01 Oct

Zuckerberg misunderstands the huge threat of TikTok

“It’s almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in leaked audio of him describing TikTok during an all-hands meeting. But it’s not. TikTok represents a new form of social entertainment that’s vastly different from the lifelogging of Instagram where you can just take a selfie, show something pretty, or pan around what you’re up to. TikToks are premeditated, storyboarded, and vastly different than the haphazard Stories on Insta.

That’s why Zuckerberg’s comments cast a dark shadow over the future of the Facebook family of apps. How can it beat what it doesn’t understand? He certainly can’t ignore it. Facebook’s copycat Lasso has been installed just 425,000 times since it launched in November, while TikTok has 640 million installs in the same period outside of China. Oh, and TikTok has 1.4 billion total installs beyond China to date.

TikTok Screenshots

TikTok

Casey Newton of The Verge today published two hours of audio and transcripts from two internal-only all-hands Q&As held by Zuckerberg at Facebook in July. His comments touch on the company’s plan to fight being broken up by regulators, especially if Elizabeth Warren becomes President. He thinks Facebook would win, but on resorting to suing the government, he says “does that still suck for us? Yeah.” Zuckerberg also describes how Facebook is working to launch a payments product in Mexico and elsewhere by year’s end as Libra deals with regulatory scrutiny.

But beyond his comments on regulation, it’s his pigeonholing of TikTok that’s most alarming. It foreshadows Facebook failing to win one of the core social feeds that its business depends on. Perhaps his perspective on the competitor is evolving, but the leak portrays him as thinking TikTok is just the next Snapchat Stories to destroy.

Zuckeberg’s Thoughts On TikTok

Here’s what Zuckerberg said about TikTok during the internal Q&A sessions, (emphasis mine):

So yeah. I mean, TikTok is doing well. One of the things that’s especially notable about TikTok is, for a while, the internet landscape was kind of a bunch of internet companies that were primarily American companies. And then there was this parallel universe of Chinese companies that pretty much only were offering their services in China. And we had Tencent who was trying to spread some of their services into Southeast Asia. Alibaba has spread a bunch of their payment services to Southeast Asia. Broadly, in terms of global expansion, that had been pretty limited, and TikTok, which is built by this company Beijing ByteDance, is really the first consumer internet product built by one of the Chinese tech giants that is doing quite well around the world. It’s starting to do well in the US, especially with young folks. It’s growing really quickly in India. I think it’s past Instagram now in India in terms of scale. So yeah, it’s a very interesting phenomenon.

And the way that we kind of think about it is: it’s married short-form, immersive video with browse. So it’s almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram, which is today primarily about feed posts and highlighting different feed posts. I kind of think about TikTok as if it were Explore for stories, and that were the whole app. And then you had creators who were specifically working on making that stuff. So we have a number of approaches that we’re going to take towards this, and we have a product called Lasso that’s a standalone app that we’re working on, trying to get product-market fit in countries like Mexico, is I think one of the first initial ones. We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big.

We’re taking a number of approaches with Instagram, including making it so that Explore is more focused on stories, which is increasingly becoming the primary way that people consume content on Instagram, as well as a couple of other things there. But yeah, I think that it’s not only one of the more interesting new phenomena and products that are growing. But in terms of the geopolitical implications of what they’re doing, I think it is quite interesting. I think we have time to learn and understand and get ahead of the trend. It is growing, but they’re spending a huge amount of money promoting it. What we’ve found is that their retention is actually not that strong after they stop advertising. So the space is still fairly nascent, and there’s time for us to kind of figure out what we want to do here. But I think this is a real thing. It’s good.

To Zuckerberg’s credit, he’s not dismissing the threat. He knows TikTok is popular. He knows it’s growing in key international markets Facebook and Instagram depend on to keep user counts rising. And he knows his company needs to respond via its standalone clone Lasso and more.

Facebook Lasso Screenshots

Lasso

But while TikToks might look like Stories because they’re vertical videos, and TikTok might algorithmically recommend them to people like Instagram Explore, it’s a whole ‘nother beast of a product and one that may be harder than it seems to copy.

