Cliff Vesting


This post is by Fred Wilson from AVC

It is very typical that options and RSUs that are issued to new employees upon joining a company will have “one year cliff vesting.” This means that the first year of vesting into your options or RSUs will not happen until you have completed one entire year. After that vesting usually happens quarterly or monthly.

I am a fan of cliff vesting because if either the employee or the company made a mistake and the employment ends quickly, no equity has been spent on it.

But there are a couple of caveats that come with cliff vesting that I think should be understood by everyone.

The first is that while the letter of the agreement will say that the first year of vesting is not earned until the anniversary of the grant, if employment is terminated by the employer for anything other than cause within a few weeks or even months of the first anniversary, some accommodation should be made for the vesting upon termination. It is hard to put this in writing for a whole host of reasons, but best practice is for the employer to make some adjustment if the termination is close to the cliff vesting date.

The second point is that many companies include a cliff vesting provision in retention grants. These are grants that existing employees get to supplement the sign-on grant and help with longer-term retention. I do not believe it is appropriate to put cliff vesting into retention grants. The very fact that an employee is getting a retention grant suggests that the match has been a good one for both the employee and the employer and that the cliff provision is not necessary.

Many companies, particularly younger companies without experienced and sophisticated HR organizations, don’t understand these nuances and don’t factor them into their equity compensation programs. That is a mistake and it harms both the employees and the employer because a fair and equitable equity compensation program is of great value to a company.


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YC-backed BuildBuddy raises $3.15M to help developers build software more quickly


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

BuildBuddy, whose software helps developers compile and test code quickly using a blend of open-source technology and proprietary tools, announced a funding round today worth $3.15 million. 

The company was part of the Winter 2020 Y Combinator batch, which saw its traditional demo day in March turned into an all-virtual affair. The startups from the cohort then had to raise capital as the public markets crashed around them and fear overtook the startup investing world.

BuildBuddy’s funding round makes it clear that choppy market conditions and a move away from in-person demos did not fully dampen investor interest in YC’s March batch of startups, though it’s far too soon to tell if the group will perform as well as others, given how long it takes for startup winners to mature into exits.

Let’s talk code

BuildBuddy has foundations in how Google builds software. To get under the skin of what it does, I got ahold of co-founder Siggi Simonarson, who worked at the Mountain View-based search giant for a little over a half decade.

During that time he became accustomed to building software in the Google style, namely using its internal tool called Blaze to compile his code. It’s core to how developers at Google work, Simonarson told TechCrunch. “You write some code,” he added, “you run Blaze build; you write some code, you run Blaze test.”

What sets Blaze apart from other developer tools is that “opposed to your traditional language-specific build tools,” Simonarson said, it’s code agnostic, so you can use it to “build across [any] programming language.”

Google open-sourced the core of Blaze, which was named Bazel, an anagram of the original name.

So what does BuildBuddy do? In product terms, it’s building the pieces of Blaze that Google engineers have access to inside the company, for other developers using Bazel in their own work. In business terms, BuildBuddy wants to offer its service to individual developers for free, and charge companies that use its product.

Simonarson and his co-founder Tyler Williams started small, building a “results UI” tool that they shared with a Bazel user group. The members of that group picked up the tool, rapidly bringing it inside a number of sizable companies.

This origin story underlines something that BuildBuddy has that early-stage startups often lack, namely demonstrable enterprise market appetite. Lots of big companies use Bazel to help create software, and BuildBuddy found its way into a few of them early in its life.

Simply building a useful tool for a popular open-source project is no guarantee of success, however. Happily for BuildBuddy, early users helped it set direction for its product development, meaning that over the summer the startup added the features that its current users most wanted. 

Simonarson explained that after BuildBuddy was initially used by external developers, they demanded additional tools, like authentication. In the words of the co-founder, the response from the startup was “great!” The same went for a request for dashboarding, and other features.

Even better for the YC graduate, some of the features requested were the sort that it intends to charge for. That brings us back to money and the round itself.

Money

BuildBuddy closed its round in May. But like with most venture capital tales, it’s not a simple story.

According to Simonarson, his startup started raising the round during one of those awful early-COVID days when the stock market dropped by double-digit percentage points in a single trading session. 

BuildBuddy’s goal was to raise $1.5 million. Simonarson was worried at the time, telling TechCrunch that it was his first time fundraising, and that he wasn’t sure if his startup was going to “raise anything at all” in that climate. 

But the nascent company secured its first $100,000 check. And then a $300,000 check, over time managing to fill out its round.

So what happened that got the company from $1.5 million to just over $3 million? The investor that put in $300,000 wanted to put in another $2 million. The company talked them down to $1.5 million at a higher cap (BuildBuddy raised its round using a SAFE), and the deal was done at those terms.

The startup initially didn’t want to raise the extra cash, but Simonarson told TechCrunch that at the time it was not clear where the fundraising environment was heading; BuildBuddy raised back when startup layoffs were a leading story, and a return to high-cadence VC rounds was months away. 

