Onin is trying to fix event planning by combining calendar and chat

What would happened if your go-to calendar and messaging apps were in fact one and the same thing? That’s the thinking behind Onin — a UK startup that wants to simplify event planning by, well, making a more organized app for organizing stuff.

If that sounds a little niche, it pays to remember that calendars have been having a bit of a moment (ha!) of late (ho!) — what with the pandemic parceling our work lives into endless virtual meeting slots. Aka: How many Zoom calls can one human survive in a single day?

Certainly the limitations of digital calendars, these rather unlovely (yet ever more essential) time-management tools, have had faced closer scrutiny since COVID-19 popped up on the scene. Flaws? Yes they have a few.

And so we’ve seen a burst of startup attention to the space in recent years. Think stuff like Calendly and Reclaim.ai for more efficiently managing meeting scheduling (aka ‘smart calendar assistants’) — or, more recently, Magical — which is trying to push the (invite) envelope a little further by trying to make calendars more collaborative.

Onin is taking a similarly collaborative tack — but with, initially, more of a consumer focus: It wants to be your new go-to app to arrange stuff like drinks or trips with your friends. (If it can take off with twentysomething socialites and worm its way from B2C into work settings via a consumerization backdoor then great, is the founder’s thinking there.)

But why do you need a whole new app for organizing birthday drinks, I hear you cry!?

Because the experience of using a digital tool to arrange multi-person events is frustratingly un-social and friction-filled is Onin’s argument.

With a typical calendar, an event creator owns the event (and therefore the planning process) so only they can make changes that sync to all participants. Hence those endless emails discussion threads that spring up around nascent group events as people try to hash out the details of a plan — who’s free when and which location works for everyone and so on — and then nag the self appointed organizer to update the invite so everyone stays on the same page.

Onin’s alternative approach avoids this planning asymmetry by collapsing and combining chat and calendar into a one-stop scheduling dream: “One place to find time and plan events without leaving the chat.” Or, well, that’s the promise.

(And — yes — it will still integrate with your existing calendar software so that events planned in Onin get synced back there.)

Here’s founder Ryan Brodie laying it out: “We want to be the aggregation layer for events, contextualising the process & third party integrations so there’s zero fragmentation between them and the discussion that forms them (right now the event in our diaries is always one step behind the convo and every step is duplicated)

“To do this we want to replace your calendar app/web app and act as a client for whatever calendar provider you use (‘bring your own calendar’).”

“We’re starting from the consumer and consumer meet-up side however we strongly believe (and have already proven) Onin’s usefulness across sectors,” he also argues. “The key thing is we’re chat first not event first; 95% of the planning is happening by chat and not by editing the event’s details, thus our hard work on bringing the event into the conversation itself (you can @mention the group in any of its sub-groups too making referring to an upcoming event delightful).”

Per Brodie, the problem Onin is focused on stems from fragmentation related to the long-standing iCalendar standard —  aka the Internet Calendaring and Scheduling Core Object Specification format (RFC 5545), which allows different scheduling services to understand and process calendaring items (and was first created in 1998) — which is really why, as he tells it, trying to do group scheduling with existing calendar apps is such a frustrating mess.

Onin’s answer to this legacy fragmentation takes the form of a patent-pending “architectural solution” — which means the software always ‘organizes’ the event “from a calendaring perspective, not a specific user”, as Brodie puts it. (Or, more simply: “The organiser is the group email address and we control its sync.”)

The effect of that is to circumvent the fragmentation between an event and its communication channels — thereby removing unnecessary friction from the event planning process by letting groups plan stuff together more spontaneously.

“No one has solved this problem before,” claims Brodie (who’s name may be familiar as he co-founded YC-backed Muslim dating app Muzmatch, before moving on to his next app challenge).

“It’s incredibly hard to as the calendaring standards are decentralised and non-canonical (our tech made our events centralised and canonical). Everything you can do in our native apps you can do with very low friction web experience first (every Onin group is a rapidly shareable link).”

