AI-driven voice assistant PolyAI raises $14M round led by Khosla Ventures

“Conversational AI” startup PolyAI, based out of London, has raised $14 million in a funding round led by Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures, with participation from existing investors (Point72 Ventures, Amadeus Capital, Sands Capital Ventures, Passion Capital and Entrepreneur First). This follows their $12m Series A, and will provide resources for further US expansion beyond its existing US team. The startup has now raised $28m to date.

PolyAI builds and deploys voice assistants for automating customer services, which, claims the startup, sound like real humans. This helps companies get an infinite and cheaper supply of their best human voice operators, which reduces customer waiting times, and increases customer satisfaction and retention, says the company.

Co-founder Dr Nikola Mrkšić said: “The technical term for our technology is ‘multi-turn conversational AI’, but all the caller has to do is talk to it, like they would to a human. Compared to existing call centers, our assistants can boost customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores by up to 40% and reduce handling times by up to five minutes.”

“We build these systems very quickly (relative to the competition) — we get experiences like these up and running in 2-4 weeks thanks to our transformer-based language understanding models and the underlying dialog management platform,” he added.

In a statement, Vinod Khosla said: “PolyAI is one of the first AI companies using the newest generation of large pre-trained deep learning models (akin to BERT and GPT-3) in a real-world enterprise product. This means they can deploy automated AI agents in as little as two weeks, where incumbent providers of voice assistants would take up to six months to deploy an older version of this technology.”

A spinout from the University of Cambridge, PolyAI says it is is effectively ’pushing at an open door’ as the pandemic has led to staffing shortages in call centers, driving more companies to deploy smart voice assistants, which appear not to have been replaced chatbots at all, as consumer generally prefer to speak than type.

“We were expecting the system to handle 40% of calls, but at launch it handled 80%, and within two weeks it was up to 87%,” said Brian Jeppesen of Landry’s Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos. “Callers think the AI agent is human”, Jeppesen continued, “which is great because the voice assistant never has a bad day, and is on 24/7. I wish I could hire more agents like that!”

Competitors include Nuance (recently acquired by Microsoft), IPSoft, Interactions, SmartAction, and Replicant. But PolyAI says its voice assistant can be turned live more quickly, in more languages, and charges on a per-minute basis.

Founded by Nikola Mrkšić (CEO), Tsung-Hsien Wen (CTO), Pei-Hao Su (Engineering Director), the three met while doing PhDs with Professor Steve Young, a leader in spoken dialog systems who pioneered many technologies that underpin voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa.

Recent PolyAI clients include Landry’s Entertainment, Greene King, Starling Bank, and Viasat. 

#alexa, #artificial-intelligence, #cambridge, #ceo, #chatbots, #co-founder, #computing, #cto, #customer-satisfaction, #entrepreneur, #europe, #google, #instant-messaging, #interactions, #khosla-ventures, #leader, #london, #microsoft, #nikola, #nuance, #passion-capital, #point72-ventures, #polyai, #replicant, #sands-capital-ventures, #software, #starling-bank, #tc, #united-states, #university-of-cambridge, #user-interfaces, #viasat, #vinod-khosla, #virtual-assistant, #voice-assistant

Real-time database platform SingleStore raises $80M more, now at a $940M valuation

Organizations are swimming in data these days, and so solutions to help manage and use that data in more efficient ways will continue to see a lot of attention and business. In the latest development, SingleStore — which provides a platform to enterprises to help them integrate, monitor and query their data as a single entity, regardless of whether that data is stored in multiple repositories — is announcing another $80 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue investing in its platform, hiring more talent and overall business expansion. Sources close to the company tell us that the company’s valuation has grown to $940 million.

The round, a Series F, is being led by Insight Partners, with new investor Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and previous backers Khosla Ventures, Dell Capital, Rev IV, Glynn Capital, and GV (formerly Google Ventures) also participating. The startup has to date raised $264 million, including most recently an $80 million Series E as recently as last December, just on the heels of rebranding from MemSQL.

The fact that there are three major strategic investors in this Series F — HPE, Dell and Google — may say something about the traction that SingleStore is seeing, but so too do its numbers: 300%+ increase in new customer acquisition for its cloud service and 150%+ year-over-year growth in cloud

Raj Verma, SingleStore’s CEO, said in an interview that its cloud revenues have grown by 150% year over year and now account for some 40% of all revenues (up from 10% a year ago). New customer numbers, meanwhile, have grown by over 300%.

“The flywheel is now turning around,” Verma said. “We didn’t need this money. We’ve barely touched our Series E. But I think there has been a general sentiment among our board and management that we are now ready for the prime time. We think SingleStore is one of the best kept secrets in the database market. Now we want to aggressively be an option for people looking for a platform for intensive data applications or if they want to consolidate databases to 1 from 3, 5 or 7 repositories. We are where the world is going: real-time insights.”

With database management and the need for more efficient and cost-effective tools to manage that becoming an ever-growing priority — one that definitely got a fillip in the last 18 months with Covid-19 pushing people into more remote working environments. That means SingleStore is not without competitors, with others in the same space including Amazon, Microsoft, Snowflake, PostgreSQL, MySQL, Redis and more. Others like Firebolt are tackling the challenges of handing large, disparate data repositories from another angle. (Some of these, I should point out, are also partners: SingleStore works with data stored on AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and Red Hat, and Verma describes those who do compute work as “not database companies; they are using their database capabilities for consumption for cloud compute.”)

But the company has carved a place for itself with enterprises and has thousands now on its books, including GE, IEX Cloud, Go Guardian, Palo Alto Networks, EOG Resources, and SiriusXM + Pandora.

“SingleStore’s first-of-a-kind cloud database is unmatched in speed, scale, and simplicity by anything in the market,” said Lonne Jaffe, managing director at Insight Partners, in a statement. “SingleStore’s differentiated technology allows customers to unify real-time transactions and analytics in a single database.” Vinod Khosla from Khosla Ventures added that “SingleStore is able to reduce data sprawl, run anywhere, and run faster with a single database, replacing legacy databases with the modern cloud.”

#amazon, #aws, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #database, #database-management, #enterprise, #funding, #glynn-capital, #google-cloud-platform, #google-ventures, #hewlett-packard-enterprise, #khosla-ventures, #lonne-jaffe, #memsql, #microsoft, #mysql, #palo-alto-networks, #postgresql, #red-hat, #redis, #series-e, #singlestore, #snowflake, #vinod-khosla

Catch takes hold of $12M to provide benefits that aren’t tied to employers

Catch is working to make sure that every gig worker has the health and retirement benefits they need.

The company, which is in the midst of moving its headquarters to New York, sells health insurance, retirement savings plans and tax withholding directly to freelancers, contractors or anyone uncovered.

It is now armed with a fresh round of $12 million in Series A funding, led by Crosslink, with participation from earlier investors Khosla Ventures, NYCA Partners, Kindred Ventures and Urban Innovation Fund, to support more distribution partnerships and its relocation from Boston.

Co-founders Kristen Anderson and Andrew Ambrosino started Catch in 2019 and raised $6.1 million previously, giving it a total of $18.1 million in funding.

It took the Catch team of 15 nearly two years to get approvals to sell its platform in 38 states on the federal marketplace. Anderson boasts that only eight companies have been able to do this, and three of them — Catch included — are approved to sell benefits to consumers. The other side of the business is payroll, and the company has gathered thousands of sources based on biller.

“More companies are not offering healthcare, while more people are joining the creator and gig economies, which means more people are not following an employer-led model,” Anderson told TechCrunch.

The age of an average Catch customer is 32 years old, and in addition to current offerings, were asking the company to help them set up income sources, like setting aside money for taxes, retirement, as well as medical leave without having to actively save.

When the global pandemic hit, many of Catch’s customers saw their income collapse, 40% overall across industries, as workers like hairstylists and cooks had income go down to zero in some cases.

It was then that Anderson and Ambrosino began looking at partnership distribution and developed a network of platforms, business facilitation tools, gig marketplaces and payroll companies that were interested in offering Catch. The company intends to use some of the funding to increase its headcount to service those partnerships and go after more, Anderson said.

Catch is one startup providing insurance products, and many of the competitors either do a single offering and do it well, like Starship does with health savings accounts, Anderson said. Catch is taking a different approach by offering a platform experience, but going deep on the process, she added. She likens it to Gusto, which provides cloud-based payroll, benefits and human resource management for businesses, in that Catch is an end-to-end experience, but with a focus on an individual person.

Over the past year, the company’s user base tripled, driven by people taking on second jobs and through a partnership with DoorDash. Platform users are also holding onto 5 times their usual balances, a result of setting more goals and needing to save more, Anderson said. Retirement investments and health insurance have grown similarly.

Going forward, Anderson is already thinking about a Series B, but that won’t come for another couple of years, she said. The company is looking into its own HSA product as well as disability insurance and other products to further differentiate itself from other startups, for example, Spot, Super.mx and Even that all raised venture capital this month to provide benefits.

Catch would also like to serve a broader audience than just those on the federal marketplace. The co-founders are working on how to do this — Anderson mentioned there are some “nefarious companies out there” offering medical benefits at rates that can seem too good to be true, but when the customer reads the fine print, finds out that certain medical conditions are not covered.

“We are looking at how to put the right thing in there because it does get confusing,” Anderson added. “Young people have cheaper options, which means they need to make sure they know what they are getting.”

 

#andrew-ambrosino, #crosslink, #doordash, #ecommerce, #employee-benefits, #funding, #gig-economy, #gig-workers, #health, #health-insurance, #khosla-ventures, #kindred-ventures, #kristen-anderson, #labor, #nyca-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #urban-innovation-fund

Former Iora Health execs raise $13M to guide seniors through Medicare enrollment

Employers typically offer three options for healthcare insurance. When it’s time to switch to Medicare, particularly Medicare Advantage, there are over 3,500 plans available nationwide, and an average of 30 plans someone can choose from in their particular area. Connie Health is leading seniors through the Medicare maze, helping whittle down those 3,000 plans into a handful of best choices based on care requirements.