So BuildBuddy wound up securing $3.15 million to support a current headcount of four. It intends to hire, naturally, lower its comically long runway and keep building out its Bazel-focused service.

Picking a few names from the investor spreadsheet that BuildBuddy sent over — points for completeness to the startup — Y Combinator, Addition, Scribble and Village Global, among others put capital into the round.

Dev tools are hot at the moment. Given that, as soon as BuildBuddy’s ARR starts to get moving, I expect we’ll hear from them again.

The pros and cons of “digital by default”


This post is by boris from Version One

As we all know, the pandemic has forced companies to become remote organizations virtually overnight. While some CEOs and companies cannot wait until the conditions are safe for everyone to return to the office (e.g. Reid Hastings from Netflix), others have chosen to become “digital by default.” (e.g. Shopify). 

Several companies in our portfolio have opted for Shopify’s path, and I wanted to understand what those companies have learned so far about the challenges and opportunities. Here’s what they shared about their “digital by default” experiences.  

The advantages:

  • Geography is no longer a limiting factor for accessing talent. This is especially helpful for companies located in smaller tech ecosystems where it used to be really hard to scale beyond the founding team. Now, these companies can more easily hire senior talent. The thesis of “you can START a company anywhere” has evolved to “you can SCALE a company anywhere”… 
  • Working from home means less commuting time. That leaves more hours in the day for work, or life.
  • Higher productivity…as there are fewer big (and ineffective) meetings happening over Zoom.
  • A more equitable culture: When performance assessment is more directly linked to output rather than presence in the office, the culture becomes more equitable. This can nurture a more diverse workforce (e.g. working around children, working with different learning styles, etc.)

The challenges:

  • Creativity: The best ideas are often sparked from unstructured get-togethers…those random interactions that happen in the hallway, lunchroom, etc. These types of impromptu exchanges are hard, if not impossible, to recreate in an online environment. 
  • Trust: Trust usually builds much better through in-person interactions. It’s much harder for team members to develop deep trust when they’re limited to email, chat, etc. 
  • Integrating new team members: In the work from home era, it seems harder for new employees to soak up the company’s culture and form those important early relationships with other team members.  

From what I have seen so far, the pros largely outweigh the cons for most companies and I think that a majority of tech start-ups will become digital by default companies, except for in three situations:

  • Companies that already have access to a large talent pool (e.g. companies based in the Bay Area)
  • Companies where the creative process is core to their success (e.g. Netflix)
  • Companies that are still looking for product market fit (even if some companies will figure out being remote from the earliest moments on)

But we can expect that even “digital by default” companies will start incorporating offline elements once a vaccine is available. For some, this could be quarterly or yearly in-person meetings, either with individual teams or the whole company. Some will keep offices that enable socializing, in-person meetings and whiteboard sessions (think more SOHO house than corporate office). And some will do in-person onboarding.   

It took a pandemic to challenge our assumptions for how to build and run a company. And while offices and in-person interactions will continue to play an important part, digital by default is here to stay and thrive.

Tony Hsieh


This post is by Jo Tango from jtangoVC.com

I never met Tony Hsieh (pronounced “shay”). But we were in an investment together decades ago, before there was a Zappos, before he was famous, and during the Dot-Com Bubble. When I was working on an investment (Ask Jeeves, which went IPO), I saw “Venture Frogs” listed on the cap table. I asked Rob Wrubel,

The post Tony Hsieh appeared first on jtangoVC.com.

Startup Learnings Take Time, So Just Start


This post is by David Cummings from David Cummings on Startups

One of the more popular questions I receive is something to the effect of “what entrepreneurial advice would you tell your younger self?” After reflecting on this question for years, my favorite answer is to just get going and start something. Being an entrepreneur, just like anything meaningful in life, is best done by doing. Sure, reading and learning best practices like the Lean Startup and a Simple Strategic Plan are important, but there’s no substitute for getting in the arena and working through the onslaught of challenges.

Don’t have a great idea? Just start anything, even if you have to do it on the side.

Don’t know if the timing is right? The timing is never right, all you have is now.

Don’t have a co-founder? Go solo and know you can always add one later (many co-founders weren’t there on day one!).

Don’t know where to begin? Plug into a local or virtual community — someone is willing to help.

Don’t have the personal belief? You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Everything about startups is 10x harder than it seems. Only, everything about startups is also doable, and working through the ups and downs is the real reward.

There’s no better time than now. Just start.

Startup Learnings Take Time, So Just Start


This post is by David Cummings from David Cummings on Startups

One of the more popular questions I receive is something to the effect of “what entrepreneurial advice would you tell your younger self?” After reflecting on this question for years, my favorite answer is to just get going and start something. Being an entrepreneur, just like anything meaningful in life, is best done by doing. Sure, reading and learning best practices like the Lean Startup and a Simple Strategic Plan are important, but there’s no substitute for getting in the arena and working through the onslaught of challenges.

Don’t have a great idea? Just start anything, even if you have to do it on the side.

Don’t know if the timing is right? The timing is never right, all you have is now.

