20 Mar

Iterable lands $50M Series C investment to expand cross-channel marketing platform

Iterable, a startup that helps companies build complex marketing campaigns across channels to reduce churn and increase usage, announced a $50 million Series C round today.

Investors include Blue Cloud Ventures, CRV, Harmony Partners, Index Ventures and Stereo Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $80 million.

Company co-founder and CEO Justin Zhu says the Iterable platform captures a constant stream of data from consumers from a variety of sources to give marketers the ability to build segments or event triggers based on consumer behavior.

“Customers are streaming real-time updates of who they are, where they’re purchasing, what they’re doing in the app, what they’re up to on the website, and we’re taking all that data and making it available in real time,” Zhu explained.

Photo: Iterable

This could allow marketers to contact people based on behaviors, such as a segment of people who haven’t opened the app in two weeks. Marketers can also use event triggers to automate contact. In the classic scenario of the abandoned shopping cart, a marketer could set a trigger to send an email or an SMS message two hours after the cart was abandoned to prompt the customer to come back.

As a platform, Iterable is offering a set of tools in a single solution that marketers would have had to buy separately. “In the past, what you typically would do is cobble together a variety of point solutions. You may buy a product just for mobile and buy one just for email. You may have engineers cobble together custom code to handle the lifecycle management. With Iterable, that can be all done in one place, and it can be done by a marketer, which would be the focus for their job,” Zhu said.

He said that the company is streaming customer data from the various data sources directly to the marketers, so there is no data sharing involved with third parties. “This is a first-party data from our own customers,” he said.

The company is reporting triple digit year-over-year growth, although it would not share specific revenue numbers. Iterable has 300 customers including Box, DoorDash and Zillow. It currently has 200 employees spread across three locations including the company headquarters in San Francisco and offices in Denver and New York City.

Zhu says the company’s vision is to be a global company, and with this funding it plans to expand into Europe and Asia, as it continues to build the company.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

20 Mar

Portworx raises $27M Series C for its cloud-native data management platform

As enterprises adopt cloud-native technologies like containers to build their applications, the next question they often have to ask themselves is how they adapt their data storage and management practices to this new reality, too. One of the companies in this business is the four-year-old Portworx, which has managed to attract customers like Lufthansa Systems, GE Digital and HPE with its cloud-native storage and data-management platform for the Kubernetes container orchestration platform.

Portworx today announced that it has raised a $27 million Series C funding round led by  Sapphire Ventures and the ventures arm of Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company. Existing investors Mayfield Fund and GE Ventures also participated, as well as new investors Cisco, HPE and NetApp, which clearly have a strategic interest in bringing Portworx’s storage offering to their own customers, too, and partnering with the company.

Portworx’s tools make it easier for developers to migrate data, create backups and recover them after an issue. The service supports most popular databases, including Cassandra, Redis and MySQL, but also other storage services. Essentially, it creates a storage layer for database containers or other stateful containers that your apps can then access, no matter where they run or where the data resides.

“As the cloud-native stack matures, Portworx’s leadership in the data layer is really what is highlighted by our funding,” Portworx CEO and co-founder Murli Thirumale told me. “We clearly have a significant number of customers, there is a lot of customer growth, our partner network is growing. What you are seeing is that within that cloud-native ecosystem, we have the maximum number of production deployments and that momentum is something we’re continuing to fuel and fund with this round.”

As Portworx CEO and co-founder Murli Thirumale told me, the company expanded its customer base by over 100 percent last year and increased its total bookings by 376 percent year-over-year. That’s obviously the kind of growth that investors want to see. Thirumale noted, though, that the company wasn’t under any pressure to raise at this point. “We were seeing such strong growth momentum that we knew we need the money to fuel the growth.” That means expanding the company’s sales force, especially internationally, as well as its support team to help its new customers manage their data lifecycle.

In addition to today’s funding round, Portworx also today announced the latest version of its flagship Portworx Enterprise platform, which now includes new data security and disaster recovery functions. These include improved role-based access controls that go beyond what Kubernetes traditionally offers (and that integrate with existing enterprise systems). The new disaster recovery tools now allow enterprises to make incremental backups to data centers that sit in different geographical locations. Maybe more importantly, Portworx now also lets users automatically save data in two nearby data centers zones as updates happen. That’s meant o enable use cases where zero data loss would be acceptable in the case of an outage. With this, a company could automatically backup data from a database that sits in Azure Germany Central and back it up to AWS Europe Frankfurt, for example.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

20 Feb

Image recognition startup ViSenze raises $20M Series C

ViSenze, a startup that provides visual search tools for online retailers like Rakuten and ASOS, announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series C. The round was co-led by Gobi Ventures and Sonae IM, with participation from other backers including returning investors Rakuten and WI Harper.

Founded in 2012, ViSenze has now raised a total of $34.5 million (its last round was a Series B announced in September 2016). The Singapore-based company, whose clients also include Urban Outfitters, Zalora, and Uniqlo, bills its software portfolio as a “personal shopping concierge” that allows shoppers to find or discover new products based on visual search, automatic photo tagging, and recommendations based on their browsing history. ViSenze’s verticals include fashion, jewelry, furniture, and intellectual property.

