Monthly Archives: February 2016

Online Travel Platform KimKim Brings Back the Travel Agent

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 10.11.56 PMSometimes, there can be a little too much disruption. So goes the thesis of Joost Schreve, the former head of mobile for TripAdvisor, who left the company last November and started his own startup, KimKim, in December.

The nascent company — newly seed-funded with $1 million from investors, including NFX Guild — is catering to the presumably many people who no long want to plan their next vacation by scouring the web. Its simple, secret weapon? Good old-fashioned travel agents, who talk online with customers via a conversational interface.

We talked with Schreve earlier this morning to learn more about what he’s developing at his four-person, Palo Alto, Ca.-based company. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length.

You left TripAdvisor — where you worked after selling it your startup in 2011 — expressly to start this new thing. What wasn’t TripAdvisor doing that you think you can?

TripAdvisor and many sites like it have a lot of information, so users have to do a lot of filtering and comparing and it becomes a very painful process, especially for trips that are complex or longer. The average consumer goes to 38 different sites, according to an Expedia study, and they spend more than 10 hours [researching these more involved trips].

The difference between this painful process and a nice process is one person who is unbiased and can help you.

We are talking, of course, of the long-maligned travel agent. But how do you convince people that these online agents are unbiased and not getting kickbacks for their recommendations? Wasn’t that part of the problem to begin with?

More here.




StrictlyVC: February 23, 2016

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

—–

Top News in the A.M.

Wow. Oscar, the nearly three-year-old, New York-based health insurance company, has raised $400 million in funding led by Fidelity Investments at a valuation of $2.7 billion, reports Forbes. As its report notes, that’s roughly $1 billion more than when the startup last raised funding — $32.5 million from Google Capital — in September.

—–

“Tough Sledding” for New Funds in 2016, Says LP

Most institutional investors are notoriously circumspect. Chris Douvos is not like most institutional investors. In fact, Douvos, a managing director with Venture Investment Associates — a fund of funds group that commits capital to venture capital, growth capital, and private equity groups — is very opinionated comparatively.

It’s a refreshing quality, particularly when looking for insights into how the people who fund venture firms are feeling about the industry right now. And according to Douvos, they’re nervous, including because their venture customers are coming back to them a lot sooner for capital than they once did.

He explained during a chat on Friday, which we’ve lightly edited for length.

There’s a lot of nervousness out there suddenly. Are you feeling it at VIA, or does it seem to you like this will pass?

A lot of people are worried right now that we’re in a game of musical chairs, and no one wants to be standing when the music stops. People think that 80 to 90 percent of the billion dollar companies will end up getting liquid for less than a billion dollars, and I think there’s truth to that. We’ve been in a market where capital has been relatively cheap, and we’re looking ahead to a market where capital will get more expensive potentially.

So VCs should be selling before things fall further? We wrote about secondary firms last week, and they say they’re getting a lot of calls.

CD: LPS are definitely yelling at VCs to put some ‘moolah in the coolah.’ They’re hammering their GPs to turn some of that [paper] value into actual cash because of what I call the exit sphincter. When the capital isn’t coming back [to institutional investors], it interrupts the flow of things. We give out money expecting it will come back with profits in a reasonable amount of time. When it doesn’t, we can’t put more money into the asset class because a.) we’re at the top of our allocation [to venture capital and b.) we’re out of money.

We have a down-trending public market at the same time that [our] private investments are really inflated [and not exiting], so LPs are getting doubly crushed.

But you saw some money back. For example, one of your funds is True Ventures, which made an apparent fortune on its early check to Fitbit.

We have seen money from Fitbit and there’s more on the way. We’re in some great funds. But now, all the funds we love are coming back in 2016.

More here.

—–

New Fundings

Betterview, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based company that uses drones to collect data that is then analyzed by remote roofing experts, has raised $1.5 million in seed funding led by Arena Ventures. More here.

Namely, a four-year-old, New York-based HR software platform for mid-market companies, has raised $30 million in Series D funding led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Matrix Partners, True Ventures and Greenspring Associates. Fortune has more here.

MasterClass, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based online education platform that’s luring some of the most talented professionals in their respective fields to teach, has raised $15 million in Series B funding led by New Enterprise AssociatesJavelin Venture Partners also joined the round, which follows a previously undisclosed $4.5 million Series A led by Javelin. Other investors in the company include Bloomberg Beta, Novel TMT Ventures, Advancit Capital, Harrison Metal, WME Ventures, Downey Ventures, and numerous individual investors, Casper CEO Philip Krim, actor Kevin Spacey and singer Usher. We talked with the company’s founders here.