Don’t have a co-founder? Go solo and know you can always add one later (many co-founders weren’t there on day one!).

Don’t know where to begin? Plug into a local or virtual community — someone is willing to help.

Don’t have the personal belief? You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Everything about startups is 10x harder than it seems. Only, everything about startups is also doable, and working through the ups and downs is the real reward.

There’s no better time than now. Just start.

Think RAGS for Startup Team Members


This post is by David Cummings from David Cummings on Startups

10+ years ago I read Joel Spolsky’s seminal blog post The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing. His theories on what to look for when hiring developers have been imprinted on my mind ever since: hire people who are smart and get things done. This applies to all hiring for all startup team members, not just developers, but misses two important ingredients — attitude and grit.

Attitude permeates everything about a person. At Pardot, our values were positive, self-starting, and supportive. Each one of these values were embodied in the type of attitude we looked for in every person on our team. Of course, while values and attitude are different, attitude as a way to capture the desired personality traits works well.

Continuing with attitude, the other missing characteristic that smart and gets things done doesn’t account for is grit. Grit is the idea of resilience and not giving up in the face of adversity. Angela Duckworth popularized it as passionate persistence, which captures it well. Startups are inherently challenging, so while this might be less important in a company not focused on high growth, in the startup world grit is invaluable.

Combining these all together produces the RAGS acronym:

  • Results – Gets things done and continually makes progress
  • Attitude – Personality traits and view of the world that aligns with the core values
  • Grit – Passionate persistence, especially in challenging situations
  • Smarts – Ability to synthesize information and make quality decisions

Defining results, attitude, grit, and smarts is up to each entrepreneur and their view of the world. Overall, the big idea is that this needs to be done intentionally, not haphazardly, and everyone must be held to the RAGS standards defined by the leaders.

Think RAGS for Startup Team Members


This post is by David Cummings from David Cummings on Startups

10+ years ago I read Joel Spolsky’s seminal blog post The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing. His theories on what to look for when hiring developers have been imprinted on my mind ever since: hire people who are smart and get things done. This applies to all hiring for all startup team members, not just developers, but misses two important ingredients — attitude and grit.

Attitude permeates everything about a person. At Pardot, our values were positive, self-starting, and supportive. Each one of these values were embodied in the type of attitude we looked for in every person on our team. Of course, while values and attitude are different, attitude as a way to capture the desired personality traits works well.

Continuing with attitude, the other missing characteristic that smart and gets things done doesn’t account for is grit. Grit is the idea of resilience and not giving up in the face of adversity. Angela Duckworth popularized it as passionate persistence, which captures it well. Startups are inherently challenging, so while this might be less important in a company not focused on high growth, in the startup world grit is invaluable.

Combining these all together produces the RAGS acronym:

  • Results – Gets things done and continually makes progress
  • Attitude – Personality traits and view of the world that aligns with the core values
  • Grit – Passionate persistence, especially in challenging situations
  • Smarts – Ability to synthesize information and make quality decisions

Defining results, attitude, grit, and smarts is up to each entrepreneur and their view of the world. Overall, the big idea is that this needs to be done intentionally, not haphazardly, and everyone must be held to the RAGS standards defined by the leaders.

Extra Crunch roundup: A fistful of IPOs, Affirm’s Peloton problem, Zoom Apps and more


This post is by Walter Thompson from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

DoorDash, Affirm, Roblox, Airbnb, C3.ai and Wish all filed to go public in recent days, which means some venture capitalists are having the best week of their lives.

Tech companies that go public capture our imagination because they are literal happy endings. An Initial Public Offering is the promised land for startup pilgrims who may wander the desert for years seeking product-market fit. After all, the “I” in “ISO” stands for “incentive.”

A flurry of new S-1s in a single week forced me to rearrange our editorial calendar, but I didn’t mind; our 360-degree coverage let some of the air out of various hype balloons and uncovered several unique angles.

For example: I was familiar with Affirm, the service that lets consumers finance purchases, but I had no idea Peloton accounted for 30% of its total revenue in the last quarter.

“What happens if Peloton puts on the brakes?” I asked Alex Wilhelm as I edited his breakdown of Affirm’s S-1. We decided to use that as the subhead for his analysis.

The stories that follow are an overview of Extra Crunch from the last five days. Full articles are only available to members, but you can use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one or two-year subscription. Details here.

Thank you very much for reading Extra Crunch this week; I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


What is Roblox worth?

Gaming company Roblox filed to go public yesterday afternoon, so Alex Wilhelm brought out a scalpel and dissected its S-1. Using his patented mathmagic, he analyzed Roblox’s fundraising history and reported revenue to estimate where its valuation might land.

Noting that “the public markets appear to be even more risk-on than the private world in 2020,” Alex pegged the number at “just a hair under $10 billion.”

