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

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

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

31 Oct

Brex has partnered with WeWork, AWS and more for its new rewards program

Brex, the corporate card built for startups, unveiled its new rewards program today.

The billion-dollar company, which announced its $125 million Series C three weeks ago, has partnered with Amazon Web Services, WeWork, Instacart, Google Ads, SendGrid, Salesforce Essentials, Twilio, Zendesk, Caviar, HubSpot, Orrick, Snap, Clerky and DoorDash to give entrepreneurs the ability to accrue and spend points on services and products they use regularly.

Brex is lead by a pair of 22-year-old serial entrepreneurs who are well aware of the costs associated with building a startup. They’ve been carefully crafting Brex’s list of partners over the last year and say their cardholders will earn roughly 20 percent more rewards on Brex than from any competitor program.

“We didn’t want it to be something that everyone else was doing so we thought, what’s different about startups compared to traditional small businesses?” Brex co-founder and chief executive officer Henrique Dubugras told TechCrunch. “The biggest difference is where they spend money. Most credit card reward systems are designed for personal spend but startups spend a lot more on business.”

Companies that use Brex exclusively will receive 7x points on rideshare, 3x on restaurants, 3x on travel, 2x on recurring software and 1x on all other expenses with no cap on points earned. Brex carriers still using other corporate cards will receive just 1x points on all expenses.

Most corporate cards offer similar benefits for travel and restaurant expenses, but Brex is in a league of its own with the rideshare benefits its offering and especially with the recurring software (SalesForce, HubSpot, etc.) benefits.

San Francisco-based Brex has raised about $200 million to date from investors including Greenoaks Capital, DST Global and IVP.  At the time of its fundraise, the company told TechCrunch it planned to use its latest capital infusion to build out its rewards program, hire engineers and figure out how to grow the business’s client base beyond only tech startups.

“This is going to allow us to compete even more with Amex, Chase and the big banks,” Dubugras said.


Source: TechCrunch – Startups