FeaturePeek moves beyond Y Combinator with $1.8M seed

FeaturePeek’s founders graduated from Y Combinator in Summer 2019, which for an early stage startup must seem like a million years ago right now. Despite the current conditions though, the company announced a $1.8 million seed investment today.

The round was led by Matrix Partners with some unnamed Angel investors also participating.

The startup has built a solution to allow teams to review front-end designs throughout the development process instead of waiting until the end when the project has been moved to staging, co-founder Eric Silverman explained.

FeaturePeek is designed to give front end capabilities that enable developers to get feedback from all their different stakeholders at every stage in the development process and really fill in the missing gaps of the review cycle,” he said.

He added, “Right now, there’s no dedicated place to give feedback on that new work until it hits their staging environment, and so we’ll spin up ad hoc deployment previews, either on commit or on pull requests and those fully running environments can be shared with the team. On top of that, we have our overlay where you can file bugs you can annotate screenshots, record video or leave comments.”

Since last summer, the company has remained lean with three full time employees, but it has continued to build out the product. In addition to the funding, the company also announced a free command line version of the product for single developers in addition to the teams product it has been building since the Y Combinator days.

Ilya Sukhar, partner at Matrix Partners says as a former engineer, he had experienced this kind of problem first hand, and he knew that there was a lack of tooling to help. That’s what attracted him to FeaturePeek.

“I think FeaturePeek is kind of a company that’s trying to change that and try to bring all of these folks together in an environment where they can review running code in a way that really wasn’t possible before, and I certainly have been frustrated on both ends of this where as an engineer, you’re kind of like okay I wrote it, are you ever going to look at it,” he said.

Sukhar recognizes these are trying times to launch a startup, and nobody really knows how things are going to play out, but he encourages these companies not to get too caught up in the macro view at this stage.

Silverman knows that he needs to adapt his go to market strategy for the times, and he says the founders are making a concerted effort to listen to users and find ways to improve the product while finding ways to communicate with the target audience.


By Ron Miller

UpKeep raises $36 million Series B to help facilities and maintenance teams go mobile

UpKeep, a mobile-first platform for maintenance and operations collaboration, has today announced the close of a $36 million Series B financing round. The round was led by Insight Partners, with participation from existing investors Emergence Capital, Battery Ventures, Y Combinator, Mucker Capital and Fundersclub.

UpKeep was founded by Ryan Chan. Chan worked at Trisep Corporation, a chemical manufacturing company, before founding UpKeep and saw first-hand how plant maintenance was handled. Despite the fact that the plant had purchased software for facilities maintenance and operations, most of the data was written down on pen and paper before being input into the system because that software was desktop only.

The idea for UpKeep was born.

UpKeep meets maintenance workers where they are, which could be just about anywhere.

With any maintenance job, from changing a lightbulb in an office building to repairing a complicated piece of machinery on the floor of a manufacturing plant, there are usually three parties involved: the requester, the facilities manager, and the technician.

Before UpKeep, the requester would either send an email to the facilities manager or perhaps use some other software to let them know of the problem. The facilities manager would prioritize the various requests of the day and send out technicians to resolve them.

Technicians have to log plenty of information when they’re out on the job, but this usually involved writing this info down on paper and then returning to a desk to input the data into the system.

With UpKeep, the requester can use the app itself to notify the facilities manager of problems, or send an email that flows directly into the UpKeep system. Facilities managers use UpKeep to prioritize and assign issues to their team of technicians, who then receive the work orders right on UpKeep.

Instead of logging information on paper, these technicians can take pictures of the problem and note the parts they need or other details of the job right in the app. No duplication of effort.

UpKeep operates on a freemium model, allowing technicians to manage their own work for free. Collaborative use of the product across an organization costs on a per user on both an annual or monthly basis. The company offers various tiers, from a Starter Plan ($35/month/user) to an Enterprise Plan ($180/month/user).

Higher tier plans offer more in-depth reporting and analysis around the work that gets done. Chan explained that these reports are not necessarily about tracking people, though.

“Yes, we track technicians and it’s a tool to manage work done by people,” said Chan. “But a manufacturing facility really cares much more about the equipment. They can use UpKeep to manage things like how many hours of downtime a piece of equipment has, etc. It’s more targeted toward the actual asset and the equipment versus the person completing their work.”

Chan said that around 80 percent of the company’s 400,000 users are on the free version of the app. Some brands on the app include Unilever, Siemens, DHL, McDonald’s, and Jet.com. Chan said UpKeep saw a 206 percent increase in revenue in 2019.

Important to the company’s future, UpKeep is working with OSHA and a group called SQF (Safe Quality Food) to offer templates around best practices during the pandemic. Now, maintenance workers and facilities staffs have a whole new checklist around sanitation and safety that many businesses are just getting up to speed on. UpKeep is working to make these new practices easier to adopt by providing those checklists directly to facilities managers.

This latest funding round brings UpKeep’s total funding to $48.8 million.


By Jordan Crook

VC’s largest funds make big bets on vertical B2B marketplaces

During the waning days of the first dot-com boom, some of the biggest names in venture capital invested in marketplaces and directories whose sole function was to consolidate information and foster transparency in industries that had remained opaque for decades.

The thesis was that thousands of small businesses were making specialized products consumed by larger businesses in huge industries, but the reach of smaller players was limited by their dependence on a sales structure built on conferences and personal interactions.