ViSenze’s latest funding will be used to develop its software through partnerships with smartphone makers including Samsung, LG, and Huawei. The company has offices in Asia, Europe, and the United States, and claims an annual revenue growth rate of more than 200 percent. Other startups in the same space include Syte.ai, Slyce, Clarifai, and Imagga.

In a statement, Rakuten Ventures partner Adit Swarup said “When we first invested in ViSenze in 2014, retailers had just started seeing the benefits of powering product recommendations with image data. Today, ViSenze not only powers recommendations for the largest brands in the world, but has helped pioneer a paradigm shift in e-commerce; helping consumers find products inside their favorite social media videos and images, as well as initiate a search directly from their camera app.”

Other participants in the round included returning investors Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Ventures, Raffles Venture Partners, Enspire Capital, and UOB Venture Management, as well as new investors Tembusu ICT Fund, 31Ventures Global Innovation Fund, and Jonathan Coon’s Impossible Ventures.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

19 Feb

Orai raises $2.3M to make you a better speaker

Orai, a startup building communication coaching tools, is announcing that it has raised $2.3 million in seed funding.

CEO Danish Dhamani said that he co-founded the company with Paritosh Gupta and Aasim Sani to address a need in his own life — the fact that he was “held back personally and professionally” by lackluster “communications skills and public speaking skills.”

Dhamani said he attended Toastmasters International meetings hoping to improve those skills, where he came to a surprising conclusion — that he could build an algorithm to analyze your speaking abilities and give tips on how to improve.

To be clear, Orai isn’t necessarily trying to replace groups like Toastmasters, or individual speaking coaches. However, Dhamani said the “status quo” involves a “one-to-one” approach, where a human coach gives feedback to one person. Orai, on the other hand, can coach “entire IT teams, entire student bodies.”

“I am a big advocate of personalized, one-on-one coaching as well,” he said. “Orai is not replacing that, it’s enhancing that if used together.”

The startup has created iOS and Android smartphone apps to demonstrate the technology, which offer focused lessons and then assess your progress by analyzing recordings of your voice. (I did the initial assessment, and although I was praised for not using any “filler words,” I was told that I need to slow down — something I hear a lot.)

The real business model involves selling the tools to businesses, which can then assign Orai lessons to salespeople or other teams, create their own lessons and track everyone’s progress.

Attendees of TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF hackathon may recognize the team, which presented a body language analyzer in 2017 called Vocalytics. So you can probably guess that Dhamani’s plans go beyond audio.

The funding was led by Comcast Ventures — Orai was one of the startups at Comcast’s LIFT Labs Accelerator in Philadelphia. (Currently accepting applications for its second class!) In addition to announcing the funding, Orai has signed up famed speaking coach Nancy Duarte as an advisor.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

23 Jan

VCs give us their predictions for startups and tech in Southeast Asia in 2019

The new year is well underway and, before January is out, we polled VCs in Southeast Asia to get their thoughts on what to expect in 2019.

The number of VCs in the region has increased massively in recent years, in no small part due to forecasts of growth in the tech space as internet access continues to shoot up among Southeast Asia’s cumulative population of more than 600 million consumers.

There are other factors, including economic growth and emerging middle classes, but with more than 3.8 million people becoming first-time internet users each month — thanks to smartphones — Southeast Asia’s ‘digital economy’ is tipped to more than triple to reach $240 billion by 2025. That leaves plenty of opportunity for tech and online businesses and, by extension, venture capitalists.

With a VC corpus that now numbers dozens of investment firms, TechCrunch asked the people who write the checks what is on the horizon for 2019.

The only rule was no more than three predictions — below, in no particular order, is what they told us.


Alberty Shyy, Burda

Funds will continue to invest aggressively in Southeast Asia in the first half of this year but capital will tighten up by Q4 as funds and companies prepare for a possible recession. I think we will see a lot of companies opportunistically go out to fundraise in Q1/Q2 to take advantage of a bull market.

We will see two to three newly-minted unicorns from the region this year, after a relative lull last year.

This will (finally) be the year that we start to see some consolidation in the e-commerce scene


Dmitry Levit, Centro

A significant portion of capital returned by upcoming U.S. IPOs to institutional investors will be directed to growth markets outside of China, with India and Southeast Asia being the likeliest beneficiaries. Alternative assets such as venture and subsets of private equity in emerging markets will enter their golden age.

The withdrawal of Chinese strategic players held back by weakened domestic economy, prudent M&A by local strategics and ongoing caution among Japanese, Korean and global corporates, combined with ongoing valuations exuberance by late-stage investors allocating funds to Southeast Asia, will continue holding back large liquidity events. Save perhaps for a roll-up of a local champion or two into a global IPO. Fundraising will get more troublesome for some of Southeast Asia’s larger unprofitable market leaders. Lack of marquee liquidity events and curtailed access to late-stage capital for some will lead to a few visible failures (our money is on the subsidy-heavy wallets!) and a temporary burst of short-term skepticism around Southeast Asia as an investment destination towards the end of 2019.

