Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop ‘Login with Coinbase’ or a similar identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup […]

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop ‘Login with Coinbase’ or a similar identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup founded last year that was building identity standard for dApps called the Clear Protocol.

The five-person Distributed Systems team and its technology will join Coinbase. Three of the team members will work with Coinbase’s Toshi decentralized mobile browser team, while CEO Nikhil Srinivasan and one other co-founder are forming the new decentralized identity team that will work on the ‘Login with Coinbase’ product. They’ll be building it atop the “know your customer” anti-money laundering data Coinbase has on its 20 million customers. Srinivasan tells me the goal is to figure out “How can we allow that really rich identity data to enable a new class of applications?”

Distributed Systems had raised a $1.7 million seed round last year led by Floodgate and was considering raising a $4 million to $8 million round this summer. But Srinivasan says “No one really understood what we’re building”, and it wanted a partner with KYC data. It began talking to Coinbase Ventures about an investment, but after they saw Distributed Systems’ progress and vision, “they quickly tried to move to find a way to acquire us.”

Distributed Systems began to hold acquisition talks with multiple major players in the blockchain space, and the CEO tells me it was deciding between going to “Facebook, or Robinhood, or Binance, or Coinbase”, having been in formal talks with at least one of the first three. Coinbase “were able to convince us they were making big bets, weaving identity across their products.” The financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Coinbase’s plan to roll out the ‘Login with Coinbase’ platform is an SDK that others apps could integrate. That mimics the way Facebook colonized the web with its SDK and login buttons that splashed its brand in front of tons of new and existing users. This made turned Facebook into a fundamental identity utility beyond its social network.

Developers eager to improve conversions on their sign up flow could turn to Coinbase instead of requiring users to set up whole new accounts and deal with crypto-specific headaches of complicated keys and procedures for connecting their wallet to make payments. One prominent dApp developer told me yesterday that forcing users to set up the MetaMask browser extension for identity was the part of their signup flow where they’re losing the most people.

This morning Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong confirmed these plans to work on an identity SDK. When Coinbase investor Garry Tan of Initialized Capital wrote that “The main issue preventing dApp adoption is lack of native SDK so you can just download a mobile app and a clean fiat to crypto in one clean UX. Still have to download a browser plugin and transfer Eth to Metamask for now Too much friction”, Armstrong replied “On it :)”

In effect, Coinbase and Distributed Systems could build a safer version of identity than we get offline. As soon as you give your social security number to someone or it gets stolen, it can be used anywhere without your consent and that leads to identity theft. Coinbase wants to build a vision of identity where you can connect to decentralized apps while retaining control. “Decentralized identity will let you prove that you own an identity, or that you have a relationship with the Social Security Administration, without making a copy of that identity” writes Coinbase’s PM for identity. “If you stretch your imagination a little further, you can imagine this applying to your photos, social media posts, and maybe one day your passport too.”

Considering Decentralized Systems and Coinbase are following the Facebook playbook, they may soon have competition from the social network. It’s spun up its own blockchain team and an identity and single sign-on platform for dApps is one of the products I think Facebook is most likely to build. But given Coinbase’s strong reputation in the blockchain industry and its massive head start in terms of registered crypto users, today’s acquisition well positions it to be how we connect our offline identity with the rising decentralized economy.

Flowbox is a tool that makes it easy to build special effects

What do you get when you connect a bunch of filmmakers with a bunch of programmers? Something like Flowbox. Flowbox, which began life as a unique object-oriented programming language for visual effects, has grown into something truly powerful in the moviemaking industry. Run by Mikołaj Valencia​, Michał Urbańczyk​, Paweł Pietraszko, and Mat Bujalski, this Polish […]

What do you get when you connect a bunch of filmmakers with a bunch of programmers? Something like Flowbox.

