction of where your platform is going,” Pao explained.

She also questioned whether Twitter has been successful in creating an online version of the public town square, which is how Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has repeatedly described the social media platform.

“Jack talks about this public square, where you have this digital version of the public square. But people aren’t screaming at you on the public square, they’re not calling you racist things, they’re not throwing pictures of like horrible things…I don’t want to be in a public square like that,” Pao said. “And I don’t want to have a public square that’s digital create these horrible events in real life,” she added.

On Twitter (or really, on social media in general) the hateful words and sentiments can often spill over into real-world action.

“I don’t think that’s an ethical decision. I don’t think that’s a values-driven decision. I don’t think that’s creating a good public square, I don’t think that’s doing a service for your users who are from the groups that are being hated on,” Pao said. “I think you really have to think about your whole community. You have to think about the types of conversations you want to have.”

She clarified that it’s not about censoring speech, but the challenges in creating a place where people can actually engage in conversations — even those in which they disagree, and even those where there may be conflict.

Twitter’s failure has been not understanding where free speech ends and moderation begins. And this is not a problem unique to its platform. All of social media is struggling with this same issue.

In Pao’s mind, it’s a question of where meaningful conversation ends and outright harassment begins.

“Using the F-word, and the C-word, and the N-word? That’s not a conversation, right? That’s not an exchange of ideas,” she said. “I don’t think people think enough about what they want their platforms to be, what they want the platforms to encourage.”

Why San Francisco is still the gold mine for tech startups

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where each week we discuss other people’s copious dollars and lacking sense.

This week was special! Kate and Alex at Disrupt where they recorded live in front of an audience. Equity has recorded at Disrupt before. Equity has taped before an audience before. But this was the first time that we taped it at Disrupt and in front of an audience that actually had chairs. Progress!

Thanks so much to everyone that came to our live episode of #EquityPod today at #TCDisrupt. It was my first live podcast and hopefully not the last. @alex @chudson @TechCrunch pic.twitter.com/XqUk2DeTXf

— Kate Clark (@KateClarkTweets) October 4, 2019

Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures joined us as well, making for an excellent show. Astute listeners among us will recall that Hudson is a former guest on the show, having taken part back in mid-2017.

Onto the topics, we discussed the impending Precursor Ventures opportunity fund (more here). We wanted to know why it was of modest size, especially in an era of ever-larger venture capital funds.

Next, we turned to a trio of startup stories, starting with Rhino, a company that is working to shake up the rental deposit market. Hate paying deposits for an apartment? Would you rather pay a small, regular fee? Rhino hopes that you would, and has raised $21 million to build out the idea.

Also on our list of topics was a small upstart by the name of Knowable, our colleague Josh Constine profiled the business here. The company sells educational audio bits, and they want you to know, they are not a podcasting business. We’re still a bit unclear of the difference between educational audio and podcast but VCs seem confident enough in the company’s prospects, funneling $3.75 million in the project.

The last startup we riffed on is called oollee. The company provides people with an unlimited supply of filtered drinking water for a small monthly fee. It’s raised $1 million in pre-seed funding from investors, including Mission Gate Inc. and Columbus Holdings, and, of course, we have thoughts!

After that we touched on the most valuable Y Combinator companies, including Stripe (more here and here), Airbnb and DoorDash. The list of YC’s hits is getting long. And, it provided the perfect segue to Airbnb.

Airbnb intends to go public via a direct listing, according to a whole bunch of recent reports. Every VC in town seems to have opinions about direct listings as the next best path to the public markets, maybe they’re right. Finally, WeWork is selling off a bunch of stuff that it bought recently. Here’s a list of what it bought, but SpaceIQ, Teem, Conductor and more are said to be on the chopping block.

All that and we had fun! Back to normal next week.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on iTunesOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

Tourlane co-founder Julian Stiefel to speak at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin this December

By Mike Butcher

Back in May, Tourlane raised $47 million in its ongoing mission to address the complex problems that still exist today around booking group travel. Tourlane has become a major player in this sector.

We’re excited to announce that co-founder/co-CEO Julian Stiefel will be speaking at Disrupt Berlin in December!

Tourlane works directly with service providers and offers customers flights, accommodations, tours, activities and transfer options in one place, thus saving time when coordinating multiple bookings from different vendors or working with offline travel agents. The platform provides real-time pricing, availability, instant trip visualization and drag-and-drop adjustments to make multi-day trip planning easier.

