Wellory raises $4.5M for its ‘anti-diet’ nutrition app


This post is by Anthony Ha from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Wellory, a startup that bills itself as taking an “anti-diet approach” to nutrition and wellness, is announcing that it has raised $4.2 million in funding.

The round was led by Story Ventures, with participation from Harlem Capital, Tinder co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, Ground Up Ventures, NBA Player Wayne Ellington, Hannah Bronfman and others.

Wellory founder and CEO Emily Hochman (who was previously the head of customer success at WayUp) told me that she struggled with dieting in college, to the point where she was risking chronic illness and infertility. As a result, she became determined to gain a better understanding of nutrition and her own health, eventually studying and becoming a certified health coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Hochman said that through Wellory, she wants to offer that same understanding to others, which she said has created a “managed marketplace” matching users with a licensed nutritionist, registered dietitian or certified health coach. Those coaches create a personalized plan for losing weight or achieving other health goals, then continue to provide feedback as users share photos of each meal and additional health data.

For example, she said that a customer who had just given birth and was interested in postpartum weight loss would get matched with a coach who specializes in that area.

“The thing that is so important is that we build personalized plans,” she added. “We don’t have anything that says, ‘At Wellory, we do these 10 things and that’s a standard diet.’ We’re actually going to help you learn how to make smart and healthy decisions.”

Wellory CEO Emily Hochman

Wellory CEO Emily Hochman

Wellory officially launched in September, but Hochman said some beta testers have been using the service for nine, 10 or 11 months. She said early customers include people who are interested in weight loss, those who need nutrition advice due to chronic illness and “optimizers” who simply want to make sure they’re eating as healthily as possible.

She also noted that although customers usually sign up with a specific goal in mind, “once they hit their goal, because the power of a strong relationship, they say, ‘I don’t want to go back to where I was, let’s keep building, let’s make sure I can sustain this.’”

The app is available on iOS and Android and currently costs $59.99 per month. Hochman plans to introduce additional pricing tiers. and she said the funding will allow Wellory to expand the technology and marketing teams, and to explore new partnerships.

“As a data technology investor, we get approached by different types of wearable or diagnostic companies nearly every week,” said Jake Yormak of Story Ventures in a statement. “We love the category but what we saw in Wellory was a way to put a human coach at the center of understanding this health data. With nutrition as the wedge, Wellory has built a trusted relationship with people who affirmatively want to better understand and improve their wellbeing.”

Wellory raises $4.5M for its ‘anti-diet’ nutrition app


This post is by Anthony Ha from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Wellory, a startup that bills itself as taking an “anti-diet approach” to nutrition and wellness, is announcing that it has raised $4.2 million in funding.

The round was led by Story Ventures, with participation from Harlem Capital, Tinder co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, Ground Up Ventures, NBA player Wayne Ellington, Hannah Bronfman and others.

Wellory founder and CEO Emily Hochman (who was previously the head of customer success at WayUp) told me that she struggled with dieting in college, to the point where she was risking chronic illness and infertility. As a result, she became determined to gain a better understanding of nutrition and her own health, eventually studying and becoming a certified health coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Hochman said that through Wellory, she wants to offer that same understanding to others, which she said has created a “managed marketplace” matching users with a licensed nutritionist, registered dietitian or certified health coach. Those coaches create a personalized plan for losing weight or achieving other health goals, then continue to provide feedback as users share photos of each meal and additional health data.

For example, she said that a customer who had just given birth and was interested in postpartum weight loss would get matched with a coach who specializes in that area.

“The thing that is so important is that we build personalized plans,” she added. “We don’t have anything that says, ‘At Wellory, we do these 10 things and that’s a standard diet.’ We’re actually going to help you learn how to make smart and healthy decisions.”

Wellory CEO Emily Hochman

Wellory CEO Emily Hochman (Image Credit: Wellory)

Wellory officially launched in September, but Hochman said some beta testers have been using the service for nine, 10 or 11 months. She said early customers include people who are interested in weight loss, those who need nutrition advice due to chronic illness and “optimizers” who simply want to make sure they’re eating as healthily as possible.

She also noted that although customers usually sign up with a specific goal in mind, “once they hit their goal, because of the power of a strong relationship, they say, ‘I don’t want to go back to where I was, let’s keep building, let’s make sure I can sustain this.’ ”

The app is available on iOS and Android and currently costs $59.99 per month. Hochman plans to introduce additional pricing tiers. and she said the funding will allow Wellory to expand the technology and marketing teams, and to explore new partnerships.

“As a data technology investor, we get approached by different types of wearable or diagnostic companies nearly every week,” said Jake Yormak of Story Ventures in a statement. “We love the category but what we saw in Wellory was a way to put a human coach at the center of understanding this health data. With nutrition as the wedge, Wellory has built a trusted relationship with people who affirmatively want to better understand and improve their wellbeing.”

Singapore-based mental health app Intellect reaches one million users, closes seed funding


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Intellect, a Singapore-based startup that wants to lower barriers to mental health care in Asia, says it has reached more than one million users just six months after launching. Google also announced today that the startup’s consumer app, also called Intellect, is one of its picks for best personal growth apps of 2020.

The company recently closed an undisclosed seed round led by Insignia Ventures Partners. Angel investors including e-commerce platform Carousell co-founder and chief executive officer Quek Siu Rui; former Sequoia partner Tim Lee; and startup consultancy xto10x’s Southeast Asia CEO J.J. Chai also participated.

In a statement, Insignia Ventures Partners principal Samir Chaibi said, “In Intellect, we see a fast-scaling platform addressing a pain that has become very obvious amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that pairing clinically-backed protocols with an efficient mobile-first delivery is the key to break down the barriers to access for millions of patients globally.”

Co-founder and chief executive officer Theodoric Chew launched Intellect earlier this year because while there is a growing pool of mental wellness apps in the United States and Europe that have attracted more funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, the space is still very young in Asia. Intellect’s goal is encourage more people to incorporate mental health care into their daily routines by lowering barriers like high costs and social stigma.

Intellect offers two products. One is a consumer app with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that center on issues like anxiety, self-esteem or relationship issues.

The other is a mental health platform for employers to offer as a benefit and includes a recently launched telehealth service called Behavioural Health Coaching that connects users with mental health professionals. The service, which includes one-on-one video sessions and unlimited text messaging, is now a core part of Intellect’s services, Chew told TechCrunch.

Intellect’s enterprise product now reaches 10,000 employees, and its clients include tech companies, regional operations for multinational corporations and hospitals. Most are located in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and India, and range in size from 100 to more than 3,000 employees.

For many small- to mid-sized employers, Intellect is often the first mental health benefit they have offered. Larger clients may already have EAP (employee assistance programs), but Chew said those are often underutilized, with an average adoption rate of 1% to 2%. On the other hand, he said Intellect’s employee benefit program sees an average adoption rate of 30% in the first month after it is rolled out at a company.

Chew added that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more companies to address burnout and other mental health issues.

“In terms of larger trends, we’ve seen a huge spike in companies across the region having mental health and wellbeing of their employees being prioritized on their agenda,” said Chew. “In terms of user trends, we see a significantly higher utilization in work stress and burnout, anxiety and relationship-related programs.”

Intellect’s seed round will be used to expand in Asian markets and to help fund clinical research studies it is currently conducting with universities and organizations in Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Singapore-based mental health app Intellect reaches one million users, closes seed funding


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Intellect, a Singapore-based startup that wants to lower barriers to mental health care in Asia, says it has reached more than one million users just six months after launching. Google also announced today that the startup’s consumer app, also called Intellect, is one of its picks for best personal growth apps of 2020.

The company recently closed an undisclosed seed round led by Insignia Ventures Partners . Angel investors including e-commerce platform Carousell co-founder and chief executive officer Quek Siu Rui; former Sequoia partner Tim Lee; and startup consultancy xto10x’s Southeast Asia CEO J.J. Chai also participated.

In a statement, Insignia Ventures Partners principal Samir Chaibi said, “In Intellect, we see a fast-scaling platform addressing a pain that has become very obvious amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that pairing clinically-backed protocols with an efficient mobile-first delivery is the key to break down the barriers to access for millions of patients globally.”

Co-founder and chief executive officer Theodoric Chew launched Intellect earlier this year because while there is a growing pool of mental wellness apps in the United States and Europe that have attracted more funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, the space is still very young in Asia. Intellect’s goal is to encourage more people to incorporate mental health care into their daily routines by lowering barriers like high costs and social stigma.

Intellect offers two products. One is a consumer app with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that center on issues like anxiety, self-esteem or relationship issues.

The other is a mental health platform for employers to offer as a benefit and includes a recently launched telehealth service called Behavioural Health Coaching that connects users with mental health professionals. The service, which includes one-on-one video sessions and unlimited text messaging, is now a core part of Intellect’s services, Chew told TechCrunch.

Intellect’s enterprise product now reaches 10,000 employees, and its clients include tech companies, regional operations for multinational corporations and hospitals. Most are located in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and India, and range in size from 100 to more than 3,000 employees.

For many small to mid-sized employers, Intellect is often the first mental health benefit they have offered. Larger clients may already have EAP (employee assistance programs), but Chew said those are often underutilized, with an average adoption rate of 1% to 2%. On the other hand, he said Intellect’s employee benefit program sees an average adoption rate of 30% in the first month after it is rolled out at a company.

Chew added that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more companies to address burnout and other mental health issues.

“In terms of larger trends, we’ve seen a huge spike in companies across the region having mental health and wellbeing of their employees being prioritized on their agenda,” said Chew. “In terms of user trends, we see a significantly higher utilization in work stress and burnout, anxiety and relationship-related programs.”