What China’s fintech can teach the world

Alibaba Employees Pay For Meals With Face Recognition System

HANGZHOU, CHINA – JULY 31: An employee uses face recognition system on a self-service check-out machine to pay for her meals in a canteen at the headquarters of Alibaba Group on July 31, 2018 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. The self-service check-out machine can calculate the price of meals quickly to save employees’ queuing time. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images)

For all the hype about new forms of payment, the way I transact hasn’t been radically transformed in recent years — even in tech-centric San Francisco.

Sure, I use NFC card readers to tap and pay and tipped a street musician using Venmo last weekend. But my landlord still demands paper checks and there’s a tattered “CASH ONLY” taped to the register at my closest coffee shop.

In China, it’s a different story: Alibaba’s employee cafeteria uses facial recognition and AI to determine which foods a worker has selected and who to charge. Many consumers there use the same app to pay for utility bills, movie tickets and hamburgers.

“Today, nobody except Chinese people outside of China uses Alipay or WeChat Pay to pay for anything,” says finance researcher Martin Chorzempa. “So that’s a big unexplored side that I think is going to come into a lot of geopolitical risks.”

Inside Affirm’s IPO filing: A look at its economics, profits and revenue concentration

Consumer lending service Affirm filed to go public on Wednesday evening, so Alex used Thursday’s column to unpack the company’s financials.

After reviewing Affirm’s profitability, revenue and the impact of COVID-19 on its bottom line, he asked (and answered) three questions:

  • What does Affirm’s loss rate on consumer loans look like?
  • Are its gross margins improving?
  • What does the unicorn have to say about contribution profit from its loans business?

If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right

Image Credits: XiXinXing (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

“The only thing more rare than a unicorn is an exited unicorn,” observes Managing Editor Danny Crichton, who looked back at Exitpalooza 2020 to answer “a simple question — who made the money?”

Covering each exit from the perspective of founders and investors, Danny makes it clear who’ll take home the largest slice of each pie. TL;DR? “Some really colossal winners among founders, and several venture firms walking home with billions of dollars in capital.

5 questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing

The S-1 Airbnb released at the start of the week provided insight into the home-rental platform’s core financials, but it also raised several questions about the company’s health and long-term viability, according to Alex Wilhelm:

  • How far did Airbnb’s bookings fall during Q1 and Q2?
  • How far have Airbnb’s bookings come back since?
  • Did local, long-term stays save Airbnb?
  • Has Airbnb ever really made money?
  • Is the company wealthy despite the pandemic?

Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost explains the strategy behind acquiring Spacemaker

Andrew Anagnost, President and CEO, Autodesk.

Andrew Anagnost, president and CEO, Autodesk.

Earlier this week, Autodesk announced its purchase of Spacemaker, a Norwegian firm that develops AI-supported software for urban development.

TechCrunch reporter Steve O’Hear interviewed Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost to learn more about the acquisition and asked why Autodesk paid $240 million for Spacemaker’s 115-person team and IP — especially when there were other startups closer to its Bay Area HQ.

“They’ve built a real, practical, usable application that helps a segment of our population use machine learning to really create better outcomes in a critical area, which is urban redevelopment and development,” said Anagnost.

“So it’s totally aligned with what we’re trying to do.”

Unpacking the C3.ai IPO filing

On Monday, Alex dove into the IPO filing for enterprise artificial intelligence company C3.ai.

After poring over its ownership structure, service offerings and its last two years of revenue, he asks and answers the question: “is the business itself any damn good?”

Is the internet advertising economy about to implode?

Image Credits: jayk7 / Getty Images

In his new book, “Subprime Attention Crisis,” writer/researcher Tim Hwang attempts to answer a question I’ve wondered about for years: does advertising actually work?

Managing Editor Danny Crichton interviewed Hwang to learn more about his thesis that there are parallels between today’s ad industry and the subprime mortgage crisis that helped spur the Great Recession.

So, are online ads effective?

“I think the companies are very reticent to give up the data that would allow you to find a really definitive answer to that question,” says Hwang.

Will Zoom Apps be the next hot startup platform?

Logos of companies in the Zoom Apps marketplace

Image Credits: Zoom

Even after much of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, we will still be using Zoom’s video-conferencing platform in great numbers.

That’s because Zoom isn’t just an app: it’s also a platform play for startups that add functionality using APIs, an SDK or chatbots that behave like smart assistants.

Enterprise reporter Ron Miller spoke to entrepreneurs and investors who are leveraging Zoom’s platform to build new applications with an eye on the future.

“By offering a platform to build applications that take advantage of the meeting software, it’s possible it could be a valuable new ecosystem for startups,” says Ron.

Will edtech empower or erase the need for higher education?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Without an on-campus experience, many students (and their parents) are wondering how much value there is in attending classes via a laptop in a dormitory.

Even worse: Declining enrollment is leading many institutions to eliminate majors and find other ways to cut costs, like furloughing staff and cutting athletic programs.

Edtech solutions could fill the gap, but there’s no real consensus in higher education over which tools work best. Many colleges and universities are using a number of “third-party solutions to keep operations afloat,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

“It’s a stress test that could lead to a reckoning among edtech startups.”