Asked about other software solutions, he suggests Onin is shooting to be “Microsoft Teams, just done right”. So, er, touché. (“An easy to use product and one that’s simple to understand, isn’t locked into the Microsoft ecosystem, and yet is incredibly powerful and versatile, scaling from 1:1 conversations to groups of hundreds of people, all the time seamlessly syncing event information into participant’s diaries,” is the ambition.)

“We send the invites to all users vs using their own calendar like say Calendly does,” Brodie also tells us, going into more detail on how exactly Onin does things differently vs rivals. “Therefore events are fully collaborative and provide a history of changes inside Onin but in your external calendar all you can do is change your attending status as a regular participant. This makes Onin very sticky!”

For now, it’s still super early for the product — which bagged some attention after launching on Product Hunt in August — and is just now launching as an MVP. But Onin has already turned investor heads, raising a $1M pre-seed round (“with just the idea”) last summer — which looks like a notable vote of confidence at such an early stage.

Backers in the pre-seed include Entrepreneur First’s Matt Clifford and Hambro Perks (on angel terms), plus a number of others who aren’t up for going public just yet.

“We’ve had over 400 people join the early access program in 48 hours which involved an 8-step form detailing their calendar woes, I’m very confident there is serious demand simply in combining chat and calendar,” adds Brodie, before segueing into reeling off a list of integrations and features the team is working on adding.

“We already have an official Zoom integration and are working on Typeform & Calendly integrations (Notion, Google Workspace, etc. all targeted). We then want to take over the event based discussions you have in other apps as a result, with you thinking of the event as living in Onin (‘zero switching cost’). For example, when you join the Zoom call a contextual message is sent into the group — “[Ryan] joined Zoom” — no one has done this before!

“We own the event that is synced to everyone’s diaries, it all links back to Onin. We have a unique, patent pending Talk around time chat UI that makes all of this possible. We have a very Notion-y style group/sub-group system, it’s a) extremely easy to create follow up events and b) easy to create sub-plans too (e.g. a holiday with lots of activities or a product launch with TechCrunch interviews…).”

#apps, #calendar, #calendar-apps, #calendly, #europe, #hambro-perks, #matt-clifford, #onin, #product-hunt, #ryan-brodie, #tc, #time-management-tools, #united-kingdom, #yc

Hyper is a new fund that offers $300k checks and promise of a media slingshot for founders 

Hyper is a $60M early-stage fund co-founded by Josh Buckley, Product Hunt’s CEO along with writer, founder and designer Dustin Curtis. Two ex-Sequoia operators are part of the team at launch as well. Malika Cantor as Partner and GM and Ashton Brown as Head of Program. The fund launches today and is self-described as ‘inspired by the Product Hunt community’. 

The team will be writing $300k checks for 5% of very early companies in any arena that seems promising to the partnership in a fixed deal structure that mirrors Y-Combinator. 

The fund will exist as a ‘sister company’ to Product Hunt (though it’s going to technically own it). Product Hunt, however, is the first of what the team says will be many companies it will own, create and operate in order to provide ‘direct value’ to its portfolio companies. 

I had a chat with Buckley, Curtis and Cantor about the new fund and company and the way that they hoped to differentiate Hyper in a world of aggressively service-oriented venture firms. 

The short version is: distribution. It’s hard to argue with the overall assumption that the Hyper team is working under — capital is majorly commoditized. Frankly, sometimes that’s all you want from an investor whose value add is more of a thorn in your side than anything. But, especially at the early stage there are a few funds and firms that offer a strong value outside of writing checks in the form of, say, hiring, sales introductions or board members that have relevant operational experience. 

Where Hyper differs, says Buckley, is that they see distribution as the biggest value add for a nascent startup at the stages where the firm hopes to invest. Product Hunt is one opportunity that he points to as an example. It’s an established launch pad to an audience of extreme early adopters that can provide a seed of a real user base — Hyper itself is launching via a post on the platform. 

I’ll let the Hyper team’s words spell out what they say is its thesis:

Hyper believes that every company (B2B or B2C) needs access to distribution channels to find customers, users, and talented employees to join their teams. Hyper works with early-stage companies at three key junctures in a startup’s journey:

  • Initial customer acquisition and validation (often at the pre-Seed stage)
  • First product/company launch and hiring (often at the Seed stage)
  • Scaling customer acquisition and fundraising (before the Series A)

Founders who go through the program will remain a part of the tight-knit Hyper founder community long past their Series A.

