La Belle Vie wants to compete with Amazon Prime Now in Paris by Romain Dillet at May 19, 2018 at 05:34PM

French startup La Belle Vie announced a new funding round of $6.5 million earlier this week (€5.5 million). Julien Mangeard, Thibaut Faurès Fustel de Coulanges, Louis Duclert, Kima Ventures and Shake-Up Factory participated in the founding round.

Online grocery shopping is becoming quite competitive in Paris. You can order groceries from Amazon using Amazon Prime Now. And all the traditional supermarkets are launching or relaunching services to order and receive groceries within a couple of hours — Carrefour Livraison Express, Franprix’s mobile app, etc.

But all those services aren’t necessarily designed for this kind of offering. With Franprix’s app for instance, a rider is going to pick up your groceries in the nearest store and bring them to you. With Amazon Prime Now, Amazon has a big warehouse in the North of Paris filled with Kindles, books and tomatoes.

La Belle Vie wants to focus exclusively on your groceries and optimize all the steps. It starts with a big inventory. La Belle Vie sells you basic groceries, organic stuff, meat, fish and vegetables. Last year, the company acqui-hired 62degrés to sell fresh prepared meals too.

La Belle Vie has developed all its tools from scratch, including its ERP, a warehouse management service and a delivery management service. In 2017, the startup generated $3.5 million in sales (€3 million) in sales.

With this funding round, the company plans to launch a second warehouse in Paris and new cities, starting with Lyon. But the best part is that you can order croissants without going to the boulangerie — finally a croissants-as-a-service startup.

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/19/la-belle-vie-wants-to-compete-with-amazon-prime-now-in-paris/

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zGlue launches a configurable system-on-a-chip to help developers implement customized chipsets by Matthew Lynley at May 18, 2018 at 11:00PM

The complexity and cost of packing an array of sensors and power inside a small amount of space has opened the door to a wider and wider variety of use cases for internet-connected devices beyond just smart thermostats or cameras — and also exposed a hole for getting those ideas into an actual piece of hardware.

So there are some startups that are looking to address this hole by providing developers a path to creating the customized chipsets they need to power those devices. zGlue is one of those, led by former Samsung engineering director Ming Zhang and former Misfit founder Sonny Vu.  The company’s chiplets are built around the kind of system-on-a-chip approach that you’ll see in most modern devices, where everything is in a single unit that reduces some of the complexity of moving processes around a larger piece of hardware — shrinking the space constraints and allowing all these actions to happen on a device, such as a smartphone. As more and more IoT devices come online, they may all have varying form factor demands, which means companies — like zGlue and others — are emerging to address those needs.

“From the developer point of view, think of us as a system that is not different from any thing else on the market, user-interface-wise,” Zhang said. “It is just smaller in size, faster in time to market, and flexible — customizable by individuals rather than just by Apple and Qualcomms. [We’re] democratizing chip innovation so it is no longer [a] privilege of Fortune 500 companies.”

The company’s first product is called the zOrigin, a “chip-stacking” product that aims to allow developers to embed the sensors and processes necessary for their devices. Stemming from an ARM 32-bit core processor (meaning it can handle more complex and precise calculations), the first launch costs $149 and can include pieces like a Bluetooth radio, accelerometers, and other necessary features.

zGlue’s chipsets have embedded memory, which is an increasingly common approach to try to reduce the number of trips going from the actual processing power to where the information is stored. Those trips cost power, speed, and can restrict the scope of use cases for internet-connected devices. Zhang said the chiplets are packaged closer together — literally reducing the space that information has to cross — in order to speed it up, though that of course carries consequences when it comes to heat constraints these processors can have.

“That’s the price to pay for the continuation of Moore’s law, as it has in the past 40 years,” Zhang said. “Heat dissipation in our system is not going to be any worse than a conventional system. In fact, with the silicon substrate in place, it’s easier to conduct heat compared to a conventional package or board substrate.”

As a kind of templated approach, zGlue is geared toward helping developers produce a custom setup that the can implement into devices that may require a wide set of sensors. The company says it looks to help developers go from a design to a prototype in a few weeks, and then reduce the turnaround time from a prototype to production in “weeks or months,” depending on the complexity and volume.

While this is one example of trying to get a prototype chip out into the wild, there are a few others as well. Si-Five, for example, offers developers a way to prototype custom silicon for their specific niches based on the hardware and IP the startup has. The goal there is to offer both a prototype flow and the ability to graduate into a production flow, allowing developers and companies to get products out the door that require custom silicon. Si-Five hardware is based on the RISC-V architecture, an open-source instruction set for silicon, and the company most recently raised $50.4 million.

