DoorDash raises another $250M, nearly triples valuation to $4B

Food delivery startup DoorDash announced this afternoon that it has raised $250 million, just five months since the company announced a $535 million round. Why raise more money so soon? CEO Tony Xu told Axios that he wasn’t actively looking for additional investment, but was open to investor interest because it could help the company expand […]

Food delivery startup DoorDash announced this afternoon that it has raised $250 million, just five months since the company announced a $535 million round.

Why raise more money so soon? CEO Tony Xu told Axios that he wasn’t actively looking for additional investment, but was open to investor interest because it could help the company expand more quickly. (Maybe he’ll have more to say about those plans at Disrupt SF next month.)

The new funding was led by Coatue Management and DST Global. It sounds like the terms were pretty appealing too, with the valuation growing from $1.4 billion to $4 billion.

In a blog post, the company said it’s had a good 2018, with deliveries increasing 250 percent year-over-year, restaurant chains like Chipotle and IHOP signing up and last week’s launch of the DashPass subscription service, where you can pay $9.99 per month to get unlimited free deliveries.

“As we grow, we will stay true to our values and our mission of connecting people with possibility  —  and, trust us, we’re just getting started,” DoorDash wrote.

To fight the scourge of open offices, ROOM sells rooms

Noisy open offices don’t foster collaboration, they kill it, according to a Harvard study that found the less-private floor plan led to a 73 percent drop in face-to-face interaction between employees and a rise in emailing. The problem is plenty of young companies and big corporations have already bought into the open office fad. But […]

Noisy open offices don’t foster collaboration, they kill it, according to a Harvard study that found the less-private floor plan led to a 73 percent drop in face-to-face interaction between employees and a rise in emailing. The problem is plenty of young companies and big corporations have already bought into the open office fad. But a new startup called ROOM is building a prefabricated, self-assembled solution. It’s the Ikea of office phone booths.

The $3495 ROOM One is a sound-proofed, ventilated, powered booth that can be built in new or existing offices to give employees a place to take a video call or get some uninterrupted flow time to focus on work. For comparison, ROOM co-founder Morten Meisner-Jensen says “Most phone booths are $8,000 to $12,000. The cheapest competitor to us is $6,000 — almost twice as much.” Though booths start at $4,500 from TalkBox and $3,995 from Zenbooth, they tack on $1,250 and $1,650 for shipping while ROOM ships for free. They’re all dividing the market of dividing offices.

The idea might seem simple, but the booths could save businesses a ton of money on lost productivity, recruitment, and retention if it keeps employees from going crazy amidst sales call cacophony. Less than a year after launch, ROOM has hit a $10 million revenue run rate thanks to 200 clients ranging from startups to Salesforce, Nike, NASA, and JP Morgan. That’s attracted a $2 million seed round from Slow Ventures that adds to angel funding from Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen. “I am really excited about it since it is probably the largest revenue generating company Slow has seen at the time of our initial Seed stage investment” says partner Kevin Colleran.

“It’s not called ROOM because we build rooms” Meisner-Jensen tells me. “It’s called ROOM because we want to make room for people, make room for privacy, and make room for a better work environment.”

Phone Booths, Not Sweatboxes

You might be asking yourself, enterprising reader, why you couldn’t just go to Home Depot, buy some supplies, and build your own in-office phone booth for way less than $3,500. Well, ROOM’s co-founders tried that. The result was…moist.

Meisner-Jensen has design experience from the Danish digital agency Revolt that he started befor co-founding digital book service Mofibo and selling it to Storytel. “In my old job we had to go outside and take the class, and I’m from Copenhagen so that’s a pretty cold experience half the year.” His co-founder Brian Chen started Y Combinator-backed smart suitcase company Bluesmart where he was VP of operations. They figured they could attack the office layout issue with hammers and saws. I mean, they do look like superhero alter-egos.

Room co-founders (from left): Brian Chen and Morten Meisner-Jensen

“To combat the issues I myself would personally encounter with open offices, as well as colleagues, we tried to build a private ‘phone booth’ ourselves” says Meisner-Jensen. “We didn’t quite understand the specifics of air ventilation or acoustics at the time, so the booth got quite warm – warm enough that we coined it ‘the sweatbox.'”

With ROOM, they got serious about the product. The 10 square foot ROOM One booth ships flat and can be assembled in under 30 minutes by two people with a hex wrench. All it needs is an outlet to plug into to power its light and ventilation fan. Each is built from 1088 recycled plastic bottles for noise cancelling so you’re not supposed to hear anything from outsides. The whole box is 100 percent recyclable plus ith can be torn down and rebuilt if your startup implodes and you’re being evicted from your office.

The ROOM One features a bar-height desk with outlets and a magnetic bulletin board behind it, though you’ll have to provide your own stool of choice. It actually designed not to be so comfy that you end up napping inside, which doesn’t seem like it’d be a problem with this somewhat cramped spot. “To solve the problem with noise at scale you want to provide people with space to take a call but not camp out all day” Meisner-Jensen notes.

