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| August 26, 2019

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Uber tries to reassure customers that it takes safety seriously, following NYTimes book excerpt

August 25, 2019 |

It’s hard at times not to feel sorry for Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, given all that he inherited when he became the ride-share giant’s top boss back in April 2017.

Among his many to-do items: take public a money-losing company whose private-market valuation had already soared past what many thought it was worth, clean-up the organization’s win-at-all-costs image, and win over employees who clearly remained loyal to Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick, an inimitable figure who Khosrowshahi was hired to replace.

Things are undoubtedly about to get worse, given the fast-upcoming publication of a tell-all book about Uber authored by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac. In just one excerpt published yesterday by the newspaper, Isaac outlines how Uber misled customers into paying $ 1 more per ride by telling them Uber would use the proceeds to fund an “industry-leading background check process, regular motor vehicle checks, driver safety education, development of safety features in the app, and insurance.”

The campaign was hugely successful, according to Isaac, who reports that it brought in nearly half a billion dollars for Uber. Alas, according to employees who worked on the project, the fee was devised primarily to add $ 1 of pure margin to each trip.

Om Malik, a former tech journalist turned venture capitalist, published a tongue-in-cheek tweet yesterday after reading the excerpt, writing, “Apology from @dkhos coming any minute — we are different now.”

Malik was close. Instead of an apology, Uber today sent some of its riders an email titled, somewhat ominously, “Your phone number stays hidden in the app.” The friendly reminder continues on to tell customers that their “phone number stays hidden when you call or text your driver through the app,” that “pickup and dropoff locations are not visible in a driver’s trip history,” and that “for additional privacy, if you don’t want to share your exact address, request a ride to or from the nearest cross streets instead.”

The email was clearly meant to reassure riders, some of whom might be absorbing negative press about Uber and wondering if it cares about them at all. But not everyone follows Uber as closely as industry watchers in Silicon Valley, and either way, what the email mostly accomplishes is to remind customers that riding in an Uber involves life-and-death risk.

Stressing that the company is “committed to safety” is the debating equivalent of a so-called negative pregnant, wherein a denial implies its affirmative opposite. It’s Uber shooting itself in the foot.

Uber

It would have been more effective for Uber to email riders that when it talks about safety, it really does mean business — and not the kind where it swindles its own customers for pure monetary gain.

Either way, the affair underscores the tricky terrain Uber is left to navigate right now. Though campaigns like Uber’s so-called “safe rides fee” was orchestrated under the leadership of Kalanick — who did whatever it took to scale the company — it’s Khosrowshahi’s problem now.

So is the fact that the company’s shares have been sinking since its IPO in early May; that Uber’s cost-cutting measures will be scrutinized at every turn (outsiders particularly relished the company’s decision to save on employees’ work anniversaries by cutting out helium balloons in favor of stickers); and that Uber appears to be losing the battle, city by city, against labor activists who want to push up the minimum wage paid to drivers.

And those are just three of many daunting challenges that Khosrowshahi has been tasked with figuring out  (think food delivery, self-driving technologies, foreign and domestic opponents). No doubt Isaac’s book will highlight plenty of others.

How Uber handles the inevitable wave of bad publicity that comes with it remains to be seen. We don’t expect Khosrowshahi to come out swinging; that’s not his style. But we also hope the company doesn’t take to emailing riders directly, without any context. It’s great if Uber is taking customer safety more seriously than it might have under Kalanick’s leadership, but reaching out to tell riders how to remain safe from their Uber drivers isn’t the way to do it, especially without acknowledging in any way why it’s suddenly so eager to have the conversation.

TechCrunch

Confirmed: Disney is making an Obi-Wan series with Ewan McGregor

August 24, 2019 |

The rumors have been suggesting it for a while now, and fans have been pretty much begging for it… and it’s happening: Ewan McGregor will return to the role of Obi-Wan for a new Disney+ series.

Disney dropped the news at a panel during D23 this evening, almost immediately after premiering the trailer for its other live action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian.

Details are still remarkably light. There’s not even an official name for the series yet. Beyond McGregor’s involvement, the only details mentioned are that the scripts are written, and that shooting should begin in 2020.

