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Main article: Recent Funding

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 124

Coronavirus corrections and the rise of remote work

17:02 | 28 February

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

What a week. What an insane, heart-stopping, odd, and stuffed week. I’m utterly exhausted. But, in better news, all of that great fodder for podcast and chat, so today’s Equity is pretty ok if I may say so.

Danny and I chewed through all the stuff that we couldn’t get out of our heads, like the markets falling apart and DoorDash’s initial movement towards going public. But in keeping with the real beating heart of Equity, we also went over four venture rounds and spent some time talking about SoftBank.

We were also a little tired, so come laugh with us and avoid taking things seriously for a few minutes.

Here’s the week’s rundown. And, yes, I did figure out my mic in the end:

We wrapped with whatever this is, other than utterly hilarious and terrifying. We wish you all a lovely weekend. Chat you Monday morning.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

 


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Equity is not always the answer

17:02 | 21 February

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week was a fun combination of early-stage and late-stage news, with companies as young as seed-stage and as old as PE-worthy joining our list of topics.

and Alex were back on hand to chat once again. Just in case you missed it, they had some fun talking Tesla yesterday, and there are new Equity videos on YouTube. Enjoy!

Here’s what the team argued about this week:

  • HungryPanda raises $20 million from 83North and Felix Capital. With a focus on Chinese food, Chinese language users, and Chinese payment options like Alipay, it’s a neat play. According to TechCrunch, the service is live in 31 cities in the U.K., Italy, France, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S and is targeting $200 million in GMV by early Summer.
  • The Org raises $8.5 million, ChartHop raises $5 million. Hailing from two different product perspectives, these two org chart-focused companies both raised capital Thursday morning. That made them interesting to Alex as they formed yet another startup cluster, and Danny was transfixed by their differing starting points as businesses, positing that they will possibly move closer to each other over time.
  • DigitalOcean’s $100 million debt raise. The round — an addition of capital to a nearly-profitable, SMB-focused cloud infra provider — split our hosts, with one leaning more towards a PE-exit and the other an IPO. Whether it can drive margins in the smaller-spend cloud customer segment will be critical to watch in the coming months.
  • (For more on venture debt writ large, head here.)
  • And finally, the E-Trade sale to Morgan Stanley, and what it might mean for Robinhood’s valuation. As Danny points out, the startup has found a good business in selling the order flow of its customers. Alex weighed in that the company has more revenue scaling to do before it grows into its last private valuation. So long as the market stays good, however, Robinhood is probably in good shape.

Equity is nearly three years old, and we have some neat stuff coming up that you haven’t heard about yet. Stay tuned, and thank you for sticking with for so long.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

 


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The Org nabs $8.5M led by Founders Fund to build a global database of company org charts

09:00 | 20 February

LinkedIn has cornered the market when it comes to putting your own professional profile online and using it to network for jobs, industry connections and professional development. But when it comes to looking at a chart of the people, and specifically the leadership teams, who make up organizations more holistically, the Microsoft-owned network comes up a little short: you can search by company names, but chances are that you get a list of people based on their connectivity to you, and otherwise in no particular order (including people who may no longer even be at the company). And pointedly, there is little in the way of verification to prove that someone who claims to be working for a company really is.

Now, a startup called The Org is hoping to take on LinkedIn and address that gap with an ambitious idea: to build a database (currently free to use) of organizational charts for every leading company, and potentially any company in the world, and then add on features after that, such as job advertising, for example organizations looking to hire people where there are obvious gaps in their org charts.

With 16,000 companies profiled so far on its platform, a total of 50,000 companies in its database and around 100,000 visitors per month, The Org is announcing $11 million in funding: a Series A of $8.5 million, and a previously unannounced seed round of $2.5 million.

Led by Founders Fund, the Series A also includes participation from Sequoia and Balderton, along with a number of angels. Sequoia is actually a repeat investor: it also led The Org’s $2.5 million seed round, which also had Founders Fund, Kevin Hartz, Elad Gil, Ryan Petersen, and SV Angel in it. Keith Rabois, who is now a partner at Founders Fund but once held the role of VP of business and corporate development at LinkedIn, is also joining the startup’s board of directors.

Co-headquartered in New York and Copenhagen, Denmark, The Org was co-founded by Christian Wylonis (CEO) and Andreas Jarbøl, partly inspired by a piece in online tech publication The Information, which provided an org chart for the top people at Airbnb (currently numbering 90 entries).

“This article went crazy viral,” Wylonis said in an interview. “I would understand why someone would be interested in this outside of Airbnb, but it turned out that people inside the company were fascinated by it, too. I started to think, when you take something like an org chart and made it publicly facing, I think it just becomes interesting.”

So The Org set out to build a bigger business based on the concept.

For now, The Org is aimed at two distinct markets: those outside the company who might most typically be interested in who is working where and doing what — for example, recruiters, those in human resources departments who are using the data to model their own organizational charts, or salespeople; and those inside the company (or again, outside) who are simply interested in seeing who does what.

The Org is aiming to have 100,000 org charts on its platform by the end of the year, with the longer-term goal being to cover 1 million. For now, the focus is on adding companies in the US before expanding to other markets.

But while the idea of building org charts for many companies sounds easy enough, there is also a reason why it hasn’t been done yet: it’s not nearly as simple as it looks. That is one reason why even trying to surmount this issue is of interest to top VCs — particularly those who have worked in startups and fast-growing tech companies themselves.

“Today, information about teams is unstructured, scattered, and unverified, making it hard for employees and recruiters to understand organizational structures,” said Roelof Botha, partner at Sequoia Capital, in a statement.

“Organizational charts were the secret weapon to forging partnerships during my 20 years as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and Europe. Yet, they are a carefully guarded secret, which have to be painstakingly put together by hand,” said Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, general partner at Balderton Capital, in a statement. “The Org is surfacing this critical information, improving efficiency from the sales floor to the boardroom.”

“Up-to-date org charts can be useful for everything from recruiting to sales, but they are difficult and time consuming to piece together,” added Rabois in a statement. “The Org is making this valuable information easily accessible in a way we were never able to do at LinkedIn.”

The approach that The Org is taking to building these profiles so far has been a collaborative one. While The Org itself might establish some company names and seed and update them with information from publicly available sources, that approach leaves a lot of gaps.

This is where a crowdsourced, wiki-style approach comes in. As with other company-based networking services such as Slack, users from a particular company can use their work email addresses to sign into that organization’s profile, and from there they can add or modify entries as you might enter data in a wiki — the idea being that multiple people getting involved in the edits helps keep the company’s org chart more accurate.

While The Org’s idea holds a lot of promise and seems to fill a hole that other companies like LinkedIn — or, from another direction, Glassdoor — do not address in their own profiling of companies, I can see some challenges, too, that it might encounter as it grows.

Platforms that provide insights into a company landscape, such as LinkedIn or Glassdoor, are ultimately banked more around individuals and their own representations. That means that by their nature these platforms may not ever provide complete pictures of businesses themselves, just slices of it. The Org, on the other hand, starts from the point of view of presenting the company itself, which means that the resulting gaps that arise might be more apparent if they never get filled in, making The Org potentially less useful as a tool.

Similarly, if these charts are truly often closely guarded by companies (something I don’t doubt is true, since they could pose poaching risks, or copycats in the form of companies attempting to build org structures based on what their more successful competitors are doing), I could see how some companies might start to approach The Org with requests to remove their profiles and corresponding charts.

Wylonis said that “99%” of companies so far have been okay with what The Org is building. “The way that we see it is that transparency is of interest to the people who work there,” he said. “I think that everyone should strive for that. Why block it? The world is changing and if the only way to keep your talent is by hiding your org chart you have other problems at your company.”

He added that so far The Org has not had any official requests, “but we have had informal enquiries about how we get our information. And some companies email us about changes. And when an individual person gets in touch and says, ‘I don’t want to be here,’ we delete that. But it’s only happened a handful of times.” It’s not clear whether that proportion stays the same, or goes up or down, as The Org grows.

In the meantime, the other big question that The Org will grapple with is just how granular should it go?

“I hope that one day we can have an updated and complete org chart for every business, but that might prove difficult,” Wylonis said. Indeed, that could mean mapping out 1 million people at Walmart, for example. “For the biggest companies, it may be that it works to map out the top 500, with the top 30-40 for smaller companies. And people can always go in and make corrections to expand those if they want.”

 


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Secret’s founder returns with anti-loneliness app Ikaria

21:31 | 18 February

“I don’t feel good about that. That sucks” Chrys Bader-Wechseler reflects when asked about the bullying that went down on the anonymous app Secret he co-founded in 2013. After $35 million raised, 15 million users, and a spectacular flame out two years later, the startup was dead. “Since I left secret I feel alive and aligned with my values and my purpose again.” 

But there was one bright side to Secret letting you post without a name or consequences. People opened up, got vulnerable, and felt less alone when comments revealed they weren’t the only person dealing with a certain struggle. What Bader learned from watching Secret’s users “do this in the dark” was the realization that “actually, we need to learn to do this in a light, to have that same kind of dialogue, but do it openly with each other.”

So began the journey to Bader’s new startup Just Imagine that’s exclusively revealing itself to the world today on TechCrunch. It’s building a different kind of chat app called Ikaria, named after the Greek island where close-knit community helps extend people’s lifespans. The 6-person Santa Monica team is funded by a $1.5 million seed round led by Initialized Capital. People can sign up for early beta access here.

During a long interview about the startup, Bader and his co-founder Sean Dadashi were cagey about exactly how Ikaria works since it’s still in development. Amidst all the philosophical context about the app’s intention, I was able to pull out a few details about what the product will actually look like.

“Basically, since 2004, technology has created this monumental shift in the human social experience. We’re more connected than ever technically but all the studies show we’re lonelier than ever.” Bader explains. “It’s like eating McDonald’s to get healthy. It’s not the right source of nutrition for our social well-being because true connection requires a level of vulnerability, presence, self-disclosure, and reciprocity that you don’t really get on these platforms.”

Ikaria isn’t another feed. It’s a safe space where you can chat with close friends & family, or people going through similar life challenges. Members of these group chats will optionally go through guided experiences that help them reflect on and discuss what’s going on in their hearts and minds. This could become a whole new media format where outside creators or mental health professionals could produce and contribute their own guided experiences.

“Part of the reason we’re announcing this is that . . . it’s a call to action to involve all these practitioners and people who are doing these types of things and giving them a platform to allow them to facilitate these kind of group bonding experiences through a platform where they can extend their practices into the digital world” Bader tells me. What Calm and Headspace did for making meditation more mainstream and accessible, Ikaria wants to do for mental health through online togetherness.

Ikaria already has a sizable closed beta going which the startup plans to continue until it finds product fit, and it hopes to know its official release timeline by the end of the year. “We’re not going to launch this until we know 40% of people would be disappointed if they couldn’t use it.”

Rather than monetizing by exploiting people’s attention, Ikaria plans to develop a ‘customer relationship’ with users, which could mean subscription access or in-app payments for buying content. Perhaps one user could act as the sponsor and purchase an experience for their whole group chat. Until then, it’s got its seed funding from Initialized, Fuel Capital, F7 Ventures, Ryan Hoover’s Weekend Fund, Backend Capital, Day One Ventures, Shrug, Todd Goldberg, and Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra.

“The hope is that eventually this would be an app you use instead of iMessage, to increase your sense of presence” Bader explains, revealing its grand ambitions. Why would we need to replace our core chat apps? Well for one thing, they don’t understand who really matters to you. If an app understood who your mom is, it could give her messages special prevalence or remind you to contact her.

Bader met Dadashi through an offline men’s group for discussing life, love, and everything. After just a few weeks of these meetups, they say they felt closer to each other than to most of their friends. Only later did Bader, a designer by trade, discover that Dadashi was a coder who’d been CTO of electronics company MHD Enterprises before starting a travel and lifestyle startup for mental wellness called Somatic Studios.

Together, they researched the rapid rise of other vulnerability-focused meetup organizations like EvrymanManKind ProjectQuiltAuthentic RelatingCircling, and T-Groups. But they knew that to have a chance at impact at scale, they’d need to build a mobile app familiar enough to get people over the hurdle of starting a mindfulness practice. They laid out a few principles to build by: a focus on relationships instead of Likes and followers, conscious design that won’t exploit people’s attention or weaknesses, no ads, and keeping all data private and in control of the user.

Having known Bader since the Secret days, it’s obvious that working with Dadashi has made him happier and more centered. Ikaria is an app he can wake up feeling good about each day. “You know, I don’t like to speak ill of David [Byttow, Secret’s CEO who was notoriously prickly], but that relationship was very, very toxic and taxing for me. And this time around with Sean, as I’m sure you can tell, is the polar opposite.”

If Ikaria can help people develop the open and honest relationships with friends or peers like building it has done for Bader and Dadashi, it could be a beacon amidst a sea of time unwell spent.

 


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Tinder founder funds sex tips app Lover

23:26 | 14 February

Want to spice up the bedroom without paying for pills or awkward visits to a sex therapist? A new app called Lover lets you take a sexual personality quiz, explore carnal knowledge tutorials, and discretely figure out which turn-ons you share with your partner. Built by board certified sexual medicine clinical psychologist Dr. Britney Blair, Lover launches today on iOS with $5 million in seed funding from Tinder founder Sean Rad and other investors.

“It is strange that there are such taboos around sex when it is something we all do…whether we enjoy ourselves or not. We think it is time to start the conversation around this important aspect of our health” says Dr. Blair. “We believe Lover can help build confidence, facilitate communication, improve partner connection and just raise consciousness about sex and sexuality.”

A solid portion of Lover’s content is free for the first seven days, including audio guides to oral sex, video explainers on how to be generous in bed, and multi-step “playlists” of content like “Getting Hard, Made Easy”. Lover charges $9.99 to keep using it to dive deeper into themed educational materials like “Coreplay Not Foreplay” and “Fantasy To Reality” that are recommended based on the result of your sexual style questionnaire.

Almost 50% of women and 40% of men have a sexual complaint . . . [but] most people don’t realize how common and treatable their issues are” Dr. Blair tells me. “In our [pre-launch tests] focused purely on erectile dysfunction, 62% of users reported improvements to their erections within three weeks of using the app. That’s pretty wild when you think Viagra’s efficacy rate is approximately 65% and it lasts only five hours.”

With startups like digital pharmacy Ro scoring a $500 million valuation just 18 months after launching by prescribing and selling men’s health drugs like viagra, Lover sees a market for education-based alternative approaches to sexual wellness.

Lover co-founders (from left): Jas Bagniewski, Dr. Britney Blair, and Nick Pendle

Dr. Blair got interested in the space a decade ago after a Stanford grad school lecture illuminated how prevalent sexual problems are but how quickly they can be resolved with learning and communication. She teamed up with her CEO Jas Bagniewski who’d been the manager of Europe’s largest ecommerce business Zalando in the UK, and a founder of City Deal that sold to Groupon. Bagniewski and fellow Lover co-founder Nick Pendle started European Casper mattress competitor Eve Sleep and brought it to IPO.

The plan is to combine Dr. Blair’s educational materials with Bagniewski and Pendle’s ecommerce chops to monetize Lover through subscriptions and eventually recommending products like sex toys for purchase. Now they have $5 million in seed funding led by Lerer Hippeau, and joined by Manta Ray Ventures, Oliver Samwer’s Global Founders Capital, Fabrice Grinda, and Jose Marin. The cash will go towards building out an Android app and adding games that partners can play together in bed.

There are plenty of random sex tip websites out there. Lover tries to differentiate itself by personalizing content based on the results of a Myers-Briggs-esque quiz that asks you how adventurous, communicative, and assertive you are. You then receive a classification like “The Muse” with a few pages of explanation, for example revealing how you like to inspire others while being the center of attention.

From there, Lover can suggest guides for mastering your own sexual personality or branching out into new behavior patterns. There’s also a feature copied from another app called XConfessions for figuring out what you and your partner like. You connect your apps and then separately swipe yes or no on questions about whether you’d like “having your partner drip candle wax on you” or “your partner dressing as a strict cop”. If you and they match, the app tells you both so you can try it out.

Overall, Lover’s content is a lot higher quality and more compassionate than where most people learn about sex: from pornography. Having a real sexual medicine doctor overseeing the app lends credibility to Lover. And the design and tone throughout make you feel empowered rather than sleazy.

Still, Dr. Blair admits that “it’s hard to motivate people into behavioral change, people already have subscription apps on their phones and we may run into ‘subscription fatigue'”. People might feel natural paying for viagra because the impact is obvious, the value of a subscription to sex tips might feel too vague or redundant to what’s free online.

To get a lot of users opening their wallets, not just their pants, Lover will need to do a better job of previewing what’s behind the paywall, and offering more interactivity that online content lacks. But if it can give users one unforgettable night thanks to its advice, it may be able to seduce them for the long-run.

 


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Big meditation money, new VC funds, and how do you value Airbnb?

17:00 | 14 February

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

After having a good time with NEA’s Rick Yang last week, we thought we’d bring on another venture capitalist. So this week

and I had Elliott Robinson from Bessemer swing over for the show. As it turned out, he was about as correct as guest as possible as not only did the topics of the week line up with where he invests, he’s also friends with some of the folks that we discussed on the show.

So what did we talk about? A whole host of things including two rounds:

Then we turned to two new funds, including Battery’s battery of new capital vehicles that add up to $2 billion. In this part of the discussion we also touched on capital velocity, and why some firms are writing the same number of checks, but still need more capital. On the other end of the capital spectrum, Equal Ventures put together its first fund, and we riffed on the health of the micro-fund ecosystem.

The news run continued, with our trio touching on Airbnb’s recent financial results, and our wonderment about how to price the firm, the closure of Brandless (RIP), and the issues at SoftBank.

All that and we had to leave Lyft’s fascinating earnings and Uber’s profit promises alone as we ran a bit long with just that set of topics. A good week, and we’re back Monday morning!

 


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Astranis raises $90 million for its next-gen satellite broadband internet service

17:20 | 13 February

YC-backed Astranis has raised $90 million of new combined debt and equity funding in a Series B round led Venrock, with a sizeable contribution by existing investor (and lead of their 2018 round) Andreessen Horowitz. The funding will be used to help the company launch its first commercial satellites, which will be the bedrock of its future internet service offering, aimed at connecting the massive market of underserved populations around the world.

Astranis emerged from stealth in 2018 when it announced $13.5 million in funding led by Andreessen, and revealed its plan to offer low-cost, reliable internet using geostationary satellites – a different strategy from the increasingly numerous entrants in the satellite internet race who plan to deploy large constellations of satellites into low Earth orbit that don’t stay at a fixed point relative to a specific location on Earth, but that instead hand off their connection via a kind of relay system through ground stations to offer continued service.

The geostationary model that Astranis is embracing is somewhat more similar to the existing way of offering internet connectivity from space, which employs very large communications satellite parked in geostationary orbit fairly far away from Earth. Astranis’ novel approach uses small satellites, however – spacecraft roughly 20 times smaller than the traditional variety, weigh in at around 770 lbs vs. over 14,000 lbs for the legacy kind.

Astranis has made it possible to use smaller satellites thanks in large part to its proprietary ultra-sideband software-defined radio tech, which can provide more bandwidth on much smaller and less complicated hardware, using digital vs. analog technologies. These not only save a tone of space, but can be built and launched with a turnaround time of just months, compared to many years for the large, geostationary telecommunications spacecraft of yore.

As mentioned, this is a combined debt and equity round, including $40 million of equity funding with participating by Y Combinator and others in addition to Venrock and Andreessen. The remaining $50 million of debt facility comes from TriplePoint Capital. Astranis will be looking to this year and next as the time to grow its internet service provider partnerships, as well as built out its relationships with governments and the rest of the industry.

Astranis signed an agreement with launch provider SpaceX last year for a ride for their first commercial satellite, with the aim of having that mission take place sometime as early as the fourth quarter of 2020. The company has raised $108 million to date, but has deep-pocketed competitors eyeing the same opportunity with different technologies, including SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper.

 


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Intuition Robotics raises $36M for its empathetic digital companion

15:00 | 13 February

Intuition Robotics, the company best known for its ElliQ robot, a digital home companion for the elderly, today announced that it has raised a $36 million Series B round co-led by SPARX Group and OurCrowd. Toyota AI Ventures, Sompo Holdings, iRobot, Union Tech Ventures, Happiness Capital, Samsung Next, Capital Point and Bloomberg Beta also participated in this round. This brings the total funding for the company, which was founded in 2016, to $58 million.

As the company, which sees it as its mission to build digital assistants that can create emotional bonds between humans and machines, also disclosed today, it is working with the Toyota Research Institute to bring its technology to the automaker’s LQ concept. Toyota previously said that it wanted to bring an empathetic AI assistant to the LQ that could create a bond between driver and car. Intuition Robotics’s Q platform helps power this  assistant, which Toyota calls “Yui.”

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler tells me that the company spent the last two years gathering data through ElliQ. In the process, the company spent more than 10,000 days in the homes of early users to gather data. The youngest of those users were 78 and the oldest 97.

On average, users interacted with ElliQ eight times per day and spent about six minutes on those interactions. When ElliQ made proactive suggestions, users accepted those about half the time.

“We believe that we have been able to prove that she can create an enduring relationship between humans and machines that actually influences people’s feelings and behaviors,” Skuler told me. “That she’s able to create empathy and trust — and anticipate the needs of the users. And that, to us, is the real vision behind the company.”

While Intuition Robotics is most closely identified with ElliQ, though, that’s only one area the company is focusing on. The other is automotive — and as Skuler stressed, as a small startup, focus is key, even as there are some other obvious verticals it could try to get into.

In the car, the empathetic AI assistant will adapt to the individual user and, for example, provide personalized suggestions for trying out new features in the car, or suggest that you open the window and get some fresh air into the car when it senses you are getting tired. As Skuler stressed, the car is actually a great environment for a digital assistant, as it already has plenty of built-in sensors.

“The agent gets the data feed, builds context, looks at the goals and answers three questions: Should I be proactive? Which activity should I promote? And which version to be most effective? And then it controls the outcomes,” Skuler explained. That’s the same process in the car as it would be in ElliQ — and indeed, the same code runs in both.

The Intuition team decided that in order to allow third-parties to build these interactions, it needed to develop specialized tools and a new language that would help designers — not programmers — create the outlines of these interactions for the platform.

Unlike ElliQ, though, the assistant in the car doesn’t move, of course. In Toyota’s example, the car uses lights and a small screen to provide additional interactions with the driver. As Skuler also told me, the company is already working with another automotive company to bring its Q platform to more cars, though he wasn’t ready to disclose this second automotive partner.

“Intuition Robotics is creating disruptive technology that will inspire companies to re-imagine how machines might amplify the human experience,” said Jim Adler, founding managing partner at Toyota AI Ventures, who will also join the company’s board of directors.

Intuition Robotics’ team doubled over the course of the last year and the company now has 85 employees, most of whom are engineers. The company has offices in Israel and San Francisco.

Unsurprisingly, the plans for the new funding focus on building out its assistant’s capabilities. “We’re the only company in the world that can create these context-based, nonlinear personalized interactions that we call a digital companion,” Skuler told me. “We assume people will start doing similar things. There’s a lot more work to do. […] A big part of the work is to increase our research activities and increase the tools and the performance of the runtime engine for the agent.” He also told me that the team continues to gather data about ElliQ so it can prove that it improves the quality of life of its users. And in addition to this, the company obviously also will continue to build out its work around cars.

“We cracked something nobody’s cracked before,” Skuler said. “And now we’re on the verge of getting value out of it. And it will be hard work because this is not an app. It’s really hard work but we want to capture that value.”

 


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Google backs productivity startup building algorithmic inbox for Slacks, emails and texts

18:21 | 11 February

There have been plenty of stories written about the so-called “Slack-lash” and the growing unrest among workers dealing with DM interruptions that take their attention away from the task at hand. Slack is a poster boy for the problem, but VCs have invested heavily in a number of collaboration tools over the past several years that have compartmentalized chat and commenting systems and have left workers reeling.

It seems fairly likely that we’ve reached peak VC interest in collaboration, but VCs are dealing with any slowdown by betting more heavily on tools that help workers make sense of the panoply of slick interfaced messaging tools. The latest bet, ’nuffsaid, is, yes, yet another productivity startup, though one that seems devoted to making the messaging realities of 2020 employment a bit more tolerable.

The Utah startup is emerging from stealth, launching the first element of their productivity platform in early access, and disclosing that they’ve raised $4.3 million in seed funding from General Catalyst, Google’s Gradient Ventures, Global Founders Capital, Work Life Ventures, SV Angel and Wasabi Ventures.

The oddly-named company is releasing its first oddly-named product, ‘nflow, into early access, bringing multiple collaboration platforms and a calendar into a single inbox.  Just as the algorithmic timeline shaped how we digest the firehose of social media content, algorithmic inboxes might be the solution to a Slack-lash. ’nuffsaid is taking this algorithmic approach for prioritizing Slack messages, as well as emails, texts and Zoom messages with ‘nflow. The searchable unified inbox brings all of your messages into a single app, letting you know what’s urgent and what can probably wait until you’re finished taking care of the task at hand.

“We think there’s going to be an entire category of products that are all about adding AI into existing workflows. With ‘nflow, we think we’re taking our first baby step to our vision of that future,” CEO and co-founder Chris Hicken tells TechCrunch. Hicken was previously COO of UserTesting.

One of the more exciting elements of ‘nflow is the way it brings the calendar inside the communications hub. Google Calendar is still among the more estranged elements of productivity workflows. Using messages and emails as the basis for calendar events has always been a wishlist item, but the integration is rarely tight enough. ’nuffsaid’s drag-and-drop interface for creating calendar events while tagging team members and adding additional info showcases seems to be a pretty attractive solution, though I’ll wait until I can poke around the app myself before making any full-throated endorsements.

The ’nuffsaid team says ‘nflow will launch commercially at (a rather pricey) $25 per month, but that people who sign up for their early access waitlist will unlock a lifetime rate of $10 per month.

The team of 18 has bigger near-term ambitions than the product they’re launching in early access today. If ‘nflow represents a more mass-market approach to delivering a productivity tool to workers frustrated by a messaging overload, their future launches signify a desire to dig deeper into specific enterprise workflows and bring specific types of teams onboard.

Over the summer, the company plans to roll out a separate AI-driven customer success module which integrates with a variety of apps to give workers more actionable insights on what tasks are the most critical to maintaining and building customer relationships. The startup plans to build and roll out dedicated versions of the module for engineering, product and marketing as well.

“There are so many collaboration tools, what I like about ’nuffsaid is that it’s where the work is actually happening and they’re not asking users to change their procedures,” General Catalyst Managing Director Niko Bonatsos tells TechCrunch. “Users still have the same email address, they’re still contacting their customers the same ways, they don’t have to start doing unnatural things that disrupt their workflows.”

 


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Negotiatus, looking to help businesses optimize purchasing, raises $10 million

18:00 | 11 February

Negotiatus, a SaaS business meant to optimize and streamline the purchasing and procurement process for businesses, has today announced the close of a $10 million Series A round.

The funding was led by Rally Ventures, with participation from ERA, 645 Ventures, Green Visor Capital and Stage 2 Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to nearly $20 million.

Negotiatus was founded by Zach Garippa and Tom Jaklitsch with an idea to detangle the process of purchasing supplies for a business. Garippa told TechCrunch that most solutions to this problem focus on one piece of the puzzle, serving finance or operations or the purchasers themselves, but ultimately making the process more difficult for the other functions in the business.

Negotiatus pulls all of those stakeholders into a single platform where they can shop, place orders, track delivery information and manage spend all from one place.

For example, finance departments often have to manually review and remit payment for thousands of invoices a month, normally across at least several vendors and various formats. Negotiatus allows the finance department to view all of that in a weekly or monthly invoice.

Before Negotiatus, purchasers had to cross-reference approved brands, vendors and products each time they needed a new set of pens or toilet paper, jumping from one website to another and tracking shipments across multiple websites. Negotiatus scrapes your past purchase history to show purchasers what they want in a single place. And, of course, users can track those products directly from the Negotiatus dashboard.

Operations can centralize order requests and approvals within the Negotiatus platform, and leverage analytics provided by the company to make better purchasing decisions. Negotiatus scrapes the SKUs themselves, across vendors, to make sure that businesses are making the smartest possible decision with their budget.

The company says that it takes less than a day to get going on the platform.

Negotiatus generates revenue in two ways. The first is a regular subscription model that charges on a monthly basis for each location on the platform. The second is based on spend volume on the platform (which comes from the vendor side).

Thus far, Negotiatus has 300 customers, with a particular popularity among health and wellness businesses (SoulCycle, Orangetheory, CorePower Yoga) and coworking businesses (WeWork, Zeus, Domio). The company hopes to soon expand beyond physical products into software services.

 


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