RealityEngines.AI becomes Abacus.AI and raises $13M Series A

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

RealityEngines.AI, the machine learning startup co-founded by former AWS and Google exec Bindu Reddy, today announced that it is rebranding as Abacus.AI and launching its autonomous AI service into general availability.

In addition, the company also today disclosed that it has raised a $13 million Series A round led by Index Ventures’ Mike Volpi, who will also join the company’s board. Seed investors Eric Schmidt, Jerry Yang and Ram Shriram also participated in this oversubscribed round, with Shriram also joining the company’s board. New investors include Mariam Naficy, Erica Shultz, Neha Narkhede, Xuezhao Lan and Jeannette Furstenberg. 

This new round brings the company’s total funding to $18.25 million.

Abacus.AI’s co-founders Bindu Reddy, Arvind Sundararajan and Siddartha Naidu (Image Credits: Abacus.AI)

At its core, RealityEngines.AI’s Abacus.AI’s mission is to help businesses implement modern deep learning systems into their customer experience and business processes without having to do the heavy lifting of learning how to train models themselves. Instead, Abacus takes care of the data pipelines and model training for them.

The company worked with 1,200 beta testers and in recent months, the team mostly focused on not just helping businesses build their models but also put them into production. Current Abacus.AI customers include 1-800-Flowers, Flex, DailyLook and Prodege.

“My guess would be that out of the hundred projects which are started in ML, one percent succeeds because of so many moving parts,” Reddy told me. “You have to build the model, then you have to test it in production — and then you have to build data pipelines and have to put in training pipelines. So over the last few weeks even, we’ve added a whole bunch of features to enable putting these things to go into production more smoothly — and we continue to add to it.”

Image Credits: Abacus.AI

In recent months, the team also added new unsupervised learning tools to its lineup of pre-built solutions to help users build systems for anomaly detection around transaction fraud and account takeovers, for example.

The company also today released new tools for debiasing data sets that can be used on already trained algorithms. Automatically building training sets — even with relatively small data sets — is one of the areas on which the Abacus team has long focused, and it is now using some of these same techniques to tackle this problem. In its experiments, the company’s facial recognition algorithm was able to greatly improve its ability to detect whether a Black celebrity was smiling or not, for example, even though the training data set featured 22 times more white people.

Image Credits: Abacus

With today’s launch, Abacus is also launching a new section on its website to showcase models from its community. “You can go build a model, tweak your model if you want, use your own data sets — and then you can actually share the model with the community,” Reddy explained, and noted that this is now possible because of Abacus’ new pricing model. The company has decided to only charge customers when they put models into production.

Image Credits:

The next major item on the Abacus roadmap is to build more connectors to third-party systems so that users can easily import data from Salesforce and Segment, for example. In addition, Reddy notes that the team will build out more of its pre-built solutions, including more work on language understanding and vision use cases.

To do this, Abacus has already hired more research scientists to work on some of its fundamental research projects, something Reddy says its funders are quite comfortable with, and more engineers to put that work into practice. She expects the team will grow from 22 employees today to about 35 by the end of the year.

A recapitalization reckoning

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

If you’re an angel who invested in a startup that was meant to go public in 2014, you might be getting a little bit impatient. High-risk, high-reward investing has lost its shine in this environment: the stock market is a mess these days, and you want your cash back.

Enter recapitalization events, where startups restructure their entire cap table to squeeze out old investors, bring on new ones and shift the way equity and debt is managed. For investors, it’s a killer way to enter a company on friendlier terms than normal (read: desperation), and a nice way to get liquidity on a startup you’re betting on.

For founders, it’s rarely good news, as departing investors is not a metric they’re going to add to the pitch deck. As one investor said on background, the spur of coronavirus-related recapitalization events shows “hella dilution for desperate times.”

That’s what makes Workhuman’s transparency with its recent recapitalization event all the more enticing.

Last year, the human-resources platform brought in $580 million in revenue from customers like LinkedIn, Cisco, J&J and other clients. In April, business grew 40%. Co-founder and CEO Eric Mosley says business has grown five times in size since the company pulled back from its 2014 plans to IPO. Workhuman hasn’t raised a single venture round since 2004 (and doesn’t plan to any time soon).

Being conservative has paid off; although Workhuman has operated for nearly two decades, Mosley says he thinks the company is still at the “tip of the iceberg.” The company recently had a recapitalization event to sell the stakes of its earliest investors, who cut a $200,000 check more than 20 years ago.

Colvin raises $15M to rethink the flower supply chain

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

At first glance, Colvin — which recently announced that it has raised a $15 million Series B — might look like just another flower and plant delivery company, but co-founder and CEO Andres Cester said the startup has a much grander vision.

“We were born with the ambition the company that would redesign global flower trade,” he said.

Apparently, when Cester and his co-founder/COO Sergi Bastardas started researching the flower supply chain, they found an industry that was both “fragmented” in terms of growsers and sellers, but also surprisingly centralized, with the Aalsmeer Flower Auction in the Netherlands accounting for 77% of all flower bulbs sold globally.

With all the middlemen, Cester said flowers end up being more expensive (with the growers getting a smaller share of the overall payment), and it takes longer for the flowers to reach the consumer.

So the startup created a marketplace where consumers are buying flowers from straight the growers, with Colvin as the only intermediary. That results in average savings of 50% to 100% compared to online competitors, Cester said. (For example, the bouquets featured on the Colvin homepage all cost about €33 or €34).

And while the flower business is hurting overall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bastardas said consumers are turning to online options, with Colvin seeing a fourfold sales increase year-over-year, and delivery volumes worth $1 million in a single day. The challenge, he said, has been making sure to deliver those flowers within the promised time window.

Colvin founders

Image Credits: Colvin

Cester said Colvin started by selling directly to consumers because it was a good way to build the supply from growers, and that consumer sales should a become a profitable, “cash-generating business.” However, the company’s big focus moving forward is building out its sales to flower wholesalers, who in turn sell to the retailers.

“We’re envisioning the B2B part of the business is going to drive most of the returns and valuation,” Bastardas added.

Colvin was founded in Spain and currently operates in Spain, Italy, Germany and Portugal. There are no plans to come to the U.S. anytime soon, but Cester said, “We believe that if we really want to … redesign how the flower industry works, we’re going to have to land in U.S. sooner or later.”

The startup has now raised a total of $27 million. The new round was led by Italian investment fund Milano Investment Partners, with participation from P101 sgr and Samaipata.

And if you’re wondering about the name, Bastardas said the company was named for civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin, who was arrested in several months before Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person.

It’s an incongruous choice for a flower startup, but Bastardas said the founders took inspiration from Colvin’s story and the idea that “from several small actions, we can really change an industry.”

Permutive raises $18.5M to help publishers target ads in a new privacy landscape

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

Permutive is announcing that it has raised $18.5 million in Series B funding, as the London-based startup works to help online publishers make money in a changing privacy landscape.

CEO Joe Root, who co-founded the company with CTO Tim Spratt, noted that publishers are facing increasing regulation, while web browsers are phasing out support for third-party cookies — all good news for privacy advocates, but with a real downside for publisher ad revenue (blocking cookies causes an average 52% decline in ad revenue, according to a Google study last year, though other estimates have been dramatically lower).

