• Recharge Invites Users to Book a Hotel Room — One Minute at a Time

    rechargetc (2)Call it on-demand on steroids. A 10-month-old, San Francisco company called Recharge has developed an app that enables users to book a stay in hotel for just for 67 cents a minute, or $40 an hour.

    The offering sounds both brilliant and preposterous, yet it has already attracted some smart investors, including Scott and Cyan Banister and early Google engineer Harry Cheung, who’ve provided the company with $650,000 in seed funding. It’s raising up to $2.5 million altogether.

    To learn more about the company, we chatted recently with CEO Emmanual Bamfo, who held numerous brief stints at startups, including at the carpooling company Hitch (acquired by Lyft), before teaming up with two former classmates at Washington University in St. Louis to create Recharge.

    Okay, so tell us about this seemingly crazy idea that just might work. Who is your target audience?

    Somebody who came up to San Francisco from L.A. for a day trip booked a Recharge earlier today. We see folks who just want to change a diaper or nurse their baby. We get people who live in Menlo Park but work in San Francisco and who want to shower and take a little time for themselves before they head to an evening engagement.

    It’s a real need that we’re solving. [Customers] are getting privacy in the city to nap or shower or prepare for something. You can’t do that at Starbuck’s.

    This concept is very much like that of Breather, which provides on-demand rooms in cities so that visitors can pop in to relax with friends or maybe make some quiet calls. We should also note that Breather has raised nearly $28 million from investors. Why is this better?

    More here.

  • Super Hot Korea Gets a New Venture Fund

    Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 10.46.55 AMKorea is sizzling, and the fact isn’t lost on Altos Ventures or its backers. The early-stage venture firm, with an office on Sand Hill Road and in Seoul, has just raised an oversubscribed $110 million fund to invest exclusively in the country, the second fund of its type for Altos, which raised its last Korea-focused fund with $60 million in 2013. (The firm has also raised four U.S.-focused funds over the last decade.)

    It’s easy to understand LPs’ enthusiasm. Korea boasts the world’s 12th economy, with more than 50 million inhabitants and GDP per capita of roughly $25,000, according to the World Bank. Its inhabitants are entrepreneurial, with 28 percent of the population self-employed versus 10 percent in the U.S. Korea also has among the world’s fastest and mostly broadly deployed broadband.

    Also very notably, Korea has produced more than a dozen Internet companies worth more than a billion dollars over the last decade or so, including the web search giant Naver, a now publicly traded company valued at $17 billion; the web search company Daum Kakao, formed when Korean internet firm Daum merged with domestic messaging app company Kakao in a $2.9 billion deal in 2014 (it’s now valued at $5.5 billion); and Yello Mobile, whose mobile apps business was valued at $4 billion during its most recent funding round in December.

    Yesterday, we talked with Altos Ventures managing director Anthony Lee to get a better picture of what’s going on, and how his firm is going to invest its new fund.

    When and why did you start investing in Korea?

    About 10 years ago. We started seeing this opportunity that was very much overlooked in many ways. Everyone knows the country for LG and Samsung, but there are now a lot of very real, billion dollars companies, and there’s almost zero Western capital in those companies. Many bootstrapped themselves. They were almost entirely missed by VCs in Silicon Valley.

    That must be changing. What other investors are you starting to see who you didn’t see five years ago?

    There’s now a domestic VC market, investing $1.5 billion annually in all sorts of things, from Internet stuff to hardware, movies, medical, and manufacturing. We’re seeing a lot more foreign attention now, too. At the later stages, you’re seeing Chinese hedge funds, Japanese corporates — Softbank invested $1 billion in [our portfolio company, the e-commerce startup] Coupang last year. Goldman Sachs is coming in. Blackrock also led an investment in Coupang in late 2014. At the earlier stage, you’re also starting to see, Japanese, Chinese, and more U.S. investors start to venture over there.