Flowbox, which began life as a unique object-oriented programming language for visual effects, has grown into something truly powerful in the moviemaking industry. Run by Mikołaj Valencia​, Michał Urbańczyk​, Paweł Pietraszko, and Mat Bujalski, this Polish company is currently working with a number of big studios to add VFX to huge productions.

“Flowbox is an industrial strength image processing platform incorporating many recent innovations in computer graphics field,” said Valencia. “It delivers semi-automated rotoscopy, one of the most tedious manual labor used in 25 precent of all video content processing. It allows for huge time savings.”

The team is working on adding other tools to the toolchain as well including color correction and image composition.

The system is unique in that it uses a visual interface to change the video. It also supports distributed computing which speeds up the compositing system immensely.

The idea was born in 2010 as a reaction to the poor tools available to filmmakers at the time.

“The idea for the Flowbox project was initiated in 2010 by Wojciech Daniło, by this time as Senior Technical Director at Alvernia Studios (the most modern film studio in Poland),” said Valencia. “His job was to design and create solutions for visual effects for international productions like Arbitrage with Richard Gere and Vamps of Sigourney Weaver. That’s when he discovered the problems faced by his associates and how limited and inflexible the leading tools were.”

The company has raised $1 million so far including an infusion from Innovation Nest.

The app’s high-tech approach to rotoscoping could be just the thing filmmakers need to unlock the true potential of their already powerful tools.

Twistlock snares $33 million Series C investment to secure cloud native environments

As the world shifts to a cloud native approach, the way you secure applications as they get deployed is changing too. Twistlock, a company built from the ground up to secure cloud native environments, announced a $33 million Series C round today led by Iconiq Capital. Previous investors YL Ventures, TenEleven, Rally Ventures, Polaris Partners […]

As the world shifts to a cloud native approach, the way you secure applications as they get deployed is changing too. Twistlock, a company built from the ground up to secure cloud native environments, announced a $33 million Series C round today led by Iconiq Capital.

Previous investors YL Ventures, TenEleven, Rally Ventures, Polaris Partners and Dell Technologies Capital also participated in the round. The company reports it has received a total of $63 million in venture investment to date.

Twistlock is solving a hard problem around securing containers and serverless, which are by their nature ephemeral. They can live for fractions of seconds making it hard track problems when they happen. According to company CEO and co-founder Ben Bernstein, his company came out of the gate building a security product designed to protect a cloud-native environment with the understanding that while containers and serverless computing may be ephemeral, they are still exploitable.

“It’s not about how long they live, but about the fact that the way they live is more predictable than a traditional computer, which could be running for a very long time and might have humans actually using it,” Bernstein said.

Screenshot: Twistlock

As companies move to a cloud native environment using Dockerized containers and managing them with Kubernetes and other tools, they create a highly automated system to deal with the deployment volume. While automation simplifies deployment, it can also leave companies vulnerable to host of issues. For example, if a malicious actor were to get control of the process via a code injection attack, they could cause a lot of problems without anyone knowing about it.

Twistlock is built to help prevent that, while also helping customers recognize when an exploit happens and performing forensic analysis to figure out how it happened.

It’s is not a traditional Software as a Service as we’ve come to think of it. Instead, it is a service that gets installed on whatever public or private cloud that the customer is using. So far, they count just over 200 customers including Walgreens and Aetna and a slew of other companies you would definitely recognize, but they couldn’t name publicly.

The company, which was founded in 2015, is based in Portland, Oregon with their R&D arm in Israel. They currently have 80 employees. Bernstein said from a competitive standpoint, the traditional security vendors are having trouble reacting to cloud native, and while he sees some startups working at it, he believes his company has the most mature offering, at least for now.

“We don’t have a lot of competition right now, but as we start progressing we will see more,” he said. He plans to use the money they receive today to help expand their marketing and sales arm to continue growing their customer base, but also engineering to stay ahead of that competition as the cloud-native security market continues to develop.

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?”

