Opsera raises $15M for its continuous DevOps orchestration platform

Opsera, a startup that’s building an orchestration platform for DevOps teams, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Felicis Ventures. New investor HMG Ventures, as well as existing investors Clear Ventures, Trinity Partners and Firebolt Ventures also participated in this round, which brings the company’s total funding to $19.3 million.

Founded in January 2020, Opsera lets developers provision their CI/CD tools through a single framework. Using this framework, they can then build and manage their pipelines for a variety of use cases, including their software delivery lifecycle, infrastructure as code and their SaaS application releases. With this, Opsera essentially aims to help teams set up and operate their various DevOps tools.

The company’s two co-founders, Chandra Ranganathan and Kumar Chivukula, originally met while working at Symantec a few years ago. Ranganathan then spent the last three years at Uber, where he ran that company’s global infrastructure. Meanwhile, Chivukula ran Symantec’s hybrid cloud services.

Image Credits: Opsera

“As part of the transformation [at Symantec], we delivered over 50+ acquisitions over time. That had led to the use of many cloud platforms, many data centers,” Ranganathan explained. “Ultimately we had to consolidate them into a single enterprise cloud. That journey is what led us to the pain points of what led to Opsera. There were many engineering teams. They all had diverse tools and stacks that were all needed for their own use cases.”

The challenge then was to still give developers the flexibility to choose the right tools for their use cases, while also providing a mechanism for automation, visibility and governance — and that’s ultimately the problem Opsera now aims to solve.

Image Credits: Opsera

“In the DevOps landscape, […] there is a plethora of tools, and a lot of people are writing the glue code,” Opsera co-founder Chivukula noted. “But then they’re not they don’t have visibility. At Opsera, our mission and goal is to bring order to the chaos. And the way we want to do this is by giving choice and flexibility to the users and provide no-code automation using a unified framework.”

Wesley Chan, a managing director for Felicis Ventures who will join the Opsera board, also noted that he believes that one of the next big areas for growth in DevOps is how orchestration and release management is handled.

“We spoke to a lot of startups who are all using black-box tools because they’ve built their engineering organization and their DevOps from scratch,” Chan said. “That’s fine, if you’re starting from scratch and you just hired a bunch of people outside of Google and they’re all very sophisticated. But then when you talk to some of the larger companies. […] You just have all these different teams and tools — and it gets unwieldy and complex.”

Unlike some other tools, Chan argues, Opsera allows its users the flexibility to interface with this wide variety of existing internal systems and tools for managing the software lifecycle and releases.

“This is why we got so interested in investing, because we just heard from all the folks that this is the right tool. There’s no way we’re throwing out a bunch of our internal stuff. This would just wreak havoc on our engineering team,” Chan explained. He believes that building with this wide existing ecosystem in mind — and integrating with it without forcing users onto a completely new platform — and its ability to reduce friction for these teams, is what will ultimately make Opsera successful.

Opsera plans to use the new funding to grow its engineering team and accelerate its go-to-market efforts.

#agile-software-development, #clear-ventures, #developer, #devops, #enterprise, #felicis-ventures, #google, #infrastructure-as-code, #opsera, #recent-funding, #release-management, #software-development, #startups, #symantec, #tc, #uber, #wesley-chan


#DealMonitor – n8n sammelt weitere 12 Millionen ein – Geberit investiert in Medipee – Mister Spex-IPO rückt näher

Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 27. April werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.


+++ Felicis Ventures, Sequoia Capital, firstminute Capital und Harpoon Ventures investieren 12 Millionen US-Dollar in n8n. Die Berliner No-Code-Jungfirma, die 2019 von Jan Oberhauser gegründet wurde, bezeichnet sich selbst als “Free and Open Workflow Automation Tool”. Mit der Software des Startups können Nutzer verschiedenste Webanwendungrn ohne Programmierkenntnisse miteinander verbinden bzw. synchronisieren. Der amerikanische Geldgeber Sequoia Capital investierte bereits 2020 in n8n. Insgesamt flossen nun schon 14 Millionen in die Jungfirma. Mit dem frischen Kapital möchte das Unternehmen “sein Produkt weiterentwickeln und sein Team in Berlin ausbauen”. Mehr über n8n

+++ Das Sanitär-Unternehmen Geberit, der Pflegeheimbetreiber WBG und einige Angel-Investoren aus dem E-Health-Segment investieren in Medipee. “Die Finanzierung ist in zwei Stufen vereinbart. Dabei besteht die Möglichkeit über ein 2nd Closing bis Ende Juni zu gleichen Konditionen einzusteigen”, teilt das Unternehmen aus Moers mit. Bei Medipee dreht sich alles um Urin. Das Startup, das von Thomas Prokopp, Paul Bandi und Frank Willems ins Leben gerufen wurde, möchte “Informationen im menschlichen Urin in einem automatisierten Verfahren an der heimischen Toilette nutzbar zu machen”. Mehr über Medipee 


Mister Spex
+++ Der Berliner Brillen-Shop Mister Spex, der 2007 von Dirk Graber gegründet wurde, bereitet seinen erwarteten Börsengang nun für Juli vor – siehe Reuters. Die Bewertung soll bei mehr als 1 Milliarde Euro liegen. 2019 erwirtschaftete Mister Spex einen Umsatz in Höhe von 139 Millionen Euro. Das bereinigte EBITDA lag bei 2 Millionen Euro (2018: 0,2 Millionen Euro). Mehr über Mister Spex


+++ In der sechsten Folge der neunten Staffel investierte Regal-Löwe Ralf Dümmel 150.000 Euro in Pottburri und sicherte sich dabei 20 % am Unternehmen. Das junge Unternehmen entwickelt einen biologisch abbaubaren Blumentopf. Ursprünglich wollten die Pottburri-Macher 150.000 Euro für 12,5 % der Firmenanteile einsammeln.

+++ In der sechsten Folge der neunten Staffel investierte Regal-Löwe Ralf Dümmel zudem in HaselHerz und sicherte sich dabei 25 % am Unternehmen. Hinter HaselHerz verbirgt sich eine Nuss-Nougat-Creme in Bio-Qualität ohne Palmöl und Industriezucker. Ursprünglich wollte Gründerin Ebru Erkunt 80.000 Euro für 20 % der Firmenanteile einsammeln.

Coffee Colorato
+++ In der sechsten Folge der neunten Staffel investierten Sales-Löwe Carsten Maschmeyer und Familien-Löwin Dagmar Wöhrl 175.000 Euro in Coffee Colorato, einen speziellen Kaffeedrucker für personalisierte Getränke, und sicherten sich dabei 25 % am Unternehmen.

Achtung! Wir freuen uns über Tipps, Infos und Hinweise, was wir in unserem #DealMonitor alles so aufgreifen sollten. Schreibt uns eure Vorschläge entweder ganz klassisch per E-Mail oder nutzt unsere “Stille Post“, unseren Briefkasten für Insider-Infos. Ursprünglich wollte die Gründer 175.000 Euro für 15 % der Firmenanteile einsammeln.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): azrael74

#aktuell, #coffee-colorato, #felicis-ventures, #firstminute-capital, #geberit, #harpoon-ventures, #haselherz, #ipo, #medipee, #mister-spex, #moers, #n8n, #no-code, #pottburri, #sequoia-capital, #venture-capital, #wbg


Kandji nabs $60M Series B as Apple device management platform continues to thrive

During the pandemic, having an automated solution for onboarding and updating Apple devices remotely has been essential, and today Kandji, a startup that helps IT do just that, announced a hefty $60 million Series B investment.

Felicis Ventures led the round with participation from SVB Capital, Greycroft, Okta Ventures and The Spruce House Partnership. Today’s round comes just 7 months after a $21 million Series A, bringing the total raised across three rounds to $88.5 million, according to the company.

CEO Adam Pettit says that the company has been growing in leaps in bounds since the funding round last October.

“We’ve seen a lot more traction than even originally anticipated. I think every time we’ve put targets up onto the board of how quickly we would grow, we’ve accelerated past them,” he said. He said that one of the primary reasons for this growth has been the rapid move to work from home during the pandemic.

“We’re working with customers across 40+ industries now, and we’re even seeing international customers come in and purchase so everyone now is just looking to support remote workforces and we provide a really elegant way for them to do that,” he said.

While Pettit didn’t want to discuss exact revenue numbers, he did say that it has tripled since the Series A announcement. That is being fueled in part he says by attracting larger companies, and he says they have been seeing more and more of them become customers this year.

As they’ve grown revenue and added customers, they’ve also brought on new employees, growing from 40 to 100 since October. Pettit says that the startup is committed to building a diverse and inclusive culture at the company and a big part of that is making sure you have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from.

“It comes down to at the onset just making the decision that it’s important to you and it’s important to the company, which we’ve done. Then you take it step by step all the way through, and we start at the back into the funnel where are candidates are coming from.”

That means clearly telling their recruiting partners that they want a diverse candidate pool. One way to do that is being remote and having a broader talent pool to work with. “We realized that in order to hold true to [our commitment], it was going to be really hard to do that just sticking to the core market of San Diego or San Francisco, and so now we’ve expand expanded nationally and this has opened up a lot of [new] pools of top tech talent,” he said.

Pettit is thinking hard right now about how the startup will run its offices whenever they allowed back, especially with some employees living outside major tech hubs. Clearly it will have some remote component, but he says that the tricky part of that will be making sure that the folks who aren’t coming into the office still feel fully engaged and part of the team.

#apple-device-management, #enterprise, #felicis-ventures, #funding, #kandji, #recent-funding, #startups


Insuretech startup Counterpart raises $10M in funding round led by Valor Equity Partners

Insuretech startup Counterpart, has raised $10 million in funding led by Valor Equity Partners. Also participating was Susa Ventures and Felicis Ventures. Counterpart works in the ‘management liability’ insurance market. Counterpart will also partner with Markel Specialty, a specialty insurance division of Markel Corporation, to offer its management liability insurance products.

