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The well-funded startups driven to own the autonomous vehicle stack – TechCrunch

At some point in the future, while riding along in a car, a kid may ask their parent about a distant time in the past when people used steering wheels and pedals to control an automobile. Of course, the full realization of the “auto” part of the word — in the form of fully autonomous automobiles — is a long way off, but there are nonetheless companies trying to build that future today.

However, changing the face of transportation is a costly business, one that typically requires corporate backing or a lot of venture funding to realize such an ambitious goal. A recent funding round, some $128 million raised in a Series A round by Shenzhen-based Roadstar.ai, got us at Crunchbase News asking a question: Just how many independent, well-funded autonomous vehicles startups are out there?

In short, not as many as you’d think. To investigate further, we took a look at the set of independent companies in Crunchbase’s “autonomous vehicle” category that have raised $50 million or more in venture funding. After a little bit of hand filtering, we found that the companies mostly shook out into two broad categories: those working on sensor technologies, which are integral to any self-driving system, and more “full-stack” hardware and software companies, which incorporate sensors, machine-learned software models and control mechanics into more integrated autonomous systems.

Full-stack self-driving vehicle companies

Let’s start with full-stack companies first. The table below shows the set of independent full-stack autonomous vehicle companies operating in the market today, as well as their focus areas, headquarter’s location and the total amount of venture funding raised:

Note the breakdown in focus area between the companies listed above. In general, these companies are focused on building more generalized technology platforms — perhaps to sell or license to major automakers in the future — whereas others intend to own not just the autonomous car technology, but deploy it in a fleet of on-demand taxi and other transportation services.

Making the eyes and ears of autonomous vehicles

On the sensor side, there is also a trend, one that’s decidedly more concentrated on one area of focus, as you’ll be able to discern from the table below:

Some of the most well-funded startups in the sensing field are developing light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technologies, which basically serve as the depth-perceiving “eyes” of autonomous vehicle systems. CYNGN integrates a number of different sensors, LiDAR included, into its hardware arrays and software tools, which is one heck of a pivot for the mobile phone OS-maker formerly known as Cyanogen.

But there are other problem spaces for these sensor companies, including Nauto’s smart dashcam, which gathers location data and detects distracted driving, or Autotalks’s DSRC technology for vehicle-to-vehicle communication. (Back in April, Crunchbase News covered the $5 million Series A round closed by Comma, which released an open-source dashcam app.)

And unlike some of the full-stack providers mentioned earlier, many of these sensor companies have established vendor relationships with the automotive industry. Quanergy Systems, for example, counts components giant Delphi, luxury carmakers Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz and automakers like Hyundai and Renault-Nissan as partners and investorsInnoviz supplies its solid-state LiDAR technology to the BMW Group, according to its website.

Although radar and even LiDAR are old hat by now, there continues to be innovation in sensors. According to a profile of Oryx Vision’s technology in IEEE Spectrum, its “coherent optical radar” system is kind of like a hybrid of radar and LiDAR technology in that “it uses a laser to illuminate the road ahead [with infrared light], but like a radar it treats the reflected signal as a wave rather than a particle.” Its technology is able to deliver higher-resolution sensing over a longer distance than traditional radar or newer LiDAR technologies.

Can startups stack up against big corporate competitors?

There are plenty of autonomous vehicle initiatives backed by deep corporate pockets. There’s Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, which is subsidized by the huge amount of search profit flung off by Google . Uber has an autonomous vehicles initiative too, although it has encountered a whole host of legal and safety issues, including holding the unfortunate distinction of being the first to kill a pedestrian earlier this year.

Tesla, too, has invested considerable resources into developing assistive technologies for its vehicles, but it too has encountered some roadblocks as its head of Autopilot (its in-house autonomy solution) left in April. The company also deals with a rash of safety concerns of its own. And although Apple’s self-driving car program has been less publicized than others, it continues to roll on in the background. Chinese companies like Baidu and Didi Chuxing have also launched fill-stack R&D facilities in Silicon Valley.