Karma raises $12M to let restaurants and grocery stores offer unsold food at a discount

Karma, the Stockholm-based startup that offers a marketplace to let local restaurants and grocery offer unsold food at a discount, has raised $12 million in Series A funding. Swedish investment firm Kinnevik led the round, with participation from U.S. venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, appliance manufacturer Electrolux, and previous backer VC firm e.ventures. It […]

Karma, the Stockholm-based startup that offers a marketplace to let local restaurants and grocery offer unsold food at a discount, has raised $12 million in Series A funding.

Swedish investment firm Kinnevik led the round, with participation from U.S. venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, appliance manufacturer Electrolux, and previous backer VC firm e.ventures. It brings total funding to $18 million.

Founded in late 2015 by Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren, Ludvig Berling, Mattis Larsson and Elsa Bernadotte, and launched the following year, Karma is an app-based marketplace that helps restaurants and grocery stores reduce food waste by selling unsold food at a discount direct to consumers.

You simply register your location with the iOS or Android app and can browse various food merchants and the food items/dishes they have put on sale. Once you find an item to your liking, you pay through the Karma app and pick up the food before closing time. You can also follow your favourite establishments and be alerted when new food is listed each day.

“One third of of all food produced is wasted,” Karma CEO Ståhlberg Nordegren tells me. “We’re reducing food waste by enabling restaurants and grocery stores to sell their surplus food through our app… Consumers like you and me can then buy the food directly through the app and pick it up as take away at the location. We’re helping the seller reduce food waste and increase revenue, consumers get great food at a reduced price, and we help the environment redistributing food instead of wasting it”.

Since Karma’s original launch in its home country of Sweden, the startup has expanded to work with over 1,500 restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, cafes and bakeries to help reduce food waste by selling surplus food to 350,000 Karma users. It counts three of Sweden’s largest supermarkets as marketplace partners, as well as premium restaurants such as Ruta Baga and Marcus Samuelsson’s Kitchen & Table, and major brands such as Sodexo, Radisson and Scandic Hotels.

In February, the company expanded to the U.K., and is already working with over 400 restaurants in London. They include brands such as Aubaine, Polpo, Caravan, K10, Taylor St Barista’s, Ned’s Noodle Bar, and Detox Kitchen.

Ståhlberg Nordegren says Karma’s most frequent users are young professionals between the age of 25-40, who typically work in the city and pick up Karma on their way home. “Students and the elderly also love the app as it’s a great way to discover really good food for less,” he adds.

Meanwhile, will use the funding to continue to develop its product range, especially within supermarkets, and to expand to new markets, starting with Europe. The company plans to expand from 35 people based in Stockholm today to over 100 across 5 markets by the end of next year and over 150 by mid 2020.

Revcontent is trying to get rid of misinformation with help from the Poynter Institute

CEO John Lemp recently said that thanks to a new policy, publishers in Revcontent‘s content recommendation network “won’t ever make a cent” on false and misleading stories — at least, not from the network. To achieve this, the company is relying on fact-checking provided by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact Checking Network. If any two independent […]

CEO John Lemp recently said that thanks to a new policy, publishers in Revcontent‘s content recommendation network “won’t ever make a cent” on false and misleading stories — at least, not from the network.

To achieve this, the company is relying on fact-checking provided by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact Checking Network. If any two independent fact checkers from International Fact Checking flag a story from the Revcontent network as false, the company’s widget will be removed, and Revcontent will not pay out any money on that story (not even revenue earned before the story was flagged).

In some ways, Revcontent’s approach to fighting fake news and misinformation sounds similar to the big social media companies — Lemp, like Twitter, has said his company cannot be the “arbiter of truth,” and like Facebook, he’s emphasizing the need to remove the financial incentives for posting sensationalistic-but-misleading stories.

However, Lemp (who’s spoken in the past about using content recommendations to reduce publishers’ reliance on individual platforms) criticized the big internet companies for “arbitrarily” taking down content in response to “bad PR.” In contrast, he said Revcontent will have a fully transparent approach, one that removes the financial rewards for fake news without silencing anyone.