Insuretech startups like Oscar, Lemonade, and Root have made incursions into personal insurance. What has been less prevalent, says Counterpart, is startups tackling the $300bn corporate insurance market.

Counterpart is competing with Next Insurance which has raised $631M, and which also provides small business liability insurance, as well as the big insurance carriers, from AIG to Berkshire Hathaway.

Counterpart is used by some wholesale brokers in the United States to allow small to medium businesses get insurance coverage, because it digitizes much of the process, from application submission, coverage selection, binding, claims management, and loss prevention. Counterpart says this market has become less attractive to insurance carriers because of the increasing claims costs and severity, and their lack of digitization of the process.

Tanner Hackett, founder, and CEO, said in a statement: “The $1.2tn insurance industry is going through a digital revolution.. We saw an outsized opportunity with management liability, a critical insurance line in which we have unique expertise.”
Valor Equity Partners partner and Counterpart board member Jon Shulkin said: “Counterpart’s platform goes beyond the scope of a traditional insurer, layering in insights, tools, and services to help business stakeholders navigate this extremely challenging operating environment.”

Valor was an early backer of Tesla, SpaceX, Addepar, and GoPuff. Susa has previously backed Robinhood, PolicyGenius, and Newfront Insurance. Felicis has funded Hippo, Plaid, and Credit Karma.

#addepar, #board-member, #ceo, #companies, #credit-karma, #europe, #felicis-ventures, #insurance, #lemonade, #newfront-insurance, #oscar, #spacex, #susa-ventures, #tc, #tesla, #united-states, #valor-equity-partners


DataGrail snares $30M Series B to help deal with privacy regulations

DataGrail, a startup that helps customers understand where their data lives in order to help comply with a growing body of privacy regulations, announced a $30 million Series B today.

Felicis Ventures led the round with help from Basis Set Ventures, Operator Collective and previous investors. One of the interesting aspects of this round was the participation from several strategic investors including HubSpot, Okta and Next47, the venture firm backed by Siemens. The company has now raised over $39 million, according to Crunchbase data.

That investor interest could stem from the fact that DataGrail helps organizations find data by building connectors to popular applications and then helps ensure that they are in compliance with customer privacy regulations such as GDPR, CCPA and similar laws.

“DataGrail [is really] the first integrated solution with over 900 integrations (up from 180 in 2019) to different apps and infrastructure platforms that allow the product to detect when new apps or new infrastructure platforms are added, and then also perform automated data discovery across those applications,” company CEO and co-founder Daniel Barber explained to me. This helps users find customer data wherever it lives and enables them to comply with legal requirements to manage and protect that data.

Victoria Treyger, general partner at lead investors Felicis Ventures says that one of the things that attracted her to DataGrail was that she had to help implement GDPR regulations at a previous venture and felt the pain first hand. She said that her firm tends to look for startups in large markets where the product or service being offered is a critical need, rather an option, and she believes that DataGrail is an example of that.

“I really liked the fact that privacy management is such a hard problem, and it is not optional. As a business, you have to manage privacy requests, which you may do manually or you may do it with a solution like DataGrail,” Treyger told me.

HubSpot’s Andrew Lindsay, who is SVP of corporate and business development, says his company is both a customer and an investor because DataGrail is helping HubSpot customers navigate the complexity of privacy regulation. “DataGrail’s unique ecosystem approach, where they are integrating with key Saas and business applications is an easy way for many of our joint customers to protect their customers’ privacy,” Lindsay said.

The company has 40 employees today with plans to grow to 90 or 100 by the end of this year. It’s worth noting that Treyger is joining the Board, which already has 3 other women. That shows shows a commitment to gender diversity at the board level that is not typical for startups.

#data-privacy, #datagrail, #enterprise, #felicis-ventures, #funding, #gdpr, #privacy, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc


Has a startup finally found one of food science’s holy grails with its healthy sugar substitute?

A little less than three years ago at the Computer Science Museum in Mountain View, Calif. the founders of a young company hailing from Cambridge, England addressed a crowd of celebrities, investors and entrepreneurs at Y Combinator’s August Demo Day promising a revolution in food science.

Over the years, the event has become a relatively low-tech, low-budget showcase for a group of tech investors and billionaire industry insiders to take a look at early stage businesses that could be their next billion-dollar opportunity.

Sharing the stage with other innovation-minded budding entrepreneurs the Cambridge scientists boasted of a technology could produce a sweetener that would mimic not just the taste of sugar, but the caramelization and stickiness that makes sugar the go-to additive for the bulk of roughly 74% of packaged foods that are made with some form of sweetener. Their company, Cambridge Glycoscience  could claim a huge slice of a market worth at least a $100 billion market, they said.

Now, the company has a new name, Supplant, and $24 million in venture capital financing to start commercializing its low-cost sugar substitute made from the waste materials of other plants.


The bitter history of the sweetest ingredient

Sugar came into the human diet roughly 10,000 years ago as sugarcane, which is native to New Guinea and parts of Taiwan and China. Over the next 2,000 years the crop spread from those regions to Madagascar and eventually took root in India, where it was first refined in about 500 BC.

From there, the sweetener spread across the known world. By the first century AD Greek and Roman scholars were referencing its medicinal properties and, after the Crusades, sugar consumption traveled across Europe through the Middle Ages.

It was a welcome replacement from Europe’s mainstay, honey, and the early artificial sweeteners used by the Romans, which contained near-lethal doses of lead.

The cold climates of Northern Europe proved mostly inhospitable to sugarcane cultivation so the root took root in the more temperate South and the islands off of Europe’s southern coast.

Those regions also became home to the first European experiments with agricultural slavery — a byproduct of the sugar trade, and one that would plant the seeds for the international exploitation of indigenous American and African labor for centuries as the industrial growth of sugar production spread to the New World.

First, European indentured servants and enslaved indigenous people’s powered the production of sugar in the Americas. But as native populations died off due to the introduction of European diseases, genocidal attacks, and back-breaking labor, African slaves were brought to the new colonies to work the fields and mills to make refined sugar.

Sugar hangover

The horrors of slavery may be the most damning legacy of industrial sugar, but it’s far from the only problem caused by the human craving for sweeteners.

As climate change becomes more of a threat, fears of increasing deforestation to meet the world’s demand — or to provide cover for other industrialization of virgin forests — have arisen thanks to new policies in Brazil.

“Conventional cane sugar is heavily heavily water intensive,” said Supplant co-founder Tom Simmons in an interview. That’s another problem for the environment as water becomes the next resource to be stressed by the currents of climate change. And species extinction presents another huge problem too.

“The WWF number one source for biodiversity lost globally is cane sugar plantations,” Simmons said. “Sugar is a massive consumer of water and in contrast, there’s big sustainability pitch for what we do.. the raw materials are products of the current agricultural industry.”

And the quest for sugar substitutes in the U.S. has come with related health costs as high fructose corn syrup has made its way into tons of American products. Invented in 1957, corn syrup is one of the most common sweeteners used to replace sugar — and one that’s thought to have incredibly disastrous effects on the health of consumers worldwide.

The use of corn syrup has been linked to an increasing prevalence of diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease, in the world’s population.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 08: In this photo illustration, products containing high sugar levels are on display at a supermarket on April 8, 2016 in Melbourne , Australia. The World Health Organisation’s first global report on diabetes found that 422 million adults live with diabetes, mainly in developing countries. Australian diabetes experts are urging the Federal Government to consider imposing a sugar tax to tackle the growing problem. (Photo by Luis Ascui/Getty Images)

Looking For A Healthier Substitute

As Supplant and its investors look to take the crown as the reigning replacement for sugar, they join a long line of would-be occupants to sugar’s throne.

The first viable, non-toxic chemically derived sugar substitute was discovered in the late 18th century by a German chemist. Called saccharine it was popularized initially during sugar shortages caused by the first World War and gained traction during the health crazes of the sixties and seventies.

Saccharin, still available in pink Sweet n’ Low packets and a host of products, was succeeded by aspartame (known commercially as Equal and present as the sugar substitute in beverages like Diet Coke), which was supplanted by sucralose (known as Splenda).

These chemically derived sweeteners have been the standard on the market for decades now, but with a growing push for natural — rather than chemical — substitutes for sugar and their failures to act as a replacement for all of the things that sugar can do as a food ingredient, the demand for a better sugar has never been higher.

Supplanting the competition 

“Not everything that we back is going to change the world. This, at scale, does that.” said Aydin Senkut, the founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, the venture firm that’s one of Supplant’s biggest backers. 

Part of what convinced Senkut is the fact that Supplant’s sweetener has already received preliminary approvals in the European Union by the region’s regulatory equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration. That approval not only covers the sale of Supplant’s product as a sweetener, but also as a probiotic with tangible health benefits he said.

So not only is the Supplant product arguably a better and more direct sugar replacement, as the founders claim, it also has health benefits through providing increased fiber in consumers who use it regularly, Senkut said.

“The European FDA is even stricter than the U.S. FDA,” Senkut said. “[And] they got pre-approval for this.”

Senkut and Felicis invested in Cambridge Glycosciences almost immediately after seeing the company’s presentation at Y Combinator.

“We became the largest investors at seed,” Senkut said.

Its selling points were the products extremely low glycemic index and its ability to be manufactured from waste plant fibers, which means that it ultimately can be produced at a lower cost, according to Senkut.

What’s the difference? 

Supplant differs from its competition in a number of other key ways, according to company co-founder Tom Simmons.

While companies like the Israeli startup DouxMatok or Colorado’s MycoTechnology and Wisconsin’s Sensient work on developing additives from fungus or tree roots or bark that can enhance the sweetness of sugars, Supplant uses alternative sugars to create its sweetener, Simmons said. 

“The core difference is they’re working with cane sugar,” according to Simmons. “Our pitch is we make sugars from fiber so you don’t need to use cane sugar.”