Permutive tries to address these issues by allowing publishers to utilize their own first-party data more effectively. Root estimated that without cookies, web visitors break down to 10% who are logged in and authenticated, while 90% are anonymous, and he said, “We use the insight and understanding from that 10% to make predictions about that 90%.”

So from a single anonymous pageview, Permutive can collect 20 or 30 data points about visitor behavior, which it then uses to try to project who that visitor might be and what they might be interested in. Root also noted that the company’s technology relies on edge computing, allowing it to process data more quickly, which is crucial for publishers who may only have a few seconds in which to show a visitor an ad.

If you’re wondering whether this approach has any privacy or regulatory implications of its own, Root suggested Permutive spends “a lot of time making sure we are ideologically aligned with [European privacy regulation] GDPR and ideologically aligned with the browsers.”

Joe Root - Permutive

Joe Root – Permutive

For one thing, “We don’t believe data should be portable across applications,” which is why Permutive is focused on helping publishers use their own data. For another, Root said Permutive is committed to “the destruction of identity in the adtech ecosystem.”

“Using data isn’t a problem — it’s when you attach data to an identity,” he added. So without identity, “Instead of saying, ‘Here is an ad for Anthony, look up everything you know from Anthony,’ we say, ‘Here is an ad for a user interested in tech media.’ One model leaks data and the other doesn’t.”

Root also suggested that these shifts will allow ad dollars to move back to the premium publishers who have more engagement with and data from their readers — publishers who he argued have “up until now funded the long tail” with their cookie-based data.

This approach is reflected in the publishers Permutive already works with, including BuzzFeed, Penske, The Financial Times, The Guardian, Business Insider, The Daily Telegraph, The Economist, Bell Media, News UK and MailOnline.

Founded in 2014, Permutive previously raised $11.5 million, according to Crunchbase. The Series B was led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from EQT Ventures and previous investors.

“Today, Permutive is the U.K. category leader in its field and is beating billion-dollar global businesses on a consistent basis in trial processes,” said Will Gibbs of Octopus Ventures in a statement. “The team has hired many incredible people and is now ready to replicate the success seen in the U.K. in the U.S. Given the evolving regulatory and customer priorities, Permutive’s technology could be genuinely pioneering in its field.”

The startup is also announcing that it has hired Aly Nurmohamed (former global managing director for publisher partners at Criteo) as its general manager for publishing and Steve Francolla (former head of global publisher strategy at LiveRamp) as head of partnerships.

VC Corner: Atin Batra of Twenty Seven Ventures

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

Atin Batra is the Founder & General Partner at Twenty Seven Ventures, a VC firm investing in early-stage EdTech and Future of Work startups across the world. 27V looks for entrepreneurs with an overwhelming drive to build a business that not only creates shareholder value but also leave a positive impact on our fragile world. The firm has invested in 6 companies operating in 6 countries.

Most recently, he was a Principal at the global VC firm Q Venture Partners, where he helped invest in Deep Tech & connected Hardware startups in North America. Prior to that, he led the Swire Properties’ B2B accelerator ‘blueprint’. Originally from India, Atin spends his weekends trail running Hong Kong’s beautiful country parks.

— What is your fund’s mission?

Twenty Seven Ventures (27V) is curating a group of thoughtful founders building the foundations of human learning and productivity; entrepreneurs with an overwhelming drive to build a business that not only creates shareholder value but also leave a positive impact on our fragile world.

The Fund invests in global EdTech and Future of Work startups at the pre-Seed and Seed stages. We invest globally because we believe there is untapped value in founders, across the world, learning from each other facing problems, both similar and dissimilar.

— What was your very first investment/when? And what struck you about them?

Toggle was my first investment out of this Fund. Toggle is a NY-based company building a full-stack robotics solution for rebar cage fabrication and assembly.

I was struck by the how humble the Founding team was. Both Dan and Ian had been successful in their careers before starting the company, and yet they came to work every single day looking to learn more about the construction business.

— What is one thing you’re excited about right now?

Investing in Founder operating outside of the traditional venture capital hotspots. In today’s time and age of software technology pervading all industries, I truly believe there are amazing companies being built by teams not within the bubble that is the Bay Area or Tel Aviv or London.

— Who is one founder we should watch?

Keep an eye out for Amanda DoAmaral, founder of Fiveable. She is the most customer-focused entrepreneur I’ve come across.

I came across Amanda because of a video where she rails against the injustices being wrought by a particular educational curriculum provider. Knew it right then that the best interests of her students was always going to be top of mind for her. That’s been the secret to her success so far! And will be crucial going forward.

— What are the 3 top qualities of every great leader?

  1. Innately curious, always open to learning.
  2. Appreciates the value of relationships and teams.
  3. Recognizes that allocation of resources (time, capital, human) is their primary job.

— What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?

Would the smartest people I know want to work for this Founder? Would I?
IMHO, being able to build a stellar team around oneself is a Founder’s most under-appreciated quality.

— What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?

What will the company and founding team learn/gain from this individual/firm?

— What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?

  1. Be customer-focused from day one.
  2. Build a diverse team that is committed to the company vision.
  3. Efficiently allocate the company’s resources — time, human, capital.

— Favorite business book, blog or podcast?

Really like “Invest Like the Best” podcast by Patrick O’Shaughnessy. It’s a constant presence in my Overcast queue.

— What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?

I’m an ultra-marathon trail runner. Running long distances in the mountains keeps me sane.

— Who is one leader you admire?

Given my hobby of long distance running, I’m a sucker for endurance athletes and their stories. 2 in particular that I follow closely are Scott Jurek and Alex Honnold — both of them are at the pinnacle of their respective fields, ultra-running and mountain climbing.

I’m always finding parallels between endurance sports and entrepreneurship; the ups and downs, hitting walls, building a crew +more. Keep reminding the portfolio founders and myself that this journey is an ultra-marathon, not a marathon, certainly not a sprint.

— What is one interesting thing most people won’t know about you?

I’m a thespian at heart — and was a theatre actor/director for the first 20 years of my life. Still deeply love theatre, so much so that my wife and I saw 5 broadway shows in 7 nights during our last trip to NY.

— What is one piece of advice you’d give every founder?

Strictly curate your group of mentors, advisors and investors — they could be as instrumental to your success/failure as the team (employees) you build.

Learn more about Twenty Seven Ventures here.

Or ready to make your pitch to more great investors? Show your interest to multiple companies here.

VC Corner: Atin Batra of Twenty Seven Ventures was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Quaestor is reinventing business metric collaboration for the startup party-round era

This post is by Danny Crichton from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Business is the foundation, of, well, business. For startups, finding a working business model and honing it through decision-making, smart hires and relentless focus on the right metrics can be the difference between building a scalable company and collapsing into the next Luckin Coffee.

Given how important business performance and finance is, it’s not uncommon in the early days of a startup to hire an “outsourced CFO” — a part-time financial professional who helps with budgeting, basic forecasting and preparing reports for investors. Those reports, though, are static, and don’t lead to great conversations around how a business is performing, how it can change and what should happen next for all parties involved.

Quaestor wants to upend the static spreadsheets and PDFs sent to dozens if not hundreds of people on cap tables today with a software-first solution that allows executives and their investors to hold better, more intelligent conversations about business performance.

