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YC-backed Statiq wants to bootstrap India’s EV charging network

Electric vehicles (EVs) are spreading throughout the world. While Tesla has drawn the most attention in the United States with its luxurious and cutting-edge cars, EVs are becoming a mainstay in markets far away from the environs of California.

Take India for instance. In the local mobility market, two- and three-wheel vehicles are starting to emerge as a popular option for a rapidly expanding middle class looking for more affordable options. EV versions are popular thanks to their reduced maintenance costs and higher reliability compared to gasoline alternatives.

Two-wheeled electric scooters are a fast-growing segment of India’s mobility market.

There’s just one problem, and it’s the same one faced by every country which has attempted to convert from gasoline to electric: how do you build out the charging station network to make these vehicles usable outside a small range from their garage?

It’s the classic chicken-and-egg problem. You need EVs in order to make money on charging stations, but you can’t afford to build charging stations until EVs are popular. Some startups have attempted to build out these networks themselves first. Perhaps the most famous example was Better Place, an Israeli startup that raised $800 million in venture capital before dying from negative cash flow back in 2013. Tesla has attempted to solve the problem by being both the chicken and egg by creating a network of Superchargers.

That’s what makes Statiq so interesting. The company, based in the New Delhi suburb of Gurugram, is bootstrapping an EV charging network using a multi-revenue model that it hopes will allow it to avoid the financial challenges that other charging networks have faced. It’s in the current Y Combinator batch and will be presenting at Demo Day later this month.

Akshit Bansal and Raghav Arora, the company’s co-founders, worked together previously as consultants and built a company for buying photos online, eventually reaching 50,000 monthly actives. They decided to make a pivot — a hard pivot really — into EVs and specifically charging equipment.

Statiq founders Raghav Arora and Akshit Bansal. Photos via Statiq

“We felt the need to do something about the climate because we were living in Delhi and Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world, and India is home to a lot of the polluted cities in the world. So we wanted to do something about it,” Bansal said. As they researched the causes of pollution, they learned that automobile exhaust represented a large part of the problem locally. They looked at alternatives, but EV charging stations remain basically non-existent across the country.

Thus, they founded Statiq in October 2019 and officially launched this past May. They have installed more than 150 charging stations in Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai and the surrounding environs.

Let’s get to the economics though, since that to me is the most fascinating part of their story. Statiq as I noted has a multi-revenue model. First, end users buy a subscription from Statiq to use the network, and then users pay a fee per charging session. That session fee is split between Statiq and the property owner, giving landlords who install the stations an incremental revenue boost.

A Statiq charging station. Photo via Statiq

When it comes to installation, Statiq has a couple of tricks up its sleeves. First, the company’s charging equipment — according to Bansal — costs roughly a third of the equivalent cost of U.S. equipment. That makes the base technology cheaper to acquire. From there, the company negotiates installations with landlords where the landlords will pay the fixed costs of installation in exchange for that continuing session charge fee.

On top of all that, the charging stations have advertising on them, offering another income stream particularly in high-visibility locations like shopping malls which are critical for a successful EV charging network.

In short, Statiq hasn’t had to outlay capital in order to put in place their charging equipment — and they were able to bootstrap before applying to YC earlier this year. Bansal said the company had dozens of charging stations and thousands of paid sessions on its platform before joining their YC batch, and “we are now growing 20% week-over-week.”

What’s next? It’s all about deliberate scaling. The EV market is turning on in India, and Statiq wants to be where those cars are. Bansal and his co-founder are hoping to ride the wave, continuing to build out critical infrastructure along the way. India’s government will likely continue to help: its approved billions of dollars in incentives for EVs and for charging stations, tipping the economics even further in the direction of a clean car future.

Alexis Ohanian is leaving Initialized Capital

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian is leaving Initialized Capital, the investment firm he co-founded in 2011 with Garry Tan, as first reported by Axios and confirmed by TechCrunch. The move comes weeks after Ohanian publicly stepped down from the Reddit board of directors, with Y Combinator president Michael Seibel taking his spot.

Ohanian launched Initialized Capital back in 2011 with a $7 million investment vehicle. Since then, the San Francisco-based firm has grown immensely and made early-stage bets in companies like Flexport, Instacart, Cruise, Coinbase and Codecademy. Most recently, it closed a $225 million investment vehicle in 2018, its fourth fund to date.

Ohanian is leaving Initialized Capital to work on “a new project that will support a generation of founders in tech and beyond,” the firm said in a statement to TechCrunch. According to the Axios story, Ohanian is leaving Initialized to work more closely on pre-seed efforts. On its website, Initialized details that many teams it talks to already have launched products and have a plan to earn revenue.

“We understand that products and business models evolve, but it’s good to see in a very concrete way how teams are able to ship products and work together,” the firm wrote. If Ohanian raises a pre-seed fund, it will be interesting to see how he changes this methodology.

Ohanian did not directly respond to a request for comment.

It’s worth mentioning that partner departures in venture capital are rarely crystal clear break-ups. As Initialized confirmed, Ohanian will remain involved in the firm’s existing investment vehicles and portfolio companies due to legal ties. It is unclear if Ohanian will remain on any board he is on. Ro, a company in which Ohanian has a board seat, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One big question is whether Ohanian’s departure would trigger a key-man clause in the firm’s limited partnership agreement. “Key-man” clauses, which are typical in limited partner agreements, require that certain designated people (typically the main partners in a firm) must stay continuously employed at a firm and be active investors. When a key-man clause is triggered, limited partners often have a variety of tools, ranging from control over new hiring to outright ending the investing at a fund, in order to protect their investment in a fund.

In this case, it would be surprising if Alexis Ohanian wasn’t a key man, as he is one of the leading general partners and a founder of the firm.

Ohanian stepped away from being involved in the day to day of Reddit in 2018, and recently left his board seat at the company following protests against police brutality. The co-founder urged Reddit to fill the seat with a Black board member. Reddit ultimately selected Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel to fill the position.

Tan, the other founding partner of Initialized, helped YC grow in its early days and helped build the famed accelerator’s internal software system and late-stage funding program. “[Tan] will continue to lead Initialized Capital into the future, finding and funding great entrepreneurs as he has done for nearly a decade,” the firm wrote in a statement to TechCrunch. “Garry and Alexis remain committed to each other as long-standing friends and business partners. The firm fully supports Alexis in his future pursuits.”

Initialized Capital currently has $500 million assets under management and has backed over 200 companies to date.

Additional reporting by Danny Crichton.

YC startup Felix wants to replace antibiotics with programmable viruses

Right now the world is at war. But this is no ordinary war. It’s a fight with an organism so small we can only detect it through use of a microscope — and if we don’t stop it, it could kill millions of us in the next several decades. No, I’m not talking about COVID-19, though that organism is the one on everyone’s mind right now. I’m talking about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

You see, more than 700,000 people died globally from bacterial infections last year — 35,000 of them in the U.S. If we do nothing, that number could grow to 10 million annually by 2050, according to a United Nations report.

The problem? Antibiotic overuse at the doctor’s office or in livestock and farming practices. We used a lot of drugs over time to kill off all the bad bacteria — but it only killed off most, not all, of the bad bacteria. And, as the famous line from Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park goes, “life finds a way.”

Enter Felix, a biotech startup in the latest Y Combinator batch that thinks it has a novel approach to keeping bacterial infections at bay – viruses.

Phage killing bacteria in a petri dish

It seems weird in a time of widespread concern over the corona virus to be looking at any virus in a good light but as co-founder Robert McBride explains it, Felix’s key technology allows him to target his virus to specific sites on bacteria. This not only kills off the bad bacteria but can also halt its ability to evolve and once more become resistant.

But the idea to use a virus to kill off bacteria is not necessarily new. Bacteriophages, or viruses that can “infect” bacteria, were first discovered by an English researcher in 1915 and commercialized phage therapy began in the U.S. in the 1940’s through Eli Lilly and Company. Right about then antibiotics came along and Western scientists just never seemed to explore the therapy further.

However, with too few new solutions being offered and the standard drug model not working effectively to combat the situation, McBride believes his company can put phage therapy back at the forefront.

Already Felix has tested its solution on an initial group of 10 people to demonstrate its approach.

Felix researcher helping cystic fibrosis patient Ella Balasa through phage therapy

“We can develop therapies in less time and for less money than traditional antibiotics because we are targeting orphan indications and we already know our therapy can work in humans,” McBride told TechCrunch . “We argue that our approach, which re-sensitizes bacteria to traditional antibiotics could be a first line therapy.”

Felix plans to deploy its treatment for bacterial infections in those suffering from cystic fibrosis first as these patients tend to require a near constant stream of antibiotics to combat lung infections.

The next step will be to conduct a small clinical trial involving 30 people, then, as the scientific research and development model tends to go, a larger human trial before seeking FDA approval. But McBride hopes his viral solution will prove itself out in time to help the coming onslaught of antibiotic resistance.

“We know the antibiotic resistant challenge is large now and is only going to get worse,” McBride said. “We have an elegant technological solution to this challenge and we know our treatment can work. We want to contribute to a future in which these infections do not kill more than 10 million people a year, a future we can get excited about.”

Y Combinator moves its online Demo Day forward one week

Just days ago, Y Combinator announced that its upcoming Demo Day event would be moving online due to “growing concern over COVID-19“. The event, previously planned to span across two days at San Francisco’s Pier 48 building, would instead be hosted entirely online on March 23rd.

More changes this evening: YC is shifting Demo Day forward one full week, from March 23rd to March 16th.

In a blog post on the change, Y Combinator CEO and partner Michael Seibel cites an “accelerated” pace from investors in recent days as having encouraged the move:

Over the last few days, a large number of investors have accelerated their outreach to our current batch of founders. They are moving quickly to make investment decisions, and we’re going to match their pace and accelerate our schedule by one week. YC W20 online Demo Day will now be on March 16.

On March 16, the YC Demo Day website will go live, a modified version of the website that investors and founders have used over the past five years. Through the website, investors will have access to a single-slide summary, a short description of the company, and a team bio. They can sort companies by industry and geography, and will be able to export the list of companies to a spreadsheet.

While YC initially said that the pitches each company traditionally does live onstage for Demo Day would be “pre-recorded and released to all investors at the same time,” the announcement of the sooner-than-expected Demo Day only mentions slide summaries, company descriptions, and team bios — suggesting plans might have changed a bit to accommodate the new schedule. Y Combinator confirmed to me that the Demo Day site will not have video presentations.

 

 

Latin America Roundup: Loft raises $175M, SoftBank invests in Mexico’s Alphacredit and Rappi pulls back

Sophia Wood
Contributor

Sophia Wood is a principal at Magma Partners, a Latin America-focused seed-stage VC firm with offices in Latin America, Asia and the U.S. Sophia is also the co-founder of LatAm List, an English-language Latin American tech news source.

Brazil’s famously tricky real estate market has long drawn international investors to the region in search of tech solutions. This time, Brazilian startup Loft brought in a $175 million Series C from first-time investor in the region, Vulcan Capital (Paul Allen’s investment arm), alongside Andreessen Horowitz. Loft is also a16z’s first and only Brazilian investment. 

Co-founded by serial entrepreneurs and investors Mate Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch in 2018, Loft uses a proprietary algorithm to process transaction data and provide more transparent pricing for both buyers and sellers. The startup uses two models to help clients sell properties; either Loft will value the apartment for listing on the site, or they will offer to purchase the property from the buyer immediately. Many real estate platforms in the U.S. are shifting toward a similar iBuyer model; however, this system may be even more apt for the Latin American market, where property sales are notoriously untransparent, bureaucratic and tedious.

Loft will use the capital to expand to Rio de Janeiro in Q1 2020 and to Mexico City in Q2, bringing on at least 100 new employees in the process. It also plans to scale its financial products to include mortgages and insurance by the end of the year. 

AlphaCredit raises $125M from SoftBank

Mexican consumer lending startup AlphaCredit became SoftBank’s new Mexico bet this month, with a $125 million Series B round. AlphaCredit uses a programmed deduction system to provide rapid, online loans to individuals and small businesses in Mexico. To date, the startup has granted more than $1 billion in loans to small business clients in Mexico and Colombia, many of whom have never previously had access to financing. 

AlphaCredit’s programmed deductions system enables the startup to lower default rates, which in turn lowers interest rates. For more than eight years, AlphaCredit has encouraged financial inclusion in Mexico and Colombia through technology; this round of investment will enable the platform to consolidate its holding as one of the top lending platforms in the region. The investment is still subject to approval by Mexico’s competition authority, COFECE, which has previously blocked startup deals such as the Cornershop acquisition in 2019. 

SoftBank’s biggest bets back off in Latin America

While SoftBank is still rapidly deploying its Latin America-focused Innovation Fund, some of its largest companies are stepping on the brakes. In particular, SoftBank’s largest LatAm investment, Rappi, recently announced that it would lay off up to 6% of its workforce in an effort to cut costs and focus on their technology. The Colombian unicorn has been expanding at a breakneck pace throughout the region using a blitzscaling technique that has helped it reach nine countries, with 5,000 employees in just two years, including Ecuador in November 2019.

Rappi has stated that it will focus on technology and UX in 2020, explaining that the job cuts do not reflect its long-term growth strategy. However, Rappi is also facing legal action for alleged intellectual property theft. Mauricio Paba, José Mendoza and Jorge Uribe are suing Rappi CEO Simon Borrero and the company for stealing the idea for the Rappi platform while providing consulting for the three founders through his firm, Imaginamos. The case is currently being processed in Colombia and the U.S. 