Simmons said that these other startups have been approaching the problem from the wrong direction. “The problem that their technology addresses isn’t the problem the industry has,” Simmons said. “It’s about texture, bulking, caramelization and crystallization… We have a technology that’s going to give you the same sweetness gram for gram.”

There are six different types of calorific sugar, Simmons explained. There’s lactose, which is the sugar in milk; sucrose, which comes from sugarcane and sugar beets; maltose, found in grains like wheat and barley; fructose, the sugar in fruits and honey; glucose, which is in nearly everything, but especially carbohydrate-laden vegetables, fruits, and grains; and galactose, a simple sugar that derives from the breakdown of lactose.

Simmons said that his company’s sugar substitute isn’t based on one compound, but is derived from a range of things that come from fiber. The use of fibers means that the body recognizes the compounds as fibrous and treats them the same way in the digestive tract, but the products taste and act like sugar in food, he said. “Fiber derived sugars are in the category of sugars, but are not the calorific sugars,” said Simmons.

NEW YORK – DECEMBER 6: Packets of the popular sugar substitute Splenda are seen December 6, 2004 in New York City. The manufacturer of sucralose, the key ingredient in the no-calorie sweetener, says demand is so high for the product that it will not be able to take on new U.S. customers until it doubles production in 2006. Splenda has been boosted by the popularity of the low-sugar Atkins diet. (Photo Illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Trust the process? 

Supplant’s technology uses enzymes to break down and fragment various fibers. “As you start breaking it down, it starts looking molecularly like sucrose — like cane sugar — so it starts behaving in a similar way,” said Simmons.

This is all the result of years of research that Simmons began at Cambridge University, he said. “I arrived at Cambridge intending to be a professor. I did not arrive in Cambridge intending to start a business. I was interested in doing science, making inventions and stuff that would reach the wider world. I always imagined the right way for me to do that was to be a professor.”

In time, after receiving his doctorate and beginning his post-doctoral work into the research that would eventually turn into Supplant, Simmons realized that he had to start a company. “To try and do something impactful I was going to have leave the university,” he said. 

In some ways, Supplant operates at the intersection of all of Simmons’ interests in health, nutrition, and sustainability. And he said the company has plans to apply the processing technology across a range of consumer products eventually, but for now the company remains focused on the $100 billion sugar substitute market.

“There’s a handful of different core underlying scientific approaches in different spaces,” he said. The sort of things that go into personal care and homecare. Those chemicals. A big drive in the industry is for both less harsh and harsh chemicals in shampoos but also to do so in a way that’s sustainable. That’s made form a sustainable source but also biodegradable.”

Next steps 

With the money that the company has now raised from investors including Bonfire Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Felicis, Soma Capital, and Y Combinator, Supplant is now going to prove its products in a few very targeted test runs.* The first is a big launch with a celebrity chef, which Simmons teased, but did not elaborate on.

Senkut said that the company’s roll out would be similar to the ways in which Impossible Foods went to market. Beginning with a few trial runs in higher end restaurants and foodstuffs before trying to make a run at a mass consumer market.

The feedstocks for Supplant’s sugar substitute come from sugar cane bagasse, wheat and rice husks, and the processing equipment comes from the brewing industry. That’s going to be a benefit as the company looks to build out an office in the U.S. as it establishes a foothold for a larger manufacturing presence down the line.

“We’re taking known science and applying it in the food industry where we know that it has value,” Simmons said. “We’re not inventing any brand new enzymes and each part of the process — none of it on their own are new. The discovery that these sugars work well and can replace cane sugar. That’s someone that no one has done before. Most sugars don’t behave like cane sugar in food. They’re too dry, they’re too wet, they’re too hard, they’re too soft.”

Ultimately the consumer products mission resonates highly for Simmons and his twenty person team. “We’re going to use these hugely abundant renewable resources produced all around the world,” he said. 

*This story was updated to include Bonfire Ventures and Khosla Ventures as investors in Supplant.

#aydin-senkut, #brazil, #california, #cambridge-university, #chef, #chemicals, #china, #co-founder, #colorado, #consumer-products, #douxmatok, #europe, #european-union, #felicis-ventures, #food, #food-and-drink, #food-and-drug-administration, #food-ingredient, #impossible-foods, #india, #managing-partner, #soma-capital, #sugar, #taiwan, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #venture-capital-financing, #wisconsin, #y-combinator


Eat this, exercise now; new personalized software predicts and helps prevents blood sugar spikes

Not everyone has Type 2 diabetes, the disease that causes chronically high blood sugar levels, but many do. Around 9% of Americans are afflicted, and another 30% are at risk of developing it.

Enter software by January AI, a four-year-old, subscription-based startup that in November began providing personalized nutritional and activity-related suggestions to its customers based on a combination of food-related data the company has quietly amassed over three years, and each person’s unique profile, which is gleaned over that individuals’s first four days of using the software.

Why the need for personalization? Because believe it or not, people can react very differently to every single food, from rice to salad dressing.

The tech may sound mundane but it’s eye-opening and potentially live-saving, promises cofounder and CEO Nosheen Hashemi and her cofounder, Michael Snyder, a genetics professor at Stanford who has focused on diabetes and pre-diabetes for years.

Investors like the idea, too. Felicis Ventures just led a $21 million Series A investment in the company, joined by HAND Capital and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. (Earlier investors include Jerry Yang’s Ame Cloud Ventures, SignalFire, YouTube cofounder Steve Chen, and Sunshine cofounder Marissa Mayer, among others.) Says Felicis founder Aydin Senkut, “While other companies have made headway in understanding biometric sensor data—from heart rate and glucose monitors, for example—January AI has made progress in analyzing and predicting the effects of food consumption itself [which is] key to addressing chronic disease.”

To learn more, we talked this afternoon with Hashemi and Snyder. Below is part of our chat, edited for length and clarity.

TC: What have you built?

NH: We’ve built a multiomic platform where we take data from different sources and predict people’s glycemic response, allowing them to consider their choices before they make them. We pull in data from heart rate monitors and continuous glucose monitors and a 1,000-person clinical study and an atlas of 16 million foods for which, using machine learning, we have derived nutritional values and created nutritional labeling [that didn’t exist previously].

[The idea is to] predict for [customers] what their glycemic response is going to be to any food in our database after just four days of training. They don’t actually have to eat the food to know whether they should eat it or not; our product tells them what their response is going to be.

TC: So glucose monitoring existed previously, but this is predictive. Why is this important?

NH: We want to bring the joy back to eating and remove the guilt. We can predict, for example, how long you’d have to walk after eating any food in our database in order to keep your blood sugar at the right level. Knowing what “is” isn’t enough; we want to tell you what to do about it. If you’re thinking about fried chicken and a shake, we can tell you: you’re going to have to walk 46 minutes afterward to maintain a healthy [blood sugar] range. Would you like to do the uptime for that? No? Then maybe [eat the chicken and shake] on a Saturday.

TC: This is subscription software that works with other wearables and that costs $488 for three months.

NH: That’s retail price, but we have an introductory offer of $288.

TC: Are you at all concerned that people will use the product, get a sense of what they could be doing differently, then end their subscription?

NH: No. Pregnancy changes [one’s profile], age changes it. People travel and they aren’t always eating the same things. . .

MS: I’ve been wearing [continuous glucose monitoring] wearables for seven years and I still learn stuff. You suddenly realize that every time you eat white rice, you spike through the roof, for example. That’s true for many people. But we are also offering a year-long subscription soon because we do know that people slip sometimes [only to be reminded] later that these boosters are very valuable.

TC: How does it work practically? Say I’m at a restaurant and I’m in the mood for pizza but I don’t know which one to order.

NH: You can compare curve over curve to see which is healthier. You can see how much you’ll have to walk [depending on the toppings].

TC: Do I need to speak all of these toppings into my smart phone?

NH: January scans barcodes, it also understands photos. It also has manual entry, and it takes voice [commands].

TC: Are you doing anything else with this massive food database that you’ve aggregated and that you’re enriching with your own data? 

NH: We will definitely not sell personal information.

TC: Not even aggregated data? Because it does sound like a useful database . . .

MS: We’re not 23andMe; that’s really not the goal.

TC: You mentioned that rice can cause someone’s blood sugar to soar, which is surprising. What are some of the things that might surprise people about what your software can show them? 

NH: The way people’s glycemic response is so different, not just between by Connie and Mike, but also for Connie and Connie. If you eat nine days in a row, your glycemic response could be different each of those nine days because of how much you slept or how much thinking you did the day before or how much fiber was in your body and whether you ate before bedtime.

Activity before eating and activity after eating is important. Fiber is important. It’s the most under overlooked intervention in the American diet. Our ancestral diets featured 150 grams of fiber a day; the average American diet today includes 15 grams of fiber. A lot of health issues can be traced to a lack of fiber.

TC: It seems like coaching would be helpful in concert with your app. Is there a coaching component?

NH: We don’t offer a coaching component today, but we’re in talks with several coaching solutions as we speak, to be the AI partner to them.

TC: Who else are you partnering with? Healthcare companies? Employers that can offer this as a benefit?

NH: We are selling to direct to consumers, but we’ve already had a pharma customer for two years. Pharma companies are very interested in working with us because we are able to use lifestyle as a biomarker. We essentially give them [anonymized] visibility into someone’s lifestyle for a period of two weeks or however long they want to run the program for so they can gain insights as to whether the therapeutic is working because of the person’s lifestyle or in spite of a person’s lifestyle. Pharma companies are very interested in working with us because they can potentially get answers in a trial phase faster and even reduce the number of subjects they need.

So we’re excited about pharma. We are also very interested in working with employers, with coaching solutions, and ultimately, with payers [like insurance companies].