The company’s three co-founders, Oded Eran, CEO, David Luna, chief revenue officer, and Michael Scopa, chief growth officer, saw this problem firsthand as executives at primary care company Iora Health, which is being acquired by OneMedical for $2.1 billion.

They started their company in 2019 to develop a Medicare concierge service to assist seniors in easily navigating through those 30 plans to find the right one for them.

“We were coming from the provider side and understood that though healthcare is local, people don’t know the difference in hospitals or the ins and outs of local networks,” Eran told TechCrunch. “Seniors need trust there, and when there are local advisers to meet over the phone or at home, you gain that trust.”

The Boston-based company announced Wednesday it raised $13 million in Series A funding led by Khosla Ventures and Pittango Healthtech to give it a total of $16 million in funding. The company raised $3 million in a seed round back in January 2020, also led by Khosla. The seed and Series A rounds also saw participation by AbstractVentures, Dynamic Loop Capital, Arkitekt Ventures, as well as a group of angel investors, including Hippo Insurance CEO Assaf Wand and Flatiron Health founders Zach Weinberg and Nat Turner.

Image Credits: Connie Health

With 55 million Medicare consumers benefiting from major innovation in Medicare Advantage and value-based care, Kaul saw a large market that was being disrupted by Connie Health. He was especially impressed with the team Eran built and how the company was able to launch during the pandemic and stay nimble.

“The Medicare Advantage space is rich and will continue to grow,” Kaul added. “Technology has not played a big role here, and Oded is going to bring technology in to make the market more efficient.”

Medicare Advantage is the private market part of the insurance program. Eran said the government is trying to drive competition and innovation, so there are a lot of new players coming in to create more plan options, more nuances and to help manage costs better. On the consumer level, this creates a lot of confusion, he added. Potential customers have a hard time making decisions on the latest and greatest options, so they tend to stick with the status quo.

That’s where Connie Health comes in. The company’s technology takes into account the providers someone sees, the medications they are on and the benefits they would like to have, feed those into its model, and based on that, sifts through the thousands of plans available and recommends the best fits.

Four months ago, Connie Health kicked off its consumer platform in Arizona, and with the new investment, also began operating in Texas. Over the next year, Eran expects to move into Illinois, where he is seeing big demographic changes as a lot of people are moving into Medicare and other states. The new funding will also enable the company to branch off to other insurance products.

Within those states, the company’s footprint grew to seven markets, and its local agent base grew 15 times.

“We are going to democratize access to the local agents to help people make these often tough decisions and find healthcare that they deserve and have paid for all of their working life,” Eran said. “We are taking this market-by-market approach because healthcare is in the community.”

 

#artificial-intelligence, #assaf-wand, #connie-health, #flatiron-health, #health, #health-insurance, #hippo-insurance, #khosla-ventures, #medicare, #oded-eran, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

Khosla Ventures leads Even’s $5M seed to give India the kind of healthcare their insurance doesn’t

The global pandemic highlighted inefficiencies and inconsistencies in healthcare systems around the world. Even co-founders Mayank Banerjee, Matilde Giglio and Alessandro Ialongo say nowhere is this more evident than in India, especially after the COVID death toll reached 4 million this week.

The Bangalore-based company received a fresh cash infusion of $5 million in seed funding in a round led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from Founders Fund, Lachy Groom and a group of individuals including Palo Alto Networks CEO Nikesh Arora, CRED CEO Kunal Shah, Zerodha founder Nithin Kamath and DST Global partner Tom Stafford.

Even, a healthcare membership company, aims to cover what most insurance companies in the country don’t, including making going to a primary care doctor as easy and accessible as it is in other countries.

Banerjee grew up in India and said the country is similar to the United States in that it has government-run and private hospitals. Where the two differ is that private health insurance is a relatively new concept for India, he told TechCrunch. He estimates that less than 5% of people have it, and even though people are paying for the insurance, it mainly covers accidents and emergencies.

This means that routine primary care consultations, testings and scans outside of that are not covered. And, the policies are so confusing that many people don’t realize they are not covered until it is too late. That has led to people asking doctors to admit them into the hospital so their bills will be covered, Ialongo added.

Banerjee and Giglio were running another startup together when they began to see how complicated health insurance policies were. About 50 million Indians fall below the poverty line each year, and many become unable to pay their healthcare bills, Banerjee said.

They began researching the insurance industry and talking with hospital executives about claims. They found that one of the biggest issues was incentive misalignment — hospitals overcharged and overtreated patients. Instead, Even is taking a similar approach to Kaiser Permanente in that the company will act as a service provider, and therefore, can drive down the cost of care.

Even became operational in February and launched in June. It is gearing up to launch in the fourth quarter of this year with more than 5,000 people on the waitlist so far. Its health membership product will cost around $200 per year for a person aged 18 to 35 and covers everything: unlimited consultations with primary care doctors, diagnostics and scans. The membership will also follow as the person ages, Ialongo said.

The founders intend to use the new funding to build out their operational team, product and integration with hospitals. They are already working with 100 hospitals and secured a partnership with Narayana Hospital to deliver more than 2,000 COVID vaccinations so far, and more in a second round.

“It is going to take a while to scale,” Banerjee said. “For us, in theory, as we get better pricing, we will end up being cheaper than others. We have goals to cover the people the government cannot and find ways to reduce the statistics.”

 

#allessandro-ialongo, #even, #founders-fund, #funding, #health, #health-insurance, #hospitals, #india, #kaiser-permanente, #khosla-ventures, #lachy-groom, #matilde-giglio, #mayank-banerjee, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

i80 Group has quietly committed $1B in credit to the fintech and proptech worlds

Not every startup wants to raise venture capital. And then there are those that do want to raise VC money but don’t want to use it for specific things.

In recent years, a number of firms have emerged looking to meet the credit needs of such venture-backed and growth startups: i80 Group is one of those firms.

Former Goldman Sachs investment banker Marc Helwani founded i80 in 2016 after investing in early-stage New York-based fintechs in 2014-2015 via his VC fund, Avenue A Ventures.

“It became very clear to me that fintech was going to explode,” he recalls. “At that time, it was still relatively new. And every time I spoke to a company, they would tell me, ‘We know how to raise VC, but what about the credit?’ I just saw this white space.”

For example, proptechs that buy homes on behalf of buyers don’t want to use venture money. Fintechs that want to make loans to consumers don’t want to use equity to do it. Instead, in those cases, credit might be more desirable.

Enter i80. The firm offers credit exclusively, and over the years has quietly committed more than $1 billion to over 15 companies –including real estate marketplace Properly, finance app MoneyLion and SaaS financing company Capchase — that have all raised a significant amount of venture capital but are looking for credit “to help them scale very efficiently and in a non-dilutive manner so they can retain more ownership of their companies,” Helwani said. 

Its $1 billion milestone follows fund commitments nearing $500 million from an unnamed “leading global asset manager” as well as other institutional and retail investors.

Image Credits: Founder and Chief Investment Officer Marc Helwani / i80 Group

I80 — which derives its name from the highway that connects New York and San Francisco — is mainly focused on the fintech and proptech sectors. 

“They are the two centers for the venture ecosystem,” Helwani said. “And we’re trying to be a bridge between those two cities.” I80 has offices in both locations and will soon be opening one in Montreal.

The firm works in conjunction with VC firms such as a16z (more formally known as Andreessen Horowitz); Affirm and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin’s SciFi; Khosla Ventures; Union Square Ventures; and QED.

“In a perfect world, venture capital would be called venture equity,” Helwani said. “VCs’ capital is critical for companies to hire and get office space. But when it comes time to do what the actual business is, such as provide loans or buy homes, capital like ours is very accretive without VCs and management losing ownership in the business. In these cases, using both credit and equity makes a lot of sense.”

Helwani is reluctant to call what i80 offers venture “debt.” He says that has a very specific connotation and is what Silicon Valley Bank and others like it do in providing debt as a percentage of a previous equity round. Instead, according to Helwani, i80’s approach is to minimize fees. The vast majority of its deals are “interest-rate related.”

“With mortgages, for example, we never think about the fees upfront, and focus more on the interest rate,” Helwan said. “We believe the more transparent we are, the more companies will want to work with us.”

I80 conducts quarterly calls with VCs and for now, that’s how it typically sources most of its deal flow. It also gets referrals. Helwani believes that i80 stands out from other firms also offering credit in that it’s “not trying to be credit investors in VC clothing.”

He also thinks that the fact that the i80 team is made of operators, as well as investors, is a contributing factor.

The firm is set to close another half a dozen deals in the next 60 to 90 days, and then plans to set its sights on raising more capital.

“We want to fill this void, and help companies raise money in their subsequent rounds at higher valuations,” Helwani said.

#andreesen-horowitz, #capchase, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #goldman-sachs, #i80-group, #khosla-ventures, #max-levchin, #montreal, #new-york, #qed, #san-francisco, #startup-company, #startups, #union-square-ventures, #venture-capital

JLL, Khosla lead Jones’ $12.5M Series A for real estate vendor compliance

Commercial real estate tenants and property managers have to abide by strict liability rules that any vendor entering the property must have insurance certificates and meet other requirements. The approval process for this currently can take days and is still largely done on paper.

Enter Jones. The New York-based commercial real estate startup is curating a marketplace of pre-approved vendors for tenants and property managers to find and hire the people they need in a compliant way.

To continue advancing its network, the company announced Monday it raised $12.5 million in Series A funding led by JLL Spark and Khosla Ventures that also included strategic investors Camber Creek, Rudin Management, DivcoWest and Sage Realty. This new investment brings Jones’ total raised to $20 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Jones, founded in 2017, also manages certifications and approvals, moving the whole process online. Its technology can process an insurance certificate in less than an hour and reduce the overall vendor approval time to 2.5 days — from 12 days — with 99.9% accuracy, co-founder and CEO Omri Stern told TechCrunch.

The accuracy portion is key. With much of the work being done by hand, current accuracy is at about 30%, he added. In addition, the certifications are lengthy, and it is typically up to property managers to parse through the insurance documents to identify what is missing rather than spending time with tenants.