Mintos, a 1.5-year-old, Riga Latvia- based peer-to-peer lending marketplace, has raised €2 million ($2.2 million) in seed funding from Skillion Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.

Raw Pressery, a three-year-old, Mumbai, India-based home delivery service for cold-pressed juices in India, has raised $4.5 million in Series B funding from Sequoia Capital, Saama Capital and DSG Consumer Partners. TechCrunch has more here.

Razer, an 18-year-old, Irvine, Ca.-based Carlsbad, Ca.-based maker of interactive gaming hardware, has raised $75 million in Series C funding at a $1.5 billion valuation, says TechCrunch. The funding comes in part from China, specifically the Digital Grid subsidiary of IT company Hangzhou Liaison Interactive. TechCrunch has more here.

Reflektion, a four-year-old, San Mateo, Ca.-based company that uses machine learning to recommend e-commerce products to shoppers so they’re shown just-right products in real time, has raised $18 million in Series B funding led by Battery Ventures, with participation from Hasso Plattner Ventures and earlier backer Intel Capital. More here.

TaskBob, a year-old, Mumbai, India-based home services startup that pairs customers with servicemen, has raised $4.5 million in Series A funding led by IvyCap Ventures,  with participation from earlier backers Orios Venture Partners and Mayfield. TechCrunch has more here.

Team8, a two-year-old, Tel Aviv, Israel-based cybersecurity startup, has raised $23 million in Series B funding, including from AT&T, Accenture, Nokia,Mitsui & Co. and Temasek. The companies earlier backers include Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Bessemer Venture Partners, Marker and Innovation Endeavors. TechCrunch has more here.

—–

New Funds

500 Startups has just launched two micro funds: A $25 million fintech fund, to be run by Sheel Mohnot and 500 Startups cofounder Dave McClure, and a $25 million India fund, to be run by Pankaj Jain and McClure. More here and here.

Battery Ventures, a 33-year-old investment firm with offices in San Francisco, Menlo Park, Boston, and Herzliya, Israel, has raised $950 million across two new funds: a main fund, Battery Ventures XI, which is a $650 million pool, and a side fund that will support the company’s larger investments, which closed with $300 million. The firm previously similarly closed a $650 main fund and a $250 million side fund in 2013. More here.

—–

Exits

Ativision Blizzard today announced that it has closed its acquisition of King Digital for $5.9 billion, a deal that it says makes it the largest game network in the world with more than 500 million users. TechCrunch has more here.

Publicly traded ResMed is paying $800 million in cash for Brightree, a 14-year-old, Lawrenceville, Ga-based maker of business management and clinical software that Battery Ventures began backing in 2008. (Battery was its majority owner as of yesterday.) The Atlanta Business Chronicle has more here.

Synacor, a company that provides monetization services for ISPs, carriers and others that offer content services, has acquired Technorati, once a leading authority for ranking important blogs and other sites online, for $3 million in cash. TechCrunch has more here.

—–

People

Bill Gates is siding with the FBI and says Apple should unlock the phone of the San Bernardino shooter. He has plenty of company, seemingly. Pew Research Center has just released a study on the dispute between the FBI and Apple. Fifty-one percent of Americans think Apple should assist the FBI and unlock the iPhone 5c, while 38 percent of Americans side with Apple. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is meanwhile siding with Apple on this one.

Kabam, a nine-year-old, San Francisco-based games developer, is letting go of nearly 8 percent of its employees in order to cut its burn rate. VentureBeat has more here.

—–

Jobs

Hearst Health Ventures, a member of the Hearst Organization, is looking for a venture capital associate. The job is in South San Francisco.

—–

Essential Reads

Venture capital firm Fenox Venture Capital in San Jose, Ca., has agreed to pay $331,269 in back wages after the U.S. Department of Labor found the company misclassified 56(!) workers as unpaid interns. The WSJ has more here.

Time Inc., is reportedly interesting in joining the fray of Yahoo suitors. Bloomberg has more here.

—–

Detours

A man formerly named Simon Smith has legally changed his name Bacon Double Cheeseburger.

In an interesting twist for an HR software company, Zenefits’s HR reportedly had to tell employees to stop using the stairwells for anything other than climbing and descending stairs.

—–

Retail Therapy

Batman outlet stickers. (Cute.)




“Tough Sledding” for New Funds in 2016, Says LP

tough sleddingMost institutional investors are notoriously circumspect. Chris Douvos is not like most institutional investors. In fact, Douvos, a managing director with Venture Investment Associates — a fund of funds group that commits capital to venture capital, growth capital, and private equity groups — is very opinionated comparatively.