3 growth tactics that helped us surpass Noom and Weight Watchers

3D rendering of TNT dynamite sticks in carton box on blue background. Explosive supplies. Dangerous cargo. Plotting terrorist attack. Image Credits: Gearstd / Getty Images.

I look for guest-written Extra Crunch stories that will help other entrepreneurs be more successful, which is why I routinely turn down submissions that seem overly promotional.

However, Henrik Torstensson (CEO and co-founder of Lifesum) submitted a post about the techniques he’s used to scale his nutrition app over the last three years. “It’s a strategy any startup can use, regardless of size or budget,” he writes.

According to Sensor Tower, Lifesum is growing almost twice as fast as Noon and Weight Watchers, so putting his company at the center of the story made sense.

Send in reviews of your favorite books for TechCrunch!

Image via Getty Images / Alexander Spatari

Every year, we ask TechCrunch reporters, VCs and our Extra Crunch readers to recommend their favorite books.

Have you read a book this year that you want to recommend? Send an email with the title and a brief explanation of why you enjoyed it to bookclub@techcrunch.com.

We’ll compile the suggestions and publish the list as we get closer to the holidays. These books don’t have to be published this calendar year — any book you read this year qualifies.

Please share your submissions by November 30.

Dear Sophie: Can an H-1B co-founder own a Delaware C Corp?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

My VC partner and I are working with 50/50 co-founders on their startup — let’s call it “NewCo.” We’re exploring pre-seed terms.

One founder is on a green card and already works there. The other founder is from India and is working on an H-1B at a large tech company.

Can the H-1B co-founder lead this company? What’s the timing to get everything squared away? If we make the investment we want them to hit the ground running.

— Diligent in Daly City

What Kind of Startup Founder Are You?


This post is by Steven Gray from HBR.org

Research shows there’s more than one way to be a great leader.

What Kind of Startup Founder Are You?


This post is by Steven Gray from HBR.org

Research shows there’s more than one way to be a great leader.

Abacus.AI raises another $22M and launches new AI modules


This post is by Frederic Lardinois from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

AI startup RealityEngines.AI changed its name to Abacus.AI in July. At the same time, it announced a $13 million Series A round. Today, only a few months later, it is not changing its name again, but it is announcing a $22 million Series B round, led by Coatue, with Decibel Ventures and Index Partners participating as well. With this, the company, which was co-founded by former AWS and Google exec Bindu Reddy, has now raised a total of $40.3 million.

Abacus co-founder Bindu Reddy, Arvind Sundararajan and Siddartha Naidu. Image Credits: Abacus.AI

In addition to the new funding, Abacus.AI is also launching a new product today, which it calls Abacus.AI Deconstructed. Originally, the idea behind RealityEngines/Abacus.AI was to provide its users with a platform that would simplify building AI models by using AI to automatically train and optimize them. That hasn’t changed, but as it turns out, a lot of (potential) customers had already invested into their own workflows for building and training deep learning models but were looking for help in putting them into production and managing them throughout their lifecycle.

“One of the big pain points [businesses] had was, ‘look, I have data scientists and I have my models that I’ve built in-house. My data scientists have built them on laptops, but I don’t know how to push them to production. I don’t know how to maintain and keep models in production.’ I think pretty much every startup now is thinking of that problem,” Reddy said.

Image Credits: Abacus.AI

Since Abacus.AI had already built those tools anyway, the company decided to now also break its service down into three parts that users can adapt without relying on the full platform. That means you can now bring your model to the service and have the company host and monitor the model for you, for example. The service will manage the model in production and, for example, monitor for model drift.

Another area Abacus.AI has long focused on is model explainability and de-biasing, so it’s making that available as a module as well, as well as its real-time machine learning feature store that helps organizations create, store and share their machine learning features and deploy them into production.

As for the funding, Reddy tells me the company didn’t really have to raise a new round at this point. After the company announced its first round earlier this year, there was quite a lot of interest from others to also invest. “So we decided that we may as well raise the next round because we were seeing adoption, we felt we were ready product-wise. But we didn’t have a large enough sales team. And raising a little early made sense to build up the sales team,” she said.

Reddy also stressed that unlike some of the company’s competitors, Abacus.AI is trying to build a full-stack self-service solution that can essentially compete with the offerings of the big cloud vendors. That — and the engineering talent to build it — doesn’t come cheap.

Image Credits: Abacus.AI

It’s no surprise then that Abacus.AI plans to use the new funding to increase its R&D team, but it will also increase its go-to-market team from two to ten in the coming months. While the company is betting on a self-service model — and is seeing good traction with small- and medium-sized companies — you still need a sales team to work with large enterprises.

Come January, the company also plans to launch support for more languages and more machine vision use cases.

“We are proud to be leading the Series B investment in Abacus.AI, because we think that Abacus.AI’s unique cloud service now makes state-of-the-art AI easily accessible for organizations of all sizes, including start-ups,” Yanda Erlich, a p artner at Coatue Ventures  told me. “Abacus.AI’s end-to-end autonomous AI service powered by their Neural Architecture Search invention helps organizations with no ML expertise easily deploy deep learning systems in production.”