To crystallize why, let’s rewind to Snapchat. With the launch of Stories, it started to blow up with US teens. Facebook’s attempts to clone it in standalone apps like Poke and Slingshot never gained traction. In fact, none of Facebook’s standalone apps have succeeded unless they splintered off an already-popular piece of Facebook like chat and users were forced to download them like Messenger. It wasn’t until Zuckerberg stuck his clone of Stories front-and-center atop Instagram and Facebook that Snapchat’s user count went from growing 18% per quarter to shrinking. There, Facebook used the same strategy laid out in Zuckerberg’s comments — push its good-enough clone in countries where the original isn’t popular yet.

But Facebook was fortunate because Stories really wasn’t that dissimilar to the content users were already sharing on Instagram — tiny biographical snippets of their lives. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel had originally invented Stories as a vision of Facebook’s News Feed through the lens of an ephemeral camera. All users had to know was “I take the same videos, but shorter and sillier, posted more often, and then they disappear”. The concept of Instagram and Facebook didn’t have to change. They were still about telling friends what you were up to. Choking off TikTok’s growth will be much more complicated.

Why TikTok Is Tough To Clone

TikTok isn’t about you or what you’re doing. It’s about entertaining your audience. It’s not spontaneous chronicling of your real life. It’s about inventing characters, dressing up as someone else, and acting out jokes. It’s not about privacy and friends, but strutting on the world stage. And it’s not about originality — the heart of Instagram. TikTok is about remixing culture — taking the audio from someone else’s clip and reimagining the gag in a new context by layering it atop a video you record.

TikTok Remixes

That makes TikTok distinct enough that it will be very difficult to shoehorn into Instagram or Facebook, even if they add the remixing functionality. Most videos on those apps aren’t designed to be templates for memes like TikToks are. Insta and Facebook’s social graphs are rooted in friendship and augmented by the beautiful and famous, but don’t encompass the new wave of amateur performers TikTok elevates. And since each post to the app becomes fodder for someone else’s creativity, a competitor starting from scratch doesn’t offer much to remix.

That means a TikTok clone would have to be somewhat buried in Instagram or Facebook, rebuild a new social graph, and retrain users’ understanding of these apps’ purpose…at the risk of distracting from their core use cases. This leaves Facebook hoping to grow its standalone TikTok clone Lasso which TechCrunch scooped a year ago before it launched last November. But as we’ve seen, Facebook struggles growing brand new apps, and that effort is further hindered by its increasingly toxic brand and sheen of uncoolness. Nor does it help that Facebook must divert development resources to comply with all the new privacy and transparency obligations as part of its $5 billion FTC fine and settlement.

The Next Feed

Facebook’s best bet is to assess the future value of the ads it could run on a successful TikTok clone and apply some greater fraction of that grand sum to competing directly. It’s already made some smart additions to Lasso like tutorials for how to remix and the option to add GIFs as sections of your video. But it’s still failing to gain serious traction in the US. While typical videos on the TikTok homepage where I’m spending a few hours a week have hundreds of thousands of Likes, the top ones I saw in my Lasso feed today received 70 or fewer.

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TikTok trounces Facebook’s Lasso in the US iOS App Store charts

I had Sensor Tower run some analysis comparing TikTok with Lasso since its launch last November, and found that Lasso gets 6 downloads for every 1000 for TikTok in the US. Some more stats:

  • US Total Downloads Since November: Lasso – 250,000 // TikTok – 41.3 million
  • US Downloads Per Day Since November: Lasso – 760 // TikTok – 126,000
  • Average US Google Play Social App Chart Ranking: Lasso – #155 // TikTok – #2

Beyond the US, Lasso has only launched in one other market, Mexico in April, where it’s been faring better but could hardly even be considered a competitor to TikTok. Facebook needs to lean harder into Lasso:

  • Mexico Total Downloads Since April: Lasso – 175,000 // TikTok – 3.3 million
  • Mexico Downloads Per Day Since November: Lasso – 1,000 // TikTok – 19,000

Facebook Lasso Logo

Zuckerberg may need to find a coherent place for TikTok style features inside Instagram and potentially Facebook. That could be another horizontal row of previews like with Stories and/or a header on the Explore page dedicated to premeditated content. Certainly something more prominent than a single button like IGTV that still no one is asking for. One opportunity to best TikTok would be building a dedicated remix source browser into the Stories camera to help users find content to put their own spin on.

