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Singapore’s Grain, a profitable food delivery startup, pulls in $10M for expansion

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in Asia, bangkok, Cento Ventures, ceo, Deliveroo, Food, food delivery, Foodpanda, funding, Fundings & Exits, grain, Honestbee, Impossible foods, munchery, online food ordering, openspace ventures, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Spotify, Startup company, TC, Thailand, transport, Travis Kalanick, Uber, United States, websites, world wide web | 0 comments

Cloud kitchens are the big thing in food delivery, with ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s new business one contender in that space, with Asia, and particularly Southeast Asia, a major focus. Despite the newcomers, a more established startup from Singapore has raised a large bowl of cash to go after regional expansion.

Founded in 2014, Grain specializes in clean food while it takes a different approach to Kalanick’s CloudKitchens or food delivery services like Deliveroo, FoodPanda or GrabFood.

It adopted a cloud kitchen model — utilizing unwanted real estate as kitchens, with delivery services for output — but used it for its own operations. So while CloudKitchens and others rent their space to F&B companies as a cheaper way to make food for their on-demand delivery customers, Grain works with its own chefs, menu and delivery team. A so-called ‘full stack’ model if you can stand the cliched tech phrase.

Finally, Grain is also profitable. The new round has it shooting for growth — more on that below — but the startup was profitable last year, CEO and co-founder Yi Sung Yong told TechCrunch.

Now it is reaping the rewards of a model that keeps it in control of its product, unlike others that are complicated by a chain that includes the restaurant and a delivery person.

We previously wrote about Grain when it raised a $1.7 million Series A back in 2016 and today it announced a $10 million Series B which is led by Thailand’s Singha Ventures, the VC arm of the beer brand. A bevy of other investors took part, including Genesis Alternative Ventures, Sass Corp, K2 Global — run by serial investor Ozi Amanat who has backed Impossible Foods, Spotify and Uber among others — FoodXervices and Majuven. Existing investors Openspace Ventures, Raging Bull — from Thai Express founder Ivan Lee — and Cento Ventures participated.

The round includes venture debt, as well as equity, and it is worth noting that the family office of the owners of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf — Sassoon Investment Corporation — was involved.

Grain covers individual food as well as buffets in Singapore

Three years is a long gap between the two deals — Openspace and Cento have even rebranded during the intervening period — and the ride has been an eventful one. During those years, Sung said the business had come close to running out of capital before it doubled down on the fundamentals before the precarious runway capital ran out.

In fact, he said, the company — which now has over 100 staff — was fully prepared to self-sustain.

“We didn’t think of raising a Series B,” he explained in an interview. “Instead, we focused on the business and getting profitable… we thought that we can’t depend entirely on investors.”

And, ladies and gentleman, the irony of that is that VCs very much like a business that can self-sustain — it shows a model is proven — and investing in a startup that doesn’t need capital can be attractive.

Ultimately, though, profitability is seen as sexy today — particularly in the meal space where countless U.S. startups has shuttered including Munchery and Sprig — but the focus meant that Grain had to shelve its expansion plans. It then went through soul-searching times in 2017 when a spoilt curry saw 20 customers get food poisoning.

Sung declined to comment directly on that incident, but he said that company today has developed the “infrastructure” to scale its business across the board, and that very much includes quality control.

Grain co-founder and CEO Yi Sung Yong [Image via LinkedIn]

Grain currently delivers “thousands” of meals per day in Singapore, its sole market, with eight-figures in sales per year, he said. Last year, growth was 200 percent, Sung continued, and now is the time to look overseas. With Singha, the Grain CEO said the company has “everything we need to launch in Bangkok.”

Thailand — which Malaysia-based rival Dahamakan picked for its first expansion — is the only new launch on the table, but Sung said that could change.

“If things move faster, we’ll expand to more cities, maybe one per year,” he said. “But we need to get our brand, our food and our service right first.”

One part of that may be securing better deals for raw ingredients and food from suppliers. Grain is expanding its ‘hub’ kitchens — outposts placed strategically around town to serve customers faster — and growing its fleet of trucks, which are retrofitted with warmers and chillers for deliveries to customers.

Grain’s journey is proof that startups in the region will go through trials and tribulations, but being able to bolt down the fundamentals and reduce burn rate is crucial in the event that things go awry. Just look to grocery startup Honestbee, also based in Singapore, for evidence of what happens when costs are allowed to pile up.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Index Ventures, Stripe back bookkeeping service Pilot with $40M

Posted by on Apr 18, 2019 in computing, Dropbox, Finance, funding, Index Ventures, jessica mckellar, ksplice, linux, MIT, oracle, San Francisco, Software, Startup company, Startups, stripe, Waseem Daher, zulip | 0 comments

Five years after Dropbox acquired their startup Zulip, Waseem Daher, Jeff Arnold and Jessica McKellar have gained traction for their third business together: Pilot.