“In the consumer world, a homeowner expects to go on a marketplace and find a service and hire them,” Stern said. “Office managers and tenants can’t get their preferred vendors through the approval process, so we want to provide a similar digital experience that they can consume and use in real estate.”

He says Jones’ differentiator from competitors is that all of the stakeholders are in place: a group of high-profile real estate customers, including Lincoln Property Co., Prologis, DivcoWest, Rudin Management, Sage Realty and JLL.

Yishai Lerner, co-CEO of JLL Spark, agrees, telling TechCrunch that commercial real estate is one of the largest and last asset classes that is undergoing a technology transformation, similar to what fintech was 20 years ago.

He estimates the U.S. market to be $16 trillion, of which technology could unlock a lot of the value. That opportunity was one of the drivers for JLL to create JLL Spark, where Jones is one of the first investments.

Though Lerner spent time with property management teams on the ground, he became up close and personal with the problem when his wife, while moving offices, found out her vendors were not allowed in the building because they didn’t have the right insurance.

“We learned that property managers spend half of their time just working to verify the compliance of vendors coming into their building,” Lerner said. “We wondered why there wasn’t technology for this. Jones was doing construction at the time, and we brought them into commercial real estate because they had an example of how technology could solve the problem.”

Meanwhile, the Series A comes at a time when Stern is seeing Jones’s SaaS tool take off in the past 10 months. He would not get specific with growth metrics, but did say that what is driving growth is “competing against the status quo” as companies are searching for and adapting workflow solutions.

The company intends to use the new funds on product development in both quicker and easier approvals and bringing on new vendors. Jones already works with tens of thousands of vendors. It will also focus on integration, offering an API that could be used in other industry verticals where compliance is necessary.

Stern would also like to continue building the team. Having brought in real estate experts, he is now also looking for people with backgrounds in fintech, cybersecurity and insurtech to bring in additional perspectives.

“We are building an incredible company with the opportunity to be the next big digital marketplace,” he added.

 

#camber-creek, #divcowest, #enterprise, #funding, #jll-spark, #jones, #khosla-ventures, #omri-stern, #property-management, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #rudin-management, #saas, #sage-realty, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #yishai-lerner

Extra Crunch roundup: Think like a VC, CockroachDB EC-1, handle your stock options

Ants and camels are famously resilient, but when it was time to select a name for a startup that offers open-source, cloud-based distributed database architecture, you can imagine why “Cockroach Labs” was the final candidate.

Database technology is fundamental infrastructure, which partially explains why it’s so resistant to innovation: Oracle Database was released in 1979, and MySQL didn’t reach the market until 1995.

Since hitting the market six years ago, CockroachDB has become “a next-generation, $2-billion-valued database contender,” writes enterprise reporter Bob Reselman, who interviewed the company’s founders to write a four-part series:

Part 1: Origin story: From the creation of the popular open-source image editor GIMP to some of Google’s most well-known infrastructure products.

Part 2: Technical design: Analyzes the key differentiation that CockroachDB offers, particularly its focus on geography and data storage.

Part 3: Developer relations and business: How CockroachDB engages with developers while pivoting to the cloud at a key inflection point.

Part 4: Competitive landscape and future: A look at the fierce competition, and what possible exit routes might look like.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


Our ongoing search for the best startup growth marketers is yielding results: reporter Anna Heim interviewed SaaS and early-stage startup marketing consultant Lucy Heskins to learn more about the mistakes her clients are most likely to make before they seek her help.

“The first is hiring a marketer too soon,” said Heskins. “I’ve come into startups thinking I was coming in to set up their in-house function. However, very quickly you realize that they’ve jumped the gun and think they’ve got product-market fit when they are nowhere near it.”

Heskins shared a few pages from her early-stage marketing playbook, in which she recommends aligning content marketing with the customer experience — as opposed to just putting pages up that score well in search results.

Because their conversation contains a lot of strategic advice for startups that haven’t yet made a marketing hire, we made it available on TechCrunch.

If you know of a skilled growth marketer, please share your recommendation in this quick survey.

Thanks very much for reading!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Here are 3 things you should do with your stock options

Illustration of two people walking away from a yellow wedge from a white pie.

Image Credits: z_wei (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Congratulations: You’ve joined a startup and received an Incentive stock option grant! You now own a percentage of the company, and there’s no telling how much it could be worth one day.

A few questions: Do you know your 409A valuation? What’s your strike price? Surely, you know the preferred share price and which type of options you were granted?

No?

It’s complicated stuff, and for most ISO recipients, this may be the first time they start thinking seriously about how federal tax laws impact them personally.

To break things down, Vieje Piauwasdy, Secfi’s director of equity strategy, recently shared a post with Extra Crunch.

“If you’ve ever been confused about your equity, or haven’t thought much about it, you’re not alone.”

Where is suptech heading?

Supervisory tech is here to stay

Image Credits: Peter Dazeley (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

First of all, what is suptech?

“The emergence of purpose-built technologies to facilitate regulator oversight has, over the past few years, garnered its own moniker of supervisory technology, or suptech,” Marc Gilman, the general counsel and VP of compliance at Theta Lake, writes in a guest column.

Gilman notes that “nearly every financial services regulator is engaged in some type of suptech activity.”

But as a primer, he focused on three areas: regulatory reporting, machine-readable regulation, and market and conduct oversight.

Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra explains how to optimize your startup’s products for lasting growth

Image Credits: Superhuman

Superhuman co-founder and CEO Rahul Vohra joined us last week at TechCrunch Early Stage to provide an in-depth look at how he and his company worked to optimize and refine their product early to create a version of “growth hacking” that would not only help Superhuman attract users, but serve them best and retain them, too.

Vohra articulated a system that other entrepreneurs should be able to apply to their own businesses, regardless of area or focus.

Dear Sophie: Tell me more about the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’m a postdoc engineer who started STEM OPT in June after failing to get selected in the H-1B lottery.

A colleague suggested that I apply for an EB-1A for extraordinary ability green card, but I have not won any major awards, much less a Nobel Prize. Would you tell me more about the EB-1A?

Thanks!

— Bashful in Berkeley

India poised for record VC year as unicorns head for decisive IPOs

Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim dialed in on India for today’s Exchange, noting that the country is a good example of the global trend of booming venture capital dollars invested.

“The country’s venture capital haul thus far in 2021 has nearly matched its 2020 total and is on pace for a record year,” they write. “But as the third quarter gets underway, something perhaps even more important is going on: public-market liquidity.”

They looked at recent venture capital results and considered what Zomato’s flotation means for the country’s IPO pipeline. Don’t miss this analysis of an explosive startup market.

How to navigate an acquisition without alienating your current employees

Office workers walking in a line down street carrying office equipment

Image Credits: Peter Cade (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are encouraging the world to reopen, two trends are underway:

In the first half of 2021, mergers and acquisitions increased by more than 150% YOY to $2.4 trillion; in several surveys, an overwhelming majority of workers said they intend to seek employment elsewhere.

If your startup is angling toward an exit, the promise of a big payday may not be enough to retain employees who feel burned out or dissatisfied.

Many founders don’t have prior management experience, and, frankly, the uncertainty associated with an exit makes it a poor time for on-the-job learning. With that in mind, here are several communication strategies that can help you keep your winning team intact.

Emergence Capital’s Doug Landis explains how to identify (and tell) your startup story

Image Credits: TechCrunch/Emergence Capital

How do you go beyond the names and numbers with your startup pitch deck? For Doug Landis, the answer is one simple compound gerund: storytelling. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot of late in Silicon Valley, but it’s one that could legitimately help your startup stand out from the pack amid the pile of pitches.

Landis joined the TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising event to offer a presentation about the value of storytelling for startups, whittling down the standard two-hour conversation to a 30-minute version.

Though he still managed to rewind things pretty far, opening with, “400,000 years ago, men and women used to sit around the fire pit and tell stories about their day, about their hunt, about the one that got away.”

Khosla’s Adina Tecklu breaks down how to nail your pitch

Image Credits: Khosla Ventures

We kicked off our TechCrunch Early Stage 2021: Marketing and Fundraising event with a deep dive on all the tips and tricks required to get the most out of pitching and slide decks. On hand was Adina Tecklu, a principal at Khosla Ventures, and who formerly built out Canaan Beta, the consumer seed practice at Canaan Partners.

We talked about the importance of knowing your customer (aka your potential investor), focusing on story, typical slides in a deck, the appendix slides, formatting, and then alternative formats and which to avoid in a pitch deck.

What impact will Apple’s buy now, pay later push have on startups?

News that Apple plans to get into the buy now, pay later game had Alex Wilhelm wondering about the impact on startups in the space.

Shares of public competitors Affirm and Afterpay dropped on the news, but it doesn’t mean a death knell for those looking to jump into the BNPL game, Alex notes.

“Provided that Apple’s BNPL solution is rolled out over time to the same markets where Apple Pay is present, the … company could consume market shares — and therefore oxygen — from generalized rival BNPL services,” he writes.

“Those startups building more niche or targeted solutions will likely enjoy some shelter from the competitive storms.”

How to make the math work for today’s sky-high startup valuations

So how does the math work out for all these startups with minimal revenue, tons of cash and sky-high valuations?

Alex Wilhelm ran through the numbers, explaining why the current state of the venture capital market makes sense for startups and investors alike.

“Today we can make super-expensive startup math work out, provided that growth rates stay generally strong and public-market multiples stay rich,” he writes in The Exchange. “If the latter dips, the former has to improve, and vice versa.”

Norwest’s Lisa Wu explains how to think like a VC when fundraising

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Image Credits: Getty Images / Rawpixel

At the TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising event last week, Norwest Venture Partners‘ Lisa Wu took the stage to discuss how founders can think like venture capitalists in all facets of their business.

The overlapping in job roles is uncanny: The best investors and founders have to find focus through the noise, understand the weight of due diligence and pitch others with conviction.

Wu used anecdotes and exercises — such as the eyebrow test — in the tactical, engaging chat.