One of SoftBank’s biggest bets in Asia, Oyo Rooms, is facing similar challenges. Just months after announcing their expansion into Mexico, Oyo fired thousands of employees in China and India. Oyo plans to be the largest hotel chain in Mexico by the end of 2020, according to a local spokesperson.

Argentina’s Agrofy breaks regional agtech records

With a $23 million Series B from SP Ventures, Fall Line Capital and Acre Venture Partners, Argentine agricultural supply marketplace Agrofy has raised the region’s largest round for an agtech startup to date. The platform provides transparency and ease for the agricultural industry, where users can buy everything from tractors to seeds. In four years, Agrofy has established itself as the market leader in agricultural e-commerce; it was also Fall Line Capital’s first investment outside of the U.S.

Agrofy is active in nine countries and receives more than five million visits per month, 60% of which come from Brazil. However, the startup faces the challenge of low connectivity in rural areas, where most of its customers live. The investment will go to improving the platform, as well as integrating new payment types directly into the site to help clients process their transactions more smoothly. 

News and Notes: Fanatiz, Pachama, Moons, Didi and IDB

The Miami-based sports-streaming platform Fanatiz raised $10 million in a Series A round from 777 Partners in January 2020 after registering 125% user growth since July 2019. Founded by Chilean Matias Rivera, Fanatiz provides legal international streaming of soccer and other sports through a personalized platform so that fans can follow their teams from anywhere in the world. The startup provided the Pope with an account so that he could follow his beloved team, San Lorenzo, from the Vatican. Fanatiz has previously received investment from Magma Partners and participated in 500 Startups’ Miami Scale program.

Conservation-tech startup Pachama raised $4.1 million from Silicon Valley investors to continue developing a carbon offset marketplace using drone and lidar data. Pachama was founded by Argentine entrepreneur Diego Saez-Gil in 2019 after he noticed the effects of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon. After participating in Y Combinator in 2019, Pachama now has 23 sites in the U.S. and Latin America where scientists are working alongside the startup’s technology to certify forests for carbon sequestration projects. 

Mexico’s Moons, an orthodontics startup that provides low-cost invisible aligners, has raised $5 million from investors such as Jaguar Ventures, Tuesday Capital and Foundation Capital and was recently accepted into Y Combinator, bringing the startup to the U.S. Moons provides a free consultation and 3D scan to patients in Mexico to determine if they are a good fit for the program, then supplies them with a year-long invisible braces regime for around $1,200. With 18 locations in Mexico and two in Colombia, Moons is expanding rapidly across the region, with ambitions for providing low-cost healthcare across several verticals in Latin America. 

Chinese ride-hailing startup Didi Chuxing recently launched a sustainable fleet of over 700 electric and hybrid cars for its Mexico City operations. After two years operating in Mexico, Didi announced that it would establish its headquarters in the capital city to manage its new low-emissions fleet. The company will provide financing to help its drivers acquire and use the vehicles, in an effort to reduce Didi’s environmental impact.

The IDB Lab released a report on female entrepreneurs in Latin America, finding that 54% of female founders have raised capital and 80% plan to scale internationally in the next five years. The study, entitled “wX Insights 2020: The Rise of Women STEMpreneurs,” finds that female entrepreneurship is on the rise in Latin America, particularly in the areas of fintech, edtech, healthtech and biotech. Nonetheless, 59% of the 1,148 women surveyed still see access to capital as the most significant limitation for their companies. However, as women take center stage in Latin American VC, such as Antonia Rojas Eing joining ALLVP as Partner, we may see funding tilt toward female-founded firms.

This month has set 2020 on a course to continue the strong growth we saw in the Latin American ecosystem in 2019. It is always exciting to see international investors make their first bets in the region, and we expect to continue seeing new VCs entering the region over the coming year.

Kleiner Perkins has already blown through much of the $600 million it raised last year

Kleiner Perkins, one of the most storied franchises in venture capital, has already invested much of the $600 million it raised last year and is now going back out to the market to raise its 19th fund, according to multiple sources.

The firm, which underwent a significant restructuring over the last two years, went on an investment tear over the course of 2019 as new partners went out to build up a new portfolio for the firm — almost of a whole cloth.

A spokesperson for KPCB declined to comment on the firm’s fundraising plans citing SEC regulations.

The quick turnaround for KPCB is indicative of a broader industry trend, which has investors pulling the trigger on term sheets for new startups in days rather than weeks.

Speaking onstage at the Upfront Summit, an event at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. organized by the Los Angeles-based venture firm Upfront Ventures as a showcase for technology and investment talent in Southern California, venture investor Josh Kopelman spoke to the heightened pace of dealmaking at his own firm.

The founder of First Round Ventures said that the average time from first contact with a startup to drawing up a term sheet has collapsed from 90 days in 2004 to 9 days today.

Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital: we can look at every company we’ve ever funded, and learned that the time from first email/contact to term sheet has shrunk from 90 days in 2004 to just 9 today.

— Dan Primack (@danprimack) January 29, 2020

 

“This could also be due to changes in the competitive landscape … and there may be changes with First Round Capital itself,” says one investor. “It may have been once upon a time that they were looking at really early raw stuff… But, today, First Round is not really in the first round anymore. Companies are raising some angel money or Y Combinator money.”

At KPCB, the once-troubled firm has been buoyed by recent exits in companies like Beyond Meat, a deal spearheaded by the firm’s former partner Amol Deshpande (who now serves as the chief executive of Farmers Business Network) and Slack.

And its new partners are clearly angling to make names for themselves.

“KP used to be a small team doing hands-on company building. We’re moving away from being this institution with multiple products and really just focusing on early-stage venture capital,” Kleiner Perkins  partner Ilya Fushman said when the firm announced its last fund.

Kleiner Perkins partner Ilya Fushman

“We went out to market to LPs. We got a lot of interest. We were significantly oversubscribed,” Fushman said of the firm’s raise at the time.

In some ways, it’s likely the kind of rejuvenation that John Doerr was hoping for when he approached Social + Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya about “acquiring” that upstart firm back in 2015.

At the time, as Fortune reported, Palihapitiya and the other Social + Capital partners, Ted Maidenberg and Mamoon Hamid would have become partners in the venture firm under the terms of the proposed deal.

Instead, Social + Capital walked away, the firm eventually imploded and Hamid joined Kleiner Perkins two years later.

The new Kleiner Perkins is a much more streamlined operation. Gone are the sidecar and thematic funds that were a hallmark of earlier strategies and gone too are the superstars brought in by Mary Meeker to manage Kleiner Perkins’ growth equity investments. Meeker absconded with much of that late stage investment team to form Bond — and subsequently raised hundreds of millions of dollars herself.

Those strategies have been replaced by a clutch of young investors and seasoned Kleiner veterans including Ted Schlein who has long been an expert in enterprise software and security.

“Maybe at this point they think they can raise based on the whole story about Mamoon taking over and a few years from now they won’t be able to raise on that story and will have to raise on the results,” says one investor with knowledge of the industry. “Mamoon is a pretty legit, good investor. But the legacy of the firm is going to be tough to overcome.”

All of these changes are not necessarily sitting well with limited partners.

“LPs are not really happy about what’s going on,” says one investor with knowledge of the venture space. “Everybody thinks valuations are too high since 2011 and people are thinking there’s going to be a recession. LPs think funds are coming back to market too fast and they’re being greedy and there’s not enough vintage diversification but LPs … feel almost obligated that they have to do these things… Investing in Sequoia is like that saying that you don’t get fired for buying IBM .”

Indian tech startups raised a record $14.5B in 2019

Indian tech startups have never had it so good.

Local tech startups in the nation raised $14.5 billion in 2019, beating their previous best of $10.5 billion last year, according to research firm Tracxn .

Tech startups in India this year participated in 1,185 financing rounds — 459 of those were Series A or later rounds — from 817 investors.

Early stage startups — those participating in angel or pre-Series A financing round — raised $6.9 billion this year, easily surpassing last year’s $3.3 billion figure, according to a report by venture debt firm InnoVen Capital.

According to InnoVen’s report, early stage startups that have typically struggled to attract investors saw a 22% year-over-year increase in the number of financing deals they took part in this year. Cumulatively, at $2.6 million, their valuation also increased by 15% from last year.

Also in 2019, 128 startups in India got acquired, four got publicly listed, and nine became unicorns. This year, Indian tech startups also attracted a record number of international investors, according to Tracxn.

This year’s fundraise further moves the nation’s burgeoning startup space on a path of steady growth.

Since 2016, when tech startups accumulated just $4.3 billion — down from $7.9 billion the year before — flow of capital has increased significantly in the ecosystem. In 2017, Indian startups raised $10.4 billion, per Tracxn.

“The decade has seen an impressive 25x growth from a tiny $550 million in 2010 to $14.5 billion in 2019 in terms of the total funding raised by the startups,” said Tracxn.

What’s equally promising about Indian startups is the challenges they are beginning to tackle today, said Dev Khare, a partner at VC fund Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a recent interview to TechCrunch.

In 2014 and 2015, startups were largely focused on building e-commerce solutions and replicating ideas that worked in Western markets. But today, they are tackling a wide-range of categories and opportunities and building some solutions that have not been attempted in any other market, he said.

Tracxn’s analysis found that lodging startups raised about $1.7 billion this year — thanks to Oyo alone bagging $1.5 billion, followed by logistics startups such as Elastic Run, Delhivery, and Ecom Express that secured $641 million.

176 horizontal marketplaces, more than 150 education learning apps, over 160 fintech startups, over 120 trucking marketplaces, 82 ride-hailing services, 42 insurance platforms, 33 used car listing providers, and 13 startups that are helping businesses and individuals access working capital secured funding this year. Fintech startups alone raised $3.2 billion this year, more than startups operating in any other category, Tracxn told TechCrunch.

The investors

Sequoia Capital, with more than 50 investments — or co-investments — was the most active venture capital fund for Indian tech startups this year. (Rajan Anandan, former executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, joined Sequoia Capital India as a managing director in April.) Accel, Tiger Global Management, Blume Ventures, and Chiratae Ventures were the other top four VCs.

Steadview Capital, with nine investments in startups including ride-hailing service Ola, education app Unacademy, and fintech startup BharatPe, led the way among private equity funds. General Atlantic, which invested in NoBroker and recently turned profitable edtech startup Byju’s, invested in four startups. FMO, Sabre Partners India, and CDC Group each invested in three startups.

Venture Catalysts, with over 40 investments including in HomeCapital and Blowhorn, was the top accelerator or incubator in India this year. Y Combinator, with over 25 investments, Sequoia Capital’s Surge, Axilor Ventures, and Techstars were also very active this year.

Indian tech startups also attracted a number of direct investments from top corporates and banks this year. Goldman Sachs, which earlier this month invested in fintech startup ZestMoney, overall made eight investments this year. Among others, Facebook made its first investment in an Indian startup — social-commerce firm Meesho and Twitter led a $100 million financing round in local social networking app ShareChat.

This young litigation finance startup just secured $100 million to chase cases it thinks will win

If you haven’t heard much about litigation finance, that may change soon. The practice dates back decades, though it’s been picking up momentum since 2006, when Credit Suisse Securities founded a litigation risk strategies unit that it later spun off.

What is litigation finance? In a nutshell, the idea is to fund plaintiffs and law firms in cases where it looks like there will be a winning ruling. When everything goes the right way, the capital that helps fund the lawsuits is returned — and then some — in return for the risk taken. Litigation finance firms — and there’s a growing number of them — basically want to estimate as accurately as possible the risk involved so they can bet on the right horses.

Interestingly, one of the newest entrants onto the scene wasn’t founded by career attorneys or spun out of a hedge fund or private equity group. Instead it’s a young, 11-person company called Legalist that’s run by a 23-year-old Harvard dropout named Eva Shang, who cofounded the company with her college classmate Christian Haigh (who graduated).

As interestingly, the pair, who say they honed the idea as part of a Y Combinator batch in 2016, just secured $100 million to put to work. That’s roughly ten times the $10.2 million they raised for a first fund that tested out their ability to find and finance civil lawsuits that pay.

We talked with Shang late last week to learn more about new fund, which was raised from non-profit endowments, family offices, and institutional investors (including an insurance company) and that’s styled like a private-equity fund with a traditional management fee and carry structure.

TC: First, how do you find these plaintiffs that you’re backing? Do you reach out to them?

ES: We don’t reach out to them. Attorneys bring us cases. They’re the repeat players in litigation funding industry; they’re seeing a lot of cases.

TC: And who are they telling you about? Who fits your criteria?

ES: The plaintiffs who we work with are involved in smaller cases, meaning they require less than a million dollars in funding. It’s a lot of money to pay a lawyer, but in the world of litigation, it’s akin to seed-stage investing. Once [we’ve found candidates], then the algorithms [do the] diligence.

TC: What kind of information or patterns are they seeking out?

ES: We scrape state and federal court records and look for indicators, like whether a court is favorable to plaintiffs, if particular case types tend to win, who the judge is. We also check for points at which the case could be dismissed. We’re focused exclusively on commercial cases, so often breach-of-contract [disputes] where it’s a David and Goliath situation and the smaller company is typically underfunded. When there’s litigation, we help pay for attorneys’ fees and if it’s successful, we recover and if not, we don’t.