The trend towards the emergence of value-chain specific funds and fund managers will continue, as digitalization is reaching ever further into numerous industry sectors and as Southeast Asia hosts an increasing portion of global supply chains. We foresee at least dozen new venture firms and vehicles emerging in 2019 with clear sector-led investment thesis around the place of Southeast Asian economies in the global value chains of fashion industry, agriculture and food; labour, healthcare services; manufacturing, construction tech and so on, with investment teams that have the necessary expertise to unravel this increasing complexity.


Willson Cuaca, East Ventures

Jakarta becomes Southeast Asia’s startup capital surpassing Singapore in terms of the number of deals and investment amount.

As Indonesia’s startup scene heats up, regional seed and series A funds move away from Indonesia and target Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines (in market priority order).

Southeast gets two new unicorns.


Rachel Lau, RHL Ventures

North Asian companies will provide well-needed liquidity as they withdraw capital from developed American and European markets due to the Federal Reserve’s actions. The FED raised interest rates and reduced the size of its balance sheet (by not replacing the bonds that were maturing at a rate of $50 billion a month). This has been seen in the recent fundraising exercise by Southeast Asian unicorns. Grab has recently seen an impressive list of North Asian investors such as Mirae, Toyota and Yamaha . A recent stat stated that 85 percent of the funding of Southeast Asia startups have gone to billion dollar unicorn such as Grab and Gojek, bypassing the early stage startups that are more in need for funding, this trend is expected to continue. Therefore, we will see early-stage companies and venture capitalists becoming more focused on generating cash flow from operating operations instead as fundraising activities become more difficult.

A growth in urbanization in Southeast will create new job opportunities in small/medium businesses, as evident in China. Currently, only 12 percent of Asia’s urban population live in megacities, while four percent live in towns of fewer than 300,000 inhabitants. New companies will see the blurred lines between brick and mortar businesses vs pure online businesses. In the past year or so, we have seen more and more offline businesses going online and more online businesses going offline.

Fertility rates in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam exceed 2.1 births per woman — the level that sustains a population — but rates below 1.5 in Singapore and Thailand mean their populations will decline without immigration. As we see more startup activities coming to Southeast Asian countries, we expect to see more qualified foreign talent moving to the region vs staying in low growth American and European countries.


Kay-Mok Ku, Gobi Ventures

First Chinese “Seaward” Unicorn in Southeast Asia. In recent years, a growing number of Chinese startups are targeting overseas markets from the get go (known as Chuhai 出海 or “Seaward”). These Chinese entrepreneurs typically bring with them best practices in consumer marketing and product development honed by a hyper-competitive home market, supported by strong, dedicated technical team based out of China and increasingly capitalized by Chinese VCs which have raised billion-dollar funds.

Consolidation among ASEAN Unicorns. While ASEAN now boasts 10 unicorns, they are duplicative in the sense that more than one exists in a particular category, which is unsustainable for winner-takes-all markets. For example, in the ASEAN ride-hailing space, while one unicorn is busy with regional geographic expansion, the other simply co-exists by staying focused on scope expansion within its home market. This will never happen in a single country market like China but now that the ASEAN ride hailing unicorns are finally locking horns, the stage may be set for a Didi-Kuadi like scenario to unfold.

ASEAN jumps on Chinese 5G bandwagon. The tech world in the future will likely bifurcate into American and Chinese-led platforms. As it is, emerging markets are adopting Chinese business models based on bite-sized payment and have embraced Chinese mobile apps often bundled with cheap Chinese smartphones. Looking ahead, 5G will be a game changer as its impact goes beyond smartphones to generic IoT devices, having strategic implications for industries such as autonomous driving. As a result, the US-China Trade War will likely evolve into a Tech War and ASEAN will be forced to choose side.


Darren Tan, Golden Equator Capital

We are excited by growth in the AI and deep tech sectors. The focus has generally been on consumer-focused tech in Southeast Asia as an emerging market, but we are starting to see proprietary solutions emerge for industries such as medtech and fintech. AI also has great applicability across a wide range of consumer sectors in reducing reliance on manpower and creating cost savings.

Data analytics to uncover organizational efficiencies and customer trends will continue to be even more widely used, but there will also be greater emphasis on securing such data especially confidential information in light of multiple high-profile data breaches in 2018. Tools enabling the collection, storage, safe-keeping and analysis of data will be essential.

We are seeing the emergence of more institutional funds from North Asia. So far it has predominantly been Chinese tech giants like Tencent and Alibaba, now we are starting to see Korean and Japanese institutions placing greater emphasis on investment in the Southeast Asian region.


Vinnie Lauria, Golden Gate Ventures

Even more capital flowing from U.S. and China into Southeast Asia, with VCs from both locations soon to open offices in the region

A fresh wave of Series A investments into Vietnam.

Ten exits over $100 million.

 


Amit Anand, Jungle Ventures

The emergence of a financial services super app, think the Meituan or WeChat but only for financial services: The Southeast Asian millennial is one of the most underserved customer from a financial services perspective whether it is payments, consumer goods loans, personal loans, personal finance management, investments or other financial services. We will see the emergence of digital platforms that will aggregate all these related services and provide a one stop financial services shop for this digitally native consumer.