#ame-cloud-ventures, #felicis-ventures, #health, #marc-benioff, #marissa-mayer, #recent-funding, #saas, #signalfire, #steve-chen, #tc, #venture-capital


Felicis’ Aydin Senkut and Guideline’s Kevin Busque on the value of simple pitch decks

Even though Kevin Busque is a co-founder of TaskRabbit, he didn’t get the response he was hoping for the first time he pitched his new venture to Felicis Ventures’ Aydin Senkut. Nonetheless, he said the outcome was one of the best things that could have happened.

“I’m kind of glad that he didn’t invest at the time because it really forced me to take a hard look at what we were doing and really enabled us to become Guideline,” said Busque. “That seed round was an absolute slog. I think I spent seven or eight months trying to raise a round for a product that didn’t exist, going purely on vision.”

Eventually, that idea evolved into Guideline, which describes itself as “a full-service, full-stack 401(k) plan” for small businesses. Eventually, Senkut did write a check — Felicis led Guideline’s $15 million Series B round. Today, Guideline has more than 16,000 businesses across 60+ cities, with more than $3.2 billion in assets under management. The company has raised nearly $140 million.

This week on Extra Crunch Live, Busque and Senkut discussed Guideline’s Series B pitch deck — which Senkut described as a “role model” — and how they built trust over time.

The duo also offered candid, actionable feedback on pitch decks that were submitted by Extra Crunch Live audience members. (By the way, you can submit your pitch deck to be featured on a future episode using this link right here.)

We’ve included highlights below as well as the full video of our conversation.

We record new episodes of Extra Crunch Live each Wednesday at 12 p.m. PST/3 p.m. EST/8 p.m. GMT. Check out the February schedule here.

Episode breakdown:

  • How they met: 1:30
  • Building trust: 11:30
  • Inside Guideline’s Series B deck: 16:00
  • Pitch deck teardown: 33:00

How they met

Senkut and Busque met nearly a decade ago, when Busque was still at TaskRabbit. Several years later, Busque launched out on his own and went fundraising for his original idea. Even though he got a no from Senkut, it wasn’t an easy decision.

Looking back, Senkut said he had much more freedom to follow his instincts while angel investing.

“As an institutional fund with LPs, we were feeling the pressure of checking all the checkmarks,” explained Senkut. “It’s amazing how, sometimes, being more structured or analytical actually does not always lead you to make better decisions.”

When Busque came back around after the pivot, looking to raise a Series B, Senkut called it a “no-brainer,” particularly because of the type of CEO Busque is.

“My opinion of Kevin as a person is that he’s an excellent wartime CEO, but also he’s a product visionary,” said Senkut. “We call them ‘missionary CEOs.’ There are mercenary CEOs who can extract every ounce of dollar from a rock, but we are gravitating much more toward CEOs like Kevin who are focused on product first. People who have a really acute vision of what the problem is, and. a very specific vision for how to solve that problem and ultimately turn it into a long-term scalable and successful company.”

Busque said he was drawn to Senkut based on his level of conviction, explaining that Senkut doesn’t always have to go by the book.

“If he wants to write a check because the founder is great or the product is great, he does it,” said Busque. “It’s not necessarily that he has to see a certain metric or growth pattern.”

Building trust

Obviously, years of staying connected and communicating (and not just about Guideline) laid the foundation for building a relationship. Busque said the honesty in their conversations, including Senkut’s initial rejection, lended itself greatly to the trust they have.

#aydin-senkut, #ecl, #extra-crunch-live, #felicis-ventures, #funding, #guideline, #kevin-busque, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital


At Extra Crunch Live, Felicis’ Aydin Senkut and Guideline’s Kevin Busque will look back on the Series B deal that brought them together

Aydin Senkut is a Swiss Army knife of an investor. He has been on the Midas List for the past seven years, with early investments in companies like Shopify, Rovio, Fitbit, Ayden, Credit Karma, SoundHound and more.

One such investment is Guideline, an enterprise tech company focused on giving small businesses a simplified way to offer affordable 401ks to employees. Guideline has raised nearly $140 million from investors such as Tiger Global Management, Greyhound, Generation Investment Management, Propel and, of course, Felicis.

It should go without saying that we’re thrilled to have Senkut and Guideline founder and CEO Kevin Busque join us for this week’s episode of Extra Crunch Live.

The new and improved Extra Crunch Live pairs founders and the investors who led their earlier rounds to talk about how the deal went down, from the moment they met to the conversations they had (including some disagreements) to the relationship as it exists today. Hell, we may even take a peek at the original pitch deck that made it all happen.

Then, we’ll turn our eyes back to you, the audience. That same founder/investor duo (in this case, Guideline founder and CEO Kevin Busque and Felicis’ Aydin Senkut) will take a look at your pitch decks and give their own feedback. (If you haven’t yet submitted a pitch deck to be torn down on Extra Crunch Live, you can do so here.)

The hour-long episode is sandwiched between two 30-minute rounds of networking. From start to finish, it goes from 11:30 a.m. PST/2:30 p.m. EST to 1:30 p.m. PST/4:30 p.m. EST. And Extra Crunch Live will come to you at the same time, every week, with a new pair of speakers.

In this case, we’ll be talking to Senkut and Busque about the $15 million Series B investment that Felicis led in the startup: how did they meet, what attracted them to one another, and ultimately, what made them decide to be financially bound together for the foreseeable future.

For now, let’s learn a bit more about Senkut and Busque, shall we?

Before starting Felicis Ventures (and serving as Managing Partner), Senkut was a senior manager at Google responsible for strategic partner development and account management in Asia Pacific. He joined the search giant in 1999 as its first product manager to launch Google’s first international sites. He then became the company’s first international sales manager.

Alongside an impressive portfolio of both angel and institutional investments, Senkut is about as well-rounded as a tech leader can be.

Kevin Busque, meanwhile, founded Guideline in 2015 and has since amassed more than 17,500 small businesses on to the platform with nearly $4 billion in assets under management. Before Guideline, Busque spent seven years at TaskRabbit where he was a cofounder and VP of Technology. Busque deeply understands what it takes to go from idea to MVP to product market fit to hyper growth.

This episode of Extra Crunch Live airs at 3pm ET/12pm PT on Wednesday, February 10.

As a reminder, Extra Crunch Live is for Extra Crunch members only. We’re coming to you with a new pair of speakers every week, and you can catch everything you missed on-demand if you can’t join us live. It’s worth the cost of the subscription on its own, but EC members also get access to our premium content, including market maps and investor surveys. Long story short? Subscribe, smarty. You won’t regret it.

Senkut and Busque join an impressive list of guests on the show.

Full details to register for these events are below.

See you on Wednesday!

#aydin-senkut, #extra-crunch-live-announcement, #felicis-ventures, #guideline, #kevin-busque, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital


Literati raises $40M for its book club platform

Literati has raised a $40 million Series B to pursue an unusual startup opportunity — namely, book clubs.

Founder and CEO Jessica Ewing (a former product manager at Google) explained that the Austin-based company started out with book clubs for kids, before launching its Luminary brand for adult book clubs last year. And the Luminary clubs live up to the name — they’re curated by notable figures such as activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, NBA star Stephen Curry, entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, journalist Susan Orlean and the Joseph Campbell Foudnation.

When you sign up for a Literati book club, you receive a print edition of each month’s selection with a note from the curator. You also get access to the Literati app, where you can discuss the book with other readers, and where curators host author conversations. For example, Curry is leading a book club focused on nonfiction about people who “transcend expectations” (he invested in Literati as well), while Yousafzai chooses books by women “with bold ideas from around the world.”

Ewing told me that she’s trying to build the first “new, innovative bookseller” since Amazon launched 25 years ago. And she’s doing that by focusing on curation.

“There’s too much choice, too many lists, it’s completely overwhelming for most people,” she said. And she argued that it helps to enlist celebrities and other big names to do the curation: “Books are aspirational. No one aspires to play more video games, people aspire to read more … People want their books to be recommended by someone a little bit smarter than they are.”

Stephen Curry book club

Image Credits: Literati

Ewing’s hope for Literati is to create “the next great literary social network,” bridging the gap between celebrity-driven lists like Oprah’s Book Club and Reese’s Book Club and what she described as “the wine-and-cheese, super intimate model.”

I would love to see in-person meetups once we’re out of the COVID environment,” she added. “But I also think there’s everything in between. We’re enabling threaded discussions [in the app] right now, and it’s cool to have asynchronous conversations about the books.”

And on the children’s book side, Literati is also working building personalization tools designed to recommend the best books for each child.

“To me, this is one of the most exciting applications: How do we make this generation of kids love reading by pairing them with the right books?” Ewing said.

Literati previously raised $12 million in funding from Shasta Ventures and others, according to Crunchbase. The new round was led by Aydin Senkut of Felicis Ventures, with participation from Dick Costolo and Adam Bain of 01 Advisors, Founders Fund, General Catalyst, Shasta, Silverton Partners, Springdale Ventures and — as previously mentioned — Stephen Curry.

“I wanted to start my own book club with Literati, because their mission to better the world through reading naturally aligns with my values as an entrepreneur and father,” Curry said in a statement. “I was a fan before I was an investor, and am so proud to be a part of a company that works to better the lives of others, one book at a time.”

#adam-bain, #aydin-senkut, #dick-costolo, #felicis-ventures, #founders-fund, #general-catalyst, #literati, #malala-yousafzai, #richard-branson, #shasta-ventures, #silverton-partners, #stephen-curry, #tc


Robot lawyer startup DoNotPay now lets you file FOIA requests

DoNotPay, the consumer advice company that started out helping people easily challenge parking tickets, has come a long way since it launched. It’s expanded to help consumers cancel memberships, claim compensation for missed flights, and even sue companies for small claims. In the early days of the pandemic, the startup helped its users file for unemployment, where many state benefit sites crashed.

Now the so-called “robot lawyer” has a new trick. The startup now lets you request information from U.S. federal and state government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act.