Traditional automakers have also jumped into the fray. Back in 2016, for the price of a cool $1 billion, General Motors folded Cruise Automation into its R&D efforts in a widely publicized buyout. And, not to be left behind, Ford acquired a majority stake in Argo AI, also for $1 billion.

That leaves us with a question: Do even the well-funded startups mentioned earlier stand a chance of either usurping market dominance from corporate incumbents or at least joining their ranks? Perhaps.

The reason why so much investor cash is going to these companies is because the market opportunity presented by autonomous vehicle technology is almost comically enormous. It’s not just a matter of the car market itself — projected to be over 80 million car sales globally in 2018 alone — but how we’ll spend all the time and mental bandwidth freed up by letting computers take the wheel. It’s no wonder that so many companies, and their backers, want even a tiny piece of that pie.

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Here is where CEOs of heavily funded startups went to school – TechCrunch

CEOs of funded startups tend to be a well-educated bunch, at least when it comes to university degrees.

Yes, it’s true college dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates can still do well. But Crunchbase data shows that most startup chief executives have an advanced degree, commonly from a well-known and prestigious university.

Earlier this month, Crunchbase News looked at U.S. universities with strong track records for graduating future CEOs of funded companies. This unearthed some findings that, while interesting, were not especially surprising. Stanford and Harvard topped the list, and graduates of top-ranked business schools were particularly well-represented.

In this next installment of our CEO series, we narrowed the data set. Specifically, we looked at CEOs of U.S. companies funded in the past three years that have raised at least $100 million in total venture financing. Our intent was to see whether educational backgrounds of unicorn and near-unicorn leaders differ markedly from the broad startup CEO population.

Sort of, but not really

Here’s the broad takeaway of our analysis: Most CEOs of well-funded startups do have degrees from prestigious universities, and there are a lot of Harvard and Stanford grads. However, chief executives of the companies in our current data set are, educationally speaking, a pretty diverse bunch with degrees from multiple continents and all regions of the U.S.

In total, our data set includes 193 private U.S. companies that raised $100 million or more and closed a VC round in the past three years. In the chart below, we look at the universities most commonly attended by their CEOs:1

The rankings aren’t hugely different from the broader population of funded U.S. startups. In that data set, we also found Harvard and Stanford vying for the top slots, followed mostly by Ivy League schools and major research universities.

For heavily funded startups, we also found a high proportion of business school degrees. All of the University of Pennsylvania alum on the list attended its Wharton School of Business. More than half of Harvard-affiliated grads attended its business school. MBAs were a popular credential among other schools on the list that offer the degree.

Where the most heavily funded startup CEOs studied

When it comes to the most heavily funded startups, the degree mix gets quirkier. That makes sense, given that we looked at just 20 companies.

In the chart below, we look at alumni affiliations for CEOs of these companies, all of which have raised hundreds of millions or billions in venture and growth financing:

One surprise finding from the U.S. startup data set was the prevalence of Canadian university grads. Three CEOs on the list are alums of the University of Waterloo . Others attended multiple well-known universities. The list also offers fresh proof that it’s not necessary to graduate from college to raise billions. WeWork CEO Adam Neumann just finished his degree last year, 15 years after he started. That didn’t stop the co-working giant from securing more than $7 billion in venture and growth financing.

  1. Several CEOs attended more than one university on the list.

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Dot lets you invest in property without the hassle of a traditional mortgage – TechCrunch

Dot, a new U.K. startup de-cloaking today, aims to make it easy to invest in property without the hassle of taking out a traditional ‘buy to let’ mortgage. The company is founded by Gray Stern, who previously co-founded London-based Buy to Let mortgage lender Landbay, and so knows at least a thing or two about investing in property. Namely, that it doesn’t need to be as arduous as it currently is.

In fact, Dot’s headline draw is that it makes property ownership a one-click affair via the “Dot Button” it wants to embed on property listings sites, including estate agents and property developers. Under the hood of the offering is what the startup describes as a “point-of-sale finance and management solution” that can be wrapped around any property that meets Dot’s lending criteria.