TechCrunch

Silicone 3D printing startup Spectroplast spins out of ETHZ with $1.5M

August 23, 2019 |

3D printing has become commonplace in the hardware industry, but because few materials can be used for it easily, the process rarely results in final products. A Swiss startup called Spectroplast hopes to change that with a technique for printing using silicone, opening up all kinds of applications in medicine, robotics and beyond.

Silicone is not very bioreactive, and of course can be made into just about any shape while retaining strength and flexibility. But the process for doing so is generally injection molding, great for mass-producing lots of identical items but not so great when you need a custom job.

And it’s custom jobs that ETH Zurich’s Manuel Schaffner and Petar Stefanov have in mind. Hearts, for instance, are largely similar but the details differ, and if you were going to get a valve replaced, you’d probably prefer yours made to order rather than straight off the shelf.

“Replacement valves currently used are circular, but do not exactly match the shape of the aorta, which is different for each patient,” said Schaffner in a university news release. Not only that, but they may be a mixture of materials, some of which the body may reject.

But with a precise MRI the researchers can create a digital model of the heart under consideration and, using their proprietary 3D printing technique, produce a valve that’s exactly tailored to it — all in a couple of hours.

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A 3D-printed silicone heart valve from Spectroplast.

Although they have created these valves and done some initial testing, it’ll be years before anyone gets one installed — this is the kind of medical technique that takes a decade to test. So in the meantime they are working on “life-improving” rather than life-saving applications.

One such case is adjacent to perhaps the most well-known surgical application of silicone: breast augmentation. In Spectroplast’s case, however, they’d be working with women who have undergone mastectomies and would like to have a breast prosthesis that matches the other perfectly.

Another possibility would be anything that needs to fit perfectly to a person’s biology, like a custom hearing aid, the end of a prosthetic leg or some other form of reconstructive surgery. And of course, robots and industry could use one-off silicone parts as well.

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There’s plenty of room to grow, it seems, and although Spectroplast is just starting out, it already has some 200 customers. The main limitation is the speed at which the products can be printed, a process that has to be overseen by the founders, who work in shifts.

Until very recently Schaffner and Stefanov were working on this under a grant from the ETH Pioneer Fellowship and a Swiss national innovation grant. But in deciding to depart from the ETH umbrella they attracted a 1.5 million Swiss franc (about the same as dollars just now) seed round from AM Ventures Holding in Germany. The founders plan to use the money to hire new staff to crew the printers.

Right now Spectroplast is doing all the printing itself, but in the next couple of years it may sell the printers or modifications necessary to adapt existing setups.

You can read the team’s paper showing their process for creating artificial heart valves here.

TechCrunch

ThredUp, whose second-hand goods will start appearing at Macy’s and JCPenney, just raised a bundle

August 22, 2019 |

ThredUp, the 10-year-old fashion resale marketplace, has a lot of big news to boast about lately. For starters, the company just closed on $ 100 million in fresh funding from an investor syndicate that includes Park West Asset Management, Irving Investors and earlier backers Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Upfront Ventures, Highland Capital Partners and Redpoint Ventures.

The round brings ThredUP’s total capital raised to more than $ 300 million, including a previously undisclosed $ 75 million investment that it sewed up last year.

A potentially even bigger deal for the company is a new resale platform that both Macy’s and JCPenney are beginning to test out, wherein ThedUp will be sending the stores clothing that they will process through their own point-of-sale systems, while trying to up-sell customers on jewelry, shoes, and other accessories.

It says a lot that traditional retailers are coming to see gently used items as a potential revenue stream for themselves, and little wonder given the size of the resale market, estimated to be a $ 24 billion market currently and projected to become a $ 51 billion market by 2023.

We talked yesterday with ThredUp founder and CEO James Reinhart to learn more about its tie-up with the two brands and to find out what else the startup is stitching together.

TC: You’ve partnered with Macy’s and JCPenney. Did they approach you or is ThredUp out there pitching traditional retailers?

JR: I think [the two companies] have been thinking about resale for some time. They’re trying to figure out how to best serve their customers. Meanwhile, we’ve been thinking about how we power resale for a broader set of partners, and there was a meeting of the minds six months ago

We’re positioned now where we can do this really effectively in-store, so we’re starting with a pilot program in 30 to 40 stores, but we could scale to 300 or 400 stores if we wanted.