It’s a refreshing quality, particularly when looking for insights into how the people who fund venture firms are feeling about the industry right now. And according to Douvos, they’re nervous, including because their venture customers are coming back to them a lot sooner for capital than they once did.

He explained during a chat on Friday, which we’ve lightly edited for length.

There’s a lot of nervousness out there suddenly. Are you feeling it at VIA, or does it seem to you like this will pass?

A lot of people are worried right now that we’re in a game of musical chairs, and no one wants to be standing when the music stops. People think that 80 to 90 percent of the billion dollar companies will end up getting liquid for less than a billion dollars, and I think there’s truth to that. We’ve been in a market where capital has been relatively cheap, and we’re looking ahead to a market where capital will get more expensive potentially.

So VCs should be selling before things fall further? We wrote about secondary firms last week, and they say they’re getting a lot of calls.

CD: LPS are definitely yelling at VCs to put some ‘moolah in the coolah.’ They’re hammering their GPs to turn some of that [paper] value into actual cash because of what I call the exit sphincter. When the capital isn’t coming back [to institutional investors], it interrupts the flow of things. We give out money expecting it will come back with profits in a reasonable amount of time. When it doesn’t, we can’t put more money into the asset class because a.) we’re at the top of our allocation [to venture capital and b.) we’re out of money.

We have a down-trending public market at the same time that [our] private investments are really inflated [and not exiting], so LPs are getting doubly crushed.

But you saw some money back. For example, one of your funds is True Ventures, which made an apparent fortune on its early check to Fitbit.

We have seen money from Fitbit and there’s more on the way. We’re in some great funds. But now, all the funds we love are coming back in 2016.

More here.




StrictlyVC: February 22, 2016

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope you had a stellar weekend. We’re excited to see a bunch of you four days from now.:)

—–

Top News in the A.M.

Early this morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an email out to employees about the FBI’s request to unlock an iPhone with the subject line “Thank you for your support.” More here.

In related news, the director of the FBI has claimed that the organization is not trying to break Apple’s encryption or set up backdoor access to Apple’s devices and services.

In unrelated news, Cook has again refused to confirm that Apple is working on a car.

—–

Social Capital’s Newest Partners on How the Firm Works

Ashley Carroll and Arjun Sethi never thought they’d be working as venture capitalists. Yet in the last year, both have landed at Social Capital, a 4.5-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based firm that incubates and invests in companies in healthcare, education, financial services, mobile and enterprise software.

Social Capital was also, somewhat famously, created by Chamath Palihapitiya, a straight-shooting former Facebook and AOL executive who brought in as cofounders Mamoon Hamid and Ted Maidenberg, former colleagues at USVP. Hamid started his investing career at USVP; Maidenberg’s first gig as a VC was at Time Warner Ventures in 1999.

Carroll joined the firm last spring after previously working as a product lead at Docusign, Optimizely, and SurveyMonkey. Sethi was the cofounder and CEO of the mobile messaging app MessageMe, which was acquired by Yahoo for reportedly “double digit millions” in 2014; he remained at Yahoo as a senior director or product management until last month.

Neither was new to Social Capital when they joined, having served separate stints as EIRs. In fact, during a recent sit-down, the two – who bring Social Capital’s investment team to five people — told of a very fluid firm where entrepreneurs and investors drop in, hang out, then move on to other projects, often to return again. “It’s really a community of entrepreneurs-in-residence, executives-in-residence, engineers-in-residence, all loosely coupled but tightly aligned,” said Carroll.

Here are some other ways the firm is a little different from traditional venture firms:

More here.

—–

New Fundings

Chainalysis, a 1.5-year-old, New York-based regulatory platform designed to help companies transact on a blockchain, has raised $1.6 million in seed funding led by Point Nine Capital, with participation from Techstars, Digital Currency Group, Funders Club and Converge VP. FinSMEs has more here.

Impact Therapeutics, a seven-year-old, Nanjing, China-based developer of cancer drugs and treatments for other life-threatening diseases, has raised $10 million in Series B funding China Summit Capital, Guangzhou YUEXIU Industrial Investment Fund, Sungent Bioventure, HAIBANG Ventures and earlier backer Lilly Asia Ventures. More here.

JetSmarter, a 3.5-year-old, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.- based “Uber of private aircraft,” has raised $26.1 million in funding from members of the Saudi Royal family. Bloomberg has more here.

Magicpin, a year-old, Gurgaon, India-based hyperlocal discovery app, has raised $3 million in Series A funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners. TechStory.in has more here.