 

For Ciara Imani May and Her Startup, Rebundle, Opportunity Abounds


This post is by The Startup Grind Team from Startup Grind - Medium

Shortly after finishing a master’s degree in social entrepreneurship from USC, Ciara Imani May had a realization: the pain and discomfort she and millions of other women experienced while wearing plastic-based, and chemically-treated, synthetic braiding hair wasn’t necessary. In doing research on the manufacturing process, she also learned about the severity of the environmental impact petroleum products like this caused.

Her solution? Starting Rebundle, which offers braiding hair from non-toxic, biodegradable plants that are free from harmful chemicals, and most importantly, safe and painless for the customer.

Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars

Once she had her startup idea, Ciara quickly began benefiting from USC campus-based entrepreneurial resources, but the pandemic and resulting LaunchPad Fellowship in the Summer of 2020 proved pivotal. “I didn’t come from a family of business owners, so the networks and resources made available to me through the Fellowship were key,” she said. This 8-week virtual mentoring program included support and opportunities made available to her (and 49 other student entrepreneurs) by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Techstars, and Future Founders.

Those selected received $5,000 in non-dilutive grant funding, coaching sessions with LaunchPad Campus Directors, mentoring from Blackstone Campus Ambassadors and Techstars entrepreneurs during a Fellowship ‘Mentor Week’, as well as the opportunity to learn directly from seasoned entrepreneurs. Speakers included Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown, Co-founder and Vice President of Product for CareMessage Cecilia Corral, Techstars co-founder David Brown, and SparkCharge founder (and LaunchPad Alum) Josh Aviv during the LaunchPad Summer Speaker Series.

Her results — in 56 short days? Wildly impressive. By the end of July, Ciara had connected with a high-school classmate and technical team member, Jessica Sanders, beta tested an early product prototype with four stylists, and began a relationship with a manufacturing partner. Ciara remarked, “Access to these programs really refined my skills and legitimized me as the entrepreneur that I’ve always wanted to be.”

But her success hardly stopped there.

Venture for America

Before Ciara even completed the LaunchPad Fellowship, she was selected for the Venture for America (VFA) Accelerator this past fall. Created to give Fellows the time, space, and support they need to turn their side projects into full-time ventures, the VFA Fellowship is a four-month program that concludes with a Demo Day and the chance to win $10,000 in prize money.

Since the accelerator immediately followed the LaunchPad Fellowship, Rebundle’s momentum only intensified and provided Ciara with a greater network to get their products to market.

Much of her time in the VFA Fellowship has been focused on market validation and gathering user feedback. According to Ciara, one recent Zoom conference call with some early Rebundle testers, “was probably one of the most valuable customer discovery conversations I’ve had!

Including our customer’s voices in this work is key to our success, and we are so grateful for their support!”

By the time December arrives, all her hard work the past six months will truly pay off. At that time Ciara will begin accepting pre-sales for the delivery of her new product scheduled for January 2021. Rebundle already offers a mail-in program for used plastic synthetic hair for recycling. “Environmental conservation and sustainability have always been important ideas to me,” said Ciara. “But since braid extensions are primarily worn by Black women, and we’re generally not included in the conversation on sustainability, that kind of intersectionality hasn’t really been extended to this consumer product yet.”

Recent Recognition and Relocation

Finally, and most recently, Ciara was selected for another opportunity in late October 2020 that will take her from Charlotte, NC to Saint Louis, MO for a year or more. Ciara and Rebundle were one of 19 “high-potential startups” selected for a 2020 Arch Grant, a $50,000 equity-free grant that will enable her to gain a stronger presence in the Midwest.

Becoming an Arch Grants recipient validated the work we had done to prove there was a need in the market and that our team was best fit to solve this problem. We’re excited to contribute to the St. Louis ecosystem and provide jobs within the green economy.

Maintaining the Connection

Going back to her Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars roots, Ciara is now excited to leverage the Startup Grind membership, available to all LaunchPad Fellowship alumni. Through this exclusive opportunity, student and former student entrepreneurs receive access to Startup Grind events (including happy hours, hackathons, round tables, and more), additional mentorship opportunities, curated content for young, early-stage founders and student entrepreneurs, and the chance to collaborate with fellow Startup Grind members from all over the world.

“In every step of this process, I have been supported by some entrepreneurship organizations. Whether it’s grants, networking, pitching, mentorships — pretty much everything I’ve done has been enabled by someone invested in my success, and it’s given me a lot more exposure than I would have had without these programs. I’m sure Startup Grind will be no different!”.

Where to follow Ciara & Rebundle

In early November, the Rebundle team wrapped up their first marketing campaign photoshoot in the Los Angeles area that they’ll be using to rebrand their website and to begin pre-sales! To be notified of when presales are available, subscribe to their newsletter here. Similarly, if you’re a hairstylist and interested in trying Rebundle’s plant-based braiding hair, visit the Braider page on their website.