Intellect’s seed round will be used to expand in Asian markets and to help fund clinical research studies it is currently conducting with universities and organizations in Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Salut raises $1.25M for its virtual fitness service


This post is by Alex Wilhelm from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

This morning Salut, an app-based service that allows fitness trainers to host classes virtually, announced that it has raised $1.25 million in a new financing event. The round was led by Charles Hudson, an investor at Precursor Ventures.

Founder Matthew DiPietro, formerly of Twitch, told TechCrunch that Salut soft-launched in mid-September, with a wider release coming today.

DiPietro thought up the concept behind Salut before the pandemic hit, he said during an interview, but after COVID-19 appeared the idea took on new urgency. The company put together what DiPietro described as a no-code alpha version of the service in May to test the market, allowing the then-nascent startup to validate demand on both sides of its marketplace — it’s famously difficult to jumpstart two-sided marketplaces, as demand tends to follow supply, and vice-versa.

The test allowed the company to get to confidence on demand existing from both trainers and exercise fans, and in its initial economic model.

With the new round in the bank and its product now formally launched, it’s up to Salut to scale rapidly. The company currently has 55 registered trainers on its platform, a reasonable start for the seed-stage startup. It will need to grow that figure by a few orders of magnitude if it wants to generate enough revenue to reach an eventual Series A.

But Salut is not focused on early-revenue generation, taking no cut of trainer revenue today. Indeed, per an email the company sent out to its users this morning, the startup is passing along 100% of post-Apple income that trainers generate, or 85% of the gross.

Currently users can donate to, or tip, trainers that host classes. DiPietro told TechCrunch that subscription options are coming in a quarter or two. The startup also announced today that trainers can now allow their classes to be replayed, what the startup called one of its “most requested features.”

Anyone familiar with Peloton understands why this matters; only a fraction of classes on the Peloton ecosystem are live at any point in time, but the bike comes with a library of content that users can simply load up whenever they like. This also allows Peloton to release more niche content than it otherwise might, as even the heavy metal-themed rides can accrete a reasonable ridership over time (something they might not be able to manage if all classes on the platform were only live once and then gone forever).

DiPietro is bullish on building income streams for trainers, especially during a pandemic that has locked many gyms, leaving fitness processionals with little to no income in many cases.

There’s some early signal that users are willing to pay, the company said, with early users willing to pay $5 or $10 for an hour of fitness training. And with a focus on the long-tail of trainers who can’t attract 10,000 fans to a single class, Salut thinks there are a large number of trainers who have enough pull to generate more income from its service, in time, than they could at a traditional studio.

Salut supports group video classes, of course, so trainers can collect monies from cohorts of users at a time.

The company’s fundraising is largely earmarked for engineering, with the company having what its founder called an ambitious product roadmap.

The startup also announced a new project with Fitness Mentors, a company that helps trainers get certified, to create what the two companies are calling “the industry’s first Virtual Group Fitness Instructor (V-GFI) course and certification.”

You can see why Salut would want the certification to exist; its existence will allow users of its service to find trainers that are worth their time on its service, and may raise the overall level of quality of classes provided.

Let’s see how far Salut can get with $1.25 million.

Slack’s stock climbs on possible Salesforce acquisition


This post is by Alex Wilhelm from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

News that Salesforce is interested in buying Slack, the popular workplace chat company, sent shares of the smaller firm sharply higher today.

Slack shares are up just under 25% at the moment, according to Yahoo Finance data. Slack is worth $36.95 per share as of the time of writing, valuing it at around $20.8 billion. The well-known former unicorn has been worth as little as $15.10 per share inside the last year and worth as much as $40.07.

Inversely, shares of Salesforce are trading lower on the news, falling around 3.5% as of the time of writing. Investors in the San Francisco-based SaaS pioneer were either unimpressed at the combination idea, or perhaps worried about the price that would be required to bring the 2019 IPO into their fold.

Why Salesforce, a massive software company with a strong position in the CRM market, and aspirations of becoming an even larger platform player, would want to buy Slack is not immediately clear though there are possible benefits. This includes the possibility of cross-selling the two companies products’ into each others customer bases, possibly unlocking growth for both parties. Slack has wide marketshare inside of fast-growing startups, for example, while Salesforce’s products roost inside a host of megacorps.

TechCrunch reached out to Salesforce, Slack and Slack’s CEO for comment on the deal’s possibility. We’ll update this post with whatever we get.

While Salesforce bought Quip for $750 million in 2016, which gave it a kind of document sharing and collaboration, Salesforce Chatter has been the only social tool in the company’s arsenal. Buying Slack would give the CRM giant solid enterprise chat footing and likely a lot of synergy among customers and tooling.

But Slack has always been more than a mere chat client. It enables companies to embed workflows, and this would fit well in the Salesforce family of products, which spans sales, service, marketing and more. It would allow companies to work both inside and outside the Salesforce ecosystem, building smooth and integrated workflows. While it can theoretically do that now, if the two were combined, you can be sure the integrations would be much tighter.

What’s more, Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says it would give Salesforce a sticky revenue source, something they are constantly searching for to keep their revenue engine rumbling along. “Slack could be a good candidate to strengthen its platform, but more importantly account for more usage and ‘stickiness’ of Salesforce products — as collaboration not only matters for CRM, but also for the vendor’s growing work.com platform,” Mueller said.  He added that it would be a way to stick it to former-friend-turned-foe Microsoft.

That’s because Slack has come under withering fire from Microsoft in recent quarters, as the Redmond-based software giant poured resources into its competing Teams service. Teams challenges Slack’s chat tooling and Zoom’s video features and has seen huge customer growth in recent quarters.

Finding Slack a corporate home amongst the larger tech players could ensure that Microsoft doesn’t grind it under the bulk of its enterprise software sales leviathan. And Salesforce, a sometimes Microsoft ally, would not mind adding the faster-growing Slack to its own expanding software income.

The question at this juncture comes down to price. Slack investors won’t want to sell for less than a good premium on the pre-pop per-share price, which now feels rather dated.

F3, a Stories-style Q&A app for Gen Z teens, raises $3.9M


This post is by Natasha Lomas from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

F3, an anonymous Q&A app targeting Gen Z teens which blends a Tinder-style swipe-to-friend gamification mechanic, Stories-esque rich media responses and eye-wateringly expensive subscriptions to unlock a ‘Plus’ version that actually lets you see who wants to friend you — has raised a $3.9M seed round, including for a planned push on the US market.

The Latvian team behind F3 are not new to the viral teen app game having founded the anonymous teen Q&A app Ask.fm — which faced huge controversy back in 2013 over bullying and safety concerns after being linked to a number of suicides of users who’d received abusive messages. Not that they’ve let that put them off the viral teen app space, clearly.

Investors in F3’s seed round hail from the Russian dating network Mamba (including the latter’s investor, Mail.ru Group) and a co-investor VC firm with a marketing focus, called AdFirst.

Alex Hofmann (former musical.ly president) and Marat Kichikov (GP at Bitfury Capital) are also named as being among those joining the round as angel investors.

F3, which launched its apps in 2018, has 25M registered users at this point — 85% of whom are younger than 25.

The typical user is a (bored) teenager, with the user base being reported as 65% female and 60% Europe / 20% LatAm / 20% Rest of World at this point. (They’re not breaking out any active user metrics but claim 80% of users have been on the app for more than three months at this point.)

On the safety front, F3 is using both automated tools and people for content moderation — with the founders claiming to have learnt lessons from their past experience with Ask.fm (which got acquired by IAC’s Ask.com back in 2014, given them the funds to plough into F3’s development up to now).

“We’ve been solving problem of violating content in our previous company (Ask.fm), and now at F3 we’ve used all our knowledge of solving this problem from day one. Automation tools include text analysis in all major languages with database of 250k+ patterns that is continuously being improved, and AI based image recognition algorithms for detecting violating content in photos and videos,” says the founding team — which includes CEO Ilja Terebin.

“Our 24/7 content moderation team (8 in-house safety experts and 30+ outsourced contractors) manually reviews user reports and items flagged by automation tools,” they add.

However reviews of the app that we saw included complaints from users who said they’ve being pestered by ‘pedophiles’ asking for nudes — so claims of safety risks being “solved” seem riskily overblown.

Why do teens need yet another social discovery/messaging app? On that Terebin & team say the app has been tailored for Gen Z from the get-go — “focusing on their needs to socialize and make new friends online, ‘quick’ content in the form of photos and short videos, which is true and personal”.

“Raw & real” is another of their teen-friendly product market fit claims.

F3 users get a personalized URL that they can share to other social networks to solicit questions from their friends — which can be asked anonymously or not. (F3 users can also choose not to accept anonymous questions if they prefer.)

Instead of plain text answers users snap a photo or grab a short video, add filters, fancy fonts and backgrounds, and so on to reply in a rich-media Stories-style that’s infiltrated all social networking apps (most recently infecting Twitter, where it’s called Fleets).

These rich media responses get made public on their feed — so if an F3 user chooses to answer a question they’re also engaging with the wider community by default (though they can choose not to respond as questions remain private until responded to).

Asked how F3 stands out in a very packed and competitive social media landscape, they argue the app’s “uniqueness” is that the Q&A is photo and video based — “so the format is familiar and close to other social networks (‘stories’ or ‘snaps’) but in a Q&A style back-and-forth communication”, as they put it, adding that for their Gen Z target “the outdated text-based Q&A just was too boring”.