NuoDB, a five-year-old, Cambridge, Ma.-based cloud database software technology company, has raised $17 million in new funding from earlier backersHummer Winblad Venture Partners, Longworth Venture Partners andMorgenthaler Ventures. More here.

Qubit, a five-year-old, London-based big-data analytics platform formed by four former Googlers, has raised $40 million in Series C funding led byGoldman Sachs, with participation from Sapphire Ventures and earlier investors Salesforce Ventures and Accel Partners. TechCrunch has more here.

Trusona, a year-old, Scottsdale, Az.-based iOS mobile identity authentication technology company, has raised $8 million in Series A funding led by Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers. Fortune has more here.

—–

New Funds

Lifeline Ventures, a seven-year-old, Helsinki-based early-stage venture firm, has closed on a new, €57 million ($63 million) fund to invest in startups. TechCrunch has more here.

At the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona yesterday, Nokia Growth Partners announced a new, $350 million fund focused specifically on the Internet of Things. TechCrunch has more here.

There’s a new, global, evergreen bioscience fund now up and running. London-based Perceptive Bioscience Investments — funded by Woodford Investment Management and other institutional investors — says it will back seed-stage companies, all the way to “mispriced” public companies. (H/T MedCity News.) More here.

—–

IPOs

Syndax Pharmaceuticals, a 10-year-old, Waltham, Ma.-based company that’s developing a therapy that enhances immuno-oncology drugs, has announced terms for its IPO this morning. It’s the company’s second attempt to go public. Renaissance Capital has more here.

—–

People

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stole Samsung’s Galaxy S7 show this past weekend. Here’s how.

—–

Essential Reads

Fenwick & West just released its fourth quarter venture survey, covering 152 financings.

Uh oh. Sovereign wealth funds may withdraw $404.3 billion from global stock markets this year if crude prices stay between $30 to $40 per barrel, says the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

—–

Detours

The exercise that’s best for the brain.

The toast maker. “I’ve always loved making things with my hands — something that’s tactile.”

Top 10 trends from New York Fashion Week (including “logomania!”).

—–

Retail Therapy

Jaguar E-Types.

Live like the Big Lebowski.




Social Capital’s Newest Partners on How the Firm Works

social-capitalAshley Carroll and Arjun Sethi never thought they’d be working as venture capitalists. Yet in the last year, both have landed at Social Capital, a 4.5-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based firm that incubates and invests in companies in healthcare, education, financial services, mobile and enterprise software.

Social Capital was also, somewhat famously, created by Chamath Palihapitiya, a straight-shooting former Facebook and AOL executive who brought in as cofounders Mamoon Hamid and Ted Maidenberg, former colleagues at USVP. Hamid started his investing career at USVP; Maidenberg’s first gig as a VC was at Time Warner Ventures in 1999.

Carroll joined the firm last spring after previously working as a product lead at Docusign, Optimizely, and SurveyMonkey. Sethi was the cofounder and CEO of the mobile messaging app MessageMe, which was acquired by Yahoo for reportedly “double digit millions” in 2014; he remained at Yahoo as a senior director or product management until last month.

Neither was new to Social Capital when they joined, having served separate stints as EIRs. In fact, during a recent sit-down, the two – who bring Social Capital’s investment team to five people — told of a very fluid firm where entrepreneurs and investors drop in, hang out, then move on to other projects, often to return again. “It’s really a community of entrepreneurs-in-residence, executives-in-residence, engineers-in-residence, all loosely coupled but tightly aligned,” said Carroll.

Here are some other ways the firm is a little different from traditional venture firms:

More here.




StrictlyVC: February 19, 2016

Hi, everyone, it’s is Friday, whoop!

A few notes: First, congratulations to readers Sam, Kevin, and Daniela, who were among many of you to note some funny symbols of startup entitlement (including gluten-free and organic everything). They’ve received complimentary tickets to next week’s event, courtesy of Ludlow Ventures. In fact, thanks to everyone who wrote in yesterday. We tried writing back to most of you, but we were trying to steer 20 six-year-olds through Chinatown in San Francisco at the time, so apologies if we missed anyone. (In related news, six-year-olds can be terrible people.)

See you Monday.:)

—-

Top News in the A.M.

Facebook and Twitter have joined team Apple in its public fight with the Obama administration over an iPhone used in the San Bernardino, Ca., shooting late last year.

Yahoo just hired investment banks Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and PJT Partners to help it explore its options.

—–

New Fundings

Anyline, a three-year-old, Vienna, Austria-based startup that helps developers add text recognition to apps, has raised €1.5 million ($1.7 million) in seed funding led by Gernot Langes-Swarovski Group, with participation from iSeed Ventures and individual angels. TechCrunch has more here.