The idea for the company congealed in the offices of 8VC, where the firm’s partners like Joe Lonsdale and Alex Moore repeatedly watched companies struggling to present all of their business information to their investors in a time-efficient way. 8VC has a history of incubating projects just like Quaestor, such as CRM tool Affinity.

For Quaestor, the firm eventually brought together a trio of co-founders, with Lonsdale also officially co-founding the company. John Melas-Kyriazi is CEO, and formerly was with Spark Capital for five years as a VC. He left earlier this year, and is maintaining his board seats there. Kevin Hsu is head of product and was a product manager at cap table management startup Carta before joining 8VC as an EIR. Finally, Deny Khoung is head of operations and was formerly the director of design at 8VC.

The group has been riffing for months on the idea of improving collaboration around the fundamentals of startup metrics, but officially spun out of 8VC in March and raised $5.8 million, led by 8VC with participation from Melas-Kyriazi’s former firm Spark as well as Abstract Ventures, Riot Ventures, Fathom Ventures and GFC.

Let’s head back to the product though. Quaestor connects founders, company executives and investors all together to discuss a business and make sure everyone is on the same page regarding targets and metrics. “How do VCs and their companies interact around financial data, whether it’s documents like P&L / balance sheet / cash flow statement [or] individual financial KPIs like revenue, gross margin, net income, ARR, etc.?,” Melas-Kyriazi explained. “How do companies share that information with their investors to keep them updated? How do investors support their companies in understanding what goals they should be setting?”

The goal with the platform is two-fold. One is to ingest financial data and automatically prepare it so that all those annoying Excel mistakes disappear and everyone can read from one consistent set of metrics. The other is to help guide everyone to focus on the metrics that matter. “Most entrepreneurs come from a product background or engineering or sales and they might not necessarily have worked in finance before,” Melas-Kyriazi said. The goal with Quaestor is to help push them to think carefully about their finances.

Over time as cap tables get more complicated and more investors add their capital, the goal is that Quaestor can offer a single source of truth for all financial data, without requiring the CEO or an outsourced CFO to prepare individual reports for each firm.

Right now, the company is focusing its product on early-stage startups, but hopes to grow up with those companies as they scale, expanding its services to other types of companies over time. The company’s product has been in beta as it tests out its MVP.

Quaestor is now a team of eight, with several offer letters in motion (so that number is actively growing as I write this article). Melas-Kyriazi said that product development and early scaling are the key goals for the startup over the next year or two.

A reading guide to Reliance Jio, the most important tech company in the world

This post is by Arman Tabatabai from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has brought much of the fundraising community to a standstill. However, amidst it all India’s hyper0growth telco Reliance Jio Platforms has put its fundraising efforts into full gear.

Over the past three months, Jio has raised over $15.5 billion from a cohort of investors that include prominent financial institutions like KKR and Silver Lake Partners, massive sovereign wealth funds like Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and some of the biggest names in tech including Facebook.

The recent deals have cemented Mukesh Ambani’s ambition to make his oil-to-retails giant Reliance Industries (India’s most valuable firm) a top homegrown internet giant.

On Friday, he said he plans to publicly list Reliance Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, the largest retail chain in the country — also controlled by him — in the next five years.

As Reliance Jio Platforms, which has become the India’s top telecom operator with over 388 million subscribers in less than four years, continues its funding spree, at Extra Crunch we are doubling down on our focus on covering everything Jio from here and out.

As we’ve attempted to get up to speed on the company, we’ve compiled a supplemental list of resources and readings that we believe are particularly helpful for learning the story of Jio, which remains a mysterious firm to many.

Who’s writing first checks into startups?

This post is by Arman Tabatabai from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Over the past two decades, the venture capital industry has exploded beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations.

What began as a sleepy industry in Boston and Menlo Park has now expanded to dozens of cities the world over. The National Venture Capital Association estimates that VCs deployed more than $130 billion in 2018 and 2019, and thousands of new investors have joined the ranks in recent years to find the next great startups.

All that activity though poses a dilemma for founders: Who actively writes checks? Who is a leader in a specific market or vertical? Who has the conviction to underwrite pathbreaking investments? Who, ultimately, do you want to have by your side for the next decade as your startup grows?

There are lists that rank VCs by their exit returns. There are lists that rank young VCs by their future potential. There are lists of VCs who claim investment interest in various sectors. There are lists that try to ferret out deal volume, impact, and other quantitative metrics. There are internal lists at accelerators that share collective wisdom between founders.

Who actively writes checks? Who is a leader in a specific market or vertical? Who has the conviction to underwrite pathbreaking investments? Who, ultimately, do you want to have by your side for the next decade as your startup grows?

All those lists and rankings have an important function to serve, but for all the compilations of investors out there, we couldn’t find a single one that publicly answered a simple yet vital question: Who are the VC investors who are leaders in specific verticals who should be a founder’s first stop during a fundraise?

Today’s venture industry is made up of thousands of investors with varying specialties and far too many passive investors that are willing to participate in rounds but don’t actively participate in deals unless other investors have committed. Many don’t actively push to get deals done or don’t actively lead the charge to build a syndicate of investors.

With all that in mind, we’re excited to launch a new initiative that we hope will help answer those questions and help founders find that first check — The TechCrunch List.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be collecting data around which individual investors are actually willing to write the proverbial “first check” into a startup’s fundraising round and help catalyze deals for founders — whether it be seed, Series A or otherwise (i.e. out of your Series A investors, the first person who was willing to write the check and get the ball rolling with other investors). Once we’ve collected, cleaned and analyzed the data, we’ll publish lists of the most recommended “first check” investors across different verticals, investment stages and geographies so founders can see which investors are potentially the best fit for their company.

Founders are used to being specialized; after all, they have to live and breathe their startups every single day. So it can be jarring to start talking to generalist investors who know little about a category and ask shallow questions only to render a judgment with irrelevant advice. One of the greatest impetuses for us to put together The TechCrunch List is that like founders, we also struggle to cut through the noise around the interests of individual VCs.

We’d argue, that’s close to impossible. There is more spend on technology than ever before in history. Verticals are getting more competitive — market maps that used to have ten to fifty companies have expanded to hundreds. The only way to compete today is to specialize, and that has never been more true for VCs.

In all, The TechCrunch List will publish the most recommended “first check” writers across 22 different categories ranging from D2C & e-commerce brands to space and everything in between. Through some data analysis around total investments in each space, we believe our 22 categories should cover the entirety or majority of the venture activity today.

To make this project a success and create a useful resource for founders, we need your help. We want to hear from company builders and we want to hear from them directly.

To make this project a success and create a useful resource for founders, we need your help. We want to hear from company builders and we want to hear from them directly. We will be collecting endorsements submitted by founders through the form linked here.

Through the form, founders will be asked to submit their name, their startup, the stage of company, the name of the one “first check” investor they want to endorse, and a couple minor logistical items. We are asking founders here for their on-the-record endorsement. We ask that you limit your recommendations to one (1) person per fundraise round.

While many investors may have helped you in your journey, we are specifically interested in the person who most helped you get a round underway and closed. The one who catalyzed your round. The one who guided you through the fundraise process. The one investor who you would ultimately recommend to other founders who are trying to find their VC champion.