Booths by Zenbooth, Cubicall, and TalkBox (from left)

A Place To Get Into Flow

Couldn’t office managers just buy noise-cancelling headphones for everyone? “It feels claustrophobic to me” he laughs, but then outlines why a new workplace trend requires more than headphones. “People are doing video calls and virtual meetings much, much more. You can’t have all these people walking by you and looking at your screen. [A booth is] also giving you your own space to do your own work which I don’t think you’d get from a pair of Bose. I think it has to be a physical space.”

But with plenty of companies able to construct physical spaces, it will be a challenge for ROOM to convey to subtleties of its build quality that warrant its price. “The biggest risk for ROOM right now are copycats” Meisner-Jensen admits. “Someone entering our space claiming to do what we’re doing better but cheaper.” Alternatively, ROOM could lock in customers by offering a range of office furniture products. The co-founder hinted at future products, saying ROOM is already receiving demand for bigger multi-person prefab conference rooms and creative room divider solutions.

The importance of privacy goes beyond improved productivity when workers are alone. If they’re exhausted from overstimulation in a chaotic open office, they’ll have less energy for purposeful collaboration when the time comes. The bustle could also make them reluctant to socialize in off-hours, which could lead them to burn out and change jobs faster. Tech companies in particular are in a constant war for talent, and ROOM Ones could be perceived as a bigger perk than free snacks or a ping-pong table that only makes the office louder.

“I don’t think the solution is to go back to a world of cubicles and corner offices” Meisner-Jensen concludes. It could take another decade for office architects to correct the overenthusiasm for open offices despite the research suggesting their harm. For now, ROOM’s co-founder is concentrating on “solving the issue of noise at scale” by asking “How do we make the current workspaces work in the best way possible?”

Apeel Sciences is combating food waste with plant-derived second peels

In a world bursting with abundances like self-driving cars and robotic personal assistants, you would think that basic needs like sustainable food sourcing and distribution would be a problem of the past. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), every year roughly […]

In a world bursting with abundances like self-driving cars and robotic personal assistants, you would think that basic needs like sustainable food sourcing and distribution would be a problem of the past. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), every year roughly a third — 1.3 billion tons — of food grown for consumption is lost or wasted. In industrialized countries like the U.S., this results in a loss of $680 billion per year, and in countries without standardized infrastructure (such as proper cooling systems), this results in a loss of $310 billion per year.

Among the billions of tons of food lost per year, the largest percentage is in vital, nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables and roots and tubers (such as potatoes and carrots), each seeing about 45 percent wasted annually.

There are many factors responsible for food waste, including poorly regulated “Best By” and “Sell By” dates in the U.S. that tempt fickle customers into wasting otherwise good food, and unreliable or non-existent cooling distribution systems in less-industrialized countries.

But an underlying cause of both of these issues, especially for easily spoiled foods, is the inherent shelf life of the food itself. And that’s where Apeel Sciences steps in.

The California-based startup is combating food waste by using plant-derived materials from food itself to create an extra protective barrier to prolong its life and stave off spoilage — essentially, creating a second peel. To create it, farmers just add water to Apeel’s protective powder and apply it to produce as a spray or wash.

For founder and CEO James Rogers, who was working on a PhD in materials engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara when he was inspired to create Apeel Sciences, the solution to the problem of quickly spoiled food could be found by looking to a problem science had already solved: rust.

“Factors that cause spoilage are water loss and oxidation,” Rogers told TechCrunch. “[This] reminded me instantly of my undergraduate days at Carnegie Mellon as a metallurgist studying steel. Steel is perishable as well. It’s perishable because it rusts — it reacts with oxygen in the environment — and [that] limits its use. [But metallurgists] designed a little oxide barrier that would physically protect the surface of that steel, [creating] stainless steel.

Rogers says he began to wonder if a similar method could be used to protect produce from spoiling effects as well.

“Could we create a thin barrier along the outside of fresh produce and in doing that lower the perishability and perhaps make a dent in the hunger problem?”

Apeel was officially founded in 2012 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for $100,000 to help reduce post-harvest food waste in developing countries that lacked refrigeration infrastructure. To combat this issue, Apeel set up self-service and hybrid distribution systems for farmers in countries like Kenya and Uganda to help protect their produce during its journey from farm to consumer, without the need for refrigeration.

While the company still has a foothold in Africa and Southern Asia, it has also started partnerships with farmers in the U.S. as well, and in May and June of this year introduced the first Apeel produce — avocados — to U.S. retailers Costco and Harps Food Stores.

Because Apeel produce is not genetically modified (but instead plant-derived), they need no special labeling at grocers, but Rogers said the produce wears its scientific design on its sleeve nevertheless.

“We’re not doing anything at the DNA level, there’s no genetic modification, but we want to be really upfront with consumers and actually have them look for the label because by identifying that label they’re going to know that bringing that produce home with them [they’ll have] higher-quality, longer-lasting produce that they’ll be less likely to throw away.”