Pilot helps startups and small businesses manage their back office. Chief executive officer Daher admits it may seem a little boring, but the market opportunity is undeniably huge. To tackle the market, Pilot is today announcing a $40 million Series B led by Index Ventures with participation from Stripe, the online payment processing system.

The round values Pilot, which has raised about $60 million to date, at $355 million.

“It’s a massive industry that has sucked in the past,” Daher told TechCrunch. “People want a really high-quality solution to the bookkeeping problem. The market really wants this to exist and we’ve assembled a world-class team that’s capable of knocking this out of the park.”

San Francisco-based Pilot launched in 2017, more than a decade after the three founders met in MIT’s student computing group. It’s not surprising they’ve garnered attention from venture capitalists, given that their first two companies resulted in notable acquisitions.

Pilot has taken on a massively overlooked but strategic segment — bookkeeping,” Index’s Mark Goldberg told TechCrunch via email. “While dry on the surface, the opportunity is enormous given that an estimated $60 billion is spent on bookkeeping and accounting in the U.S. alone. It’s a service industry that can finally be automated with technology and this is the perfect team to take this on — third-time founders with a perfect combo of financial acumen and engineering.”

The trio of founders’ first project, Linux upgrade software called Ksplice, sold to Oracle in 2011. Their next business, Zulip, exited to Dropbox before it even had the chance to publicly launch.

It was actually upon building Ksplice that Daher and team realized their dire need for tech-enabled bookkeeping solutions.

“We built something internally like this as a byproduct of just running [Ksplice],” Daher explained. “When Oracle was acquiring our company, we met with their finance people and we described this system to them and they were blown away.”

It took a few years for the team to refocus their efforts on streamlining back-office processes for startups, opting to build business chat software in Zulip first.

Pilot’s software integrates with other financial services products to bring the bookkeeping process into the 21st century. Its platform, for example, works seamlessly on top of QuickBooks so customers aren’t wasting precious time updating and managing the accounting application.

“It’s better than the slow, painful process of doing it yourself and it’s better than hiring a third-party bookkeeper,” Daher said. “If you care at all about having the work be high-quality, you have to have software do it. People aren’t good at these mechanical, repetitive, formula-driven tasks.”

Currently, Pilot handles bookkeeping for more than $100 million per month in financial transactions but hopes to use the infusion of venture funding to accelerate customer adoption. The company also plans to launch a tax prep offering that they say will make the tax prep experience “easy and seamless.”

“It’s our first foray into Pilot’s larger mission, which is taking care of running your companies entire back office so you can focus on your business,” Daher said.

As for whether the team will sell to another big acquirer, it’s unlikely.

“The opportunity for Pilot is so large and so substantive, I think it would be a mistake for this to be anything other than a large and enduring public company,” Daher said. “This is the company that we’re going to do this with.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Co-Star raises $5 million to bring its astrology app to Android

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in Astrology, funding, iOS apps, seed funding, TC | 0 comments

Nothing scales like a horoscope.

If you haven’t heard of Co-Star, you might just be in the wrong circles. In some social scenes it’s pretty much ubiquitous. Wherever conversations regularly kick off by comparing astrological charts, it’s useful to have that info at hand. The trend is so notable that the app even got a shout out in a New York Times piece on VCs flocking to astrology startups.

This week, the company behind probably the hottest iOS astrology app announced that it has raised a $5.2 million seed round. Maveron, Aspect, 14w and Female Founder Fund all participated in the round, which follows $750,000 in prior pre-seed funding. The company plans to use the funding to craft an Android companion to its iOS-only app, grow its team and “build features that encourage new ways get closer, new ways to take care of ourselves, and new ways to grow.”

TechCrunch spoke with Banu Guler, the CEO and co-founder of Co-Star about what it was like talking to potential investors to drum up money for an idea that Silicon Valley’s elite echo chambers might find unconventional.

“We certainly talked to some who were dismissive,” Guler told TechCrunch in an email. “But the reality is that interest in astrology is skyrocketing… It was all about finding the right investors who see the value in astrology and the potential for growth.”

“There are people out there who think astrology is silly or unserious. But in our experience, the number of people who find value and meaning in astrology is far greater than the number of people who are turned off by it.”

If you’ve ever used a traditional astrology app or website to look up your birth chart — that is, to determine the positions of the planets on the day and time you were born — then you’ve probably noticed how most of those services share more in common with ancient Geocities sites than they do with bright, modern apps. In contrast, Co-Star’s app is clean and artful, with encyclopedia-like illustrations and a simple layout. It’s not something with an infinite scroll you’ll get lost in, but it’s pleasant to dip into Co-Star, check your algorithmically-generated horoscope and see what your passive aggressive ex’s rising sign is.