Revolut’s 2020 financial performance explains its big new $33B valuation

Alex Wilhelm weeds through Revolut’s 2020 financial results again to determine if the U.K.-based consumer fintech player’s $33 billion valuation makes sense.

“The picture that emerges is one of a company with a rapidly improving financial image, albeit with some blank spaces regarding recent customer growth,” he writes.

How we got 75% more e-commerce orders in a single A/B test for this major brand

Baby Bottle Filled With Coins Against White Background

Image Credits: Abdullatif Omar/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Jasper Kuria, the managing partner of The Conversion Wizards, breaks down how the CRO consultancy ran an A/B test to boost the conversion rates of a multibillion-dollar company.

“Radical redesigns that incorporate a large number of variables (instead of single-element tests) are more likely to provide substantial gains,” Kuria writes. “Another advantage to doing this is it requires much less time and traffic for your tests to reach statistical significance.”

Here’s a rundown of all the changes that led to a 75% bump in orders.

#adina-tecklu, #cockroach-labs, #doug-landis, #ec-roundup, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch-roundup, #khosla-ventures, #lisa-wu, #lucy-heskins, #mysql, #rahul-vohra, #revolut, #secfi, #startups, #supervisory-technology, #tc, #techcrunch-early-stage-2021, #theta-lake, #venture-capital

Khosla’s Adina Tecklu breaks down how to nail your pitch

Pitching is perhaps the single most important skill that any founder needs to hone, so not surprisingly, we kicked off our TechCrunch Early Stage 2021 — Marketing & Fundraising event with a deep dive on all the tips and tricks required to get the most out of pitching and slide decks. On hand was Adina Tecklu, a principal at Khosla Ventures, and who formerly built out Canaan Beta, the consumer seed practice at Canaan Partners.

We talked about the importance of knowing your customer (aka your potential investor), focusing on story, typical slides in a deck, the appendix slides, formatting, and then alternative formats and which to avoid in a pitch deck.

Help TechCrunch find the best growth marketers for startups.

Provide a recommendation in this quick survey and we’ll share the results with everybody.

Know your customer, in this case, your investor

We kicked off our discussion with advice that remains as valuable as it is obvious. Even today, despite the wealth of resources available on the internet to background research potential investors, founders regularly walk into their pitch meetings like deer in headlights with no sense of that particular investor’s interests, tastes, stage of investment and more. Don’t be that founder.

Key number one is know your audience. The best founders understand their users, whether that is an end consumer, or an enterprise customer. They’ve done the research to understand what motivates their customers, how they make buying decisions, and also what their customers like and don’t like as much about their own product. When fundraising, your VC essentially becomes your customer. And so before you begin pitching, or even building your deck, it’s really important to do your research beforehand to understand the firms and the partners that you intend to pitch. (Timestamp: 2:25)

If you do that right,

That knowledge allows you to proactively address any concerns that they might have. And really make sure that you position your business in a way that is both authentic, but in a way that will be well received by the VC. (Timestamp: 3:20)

Story-driven, not data-driven

Data is the most important source of wisdom in Silicon Valley, or so the belief holds. But the reality, particularly in early-stage investing, is that the data can only paint a partial picture of a startup and a founder’s ambition. Don’t let a dense copse of trees occlude the wider forest, which is what investors are really investing in.

#canaan-partners, #early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #event-recap, #events, #fundraising, #khosla-ventures, #pitch-decks, #pitching, #startups, #venture-capital

Breach simulation startup AttackIQ raises $44M to fuel expansion

AttackIQ, a cybersecurity startup that provides organizations with breach and attack simulation solutions, has raised $44 million in Series C funding as it looks to ramp up its international expansion.

The funding round was led by Atlantic Bridge, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV), and Gaingels, with existing vendors — including Index Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, and Telstra Ventures — also participating. The round brings the company’s total funding raised to date to $79 million. 

AttackIQ was founded in 2013 and is based out of San Diego, California. It provides an automated validation platform that runs scenarios to detect any gaps in a company’s defenses, enabling organizations to test and measure the effectiveness of their security posture and receive guidance on how to fix what’s broken. Broadly, AttackIQ’s platform helps an organization’s security teams to anticipate, prepare, and hunt for threats that may impact their business, before hackers get there first.

Its Security Optimization Platform platform, which supports Windows, Linux, and macOS across public, private, and on-premises cloud environments, is based on the MITRE ATT&CK framework, a curated knowledge base of known adversary threats, tactics, and techniques. This is used by a number of cybersecurity companies also building continuous validation services including FireEye, Palo Alto Networks, and Cymulate.

AttackIQ says this latest round of funding, which comes more than two years after its last, arrives at a “dynamic time” for the company. Not only has cybersecurity become more of a priority for organizations as a result of a major uptick in both ransomware and supply-chain attacks, the company also recently accelerated its international expansion efforts through a partnership with technology distributor Westcon.

The startup says it’s planning to use these new funds to further expand internationally through its newfound partnership with Atlantic Bridge, which will also see Kevin Dillon, the company’s co-founder and managing director, join the AttackIQ board of directors. 

“AttackIQ has established itself as a category leader with a formidable enterprise customer base that includes four of the Fortune 20,” said Dillon. “We believe deeply in the company’s vision and potential to become the next billion-dollar cybersecurity software company and look forward to helping the company turn early traction in Europe and the Middle East into robust, long-term expansion.”

Brett Galloway, CEO of AttackIQ, said the round “reaffirms the strength” of its platform.

As well as enabling organizations to review the robustness of their security defenses, the startup also runs the AttackIQ Academy, which provides free entry-level and advanced cybersecurity training. It has accumulated 17,200 registered students to date across 176 countries.

#atlantic-bridge, #california, #ceo, #computer-security, #computing, #cybersecurity-startup, #cymulate, #europe, #fireeye, #funding, #gaingels, #information-technology, #khosla-ventures, #linux, #microsoft-windows, #middle-east, #palo-alto-networks, #salesforce-ventures, #san-diego, #security, #simulation, #telstra-ventures

Mighty Buildings lands $22M to create ‘sustainable and affordable’ 3D-printed homes

Oakland-based Mighty Buildings, which is on a quest to build homes using 3D printing, robotics and automation, has raised a $22 million extension to its Series B round of funding.

The additional capital builds upon a $40 million a raise the company announced earlier this year, bringing its total funding since its 2017 inception to $100 million.

Mighty Building’s self-proclaimed mission is to create “beautiful, sustainable and affordable” homes.

The company claims to be able to 3D print structures “two times as quickly with 95% less labor hours and 10-times less waste” than conventional construction. For example, it says it can 3D print a 350-square-foot studio apartment in just 24 hours.

Execs say the new capital will go toward making supply chain improvements and moving up research and development timelines. The money will also go toward helping it achieve a new goal of achieving Net-Zero carbon neutrality by 2028 – which it says is 22 years ahead of the construction industry overall. 

“As a founding team, we have long been passionate about solving productivity for construction in a sustainable way,” said co-founder and CEO Slava Solonitsyn. “We have spent four years figuring out what it takes to achieve that. We believe that we have a master plan now that can work.”

Since its launch, the company has produced and installed a number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

Sam Ruben, co-founder and Chief Sustainability Officer of Mighty Buildings, said the new funds will also go toward kicking off development of the startup’s multi-story offering. The multi-story efforts will likely initially focus on 2-3 story single family homes and townhouses with an eye towards expanding into low-rise apartment buildings.  The company hopes to have at least a prototype multi-story offering in late 2022 or early 2023, according to Ruben.

“Along with the sustainability improvements already captured by our new formula, this will allow us to develop our next generation material to get us even closer to our goal of being carbon neutral by 2028,” Ruben said. “It will also give us opportunities to implement improvements in our existing design by reducing the impact of our foundations and other, non-printed elements.” 

Specifically, Mighty Buildings plans to speed up its carbon neutrality roadmap by building “high-throughput, sustainable” micro factories, forming strategic supply chain partnerships, accelerating ”blue skies” technology research and developing new composite materials produced from recycled or bio-based feedstock. 

The micro factories, according to the company, will be able to produce 200 to 300 homes per year in locations where housing gaps exist. Mighty Buildings plans to create single family residential developments with its panelized “Mighty Kit System.”

Mighty Buildings has seen quarter over quarter growth in sales, Ruben said, with the company seeing a record of over $7 million in total contracted revenue in the second quarter. 

The company is also excited about its new fiber reinforced printing material, which is currently undergoing testing with certification expected to be completed later this year. Mighty Buildings claims that its new formula shows “over 50% improvement” in embodied carbon from its original material and a strength profile similar to reinforced concrete, with more than 4 times less weight.

The round extension was supported by a few new and existing investors including ArcTern Ventures, Core Innovation Capital, Decacorn Capital, Gaingels, Khosla Ventures, Klaff Realty, MicroVentures, Modern Venture Partners, Polyvalent Capital, Vibrato Capital and others.

#3d-printing, #arctern-ventures, #articles, #construction-tech, #core-innovation-capital, #energy, #environmentalism, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #khosla-ventures, #microventures, #mighty-buildings, #oakland, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #recycling, #renewable-energy, #startup, #startups, #sustainability, #venture-capital

Miami twins raise $18M for Lula, an insurance infrastructure upstart

Lula, a Miami-based insurance infrastructure startup, announced today it has raised $18 million in a Series A round of funding.

Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from SoftBank, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, Shrug Capital, Steve Pagliuca (Bain Capital co-chairman and Boston Celtics owner), Tiny Capital’s Andrew Wilkinson. Existing backers such as Nextview Ventures and Florida Funders also put money in the round, in addition to a number of insurance and logistics groups such as Flexport.

The startup’s self-proclaimed mission is to provide companies of all sizes — from startups to multinational corporations — with insurance infrastructure. Think of it as a “Stripe for insurance,” its founders say.

Founded by 25-year-old twin brothers and Miami natives Michael and Matthew Vega-Sanz, Lula actually emerged from another business the pair had started while in college.