Digitisation of SMEs will be new fintech: Southeast Asia is home to over 100 million SMEs that are at the cusp of digital transformation. Generational change in ownership, local governments push for digitization and increased globalization have created a perfect storm for these SMEs to adopt cloud and other digital technologies at neck-breaking pace. Startups focussing on this segment will get mainstream attention from the venture community over the next few years as they look for new industries that are getting enabled or disrupted by technology.


Kuo-Yi Lim and Peng Ong, Monk’s Hill Ventures

Lyft and Uber go public and show the path to profitability for other rideshare businesses. This has positive effect for the regional rideshare players but also puts pressure on them to demonstrate the same economics in ridesharing. Regional rideshare players double down on super-app positioning instead, to demonstrate value in other ways as rideshare business alone may not reach profitability — ever.

The trade war between China and the US reaches a truce, but a general sense of uncertainty lingers. This is now the new norm — things are less certain and companies have to plan for more adverse scenarios. In the short term, Southeast Asia benefits. Companies — Chinese, American etc — see Southeast Asia as the neutral ground. Investment pours in, creating jobs across industries. Acquisition of local champions intensifies as foreign players jostle for the lead positions.

“Solve the problem” – tech companies will become more prominent… tech companies that are real-estate brokers, recruiters, healthcare providers, food suppliers, logistics… why: many industries are very inefficient.


Hian Goh, Openspace Ventures

Fight to quality will happen. Fundraising across all stages from seed to Series C and beyond will be challenging if you don’t have the metrics. Investors will want to see a path to profitability, or an ability to turn profitable if the environment becomes worse. This will mean Saas companies with stable cash flows, vertical e-commerce with strong metrics will be attractive investment opportunities.

Investor selection will become critical, as investors take a wait and see approach. Existing or new investors into companies will be judged upon their dry powder in their funds and their ability to fund further rounds

The regulatory risk for fintech lenders will be higher this year, rising compliance cost and uncertainty on licensing, which would lead to consolidation in the market.


Heang Chhor, Qualgro

Southeast Asia: an intensifying battlefield for tech investments

There has never been so much VC money in Southeast Asia chasing interesting startups, at all life cycle stages. The 10 most active local and regional VCs have raised their second or third funds recently, amassing at least two times more money than a few years ago, probably reaching a total amount close to $1 billion. In addition, international VCs have also doubled down on their allocation into the region, while top Chinese VCs have visibly stated their intent not to miss the dynamic momentum. Several growth funds have recently built a local presence in order to target Southeast Asia tech companies at Series C and beyond. Not counting the amount going to the unicorns, there might be now more than $3-4 billion available for seed to growth stages, which may be 3-4 times the amount of three years ago. There are, of course, many more good startups coming up to invest into. But the most promising startups will be in a very favorable position to negotiate higher valuation and better terms. However, they should not forget that, eventually, what creates value is how they make a difference with their tech capabilities or their business model, how they acquire and retain the best talent, with the funds raised, not only how much money they will be able to raise. Most local and regional corporate VCs are likely to lose in this more intense investment game.

Significant VC money investing into so-called ‘AI-based startups’, but are there really much (deep) Artificial Intelligence capabilities around?

A good portion of the SEA startups claim they have ‘something-AI’. Investors are overwhelmed, if not confused, by the ‘AI claim’ that they find in most startup pitches. While there is no doubt that Southeast Asia will grow its own strong AI-competence pool in the future, unfortunately today most ‘AI-based’ business models from the region would still be just ‘good algorithms or machine learning’ that can process some amount of data to come up with good-enough outcomes, that do not always generate substantial business value to users/customers. The significant budget that some of the very-well-funded Southeast Asia unicorns are putting into their ‘AI-based apps’ or ‘AI platform’ is unlikely to make a real difference for the consumers, for lack of deep AI competences in the region. 2019 may be another year of AI-promise, not realized. Hopefully, public and private research labs, universities and startups will continue to be (much more) strongly supported (especially by governments) to significantly build bigger AI talent pool, which means growing and attracting AI talent into the region.

Bigger Series A and Series B rounds to fuel more convincing growth trajectory, towards growth-stage fundraising.

Although situations vary a lot: typical Series A in Southeast Asia used to be around $5 million, and Series B around $10-15 million. Investors tended to accept that normally companies would raise money after 18 months or so, between A and B, and between B and C. There has been an increasing number of larger raises at A and B recently, and very likely this trend will accelerate. The fact that VCs now have much more money to deploy into each investment will contribute to this trend. However, the required milestones for raising Series C have become much more around: minimum scale and very solid growth (and profit) drivers. Therefore, entrepreneurs will have to look for getting as much funding reserve as possible, irrespective of time between raises, to build growth engines that take their companies past the milestones of the next Series, be it B or C. In the future, we will see more Series A of $10 million and more Series B of well-above $20 million. Compelling businesses will not have too much difficulties for doing so, but most Southeast Asia entrepreneurs would be wise to learn to more effectively master fundraising skills for capturing much bigger amounts than in the past. Of course, this assumes that their businesses are compelling enough in the eyes of investors.