Our main goal is to help founders, dreamers, and company builders find investors who will invest in them today, and with your help, we think we can. The TechCrunch List is not meant to identify every possible investor under the sun who might make an investment within a space or just the big household name VCs whose reputations can sometimes seem more linked to their follower counts on Twitter as opposed to their bold term sheets.

Our hope is that this can be a go-to resource for founders looking to fundraise going forward and with that in mind, we are very determined to improve the glaring representation gaps in the venture industry. It’s no secret that the world of VC still looks like a country-club membership roster, dominated by white men with strong opinions and loud voices. Looking at the data, it’s clear that there are groups who are particularly underrepresented, with only a small portion of the industry made up of Black, Latinx, and female investors, for example.

We want to amplify these voices and we want to hear particularly from founders of color, female founders and other underrepresented groups. We also want to make sure our recommended investor lists are sufficiently representative and highlight underrepresented investors who might not have had equal opportunities in the past.

We want to help builders wade through the BS politics and fundraising annoyances that founders complain to us about on a daily basis, and help them identify qualified leads that are actually active, engaged, specialized, and are the best fit to help founders raise money and grow now.

Thank you for your support and we’re excited to build The TechCrunch List with you — and for you.

Unbounce raises $38.4M to build better landing pages with automation

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

Landing page optimization company Unbounce is announcing that it has raised $52 million Canadian (approximately $38.4 million in US dollars).

Unbounce was founded back in 2009 with what co-founder and CEO Rick Perreault described as a goal of helping small and medium businesses easily create different landing pages where they can direct potential customers after they’ve engaged with their ad and marketing campaigns. (Apparently some Unbounce customers are successful with just a “handful” of landing pages, while others create “hundreds and hundreds.”)

The Vancouver-headquartered company now has a 200-person team, with customers including Hootsuite, Zola and World Vision. It also says it recently passed the milestone of having powered 1 billion conversions.

Aside from a small seed round raised back in 2011, Perreault said the company has not raised any outside funding. Apparently it raised a big round now in order to invest in technology that can bring more automation to the process.

Perreault said the ultimate goal is to allow a business to “set it and forget it through machine learning” — so that they no longer have to create landing pages at all, because the Unbounce platform is doing all the optimization and personalization for them. As a first step in that direction, Unbounce has created a Smart Traffic product that will automatically use visitor data to send visitors to the best landing page, resulting in an average conversion lift of 20%.

Rick Perreault

Image Credits: Unbounce

“As more and more millennials become the SMB owners, and they’re much more savvy with computers and comfortable with online and digital marketing … landing pages are becoming more critical than ever,” he added.

The funding was led by Denver-based equity firm Crest Rock Partners, with Crest Rock’s Steve Johnson and Jeff Carnes joining Unbounce’s board of directors.

“Unbounce is the clear market leader in conversion optimization today — a world-class team, well-respected brand and the company’s conversion intelligence strategy will together dramatically increase the distance between Unbounce and its competitors,” Johnson said in a statement.

Perreault said he was also pleased that Crest Rock was on-board with Unbounce’s “people first” culture, which includes a commitment to diversity. In fact, the company says it recently reached gender parity, with 50% of employees (and 56% of the senior leadership team) identifying as women. In addition, 34% of employees are visible ethnic minorities.

Unbounce is also announcing that Chief Revenue Officer Felicia Bochicchio has been appointed the company’s president.

Admix raises $7M to bring more ads to games, VR and AR

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

Adtech startup Admix is announcing that it has raised $7 million in Series A funding.

The London-based company was founded by CEO Samuel Huber (previously owner of an indie gaming studio) and COO Joe Bachle-Morris (who previously worked in the ad agency world). The company is working to bring ads to games, esports, virtual reality and augmented reality.

In-game advertising is already a huge market, but Admix says it’s differentiated by focusing on building a product that supports game advertising at scale, where advertisers can bid programmatically through traditional ad-buying platforms, rather than relying on an ad agency model.

For developers, Admix offers an SDK for the Unity and Unreal game engines, allowing them to drag and drop ad formats like billboards, posters and 3D spaces into their games. The startup says it’s working with more than 200 developers and is running campaigns from more than 500 advertisers each month, with past advertisers including National Geographic, Uber and State Farm.

“The concept of putting ads in games is obviously not new, but the scalability of our solution is what is revolutionary, delivering instant and consistent revenue to game makers, or streaming platforms,” Huber said in a statement. “This coupled with the fact that 1.5B people play games globally every day, means that gaming is becoming a truly mainstream advertising channel.”

Admix previously raised $2.1 million, according to Crunchbase. The Series A was led by UK-based Force Over Mass, with the participation from Speedinvest, Sure Valley Ventures and Nigel Morris (a former Dentsu Aegis executive), as well as other angel investors.

IonQ raises additional funding for its quantum computing platform

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

Quantum computing startup IonQ today announced that it has raised additional funding as part of its previously announced Series B round. This round extends the company’s funding, including its 2019 $55 million Series B round, by about $7 million and brings the total investment into IonQ to $84 million.

The new funding includes strategic investments from Lockheed Martin and Robert Bosch Venture Capital, as well as Cambium, a relatively new multi-stage VC firm that specializes in investing “in the future of computational paradigms.”

In addition to the new funding, College Park, Maryland-based IonQ also announced a number of additions to its advisory team, including 2012 Nobel Prize winner David Wineland, who worked with IonQ co-founder and chief scientist Christopher Monroe on building the first quantum logic gate back in 1995.

Other new advisors are Berkeley Quantum Computation Center co-director Umesh Vazirani, former Cray senior VP of R&D Margaret (Peg) Williams, and Duke associate professor Kenneth Brown.

Image Credits: IonQ /

IonQ made an early bet on trapped ions at the core of its quantum computers, which is no surprise, given Monroe’s early work in this field.

We’re doing something which, at least initially, was thought of as kind of against the grain for quantum And what that is is trapped ion computers, which is ions which are being suspended in a vacuum and using electromagnets to hold them. So our qubits are our individual ions,” said IonQ CEO and president Peter Chapman, who was Amazon’s director of engineering for Amazon Prime before he took this new role last year. This approach has its pros and cons, Chapman explained. It makes it easier for the company to create its qubits, for example, which lets it focus on controlling them. In addition, IonQ’s machines can run at room temperature, while most of its competitors (with maybe the exception of Honeywell, which is also betting trapped ions at the core of its quantum computer) have to cool their machines to as close to zero Kelvin as possible.

One negative — at least for the time being, though — is that the trapped ion technique makes for a relatively slow quantum computer. But Chapman mostly dismissed the critique. “People say that the trapped ion computers are slow and that is true in the current generation. But slow is relative here. We run a thousand times slower or something. But at the end of the day, speed is one of those things that matters when you have two systems which can do the same thing. Then you care about the speed. If only one of the two systems can do your calculation, then it probably doesn’t matter.”

Image Credits: IonQ /

Like so many other quantum computing startups, IonQ is still mostly in its research and development phase and doesn’t currently have any revenue. That will change, though, Chapman noted, once Amazon and Microsoft start making its systems available in their clouds (something both vendors have already announced).