Lemp didn’t mention any specific takedowns, but the big story these days is Infowars. It seems like nearly everyone has been cracking down on Alex Jones’ far-right, conspiracy-mongering site, removing at least some Infowars-related accounts and content in the past couple of weeks.

The Infowars story also raises the question of whether you can effectively fight fake news on a story-by-story basis, rather than completely cutting off publishers when they’ve shown themselves to consistently post misleading or falsified stories.

When asked about this, Lemp said Revcontent also has the option to completely removing publishers from the network, but he said he views that as a “last resort.”

“Unhackable” BitFi crypto wallet has been hacked

The BitFi crypto wallet was supposed to be unhackable and none other than famous weirdo John McAfee claimed that the device – essentially an Android-based mini tablet – would withstand any attack. Spoiler alert: it couldn’t. First, a bit of background. The $120 device launched at the beginning of this month to much fanfare. It […]

The BitFi crypto wallet was supposed to be unhackable and none other than famous weirdo John McAfee claimed that the device – essentially an Android-based mini tablet – would withstand any attack. Spoiler alert: it couldn’t.

First, a bit of background. The $120 device launched at the beginning of this month to much fanfare. It consisted of a device that McAfee claimed contained no software or storage and was instead a standalone wallet similar to the Trezor. The website featured a bold claim by McAfee himself, one that would give a normal security researcher pause:

Further, the company offered a bug bounty that seems to be slowly being eroded by outside forces. They asked hackers to pull coins off of a specially prepared $10 wallet, a move that is uncommon in the world of bug bounties. They wrote:

We deposit coins into a Bitfi wallet
If you wish to participate in the bounty program, you will purchase a Bitfi wallet that is preloaded with coins for just an additional $10 (the reason for the charge is because we need to ensure serious inquiries only)
If you successfully extract the coins and empty the wallet, this would be considered a successful hack
You can then keep the coins and Bitfi will make a payment to you of $250,000
Please note that we grant anyone who participates in this bounty permission to use all possible attack vectors, including our servers, nodes, and our infrastructure

Hackers began attacking the device immediately, eventually hacking it to find the passphrase used to move crypto in and out of the the wallet. In a detailed set of Tweets, security researchers Andrew Tierney and Alan Woodward began finding holes by attacking the operating system itself. However, this did not match the bounty to the letter, claimed BitFi, even though they did not actually ship any bounty-ready devices.

Then, to add insult injury, the company earned a Pwnies award at security conference Defcon. The award was given for worst vendor response. As hackers began dismantling the device, BitFi went on the defensive, consistently claiming that their device was secure. And the hackers had a field day. One hacker, 15-year-old Saleem Rashid, was able to play Doom on the device.

The hacks kept coming. McAfee, for his part, kept refusing to accept the hacks as genuine.

Unfortunately, the latest hack may have just fulfilled all of BitFi’s requirements. Rashid and Tierney have been able to pull cash out of the wallet by hacking the passphrase, a primary requirement for the bounty. “We have sent the seed and phrase from the device to another server, it just gets sent using netcat, nothing fancy.” Tierney said. “We believe all conditions have been met.”

The end state of this crypto mess? BitFi did what most hacked crypto companies do: double down on the threats. In a recently deleted Tweet they made it clear that they were not to be messed with:

The researchers, however, may still have the last laugh.

Cytera Cellworks aims to bring cell culture automation to your dinner plate

Cytera Cellworks hopes to revolutionize the so-called ‘clean meat’ industry through the automation of cell cultures — and that could mean one day, if all goes to plan, the company’s products could be in every grocery store in America. Cytera is a ways off from that happening, though. Founded in 2017 by two college students in […]

Cytera Cellworks hopes to revolutionize the so-called ‘clean meat’ industry through the automation of cell cultures — and that could mean one day, if all goes to plan, the company’s products could be in every grocery store in America.