In a world still obsessed with the long-debunked Meyers-Briggs test, you can think of astrology as a kind of cosmic organizational psychology, but one more interested in peoples’ emotional realities than their modus operandi in the workplace. For many young people — and queer people, from personal experience — astrology is a thoroughly playful way to take stock of life. Instead of directly predicting future events (good luck with that), it’s is more commonly used as a way to evaluate relationships, events and anything else. If astrology memes on Instagram are any indication, there’s a whole cohort of people using astrology as a framework for talking about their emotional lives. That search for authenticity — and no doubt the proliferation of truly inspired viral content — is likely fueling the astrology boom. 

“By positioning human experience against a backdrop of a vast universe, Co–Star creates a shortcut to real talk in a sea of small talk: a way to talk about who we are and how we relate to each other,” the company wrote in its funding announcement. “It doesn’t reduce complexity. It doesn’t judge. It understands.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Boundless gets $7.8M to help immigrants navigate the convoluted green card process

Posted by on Mar 28, 2019 in Amazon, Boundless, Brad Feld, foundation capital, Foursquare, funding, Government, Pioneer Square Labs, San Francisco, Startups, TC, United States, Venture Capital, Warby Parker | 0 comments

Two years ago, former Amazon product manager Xiao Wang stood on the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco and made the case for a platform meant to help couples apply for marriage green cards, a complex process made worse by bureaucracy and red tape.

Called Boundless, the startup had spun out of Seattle startup studio Pioneer Square Labs and raised a $3.5 million seed round. Now, Foundry Group’s Brad Feld has led a $7.8 million Series A in the startup, with participation from existing investors Trilogy Equity Partners, PSL, Two Sigma Ventures and Founders’ Co-Op.

“Families have really only had two choices, they could spend weeks or months trying to figure this out on their own, or they can spend thousands and thousands of dollars on an immigration attorney,” Wang, Boundless co-founder and chief executive officer, told TechCrunch. “What we are trying to do is basically give everyone access to the information, the tools and the support that was previously only available to those that could afford high-priced attorneys.”

Boundless charges $750 for its online green card application support services, which includes ensuring families correctly complete applications and have access to an immigration lawyer to review those applications. The fee comes at a major discount to the costs of an immigration lawyer and streamlines a process that can be delayed months when errors are made. The startup also offers a recently launched $395 naturalization product meant to assist eligible green card holders with their U.S. citizenship applications.

Wang founded Boundless in 2017 after helping build Amazon Go, the e-commerce giant’s line of cashierless convenience stores. Wang is an immigrant, having relocated to the U.S. from China when he was a child.

“We spent almost five months of rent money on an immigration attorney because the stakes were so high and we only had one shot,” Wang said. “We wanted to make sure we were doing it right. This is a story that is echoed by millions of families every year; this is such an important part of them starting a new life in a new country.”

Wang, after three years at Amazon, realized he could use his technology background and data prowess to build an information platform supportive of these millions of families.

“This is exactly what tech and data is meant to do,” he said. “I believe there is a moral obligation for tech to be used in meaningfully improving people’s lives.”

Boundless plans to use this investment to expand its team and product offerings, as well as build out its content library, which Wang said is rapidly becoming the go-to place for immigrants navigating the legal labyrinth that is the U.S. green card and citizenship process. Its resources page, which includes straightforward guides, a number of forms and more, counts 300,000 unique visitors per month.

“We hold their hand through the entire process,” Wang said. “We want to be the single source of information and tools for all family-based immigration.”

Wang and his team also hope to shine a brighter light on immigration policy. In late 2018, as part of its effort to be louder advocates for immigrants, Boundless, alongside Warby Parker, Foursquare, Foundation Capital and more, published an open letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security opposing its proposed “public charge” immigration regulation, which would allow for non-citizens who are in the country legally to be denied a visa or a green card if they have a medical condition, financial liabilities and other disqualifiers.

“The stakes for making sure your application is correct have never been higher; the government has far more leeway to be able to deny applications,” Wang said. “While we can’t speed up the government processing times, we can make meaningful improvements to helping families gather all the materials they need to send in the right information.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Our 9 favorite startups from Y Combinator W19 Demo Day 2

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in Apps, Biotech, Food, funding, GreenTech, Hardware, Health, Logistics, Startups, TC | 0 comments

Heathcare kiosks, a home-cooked food marketplace, and a way for startups to earn interest on their funding topped our list of high-potential companies from Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 Demo Day 2. 88 startups launched on stage at the lauded accelerator, though some of the best skipped the stage as they’d already raised tons of money.

Be sure to check out our write-ups of all 85 startups from day 1 plus our top picks, as well as the full set from day 2. But now, after asking investors and conferring with the TechCrunch team, here are our 9 favorites from day 2.

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 week over week 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.

Why we picked Shef: Deregulation creates gold rush opportunities and Shef was quick to seize this one, getting started just days after the law passed. Food delivery is a massive megatrend but high costs make it unaffordable or a luxury for many. If a parent is already cooking meals for their whole family, it takes minimal effort to produce a few extra portions to sell to the neighbors at accessible rates.