Companies making pharmaceuticals, chemicals, construction materials and medical supplies represented trillions in sales, but those huge aggregate numbers hide how fragmented these supply chains are — and how difficult it is for buyers to see the breadth of sellers available.

Now, similar to the way business models popularized by Kozmo.com and Webvan in decades past have since been reincarnated as Postmates and DoorDash, the B2B directory and marketplace rises from the investment graveyard.

The first sign of life for the directory model came with the success of GoodRX back in 2011. The company proved that when information about pricing in a previously opaque industry becomes available, it can unleash a torrent of new demand.


By Jonathan Shieber

WorkClout shifts focus to manufacturing performance support and raises $2.3M seed

WorkClout, a graduate of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 cohort, announced today that it has shifted its focus from manufacturing automation to manufacturing performance support and has raised a $2.3 million seed round.

The funding was led by Spider Capital with participation from Y Combinator, Liquid 2, Soma Capital, Pioneer Fund, Mehta Ventures and several individual investors.

When the company launched last year, it was looking at helping customers drive operational efficiency in their processes, but WorkClout founder and CEO Arjun Patel says they were seeing that there was a ceiling in terms of how much efficiency they could squeeze out of work processes using software.

At that point, Patel decided to take a step back and do some research to figure out how WorkClout could best help manufacturing customers with its software-based solutions. After surveying 124 manufacturers, he says that he realized that these companies really needed help training front-line workers, an area he says is called performance support.

“We found that most of the companies were saying that employees are the biggest challenge that they have to face in terms of how to engage them better or how to empower them better, because ultimately they realize people, even if there is automation, are still the driving force for a lot of sectors,” Patel told TechCrunch.

Towards the end of last year, the company built a new tool to help customers train employees for complex front-line tasks. The workers might have a phone or tablet, which shows them how to complete each task, and gives them feedback as they move through a set of tasks. It also enables these workers to communicate with one another and with management about issues they are seeing on the line. Managers can monitor communication and see how workers are doing on a back-end system in the office.

“We gave them the ability to allow employees to capture and share critical information in real time on the factory floor, where the goal is to actually create standardized multimedia and training content for machines, processes and stations, allowing new and existing employees to get better insight into their work, and at the same time, allowing employees to communicate better about problems on the floor and reduce downtime,” he explained.

Patel recognizes that this is a difficult time to pivot, but says he believes it puts the company in a better position to succeed in the long term. He has cut the team from nine to five employees in an effort to run lean for the short term.

He hopes to begin hiring again in the fourth quarter this year or, at the latest, by Q1 next year. He plans to use that time to build out the product and prepare for a big go-to market push whenever the economy begins to rebound.

He sees this money giving him a long runway of 2.5 years with the company’s current burn and revenue rates, and that should give him enough time to wait out the current economic downturn.


By Ron Miller

To make locks touchless, Proxy bluetooth ID raises $42M

We need to go hands-off in the age of coronavirus. That means touching fewer doors, elevators, and sign-in iPads. But once a building is using phone-based identity for security, there’s opportunities to speed up access to WIFI networks and printers, or personalize conference rooms and video call set-ups. Keyless office entry startup Proxy wants to deliver all of this while keeping your phone in your pocket.

The door is just a starting point” Proxy co-founder and CEO Denis Mars tells me. “We’re . . . empowering a movement to take back control of our privacy, our sense of self, our humanity, our individuality.”

With the contagion concerns and security risks of people rubbing dirty, cloneable, stealable key cards against their office doors, investors see big potential in Proxy. Today it’s announcing here a $42 million Series B led by Scale Venture Partners with participation from former funders Kleiner Perkins and Y Combinator plus new additions Silicon Valley Bank and West Ventures.

The raise brings Proxy to $58.8 million in funding so it can staff up at offices across the world and speed up deployments of its door sensor hardware and access control software. “We’re spread thin” says Mars. “Part of this funding is to try to grow up as quickly as possible and not grow for growth sake. We’re making sure we’re secure, meeting all the privacy requirements.”

How does Proxy work? Employers get their staff to install an app that knows their identity within the company, including when and where they’re allowed entry. Buildings install Proxy’s signal readers, which can either integrate with existing access control software or the startup’s own management dashboard.

Employees can then open doors, elevators, turnstiles, and garages with a Bluetooth low-energy signal without having to even take their phone out. Bosses can also opt to require a facial scan or fingerprint or a wave of the phone near the sensor. Existing keycards and fobs still work with Proxy’s Pro readers. Proxy costs about $300 to $350 per reader, plus installation and a $30 per month per reader subscription to its management software.

Now the company is expanding access to devices once you’re already in the building thanks to its SDK and APIs. Wifi router-makers are starting to pre-provision their hardware to automatically connect the phones of employees or temporarily allow registered guests with Proxy installed — no need for passwords written on whiteboards. Its new Nano sensors can also be hooked up to printers and vending machines to verify access or charge expense accounts. And food delivery companies can add the Proxy SDK so couriers can be granted the momentary ability to open doors when they arrive with lunch.

Rather than just indiscriminately beaming your identity out into the world, Proxy uses tokenized credentials so only its sensors know who you are. Users have to approve of new networks’ ability to read their tokens, Proxy has SOC-2 security audit certification, and complies with GDPR. “We feel very strongly about where the biometrics are stored . . . they should stay on your phone” says Mars.