TC: How is this going to work, exactly, with these partners?

JR: We have the [software and logistics] architecture and the selection to put together carefully curated selections of clothing for particular stores, including the right assortment of brands and sizes, depending on where a Macy’s is located, for example. Macy’s then wraps a high-quality experience around [those goods]. Maybe it’s a dress, but they wrap a handbag and scarves and jewelry around the dress purchase. We feel [certain] that future consumers will buy new and used at the same time.

TC: Who is your demographic, and please don’t say everyone.

JR: It is everyone. It’s not a satisfying answer, but we sell 30,000 brands. We serve lots of luxury customers with brands like Louis Vuitton, but we also sell Old Navy. What unites customers across all brands is they want to find brands that they couldn’t have afforded new; they’re trading up to brands that, full price, would have been too much, so Old Navy shoppers are [buying] Gap [whose shopper are buying] J. Crew and Theory and all the way up. Consistently, what we hear is [our marketplace] allows customers to swap out their wardrobes at higher rates than would be possible otherwise, and it feels to them like they’re doing it in a more [environmentally] responsible way.

TC: What percentage of your shoppers are also consigning goods?

JR: We don’t track that closely, but it’s typically about a third.

TC: Do you think your customers are buying higher-end goods with a mind toward selling them, to defray their overall cost? I know that’s the thinking of CEO Julie Wainwright at [rival] The RealReal. It’s all supposed to be a kind of virtuous circle of shopping.

JR:  We like to talk about buying the handbag, then selling it, but plenty of people will also buy a second-hand Banana Republic sweater because it’s a value [and because] fashion is the second-most polluting industry on the planet.

TC: How far are you going to combat that pollution? I’m just curious if you’re in any way try to bolster the sale of hemp, versus maybe nylon, clothes for example.

JR: We aren’t driving material selection. Our thesis is: we want to stay out of the fashion business and instead ensure there’s a responsible way for people to buy second hand.

TC: For people who haven’t used ThredUp, walk through the economics. How much of each sale does someone keep?

JR: On ThredUp, it isn’t a uniform payment; it depends instead on the brand. On the luxury end, we pay [sellers] more than anyone else — we pay up to 80 percent when we resell it. If it’s Gap or Banana Republic, you get maybe 10 or 15 or 20 percent based on the original price of the item.

TC: How would you describe your standards? What goes into the reject pile?

JR: We have high standards. Items have to be in like-new or gently used condition, and we reject more than half of what people send us. But I think there’s probably more leeway for the Theory’s and J.Crew’s of the world than if you’re buying a Chanel dress.

TC: Unlike some of your rivals, you don’t sell to men. Why not?

JR: Men’s is a small market in secondhand. Men wear the same four colors — blue, black, gray and brown — so it’s not a big resale market. We do sell kids’ clothing, and that’s a big part of our market.

TC: When Macy’s now sells a dress from ThredUp, how much will you see from that transaction?

JR: We can’t share the details of the economics.

TC: How many people are now working for ThredUp?

JR: We have less than 200 in our corporate office in San Francisco, and 50 in Kiev, and then across four distribution centers — in Phoenix; Mechanicsburg [Pa.]; Atlanta; and Chicago — we have another 1,200 employees.

TC: You’ve now raised a lot of money in the last year. How will it be used?

JR: On our resale platform [used by retailers like Macy’s] and on building our tech and operations and building new distribution centers to process more clothing. We can’t get people to stop sending us stuff. [Laughs.]

TC: Before you go, what’s the most under-appreciated aspect of your business?

JR: The logistics behind the scenes. I think for every great e-commerce business, there are incredible logistics [challenges to overcome] behind the scenes. People don’t appreciate how hard that piece is, alongside the data. We’re going to process our 100 millionth item by the end of this year. That’s a lot of data.

