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By the summer of 2016, Marie Outtier had spent eight years as a consultant advising media agencies and martech companies on marketing growth strategy.
Pierre-Jean “PJ” Camillieri started as a music software engineer before joining one of Apple’s consumer electronics divisions. Inspired by Siri, he left to start Timista, a smart lifestyle assistant.
When the two joined forces to co-found Aiden.ai, the combination was potent — one was a consummate marketer, the other, a specialist in machine learning. Their goal: create an AI-driven marketing analyst that offered actionable advice in real time.
Humans who manage ad campaigns must analyze vast amounts of numbers, but Outtier and Camillieri envisioned a tool that could make optimization recommendations in real time. Analytics are vast and unwieldy, so theirs was a no-brainer proposition with a market crying out for solutions.
The company’s first office was at Bloom Space in Gower Street, London. It was just a handful of hot desks and a nearby sofa shared with four other startups. That summer, they began in earnest to build the company. A few months later, they had a huge opportunity when the still 100% bootstrapped company was selected for Techcrunch Disrupt’s Startup Battlefield competition.
Interviewed by TechCrunch, they explained their proposition: Marketers wanted to know where a digital marketing campaign was getting the most traction: Twitter or Facebook. You might need to check several dashboards across multiple accounts, plus Google analytics to compile the data — and even if you conclude that one platform is outperforming the other, that might change next week as users shift attention to Instagram, potentially wasting 60% of ad spend.
Aiden was intended to feel like just another co-worker, relying on natural language processing to make the exchange feel chatty and comfortable. It queried data from multiple dashboards and quickly compiled it into flash charts, making it easy to find and digest.
Eventually, instead of managing 10 clients, marketing analysts would be able to manage 50 using dynamic predictions as well as visualizations. Aiden incorporated Outtier’s expertise into its algorithms so it could suggest how to tweak a Facebook campaign and anticipate what was going to happen.
Was appearing at Disrupt a significant moment? “It was a big deal for us,” says Outtier. “The exposure gave us ammunition to raise our first round. And being part of the Disrupt Battlefield alumni gave us many meaningful networking and PR opportunities.”
A few weeks later the company had raised a seed round of $750,000. But not without difficulty. By this time Outtier was in the latter stages of pregnancy. Raising money under these circumstances was difficult, but, she says, “it can be done. It’s tougher than ‘normal circumstances.’ It’s a bit like running a marathon, but with a fridge on your back.”
Source: Tech Crunch Startups | How this startup built and exited to Twitter in 1,219 days
Directly taking on Google and Amazon generally seems to be an ill-advised strategy for a young startup. It’s even more complicated when you’re competing on the home assistants front, a technically complex, capital-intensive future platform into which both tech giants have dumped substantial sums.
Over the past few years, the small smart home startup Josh.ai has attempted to do just that, capitalizing on public distrust of the big voice platforms to sell an intelligent assistant to users weary of sticking a Google or Amazon-owned microphone in their homes. The company has built its business catering to customers seeking professionally installed pricey outfits in their home, costing upwards of $10,000 on the high end.
The company just secured its largest funding round to date, an $11 million Series A round, which brings the startup’s total funding to $22 million. A spokesperson for Josh.ai said their investors have asked not to be named, though he confirmed the round was led by corporate investors.
For people with an Echo Dot or Google Mini in their home, Josh.ai’s approach feels familiar. The platform boasts a number of third-party integrations, so you can use the platform to switch off lights, turn on devices, play music and answer some simple commands. Basically, the bulk of home-centric commands popular on Google Assistant and Alexa.
The startup recently introduced Josh Micro, its own take on the Echo Dot. It has a futuristic vibe and, because it’s installed by professionals, users are privy to a sleek look with wires neatly tucked away inside walls. CEO Alex Capecelatro says their competitors in the professionally installed space have been pushing wall-mounted screens with UIs that often aren’t updated and don’t age well. He hopes their more low-key display-free devices can keep less focus on the hardware and more attention on their software.
“Our philosophy is that you shouldn’t be talking to a puck, it should feel fully immersive,” he says.
Capecelatro had originally seen the best path to existing alongside Google and Amazon as working with them and leveraging their platforms, but he soon found that not working with them proved to be the startup’s biggest asset.
“In terms of direction, what became really clear in the past three years was the importance of privacy,” Capecelatro told TechCrunch. “A lot of our clients are just people who care about their privacy; it’s part of every conversation.”