“We compete for eyeballs of Gen Z with Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram. Our key strength is that through the Q&A format one can make new friends and truly get to know other people on a personal level through the prism of ‘raw and real’ content, which is not central on any of those platforms,” they also claim.

In terms of most similar competitors, they note Yolo has seen “some traction” and concede there are a bunch of others also offering Q&A. But here they argue F3 is more fully featured than rivals — suggesting the Q&A feature is just the viral hook to get users into a wider community net.

“[F3] is a fully functional social platform, built around visual communication — users have content feed where they can view posts by people they follow, they can create photo/video content using editing tools in the app itself, there’s a messenger functionality for direct chats, follow-ships, content and user discovery. So for us, the anonymous messaging/Q&A format is just an entry point which allows us to grow quickly and get the users on our platform, but then they make new connections and keep engaging with their unique social circle they have only on F3, making it a sustainable stand-alone social network.”

Again, though, user reviews tell more of a raw (and real?) story — with plenty of complaints that there’s little value in the free version of the app (while F3 Plus costs $3.99 for 7 days; $8.99 for 1 month or $19.99 for 3 months), and questions over the authenticity of some anonymous questions, as well as complaints that other users they’re able to meet aren’t nearby and/or don’t speak the same language. Other reviews aren’t wowed by more of the  same Q&A format. Others complain the app just feels like a data grab. (And the F3 ‘privacy policy‘ definitely has a detailed story to unfold vis-a-vis the tracking users are agreeing to, for anyone who bothers to dig in and read it.)

“This whole app is literally just like all the other apps. Just another copy cat that you still have to pay for,” runs one review from July 2020. “Don’t download.”

YC-backed Cashfree raises $35.3 million for its payments platform


This post is by Manish Singh from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Cashfree, an Indian startup that offers a wide-range of payments services to businesses, has raised $35.3 million in a new financing round as the profitable firm looks to broaden its offering.

The Bangalore-based startup’s Series B was led by London-headquartered private equity firm Apis Partners (which invested through its Growth Fund II), with participation from existing investors Y Combinator and Smilegate Investments. The new round brings the startup’s to-date raise to $42 million.

Cashfree kickstarted its journey in 2015 as a solution for restaurants in Bangalore that needed an efficient way for their delivery personnel to collect cash from customers.

Akash Sinha and Reeju Datta, the founders of Cashfree, did not have any prior experience with payments. When their merchants asked if they could build a service to accept payments online, the founders quickly realized that Cashfree could serve a wider purpose.

In the early days, Cashfree also struggled to court investors, many of whom did not think a payments processing firm could grow big — and do so fast enough. But the startup’s fate changed after Y Combinator accepted its application, even though the founders had missed the deadline and couldn’t arrive to join the batch on time. Y Combinator later financed Cashfree’s seed round.

Fast-forward five years, Cashfree today offers more than a dozen products and services and helps over 55,000 businesses disburse salary to employees, accept payments online, set up recurring payments and settle marketplace commissions.

Some of its customers include financial services startup Cred, online grocer BigBasket, food delivery platform Zomato, insurers HDFC Ergo and Acko and travel ticketing service provider Ixigo. The startup works with several banks and also offers integrations with platforms such as Shopify, PayPal and Amazon Pay.

Based on its offerings, Cashfree today competes with scores of startups, but it has an edge — if not many. Cashfree has been profitable for the past three years, Sinha, who serves as the startup’s chief executive, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“Cashfree has maintained a leadership position in this space and is now going through a period of rapid growth fuelled by the development of unique and innovative products that serve the needs of its customers,” Udayan Goyal, co-founder and a managing partner at Apis, said in a statement.

The startup processed over $12 billion in payments volumes in the financial year that ended in March. Sinha said part of the fresh fund will be deployed in R&D so that Cashfree can scale its technology stack and build more services, including those that can digitize more offline payments for its clients.

Cashfree is also working on building cross-border payments solutions to explore opportunities in emerging markets, he said.

“We still see payments as an evolving industry with its own challenges and we would be investing in next-gen payments as well as banking tech to make payments processing easier and more reliable. With the solid foundation of in-house technologies, tech-driven processes and in-depth industry knowledge, we are confident of growing Cashfree to be the leader in the payments space in India and internationally,” he said.

50 Years of Gaming History, by Revenue Stream (1970-2020)


This post is by Omri Wallach from Visual Capitalist

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50 Years of Gaming History, by Revenue Stream (1970-2020)

50 Years of Gaming History, by Revenue Stream (1970-2020)

View a more detailed version of the above by clicking here

Every year it feels like the gaming industry sees the same stories—record sales, unfathomable market reach, and questions of how much higher the market can go.

We’re already far past the point of gaming being the biggest earning media sector, with an estimated $165 billion revenue generated in 2020.

But as our graphic above helps illustrate, it’s important to break down shifting growth within the market. Research from Pelham Smithers shows that while the tidal wave of gaming has only continued to swell, the driving factors have shifted over the course of gaming history.

1970–1983: The Pre-Crash Era

At first, there was Atari.

Early prototypes of video games were developed in labs in the 1960s, but it was Atari’s release of Pong in 1972 that helped to kickstart the industry.

The arcade table-tennis game was a sensation, drawing in consumers eager to play and companies that started to produce their own knock-off versions. Likewise, it was Atari that sold a home console version of Pong in 1975, and eventually its own Atari 2600 home console in 1977, which would become the first console to sell more than a million units.

In short order, the arcade market began to plateau. After dwindling due to a glut of Pong clones, the release of Space Invaders in 1978 reinvigorated the market.

Arcade machines started to be installed everywhere, and new franchises like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong drove further growth. By 1982, arcades were already generating more money than both the pop music industry and the box office.

1985–2000: The Tech Advancement Race

Unfortunately, the gaming industry grew too quickly to maintain.

Eager to capitalize on a growing home console market, Atari licensed extremely high budget ports of Pac-Man and a game adaptation of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. They were rushed to market, released in poor quality, and cost the company millions in returns and more in brand damage.

As other companies also looked to capitalize on the market, many other poor attempts at games and consoles caused a downturn across the industry. At the same time, personal computers were becoming the new flavor of gaming, especially with the release of the Commodore 64 in 1982.

It was a sign of what was to define this era of gaming history: a technological race. In the coming years, Nintendo would release the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) home console in 1985 (released in Japan as the Famicom), prioritizing high quality games and consistent marketing to recapture the wary market.

On the backs of games like Duck Hunt, Excitebike, and the introduction of Mario in Super Mario Bros, the massive success of the NES revived the console market.

Estimated Total Console Sales by Manufacturer (1970-2020)

Manufacturer Home Console sales Handheld Console Sales Total Sales
Nintendo 318 M 430 M 754 M
Sony 445 M 90 M 535 M
Microsoft 149 M 149 M
Sega 64-67 M 14 M 81 M
Atari 31 M 1 M 32 M
Hudson Soft/NEC 10 M 10 M
Bandai 3.5 M 3.5 M

Source: Wikipedia

Nintendo looked to continue its dominance in the field, with the release of the Game Boy handheld and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. At the same time, other competitors stepped in to beat them at their own game.

In 1988, arcade company Sega entered the fray with the Sega Mega Drive console (released as the Genesis in North America) and then later the Game Gear handheld, putting its marketing emphasis on processing power.

Electronics maker Sony released the PlayStation in 1994, which used CD-ROMs instead of cartridges to enhance storage capacity for individual games. It became the first console in history to sell more than 100 million units, and the focus on software formats would carry on with the PlayStation 2 (DVDs) and PlayStation 3 (Blu-rays).

Even Microsoft recognized the importance of gaming on PCs and developed the DirectX API to assist in game programming. That “X” branding would make its way to the company’s entry into the console market, the Xbox.

2001–Present: The Online Boom

It was the rise of the internet and mobile, however, that grew the gaming industry from tens of billions to hundreds of billions in revenue.

A primer was the viability of subscription and freemium services. In 2001, Microsoft launched the Xbox Live online gaming platform for a monthly subscription fee, giving players access to multiplayer matchmaking and voice chat services, quickly becoming a must-have for consumers.

Meanwhile on PCs, Blizzard was tapping into the Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) subscription market with the 2004 release of World of Warcraft, which saw a peak of more than 14 million monthly paying subscribers.

All the while, companies saw a future in mobile gaming that they were struggling to tap into. Nintendo continued to hold onto the handheld market with updated Game Boy consoles, and Nokia and BlackBerry tried their hands at integrating game apps into their phones.

But it was Apple’s iPhone that solidified the transition of gaming to a mobile platform. The company’s release of the App Store for its smartphones (followed closely by Google’s own store for Android devices) paved the way for app developers to create free, paid, and pay-per-feature games catered to a mass market.

Now, everyone has their eyes on that growing $85 billion mobile slice of the gaming market, and game companies are starting to heavily consolidate.

Major Gaming Acquisitions Since 2014

Date Acquirer Target and Sector Deal Value (US$)
Apr. 2014 Facebook Oculus – VR $3 Billion
Aug. 2014 Amazon Twitch – Streaming $970 Million
Nov. 2014 Microsoft Mojang – Games $2.5 Billion
Feb. 2016 Activision Blizzard King – Games $5.9 Billion
Jun. 2016 Tencent Supercell – Games $8.6 Billion
Feb. 2020 Embracer Group Saber Interactive – Games $525 Million
Sep. 2020 Microsoft ZeniMax Media – Games $7.5 Billion
Nov. 2020 Take-Two Interactive Codemasters – Games $994 Million

Console makers like Microsoft and Sony are launching cloud-based subscription services even while they continue to develop new consoles. Meanwhile, Amazon and Google are launching their own services that work on multiple devices, mobile included.