This post is part of a series of interviews and resources from Blackstone Launchpad & Techstars. Want more great reads? Head over to our Student Corner column to keep up with new releases!


For Ciara Imani May and Her Startup, Rebundle, Opportunity Abounds was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

For Ciara Imani May and Her Startup, Rebundle, Opportunity Abounds


This post is by The Startup Grind Team from Startup Grind - Medium

Shortly after finishing a master’s degree in social entrepreneurship from USC, Ciara Imani May had a realization: the pain and discomfort she and millions of other women experienced while wearing plastic-based, and chemically-treated, synthetic braiding hair wasn’t necessary. In doing research on the manufacturing process, she also learned about the severity of the environmental impact petroleum products like this caused.

Her solution? Starting Rebundle, which offers braiding hair from non-toxic, biodegradable plants that are free from harmful chemicals, and most importantly, safe and painless for the customer.

Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars

Once she had her startup idea, Ciara quickly began benefiting from USC campus-based entrepreneurial resources, but the pandemic and resulting LaunchPad Fellowship in the Summer of 2020 proved pivotal. “I didn’t come from a family of business owners, so the networks and resources made available to me through the Fellowship were key,” she said. This 8-week virtual mentoring program included support and opportunities made available to her (and 49 other student entrepreneurs) by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Techstars, and Future Founders.

Those selected received $5,000 in non-dilutive grant funding, coaching sessions with LaunchPad Campus Directors, mentoring from Blackstone Campus Ambassadors and Techstars entrepreneurs during a Fellowship ‘Mentor Week’, as well as the opportunity to learn directly from seasoned entrepreneurs. Speakers included Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown, Co-founder and Vice President of Product for CareMessage Cecilia Corral, Techstars co-founder David Brown, and SparkCharge founder (and LaunchPad Alum) Josh Aviv during the LaunchPad Summer Speaker Series.

Her results — in 56 short days? Wildly impressive. By the end of July, Ciara had connected with a high-school classmate and technical team member, Jessica Sanders, beta tested an early product prototype with four stylists, and began a relationship with a manufacturing partner. Ciara remarked, “Access to these programs really refined my skills and legitimized me as the entrepreneur that I’ve always wanted to be.”

But her success hardly stopped there.

Venture for America

Before Ciara even completed the LaunchPad Fellowship, she was selected for the Venture for America (VFA) Accelerator this past fall. Created to give Fellows the time, space, and support they need to turn their side projects into full-time ventures, the VFA Fellowship is a four-month program that concludes with a Demo Day and the chance to win $10,000 in prize money.

Since the accelerator immediately followed the LaunchPad Fellowship, Rebundle’s momentum only intensified and provided Ciara with a greater network to get their products to market.

Much of her time in the VFA Fellowship has been focused on market validation and gathering user feedback. According to Ciara, one recent Zoom conference call with some early Rebundle testers, “was probably one of the most valuable customer discovery conversations I’ve had!

Including our customer’s voices in this work is key to our success, and we are so grateful for their support!”

By the time December arrives, all her hard work the past six months will truly pay off. At that time Ciara will begin accepting pre-sales for the delivery of her new product scheduled for January 2021. Rebundle already offers a mail-in program for used plastic synthetic hair for recycling. “Environmental conservation and sustainability have always been important ideas to me,” said Ciara. “But since braid extensions are primarily worn by Black women, and we’re generally not included in the conversation on sustainability, that kind of intersectionality hasn’t really been extended to this consumer product yet.”

Recent Recognition and Relocation

Finally, and most recently, Ciara was selected for another opportunity in late October 2020 that will take her from Charlotte, NC to Saint Louis, MO for a year or more. Ciara and Rebundle were one of 19 “high-potential startups” selected for a 2020 Arch Grant, a $50,000 equity-free grant that will enable her to gain a stronger presence in the Midwest.

Becoming an Arch Grants recipient validated the work we had done to prove there was a need in the market and that our team was best fit to solve this problem. We’re excited to contribute to the St. Louis ecosystem and provide jobs within the green economy.

Maintaining the Connection

Going back to her Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars roots, Ciara is now excited to leverage the Startup Grind membership, available to all LaunchPad Fellowship alumni. Through this exclusive opportunity, student and former student entrepreneurs receive access to Startup Grind events (including happy hours, hackathons, round tables, and more), additional mentorship opportunities, curated content for young, early-stage founders and student entrepreneurs, and the chance to collaborate with fellow Startup Grind members from all over the world.

“In every step of this process, I have been supported by some entrepreneurship organizations. Whether it’s grants, networking, pitching, mentorships — pretty much everything I’ve done has been enabled by someone invested in my success, and it’s given me a lot more exposure than I would have had without these programs. I’m sure Startup Grind will be no different!”.

Where to follow Ciara & Rebundle

In early November, the Rebundle team wrapped up their first marketing campaign photoshoot in the Los Angeles area that they’ll be using to rebrand their website and to begin pre-sales! To be notified of when presales are available, subscribe to their newsletter here. Similarly, if you’re a hairstylist and interested in trying Rebundle’s plant-based braiding hair, visit the Braider page on their website.