Until then, the new funding will go almost exclusively into R&D and Chapman noted that the team is currently working on the next three generations of its systems already.

Both Lockheed Martin and Bosch have made a number of investments in various quantum technologies and Chapman noted that Lockheed actually provided the initial grand money for IonQ co-founder Chris Monroe’s research during his time at the University of Maryland.

Free money for startups? It’s possible with MainStreet’s platform for economic development incentives

This post is by Danny Crichton from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Startups need money. State and local governments need startups and the employment growth they offer. It should be obvious that the two groups can work together and make each other happy. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Each year, governments spend tens of billions of dollars on economic development incentives designed to attract employers and jobs to their communities. There are a huge number of challenges, however, for startups and individual contributors trying to apply for these programs.

First, economic development leaders typically focus on massive, flagship projects that are splashy and will drive the news cycle and bring good media attention to their elected official bosses. So, for example, you get a massive, $10 billion Foxconn plant in Wisconsin tied to hundreds of millions of incentives, only to see the project sputter into the ground.

Then there is the paperwork. As you’d expect with any government application process, it can be arduous to find the right incentive programs, apply for credits at the right time and max out the opportunities available.

That’s where MainStreet comes in.

Its CEO and founder Doug Ludlow’s third company. He previously founded Hipster, which sold to AOL, and The Happy Home Company, which sold to Google. After that transaction, Ludlow went on to become chief of staff for SMB ads at the tech giant, where he saw firsthand the challenges that startups and all small companies face in growing outside of major urban hubs like San Francisco.

When he and his co-founders Dan Lindquist and Daniel Griffin first started, they were focused on what Ludlow described as “a network of remote work hubs.” As they were experimenting last November they tried paying people to leave the Bay Area, offering them $10,000 if they moved to other cities. The offer caused a sensation, with outlets like CNN covering the news.

While the interest from customers was great, what ignited Ludlow and his co-founders’ passions was that “literally dozens of cities, states and counties reached out, letting us know that they had an incentive program.” As the team explored further, they realized there was a huge untapped opportunity to connect startups to these preexisting programs.

MainStreet was born, and it’s an idea that has also attracted the attention of investors. The company announced today that it raised a $2.3 million round from Gradient Ventures, Weekend Fund and others.

Startups apply for economic incentives through MainStreet’s platform, and then MainStreet takes a 20% cut of any successful application. Notably, that cut is only taken when the incentive is actually disbursed (there’s no upfront cost), and there is also no on-going subscription fee to use the platform. “If you identify the credit that you’re able to use six months from now, we will charge you six months from now, when you’re actually getting that credit. It seems to be a business model that is aligned well with founders,” Ludlow said.

Right now, he says that the average MainStreet client saves $51,000, and that MainStreet has crossed the $1 million ARR run rate threshold.

Right now, the company’s core clientele are startups applying for payroll credits and research and development credits, but Ludlow says that MainStreet is working to expand beyond its tech roots to all small businesses such as restaurants. The company also wants to expand the number of economic development programs that startups can apply for. Given the myriad of governments and programs, there are hundreds if not thousands of more programs to onboard onto the platform.

MainStreet’s team. Image Credits: MainStreet

While MainStreet is helping startups and small businesses, it also wants to help governments improve their operations around economic development. With MainStreet, “we can report back to cities and states showing exactly what their tax dollars or tax credits are being utilized for,” Ludlow said. “So the accountability is orders of magnitude greater than they had before. So already, there’s this better system for tracking the success of incentives.”

The big question for MainStreet this year is navigating the crisis around the COVID-19 pandemic. While more small businesses than ever need help navigating credits, state and local governments have suffered huge shortfalls in revenues as taxes have dried up and Washington continues to debate over what, if any aid, to offer. There’s no money for economic development, yet, economic development has never been more important than right now.

Ultimately, MainStreet is pushing the vanguard of economic development thinking forward away from massive checks designed to underwrite industrial factories to a more flexible and dynamic model of incentivizing knowledge workers to move to areas outside the major global cities. It’s an interesting bet, and one that, at the very least, will help many startups get the economic incentives they rightly have access to.

Outside of Gradient and Weekend Fund, Shrug Capital, SV Angel, Remote First Capital, Basement Fund, Basecamp Ventures, Backend Capital and a host of angels participated in the round.

Sinch to buy India’s ACL Mobile for $70 million

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

Sinch said on Monday it has agreed to buy Indian firm ACL Mobile for £56 million (roughly $70 million) in what is the fourth acquisition deal the Swedish mobile voice and messaging firm has entered into at the height of a global pandemic.

The Swedish firm said acquiring ACL Mobile will enable it to leverage the Indian firm’s connections with local mobile operators in the world’s second largest internet market as well as in Malaysia, and UAE to expand its end-to-end connectivity without working with a third-party firm.

20-year-old ACL Mobile, which has headquarters in Delhi, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur, enables businesses to interact with their customers through SMS, email, WhatsApp and other channels. In a press statement, the Indian firm said it serves more than 500 enterprise customers including Flipkart, OLX, MakeMyTrip, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank.

“With ACL we gain critical scale in the world’s second-largest mobile market. We gain customers, expertise and technology and we further strengthen our global messaging product for discerning businesses with global needs,” said Sinch chief executive Oscar Werner.

The Indian firm, which employs 288 people, reported gross profits of $14.2 million on sales of about $65 million in the financial year that ended in March. During the same period, ACL Mobile claims it delivered 47 billion messages on behalf of its enterprise customers.

“Although the long-term growth outlook is favorable, lower commercial activity in India due to the Covid-19 pandemic means that the near-term growth outlook is less predictable,” Sinch said of ACL Mobile’s future outlook.

ACL Mobile is the fourth acquisition Sinch has unveiled since March this year. Last month the company said it was buying SAP’s Digital Interconnect for $250 million. In March, it announced deals to buy Wavy and Chatlayer.

Sinch, founded in 2008, employs more than 700 people in over 40 locations worldwide and is increasingly expanding to more markets. Last month it said acquiring SAP’s Digital Interconnect will help it expand in the US market. The company says it is profitable.

“Together with Sinch we are scaling up to become one of the leading global players in our industry. I’m excited about this next chapter and the many new opportunities that we can pursue together,” said Sanjay K Goyal, founder and chief executive of ACL Mobile.

Pinwheel is the API platform for income verification that every fintech and neobank needs

This post is by Danny Crichton from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

A lot of founders start building one idea and in the process, find another one that is more alluring. Perhaps the most well-known example is Tiny Speck, a game publisher of a relatively uninteresting MMORPG where the founders grew sufficiently frustrated with their internal team communications tools that they migrated from game building to designing a chatting app known as Slack.

That’s the story of Pinwheel and its founders Kurt Lin, Anish Basu, and Curtis Lee. Lee, who formerly founded Luxe, a valet service that sold to Volvo in 2017, had hired Lin as the company’s GM. After two years of “innovating” within the confines of a massive automobile manufacturer, the two were ready to spin out and head back to the open world of startups. Meanwhile, Lee and Basu had worked together previously at social gaming company Zynga on Mafia Wars, and connected the whole group together for a new project.