After seeing the success that games like Pokémon Go had on smartphones—reaching more than $1 billion in yearly revenue—and Grand Theft Auto V’s record breaking haul of $1 billion in just three days, companies are targeting as much of the market as they can.

And with the proliferation of smartphones, social media games, and streaming services, they’re on the right track. There are more than 2.7 billion gamers worldwide in 2020, and how they choose to spend their money will continue to shape gaming history as we know it.

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The post 50 Years of Gaming History, by Revenue Stream (1970-2020) appeared first on Visual Capitalist.

Wish files to go public with 100M monthly actives, $1.75B in 2020 revenue thus far


This post is by Alex Wilhelm from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

This morning Wish, a well-known mobile ecommerce startup, filed to go public. It joins Affirm, Airbnb, and Roblox in filing this week as many well-known and valuable private companies look to debut before the year ends and the holidays start.

Wish’s S-1 (which is filed under its corporate name ContextLogic) is of particular interest given that COVID-19 and the global pandemic have changed consumer behavior around the world in 2020. As going to stores became more risky over time, many shoppers turned to buying more goods from the Internet, bolstering ecommerce players like Shopify, BigCommerce, as well as companies that facilitate online payments, like Square and PayPal.

How has the pandemic impacted Wish? It appears to have accelerated its growth.

Looking back in time, Wish saw its revenue growth slow in 2019, before expanding much more quickly in 2020. From 2017 to 2018, for example, when Wish saw revenues of $1.10 billion and $1.73 billion respectively, it grew 57%. But from 2018 to 2019, its revenue only grew to $1.90 billion, up a far-smaller 10%.

More recently, the situation has improved for the digital retailer, with Wish managing to grow more quickly in the first three months of 2020. In the first nine months of 2019, Wish racked up revenues of $1.33 billion. In the same period of 2020 the company’s top line grew to $1.75 billion, up 32% from the year-ago result.

That’s far better than the 10% growth pace that Wish showed in 2019. Wish’s growth acceleration helps explain why it is going public now: it has a growth story to tell investors.

But the company’s accelerated growth has come at a cost, namely rising losses. During the first three quarters of 2019, Wish posted net losses of just $5 million, before some preferred stock costs pushed its total deficit to $12 million. In the same period of 2020 Wish lost a far steeper $176 million.

Wish’s falling gross margins have not helped. In 2018, Wish had gross margins of 84%. That number fell to 77% in 2019, and then to just 65% in the first three quarters of 2020.

But the ecommerce player did have some more positive details to show, as this table details:

Improving free cash flow in 2020 compared to 2019? Check. Monthly active user growth rising nicely? Yes. Active buyers up compared to the year-ago period? Yep. Looking at the company’s adjusted profitability is not encouraging, but a 6% adjusted EBITDA margin won’t send investors packing for the hills if they buy Wish’s growth story.

COVID-19 was not simply a boost to Wish, its S-1 makes clear. The pandemic shut some supply hubs, slowed supply chains, and lengthened delivery times. But the company also said that it “benefited from greater mobile usage and less competition from physical retail as a result of shelter-in-place mandates” and “benefited from increased user spending due to U.S. government stimulus programs.” Noting that stimulus is fading, Wish warns investors in the document that it “cannot assure you that increased levels of mobile commerce will continue when COVID-19 has subsided or otherwise, or that the U.S. government will offer additional stimulus programs.”

Wish is wealthy, with around $1.1 billion in cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities. It also has no long-term debts that could cause concern.

Finally, who is going to win in the deal? Most notably Peter Szulczewski, Wish’s founder and CEO. He controls 65.5% of the Company’s Class B shares and around 58% of its total voting power, pre-IPO. Major investors include DST Global, Formation8, Founder Fund, GGV Capital, and Republic Technologies.

Quite a lot of venture hopes and returns are riding on this IPO, then. More soon.

Roblox files to go public


This post is by Natasha Mascarenhas from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Roblox, the child-friendly gaming company, filed to go public today.

Its listing comes one day after the lending company Affirm initiated its own public offering and a mere two days after Airbnb’s filing.

Roblox filed confidentially to go public in mid-October, but its numbers were unreleased until today when it published its S-1 document.

The company is not the first gaming platform company to go public this year, with gaming engine Unity debuting earlier this year. After its IPO, Unity shares have rocketed, perhaps preparing the public markets for Roblox’s own debut.

This post will provide an overview of Roblox’s business results, and a quick dig into its history of raising private capital and who owns what in the company as it stands today. TechCrunch will have more on venture capital results, and the nuances of Roblox’s business model, once we tease them out of its fresh SEC filing.

Financials

Roblox is a free-to-play game and developer platform, which means users don’t pay to access its service, but there are in-game purchases through a currency called Robux and a subscription service called Roblox Premium, which comprise the bulk of the company’s revenues.

Third-party developers can create experiences on the platform that cost Robux, a model that has seen significant uptake over time. According to Roblox, its developer and creator pool earned $72.2 million in the first three quarters of 2019, a figure that soared to $209.2 million in the same period of 2020. (TechCrunch has a deep-dive into Roblox and its pre-IPO success here if you want more depth in its business mechanics. We’ve also dug into its tech stack evolution here, if that is your jam.)

Roblox has seen similar growth in its total revenues, growing 139% to $312.8 million in 2018, and 56% to $488.2 million in 2019. More recently, the company’s revenue expanded 68% in the first three quarters of 2020 from its 2019 result over the same period, to $588.7 million.

The company, then, has grown more quickly in 2020 to date than it did in 2019, an impressive acceleration at scale. A COVID-derived tailwind has helped the company, with Roblox stating in its S-1 filing that it enjoyed “rapid growth” in part of Q1, and all of Q2 and Q3 that it says was “due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic given our users have been online more as a result of global COVID-19 shelter-in-place policies.”

The unicorn gaming company also warned that “in future periods” it anticipates “growth rates for our revenue to decline,” going on to warn that it “may not experience any growth in bookings or our user base during periods” that are later compared to its COVID-boosted 2020 results.

How investors weigh that warning against the company’s growth remains to be seen, but Roblox has had an extraordinary 2020. For example, the company’s bookings — what it defines as “sales activity in a given period without giving effect to certain non-cash adjustments” — grew 62% in 2018 to $499.0, 39% in 2019 to $694.3 million, and 171% to $1.24 billion in the first three quarters of 2020, when compared to the same period of 2019.

That growth is downright impressive. As you’d imagine, the company’s impressive sales gains were derived from rising user interest, with Roblox averaging “31.1 million average DAUs across over 180 countries” during the first nine months of 2020, up from 17.1 million during the same portion of 2019.

Along with more consumers coming to the Roblox platform, the hours engaged also increased. Users on Roblox spent 22.2 billion hours in the first nine months of 2020, up 122% during the same portion of 2020. Daily active users spend an average of 2.67 hours per day on the platform.

Despite its rapid growth, Roblox, like many unicorns, is still unprofitable. The company lost $97.2 million in 2018, $86.0 million in 2019. Its losses exploded in 2020, with the company posting a net loss of $203.2 million in the first three quarters of the year, compared to just $46.3 million during the same portion of 2019.

Those losses appear to be driven mainly from rising spend across its operations, and an increase in the cost of share-based compensation in 2020 compared to 2019.

However, on a cash basis Roblox appears to be in much better shape than its GAAP numbers would have you initially estimate.  The firm’s operating cash flow grew from $62.6 million in the first nine months of 2019 to $345.3 million in the same period of this year. Over the same period, the company’s free cash flow was $6.0 million and $292.6 million.

Roblox’s numbers demonstrate that its space can be large, and economically interesting. So much so that the company will make a number of VCs rich.

Who owns what?

While private, Roblox raised $335.7 million, according to Crunchbase data, with rounds led by Altos Ventures, First Round Capital, Meritech, Index, Greylock, Tiger Global and Andreessen Horowitz powering its life until today.

Roblox has around $810 million in cash and equivalents heading into its IPO. And once it goes public, the company’s investors will start a clock on when they can convert their formerly illiquid shares into cash.

The S-1 gives an idea of who owns how much of the gaming developer platform, and thus who might benefit the most from the IPO. Altos Ventures is the principal stockholder, holding 23.9% of the company at 114,261,961 shares. This is not surprising, given how many Roblox rounds it helped lead. Right behind Altos comes Meritech Capital, which owns 11.6% of Roblox; Index Ventures, with 11.1%; Tiger Global at 8.2%; and First Round Capital at 7%.

The executive team, in aggregate, holds just 6.8% of the company. David Baszucki, the co-founder and CEO of Roblox, owns 8,252,471 shares, or 1.6% of the company, indicating the true effects of dilution when you are as richly funded a company as Roblox.

Beyond the numbers

In its S-1, Roblox did address that its success depends on its ability to “provide a safe online environment” for children, or else its “business will suffer dramatically.”

In 2018, Roblox responded to a grotesque hack that allowed a young girl’s avatar to be raped on a playground on one of its games. Other allegations continue, including that the business has offered a platform to criminal offenders to lure children into interacting with creeps off-platform, according to the S-1.

“While we devote considerable resources to prevent this from occurring, we are unable to prevent all such interactions from taking place,” the document states. However, the document does go on to say that communications on its platform are not encrypted “at this time” and that they have an “increased risk” of data security incidents around access and disclosure. With children on the platform, this is a huge weak spot for Roblox.

