• TrialPay Cofounder Back with Fractional Home Ownership Startup

    Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 5.43.24 PMPoint — an 11-month-old, Palo Alto-based home equity marketplace that plans to take people’s homes and make them completely liquid, divisible and tradable by letting owners sell fractional equity in them — is raising funding, shows a new SEC filing.

    It’s a fascinating concept that we think has only been tried in the past with vacation rentals by high-end developers, including Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton.

    Point was co-founded by Eddie Lim, who co-founded the e-commerce payment platform TrialPay, which Visa acquired in 2013 for undisclosed terms.

    Don’t be surprised to see Andreessen Horowitz lead or participate in this round. In August, the Sand Hill Road firm brought aboard another TrialPay co-founder (and Lim’s fellow Harvard classmate), Alex Rampell, as a general partner to focus on financial tech startups.

    More here.

  • Cognoa, Which Promises Parents Faster Answers, Looks to Series B

    There’s a lot of talk these days about computational medicine, which uses massive amounts of data to train a machine to understand even more than experts or, at least, to identify health-related problems more quickly.

    Cognoa, a consumer-focused healthcare outfit, is among the developing field’s biggest proponents. The two-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based company claims it can dramatically speed up the time that it takes parents to identity whether their child has developmental issues, and it can do so by assessing far fewer data points than have been traditionally employed toward the same end.

    The company’s story centers on the work of Dennis Wall, an associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Stanford who began looking into the complexity of diagnosing Autism while an associate professor of pathology at Harvard several years ago. Specifically, he learned that the process of better understanding whether a child’s development is on track typically means hours of behavioral examinations by certified practitioners who’ve been trained to perform interview-based analyses with parents or with children directly.

    As you might imagine, appointments are hard to get as a result. In fact, the process is so slow, says Wall, that the average age of a child being seen by one of these practitioners is 4.5 years old. That’s not good. By that age, a kid has missed a window of brain plasticity when an intervention can have the biggest impact.

    Work by researchers at The New England Center for Children — which studied 83 toddlers diagnosed with autism in the school’s Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention program — underscores the problem. According to their findings, there’s an alarming gulf between the impact that 20 to 30 hours of weekly one-on-one therapy can have on a child who’s under age 2 and one who is 2.5 years old or older. While fully 90 percent of the toddlers in their study aged 2 or younger made “significant gains” in social and communication skills, just 30 percent of children who entered therapy at age 2.5 or older made “significant gains.”

    Cognoa says it can get children in front of doctors faster with its deceptively simple app, one that asks parents to answer 15 questions that address a minimum viable set of behaviors that indicate whether their child is at risk of Autism.

    How can it boil down the process so drastically? The company says much of its power is rooted in the information that Wall has culled over the years, including from research repositories like the Autism Genetic Research Exchange, Cure Autism Now (later subsumed into Autism Speaks), the Autism Consortium, and the National Database for Autism Research, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

    Collectively, the repositories feature observations about 10,000 children. It’s always been possible to request access to that information, says Wall, but he claims no one before had tried to combine, synthesize, and analyze the data using machine learning.

    More here.

  • RelayRides Rebrands as Turo, Raises $47 Million Led by Kleiner

    logo-blackRelayRides, the six-year-old, San Francisco-based peer-to-peer car rental service, has just rebranded itself as Turo. The company is also announcing $47 million in Series C funding led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

    The combined announcement is meant to grab attention. Turo doesn’t disclose the number of people using its platform or the number of cars currently available to renters. But the company says that 60 percent of its revenue now comes from out-of-town travelers who are renting the cars of people who are themselves flying out of town. And it wants to take the trend global, thus the name. CEO Andre Haddad says it evokes both “touring,” or, in Italian, “turismo.”

    The shift makes sense. There are plenty of hassles involved in airport parking, from the typical drive to the far-flung lot to the big parking tab. Cars are also depreciating assets from which more owners could easily wring money.

    Turo isn’t not alone in trying to capture people who are willing to hand over their car keys for a little more spending money. Among its other competitors are GetAround and Flightcar, a company whose major restructuring we wrote about last month.

    Still, there are differences. Whereas GetAround rents cars by the hour or day, Turo requires a one-day minimum and says the average rental period is 5.5 days.

    More here.

  • Blind, An Anonymous Chat App for Employees, Raises Series A Funding from DCM

    Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 8.34.11 AMTired of being monitored by your company while wanting to dish with colleagues about said company? Or maybe you’re curious about what people with similar work experience are making at other companies? Blind, a two-year-old app founded in South Korea and newly available in the U.S., may be just the thing for you.

    Its big idea: bringing anonymity to the workplace so you can “share the real you” with other employees. If you happen to figure out what’s really happening in the upper echelons of the company, so much the better.

    Blind’s origins trace back to Naver, the South Korean Internet giant, which long ran a widely used employee forum but pulled the plug when employees began making less-than-flattering remarks about management. When a group of Naver employees left to form Blind, many Naver employees embraced the platform, followed by employees elsewhere.

    It’s been growing ever since, says Osuke Honda, a general partner at DCM, which led an unannounced Series A round of “single digit millions” in the company in May. Indeed, he says that another pivotal moment for Blind came late last year, when a senior Korean Air executive exploded in a rage after a flight attendant presented her peanuts in a bag instead of on a dish.

    More here.