If you want to purchase the property as an investment, you simply click the button, pay the required deposit, and Dot will acquire and manage the property on your behalf, advancing 70 percent of the purchase price in the form of its pre-approved or “instant mortgage”. In addition, the property is furnished and Dot takes out buildings, contents and rent guarantee insurance. After those expenses, you receive monthly rent from the property, minus management fees and interest paid on your Dot mortgage.

Technically, once the property is purchased it is moved into a passive investment structure: an SPV known as a “Dot Container”. This structure holds the asset on your behalf (you effectively become the SPV’s beneficial owner/shareholder).

When you’re ready to sell, in theory a Dot Container can move from owner to owner without conveyancing, and can be refinanced without requiring new mortgage documents (via Dot Platform, Dot’s mortgage marketplace). Alternatively, the property can be put on the open market. Either way, as the SPV’s sole shareholder, you benefit from any increase in the valuation of the property, less the remaining balance of the mortgage.

“Dot enables anyone with a 30 percent deposit to become a professional property investor instantly, with none of the hassle of being a landlord,” explains Stern. “We do this by providing U.K. and U.S. estate agents and property developers with a pre-approved finance and management solution — a Dot Container — that can hold any suitable property. The agent can then offer Dot as a payment option (via the embedded Dot Button), turning their previously static listings into turnkey investments that anyone, anywhere can buy online on a fully financed and managed basis.

“Every Dot Container comes complete with a pre-approved mortgage, insurance, legal/conveyancing, tax compliance and reporting, lettings and management, furnishings and everything else required to turn that property into a compliant, well-managed and good-looking rental home. Dot takes care of the entire end-to-end process… and because we are lending a large portion of the total cost we have a vested interest in managing your property well”.

Stern says that Dot differs from property crowd-investing type platforms, such as Property Partner or Bricklane, which typically let you buy shares in a portion of a property or a property portfolio and aren’t coupled with a financing option.

“Dot’s solution is for sole investors or couples looking to build property portfolios that they control, we do not offer fractional ownership,” he adds. “Our clients own the asset and while they give Dot management rights, they can also remove Dot at any time, sell at any time, refinance their loans at any time. Dot’s challenge is to make our offer sufficiently compelling that they won’t want to”.

Meanwhile, Dot has raised $1.5 million in a pre-seed round from Stage Dot O, an L.A.-based venture-build firm run by Roofstock co-founder Devin Wade and ex hedge fund manager Mike Self.

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InVision design tool Studio gets an app store, asset store – TechCrunch

InVision, the startup that wants to be the operating system for designers, today introduced its app store and asset store within InVision Studio. In short, InVision Studio users now have access to some of their most-used apps and services from right within the Studio design tool. Plus, those same users will be able to shop for icons, UX/UI components, typefaces and more from within Studio.

While Studio is still in its early days, InVision has compiled a solid list of initial app store partners, including Google, Salesforce, Slack, Getty, Atlassian, and more.

InVision first launched as a collaboration tool for designers, letting designers upload prototypes into the cloud so that other members of the organization could leave feedback before engineers set the design in stone. Since that launch in 2011, InVision has grown to 4 million users, capturing 80 percent of the Fortune 100, raising a total of $235 million in funding.

While collaboration is the bread and butter of InVision’s business, and the only revenue stream for the company, CEO and founder Clark Valberg feels that it isn’t enough to be complementary to the current design tool ecosystem. Which is why InVision launched Studio in late 2017, hoping to take on Adobe and Sketch head-on with its own design tool.

Studio differentiates itself by focusing on the designer’s real-life workflow, which often involves mocking up designs in one app, pulling assets from another, working on animations and transitions in another, and then stitching the whole thing together to share for collaboration across InVision Cloud. Studio aims to bring all those various services into a single product, and a critical piece of that mission is building out an app store and asset store with the services too sticky for InVision to rebuild from Scratch, such as Slack or Atlassian.