TC: How many cases have you backed so far, and how many have you won?

ES: We’ve funded 38 cases, half of them have been resolved, and of those, we’ve had above an 80 percent success rate.

TC: And that has translated into what kind of return for your investors?

ES: We can’t talk about fund returns, but we scaled up our funds 10x [based on that performance].

TC: That’s a lot of cases to churn through. When do you step into the process in the lifespan of a lawsuit?

ES: The cases we’re [involved with] are more advanced and are showing success indicators, so we have a shorter time frame. We also fund smaller cases than most other litigation funders. Because of our approach, where we’re using tech to speed due diligence, we can do that.

TC: You can’t discuss returns but can you tell me what your investors expect to see back? We aren’t talking venture-like returns, presumably.

ES: Not venture-type returns but high-yield returns.

TC: There is movement in a small but growing number of states that want more transparency into third-party litigation funding agreements. It aims mostly to protect consumers, but it sounds like some outfits that fund commercial litigation aren’t so thrilled about it, either. What are you thoughts?

ES: We actually don’t mind disclosure regulation so much. As long as litigation funding is becoming more widely accepted, that’s a good thing and the rules shouldn’t impact us so much. I also think in the long run that it’s inevitable and won’t be a huge problem.

TC: Do you syndicate deals? Do you go it alone?

ES: It’s not like in VC. When we invest in a case, we’re [aren’t teaming up with other sources of funding].

TC: Who owns equity in Legalist? You went through Y Combinator. You raised a little venture funding. But you also now have this fund. 

ES: Y Combinator owns 7 percent of the company [because Legalist went through its accelerator program, intending to become a legal analytics company]. [Other stakeholders] include VY Capital and Refactor Capital .

TC: How will they eventually liquidate their stakes? Does a company like Legalist go public?

ES: There are two publicly traded litigation private finance companies. We’re a tech company; there are exit opportunities.

TC: How long will it take you to invest this $100 million?

ES: Our time horizon is five years and we expect to fund between 100 and 200 cases.

TC: What have you learned in those cases where your investment has gone to zero?

ES: That there’s idiosyncratic risk in the court system that can’t be anticipated. If a jury likes you, they’ll find a way to drape the law over you so you win, and if they don’t, you won’t. We see that. There’s also luck involved, as well as having a meritorious case. That’s why we want to diversify across a larger number of cases.

TC: You dropped out of Harvard because you were accepted into Y Combinator. Around the same time, you also received a Thiel Fellowship, wherein recipients are provided with a $100,000 grant to work on something for a couple of years. What do your parents think of all this?

ES: They really don’t understand it, but they can see that I like what I’m doing. My mom does keep asking me when I’m going back to school. She’s like, “I thought the Thiel fellowship was over after two years!”

Fresh out of Y Combinator, Tandem lands millions from Andreessen Horowitz

Tandem, one of the most sought after companies to graduate from Y Combinator’s summer batch, will emerge from the accelerator program with a supersized seed round and an uncharacteristically high valuation.

The months-old business, which is developing communication software for remote teams after pivoting from crypto, is raising a $7.5 million seed financing at a valuation north of $30 million, sources tell TechCrunch. Airbnb investor Andreessen Horowitz is leading the round.

Tandem and a16z declined to comment for this story. The round has yet to close, which means the deal size is subject to change. Y Combinator startups raise capital using SAFE agreements, or simple agreements for future equity, which allow investors to buy shares in a future priced round at a previously agreed-upon valuation.

We’re told several top venture capital firms were vying for a stake in Tandem. One firm even gifted the founders a tandem bike, sources tell TechCrunch, resorting to amusing measures to sway the Tandem team. But it was a16z — which has an established interest in the growing future of work sector, evidenced by its recent investment in the popular email app Superhuman — that ultimately won the coveted lead investor spot.

Tandem provides a virtual office for remote teams, complete with video-chatting and messaging capabilities, as well as integrations with top enterprise tools including Notion, GitHub and Trello. The service launched one month ago and has signed contracts with Airbnb, Dropbox and others. The company claims to be growing 50% week-over-week.

“Every company is a remote company,” Tandem chief executive officer Rajiv Ayyangar said during his pitch to investors on day two of Y Combinator Demo Days this week. “You have salespeople in the field, [companies with] multiple offices, people working from home. Tandem isn’t just building the future of remote work, it’s building the future of work.”

Ayyangar was previously a data scientist at Yahoo before joining Yakit, a startup seeking to simplify ecommerce delivery, as the director of product. Co-founders Bernat Fortet Unanue and Tim Su are also Yahoo alums.

We’re told Tandem’s fundraise was nearly complete before it pitched to investors Tuesday afternoon. Startups that participate in YC are often flooded with offers from VCs throughout the three-month program. Firms are hungry for the batch’s Airbnb, Dropbox or Stripe — graduates of the program — and will pay premiums on startup equity for their chance to invest in a future ‘unicorn.’

As a result, the median seed deal for U.S. startups in 2018 was roughly $2 million — a record high — with typical pre-money valuations hovering north of $10 million. Tandem’s seed financing represents both a trend of swelling seed deals and valuations, as well as a tendency for VCs to dole out more cash to fresh-from-YC companies amid heightened competition amongst their peers.

The previous YC batch, which wrapped up in March, included ZeroDown, Overview.AI and Catch, a trio of companies that pocketed venture capital ahead of demo day. ZeroDown, a financing solution for real estate purchases in the Bay Area, raised upwards of $10 million at a $75 million valuation before demo day, sources told TechCrunch at the time (months after demo day, Zero Down announced a whopping $30 million financing). ZeroDown was an outlier, of course, as the company’s founders had previously co-founded the billion-dollar HR software company Zenefits.

As for the summer batch, we’re told Actiondesk, Taskade and Tandem are amongst the startups to garner the most hype from investors. Some even forwent the demo day pitch altogether. BraveCare, which is creating urgent care clinics intended just for kids, raised $4.1 million ahead of demo day, we’re told. The company opted not to pitch to additional investors this week.

You can read about all the company’s that pitched during demo day one here and demo day two here.

All 84 startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 1

It’s that time of year, Silicon Valley’s investor technocrati and advice-giving Twitter celebrities descended upon Pier 48 in San Francisco to judge the latest summer batch of Y Combinator startups. TechCrunch was there, as well, and we were tapping away feverishly as co-founders pitched to woo investors.

There are 197 companies in total in the summer YC batch, we heard from 84 of them today — in addition to a few off-the-record pitches which we agreed to hold off publicizing as they remain in stealth. We’ll hear from another chunk of them tomorrow, so check back tomorrow for even more startup blurbs.

Demo Day used to be the debut for many of these companies, but as Y Combinator’s prestige has grown so has the likelihood that the batch’s best will be closing rounds at outsized valuations before the first pitches have been made.

We’ll undoubtedly be reporting on some of these rounds moving forward, but for now here are the 84 companies whose founders pitched onstage today at Y Combinator Demo Days – Day 1.


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  • Mighty: Mixpanel’s founder is at Y Combinator with his new startup, Mighty, a $20 per month cloud computer streaming service that’s just for Google Chrome (at the moment). Why pay for a free piece of software? The startup says that by streaming the experience from a beefed-up PC your most-used app will be considerably faster and only use 5% of your CPU. It’s a premium product with a tight niche, but the company has ambitions to support other software types as it builds out the tech.
  • Hype and Vice: This startup combines the latest trends with college brands to make fashion-focused college apparel for women. Working with 11 universities to date, the founders say the company has grown 4x YoY, with margins of 84%; meanwhile, they have 50 additional college licenses in the pipeline.
  • Lumineye: Lumineye wants to help first responders identify people through walls. In domestic violence disputes, hostage rescue or human trafficking situations, first responders often need help determining where humans are behind closed doors or other barriers. Lumineye’s team of four built a portable 3D-printed radar device that uses signal analysis software to differentiate moving and breathing humans from other objects through barriers like drywall, concrete, rubble and brick. For Lumineye, four pilot programs represent $90K in ARR. They’ve also just signed a $50K pilot with the U.S. Air Force. They’re also signed on to start testing with the FBI this fall.
  • Flo Recruit: This is an applicant-tracking platform for in-person recruiting events. The startup helps companies scale their college recruiting efforts, saving time and money. The company says they have $8,500 in monthly recruiting revenue, counting Y Combinator itself as one of its customers.
  • Gaiascope: Electricity trading is a $15 billion annual market, but it’s hard. Electricity is consumed instantly, which means the supply must always match the demand. That, however, leads to extreme price volatility. Traditional quant models don’t work, so this is where Gaiascope’s algorithms come in. Through its quant fund, Gaiascope enables electricity trading at more predictable prices. 
  • Revel: Many of the venture-backed communities online seem to be geared toward 20-something dudes, but Revel is aiming to create an online-to-offline community group for women over the age of 50. The site is a $15 per month membership that gives you access to the community-hosted groups. Revel went live in the Bay Area last month.

demoday node

  • Node: Node wants to use an Ikea-like assembly process to build sustainable backyard cottages — a market the founders say is worth $100 billion and growing quickly. In the past year 25 cities have passed legislation to allow these buildings. Node ships a flat pack of materials that it says only take a few days to assemble into a turnkey backyard cottage or sustainable vacation home. They’ve sold 11 homes in the past two weeks, and the founders are optimistic that they could reach 50% margins with their tech. Early target markets include Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. 
  • Prolific: A marketplace for finding survey participants on demand. Submit your survey, tell them a bit about your target audience, and they’ll find survey participants accordingly. They saw $185K net revenue in July, with 2.5x yearly growth through word of mouth.
  • Juno College of Technology: JCT is creating the technical university of the future. The startup operates a coding bootcamp, expected to do $3 million in revenue by the end of 2019. Similar to Lamda School, they offer income-share agreements, but “the similarities stops there,” explained the founder. Juno says it places 87% of founders who complete their nine-week long program. 
  • LAIKA: In Latin America, it’s hard to buy pet supplies in person due to a reliance on bus transportation. LAIKA, an online pet supplies service for Latin America, aims to make it easier. The startup has $200,000 in monthly revenues and is growing 30% month over month. 
  • ScholarMeThe startup is building what it calls the “Common App for college financing,” a single form that helps students pay for college. The company prevents prospective students from filling out endless forms to find scholarships, FAFSAs, income-share agreements and loans. 
  • Sable: Getting set up with a bank is a slow process for people new to the U.S. It can take months for foreign-born people to get set up with a credit card and a checking account. Sable launched a mobile bank for international people in the U.S. that wants to expedite that process. The team has collectively worked on distributed teams that launched 14 banking products in the past. The company is currently managing credit cards and live checking accounts. With Sable, users can get set up with a credit card and checking account online in five minutes. In five days of launch, the company has 135 customers and is managing $200,000. Sable is targeting 4.5 million creditworthy internationals, and what it says is a $3.3 billion market in the U.S. alone. The team wants to eventually launch a suite of banking products like mortgages and student loans while they’re at the beginning of their financial independence in the U.S. 

demoday metacode

  • Metacode: “Better code search,” currently for Swift, TypeScript and Javascript. Whereas many code environments only do plaintext search, Metacode sorts results by relevance, displays code in the context of code around it and allows you to filter results by keyword. The company says more than 700 engineers from companies like Pinterest and VueJS are currently using it. The cost is $25 per month per engineer.
  • Fad Mania: This is an app that provides users with an endless stream of games with ambitions of being the next major social network. One of the first games was called Trump Punch, which got more than 100,000 organic users. The team realized most games don’t retain users and decided to create Fad Mania, which develops social-first games. Fad Mania has 1,000 weekly users.
  • Breadfast: This startup delivers fresh bread, milk and eggs to customers in Egypt. Because Breadfast makes its own bread and works with farmers, its business has 35% gross margins with $180,000 in monthly revenue. For customers, Breadfast costs $18 per month per household.
  • Ever Loved: If you thought people using GoFundMe’s to pay for their surgeries were dark, Ever Loved is helping people pay for funeral expenses with a dedicated platform. The crowdfunding site can help families and friends amass cash and the startup will let people pay for services directly from the site, letting them take a slice on both sides of the transaction.
  • Localyze: Localyze provides international employee relocation as a service. Employee relocation is an expensive cost for businesses, yet every year, two million people are moving to the U.S. and Europe for work. Localyze wants to streamline that process with a software that automates some tasks related to immigration, moving and housing processes 50% faster. The platform also connects international employees to services like banking, insurance and transportation. Localyze is currently working with 27 B2B customers and says it produced $16,000 in revenue last month.
  • Safely Deposit: This startup provides on-demand safe deposit boxes specifically for physical papers like estate documents and wills. You mail your documents in via FedEx, they store the physical copy in a safe deposit box while providing you access to digital copies. The cost is $120 per year.