Zhang, too, said RISC-V offers some potential, especially in its own scope. “RISC-V is a great tool to build small, fast, and low power IoT applications,” he said. “The nature of open source makes it more available to more people. We welcome and embrace RISC-V to join the family of ‘MCU’ chiplets supported by our technology.”

When it comes to inference — the machine learning processes that happen on the hardware to execute some kind of action, like image recognition, based on trained models — Zhang said the chipsets would support it, but he would not comment further. There is a blossoming ecosystem around custom silicon that looks to speed up inference on devices like cars or IoT devices, which is geared toward reducing the space and power constraints of those chips while also running those processes much more quickly. Companies like Mythic have raised significant venture funding in order to build that kind of hardware.

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/18/zglue-launches-a-configurable-system-on-a-chip-to-help-developers-implement-customized-chipsets/

WARD is an app for placing fantasy bets on eSports games by Mike Butcher at May 18, 2018 at 05:52PM

Prediction markets, such as those that exist in the realm of fantasy sports, have taken off amongst consumers in the last few years. But fantasy sports have yet to make much of a play in one of the hottest areas online right now, namely eSports. And it’s a big market.

Fantasy eSports have been thriving across international markets. In 2017 over 360 million viewers watched League of Legends alone, significantly overtaking the SuperBowl viewership. By 2020 eSports industry is estimated to be worth over $1.5B, with the target audience being 21-35 years old. But quite how to take advantage of this arena has been a conundrum.

Now a new startup thinks it has the answer. What if you could create a live predictions market around eSports as it happens?

That’s the aim of WARD, a startup out of Berlin which has created a “pick and predict” real-time prediction smartphone game, where players can win real prizes.

Billed as a Fantasy eSports game which provides a second-screen real-time experience for tournaments, WARD has now secured a $600,000 Seed Round. The backers are Impulse VC, SmartHub and a number of European angel investors. The seed investment will be used to build out the product but also to expand in the lucrative markets of Asia and the US.

So how does it work? Well, fans who watch a championship or a specific eSports game can predict their version of in-game events in real-time. So, for example, in the League of Legends game, a user can make a prediction about who will spill “first blood” or which team will destroy the first tower in the game, and so on.

For every prediction users make correctly, they are awarded points. Users who acquire the most points can top the leaderboard and go on to win prizes. These can include headphones to tickets for championships, and well as signed merchandise such as team jerseys. Of course, this depends on the partner paying WARD to be featured. But, the more the user wins, the better prizes they get and the bigger the brand uplift for the team or sponsor.

Kirill Belov, managing partner at Impulse VC, says he was “stunned by the WARD technology, team and global vision. It is our first funding in the eSports industry, and WARD is one of the best platform to expand the scope of further investments.” High praise indeed.

WARD has so far run beta-tests in Berlin-based around the European League of Legends Championship Series but the official launch is set for June 2018 with an aim to attract 3 million downloads by the end of the year.

The plans also include global expansion to Asia and adding new eSports disciplines, such as Overwatch, CounterStrike (CSGO) to the app.

You can download the app here.

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/18/ward-is-an-app-for-placing-fantasy-bets-on-esports-games/

Fortnite Battle Royale’s Solo Showdown lets players compete for up to 50,000 V-Bucks by Jordan Crook at May 18, 2018 at 05:20PM

For the first time ever, Fortnite Battle Royale players have the chance to compete with one another for a huge amount of V-Bucks, the game’s virtual currency.

Fortnite Battle Royale often adds new wacky game modes, like 50 vs 50 or the much-memed Thanos game type made in conjunction with Marvel for Avengers: Infinity War.

Unlike those other game modes, however, Solo Showdown will not change the underlying game in any way — there is no extra shield, the storm doesn’t move any faster, and there are no extra weapon sizes or different team sizes.

Instead, Solo Showdown is a way to compete with other Battle Royale players in solo mode to discover who is the true GOAT.

Players must compete in 50 matches to join the leaderboard, and placement in each of those first 50 matches will determine overall ranking.