Facebook will also need to buy out top TikTok creators to make videos for it instead, and even quasi-hire some of the most prolific video meme or challenge inventors to give users trends to jump on rather than just one-off clips to watch. Its failure to offer IGTV stars monetization has led many to ignore that platform, and it can’t afford that again.

If Zuckerberg approaches TikTok as merely an algorithmic video recommender like Explore, Facebook will miss out on owning the social entertainment feed. If he doesn’t decisively move to challenge TikTok soon, its catalog of content to remix will grow insurmountable and it will own the whole concept of short form performative video. Snapchat’s insistence on ephemerality makes it incompatible with remixing, and YouTube isn’t nimble enough to reinvent itself.

If no American company can step up, we could see our interest data, faces, and attention forfeited to an app that while delightful to use, heralds Chinese political values at odds with our own. If only Twitter hadn’t killed Vine.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

04 Sep

Loog launches a trio of new educational guitars

Educational guitar maker Loog returned to Kickstarter this week, some eight years after it first hitting the crowdfunding site. This fourth campaign from the company features a trio of instruments aimed at helping accelerating the learning process.

There are three models, each aimed at a different age group: the Loog Mini (ages 3+), Loog Pro (ages 8+) and Loog Pro VI (ages 12+). The latter of which is the company’s first guitar to sport the standard six strings (versus the three it usually offers).

69d319febe1f9af1e00cf06386548baa original

All have a built-n speaker and amp, reducing the need for additional accessories for a kid’s first instrument. They’re also designed to work with the company’s app, which now utilizes augmented reality (guitAR, if you will), to overlay instructions when using the front facing camera on a mobile device. The are flash cards (for chords), videos and games on-board, as well.

The app also has a song book, featuring a wide variety of popular artists, ranging from The Beatles to Taylor Swift. Kids can slow down and mute tracks to play along karaoke-style, while recording themselves in the process.

Kickstarter prices start at $99 for the Mini, versus $150 at retail. The company keeps going back to the crowdfunding well, but the model has worked pretty well so far. Loog’s started to gain some traction in the music education world and, as evidence by its Kickstarter video, landed in the hands of a couple of actual rockstars in the process.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

07 Aug

Gogoro announces Yamaha, Aeon and PGO are the first manufacturers that will use its swappable batteries in their own scooters

Gogoro, the Taiwanese electric vehicle company, has announced its first manufacturing partners. Yamaha, Aeon Motor and PGO will all launch new scooters this summer that run on Gogoro’s swappable batteries and charging infrastructure.

This means consumers who like Gogoro’s battery system will have a choice between buying Gogoro’s own scooters or scooters from its three partners. All scooters that use Gogoro’s energy network can exchange batteries at the 1,300 GoStations currently in Taiwan.

Beyond its own electric scooters, Gogoro sees its technology, most of which is developed in-house, as an open platform for electric vehicles, with the goal of reducing pollution in cities with heavy traffic. It recently launched a ride-sharing platform that can be used as a white-label solution by companies that want to launch their own electric scooter sharing program (Gogoro’s scooters are already use by Coup, the European ride-sharing startup).

For a deeper look into the company’s origins and plans, Extra Crunch subscribers can read a recently published interview with Gogoro co-founder and CEO Horace Luke.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

10 Jul

Remitly raises $220M to expand from money transfers to financial services, now at $900M+ valuation

When it comes to financial services in emerging markets, remittances — people sending money to each other across international borders, often not to established bank accounts — continues to be one of the biggest, with the World Bank estimating that $529 billion was sent in and out of lower-income countries in 2018, up 9% over 2017. And today, Remitly, one of the bigger startups providing these services, is announcing that it has raised $220 million in funding to ride that wave.

CEO and founder Matt Oppenheimer said in an interview that the startup will use the money both to help it continue to keep growing that money transfer business, and to catch new opportunities as they appear, in the form of new financial services for the immigrants and migrants that make up the majority of its customer base.