demoday elpha

  • Elpha: (IMAGE) This is a networking and communication platform for women in tech to talk candidly online. Elpha today counts 15,000 members and 6,000 members visiting the site each work. They have 23 paying companies who pay $12,000 per year for access to the platform. Elpha strives to be the first professional network built for and by women.
  • Basis: This is a construction startup that automates workflows and manages bids from subcontractors. To date, Basis has four signed contracts within three weeks of operating. The big vision is to become a full-fledged platform for the construction industry.
  • Hatchways: Learning to code online has kind of been a trope for people that are tired of their careers and are ready to do something new. The issue is that even if they get their skills to a great position that’s really only part of the equation. Hatchways is building a platform to help people who have learned to code online find internships and team projects. The startup is aiming to collect fees on both sides, from candidates looking to find opportunities and companies looking for new talent. They’re starting with software engineers but are also looking to help people get into finance, as well.
  • Puzzl: Puzzl is a campaign tracking platform for brands; it focuses on the in-person parts of campaigns. The platform lets businesses manage their ambassador programs and track metrics without being physically present at targeted locations. Puzzl’s software lets companies track impressions, engagement and conversions for the in-person parts of marketing campaigns. They managed a campaign for Juli Learning code school, another YC company. They’ve made $11,000 in revenue with 33% margins since launching 20 campaigns. Puzzl is currently enabling brands to manage 100 brand ambassadors in what it says is an $8 billion market.

demoday marble

  • Marble Technologies: This startup provides cashier-free checkout kiosks for restaurants, running on iPads. Marble’s founders say their solution increases customer spending by 16%. They have three national restaurant chain contracts in the works, and have processed $3 million in sales to date. They charge $12,000 per location, per year. 
  • Apero Health: Led by a pair of serial entrepreneurs, including the former chief technology officer of Doctor on Demand, Apero Health provides automated claim submission, integrated online patient building and modern APIs to doctor’s offices. 

demoday shortstory

  • Short Story: You could think of Short Story as a Stitch Fix for petite women. Petite women can have a hard time finding clothes that fit them. First, petite women complete a style quiz to notify the company of their preferences. Then, Short Story sends them their first monthly box of clothes. Short Story says the petite women’s clothing market is worth $35 billion. To date, Short Story has seen 74% monthly revenue growth.
  • EncepHeal Therapeutics: Non-addictive prescription substitutes have been a very popular solution for people addicted to drugs like tobacco and opioids. EncepHeal Therapeutics is creating medications to help the 2.5 million cocaine and methamphetamine addicts have a similar option. The company’s medication has shown promising early testing on lab rats.
  • PopSQL: PopSQL provides collaborative SQL query editing. You can store SQL queries you run regularly, grouping them into folders that can be kept private or shared amongst your team. Version history tracks changes so it can be reverted if/when something breaks. It currently has more than 100 paying companies, and is making $13K per month. It plans to build a marketplace for apps that run on top of your company’s database.
  • Kuarti: Kuarti is building the OYO of Latin America. The founder equates the current hotel booking process in Latin America to what it looked like decades ago in the U.S. Kuarti identified a trend of increasing demand to travel within Mexico’s growing middle class. However, there are currently no standardized hotel options in the country. Kuarti wants to provide another hotel booking option for standardized hotel chains that can be reserved online. The company wants to partner with independent hotels, to make small renovations and offer rooms for $35 per night. They’ve partnered with four hotels, have 20 rooms in their inventory and say that users have already booked 275 nights collectively. The founder identifies this as a $2.5 billion market in Mexico alone, and an $11 billion market across all of Latin America, where it hopes to expand. Kuarti is a Mexican company that is part of the business accelerator with which Airbnb started.
  • UpEquity: The startup lets future homeowners put down all-cash offers in what they claim is a $20 billion market opportunity. The founders, Harvard Business School dropouts, have a history in the private equity industry. The startup claims to have more than $30,000 in revenue for the month of August. The tech-enabled mortgage solution says it provides customers better bargaining power than traditional solutions, at competitive rates.
  • Blair: Blair finances college education through income-share agreements. Through ISAs, which require students to pay back Blair a percentage of their future income, Blair finances everything from tuition to cost of living. Since launching a few weeks ago, Blair has already put $250,000 toward the education of 20 students. Blair will deploy its second fund this week.
  • Intersect Labs: Intersect Labs is building CoreML for enterprise, letting its customers easily build machine learning models to help make sense of their historical data and deliver insights without having to hire data scientists. The monthly subscription is aiming to deliver a product that doesn’t require much technical knowledge. “If you can use a spreadsheet, you can use Intersect Labs.”
  • Traces: As privacy-conscious consumers speak up against the proliferation of facial recognition tech, there’s still a clear need for a product that enables smart camera tracking for customers. Traces is building computer vision tracking tech that relies on cues other than facial structure like clothing and size to help customers integrate less invasive tracking tech. It was built by former Ring engineers.

demoday Epic Aerospace

  • Epic Aerospace: Epic is manufacturing inexpensive space tugs to deliver satellites into geostationary orbit. The 21-year-old founder has been building rockets since he was 16, and is now managing a team of seven aerospace engineers with Epic Aerospace. The founder describes propulsion as one of the biggest problems for satellite companies, in that it can take up to two years to qualify new satellite systems and can cost up to $30 million. The problem they’re solving is moving satellites from low Earth orbit directly into geostationary orbit. Epic’s tug is half the cost of the competition and is reusable. They’re currently working with Satellogic, and chasing what the founder says is a $3.1 billion geostationary insertion market. 
  • Soteris: Soteris is a startup building machine learning software for insurance pricing. Within six months of their pilot, they already have two insurers under contract, giving them $500K in guaranteed annual revenue. 
  • Gold Fig Labs: The startup is building a tool for version control on settings pages. The founders come from Firebase, where they were both early employees. The company has signed up 60 companies in the last five weeks, including “multi-billion-dollar tech companies.”
  • Mela: Mela, which refers to itself as the Pinduoduo for India, is an e-commerce platform that enables customers to participate in group shopping and buying via WhatsApp and Facebook. The number of orders on Mela are increasing by 59% per day. 

demoday Million Marker

  • Million Marker: The world is full of nasty chemicals that can mess up your body. Million Marker is building testing kits to help people measure their exposure to certain chemicals. The startup is starting with a urine testing kit that analyzes for BPA and Phthalates, plastics chemicals that can disrupt hormones and lead to fertility issues. 
  • Well Principled: This is an AI-driven management consultant that says it wants to “replace MBAs with software.” Companies spend $200 billion on management consultants every year. Well Principled wants to replace that expensive and cumbersome system with its tech that has culled growth and revenue learnings from academic research and turned it into enterprise software. The company wants to eliminate the need for outside consultants by integrating its software into the daily operations of businesses as they launch new products. Well Principled is advised and invested in by early Palantir leaders, and claims $840,000 ARR from its first Fortune 200 customer. 
  • Dashblock: Dashbloack creates APIs from any web page using machine learning. Drop in a URL, select the data you want from a page, and it will figure out how to automatically extract it and provide it via API. It has have more than 1,500 users since launching two weeks ago.
  • Valiu: This startup provides remittances, or international money transfers, focused on the Latin American market. The company is beginning with a focus on Venezuela, where there are limited options for transferring money globally. The company estimates a $15 million market and is currently growing 35% month over month.
  • Vorticity: Vorticity builds custom chips to make computers 10,000x faster for fluid dynamics modeling. Vorticity’s chips and processes can be applied to industries like aerospace, life sciences and nuclear energy. Boom Supersonics, which spends millions of dollars every year on fluid dynamics work, is Vorticity’s first customer. 
  • PredictLeads: PredictLeads is aiming to help data-driven investors identify companies that are picking up traction. The startup says its data can tell you when the startups that you passed on are starting to gain traction, informing you when they’ve launched new products or are starting to advertise new partnerships.
  • GreenTiger: Billing itself as the Robinhood for India, this startup is allowing users to trade U.S. stocks from India for ₹0 commission. As it is now, Indians don’t have Social Security numbers, preventing them to trade U.S. stocks. GreenTiger provides commission-free trades on NASDAQ and NYSE, and allows users to start trading in two minutes. GreenTiger provides transactional shares, allowing Indian traders to start trading with as little as ₹100. These ex-Microsoft founders describe the opportunity as worth $7.2 billion. 
  • Compound: Compound provides wealth management for startup employees, helping them figure out what their stock options actually mean, forecast their value over time and optimize against things like potential taxes. Launched two weeks ago, they currently have 200 startup employees as customers.
  • Prenda: A startup that provides in-home “microschools” for K through 8th graders. Prenda provides everything a teacher needs to run a microschool, from glue sticks to curriculum. The startup claims microschools are the future of education.

demoday Curri

  • Curri: An Uber for construction supplies, Curri delivers construction-related materials, parts and tools on-demand. From refrigerators to small pipe fittings, Curri’s network of drivers can deliver it to your warehouse, job site or anywhere else you may need it for an average delivery of fee of $77. For three months in a row, Curri has grown 112% month over month. 
  • Nomad RidesNomad rides wants to compete with the big rideshare companies, but they also want to kill them. The commission-free rideshare program changes up the business equation by having drivers pay a monthly subscription to Nomad while collecting all of the ride profits. They are targeting college campuses first. In a two-month illegal trial period, the company facilitated 5,700 rides at Indiana University before the startup had to shut down, but they say they’re legal now and ready to try new markets.
  • EARTH AI: This full stack AI-powered mining exploration company built a technology to predict the location of un-mined rare metals. EARTH AI’s mission is to improve the efficiency of mineral exploration to provide enough metals and minerals for current and future generations. The company predicts where metals may exist, actually mines the ore and then sells it. The team credits themselves with discovering the world’s first AI-predicted mineral deposit, and says it has also secured the rights to $18 billion worth of ore.
  • Binks: Binks provides tailor-made clothing for women in India. The company says that the traditional method requires four-plus visits to a tailor; Binks, meanwhile, uses photos and computer vision to calculate fit and make clothing within three days.
  • Lang API: A language translation platform that helps businesses translate the language on their website or app into any language in minutes, Lang says they are building the “AWS for translations” in what is a $20 billion market.
  • Rent the Backyard: Imagine building and then renting out a studio apartment in your own backyard. Well, that’s what Rent the Backyard is all about. Rent the Backyard handles everything from the construction of the studio to selecting the tenant to occupy it. In exchange, the startup takes a 50% cut of the rent. So far, Rent the Backyard has 10 signed letters of intent from homeowners, with more than 1,200 people on its waitlist.

demoday LEGACY

  • Legacy: Legacy is a male fertility startup building a mail-in sperm testing product that helps people test their reproductive health without leaving their home. The company sells a kit that users can use and send back to them, at which point Legacy is able to analyze the sperm and let users know whether everything is in good working order.
  • Lezzoo: Lezzoo wants to build the “super-app of the Middle East,” starting with an on-demand delivery service in Iraq. The company currently delivers food, beverages, groceries and pharmaceuticals to users in Iraq. The founder says they are seeing positive unit economics, including a net profit of 63 cents per delivery. The market is huge — 40 million people live in Iraq, but there is no digital infrastructure in place to serve the needs of an increasingly mobile population. The founder claims there’s a demand for mobile services like Lezzoo, citing that current users are placing two orders per month. Due to the lack of digital infrastructure in the country, Lezzoo is tasked with solving the problems of payments and mapping in addition to scaling its delivery network.
  • Kern Systems: This startup wants to store information in DNA. “Google stores about 10,000 petabytes of data. You could store that in just the DNA in your thumb,” says company co-founder Henry Lee. The company says their first DNA storage synthesizer should be finished in nine months.

demoday courier

  • Courier: After adding one line of code with Courier, developers can, first, send messages through every communication channel to users. Courier then measures users’ response rates on each channel (Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc.) and determines where notifications should be directed.  
  • Lokal: Lokal provides local news, information and classifieds for India. Since launching the app 10 months ago, Lokal has grown to 260,000 daily active users and is growing at 27% month over month. “The existing apps only focus on national and state level news,” the founder said. Otherwise, in order to get local news, they need to read a physical newspaper. 
  • taxProper: The company says that 60% of homeowners overpay on property taxes, so taxProper is building software that quickly allows customers to easily appeal their property taxes, helping them enter data about their home and determine if they are overpaying. The startup is charging $79 per appeal.
  • InEvent: This is CRM for corporate events. It’s hard for businesses to create personalized, automated event experiences. This platform lets corporate event planners integrate registration, vendor and travel and expense management. InEvent is seeing $1.15 million ARR in Brazil, and broke into the U.S. corporate event market in May — which it describes as a $7.5 billion opportunity. They’re seeing $13,000 MRR in the U.S.

demoday quirk

  • Quirk: Quirk is a “thought diary” that helps to stop panic attacks by using the concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy. You identify negative thoughts you’re having, and then examine those thoughts to determine which parts are negatively impacting you. It costs $5.99 per month; the company says one month after launch, they have 1,000 paying customers.
  • Zippi: Zippi provides loans specifically designed for gig workers in Brazil, a booming population underserved by traditional banks. The gig workers repay their loans with a percent of their income each week. Zippi is live and fully compliant. To date, they’ve done $160,000 in loans and plan to build and end-to-end neo bank for gig workers in Latin America. 
  • Simmer: Simmer provides reviews for individual dishes, not just for restaurants. Simmer tells you the best reviewed dishes across all delivery apps and services to help you better decide which food to order on-demand. In a one-month pilot there were 1,300 weekly active users on Simmer. This fall, Simmer will launch in three cities. 
  • Actiondesk: Updating spreadsheets is about as unsexy as enterprise workflows get, but Actiondesk is focusing wholly on revamping the data tables with “superpowers.” The company’s solution allows customers to dynamically connect data sources and their spreadsheets so that edits made in the spreadsheet will be replicated in the data source. Users are also able to schedule actions related to the data in their sheets.
  • GradJoy: GradJoy is a fintech platform that wants to help recent grads better-strategize their student loan payments. The company bills itself as “a student loan co-pilot,” and a “robo-advisor for student debt,” offering services meant to help users save money. GradJoy connects loans and financial information to create personalized repayment plans for new borrowers. They’ve completed eight refinances in two weeks, and have amassed more than 1,000 customers within a few weeks of being operative. GradJoy doesn’t want to stop at student debt, but scale out to provide services for other types of debt repayment in the future. 
  • Taskade: This is a collaboration tool for remote teams. You can create lists, outlines and mindmaps, then collaborate and chat about them in real-time. It currently has more than 700 active teams, and over 10,000 active users.
  • Alana: Alana helps large businesses headquartered in Latin America hire and retain blue-collar workers. Their hope is to become the LinkedIn of the blue-collar industry with a better matching process for potential employees and by automating much of the process. The company claims to have experienced very fast growth, working with companies like Hilton, Starbucks and Rappi. They charge a monthly subscription per store or $400 in MRR per location.