Yet despite integrating with the technology for two-factor entry unlocks, Mars says “We’re not big fans of facial recognition. You don’t want every random company having your face in their database. The face becomes the password you were supposed to change every 30 days.”

Keeping your data and identity safe as we see an explosion of Internet Of Things devices was actually the impetus for starting Proxy. Mars had sold his teleconferencing startup Bitplay to Jive Software where he met his eventually co-founder Simon Ratner, who’d joined after his video annotation startup  Omnisio was acquired by YouTube. Mars was frustrated about every IoT lightbulb and appliance wanting him to download an app, set up a profile, and give it his data.

The duo founded Proxy in 2013 as a universal identity signal. Today it has over 60 customers. While other apps want you to constantly open them, Proxy’s purpose is to work silently in the background and make people more productive. “We believe the most important technologies in the world don’t seek your attention. They work for you, they empower you, and they get out of the way so you can focus your attention on what matters most — living your life.”

Now Proxy could actually help save lives. “The nature of our product is contactless interactions in commercial buildings and workplaces so there’s a bit of an unintended benefit that helps prevent the spread of the virus” Mars explains. “We have seen an uptick in customers starting to set doors and other experiences in longer-range hands-free mode so that users can walk up to an automated door and not have to touch the handles or badge/reader every time.”

The big challenge facing Proxy is maintaining security and dependability since it’s a mission-critical business. A bug or outage could potentially lock employees out of their workplace (when they eventually return from quarantine). It will have to keep hackers out of employee files. Proxy needs to stay ahead of access control incumbents like ADT and Honeywell as well as smaller direct competitors like $10 million-funded Nexkey and $28 million-funded Openpath.

Luckily, Proxy has found a powerful growth flywheel. First an office in a big building gets set up, then they convince the real estate manager to equip the lobby’s turnstiles and elevators with Proxy. Other tenants in the building start to use it, so they buy Proxy for their office. Then they get their offices in other cities on board…starting the flywheel again. That’s why Proxy is doubling down on sales to commercial real estate owners.

The question is when Proxy will start knocking on consumers’ doors. While leveling up into the enterprise access control software business might be tough for home smartlock companies like August, Proxy could go down market if it built more physical lock hardware. Perhaps we’ll start to get smart homes that know who’s home, and stop having to carry pointy metal sticks in our pockets.


By Josh Constine

YC-backed Snapboard is a no-code platform for building internal tools

No code tools are on the rise, and a YC-backed company called Snapboard is looking to join the fight.

Snapboard, led by solo founder Calum Moore, started when Moore decided to build one product a week for a year as a personal challenge. In the second week, he realized just how many apps and services it took not only to build the product, but to post about it on social media.

He wanted a way to manage all those apps and tools from one dashboard. So he built Snapboard.

Snapboard allows users to link together and manage a wide variety of apps and platforms in a single, customizable dashboard. Users can create boards that act as internal tools without getting the product or engineering team involved for an internal project. Moore describes it as “Airtable, but with all of your data already in there.”

Right now, more than 50 apps are available on the Snapboard platform, including Shopify, Dropbox, Google Analytics, MailChimp, MongoDB, MySQL, Trello, Zendesk, and many more. Moore isn’t concerned with onboarding new integrated apps for Snapboard as most of the popular tools used by startups and tech firms are API supported.

The use cases are innumerable, which is just as challenging as it is beneficial. Moore detailed a few examples, including building boards for each individual customer, combining Stripe data with emails sent through Mail Chimp to try and target behavior.

However, the flexibility of the platform means that it can do almost anything, but only if you know what you want to do with it. It can be difficult to evangelize for something that is so nebulous, and can be used so many ways.

Moore says the key is to sprint on building out the template library for Snapboard, offering new users a multitude of options as inspiration.

Snapboard offers a free tier, and then charges $10/month/seat for more advanced features. Thus far, the company has 3,000 registered users and around 230 WAUs.

The company is targeting tech companies but sees the potential for other industries to tap into Snapboard’s internal tool-making platform.

Beyond the difficulty of messaging a platform that can be used in countless ways, Moore identifies UX design as one of the company’s greatest challenges.

“We’re taking something only developers used to be able to do and making it available for everyone else,” said Moore. “If you give a developer a platform, they’ll work their way through it. They’ll find some way to make it work. Whereas, with less technical people, they want products to be very obvious and easy to use. So, for us, it’s about delivering that kind of technical experience in a really non-technical way.”

Snapboard has raised a total of $150K from Y Combinator and will present in the upcoming demo day.


By Jordan Crook

YC-backed Turing uses AI to help speed up the formulation of new consumer packaged goods

One of the more interesting and useful applications of artificial intelligence technology has been in the world of biotechnology and medicine, where now more than 220 startups (not to mention universities and bigger pharma companies) are using AI to accelerate drug discovery by using it to play out the many permutations resulting from drug and chemical combinations, DNA and other factors.

Now, a startup called Turing — which is part of the current cohort at Y Combinator due to present in the next Demo Day on March 22 — is taking a similar principle but applying it to the world of building (and ‘discovering’) new consumer packaged goods products.

Using machine learning to simulate different combinations of ingredients plus desired outcomes to figure out optimal formulations for different goods (hence the “Turing” name, a reference to Alan Turing’s mathematical model, referred to as the Turing machine), Turing is initially addressing the creation of products in home care (eg detergents), beauty, and food and beverage.