FOIA allows anyone to request information from the government, with some exceptions. But ask anyone with experience in filing FOIAs (hello!) and they can tell you that requesting data requires skill and practice to avoid having the request thrown out for being too broad, or not being specific enough. And when you do eventually get something back, it might not be what you expect.

That’s where DoNotPay wants to help. The new feature guides you through how to file a request for information, as well as wrangle the fee waivers and option to expedite processing — which is up to you to convince the government department why you should get the information for free and faster than regular FOIA requests. (In reality, the FOIA system is massively under-resourced, and responses can take months or years to get back.) After asking you a series of questions and what you want to request, DoNotPay generates a formal FOIA request letter using your answers and files it to the government agency on your behalf.

A screenshot of Do Not Pay's website.

Do Not Pay’s website. (Screenshot: TechCrunch)

DoNotPay’s founder and chief executive Joshua Browder said he’s hoping the new feature can help consumers “beat bureaucracy.”

“Hundreds of users have requested a FOIA product, because the government makes it deliberately difficult and bureaucratic to exercise these rights,” Browder told TechCrunch.

Browder said that DoNotPay “would not exist” without FOIA laws. “When we got started appealing parking tickets, we used previous requests to see the top reasons why parking tickets were dismissed,” he said. Browder said he’s hoping the feature will help consumers uncover more injustices — just like with parking tickets — to feed his product with more features. “The overall strategy is to use any interesting FOIA data to build great new DoNotPay products,” he said.

DoNotPay raised $12 million in its Series A earlier this year, led by investment firm Coatue Management, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund, and and Felicis Ventures. The startup has just three employees, including Browder, and is valued at about $80 million, the company confirmed.

The FOIA filing feature is free for academics and journalists, and is included as part of the company’s subscription service of $3 per month for everyone else.

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #coatue-management, #donotpay, #felicis-ventures, #freedom-of-information-act, #joshua-browder, #security, #series-a, #startups, #united-states


Kyklo raises $8.5M to bring electrical distributors online

Kyklo, a startup that helps wholesale distributors of electrical and automation products launch e-commerce stores, is announcing that it has raised $8.5 million in seed funding.

The industry may sound a bit arcane, but it’s one that founders Remi Ducrocq (Kyklo’s CEO) and Fabien Legouic (CTO) know from having worked at Schneider Electric. Ducrocq said that the process of selling these products to manufacturers and electricians remains a cumbersome process that relies largely on PDF catalogs.

Shifting these businesses to digital is a much bigger challenge than creating your standard online store, both because of the number of products being sold and the needs for accurate listings.

“Even the small folks sell 100,000 SKUs [distinct products], up to 1 million SKUs,” Ducrocq told me. “If you choose the wrong product, your factory gets shut down. [It’s essential] to have accurate information present on the web store to have a transaction happen.”

Kyklo doesn’t automate the process completely, Ducrocq added, because “you can’t just create content or apply AI to something that is so unstructured.” Sreating these stores remains a manual process for the Kylo team, but the company has built “technology to make that manual process as easy as possible.”

That includes standardized data structures and a variety of scripts to create these product listings more quickly. Ultimately, Ducrocq said Kyklo can get distributors up and running with an online store within 30 days, and sometimes as quickly as two weeks.

In total, Kyklo has created a catalog of more than 2.5 million products for more than 35 distributors. It’s also been endorsed by manufacturers like Schneider Electric, Wago, Festo US and Mitsubishi Electric Automation as their preferred e-commerce partner.

Ducrocq suggested that creating going digital with Kyklo helps these businesses both by allowing them to reach new customers with improved SEO and by giving them tools to expand their sales with existing customers. For example, IEC Supply says that its online sales increased 600% for the first six months after launching with Kyklo, while new customer interactions tripled.

“Market maturity accelerated because of the pandemic,” he added. “These B2B traditional businesses were reluctant to go towards digitization, with only visionaries embarking on the journey. But during the pandemic, salespeople haven’t been able to see ther customers in person for six months, so many distributors are reassessing how they should effectively go to market.”

Kyklo has now raised a total of $10.2 million. The new funding was led by Felicis Ventures and IA Ventures, with participation from Jungle Ventures, partners at Wavemaker, Seedplus and strategic angel investors.

“With 80% of the $640 billion electrical, industrial and automation distribution industry still relying on PDF catalogs and phone and emails for its operations, distributors face a challenge in the market,” said Felicis Managing Director Sundeep Peechu in a statement. “KYKLO’s platform helps these companies keep pace with crucial industry needs and reassess how digital tools can transform their sales force.”

#ecommerce, #enterprise, #felicis-ventures, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ia-ventures, #kyklo, #startups


Woven adds to its calendar app’s $20/mo premium plan

Productivity software has had a huge couple of years, yet for all of the great note-taking apps that have launched, consumers haven’t gotten a lot of quality options for Google Calendar replacements.

This week, Woven, a calendar startup founded by former Facebook CIO Tim Campos is shaking up the premium tier of their scheduling software, hoping that productivity-focused users will pay to further optimize the calendar experience just as they have paid up for subscription email services like Superhuman and note-taking apps like Notion.

There’s been a pretty huge influx of investor dollars into the productivity space which has shown a lot of promise in bottoms-up scaling inside enterprises by first aiming to sell their products to individuals. Woven has raised about $5 million to date with investments from Battery Ventures, Felicis Ventures and Tiny Capital, among others.

“Time is the most valuable asset that we have,” Campos told TechCrunch. “We think there’s a real opportunity to do much more with the calendar.”

Their new product will help determine just how much demand there is for a pro-tier calendar that aims to make life easier for professionals than Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar cares to. The new product, which is $20 per month ($10 during an early access period if you pay for a year), builds on the company’s free tier product giving users a handful of new features. There’s still quite a bit of functionality in the free tier still, which is sticking around, but the lack of multi-account support is one of the big limitations there. 

Image credit: via Woven.

The core of Woven’s value is likely its Calendly-like scheduling links which allow single users to quickly show when they’re free, or give teams the ability to eliminate back-in-forth entirely when scheduling meetings by scanning everyone’s availability and suggesting times that are uniformly available. In this latest update, the startup has also launched a new feature called Open Invite which allows users to blast out links to join webinars that recipients can quickly register for.

One of Woven’s top features is probably Smart Templates which aims to learn from your habits and strip down the amount of time it takes to organize a meeting. Selecting the template can automatically set you up with a one-time Zoom link, ping participants for their availability with Woven’s scheduling links and take care of mundane details. Now, the titles automatically update depending on participants, location or company information as well. While plenty of productivity happens on the desktop, the startup is trying to push the envelope on mobile as well. They’ve added an iMessage integration to quickly allow people to share their availability and schedule meetings inside chat.

The product updates arrive soon after the announcement of the company’s Zoom “Zapp,” which shoves the app’s functionality inside Zoom and will likely be a bit sell to new users.


#battery-ventures, #cio, #facebook, #felicis-ventures, #google-calendar, #groupware, #productivity-software, #tc, #teleconferencing, #tiny-capital, #web-conferencing, #zoom


Popmenu earns raves from investors for its marketing and delivery software for restaurants

Brendan Sweeney didn’t know anything about the restaurant business before he and his co-founders launched the Atlanta-based startup Popmenu.

What Sweeney did know was that it was nuts that while every other business was using incredible graphics, curated text, carefully crafted images and fancy videos to make their pitch to customers restaurants were — posting a text-based menu.

“It’s just crazy that restaurants present their inventory, which is their whole story, their whole selling proposition in plain text,” Sweeney said.

Popmenu, he company he co-founded with three former colleagues from software businesses around the Atlanta area (and which has closed on $17 million in new financing) offers a solution.

What the company’s software aims to do is keep customers on restaurant’s own online real estate by incorporating third party reviews, images, recommendations, and better descriptions into the webpages that it hosts for the culinary creators that use its service. “If you had all that information on a restaurant website it would probably reduce the need to bounce out so much,” Sweeney said.

Popmenu does more than just prettify webpages for the savory savants whose coding skills may not match their craft in the kitchen. The software also helps with social media management, emailing and, yes, even the all-important delivery services that have become vital in the time of a still-spreading pandemic.

It’s the pandemic that juiced the company’s growth, Sweeney said. “We saw ten years of trends in the first ten weeks of COVID-19,” he said. “A lot of people were unprepared for it.”

Sweeney and his co-founders Mike Gullo, Anthony Roy, and Justis Blasco had all worked together at either CareerBuilder or Commissions Inc. It was the experience at Commissions that actually gave Sweeney and his colleagues the idea to start Popmenu.

Popmenu co-founders Brendan Sweeney, Mike Gullo, Justis Blasco, and Anthony Roy. Image Credit: Popmenu

Where Commissions was about designing tools to help local real estate agents and brokers take some power back from the large online platforms that were eating their lunch, Popmenu is bringing the same tools for small businesses to restaurateurs.

“I got this playbook for helping small business with SAAS. [And we’re] helping restaurants take control back from Yelp and TripAdvisor,” said Sweeney.

Other companies around the country, like ChowNow out of Los Angeles, are trying to do something similar. But while ChowNow is focused on online ordering, Popmenu started with marketing and… well… making menus “pop”.

The company is going to use the new cash it raised to add services like on-premises contactless transactions and from there could have a connection from the front-of-the-house to the back-of-the-house operations and ordering and fulfillment services.

Existing investors like Base10 Partners and Felicis Ventures returned to finance the company’s Series B along with new lead investor Bedrock Capital. Popmenu has also received some celebrity financing in the form of a commitment from Mantis VC, the newly launched investment firm from the wildly popular Chainsmokers band.

Apparently, they wanted something just like this, according to Milan Koch of Mantis VC. “When Alex, Drew and I met the Popmenu team, it was obvious to us right away how much they really cared about restaurateurs,” Koch said in a statement. “Having close ties with owners and hospitality groups worldwide and knowing the unique challenges they face, we got excited about how Popmenu’s product could help impact their businesses in so many different ways.”