TechCrunch

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

August 21, 2019 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TechCrunch

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

August 20, 2019 |

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

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

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

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


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  • Mighty: Mixpanel’s founder is at Y Combinator with his new startup, Mighty, a $ 20 per month cloud computer streaming service that’s just for Google Chrome (at the moment). Why pay for a free piece of software? The startup says that by streaming the experience from a beefed-up PC your most-used app will be considerably faster and only use 5% of your CPU. It’s a premium product with a tight niche, but the company has ambitions to support other software types as it builds out the tech.
  • Hype and Vice: This startup combines the latest trends with college brands to make fashion-focused college apparel for women. Working with 11 universities to date, the founders say the company has grown 4x YoY, with margins of 84%; meanwhile, they have 50 additional college licenses in the pipeline.

  • Lumineye: Lumineye wants to help first responders identify people through walls. In domestic violence disputes, hostage rescue or human trafficking situations, first responders often need help determining where humans are behind closed doors or other barriers. Lumineye’s team of four built a portable 3D-printed radar device that uses signal analysis software to differentiate moving and breathing humans from other objects through barriers like drywall, concrete, rubble and brick. For Lumineye, four pilot programs represent $ 90K in ARR. They’ve also just signed a $ 50K pilot with the U.S. Air Force. They’re also signed on to start testing with the FBI this fall.
  • Flo Recruit: This is an applicant-tracking platform for in-person recruiting events. The startup helps companies scale their college recruiting efforts, saving time and money. The company says they have $ 8,500 in monthly recruiting revenue, counting Y Combinator itself as one of its customers.
  • Gaiascope: Electricity trading is a $ 15 billion annual market, but it’s hard. Electricity is consumed instantly, which means the supply must always match the demand. That, however, leads to extreme price volatility. Traditional quant models don’t work, so this is where Gaiascope’s algorithms come in. Through its quant fund, Gaiascope enables electricity trading at more predictable prices. 
  • Revel: Many of the venture-backed communities online seem to be geared toward 20-something dudes, but Revel is aiming to create an online-to-offline community group for women over the age of 50. The site is a $ 15 per month membership that gives you access to the community-hosted groups. Revel went live in the Bay Area last month.

demoday node

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

demoday metacode

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

demoday elpha

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

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

demoday shortstory

  • Short Story: You could think of Short Story as a Stitch Fix for petite women. Petite women can have a hard time finding clothes that fit them. First, petite women complete a style quiz to notify the company of their preferences. Then, Short Story sends them their first monthly box of clothes. Short Story says the petite women’s clothing market is worth $ 35 billion. To date, Short Story has seen 74% monthly revenue growth.
  • EncepHeal Therapeutics: Non-addictive prescription substitutes have been a very popular solution for people addicted to drugs like tobacco and opioids. EncepHeal Therapeutics is creating medications to help the 2.5 million cocaine and methamphetamine addicts have a similar option. The company’s medication has shown promising early testing on lab rats.
  • PopSQL: PopSQL provides collaborative SQL query editing. You can store SQL queries you run regularly, grouping them into folders that can be kept private or shared amongst your team. Version history tracks changes so it can be reverted if/when something breaks. It currently has more than 100 paying companies, and is making $ 13K per month. It plans to build a marketplace for apps that run on top of your company’s database.
  • Kuarti: Kuarti is building the OYO of Latin America. The founder equates the current hotel booking process in Latin America to what it looked like decades ago in the U.S. Kuarti identified a trend of increasing demand to travel within Mexico’s growing middle class. However, there are currently no standardized hotel options in the country. Kuarti wants to provide another hotel booking option for standardized hotel chains that can be reserved online. The company wants to partner with independent hotels, to make small renovations and offer rooms for $ 35 per night. They’ve partnered with four hotels, have 20 rooms in their inventory and say that users have already booked 275 nights collectively. The founder identifies this as a $ 2.5 billion market in Mexico alone, and an $ 11 billion market across all of Latin America, where it hopes to expand. Kuarti is a Mexican company that is part of the business accelerator with which Airbnb started.
  • UpEquity: The startup lets future homeowners put down all-cash offers in what they claim is a $ 20 billion market opportunity. The founders, Harvard Business School dropouts, have a history in the private equity industry. The startup claims to have more than $ 30,000 in revenue for the month of August. The tech-enabled mortgage solution says it provides customers better bargaining power than traditional solutions, at competitive rates.
  • Blair: Blair finances college education through income-share agreements. Through ISAs, which require students to pay back Blair a percentage of their future income, Blair finances everything from tuition to cost of living. Since launching a few weeks ago, Blair has already put $ 250,000 toward the education of 20 students. Blair will deploy its second fund this week.