Over the past few months, Buckley says that Product Hunt has grown headcount by around 50% in part to boost its ability to act as an enhanced distribution channel. 

A short list of some of the people involved as advisors, mentors or investors themselves includes Alexis & Serena Williams, Alfred Lin of Sequoia, Garry Tan of Initialized, Harry Stebbings, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Naval Ravikant, Owen van Natta, Ryan Hoover, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Sriram Krishnan of a16z. 

It’s a pretty eclectic group, but if you squint you can see the shape of the ambitions that Hyper has reflected in the parties involved. A mix of media, venture and product figures is probably the right way to go if you want to back yourself into a media empire funded by venture capital returns. 

They’ll be building additional media products as well, especially ones that focus on areas of hyper growth and high interest in order to both generate deal flow and to feature companies in the portfolio. Interestingly, unlike many marketing-operations-disguised-as-journalistic-enterprises, Curtis says that they want these to be real, functioning media companies and that startups funded by Hyper will be presented on those sites and platforms in clearly defined sections that make it clear that they are part of the program. 

As an example, the team is careful to state that Product Hunt will remain a ‘neutral platform’ for launching products and that Hyper companies will get clearly marked slots on the site. 

Surrounding those placements will be content that is produced by editorial media arms independent of the fund (though, in the end, funded by the profits of the fund). They’re not quite up to giving specifics about how they’re going to power these media properties initially but the funds management fees as well as most of its profits from carry will go towards cultivating the distro side. The other part of the ‘most’ will, one assumes, go to the individual investors. Curtis says that there could be other ways to obtain capital to speed up this process that is allowed by the unique structure of Hyper like debt or equity financing. 

Hyper itself is trying to establish two lines of business. A portfolio of wholly owned companies like Product Hunt (which still counts AngelList as a majority investor and Ravikant on its board) and other new media brands. And the other component which includes the portfolio of Hyper funds (plural theirs) and a founder program that includes mentorship, twice-a-year-events, and other future efforts — eventually. 

The mentorship component that Hyper hopes to add for founders in the fund is an 8-week founder program that includes individuals from “partners” like Andreeessen Horowitz, AngelList, Sequoia Capital, the Twenty Minute VC Podcast and Product Hunt helping founders to solve ‘key challenges’. Some of the participants are investors in Hyper, though none of the funds participated themselves The group includes some close to home figures as well, in Product Hunt GM Ashley Higgins and founder Ryan Hoover.

The program will also offer office hours with experts, an exclusive Product Hunt launch event and a Public Hyper Demo Day and Investor Demo Day to participate in within a year of being in the program.

The Hyper concept sounds fresh in combination, if not in components. An enormous amount of ink has been spilled, for instance, on the spinning up of the VC media apparatus as a bullhorn for a tech-optimism POV. But most of that content is understood to be talking the firm’s book and not intended to be seen as journalism. Though the media publications that Hyper is planning on forming have yet to be realized, there is enough of a differentiating spark here that could make it a unique play that attempts to straddle the worlds of editorial and venture. 

I have thoughts about the way that venture and media interact, as you might imagine given what I do and waves hands at the masthead where we are having this little chat. Combining a media and investing apparatus is not a new concept — as TechCrunch readers will know. But it’s not without its complexities. Enthusiast media that works does so for a couple of major reasons, in my opinion:

  • Genuine obsession with the subject matter. The writers, editors and even business people involved must have a crazy thirst to understand and contextualize the subjects that they write about. There can be no in-between here, as they are speaking every day to an audience that is just as obsessed with it as they are and can detect any level of commitment to it that is less than 100%. 
  • A patina of either trust or candor built over time. You can go into it with some bona-fides that you buy with a big name hire or series of them, and the reputations that they’ve built elsewhere. But if you’re full of shit, you’re going to lose — no matter how well positioned and funded you are. You may ‘win’ long term by turning what you’re doing into something else, a broad interest publication in niche clothing, for instance. But you won’t win at the enthusiast level.
  • An intense, punishing commitment to momentum. The further you delve into any niche, the more knowledgeable your audience will be. This means that you must produce uniquely insightful, crisp, well-researched content every day and you must do it with a level of granularity that surpasses anyone else in your niche. Your audience lives and breathes this stuff so if you’re telling them things they’ve already read on 3 message boards, in private texts or in their work slack then you’ve lost. You’ve got to get subcutaneous and not just superficially so. 