Handle

This startup 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.

Why we picked Handle: Construction might seem like an unsexy vertical, but it’s massive and rife with inefficiencies this startup tackles. Handle helps contractors demand payments, instantly file liens that ensure they’re compensated for work or materials, or exchange unpaid invoices for cash. Even modest fees could add up quickly given how much money moves through the industry. And there are surely secondary business models to explore using all the data Handle collects on the construction market.

Blueberry Medical

This pediatric telemedicine company 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 $15 per month. They’ve just completed a paid consumer pilot and say they were able to resolve 84 percent of issues without in-person care. They’ve partnered with insurance providers to reduce ER visits.

Why we picked Blueberry: Questionable emergency room visits are a nightmare for parents, a huge source of unnecessary costs, and a drain on resources for needy patients. Parents already spend so much time and money trying to keep their kids safe that this is a no-brainer subscription. And the urgent and emotional pull of pediatrics is a smart wedge into telemedicine for all demographics.

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.

Why we picked rct studio: Netflix’s Bandersnatch was just the start of mainstream interactive film. With strong technology, an innovative application, and proven talent, rct could become a critical tool for creating this kind of media. And even if the tech falls short of producing polished media, it could be used for storyboards and mockups.

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 by helping them earn interest on their funding while retaining liquidity. 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.

Why we picked Interprime: The explosion of early stage startup funding evidenced by Y Combinator itself has created new banking opportunities. Silicon Valley Bank is ripe for competition and Interprime’s focus on startups could unlock new financial services. With Interprime’s YC affiliation, it has access to tons of potential customers.

 

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.

Why we picked Nabis: Quirky regulation creates efficiency gaps in the marijuana business where incumbents can’t participate since they’re not allowed to handle the flower. As more states legalize and cannabis finds its way into more products, moving goods from farm to processor to retailer could spawn a big market for Nabis with a legal moat. It’s already working with many top marijuana brands, and could sell them additional services around business intelligence and distribution.

WeatherCheck

This startup measures weather damage for insurance companies. WeatherCheck 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.

Why we picked WeatherCheck: Extreme weather is only getting worse due to climate change. With 10.7 million US properties impacted by hail damage in 2017, WeatherCheck has found a smart initial market from which to expand. It’s easy to imagine the startup working on flood, earthquake, tornado, and wildfire claims too. Insurance is a fierce market, and old-school providers could get a leg up with WeatherCheck’s tech.

 

Upsolve

Upsolve wants to help 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.

Why we picked Upsolve: Financial hardship is rampant. With the potential for another recession and automation threatening jobs, many families could be at risk for bankruptcy. But the process is so stigmatized that some people avoid it at all costs. Upsolve could democratize access to this financial strategy while inserting itself into a lucrative transaction type.

Pulse Active Stations Network

This startup makes 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 trains,” 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.

Why we picked Pulse: Telemedicine can’t do everything, but plenty of people around the world can’t make it in to a full-fledged doctor’s office. Pulse creates a mid-point where hardware sensors can measure body fat, blood pressure, pulse, and bone strength to improve accuracy for diagnosing diabetes, osteoarthritis, cardiac problems, and more. Pulse’s companion app could spark additional revenue streams, and there’s clearly a much bigger market for this than just India.

Honorable Mentions

-Allo, a marketplace where parents can exchange babysitting and errand-running

-Shiok, a lab-grown shrimp substitute

-WithFriends, a subscription platform for small retail businesses

More Y Combinator coverage from TechCrunch:

Additional reporting by Kate Clark, Lucas Matney, and Greg Kumparak


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Zeus raises $24M to make you a living-as-a-service landlord

Posted by on Mar 15, 2019 in 2nd Address, Airbnb, Apps, eCommerce, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, garry tan, initialized capital, Personnel, Real Estate, Recent Funding, Sonder, Startups, TC, Venture Capital, zeus | 0 comments

Cookie-cutter corporate housing turns people into worker drones. When an employee needs to move to a new city for a few months, they’re either stuck in bland, giant apartment complexes or Airbnbs meant for shorter stays. But Zeus lets any homeowner get paid to host white-collar transient labor. Through its managed ownership model, Zeus takes on all the furnishing, upkeep, and risk of filling the home while its landlords sit back earning cash.

Zeus has quietly risen to a $45 million revenue run rate from renting out 900 homes in 23 cities. That’s up 5X in a year thanks to Zeus’ 150 employees. With a 90 percent occupancy rate, it’s proven employers and their talent want more unique, trustworthy, well-equipped multi-month residences that actually make them feel at home.