Vicknesh Pillay, TNB Aura

Out-sized valuations will be less commonplace in 2019 as Southeast Asian investors learn from experience and become more sophisticated. Therefore, we do see opportunities at Series A/B for undervalued deals due to lack of early-stage funding while we expect to continue to see the trend of the majority of venture capital investments going into later stage companies (Series C and beyond) due to lower risk appetite and ‘herd’ mentality.

2018 has also seen the rapid emergence of many corporate venture capital funds and innovation programs. But, 2019 will see large corporations cutting back on their allocation towards startup investing which would be the easiest option for them in case of adverse news to the jittery public markets in 2019.

With the growth of AI, the need for API connections and increased thought leadership to embrace tech, Southeast Asia is going to see an upsurge in SaaS startups and existing startups moving to a Saas business model. Hence, we expect increased investments into Saas companies focused on IoT and cybersecurity as hardware data and software are moved onto the cloud.


Chua Kee Lock, Vertex Ventures

Southeast Asia VC investment pace has grown steadily and significantly since 2010 where it started from less than $100 million in VC investment in the region. For the first eight months of 2018, the region’s VC investment was over $5.4 billion. For the whole of 2018, it will likely end around $8 billion. For 2019, we expect the VC investment pace to surpass 2018 level and record between $9-10 billion. Southeast Asia will continue to attract more VC investments because:

(1) Governments in Southeast Asia, especially ASEAN, continue their support policy to encourage startups.

(2) young demographics and the fast technology adoption in Southeast Asia give rise to more innovative and disruptive ideas.

(3) global investors looking for a better return and will naturally focus on growing emerging market like Southeast Asia.

The trend towards gig economy will begin to have an impact in the region. In developed economies like the U.S, gig economy is expected to reach over 40 percent by 2020. The young population will look for more freelance opportunities as a way to increase income levels while still maintaining flexibility. This will include white-collar work like computer programming, accounting, customer service, etc. and also blue-collar work like delivery services, ride-sharing, home services, etc. We believe that the gig economy will grow to over 15 percent in Southeast Asia by 2019.

AI-heavy or -driven startups will begin to make inroads into Southeast Asia.


Victor Chua, Vynn Capital

The BIG convergence — there will more integration between industries and sectors. Traveloka went into car rental, Blibli went into travel business and these are only some examples. There is a lot of synergistic value between travel startups and food startups or between property startups and automotive startups. Imagine a future where you travel to a city where you stay in an apartment you rented through a marketplace (like Travelio, my portfolio company), and when you need to book a restaurant you can make the reservation through a platform that is integrated with the property manager, and when you need to move around you go down to the car park to drive a car you rent from an automotive marketplace. There is clear synergy between selective industries and this leads to an overall convergence between companies, between industries.

More channels to raise Series B/C, early-stage companies find fundraising more challenging — We have seen a number of VC funds raising or already raised growth funds, this means that there are now more channels for Series A or B companies to raise growth rounds. As the market matures, there will be more competition for investments amongst growth funds as there is considerably more growth in the number of growth funds than companies that are raising at growth-stage. On the flip side, the feel is that there is a consistent growth in the number of early-stage companies, yet the amount of capital in early-stage funds is not growing as much as more VCs prefer bigger and later stages, due to the maturity of their existing portfolio companies.

Newcomers gaining weight — there will be at least 10 companies that will hit a valuation of at least $100 million. These valuations will not be based on a single market exposure. Companies that raise larger rounds will need to show that they are regional.


Thanks to all the VCs who took part, I certainly felt like the class teacher collecting assignments.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

23 Jan

Juniper Networks invests $2.5M in enterprise tech accelerator Alchemist

Alchemist, which began as an experiment to better promote enterprise entrepreneurs, has morphed into a well-established Silicon Valley accelerator.

To prove it, San Francisco-based Alchemist is announcing a fresh $2.5 million investment ahead of its 20th demo day on Wednesday. Juniper Networks, a networking and cybersecurity solutions business, has led the round, with participation from Siemens’ venture capital unit Next47.

Launched in 2012 by former Draper Fisher Jurvetson investor Ravi Belani, Alchemist provides participating teams with six months of mentorship and a $36,000 investment. Alchemist admits companies whose revenue stream comes from enterprises, not consumers, with a bent toward technical founders.

According to numbers provided by the accelerator, dubbed the “Y Combinator of Enterprise,” 115 Alchemist portfolio companies have gone on to raise $556 million across several VC deals. Another 25 have been acquired, including S4 Capital’s recent $150 million acquisition of media consultancy MightyHive, Alchemist’s largest exit to date.

Other notable alums include Rigetti Computing, LaunchDarkly, which helps startups soft-launch features and drone startup Matternet.

Alchemist has previously raised venture capital funding, including a $2 million financing in 2017 led by GE and an undisclosed investment from Salesforce.

Nineteen companies will demo products onstage tomorrow. You can live stream Alchemist’s 20th demo day here.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

05 Jan

Hire faster, work happier: Startups target employment with AI and engagement tools

If you have a job today, there’s a good chance you personally reached out to your employer and interviewed with other humans to get it. Now that you’ve been there a while, it’s also likely the workday feels more like a long slog than the fulfilling career move you had envisioned.