According to Apeel, since its avocados were introduced to Harps Food Stores, the retailer has seen a 65 percent increase in margin and a 10 percent lift in sales across the avocado category.

With these successes under its belt, Apeel also announced in July the closing of a $70 million funding round led by Viking Global Investors, with Andreessen Horowitz, Upfront Ventures and S2G Ventures participating.

Rogers told TechCrunch that the capital will help the company continue its research and development of new methods to fight food waste, including Apeel sprays for produce like stone fruit and asparagus, and continue to learn from solutions found in nature, “Our [mission] at its core is looking at natural ecosystems to determine and identify what materials it’s using to solve problems and how we might be able to extract and isolate those materials to solve other problems for humanity.”

Wonderschool raises $20M to help people start in-home preschools

Educators already don’t get paid enough, and those that work in preschools or daycares often make 48% less. Meanwhile, parents struggle to find great early education programs where kids receive enough attention and there’s space, but they don’t need special connections or to pass grueling admissions interviews to get in. Any time there’s a lousy […]

Educators already don’t get paid enough, and those that work in preschools or daycares often make 48% less. Meanwhile, parents struggle to find great early education programs where kids receive enough attention and there’s space, but they don’t need special connections or to pass grueling admissions interviews to get in.

Any time there’s a lousy experience people have an emotional connection to and spend a lot of money on, there’s an opportunity for a startup. Enter ‘Wonderschool‘, a company that lets licensed educators and caretakers launch in-home preschools or daycares. Wonderschool helps candidates get credentialed, set up their programs, launch their websites, boost enrollment, and take payments in exchange for a 10 percent cut of tuition. The startup is now helping run 140 schools in the SF Bay, LA, and NYC where parents are happy to pay to give their kids an advantage.

That chance to fill a lucrative gap in the education market has attracted a new $20 million Series A for Wonderschool led by Andreessen Horowitz . The round brings the startup to $24.1 million in total funding just two years after launch. With the cash and Andreessen partner Jeff Jordan joining its board, Wonderschool is looking to build powerful lead generation and management software to turn teachers into savvy entrepreneurs.

Finding good childcare has become one of the most difficult experiences for families. I’ve seen parents who are making a livable wage in urban cities like San Francisco and New York still struggle to find and afford quality childcare” says co-founder and CEO Chris Bennett. “We wanted to deliver a solution for parents that also had the potential to create jobs and empower the caregiver — that’s Wonderschool.”

By spawning and uniting programs across the country, Wonderschool could scale as the way software eats preschool. But without vigorous oversight of each educator, Wonderschool is also at risk of a safety mishap at one of its franchises ruining the brand for them all.

Airbnb For Schooling

Wonderschool started when co-founder Arrel Gray was having trouble finding childcare for his daughter close to home. “My little sister went to an in-home preschool, so I suggested he check them out” says Bennett. “But he wasn’t very satisfied with the options – the majority were full and some didn’t meet the expectations for his family. We also found that they didn’t use the internet much so they were hard to find and contact.”

The two were seeking to pivot their social commerce startup Soldsie after Facebook algorithm changes curtailed its growth. Their research led to the discovery of just how much lower preschool and daycare workers’ wages were. “When we had the idea we thought, ‘what the best way to test this?’ Why don’t we start a preschool ourselves'” says Bennett. “So we rented a home in the Berkeley Hills, hired an amazing educator, set up a school and started one. The school ended up being a huge success. Five-star reviews on Yelp. A high NPS. Parents loved the place.” It also netted the teacher a 3X higher salary than before.

With that proof, Wonderschool went on to raise $4.1 million from Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital, Omidyar Network, Cross Culture Ventures, Uncork Capital, Lerer Ventures, FundersClub, and Edelweiss. That let Bennett and Gray flesh out the business. Wonderschool would recruit existing teachers and caregivers or guide people to get licensed so they could become “directors” of in-home schools. Wonderschool acts almost like Airbnb by turning them into small businesses earning money from home.

Teachers can pick whatever schedule, curriculum, or format they want, like Montesori or nature-focused learning. Wonderschool now has over 500 directors working with its software, with some making as much as $150,000 or $200,000. In exchange for its 10 percent cut of tuition, Wonderschool provides directors with a “bootcamp” to prep them for the job. It pairs them with a mentor, then helps them build their website and figure out their pricing options. Coaching guides train the directors to scout for new leads, offer appealing tours, and track their fledgling business.

The $20 million from Andreessen, OmidyarGary Community Investments, and First Round will go to expanding the Wonderschool software. Each student slot it can help director fill, the more it earns. The startup will also have to compete with  companies like Wildflower Schools, which Bennett admits has a similar business model but he says “We are focused on in home and they also focus on Montessori while we are curriculum agnostic.” There’s also Cottage Class which powers homeschooling for students up to age 18, Tinkergarten that concentrates on short-term outdoor education, and VIPKid connects kids in China with U.S. teachers over video chat.