On the tech side, Capecelatro says the startup’s platform is designed around its own natural language processing stack, so most voice requests can be processed locally, though the startup does leverage tech built by Google and Microsoft to handle speech-to-text processes. While the company uses anonymized data to improve its services, the startup has also introduced specific software features to keep privacy-focused users satisfied including their own take on a smart home incognito mode.
There are few silver bullets in smart home tech, and robust third-party support often leaves room for uncertainty, which in Josh’s case can mean the difference between lights turning on or staying off. Capecelatro says ensuring smooth compatibility with supported devices has been a pretty big focus for their engineering team.
“The more things we work with, the more things we have to QA and the more things that could be impacted,” he says.
While Capecelatro says that around 80-85% of their business goes to single-family homes, he says the startup is starting to find business in commercial sectors, outfitting hotels and condo buildings.
“The reality is we’ve found that the professional installed space is a really big market that the consumer companies don’t really think about,” Capecelatro says. “I think for us the likely future is that we’ll focus on areas where you have a professional installer in a non-residential arena.”
The company says the pandemic has actually given their business a bump, with April being their best month of sales to date as homeowners stuck in their houses look to finally act on long-considered home improvement projects.
Source: Tech Crunch Startups | Smart home startup Josh.ai raises million to offer a home assistant alternative to Alexa
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So, the co-founders of Plantible bought two trailers and started living at their HQ: a two-acre duckweed farm in San Diego.
Plantible uses duckweed, a tiny aquatic leaf, to extract a plant-based protein ingredient that will eventually allow food companies to make animal-based products into plant-based products. The offering would be attractive to companies that make baked goods or protein powder, and thus use lots of egg whites as part of their creation process.
The startup is selling a whey or dairy protein replacement, and is still working on FDA approval.
“We are firm believers that whatever is in nature should be sufficient to provide humanity the ingredients they need,” said Martens from the office trailer.
The startup recently did a series of trials with companies, and Martens says that Plantible validated it can be a replacement with baking ingredient companies and plant-based meat sellers. But the startup is not limited to current use cases.
“If the sector we had our eyes on is taking a while, but sports nutrition is taking off really fast, we’ll go there,” said Martens. “We need to prove the feasibility of our company.”
Plantible is entering a crowded space. Recently, aquafaba, the liquid made from a can of chickpeas, has regained popularity amid other quarantine cooking hacks. Martens says that aquafaba might recreate foaminess, but it doesn’t recreate gelation (or the sizzle and fry look that comes when you pour a real egg white into a hot pan). Plantible claims to offer an egg-white replacement with no compromises on texture or nutrition.
The startup also has some increasingly well-funded alternative protein competitors. Plantible’s closest venture-backed competitors are Clara Foods and FUMI Ingredients, as both try to create egg-white replacements. Clara Foods uses yeast, instead of chickens, to make egg whites, and similarly sells to businesses that use egg whites in large quantities for items like macaroons, angel food cake and protein powders. It has the backing of Ingredion, a global ingredients solution company.
Plantible needs to have a faster, cheaper and more scalable operation to beat its competitors. From a supply perspective, Plantible is in a good place. Duckweed doubles in mass every 48 hours and grows year-round. Plus, it is more digestible than pea, soy or algae, the company claims.
The real expense comes from the extraction process.
Right now, Martens admits, Plantible is “lab scale, and lab scale is really expensive.”
To bring costs down, the company just raised a $4.6 million seed round, co-led by Vectr Ventures and Lerer Hippeau. Other participants include eighteen94 Capital (Kellogg Company’s venture capital fund) and FTW Ventures.
Through the new capital, Plantible claims it will be cost-competitive with egg whites. Currently, two pounds of liquid egg whites cost $8 to $10 dollars to make and sell for $15 to $20 dollars.
“In the end it is about developing a scalable and cost-competitive supply chain that produces a desired ingredient. Since it is very hard to compete with nature, we have decided to embrace it as much as possible by identifying a highly functional and nutritional enzyme,” he said.
“The more you can leverage nature, the more scalable you become,” he said.
As with any seed-stage alternative-protein company, the proof that Plantible has legs to succeed will be in sales and capacity to produce. And it’s not quite there yet.
Source: Tech Crunch Startups | Plantible raises .6 million seed round for an egg white replacement that isn’t aquafaba
Figma, the design platform that lets folks work collaboratively and in the cloud, has today announced the close of a $50 million Series D financing. The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, with partner Peter Levine and cofounding partner Marc Andreessen managing the deal for the firm. New angel investors, including Henry Ellenbogen from Durable Capital, also participated in the round alongside existing investors Index, Greylock, KPCB, Sequoia and Founders Fund.