Turing’s founders claim that it is able to save companies millions of dollars by reducing the average time it takes to formulate and test new products, from an average of 12 to 24 months down to a matter of weeks.

Specifically, the aim is to reduce all the time that it takes to test combinations, giving R&D teams more time to be creative.

“Right now, they are spending more time managing experiments than they are innovating,” Manmit Shrimali, Turing’s co-founder and CEO, said.

Turing is in theory coming out of stealth today, but in fact it has already amassed an impressive customer list. It is already generating revenues by working with 8 brands owned by one of the world’s biggest CPG companies, and it is also being trialled by another major CPG behemoth (Turing is disclosing their names publicly, but suffice it to say, they and their brands are household names).

Turing is co-founded by Shrimali and Ajith Govind, two specialists in data science that had worked together on a previous startup called Dextro Analytics. Dextro had set out to help businesses use AI and other kinds of business analytics to help with identifying trends and decision making around marketing, business strategy and other operational areas.

While there, they identified a very specific use case for the same principles that was perhaps even more acute: the research and development divisions of CPG companies, which have (ironically, given their focus on the future) often been behind the curve when it comes to the “digital transformation” that has swept up a lot of other corporate departments.

“We were consulting for product companies and realised that they were struggling,” Shirmali said. Add to that the fact that CPG is precisely the kind of legacy industry that is not natively a tech company but can most definitely benefit from implementing better technology, and that spells out an interesting opportunity for how (and where) to introduce artificial intelligence into the mix.

R&D labs play a specific and critical role in the world of CPG.

Before eventually being shipped into production, this is where products are discovered; tested; tweaked in response to input from customers, marketing, budgetary and manufacturing departments and others; then tested again; then tweaked again; and so on. One of the big clients that Turing works with spends close to $400 million in testing alone.

But R&D is under a lot of pressure these days. While these departments are seeing their budgets getting cut, they continue to have a lot of demands. They are still being expected to meet timelines in producing new products (or often more likely, extensions of products) to keep consumers interested. There are a new host of environmental and health concerns around goods with huge lists of unintelligible ingredients, meaning they have to figure out how to simplify and improve the composition of mass-market products. And smaller direct-to-consumer brands are undercutting their larger competitors by getting to market faster with competitive offerings that have met new consumer tastes and preferences.

“In the CPG world, everyone was focused on marketing, and R&D was a blind spot,” Shrimali said, referring to the extensive investments that CPG have made into figuring out how to use digital to track and connect with users, and also how better to distribute their products. “To address how to use technology better in R&D, people need strong domain knowledge, and we are the first in the market to do that.”

Turing’s focus is to speed up the formulation and testing aspects that go into product creation to cut down on some of the extensive overhead that goes into putting new products into the market.

Part of the reason why it can take upwards of years to create a new product is because of all of the permutations that go into building something and making sure it works consistently as a consumer would expect it to (which still being consistent in production and coming in within budget).

“If just one ingredient is changed in a formulation, it can change everything,” Shirmali noted. And so in the case of something like a laundry detergent, this means running hundreds of tests on hundreds of loads of laundry to make sure that it works as it should.

The Turing platform brings in historical data from across a number of past permutations and tests to essentially virtualise all of this: it suggests optimal mixes and outcomes from them without the need to run the costly physical tests, and in turn this teaches the Turing platform to address future tests and formulations. Shrimali said that the Turing platform has already saved one of the brands some $7 million in testing costs.

Turing’s place in working with R&D gives the company some interesting insights into some of the shifts that the wider industry is undergoing. Currently, Shrimali said one of the biggest priorities for CPG giants include addressing the demand for more traceable, natural and organic formulations.

While no single DTC brand will ever fully eat into the market share of any CPG brand, collectively their presence and resonance with consumers is clearly causing a shift. Sometimes that will lead into acquisitions of the smaller brands, but more generally it reflects a change in consumer demands that the CPG companies are trying to meet. 

Longer term, the plan is for Turing to apply its platform to other aspects that are touched by R&D beyond the formulations of products. The thinking is that changing consumer preferences will also lead into a demand for better “formulations” for the wider product, including more sustainable production and packaging. And that, in turn, represents two areas into which Turing can expand, introducing potentially other kinds of AI technology (such as computer vision) into the mix to help optimise how companies build their next generation of consumer goods.


By Ingrid Lunden

Demodesk scores $2.3M seed for sales-focused online meetings

Demodesk, an early stage startup that wants to change how sales meetings are conducted online, announced a $2.3 million seed investment today.

Investors included GFC, FundersClub, Y Combinator, Kleiner Perkins and an unnamed group of angel investors. The company was a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 cohort.

CEO and co-founder Veronika Riederle says that the fact it’s so closely focused on sales separates it from other more general meeting tools like Zoom, WebEx or GoToMeeting. “We are building the first intelligent online meeting tool for customer facing conversations. So that is for inside sales and customer service professionals,” Riederle explained.

One of the key pieces of technology is what Riederle calls, “a unique approach to screen sharing.” Whereas most meeting software involves downloading software to use the tool, Demodesk doesn’t do this. You simply click a link and you’re in. The two parties online are seeing a live screen and each can interact with it. It’s not just a show and tell.

What’s more, in a sales scenario with a slide presentation, the customer sees the same live screen as the salesperson, but while the salesperson can see their presentation notes, the customer cannot.