Now while Airbnb is distracted with its upcoming IPO, Zeus has raised $24 million to steal the corporate housing market. That includes a previous $2.5 million seed round from Bowery, the new $11.5 million Series A led by Initialized Capital whose partner Garry Tan has joined Zeus’ board, and $10 million in debt to pay fixed costs like furniture. The plan is to roll up more homes, build better landlord portal software, and hammer out partnerships or in-house divisions for cleaning and furnishing.

“In the first decade out of school people used to have two jobs. Now it’s four jobs and it’s trending to five” says Zeus co-founder and CEO Kulveer Taggar. “We think in 10 years, these people won’t be buying furniture.” He imagines they’ll pay a premium for hand-holding in housing, which judging by the explosion in popularity of zero-friction on-demand services, seems like an accurate assessment of our lazy future. Meanwhile, Zeus aims to be “the quantum leap improvement in the experience of trying to rent out your home” where you just punch in your address plus some details and you’re cashing checks 10 days later.

Buying Mom A House Was Step 1

“When I sold my first startup, I bought a home for my mom in Vancouver” Taggar recalls. It was payback for when she let him remortgage her old house while he was in college to buy a condo in Mumbai he’d rent out to earn money. “Despite not having much growing up, my mom was a travel agent and we got to travel a lot” which Taggar says inspired his goal to live nomadically in homes around the world. Zeus could let other live that dream.

Zeus co-founder and CEO Kulveer Taggar

After Oxford and working as an analyst at Deutsche Bank, Taggar built student marketplace Boso before moving to the United States. There, he co-founded auction tool Auctomatic with his cousin Harjeet Taggar and future Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison, went through Y Combinator, and sold it to Live Current Media for $5 million just 10 months later. That gave him the runway to gift a home to his mom and start tinkering on new ideas.

With Y Combinator’s backing again, Taggar started NFC-triggered task launcher Tagstand, which pivoted into app settings configurer Agent, which pivoted into automatic location sharing app Status. But when his co-founder Joe Wong had to move an hour south from San Francisco to Palo Alto, Taggar was dumbfounded by how distracting the process was. Listing and securing a new tenant was difficult, as was finding a medium-term rental without having to deal with exhorbitant prices or sketchy Cragislist. Having seen his former co-founder go on to great success with Stripe’s dead-simple payments integration, Taggar wanted to combine that vision with OpenDoor’s easy home sales to making renting or renting out a place instantaneous. That spawned Zeus.

Stripe Meets OpenDoor To Beat Airbnb

To become a Zeus landlord, you just type in your address, how many bedrooms and bathrooms, and some aesthetic specs, and you get a monthly price quote for what you’ll be paid. Zeus comes in and does a 250-point quality assessment, collects floor plans, furnishes the property, and handles cleaning and maintenance. It works with partners like Helix mattresses, Parachute sheets, and Simple Human trash cans to get bulk rates. “We raised debt because we had these fixed investments into furniture. It’s not as dilutive as selling pure equity” Taggar explains.

Zeus quickly finds a tenant thanks to listings in Airbnb and relationships with employers like Darktrace and ZS Associates with lots of employees moving around. After passing background checks, tenants get digital lock codes and access to 24/7 support in case something doesn’t look right. The goal is to get someone sleeping there in just 10 days. “Traditional corporate housing is $10,000 a month in SF in the summer or at extended stay hotels. Airbnb isn’t well suited [for multi-month stays]. ” Taggar claims. “We’re about half the price of traditional corporate housing for a better product and a better experience.”

Zeus signs minimum two-year leases with landlords and tries to extend them to five years when possible. It gets one free month of rent as is standard for property managers, but doesn’t charge an additional rate. For example, Zeus might lease your home for $4,000 per month but gets the first month free, and rent it out for $5,000 so it earns $60,000 but pays you $44,000. That’s a tidy margin if Zeus can get homes filled fast and hold down its upkeep costs.

“Zeus has been instrumental for my company to start the process of re-location to the Bay Area and to host our visiting employees from abroad now that we are settled” writes Zeus client Meitre’s Luis Caviglia. “I particularly like the ‘hard truths’ featured in every property, and the support we have received when issues arose during our stays.”

At Home, Anywhere

There’s no shortage of competitors chasing this $18 billion market in the US alone. There are the old-school corporations and chains like Oakwood and Barbary Coast that typically rent out apartments from vast, generic complexes at steep rates. Stays over 30 days made up 15 percent of Airbnb’s business last year, but the platform wasn’t designed for peace-of-mind around long-term stays. There are pure marketplaces like UrbanDoor that don’t always take care of everything for the landlord or provide consistent tenant experiences. And then there are direct competitors like $130 million-funded Sonder, $66 million-funded Domio, recently GV-backed 2nd Address, and European entants like MagicStay, AtHomeHotel, and Homelike.