Prior to Tourlane, Stiefel took on a key role in Airbnb’s marketing team after the company acquired his travel startup back in 2011.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion — and many others. The conference will take place December 11-12.

In addition to panels and fireside chats, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.

The lack of cybersecurity talent is ‘a national security threat,’ says DHS official

By Jonathan Shieber

One of the most senior officials tasked with protecting U.S. critical infrastructure says that the lack of security professionals in the U.S. is one of the leading threats to national cyber security.

Speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Jeannette Manfra, the assistant director for cybersecurity for the Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said that the agency was making training for new cybersecurity professionals a priority.

“It’s a national security risk that we don’t have the talent regardless of whether it’s in the government or the private sector,” said Manfra. “We have a massive shortage that is expected that will grow larger.”

Homeland Security is already responding, working on developing curriculum for potential developers as soon as they hit the school system. “We spend a lot of time invested in K-12 curriculum,” she said.

The agency is also looking to take a page from the the tech industry’s playbook and developing a new workforce training program that’s modeled after how recruit and retain individuals.

For Manfra, it’s important that the tech community and the government agencies tasked with protecting the nation’s critical assets work more closely together and the best way to do that is to encourage a revolving door between cybersecurity agencies and technology companies. That may raise the hackles of privacy experts and private companies given the friction between what private companies wish to protect and what governments wish were exposed — through things like backdoors — but Manfra says close collaboration is critical.

Manfra envisions that government will pay for scholarships for cybersecurity professionals who will spend three to five years in government before moving into the private sector. “It builds a community of people with shared experience [and] in security we’re all trying to do the same things,” she said.

Priorities for Homeland Security are driving down the cost of technologies so that the most vulnerable institutions like states, municipalities and townships or the private companies who are tasked with maintaining public infrastructure — who don’t have the same money to spend as the federal government — can protect themselves.

“When you think about a lot of these institutions that are the targets of nation sates… a lot of them have resources at their disposal and many of them do not,” said Manfra. “[So] how do we work with the market to build more secure solutions — particularly with industrial control systems.”

The public also has a role to play, she said. Because it’s not just the actual technological infrastructure that enemies of the U.S. are trying to target, but the overall faith in American institutions — as the Russian attempt to meddle in the 2016 election revealed.

“It’s also about building a more resilient and aware public,” said Manfra. “And adversaries have learned how they can manipulate the trust in these institutions.”

Naspers CEO Bob van Dijk on SoftBank comparisons: ‘They’re broad, we’re focused; we invest in what we know’

By Connie Loizos

Naspers, a South African internet company that has become a major investor in a wide range of digital commerce companies, has in recent years drawn comparisons to the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank. For one thing, Naspers, like SoftBank, is very global in nature, with investments in more than 90 countries. Naspers, like SoftBank, doesn’t shy from writing big checks, as happened a few years ago when it plugged $100 million into LetGo, a New York-based company whose app aims to make it as easy to sell something as it is to throw it away.

Naspers also goes after startups at a variety of stages with the promise that it can help them expand around the world. LetGo, for example, is now available to users in more than 35 countries.

Yet most meaningfully,  both are largely associated with early and exceedingly lucrative investments in Chinese companies. In SoftBank’s case, it made an early bet on the Chinese giant Alibaba, and even while it has pared its stake slightly, that holding is valued at more than $100 billion. Similarly, Naspers made an early bet on the Chinese giant Tencent, and it retains a 31% percent stake in the business that its CEO, Bob van Dijk, said today onstage at Disrupt that it has no intention of selling any time soon. That stake is also valued at more than $100 billion.

Still, van Dijk made clear that the comparisons should stop there during the sit-down. Asked how Naspers differentiates itself from SoftBank and whether it would ever form a Vision Fund-esque vehicle to invest money even more aggressively into startups, the answers were that a.) the two are very different and b.) no.

Said van Dijk, “I’ve met [CEO] Masa [Son] and many of his team over the years and they’re an impressive bunch of people. I think what they’ve done is unprecedented and had a big impact on the industry.” Still, Naspers is “not a fund,” he noted; It’s a holding company, and, as such, it can invest for 20 years if it needs. And “that helps, he said. “It allows you to think [about investments] over a long amount of time.” He said this was particularly important around food delivery, into which Naspers has plugged $5 billion in recent years and van Dijk feels strongly has vast potential, even while he acknowledged that for the foreseeable future, the industry is likely to remain to hugely unprofitable.