“We couldn’t afford to have a car on campus and wanted pizza one night,” Michael recalls. “So I thought it would be cool if there was an app that let me rent a car from another student, and then I thought ‘Why don’t we build it?’ We then built the ugliest app you’ve ever seen but it allowed us to rent cars from other people on the campus.” It was the first company to allow 18-year-olds to rent cars without restrictions, the brother say.

By September 2018, they formally launched the app beyond the campus of Babson College, which they were attending on scholarships. Within eight days of launching, the brothers say, the app became one of the top apps on Apple’s App Store. The pair dropped out of college, and within 12 months, they had cars available on more than 500 college campuses in the United States.

“As you can imagine we needed to make sure there was insurance coverage on each rental. We pitched it to 47 insurance companies and they all rejected us,” Michael said. “So we developed our own underwriting methodologies or underwriting tools into the operations and had the lowest incident rate in the industry.”

As the company grew, it began partnering with car rental providers (think smaller players, not Enterprise, et al.) to supplement its supply of vehicles. In doing so, the brothers soon realized that the most compelling aspect of their offering was the insurance infrastructure they’d built into it.

“Our rental companies begin to put a significant portion of their business through our platform, and one day one called us and asked if they could start using the software in the insurance infrastructure we’d built out in the rest of our business.”

That was in early 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“At that moment, we began to realize, ‘Hey maybe the big opportunity here is not a car-sharing app for college students, but maybe the big opportunity here is something with insurance,’” Michael said.

A few weeks later, the duo shut down their core business and by April 2020, they pivoted to building out Lula as it exists today.

“In the same way that Stripe has built a payment API that eliminates the need for companies to build their own payment infrastructure, we decided we could build an insurance API that eliminates the need for companies to build their own insurance infrastructure,” Matthew said. “Companies would no longer need to build out internal insurance systems or tools. No longer would they need to deal with insurance brokers to procure them coverage. No longer would they need to deal with insurance teams. We can integrate on to a platform and handle all things insurance for companies and their customers via our API.”

By August of 2020, the company launched an MVP (minimum viable product) and since then has been growing about 30% month over month after reaching profitability in its first four months.

Image Credits: Lula

Today, Lula offers a “fully integrated suite” of technology-enabled tools such as customer vetting, fraud detection, driver history checks, and policy management and claims handling through its insurance partners. It has a waiting list of nearly 2,000 companies and raised its funding to fulfill that demand.

“The main purpose for raising capital was so we can build out the team necessary to fulfill demand and sustain growth moving forward,” Matthew said. “And apart from that, we also just want to further develop the technology — whether it be in the ways that we’re collecting data so we can get more granular and make smarter decisions or just optimizing our vetting system. We’re also just working toward developing a much more robust API.”

Existing clients include ReadyDrive, a car-sharing program for the U.S. military and a “ton of SMBs,” the brothers say. Investor Flexport will be conducting a pilot with the company.

“Every time a trucker picks up a load or delivery, instead of paying monthly policies, they will be able to pay for insurance for the two to three days they are on the road only,” Michael says. “Also, if someone is shipping a container via Flexport, they can add cargo coverage at the point of sale and get an additional layer of protection.”

Ultimately, Lula’s goal is to act as a carrier in some capacity.

Founders Fund’s Delian Asparouhov believes that the way millenials and Gen Zers utilize physical assets is “wildly different” than prior generations.

“We grew up in a shared economy world, where apps like Uber, GetAround, Airbnb have allowed us to episodically utilize assets rather than purchase them outright,” he said.

In his view, though, the insurance industry has not picked up on the massive shift.
“Typical insurance agents both don’t know how to underwrite episodic usage of assets, and they don’t know how to integrate into these typical of digital rental platforms and allow for instantaneous underwriting,” Asparouhov told TechCrunch. “Lulu is combining both of these technologies into an incredibly unique approach that digitizes insurance and gives us flashbacks to how Stripe disrupted the digitization of payments.”

Despite their recent success, the brothers emphasize that the journey to get to this point was not always a glamorous one. Born to Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, they grew up on a small south Florida farm.

“We started our company out of our dorm room and initially emailed 532 investors only to get one response,” Michael said. “Founders just see the headlines but I just want to advise them to stay persistent and really keep at it. I’m not afraid to share that the company started off slow.”

#delian-asparouhov, #finance, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #infrastructure, #insurance, #insurtech, #khosla-ventures, #lula, #miami, #michael-vega-sanz, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Nextdoor’s SPAC investor deck paints a picture of sizable scale and sticky users

The SPAC parade continues in this shortened week with news that community social network Nextdoor will go public via a blank-check company. The unicorn will merge with Khosla Ventures Acquisition Co. II, taking itself public and raising capital at the same time.

Per the former startup, the transaction with the Khosla-affiliated SPAC will generate gross proceeds of around $686 million, inclusive of a $270 million private investment in public equity, or PIPE, which is being funded by a collection of capital pools, some prior Nextdoor investors (including Tiger), Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar and Khosla Ventures itself.

Notably, Khosla is not a listed investor in the company per Crunchbase or PitchBook, indicating that even SPACs formed by venture capital firms can hunt for deals outside their parent’s portfolio.

Per a Nextdoor release, the transaction will value the company at a “pro forma equity [valuation] of approximately $4.3 billion.” That’s a great price for the firm that was most recently valued at $2.17 billion in a late 2019-era Series H worth $170 million, per PitchBook data. Those funds were invested at a flat $2.0 billion pre-money valuation.

So, what will public investors get the chance to buy into at the new, higher price? To answer that we’ll have to turn to the company’s SPAC investor deck.

Our general observations are that while Nextdoor’s SPAC deck does have some regular annoyances, it offers are clear-eyed look at the company’s financial performance both in historical terms and in terms of what it might accomplish in the future. Our usual mockery of SPAC charts mostly doesn’t apply. Let’s begin.

Nextdoor’s SPAC pitch

We’ll proceed through the deck in its original slide order to better understand the company’s argument for its value today, as well as its future worth.

The company kicks off with a note that it has 27 million weekly active users (neighbors, in its own parlance), and claims users in around one in three U.S. households. The argument, then, is that Nextdoor has scale.

A few slides later, Nextdoor details its mission: “To cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on.” While accounts like @BestOfNextdoor might make this mission statement as coherent as ExxonMobil saying that its core purpose was, say, atmospheric carbon reduction, we have to take it seriously. The company wants to bring people together. It can’t control what they do from there, as we’ve all seen. But the fact that rude people on Nextdoor is a meme stems from the same scale that the company was just crowing about.

Underscoring its active user counts are Nextdoor’s retention figures. Here’s how it describes that metric:

Image Credits: Nextdoor SPAC investor deck

These are monthly active users, mind, not weekly active, the figure that the company cited up top. So, the metrics are looser here. And the company is counting users as active if they have “started a session or opened a content email over the trailing 30 days.” How conservative is that metric? We’ll leave that for you to decide.

The company’s argument for its value continues in the following slide, with Nextdoor noting that users become more active as more people use the service in a neighborhood. This feels obvious, though it is nice, we suppose, to see the company codify our expectations in data.

Nextdoor then argues that its user base is distinct from that of other social networks and that its users are about as active as those on Twitter, albeit less active than on the major U.S. social networks (Facebook, Snap, Instagram).

Why go through the exercise of sorting Nextdoor into a cabal of social networks? Well, here’s why:

#ec-media, #fundings-exits, #khosla-ventures, #nextdoor, #sarah-friar, #social, #social-network, #spac, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #startups, #tc, #united-states

AI pioneer Raquel Urtasun launches self-driving technology startup with backing from Khosla, Uber and Aurora

One of the lingering mysteries from Uber’s sale of its Uber ATG self-driving unit to Aurora has been solved.

Raquel Urtasun, the AI pioneer who was the chief scientist at Uber ATG, has launched a new startup called Waabi that is taking what she describes as an “AI-first approach” to speed up the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, starting with long-haul trucks. Urtasun, who is the sole founder and CEO, already has a long list of high-profile backers, including separate investments from Uber and Aurora. Waabi has raised $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures with additional participation from Uber, 8VC, Radical Ventures, OMERS Ventures, BDC, Aurora Innovation as well as leading AI researchers Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, Sanja Fidler and others.

Urtasun described Waabi, which currently employs 40 people and operates in Toronto and California, as the culmination of her life’s work to bring commercially viable self-driving technology to society. The name of the company —  Waabi means “she has vision” in Ojibwe and “simple” in Japanese —  hints at her approach and ambitions.

Autonomous vehicle startups that exist today use a combination of artificial intelligence algorithms and sensors to handle the tasks of driving that humans do such as detecting and understanding objects and making decisions based on that information to safely navigate a lonely road or a crowded highway. Beyond those basics are a variety of approaches, including within AI.

Most self-driving vehicle developers use a traditional form of AI. However, the traditional approach limits the power of AI, Urtasun said, adding that developers must manually tune the software stack, a complex and time-consuming task. The upshot, Urtasun says: Autonomous vehicle development has slowed and the limited commercial deployments that do exist operate in small and simple operational domains because scaling is so costly and technically challenging.

“Working in this field for so many years and, in particular, the industry for the past four years, it became more and more clear along the way that there is a need for a new approach that is different from the traditional approach that most companies are taking today,” said Urtasun, who is also a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI.

Some developers do use deep neural nets, a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithms that allows a computer to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. However, developers typically wall off the deep nets to handle a specific problem and use a machine learning and rules-based algorithms to tie into the broader system.

Deep nets have their own set of problems. A long-standing argument is that they can’t be used with any reliability in autonomous vehicles in part because of the “black box” effect, in which the how and the why the AI solved a particular task is not clear. That is a problem for any self-driving startup that wants to be able verify and validate its system. It is also difficult to incorporate any prior knowledge about the task that the developer is trying to solve, like, oh, driving for instance. Finally, deep nets require an immense amount of data to learn.

Urtasun says she solved these lingering problems around deep nets by combining them with probabilistic inference and complex optimization, which she describes as a family of algorithms. When combined, the developer can trace back the decision process of the AI system and incorporate prior knowledge so they don’t have to teach the AI system everything from scratch. The final piece is a closed loop simulator that will allow the Waabi team to test at scale common driving scenarios and safety-critical edge cases.