Zeus’ property unit growth

There’s plenty of pie, though. With 330,000 housing units in SF alone, Zeus has plenty of room to grow. The rise of remote work means companies whose employee typically didn’t relocate may now need to bring in distant workers for a multi-month sprint. A recession could make companies more expense-cautious, leading them to rethink putting up staffers in hotels for months on end. Regulatory red tape and taxes could scare landlords away from short-term rentals and towards coprorate housing. And the need to expand into new businesses could tempt the big vacation rental platforms like Airbnb to make acquisitions in the space — or try to crush Zeus.

Winners will be determined in part by who has the widest and cheapest selection of properties, but also by which makes people most comfortable in a new city. That’s why Taggar is taking a cue from WeWork by trying to arrange more community events for its tenants. Often in need of friends, Zeus could become a favorite by helping people feel part of a neighborhood rather than a faceless inmate in a massive apartment block or hotel. That gives Zeus network effect if it can develop density in top markets.

Taggar says the biggest challenge is that “I feels like I’m running five startups at once. Pricing, supply chain, customer service, B2B. We’ve decided to make everything custom — our own property manager software, our own internal CRM. We think these advantages compound, but I could be wrong and they could be wasted effort.”

The benefits of Zeus‘ success would go beyond the founder’s bank account. “I’ve had friends in New York get great opportuntiies in San Francisco but not take them because of the friction of moving” Taggar says. Routing talent where it belongs could get more things built. And easy housing might make people more apt to live abroad temporarily. Taggar concludes, “I think it’s a great way to build empathy.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Uber reportedly raising $1B in deal that values self-driving car unit at up to $10B

Posted by on Mar 13, 2019 in AV, economy, funding, General Motors, Google, Lyft, Softbank, Softbank Vision Fund, t.rowe price, TC, the wall street journal, Toyota, TPG Growth, transport, Transportation, Uber, United States, Venture Capital, waymo | 0 comments

Uber is in negotiations with investors, including the SoftBank Vision Fund, to secure an investment as large as $1 billion for its autonomous vehicles unit. The deal would value the business at between $5 billion and $10 billion, according to a Tuesday report from The Wall Street Journal.

Uber declined to comment.

The news comes shortly after TechCrunch’s Mark Harris revealed the ridehailing firm was burning through $20 million a month on developing self-driving technologies, which means, according to our calculations, that Uber could have spent more than $900 million on automated vehicle research since early 2015.

According to the WSJ, the deal could close as soon as next month, shortly before Uber is expected to complete a highly-anticipated initial public offering. Uber, in December, filed the necessary paperwork with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to go public in 2019. The documents were submitted only hours after its competitor Lyft did the same; Lyft, for its part, unveiled its S-1 earlier this month and will debut on the Nasdaq shortly.

Uber, to date, has raised nearly $20 billion in a combination of debt and equity funding, reaching a valuation north of $70 billion. The business is said to be seeking funding for its self-driving business in order to tout the unit’s growth and valuation. After all, a $10 billion sticker price on its AV efforts may bandage its reputation, damaged by continued reports questioning its progress.

Alphabet-owned Waymo, meanwhile, is reportedly looking to raise capital, too. This would be the first infusion of outside funding for the autonomous vehicle business, rolled out of Alphabet’s Google X. According to The Information, which broke this news on Monday, Waymo would raise capital at a valuation “several times” that of Cruise, the AV company owned by General Motors.

Raising capital from outside investors would help limit costs and would allow Alphabet the opportunity to display Waymo’s valuation for the first time in several years. Alphabet, however, does not want to relinquish too much equity in the business, justifiably. Waymo, years ago, was valued at $4.5 billion, though analysts claim it could surpass a valuation as high as $175 billion based on future revenue estimates.

Waymo didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Other investors in Uber’s purported round include an “unnamed automaker,” per the WSJ. Uber’s existing backers include Toyota, SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, Fidelity and TPG Growth.

Uber’s net losses were up 32 percent quarter-over-quarter as of late last year to $939 million on a pro forma basis. On an EBITDA basis, Uber’s losses were $527 million, up about 21 percent. The company said revenue was up five percent QoQ sitting at $2.95 billion and up 38 percent year-over-year.

CXA, a health-focused digital insurance startup, raises $25M

Posted by on Mar 13, 2019 in Asia, asia pacific, b capital, Banking, ceo, China, Co-founder, cxa group, economy, Eduardo Saverin, Europe, Facebook, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, healthcare, Indonesia, insurance, Louisiana, money, North America, openspace ventures, singtel, SingTel Innov8, Southeast Asia, Venture Capital | 0 comments

CXA Group, a Singapore-based startup that helps make insurance more accessible and affordable, has raised $25 million for expansion in Asia and later into Europe and North America.

The startup takes a unique route to insurance. Rather than going to consumers directly, it taps corporations to offer their employees health flexible options. That’s to say that instead of rigid plans that force employees to use a certain gym or particular healthcare, a collection over 1,000 programs and options can be tailored to let employees pick what’s relevant or appealing to them. The ultimate goal is to bring value to employees to keep them healthier and lower the overall premiums for their employers.