As for SoftBank, he continued, “They are great investors.” But they are also “broad in their approach,” whereas Naspers is “more focused. We invest in what we really know. What has served us well is to build up expertise, then go bigger. But we couldn’t deploy $100 billion in things that I understand.”

As for how he would judge the performance of SoftBank’s strategy, van Dijk was unsurprisingly democratic. “We co-invested in Flipkart, and we had the same vision of an attractive India market with great growth and great founders.”

Added van Dijk, “They’ve taken a bigger volume approach, and I hope it works out.”

You can catch the entire conversation — in which van Dijk also noted Naspers’s growing interest in U.S. startups, and shared some insights into a new holding company that Naspers recently took public in Europe — below.

Zola, the $650M wedding portal, taps the travel market with an expansion into honeymoons

By Ingrid Lunden

The wedding industry is estimated to be worth some $100 billion in the U.S. alone, and now one of the fastest-growing companies in that space — the wedding planning site Zola — is making a move to augment its position with a sidestep into travel. Today at Disrupt (our conference in San Francisco), the company is announcing Honeymoons, which will let couples plan, book and raise money for their post-nuptial travels at the same time that they plan the main event.

The beta invite is open for those interested from today. To start off, couples will be able to plan itineraries and book accommodations, with flights getting added in after the launch as part of a bigger effort to own the end-to-end marriage experience.

“Over time, we want to book all your travel needs, both before and after the wedding,” said Shan-Lyn Ma, the company’s CEO and founder.

Zola’s business today is based around pre-wedding organization: users can set up free websites, design and print (paid) wedding invitations, and create Zola-based gift registries for family and friends to buy goods for the couple through the site — a business that has been successful enough to net the company more than $140 million in funding and a $650 million valuation.

But the average time spent planning weddings is 13-18 months, and so Honeymoons will be one way for Zola to extend that relationship not just in terms of money spent — honeymoons is estimated to be a $12 billion industry in the U.S. — but time spent using Zola, which in turn can help build a tighter relationship for whatever moves the company might make in the future. (One very obvious next step: parenting-related content and products.)

disrupt shan lyn ma zola 1080

The Honeymoons feature also brings something else to Zola: a little breathing space. The online market for wedding planning is old and massive — it’s one of the first kinds of e-commerce sites that emerged with the rise of the world wide web itself, and as such there are a lot of large and incumbent competitors. However, “honeymoons” has been generally a more fragmented space, where people plan their own trips themselves via sites that cater to other kinds of travel like vacations, making “online honeymoon planning” far less of an industry per se, and making Zola’s move into the area relatively less pressured.

Ma said that the decision to launch the business came from couples requesting the feature, and it’s taking the rollout relatively slowly. The service will start with a limited number of markets that Zola chose based on them already being popular honeymoon destinations. The plan will be to expand the list to many more locations over time.

“We know where all the key destinations are based on demand from couples,” she added.

Within that list, Zola has negotiated special packages for accommodation and flights. It will also come with a personalized twist: couples input their preferences and are offered honeymoon packages designed to fit their tastes.

“Through our technology and our team of travel experts, couples can tell us, this is what they would love to do for their honeymoon,” explained Ma. “This is their general travel style, budget and dates. Then we will send back an itinerary…[and they can] book with us from there. At launch next month, it will be focused first and foremost on accommodation and experiences. Over time, we would aim to help you with everything you need to do on your honeymoon,” she said.

Ma said thousands of customers have already signed up for the waitlist for the new honeymoons product, which will officially launch next month.

Zola already has a strong connection to a wider marketplace that taps into how millennials and younger consumers, in general, like to shop today, offering a Houzz-style approach of letting users create “look books” for their aesthetics, and giving them flexibility to either register for specific items, or to cash out in gift cards that can be used on other goods and services.

The Honeymoons move will give the company an opening to working with other companies much more closely, specifically those in the travel industry, to create cohesive experiences. Given how many weddings today are focused around “destinations,” this also opens the door to planning events for more than just the couples involved.

Lora DiCarlo founder says CES award snub did company ‘a pretty big favor’

By Brian Heater

CES parent the Consumer Technology Association created a public relations disaster in January when it unceremoniously revoked an award from sex tech startup, Lora DiCarlo and its product Osé.

“Vela [now Osé] does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program,” the organization wrote at the time. “CTA has communicated this position to Lora DiCarlo. We have apologized to the company for our mistake.”

The CTA would go on to apologize and reinstate the award. During a panel today at TechCrunch Disrupt, founder and CEO Lora Haddock told the audience, that in hindsight, “I think they actually did us a pretty big favor.”