  • Intersect Labs: Intersect Labs is building CoreML for enterprise, letting its customers easily build machine learning models to help make sense of their historical data and deliver insights without having to hire data scientists. The monthly subscription is aiming to deliver a product that doesn’t require much technical knowledge. “If you can use a spreadsheet, you can use Intersect Labs.”
  • Traces: As privacy-conscious consumers speak up against the proliferation of facial recognition tech, there’s still a clear need for a product that enables smart camera tracking for customers. Traces is building computer vision tracking tech that relies on cues other than facial structure like clothing and size to help customers integrate less invasive tracking tech. It was built by former Ring engineers.

demoday Epic Aerospace

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

demoday Million Marker

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

demoday Curri

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

demoday LEGACY

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

demoday courier

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

demoday quirk

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

demoday Obie

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

demoday Yummy

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

demoday Nonu

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

demoday mofe

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

 

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

TechCrunch

RedDoorz raises $70M to expand its budget hotel network in Southeast Asia

August 19, 2019 |

Singapore-based budget hotel booking startup RedDoorz is tiny in comparison to fast-growing giant Oyo. But it is holding its ground and winning the trust of an ever growing number of investors.

On Monday, the four-year-old startup announced it has raised $ 70 million in Series C round, less than five months after it closed its $ 45 million Series B. The new round, which is ongoing, was led by Asia Partners and saw participation from new investors Rakuten Capital and Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund.

The startup, which has raised $ 140 million to date, was seeing “tremendous interest from investors, so it is decided to do a back-to-back rounds,” said Amit Saberwal, founder and CEO of RedDoorz, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Regardless, the new funds will help RedDoorz fight SoftBank-backed Oyo, which is already aggressively expanding to new markets. Oyo currently operates in more than 80 nations.

Saberwal isn’t necessarily threatened by Oyo, instead he sees Oyo’s success as a testament that there is room for more players to be in the space. Besides, he is confident that RedDoorz is “on the right track to create the next tech unicorn in Southeast Asia…”

RedDoorz operates a marketplace of “two-star, three-star and below” budget hotels, selling access to rooms to people. Currently it has 1,400 hotels on its network, said Saberwal. By the end of the year, the startup aims to grow this number to 2,000.

The startup operates in 80 cities across Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam, and plans to use the new capital to expand its network in its existing markets, said Saberwal. At least for the next one year, RedDoorz has no plans to expand beyond the four markets where it currently operates, he said.

“Anything in the accommodation is our playground. We have all kinds of properties. We have three-star hotels, some hostels, so we will continue to go deeper and wider moving forward,” Saberwal, a former top executive at India’s travel giant MakeMyTrip, said.

Some of the new capital will also go into broadening RedDoorz’s tech infrastructure, building a second engineering hub in Vietnam. (RedDoorz’s current regional tech hub is based in India.)

More to follow shortly…

TechCrunch

NASA and SpaceX practice Crew Dragon evacuation procedure with astronaut recovery vessel

August 18, 2019 |

NASA and SpaceX continue their joint preparations for the eventually astronaut crew missions that SpaceX will fly for the agency, with a test of the emergency evacuation procedure for SpaceX’s GO Searcher seaborne ship. The ship is intended to be used to recover spacecraft and astronauts in an actual mission scenario, and the rehearsals this week are a key part of ensuring mission readiness before an actual crewed SpaceX mission.

Photos from the dress rehearsal, which is the first coordinated end-to-end practice run involving the full NASA and SpaceX mission teams working in concert, saw NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken don SpaceX’s fancy new crew suits and mimic a situation where they needed to be removed from the returned Crew Dragon spacecraft and taken to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from the GO Searcher by helicopter.

By all accounts, this was a successful exercise and seems to have left parties on both sides happy with the results. Check out photos released by NASA of the dry run below.