    There’s a much stronger focus on profitability in Korea than in the U.S., is that right?

    Yes. Korean venture has been more merchant banking and corporate in its nature, meaning it invests for very quick returns. The government is a large LP in many funds and they’ve [accordingly been] optimized for lower risk. We sometimes find ourselves pushing companies in the direction of growth and not profitability. At the same time, of the 30 companies we’ve invested in there, we’ve only had one loss. It’s a bit emblematic of the way Korean entrepreneurs work. They hate to fail.

    Much more here.

  • NFX Guild Just Graduated 16 Startups: Here They Are

    nfx-guild-logo-bigThe Bay Area accelerator NFX Guild presented 16 companies to a crowded room of 200 investors down on Sand Hill Road yesterday, and the room was reportedly very energized.

    Little wonder. NFX was founded by seasoned entrepreneurs and operators James Currier, Stan Chudnovsky and Gigi Levy Weiss. Its companies are referred to the outfit by a network of 42 scouts — some of them investors, many of them entrepreneurs, and a fair number who work double-time as angel investors. (No company can enter into the program without being routed through them.)

    Even more attractive to investors, presumably: These startups are centered around fully formed ideas by the time they hit NFX. Indeed, fully 13 of the 16 companies that presented today had already raised funding, and some were started by pretty big wheels. Wheelwell, for example, a Houzz-like platform automotive parts, accessories and services, was cofounded by the person who established Apple’s Mac Genius service in Apple’s retail stores. Meanwhile, the CEO of Outdoorsy has already led two public companies.

    Companies admitted by NFX are given $120,000, along with 30 hours of programming, mentoring, and introductions to investors. NFX in turn gets 7 percent of their company. (If they’ve already raised more than $750,000, NFX asks for 5 percent.)

    Today’s batch represents NFX’s second class, and the companies are still meeting with VCs, so it’s probably not too late to kick the tires if you’re an investor — or check out your newest peers if you’re a founder. You can check them out right here.

  • In Race to Build Kid-Activity Subscription Services, a New Entrant

    childrenThey’re starting to crop up here and there, new startups that have appropriated the monthly class-pass model and are focused on children’s activities. Last month, a New York-based startup called KidPass announced $325,000 in seed funding, including from serial entrepreneur Kevin Ryan. Meanwhile, Brooklyn-based The Kids Passport, which caters to local families and launched in October, has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Notation Capital and Collaborative Fund.

    Now, there’s a new entrant. A Chicago-based startup that’s similarly focused on helping parents and other caregivers find affordable and varied things to do with young children, is launching this coming Monday.

    Called Pearachute, it’s just six weeks old, yet investors love the idea so much that the company has already raised $1.2 million in seed funding, including from former Match.com CEO (and now vice chairman) Sam Yagan, Techstars cofounder David Cohen, Chicago Ventures, Hyde Park Venture Partners, HotelTonight CEO Sam Shank, SitterCity cofounder Genevieve Thiers, and various other angel investors.

    Yagan has even signed on as chairman.

    More here.

  • Unicorns Reach a Tipping Point

    unicornThis morning, the law firm Fenwick & West published new findings about all the U.S.-based unicorn financings that took place during the last nine months of 2015. It’s rife with interesting nuggets, but perhaps most fascinating is that in the fourth quarter of last year, half of the 12 rounds it tracked featured valuations in the $1 billion to 1.1 billion range — and terms that were far more onerous than earlier in the year.

    Fenwick & West politely suggests these companies may have been “willing to be more flexible” regarding “investor friendly terms” in order to attain their billion-dollar-plus valuations. We’d call the behavior bone-headed.

    The instinct is understandable, to a degree. For the last couple of years, the media has been almost singularly obsessed with companies valued at north of a billion dollars. Some management teams invariably concluded that to attract the attention of reporters and even potential recruits, they needed so-called unicorn status.