Prize pools are as follows:

  • First Place: 50,000 V-Bucks
  • Second Place to Fourth Place: 25,000 V-Bucks
  • Fifth Place to Fiftieth Place: 13,500 V-Bucks
  • Remaining Players in Top 100: 7,500 V-Bucks

    Up until this point, V-Bucks could only be earned in increments of 100 after purchasing the Battle Pass, which lets players complete challenges and rank up to earn various cosmetic rewards and V-Bucks. Earning V-Bucks, rather than purchasing them with real money, has never netted much of a return. You can only earn enough V-Bucks to purchase maybe one mid-range item per season, or you can save them over the course of multiple seasons to purchase a high-end item.

    For perspective, the most expensive items on Fortnite Battle Royale often cost around 2,000 V-Bucks, so a player with 50,000 V-Bucks is a rich player indeed.

    Fortnite Battle Royale has been free to play since its launch, and its virtual currency represents a major revenue stream for Epic Games . While items purchased in the store offer no competitive advantage, they make the game fun and fresh.

    However, the ability to earn these V-Bucks (in this large of a sum) is a welcome change to the current meta.

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/18/fortnite-battle-royales-solo-showdown-lets-players-compete-for-up-to-50000-v-bucks/

Job search engine Adzuna raises £8M Series C from Smedvig Capital by Steve O’Hear at May 18, 2018 at 11:00AM

Adzuna, the meta-search engine for jobs, has raised £8 million in Series C funding from Smedvig Capital. The U.K. company’s previous backers include Index Ventures, Passion Capital, LocalGlobe, and over 400 Crowdcube investors. It takes total funding to £12 million.

Founded by the team behind Gumtree, Zoopla and Qype, Adzuna essentially aggregates job listings across the web to offer a single destination to search for a job. It launched first in the U.K. in 2011 but has since expanded to 16 countries, in which co-founder Doug Monro tells me the U.K., U.S., Germany, Netherlands, France, and Brazil are its strongest markets.

“We’re growing very quickly in several of the others. We are really excited about the growth we are seeing in the U.S. in particular,” he says.

Across the 16 sites Adzuna operates, the jobs search engine is seeing 10 million monthly visitors, and has 7 million registered users. “Millions” of CVs have been uploaded to the site — no doubt drawn in by Adzuna’s data-driven “ValueMyCV” tool — and it currently aggregates 5,000 sources of jobs. But, perhaps more importantly, given its Series C backing, the company is disclosing over £1 million in monthly revenue.

Adzuna generates revenue by referring job seekers to jobs. Job ads are included for free in its search index to ensure it always lists every job available, but advertisers have the option to promote listings on a CPC basis similar to Google Adwords. “Some additional revenue is generated through labour market data sales and of course now from the Find a job contract which is publicly disclosed,” says Monro.

The ‘Find a job’ contract is major recent win for the company that saw it displace competitor Monster who ran the pre-existing Universal Jobmatch service for the U.K. government’s Department for Works and Pensions. The publicly procured contract is said to be worth £2.5 million per year.

“We’d been talking to the DWP for a number of years about our vision for how we could help use our tech to help make their service better,” Monro tells me. “Last year they decided to put the Universal Jobmatch out to tender. As a startup with little govtech experience, we thought we had very little chance, but with the help of the Public.io team, we gave it a shot. There was a lot of paperwork and processes to navigate, and we were lucky to have great mentors to help guide us through this, but we were also pleasantly surprised with how agile and open to change the DWP team were”.

Meanwhile, on who Adzuna’s most direct competitors are these days, Monro says there are a number of other job search engines that aggregate content in a similar way but that he believes the startup is taking the market to the next level by bringing innovative tools and smart data to bear, such as the ValueMyCV tool and machine-learning based matching. “It’s a huge market and we are focussed on building the best solution for job seekers. We see ourselves as competing in that sense with the likes of Indeed, Ziprecruiter and LinkedIn,” he says.

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/18/adzuna-series-c/

Meet Alchemist Accelerator’s latest demo day cohort by John Biggs at May 18, 2018 at 12:30AM

An IoT-enabled lab for cannabis farmers, a system for catching drones mid-flight, and the Internet of Cows are a few of the seventeen startups that are exhibiting today at Alchemist Accelerator’s 18th demo day. The event, which will be streamed live here, focuses on Big Data and AI startups with an enterprise bent.

The startups are showing their stuff at Juniper’s Aspiration Dome in Sunnyvale, California at 3pm today but you can catch the whole event online if you want to see just what computers and cows have in common. Here are the startups pitching on stage.