The big question was what to build. They started by developing a software platform for companies to easily offer their employees pre-tax benefits like expensing transit passes and funding health savings accounts. They hit a programming wall though: there was no easy way to connect their product to the myriad of payroll providers out there.

“We had built an internal platform with integrations into payroll systems … and what we realized as we were building was that there was kind of no solution out there that both aggregated and unlocked access in payroll systems largely because they’re very old and kind of closed systems,” Lin said. As they talked with other fintech founders about how to solve the roadblock, they realized that the lack of an API that they could use for their product was actually a potential product in and of itself.

And so came the idea for Pinwheel, an API layer for payroll data that handles everything from income and employee verification to easily switching and managing direct deposit. The company officially came out of stealth today and announced that it has raised a $7 million seed round from Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital and Greg Bettinelli at Upfront Ventures, who will both join the company’s board.

Like any API platform, there are a range of users and data that they want to connect to. For consumers, the main draw is automated direct deposit control, which will allow consumers to control where their paychecks go. For instance, if they want to split a direct deposit into multiple accounts, or regularly move part of their paycheck into a savings app like Digit or Acorns, Pinwheel can help them do that easily.

But the real interesting use cases start coming with other fintech business users of the platform. Take mortgages for instance. The process to apply for a mortgage is arduous, requiring numerous documents to prove income and employment status. Some of that is now digital — you can use tools like Notarize to digitally sign documents — but few options exist to directly pull payroll data into a unified, machine-readable format for all use cases. “Even in 2020 right now, most people still have to submit a paper pay stub or tax document every time they need to substantiate [their] data,” Lin said. Pinwheel wants to be the layer to power all of this data flow.

Kopelman of First Round says that it is precisely financial applications like mortgages and lending that attracted him to the company. “You take what would happen in four weeks and [Pinwheel] turns it into four minutes,” he said.

He first learned about the company during a board meeting of one of his portfolio companies and was intrigued. As he dug in, he liked that the founders “were extremely focused on the users” and he liked the focus on payroll. “It’s the source of truth and the source of funding,” he said. He noted that First Round has invested in a variety of future of work companies like Uber and TaskRabbit, and saw firsthand the need for better options for accessing payroll data easily and securely.

According to Pinwheel, 82% of Americans get paid via direct deposit — which means that the vast majority of income data is sitting in payroll systems.

Pinwheel is not a replacement for incumbent payroll providers like ADP or upstart companies like Gusto. Instead, it layers on top of them, much in the way that, say, Plaid is a layer on top of existing banks to provide other fintech companies secure access to a user’s banking data.

With Luxe, Lin and Lee formerly built an on-demand valet service, and I was curious what they learned from that experience and how that affected their approach to Pinwheel. Lee said that the big difference was understanding what works and what doesn’t when it comes to building valuable companies. “Certain businesses are just conducive to better outcomes versus others,” he said. He noted that compared to an on-demand business like Luxe, Pinwheel’s API play was not as capital intensive, had limited marginal costs, and it’s a pure technology play, making it easier to create value for the startup.

One other change: the team moved from San Francisco where Luxe was headquartered to New York City, where Pinwheel is based.

In the company’s current roster, Lin serves as CEO, Basu as CTO, and Lee is executive chairman. Lee is also a venture partner at NYC-based Primary Venture Partners.

In addition to First Round and Upfront, Wonder Ventures participated as did angels such as Adam Nash, the former CEO of personal finance manager Wealthfront and Mike Vaughan, former COO of payment app Venmo.

Can a startup repair the winner-takes-all talent economy? With $8.5M, Pando wants to find out

This post is by Danny Crichton from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

It’s a winner-takes-all economy. More and more labor markets act as lotteries, where a couple of “superstar” workers make extremely outsized returns relative to their peers — who may well have started from the exact same starting line.

In the tech world, two JavaScript engineers can potentially earn billions of dollars in differential compensation by simply choosing different startups to join, and that massive income spectrum extends to professionals from law to finance to research careers to even my friends in journalism.

For Charlie Olson and Eric Lax, that dynamic didn’t make intuitive sense. “We own 100% of our own future. And, you know, once you choose a career, you are locked in to the risk-reward risk preference of that career,” Olson said. Hit the lottery, and your earnings skyrocket. For the majority of others though, there is no safety net — no insurance policy — that protects you despite pushing your hardest in the race to superstardom.

Pando founders Eric Lax and Charlie Olson. Photo via Pando.

The two founders connected while at Stanford GSB and started looking around at their peers, some of whom may well be the superstars of business in the years ahead. They kicked around some ideas, but kept returning to this idea of trying to create a sort of pooled insurance platform for careers.

Their thinking eventually led to the creation of San Francisco-based Pando in mid-2017, a platform to build exactly that sort of career insurance pool among a group of peers. “We’ve created a marketplace to allow groups of people to come together to choose their pool, choose their group, and each person in that group agrees to contribute some defined portion of their uncertain future upside to the shared group,” Olson explained.

So for instance, a person and a bunch of their classmates in business school seem similar on paper. Statistically, one of them might do fabulously well in their careers, but no one knows right now who that will be. Pando’s hope is that those users will connect together and buy into their shared future returns.

The payout rules are set by the users of that pool, but there are some emerging guidelines that Pando is helping to productize. There is typically a financial hurdle to cross in terms of income, so that incomes below a threshold don’t pay out. For users who hit the threshold, typical contribution proportions tend to center around either 1-2% with larger numbers of pool users or 7-10% of a person’s income in some smaller pools. Dollars collected by the pool are distributed to all users equally.

One of the initial customer profiles for Pando is focused on creating a pool around professional baseball players. Contrary to the record-breaking earnings that get announced in the papers, many baseball players before hitting the big leagues toil in relative obscurity making minimal dollars, while still hoping for a shot at the big leagues. “You either leave the game with nothing, or with huge amounts of money,” Olson said.

A Pando pool in this context could mitigate some of the extreme divergence of salaries seen in the game while also helping to create more camaraderie. “The idea of a group of people coming together with financially-aligned incentives to create a partnership is a real motivation to see each other succeed,” Olson said. He said that the typical pool size on Pando is 5.7 people. In baseball specifically, the pool encompasses a player’s direct team income, but doesn’t include ancillary income like endorsement deals.

So a lot of this makes sense, but one thing that was less clear to me is how Pando convinces ambitious and talented folks to give up some of their upside. After all, no one makes it to the major leagues without thinking they are going to be the next A-Rod, or starting the next Facebook without thinking of themselves as the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Olson pointed out two things. The first is the data, which shows the distribution of outcomes in a field and the necessity for a pool to salve the human need for income security. And the second is to point out that having a portfolio of upsides is always better than using your own single career as your only bet on a financial future.

“Warren Buffett believes in himself. And yet, he has a portfolio of companies that he’s invested in. Venture firms believe in their ability to pick winners. And yet, you’ll never find one that has a single investment as their portfolio strategy,” Olson said. “Your agent is proud of you. And yet, he has a stable of clients, and he’ll make money from the one who makes the most. Why are you the only one that owns 100% of your own upside?” He said that argument and the cooperative feel of a pool helps to close deals.