Popmenu sells its software for a monthly fee starting at $269 per-location.

“So many industries have experienced radically accelerated trends through the COVID crisis, probably none more so than the restaurant industry,” said Sweeney, in a statement. “They’ve embraced technology as key to weathering these challenging times. We are fired up to give them even more help attracting guests and reducing costs and complexity on the road to recovery.”

#atlanta, #base10-partners, #bedrock-capital, #careerbuilder, #felicis-ventures, #milan-koch, #tc, #tripadvisor


Businesses reducing trash and plastic consumption are beginning to look like treasure to some VCs

Zuleyka Strasner didn’t set out to become an advocate for zero-waste consumption.

The former manager of partner operations at Felicis Ventures had initially pursued a career in politics in the UK before a move to San Francisco with her husband. It was on their honeymoon on a small island in the Caribbean that Strasner says she first saw the ways in which plastic use destroyed the environment.

That experience turned the onetime political operative into a zero-waste crusader — a transformation that culminated in the creation of Zero Grocery, a subscription-based grocery delivery service that sells all of its goods in zero-waste packaging.

Strasner returned from Corn Island with a purpose to reduce her plastic use and found inspiration in the social media posts and work of women like Anamarie Shreves, the founder of Fort NegritaLauren Singer, who became known for her TedX Teen talk on living waste free and launched Package Free; and Bea Johnson, who became a social media celebrity for her work reducing consumption and living waste-free.

Following in the zero-waste footsteps of others eventually led Strasner from her home in Redwood City, Calif. to San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery, a food co-op dedicated to sustainable business practices. That 45 minute drive and hour spent in a store juggling jars, bottles, and shakers to perform basic shopping tasks convinced Strasner that there had to be a better way to shop zero-waste — especially for busy parents, professionals, and singles.

So she built one.

“I may have had no team and no money, but I had data. I spent 6 months alpha testing the early version of Zero. I was working from my apartment (cue cliché) getting real sign-ups, servicing real customers and doing a lot of growth hacking,” Strasner wrote in a post on Medium about the company’s early fundraising efforts. “It was really janky, but going between research reports, market data and the data I was collecting from real-people, I had something tangible to put under investors noses to back up how Zero looks at scale.”

Living through COVID-19 is a literal trash heap 

Strasner’s push to create alternatives to single-use plastic in grocery delivery comes as the use of single use plastics skyrockets and grocery delivery services surge — putting her new company in the enviable position of solving an obvious problem that’s becoming more apparent to everyone.

An August study from the investment bank Jefferies on single-use plastic identified the surge in plastic use and laid the blame at the feet of the pandemic.

“Bans and taxes have been rolled back, physical and chemical recycling activity has decreased, and virus concerns may have reduced consumers’ desire to minimize consumption of single-use plastics,” said the report, entitled “Drowning in Plastics,” which was quoted in Fortune.

While much of the use in home delivery and consumer goods has been offset by reductions in the use of plastics in manufacturing as industries slowed down production, the reopening of international economies means that there’s the potential for renewed industrial use even as consumers renew their love affair with plastic.

Companies like Strasner’s present a way forward for consumers willing to pay a premium for the waste reduction — and she’s not alone.

Changing the supply chain for food and consumer packaged goods 

Lauren Singer was already two years into operating her (profitable and cash-flow positive since “day one”) Brooklyn-based and e-commerce stores when she raised $4.5 million for her plastic free and zero-waste wares last September.

The image of the years worth of waste she claimed to be able to fit into a single jar had made her a viral sensation on Instagram and she’d managed to turn that post, and her celebrity, into a business. She wasn’t alone. Bea Johnson, another star of the zero-waste movement wrote the book on going zero waste and has turned that into a business of her own.

At Package Free, products range from a line of plastic-free and zero-waste lifestyle products like bamboo toothbrushes and mason jars, to natural tooth powder alongside natural pacifiers, and a dog shampoo bar. The company’s packaging is composed of 100% up-cycled post-consumer box with paper wrapping and paper tape, according to the company.

Meanwhile, another New York-based startup, Fresh Bowl, raised $2.1 million in January to bring zero-waste packaging and circular economic principles to the bowl business. The company, founded by Zach Lawless, Chloe Vichot and Paul Christophe, uses vending machines around New York that could hold roughly 220 prepared meals with a five-day shelf-life. Those meals were distributed in reusable containers that customers could return for a refund of a deposit.

Before the pandemic hit in the early months of the company’s financing each of its machines were on track to bring in $75,000 in revenue — and roughly 85% of the company’s containers were being returned for re-use according to a January interview with chief executive officer Zach Lawless.

Roughly 40% of landfilled material is food or food packaging, Lawless said. “For consumers it’s hard to make that trade-off between convenience and sustainability,” he said. Companies like Fresh Bowl and Strasner’s Zero Grocery are each trying to make that tradeoff a little easier.

Designing a zero-waste delivery service

Zero Grocery currently counts around 850 unique items in stock and expects to be over 1,000 items at the end of the year — and all delivered in reusable or compostable packaging, according to Strasner.

“Our aim is to not create anything that would go into the landfill and really limit what would need to be recycled. For the products that are single use… they are banded toilet rolls and they’re wrapped in a single sheet of paper. It’s all compostable,” said Strasner. 

Zero Grocery’s current operations are confined to the Bay Area, but the company has seen its growth triple when the pandemic hit in March and then grow twenty times over the ensuing months, according to Strasner. And unlike companies like Singer’s and Lawless’, Strasner didn’t have the luxury of reaching out to a handful of investors for a small cap table.

“I have continuously raised throughout this period to get to this moment in time. Initially i believed that we would have a more typical round structure, maybe myself misunderstanding that I’m an atypical founder,” Strasner said. As a Black, trans, woman, the path to “yes” from investors involved over 250 pitches and an undue amount of “no’s”. 

An early champion was Charles Hudson, the founder of Precursor Ventures, who helped lead a seed round for the company back in 2019. Hudson’s investment allowed the company to launch its first service, an exclusive, á la carte, home delivery service. It was basically Strasner wheeling a cart brimming with produce, grains and compostable items into customers’ homes and filling their own jars.

Zero Grocery chief executive Zuleyka Strasner on an early delivery run for her company. Image Credit: Zero Grocery

Ultimately untenable, the first service gave Strasner a view into the ways in which grocery delivery worked, and allowed her to create the second version of the service.

That was more like a latter day milkman service, where the company would deliver next-day, door-to-door delivery of over 100 zero-waste products. These were pre-packaged goods that the company just dropped off and then had customers return (a similar thesis to Fresh Bowl’s retail strategy).

That was around November 2019, when the company launched publicly across the Bay Area with our new offering. The initial traction allowed Strasner to raise another $500,000 from existing investors and new firms like Chingona Ventures and Cleo Capital.

“At that point we had sixty members on the platform and had done four figures of revenue of that month,” Strasner said.

Then COVID-19 hit the Bay Area and sales started soaring. To meet the needs of a strained supply chain — since the company doesn’t use any third-party services for delivery and involves a heavy bit of sanitization of containers so they can be re-used — Zero Grocery raised another $700,00 from Incite.org, Gaingels, Arlan Hamilton and MaC Ventures.

As Strasner wrote in a Medium post:

When COVID-19 hit the US, our team was among the first companies to go into lockdown. By late February, only essential personnel were on the warehouse floor for order preparation and delivery in head-to-toe PPE. Soon after that, the Bay Area went into full shelter-in-place.

Much like other companies in the grocery delivery space, our demand skyrocketed. To keep up, we grew our team in half the time we anticipated and launched features that were half-baked. Customer experience is tantamount, and our underdog team fought tooth-and-nail to preserve that despite long hours, little sleep, and no time for planning. We abandoned our notions of roles and split up the responsibilities of customer service, order packing, feature development, and more.

Strasner’s experiences as an immigrant, Black, trans founder mean that she thinks about sustainability not just in environmental terms, but also social sustainability. That’s why she works with the staffing service R3 Score to provide opportunities for people who had criminal records. The service provides a risk analysis for employers of job applicants who have a criminal record, to give employers a better sense of their viability as an employee.,

As she told Fast Company, “This is a highly capable, untapped labor force who is ready to work and is actively looking for opportunities… This is not merely a COVID stopgap measure for us; it’s something we’re incorporating into our business for the long-term.”

More money, fewer problems? 

Zero Grocery now counts many thousands of customers on its service and has just raised another $3 million, led by the investment firm 1984, to grow the business. The company charges $25 for a membership that includes free deliveries and collects empty containers. Non-members pay a $7.99 delivery free for groceries priced competitively with Whole Foods and other higher end grocery options.

Right now, Zero Grocery occupies the as the only fully zero-waste online grocery store in the U.S., and its numbers are growing quickly.

But that kind of success can breed competition, and there are certainly no shortage of would-be competitors waiting in the wings.

Already some of the largest consumer packaged goods companies in the U.S. have rolled out a version of zero-waste delivery services for their products. These are companies like Procter & Gamble and Froneri, the owner of ice cream brand Haagen Dazs (and others). In April, their reusable, no-waste delivery service Loop launched nationwide to provide customers across the country with recyclable and reusable packaged containers.

The commercialization of new kinds of packaging technologies from companies like NotPla, Varden, and Vericool mean that compostable material packaging could become a wider solution to the waste dilemma.

Still, these solutions to packaging waste come with their own issues, like the sustainability of the supply chain used to make them and the carbon footprint of the manufacturing processes. In instances like these reducing the need to manufacture new material is likely the most sustainable option.

And, in many cases, companies like Zero Grocer help their vendors do a lot of the work to reduce the footprint of their own supply chains.

“A lot of work is to enable them to exist within a plastic free supply chain using our technology,” said Strasner of the work she’d done with vendors. 

“I started Zero to make zero-waste grocery shopping effortless and empower people to protect the planet while shopping conveniently,” she said. That’s a notion everyone can treasure. 