The money is coming in the form of equity and debt, specifically a $135 million Series E led by Generation Investment Management, and $85 million in debt from Barclays, Bridge Bank, Goldman Sachs, and Silicon Valley Bank. Owl Rock Capital, Princeville Global, Prudential Financial, Schroder & Co Bank AG, and Top Tier Capital Partners; and previous investors DN Capital, Naspers’ PayU, and Stripes Group all also participated in the equity round.

Oppenheimer said the equity will both be used to expand its remittance business but mainly to invest in that new wave of services it’s eyeing up. The debt, meanwhile, is to fuel the growth of its “express” fast-send option. “Today we can post funds, but we can also pre-fund for express transfers, and we wanted to have the capacity and the line of credit to be able to fund the pre-funding part, which is growing rapidly,” he said of the debt portion of the financing.

With the equity portion, Remitly’s valuation is now at around $900 million, sources close to the company say. As a point of comparison, that puts Remitly on par with World Remit, another big player in remittances for emerging markets that raised $175 million in June also at around a $900 million valuation. (Transferwise, which focuses on ‘banked’ accounts and mostly mature markets, earlier this year closed funding that valued it at $3.5 billion.)

It’s the biggest round of funding yet for the startup, and for some context, it was valued at just $230 million when it last disclosed the number. (Remitly did not disclose valuation in its most recent funding before this one, a $115 million round led by Naspers that finally closed in the beginning of 2018.)

Today, Remitly’s services cover 16 “send” (originating) and 44 “receive” countries, covering a total of some 700 “corridors” where the company specialises in providing an easy way — either online or by phone — for individuals to send money, with the service localised on the receiving end to come in formats that are most popular in each specific market.

The company said that average annual revenue growth has been at around 100% each year for the past three. Oppenheimer — who coincidentally used to be an executive for one of its new backers, Barclays — wouldn’t break out which markets were growing faster than the others, but that figure includes both Remitly’s more mature corridors as well as those that it’s added in recent years.

The plan for diversification is not surprising. The remittance market is extremely fragmented and — with the rise of smartphones that have untethered users from physical retail locations — getting even more so, with incumbents like Western Union accounting for less than 20 percent of the market today, bigger startups like TransferWise also looking like it’s also increasingly eyeing emerging markets as well, and completely new concepts like using the blockchain to transfer money also potentially disrupting the disruptors.

That means pricing on money transfers for a section of that market that is already price-sensitive — immigrants and migrants — is very competitive, which in turn means a hit on remittance companies’ margins. Remitly itself has varying rates for different markets based on demand: sending money for example to Kenya from the UK currently costs nothing if you’re using MPESA accounts (other corridors obviously have higher costs than this).

Oppenheimer wouldn’t specify what kinds of other financial services it’s considering until they are closer to getting launched.

“We’re still working on that, but you can imagine the immigrant or migrant journey and the challenges that they face as they move to a new country,” he said. “It can have a painful impact not having a credit history: how do you get a loan, or set up a bank account? That is the strategic angle… The idea is to transform the lives of immigrants and their families.”

That mindset has been what helped Remitly raise this recent round. Generation — the investment firm co-founded by Al Gore — has made it a mission to put its money into sustainability. In its case, this means not only planet health but people health, in the form of services that improving the lives. Financial services for emerging markets is an important area for it in that regard.

Lucia Rigo, a director in growth equity at Generation who is joining Remitly’s board with this round, said that Generation had been looking at the remittance market for a while and had honed in on Remitly as a key company within it that ticked all the right boxes in terms of its mission, its journey so far, its numbers, and most importantly its prospects.

“Foreign-born or foreign-resident populations in developed markets is a segment that is just not catered for well,” she said in an interview. “There are a lot of digital means for sending money today, which is definitely driving down the cost of doing so, but we also think that digital penetration is just at its early stages, and new markets will drive differentiation and that will expand the customer base, and Remitly’s services.”


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

12 Jun

Modern Fertility raises $15 million to sell its hormone tests — and gather more fertility data from its users

Modern Fertility is a San Francisco-based company that sells fertility tests directly to consumers, but increasingly, those customers will be educating the company, too. Indeed, the two-year-old startup now plans to develop a database of anonymized data about its largely younger demographic.