demoday Obie

  • Obie: This is a free analytics platform for commercial real estate owners to manage their assets. From there, Obie uses that data to sell insurance to those commercial real estate owners. In the last year, Obie has done $1.4 million in gross premiums.
  • Together SoftwareTogether is building souped-up employee mentorship software that helps new employees get connected with veterans inside their company. The onboarding buddy program handles pairing of employees and can help the duos schedule meetings and work their way through development plans.
  • Holy Grail: Holy Grail says it has built a cheaper and faster way to manufacture batteries. The company is using AI to find the next generation of batteries at what it claims is 1,000x faster and hundreds of million dollars cheaper than traditional R&D processes. Holy Grail’s software designs batteries and predicts their performance — then manufactures them using a robot it built. Traditional R&D relies on trial and error and spreadsheets, and this company thinks it can harness AI to “do something good for the world while also making money.” 
  • Tranqui Finanzas: This startup provides consumer debt consolidation for Latin America, where 45 million employees have existing high interest loans. Payments are made through salary deductions. After launching seven weeks ago, they’re making $6K monthly net revenue.
  • Sorting Robotics: It began its life building a robot sorting Magic: The Gathering cards. Now it’s pivoting to sorting weed. They buy cannabis trim for $120 per lb; their robot separates the sticks/leaves from the flower, which can be resold for upwards of $180 per lb. Four weeks after rolling out their first robot, it’s making roughly $1,000 per day.
  • Pengram: Augmented reality is making itself useful through Pengram’s indoor navigation system. Pengram enables anyone to create indoor pathways using any iOS device and then easily share those pathways with others. Already, Pengram has a $10,000 pilot with building maintenance company Johnson Controls, which uses the tool to quickly located sprinklers, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and other systems they need to find and ensure are properly up to date and working.

demoday Yummy

  • Yummy Future: Yummy Future is basically a robotic Starbucks. The company wants to take baristas out of the coffee-making process, using a box of robots to make complex espresso drinks. It’s not the only one in this space, but the startup is hoping that partnerships with existing marketplace retailers will be the key to its success.
  • Athlane: Athlane is building what it calls “the NCAA for esports,” a new esports league powered by its software. The founders believe they have what it takes to help college esports eclipse traditional sports, citing that the League of Legends finals saw 5X the viewership of the NBA finals in 2019. Athlane hopes college esports teams will compete on their platform because they’ll actually be able to pay their players. Athlane will enable teams to monetize through its AI-powered sponsorship platform, and has secured two contracts with G Fuel and DraftKings. 
  • TRM Labs: Banks are required to trace the source of their customers’ money. TRM helps banks identify and trace cryptocurrency fraud. They charge $20K per user seat. Though they couldn’t say the name, TRM says they recently signed a top-five global bank as a customer.
  • Mars Auto: The startup is developing autonomous trucks for the $50 billion Korean trucking market. The goal is to fully automate warehouse to warehouse truck operations to save the trucking market billions. The company has two LOIs with two of the largest logistic businesses in Korea.
  • Wasmer: Wasmer is an application container that works in edge computing. Powered by WebAssembly, Wasmer is building the next generation of containers that enables developers to run any code on any client.
  • Matagora: Matagora is delivering pop-up physical storefronts for online brands. The startup is partnering with local businesses to fill areas of their store with online-only gear that brands are looking to get in front of people’s eyeballs. Matagora takes a whopping 40% of each sale.

demoday Nonu

  • Nonu: Nonu calls itself the “Hims for India.” The company created a subscription hair loss prevention kit that includes medicines, vitamins and herbal shampoo. The founder says that 80% of Indian men don’t know that prescription medicine can stop hair loss in India, and therefore are getting scammed into spending over a billion dollars on fake hair loss products while continuing to lose hair. With Nonu, all you have to do is take a photo of your balding head, and you’ll receive a monthly subscription of medicine that will show up at your door. Nonu says that within this $7.2 billion market, there are 60 million hair loss patients who can afford this $120 a year subscription in India. Nonu has already amassed 500 subscribers, and plans to expand into tackling sexual wellness. 
  • Dex: Dex is a personal CRM. You sync up your contacts/calendars, and it finds the people you haven’t kept in touch with and reminds you to reach out. You can add notes about a contact — like what you last spoke about, or what’s going on in their life — to help with the conversation next time you see them.
  • Outtalent: This startup helps engineers living in emerging markets get jobs abroad. The company was launched by a pair of brothers from Kyrgyzstan, one of which landed a life-changing job at Google years ago and wants to make the entire process easier for other foreigners.
  • SannTek Labs: SannTek created a breathalyzer that detects cannabis consumption, as well as alcohol consumption. The founders say there’s currently no breathalyzer for cannabis because it’s a technically challenging task. SannTek has developed sensors that can detect whether you’ve consumed cannabis in the last three hours. Once it launches, it will charge police officers $20 per test.
  • BuildStream: The startup is a platform for companies to manage and optimize rented equipment fleets. The team is focusing specifically on the construction industry, trying to minimize idle equipment. Users start by installing off-the-shelf IoT sensors on gear to track the fleet of equipment and pinpoint areas for optimization.
  • Sling Health: Sling Health wants to build more cost-effective virtual care teams. The ex-Forward founders say they want to turn any doctors office into a One Medical model. Next-gen tools can’t scale their engineering teams. Sling’s platform automates back offices with remote medical teams and 24/7 chat support. Sling Health says it has already transformed 12 doctor’s offices and is producing over $17,000 in monthly recurring revenue. The founders say they can save doctors 67% on labor costs while also drastically improving patient experiences with a personalized care team. The tech can apparently manage scheduling, create personalized follow-ups and manage prescriptions.

demoday mofe

  • MoFE: The “Museum of Future Experiences” turns physical spaces into trippy, walk-around virtual reality experiences. They launched in New York three weeks ago, and have sold every ticket available so far to bring in $60K in revenue since launch.

 

That’s all for Day 1, we’ll be posting our favorites from today’s batch soon and we’ll be back tomorrow with the rest of the batch.

Coinbase loses its first CTO after just one year in the job

Coinbase, the $8 billion-valued crypto exchange, has lost its CTO after Balaji Srinivasan announced his departure from the company.

Srinivasan became the U.S. company’s first CTO one year ago after it acquired Earn.com, where he was CEO and co-founder. Given the tenure — one year and one day — it looks like Srinivasan’s departure comes after he served the minimum agreed period with Coinbase.

A high-profile figure in the crypto space who has also spent time with Coinbase and Earn investor A16z, Srinivasan announced his move on Twitter. He declined to go into specifics but told TechCrunch that he plans to take time off to get fit, among other things, before launching into his next product.

1/2 Really enjoyed my time at Coinbase working with my friend @brian_armstrong. The Earn integration was successful and we’ve closed ~$200M in deals for the new Coinbase Earn. Was also my privilege to help with shipping new assets, launching USDC, & getting staking/voting going.

— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) May 4, 2019

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong paid tribute to Srinivasan’s “incredible contributions” to the company.

Srinivasan’s time at Coinbase saw the company ramp up its expansion efforts. Those include the launch of its own USDC stablecoin, the expansion (and planned expansion) of assets sold to consumers and ‘pro’ traders, and a wider global push. Away from consumers, it launched a slew of services for retail investors and today its services also include staking and over-the-counter trading.

There’s also Coinbase’s own VC arm for doing deals with promising startups and, also on the M&A side, the firm has continued making acquisitions and acquihires. This year, it has snapped up Y Combinator graduate Blockspring and Neutrino, whose founders controversially once worked for surveillance firm Hacking Team, in what were its eleventh and twelfth acquisitions to date.

Talent retention appears to be becoming a bit of an issue at Coinbase.

Srinivasan’s exit comes a month after Dan Romero, the company’s head of international, left after a five-year stint. According to Coindesk, the company has seen at least a dozen senior or mid-level executives leave since October when it raised $300 million led by Tiger Global.

Bad PR ideas, esports, and the Valley’s talent poaching war

Sending severed heads, and even more PR DON’Ts

I wrote a “master list” of PR DON’Ts earlier this week, and now that list has nearly doubled as my fellow TechCrunch writers continued to experience even more bad behavior around pitches. So, here are another 12 things of what not to do when pitching a startup:

DON’T send severed heads of the writer you want to cover your story

Heads up! It’s weird to send someone’s cranium to them.

This is an odd one, but believe it or not, severed heads seem to roll into our office every couple of months thanks to the advent of 3D printing. Several of us in the New York TechCrunch office received these “gifts” in the past few days (see gifts next), and apparently, I now have a severed head resting on my desk that I get to dispose of on Monday.

Let’s think linearly on this one. Most journalists are writers and presumably understand metaphors. Heads were placed on pikes in the Middle Ages (and sadly, sometimes recently) as a warning to other group members about the risk of challenging whoever did the decapitation. Yes, it might get the attention of the person you are sending their head to, in the same way that burning them in effigy right in front of them can attract eyeballs.

Now, I get it — it’s a demo of something, and maybe it might even be funny for some. But, why take the risk that the recipient is going to see the reasonably obvious metaphorical connection? Use your noggin — no severed heads.

Why your CSO — not your CMO — should pitch your security startup

Here are the 88 companies that launched at YC’s W19 Demo Day 2

Today was the second half of Y Combinator’s two-day Demo Day for its Winter 2019 class. Over 85 startups pitched on stage yesterday, and another huge batch launched today.

Previously held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, this YC Demo Day instead took over a massive warehouse in San Francisco. Like yesterday’s pitches, today’s were split across two stages (“Pioneer” and “Mission”) running in parallel — so even if you were there, you couldn’t see everything alone.

Here are all of the companies that launched today, and our notes from their presentations.

Pioneer Stage:

YSplit: Splitting utility bills and other recurring payments with roommates or loved ones is a huge pain where one person has to front the money and then nag the others to get paid back. YSplit offers virtual debit cards that make it easy to automatically split bills and collect cash from users’ bank accounts. By charging a 2 percent interchange fee to merchants, YSplit could build a solid business from the 26 million shared homes in the US alone.

The Juggernaut: A subscription publication focusing on South Asian stories. They hire freelance writers, publish one story per day, and charge users $5 a month. We wrote about The Juggernaut here.

 

Searchlight: Reference checks can screen out bad hires, yet many businesses wait until the very end of the interview cycle or don’t do extensive checks. Searchlight offers reference checks as a service. Job candidates invite their references to submit testimonials, which Searchlight collects and organizes into reports about someone’s work style, ideal environment, and skillset. Searchlight earns an average of $250 per job hopes to investigate all 30 million skilled hires in the US per year.

Allo: Connects local parents and helps them help each other with things like babysitting and errand-running through a “Karma” point system. Average user returns 12x per week.

 

Coursedog: Universities employ full time scheduling administrators to place faculty into courses and rooms. Coursedog automates this process by plugging into a school’s data to eliminate this busy work. Coursedog already has 8 university clients paying over $100,000 for a three-year contract. Next it wants to move into modernizing the process of booking spaces on campus as well as instructor and tuition payments.

 

AI Insurance: Cloud-based software for insurance claims. By moving things to the cloud rather than filing cabinets, the founders say they can save “thousands of hours per claim”. Their goal, once they’ve got enough claim data, is to use AI to determine things like how much a claim might ultimately cost.

 

Nebullam: Growing crops indoors can produce more food per acre that’s not dependent on weather, but the problems are the high labor costs and payback times for expensive equipment. Nebullam wants to be the John Deere of indoor farming. It sells a vertical farming cube and other equipment that can maximize yield and minimize costs. With a CEO who grew up on a farm, it’s already managed a 3 year payback time for its equipment vs an industry standard for 7 years.

Pronto: Ride-sharing for smaller cities in Latin America. Co-founder Miguel Martinez Cano says that the Uber model doesn’t work in these cities, as would-be riders don’t have credit cards and instead want to pay cash. Drivers pay a subscription fee of $59-99 per month. Currently doing 62,000 trips per month.

 

LEAH Labs: People spend $500 million per year on chemotherapy for their dogs, even though the treatment only extends their life temporarily without curing their disease. LEAH Labs wants to cure B-cell lymphoma cancer in dogs using Car T cells, a powerful new treatment method. There have been $20 billion in recent Car T cell company exits, but none of the big players are focused on dogs. LEAH Labs falls under the USDA instead of the FDA, so it requires less investment to get approved, which translate into $5,000 treatments.