Tarsier – Tarsier has built AI computer vision to detect drones. The founders discovered the need while getting their MBAs at Stanford, after one had completed a PhD in Aeronautics. Drones are proliferating. And getting into places they shouldn’t — prisons, R&D centers, public spaces. Securing these spaces today requires antiquated military gear that’s clunky and expensive. Tarsier is all software. And cheap, allowing them to serve markets the others can’t touch.

Lightbox – Retail 3D is sexy — think Virtual Try-Ons, VR immersion, ARKit Stores. But creating these experiences means creating 3D models of thousands of products. Today, artists slog through this process, outputting a few models per day. Lightbox wants to eliminate the humans. This duo of recent UPenn and Stanford Computer Science grads claim their approach to 3D scanning is pixel perfect without needing artists. They have booked $40K to date and want to digitize all of the world’s products.

Vorga – Cannabis is big business — over $7B in revenue today and growing fast. The crop’s quality — and a farmer’s income — is highly sensitive to a few chemicals in it. Farmers today test the chemical composition of their crops through outsourced labs. Vorga’s bringing the lab in-house to the cannabis farmer via their IoT platform. The CEO has a PhD in Chemical Physics, and formerly helped the Department of Defense keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. She’s now helping cannabis farmers get high…revenue.

Neulogic – Neulogic is founded by a duo of Computer Science PhDs that led key parts of Walmart.com product search. They now want to solve two major problems facing the online apparel industry: the need to provide curated inspiration to shoppers and the need to offset rising customer acquisition costs by selling more per order. Their solution combines AI with a fashion knowledge graph to generate outfits on demand.

Intensivate – Life used to be simple. Enterprises would use servers primarily for function-driven applications like billing. Today, servers are all about big data, analytics, and insight. Intensivate thinks servers need a new chip upgrade to reflect that change. They are building a new CPU they claim gets 12x the performance for the same cost. Hardware plays like this are hard to pull off, but this might be the team to do it. It includes the former Co-Founder and CEO of CPU Startup QED which was acquired for $2.3 Billion, and a PhD in Parallel Computation who was on the design team for the Alpha CPU from DEC.

Integry – SaaS companies put a lot of effort into building out integrations. Integry provides app creators their own integrations marketplace with pre-boarded partners so they can have apps working with theirs from the get go. The vision is to enable app creators to mimic their own Slack App directory without spending the years or the millions. Since these integrations sit inside their app, Integry claims setup rates are significantly better and churn is reduced by as much as 40%.

Cattle Care – AI Video Analytics applied to cows! Cattle Care wants to increase dairy farmers’ revenue by more than $1M per year and make cows healthier at the same time. The product identifies cows in the barn by their unique black and white patterns. Algorithms collect parameters such as walking distance, interactions with other cows, feeding patterns and other variables to detect diseases early. Then the system sends alerts to farm employees when they need to take action, and confirms the problem has been solved afterwards.

VadR – VR/AR is grappling with a lack of engaging content. Vadr thinks the cause is a broken feedback loop of analytics to the creators. This trio of IIT-Delhi engineers has built machine learning algorithms that get smarter over time and deliver actionable insights on how to modify content to increase engagement.

Tika – This duo of ex-Googlers want to help engineering managers manage their teams better. Managers use Tika as an AI-powered assistant over Slack to facilitate personalized conversations with engineering teams. The goal is to quickly uncover and resolve employee engagement issues, and prevent talent churn.

GridRaster –  Gridraster wants to bring AR/VR to mobile devices. The problem? AR/VR is compute-intensive. Latency, bandwidth, and poor load balancing kill AR/VR on mobile networks. The solution? For this trio of systems engineers from Broadcom, Qualcomm, and Texas Instrument, it’s about starting with enterprise use cases and building edge clouds to offload the work. They have 12 patents.

AitoeLabs – Despite the buzz around AI Video Analytics for security, AitoeLabs claims solutions today are plagued with 100s of thousands of false alarms, requiring lots of human involvement. The engineering trio founding team combines a secret sauce of contextual data with their own deep models to solve this problem. They claim a 6x reduction in human monitoring needs with their tech. They’re at $240K ARR with $1M of LOIs.

Ubiquios – Companies building wireless IoT devices waste over $1.8B because of inadequate embedded software options making products late to market and exposing them to security and interoperability issues. The Ubiquios wireless stack wants to simplify the development of wireless IoT devices. The company claims their stack results in up to 90% lower cost and up to 50% faster time to market. Qualcomm is a partner.