A fresh $15 million in funding led by Forerunner Ventures should help. Forerunner founder Kirsten Green, who takes a board seat as part of the round, is known for countless savvy bets on a wide number of consumer brands that have taken off with users, from Dollar Shave Club to Bonobos to Glossier. With Forerunner’s help, Modern Fertility may well become a breakout hit, too, though potential customers should also understand its limitations before they click the “buy” button.

First, let’s back up. We’d originally written about Modern Fertility last year, when it began selling a kit from its website that’s sent to women’s doorsteps and allows them to gauge their levels of eight different reproductive hormones by using a finger prick. More specifically, the startup sends off its customers’ panels to CLIA-certified labs, where the tests are conducted, and most prominently, those tests are looking at the women’s level of AMH, or anti-mullerian hormone.

Why that’s relevant: every egg inside a woman’s ovaries sits within a fluid-filled sac full of cells that support egg maturation and produce hormones, including AMH. A woman’s AMH levels can provide one clue about how many of these sacs — or follicles — she has. That in turn provides a clue as to how many eggs she can release, or her ovarian reserve.

The point, says Modern Fertility’s cofounder and CEO, Afton Vechery, is to enable women to learn more about their bodies without having to shell out $1,500 to gain access to a similar picture by turning to a reproductive endocrinologist, of which there are relatively few.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are roughly 500 infertility clinics in the U.S., and 2,000 reproductive endocrinologists.

Mixed feelings in medical community . . .

It’s a compelling pitch, especially given that women are putting off children longer for a variety of reasons, including to secure their financial future. In 2017, for the first time, U.S. women in their early 30s eclipsed younger moms to become the group with the highest birth rate, according to CDC data.

But there is room for pushback. The reality is that AMH and other tests can be conducted elsewhere, including by competing startups, for roughly the same cost that Modern Fertility is charging its customers. (Its kits originally sold from its website for $199; today, they sell for $159.)

Fertility testing is also generally is covered by health insurance plans because fertility problems can be linked to or caused by other health problems like endometriosis. (Not covered, typically: actual infertility treatments.)

A far bigger concern to some doctors is the unnecessary alarm that AMH screening may create for women who haven’t been diagnosed with infertility and who are less than 35 years old.

As Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, told the New York Times a couple of years ago, “All it takes is one egg each cycle . . . AMH is not a marker of whether you can or cannot become pregnant.”

Esther Eisenberg, the program director of the Reproductive Medicine and Infertility Program at the National Institutes of Health, has also said that AMH doesn’t dictate a woman’s reproductive potential. In fact, the NIH funded research in 2017 that found a “non-statistical difference” between low and normal AMH levels in a time-to-pregnancy study of women who were between the 30 to 44 years and who did not have a history of infertility.

Asked about such findings, Vechery, who was most recently a former product manager at the genetic testing company 23andMe, is clearly aware of them. She readily acknowledges that AMH is “not an indicator of your ability to get pregnant right now in this moment,” adding that “it has so many other helpful benefits in thinking about your reproductive health in a much broader sense.”

Vechery also notes the company’s team of PhDs. She points to a clinical study that was published in The Green Journal (the official publication from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). She also speaks of Modern Fertility’s medical advisory board, which includes dedicated five medical doctors, including reproductive endocrinologists Nataki Douglas, a former associate professor at Columbia University Medical Center, and Scott Nelson, a professor at the University of Glasgow.

All are important pieces to building Modern Fertility, but it’s nevertheless worth mentioning that the company employs just two full-time PhDs currently.

Further, the company’s medical advisory members, including Nelson, are paid consultants.

As for the study, which Modern Fertility sponsored, it doesn’t actually prove anything about the power of AMH testing, though it does underscore that AMH, along with the seven other hormones the company measures on behalf of its customers, can be tested just as effectively with “fingerstick sampling” as a traditional blood draw.

The teacher becomes the student . . .

Those curious about Modern Fertility — often younger women eager to get a jump on any later reproductive issues they may face — may well decide that information about their hormone levels is enough to part with the cost of a kit, the results of which are reviewed by a physician and that comes with a one-on-one phone consultation with a nurse.