Aria Systems, a 13-year-old San Francisco-based cloud platform for billing and managing recurring revenues, has raised $50 million in new funding from Rembrandt Venture Partners, Madison Bay Capital Partners and Hercules Technology Growth Capital, along with earlier backers Bain Capital Ventures, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, InterWest Partners, Venrock and VMware. Silicon Valley Business Journal has more here.

Athentek, a year-old, Taipei, Taiwan-based startup that focuses on the security applications of smart location technologies, has raised $7 million in Series A funding led by Foxconn, with participation from Testrite Group, CSVi Capital, and MediaTek, among other unnamed investors. More here.

Centric Digital, a nearly seven-year-old, New York-based company that helps traditional businesses transform digitally by consulting with them about trends, benchmarking their capabilities, and creating strategies and roadmaps, has raised an undisclosed amount of equity funding from Bookend Capital.More here.

Effector Therapeutics, a 3.5-year-old, San Diego, Ca.-based biopharmaceutical company developing translation regulators for the treatment of cancer, has raised $16 million in additional Series B funding from Sectoral Asset Management. The company had closed on $40 million in Series B funding in December. More here.

ModoPayments, a five-year-old, Richardson, Tex.-based mobile payments company, has raised $2 million in funding from a group of individual angel investors. TechCrunch has more here.

Nomva, a year-old, Santa Monica, Ca.-based company that makes organic vegetable and fruit juice packs for grown-ups, has raised $3 million in Series A funding co-led by Evolution Media Partners and Taylor Farms. More here.

Opternative, a three-year-old, Chicago-based company that provides online eye exams, has raised $6 million in Series A funding led by Jump Capital, with participation from Tribeca Venture Partners, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, Chicago Ventures, Craig Duchossois, Corazon Capital and NextGen Venture Partners. Venture Capital Dispatch has more here.

Riskified, a nearly four-year-old, Tel Aviv, Israel-based startup that makes e-commerce fraud prevention software, has raised $25 million in funding led by Qumra Capital, with participation from The Phoenix Insurance Co., NTT DOCOMO Ventures and earlier investors Genesis Partners and Entree Capital. FinSMEs has more here.

Triip, a three-year-old, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam-based travel platform startup, has raised $500,000 in seed funding in a round led by Gobi Partners. The outlet e27 has more here.

—–

Essential Reads

The Chinese ministry has issued new rules that ban any foreign-invested company from publishing anything online in China, effective next month.

Airbnb is facing a major threat in Japan, its fastest-growing market.

The secret lives of Tumblr teens.

—–

Detours

Co-working spaces are going corporate.

Steve Martin performed stand-up last night for the first time in 35 years.

R.I.P., Harper Lee.

—–

Retail Therapy

NotWallpaper. (Neat!)




StrictlyVC: February 18, 2016

Hi, everyone, hope your Thursday is off to a great start.

Our upcoming event is now sold out, but we have some good news for those of you who’d still like to make it: One of our sponsors, Ludlow Ventures, is offering to give away three tickets. To make things interesting, we’re going to give the seats to the three readers who come up with the funniest symbol of startup entitlement. (Examples that you can’t use: Kind bars or exposed brick walls. VC Chamath Palihapitiya called those at our September event.)

We have somewhere to be suddenly, so it looks like we’re running an economy version of the newsletter today. We’ll have more funding news for you tomorrow.:)

—–

Top News in the A.M.

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s letter on Monday about iPhone security drew somesupportive tweets from Google CEO Sundar Pichai yesterday. Overall, however, the tech industry’s response has been muted, notes the New York Times.

—–

Jana Raises $57M to Bring Unrestricted Internet Access to the World

Nathan Eagle was a Fulbright scholar from MIT, teaching at the University of Nairobi, when he had his “aha moment.”

Specifically, Eagle was teaching a mobile phone programming curriculum at the school when he and his students built an SMS system that enabled rural nurses to text information about low blood supply levels to centralized blood banks. (Earlier, the nurses depended on someone who drove from hospital to hospital, reporting back who needed what.)

The system earned Eagle praise and a photo in the local papers. Unfortunately, the nurses almost immediately stopped using the system. The reason: the onerous costs of text messaging. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was basically asking them to take a pay cut,” says Eagle.

Indeed, in many countries, including India, Brazil, and Indonesia, one of the main barriers to connectivity is the crippling cost of data. Facebook reminded the world of this problem when its India-focused Free Basics program — designed to offer free Internet access to certain sites only — was recently banned by India’s telecom regulator, which ruled that the practice of charging different prices to different customers is not acceptable.