4me, Inc. – 4me helps companies organize and track their IT outsourcing projects. They have 16 employees, 92 customers and generate several million in revenue annually. Storm Ventures led a $1.65m investment into the company.

TorchFi – You know the pop up screen you see when you log into a WiFi hotspot? TorchFi thinks it’s a digital gold mine in the waiting. Their goal is to convert that into a sales channel for hotspot owners. Their first product is a digital menu that transforms the login screen into a food ordering screen for hotels and restaurants. Cisco has selected them as one of 20 apps to be distributed on their Meraki hotspots.

Cogitai – This team of 16 PhD’s wants to usher in a more powerful type of AI called continual learning. The founders are the fathers of the field — and include professors in Computer Science from UT Austin and U Michigan. Unlike what we commonly think of as AI, Cogitai’s AI is built to acquire new skills and knowledge from experience, much like a child does. They have closed $2 million in bookings this year, and have $5 million in funding.

LoadTap – On-Demand Trucking Apps are in vogue. LoadTap explicitly calls out that it is not one. This team which includes an Apple software architect and founder with a family background in trucking is an enterprise SaaS only solution for shippers who prefer to work with their pre-vetted trucking companies in a closed loop. LoadTap automates matching between the shippers and trucking companies using AI and predictive analytics. They’re at $90K ARR and growing revenue 50% month over month.

Ondaka – Ondaka has built a VR-like 3D platform to render industrial information visually, starting with the oil and gas industry. For these industrial customers, the platform provides a better way to understand real-time IoT data, operational and job site safety issues, and how reliable their systems are. The product launched two months ago, they have closed 3 customers already, and are projecting ARR in the six figures. They have raised $350K in funding.

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/17/meet-alchemist-accelerators-latest-demo-day-cohort/

Rackspace acquires Salesforce specialist RelationEdge by Frederic Lardinois at May 17, 2018 at 09:45PM

Rackspace today announced that it has acquired RelationEdge, a Salesforce implementation partner and digital agency. The companies did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition.

At first, this may sound like an odd acquisition. Rackspace is still best known for its hosting and managed cloud and infrastructure services, after all, and RelationEdge is all about helping businesses manage their Salesforce SaaS implementations. The company clearly wants to expand its portfolio, though, and add managed services for SaaS applications to its lineup. It made the first step in this direction with the acquisition of TriCore last year, another company in the enterprise application management space. Today’s acquisition builds upon this theme.

Gerard Brossard, the executive VP and general manager of Rackspace Application Services, told me that the company is still in the early days of its application management practice, but that it’s seeing good momentum as its gaining both new customers thanks to these offerings and as existing customers look to Rackspace for managing more than their infrastructure. “This allows us to jump into that SaaS management practice, starting with the leaders in the market,” he told me.

Why sell RelationEdge, a company that has gained some good traction and now has about 125 employees? “At the end of the day, we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount organically with very little funding,” RelationEdge found and CEO Matt Stoyka told me. “But there is a huge opportunity in the space that we can take advantage of. But to do that, we needed more than was available to us, but we needed to find the right home for our people and our company.” He also noted that the two companies seem to have a similar culture and mission, which focuses more on the business outcomes than the technology itself.

For the time being, the RelationEdge brand will remain and Rackspace plans to run the business “with considerable independence under its current leadership.” Brossard noted that the reason for this is RelationEdge’s existing brand recognition.

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/17/rackspace-acquires-salesforce-specialist-relationedge/

Boosted Boards founders launch heavy-duty scooter renter Skip by Josh Constine at May 17, 2018 at 06:02PM

All electric scooters are not created equal. I’ve found ones from Spin, Bird, and Lime to often be broken, shaky, or out of battery. But now the founders of Boosted Boards, which makes the steadiest and safest-feeling electric skateboards, are bringing their rugged hardware expertise to the scooter world. Today, they’re coming out of stealth with a supposedly stronger and longer-lasting dockless electric scooter rental startup called Skip. And the surprise is they’ll only operate where permitted unlike their backlashed competitors, with a deployment today in partnership with Washington D.C. and plans for San Francisco.

Formerly known by its Y Combinator codename Waybots, the company is exclusively announcing its funding and rebrand to Skip today on TechCrunch. The startup has raised a $6 million seed round led by Initialized Capital via Alexis Ohanian and Ronny Conway’s A Capital, with SV Angel joining in.