But if today’s early-stage startups have their way, your next employment experience could be quite different.

First, forget the networking and interview gauntlet. Instead, let an AI-enabled screening program reach out about a job you don’t seem obviously qualified to do. Or, rather than talk to a company’s employees, wait for them to play some online games instead. If you play similarly, they may decide to hire you.

Once you have the job, software will also make you more efficient and happier at your work.

An AI-driven software platform will deliver regular “nudges,” offering customized suggestions to make you a more effective worker. If you’re feeling burned out, head online to text or video chat with a coach or therapist. Or perhaps you’ll just be happier in your job now that your employer is delivering regular tokens of appreciation.

Those are a few of the ways early-stage startups are looking to change the status quo of job-seeking and employment. While employment is a broad category, an analysis of Crunchbase funding data for the space shows a high concentration of activity in two key areas: AI-driven hiring software and tools to improve employee engagement.

Below, we look at where the money’s going and how today’s early-stage startups could play a role in transforming the work experience of tomorrow.

Artificial intelligence

To begin, let us reflect that we are at a strange inflection point for AI and employment. Our artificially intelligent overlords are not smart enough to actually do our jobs. Nonetheless, they have strong opinions about whether we’re qualified to do them ourselves.

It is at this peculiar point that the alchemic mix of AI software, recruiting-based business models and venture capital are coming together to build startups.

In 2018, at least 43 companies applying AI or machine learning to some facet of employment have raised seed or early-stage funding, according to Crunchbase data. In the chart below, we look at a few startups that have secured rounds, along with their backers and respective business models:

At present, even AI boosters don’t tout the technology as a cure-all for troubles plaguing the talent recruitment space. While it’s true humans are biased and flawed when it comes to evaluating job candidates, artificially intelligent software suffers from many of the same bugs. For instance, Amazon scrapped its AI recruiting tool developed in-house because it exhibited bias against women.

That said, it’s still early innings. Over the next few years, startups will be actively tweaking their software to improve performance and reduce bias.

Happiness and engagement

Once the goal of recruiting the best people is achieved, the next step is ensuring they stay and thrive.

Usually, a paycheck goes a long way to accomplishing the goal of staying. But in case that’s not enough, startups are busily devising a host of tools for employers to boost engagement and fight the scourge of burnout.

In the chart below, we look at a few of the companies that received early-stage funding this year to build out software platforms and services aimed at making people happier and more effective at work:

The most heavily funded of the early-stage crop looks to be Peakon, which offers a software platform for measuring employee engagement and collecting feedback. The Danish firm has raised $33 million to date to fund its expansion.

London-based BioBeats is another up-and-comer aimed at the “corporate wellness” market, with digital tools to help employees track stress levels and other health-related metrics. The company has raised $7 million to date to help keep those stress levels in check.

Early-stage indicators

Early-stage funding activity tends to be an indicator of areas with somewhat low adoption rates today that are poised to take off dramatically. For employment, that means we can likely expect to see AI-based recruitment and software-driven engagement tools become more widespread in the coming years.

What does that mean for job seekers and paycheck toilers? Expect to spend more of your time interfacing with intelligent software. Apparently, it’ll make you more employable, and happier, too.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

04 Jan

Sophia Genetics bags $77M Series E, with 850+ hospitals signed up to its ‘data-driven medicine’

Another sizeable cash injection for big data biotech: Sophia Genetics has announced a $77 million Series E funding round, bringing its total raised to $140 million since the business was founded back in 2011.

The company, which applies AI to DNA sequencing to enable what it dubs “data-driven medicine,” last closed a $30 million Series D in fall 2017.

The Series E was led by Generation Investment Management . Also investing: European private equity firm, Idinvest Partners. Existing investors, including Balderton Capital and Alychlo, also participated in the round.

When we last spoke to Sophia Genetics it had around 350 hospitals linked via its SaaS platform, and was then adding around 10 new hospitals per month.

Now it says its Sophia AI platform is being used by more than 850 hospitals across 77 countries, and it claims to have supported the diagnosis of more than 300,000 patients.

The basic idea is to improve diagnoses by enabling closer collaboration and knowledge sharing between hospitals via the Sophia AI platform, with an initial focus on oncology, hereditary cancer, metabolic disorders, pediatrics and cardiology. 

Expert (human) insights across the network of hospital users are used to collectively enhance genomic diagnostics and push toward predictive analysis by feeding and training AI algorithms intended to enhance the reading and analysis of DNA sequencing data.

Sophia Genetics describes its approach as the “democratization” of DNA sequencing expertise.

Commenting on the Series E in a statement, Lilly Wollman, co-head of Generation’s growth equity team said: “We believe that leveraging genetic sequencing and advanced digital analysis will enable a more sustainable healthcare system. Sophia Genetics is a leader in the preventive and personalized medicine revolution, enabling the development of targeted therapeutics, thereby vastly improving health outcomes. We admire Sophia Genetics not just for its differentiated analytics capability across genomic and radiomic data, but also for its exceptional team and culture.”

The new funding will be put toward further expanding the number of hospitals using Sophia Genetics’ technology, and also on growing its headcount with a plan to ramp up hiring in the U.S. especially.