The business intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “RBLX.”

Yubo could be the next big social app as it raises $47.5 million


This post is by Romain Dillet from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

French startup Yubo is the biggest social media app you’ve never heard of — unless you’re a teen. With a focus on young people under 25, the company has managed to attract 40 million users. A fraction of them hang out every day in live-streaming rooms, meet new people and spend money for more features.

That’s right, the company isn’t betting on ads. You can pay to unlock items or subscribe to the app. Yubo expects to generate $20 million in revenue this year — that’s twice as much revenue than it generated in 2019.

Yubo recently closed a Series C funding round of $47.5 million. Existing investors Idinvest Partners, Iris Capital, Alven and Sweet Capital are investing once again. Gaia Capital Partners is joining the round as a new investor. Jerry Murdock from Insight Partners isn’t investing in the company but he’s joining the company’s board.

So what is Yubo exactly? It’s a social media app that wants to reverse the current trend of social networks — you can’t follow other users, you can’t like content.

As we’ve seen many, many times in the past, once you introduce a following feature, the ability to like and algorithmic recommendations, your social network becomes a virtual stage. A tiny portion of your user base performs on that stage, the vast majority consumes content. Influencers emerge and monopolize your attention. We’ve seen that trend with Vine, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and even LinkedIn.

Yubo isn’t looking for performers. The company wants to help you meet other people, play games, hang out and create new friendships. In many ways, it feels like a way to hang out with teens that don’t attend your high school.

Image Credits: Yubo

When you open the app, you get a list of rooms that you can join. Users can live stream from their phone and chat with other users. You join rooms depending on what you’re looking for — local people, people talking about politics, people playing games, etc.

Once again, the idea isn’t to create giant room with a handful of performers and tens of thousands of viewers. There’s no tipping mechanism so it’s not like Twitch.

“In 95% of rooms, there are only streamers. Rooms have between 5 and 10 people on average,” co-founder and CEO Sacha Lazimi told me.

You can add people as friends and chat with them in the app. In addition to rooms, you can find new friends by swiping left and right on profile pages — an interaction borrowed from Tinder.

“We had 25 million registered users in December. Today, we have more than 40 million users,” Lazimi said. Most users are based in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and France.

And engagement has been going up as well. The number of hours spent in live rooms is up 400% year-over-year.

With in-app purchases and subscriptions, you get additional features. For instance, you can boost your live stream, promote your profile on the Swipe page or feature your profile at the top of the online section. It’s a way to get more people in your room, receive messages from more users and have more interactions in general.

“We think it’s the future of monetization for social platforms. If you focus on ads, you’re competing with Facebook, TikTok and Snap,” Lazimi said.

With such a young audience, moderation is extremely important. The company has been investing heavily on real-time moderation processes and it tries to enforce strict rules. When you sign up, Yubo checks your identity to put you in the right age group.

“We analyze all content both semantically and visually,” Lazimi said. The company is currently working on alert popups to tell users that they’re doing something inappropriate while it’s happening.

Yubo has in-house safety experts and also works with contractors — it can connect its users with local helplines as well. One-third of the company’s investments are focused on safety. It currently covers 36 languages.

With today’s funding round, Yubo will expand its team. There are currently 30 employees in Paris, London and Jacksonville, which is small when you think about the reach of the app. Yubo will open an office in New York.

On the product front, Yubo is working on recommendation algorithms. The company is also going to build a YouTube integration to consume YouTube content from a room directly. Yubo is also partnering with Snap to integrate Camera Kit. This way, Yubo will be able to build is own AR lenses for its users.

Cooper raises $2M to build a professional network centered on introductions


This post is by Anthony Ha from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

In a period of social distancing, making new professional connections feels harder than ever. So Amsterdam-based Cooper is building a network that’s all about making and receiving introductions.

“Everything that happens in the network is based on the foundation of introductions,” CEO Robert Gaal told me. “You should never get an unwanted message, and there’s no such thing as a connection request, because it’s not necessary if you have an introduction.”

The startup is launching internationally today and announcing that it has raised $2 million in seed funding.

Gaal (who co-founded the company with CTO Emiel van Liere) described Cooper as “a private professional network that’s not about how many connections do I have, it’s about bringing the people that you already trust into a circle.”

That’s in contrast with existing professional networking sites, which are most useful as “directories” of online résumés, and usually emphasize the quantity of connections, rather than the quality. (I’ll admit that on LinkedIn, I’m connected to a bunch of people I barely know.)

So Cooper tries to take the opposite approach, limiting users’ connections to people they really know. To do this, it can pull data from a user’s online calendar, and it also provides them with a personal invite code that they can share with their professional contacts.

Cooper

Image Credits: Cooper

Users then post requests or opportunities, which are viewable by their connections and by friends of friends, who can offer to make useful introductions via email or in Cooper itself.

In fact, Gaal said that during the initial beta test, multiple people have successfully used Cooper to find new jobs — sometimes after pandemic-related layoffs, which they’re comfortable sharing with their inner circle but don’t want to broadcast to the world at large.

“There’s more discovery, more trust and you can reinvent other things on top of that — what the résumé is, what mentorship is — if you get trust right first,” he said.

Of course, simply sharing a calendar invite with someone doesn’t really mean you trust them or know them well. Cooper could eventually start looking at other measures that indicate your “connectivity” with someone, like how often you email with them, Gaal said — but the first step is simply recreating the professional circle in which you feel comfortable saying, “Oh, you’re looking for a job? My friend is hiring.”

Yes, those kinds of conversations are already happening offline, but he noted that most of us can only remember “a handful of people” at once. Cooper is making that “marketplace” much more visible and easy to track.

The startup doesn’t sell ads or user data. Instead, Gaal hopes to make money by charging membership fees for features like customizing your profile or promoting your request more broadly.

The startup’s seed funding was led by Comcast Ventures, with participation from LocalGlobe and 468 Capital.

“At a time when the ability to connect is limited, Cooper is building a professional network fostering meaningful and substantive connections,” said Daniel Gulati, founding partner at Forecast Fund and former managing director at Comcast Ventures, in a statement. “We are excited to support the team on their journey ahead.”

Baidu to acquire Joyy’s Chinese live streaming service YY for $3.6B


This post is by Manish Singh from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Baidu said on Monday it is acquiring Joyy’s live streaming service YY Live in China for $3.6 billion in an all-cash deal as the Chinese internet giant makes further push to diversify beyond its core search business.

The announcement, which Baidu shared on the sidelines of its quarterly earnings, is the Chinese firm’s biggest foray into the growing market of video streaming. It comes at a time when the company has been struggling to fight new comers such as ByteDance.

YY has amassed over 4 million paying subscribers who watch influencers perform and sell a range of items on the video app. The streaming service last year bought stake worth $1.45 billion in Bigo, a Singapore-based startup that operates streaming apps Bigo Live and Like in a push to expand outside of China.

YY today is only selling its China business to Baidu. The closing of the transaction is subject to certain conditions and is currently expected to occur in the first half of 2021, Baidu said.

“This transaction will catapult Baidu into a leading platform for live streaming and diversify our revenue source.” said Robin Li, co-founder and chief executive of Baidu, in a statement.

“YY Live stands to benefit from Baidu’s large traffic and thriving mobile ecosystem, while Baidu will receive immediate operational experience and knowhow for large-scale video-based social media development, as well as an enviable creator network that will further strengthen Baidu’s massive content provider network. Together with the team from YY Live, Baidu hopes to explore the next-generation livestreaming and video-based social media that can expand beyond entertainment into the diversified verticals on Baidu platform.”

More to follow…

MindLabs raises £1.4 million for its new platform, a “Peloton for mental health”


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Ideally, mental wellness should be considered part of a healthy daily routine, like exercise. But even exercise is difficult to turn into a regular habit. Peloton addressed physical fitness by combining smart stationary bikes with live classes and community features to create an engaging experience. Now a new startup, MindLabs, is taking a similar approach to mental wellness.

Based in London, MindLabs announced today it has raised £1.4 million (about USD $1.82 million) in pre-seed investment led by Passion Capital, with participation from SeedCamp, as well as several founders of British consumer tech startups: Alex Chesterman (Cazoo and Zoopla); Neil Hutchinson (Forward Internet Group); Steve Pankhurst (FriendsReunited); James Hind (Carwow); and Jack Tang (Urban).

MindLabs was founded earlier this year by Adnan Ebrahim and Gabor Szedlak, who previously launched and ran Car Throttle, an online media and community startup that was acquired by Dennis Publishing last year. Ebrahim told TechCrunch that MindLabs’ goal is to “make taking care of your mental health as normal as going to the gym.”

Its platform will launch next year, first with a mobile app that combines live videos from mental health professionals who lead meditation and mindfulness sessions, and features to help users track their stress levels. The full platform will also include an EEG headband, called “Halo,” that measures signals, like heart and respiration rates, that can help show users how effective their sessions are.

Going from CarThrottle, sometimes described as “a BuzzFeed for cars” to mental wellness might seem like a big leap, but Ebrahim said their experience “running a media company in a tough market with a young, millennial workforce” inspired him and Szedlak to think more about the issue.

MindLabs founders Gabor Szedlak and Adnan Ebrahim

MindLabs founders Gabor Szedlak and Adnan Ebrahim

“We witnessed firsthand how there was a complete lack of investment in helping this generation with their mental health in a way that they’re used to: a community product that is mobile-first and video-led,” Ebrahim said.

“Alongside that, we had to find ways to deal with managing our own mental health given the stresses that can come when running a fast-paced, venture-backed company. And when we saw the alarming statistics in young adult suicide rates and depression, we realized that finding a solution for our own problems would help millions of others, too.”