    Slack is among them. CEO Stewart Butterfield told Fortune in January of last year that if he couldn’t get a billion-dollar valuation straightaway for his company, he wouldn’t raise capital at all, saying the valuation was a “psychological threshold” for “certain types of customers” who want the “comfort of knowing we’re highly valued and financially secure.” Butterfield said the valuation helped with hires, too. “There is a class of employees who are more risk-averse and work at some company like Google or Facebook and they have a mortgage and kids,” he told Fortune. “It helps a lot of those kinds of people as well.”

    Well, it does until it doesn’t.

    More here.

  • IfOnly Raises $10.25M for Its “Experiences” Marketplace

    Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 6.53.31 AMIt used to be hard to take IfOnly very seriously. The 3.5-year-old, San Francisco-based company service has always serviced customers looking for unusual experiences, but they seemed out of reach for most, like the (expensive) chance to cook with famed chef Thomas Keller. That the company was inspired by the wealthy friends of founder and CEO Trevor Traina — people looking to have “incredible experiences,” as Traina told Vanity Fair in a 2013 story about San Francisco society — added to the impression that IfOnly was aimed squarely at the 1 percent.

    But Traina, who has founded four companies previously and managed to sell all of them, has big ambitions to serve more than the very monied.

    In fact, a long list of investors has provided IfOnly with $10.25 million in Series B funding to help it evolve beyond an “experiences marketplace” for clients like Madonna to a platform through which local experts can market and sell their services. Want to learn how to make a macchiato from the best coffee bar in your neighborhood? You might find the opportunity on IfOnly. Interested in a basketball lesson from a former NBA pro? He might be marketing his services on IfOnly, too.

    Traina says in earnest that the addressable market his 60-employee company is chasing is $225 billion. He cites as proof surveys that suggest millennials in particular are more interested in experiences than past generations. (One such study in 2014, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the online ticket company Eventbrite, reported that 72 percent of respondents wanted to increase their spending on experiences in the coming year.)

    “They’re never going to buy a car,” says Traina of millennials. “They don’t care about furniture. But they’re on social media channels, where it’s not fun to post about a belt but it is fun to [post a picture, saying], “Check me out backstage.” In fact, says Traina, he believes there’s an “eBay-sized business here. Everyone wants experiences and no one is really offering it to them.”

    It’s not so ridiculous.

    More here.

  • Call9 Lands $10 Million Series A Led By Index Ventures

    Blue - Call9Call9, a nine-month-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based telemedicine startup that came together last spring as a Y Combinator company, has raised $10 million in Series A funding led by Index Ventures, whose cofounder, Neil Rimer, is joining the board.

    Other investors in the round include Ali Rowghani, who leads the Y Combinator Continuity Fund; Joe Lonsdale, the VC and co-founder of Palantir Technologies; and Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe.

    It’s easy to appreciate the young company’s appeal. While there’s no shortage of startups connecting patients to doctors on demand, Call9 specializes in specifically reducing unnecessary visits to emergency rooms by those who call 911 most frequently, which is people in nursing homes.

    The company is the brainchild of two physicians: Celina Tenev, a radiology postdoctoral fellow from Stanford, and Timothy Peck, who worked previously as an emergency medicine physician and faculty at Harvard Medical School. The two met while working part-time for a now-defunct startup and shared a joint disbelief that the patient experience still typically includes spending several hours in an emergency room.

    More here.

  • The Unicorns Hiring, and Losing Employees, the Fastest

    unicornEvery day, we in the media are starting to hear about startups laying off employees – sizable percentages of them, too. Last week, it was MixpanelMaker Media, and SOLS.

    A recruiter who asked not to be named separately tells us that Instacart has parted ways with numerous recruiters in anticipation of a hiring slowdown.

    Instacart’s VP of People, Matt Caldwell, confirms that the company is no longer using contract recruiters and is slowing down its total number of full-time hires, but says that’s a reflection of the company’s earlier and aggressive growth plans. He notes that company grew from 91 full-time employees in January 2015 to 300 full-time employees today.