“Our purpose is to empower personalized choices for better living for employees,” CXA founder and CEO Rosaline Koo told TechCrunch in an interview. “We use data and tech to recommend better choices.”

The company is primarily focused on China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia where it claims to works with 600 enterprises including Fortune 500 firms. The company has over 200 staff, and it has acquired two traditional insurance brokerages in China to help grow its footprint, gain requisite licenses and its logistics in areas such as health checkups.

We last wrote about CXA in 2017 when it raised a $25 million Series B, and this new Series C round takes it to $58 million from investors to date. Existing backers include B Capital, the BCG-backed fund from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, EDBI — the investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board — and early Go-Jek backer Openspace Ventures, and they are joined by a glut of big-name backers in this round.

Those new investors include a lot of corporates. There’s HSBC, Singtel Innov8 (of Singaporean telco Singtel), Telkom Indonesia MDI Ventures (of Indonesia telco Telkom), Sumitomo Corporation Equity Asia (Japanese trading firm) Muang Thai Fuchsia Ventures (Thailand-based insurance firm), Humanica (Thailand-based HR firm) and PE firm Heritas Venture Fund.

“There are additional insurance companies and strategic partners that we aren’t listing,” said Koo.

Rosaline Koo is founder and CEO of CXA Group

That’s a very deliberate selection of large corporates which is part of a new strategy to widen CXA audience.

The company had initially gone after massive firms — it claims to reach a collective 400,000 employees — but now the goal is to reach SMEs and non-Fortune 500 enterprises. To do that, it is using the reach and connections of larger service companies to reach their customers.

“We believe that banks and telcos can cross-sell insurance and banking services,” said Koo, who grew up in LA and counts benefits broker Mercer on her resume. “With demographic and work life event data, plus health data, we’re able to target the right banking and insurance services.

“We can help move them away from spamming,” she added. “Because we will have the right data to really target the right offering to the right person at the right time. No firm wants an agent sitting in their canteen bothering their staff, now it’s all digital and we’re moving insurance and banking into a new paradigm.”

The ultimate goal is to combat a health problem that Koo believes is only getting worse in the Asia Pacific region.

“Chronic disease comes here 10 years before anywhere else,” she said, citing an Emory research paper which concluded that chronic diseases in Asia are “rising at a rate that exceeds global increases.”

“There’s such a crying need for solutions, but companies can’t force the brokers to lower costs as employees are getting sick… double-digit increases are normal, but we think this approach can help drop them. We want to start changing the cost of healthcare in Asia, where it is an epidemic, using data and personalization at scale in a way to help the community,” Koo added.

Talking to Koo makes it very clear that she is focused on growing CXA’s reach in Asia this year, but further down the line, there are ambitions to expand to other parts of the world. Europe and North America, she said, may come in 2020.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Harvard-MIT initiative grants $750K to projects looking to keep tech accountable

Posted by on Mar 12, 2019 in Artificial Intelligence, funding, Government, harvard, Harvard University, Media, media lab, MIT, mit media lab, Philanthropy, Social, TC | 0 comments

Artificial intelligence, or what passes for it, can be found in practically every major tech company and, increasingly, in government programs. A joint Harvard-MIT program just unloaded $750,000 on projects looking to keep such AI developments well understood and well reported.

The Ethics and Governance in AI Initiative is a combination research program and grant fund operated by MIT’s Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman-Klein Center. The small projects selected by the initiative are, generally speaking, aimed at using technology to keep people informed, or informing people about technology.

AI is an enabler of both good and ill in the world of news and information gathering, as the initiative’s director, Tim Hwang, said in a news release:

“On one hand, the technology offers a tremendous opportunity to improve the way we work — including helping journalists find key information buried in mountains of public records. Yet we are also seeing a range of negative consequences as AI becomes intertwined with the spread of misinformation and disinformation online.”

These grants are not the first the initiative has given out, but they are the first in response to an open call for ideas, Hwang noted.

The largest sum of the bunch, a $150,000 grant, went to MuckRock Foundation’s project Sidekick, which uses machine learning tools to help journalists scour thousands of pages of documents for interesting data. This is critical in a day and age when government and corporate records are so voluminous (for example, millions of emails leaked or revealed via FOIA) that it is basically impossible for a reporter or even team to analyze them without help.

Along the same lines is Legal Robot, which was awarded $100,000 for its plan to mass-request government contracts, then extract and organize the information within. This makes a lot of sense: People I’ve talked to in this sector have told me that the problem isn’t a lack of data but a surfeit of it, and poorly kept at that. Cleaning up messy data is going to be one of the first tasks any investigator or auditor of government systems will want to do.

Tattle is a project aiming to combat disinformation and false news spreading on WhatsApp, which, as we’ve seen, has been a major vector for it. It plans to use its $100,000 to establish channels for sourcing data from users, because, of course, much of WhatsApp is encrypted. Connecting this data with existing fact-checking efforts could help understand and mitigate harmful information going viral.