She said while this could work for any number of scenarios from customer service to IT Help desks, at this stage in the company’s development she wants to concentrate on the sales scenario, then expand the vision over time. The service works on a subscription model with tiered-per user pricing starting at $19 per user per month.

When they got to Y Combinator, the company already had a working product and paying customers, but Riederle says that the experience has helped them grow the business to over 100 customers. “YC was extremely important for us because we immediately got access to an extremely valuable network of founders and potential customers, and also just a base for us to really [develop] the business.

Riderle founded the company with CTO Alex Popp in 2017 in Munich. Prior to this seed round, the founders mostly bootstrapped the company,. With the $2.3 million it should be able to hire more people and begin building out the product further, while investing in sales and marketing to expand its customer base.


By Ron Miller

Quilt Data launches from stealth with free portal to access petabytes of public data

Quilt Data‘s founders, Kevin Moore and Aneesh Karve, have been hard at work for the last four years building a platform to search for data quickly across vast repositories on AWS S3 storage. The idea is to give data scientists a way to find data in S3 buckets, and then package that data in forms that a business can use. Today, the company launched out of stealth with a free data search portal that not only proves what they can do, but also provides valuable access to 3.7 petabytes of public data across 23 S3 repositories.

The public data repository includes publicly available Amazon review data along with satellite images and other high-value public information. The product works like any search engine, where you enter a query, but instead of searching the web or an enterprise repository, it finds the results in S3 storage on AWS.

The results not only include the data you are looking for, it also includes all of the information around the data, such as Jupyter notebooks, the standard  workspace that data scientists use to build machine learning models. Data scientists can then use this as the basis for building their own machine learning models.

The public data, which includes over 10 billion objects, is a resource that data scientists should greatly appreciate it, but the company is offering access to this data out of more than pure altruism. It’s doing so because it wants to show what the platform is capable of, and in the process hopes to get companies to use the commercial version of the product.

Screen Shot 2019 09 16 at 2.31.53 PM

Quilt Data search results with data about the data found. Image: Quilt Data

Customers can try Quilt Data for free or subscribe to the product in the Amazon Marketplace. The company charges a flat rate of $550 per month for each S3 bucket. It also offers an enterprise version with priority support, custom features and education and on-boarding for $999 per month for each S3 bucket.

The company was founded in 2015 and was a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2017 cohort. The company has received $4.2 million in seed money so far from Y Combinator, Vertex Ventures, Fuel Capital and Streamlined Ventures along with other unnamed investors.


By Ron Miller

Work Life Ventures raises $5M for debut enterprise SaaS seed fund

Brianne Kimmel had no trouble transitioning from angel investor to general partner.

Initially setting out to garner $3 million in capital commitments, Kimmel, in just two weeks’ time, closed on $5 million for her debut venture capital fund Work Life Ventures. The enterprise SaaS-focused vehicle boasts an impressive roster of limited partners, too, including the likes of Zoom chief executive officer Eric Yuan, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Cameo CEO Steven Galanis, Andreessen Horowitz general partners’ Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, Initialized Capital GP Garry Tan and fund-of-funds Slow Ventures, Felicis Ventures and NFX.

At the helm of the new fund, Kimmel joins a small group of solo female general partners. Dream Machine’s Alexia Bonatsos is targeting $25 million for her first fund. Day One Ventures’ Masha Drokova raised an undisclosed amount for her debut effort last year. Sarah Cone launched Social Impact Capital, a fund specializing in impact investing, in 2016, among others.

Meanwhile, venture capital fundraising is poised to reach all-time highs in 2019. In the first half of the year, a total of $20.6 billion in new capital was introduced to the startup market across more than 100 funds.

For most, the process of raising a successful venture fund can be daunting and difficult. For well-connected and established investors in the Bay Area, like Kimmel, raising a fund can be relatively seamless. Given the speed and ease of fund one in Kimmel’s case, she plans to raise her second fund with a $25 million target in as little as 12 months.

“The desire for the fund is to take a step back and imagine how do we build great consumer experiences in the workplace,” Kimmel tells TechCrunch.

Kimmel has been an active angel investor for years, sourcing top enterprise deals via SaaS School, an invite-only workshop she created to educate early-stage SaaS founders on SaaS growth, monetization, sales and customer success. Prior to launching SaaS School, which will continue to run twice a year, Kimmel led go-to-market strategy at Zendesk, where she built the Zendesk for Startups program.

 

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“You start by advising, then you start with very small angel checks,” Kimmel explains. “I reached this inflection point and it felt like a great moment to raise my own fund. I had friends like Ryan Hoover, who started Weekend Fund focused on consumer, and Alexia is one of my friends as well and I saw what she was doing with Dream Machine, which is also consumer. It felt like it was the right time to come out with a SaaS-focused fund.”

Emerging from stealth today, Work Life Ventures will invest up to $150,000 per company. To date, Kimmel has backed three companies with capital from the fund: Tandem, Dover and Command E. The first, Tandem, was amongst the most coveted deals in Y Combinator’s latest batch of companies. The startup graduated from the accelerator with millions from Andreessen Horowitz at a valuation north of $30 million.

Dover, another recent YC alum, provides recruitment software and is said to be backed by Founders Fund in addition to Work Life. Command E, currently in beta, is a tool that facilities search across multiple desktop applications. Kimmel is also an angel investor in Webflow, Girlboss, TechCrunch Disrupt 2018 Startup Battlefield winner Forethought, Voyage and others.