“We think the vehicle matters” Skip and former Boosted co-founder/CEO Sanjay Dastoor tells me. “It’s not the same as rideshare where two or more companies are all using the same car. There’s a big spectrum of quality in the base vehicles. A lot of these companies are buying off the shelf vehicles that are designed for personal ownership. I think these vehicles will need to be designed for a different level of use and upkeep.”

That’s why Skip is modifying bigger pre-made scooters to be more durable, and plans to build its own custom scooters. For the same $1 plus $0.15 per minute price as other services, you get a wider riding platform, full suspension, and head/tail/brake lights. The strategy is that if people feel safe and steady riding Skips, they’ll choose them over the competition. And while low-grade scooters might feel too unstable for the bike lane, leading to complaints about sidewalk riding, Skips are meant to feel secure enough to cruise next to cars.

With so much well-funded competition, Skip will have to hope customers really notice the difference. And its by-permit-only policy could constrain growth. But if riders and cities decide they want a more reliable scooter service, Skip could carve out a solid business while being a better citizen.

Trusting Your Life To A Startup

My Boosted Board was perhaps my favorite gadget ever. After a decade as an unpowered longboard rider, I tested its electric skateboard in 2012 and loved the smooth rides so much I bought onet of the first 10 of the Kickstarter. It felt like being able to effortlessly surf uphill. I tried many others and consistently found them to feel much more jerky, wobbly, and unpredictable. That’s not what you want when you’re riding a handle-less vehicle in traffic, and essentially betting your life on some startup’s hardware.

But then I crashed. The human body is not equipped for a 22mph meeting with the pavement. The board performed perfectly, I just hit a gravel patch at full-speed, shattered my ankle, and couldn’t walk for 5 months. In conclusion, even the safest electric skateboards are risky because at high speeds, the form factor’s small hard wheels are too vulnerable to obstructions, and you’ve got no handle to save you. I haven’t skated the two years since.

Yet that’s why I think Skip has a real opportunity. There’s demand for these vehicles. Skip says it sees seven rides per day per scooter. They’re a natural complement to more expensive Ubers that have to wade through traffic. But the whole industry will fall apart if everyone’s getting injured. You can absolutely feel the lack of stability and smoothness when riding a janky or half-broken scooter. I think consumers will choose the safer device if one’s available.

Skip To A New Startup

Skip co-founder and CEO Sanjay Dastoor

“We noticed that small personal portable electric vehicles weren’t only awesome alone” but as an option alongside ridesharing, ridepooling, and car ownership, says Dastoor. “The future of transportation is a combination of these.”

Boosted co-founder Matt Tran left the company two years ago, while Dastoor exited a year ago. They wanted to try an electric vehicle service model, but “Boosted wasn’t really the right place to do that, because the company is still focused on building great hardware for people to buy.” Tran was running marketing and also craved his engineering roots. So together with Mike Wadhera, a founding team member of Involver which sold to Oracle, they formed Waybots.

Last summer, the company tried out a docked scooter sharing model in SF, but didn’t see great results. When they got accepted to YC, like Boosted before it, they started experimenting with a dockless version. Meanwhile, Washington D.C. had opened a pilot program for permitted dockless bikeshare, and Waybots convinced the city to give it the greenlight too.

“We’re the first permitted [dockless electric scooter] system operating anywhere” Dastoor believes. “A lot of the story around dockless scooters has come from SF, and from companies that have launched without informing anyone or working with anyone.” That’s led SF to ban unpermitted dockless scooter rentals. “What we saw in DC was the opposite. We’re working with the cities to deploy, share data with them, and engage with the community, and we’ve seen none of the backlash that we’ve seen in SF.”

Designed To Deter Complaints

Beyond actually being permitted, that’s also because Skip has built the scooters to discourage a lot of the most annoying scooter behaviors. The Speedway Mini4 36V 21Ah scooters Skip modifies can get up to 30 miles at 10mph per charge, which means they’re less likely to have dead batteries by the afternoon like the useless vehicles-turned-paperweights from competitors that I commonly stumble across in SF.

The durable hardware is meant to need less service so you’re less likely to rent a broken, or worse, half-broken-but-I’m-late-so-I’ll-ride-it-anyway scooter. You can adjust the handlebar height, they go up to 18mph and dual-suspension flattens road bumps.

As for keeping Skips from getting strewn in the sidewalks and obstructing pedestrians, Dastoor claims his company’s vehicles have more precise location tracking than competitors. That could help it tell the edge of a build from the center of the walkway. Combined with requiring users to photograph the scooter standing upright, and hardware in the vechiles, Skip is hoping to force users to park them properly. “They have to have the intelligence in them to give info back to the city or back to the operator to make sure they operating correctly” Dastoor says.