The Swiss-founded firm is now co-based in Lausanne and Boston, Mass.

In another recent development, the company added radiomics capabilities to its platform last year, allowing for what it describes as “a prediction of the evolution of a tumour,” which it suggests can help inform a physician’s choice of treatment for the patient.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

27 Nov

Social music app Playlist lets you listen to music with others in real time

A new app called Playlist aims to make music a more social experience than what’s offered today by the major music platforms like Apple Music, Pandora or Spotify, for example. In Playlist, you can find others who share your musical tastes and join group chats where you listen to playlists together in real time. You can collaborate on playlists, too.

The app, backed by investment from Stanford’s StartX fund, was founded by Karen Katz and Steve Petersen, both Stanford engineers and serial entrepreneurs. Katz previously co-founded AdSpace Networks and another social music platform, Jam Music. She also was a founding executive team member at Photobucket, and founded a company called Project Playlist, which was like a Google search for music back in the Myspace era.

Peterson, meanwhile, has 35 patents and more than a decade of experience in digital music. In the early 2000s he created the software architecture and ran the team at PortalPlayer Inc., which powered the iPod’s music player and was later sold to Nvidia for $357 million. Afterwards, he was CTO at Concert Technology, a technology incubator and intellectual property company with a focus on mobile, social and digital music services.

“The world has gone social, but music has been largely left behind. That’s a real gap,” explains Katz, as to why the founders wanted to build Playlist in the first place.

“Ever since we started listening to music from our mobile phones, it’s become an isolated experience. And music is the number one thing we do on our phones,” she says.

The idea they came up with was to unite music and messaging by synchronizing streams, so people could listen to songs together at the same time and chat while they do so.

During last year’s beta testing period, Playlist (which was listed under a different name on the App Store), saw a huge number of engagements as a result of its real-time nature.

“Out of the gate, we saw 10 times the engagement of Pandora. People have, on average, 60 interactions per hour — like chats, likes, follows, joins, adds and creates,” Katz says. 

Under the hood, the app uses a lot of technology beyond just its synchronized streaming. It also leverages machine learning for its social recommendations, as well as collaborative playlists, large-scale group chat, and behavior-based music programming, and has “Music Match” algorithms to help you find people who listen to the same sort of things you do.

The social aspects of the app involves a following/follower model, and presents playlists from the people you follow in your home feed, much like a music-focused version of Instagram. A separate Discover section lets you find more people to follow or join in other popular listening and chat sessions.

At launch, the app has a catalog of more than 45 million songs and has a music license for the U.S. It plans to monetize through advertising.

The core idea here — real-time music listening and chat — is interesting. It’s like a Turntable.fm for the Instagram age. But the app sometimes overcomplicates things, it seems. For example, importing a playlist from another music app involves switching over to that app, finding the playlist and copying its sharing URL, then switching back to Playlist to paste it in a pop-up box. It then offers a way for you to add your own custom photo to the playlist, which feels a little unnecessary as the default is album art.

Another odd choice is that it’s difficult to figure out how to leave a group chat once you’ve joined. You can mute the playlist that’s streaming or you can minimize the player, but the option to “leave” is tucked away under another menu, making it harder to find.

The player interface also offers a heart, a plus (+), a share button, a mute button and a skip button all on the bottom row. It’s… well… it’s a lot.

But Katz says that the design choices they’ve made here are based on extensive user testing and feedback. Plus, the app’s younger users — often high schoolers, and not much older than 21 — are the ones demanding all the buttons and options.

It’s hard to argue with the results. The beta app acquired more than 500,000 users during last year’s test period, and those users are being switched over to the now publicly available Playlist app, which has some 80K installs as of last week, according to Sensor Tower data.

The company also plans to leverage the assets it acquired from the old Project Playlist, which includes some 30 million emails, 21 million Facebook IDs and 14 million Twitter IDs. A “Throwback Thursday” marketing campaign will reach out to those users to offer them a way to listen to their old playlists.

The startup has raised $5 million in funding (convertible notes) from Stanford StartX Fund, Garage Technology Ventures, Miramar Ventures, IT-Farm, Dixon Doll (DCM founder), Stanford Farmers & Angels, Zapis Capital and Amino Capital.

The Palo Alto-based company is a team of six full-time.

Playlist is a free download for iOS. An Android version is in the works.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

27 Nov

Meet ‘Bitski’, the single sign-on wallet crypto desperately needs

The mainstream will never adopt blockchain-powered decentralized apps (dApps) if it’s a struggle to log in. They’re either forced to manage complex security keys themselves, or rely on a clunky wallet-equipped browser like MetaMask. What users need is for signing in to blockchain apps to be as easy as Login with Facebook. So that’s what Bitski built. The startup emerges from stealth today with an exclusive on TechCrunch about the release of the developer beta of its single sign-on cryptocurrency wallet platform.

Ten projects, including 7 game developers, are lined up to pay a fee to integrate Bitski’s SDK. Then, whenever they need a user’s identity or to transact a payment, their app pops open a Bitski authorization screen, where users can grant permissions to access their ID, send money or receive items. Users sign up just once with Bitski, and then there’s no more punching in long private keys or other friction. Using blockchain apps becomes simple enough for novices. Given the recent price plunge, the mainstream has been spooked about speculating on cryptocurrencies. But Bitski could unlock the utility of dApps that blockchain developers have been promising but haven’t delivered.