 

Balto: A platform for fantasy sports league managers to make money from their work. As fantasy sports betting moves toward legality in more states, they want to capture the audience already making bets through other means.

 

Visly: Developers waste a ton of time rebuilding the same product for iOS, Android, and web and Visly says only 15 percent of developers use tools to simplify this. Visly’s cross-platform UI development suite makes it quick and easy to create consistent apps for different devices. The CEO worked on Facebook’s version called Yoga, but it always failed. Visly has fixed those problems so developers can focus on their invention, not porting it to other operating systems.

 

Mudrex: Lets people do algorithmic trading without programming knowledge, beginning with cryptocurrency. Last week, they saw a trading volume of $150,000. They charge users $300 a year for access to a drag and drop interface for building trading models, which the user can then test against historical trading data.

Brain Key: Diagnosis for brain diseases using 3D MRI data. Whereas many doctors use 2D slices from MRIs for diagnosis, Brain Key says they’re able to analyze data in 3D to do things like identify Parkinsons subtypes 35% more accurately than experts. They’re aiming to be in hospitals worldwide within 2 years.

 

Switchboard: It’s tough to efficiently match available trucks with freight needing to be shipped if you don’t know where the trucks are. Switchboard’s on-board truck sensors collect real time data on a truck’s location, destination, and more. Switchboard’s trucking freight marketplace launched three months ago and is already gathering data that could unlock more revenue streams.

Shef: Two months ago, California passed the first law in the country legalizing the sale of home cooked food. Shef creates a marketplace where home chefs can find nearby customers. Shef’s meals cost around $6.50 compared to $20 per meal for traditional food delivery, and the startup takes a 22 percent cut of every transaction. It’s been growing 50 percent month over month thanks to deals with large property management companies that offer the marketplace as a perk to their residents. Shef wants to be the Airbnb of home cooked food.

Qwest: Lets people pay money to skip lines at venues like clubs and bars. They’re currently at 10 venues in 2 cities, and say they should be at 100 venues in 6 cities this year. They aim to expand to events like music festivals and sporting events.

 

Circumvent Pharmaceuticals: Brain disease Batten, the Alzheimer’s of children, has no adequate treatment. Circumvent says its treatment can replace the missing enzyme at the root of the disease and has already been shown to be effective in mice. If it can get through expedited approval thanks to incentives for treating rare diseases, Circumvent wants to sell its medicine for $100,000 which is covered by insurance. Once it clears that hurdle, Circumvent will be much closer to working on Alzheimer’s treatments which could be hugely lucrative and a big win for humanity.

Withfriends: Membership programs for small businesses like bars, theaters, and barbershops. So far they have 80 small businesses on the platform, with over 5000 members working out to $400,000 in revenue. By integrating right into PoS machines, they say 15% of customers convert into members.

 

Askdata: Non-technical employees rarely use company data because it’s difficult to find and understand. Askdata offers a natural language search engine for internal data that translates words into SQL queries. Making data conveniently accessible could help businesses make better decisions.

 

Modern Labor: Pays people $10,000 to learn to code in exchange for 15% of their income for 2 years thereafter. Founder Francis Larson says Modern Labor’s first group of students is going through the program now, with 10,000 students on a waiting list.

NALA: Making mobile payments in Africa can require an internet connection and typing in a complex 46-digit code like the one above. NALA makes a mobile money app for easily paying friends and merchants as well as buying Internet airtime to capture the $300 billion in yearly mobile payments in Africa. Co-founder Benjamin Fernandes says NALA is 7X faster than competitors and has 5,000 active users. NALA earns money off commissions on airtime and bill payments, interest on savings, sending leads to insurance companies and other services. 

 

Vice Lotteries: A lottery platform that’s trying to “take the loss” out of lotteries. Amongst other things, they limit the bets users are allowed to make based on their wealth to prevent betting too much. Founder Matthew Curtis notes that their model is currently not legal, but they’re actively trying to change that.

 

GoLinks: Long, complex URLs make it tough to access internal company tools. GoLinks makes links short and easy to remember for clients like Reddit and Lyft. Its tool can programmatically generate URLs that are single sign-on compliant, and teams get a dashboard of analytics. Whether employees are setting up a new computer or working while traveling, GoLinks means they won’t be locked out.

Allure Systems:  Fashion brands spend $8 billion per year on models and photographers. Allure Systems uses AI to programatically produce apparel images for shopping sites. The technology can take one photo of a jacket and show it in a variety of poses on a range of models across different sizes. By increasing shopping conversion rates by 14 percent, the team has already racked up $1.4 million in annual recurring revenue with an average SAAS contract costing over $200,000 per year.

Spiral Genetics: Software built to compare large sets of human genome data to help cure diseases. Founder Adina Mangubat says existing software can’t analyze genome data at the massive scale it’ll be at in the coming years. They’ve generated $250K in revenue so far, with $1M in Letters of Intent.

 

Rune: Voice chat and automated friend/squad finder for players on mobile games (like Fortnite, PUBG.) In 10 days since launch, the company says it’s got 5,000 users who spend an average of 30 minutes per day on the platform. Friendships are handled within Rune, allowing users to switch from game to game.

 

Truora:  Truora offers fast and reliable background checks for Latin America at $3 per check. Truora also collects reports of fraud by workers from its clients to create a valuable database employers will pay to access. It already has Uber, Rappi, and other top regional marketplaces using their service.

Aura Vision: Like Google Analytics for physical stores. By pulling a video feed from “any camera” in a store, Aura provides customer age, gender, and how long customers have lingered with a method they say is anonymous and doesn’t require facial recognition. The company founders say they’ll charge stores an average of $9,600 per year.

 

GeoPredict: GeoPredict aims to remove the middlemen from oil and gas real estate sales, and use AI and historical data to help evaluate acreage. They transacted roughly $100,000 last week, and charge a 5% fee.

 

Union Apartment: It’s hard for international students to find housing if they don’t speak the language, don’t have local friends, and might not even have a bank account. Union Apartment offers furnished co-living apartments for international students starting with those from China. Beyond dwellings, Union Apartment provides events like karaoke nights and services like help with banking. It’s already profitable with $130,000 in gross profit in February which makes this a $24 billion gross profit potential business.

 

jet.law: Charges flat legal fees for employment litigation, using court records to predict the workload and how much they should charge up front (rather than charging by billable hours). Co-founder Jesse Unruh previously worked in big business litigation, while co-founder Kyle Harris was a manufacturing design engineer at Apple.

Friendshop:  Friendshop lets you recruit friends to buy with you to get deals. Friendshop wants to be the US version of Pinduoduo, a $24 billion Chinese group buying company. And after its virality helps Friendshop grow in beauty, it plans to move into other consumer goods businesses.

 

Pulse Active Stations Network: Health kiosks for India, meant to be installed in train stations. Co-founder Joginder Tanikella says that there are 600,000 preventable deaths in India as many in the region don’t get regular doctor checkups. “But everyone takes train,” he says. Their in-station kiosk measures 21 health parameters. The company made $28,000 in revenue last month. Charging $1 per test, Tanikella says each machine pays for itself within 3 months. In the future, the kiosks will allow them to sell insurance and refer users to doctors.

 

Pyxai: Employers don’t have scalable ways to screen for soft skills and culture fit. Pyxai gives job applicants a 30 minute quiz that it analyzes with natural language processing to assess what they can do and if they’ll mesh with existing staff. Deemphasizing resumes could decrease discrimination in hiring. Pyxai charges $6 per screening and wants to be part of how all 36 million knowledge job openings get filled.

 

Mage: An app built specifically for buying and selling cards from Magic: The Gathering — the largest trading card game in the world. Aiming to do for Magic what GOAT did for shoe resales, their app scans, recognizes, and prices cards and helps users to list them. The company says their average customer spends $120 per month on Magic cards.

 

Geosite: Businesses that need satellite imagery have to piece it together from 40 providers, manually download the content, and upload it to their system. Geosite is a marketplace for immediately usable spatial imagery. Clients pay an annual fee, and Geosite already has $3 million in contracts with the US Air Force.

 

Community Phone: Community Phone aims to be a friendlier wireless carrier, aggregating three existing wireless networks behind a company focused on a positive customer service experience. Co-Founder James Graham says they’re currently seeing $230k in annual recurring revenue, and are profitable with a 45% margin.

Superb AI: To build artificial intelligence, you need accurately labeled training data, but services like Mechanical Turk can be slow and inaccurate. Superb AI has built an AI that assists in the labeling process to speed it up 10X, and creates its own in-house AI algorithms. Superb AI has already done $1 million in revenue in the past 7 months. For most businesses to keep up with the AIs from Google, Facebook, and the other tech giants, they’ll need help generating training data that Superb can provide.

Termius: Termius makes an SSH client that works on desktop and mobile and already has 11,000 paying customers including employees at Disney and NASA. The freemium business model is propelled by its #1 ranking in app stores for “SSH”. Next, Termius wants to expand to teams to become a full collaboration platform.

 

Verto FX: Helps businesses in Africa obtain foreign currencies needed to work with international companies. They currently support the exchange of 18 currencies. The company has seen $26M transaction volume in 5 months of private beta, with $30k monthly revenue. Co-founders Anthony Oduwole and Ola Oyetayo both have backgrounds in building technology platforms for large banks.

Inito: This app lets you measure fertility hormones using a hardware dongle that plugs into your phone. Inito can perform a hormone test and use that data to diagnose and treat conditions, and aid in planning procedures like IVF and IUI. Inito claims it can help people get pregnant faster while earning a 65 percent margin on its hardware, and that its data could help diagnose illnesses earlier.

Woke: Finances ad campaigns for budding eCommerce brands and helps them grow in exchange for a cut of the profits. In one month, they’ve onboarded 4 merchants who are giving them 50% of profits on each sale.

 

 

PNOE: They’ve built a compact breath analysis device for fitness facilities, to provide athletes with information about their cardiac/metabolic health. It’s $6,000, and is meant to replace massive $60,000 alternatives. Revenue is growing 40% per month. After fitness facilities, they aim to bring the device into healthcare centers to help with heart disease, obesity. and breathing problems.

Mission Stage:

WeatherCheck: Measures weather damage for insurance companies. The company has secured 4.7 million in annual bookings in the five months since it launched to help insurance carriers reduce their overall claims expense. To use the service, insurers upload data about their properties. WeatherCheck then monitors the weather and sends notifications to insurance companies, if, for example, a property has been damaged by hail.

 

EatGeek: After selling their last startup to GrubHub, the co-founders of Eatgeek are looking to help restaurants pull in more large-scale catering orders. Most restaurants aren’t focused on courting those looking to cater events; EatGeek opens them up to an audience of people looking specifically for these larger orders. The company takes a 20 percent commission on every order that moves through their systems, but they don’t have to worry about dealing with the food preparation or delivery.

 

Avo: Prevents human error when implementing analytics. The company says humans suck at implementing analytics. Their team of engineers and data scientists previously built QuizUp, a startup backed by Sequoia Capital that garnered 100 million users. Avo is currently being used by Skip Scooters, among other businesses.

 

Adventurous Co: Adventurous is building an augmented reality scavenger hunt that partners live actors with a mobile app that can create an interactive family activity that’s a lot more engaging than regular “screen time.” They’re launching in San Francisco with 45-60min experiences that cost $15 per person. We previously wrote about Adventurous here.

 

Globe: The startup, which has dubbed itself the “Coinbase for derivatives,” has built a cryptocurrency-derivative exchange that supports high-frequency trading. The platform allows crypto holders to trade global markets with bitcoin and grants users the same access to data leveraged by institutional investors.

 

XGenomes: XGenomes is aiming to revolutionize DNA sequencing with a low-cost, high-efficiency solution that saves time and money. The company’s solution involves laying out samples on glass slides, identifying individual sequences and using machine learning to stitch together the high resolution photos and turn these images into a full DNA sequence. The team from Oxford and Harvard say that the market XGenomes is targeting is now larger than $6.5 billion.

 

Habitat Logistics: A food delivery startup that doesn’t have a consumer mobile app but helps restaurants make deliveries. What sets them apart from competitors?  The company only delivers to restaurants that are within 10 minutes of a customer’s home, saving them time on long deliveries. Restaurants ping Habitat when they have delivery needs and the company sends a driver to complete the delivery. Habitat says they are growing 17 percent month over month, currently collecting $110,000 monthly revenue by charging restaurants per delivery.

 

WorkClout: WorkClout is building software to help manufacturers manage their operations in a cohesive product. The team says 56 percent of all manufacturers still manage their software on paper and Excel, WorkClout makes it much easier to spot inefficiencies and improve workflows. The team is focusing on customers in the packaging manufacturing space first, and is looking to tackle food and beverage companies and textile manufacturers next.

 

PadPiper: A marketplace for finding monthly housing and compatible roommates. The company helps interns find the right place to live, with the right roommates, partnering with big companies who need to help their interns navigate the housing market. The founders say they had to move 35 times in five years for academic reasons and were disappointed by Craigslist and other options. PadPiper has $10,000 in monthly revenue and says it’s growing 37 percent week-over-week.

 

DevFlight: DevFlight wants to revamp the business model for open-source software. They’re building a marketplace to pair open-sourced developer with companies. DevFlight works with the company and developers to create a plan that helps both parties understand the scope of the project. DevFlight takes a 25 percent transaction on the deals.