With the InVision app store, Studio users can search Getty from within their design and preview various Getty images without ever leaving the app. They can then share that design via Slack or send it off to engineers within Atlassian, or push it straight to UserTesting.com to get real-time feedback from real people.

InVision Studio launched with the ability to upload an organization’s design system (type faces, icons, logos, and hex codes) directly into Studio, ensuring that designers have easy access to all the assets they need. Now InVision is taking that a step further with the launch of the asset store, letting designers sell their own assets to the greater designer ecosystem.

“Our next big move is to truly become the operating system for product design,” said Valberg. “We want to be to designers what Atlassian is for engineers, what Salesforce is to sales. We’ve worked to become a full-stack company, and now that we’re managing that entire stack it has liberated us from being complementary products to our competitors. We are now a standalone product in that respect.”

Since launching Studio, the service has grown to more than 250,000 users. The company says that Studio is still in Early Access, though it’s available to everyone here.

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Sentry raises $16M Series B from NEA and Accel to help developers squash bugs more quickly – TechCrunch

Created to help app developers find and fix bugs more efficiently, Sentry announced today that it has raised a $16 million Series B led by returning investors NEA and Accel. Both firms participated in Sentry’s Series A round two years ago.

Co-founder and CEO David Cramer tells TechCrunch that the new round puts Sentry’s post-money valuation at around $100 million. The company recently launched Sentry 9, which, like its other software, is open source. Sentry 9 lets app developers integrate error remediation into their workflows by automatically notifying the developers responsible for that part of the code, letting them filter by environment to hone in on the issue, and manage collaboration among different teams. This reduces the amount of time it takes to fix bugs from “five hours to five minutes,” Sentry claims.

The company will “double down on developers and their adjacent roles,” in particular product teams, Cramer says. Next in the pipeline is tools that will answer more in-depth questions related to app performance management.

“Today we answer ‘this specific thing is broken, why?’ Next we’ll expand that into deeper insights whether it’s ‘these sets of things are broken for the same reason’ as well as exploring non-errors. For example, if you deploy an update to your product and traffic to your sign-up form goes to zero that’s pretty serious, even if you’re not generating errors,” Cramer says.

Sentry’s technology originated as an internal tool for exception logging in Djana applications while its founders, Chris Jennings and Cramer, were working at Disqus. After they open-sourced it, the software quickly expanded into more programming languages. Sentry launched a hosted service in 2012 to answer demand. It now claims to have 9,000 paying customers (including Airbnb, Dropbox, PayPal, Twitter and Uber), be used by 500,000 engineers and process more than 360 billion errors a year.

In a press statement, Accel partner Dan Levine said “Sentry’s growth is a testament to the now-universal truth that app users everywhere expect a flawless experience free of bugs and crashes. Poor user experience kills companies. In order to keep moving forward as quickly as possible, product teams need to know that customers will never leave because of a broken app update. Sentry lets every developer build software that is functionally error-free.”

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ClassPass plans to add nine international cities by the end of 2018 – TechCrunch

ClassPass, the studio fitness platform that gives users access to thousands of boutique fitness classes, has said it plans to expand internationally into nine new countries by the end of 2018. The company’s top priorities are consolidating its position in the UK and launching in three countries in Asia, according to chief executive Fritz Lanman. Lanman declined to disclose which countries the fitness subscription service was targeting.

ClassPass’s further international expansion isn’t exactly a surprise. The company already serves parts of Canada, the UK and Australia alongside its 50 cities within the US. ClassPass also raised a whopping $70 million Series C last year which Lanman tells me was purposefully large to fuel this type of expansion without being dependent on another round of financing.

As part of the expansion initiative, ClassPass has hired Chloe Ross as VP of International. Ross has worked on international strategy at Microsoft and has helped in developing policy in the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit.

In 2014, ClassPass found its footing with a brand new model for the fitness world. The company aggregated fitness classes and studio partners while offering a subscription model for users, letting them pick and play as they choose across a wide variety of classes. In essence, the company brought a media model, not unlike Netflix, to the real world industry of fitness.