And when you add in a layer of complexity that is proudly announcing your vested interests in the success of particular companies, it just ups the level of difficulty massively. I don’t think that it’s at all impossible to run a fund that feeds a media arm, but it’s definitely a ‘doing a really hard thing while also on fire’ kind of operation.

Which doesn’t mean that Hyper can’t pull it off. Product Hunt is the model for what they’re trying to do, creating close-to-the-ground media that attracts as many operators and investors as it does early adopters. Duplicating that in a variety of publications and events, however, is not easy at all. 

I will say that a bet on distribution as value add is still one of the better stabs that I’ve seen lately. The capital is, as Buckley told me, readily and generically available. And having your calling card be “we can help the first 10, 20 or 30 thousand people know that you even exist” isn’t a bad situation at all. It works.

This is, after all, what we do at TechCrunch, we just don’t take a cut. 

The announcement today is the Hyper the fund, and the fact that they’re opening applications to a small cohort of 25 companies. The applications are planned to open for roughly 4 weeks every quarter and the deadline for this tranche is August 10th, 2021 at midnight PT. The second cohort will open in November 2021. 

The fund is taking applicants worldwide though notes that some countries present legal complexities for investment. 

#advisors, #alfred-lin, #angellist, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #dustin-curtis, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #garry-tan, #harry-stebbings, #head, #horowitz, #hyper, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #josh-buckley, #media, #money, #naval-ravikant, #owen-van-natta, #product-hunt, #ryan-hoover, #sequoia-capital, #sriram-krishnan, #tc, #venture-capital

Scale CEO Alex Wang and Accel’s Dan Levine explain why sometimes unconventional VC deals are best

Few companies have done better than Scale at spotting a need in the AI gold rush early on and filling that gap. The startup rightly identified that one of the tasks most important to building effective AI at scale — the laborious exercise of tagging data sets to make them usable in properly training new AI agents — was one that companies focused on that area of tech would also be most willing to outsource. CEO and co-founder Alex Wang credits their success since founding, which includes raising over $277 million and achieving break-even status in terms of revenue, to early support from investors including Accel’s Dan Levine.

Accel haș participated in four of Scale’s financing rounds, which is all of them unless you include the funding from YC the company secured as part of a cohort in 2016. In fact, Levine wrote one of the company’s very first checks. So on this past week’s episode of Extra Crunch Live, we spoke with Levine and Wang about how that first deal came together, and what their working relationship has been like in the years since.

Scale’s story starts with a pivot, and with a bit of rule-breaking, too — Wang went off the typical YC book by speaking to investors prior to demo day when Levine cold-emailed him after seeing Scale on Product Hunt. The Product Hunt spot wasn’t planned, either — Wang was as surprised to see his company there as anyone else. But Levine saw the kernel of something with huge potential, and despite being a relative unknown in VC at the time, didn’t want to let the opportunity pass him, or Wang, by.

Both Wang and Levine were also able to provide some great feedback on decks submitted to our regular Pitch Deck Teardown segment, despite the fact that Levine actually never saw a pitch deck from Wang before investing (more on that later). If you’d like your pitch deck reviewed by experienced founders and investors on a future episode, you can submit your deck here.

Knowing when to bend the rules

As mentioned, Levine and Accel’s initial investment in Scale came from a cold email sent after the company appeared on Product Hunt. Wang said the team had just put out an early version of Scale, and then noticed that it was up on Product Hunt — it was submitted by someone else. The community response was encouraging, and it also led to Levine reaching out via email.