Handle.com: Automates the collection process of unpaid construction invoices. Construction companies are often forced to pay for their own jobs when customers are late on payments. According to Handle, there are $104 billion in unpaid construction invoices every year. Handle launched six weeks ago and is currently collecting $22,800 in monthly revenue. The founders previously launched an Andreessen Horowitz-backed company called Tenfold.

 

Gerostate Alpha: Gerostate Alpha is tackling human aging, an ambitious goal. The three co-founders are all academics at the Buck Institute where they’ve spent years researching aging. They’ve used their proprietary platform for drug discovery to quickly parse 90,000 compounds and identify 150 hits for further research.

 

Trestle: Founded by a former employee of Stripe, a fellow Y Combinator grad, Trestle provides companies a home page/easy-to-use intranet with profiles of each employee. The company is already working with Brex, Plaid and others to help employees feel less isolated and work more productively amongst each other.

Green Energy Exchange: Green Energy Exchange wants to give consumers a choice in where they get their energy. The virtual utility co. plans to let consumers choose where their renewable energy comes from — at least in the 12 states where that’s legal. The founder previously ran a large multi-billion dollar energy company and now wants to make choosing your energy supplier as easy as paying for Netflix by partnering directly with solar and wind generators. The startup is launching in Texas next month.

 

rct studio: Led by a team of YC alums behind Raven, an AI startup acquired by Baidu in 2017, rct studio is a creative studio for immersive and interactive film. The platform provides a real time “text to render “engine (so the text “A man sits on a sofa” would generate 3D imagery of a man sitting on a sofa) that supports mainstream 3D engines like Unity and Unreal, as well as a creative tool for film professionals to craft immersive and open-ended entertainment experiences called Morpheus Engine.

 

CredPal: CredPal is building a credit card company for Africa that looks to help the 200 million in Africa’s neglected middle class that lack access to formal credit, the startup says. The company hopes to become the next American Express and bring African consumers more convenience and freedom in how they purchase goods.

 

Calii: The company helps consumers in Latin America save money by directly connecting them to producers of fruits and vegetables. Cutting out the middlemen saves consumers lots of cash, say the founders. The Latin American companies are taking Chinese behemoth Pinduoduo’s business model and applying it to a different geography, like Rappi and Grin have done before them.

 

Nabis: Nabis is tackling the cannabis shipping and logistics business, working with suppliers to ship out goods to retailers reliably. It’s illegal for FedEx to ship weed so Nabis has swooped in and is helping ship and connect while taking cuts of the proceeds, a price the suppliers are willing to pay due to their 98 percent on-time shipping record.

 

Nettrons: A no-human-in-the-loop AI talent sourcer meant to make the recruiting process more efficient. The company has three paying companies who they’ve helped make six hires to date. Nettrons, founded by a pair of engineers, says their target market is worth $1 billion.

 

Fuzzbuzz: Fuzzing is the process of throwing mountains of invalid data at code to find bugs. Fuzzbuzz is looking to simplify the process of fuzzing for developers, taking a long complicated setup and turning it into a 30 minute process that automates the easy parts and connects with existing services like Jira, Github and Slack.

 

Interprime: Provides “Apple level” treasury services to startups. Startups are raising a lot of money with no way to manage it, says Interprime. They want to help these businesses by managing these big investments. They take a .25 percent advisory fee for all the investment they oversee. So far, they have $10 million in investment capital they are servicing.

Taali Foods: Taali Foods is looking to create a new healthy snack food, starting off with a popcorn replacement made from popped water lily seeds. The snacks ditch artificial flavoring, ingredients or preservatives and delivers serial snackers a healthier option with 67% less fat and 20% less calories than regular popcorn.

 

Gordian Software: An API for travel booking companies to sell seat selection and checked bags. Right now, Gordian is profitable and earning $65,000 per month offering online travel agencies tools to help them sell seating, baggage and other ancillary products. Gordian has three major pilots in the works, including one with lastminute.com.

 

Shiok Meats: A cell-based clean shrimp meat provider founded by a team of scientists. Compared to other shrimp on the market, Shiok says their cell-based shrimp meat is more sustainable and taste the same as regular shrimp. The shrimp meat is grown in bioreactors, similar to brewing beer. The startup is targeting the Asia-Pacific shrimp market, which it says is worth $25 billion.

 

Hatch: Hatch is looking to keep the conversations between franchise businesses and their customers moving along and driving sales all the while. The team is focusing on text, email and voice automation to push revenue at their customers which includes Jeep, Ashley Homestore and Rent-A-Center. The company is profitable and earning $119,000 per month.

 

Bot Orange: A customer communication system built on WeChat that integrates sales, marketing and more. WeChat currently offers no tools to companies to manage customers. Bot Orange will be that customer management tool within the app, helping businesses manage various channels without having to navigate another third-party tool.

 

Postscript: Postscript is working with online commerce brands to contact customers on smartphones via SMS. The startup wants to be a Mailchimp for texts, automating conversations between mobile-savvy millennial consumers and companies that are increasingly focused on direct-to-consumer and subscription models. We wrote about Postscript on TechCrunch here.

 

Tailor-ED: Launched by a pair of Stanford grads, the startup helps teachers create tailored lesson plans by sending short quizzes to groups of students to figure out the best lesson plans for those students. In the last four weeks, 2,500 students have received lessons from Tailor-ED. Operating under a freemium model, the company says they are targeting a $1.5 billion market.


Wallets Africa: African debit cards often don’t let users pay for international services like Netflix. Wallets Africa is building a digital bank that brings support to many of these online purchases via a partnership with Visa. The team is currently processing $3.5 million in purchases every month.

 

AuroraQ: A developer of a “practical” quantum computer. The founder has a Ph.D. in quantum physics and says AuroraQ will be the “Dell of quantum computing,” building integrated computers from quantum components, which is must less costly.

 

Probably Genetic: Probably Genetic is selling direct-to-consumer DNA tests, aiming to help Americans diagnose whether they are one of the 15 million undiagnosed people in the country that have a rare genetic disease. The co-founders say that on average it takes people more than 7 years to get diagnosed, and Probably Genetic hopes to change that with their $1,200 test which they will be launching in 12 weeks.

 

Viosera Therapeutics: Uses AI to predict and block drug resistance in cancer and bacteria. The startup has treated its solution with mice infected with MRSA and were able to cure 100 percent of the infected mice. The company is targeting MRSA patients initially with its drug discovery platform. Viosera says it is beginning clinical trials in the next six months.

 

Upsolve: Upsolve wants to helps low-income individuals file for bankruptcy more easily. The non-profit service gets referral fees from pointing non low-income families to bankruptcy lawyers and is able to offer the service for free. The company says that medical bills, layoffs and predatory loans can leave low-income families in dire situations and that in the last 6 months, their non-profit has alleviated customers from $24 million in debt.

 

AllSome:  Virtual warehouses and fulfillment for online sellers in Southeast Asia. How it works: customers ship their inventory to AllSome’s warehouse space, and AllSome handles quality assurance, storage, labelling, packaging and shipping. AllSome’s founders say the company is profitable.

 

BearBuzz: BearBuzz is building an influencer marketplace that moves things along much more quickly than today’s negotiation slog. They’ve standardized ad formats and can automatically verify the video ads via image and voice recognition. The team plans to make money by facilitating these quicker connections and taking 25 percent of adspend.

 

Point: A digital bank offering a debit card with rewards and a better user experience. The company is going live with virtual debit cards and checking accounts next month. 

 

MyScoot: MyScoot wants to help urban millennials make friends in India with their platform for home-hosted social events. Users can search the service and pay to attend events. MyScoot looks to keep things safe for attendees through background checks, peer reviews and what they’re calling a “social trust scoring algorithm.” They have had more than 1000 bookings through their app, with 60% of users returning after booking their first event.

 

Memfault: A developer of tools for engineers at embedded hardware companies that they say are as good as tools available for mobile engineers. Memfault is used for deployment, monitoring and analytics. So far, they have four customers and $5,500 in monthly recurring revenue.

 

Board: Board is a mortgage company that lets home buyers lock down a house with an all-cash offer. Cash buyers are 4 times more likely to win in a bidding war and often save tens of thousands off of a property’s purchase price compared to those with mortgages. They’re looking to be a cash buyer for the 80 percent of people who need a mortgage, by approving people for these massive loans and then making 2 percent off the mortgage.

 

Portal Entryways: Portal automatically opens doors for wheelchair users and keeps them open until they’ve gone through. Many existing accessibility buttons are out of reach, or too far from doors to be helpful; Portal uses a smartphone app on the user’s phone to control these existing buttons (modified with Portal’s hardware), effectively hitting the button for them. Portal is focusing on public places with many doors at first, like universities and malls.   We wrote about Portal Entryways on TechCrunch here.

 

Blueberry Medical: A pediatric telemedicine company that provides medical care instantly to families. Blueberry provides constant contact, the ability to talk to a pediatrician 24/7 and at-home testing kits for a total of $8 per month. They’ve just completed a paid consumer pilot and were able to resolve 50 percent of issues without in-person care. They’ve partnered with insurance providers to reduce ER visits.

 

Maitian.ai: Maitian is building the next generation of vending machines, taking notes from the hotel mini-bar fridge and allowing businesses to sell food in a way that’s friendlier than the average vending machine. Users swipe their credit card, open the door to the machine and pick out what they want. The team is focusing on South East Asia and has launched in 2 locations.

 

Emi Labs: Is developing a virtual assistant for human resources workers that automates the hiring process for low-skilled jobs. The startup counts Burger King and PwC as customers, with a total market size of $2.4 billion. Emi Labs improves the candidate experience by making the hiring process more personalized to them using AI.

 

Latchel: Latchel is building a maintenance platform for property managements that helps them free up their time by processing requests and dispatching contractors to fix the issues. Latchel makes up to $10 per unit per month for property managers and charges a 10 percent referral fee to contractors when they source them for jobs.

 

Alpaca: Is developing an API for free stock trading to replace legacy software. The founders say Alpaca’s commission-free stock trading API is the first and only broker dealer that understands developers, and it allows customers to build and trade with real-time market data free of cost.

 

 

Which types of startups are most often profitable?

Julian Shapiro
Contributor

Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, a growth marketing agency that trains you to become a marketing professional. He also writes at Julian.com.
More posts by this contributor

I co-run an agency that teaches a hundred startups per year how to do growth marketing. This gives me a unique vantage point: I know which types of startups most often reach profitability.

That’s an important metric, because startups that don’t reach this milestone typically fail to raise additional funding — then die.

Here’s what we’ll learn:

  1. Companies are increasingly living and dying by ads. Because it’s the startup’s approach to customer acquisition — not its business model or market — that most determines its early-stage profitability.
  2. E-commerce companies lend themselves best to ads, and SMB SaaS the worst. Meanwhile, most startup founders in 2019 are starting SaaS companies. They’d benefit from the data we share in this post.
  3. In fact, our agency has found that every other type of business reaches profitability quicker than SMB SaaS, including mobile apps, Chrome extensions and enterprise SaaS.

Our sampling of startups isn’t as biased as startup valuation leaderboards, because we also see those that failed. That’s the key.

You can use our experience to de-risk your startup. That’s what this post explores: How to change your product roadmap to pursue a path more likely to reach profitability.

The startups that frequently reach profitability

Here’s the data my agency is referencing for this post:

  • We train 12+ venture-backed and bootstrapped startups every month. Half are Y Combinator graduates. This is how we study early-stage product-market fit trends.
  • We run ads full-time for between 20 and 30 mature companies per year. On average, each spends $2.5 million annually on paid acquisition. And, on average, each has 30 employees. Our clients include Tovala.com, PerfectKeto.com, SPYSCAPE.com, ImperfectProduce.com, Clearbit.com and Woodpath.com.
  • Our students and clients are roughly evenly distributed across D2C e-commerce, B2B, mobile apps and marketplaces.

When we try to control for founder skill and funds raised, the types of startups that first reach profitability do so in this order:

  1. E-commerce
  2. Chrome extensions
  3. Mobile apps
  4. Enterprise SaaS
  5. Small-to-medium business SaaS

On average, an e-commerce company is more likely to first reach profitability than an SMB SaaS company.

Before I explain why, let me explain how we’re differentiating startups: I use the word “type” instead of “business model” or “markets” because I’ve learned that business model and market are often not the best predictors of success. Instead, it’s your approach to customer acquisition. That’s what typically determines the likelihood of profitability.

MallforAfrica goes global, Kobo360 and Sokowatch raise VC, France explains its $76M fund

Jake Bright
Contributor

Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa.

B2B e-commerce company Sokowatch closed a $2 million seed investment led by 4DX Ventures. Others to join the round were Village Global, Lynett Capital, Golden Palm Investments, and Outlierz  Ventures.

The Kenya based company aims to shake up the supply chain market for Africa’s informal retailers.

Sokowatch’s platform connects Africa’s informal retail stores directly to local and multi-national suppliers—such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble—by digitizing orders, delivery, and payments with the aim of reducing costs and increasing profit margins.

“With both manufacturers and the small shops, we’re becoming the connective layer between them, where previously you had multiple layers of middle-men from distributors, sub-distributors, to wholesalers,” Sokowatch founder and CEO Daniel Yu told TechCrunch.