Waabi will still have a physical fleet of vehicles to test on public roads. However, the simulator will allow the company to rely less on this form of testing. “We can even prepare for new geographies before we drive there,” Urtasun said. “That’s a huge benefit in terms of the scaling curve.”

Urtasun’s vision and intent isn’t to take this approach and disrupt the ecosystem of OEMs, hardware and compute suppliers, but to be a player within it. That might explain the backing of Aurora, a startup that is developing its own self-driving stack that it hopes to first deploy in logistics such as long-haul trucking.

“This was the moment to really do something different,” Urtasun said. “The field is in need of a diverse set of approaches to solve this and it became very clear that this was the way to go.”

#aurora-innovation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #khosla-ventures, #raquel-urtasun, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #uber-atg, #venture-capital

SoftBank-backed construction giant Katerra said to be shutting down after raising billions

After burning through more than $2 billion in funding, SoftBank-backed construction startup Katerra has told employees that it will be shutting down operations, according to a report in The Information.

Last year, the company claimed it had more than 8,000 employees globally.

Menlo Park-based Katerra had already been struggling to find a viable business in cheaply building apartments properties for real estate developers when it was pushed to the edge of bankruptcy late last year, with the company blaming its latest struggles on climbing labor and material costs associated with the pandemic. The company was given one last chance after receiving a $200 million bailout from SoftBank, which reportedly bought up a majority stake after already having invested billions in the effort.

Katerra’s fall marks the most high-profile failure for SoftBank since the failed 2019 WeWork IPO. The firm has largely been seeing gains among its Vision Fund portfolio in the past year amid a larger tech stock rally, though some of those gains have receded in recent months.

In an interview with Barron’s last month, CEO Masayoshi Son highlighted Katerra as well as SoftBank’s investment in Greensill as “regrets” of his. Katerra’s other backers included Khosla Ventures, DFJ Growth, Greenoaks Capital and Celesta Capital.

TechCrunch has reached out to Katerra for comment.

 

#ceo, #companies, #dfj-growth, #greenoaks-capital, #katerra, #khosla-ventures, #masayoshi-son, #menlo-park, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #vision-fund, #vodafone, #wework

Level raises $27M from Khosla, Lightspeed ‘to rebuild insurance from the ground up’

Level, a startup that aims to give companies a more flexible way to offer benefits to employees, has raised $27 million in a Series A funding round led by Khosla Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Operator Collective and leading angels also participated in the financing, along with previous backers First Round Capital and Homebrew. The round was raised at a “nine-figure” valuation, according to founder and CEO Paul Aaron, who declined to be more specific.

Founded in 2018, New York City-based Level says it’s “rebuilding insurance from the ground up” via flexible networks and real-time claims with the goal of helping employers and employees get the most out of their benefit dollars. 

Employers can customize plans to do things like offer 100% coverage across treatments. The company also touts the ability to process claims in four hours. 

“That’s lightning fast when compared to 30- to 60-day claims often processed by traditional payers,” said Aaron, who as one of the first employees at Square, led the network team at Oscar Health and is an inventor of several patents in the payments space.

Level first launched employer-sponsored dental benefits in the summer of 2019 and started serving its first beta customers that fall. It also now offers vision plans. The company has more than 10,000 members from companies such as Intercom, Udemy, KeepTruckin and Thistle that have paid for care via its platform. 

“Insurance is confusing and often feels unfair. Networks restrict where you can go, billing takes weeks and you always seem to owe more than you expect,” Aaron said. “We believe paying with insurance should be as easy as any other purchase.”

Level says it is taking a full-stack approach and building end-to-end tools, from automated underwriting to real-time benefit analytics. 

It plans to launch a new insurance product aimed at “helping smaller businesses offer bigger benefits” that typically only enterprises have the ability to offer. The company also aims to help employers get money back for any unused benefits after paying a fixed amount each month. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to offer a full suite of products that will allow companies of all sizes — from two employees to 20,000 — provide better benefits for their teams. 

Level claims that its self-insured dental and vision products let companies offer more coverage to their teams while often cutting nearly 20% from their benefits budget. 

“Employers already spend so much money on benefits, and neither they nor their teams get enough out of it,” said Jana Messerschmidt from Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a written statement. “Businesses of all sizes need to compete for talent with innovative benefits that help people get more from their paychecks. Level offers a far superior employee experience, and you’re getting bang for your buck.” 

Meanwhile, Khosla’s Samir Kaul said he believes Level can do for insurance and benefits “what Square Cash did for person-to-person payments.”

Investor First Round Capital claims to have saved 47% by switching from fully insured to Level. And, Thistle says it saw 41% in savings by switching to Level. 

#employee-benefits, #fintech, #first-round-capital, #insurance, #khosla-ventures, #level, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #new-york, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #tc, #thistle

Forward Health raises $225M from investors including The Weeknd as it looks to expand nationwide

Primary care startup Forward Health is looking to expand its tech-powered, personalized healthcare model across the U.S., and will use a new $225 million Series D raise to help make it happen. The new capital comes from Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, SoftBank, Mark Benioff – and recording artist The Weeknd – among others. I spoke to Forward Health co-founder and CEO Adrian Aoun about his company’s plans for this fresh capital, and we also chatted briefly about how The Weeknd got involved.

Forward, which currently operates clinics in select U.S. markets including LA, New York, Chicago, SF and Washington, D.C., has a number of distinguishing features, but most notable are likely its tech-first approach that includes a full biometric assessment upon first visit, and its business model, which eschews insurance providers altogether and instead works based on a single flat membership fee.

Aoun and his co-founders created Forward Health with the idea of building a healthcare business that’s aligned with its customers in terms of incentives, which is why they sidestepped insurance altogether. That’s led to a focus on customer service and long-term patient relationships and outcomes, which Aoun says are stronger because they’re not bound by an individual’s relationship with their employer, for instance, which is often the case when an employer foots the bill for healthcare via company-provided insurance.

“The average person in the Bay Area is with their employer for about two and a quarter years,” Aoun told me. “So your employer is kind of sitting there thinking, if you get the flu, you’re missing three days of work – I’m out some money.” That means they’ll do things like institute programs to remind employees constantly to get their annual flu vaccine, and do other things to make that happen like provide on-premise shots. But Aoun says they’re optimizing for short-term outcomes, not long-term health – because that’s where their incentives tell them to optimize.

Image Credits: Forward Health

But when long-term healthcare programs, like lifestyle shifts that can lessen the potential of truly dangerous outcomes like heart disease and cancer, come into play, an employer who expects you to stick around for a few years at most is far less incentivized to want to fund that. Forward Health, which aims to attract subscribers and, for lack of a better term, minimize churn, actually is incentivized to make those long-term outcomes positive for everyone who comes through the door.

That’s part of why one focus with this new funding is to debut new doctor-led programs tailored to treating conditions that individual patients might be predisposed to – like heart health, if heart disease runs in your family, or specific types of cancer, if there’s a history of that, for instance.

“We’ve got our [in-clinic] body scanners, our blood tests, our gene sequencing – we basically collect on the order of about 500 biometric data points,” Aoun said. “The idea is you and your doctor then figure out which which kind of programs make sense for you based upon those.”

For example, Aoun says he’s actually at fairly high risk for developing heart disease, so there’s a Forward program that includes doing a heart risk analysis, blood tests, and regular at-home monitoring of key risk factors like blood pressure and weight. Another program for cancer prevention includes measures designed to help lessen the risk of contracting the top five cancers in terms of prevalence — so Forward created a dermatoscope for that, which is essentially a skin scanner to map out an individual’s moles and skin features and alert them of any changes.

This builds on work that Forward began at the outset of COVID-19 — its ‘Forward at Home’ program, which includes sending patients home with specialized sensors for remote care. Another specialized program tailored to COVID-19 actually offers monitoring specific to the disease in order to track a patient’s progress safely.

“We’re now launching programs for all the top diseases to help you get ahead of them,” Aoun said. “And whatever kind of programs you’re using, you walk away with plans that are tailored to you, again, to counsel you not only on the potential risks for the things like the cancer and heart disease, but also to be proactive, with guidance from diet, to exercise, to stress, and to sleep, etc.”

The programs are supported by Forward’s 24/7 worldwide care support team, which subscribers can access via their mobile app. It’s also complemented by the check-ins with your physician via the ‘Forward at Home’ in-home virtual visits.

Image Credits: Forward Health

While Forward is already rolling these out, it has plans to continue to develop new ones, and it’s also monitoring results in order to understand how they’re working for users, and will be sharing that data once it has collected a significant sample. I asked Aoun how Forward can scale this kind of personalized care – especially now that the startup plans to open additional locations in other parts of the country.

Basically, Aoun said that Forward approached it as an engineering problem. He argues that most solutions in healthcare see the fundamental issue as a labor problem — but trying to scale that, with the salaries that medical professionals command, and the limited availability of skilled talent, makes no sense. Especially because consumers are naturally looking for improvements in their standard of care over time, in the same way they expect improvements in the products they buy or services they use.

Rather than relying on a chain of increasingly specific medical professionals to address individual health risks and needs, Aoun said Forward identified that there’s a massive amount of overlap in preventative care courses of action. The Forward team focused on breaking the fundamental elements down into what equate roughly to reusable Lego blocks, which can be recombined with relative speed and repeatability to produce a program that’s nonetheless tailored to an individual’s needs.

Combined with Forward Health’s longitudinal approach to care, these programs and their recombinant nature should prove a good dataset from which to assess how a direct, client-focused primary care model affects overall health.

And, because I promised, I’ll leave you with how Aoun says The Weeknd got involved in the Series D.

“He literally just walked by one of our locations, and walked in and was like, ‘This is awesome,’ and then asked a friend, who asked a friend, who asked a friend to get connected,” he told me.