The company officially launched in fall 2017, and raised a $3.3 million seed from Ulu Ventures, Pear VC, Avalon, Nimble Ventures and Stanford StartX Fund. The company revealed this morning that it raised a $8.5 million Series A in 2019 led by Kathleen Utecht at Core Innovation Capital with Slow VC and its seed investors joining the round as well.

Pando’s staff. Photo via Pando.

With the funding, the company has been expanding outside of its professional athletics initial target market into young professional markets like business school students, entrepreneurs and others who are embarking on high-risk, high-reward career paths.

While it’s still early days and the transition to a winner-takes-all labor economy is a tough trend to crack, Pando is offering a different take on the problem and is a thoughtful and innovative platform.

Lili raises $10M for its freelancer banking app

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

Lili, a startup building banking products to meet the needs of freelance workers, is announcing that it has raised $10 million in seed funding.

The startup takes its name from its founders, CEO Lilac Bar David and CTO Liran Zelkha, who previously founded Israeli challenger bank Pepper. Bar David told me that while many neobanks have emerged over the past few years, most of them “are very focused on the consumer side.”

More broadly, she suggested that no traditional banking solutions are really designed to solve the problems faced by freelancers — whether they’re designers, programmers, fitness instructors, chefs or beauty professionals. She described Lili as the first “all-in-one” solution, offering both a bank account and a broader suite of financial tracking tools.

The account comes with a Visa business debit card and is unencumbered by account fees, overdraft fees, foreign transaction fees or minimum balance requirements. Bar David said Lili only makes money from card processing fees, which means “we will make money whenever you’re making money.”

Lili also supports direct deposit, saying it provides access to payments up to two days earlier than a traditional bank. And to help freelancers manage their finances, there’s a tool for tracking and categorizing expenses, and another tool that will put a percentage of income into a sub-account for taxes.

The startup estimates that it can save freelancers up to 60 hours and $1,700 per year. (Bar David said customers may choose to use individual Lili products, but “the benefits of using the product are definitely enhanced when you use it as your main account.”) The company launched in 2019 and says it’s already used by tens of thousands of freelancers across all 50 states in the U.S.

Bar David  also suggested that the freelance economy is only going to grow with the economic instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with millions more people turning to freelance work as either their primary source of income, or as a supplement.

The funding was led by Group 11, with participation from Foundation Capital, AltaIR Capital, Primary Venture Partners and Torch Capital.

“Lili is redefining banking for freelancers and we’re thrilled to be partnering with the team,” said Group 11’s Dovi Frances in a statement. “As the future of work continues to evolve more quickly than ever in these uncertain times, Lilac and Liran’s forward-looking vision is changing how modern workers manage their finances, while saving them valuable time and money.”

BeeHero smartens up hives to provide ‘pollination as a service’ with $4M seed round

This post is by Devin Coldewey from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Vast monoculture farms outstripped the ability of bee populations to pollinate them naturally long ago, but the techniques that have arisen to fill that gap are neither precise nor modern. Israeli startup BeeHero aims to change that by treating hives both as living things and IoT devices, tracking health and pollination progress practically in real time. It just raised a $4 million seed round that should help expand its operations into U.S. agriculture.

Honeybees are used around the world to pollinate crops, and there has been growing demand for beekeepers who can provide lots of hives on short notice and move them wherever they need to be. But the process has been hamstrung by the threat of colony collapse, an increasingly common end to hives, often as the result of mite infestation.

Hives must be deployed and checked manually and regularly, entailing a great deal of labor by the beekeepers — it’s not something just anyone can do. They can only cover so much land over a given period, meaning a hive may go weeks between inspections — during which time it could have succumbed to colony collapse, perhaps dooming the acres it was intended to pollinate to a poor yield. It’s costly, time-consuming, and decidedly last-century.

So what’s the solution? As in so many other industries, it’s the so-called Internet of Things. But the way CEO and founder Omer Davidi explains it, it makes a lot of sense.

“This is a math game, a probabilistic game,” he said. “We’ve modeled the problem, and the main factors that affect it are, one, how do you get more efficient bees into the field, and two, what is the most efficient way to deploy them? ”

Normally this would be determined ahead of time and monitored with the aforementioned manual checks. But off-the-shelf sensors can provide a window into the behavior and condition of a hive, monitoring both health and efficiency. You might say it puts the API in apiculture.

“We collect temperature, humidity, sound, there’s an accelerometer. For pollination, we use pollen traps and computer vision to check the amount of pollen brought to the colony,” he said. “We combine this with microclimate stuff and other info, and the behaviors and patterns we see inside the hives correlate with other things. The stress level of the queen, for instance. We’ve tested this on thousands of hives; it’s almost like the bees are telling us, ‘we have a queen problem.’ ”

All this information goes straight to an online dashboard where trends can be assessed, dangerous conditions identified early, and plans made for things like replacing or shifting less or more efficient hives.

The company claims that its readings are within a few percentage points of ground truth measurements made by beekeepers, but of course it can be done instantly and from home, saving everyone a lot of time, hassle, and cost.

The results of better hive deployment and monitoring can be quite remarkable, though Davidi was quick to add that his company is building on a growing foundation of work in this increasingly important domain.

“We didn’t invent this process, it’s been researched for years by people much smarter than us. But we’ve seen increases in yield of 30-35 percent in soybeans, 70-100 percent in apples and cashews in South America,” he said. It may boggle the mind that such immense improvements can come from just better bee management, but the case studies they’ve run have borne it out. Even “self-pollinating” (i.e. by the wind or other measures) crops that don’t need pollinators show serious improvements.

The platform is more than a growth aid and labor saver. Colony collapse is killing honeybees at enormous rates, but if it can be detected early, it can be mitigated and the hive potentially saved. That’s hard to do when time from infection to collapse is a matter of days and you’re inspecting biweekly. BeeHero’s metrics can give early warning of mite infestations, giving beekeepers a head start on keeping their hives alive.

“We’ve seen cases where you can lower mortality by 20-25 percent,” said Davidi. “It’s good for the farmer to improve pollination, and it’s good for the beekeeper to lose less hives.”

That’s part of the company’s aim to provide value up and down the chain, not just a tool for beekeepers to check the temperatures of their hives. “Helping the bees is good, but it doesn’t solve the whole problem. You want to help whole operations,” Davidi said. The aim is “to provide insights rather than raw data: whether the queen is in danger, if the quality of the pollination is different.”

Other startups have similar ideas, but Davidi noted that they’re generally working on a smaller scale, some focused on hobbyists who want to monitor honey production, or small businesses looking to monitor a few dozen hives versus his company’s nearly twenty thousand. BeeHero aims for scale both with robust but off-the-shelf hardware to keep costs low, and by focusing on an increasingly tech-savvy agriculture sector here in the States.

“The reason we’re focused on the U.S. is the adoption of precision agriculture is very high in this market, and I must say it’s a huge market,” Davidi said. “80 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California, so you have a small area where you can have a big impact.”

The $4M seed round’s investors include Rabo Food and Agri Innovation Fund, UpWest, iAngels, Plug and Play, and J-Ventures.

BeeHero is still very much also working on R&D, exploring other crops, improved metrics, and partnerships with universities to use the hive data in academic studies. Expect to hear more as the market grows and the need for smart bee management starts sounding a little less weird and a lot more like a necessity for modern agriculture.