Work Life is betting on the consumerization of the enterprise, or the idea that the next best companies for modern workers will be consumer-friendly tools. In her pitch deck to LPs, she cites the success of Superhuman and Notion, a well-designed email tool and a note-taking app, respectively, as examples of the heightened demand for digestible, easy-to-use B2B products.

“The next generation of applications for the workplace sees people spinning out of Uber, Coinbase and Airbnb,” Kimmel said. “They’ve faced these challenges inside their highly efficient tech company so we are seeing more consumer product builders deeply passionate about the enterprise space.”

But Kimmel doesn’t want to bury her thesis in jargon, she says, so you won’t find any B2B lingo on Work Life’s website or Instagram.

She’s focusing her efforts on a more important issue often vacant from conversations surrounding investment in the future of work: diversity & inclusion.

Kimmel meets with every new female hire of her portfolio companies. Though it’s “increasingly non-scalable,” she admits, it’s part of a greater effort to ensure her companies are thoughtful about D&I from the beginning: “Because I have a very focused fund, it’s about maintaining this community and ensuring that people feel like their voices are heard,” she said.

“I want to be mindful that I am a female GP and I feel honored to have that title.”


By Kate Clark

ReadMe scores $9M Series A to help firms customize API docs

Software APIs help different tools communicate with one another, let developers access essential services without having to code it themselves, and are critical components for driving a platform-driven strategy. Yet they require solid documentation to help make the best use of them. ReadMe, a startup that helps companies customize their API documentation, announced a $9 million Series A today led by Accel with help from Y Combinator. The company was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2015 cohort.

Prior to today’s funding announcement, the company had taken just a $1.2 million Seed round in 2014. Today, it reports 3000 paying customers and that it’s been profitable for the last several years, an unusual position for a startup. In spite of this success, co-founder and CEO Gregory Koberger said as the company has taken on larger customers, they have more sophisticated requirements, and that prompted them to take this round of funding.

In addition, it has expanded the platform to use a company’s API logs to help create more dynamic documentation and improve customer support kinds of scenarios. But by taking on data from other companies, it needs to make sure the data is secure, and today’s funding will help in that regard.

“We’re going to still build the company traditionally by hiring more engineers, more support people, more designers, the obvious stuff, but the main impetus for doing this was that we started working with bigger companies with more secure data. So a lot of the money is going to help make sure that we handle that right,” Koberger explained.

Screenshot 2019 08 28 10.55.38

Image: ReadMe

He says this ability to make use of the API logs has opened up all kinds of possibilities for the company as the data provides a valuable window into how people use the APIs. “It’s amazing how much you get by just actually seeing what the server sees. When people are having problems with an API, they can debug it themselves because they can actually see the problems, The support team can see it as well,” Koberger said.

Accel’s Dan Levine, whose firm is leading the investment believes that having good documentation is the difference between making and breaking an API. “APIs don’t just create technical integration, they create ecosystems around core services and underpin corporate partnerships that generate billions of dollars. ReadMe is as much a strategy as it is a service for businesses. Providing clean, interactive, data-driven API documentation to make developers love working with you can be the difference between 100 partnerships or 1000 partnerships,” Levine said.

ReadMe was founded in 2014. It has 22 employees in their San Francisco offices, a number that should increase with today’s funding.


By Ron Miller

Machine learning for everyone startup Intersect Labs launches platform for data analysis

Machine learning is the holy grail of data analysis, but unfortunately, that holy grail oftentimes requires a PhD in Computer Science just to get started. Despite the incredible attention that machine learning and artificial intelligence get from the press, the reality is that there is a massive gap between the needs of companies to solve business challenges and the availability of talent for building incisive models.

YC-backed Intersect Labs is looking to solve that gap by making machine learning much more widely accessible to the business analyst community. Through its platform, which is being launched fully publicly, business analysts can upload their data, and Intersect will automatically identify the right machine learning models to apply to the dataset and optimize the parameters of those models.

The company was founded by Ankit Gordhandas and Aaron Fried in August of last year. In his previous job, Gordhandas deployed machine learning models to customers and started working on a tool that would speed up his work. “I actually realized I could build a version of the tool that was a little more advanced,” he said, and that work ultimately led to the foundation of Intersect Labs. He linked up with Fried in October, and the two have been working on the platform since.

Intersect’s goal is to move analysts from purely retrospective analysis to creating models that can predictively determine business strategy. “People who live in SQL and Excel, they are really good at pulling the data of the past, but we are giving them the superpower of seeing the future,” Gordhandas explained. “All you need is your historical data, upload to our platform, and answer two questions.”

Ankit Gordhandas and Aaron Fried of Intersect Labs. Courtesy of Intersect Labs.

Those questions essentially ask what the model should predict (the outcome variable). From there, Intersect begins by cleaning up the data and ensuring that the various columns are properly scaled for data analysis. Then, the platform begins constructing a range of machine learning models and evaluating their performance against the target output. Once an ideal model is identified, customers can integrate it into their other systems through a REST-style API.

What’s interesting here is that Intersect can get better and better at identifying models over time based on the increasing diversity of datasets that it gets access to. Plus, as researchers identify new models or ways to tune them, the platform can potentially proactively improve the models it had previously identified for its customers, ensuring that they stay at the cutting edge of the field.