#adrian-aoun, #artist, #cancer, #chicago, #disease, #flu, #forward, #forward-health, #founders-fund, #health, #healthcare, #khosla-ventures, #louisiana, #new-york, #physician, #recent-funding, #softbank, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #washington-d-c

Mainspring Energy launches its flexible fuel generator with a $150 million NextEra Energy contract

Mainspring Energy, the developer of a new generator technology that use fuels like biogas and hydrogen, has unveiled its Mainspring Linear Generator, with a $150 million contract with NextEra Energy Resources.

The company’s technology represents a significant step in the transition to a zero-carbon power grid given its ability to shift between traditional natural gas sources and alternative fuel sources like biogas and hydrogen.

So far, the company’s generators are under contract with a national supermarket chain that’s using the company’s tech at 30 of its grocery stores. The company began shipping pilot units in June and will begin commerical statements in mid-2021 according to a statement.

The company’s tech was initially developed at a thermodynamics lab in Stanford University where co-founders Shannon Miller, Matt Svrcek and Adam Simpson were working. Its design enables the rollout of generators that can replace traditional diesel and be used to improve the resilience of industrial sites against natural disasters.

Their linear generator, which the company said differs from engines, microturbines, and fuel cells, is a device that converts motion along a straight line into electricity using heat or chemical energy. In Mainspring’s case, a low temperature reaction of air and fuel drives magnets through copper coils to produce electricity.

It’s the combination of the design and control software developed by the company that allows its equipment to produce high-efficiency, dispatchable power, without the nitrogen oxide emissions associated with other generators, the company said.

The technology caught the eye of investors like Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla’s eponymous investment firm Khosla Ventures, along with some oil and gas companies like Equinor and utilities like American Electric Power. To date, Mainspring, which used to go by the name Etagen, has raised well over $80 million in financing.

In its approach to energy generation without the need for more complex mechanical systems or catalysts, Mainspring is akin to other startups like the Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Gates-backed Turntide Technologies that are trying to provide more elegant, software enabled solutions to motors and generator technologies.

Mainspring’s generators achieve their low capital and maintenance costs through use of standard materials, only two moving parts, and an innovative air bearing system that eliminates the need for oil, the company said. It operates without the use of complex mechanical systems or expensive catalysts.

The company also touted its ability to spin up and spin down in response to conditions on the energy grid, which means that it can pair well with solar power or battery storage.

“One of our customers’ key drivers, in addition to carbon savings, is to save cost from their current grid prices,” said Miller, in a statement. “Our products can provide substantial savings to commercial customers on their electricity costs with a typical Energy Services Agreement. In this energy-as-a-service scenario, customers pay nothing up front and realize annual savings starting in the first year.”

Mainspring’s first commercial product is designed for a rated output of 250 kW and packaged in a standard 8′ x 20′ container, according to a statement. Those packages integrate two of the company’s125 kW linear generator cores, working in tandem, and combines UL-listed grid-tie inverters and auxiliaries into a turn-key package, the company said. Future configurations will provide higher power output to serve industrial businesses, data centers, hospitals, smart cities, and utility grid-level applications.

“Many commercial and industrial customers as well as utilities want clean, reliable power generation, with the capability to switch to 100% renewable fuels like biogas and hydrogen as they become available,” said NextEra Energy Resources President and CEO John Ketchum, in a statement. “Mainspring is able to integrate clean onsite generation with both renewables and the grid and we’re pleased to support bringing this innovative product to market.” 

#alternative-energy, #american-electric-power, #articles, #bill-gates, #biogas, #electrical-grid, #electricity, #energy, #energy-storage, #fuel-cells, #khosla-ventures, #oil, #oil-and-gas, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #stanford-university, #tc, #turntide-technologies, #vinod-khosla

Mighty Buildings nabs $40M Series B to 3D print your next house

Once upon a time, the idea of 3D-printed homes felt like a thing of the future.

But as housing gets less and less affordable — especially in ultra-expensive markets such as the Bay Area — companies are getting creative in their quest to build more affordable homes using technology.

One of those companies, Oakland-based Mighty Buildings, just raised $40 million in Series B funding for its quest to create homes that it says are “beautiful, sustainable and affordable” using 3D printing, robotics and automation. It claims to be able to 3D print structures “two times as quickly with 95% less labor hours and 10-times less waste” than conventional construction. For example, it says it can 3D print a 350-square-foot studio apartment in just 24 hours.

The four-year-old startup’s efforts caught the eye of Khosla Ventures, which co-led the financing along with Zeno Ventures. 

Ryno Blignaut, an operating partner at Khosla, believes that Mighty Buildings — which launched out of stealth last August — has the potential to cut both the cost and carbon footprint of home construction “by 50% or more.”

The company takes a hybrid approach to home construction, combining 3D printing and prefab (meaning built offsite) building, according to co-founder and COO Alexey Dubov. It has invented a proprietary thermoset composite material called Light Stone Material (LSM) as part of its effort to reduce the home construction industry’s reliance on concrete and steel. 

The material can be 3D printed and hardens almost immediately, according to the company, while also maintaining cohesion between layers to create a monolithic structure. Mighty Buildings can then 3D print elements like overhangs or ceilings without the need for additional supporting formwork. That way, it’s able to fully print a structure and not just the walls. 

Robotic arms can post-process the composite, which combined with the company’s ability to automate the pouring of insulation and the 3D printing gives Mighty Buildings the ability to automate up to 80% of the construction process, the company claims.

Khosla was drawn to the Mighty Buildings’ innovative approach.

“We believe in dematerializing buildings and non-linearly reducing the amount of cement and steel used, thereby reducing the cost of construction in order to increase affordable access to housing together with improved sustainability,” Blignaut wrote via email.

Mighty Building’s use of 3D printing, advanced manufacturing techniques, modern robotics and “new lighter and stronger materials” gives it an edge, he added.

Since its launch, the company has produced and installed a number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and is now taking orders for Mighty Houses — its newest product line that will range from 864 to 1,440 square feet at an estimated cost of $304,000 to $420,500. (Similarly sized houses in some parts of the Bay Area can sell for upwards of $1 million).

The units are created with a 3D-printed exterior panelized shell while certain elements — such as bathrooms for example — are prefabricated in the company’s 79,000-square-foot production facility in Oakland. 

For now, the company is only building in California, but Dubov says it’s open to exploring other markets as its factory can be replicated.

Also, Mighty Buildings plans this year to market its Mighty Kit System and a new fiber-reinforced material for multi-story projects as part of a planned B2B platform for developers. In fact, the company already has secured contracts with developers for its single family housing product line. It also plans to use the new capital in part to scale its production capacity with increased automation.

Ultimately, Mighty Building’s vision is to provide production-as-a-service, with builders and architects designing their own structures and then developers using Mighty Factories to produce them at scale.

Mighty Buildings is not the only startup doing 3D-printed homes. Last August, Austin-based ICON raised $35 million in Series A funding. The company also aims to reinvent building affordable homes with the use of 3D printers, robotics and advanced materials. The biggest difference between the two companies, according to Dubov, is that ICON does primarily onsite construction while Mighty Buildings prefabricates in a factory.

More than a dozen other investors also participated in Mighty Building’s latest round, including returning backers Bold Capital Partners, Core Innovation Capital and Foundamental and new investors including ArcTern Ventures, Abies Ventures, Modern Venture Partners, MicroVentures, One Way Ventures, Polyvalent Capital and others. Mighty Buildings was also included in Y Combinator’s Top companies list, all of which have valuations over $150 million (although the company declined to reveal its current valuation). 

For its part, Khosla’s Blignaut believes that buildings are “a big part of our urban landscape and a large consumer of resources.”

“Construction and building account for more carbon emissions in the U.S. than transportation or industry,” he said. Other portfolio companies addressing such challenges include Ori Living, Vicarious, Katerra and Arevo.

#3d-printing, #affordable-housing, #bold-capital-partners, #california, #construction-tech, #core-innovation-capital, #emerging-technologies, #khosla-ventures, #microventures, #mighty-buildings, #oakland, #one-way-ventures, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator

Lumiata raises $14 million for its service to predict healthcare outcomes

Healthcare systems are always looking out for ways to save money and a startup called Lumiata has just raised $14 million to continue building out its service that aims to help them do it. 

The company, already backed by Khosla Ventures and Blue Venture Fund raised its latest round from Defy.vc and AllegisNL Capital. 

The company’s software cleans up healthcare datasets and then analyzes them to look for underwriting risks and cost savings for healthcare payors and providers.

The company said it would use the money to accelerate investment in new products and services along with sales and marketing. It expects to open new offices in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2021.

“Lumiata excels at building trusted relationships with its customers,” said Dalbir Bains, FGC Health’s chairman, president and CEO, a Lumiata customer. “They have delivered results that help us manage consumer risks for co-morbidities. Our long partnership means that we can depend on them long-term to help us manage our pharmacy business.”

Products help businesses manage underwriting and clinical costs and risks for decision support.

 

#khosla-ventures, #mexico, #tc, #underwriting

WorkWhile raises $3.5M to bring more flexibility and benefits to hourly work

While there’s been plenty of recent debate around the gig economy, Jarah Euston argued that it’s time to a rethink a bigger part of the workforce — hourly workers.

Euston, who was previously an executive at mobile advertising startup Flurry and a co-founder at data operations startup Nexla, told me that although 80 million Americans are paid on an hourly basis, the current system doesn’t work particular well for either employers or workers.

On the employer side, there are usually high rates of turnover and absenteeism, while workers have to deal with unpredictable schedules and often struggle to get assigned all the hours they want. So Euston has launched WorkWhile to create a better system, and she’s also raised $3.5 million in seed funding.

WorkWhile, she explained, is a marketplace that matches hourly workers with open shifts — employers identify the shifts that they want filled, while workers say which hours they want to work. That means employers can grow or shrink their workforce as needed, while the workers only work when they want.

“By pooling the labor force … we can provide the flexibility that both sides want,” Euston said.

WorkWhile screenshot

Image Credits: WorkWhile

WorkWhile screens workers with one-on-one interviews, background checks and tests based on cognitive science, with the goal of identifying applicants who are qualified and reliable.