    Either way, not everyone sees major changes up ahead. Josh Withers, cofounder of the nationwide startup search firm True, tells us that it’s business as usual as far as he can tell. “Burn rates are being closely scrutinized. We haven’t seen a pull back in terms of hiring, though.” Though Withers half expected to return to work after the holiday to find companies wanting to do more with less, he says that instead, “We came back from break and got a ton of inbounds from private equity firms, VCs looking for help with their startups, and other companies of all stages.”It could be that companies have “already raised the money and need to put it to work,” he observes. “Maybe [what we’re seeing] lags the macro markets because the way the money was raised. But it doesn’t feel at all like 2009.”

    Because it’s so hard to know what’s really going on right now, we worked earlier this week with a set of data scientists with fancy degrees, poring over publicly available data to come up with a list of which U.S.-based, privately held, non-biotech-related “unicorn” companies are hiring the fastest, and which are seeing the most employees leave.

    More here.

  • Guardant Health Raises Nearly $100M More to Test for Cancer

    Guardant Health, a three-year-old, Redwood Shores, Ca.-based company whose non-invasive genomic sequencing test for cancer requires just two vials of blood, has raised nearly $100 million in Series D funding roughly one year after closing on $90 million for its Series C round.

    The financing was led by OrbiMed Advisors, with earlier backers participating, including Khosla Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Pejman Mar, Formation 8, Heritage Group, and Felicis Ventures.

    Guardant, a 135-person company that has now raised almost $200 million altogether, isn’t talking about its valuation. But cofounder and CEO Helmy Eltoukhy, a Ph.D who worked at the Stanford Genome Technology Center before cofounding and quickly selling an earlier company, talked with us yesterday about what Guardant’s investors are funding exactly. Our conversation has been edited for length.

    Your test alleviates the need to cut out a piece of tissue and sequence the DNA in that biopsy. Other than being less invasive, why is it better?

    You can take a single tumor and every part will have potentially different mutations. Through two teaspoons of blood, we can see the entirety of the disease.

    How has your technology changed in the last year? What prompted so much new investment?

    The way it works is as these tumors grow rapidly, they are also dying rapidly and shedding their content into the bloodstream, including DNA signature. [Over time] we’ve made our sequencing technology about 1,000 to 10,000 times more accurate in order to see those fragments of DNA. It’s akin to the difference between high-resolution TV and old black-and-white technologies. Because we can see those trace fragments, we can reconstruct the genome.

    How accurate is your blood test?

    It matches tissue biopsies with 99.3 percent diagnostic accuracy, and we see often more mutations [than doctors can find] in that tissue biopsy. Maybe the patient had a recent biopsy and nothing actionable was found, but now, with the mutations that we detect, that person can be given corresponding drugs that target those mutations.

    Have the public woes of another blood-testing company, Theranos, impacted your business?

    More here.

  • Everwise, A Mentoring Matchmaker, Raises $8 Million

    image002Everwise, a New York-based company whose online service connects executives willing to volunteer their time with people looking for mentorship — from new entrepreneurs, to budding sports coaches, to people looking to rise through the ranks of Fortune 500 companies — is taking the wraps off the bigger business that it’s been quietly building over the the past year. Now, the three-year-old, 40-person outfit has become what it’s calling an “integrated platform for talent development.”

    The cornerstone of the technology has long worked by plugging data from a user’s LinkedIn profile — and from a personalized questionnaire that he or she answers — into an algorithm that essentially points that person to a more experienced executive from another company.

    But Everwise has thrown a number of new bells and whistles into the mix. For example, a user is still assigned a mentor, but he or she is also provided with curated content from around the web based on the recommendations that Everwise mentors have made in the past, including which books to read and TED talks to watch. Customers can also be included in peer groups suited to their needs.

    More here.

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