Now, Facebook’s fumble looks well-timed for Eagle’s company, Jana, which has been quietly providing free, unrestricted Internet access in emerging markets.

How it works: through an Android app by Jana called mCent, users must first agree to immersive advertising experiences, like spending five to 10 minutes using Amazon’s app in exchange for 20 to 50 megabytes of data.

Another advertising client of Jana’s, the popular, India-based music streaming service Saavn, gives customers 10 free songs that they can listen to any time they want. The idea is to give those users a sense that their phone is much more than a two-way communication device; it’s a music player, too.

More here.

—–

New Fundings

Triptease, a three-year-old, London-based startup that provides a SaaS to enable hotels to increase direct sales, has closed $7 million in Series A funding from investors, including earlier backers Notion Capital and Episode 1. TechCrunch has more here.

Vera, a two-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based cloud service that wants to protect data regardless of where it’s stored or used, announced a $17 million Series B today led by Sutter Hill Ventures, with participation from earlier Battery Ventures, Clear Venture Partners and Amplify Partners. The company has now raised $31 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here.

——

New Funds

Aaand now Campbell Soup is getting into the venture biz, launching a $125 million fund to invest in food startups.

—–

Exits

Google today announced that it is building its first engineering team devoted to Southeast Asia and toward that end has acquired Pie, a Slack-like team communications service based in Singapore. Pie, which raised $1.2 million in funding last year led by Gree Ventures, is the first acquisition Google has made in Southeast Asia. TechCrunch has more here.

IBM announced its intent to buy Truven Health Analytics today for a whopping $2.6 billion. Truven is a four-year-old, Ann Arbor, Mi.-based provider of data to hospitals, doctors and companies, that had reportedly begun preparing for an IPO last year. Truven had raisd an undisclosed amount of funding from InvestMichigan and others. TechCrunch has much more here.

—–

People

Jonathon Triest and Brett deMarrais of Detroit-based Ludlow Ventures (one of our sponsors) drive to work together every day, sometimes recording their in-car conversations with other entrepreneurs and VCs for a low-rent but often funny show they call Carpool VC. In the latest edition, they coax CEO Jeff Epstein of GetAmbassador.com into the car. (The company received Ludlow’s very first check.) You can check it out here.

—–

Jobs

General Mills wants to hire a venture capital analyst. The job is in St. Louis Park, Mn.

Intel is looking for a strategic business development manager. The job is in Santa Clara, Ca.

—–

Data

In the fourth quarter of last year, global smartphones sales  experienced their slowest growth rate since 2008, according to Gartner’s latest market report. The quarter saw sales of Apple’s iPhone decline for the first time, falling 4.4 percent from the fourth quarter of 2014. More here.

—–

Essential Reads

Secondary shops are being flooded with unicorn sellers. More here.

How startups learned to love debt.

The most important Apple executive you’ve never heard of.

—–

Detours

Nine incredible selfies from before they went mainstream.

—–

Retail Therapy

Droid socks.




Jana Raises $57M to Bring Unrestricted Access to the World

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.14.22 PMNathan Eagle was a Fulbright scholar from MIT, teaching at the University of Nairobi, when he had his “aha moment.”

Specifically, Eagle was teaching a mobile phone programming curriculum at the school when he and his students built an SMS system that enabled rural nurses to text information about low blood supply levels to centralized blood banks. (Earlier, the nurses depended on someone who drove from hospital to hospital, reporting back who needed what.)

The system earned Eagle praise and a photo in the local papers. Unfortunately, the nurses almost immediately stopped using the system. The reason: the onerous costs of text messaging. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was basically asking them to take a pay cut,” says Eagle.

Indeed, in many countries, including India, Brazil, and Indonesia, one of the main barriers to connectivity is the crippling cost of data. Facebook reminded the world of this problem when its India-focused Free Basics program — designed to offer free Internet access to certain sites only — was recently banned by India’s telecom regulator, which ruled that the practice of charging different prices to different customers is not acceptable.

Now, Facebook’s fumble looks well-timed for Eagle’s company, Jana, which has been quietly providing free, unrestricted Internet access in emerging markets.

How it works: through an Android app by Jana called mCent, users must first agree to immersive advertising experiences, like spending five to 10 minutes using Amazon’s app in exchange for 20 to 50 megabytes of data.

Another advertising client of Jana’s, the popular, India-based music streaming service Saavn, gives customers 10 free songs that they can listen to any time they want. The idea is to give those users a sense that their phone is much more than a two-way communication device; it’s a music player, too.

More here.




StrictlyVC: February 17, 2016

Happy Wednesday, everyone! (It’s Wednesday, right?)