This post is part of a series of interviews and resources from Blackstone Launchpad & Techstars. Want more great reads? Head over to our Student Corner column to keep up with new releases!


For Ciara Imani May and Her Startup, Rebundle, Opportunity Abounds was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Founders, Apply the Scientific Method to Your Startup


This post is by Chiara Spina from HBR.org

Formulate a hypothesis and rigorously test your ideas.

Startup Spotlight Q&A: Bluecode


This post is by The Startup Grind Team from Startup Grind - Medium

Claus Drennig is the Managing Director at Bluebuy and joined Bluecode in 2016. Bluecode is based in Switzerland, Austria and Germany and operates from a multinational team of employees towards a genuine European mobile payments solution.

— In a single sentence, what does Bluecode do?

Operates a mobile European payments scheme.

– How did Bluecode come to be? What was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?

No European payments solution available, only Islands of country based solutions. No truly anonymous payments method until now.

— What sets Bluecode apart in the market?

Ease of use, availability for Android and iOS. Truly anonymous, wide range of uses cases (POS, E-Commerce, Unattended).

— What milestone are you most proud of so far?

Building EMPSA, the European association of mobile payments schemes, with Bluecode as a founding member.

— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?

Yes, we did through private investors and an EU programme.

– What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?

Number of users; Number of transactions; Number of acceptance partners.

— How do you build and develop talent?

Mainly by onboarding new, skillful team members.

— What are the biggest challenges for the team?

Coordination of activities for 50+ multinational people.

— What’s been the biggest success for the team?

Developing additional countries apart from Austria, like Germany with Spain, Italy to follow.

— What’s up next for Bluecode?

Improving acceptance of mobile payments solutions, DACH region is strong at cash based payments.


Startup Spotlight Q&A: Bluecode was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Startup Spotlight Q&A: Bluecode


This post is by The Startup Grind Team from Startup Grind - Medium

Claus Drennig is the Managing Director at Bluebuy and joined Bluecode in 2016. Bluecode is based in Switzerland, Austria and Germany and operates from a multinational team of employees towards a genuine European mobile payments solution.

— In a single sentence, what does Bluecode do?

Operates a mobile European payments scheme.

– How did Bluecode come to be? What was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?

No European payments solution available, only Islands of country based solutions. No truly anonymous payments method until now.

— What sets Bluecode apart in the market?

Ease of use, availability for Android and iOS. Truly anonymous, wide range of uses cases (POS, E-Commerce, Unattended).

— What milestone are you most proud of so far?

Building EMPSA, the European association of mobile payments schemes, with Bluecode as a founding member.

— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?

Yes, we did through private investors and an EU programme.

– What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?

Number of users; Number of transactions; Number of acceptance partners.

— How do you build and develop talent?

Mainly by onboarding new, skillful team members.

— What are the biggest challenges for the team?

Coordination of activities for 50+ multinational people.

— What’s been the biggest success for the team?

Developing additional countries apart from Austria, like Germany with Spain, Italy to follow.

— What’s up next for Bluecode?

Improving acceptance of mobile payments solutions, DACH region is strong at cash based payments.


Startup Spotlight Q&A: Bluecode was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Startup Spotlight Q&A: Bluecode


This post is by The Startup Grind Team from Startup Grind - Medium

Claus Drennig is the Managing Director at Bluebuy and joined Bluecode in 2016. Bluecode is based in Switzerland, Austria and Germany and operates from a multinational team of employees towards a genuine European mobile payments solution.

— In a single sentence, what does Bluecode do?

Operates a mobile European payments scheme.

– How did Bluecode come to be? What was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?

No European payments solution available, only Islands of country based solutions. No truly anonymous payments method until now.

— What sets Bluecode apart in the market?

Ease of use, availability for Android and iOS. Truly anonymous, wide range of uses cases (POS, E-Commerce, Unattended).

— What milestone are you most proud of so far?

Building EMPSA, the European association of mobile payments schemes, with Bluecode as a founding member.

— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?

Yes, we did through private investors and an EU programme.

– What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?

Number of users; Number of transactions; Number of acceptance partners.

— How do you build and develop talent?

Mainly by onboarding new, skillful team members.

— What are the biggest challenges for the team?

Coordination of activities for 50+ multinational people.

— What’s been the biggest success for the team?

Developing additional countries apart from Austria, like Germany with Spain, Italy to follow.

— What’s up next for Bluecode?

Improving acceptance of mobile payments solutions, DACH region is strong at cash based payments.


Startup Spotlight Q&A: Bluecode was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

12 Things You Can Do to Advance Your Startup While Maintaining Your Day Job


This post is by Jonathan Woahn from Startup Grind - Medium

And answering the question “When is the right time to quit”?

12 Things You Can Do to Advance Your Startup While Maintaining Your Day Job


This post is by Jonathan Woahn from Startup Grind - Medium

And answering the question “When is the right time to quit”?