#arlan-hamilton, #charles-hudson, #cleo-capital, #economy, #felicis-ventures, #food, #grocery-store, #haagen-dazs, #lauren-singer, #mac-ventures, #precursor-ventures, #procter-gamble, #tc, #varden, #vericool, #whole-foods


PicnicHealth raises $25 million for its patient health record management service

PicnicHealth, the startup that’s looking to give patients a way to manage their care in one place and pharmaceutical companies access to patient records for real world data, has just raised $25 million in financing to grow its business.

Founded in 2016 by a former international development worker and Crohn’s Disease patient, Noga Leviner, PicnicHealth’s initial pitch was around giving patients the ability to manage and coordinate their own care. It’s something that Leviner, a person with a chronic condition, knows can be complicated.

“Being a patient in the healthcare system in the US sucks,” said Leviner. “You think someone is going to be in charge and then, as it turns out, nobody’s in charge and it’s up to you to keep everybody in the loop.”

The pitch from PicnicHealth is that patients can use the service to collect and manage their medical records and then share their medical history to contribute to research. The data, the company says, is de-identified and then made available to external researchers.

The service is free for patients who are involved in clinical studies, and anyone who isn’t participating in the study pays a fee for the records management service, according to Leviner.

So far, there are tens of thousands of patients using the PicnicHealth platform.

For Felicis Ventures managing director Sundeep Peechu, a new director on the PicnicHealth board following his firm’s lead investment into the company, the opportunity Leviner’s company presents is in putting the patient first when it comes to data management.

“It is probably the first patient data company that has patient consent,” Peechu said. “This is a unique healthcare data company, which is going to the patients and asking for their consent and using that data in an advantageous way.”

Other companies in the data management space for healthcare have focused on making sure that healthcare providers are all looped in to provide coordinated care, but they don’t bring those tools into patient’s hands, according to the company.

Those are businesses like TrueVault and Aptible, who focus on delivering secure information to medical personnel rather than to the patient.

The access that pharmaceutical companies get when they work with PicnicHealth means that they’re able to use deep data sets to create longitudinal studies of patients over time. That allows those companies to look for commonalities between patient cases that they otherwise wouldn’t have seen.

For patients, it means the difference between a potential early diagnosis that may enable physicians to initiate treatment before a disease manifests itself, Peechu said.

To date, PicnicHealth has raised nearly $40 million from investors including YCombinator, Amplify Partners and Felicis Ventures with participation from notable investors in a seed round that included: Social+Captial, Great Oaks, Slow Ventures, YC partner Paul Buchheit, Scott Marlette, Sam Lessin, Joe Greenstein, Rashmi Sinha, Jameson Hsu, Kenny Van Zant, Rishi Kacker, Ramji Srinivasan, Eric Evans and Stanford’s StartX Fund.

#amplify-partners, #articles, #director, #disease, #felicis-ventures, #health, #healthcare, #healthcare-data, #paul-buchheit, #pharmaceutical, #picnichealth, #sam-lessin, #scott-marlette, #slow-ventures, #tc, #united-states


Kudo raises $6M for its real-time translation and video conference platform

SaaS is hot in 2020. Tooling that helps facilitate remote work is hot in 2020. And we all know that anything related to video chatting in particular is on fire this year. In the midst of all three trends is Kudo, which just raised $6 million in a round led by Felicis.

But Kudo’s video chatting and conferencing tool with built-in support for translators and multiple audio streams wasn’t initially constructed for the COVID-19 era. It got started back in 2016, so let’s talk about how it got to where it is today before we talk about how much the pandemic and ensuing remote-work boom accelerated its growth by what the company described in a release as 3,500%.

Pain to proof to product

TechCrunch spoke to Fardad Zabetian, Kudo’s founder and CEO, earlier this week to learn about how his company got started. According to the executive, he started working on Kudo back in 2016 after feeling the need to add language support to what he calls decentralized meetings.

After getting a proof of concept (could interactive audio and video be compiled for remote participants with less than 500 milliseconds of latency?) in place, the company itself launched in 2017, and after more work its product was put into the market in September, 2018.

During that time, Kudo put together angel and friends-and-family money that Zabetian described as less than $1 million, meaning that the startup got a lot done without spending a lot. (In my experience, talking to founders over the last decade or so, that’s a good sign.)

All that work paid off this year when COVID-19 shook up the world, forcing companies to cancel business travel and instead lean on video conferencing solutions. Given the international nature of modern business — globalization is a fact, regardless of what nationalists want — the change in the world’s meeting landscape scooted demand toward Kudo.

Here’s how it works: Kudo provides a self-serve SaaS video conferencing solution, allowing any company to spin up meetings as they need. It also has a translator pool, and can supply humans to fill out a meeting’s needs if a customer wants. Or, customers can bring their own translators.

So, Kudo is SaaS with an optional services component, though given the lower margins inherent to services over software, I’d hazard that we should think of its services revenue as a helper to its SaaS incomes. There’s no need to fret about their impact on Kudo’s blended gross margins, in other words.

According to Zabetian, about three-quarters of its customers bring their own translators, while about a fourth hire them through Kudo’s cadre.


As noted, Kudo got into the market back in 2018, which means it was already selling its software in the pre-pandemic days. Lead investor Niki Pezeshki told TechCrunch that Kudo has “stepped up in a big way for its customers during the pandemic,” but that while COVID “has certainly accelerated Kudo’s growth, we think they are enabling a longer-term shift in the market by showing customers that it is possible to effectively run multilingual conferences and meetings without the hassle of international travel and all the planning that goes into it.”

Kudo was already right about where the world was going, then, even if the pandemic provided a boost.

That tailwind is evident in its round size, notably. Kudo’s CEO said that he set out to raise $2 million, not $6 million; the $4 million delta is indicative of a company that has become a competitive asset for the venture class to fight over.

And Kudo’s growth has brought with it notable financial benefits, including several months of cash flow positivity — something nearly unheard of amongst startups of its age and size. But the company will spend from its $6 million and push that line-item negative, it said. Kudo has 30 open positions today that it expects to fill in the next few quarters, including building out its sales and marketing functions, which to date it has not invested in (another good sign among startups is how long they can grow attractively without needing to spend heavily on sales and marketing). That won’t come cheap, in the short-term.

So that’s Kudo and its round. What we want to know next is its H1 2020 year-over-year revenue growth. Do write in if you know that number.

#felicis-ventures, #fundings-exits, #niki-pezeshki, #recent-funding, #startups, #video


This startup just raised $12 million from top VCs to offer financial planning as an employee perk

Companies increasingly recognize that one of the greatest stresses for their employees is financial wellness. Even at innovative tech startups, people typically bump up against the limits of how much they know about wealth management pretty fast.

But providing financial education to a workforce, which has become increasingly common, is largely useless as most employees will tell you. The information can be hard to navigate, and it’s often not personalized in a way that addresses an employee’s circumstance and goals, which change over time depending on whether they are a recent graduate, getting married, or even eyeing retirement. It’s why so many employed people look to outside apps that promise to help them to not only understand their financial picture but actually manage it.

It’s also a missed opportunity, according to a growing number of founders who are working to convince employers to move beyond education and instead offering automated financial planning (with a dash of human involvement) as an employee perk.

Their understandable argument: while offering benefits around fertility, family planning, and mental health are wonderful, companies are missing out on the chance to address the very top priority for their employees, which is how to avoid financial trouble.

Origin, a year-old San Francisco-based company led by Matt Watson — whose last company was acquired in December — is among the newest entrants to make the case.

Freshly backed by $12 million in funding led by Felicis Ventures, with participation from General Catalyst, Founders Fund, and early Stripe employee Lachy Groom, among others, Origin wants to become the place where employees can track financial milestones, get professional advice from licensed financial planners, and take action, whether it be paying down student debt, building emergency savings, or finding the right home and automative insurance.

Currently staffed by 32 employees, six are financial planners, and they can handle the unique circumstances of “mid thousands of people,” says Watson, who notes that after an employee initially sets up a plan, much can be automated until a life event changes the picture.

“If you use just the tech, you’re only getting limited information,” he says, adding that access to Origin’s planners is “unlimited.”

The company already has 15 customers with between 250 and 5,000 employees, including the social network NextDoor; the cloud communications and collaboration software platform Fuze; and Therabody, whose Theragun therapy tool is used by pro athletes and trainers to pulverize their aching muscles.

All are paying $6 per employee per month because it doesn’t matter how much employees are making, says Watson. “The thing about financial stress is that it impacts everyone pretty. evenly. The greater your income, the more stuff you buy.”

Considering that employees spend an estimated two to four hours each week dealing with their personal finances, an offering like Origin’s seems like a no-brainer for employers looking to both improve employee productivity and employee retention.

Indeed, the only thing holding back such offerings earlier in time were the kind of open banking APIs that exist today.

Now, the biggest challenge for Origin is to capture employers’ attention ahead of the competition. For example, another startup that’s also developing financial planning services as an employee per is Northstar, founded by Red Swan Ventures investor Will Peng. More established players like Betterment that have long catered to individual investors are also focusing more on building up ties to employers who can use their offerings as an employee resource.

Either way, the trend is a positive one for employees, who are right now living through an economic roller coaster and could more generally use a lot more help with both staying afloat and saving for the future.

“Everyone struggles with finances,” says Watson, who worked in high yield credit trading at Citi in New York before moving to San Francisco to start his last company. “I’m supposed to understand this stuff, and it’s complicated for me.”

#employee-perks, #felicis-ventures, #financial-planning, #founders-fund, #funding, #general-catalyst, #northstar, #origin, #tc


Jeremy Conrad left his own VC firm to start a company, and investors like what he’s building

When this editor first met Jeremy Conrad, it was in 2014, at the 8,000-square-foot former fish factory that was home to Lemnos, a hardware-focused venture firm that Conrad had cofounded three years earlier.