Unfortunately, Skip hasn’t solved the lack of helmets problem. Dastoor tells me “We’ve been looking at a bunch of ways to improve access to helmets” but for now there’s no on-vehicle compartment for them and the company merely encourages users to wear them.

Personally, I think that’s crap. Sure, Citi Bike and other scooter companies don’t offer them either. But if these are meant to be serendipitously rented for short periods, it’s crazy to think anyone other than regular commuters will bring their own helmets. I think cities should demand them. And if they don’t, an inevitable scooter fatality that could have been prevented will make permitters more cautious. At least Skip says you have to be over 18 and plans to add ID verification for that soon.

“I don’t really have a comment about our unit economics” Dastoor sidestepped, but notes how much cheaper a $1.50 or $3 ride is than hailing a car. We’ll have to see if competition spurs a scooter price war. For now, though, the well-equipped Skips have led customers to “want to use it over and over.” Still, with Lime reportedly trying to raise $500 million and Bird recently closing $100 million as they race to invade the world, Skip is starting late with a much smaller piggybank.

Competition aside, Dastoor cites maintaining relationships with cities as the startup’s biggest threat. Luckily, he says it will soon announce some big-name talent with experience here. I expect it’s hired someone like former Uber policy chief David Plouffe who already has connections.

Scoot To The Future

Where the dockless vechicle rental market goes is a mystery. Maybe it turns into a fundraising war, with the most aggressive deployers locking up markets, and the losers vaporizing in giant money bonfires. Maybe the cities get fed up, kick out the unpermitted, and only issue approvals to those with the best glad-handing or the best safety. Maybe users get tons of options on price, quality, and availability to choose from.

But absent the bad behavior spurring backlash, many who try dockless electric scooter and bike rentals love them. With traffic-jammed city streets and scarce parking, we could use ways to get cars off the road.

Eventually, I think we’ll see a ton of short rideshare trips turn into scooter cruises. And at today’s super low price point, walking could turn into a luxury depending on how you value your time. Even at minimum wage, you might save money paying $1.75 for a five-minute, one-mile Skip rather than walking for 20. Dastoor concludes, “It becomes part of their transportation routine and I think anything that does that is around to stay.”

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/17/skip-scooters/

Headspace gets a new CTO and head of data analytics by Matthew Lynley at May 17, 2018 at 06:00PM

Headspace might just be considered an app that plays back a soothing voice to help you meditate, but the company says it is increasingly carries a more difficult technology problem as it continues to grow — and it’s hiring on a few people today to tackle it.

Headspace said it has brought on both a head of data science and a new chief technology officer today as it tries to figure out how to continue scaling across new geographies without any hiccups, in addition to making sure it grows in its core markets. Paddy Hannon and Punnoose Isaac, previously at Edmunds.com as the chief technology officer and head of data and analytics respectively, will be joining Headspace to reprise similar roles for the startup that’s trying to become a daily habit for users.

“You can go through the dot-com bubble of the 90s, over all those years, and look at how many companies built great technologies that were solutions looking for problems,” Hannon said. “I think this is a different opportunity — we’re a product company. Technology and content are there to serve the aims and goals of the company. It’s all focused on that. The tech needs to be focused on that, and the product needs to be focused on that. We think about how to transform this company into one that has a global scale that [co-founders] Andy [Puddicombe] and Rich [Pierson] envision. Their vision isn’t Andy’s voice throughout the world, their vision is building products that help people.”

As startups start to take a deeper look at their products and what kinds of interactions users have, they have to actually think about where they can start tracking what their users are doing in sensitive ways in order to improve the experience. That might mean figuring out how often they are logging in, when they are checking their progress, how long they are listening, and other examples in a non-invasive way. But another big challenge is ensuring all that is wrapped up in a way where statisticians and product people can actually easily query all that data and start doing the math on it to figure out how to improve things, and building that out will be part of Isaac’s main jobs.

The rest of the technology problems are ones that startups will typically face as they start to scale, which includes getting on hardware around the world and making sure that all that content is available when necessary. Headspace has increasingly tried to tailor its services for the time that its users have, and not the other way around, and that means making sure it’s actually working right when a user is looking to check out of reality and into a Headspace meditation — especially if it’s only just for a few minutes. Hannon said the plan, currently, is not to move onto its own proprietary infrastructure.