SpaceX and NASA continue to work towards a goal of launching Crew Dragon’s first actual crewed flight this year, though they’ve encountered setbacks that make that potentially impossible, including the explosion of a Crew Dragon test vehicle during a static test fire in April.

TechCrunch

Twitter leads $100M round in top Indian regional social media platform ShareChat

August 16, 2019 |

Is there room for another social media platform? ShareChat, a four-year-old social network in India that serves tens of million of people in regional languages, just answered that question with a $ 100 million financing round led by global giant Twitter .

Other than Twitter, TrustBridge Partners, and existing investors Shunwei Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, SAIF Capital, India Quotient and Morningside Venture Capital also participated in the Series D round of ShareChat.

The new round, which pushes ShareChat’s all-time raise to $ 224 million, valued the firm at about $ 650 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. ShareChat declined to comment on the valuation.

sharechat screenshot

Screenshot of Sharechat home page on web

“Twitter and ShareChat are aligned on the broader purpose of serving the public conversation, helping the world learn faster and solve common challenges. This investment will help ShareChat grow and provide the company’s management team access to Twitter’s executives as thought partners,” said Manish Maheshwari, managing director of Twitter India, in a prepared statement.

Twitter, like many other Silicon Valley firms, counts India as one of its key markets. And like Twitter, other Silicon Valley firms are also increasingly investing in Indian startups.

ShareChat serves 60 million users each month in 15 regional languages, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and CEO of the firm, told TechCrunch in an interview. The platform currently does not support English, and has no plans to change that, Sachdeva said.

That choice is what has driven users to ShareChat, he explained. The early incarnation of the social media platform supported English language. It saw most of its users choose English as their preferred language, but this also led to another interesting development: Their engagement with the app significantly reduced.

The origin story

“For some reason, everyone wanted to converse in English. There was an inherent bias to pick English even when they did not know it.” (Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people speak English. Hindi, a regional language, on the other hand, is spoken by about half a billion people, according to official government figures.)

So ShareChat pulled support for English. Today, an average user spends 22 minutes on the app each day, Sachdeva said. The learning in the early days to remove English is just one of the many things that has shaped ShareChat to what it is today and led to its growth.

In 2014, Sachdeva and two of his friends — Bhanu Singh and Farid Ahsan, all of whom met at the prestigious institute IIT Kanpur — got the idea of building a debate platform by looking at the kind of discussions people were having on Facebook groups.

They identified that cricket and movie stars were popular conversation topics, so they created WhatsApp groups and aggressively posted links to those groups on Facebook to attract users.

It was then when they built chatbots to allow users to discover different genres of jokes, recommendations for phones and food recipes, among other things. But they soon realized that users weren’t interested in most of such offerings.

“Nobody cared about our smartphone recommendations. All they wanted was to download wallpapers, ringtones, copy jokes and move on. They just wanted content.”

sharechat team

So in 2015, Sachdeva and company moved on from chatbots and created an app where users can easily produce, discover and share content in the languages they understand. (Today, user generated content is one of the key attractions of the platform, with about 15% of its user base actively producing content.)

A year later, ShareChat, like tens of thousands of other businesses, was in for a pleasant surprise. India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his new telecom network Reliance Jio, which offered users access to the bulk of data at little to no charge for an extended period of time.

This immediately changed the way millions of people in the country, who once cared about each megabyte they consumed online, interacted with the internet. On ShareChat people quickly started to move from sharing jokes and other messages in text format to images and then videos.

Path ahead and monetization

That momentum continues to today. ShareChat now plans to give users more incentive — including money — and tools to produce content on the platform to drive engagement. “There remains a huge hunger for content in vernacular languages,” Sachdeva said.

Speaking of money, ShareChat has experimented with ads on the app and its site, but revenue generation isn’t currently its primary focus, Sachdeva said. “We’re in the Series D now so there is obviously an obligation we have to our investors to make money. But we all believe that we need to focus on growth at this stage,” he said.

ShareChat, which is headquartered in Bangalore, also has many users in Bangladesh, Nepal and the Middle East, where many users speak Indian regional languages. But the startup currently plans to focus largely on expanding its user base in India, hopefully doubling it in the next one year, he said.

It will use the new capital to strengthen the technology infrastructure and hire more tech talent. Sachdeva said ShareChat is looking to open an office in San Francisco to hire local engineers there.