Interestingly, when they do, they’ll increasingly be asked to opt-in to questions about their health, lifestyles, and more. They may be asked repeatedly, too, as the company recommends that customers re-take the test yearly to track their hormones over time. Indeed, because so many of Modern Fertility’s customers do not have fertility issues, the company hopes to aggregate as much pertinent information from them as possible in order to complement the vast amounts of research that has been conducted on infertility.

“The fertility space needs to catch up, and a huge part of what we’re focused on is moving fertility science forward,” says Vechery. “So much research is primarily done on these women who are having issues; Modern Fertility is interested in flipping that around.”

It’s a strange state of affairs, but we’ve talked with several customers of the company in the past, and one can imagine them supporting it however they can, thanks in part to the sense of community that Modern Fertility has also been fostering. Among other things, for example, the company hosts get-togethers for customers in San Francisco so they can share their thoughts, their fears, and, presumably, their results.

As for whether Modern Fertility is also interested in selling that anonymized data as has happened at genetic testing outfits like Ancestry and Vechery’s former employer, 23andMe, Vechery insists that it will not, that the information will instead be used to inform the company’s product development.

Fertility startups have generally been on a fundraising tear, and little wonder. According to one estimate, the  global fertility services market is expected to exceed $21 billion by 2020. In fact, while venture capital has poured into everything from period-tracking apps to sperm storage startups, Modern Fertility has its own direct competitors, excluding obstetricians. Among these is KindBody, a New York-based startup that raised $15 million two months ago, and three-year-old, Austin-based Everlywell, which has garnered $55 million from VCs so far.

Notably, Modern Fertility represents Forerunner’s first foray into the so-called femtech space. Asked about Green’s involvement, Vechery notes she was particularly “excited about the community,” which Phil Barnes of First Round Capital, has also cited as the reason he wrote Modern Fertility an early check.

Ultimately, though, says Vechery, “Our business model is information, and I think for Kirsten, seeing what that trusted brand could do in women’s health and the conversations it could spark” was what she found most compelling about the company.

We understand why. We also can’t help but wonder if those conversations will drive some women to see — unnecessarily — the very specialists that Modern Fertility wants to free them of visiting.

Modern Fertility has now raised $22 million to date. Among its other backers are Maveron and Union Square Ventures as investors.

Pictured above: Modern Fertility cofounders Afton Vechery and Carly Leahy. Vechery is CEO; Leahy is the company’s chief creative officer.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

15 May

Tealium, a big data platform for structuring disparate customer information, raises $55M at $850M valuation

The average enterprise today uses about 90 different software packages, with between 30-40 of them touching customers directly or indirectly. The data that comes out of those systems can prove to be very useful — to help other systems and employees work more intelligently, to help companies make better business decisions — but only if it’s put in order: now, a startup called Tealium, which has built a system precisely to do just that and works with the likes of Facebook and IBM to help manage their customer data, has raised a big round of funding to continue building out the services it provides.

Today, it is announcing a $55 million round of funding — a Series F led by Silver Lake Waterman, the firm’s late-stage capital growth fund; with ABN AMRO, Bain Capital, Declaration Partners, Georgian Partners, Industry Ventures, Parkwood and Presidio Ventures also participating.

Jeff Lunsford, Tealium’s CEO, said the company is not disclosing valuation, but he did say that it was “substantially” higher than when the company was last priced three years ago. That valuation was $305 million in 2016, according to PitchBook — a figure Lunsford didn’t dispute when I spoke with him about it, and a source close to the company says it is “more than double” this last valuation, and actually around $850 million.

He added that the company is close to profitability and is projected to make $100 million in revenues this year, and that this is being considered the company’s “final round” — presumably a sign that it will either no longer need external funding and that if it does, the next step might be either getting acquired or going public.

This brings the total raised by Tealium to $160 million.

The company’s rise over the last eight years has dovetailed with the rapid growth of big data. The movement of services to digital platforms has resulted in a sea of information. Much of that largely sits untapped, but those who are able to bring it to order can reap the rewards by gaining better insights into their organizations.

Tealium had its beginnings in amassing and ordering tags from internet traffic to help optimise marketing and so on — a business where it competes with the likes of Google and Adobe.