Hannon stressed that the data that the company would be collecting as it tries to improve its products would not be sold or used in any way other than trying to make Headspace a better experience, as the company monetizes through different ways. “While data is an important aspect of what we do, we’re not incentivized to do things with that data that would violate the trust of our consumers because they’re paying us,” Hannon said.

All this is essentially continuing moves to try to make the service more palatable and easier to use — and actually working — as it faces an increasingly crowded space market of apps looking to help users take a minute to just chill and be a bit more mindful. Calm.com, for example, is reportedly hitting a $250 million valuation in an upcoming financing round, and the company that ends up with both the best experience and content may eventually be the one that wins out. That means bringing on the right talent in order to ensure that everything runs smoothly and keeps getting better.

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/17/headspace-gets-a-new-cto-and-head-of-data-analytics/

FCTRY wants to be a new type of startup studio by Jordan Crook at May 17, 2018 at 05:06PM

Startup Studios are becoming more and more prevalent, with big name companies like Giphy and Girlboss coming from the studio model. The premise is strong: use venture on a small, concentrated number of ideas, fostered by experts and internal resources, to create strong businesses.

But a new startup studio is prepping to launch in NYC with a different idea in mind.

FCTRY, led by Jules Ehrhardt, doesn’t necessarily think that money is always the best way to help startups grow. Ehrhardt thinks of FCTRY as more of a Creative Capital Studio, wherein experts from various fields (with a particular focus on creative, design, and engineering) offer their insight and knowledge to help startups grow rather than venture capital. Of course, these startups would still trade equity in exchange for these services.

Ehrhardt comes from UsTwo, the digital product studio that helped develop the wildly popular game Monument Valley.

The focus of FCTRY won’t be the foundry model, where studios come up with their own ideas in conjunction with smart serial entrepreneurs and build them from scratch in house. Rather, FCTRY will help existing early-stage and mid-stage companies with their creative strategy, processes and culture.

“The typical advisory system is broken,” said Ehrhardt. “Usually the advisory structure comes from a one to five percent equity pool and usually ends up in disappointment, where the advisor was supposed to make introductions or provide actionable insight that never comes through.”

Ehrhardt says he wants to bring more charity to that, tapping into the same pool of expert advisors but with the proper structure in place for offering that expertise and delivering on the task.

FCTRY will focus on three pillars of startup success: product, people, and growth.

“Product” might sound a bit obvious and nebulous all at once, but FCTRY is particularly concerned with building a framework for delivering on product, helping set up the processes and organizational structure that allow companies to build great products. Of course, the FCTRY team will also be contributing directly to the products themselves, but with the added goal of ensuring that the startup can continue to iterate and build great brands and products beyond their time with FCTRY.

Ehrhardt also noticed that recruitment and personal development are two big obstacles for companies trying to develop and express their own culture. Founders suddenly go from being chief product officer to hiring people to take over various roles at the company, requiring a totally different set of skills.

FCTRY wants to help startups develop and express their mission and culture so that it can scale from 10 people to 200 without a lot of friction. FCTRY also wants founders to focus on their own personal development, and that of their employees. Ehrhardt noted that Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO of one of the fastest scaling companies on the planet, didn’t scale himself up alongside the company.

“Failures often come down to the human part of a company,” said Ehrhardt. “People haven’t been aware of the need for their own personal development.”

As part of that, FCTRY will not only help with recruitment and hiring but with feedback frameworks within companies.

The last part of the puzzle for FCTRY is growth. The company will help with paid, viral and sticky marketing strategies drawing from a pool of talent in the creative agency space. Ehrhardt says that around 20 percent of the FCTRY team will come from creative agencies, with the rest coming from other fields of expertise, such as machine learning, design, engineering, etc.

Ehrhardt stressed that one of the greatest opportunities with the Creative Capital model is offering a new path to wealth creation for some of the leading experts in their respective fields. These experts, though they may not be able to write a big check to a VC firm or even as an angel to a startup, can exchange their own insight for equity through the Creative Capital model.

“Traditionally, LPs are people who can cut a check, who tend to be white men who have benefitted from their privelege,” said Ehrhardt. “We can do a lot to open up the chance for wealth creation to far more people than the usual suspects.”

While FCTRY is in its early days, Ehrhardt envisions gathering around 20 people to join the FCTRY team, with plans to work with around 10 startups over the course of a year, with engagements varying in size and duration.

from https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/17/fctry-wants-to-be-a-new-type-of-startup-studio/