They, like Wonderschool, are trying to scale up to meet the massive existing demand. “The challenge is that there aren’t enough programs for the number of children needing public or private schooling – 1st grade or earlier – and our goal is to provide enough supply for every child” Bennett explains.

Still, safety remains a top concern. Bennett notes that “Wonderschool has a support team that helps school Directors prepare their homes for operation. With regard to safety, each state’s licensing office covers this in their approval process for being granted a license to operate.” But could a problem at one school shake the businesses of all the rest of its franchises? “We have a system of checks in balances in place that we feel confident would allow us to anticipate any potential issues, including regular, weekly check-ins with Directors and a feedback loop with parents. We also email parents on a regular cadence to get feedback from parents and we step in and work with the Director if we find that there are issues” Bennett insists.

If Wonderschool can keep its brand clean through thorough oversight, it could both create better paying jobs in a field rife with undercompensated heroes, and open early schooling to a wider range of students. Bennett’s parents moved to the U.S. from Honduras, pouring their efforts into supporting his and his sister’s education. Now he’s building the next generation of teachers the tools to give more kids a head start in life.

Soundcloud on the blockchain? Audius raises $5.5M to decentralize music

Audius wants to cut the middlemen out music streaming so artists get paid their fair share. Coming out of stealth today led by serial entrepreneur and DJ Ranidu Lankage, Audius is building a blockchain-based alternative to Spotify or SoundCloud. Users will pay for Audius tokens or earn them by listening to ads. Their wallet will […]

Audius wants to cut the middlemen out music streaming so artists get paid their fair share. Coming out of stealth today led by serial entrepreneur and DJ Ranidu Lankage, Audius is building a blockchain-based alternative to Spotify or SoundCloud.

Users will pay for Audius tokens or earn them by listening to ads. Their wallet will then pay out a fraction of a cent per song to stream from decentralized storage across the network, with artists receiving roughly 85 percent — compared to roughly 70 percent on the leading streaming apps. The rest goes to compensating whoever is hosting that song, as well as developers of listening software clients, one of which will be built by Audius.

Audius plans to launch its open sourced product in beta later this year. But it’s already found some powerful investors who see SoundCloud as vulnerable to the cryptocurrency revolution. Audius has raised a $5.5 million Series A led by General Catalyst and Lightspeed, with participation from Kleiner Perkins, Pantera Capital, 122West and Ascolta Ventures. They’re betting that Audius’ token will grow in value, making the stockpile it keeps worth a fortune. It could then sell chunks of its tokens to earn revenue instead of charging artists directly.

Audius co-founders (from left): Head of product Forrest Browning, CEO Ranidu Lankage, CTO Roneil Rumburg

“The biggest problem in the music industry is that streaming is taking off and artists aren’t necessarily earning a lot of money. And it can take 3 months, or up to 18 months for unsigned artists, to get paid for streams” says Lankage. “That’s what crypto really solves. You can pay artists in near real-time and make it fully transparent.”

The big question will be whether Audius can use the token economy to crack the chicken-and-egg problem of getting its first creators and listeners on a platform that might be less functionally robust than its traditional competitors. There are a lot of moving parts to decentralize, but there are also plenty of disgruntled musicians out there waiting for something better.

From Sri Lankan Hip-Hop Star To Serial Entrepreneur

Most startup guys don’t have Billboard charting singles on their bio, but Lankage does. Born in Sri Lanka, his hip-hop songs in his native tongue of Sinhalese were the first of the language to be played on the BBC and MTV. He got signed to Sony and even went platinum, but left the label seeking greater control over his work. After going to Yale, he applied his music business knowledge to build a Reddit for dance music called The Drop with Twitch’s Justin Kan back in 2015.

The two teamed up again on a video version of Q&A app Quora called Whale, but that fizzled out too. Lankage’s next venture Polly, a polling tool built as a complement to Snapchat, inspired that now super-popular Instagram Stories polls and questions stickers. But after an acquihire by Reddit fell through, he returned to first love: music.

“I’ve always been passionate about building tools for creators” says Lankage. But this time, he wanted to focus on helping them turn their art into a profession. He teamed up with CTO Roneil Rumburg, an engineering partner at Kleiner Perkins who’d build a crypto wallet called Backslash, and head of product Forrest Browning, who’d sold his software metering startup StacksWare to Avi Networks.

Their goal is to build a blockchain streaming music service where listeners don’t have to understand blockchains. “A user wouldn’t even know that they have a wallet” says Rumburg. They’ll just hear an ad every once in a while, get a subscription, or pay per stream. Since Audius is open sourced, developers will be able to build their own listening clients on top which could specialize in discovery of certain types of music or offer their own payment schemes.