The two left Dennis Publishing to begin work on MindLabs at the end of January. During the next few months, including time spent in COVID-19 lockdown, they began researching and developing initial concepts for the platform.

“It’s fair to say that the pandemic did end up altering the course of MindLabs,” Ebrahim said. “For example, we built more real-time community features into the app as a result of the isolation and loneliness we are all now facing as a result of lockdown. We really want to make sufferers feel less alone during the hard times, but with the added convenience now of being able to watch our videos at home.

“This has already become the new normal when it comes to physical fitness, with companies like Peloton exploding in growth, and we see the same trend happening with mental wellness, too,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also been described as a mental health crisis, and downloads of meditation and mindfulness apps like Calm, Headspace and Relax: Master Your Destiny, have grown as people try to deal with anxiety, isolation and depression at home.

Two of the main ways MindLabs’ platform differentiates from other mental wellness apps is the combination of its video classes and EEG headband. The videos will initially range in length from 10 to 40 minutes and, like Peloton’s classes, will be available on livestream or in pre-recorded, on-demand sessions.

Instead of categorizing videos by technique (for example, meditation, breathing or visualization), MindLabs decided to sort them into issues that users want to cope with, like anxiety, relationships, motivation or addiction. For example, meditation classes may include ones focused on “Overcoming COVID-19 Anxiety” or “Coping With Stress At Work.”

Community features will be linked to the classes: the number of concurrent users in a class will be displayed, along with a live feed showing subscriber achievements, like streaks or number of minutes spent in a “calm state,” that other people can react to for positive reinforcement.

Halo was developed with a hardware specialist that Ebrahim said has seven years of building and distributing medical grade wearables.

“Most importantly our headset will be going through the rigor of ISO 13485 so we can ensure the product is of the highest quality and the data we gather is the most accurate,” he added. “We want to make this technology accessible, so we expect the price of the Halo to be comparable to, say, an Apple Watch.”

Other EEG headbands, including products from Muse and Emotiv, have been on the market for a while. In MindLabs’ case, its headband will help users visualize data before, during and after their classes, including information about their brain waves, heart rates and muscle tension, and saved in the app so they can track their progress.

Turning mental wellness into a habit

One of the biggest challenges that all mental wellness apps need to address is user engagement. It can be hard staying motivated to use a self-directed mental health app when someone is already stressed, depressed or very busy. On the other hand, when they feel better, they might stop checking in.

Ebrahim sees this as a major opportunity for MindLabs, and its EEG headband and data visualization features will play a major role. “Even though there was been a proliferation of mental health apps, retention has proven difficult. But we think that is because these apps truly don’t understand their users,” he said.

“With the data we’re able to show, not just through the Halo but through syncing with Apple HealthKit, we can show our subscribers a positive progression of their mental health, similar to how you can see your weight change on a scale, or improvement in heart rate variability in an app. This helps build a powerful habit because we can finally help to close the loop when it comes to improving mental fitness.”

Participating in live classes provides accountability, too, he added. “The act of scheduling a class and tuning in with thousands of others is a powerful force, similar to having a personal trainer in the gym making sure you turn up and workout.”

MindLabs also plans to build communities around its instructors. During livestreams, instructors will welcome new subscribers and mention user achievements. After each workout, users will get a results screen they can share, similar to screenshots from fitness apps like Strava or Nike Training Club.

In terms of protecting personal privacy, Ebrahim said MindLabs is “firmly against any form of data commercialization.” Instead, it will monetize through monthly or yearly subscriptions, and user data collected through Halo or the app will only be used to make personalized content recommendations.

In a statement about Passion Capital’s investment in MindLabs, partner Eileen Burbidge said, “We’re incredibly excited to be working with MindLabs as they transform the way we look after our minds. Mindfulness is more important now than ever and we know that Adnan and Gabor’s commitment to best in class content, quality production and unparalleled user experience means they’re the best to bring this platform to market.”

 

Malaysian on-demand work platform GoGet lands $2 million Series A


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

GoGet, a Malaysian on-demand work platform, announced today that it has raised a $2 million Series A led by Monk’s Hill Ventures. The platform currently has 20,000 gig workers, who are called “GoGetters,” and has onboarded 5,000 businesses, including Lazada Malaysia, IKEA Malaysia, Foodpanda and flower delivery service BloomThis.

While Malaysia has other on-demand work platforms, including Supahands and Kaodim, each has its own niche. SupaHands focuses on online tasks, while Kaodim offers professional services like home repairs, catering and fitness training. GoGet is more similar to TaskRabbit, with GoGetters performing errands or temp work like deliveries, moving large items, catering at events, data entry and office administration.

Chief executive officer and co-founder Francesca Chia founded GoGet in 2014. The startup decided to focus on gig workers because there is a labor gap in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, she told TechCrunch.

“Today, the majority of ASEAN’s labor market are low- to middle-skilled, and the majority are not protected with job security, future career paths and financial services such as insurance and savings,” she said. “At the other end of the spectrum, over 70% of employment in ASEAN are from SMEs, who seek to scale without scaling full-time costs, and find it difficult to train and maintain a reliable pool of staff.”

GoGet wants to bridge the gap by connecting businesses with verified flexible workers, she added. GoGetters are able to switch between different categories of work, which Chia said gives the ability to learn new skills. Companies are provided with management features that include the ability to create a list of GoGetters they want to work with again and tools for recruiting, training and payment.

The Series A will be used to expand GoGet in Malaysia. One of the things many companies whose business models revolve around the gig economy need to grapple with as they scale include workers who are frustrated by uneven work, low pay and the lack of benefits they would receive as full-time employees. In California, for example, this has resulted in a political battle as companies like Uber, DoorDash and Lyft try to roll back legislation that would force them to classify more gig workers are full-time employees.

Chia said GoGet’s “vision is to bring flexible work to the world in a sustainable manner.” Part of this entails giving GoGet’s gig workers access to benefits like on-demand savings and insurance plans that are similar to what full-time employees receive. GoGet’s platform also has career-building features, including online trainings and networking tools, so workers can prepare for jobs that require different skill sets.

While GoGet’s short-term plan is to focus on growth in Malaysia, it eventually plans to enter other ASEAN countries, too.

In a press statement about the investment, Monk’s Hill Ventures co-founder and managing partner Kuo-Yi Lim said, “The nature of work is being redefined as companies and workers seek both flexibility and fit. This trend has been accelerated by the pandemic, as businesses are transforming in response and require more elastic workforce. GoGet provides a community of motivated and well-trained workers, but more importantly, its platform extends the corporate people management systems to ensure quality, compliance and seamless workflow.”

Cryptocurrency wallet BRD reaches 6 million users, driven by growth in Latin America and India


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Mobile cryptocurrency wallet BRD announced today that it now has more than six million users worldwide, thanks to strong growth in India and Latin America. With this momentum, the company expects to reach 10 million users by early 2021.

Founded in 2015, Zurich-based BRD also said it now adds about one million new users every two months, after initially taking more than four years to hit the one million user mark. It reached 550,000 monthly active users at the beginning of July. Co-founder and chief executive officer Adam Traidman attributes the increased interest in cryptocurrency, especially among first-time users, to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s causing a lot of people who are staying at home and sheltering in place to reconsider a lot of fundamental questions about their life and family right now,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s causing a lot of thinking about money and finances. People have had a lot more time over the last six months to look at their investments and as a result of that, we found that for cryptocurrency in general, but especially for BRD’s business, we’ve been growing dramatically.”

An image of mobile cryptocurrency wallet BRD's user interface

An image of mobile cryptocurrency wallet BRD’s user interface

He added that BRD, which has raised $55 million in funding from investors like SBI Crypto Investment and East Ventures, has two main groups of users. The first are millennials who have discretionary income that they invest using apps like Robinhood instead of traditional brokerages. The second group are people who have been more financially impacted by the pandemic and are turning to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to cope with currency fluctuations in their countries or as a more cost-effective alternative to international wire transfers to send money to family members. Falling bank interest rates have also prompted many people to consider alternative places to put their money.

While Bitcoin and Ethereum are still the most popular purchases through BRD, in countries with volatile currency fluctuations, like Venezuela, Argentina and India, interest in stablecoins, which are pegged to the U.S. dollar, is growing. The company is also seeing more adoption in Eastern European countries.

BRD is a non-custodial wallet and cryptocurrencies are stored on users’ devices, which makes it more accessible to users in countries who need to undergo lengthy registration processes to use custodial wallets. The app also allows people to use Apple Pay or their bank cards to buy cryptocurrency. This ease of use is one of the reasons for its growth, Traidman said.

The company’s most recent funding announcement was a $15 million Series B announced in January 2019 for expansion in Asian markets. BRD also offers enterprise blockchain tools called Blockset and says it is currently used to store the equivalent of about $6 billion in cryptocurrencies.

Digging into the next wave of tech IPOs


This post is by Alex Wilhelm from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

After taking five consecutive business days off from my work laptop — and to shout at my personal laptop while losing games on Dominion online — I am back. I missed you. And while The Exchange’s regular columns were off this week (Friday aside, which you can read here), there’s still a hell of a lot to talk about.

First, a new website. If you click here, you’ll be taken to a sortable list (spreadsheet? database?) of startups with Black founders. Dubbed The Black Founder List, it’s a great asset and tool.