Back in May, we noted that the CTA’s apology serendipitously coincided with a $2 million funding raise for the company’s advanced sex toy. Haddock noted that, while the CTA’s initial move was understandably both “disheartening” and “devastating,” the startup’s decision to push back on historical biases, including booth babes and the underrepresentation of female speakers, ultimately became a win.

“We started to really look at some of their policies and recent procedures in the last few years,” Haddock said. “A lot of booth babes products that were on the floor are geared towards male sexuality, but apparently something geared towards a female gaze was frowned upon. So, we fought it, and eventually we ended up winning, we ended up on an international press circuit, we got a ton of ton of coverage.”

No near-term IPO for Impossible Foods, CEO says

By Sarah Perez

The market was receptive to meat replacement products, as the Beyond Meat public offering recently indicated. But rival meat alternative maker Impossible Foods doesn’t see an IPO on its near-term roadmap, according to its founder and CEO, Patrick Brown.

Speaking to the audience at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 on Wednesday, Brown said the company has its hands full growing its business, and going public isn’t something it wants to do anytime soon.

Asked onstage how Impossible Foods will get the money to achieve its goals as a company, and if that meant an IPO was coming soon, the exec agreed that, yes, Impossible Foods does have hugely ambitious goals that require a lot of resources. But it’s not going to the public markets to acquire them, at this point.

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“We’ll have to get those resources either from investors, or from getting our profit margins to the point where we can scale at the velocity that we want to scale with the profit we make from our business,” said Brown. “It’ll be a while before we’re at that point. So we’ll definitely have to raise more money, I would say we are not looking in the near-term future toward an IPO,” he continued.

“As anyone here probably knows, there’s a lot of complications that come with that. We have our hands full, growing our business, doing our core job. And we have great investors, and we have a lot of private investors who are willing to bet on us and so forth,” Brown pointed out.

“So at this point, it’s not, it’s not something that we need, And, and we can just take our time about it, basically,” he said.

The exec also laid out some of the company’s longer-term plans for how he sees the product line growing.

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Impossible Foods chose to focus on beef as its initial product because beef production, by far, has the most destructive impact on the environment. However, the company says its future is in R&D — a team that has 120 people today, and Brown says he plans to double.

Impossible Foods had already made steak prototypes, but isn’t near scaling in that area, the CEO said. The interviewer, TechCrunch editor Johnathan Shieber, also noted he had tried some of the fried chicken products the company had in the works.

“We want to have the know-how and the technology platform to be able to make this entire gamut of products,” Brown said. Ultimately, he explained, the goal is to make the products that consumers prefer to the products that come from animals.

This will present a variety of technology, food science, chemistry, and material sciences challenges, to address factors like flavor, texture, juiciness, and more.

It may also require the company to address the health concerns some have with the meat alternatives, which tend to have higher sodium levels. (Lowering the burger’s sodium is something the company is working on in the next version, we’re told.)

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Brown also briefly touched on the nature of Impossible Foods’ existing business partnerships, such as the recent one with Burger King which sells an Impossible Whopper, as well as others like White Castle and Fatburger.

Those chains sell burgers at low price points, which raises questions about how much money Impossible Foods is making from those deals.

“I can’t give you the exact data because it’s confidential information. I mean, I would, but my CFO would kill me,” joked Brown.

“So the but I can say that basically our product is being sold in lots of mass market places — Burger King, White Castle, Fatburger — tons of these burger chains that sell their burgers at a price that’s affordable to mainstream consumers. It’s great for their business; it’s usually profitable for them. And we’re not losing money on those sales, either. So you can draw your own conclusions,” he added.

The BK deal also was non-exclusive, Brown said, which means the company could continue to work with other fast food businesses, like McDonald’s.

In fact, the CEO believes places like that will eventually come knocking on his door, not the other way around.

“We’re not trying to outperform veggie burgers, we’re trying to outperform the cow. And if we focus on that, and produce the most delicious, healthiest, affordable ground beef on the market, I don’t think we’re going to have to beg McDonald’s or anyone else to put it on their menu,” he said.

 

 

 

Beat the deadline: Apply to TC Top Picks @ Disrupt Berlin 2019

By Leslie Hitchcock

Here’s a solid shout-out to early-stage startup founders who love the word “free.” You have just two weeks left to apply to be a TC Top Pick and exhibit in Startup Alley at Disrupt Berlin 2019 for — you guessed it — free.