The Rochester Institute of Technology will be using its grant (also $100,000) to look into detecting manipulated video, both designing its own techniques and evaluating existing ones. Close inspection of the media will render a confidence score that can be displayed via a browser extension.

Other grants are going to AI-focused reporting work by The Seattle Times and by newsrooms in Latin America, and to workshops training local media in reporting AI and how it affects their communities.

To be clear, the initiative isn’t investing in these projects — just funding them with a handful of stipulations, Hwang explained to TechCrunch over email.

“Generally, our approach is to give grantees the freedom to experiment and run with the support that we give them,” he wrote. “We do not take any ownership stake but the products of these grants are released under open licenses to ensure the widest possible distribution to the public.”

He characterized the initiative’s grants as a way to pick up the slack that larger companies are leaving behind as they focus on consumer-first applications like virtual assistants.

“It’s naive to believe that the big corporate leaders in AI will ensure that these technologies are being leveraged in the public interest,” wrong Hwang. “Philanthropic funding has an important role to play in filling in the gaps and supporting initiatives that envision the possibilities for AI outside the for-profit context.”

You can read more about the initiative and its grantees here.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Bottomless has a solution for lazy coffee addicts

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in Accelerator, Amazon, Coffee, digital assistant, drinks, Food, food and drink, funding, Google, Philz Coffee, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Startups, TC, Y Combinator | 0 comments

If you’re like me, you let out a heavy sigh every month or so when you reach out and unexpectedly find an empty bag of coffee. Bottomless, one of the 200-plus startups in Y Combinator’s latest batch, has a solution for us caffeine addicts.

For a $36 annual membership fee, a cost which co-founder Michael Mayer says isn’t set in stone, plus $11.29 per order depending on the blend, Bottomless will automatically restock your coffee supply before you run out. How? The startup sends its members an internet-connected scale free of charge, which members place under their bag of coffee grounds. Tracking the weight of the bag, Bottomless’ scales determine when customers are low on grounds and ensure a new bag of previously selected freshly roasted coffee is on their doorstep before they run out.

Voilà, no more coffee-less mornings.

Founded by Seattle-based husband and wife duo Mayer and Liana Herrera in 2016, Bottomless began as a passion project for Mayer, a former developer at Nike.com. Herrera kept working as a systems implementations specialist until Bottomless secured enough customers to justify the pair working on the project full-time. That was in 2018; months later, after their second attempt at applying, they were admitted into the Y Combinator accelerator program.

Bottomless’ smart scale

Bottomless today counts around 400 customers and has inked distribution deals with Four Barrel and Philz Coffee, among other roasters. Including the $150,000 investment YC provides each of its startups, Bottomless previously raised a pre-seed round from San Francisco and Seattle-area angel investors.

Before relocating to San Francisco for YC, the Bottomless founders were working feverishly out of their Seattle home.

“This whole time we’ve been 3D-printing prototypes out of our apartment and soldering them together out of our apartment,” Mayer told TechCrunch. “We kind of turned our place into this new manufacturing facility. There’s dust everywhere and it’s crazy. But we made 150 units ourselves by hand-soldering and lots of burned fingers.”

The long-term goal is to automate the restocking process of several household items, like pet food, soap and shampoo. Their challenge will be getting customers to keep multiple smart scales in their homes as opposed to just asking their digital assistant to order them some coffee or soap on Amazon .

Amazon recently announced it was doing away with its stick-on Dash buttons, IoT devices capable of self-ordering on Amazon. The devices launched in 2015 before Google Homes and Amazon Alexas hit the mainstream.

So why keep a smart scale in your kitchen as opposed to just asking a digital assistant to replenish your supply? Mayer says it’s coffee quality that keeps it competitive.

“Some of our most enthusiastic customers live out in like deep suburbs far away from city centers, but they really love fresh coffee,” Mayer said.And there’s no way to get fresh coffee if you live 20 or 30 minutes from a city center, right?”

“Or you might think in a city like San Francisco or Seattle, you can get freshly roasted coffee pretty easily because there are restaurants all over the place, right?” He added. “That’s certainly true, but it does take a little bit of extra thought to remember to grab it on the right day when you’re running low.”

Mayer and Herrera don’t consider themselves coffee experts, despite now running what is essentially a direct-to-consumer coffee marketplace out of Seattle, the coffee capital.

“I’m originally from Portland and Portlanders know a lot about coffee,” Mayer said. “I never really considered myself to be a coffee aficionado or a coffee snob in my head, but I guess compared to like the average American from anywhere in the country, I would be just a regular coffee drinker in Portland. All I really knew about coffee going into this was that it’s better fresh. That’s it.”

Bottomless is currently accepting customers in beta. The team will pitch to investors at YC Demo Days next week.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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