Employers pay WorkWhile a service fee, while the platform is free for users. And because the startup aims to build a long-term relationship with its workforce, Euston said it will also invest by providing additional benefits, starting with sick leave credits earned when you work and next-day payments to your debit cards.

“It’s hard to find a job that works with you and doesn’t give you a take it or leave it schedule,” said Michael Zavala, one of the workers on the platform, in a statement. “WorkWhile was exactly what I was looking for with the ability to create your own schedule for full time.”

The startup is launching in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Orange County and Dallas-Forth Worth.

Given the broader economic and employment trends during the pandemic, there should plenty of people looking for more work, while Euston said she’s seen a “feast or famine” situation on the employer side — yes, some companies have had to freeze or cut staff, but others have grown rapidly, including WorkWhile customers including restaurant supplier Cheetah, meal delivery service Thistle and horticultural e-commerce company Ansel & Ivy.

The funding, meanwhile, was led by Khosla Ventures, . with participation from Stitch Fix founder and CEO Katrina Lake, Jennifer Fonstad, F7, Siqi Chen, Philipp Brenner, Zouhair Belkoura and Nicholas Plinkington.

“The majority of hourly workers are honest and reliable but some have difficult personal circumstances they need help with,” Vinod Khosla said in a statement. “Companies treat these employees as high turnover and expendable but, if given respect and appropriate support, they can become longer-term, model employees. WorkWhile wants to help solve this problem.”

 

#funding, #fundings-exits, #khosla-ventures, #startups, #tc, #workwhile

AliveCor, which helps its users manage their heart health, scores another FDA approval

Last week, AliveCor, a nine-year-old, 92-person company whose small, personal electrocardiogram devices help users detect atrial fibrillation, bradycardia, and tachycardia from heart rate readings taken from their own kitchen tables, raised $65 million from investors.

Today, it’s clearer why investors — who’ve now provided the Mountain View, Ca., company with $169 million altogether —  are excited about its prospects. AliveCor just received its newest FDA approval under the agency’s software as a medical device designation for an upgrade that generates enough detail and fidelity that AliveCor says its cardiological services can now serve as stand-in for the vast majority of cases when cardiac patients are not in front of their doctor.

Specifically, the company says the FDA-cleared update can detect premature atrial contractions, premature ventricular contractions, sinus rhythm with wide QR.

In a world where the pandemic continues to rage and people remain hesitant to visit a hospital, these little steps add up. In fact, CEO Priya Abani, along with AliveCor founder and chief medical officer David Albert, formerly the chief clinical scientist of cardiology at GE, say AliveCor’s “Kardia” devices have been used to record nearly 15 million EKG recordings since March of this year, which is up over 70% year-over-year.

They also claim a 25% increase year-over-year in what they call physician-patient connections, meaning doctors specifically asking their patients to use the device, either at their medical office or at the patient’s home. Indeed, the pair says that while the company has focused historically on consumer sales, so much new business is coming through doctor referrals that roughly one out of every two of its devices is now sold through these recommendations.

Patients still need to pay out of pocket for AliveCor’s personal EKG devices, one of which currently sells for $84 while a more sophisticated model sells for $139.

The company also more recently rolled out a subscription product for $99 per year that “unlocks” additional features, including monthly summaries of a customer’s heart data, and hopefully soon, says Abani, access to cardiologists who will be able to answer questions in lieu of one’s own cardiologist.

Abani — who joined AliveCor last year from Amazon, where she was a general manager and director of Alexa — says other offerings are also in the works that should help customers measure their hypertension and blood pressure. She adds that the company more broadly sees itself as becoming a way for people to manage chronic conditions from home and that, if things go AliveCor’s way, employers will begin offering the service to employees as a way for them to take better care of their own heart health.

In the meantime, AliveCor’s bigger push into the enterprise appears tied not only to COVID and its ripple effects but also to competition on the consumer front from Apple Watch, which also now enables wearers to records the electrical pulses that make one’s heart beat and to determine whether the upper and lower chambers are their heart are in rhythm.

Though the company has sung Apple’s praises for raising awareness around heart health, last year, owing to shrinking sales, AliveCor stopped making an earlier product called the KardiaBand that was an FDA-cleared ECG wristband designed for use with Apple Watches.

AliveCor’s products are currently sold in 12 countries, including India, South Korea, and Germany, and it has clearance to sell in more than 20 others.

In addition to selling directly to customers through its site, its devices are available to buy through Best Buy, CVS, and Walgreens.

Very worth noting: Neither Apple nor AliveCor can detect actual heart attacks. While both can diagnose atrial fibrillation, acute heart attacks are not associated with atrial fibrillation.

#alivecor, #ecg, #khosla-ventures, #qualcomm-ventures, #tc, #wp-global-partners

LA-based A-Frame, a developer of celebrity-led personal care brands, raises cash for its brand incubator

A-Frame, a Los Angeles-based developer of personal care brands supported by celebrities, has raised $2 million in a new round of funding led by Initialized Capital.

Joining Initialized in the round is the serial entrepreneur Moise Emquies, whose previous clothing lines, Ella Moss and Splendid, were acquired by the fashion holding company VFC in 2017.

A-Frame previously raised a seed round backed by cannabis dispensary Columbia Care. The company’s first product is a hand soap, Keeper. Other brands in suncare and skincare, children and babycare, and bath and body will follow, the company said.

“We partner with the investment groups at the agencies,” said company founder and chief executive, Ari Bloom. “We start interviewing different talent, speaking with their agents and their managers. We create an entity that we spin out. I wouldn’t say that we compete with the agencies.”

So far, the company has worked with CAA, UTA and WME on all of the brands in development, Bloom said. Two new brands should launch in the next couple of weeks.

As part of the round, actor, activist, and author Hill Harper has joined the company as a co-founder and as the company’s chief strategy officer. Emquies is also joining the company as its chief brand officer.

“Hill is my co-founder. He and I have worked together for a number of years. He’s with me at the holding company level. Identifying the opportunities,” said Bloom. “He’s bridging the gap between business and talent. He’s a part of the conversations when we talk to the agencies, managers and the talent. He’s a great guy that I think has a lot of respect in the agency and talent world.”

Initialized General Partner Alda Leu Dennis took point on the investment for Initialized and will take a seat on the company’s board of directors alongside Emquies. Other directors include Columbia Care chief executive, Nicholas Vita, and John D. Howard, the chief executive of Irving Place Capital.

“For us the calculus was to look at personal care and see what categories need to be reinvented because of sustainability,” said Bloom. “It was important to us once we get to a category what is the demographic opportunity. Even if categories were somewhat evolved they’re not all the way there… everything is in non-ingestible personal care. When you have a celebrity focused brand you want to focus on franchise items.”

The Keeper product is a subscription-based model for soap concentrates and cleansing hand sprays.

A serial entrepreneur, Bloom’s last business was the AR imaging company, Avametric, which was backed by Khosla Ventures and Y Combinator and wound up getting acquired by Gerber Technology in 2018. Bloom is also a founder of the Wise Sons Delicatessen in San Francisco.

“We first invested in Avametric at Initialized in 2013 and he had experience prior to that as well. From a venture perspective I think of these all around real defensibility of brand building,” said Dennis.

The investors believe that between Bloom’s software for determining market preferences, A-Frame’s roster of celebrities and the company’s structure as a brand incubator, all of the ingredients are in place for a successful direct to consumer business.

However, venture capitalists have been down this road before. The Honest Co. was an early attempt to build a sustainable brand around sustainable personal care products. Bloom said Honest provided several lessons for his young startup, one of them being a knowledge of when a company has reached the peak of its growth trajectory and created an opportunity for other, larger companies to take a business to the next level.

“Our goal is a three-to-seven year horizon that is big enough at a national scale that a global player can come in and internationally scale it,” said Bloom.

#alda-leu-dennis, #ceo, #co-founder, #imaging, #initialized-capital, #khosla-ventures, #los-angeles, #san-francisco, #serial-entrepreneur, #tc, #y-combinator

Gaming startup Statespace raises $29 million, tops 1.5 million MAUs

Statespace, the training platform for gamers, has today announced the close of a $29 million Series B financing led by Khosla Ventures. This comes just six months after the announcement of a $15 million Series A funding, also led by Khosla.

Founder and CEO Wayne Mackey described the funding as pre-emptive as the company experiences a growth spurt alongside the broader gaming industry. Statespace has jumped from 2 million registered users and 500,000 monthly active users in May to 5 million total registered users and 1.5 million monthly active users today.

Statespace launched out of stealth in 2017 with a product called Aim Lab. Aim Lab runs on Steam and replicates the physics of popular video games to give users a training environment to practice their aim. Moreover, Aim Lab (which was developed by neuroscientists) measures visual acuity and lets users know their strengths and weaknesses.

statespace

Image Credits: Statespace

The company also has plans to launch a product called The Academy, which lets users pay for courses that are taught by top streamers and players. These players include KingGeorge (Rainbox Six Siege), SypherPK (Fortnite), Valkia (Overwatch), Drift0r (CoD) and Launders (CS:GO).

The tech behind Aim Lab can be applied to a number of use cases in the gaming world. For one, pro esports organizations don’t necessarily have the breadth of data they want to make decisions on roster formation, recruiting, etc. Statespace partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame to develop a “Cognitive Combine,” giving players an overall score based on a wide range of skills outside of any specific game.

There are also medical applications for the tech. The company has applied for a grant alongside several universities to work on a commercial application for stroke rehabilitation, and believes that its tech can be used to help with cerebral palsy rehabilitation.

Statespace has also grown its team to more than 40 people, and interestingly around one quarter of those people do not have a college degree.

“Internally, we talk about being like the island of misfit toys as a company,” said Mackey. “Give us all the underdogs and weirdos and people that traditionally wouldn’t have this type of career or a shot and let’s put them all together and win.”

The Statespace team is 30 percent female, 28 percent people of color and five percent Black.

Mackey explained that growth is the number one priority of the company, which has yet to determine a primary revenue channel. Statespace is currently partnering with teams and big streamers to develop skins that are for sale, but Aim Lab is free to use.

#aim-lab, #khosla-ventures, #statespace, #tc