Today, the platform can handle one table of standard rows and columns for processing. Gordhandas said that the company intends to expand in the future to “image processing, audio processing, video processing, unstructured data processing” so that the platform can be applied to as diverse a set of data sources as possible

Gordhandas says that Intersect is attempting to sit in the middle of more specialized machine learning platforms that are limited to hyper-focused niches, while also offering more analytical power than comparably simpler solutions.

Certainly the space has seen a proliferation of options. New York City-based Generable (formerly Stan) uses Bayesian modeling and probabilistic programming to improve drug discovery, while Mintigo uses AI modeling to improve customer engagement. A huge number of other startups target different stages of the data analysis pipeline as well.

In the end, Intersect hopes to make these tools more widely accessible. The company has a couple of early customers already, and is going through the Y Combinator accelerator this batch.


By Danny Crichton

FlareAgent, a platform that automates real estate transactions, launches out of YC

The real estate industry is experiencing a bit of a rejuvenation. After years resisting the influence of tech, the industry is now feeling the entrance of e-buyers, as well as a variety of software to streamline the process. One such tech company looking to infiltrate real estate is FlareAgent, which launches today out of Y Combinator.

FlareAgent was founded by Abhi CKV and Rashid Aziz. The duo, who just graduated out of NYU, first built FlareAgent when Rashid’s dad, a real estate agent, was asked by his boss (Mr. Brown) about finding software that might speed up the process of completing a transaction.

Abhi and Rashid built something that ended up helping grow the real estate firm from 20 deals per month to over 100 deals/month. How?

FlareAgent lets all parties collaborate on a transaction from the comfort of their own home or office. From purchase offers to escrow documents to the closing agreement, FlareAgent allows brokers and clients to view and interact with various documents to speed up the time to close.

This used to be done manually by brokers, who’d have to fax or mail or hand-deliver documents to and from various parties in the transaction. If changes take place to the paperwork, this process may start over from scratch.

With FlareAgent, all the time spent changing and sharing documents manually can be done online.

To be clear, a transaction doesn’t actually go through FlareAgent. In other words, the money changing hands from buyer to seller doesn’t flow through the FlareAgent platform. But all the documents that need to be reviewed, amended, and signed can be handled on FlareAgent.

To make money, the company charges a monthly subscription to brokers using the platform.

Thus far, FlareAgent says it has around 100 active agents on the platform and has processed more than 2,500 transactions (worth $550 million in property value) since its inception.


By Jordan Crook

Unveiling its latest cohort, Alchemist announces $4 million in funding for its enterprise accelerator

The enterprise software and services-focused accelerator Alchemist has raised $4 million in fresh financing from investors BASF and the Qatar Development Bank, just in time for its latest demo day unveiling 20 new companies.

Qatar and BASF join previous investors, including the venture firms Mayfield, Khosla Ventures, Foundation Capital, DFJ and USVP, and corporate investors like Cisco, Siemens and Juniper Networks.

While the roster of successes from Alchemist’s fund isn’t as lengthy as Y Combinator, the accelerator program has launched the likes of the quantum computing upstart Rigetti, the soft-launch developer tool LaunchDarkly and drone startup Matternet .

Some (personal) highlights of the latest cohort include:

  • Bayware: Helmed by a former head of software-defined networking from Cisco, the company is pitching a tool that makes creating networks in multi-cloud environments as easy as copying and pasting.
  • MotorCortex.AI: Co-founded by a Stanford engineering professor and a Carnegie Mellon roboticist, the company is using computer vision, machine learning and robotics to create a fruit packer for packaging lines. Starting with avocados, the company is aiming to tackle the entire packaging side of pick and pack in logistics.
  • Resilio: With claims of a 96% effectiveness rate and $35,000 in annual recurring revenue with another $1 million in the pipeline, Resilio is already seeing companies embrace its mobile app that uses a phone’s camera to track stress levels and application-based prompts on how to lower it, according to Alchemist.
  • Operant Networks: It’s a long-held belief (of mine) that if computing networks are already irrevocably compromised, the best thing that companies and individuals can do is just encrypt the hell out of their data. Apparently Operant agrees with me. The company is claiming 50% time savings with this approach, and have booked $1.9 million in 2019 as proof, according to Alchemist.
  • HPC Hub: HPC Hub wants to democratize access to supercomputers by overlaying a virtualization layer and pre-installed software on underutilized super computers to give more companies and researchers easier access to machines… and they’ve booked $92,000 worth of annual recurring revenue.
  • DinoPlusAI: This chip developer is designing a low latency chip for artificial intelligence applications, reducing latency by 12 times over a competing Nvidia chip, according to the company. DinoPlusAI sees applications for its tech in things like real-time AI markets and autonomous driving. Its team is led by a designer from Cadence and Broadcom and the company already has $8 million in letters of intent signed, according to Alchemist.
  • Aero Systems West: Co-founders from the Air Force’s Research Labs and MIT are aiming to take humans out of drone operations and maintenance. The company contends that for every hour of flight time, drones require seven hours of maintenance and check ups. Aero Systems aims to reduce that by using remote analytics, self-inspection, autonomous deployment and automated maintenance to take humans out of the drone business.

Watch a live stream of Alchemist’s demo day pitches, starting at 3PM, here.