Over time, it has expanded and capitalised to a much wider set of data sources that range well beyond web and commerce, and one use of the funding will be to continue expanding those data sources, and also how they are used, with an emphasis on using more AI, Lunsford said.

“There are new areas that touch customers like smart home and smart office hardware, and each requires a step up in integration for a company like us,” he said. “Then once you have it all centralised you could feed machine learning algorithms to have tighter predictions.”

That vast potential is one reason for the investor interest.

“Tealium enables enterprises to solve the customer data fragmentation problem by integrating and enriching data across sources, in real-time, to create audiences while providing data governance and fidelity,” said Shawn O’Neill, managing director of Silver Lake Waterman, in a statement. “Jeff and his team have built a great platform and we are excited to support the company’s continued growth and investment in innovation.”

The rapid growth of digital services has already seen the company getting a big boost in terms of the data that is passing through its cloud-based platform: it has had a 300% year-over-year increase in visitor profiles created, with current tech customers including the likes of Facebook, IBM, Visa and others from across a variety of sectors, such as healthcare, finance and more.

“You’d be surprised how many big tech companies use Tealium,” Lunsford said. “Even they have a limited amount of bandwidth when it comes to developing their internal platforms.”

People like to say that “data is the new oil,” but these days that expression has taken on perhaps an unintended meaning: just like the overconsumption of oil and fossil fuels in general is viewed as detrimental to the long-term health of our planet, the overconsumption of data has also become a very problematic spectre in our very pervasive world of tech.

Governments — the European Union being one notable example — are taking up the challenge of that latter issue with new regulations, specifically GDPR. Interestingly, Lunsford says this has been a good thing rather than a bad thing for his company, as it gives a much clearer directive to companies about what they can use, and how it can be used.

“They want to follow the law,” he said of their clients, “and we give them the data freedom and control to do that.” It’s not the only company tackling the business opportunity of being a big-data repository at a time when data misuse is being scrutinised more than ever: InCountry, which launched weeks ago, is also banking on this gap in the market.

I’d argue that this could potentially be one more reason why Tealium is keen on expanding to areas like IoT and other sources of customer information: just like the sea, the pool of data that’s there for the tapping is nearly limitless.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

17 Apr

Birth control delivery startup Nurx taps Clover Health’s Varsha Rao as CEO

Varsha Rao, Airbnb’s former head of global operations and, most recently, the chief operating officer at Clover Health, has joined Nurx as its chief executive officer.

Rao replaces Hans Gangeskar, Nurx’s co-founder and CEO since 2014, who will stay on as a board member.

Nurx, which sells birth control, PrEP, the once-daily pill that reduces the risk of getting HIV, and an HPV testing kit direct to consumer, has grown 250 percent in the last year, doubled its employee headcount and attracted 200,000 customers. Rao tells TechCrunch the startup realized they needed talent in the C-suite that had experienced this kind of growth.

“The company has made some really great progress in bringing on strong leaders and that’s one of the things that got me excited about joining,” Rao told TechCrunch. Nurx recently hired Jonathan Czaja, Stitch Fix’s former vice president of operations, as COO, and Dave Fong, who previously oversaw corporate pharmacy services at Safeway, as vice president of pharmacy.

Rao, for her part, joined Clover Health, a Medicare Advantage startup backed by Alphabet, in late 2017 after three years at Airbnb.

“After being at Airbnb, a really mission-driven company, I couldn’t go back to something that wasn’t equally or more so and healthcare really inspired me,” Rao said. “In terms of accessibility, I feel like [Nurx] is super important. We are really fortunate to live in a place where can access birth control and it can be more easily found but there are lots of parts of the country where physical access is challenging and costs can be a factor. To be able to break down barriers of access both physically and from an economic standpoint is hugely meaningful to me.”

Nurx, a graduate of Y Combinator, has raised about $42 million in venture capital funding from Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures, Lowercase Capital and others. It launched in 2015 to facilitate women’s access to birth control across the U.S. with a HIPAA-compliant web platform and mobile application that delivers contraceptives directly to customers’ doorsteps.

Today, the telehealth startup is available to customers in 24 states and counts Chelsea Clinton as a board member.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups

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

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

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