For folks like myself with a research and reporting focus, the list’s sortability of companies founded by Black entrepreneurs by gender, stage and market focus is amazing. And, for investors, it should provide potential dealflow. Do you write lots of Series C checks? The Black Founder List has 23 Series B startups with Black founders. Or if you prefer Series D checks, there are 11 Series C startups with Black founders to check out.

Who is writing the most checks to Black founders? Among the top names are M25, a midwest VC group, Techstars Boston and a number of angels.

The website was compiled by much the same team that TechCrunch highlighted earlier this year, when their data collection work concerning Black founders was more spreadsheet than app. So, please point your thanks for the new resource to Yonas Beshawred, Sefanit Tades, James Norman and Hans Yadav.

The Black Founder List also has a data submission button, so if you notice a missing name, add it. I want the data set to be as robust as possible, as, I reckon, it will prove a great reporting resource. And public data like this obviates certain excuses from the investing class.

Market Notes

  • I missed a lot this week that I was looking forward to, including the Asana and Palantir IPOs. For fuller thoughts, head here. Summaries follow:
  • Asana’s direct listing and resulting valuation and implied revenue multiples make its direct listing a win for the company, and the model. If other SaaS companies have the ability to raise ample pre-debut cash, perhaps the direct listing is not as dead as it seemed a few months ago when SPACs stole its spotlight, and most companies were pursuing traditional IPOs regardless.
  • Palantir’s direct listing did not feel hot until it dropped some strong revenue guidance. With that, its direct listing went fine despite its cosmically comedic voting structure. Watching Palantir’s higher-ups try to snuff public input while still providing a thin patina of democracy made me think more about Russia or Texas than a functioning democratic system.
  • Looking ahead, Airbnb is said to be hunting up $3 billion for its own IPO. Airbnb had to take on a lot of expensive cash when its business collapsed in the early COVID days. It wanted to direct list. Now it’s going to cash in a huge pile during its debut.
  • Good. More capital > less capital.
  • Sticking to our late-stage theme, when I left, Root was said to be pursuing an IPO, and when I came back, Roblox is now also tipped to be plotting with the public markets. (Root’s IPO in the wake of the successful Lemonade debut made sense. Insurtech is hot.)
  • The news should not be a surprise; Roblox’s model has found cachet with young gamers and has found a great way to make money at the same time. With a mix of Legos and video game design and Minecraft, perhaps it’s not a surprise that the company is doing well.
  • Reuters reports that Roblox could be worth $4 billion when it goes public. I believe it.
  • Datto is going public. Ron and Danny have the details here.
  • And I chatted with a few Accel investors, the juicy bits from which you can find here.

Various and Sundry

  • Draper Esprit, a Europe-focused venture capital fund that trades on the London Stock Exchange, raised £110 million this week. Esprit is a fun shop to track (I’ve known its denizen James since his LSE days), because it’s more transparent than most VC firms than you’re familiar with thanks to its structure.
  • According to the firm’s release, its share sale was “oversubscribed.” Tech.eu has more.
  • Mobile app spend grew to $29.3 billion in Q3, driven by 36.5 billion installs, per SensorTower. Revenue was up 32% year-over-year.
  • Uber sold $500 million worth of Uber Freight to a PE firm.
  • As noted, tech stocks had a bad September, but just how bad might surprise you.
  • And I covered Noyo’s Series A before I left, with the post going up on Monday.
  • In short, Noyo is doing the hard work to build APIs to connect the world of health insurance. It’s a huge, hard task.
  • The $12.5 million was “led by Costanoa Ventures and Spark Capital. Prior investors Core Innovation Capital, Garuda Ventures, the Webb Investment Network, Precursor Ventures and Homebrew upped their investment in the new round.”
  • (I can’t shake the thought that there’s something in the middle of the no-code/low-code boom, and startups delivering more of their products via APIs instead of as managed services. And please don’t say mashups, we left that phrase behind ages ago.)
  • I missed the window for officially commenting on the Coinbase culture dustup — the Equity crew did talk about it while I was AFK — so I will merely share this thread as my $0.02.
  • Also, read this from Eileen Burbidge on TechCrunch concerning the same matter. It’s good.

Regular morning Exchange columns return Monday morning. It’s good to be back.

By the way, TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility is coming up next week. I am going! To help you get there, here’s a 50% off code for you to get full access to the event. Or if it’s your jam, this code will get you into the expo and breakout sessions for free.

Chat soon,

Alex

Element acquires Gitter to get more developers on board with the open Matrix messaging protocol


This post is by Natasha Lomas from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Some interesting news for lovers of open, decentralized communications tech: Element, the company behind the eponymous Matrix -based Slack competitor (formerly known as Riot) has acquired developer-focused chat platform, Gitter, from dev services giant GitLab, which picked it up back in 2017.

The acquisition means Gitter’s community of some 1.7M users will be migrating to Matrix, the underlying decentralized comms protocol also made by Element — assuming they stick around for the ride with the new owner, of course. But Element is going out of its way to reassure Gitter users they’ll feel properly at home on Matrix.

In a blog post discussing the acquisition, the top-line message from Element CEO and Matrix co-founder, Matthew Hodgson, is that nothing will change in the short term. Furthermore, the pitch to the Gitter community is that, down the line, there will be plenty to gain from the migration/eventual assimilation as a “Gitter-customized version of Element” running on Matrix.

This is because the pledge is feature parity first (so, yes, that means Element will be gaining a bunch of Gitter features; such as threads and instant live room peeking, to name two). Then, once Gitter migrates to Element, it’ll get access to “all the goodies” the combination brings — including end-to-end encryption; reactions; VoIP and conferencing; widgets; all the alternative clients, bots, bridges and servers; the full open standard Matrix API; and the ability to fully participate in that decentralized network…

Another enticing promise is “constantly improving native iOS & Android clients” — which the Element team notes is a welcome alternative to Gitter’s natives ones, given they’re already being deprecated.

The migration will also mean Element will be replacing the current “creaky” matrix-appservice-gitter bridge.

We’re going to build out native Matrix connectivity — running a dedicated Matrix homeserver on gitter.im with a new bridge direct into the heart of Gitter; letting all Gitter rooms be available to Matrix directly as (say) #angular_angular:gitter.im, and bridging all the historical conversations into Matrix via MSC2716 or similar,” it writes. 

“Gitter users will also be able to talk to other users elsewhere in the open Matrix network — e.g. DMing them, and (possibly) joining arbitrary Matrix rooms. Effectively, Gitter will have become a Matrix client,” Element adds.

So the tl;dr is that current Gitter users should have plenty of reasons to be cheerful about the acquisition. (Plus, as Hodgson points out, anyone less than happy with the direction of travel can of course fork the platform and go their own way, being as Element is an open source company. Though of course the hope is no one will feel the need to fork it.) 

The decision to migrate Gitter to Element has been made purely on resources/efficiency grounds, per Hodgson — to avoid the need for Element to maintain both apps over the longer term. He tells TechCrunch the migration will likely take around a year — “possibly more”.

Element also plans to “comprehensively” document the whole process so that it can serve as “the flagship example of how to make an existing chat system talk – and transition to — Matrix”, as it puts it, so it’s got its eye on encouraging more apps to make the move to Matrix.

While Element says GitLab approached them about taking on Gitter they confess to a long-time “crush” on the platform — saying they jumped at the chance when the other company came knocking. (Financial terms of the transaction are not being disclosed, however.)

TechCrunch can claim a teeny part in this open source love-in, being as we’re credited with accidentally introducing the teams — after they found themselves across the aisle exhibiting at Disrupt London, back in 2014 (so you truly never know who you’ll serendipitously meet in Startup Alley).

Taking on Gitter is not just a passion project for Element, though. They saw they see the acquisition boosting growth of the Matrix ecosystem as a whole other developer community gets plugged in and — they hope — converted to evangelists for the open network.

“If developers are using it then when they need something to build on — a technology for their messaging apps — then they will naturally use Matrix. And if we want to grow this ecosystem and have as many apps as possible built on top of the protocol then we need to make it known to everyone so if they’re using it for their own comms it makes it easier for them,” Element COO, Amandine Le Pape, tells TechCrunch.

“We’re really doing this for Matrix, rather than for Element,” adds Hodgson. “We’re just trying to grow and make the Matrix network larger and healthier. So it’s not a matter of we can then sell it to governments as a communication platform more easily, it’s much more… that it becomes known to more developers so that when they build their next WhatsApp they don’t go and invent the wheel all over again. They would just obviously use Matrix because that’s what they’re already using to co-ordinate on working on React or Angular or whatever technology they already know.”

He says bringing Gitter into the Matrix fold is “obviously” a boon to developers who already use Element — such as the Mozilla community and Rust developers — as it will help reduce fragmentation.

“Half the world is on Gitter, half the world is on Element, and some poor lost souls are stuck in Discord and Slack. So by going and bringing the open guys together it will just be very concretely more useful in Element that if you want to reach out to whatever developer you will be able to find them in once place rather than having this horrible split brain between the two,” he adds.

Asked about its decision to sell Gitter, GitLab told us it has never been a core element of its business focus.

“While GitLab has contributed to Gitter’s growth in the past three years, Gitter has always been a standalone product, independent of GitLab, even after GitLab’s acquisition in 2017. GitLab and Element saw an opportunity for Gitter to grow further under Element,” it said.

GitLab has a core business focus to be the market’s leading complete DevOps platform,” it added. “It is not a case of stepping away but seeing an opportunity for an important tool to grow further. In true open source fashion, Gitter is free to use, without limits, for everyone to create public or private communities and to contribute back to. It is currently the only developer-centric messaging platform which is an open source, free, uncapped messaging SaaS. The platform has not been monetized yet and has no commercial edition. Gitter is available on the web with clients available for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android.”