 


By Jonathan Shieber

Proxy raises $13.6M to unlock anything with Bluetooth identity

You know how kings used to have trumpeters heralding their arrival wherever they went? Proxy wants to do that with Bluetooth. The startup lets you instantly unlock office doors and reserve meeting rooms using Bluetooth Low Energy signal. You never even have to pull out your phone or open an app. But Proxy is gearing up to build an entire Bluetooth identity layer for the world that could invisibly hover around its users. That could allow devices around the workplace and beyond to instantly recognize your credentials and preferences to sign you into teleconferences, pay for public transit, or ask the barista for your usual,

Today, Proxy emerges from stealth after piloting its keyless, badgeless office entry tech with 50 companies. It’s raised a $13.6 million Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins to turn your phone into your skeleton key. “The door is a forcing function to solve all the hard problems — everything from safety to reliability to the experience to privacy” says Proxy co-founder and CEO Denis Mars. “If you’re gonna do this, it’s gonna have to work right, and especially if you’re going to do this in the workplace with enterprises where there’s no room to fix it.”

But rather than creepily trying to capitalize on your data, Proxy believes you should own and control it. Each interaction is powered by an encrypted one-time token so you’re not just beaming your unprotected information out into the universe. “I’ve been really worried about how the internet world spills over to the physical world. Cookies are everywhere with no control. What’s the future going to be like? Are we going to be tracked everywhere or is there a better way?” He figured the best path to the destiny he wanted was to build it himself.

Mars and his co-founder Simon Ratner, both Australian, have been best buddies for 10 years. Ratner co-founded a video annotation startup called Omnisio that was acquired by YouTube while Mars co-founded teleconferencing company Bitplay which was bought by Jive Software. Ratner ended up joining Jive where the pair began plotting a new startup. “We asked ourselves what we wanted to do with the next 10 or 20 years of our lives. We both had kids and it changed out perspective. What’s meaningful that’s worth working on for a long time?”

They decided to fix a real problem while also addressing their privacy concerns. As he experimented with Internet Of Things devices, Mars found every fridge and lightbulb wanted you to download an app, set up a profile, enter your password, and then hit a button to make something happen. He became convinced this couldn’t scale and we’d need a hands-free way to tell computers who we are. The idea for Proxy emerged. Mars wanted to know, “Can we create this universal signal that anything can pick up?”

Most offices already have infrastructure for badge-based RFID entry. The problem is that employees often forget their badges, waste time fumbling to scan them, and don’t get additional value from the system elsewhere.

So rather than re-invent the wheel, Proxy integrates with existing access control systems at offices. It just replaces your cards with an app authorized to constantly emit a Bluetooth Low Energy signal with an encrypted identifier of your identity. The signal is picked up by readers that fit onto the existing fixtures. Employees can then just walk up to a door with their phone within about 6 feet of the sensor, and the door pops open. Meanwhile, their bosses can define who can go where using the same software as before, but the user still owns their credentials.

“Data is valuable, but how does the end user benefit? How do we change all that value being stuck with these big tech companies and instead give it to the user?” Mars asks. “We need to make privacy a thing that’s not exploited.”

Mars believes now’s the time for Proxy because phone battery life is finally getting good enough that people aren’t constantly worried about running out of juice. Proxy’s Bluetooth Low Energy signal doesn’t suck up much, and geofencing can wake up the app in case it shuts down while on a long stint away from the office. Proxy has even considered putting inductive charging into its sensors so you could top up until your phone turns back on and you can unlock the door.

Opening office doors isn’t super exciting, though. What comes next is. Proxy is polishing its features that auto-reserve conference rooms when you walk inside, that sign you into your teleconferencing system when you approach the screen, and and that personalize workstations when you arrive. It’s also working on better office guest check-in to eliminate the annoying iPad sign-in process in the lobby. Next, Mars is eyeing “Your car, your home, all your devices. All these things are going to ask ‘can I sense you and do something useful for you?’”

After demoing at Y Combinator, thousands of companies reached out to Proxy from hotel chains to corporate conglomerates to theme parks. Proxy charges for its hardware plus a monthly subscription fee per reader. Employees are eager to ditch their keycards, so Proxy sees 90% adoption across all its deployments. Customers only churn if something breaks and it hasn’t lost a customer in two years, Mars claims.

The status quo of keycards, competitors like OpenPath, and long-standing incumbents all typically only handle doors, while Proxy wants to build an omni-device identity system. Now Proxy has the cash to challenge them, thanks the to the $13.6 million from Kleiner, Y Combinator, Coatue Management, and strategic investor WeWork. In fact, Proxy now counts WeWork’s headquarters and Dropbox as clients. “With Proxywe can give our employees, contractors, and visitors a seamless smartphone-enabled access experience they love, while actually bolstering security,” says Christopher Bauer, Dropbox’s Physical Security Systems Architect.

The cash will help answer the question of “How do we turn this into a protocol so we don’t have to build the other side for everyone?” Mars explains. Proxy will build out SDKs that can be integrated into any device, like a smoke detector that could recognize what people are in the vicinity and report that to first responders. Mars thinks hotel rooms that learn your climate, wake up call, and housekeeping preferences would be a no-brainer. Amazon Go-style autonomous retail could also benefit from the tech.

When asked what keeps him up at night, Mars concludes that “the biggest thing that scares me is that this requires us to be the most trustworthy company in the planet. There is no ‘move fast, break things’ here. It’s ‘move fast, do it right, don’t screw it up.’”


By Josh Constine