“The cost of sourcing goods right now…we estimate we’re cutting that cost by about 20 percent [for] these shopkeepers,” he said

“There are millions of informal stores across Africa’s cities selling hundreds of billions worth of consumer goods every year,” said Yu.

These stores can use Sokowatch’s app on mobile phones to buy wares directly from large suppliers, arrange for transport, and make payments online. “Ordering on SMS or Android gets you free delivery of products to your store, on average, in about two hours,” said Yu.

Sokowatch generates revenues by earning “a margin on the goods that we’re selling to shopkeepers,” said Yu. On the supplier side, they also benefit from “aggregating demand…and getting bulk deals on the products that we distribute.”

The company recently launched a line of credit product to extend working capital loans to platform clients. With the $2 million round, Sokowatch—which currently operates in Kenya and Tanzania—plans to “expand to new markets in East Africa, as well as pilot additional value add services to the shops,” said Yu.

MallforAfrica and DHL launched MarketPlaceAfrica.com: a global e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell wares to buyers in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

The site will prioritize fashion items — clothing, bags, jewelry, footwear and personal care — and crafts, such as pictures and carvings. MallforAfrica is vetting sellers for MarketPlace Africa online and through the Africa Made Product Standards association (AMPS), to verify made-in-Africa status and merchandise quality.

“We’re starting off in Nigeria and then we’ll open in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of Africa, utilizing DHL’s massive network,” MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch about where the goods will be sourced. “People all around the world can buy from African artisans online, that’s the goal,” Folayan told TechCrunch.

Current listed designer products include handbags from Chinwe Ezenwa and Tash women’s outfits by Tasha Goodwin.

In addition to DHL for shipping, MarketPlace Africa will utilize MallforAfrica’s e-commerce infrastructure. The startup was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron  href=”https://pctechmag.com/2018/05/french-president-emmanuel-macron-launches-a-usd76m-africa-startup-fund/”>unveiled a $76 million African startup fund at VivaTech 2018 and TechCrunch paid a visit to the French Development Agency (AFD) — who will administer the new fund — to get details on how it will work.

The $76 million (or €65 million) will divvy up into three parts, AFD Digital Task Team Leader Christine Ha told TechCrunch.

“There are €10 million [$11.7 million] for technical assistance to support the African ecosystem… €5 million will be available as interest-free loans to high-potential, pre-seed startups…and…€50 million [$58 million] will be for equity-based investments in series A to C startups,” explained Ha during a meeting in Paris.

The technical assistance will distribute in the form of grants to accelerators, hubs, incubators and coding programs. The pre-seed startup loans will issue in amounts up to $100,000 “as early, early funding to allow entrepreneurs to prototype, launch and experiment,” said Ha.

The $58 million in VC startup funding will be administered through Proparco, a development finance institution — or DFI — partially owned by the AFD. “Proparco will take equity stakes, and will be a limited partner when investing in VC funds,” said Ha.

Startups from all African countries can apply for a piece of the $58 million by contacting any of Proparco’s Africa offices.

The $11.7 million technical assistance and $5.8 million loan portions of France’s new fund will be available starting in 2019. On implementation, AFD is still “reviewing several options…such as relying on local actors through [France’s] Digital Africa platform,” said Ha. President Macron followed up the Africa fund announcement with a trip to Nigeria last month.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 was accepted into Y Combinator’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Western Technology Investment.

The startup — with an Uber like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN — a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it, Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60-month period.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” CEO Obi Ozor told TechCrunch. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5480 drivers and moved 37.6 million kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, and DHL.

Ozor thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.

[PHOTO: BFX.LAGOS] And finally, applications are open for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Africa, to be held in Lagos, Nigeria, December 11. Early-stage African startups have until September 3 to apply here.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

·         CowryWise micro-savings service opens high-yield government bonds to everyday Nigerians


African Tech Around the Net

·         More Than Half of Sub-Saharan Africa to Be Connected to Mobile by 2025, Finds New GSMA Study
·         Ethiopia’s Gebeya acquires Coders4Africa to accelerate its growth
·         Rwanda, Andela partner to launch pan-African tech hub in Kigali
·         Google’s free public Wi-Fi initiative expanded to Africa
·         Accounteer wins 2018 MEST Entrepreneur challenge
·         SafeBoda completes expansion to Kenya, now live in Nairobi
·         Uganda government sued over social media tax

Propelling deep space flight with a new fuel source, Momentus prepares for liftoff

Mikhail Kokorich, the founder of Momentus, a new Y Combinator-backed propulsion technology developer for space flight, hadn’t always dreamed of going to the moon.

A physicist who graduated from Russia’s top-ranked Novosibirsk University, Kokorich was a serial entrepreneur in who grew up in Siberia and made his name and his first fortunes in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The heart of Momentus’ technology is a new propulsion system that uses water as a propellant instead of chemicals.

Image courtesy Momentus

Using water has several benefits, Kokorich says. One, it’s a fuel source that’s abundant in outer space, and it’s ultimately better and more efficient fuel for flight beyond low earth orbit. “If you move something with a chemical booster stage to the moon. Chemical propulsion is good when you need to have a very high thrust,” according to Kokorich. Once a ship gets beyond gravity’s pull, water simply works better, he says.

Some companies are trying to guide micro-satellites with technologies like Phase 4 which use ionized gases like Xenon, but according to Kokorich those are more expensive and slower. “When ionized propulsion is used for geostationary satellites to orbit, it takes months,” says Kokorich, using water can half the time.

“We can carry ten tons to geostationary orbit and it’s much faster,” says Kokorich.

The company has already signed an agreement with ECM Space, a European launch services provider, which will provide the initial trip for the company’s first test of its propulsion system on a micro-satellite — slated for early 2019.

That first product, “Zeal,” has specific impulses of 150 to 180 seconds and power up to 30 watts.

Kokorich started his first business, Dauria, in the mid-90s amid the collapse of the Soviet Union, selling explosives and engineering services to mining companies in Siberia. Kokorich sold that business and went into retail, eventually building a network of stores that sold home goods and housewares across Russia.

That raked in more millions for Kokorich, who then said he diversified into electronics by buying Russia’s BestBuy chain out bankruptcy. But space was never far from his mind, and, eventually he returned to it.

“In 2011 I hit my middle-aged crisis,” Korkorich says. “So I founded the first private Russian aerospace company.”

That company, Dauria Aerospace, was initially feted by the government, garnering the entrepreneur a place in Skolkovo, and its inaugural cohort of space companies. In an announcement of the successes the space program had achieved in 2014 Kokorich co-authored a piece with the Russian cosmonaut Sergey Zhukov, who remains the executive director of the networking and aerospace programs at the multi-billion-dollar boondoggle startup incubator.

Utilis detects water leaks underground using satellite imagery.

A few months later Kokorich would be in the U.S. working to back the first of what’s now a triumvirate of startups focused on space.

“With all the problems with Russia in the Western world, I moved to the U.S.,” says Kokorich. Dauria had quickly raised $30 million for its work, but as this Moscow Times article notes, stiff competition from U.S. firms and the sanctions leveled against Russia in the wake of its invasion and annexation of Crimea were taking their toll on the entrepreneur’s business. “It was a purely political immigration,” Korkorich says. “I don’t have purely business opportunities, because you have to work with the government [and] because the government would not like me.”

For all of his protestations, Kokorich has maintained several economic ties with partners in Russia. It’s through an investment firm called Oden Holdings Ltd. that Kokorich took an investment stake in the Canadian company Helios Wire, which was one of his first forays into space entrepreneurship outside of Russia. That company makes cryptographically secured applications for the transmission and reception of data from internet-enabled devices.

The second space company that the co-founder has built since moving to the U.S. is the satellite company Astra Digital, which processes data from satellites to make that information more accessible.

Now, with Momentus, Kokorich is turning to the problem of propulsion. “When transportation costs decrease, many business models emerge” Kokorich says. And Kokorich sees Momentus’ propulsion technology driving down the costs of traveling further into space — opening up opportunities for new businesses like asteroid mining and lunar transit.

The Momentus team is already thinking well beyond the initial launch. The company’s eyes are on a prize well beyond geostationary orbit.

Indeed, with water as a power source, the company says it will lay the groundwork for future cislunar and interplanetary rides. The company envisions a future where it will power water prospecting and delivery throughout the solar system, solar power stations, in-space manufacturing and space tourism.

Aspire Capital offers fast finance for SMEs in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia’s digital economy is tipped to grow more than six-fold to reach more than $200 billion per year, according to a report co-authored by Google, with e-commerce accounting for the dominant share. The emergence of e-commerce platforms like Alibaba’s Lazada and U.S.-listed Shopee have enabled online entrepreneurship across the region, but still financial support for online sellers, who are basically SMEs, is lagging.

That’s where Singapore-based Aspire Capital, a six-month-old organization focused on speedy SME lending, is hoping to make a difference.

The company certainly has opportunity. With a cumulative population of over 600 million consumers and a rising middle class, Southeast Asia is increasingly an attractive market for businesses of all kind, and online companies in particular. Chinese giants Alibaba and Tencent have long devoted significant resources to the region where, like India, they see significant growth potential. E-commerce is the clear winner, in terms of size, with the e-Conomy SEA report — a joint research project between Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek — forecasting e-commerce revenue will hit $88 billion by 2025 from $10.9 billion in 2017.

Data from the e-Conomy SEA report

The crux of its problem is that online sellers who use Lazada, Shopee or other platforms that are forgoing profit in order to grow, are ironically less able to scale their business since there are few ‘e-commerce friendly’ financing options.

That problem became apparent to Aspire founder and CEO Andrea Baronchelli during a four-year stint with Lazada Singapore where, as CMO, he identified a financing disconnect for Lazada merchants.

“I saw the problem while trying to rally small businesses trying to grow in the digital economy,” Baronchelli told TechCrunch in an interview.

“The problem is really about providing working capital to small business owners. We started with online sellers, but we have expanded a bit as we see demand. There are 65 million small businesses in Southeast Asia, that’s ten times more than the U.S. so we see so much potential,” he added.

Aspire founder and CEO Andrea Baronchelli pictured while at Lazada

Today, Aspire Capital covers Singapore where it has expanded beyond e-commerce merchants to cover other things of SMEs who seek loans, primarily for working capital as Baronchelli explains. So far, he added, it has served loans to over 100 businesses. Typically, its spread goes from as low as SG$5,000 to up to SG$100,000, that’s around $3,600-$73,500 in U.S. terms.

The company was founded in early 2018 and already it has done plenty. It was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2018 cohort and it has closed a $9 million seed round to kick its business off with the working capital that it needs itself.

That round included a range of investors such as Europe-based Hummingbird, New York’s Mark II Capital, ex-Sequoia partner Yinglan Tan’s Insignia Ventures Partners and Y Combinator.

The principle behind the business is to make business financing quick and simple, Baronchelli said.

So rather than stacks of paperwork, SME owners fill out online forms and get a response the same day. Large parts of the application and review process are automated using a proprietary risk assessment engine, but Baronchelli said that ultimately a human makes the final call on whether to accept the application or not.

“We want to really be fast,” Baronchelli explained. “SMEs need quick decisions, they cannot wait three months for a bank. They need super quick, fast and no paperwork.”

The application process for companies seeking loans from Aspire Capital

He paints an example of online merchants who typically buy inventory from China which is sold customers within three to six months. If the business has a track record, it can take a loan to increase its stock and grow its revenues and profit, he explained.

Singapore may be a key market in Southeast Asia, but with a population of just over five million expansion is top of mind for Aspire. Baronchelli said he is doing due diligence on the first market expansion which he expects will happen before the end of this year. He expects that the business will raise further capital, perhaps towards the tail end of this year, which would be used to expand more aggressively across Southeast Asia in 2019.

He is also occupied building out the team. Right now, Aspire has ten people but he is keen to bring in ten to fifteen more staff, particularly on the tech side of the business.

Y Combinator is going after Chinese startups with its first official event in China

High-profile U.S. startup accelerator Y Combinator is making a push to bring more China-based startups into its program after it announced its first official event in the country.

YC has made a push to include startups from outside of North America in recent years. That has seen it bring in companies from the likes of India, Southeast Asia and Africa, but China remains underrepresented. According to YC’s own data, fewer than 10 Chinese companies have passed through its corridors. YC counts over 1,400 graduates.

“Startup School Beijing” is scheduled for May 19 in the Chinese capital at Tsinghua University. The event will be free to attend — though attendees might apply for a ticket — with the goal of showing the benefits of participation in its U.S. program.

To help make its case, the organization has pulled in star graduates like Airbnb and Stripe while its president Sam Altman himself is scheduled to appear.

The event will include sessions with graduates, YC partners and “live on-stage office hours.” That’ll see three companies picked from the audience to get advice and tips from the attending partners, as happens in the program. Sessions will be in both English and Chinese with live translations available.

YC partner Eric Migicovsky, who founded Pebble, is leading the event, which will include the following speakers:

In addition to helping U.S. hardware founders, Migicovsky was brought on specifically to make inroads into China and he is optimistic that there is strong demand.

“We’re hosting Startup School in Beijing to meet local entrepreneurs and start a dialogue about how YC can help,” he told TechCrunch. “The event and the founders we meet will help to inform our strategy going forward. Naturally, we hope to find Chinese startups to apply to our core Y Combinator program in Silicon Valley.”

YC officially announced the event today but the organization’s brand is so strong that word already got out in local media once it began sending out invitations, as our Chinese partner Technode reported.

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