“One of the side effects of that, one of the outcomes, was that we got this cold email from Dan,” he said. “We really knew nothing about Dan until his cold email. So like many great stories that started with a bold, cold email. And we were pretty stressed about it at the time, because in YC, they tell you pretty definitively, ‘Hey, don’t talk to a VC during the batch,’ and we were squarely in the middle of the batch.”

Wang and the team were so nervous that they even considered “ghosting” Dan despite his obvious interest and the prestige of Accel as an investment firm. In the end, they decided to “go rogue” and respond, which led to a meeting at the Accel offices in Palo Alto.

#accel, #alex-wang, #artificial-intelligence, #dan-levine, #ec-how-to, #extra-crunch-live, #pitching, #product-hunt, #startups, #tc, #technology, #tiger-global, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

Proving voicemail doesn’t have to be wack, the Slack-backed startup Yac raises $7.5 million

Yac, the Orlando, Fla.-based startup that’s digitizing voice messages for remote offices, has raised $7.5 million in a new round of funding.

The company’s service has garnered enough attention to pick up a pretty sizable new round from investors led by GGV Capital and a return investment from the Slack Fund.

Apparently, reinventing voicemail is a multi-million dollar endeavor.

“The future of meetings will be asynchronous, in your ears and hands free,” says Pat Matthews, the chief executive and founder of Active Capital, when the company announced its seed round nearly a year ago.

Co-founded by Justin Mitchell, Hunter McKinley and Jordan Walker, Yac was spun out of the digital agency SoFriendly, and was developed as a pitch for Product Hunt’s Maker Festival. The voice messaging service won that startup competition at the event and attracted the interest of Boost VC and its founder, the third-generation venture capitalist Adam Draper.

About six months after that seed round, Yac received outreach from Slack thanks to a referral from another entrepreneur. Throughout their negotiations last year, the teams used Yac to conduct due diligence, according to Mitchell. At the time of the company’s August announcement that Slack had come on to finance the company, Yac had a bit over 5,000 users on its service and charges per seat, in the same way Slack does.

 

#active-capital, #adam-draper, #entrepreneur, #florida, #ggv-capital, #groupware, #operating-systems, #orlando, #product-hunt, #slack, #slack-fund, #software, #tc, #yac

Yac gets backed by Slack to bring the intimacy of voice back when remote co-workers interact

Yac, the digital voice messaging service that launched last year, has raised new money from the Slack Fund as it continues to gain ground among companies looking to give their employees new communication tools for remote working.

The Florida-based startup initially spun out of a pitch at Product Hunt’s Maker Festival. Developed by the digital agency SoFriendly, Yac’s digital voice messaging service won the startup competition at the event and attracted the interest of Boost VC and its founder, the third generation venture capitalist, Adam Draper .

Yac officially launched in March and had 900 teams sign up within the first week. The company’s product now includes one-to-many messaging, slack integration and an improved desktop app. It also managed to attract the attention of the Slack Fund.

The investment from Slack comes two years after Yac’s founder Justin Mitchell first reached out to the company, Mitchell said.

Instead of a cold call, Mitchell found himself as the object of Slack’s attention thanks to an introduction from Jim Rand, an entrepreneur whose Synervoz Communications was also working on new voice communications applications.

Rand and Mitchell had connected through LinkedIn and bonded over the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship. As they continued talking, Rand, whose company makes an api to connect audio applications to other services, asked if Mitchell wanted to talk to Slack about collaborating.

Slack reached out and Mitchell responded via the Yac app. Essentially all of the due diligence was conducted over a series of voice messages that Mitchell left responding to questions from the Slack team, Mitchell said.

The publicly traded messaging company came in with a small investment of $500,000.

Yac now has a bit over 5,000 users on its service and charges per seat, in the same way Slack does. Mitchell said he will use the funds to integrate more closely with Slack’s own messaging service. Some Yac features will automatically be integrated into Slack where users can turn their call button into a Yac button to deliver audio messages instead of doing real-time phone calls.

 

#adam-draper, #api, #entrepreneur, #florida, #linkedin, #messages, #operating-systems, #product-hunt, #slack, #slack-fund, #software, #tc, #voicemail