“I have known Ranidu, Forrest, and Roneil for a long time, and have always been impressed with their ability to blend art, technology and business together” says investor Niko Bonatsos of General Catalyst. “In Audius, they bring together all three skills, with a deep technical heart and a compelling solution for a very big marketplace.”

Tokens, Not Record Labels

For starters, Audius is focusing on signing up independent electronic musicians. These are the types that might be popular on SoundCloud but actually have to pay for hosting there while not getting much back due to the platform’s weak monetization options. Don’t expect U2 and Ariana Grande on Audius, at least not yet. But the startup could differentiate by offering access to content you can’t find elsewhere.

To get artists on board, Lankage tells me Audius plans “to use token incentives”. Those willing to jump on first before there are many listeners could get a bonus allotment of tokens that might be worth more if they help popularize the service. And where artists go, their fans will follow. Audius is hoping artists will share its links first because that’s where they’ll earn the most money.

Audius has also lined up a legion of big-name advisors to help it develop its blockchain product and artist relationships. Those include Augur co-founder Jeremy Gardner, EDM artist 3LAU, EA Co-Founder Bing Gordon, and more it can’t announce just yet.

The linchpin of Audius will be the user experience. If the system feels too complicated, listeners and artists will stay elsewhere. A DJ might earn more per stream from Audius, but if Spotify or SoundCloud offer better ways for fans to subscribe to them and generate more plays long-term, they’ll still direct supporters there. But if Audius can hide the nerdy bits while solving the music industry’s problems, it has the potential to be one of the first mainstream consumer blockchain projects that treats the tech as a utility, not just a new stock market to bet on.

Chinese AI startup Tianrang raises a $26M funding round, launches new project to apply ML to cities

Chinese AI startup Tianrang has raised a $26 million (RMB180 million) funding round from China’s Gaorong Capital and co-lead CMB International Capital. Other investors included Ziniu Fund and Chinese fintech company Wacai. In 2016, the company raised an angel round led by Gaorong Capital and participated in by Shanghai Jindi Investment Management Ltd. Based on […]

Chinese AI startup Tianrang has raised a $26 million (RMB180 million) funding round from China’s Gaorong Capital and co-lead CMB International Capital. Other investors included Ziniu Fund and Chinese fintech company Wacai. In 2016, the company raised an angel round led by Gaorong Capital and participated in by Shanghai Jindi Investment Management Ltd.

Based on deep learning and other AI technology, Tianrang provides data analysis and smart solutions for enterprises. It was founded by in 2016 by Xu Guirong, former director of Alibaba’s Ali Cloud and chief scientist at Alibaba’s cloud platform Alimama. So no slouch on the AI front.

Tianrang claims to be able to automatically collect and analyze marketing trends and purchase-related information on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform, allowing vendors to make better marketing decisions.

Wang Hongbo, chief investment officer at CMB International Capital says: “With algorithm and AI, Tianrang lowers the requirement of complex machine decision-making and makes it accessible and scalable for commercial use.”

Tianrang also plans to set up a project to apply machine learning to the urban development of cities, led by Jessie Li, a professor at the College of Information Sciences and Technology of Pennsylvania State University.

Lumen raises $7M and passes $1M on Indiegogo for its breath-measuring device for weight loss

Our body is continuously storing and consuming energy to keep us alive — but understanding which fuels are being used and why is the Holy Grail of things like weight loss and body hacking. Today’s weight-loss market is saturated with generic products because — guess what — trying to tailor-make a solution for an individual […]

Our body is continuously storing and consuming energy to keep us alive — but understanding which fuels are being used and why is the Holy Grail of things like weight loss and body hacking. Today’s weight-loss market is saturated with generic products because — guess what — trying to tailor-make a solution for an individual is usually hard and expensive.

For a while now there’s been a technology around which can measure the metabolic gases found in your breath. The theory goes that if you can do that, everyone can work out what they should be eating and when. A few startups have tried, but nothing really took off. Now a new startup is having a crack and has secured significant funding to go for it.

Lumen is a pocket-sized device that measures the gases in your breath and translates that reading via an app into advice that gives you daily personalized meal plans.

As I said, this technology was tried by a startup called PATH Breath+Band, which had a similar device in 2016, but which didn’t take off.

The difference with Lumen is that it’s raised a decent war chest, as well as blowing up on Indiegogo.

It’s now raised a total of $7 million over the past four and a half years, from a host of investors. These include Disruptive VC, Oren Zeev, Red Swan Ventures, Resolute Ventures, Gigi Levy, Sir Ronald Cohen, Avishai Abrahami (Wix Founder) and RiverPark Funds. As part of that funding it’s also – in the last few days – raised more than $1 million on Indiegogo.

The founders are Merav Mor, a doctor of physiology (PhD) and cell biology and her twin sister, Michal Mor, also a doctor of physiology (PhD) and cell biology. CEO Daniel Tal is also a co-founder and also founded Wibiya, which was acquired by Conduit. It probably doesn’t hurt that the renowned Frog design helped in the, well, design.