A handful of local and global giants have emerged in India in recent years to cater to people in small cities and villages, who are just getting online. Pratilipi, a storytelling platform has amassed more than 5 million users, for instance. It recently raised $ 15 million to expand its user base and help users strike deals with content studios.

Perhaps no other app poses a bigger challenge to ShareChat than TikTok, an app where users share short-form videos. TikTok, owned by one of the world’s most valued startups, has over 120 million users in India and sees content in many Indian languages.

But the app — with its ever growing ambitions — also tends to land itself in hot water in India every few weeks. In all sensitive corners of the country. On that front, ShareChat has an advantage. Over the years, it has emerged as an outlier in the country that has strongly supported proposed laws by the Indian government that seek to make social apps more accountable for content that circulates on their platforms.

TechCrunch

Energy Vault raises $110 million from SoftBank Vision Fund as energy storage grabs headlines

August 15, 2019 |

Imagine a moving tower made of huge cement bricks weighing 35 metric tons. The movement of these massive blocks is powered by wind or solar power plants and is a way to store the energy those plants generate. Software controls the movement of the blocks automatically, responding to changes in power availability across an electric grid to charge and discharge the power that’s being generated.

The development of this technology is the culmination of years of work at Idealab, the Pasadena, Calif.-based startup incubator, and Energy Vault, the company it spun out to commercialize the technology, has just raised $ 110 million from SoftBank Vision Fund to take its next steps in the world.

Energy storage remains one of the largest obstacles to the large-scale rollout of renewable energy technologies on utility grids, but utilities, development agencies and private companies are investing billions to bring new energy storage capabilities to market as the technology to store energy improves.

The investment in Energy Vault is just one indicator of the massive market that investors see coming as power companies spend billions on renewables and storage. As The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, ScottishPower, the U.K.-based utility, is committing to spending $ 7.2 billion on renewable energy, grid upgrades and storage technologies between 2018 and 2022.

Meanwhile, out in the wilds of Utah, the American subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems is working on a joint venture that would create the world’s largest clean energy storage facility. That 1 gigawatt storage would go a long way toward providing renewable power to the Western U.S. power grid and is going to be based on compressed air energy storage, large flow batteries, solid oxide fuel cells and renewable hydrogen storage.

“For 20 years, we’ve been reducing carbon emissions of the U.S. power grid using natural gas in combination with renewable power to replace retiring coal-fired power generation. In California and other states in the western United States, which will soon have retired all of their coal-fired power generation, we need the next step in decarbonization. Mixing natural gas and storage, and eventually using 100% renewable storage, is that next step,” said Paul Browning, president and CEO of MHPS Americas.

Energy Vault’s technology could also be used in these kinds of remote locations, according to chief executive Robert Piconi.

Energy Vault’s storage technology certainly isn’t going to be ubiquitous in highly populated areas, but the company’s towers of blocks can work well in remote locations and have a lower cost than chemical storage options, Piconi said.

“What you’re seeing there on some of the battery side is the need in the market for a mobile solution that isn’t tied to topography,” Piconi said. “We obviously aren’t putting these systems in urban areas or the middle of cities.”

For areas that need larger-scale storage that’s a bit more flexible there are storage solutions like Tesla’s new Megapack.

The Megapack comes fully assembled — including battery modules, bi-directional inverters, a thermal management system, an AC breaker and controls — and can store up to 3 megawatt-hours of energy with a 1.5 megawatt inverter capacity.

The Energy Vault storage system is made for much, much larger storage capacity. Each tower can store between 20 and 80 megawatt hours at a cost of 6 cents per kilowatt hour (on a levelized cost basis), according to Piconi.

The first facility that Energy Vault is developing is a 35 megawatt-hour system in Northern Italy, and there are other undisclosed contracts with an undisclosed number of customers on four continents, according to the company.

One place where Piconi sees particular applicability for Energy Vault’s technology is around desalination plants in places like sub-Saharan Africa or desert areas.

Backing Energy Vault’s new storage technology are a clutch of investors, including Neotribe Ventures, Cemex Ventures, Idealab and SoftBank.

TechCrunch