“One of the great challenges for protocol teams and product companies in crypto today is the poor UX in dApps, specifically onboarding, transactions, and sign-in/password recovery,” says co-founder and CEO Donnie Dinch. “We interviewed a ton of dApp developers. The minute they used a wallet, there was a huge drop-off of folks. Bitski’s vision is to solve user onboarding and wallet usability for developers, so that they can in-turn focus on creating unique and useful dapps.”

https://www.youtube.com/embed/y7iWEmNnqsU?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

The scrappy Bitski team raised $1.5 million in pre-seed capital from Steve Jang’s Kindred Ventures, Signia, Founders Fund, Village Global and Social Capital. They were betting on Dinch, a designer-as-CEO who’d built concert discovery app WillCall that he sold to Ticketfly, which was eventually bought by Pandora. After 18 months of rebranding Ticketfly and overhauling its consumer experience, Dinch left and eventually recruited engineer Julian Tescher to come with him to found Bitski.

Bitski co-founder and CEO Donnie Dinch

After Riff failed to hit scale, the team hung up its social ambitions in late 2017 and “started kicking around ideas for dApps. We mocked up a Venmo one, a remittance app…but found the hurdle to get someone to use one of these products is enormous,” Dinch recalls. “Onboarding was a dealbreaker for anyone building dApps. Even if we made the best crypto Venmo, to get normal people on it would be extremely difficult. It’s already hard enough to get people to install apps from the App Store.” They came up with Bitski to let any developer ski jump over that hurdle.

Looking across the crypto industry, the companies like Coinbase and Binance with their own hosted wallets that permitted smooth UX were the ones winning. Bitski would bring that same experience to any app. “Our hosted wallet SDK lets developers drop the Bitski wallet into their apps and onboard users with standards web 2.0 users have grown to know and love,” Dinch explains.

Imagine an iOS game wants to reward users with a digital sword or token. Users would have to set up a whole new wallet, struggle with their credentials or use another clumsy solution. They’d have to own Ethereum already to pay the Ethereum “gas” price to power the transaction, and the developer would have to manually approve sending the gift. With Bitski, users can approve receiving tokens from a developer from then on, and developers can pay the gas on users’ behalf while triggering transactions programmatically.

Magik is an AR content platform that’s one of Bitski’s first developers. Magik’s founders tell me, “We’re building towards reaching millions of mainstream consumers, and Bitski is the only wallet solution that understands what we need to reach users at that scale. They provide a dead-simple, secure and familiar interface that addresses every pain point along the user-onboarding journey.”

Bitski will offer a free tier, priced tiers based on transaction volume or a monthly fee and an enterprise version. In the future, the company is considering doubling-down on premium developer services to help them build more on top of the blockchain. “We will never, ever monetize user data. We’ve never had any intent at looking at it,” Dinch vows. The startup hopes developers will seize on the network effects of a cross-app wallet, as once someone sets up Bitski to use one product, all future sign-ins just require a few clicks.

In August, Coinbase acquired a startup called Distributed Systems that was building a similar crypto identity platform called the Clear Protocol. A “login with Coinbase” feature could be popular if launched, but the company’s focus is to spread a ton of blockchain projects. “If [login with Coinbase] launched tomorrow, they wouldn’t be able to support games or anything with a unique token. We’re a lockbox, they’re a bank,” Dinch claims.

The spectre of single sign-on’s biggest player, Facebook, looms, as well. In May it announced the formation of a blockchain team we suspect might be working on a crypto login platform or other ways to make the decentralized world more accessible for mom and pop. Dinch suspects that fears about how Facebook uses data would dissuade developers and users from adopting such a product. Still, Bitski’s haste in getting its developer platform into beta just a year after forming shows it’s eager to beat them to market.

Building a centralized wallet in a decentralized ecosystem comes with its own security risks. But Dinch assures me Bitski is using all its own hardware with air-gapped computers that have been stripped of their Wi-Fi cards, and it’s taking other secret precautions to prevent anyone from snatching its wallets. He believes cross-app wallets will also deliver a future where users actually own their virtual goods instead of just relying on the good will of developers not to pull them away or shut them down.” The idea of we’ve never been able to provably own unique digital assets is crazy to me,” Dinch notes. “Whether it’s a skin in Fortnite or a movie on iTunes that you purchase, you don’t have liquidity to resell those things. We think we’ll look back in 5 to 10 years and think it’s nuts that no one owned their digital items.”

While the crypto prices might be cratering and dApps like Cryptokitties have cooled off, Dinch is convinced the blockchain startups won’t fade away. “There is a thriving developer ecosystem hellbent on bringing the decentralized web to reality; regardless of token price. It’s a safe assumption that prices will dip a bit more, but will eventually rise whenever we see real use cases for a lot of these tokens. Most will die. The ones that succeed will be outcome-oriented, building useful products that people want.” Bitski’s a big step in that direction.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits