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Main article: Startups

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Startups Weekly: Tech layoffs spread (a bit)

20:02 | 25 January

Are January layoffs just a few post-WeWork jitters?

TechCrunch has found itself writing about layoffs at a few notable tech companies this week — and not just Softbank-backed ones. The focus is very much profits, as Alex Wilhelm summed up on Thursday, especially after the failed WeWork IPO and subsequent valuation and headcount decimation. We’ll be digging into the topic more soon but there does seem to be a certain consumery thread here. And perhaps some fears of negative macro trends bubbling up?

23andMe cut 16% or 100 people, citing slowing sales for DNA tests. Quora reduced an undisclosed number to focus on revenue. 

Plenty of tech investors have criticized Softbank’s approach to writing large check for large valuations, but they can’t avoid the same fears these days. So does Mozilla, which had to cut 70 people this month after struggling to build revenue products.

It still all seems sort of normal given the very high valuations and recent reconsiderations, at least so far. Layoffs may very well continue this year in a way that is necessary and even healthy in the long run.

More on TechCrunch, from Alex:

23andMe  and Mozilla are not alone, however. Playful Studios cut staff just this week, 2019 itself saw more than 300% more tech layoffs than in the preceding year and TechCrunch has covered a litany of layoffs at Vision Fund-backed companies over the past few months, including:

Scooter unicorns Lime and Bird have also reduced staff this year. The for-profit drive is firing on all cylinders in the wake of the failed WeWork IPO attempt. WeWork was an outlier in terms of how bad its financial results were, but the fear it introduced to the market appears pretty damn mainstream by this point. (Forsake hope, alle ye whoe require a Series H.)

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

2019 venture data had soft spots, maybe

Fresh data sets are in on last year from Crunchbase, as well as PitchBook and the NVCA. Alex identified a few key takeaways: slightly lower early-stage fundings, a big global year overall, and some of the above WeWork-attributed drops already surfacing in the Q4 data over on TechCrunch.

I have to wonder what we really know right now, though. These are the best publicly-accessible funding databases out there, but many companies have stopped filing Form Ds with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in recent years, as Danny Crichton has been covering in this ongoing series. That was a main data source, especially about early-stage stealth companies.

The Crunchbase report goes over the global trend for the year, and that’s another confounding factor, actually — how trackable are startup funding dollars across borders these days? And how do you account for remote teams in that mix? And how do you account for crypto…?

If you are building a company now at any stage, the financial signs out now are not in my humble opinion ones to have any fear over. Especially relative to the other problems that are almost certainly in front of you.

There is a lot of money in VC now regardless of anything else, as the Pitchbook-NVCA report notes, and there will be for a long time.

How to handle a recession

As if on cue, we had a couple guest columnists provide articles about capital efficiency and recession-proofing your company. Shin Kim has a two-parter on TechCrunch and Extra Crunch, where he breaks down why most tech IPOs are not WeWork (in a good way) and how to pace your own fundraising regardless of anything else going on

Schwark Satyavolu, meanwhile, digs into the best practices for startups in the next recession for Extra Crunch, starting with this brutal real-life intro:

I founded my first startup, Yodlee,  in a strong economy with almost 20 competitors. Ten years and a painful recession later, we were the only game in town. Critical to our success was acquiring our largest competitor, something we never could have done in a strong economy because they never would have been willing to sell. The recession made it untenable for them to fundraise, enabling us not only to buy them, but to do so without cash in an all-equity deal.

A proclamation about board diversity

Board representation is a hot topic for companies of all sizes and none other than Goldman Sachs said this week that it would only take companies public that had at least one underrepresented board member.

CEO David Solomon said that companies that had gone public in the last four years with at least one female board member did significantly better than those without, but Megan Dickey notes for Extra Crunch that’s not quite all the way towards the goal:

But the lack of people of color on boards is perhaps a more urgent issue. Late last year, a Crunchbase study found that 60% of the most funded VC-backed startups don’t have a single woman on their board of directors. But there are even fewer black people, let alone black women, on boards. A 2018 Deloitte study found that of the Fortune 100 companies, white men held 61.4% of board seats, white women held 19.1%, men of color had 13.7% of board seats and women of color had just 5.8% of board seats.

Connie Loizos, meanwhile, writes for TechCrunch that boards themselves are not all of the way towards the goal:

Let’s be real here. Directors of public companies typically meet just four times a year to review quarterly results. It’s important and necessary, sure. But beyond ensuring that strategic objectives are being met and hopefully making useful introductions to the company, these roles are assigned more importance by industry watchers than they should. (They often pay ludicrous amounts given the work involved, too.)

Even pledging that Goldman is only going to take public companies that give back — say 1% of future profits to the NAACP, as one idea — would instantly put the bank in pole position for those founders and investors who truly want to be progressive. Goldman might miss out on a lot of business in the immediate term, we realize, but we’re guessing it’s a gamble that would pay off over time.

Around the horn

Lame LPs, founder referenceability and the future of VC signaling (TC)

Why is everyone making OKR software? (EC)

Should tech giants slam the encryption door on the government? (TC)

Where top VCs are investing in adtech and martech (EC)

US mobile app subscription revenue jumped 21% in 2019 to $4.6B across the top 100 apps (TC)

Relativity Space could change the economics of private space launches (EC)

Can a time machine offer us the meaning of life? (TC)

#EquityPod

Alex and Danny are back on Equity this week, here’s a menu before you listen to the episode here (and if you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that here).

  • Why Front’s latest investment (a $59 million Series C) is a pretty big deal. Not because of how much money it has raised — the firm has raised more in a single, preceding round — but because of who put the capital to work.

  • On the venture capital front, Danny and Alex also chewed over signaling risk in venture, and why bigger funds are writing earlier and earlier checks.

  • Also on the docket was the latest from Lambda School, which our former co-host and friend Kate Clark wrote. The gist is that regardless of how you feel about the company, your views are probably a bit too negative, or a bit too positive. (More on the company’s ilk from Extra Crunch here, and here.)

  • And three media deals, including The Athletic’s latest investment ($50 million), who might buy the company behind the hit podcast “Serial” and why Spotify might buy The Ringer. Which is about sports, it turns out.

    Want Startups Weekly in your inbox each week? You can sign up for this and TechCrunch’s other newsletters here.

 


0

A founder’s guide to recession planning for startups

22:37 | 24 January

Schwark Satyavolu Contributor
Schwark Satyavolu is a general partner at Trinity Ventures where he makes early-stage investments in fintech, security and AI. A serial entrepreneur, he co-founded Yodlee (YDLE) and Truaxis, both of which were acquired. Previously, he held senior executive positions at LifeLock and Mastercard. He is an inventor on 15 patents.

We are living through one of the nation’s longest periods of economic growth. Unfortunately, the good times can’t last forever. A recession is likely on the horizon, even if we can’t pinpoint exactly when. Founders can’t afford to wait until the midst of a downturn to figure out their game plans; that would be like initiating swim lessons only after getting dumped in the open ocean.

When recession inevitably strikes, it will be many founders’ — and even many VCs’ — first experiences navigating a downturn. Every startup executive needs a recession playbook. The time to start building it is now.

While recessions make running any business tough, they don’t necessitate doom. I co-founded two separate startups just before downturns struck, yet I successfully navigated one through the 2000 dot-com bust and the second through the 2008 financial crisis. Both companies not only survived but thrived. One went public and the second was acquired by Mastercard.

I hope my lessons learned prove helpful to building your own recession game plan.

 


0

As SaaS stocks set new records, Atlassian’s earnings show there’s still room to grow

17:15 | 24 January

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

SaaS stocks had a good run in late 2019. TechCrunch covered their ascent, a recovery from early-year doldrums and a summer slowdown. In 2020 so far, SaaS and cloud stocks have surged to all-time highs. The latest records are only a hair higher than what the same companies saw in July of last year, but they represent a return to form all the same.

Given that public SaaS companies have now managed to crest their prior highs and have been rewarded for doing so with several days of flat trading, you might think that there isn’t much room left for them to rise. Not so, at least according to Atlassian . The well-known software company reported earnings after-hours yesterday and the market quickly pushed its shares up by more than 10%.

Why? It’s worth understanding, because if we know why Atlassian is suddenly worth lots more, we’ll better grok what investors — public and private — are hunting for in SaaS companies and how much more room they may have to rise.

 


0

Meet the b2b videoconferencing startup that’s gone crazy for online dating

13:51 | 24 January

Founder Andreas Kröpfl has spent almost a decade hard-grafting in the b2b unified communications space, building a videoconferencing business with a patented single-stream system and a claim of no ‘drop-offs’ thanks to “unique low-bandwidth technology”.

His Austria-based startup’s current web-based videoconferencing system, eyeson (née Visocon), which launched in 2018, has had some nice traction since launch, as he tells it, garnering a few million customers and getting a nomination nod as a Gartner Cool Vendor last year.

Eyeson’s website touts ‘no hassle, no, lag, no downloads’ video calls. Pricing options for the target b2b users run the gamut from freelance pro to full-blown enterprise. While the business itself has pulled in a smidge less than $7M in investor funding over the years.

But when TechCrunch came across Kröpfl last December, pitching hard in startup alley at Disrupt Berlin, he was most keen to talk about something else entirely: Video dating.

That’s because last summer the team decided to branch out by building their own video dating app, reusing their core streaming tech for a consumer-focused social experiment. And after a period of internal beta testing — which hopefully wasn’t too awkward within a small (up-til-then) b2b-focused team — they launched an experimental dating app in November in India.

The app, called Ahoi, is now generating 100,000 video calls and 250,000 swipes per day, says Kröpfl.

This is where he breaks into a giggle. The traction has been crazy, he says. 

In the staid world of business videoconferencing you can imagine eyeson’s team eyeing the booming growth of certain consumer-focused video products rather enviously.

Per Kröpfl, they had certainly noticed different desires among their existing users — which pushed them to experiment. “We saw that private people like the simple fun features (GIF reactions, …) and that business meetings were more focused on ‘drop-off’ [rates] and business features,” he tells us. “To improve both in one product was not working any more. So eyeson goes business plus SaaS.”

“Cloning eyeson but make it social,” is how he sums up the experiment. 

Ahoi is very evidently an MVP at this stage. It also looks like a pretty brave and/or foolish (depending on your view) full-bore plunge into video dating, with nothing so sophisticated as a privacy screen to prevent any, er, unwanted blushes… (Whereas safety screening is an element we’ve recently seen elsewhere in the category — see: Blindlee.)

There’s also seemingly no way for users to specify the gender they wish to talk to.

Instead, Ahoi users state interests by selecting emoji stickers — such as a car, cat, tennis racket, games console or globetrotter. And, well, it goes without saying that even if you like cars a lot you’re unlikely to change your sexual orientation over the category.

There are no generic emoji that could be used to specify a sexual interest in men or women. But, er, there’s a horse…

Such limits may explain why Ahoi is generating so many early swipes — and rather fewer actual calls — in that the activity sums to (mostly) men looking for women to videochat with and being matched with, er, men.

And frustration, sexual or otherwise, probably isn’t the greatest service to try and sell.

Still, Kröpfl reckons they’ve landed on a winning formula that makes handy reuse of their core videoconferencing tech — letting them growth hack in a totally new category. Swipe right to video date.

“People are disappointed by perfect profiles on Tinder and the reality when meeting people,” he posits. “Wasted time. Especially women do not want to be stalked by men pretending to be someone else. We solve both by a real live conversation where only after a call both can decide to be connected or never see each other again.”

Notably, marketing around the app does talk rather fuzzily about it being a way to “find new pals”.

So while Kröpfl frames the experiment as dating, the reality of the product is more ‘open to options’. Think of it as a bit like Chatroulette — just with slightly more control (in that you have a few seconds to decide if you don’t want to talk to the next in-app match).

The very short countdown timer (you get just five seconds to opt out of a matched video chat) is very likely generating a fair number of unintended calls. Though such high velocity matching might appeal to a certain kind of speed dating addict.

Kröpfl says Ahoi has been seeing up to 20,000 new users added daily. They’re bullishly targeting 3M+ users this year, and already toying with ideas for turning video dates into a money spinner by offering stuff like premium subscriptions and/or video ads. He says the plan is to turn Ahoi into a business “step by step”.

“Everyone loves to make his profile better,” he suggests, floating monetization options down the line. Quality filtering for a fee is another possibility (“everyone is annoyed by being connected to the wrong people”).

They picked India for the test launch because it has a lot of people on the same timezone, a large active mobile user-base and cheap marketing is still “easily possible”. He also says that dating apps seemed popular there, in their experience. (Albeit, the team presumably didn’t have a great deal of relevant experience in this category — given Ahoi is an experiment.)

The intent is also to open Ahoi up to other markets in time too, once they get more accustomed to dealing with all the traffic. Kröpfl notes they had to briefly take the app off the store last month, as they worked on adding more server capability.

“It is very early and we were not prepared for this usage,” he says, admitting they’ve been “struggling to work on early feedbacks”. “We had to make it invisible temporarily — to improve server capacity and stability.”

The contrast in pace of uptake between the stolid (but revenue-generating) world of business meeting-fuelled videoconferencing and catnip consumer dating — which is money-sucking unless or until you can hit a critical mass of usage and get the chance to try applying monetization strategies — does sound like it’s been rather irresistible to Kröpfl.

Asked what it feels like to go from one category to the other he says “crazy, surprised and thrilling”, adding: “It is somehow also frustrating when all the intense b2b work is not as closely interesting to people as Ahoi is. But amazing that it is possible thanks to an extremely focused and experienced team. I love it.” 

TechCrunch’s Manish Singh agreed to brave the local video dating app waters in India to check Ahoi out for us.

He reported back not having seen any women using the app. Which we imagine might be a problem for Ahoi’s longer term prospects — at least in that market.

“I spoke with one guy, who said his friend told him about the app. He said he joined to talk to girls but so far, he is only getting matched with boys,” said Singh. “I saw several names appear on the app, but all of them were boys, too.”

He told us he was left wondering “why people are on these apps, and why they have so much free time on a weekday”.

For ‘people’ it seems safe to conclude that most of Ahoi’s early adopters are men. As the Wall Street Journal reported back in 2018, India’s women are famously cool on dating apps — in that they’re mostly not on them. (We asked Kröpfl about Ahoi’s gender breakdown but he didn’t immediately get back to us on that.)

That market quirk means those female users who are on dating apps tend to get bombarded with messages from all the lonely heart guys with not much to swipe. Which, in turn, could make a video dating app like Ahoi an unattractive prospect to female users — if there’s any risk at all of being inundated with video chats.

And even if there are enough in-app controls to prevent unwelcome inundation by default, women also might not feel like they want their profile to be seen by scores of men simply by merit of being signed up to an app — as seems inevitable if the gender balance is so skewed.

Add to that, if the local perception among single women is that men on dating apps are generally a turn-off — because they’re too eager/forward — then jumping into any unmoderated video chat is probably not the kind of safe space these women are looking for.

No matter, Kröpfl and his team are clearly having far too much fun growth hacking in an unfamiliar, high velocity consumer category to sweat the detail. 

What’s driving Ahoi’s growth right now? “Performance marketing mainly,” he says, pointing also to “viral engagement by sharing and liking profiles”.

Notably, there are already a lot of reviews of Ahoi on Google Play — an unusual amount for such an early app. Many of them appear to be five star write-ups from accounts with European-sounding names and a sometimes robotic grasp of language.

“Eventhough Ahoi has been developed recently, it had high quality for user about calling, making friends and widing your knowlegde [sic],” writes one reviewer with atrocious spelling whose account is attached to the name ‘Dustin Stephens.’

“Talking with like minded people and same favor will creat a fun and interesting atmosphere. Ahoi will manage for you to call like condition above,” says another apparently happy but confused-sounding user, going by the name ‘Elisa Herring’.

There’s also a ‘Madeleine Mcghin’, whose profile uses a photo of the similarly named child who infamously disappeared during a holiday in Portugal in 2007. “My experience with this app was awesome,” this individual writes. “It gives me the option to find new people in every country.”

Another less instantly tasteless five-star reviewer, ‘Stefania Lucchini’, leaves a more surreal form of praise. “A good app and it will bring you extra income, I would say it’s a great opportunity to have AHOI and be a part of it but it’s that it will automatically ban you even if you don’t show it. Marketing. body part, there are still 5 stars for me,” she (or, well, ‘it’) writes.

Among the plethora of dubious five-star reviews a couple of one-star dunks stand out — not least because they come from accounts with names that sound like they might actually come from India. “Waste u r time,” says one of these, using the name Prajal Pradhan.

This pithy drop-kick has been given a full 72 thumbs-up by other Play Store users.

 


0

Here are all 21 companies from Alchemist Accelerator’s latest batch

06:46 | 24 January

We’re down in Sunnyvale, CA today, where Alchemist Accelerator is hosting a demo day for its most recent batch of companies. This is the 23rd class to graduate from Alchemist, with notable alums including LaunchDarkly, MightyHive, Matternet, and Rigetti Computing. As an enterprise accelerator, Alchemist focuses on companies that make their money from other businesses, rather than consumers.

21 companies presented in all, each getting five minutes to explain their mission to a room full of investors, media, and other founders.

Here are our notes on all 21 companies, in the order in which they presented:

i-50: Uses AI to monitor human actions on production lines, using computer vision to look for errors or abnormalities along the way. Founder Albert Kao says that 68% of manufacturing issues are caused by human error. The company currently has 3 paid pilots, totalling $190k in contracts.

Perimeter: A data visualization platform for firefighters and other first responders, allowing them to more quickly input and share information (such as how a fire is spreading) with each other and the public. Projecting $1.7M in revenue within 18 months.

Einsite: Computer vision-based analytics for mining and construction. Sensors and cameras are mounted on heavy machines (like dump trucks and excavators). Footage is analyzed in the cloud, with the data ultimately presented to job site managers to help monitor progress and identify issues. Founder Anirudh Reddy says the company will have $1.2M in bookings and be up and running on 2100 machines this year.

Mall IQ: A location-based marketing/analytics SDK for retail stores and malls to tie into their apps. Co-founder Batu Sat says they’ve built an “accurate and scalable” method of determining a customer’s indoor position without GPS or additional hardware like Bluetooth beacons.

Ipsum Analytics: Machine learning system meant to predict the outcome of a company’s ongoing legal cases by analyzing the relevant historical cases of a given jurisdiction, judge, etc. First target customer is hedge funds, helping them project how legal outcomes will impact the market.

Vincere Health: Works with insurance companies to pay people to stop smoking. They’ve built an app with companion breathalyzer hardware; each time a user checks in with the breathalyzer to prove they’re smoking less, the user gets paid. They’ve raised $400k so far.

Harmonize: A chat bot system for automating HR tasks, built to work with existing platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams. An employee could, for example, message the bot to request time off — the request is automatically forwarded to their manager, presenting them with one-click approve/deny buttons which handle everything behind the scenes. The company says it currently has 400 paying customers and is seeing $500k in ARR, projecting $2M ARR in 2020.

Coreshell Technologies: Working on a coating for lithium-Ion batteries which the company says makes them 25% cheaper and 50% faster to produce. The company’s co-founder says they have 11 patents filed, with 2 paid agreements signed and 12 more in the pipeline.

in3D: An SDK for 3D body scanning via smartphone, meant to help apps do things like gather body measurements for custom clothing, allow for virtual clothing try-ons, or create accurate digital avatars for games.

Domatic: “Intelligent power” for new building construction. Pushes both data and low-voltage power over a single “Class 2” wire , making it easier/cheaper for builders to make a building “smart”. Co-founder Jim Baldwin helped build Firewire at Apple, and co-founder Gladys Wong was previously a hardware engineer at Cisco.

MeToo Kit: a kit meant to allow victims of sexual assault or rape to gather evidence through an at-home, self-administered process. Co-founder Madison Campbell says that they’ve seen 100k kits ordered by universities, corporations, non-profits, and military organizations. The company garnered significant controversy in September of 2019 after multiple states issued cease-and-desist letters, with Michigan’s Attorney General arguing that such a kit would not be admissible in court. Campbell told Buzzfeed last year that she would “never stop fighting” for the concept.

AiChemist Metal: Building a thin, lightweight battery made of copper and cellulose “nanofibers”. Co-founder Sergey Lopatin says the company’s solution is 2-3 lighter, stronger, and cheaper than alternatives, and that the company is projecting profitability in 2021. Focusing first on batteries for robotics, flexible displays, and electric vehicles.

Delightree: A task management system for franchises, meant to help owners create and audit to-dos across locations. Monitors online customer reviews, automatically generating potential tasks accordingly. In pilot tests with 3 brands with 16 brands on a waitlist, which the company says translates to about $400k in potential ARR.

DigiFabster: A ML-powered “smart quoting” tool for manufacturing shops doing things like CNC machining to make custom parts and components. Currently working with 125 customers, they’re seeing $500k in ARR.

NachoNacho: Helps small/medium businesses monitor and manage software subscriptions their employees sign up for. Issues virtual credit cards which small businesses use to sign up for services; you can place budgets on each card, cancel cards, and quickly determine where your money is going. Launched 9 months ago, NachoNacho says it’s currently working with over 1600 businesses.

Zapiens: a virtual assistant-style tool for sharing knowledge within a company, tied into tools like Slack/Salesforce/Microsoft 365. Answers employee questions, or uses its understanding of each employee’s expertise to find someone within the company who can answer the question.

Onebrief: A tool aiming to make military planning more efficient. Co-founder/Army officer Grant Demaree says that much of the military’s planning is buried in Word/Powerpoint documents, with inefficiencies leading to ballooning team sizes. By modernizing the planning approach with a focus on visualization, automation and data re-usability, he says planning teams could be smaller yet more agile.

Perceive: Spatial analytics for retail stores. Builds a sensor that hooks into existing in-store lighting wiring to create a 3D map of stores, analyzing customer movement/behavior (without face recognition or WiFi/beacon tracking) to identify weak spots in store layout or staffing.

Acoustic Wells: IoT devices for monitoring and controlling production from oil fields. Analyzes sound from pipes “ten thousand feet underground” to regulate how a machine is running, optimizing production while minimizing waste. Charges monthly fee per oil well. Currently has letters of intent to roll out their solution in over 1,000 wells.

SocialGlass: A marketplace for government procurement. Lets governments buy goods/services valued under $10,000 without going through a bidding process, with SocialGlass guaranteeing they’ve found the cheapest price. Currently working with 50+ suppliers offering 10,000 SKUs.

Applied Particle Technology: Continuous, realtime worker health/safety tracking for industrial environments. Working on wireless, wearable monitors that stream environmental data to identify potential exposure risks. Focusing first on mining and metals industries, later moving into construction, firefighting, and utilities environments.

 


0

Layoffs reach 23andMe after hitting Mozilla and the Vision Fund portfolio

22:10 | 23 January

Layoffs in the technology and venture-backed worlds continued today, as 23andMe confirmed to CNBC that it laid off around 100 people, or about 14% of its formerly 700-person staff. The cuts would be notable by themselves, but given how many other reductions have recently been announced, they indicate that a rolling round of belt-tightening amongst well-funded private companies continues.

Mozilla, for example, cut 70 staffers earlier this year. As TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois reported earlier in January, the company’s revenue-generating products were taking longer to reach market than expected. And with less revenue coming in than expected, its human footprint had to be reduced.

23andMe and Mozilla are not alone, however. Playful Studios cut staff just this week, 2019 itself saw more than 300% more tech layoffs than in the preceding year and TechCrunch has covered a litany of layoffs at Vision Fund-backed companies over the past few months, including:

Scooter unicorns Lime and Bird have also reduced staff this year. The for-profit drive is firing on all cylinders in the wake of the failed WeWork IPO attempt. WeWork was an outlier in terms of how bad its financial results were, but the fear it introduced to the market appears pretty damn mainstream by this point. (Forsake hope, alle ye whoe require a Series H.)

The money at risk, let alone the human cost, is high. Zume has raised more than $400 million. 23andMe has raised an even sharper $786.1 million. Rappi? How about $1.4 billion. And Oyo? $3.2 billion so farEvery company that loses money eventually dies. And every company that always makes money lives forever. It seems that lots of companies want to jump over the fence, make some money and rebuild investor confidence in their shares.

It’s just too bad that the rank-and-file are taking the brunt of the correction.

 


0

Cortex Labs helps data scientists deploy machine learning models in the cloud

21:32 | 23 January

It’s one thing to develop a working machine learning model, it’s another to put it to work in an application. Cortex Labs is an early stage startup with some open source tooling designed to help data scientists take that last step.

The company’s founders were students at Berkeley when they observed that one of the problems around creating machine learning models was finding a way to deploy them. While there was a lot of open source tooling available, data scientists are not experts in infrastructure.

CEO Omer Spillinger says that infrastructure was something the four members of the founding team — himself, CTO David Eliahu, head of engineering Vishal Bollu and head of growth Caleb Kaiser — understood well.

What the four founders did was take a set of open source tools and combine them with AWS services to provide a way to deploy models more easily. “We take open source tools like TensorFlow, Kubernetes and Docker and we combine them with AWS services like CloudWatch, EKS (Amazon’s flavor of Kubernetes) and S3 to basically give one API for developers to deploy their models,” Spillinger explained.

He says that a data scientist starts by uploading an exported model file to S3 cloud storage. “Then we pull it, containerize it and deploy it on Kubernetes behind the scenes. We automatically scale the workload and automatically switch you to GPUs if it’s compute intensive. We stream logs and expose [the model] to the web. We help you manage security around that, stuff like that,” he said

While he acknowledges this not unlike Amazon SageMaker, the company’s long-term goal is to support all of the major cloud platforms. SageMaker of course only works on the Amazon cloud, while Cortex will eventually work on any cloud. In fact, Spillinger says that the biggest feature request they’ve gotten to this point, is to support Google Cloud. He says that and support for Microsoft Azure are on the road map.

The Cortex founders have been keeping their head above water while they wait for a commercial product with the help of an $888,888 seed round from Engineering Capital in 2018. If you’re wondering about that oddly specific number, it’s partly an inside joke — Spillinger’s birthday is August 8th — and partly a number arrived at to make the valuation work, he said.

For now, the company is offering the open source tools, and building a community of developers and data scientists. Eventually, it wants to monetize by building a cloud service for companies who don’t want to manage clusters — but that is down the road, Spillinger said.

 


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One Medical targets IPO valuation of up to $2B as we unpack its Q4 results

20:02 | 23 January

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re digging into One Medical’s updated IPO filing released this week. The document contains directional pricing information that will help us understand where the tech-enabled medical care startup expects the market to value itself and also details its Q4 2019 Preliminary Estimated Unaudited Financial Results, which gives us a fuller picture of its financial health.

As we’ll see, One Medical’s expected valuation matches secondary-market transactions in the firm’s equity, and, at the upper-end of its proposed IPO range, represents a solid boost to its final private valuation. Afterwards, we’ll dig back through the company’s numbers, figure out its implied revenue multiple and make a bullish and bearish argument for the company’s hoped-for IPO valuation.

It’s going to be fun! (For a general dive into the company’s IPO filing, head here.)

 


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Brooke Hammerling launches The New New Thing, a strategic communications advisory

19:00 | 23 January

Brooke Hammerling, the strategic communications veteran that brought us BrewPR, announced her new project today.

Dubbed The New New Thing, Hammerling’s new communications advisory wants to help startups bring more authenticity to brand messaging and comms through high-level partnerships with CEOs, founders, and executive leadership teams.

There are a few critical pieces to The New New Thing:

First, Hammerling will not focus on the usual six-month press release strategy that drives communications at most tech startups. The New New Thing isn’t focused as much on an individual product or funding round announcement as much as the high-level strategy of storytelling across the entire brand, including the company and the founder. In fact, the only pre-launch clients Hammerling will be taking on must be female-led and mission driven.

Second, she’ll be working directly with startup leadership teams to craft those narratives paying special attention to the stories in between the stories.

And finally, The New New Thing will have a huge focus on authenticity as a driver of relationships between its clients and the media.

One catalyst for the new project, according to Hammerling, was the evolution of the comms landscape as a whole. Not only is the media’s bullshit detector hyper sensitive, but so is the end-reader. It’s no longer enough to send out the same robotic press release announcing funding.

“I’m bored of seeing the same picture of two male founders announcing their funding for some fintech product that’s going to change the world,” said Hammerling. “There needs to be a fostering of the relationships between CEOs and the people telling their story. Being authentic is really hard for larger organizations, or really any organization. And now, in 2020, there is no option but to be.”

Hammerling explained that getting into the weeds with founders and tackling a storytelling challenge is what she loves doing most. She admits that managing a large team and dealing with the nitty gritty of comms (writing up press releases, pitching speakers for tech conferences, etc.) aren’t her strong suits.

As you might imagine, the launch of The New New Thing means that Hammerling has officially left Brew PR, the firm she founded and sold to Freuds for $15 million.

The New New Thing is part of a newly expanded collective of service providers called Plan A, led by Co-CEOs MT Carney and Andrew Essex. Plan A combines expert service providers from the fields of communications, branding, advertising, creative, and social, among others.

Hammerling will be focusing on early- and growth-stage startups in the tech industry, with a current client list that includes Lemonade, LiveNation, Framebridge, Splice, and Eko.

One example of how The New New Thing works is made clear with Splice. The company is represented by a PR firm that manages the day-to-day news cycle and announcement schedule, while Hammerling works directly with founder and CEO Steve Martocci on the overall narrative that runs through all of that.

When asked about the greatest challenge moving forward, Hammerling’s answer offered a taste of the authenticity and relatability she’s trying to bring out of her clients.

“Can I do this? Do I have the right instincts and guidance for my clients?” said Hammerling. “I think I do and I’ve been successful at that, but how do I maintain that and communicate that to others?”

 


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Revolut partners with Flagstone to offer savings vaults in the UK

17:46 | 23 January

Fintech startup Revolut lets you earn interests on your savings thanks to a new feature called savings vaults. That feature is currently only available to users living in the U.K. and paying taxes in the U.K.

The company has partnered with Flagstone for that feature. For now, the feature is limited to Revolut customers with a Metal subscription (£12.99 per month or £116 per year). But Revolut says that it will be available to Revolut Premium and Standard customers in the near future.

Savings vaults work pretty much like normal vaults. You can create sub-accounts in the Revolut app to put some money aside. And Revolut offers you multiple ways to save. You can round up all your card transactions to the nearest pound and save spare change in a vault.

You can also set up weekly or monthly transactions from your main account to a vault. And of course, you can transfer money manually whenever you want.

Metal customers in the U.K. can now turn normal vaults into savings vaults. The only difference is that you’re going to earn interests — Revolut pays those interests daily. You can take money from your savings vault whenever you want.

Revolut promises 1.35% AER interest rate up to a certain limit. If you put a huge sum of money in your savings vault, you’ll get a lower interest rate above the limit. Your money is protected by the FSCS up to a value of £85,000 for eligible customers.

 


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