As endurance athletes, the Mors began researching if there was a way for them to understand the impact of their nutrition and workouts on their bodies to improve their athletic performance. They came across a metabolic measurement called RQ (Respiratory Quotient), which is the gold standard for measuring the metabolic fuel usage of an individual. Top-performing athletes have been using this measurement for years, but the methods for measuring it are invasive (blood test), lengthy (1+ hour in metabolic chambers) and expensive (upwards of a few hundred dollars).

After four years of research and development they developed Lumen, with the ability to measure an individual’s RQ in one breath. What once took over an hour to measure, and a team of nutritionists and scientists to analyze, can now be done in less than three minutes. Michal and Merav’s technology is patent-pending.

So far Lumen says more than 300 beta users have lost an average of 6.8 lbs within the first 30 days of using the device.

Now, they do have competitors. These include Habit, which does pre-packaged personalized meals; Breezing, a technology that requires three minutes of continual breathing and the purchase of new cartridges with every measurement ($5); and Levl, which is a small home-lab setup that measures metabolism and ketosis and costs between $100-150/month. Then there is Ketonix, a computer-connected device that will only provide data on fat burn for users on a strict ketogenic diet.

But with Lumen you just buy the device and the app is free. No cartridges, filters or replacements.

All in all it’s quite a compelling proposition, so it will be interesting to see if Lumen can succeed where others have failed.

Rentlogic lands millions to grade NYC real estate for renters and landlords

A company called Rentlogic has raised $2.4 million to take the guesswork out of determining whether that cheap, beautiful New York apartment is actually a deathtrap wrapped in a brownstone’s clothing. Renting in New York is murder already, but using Rentlogic, apartment hunters can figure out if their new housing situation could actually kill them (or put them […]

A company called Rentlogic has raised $2.4 million to take the guesswork out of determining whether that cheap, beautiful New York apartment is actually a deathtrap wrapped in a brownstone’s clothing.

Renting in New York is murder already, but using Rentlogic, apartment hunters can figure out if their new housing situation could actually kill them (or put them at significant risk of bodily or property harm… or even minor inconveniences).

Investors in the company’s seed round include the Urban-X accelerator (which operates under the SOS Ventures umbrella); Urban.Us, an investor in urban technologies; the millennial-entrepreneur-focused investment firm, Kairos; and Seagram beverage company scion Edgar Bronfman, Jr.

Rentlogic already provides a grade for every building in New York — more than 1 million properties — but has added an inspection feature that it charges landlords for so that they can display a rating outside of their building. It’s like the city’s scoring grades for restaurants in neighborhoods.

“We grade every single property in New York,” says Yale Fox, the company’s founder and chief executive. “We have inspected 103 properties. Everybody is really happy with it and everybody is going to re-sign and we’re going to start scaling this out to every property in New York.”

Rentlogic scores buildings on a combination of around 150 different variables, including the ability to provide continuous heat and hot water, and whether or not a building has evidence of bed bugs or rodents.

The looks of the building doesn’t matter, Fox says. It’s more about the conditions of the building.

“It’s the same way a building would get LEED-certified,” says Fox. “It’s a good way for one landlord to differentiate their property as higher quality than a competitor’s in the same neighborhood.”

Launched initially in 2013, Rentlogic was born out of Fox’s own tragic experience as a new renter in New York. The Canadian transplant (and the son of a family of real estate professionals and small scale landlords) had come to the city for a new job and was looking at an apartment in the West Village.

After shelling out a $12,000 deposit for first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a security deposit, Fox settled into his abode in the tree-lined luxury of one of Manhattan’s most sought-after neighborhoods. The love affair with the building didn’t last long.

Unexpectedly, Fox started to become sick. Several visits to the doctor couldn’t identify a cause for his illness, until, finally, his physician suggested a mold-related illness.

“I asked the landlord to fix it and I wound up having to take the landlord to court,” says Fox.

By the time the court date arrived, Fox had paid to fix the mold problem himself and had little in the way of solid evidence to show a judge. So he built an app that would track the public complaints filed against the landlord and the public assessments that had been done on the building.

“I went to court and I showed the judge this model that I had put together and he said, ‘Welcome to New York and I’m sorry this happened to you… and you should definitely build an app, because New York City needs this.'”

Rentlogic founder Yale Fox

Fox, already enrolled in the TED Fellows program, built the app, initially called “RentCheck” and began marketing it to landlords and renters. “It was just a hobby because I was so angry about how things had happened to me,” says Fox. “We didn’t want to charge renters fees to the site. We thought having equal access to information could prevent this from happening in the future.”

Things continued as a nonprofit for a while until last year Fox hit on a business model. He designed a ratings card for the building based on the data his company had collected and showed it to his current landlord. “She said, ‘How much would you charge for it?'” Fox recalled.

Thus RentCheck became Rentlogic and a business was born. Fox charges landlords for assessments and to display a ratings placard that indicates the building’s grade.