Lanman says that this kind of business model innovation has spurred a large number of clones, both domestically and internationally, and that international expansion is integral to cementing ClassPass’s spot at the top of the heap.

As it stands now, ClassPass currently has 9,000 studio partners, but Lanman and founder Payal Kadakia see the opportunity to grow that to 90,000 as the company ventures outside of the U.S.

Moreover, ClassPass has played with the idea of expanding into new verticals for quite some time, with wellness being first in line. But before ClassPass can dive deep into a wellness vertical, it must first solidify its place as a global aggregator of studio fitness.

The company recently unveiled a new at-home workout program called ClassPass Live, letting users stream classes from the comfort of their own home. No word yet on when ClassPass Live will debut in new international markets, Lanman said.

ClassPass has raised a total of $154 million since launch.

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WorkFusion adds to its $50 million with strategic investors as it bulks up for acquisitions – TechCrunch

WorkFusion, a business process automation software developer, added two new investors to its $50 million April round.

The company’s new strategic investors include the large insurance company, Guardian; healthcare services provider New York-Presbyterian; and the commercial bank, PNC Bank. Venture investor Alpha Intelligence Capital, which specializes in backing artificial intelligence-enabled companies, also participated in the new financing.

Certainly WorkFusion seems to have come a long way since its days hiring crowdsourced workers to train algorithms how to automate the workflows that used to be done manually. The company has raised a lot of money — roughly $121 million, according to Crunchbase — which is some kind of validation, and in its core markets of financial services and insurance it’s attracted some real fans.

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Sinemia, a MoviePass competitor, launches cardless ticketing – TechCrunch

Sinemia is further differentiating itself from its main competitor, MoviePass. The moviegoing startup is launching a new feature today that gets rid of the need for people to have a physical card in order to purchase movie tickets. This comes after a number of new Sinemia customers reported long wait times for their debit cards to arrive.

“The Cardless feature was in our product pipeline but we accelerated it due to strong demand and issues that it brought,” Sinemia founder and CEO Rifat Oguz said in a statement to TechCrunch.

Following Sinemia’s launch of new plans that cost as little as $4.99 a month a few weeks ago, interest and demand has skyrocketed, according to the company. That resulted in longer wait times for debit cards.

“We’ve seen incredible demand for our movie ticket subscription service, with many customers wanting to dive right in and buy movie tickets without waiting for a physical card to be shipped to them,” Oguz said in a press release. “At Sinemia, we strive to provide the best moviegoing experience possible while driving the industry forward, and this is just one example of how we’re moving quickly to address our customers’ needs. Sinemia Cardless makes it easier than ever for people to get their movie tickets in advance.”

MoviePass, on the other hand, requires a physical card that you have to use in person at the theater. That means advanced ticketing is not an option with MoviePass. Sinemia’s cardless feature will not just be available to new customers, but to everyone in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia. Meanwhile, MoviePass is on the struggle bus and might not have enough money to make it through the summer.

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Crowd Cow, offering ranch to table meats, picks up $8 million from Madrona, Ashton Kutcher – TechCrunch

Most high-end restaurants don’t get their beef from the local grocery store. Well-regarded chefs and restauranteurs build relationships with small farms and family ranchers to procure what’s known in the industry as craft beef.

Just like coffee or chocolate or wine, the smallest differences (type of grass, breed of cow, lifestyle, etc.) can make a big difference in overall taste. But you and I have never had easy access to this beef outside of hitting up a Michelin-star restaurant.

And then Crowd Cow came along.

Crowd Cow, based in Seattle, works with small family farms to let users choose their cow and their cut. Crowd Cow then ships this craft beef directly to a user’s home.

Before Crowd Cow, five or six families would have to go in together on more than 500 LBs of beef in order to be a compelling customer to these small farms. That means they need a large meat freezer, upfront cash, and all the time and resources necessary to get the product from the farm to the home.