Cytera is a ways off from that happening, though. Founded in 2017 by two college students in the U.K., Ignacio Willats and Ali Afshar, Cytera uses robotic automation to configure cell cultures used in things like growing turkey meat from a petri dish or testing stem cells.

The two founders — Willats, the events and startups guy and Afshar the scientist, like to do things differently to better configure the lab as well — like strapping GoPros to lab workers’ heads, for instance. The two came together at the Imperial College of London to run an event for automation in the lab and from there formed their friendship and their company.

“At the time, lab automation felt suboptimal,” Afshar told TechCrunch, further explaining he wanted to do something with a higher impact.

Cellular agriculture, or growing animal cells in a lab, seems to hit that button and the two are currently enrolled in Y Combinator’s Summer 2018 cohort to help them get to the next step.

There’s been an explosion in the lab-made meat industry, which relies on taking a biopsy of animal cells and then growing them in a lab to make the meat versus getting it from an actual living, breathing animal. In just the last couple of years startups like Memphis Meats have started to pop up, offering lab meat to restaurants. Even the company known for its vegan mayo products Hampton Creek (now called Just) is creating a lab-grown foie gras.

Originally, the company was going to go for general automation in the lab but had enough interest from clients and potential business in just the cell culture automation aspect they changed the name for clarity. Cytera already has some promising prospects, too, including a leading gene therapy company the two couldn’t name just yet.

Of course, automation in the lab is nothing new and big pharma has already poured billions into it for drug discovery. One could imagine a giant pharma company teaming up with a meat company looking to get into the lab-made meat industry and doing something similar but so far Willats and Afshar says they haven’t really seen that happening. They say bigger companies are much more likely to partner with smaller startups like theirs to get the job done.

Obviously, there are trade-offs at either end. But, should Cytera make it, you may find yourself eating a chicken breast one day built by a company who bought the cells made in the Cytera lab.

HQ Trivia downloads spiral downward as it hits Apple TV

HQ Trivia’s app store ranking has continued to sink the past three months, but it’s hoping a new version on your television could revitalize growth. HQ today launched an Apple TV app that lets users play the twice-daily live quiz game alongside iOS Android players. “Everything about the game is still the same – same […]

HQ Trivia’s app store ranking has continued to sink the past three months, but it’s hoping a new version on your television could revitalize growth. HQ today launched an Apple TV app that lets users play the twice-daily live quiz game alongside iOS Android players. “Everything about the game is still the same – same questions, same time, same rules” says a spokesperson, except you’ll play with the Apple TV remote instead of their phone’s screen. But that might not be enough to get HQ’s player count rapidly growing again.

According to App Annie’s app store ranking history, on iOS HQ has fallen from the #1 US Trivia game to #10, from the #44 game to #196, and from the #151 overall app to #585. It’s exhibited a similar decline on Android. Analytics firm Sensor Tower estimates HQ has seen 12.5 million lifetime installs by unique users, with abou 68% on iOS. “Installs have been on the decline. For last month, we estimate them with about 560K, which is down from their height of more than two million per month back in February” Sensor Tower’s head of mobile insights Randy Nelson tells TechCrunch.

 

The question is whether this is just a summer lull as people spend time outside and students aren’t locked in the schedule of school, or if HQ is in a downward spiral beyond seasonal fluctuations. But if we zoom out, you can see that HQ has been in dropping down the charts through the school year since peaking in January. At one point it climbed as high as the #3 game and #6 overall app. The app’s record high of concurrent players has also declined from a peak of 2.38 million in late March.

Meanwhile, new clones keep popping up. After the initial wave of Chinese live trivia apps, now US television studios are getting into the mix. This week Fox unveiled ‘FN Genius’ which looks and works almost exactly that same as HQ. One of HQ’s long-time rivals Trivia Crack where users play asynchronously over the course of days, also declined earlier this year but has bucked HQ’s trend and started rising on the App Store charts again. There are also new 1-on-1 trivia games like ProveIt that let players bet real money on whether they can outsmart their opponent.