Image credit: GitLab/Gitter

Element said it will be bringing on board Gitter’s dev team as part of the acquisition — albeit, it’s actually just one “superstar” developer running the whole thing, per Hodgson and Le Pape. So the team integration process at least shouldn’t be too challenging. 

(For the record, Element is the new name for New Vector (the company) and Riot (the messaging app) which was originally called Vector. So that’s Vector > Riot > Element; and New Vector > Element. “We decided to bring everything under one single brand — as now Element the company, Element the app and Element Matrix Services for the hosting platform,” explains La Pape on this recent rebranding.)

Momentum for Matrix

Matrix, meanwhile, has been continuing to gain momentum throughout the pandemic — thanks to the accelerated shift to remote working pushing demand for secure (and, well, sovereign) digital messaging up the public sector agenda.

“Recently we’ve had the German education system coming on board, the German military coming on board. And we have two other governments who, irritatingly, we can’t disclose yet — but suffice to say they are both very big and very exciting,” notes Hodgson. “They’re in paid trials. Once we successfully convert those it will be as big, if not bigger, than France in terms of banging on about it.” 

“In all of these instances they have gone and slightly tweaked the app. They have forked Element, they have branded it, they’ve built it into an existing tool that they have and it really ties in with the developer story — the reason that they feel happy building on an open standard is because of the wider developer ecosystem,” he adds.

“We’re also seeing a whole galaxy of little startups — nothing to do with us — who are building on Matrix successfully,” Hodgson also tells us, pointing to a German healthcare startup called Famedly as one example.

“It’s unrelated to us but it’s fun to see other companies basically betting the farm on the protocol. So, again, the happier developers are to use the protocol the more random startups like that will begin to bubble up,” he adds. “And if the next-gen of Slack killers happen to be on Matrix — whether it’s us, or anybody else, so much the better.”

Another key factor that could accelerate momentum for Matrix is interoperability — a topic area regulators are increasingly eyeing as they consider how to ensure competition thrives in digital markets that can be prone to ‘winner takes all’ network effects.

Accusations of anti-competitive behavior are also being thrown around in the real-time messaging space specifically. Notably, in July, Slack filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft arguing the latter is being anti-competitive by unfairly bundling its rival Teams product with its cloud-based productivity suite, Microsoft 365.

The Matrix network is no such walled garden, of course — and Element the app offers bridges to other messaging platforms, enabling its users to chat with others siloed on proprietary platforms like Slack. Slack, however, hasn’t offered the same courtesy to Element (only going so far as offering a bridge for, er, email users last year).

“It would be great for Slack, and [Microsoft] Teams and Discord to join in,” says Hodgson, arguing: “I think there’s probably more impetus for them to do so in terms of being able to interoperate with other systems, because we have so many bridges. If you were migrating from Skype for Business to Slack or something the Matrix could be the bridge between the two.”

“They have different users, right,” continues Le Pape, fleshing out the case for such platforms to open up to Matrix. “Usually Teams ends up being the one for the big companies who are actually using Office 365 while Slack might be more of the startup side of things so, in the end, if we could actually join everything together it would be good.” “If you all actually were able to talk to one another then that would solve it,” she adds in reference to Slack’s antitrust complaint against Microsoft.

Hodgson posits that if Microsoft were to expose Teams into Matrix it could help it defend against the complaint — being as it would be able to tell regulators it’s “participating in a global open standard network” that lets users pick whichever client they like. “I think that’s a very compelling solution,” he suggests, adding that Element is involved in discussions with “various parties” on the EU side “to make sure people understand there are viable open standards for doing this”. 

“Historically, before Matrix, basically there wasn’t anything that had the feature set that you would expect from Slack or Teams. Whereas now there is actually a viable middle language,” he adds.

Asked if it’s a wild idea that a polished consumer messaging app such as Telegram could ever move to Matrix, Hodgson describes it as an “interesting” thought — but admits there’s still a bit of a feature gap for Element, while also lauding the Telegram’s technical performance.

“I could see there being some friction in joining Matrix as it is today because it would be a slight backwards step for them… However the pressure is therefore on us to go and get to the point that Element is as snappy and as polished as Telegram — and [Element already] has good encryption,” he says. “At which point I think the tables could turn interestingly.

“But they’ve got hundreds of millions of users. I guess they feel they’re doing it right. They would rather, perhaps, become the next WhatsApp and be a 2BN user silo rather than play nice with other people because they’re already past critical mass. But perhaps if we do our job and make Matrix large enough and interesting enough that it is worth their while to link to it then why not?”

Emjoy picks up $3M to get more women tuned into sexual self-care


This post is by Natasha Lomas from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Barcelona-based Emjoy, an audio app for women that sells a narrative of sexual self-care and empowerment, has picked up $3 million in seed funding led by JME Ventures, with existing investor Nauta Capital participating.

The femtech startup believes it has lit on a major opportunity to target women with sex-positive subscription audio content that’s focused on sexual empowerment, intimate education and sensuous entertainment — all wrapped in unapologetically direct digital marketing.

Nor is it alone in seeking to build a brand around such “female first” audio content. (Another startup that springs to mind in this “mindful sex” space is Ferly, for example.) But Emjoy reckons there’s all to play for in this nascent space — which it says is benefitting not only from progress toward female empowerment in recent years but the rise in popularity of podcasting and audiobooks.

“My inspiration for founding Emjoy is based on my personal experience and the experiences of many girlfriends of mine. All of us had normalized not climaxing when having sexual encounters,” Andrea Oliver, CEO and co-founder tells TechCrunch.

“When I began researching this I came across the pleasure gap, with some studies showing that 40% of women have some type of sexual dysfunction. Having been in the VC world and having seen the tremendous success of startups in the mental health and fitness spaces, I was shocked when I could not find an app focusing on sexual wellbeing.”

“What sets us apart from competitors is offering a broad library of both wellbeing and entertainment audios, being extremely trustworthy and reliable because of our in-house sex therapist, partnering with sexual wellbeing experts, and finally being a product company that offers more than just content,” she goes on, discussing the competitive landscape. “An example of this is our ‘Daily Routines’ feature, which allows our users to take 30-day challenges to create new habits, such as accepting their bodies.”

Oliver moved from Nauta Capital, where she’d been working with startups, to founding her own business in January 2019, along with co-founder Daniel Tamas, CTO — taking in an initial €1 million from her former VC employer to get the app to market.

Emjoy launched worldwide in early 2020 and went on to clock up 80,000 registered users in its first six months. It now has 150,000 active users globally, with the U.S. and the U.K. its main markets (NB: content is currently only available in English).

Almost 10% of “recently acquired” active users are paying a subscription, per Oliver.

“The women who use Emjoy are typically in their 20s, and while most are cisgender we have also received tons of positive feedback from trans and non-binary folk. Really, Emjoy is about getting to know what you like and enjoying yourself, regardless of the gender of your partner(s),” she says.

“We are building a wellbeing brand for women because we see that sexual wellbeing is a major part of overall wellbeing. We want to normalize this,” Oliver adds, noting that Emjoy’s “wellbeing positioning” includes “entertainment content with our erotic stories”.

The startup’s team has grown to 11 people at this point — including an in-house sex therapist. Most of Emjoy’s content is produced in house at this point.

Discussing its approach to content, which the app touts as “backed by science and supervised by our in-house intimacy therapist”, Oliver says: “For each theory or guided session we try to find a scientific study to back what we say, and we work with our in-house sex therapist who creates most of the content and supervises it. We also partner with external collaborators who are experts in different fields such as sexual trauma, body acceptance, relationships etc.”

“It is important to offer science-based content because most of the sexual content that is available today, in blogs or on YouTube, for example, is very untrustworthy. We want to be a trusted and safe environment for our users,” she adds.

The new seed funding will be ploughed into making more content — with plans for additional collaborations with “leading academics, experts and influencers within the sexual wellbeing and education space” — and the overarching aim of building the “category-defining” app in the female sexual wellness space.

Asked why he’s excited about women’s sexual wellbeing audio as a category, investor Samuel Gil, partner at JME Ventures, told us the space is interesting because it’s been so overlooked.

“It has been ignored or forgotten for a very long time, but that’s now changing with women being more empowered than ever,” he said, adding: “Women with sexual wellbeing issues might be reluctant to search for help in a more traditional way due to shame or friction. A digital product is ideal to broaden access to sexual wellbeing solutions.”

He also lauded the “really immersive experiences” possible with audio content, which he said “facilitates content production”. (Or, well, it’s a lot easier to get erotic sounds past “family-friendly” App Store review rules than hardcore visuals.)

On investing in Emjoy specifically, Gil added: “It is a nascent category with no clear leaders yet. Emjoy’s vision, ambition and, above all, execution, so far makes us believe that they are really well-positioned to take the leading position very soon.”

Asked what she believes this new rush of female-pleasure-focused audio startups are tapping into, Oliver says: “It is very much an underserved need. We go hand-in-hand with our users to help them discover their bodies, gain confidence, and explore what turns them on, among many other things. We and our users see Emjoy as a journey, with our audio content helping users explore what they like and who they are.

“We are not telling users what they should do, or how they should feel because there is no normal, there’s no ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’. Each personal experience and body is unique and Emjoy adapts to each user’s unique journey.”

“Our users are also generating new habits with Emjoy and we are becoming an everyday tool for women who want to feel more confident or want a safe, female pleasure-centric and trusted place to get in the mood, as opposed to mainstream porn,” she adds.