Truthset raises $4.75M to help marketers score their data

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

Data, the cliche goes, is the new oil of the digital economy. But Truth{set} co-founder and CEO Scott McKinley wants to know: “Why does no one care about the quality of that fuel?”

That’s an issue McKinley saw in his seven years as an executive at Nielsen, where he said he realized that marketing data products are “all built on massive error.” As evidence, he pointed to recent studies showing that bad data leads marketers to waste 21 cents of every dollar, and that in many cases, consumer data is “similar to or even worse than what you’d get if you used random chance to create a target list.

McKinley argued, “You wouldn’t drive a car to a gas station where there’s no octane rating on the pump.” He created Truth{set} to provide that octane rating to marketers, and to “shine the light on that whole ecosystem.”

More specifically, the company scores the consumer data that marketers are buying on accuracy, on a scale between 0.00 and 1.00. To create these scores, Truth{set} checks the data against independent data sources, as well as first-party data and panels.

“In order for us to do this, we had to develop a perspective on what is truthful and what is not,” McKinley said. “And so instead of building our own data sets, we said, ‘Let’s be smarter than that, let’s verify everybody else’s data with these independent sources of truth.’”

Truthset screenshot

Image Credits: Truthset

In addition to coming out of stealth,  Truth{set} is also announcing that it has raised $4.75 million in seed funding from startup studio super{set}, WTI, Ulu Ventures, and strategic angel investors.

The company says it’s compatible with demand-side platforms, data management platforms and customer platforms. It also integrates with the leading data providers including Facebook, LiveRamp and The Trade Desk.

McKinley added that the platform can even “suppress” consumer IDs that don’t meet a marketer’s standards, so that they’re not used in targeting.

Throughout our conversation, he emphasized the idea of independence, arguing that in order to provide trustworthy scores, “You cannot have a conflict of interest.” At the same time, Truthset is working closely with the data providers to score their data and to help them improve their accuracy. The goal is to create an expectation among marketers that if data is accurate, it will come with a score from Truth{set}.

“There’s a FOMO thing here — if you’re not being measured, what are you hiding?” McKinley said.

Storage marketplace Warehouse Exchange raises $2.2M

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

Warehouse Exchange, a startup that describes itself as the Airbnb of warehouse space, has raised $2.2 million in seed funding.

The company was founded Jonathan Rosenthal (CEO of Saybrook Management) and Dan Pimentel (previously CFO/COO of startup Hub TV). They recently brought on former eHarmony CEO Grant Langston as the Warehouse Exchange’s chief executive.

Langston admitted that his new job might sound pretty different from running an online dating company, but he said that in both cases, it’s really about using technology to build a marketplace.

In the case of Warehouse Exchange, Langston said the opportunity lies in the fact that “businesses that wanted warehouse space were not welcome in warehouses.” Specifically, there are plenty of new e-commerce companies that want “smaller footprints for shorter periods of time and want to handle their own inventory,” but particularly pre-pandemic, most of the third-party logistics companies (known as 3PLs) operating warehouses weren’t interested in that business.

So Warehouse Exchange has created a marketplace connecting renters with flexible warehouse space — Langston said businesses are renting space through the marketplace for an average of 11 months (though it usually starts with a shorter amount of time and then gets extended).

Warehouse Exchange CEO Grant Langston

Warehouse Exchange CEO Grant Langston

In fact, the company said it’s seen 22,000 searches on its site in the past 18 months. The warehouse space, meanwhile, might not come from traditional warehouse operators, but instead from other organizations that have extra space that they want to monetize.

Langston added, “3PLs are typically not interested in this small e-commerce demand, but what has happened in the last eight weeks is that a lot of these companies have lost their anchor tenant and need to rethink their revenue.”

In order for a warehouse shift to this model, Langston said some rethinking is required, but “the infrastructure is quite light” — usually, you just partitions to separate different parts of the warehouse.

Given the broader concerns about warehouse safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, I also asked about who is responsible for those issues within the warehouses. Langston said it’s up to the individual tenants, noting that in many cases it’s just one person running an e-commerce business, and that “in a general sense, there’s not a lot of intermingling between tenants.”

The new funding comes from investors including Xebec Realty. Langston said he’s already working to raise a Series A, with a target of $6 to $7 million.

Cookware startup Caraway raises $5.3M as it eyes new product categories

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

Caraway, a direct-to-consumer startup selling ceramic pots and pans, is announcing that it has raised $5.3 million in seed funding.

Founder and CEO Jordan Nathan (previously a brand manager at e-commerce holding company Mohawk Group) told me that he became interested in cookware after burning a Teflon pan and learned more about the dangers of Teflon poisoning.

In fact, although nonstick materials like Teflon are used most of the cookware sold in the United States, it turns out that that there are real health risks when those pots and pans are overheated.

So Nathan said Caraway offers non-toxic, eco-friendly pots and pans that are also well-designed and premium quality. The four-item cookware set costs $395 and also comes with pot and lid holders (Nathan noted that many consumers also struggle with storage).

When I brought up some of the broader issues facing direct-to-consumer startups before the pandemic, particularly around costly user acquisition, Nathan said, “Caraway has been focused on sustainable growth since day one. We’re only a few months old and growing very fast, but at the same time, we’re focused on cutting cost and making sure every dollar returns a profitable first purchase from consumers.”

Caraway racks

Image Credits: Caraway

Caraway isn’t revealing any sales numbers, but Nathan suggested that the company has definitely benefited from increased consumer interest as everyone is stuck at home and doing more cooking.

And he said that interest extends beyond buying Caraway products: “It’s been a really good time to activate our community. There’s been a lot more engagement, a lot of sharing of user generated content, sharing on Instagram — not just for cookware and pans, but education around cooking, around storage, around design.”

The company’s supply chain has also been affected by the pandemic. Nathan said his team has done work to expedite shipments, but “where we’ve put our focus has really just been communicating with customers that there will be delays.”

The new funding comes from more than 100 investors, including Republic Labs, Springdale Ventures, Wesray Social, Bridge Investments, WTI, CompanyFirst, G9 Ventures, Super Angel Syndicate (led by Ben Zises), Five Four Ventures, alongside Bonobos co-founder Andy Dunn, PopSugar co-founder Brian Sugar (PopSugar), Glossier and Arfa founders/executives Henry Davis and Bryan Mahoney, One Kings Lane co-founder Ali Pincus and Nik Sharma of Sharma Brands.

In a statement, Dunn said:

Many people think direct-to-consumer brands are going to struggle in this new economy. From being an investor in two dozen brands, the truth is more nuanced: some are really flourishing. Caraway had strong momentum at launch, with a clear vision from founder Jordan Nathan around the future of home goods. The COVID-19 pandemic then amplified that momentum with the surge of in-home cooking. Caraway’s out of the gates growth rate is in the top 1% of what I’ve seen in DTC brands. This is not a pots and pans company, this is a disruptor to traditional brick and mortar multi-category home brands.

To that last point, Nathan said Caraway has already expanded into kitchen linens, and there are plans for other home products.

“With every new product we launch, we’re bringing the same focus [that we brought to] cookware,” he said. “The same colors, the same sleek and timeless design, the non-toxic, eco-friendly material. And every product we launch will have a storage solution built into it.”