A quick note that our event early next Thursday night is now pretty much sold out. We could probably squeeze in another 10 of you, but that’s it. (The Autodesk Gallery doesn’t fool around with headcount, owing to insurance concerns.) Tickets are here.

We’re getting very excited to see a lot of our readers, both those of you we know and those who we’ll be meeting for the first time. Thanks again to our very generous sponsors Autodesk, AiBrain, Bolt, and Ludlow Ventures for making the evening possible!

—–

Top News in the A.M.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has confirmed that the company will appeal a California judge’s order to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino shooting.

Google is getting into the business of delivering fresh groceries.

—–

RobinHealth Enters the Online Pharmacy Race

You’ve probably noticed; on-demand pharmacy services are springing up like daisies. New York-based Zipdrug, for example, is an online app that processes customers’ payments and dispatches messengers to pick up their medicine for a $10 delivery service fee. The company has so far raised more than $2.6 millionin seed funding from Notation Capital, Lux Capital, and Collaborative Fund, among others.

A better-funded upstart is PillPack, a full-service pharmacy that delivers pre-sorted pills packaged individually on a tape-dispenser-like roll to customers every two weeks. It has mostly operated as online platform, but after raising$50 million last year led by CRV, it’s opening small brick and mortar locations, too, where patients can consult with licensed pharmacists — and more people can learn of the company.

Online pharmacy ScriptDash formed around the same opportunity last spring.

None are stopping yet another new entrant from gearing up to compete with them. Instead, RobinHealth — a 10-month-old, San Francisco-based startup — has already raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding and is preparing to pitch investors at the March 1, invite-only demo day of NFX Guild, a Bay Area accelerator program that graduated its first batch of startups last summer. (We’ve written about NFX here.)

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, RobinHealth says that it’s different.

More here.

—–

New Fundings

AQ Metrics, a 3.5-year-old, Dublin, Ireland-based company that makes legal governance, risk and compliance software for global financial services firms, has raised $3.25 million in funding led by Frontline Ventures, with participation from Bluff Point Associates and Enterprise Ireland. More here.

Bux, a 1.5-year-old, Amsterdam-based company behind a casual stock and derivatives trading app, has raised $6.9 million in new funding led by Holtzbrinck Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.

Cala Health, a two-year-old, Burlingame, Ca.-based Stanford spin-out whose wearable device treats hand and wrist tremors, has raised $18 million in funding according to an SEC filing turned up by MedCity News. According to CrunchBase, the company’s investors include Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., Lux Capital, and Lightstone Ventures. More here.

Grana, a 1.5-year-old, Hong Kong-based online clothing retailer, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding led by Golden Gate Ventures, with participation from MindWorks Ventures and Bluebell Group. The company has now raised $6 million altogether. FinSMEs has more here.

Hometeam, a three-year-old, New York-based company that provides families with caregiver matching, custom iPads, and a team trained to promote healthy and active days, has raised $5 million in funding from Kaiser Permanente. Fortune has more here.

Makeable, a 3.5-year-old New York-based online marketplace for manufacturing, has raised $1.35 million in bridge funding from earlier backers ff Venture Capital and KEC Ventures. The company has also been renamed Gooten and named its CFO, Brian Rainey, as CEO. More here.

MindMaze, a 3.5-year-old, Lausanne, Switzerland-based company whose virtual reality products, including both wearables and training software, aim to reboot damaged parts of the brain, has raised $100 million in new funding at a premoney valuation of $1 billion led by India’s Hinduja Group. TechCrunch hasmore here.

PokitDok, a 4.5-year-old, San Mateo, Ca.-based company whose cloud-based API platform is designed to make healthcare transactions more efficient and streamlined, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from McKesson Ventures. Silicon Valley Business Journal has more here.

Qualia, a five-year-old, New York-based SaaS marketing platform focused on mining “intent” data, has raised $5.5 million in Series B funding co-led by S3 Ventures and earlier investor Verizon Ventures. AdExchanger has more here.

Rainforest QA, a San Francisco-based startup that sells quality assurance testing as a subscription, has raised $12 million in Series A funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners, with participation from Rincon Venture Partners, Industry Ventures and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. More here.

Sprout Social, a five-year-old, Chicago-based company that makes social media management software, has raised $42 million in Series C funding from Goldman Sachs‘s Merchant Banking Division and earlier investor New Enterprise Associates. TechCrunch has more here.

Synlogic, a 2.5-year-old, Cambridge, Ma.-based biotechnology company focused on the development of therapeutic microbes, has raised $40 million in Series B funding led by OrbiMed, with participation from Deerfield Management and earlier investors Atlas Venture and New Enterprise Associates.