Crowd Cow founders Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry realized the whole process would be much better for everyone if they could crowdsource 50 families, instead of four or five, to buy a cow. The company handles logistics and offers users a way to learn about the ranch, the cow, and more via the app.

Today, the company is announcing that it has closed an $8 million Series A funding led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Ashton Kutcher of Sound Ventures and existing investor Joe Montana of Liquid 2 Ventures.

Since launch, Seattle-based Crowd Cow has expanded to offer chicken, olive wagyu, and pork and now serves the entire contiguous United States. The company generates more than $1 million in revenue a month and revenue has grown 10x over the last year.

The greater vision is to de-commoditize beef.

The Seattle-based company isn’t the only startup to raise money in an attempt to get people to eat better beef. Earlier this month, Porter Road closed on $3.7 million to go after the market with a similar mission.

Backed by a slew of New York venture firms including Slow Ventures, Max Ventures, BoxGroup, Tribeca Venture Partners and the Collaborative Fund, Porter Road was founded by trained chefs and butchers Chris Carter and James Peisker. Originally working out of a butcher shop in Nashville, Tenn. since 2011, the two partners work with sustainable local farmers to source the best meat.

Both companies are putting a new spin on a model made famous by Omaha Steaks, the meat packer and mail order distributor founded over 100 years ago, which is now pulls in $450 million in revenue a year.

“Before Starbucks and microbrew, coffee was 50 cents and there were a handful of beers and no one really cared,” said Crow Cow’s Heitzeberg. “The reality is that beef is varied. There are 300 breeds, and there are different types of grass in these pastures, and these factors will lead to a very different taste. Beef doesn’t have to be a commodity.”

Crowd Cow plans to use the funding to continue expansion into different proteins and new markets, as well as opening new distribution centers to speed up delivery to customers.

 

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Klevio launches its smart intercom and app that lets you open doors remotely – TechCrunch

Klevio, a smart home startup out of the U.K., is officially launching its first product: a smart intercom system that lets you control your front door lock via an iOS and Android app on your phone and remotely.

Dubbed “Klevio One,” the device is designed to be retrofitted to existing electric strike-enabled locks, and also interfaces with intercom systems found on the communal doors of apartment blocks. This, say its makers, means that it is better suited to flats than smart locks already on the market.

In a call with Klevio co-founder and CEO Aleš Špetič, he explained that the approach the London-based company has taken is different to smart locks that typically use a motor to turn the lock and require tearing out and replacing your existing lock. In contrast, if you already have an electric strike as part of your lock — which a lot of apartments do — the Klevio One can simply be wired to interface with it. If you don’t, a Klevio installer can fit one to your existing lock for you.

This major upside of this approach is that Klevio isn’t re-inventing the whole wheel, but taking years old, tried and tested electric strike technology, and simply adding smart connectivity to it.

It means the Klevio One works with multiple doors and there’s no need to modify the communal area of apartment buildings when installing it, since the device is located within an individual apartment. You can also still use your old physical keys as a backup, and the company says the use of Klevio won’t be obvious to anyone outside the building.

And as you’d expect, the Klevio system is cloud-connected so that you can control your lock remotely, and issue virtual and one-time use keys. It comes in a WiFi only version, and a subscription version with added 4G.

The startup’s back story is noteworthy, too. The Klevio’s original concept and eureka moment came at Onefinestay, the ‘upscale Airbnb’ acquired by Accor in 2016. After the exit, Onefinestay co-founder Demetrios Zoppos teamed up with CubeSensors’ Aleš Špetič and Marko Mrdjenovič to start the new company, including purchasing the needed patents from Onefinestay.

In addition, Onefinestay co-founder Greg Marsh is an investor in Klevio, alongside LocalGlobe’s partner Robin Klein (who I’m told has invested in a personal capacity). To date Klevio has raised £1.2 million in funding.

Meanwhile, Špetič tells me that prior to today’s wider launch — where it can be ordered via the Klevio website — the Klevio One has been piloted with 1,000 users across London.

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