Attending Disrupt Berlin as a TC Top Pick is a VIP experience and an incredible opportunity to showcase your business to the startup world’s influential movers and shakers. The Top Picks application window closes on 18 October at 12 p.m. (PT). Don’t wait — apply today.

Here’s how it all works. We accept applications from early-stage startups that fall into one of the following tech categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education.

Our discerning TechCrunch editors will review every qualified application searching for high-potential startups. They’ll choose up to five to represent each category. Each TC Top Pick receives a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package that includes, among other perks, one day exhibiting in Startup Alley, three Founder passes, access to programming on all stages, the complete attendee list (via TC Events Mobile App) and CrunchMatch — our business networking platform.

As VIPs, Top Picks receive plenty of attention from investors, global press and potential customers. If that’s not enough exposure for you, listen up. A TechCrunch editor will interview every Top Pick startup — live on the Showcase Stage — and we’ll record that interview and promote it across our social media platforms. Talk about a great sales and marketing tool.

Did you know that every startup that exhibits in Startup Alley has a shot at being chosen as a Wild Card? It’s true — even Top Picks. And the startup selected as a Wild Card gets to compete in the Startup Battlefield for the $50,000 prize. Case in point: Legacy, a startup focused on helping men freeze and store their sperm for future use (yes, you read that correctly) exhibited in Startup Alley at Disrupt Berlin 2018. Legacy earned the Wild Card slot, and then it won the Startup Battlefield competition. Crazy big dreams do come true.

Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December, but you have only two weeks left if you want a chance to exhibit in Startup Alley for free. Don’t wait — apply to be a TC Top Pick before the deadline strikes on 18 October at 12 p.m. (PT). Come and show the world what you’ve got!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Natalist founder Halle Tecco wants to get you pregnant

By Sarah Buhr

Halle Tecco is no stranger to conception struggles. The Rock Health founder and former CEO has been public about her journey on social media, including two rounds of IVF, eventually leading to a healthy baby boy. Now, she wants to help others make babies, too.

To get there, Tecco has joined a class of new fertility tech companies that have popped up in the last few years. Taking from her years of experience building Rock Health, she’s now launched a new company called Natalist, which offers conception products “inspired by beauty and backed by science” to help those hoping to get pregnant in the near future.

Screen Shot 2019 10 02 at 2.49.21 PMYou can pick and choose various products in Natalist’s pretty packaging or opt for the basic “Get Pregnant” bundle, which includes 7 ovulation and 3 pregnancy tests, a one-month supply of prenatal vitamins and Omega DHA, plus the company’s Conception 101 book.

Of course, that package merely provides the basics for any healthy woman with a regular period and no other fertility issues — and, besides the book, its all something you could find in your local pharmacy. But, as Tecco was quick to point out, not every woman is keen on going into their local CVS, grabbing a pregnancy test and taking it up to the register. In fact, many women Tecco polled before starting her company mentioned the need in the market for discretion. Buying online from a trusted brand would provide them with both privacy and security in the product.

While Natalist’s first offerings are the minimum for anyone trying to make a baby, Tecco has already raised a cool $5 million to build out products addressing more serious fertility concerns like PCOS and endometriosis, which combined affect one out of every five women in their child bearing years and can make it a lot harder to get pregnant or make a pregnancy stick.

“We plan to use the funding to bring new products to market but we wanted to start with products that are sort of tried and true,” Tecco told TechCrunch, further explaining she’d like to see Natalist be more than just physical products and become more of a platform to help women through their pregnancy journey.

“We really want to have a support platform for women who have questions or concerns, really creating a great customer experience and helping them troubleshoot if things aren’t going the way that they want them to and also arm them with information and knowledge around getting pregnant,” Tecco said.

While she doesn’t see herself creating something like the app Glow, which both offers information and data through various stages of pregnancy and a community of women working on becoming pregnant, she does see the value of collaboration with these types of communities on various fertility apps and would like to reach out to those founders to see if there might be something there they can work on in the future as well.

For those interested in checking out Natalist’s products, the “Get Pregnant” bundle starts at $90 for a one time purchase or $75 per month for the subscription plan. You can also add products from the site à la carte, should you want more tests or vitamins than what’s in the one-month package.

And for those of you TechCrunch readers interested in the funding details, Natalist took in seed money from Collaborative Fund, Cowboy Ventures, Fuel Capital, Rock Health and xFund, as well as several well-known angel investors, including Katrina Lake, Julia Cheek, Christine Lemke, John Doerr, Malay Gandhi, David Vivero and R. Martin Chavez.

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