Fox’s FN Genius. Image via Deadline

With themed games, celebrity hosts, big jackpots like a recent $400,000 prize, and new features like the ability to see friends’ answers, HQ has tried to keep its app novel. But it’s also encountered cheaters and people playing with multiple phones that make normal players feel like they’ll never win. While the live aspect adds urgency, it can also feel interruptive with time as users aren’t always available for its noon and 6pm pacific games. HQ may need to launch a second game app, come up with some new viral hooks, or find ways to revive lapsed players if it’s going to make good on the $15 million its parent company raised in March.

 

Y Combinator invests in HappiLabs to help scientists shop smarter

To create life-saving drugs or groundbreaking technological advancements, scientists first need the proper lab equipment. Everything from intricate and expensive specialized machines to beakers and rubber gloves must be sourced, price compared and ordered by a lab manager before even the first steps toward discovery can take place. But, says Tom Ruginis, CEO and founder […]

To create life-saving drugs or groundbreaking technological advancements, scientists first need the proper lab equipment. Everything from intricate and expensive specialized machines to beakers and rubber gloves must be sourced, price compared and ordered by a lab manager before even the first steps toward discovery can take place.

But, says Tom Ruginis, CEO and founder of the virtual lab manger startup HappiLabs, the process for finding the best and most cost-effective materials for your lab is far from a standardized process.

“The pricing aspect started catching my attention more and more,” Ruginis told TechCrunch. “The profit margin for lab supplies is extraordinarily large. Scientists don’t know that, and even if they know that it’s really hard for them to shop around. There’s nowhere for them to go.”

As an ex-PhD student and lab manager himself, Ruginis has first-hand experience with the struggles — and shortcuts — necessary to properly stock your lab. After leaving his PhD program in pharmacology, Ruginis took a job as a salesman for a scientific distributor and saw that even labs that were floors apart were paying drastically different prices for the same basic supplies.

Taken aback at how far behind scientific purchasing was from the rest of the retail world, Ruginis began compiling his own spreadsheet of pricing information and, with the help of his then-girlfriend (now wife) Rachel, began designing small price-comparison pamphlets for items like gloves and beakers to distribute to local labs to give them a perspective on the pricing space.

“I went to this one lab that I knew was paying too much,” said Ruginis. “I had data showing that a lab three floors up in their building was paying almost half the price. I went straight to [the lab] and showed [them] this. I asked ‘would you give me $10 for this info and if I kept bringing you more pricing info?’ They gave me $10 and in my head that was our first customer.”

Ruginis says the pamphlets grew from one page to eight and it wasn’t long after that labs began coming to him directly for purchasing guidance and outsourcing. And in 2012, with $20,000 raised from friends and family, he launched HappiLabs as a virtual lab manager for labs, spanning topics from biotech and brain research to robotics.

Since its launch, HappiLabs has grown to 14 employees — comprising six PhD virtual lab managers and eight support staff — and, after earning $1 million in 2017, this summer received a $120,000 investment from Y Combinator .

Actively working with 26 labs across the country, Ruginis says the company is ready to begin incorporating more software and technology into the company and is searching for a CTO to help it reach that goal.

“We’re building an internal software tool that’s strictly for lab managers,” said Ruginis. “What some other companies have done is they’ll try to build a tool and give it to all the lab managers on the planet, but what we’re doing is we’re building a tool for us [first]. We’re going to use it for a few years, make it awesome, and then we’ll end up selling that somewhere down the line as a lab manager software.”

Even further down the road, Ruginis says he imagines creating both hardware and software that can not only be installed in labs across the world (think Alexa for scientists) but even support scientific advancement in labs that are out-of-this-world for future scientists working on the red planet or the ISS.