Wavecell, a five-year-old, Singaporean startup that creates APIs for communication tools, has raised $1.6 million in Series A funding led by Qualgro Asean Fund, with participation from Wavemaker Pacific. TechCrunch has more here.

Yello Mobile, 3.5-year-old, Seoul-based company that claims to be Korea’s fastest growing mobile Internet company, has raised $30 million in new funding at a $4 billion valuation from SBI Holdings, Japan’s largest Internet financial group. TechCrunch has more here.

YouAppi, a five-year-old Israel-based startup that helps companies acquire users through mobile ads and analytics, has raised $13.1 million in Series B funding from Hawk Ventures, Global Brain, Click Ventures, Digital FutureEmery Capital, Altair Capital, and earlier backers Glilot Capital Partners,2B Angels and Flint Capital. TechCrunch has more here.

ZeaKal, a five-year-old, San Diego-based plant science company, has raised $5.3 million in Series B funding led by Finistere Ventures, with participation from Middleland Capital. The company has now raised $9.1 million altogether.More here.

—–

New Funds

NewSchools Venture Fund, the 18-year-old, Oakland, Ca.-based philanthropic venture fund, launched a “virtual” accelerator program last summer called NewSchools Ignite. Its first batch of 15 startups was focused on science education. As of yesterday, it is now accepting applications for its second batch of startups, all of which should be focused on creating learning experiences, assessments and digital tools that further students understanding of middle and high school math. Grants range from $50,000 to $150,000. Applicants can apply here.

Burt’s Bees is getting into the accelerator business, too — sort of. Its Natural Launchpad is a new grant program for health and well-being entrepreneurs that will award 10 founders with a $10,000 grant, a day of coaching at Burt’s Bees headquarters in Durham, N.C., and access to a community of peers. Apply by April 30th if you want to be considered.

—–

Exits

Amazon is acquiring the three-year-old, New Delhi, India-based payments company Emvantage for undisclosed terms. Emvantage enables online merchants to accept mobile, credit and debit card payments. It also offers services that allow merchants to establish their own branded pre-paid debit cards, which is very helpful in India, where few have an affiliation to a traditional bank. ZDNet has more here.

Bloglovin’, an eight-year-old, New York City-based service that helps users organize and discover their favorite blogs on mobile and desktop, has acquired the three-year-old marketing startup and monetization platform Swerve in a mostly stock deal. (No numbers are being disclosed.) TechCrunch has more here.

SAP has acquired the assets of Roambi, an eight-year-old Solana Beach, Ca.-based company that makes mobile reporting and analytics software. No financial terms were disclosed. According to CrunchBase, Roambi had raised $48.4 million from investors, including Sequoia Capital. More here.

—–

People

Whups. Kanye West‘s new “Life of Pablo” album has already been pirated more than 500,000 times, positioning it to be one of the most ripped-off albums of all time.

—–

Jobs

The J. Paul Getty Trust is looking to hire an investment analyst to help it manage its private equity and venture capital portfolio. The job is in L.A.

—–

Essential Reads

The death march of Yahoo‘s core products (goes on).

—-

Detours

America,” inspired by Jeb Bush. (This is also pretty funny.)

—–

Retail Therapy

Barbie’s dream house has become a smart-home. (She has also traded her Corvette for a hoverboard.)




RobinHealth Enters the Online Pharmacy Race

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 7.08.41 AMYou’ve probably noticed; on-demand pharmacy services are springing up like daisies. New York-based Zipdrug, for example, is an online app that processes customers’ payments and dispatches messengers to pick up their medicine for a $10 delivery service fee. The company has so far raised more than $2.6 millionin seed funding from Notation Capital, Lux Capital, and Collaborative Fund, among others.

A better-funded upstart is PillPack, a full-service pharmacy that delivers pre-sorted pills packaged individually on a tape-dispenser-like roll to customers every two weeks. It has mostly operated as online platform, but after raising$50 million last year led by CRV, it’s opening small brick and mortar locations, too, where patients can consult with licensed pharmacists — and more people can learn of the company.

Online pharmacy ScriptDash formed around the same opportunity last spring.

None are stopping yet another new entrant from gearing up to compete with them. Instead, RobinHealth — a 10-month-old, San Francisco-based startup — has already raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding and is preparing to pitch investors at the March 1, invite-only demo day of NFX Guild, a Bay Area accelerator program that graduated its first batch of startups last summer. (We’ve written about NFX here.)

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, RobinHealth says that it’s different.

More here.