Renters are willing to pay up to an additional $45 per month, according to Fox, to sign a lease in a building that’s been independently certified. “People are willing to pay a little bit more just to not deal with the constant headaches that happen in certain kinds of buildings,” he said.

Fox appears to have launched Rentlogic at the right time. The market for housing in New York has softened as luxury apartments flood the market and demand softens, meaning that rents are coming down across the board.

But beyond being more competitive there’s a defensive aspect to getting rated in a market filled with demanding, complaint-prone consumers that have no qualms savaging any business, from landlords to local restaurants (although oftentimes the landlords and restaurants deserve it).

“A lot of times landlords are purchasing this because there’s no way to prove they’re not a one-star landlord,” Fox says. “This is accessible for big landlords and small landlords. In a zero-transparency and low-accountability marketplace, there’s no incentive for bad actors to improve their behavior, but with Rentlogic there is.”

The company is already making institutional moves. Fox has had conversations with Blackstone about providing ratings for their $5.5 billion Stuyvesant Town acquisition on the Lower East Side, according to Fox. In addition, the company has partnered with a number of real estate brokers and roommate-hunting services like Nooklyn and Roomi to use its ratings.

While Rentlogic is scrupulous about using data to train its algorithm, it’s also transparent about how the algorithm works, according to Fox.

“Algorithms control so much what’s going on in the world and people just don’t understand them,” he says. So in the interest of full transparency, the company is putting together a building simulator where users can add problems and see how it affects a building’s rating on the Rentlogic site. The company also has an algorithmic review committee that reviews the results coming from the building assessments.

And while Rentlogic is starting in New York, the company has plans to use its machine learning system to hoover up publicly available data and provide grades for real estate across the United States.

Ultimately, Fox just wants to help improve the tenant-landlord relationship, he says. “I was in a terrible situation with a landlord who went to jail… I launched this site so no one would have to go through what I went through.”

Andreessen-funded dYdX plans ‘short Ethereum’ token for haters

Crypto skeptics rejoice! A new way to short the cryptocurrency market is coming from dYdX, a decentralized financial derivatives startup. In two months it will launch its protocol for creating short and leverage positions for Ethereum and other ERC20 tokens that allow investors to amp up their bets for or against these currencies. To get […]

Crypto skeptics rejoice! A new way to short the cryptocurrency market is coming from dYdX, a decentralized financial derivatives startup. In two months it will launch its protocol for creating short and leverage positions for Ethereum and other ERC20 tokens that allow investors to amp up their bets for or against these currencies.

To get the startup there, dYdX recently closed a $2 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz and Polychain, and joined by Kindred and Abstract plus angels, including Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong and co-founder Fred Ehrsam, and serial investor Elad Gil.

“The main use for cryptocurrency so far has been trading and speculation — buying and holding. That’s not how sophisticated financial institutions trade,” says dYdX founder Antonio Juliano. “The derivatives market is usually an order of magnitude bigger than the spot trading or buy/sell market. The cryptocurrency market is probably on the order of $5 billion to $10 billion in volume, so you’d expect the derivatives market would be 10X bigger. I think there’s a really big opportunity there.”

How dYdX works

The idea is that you buy the short Ethereum token with ETH or a stable coin from an exchange or dYdX. The short Ethereum’s token price is inversely pegged to ETH, so it goes up in value when ETH goes down and vice versa. You can then sell the short Ethereum token for a profit if you correctly predicted an ETH price drop.

On the backend, lenders earn an interest rate by providing ETH as collateral locked into smart contracts that back up the short Ethereum tokens. Only a small number of actors have to work with the smart contract to mint or close the short Tokens. Meanwhile, dYdX also offers leveraged Ethereum tokens that let investors borrow to boost their profits if ETH’s price goes up.

The plan is to offer short and leveraged tokens for any ERC20 currency in the future. dYdX is building its own user-facing application for buying the tokens, but is also partnering with exchanges to offer the margin tokens “where people are already trading,” says Juliano.

“We think of it as more than just shorting your favorite shitcoin. We think of them as mature financial products.”

Infrastructure to lure big funds into crypto

Coinbase has proven to be an incredible incubator for blockchain startup founders. Juliano was employed there as a software engineer after briefly working at Uber and graduating in computer science from Princeton in 2015. “The first thing I started was a search engine for decentralized apps. I worked for months on it full-time, but nobody was building decentralized apps so no one was searching for them. It was too early,” Juliano explains.

But along the way he noticed the lack of financial instruments for decentralized derivatives despite exploding consumer interest in buying and selling cryptocurrencies. He figured the big hedge funds would eventually come knocking if someone built them a bridge into the blockchain world.

Juliano built dYdX to create a protocol to first begin offering margin tokens. It’s open source, so technically anyone can fork it to issue tokens themselves. But dYdX plans to be the standard-bearer, with its version offering the maximum liquidity to investors trying to buy or sell the margin tokens. His five-person team in San Francisco with experience from Google, Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs, NerdWallet and ConsenSys is working to find as many investors as possible to collateralize the tokens and exchanges to trade them. “It’s a race to build liquidity faster than anyone else,” says Juliano.