Conrad —  who as a mechanical engineering undergrad at MIT worked on self driving cars, drones and satellites — was still excited about investing in hardware startups, having just closed a small new fund even while hardware was very unfashionable and remains challenging. One investment his team had made around that time was in Airware, a company that made subscription-based software for drones and attracted meaningful buzz and $118 million in venture funding before shutting down in 2018.

By then, Conrad had already moved on — though not from his love of hardware. He instead decided in late 2017 that a nascent team that was camping out at Lemnos was onto a big idea relating the future of construction. Conrad didn’t have a background in real estate or, at the time, a burning passion for the industry. But the “more I learned about it — not dissimilar to when I started Lemnos — It felt like there was a gap in the market, an opportunity that people were missing,” says Conrad from his home in San Francisco, where he has hunkered down throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Enter Quartz, Conrad’s now 1.5-year-old, 14-person company, which quietly announced $7.75 million in Series A funding earlier this month, led by Baseline Ventures, with Felicis Ventures, Lemnos and Bloomberg Beta also participating.

What it’s selling to real estate developers, project managers and construction supervisors is really two things, which is safety and information.

Here’s how it works: using off-the-shelf hardware components that are reassembled in San Francisco and hardened (meaning secured to reduce vulnerabilities), the company incorporates its machine-learning software into this camera-based platform, then mounts the system onto cranes at construction sites. From there, the system streams 4K live feeds of what’s happening on the ground, while also making sense of the action.

Say dozens of concrete pouring trucks are expected on a construction site. The cameras, with their persistent view, can convey through a dashboard system whether and when the trucks have arrived and how many, says Conrad. It can determine how many people on are on a job site, and whether other deliveries have been made, even if not with a high degree of specificity.

“We can’t say [to project managers] that 1,000 screws were delivered, but we can let them know whether the boxes they were expecting were delivered and where they were left,” he explains.

It’s an especially appealing proposition in the age of coronavirus, as the technology can help convey information that’s happening at a site that’s been shut down, or even how closely employees are gathered.

Conrad says the technology also saves on time by providing information to those who might not otherwise be able to access it. Think of the developer on the 50th floor of the skyscraper that he or she is building, or even the crane operator who is perhaps moving a two-ton object and has to rely on someone on the ground to deliver directions but can enjoy far more visibility with the aid of a multi-camera set-up.

Quartz, which today operates in California but is embarking on a nationwide rollout, was largely inspired by what Conrad was seeing in the world of self-driving. From sensors to self-perception systems, he knew the technologies would be even easier to deploy at construction sites, and he believed it could make them safer, too. Indeed, like cars, construction sites are highly dangerous. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, of the worker fatalities in private industry in 2018, more than 20% were in construction.

Conrad also saw an opportunity to take on established companies like Trimble, a 42-year-old, publicly traded, Sunnyvale, Ca.-based company that sells a portfolio of tools to the construction industry and charges top dollar for them. Quartz is meanwhile charging $2,000 per month per crane for its series of cameras, their installation, a livestream and “lookback” data, though this may well rise at its adds additional features.

It’s a big enough opportunity that, perhaps unsurprisingly, Quartz is not alone in chasing it. Last summer, for example, Versatile, an Israeli-based startup with offices in San Francisco and New York City, raised $5.5 million in seed funding from Germany’s Robert Bosch Venture Capital and several other investors for a very similar platform,  though it uses sensors mounted under the hook of a crane to provide information about what’s happening below. Construction Dive, a media property that’s dedicated to the industry, highlights many other, similar and competitive startups in the space, too.

Still, Quartz has Conrad, who isn’t just any founding CEO. Not only does he have that background in engineering, but having launched a venture firm and spent years as an investor may also serve him well. He thinks a lot about the payback period on its hardware, for example.

Unlike a lot of founders, he even says he loves the fundraising process. “I get the highest quality feedback from some of the smartest people I know, which really helps focus your vision,” says Conrad, who says that Quartz, which operates in California today, is now embarking on a nationwide rollout.

“When you talk with great VCs, they ask great questions. For me, it’s best free consulting you can get.”

#baseline-ventures, #bloomberg-beta, #construction-tech, #felicis-ventures, #fundings-exits, #jeremy-conrad, #lemnos, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #robotics, #saas, #tc


Cybersecurity insurance startup Coalition raises $90M Series C

This morning, Coalition announced that it has closed a $90 million Series C. The funding comes around a year after the cybersecurity insurance startup raised a $40 million Series B that TechCrunch covered at time.

The startup’s new, larger funding round was led by Valor Equity Partners and included participation from Greyhound Capital and Felicis, along with “existing investors,” per the company. Coalition told TechCrunch that its Series C was raised at an $800 million pre-money valuation, making the firm worth $890 million today.

Coalition noted in a release that it has raised $125 million in equity capital in its life. Given that the company’s Series B was generally reported as $40 million, the math didn’t add up. TechCrunch spoke with the company, learning that its Series B was $25 million in primary, and $15 million in secondary. So, the company’s $10 million Series A, $25 million primary Series B, and its $90 million Series C do add up to $125 million, as they should.

The San Francisco-based cybersecurity insurance startup raised its new capital, and nearly reached a unicorn valuation (the $1 billion threshold means less than it once did, of course), on the back of rapid customer growth. Let’s dig into the numbers.


Coalition’s funding round stood out not only because it represented an outsized Series C, but also because the firm reported an impressive customer growth figure. The startup told TechCrunch that had grown its customer base to 25,000, a figure that was up 600% from “the prior year.”

Landing that many new customers in a year, more or less, made us sit up and take notice; there is a strong connection between customer growth and revenue growth, implying that Coalition’s business was rapidly scaling.

TechCrunch wanted to know more, so we corresponded with Joshua Motta, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

First, we wanted to know if Coalition had juiced its sales and marketing spend in the last year, perhaps pushing its customer number through brute force and heavy spend. According to Matta, the answer appears to be not really:

Coalition’s insurance products are sold by insurance brokers across the country. While we’ve grown our internal sales and marketing team from 5 to 13 people [year-over-year], we’ve appointed over 1,000 new brokers in the same period, each of whom was driven by an interest to help their clients manage growing cyber risks.

Accreting brokers is not the same sort of cost as, say, spending gobs of money on advertising.

As TechCrunch noted at the time of the company’s Series B, “an ongoing threat of breaches and data exposures” has made cyber insurance attractive, so there may be secular tailwinds that are pushing Coalition along, helping boost its customer count.

Matta agrees, telling TechCrunch in an email that “data breaches and cyberattacks are now so commonplace that organizations can no longer afford to ignore them, and there is a growing awareness that insurance is often the only protection from catastrophic financial loss.”

Back to customer growth, TechCrunch was curious if the company had changed its pricing in the last year, perhaps lowering it and thus attracting more customers. Answer from its CEO: No.

But what is changing at Coalition is its size. According to Matta, the company has “made 20 new hires since the outset of March, and anticipates making an additional 100 hires over the next twelve months.”

The staffing-up makes sense, as the company plans to enter the Canadian market. TechCrunch asked what markets are coming next. According to the company: The UK, Europe and Australia.

Now we have to wait until we get another growth metric from the firm. Perhaps next time we’ll get a revenue figure, instead of merely a customer result. But hey, better some data than no data.

#felicis-ventures, #fundings-exits, #greyhound-capital, #startups, #tc, #valor-equity-partners


$4 million richer, Walrus.ai has a pitch for companies looking for QA-testing tools

The co-founders of Walrus.ai, a new software company which raised $4 million in a new round of financing fro Homebrew, Felicis Ventures and Leadout Capital, started their business with one problem.

Jake Marsh, Ogden Nathan, and Scott White had a problem had left Wealthfront to launch a new service that would solve what they saw as a key problem with new business workflows. Their idea was to integrate the disparate software silos that different parts of their former business used to complete assignments.

The company was going to be called Monolist and it was going to aggregate tasks across every tool into a single actionable list. Unfortunately it wasn’t working.

They had founded the business back in 2018 and had gone on to raise seed capital from Homebrew and Leadout Capital, but they were hitting walls in their product development.

“Reliability was a huge problem for us,” said company co-founder, Scott White. “There were various frameworks that would let you test your automation so that before you launch your software, you catch bugs… There were some code languages that exist that can help you do this, but they didn’t work for us at all.”

The browser testing frameworks that White and his co-founders were using hadn’t kept up with the evolution of the software development industry and couldn’t adequately recreate the ways that actual users would interact with the software. “The stuff is super brittle,” said White.

Typically, according to White, these assurance tests break and then force engineers and developers to then investigate why the tests broke, to see if they can figure out what went wrong with the test even before they move on to any quality assurance of the actual changes made to a product.

“They weren’t designed to handle that much complexity,” White said of the existing testing tools.

So White and his co-founders thought about how they’d solve what they see as one of the critical problems that engineers face.

“The problem for engineers right now is that writing tests for your applications is hard because you have to write code and the frameworks are very inflexible and flaky,” White said. “Engineers spend tons of time running tests and if those tests fail then your code would not get shipped so you have to debut all those tests.”

Enter the new venture from White and his co-founders.

That would be Walrus.ai “We’re outsourced engineering through an API,” said White. “We understand how to do testing and we can do it way better and more quickly.”

Using simple text descriptions of a planned user interface, Walrus.ai’s co-founder said his company can run diagnostics on just how effectively the code manages to execute its planned commands.

Given its status as a relatively new kind on the testing block, Walrus.ai only has tens of paying customers right now as it spins out from Monolist.

The company sees its competition coming primarily from outsourced quality assurance companies like Rainforest QA; test recorders like Mabel and Testim; and testing frameworks like Selenium and Cypress, but believes that its ability to take natural language prompts and run QA tests will be enough of a differentiator to capture a significant share of the market.


#co-founder, #computing, #engineering, #felicis-ventures, #selenium, #software, #software-development, #software-engineering, #software-testing, #tc, #wealthfront