Forbes reports that the latest funding round values Figma at $2 billion.
Dylan Field, Figma founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that discussions between a16z and Figma actually began towards the end of the fundraising cycle for the company’s Series C, which closed in February of 2019.
“It felt a bit like a shotgun wedding,” said Field, explaining that both parties instead opted to get to know each other better. They’ve been building their relationship over the past year, leading to today’s Series D close. Field also added that he has not met other investors in this round in person, and the vast majority of the deal was done over Zoom.
“When you think about the future of Silicon Valley, there is an interesting question around capital infrastructure being here and people not being able to access that if they’re not here, too,” said Field. “I got to see firsthand how a deal done online can work and I think more and more investors aren’t going to worry about whether you’re in Silicon Valley or not.”
Figma launched in 2015 after nearly six years of development in stealth. The premise was to create a collaborative, cloud-based design tool that would be the Google Docs of design.
Since, Figma has built out the platform to expand access and usability for individual designers, small firms and giant enterprise companies alike. For example, the company launched plug-ins in 2019, allowing developers to build in their own tools to the app, such as a plug-in for designers to automatically rename and organize their layers as they work (Rename.it) and one that gives users the ability to add placeholder text that they can automatically find and replace later (Content Buddy).
The company also launched an educational platform called Community, which gives designers the ability to share their work and let other users ‘remix’ that design, or simply check out how it was built, layer by layer.
A spokesperson told TechCrunch that this deal was “opportunistic,” and that the company was in a strong cash position pre-financing. The new funding expands Figma’s runway during these uncertain times, with coronavirus halting a lot of enterprise purchasing and ultimately slowing growth of some rising enterprise players.
Field explained that Figma’s data is counter to the expected narrative around enterprise purchasing because Figma is specifically built to let teams collaborate in the cloud.
“We’re actually seeing a lot of acceleration for bigger deals on the sales side,” said Field. “Figma is a tool that can help right now.”
The company says that one interesting change they’ve seen in the COVID era is a significant jump in user engagement from teams to collaborate more in Figma. The firm has also seen an uptick in whiteboarding, note taking, slide deck creation and diagramming, as companies start using Figma as a collaborative tool across an entire organization rather than just within a team of designers.
This latest deal brings Figma’s total funding to $132.9 million. Field added that, though the company is not yet profitable, this latest financing gives the company three to four years of runway, even with aggressive scaling and hiring efforts moving forward.
Source: Tech Crunch Startups | Figma raises million Series D led by Andreessen Horowitz
When I first thought of the idea for what would become Jobber, I never could have imagined that I would one day be the CEO of a tech company with nearly 100,000 active customers in more than 45 countries. And that I would do this alongside a complete stranger who I met during a chance encounter at a coffee shop.
When you’re first thinking about starting a company, most people would either go at it alone or partner with someone they know, like a friend, family member, or former colleague. Few would consider pursuing their entrepreneurial dream with a stranger. Without proper due diligence, co-founding a company with a stranger can feel like putting a down payment on a new house without opening the front door. While this might not be the right path for everyone, it was absolutely the best move for me.
Jobber is proof that starting a company with a stranger isn’t just doable, it can even be an advantage.
Pursuing a business partnership without a prior relationship has allowed my co-founder Forrest Zeisler and I to be more honest and forthcoming with each other as we worked toward a clear, common objective from the start. The ability to arrive at big decisions and have productive debate without the baggage and bias of a preexisting relationship helped to establish Jobber’s feedback-oriented culture, which is ingrained in the DNA of the company. I attribute our company’s early success to our focus on building a strong and honest business partnership first.
For aspiring entrepreneurs looking to launch a company, I’ve identified five tips that really helped me build trust, camaraderie and mutual understanding with my co-founding partner — a partnership that can withstand intense competition and the test of time.
Start small and aim big
I didn’t know that Forrest would become my co-founder when we first met. As a self-taught developer, I was looking for more sophisticated development help on the project I was working on. During the early stages of our relationship, I would present a problem, such as technical aspects with code, and he would help me with it. Through these initial interactions, it became clear how Forrest’s mind works, and we learned that we worked really well together. At the time, I wasn’t thinking of these tasks as “tests” on compatibility, but in retrospect, they were. If you can’t overcome the small hurdles amicably and efficiently, then how do you expect to take on the big stuff? It’s not a good sign for a long-term business relationship.
Source: Tech Crunch Startups | 5 tips for starting a business with a stranger