So how will dYdX make money? As is common in crypto, Juliano isn’t exactly sure, and just wants to build up usage first. “We plan to capture value at the protocol level in the future likely through a value adding token,” the founder says. “It would’ve been easy for us to rush into adding a questionable token as we’ve seen many other protocols do; however, we believe it’s worth thinking deeply about the best way to integrate a token in our ecosystem in a way that creates rather than destroys value for end users.”

“Antonio and his team are among the top engineers in the crypto ecosystem building a novel software system for peer-to-peer financial contracts. We believe this will be immensely valuable and used by millions of people,” says Polychain partner Olaf Carlson-Wee. “I am not concerned with short-term revenue models but rather the opportunity to permanently improve global financial markets.”

Timing the decentralized revolution

With the launch less than two months away, Juliano is also racing to safeguard the protocol from attacks. “You have to take smart contract security extremely seriously. We’re almost done with the second independent security audit,” he tells me.

The security provided by decentralization is one of dYdX’s selling points versus centralized competitors like Poloniex that offer margin trading opportunities. There, investors have to lock up ETH as collateral for extended periods of time, putting it at risk if the exchange gets hacked, and they don’t benefit from shared liquidity like dYdX will.

It also could compete for crypto haters with the CBOE that now offers Bitcoin futures and margin trading, though it doesn’t handle Ethereum yet. Juliano hopes that since dYdX’s protocol can mint short tokens for other ERC20 tokens, you could bet for or against a certain cryptocurrency relative to the whole crypto market by mixing and matching. dYdX will have to nail the user experience and proper partnerships if it’s going to beat the convenience of centralized exchanges and the institutional futures market.

If all goes well, dYdX wants to move into offering options or swaps. “Those derivatives are more often traded by sophisticated traders. We don’t think there are too many traders like that in the market right now,” Juliano explains. “The other types of derivatives that we’ll move to in the future will be really big once the market matures.” That “once the market matures” refrain is one sung by plenty of blockchain projects. The question is who’ll survive long enough to see that future, if it ever arrives.

[Featured Image via Nuzu and Bryce Durbin]

Stampli raises $6.7 M in Series A funding to streamline invoice management

Stampli, an invoice management platform, announced today the closing of a $6.7 M Series A funding round led by SignalFire, with participation from Bloomberg Beta, Hillsven Capital, and UpWest Labs. If you’ve ever freelanced for a company, you’ll know that the long, instant ramen-filled days between filing an invoice and having it completed can be grueling. […]

Stampli, an invoice management platform, announced today the closing of a $6.7 M Series A funding round led by SignalFire, with participation from Bloomberg Beta, Hillsven Capital, and UpWest Labs.

If you’ve ever freelanced for a company, you’ll know that the long, instant ramen-filled days between filing an invoice and having it completed can be grueling. Brothers Eyal and Ofer Feldman launched Stampli in 2015 to help solve this problem and bridge the communication gap between accountants, related internal departments and vendors. Aimed at mid to large size companies, to date Stampli has helped a wide range of companies (from fashion to tech) manage over $4 billion in invoices through its AI driven interface.

“Invoice management is like an elephant,” co-founder and CEO Eyal Feldman told TechCrunch. “One person sees the head, one person sees the tail, one person sees the legs. It’s a process that different people see different versions of but the whole picture should include everybody. The ability for all of these people to be involved is really the core of the process.”

Traditional invoice management between vendors and internal departments in a company can be a tangled mess of email exchanges, lost messages and ultimately delayed payments. But, Stampli’s interface (which can be integrated directly into a company’s enterprise resource planning software like NetSuite, Intuit QuickBooks, or SAP) allows for every step of the invoice’s journey to have a central landing page for every relevant party to collaborate on.

“We found that 85 percent of our users are not accounting people,” said Feldman. “[They] are all the managers around and all the other people involved. What we found in our research is that when the process works for them is when accounting is happy.”

This landing page not only provides easy access to pertinent information between departments, but Stampli’s built-in AI, Billy the Bot, helps invoice managers fill in relevant information by first learning the structure of the invoice and then learning through observation the user’s behavior and work flow. When Billy passes an 80 percent confidence threshold for its decision, it goes ahead and auto-fills the information. But, if it’s feeling unsure about its choice, Billy will leave it as a suggestion instead to avoid introducing any errors to the paperwork.

The more invoices users process through Stampli, the more Billy learns how to best streamline the process for that company.

In the arena of invoice management, Stampli faces competition from companies like Determine and Concur, which also offer all-in-one platforms for invoice management and, in the case of Concur, also incorporate machine learning to capture invoices.

According to Feldman, what helps Stampli stand apart from the competition is its emphasis on company collaboration and its no-fee installation of the software. With no upfront cost, the company only charges per invoice.