  • Bessemer’s Byron Deeter on Mobile Enterprise Apps: They’ll Create “Tens of Billions” of Dollars

    Byron DeeterTop SaaS investors have been saying for nearly a year that the next billion-dollar market opportunities are rooted in mobile enterprise apps – software for people who don’t sit behind a desk but do keep a smartphone in their pocket.

    Last month, we talked about the trend with Kevin Spain of Emergence Capital. More recently, we caught up with Byron Deeter of Bessemer Venture Partners, who says Bessemer, which has already made 10 related bets, is similarly making a giant push into more mobile enterprise apps businesses. More from our chat, lightly edited, here:

    How long have you been focusing on mobile enterprise apps?

    We probably began focusing on this 18 months ago, with investments that range from pure plays like [the conference calling software company] Speakeasy to vertical applications – meaning they have mobile-heavy use cases or vertical use cases — like [the construction management software company] Procore; ServiceTitan [it makes management software for home services businesses like plumbing]; and ClearCare [which makes software for home care agencies].

    Something like 80 percent of the 3 billion people in the world who work do not sit behind a desk. Given the opportunities, how do you decide which industries to go after first?

    We look at industries and market size and sectors. We look at the state of existing technologies. And we try to have hypotheses around which verticals should fall first and where the biggest opportunities should lie. But we’re also very opportunistic in terms of meeting with great entrepreneurs and trying to find out where traction is happening because often it happens in areas you wouldn’t expect. For example, construction wasn’t an area we were looking at as an early adopter segment. Now that we work with Procore, it seems obvious in hindsight. But it isn’t something you would have seen outside in. It took industry insiders and proactive outreach to understand the power of the trend.

    Which is suddenly huge. There seem to be a lot of mobile companies now tackling the construction market. 

    There can be multiple winners in these markets; they’re surprisingly big. Take ClearCare in the health care space. Healthcare alone is massive and it’s just sourcing a small part of it.

    The company is [focused on] home care workers for a specific type of segment. But there are probably dozens of other opportunities to do mobile-centric things in healthcare, within the hospital setting, within the home setting . . . we think it will be many years in the making, and that these are very early days.

    What industry do you think is ripe for mobile disruption next?

    More here.

  • Kinnek, a Small Biz Marketplace, Raises $20 Million Led by Thrive

    LogoKinnek, a 3.5-year-old, New York-based marketplace for small businesses to find suppliers and manage purchasing, has just raised $20 million in Series B funding led by Thrive Capital.

    It already looks like a smart bet.

    The company currently has 20,000 businesses and 2,000 suppliers using its marketplace, and they’re striking millions of dollars worth of deals every week, says cofounder Karthik Sridharan. Considering the company’s age and the fragmented landscape in which it’s operating – think restaurants to distilleries to manufacturers – that kind of traction is meaningful.

    It’s also just the tip of the iceberg, apparently. According to a spokesperson for the company, Kinnek “conservatively” estimates that U.S. businesses with up to 100 employees and $20 million in yearly sales spend more than $2.2 trillion annually on machinery, equipment and physical goods based on data from Visa, Intuit, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    While we can’t vouch for the accuracy of that number (there are lots of different figures floating around out there), what is clear is the competition, or lack of it, facing Kinnek.

    More here.

  • Forget Amazon Gift Cards; Give the Gift of Public Stock

    Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 3.52.30 PMThere are plenty of people who’d happily become shareholders in companies like Apple and Facebook if the process of buying stock were simpler. They are plenty of people who’d prefer to give the gift of stock but who hand out money or retailers’ gift cards for the same reason.

    Stockpile, a five-year-old, 15-person, Palo Alto, Ca.-based brokerage services firm has a solution to that problem: Stock gift cards. They say they’ll be everywhere soon, too, thanks in part to $15 million in Series A funding the company has just stockpiled from Sequoia Capital, Mayfield, and actor-investor Ashton Kutcher.

    We talked yesterday with Stockpile founder and CEO Avi Lele, along with its chief commercial officer (and former PayPal general manager), Dan Schatt. We asked how the company works, and why traditional brokerages haven’t created gift cards for stock much sooner.

    Avi, you previously spent 16 years as a patent attorney. Why start Stockpile?

    AL: I’d long thought that rather than buy gifts for my niece and nephew, things they toss to the side after a couple of days, it’d be neat to turn them onto something that would last into the future. So I tried to buy them shares, but it was such a pain that I gave up. You had to open a brokerage account, then get their social security numbers, then fund the account with a couple thousand dollars. And even then, a lot of shares were too expensive. I was like, wait, this is too hard.

    You say you then spent four years quietly building a licensed brokerage platform to turn stock into a consumer product. Who are some of your partners?

    DS: We’ve got great distribution partners already, including Blackhawk Network, which has 180,000 locations. It’s the company that powers the gift cards you see in racks everywhere from Safeway to Giant Eagle to Toy “R” Us. You’ll be able to buy [our cards] off the shelf at Kmart. They can light up all sorts of chain locations for us.

    Much more here.

  • Much Ado About Peeple

    peeple-mobile-social-media-app-facebook-540x334“Imagine every positive and ugly opinion about you— from your mother to that awkward co-worker you rejected at the company Christmas party— centrally located on one online profile. Sound scary? It is.”

    That’s the way people are characterizing Peeple, a year-and-a-half-year-old, Calgary-based company whose app is currently being beta tested by 35,000 people yet has garnered an almost endless stream of publicity since being described last week in the Washington Post as “terrifying.”

    Peeple lets people rate other people on a scale of one to five stars, as well as to write a review explaining the rating. But it’s not the first outfit to take a swing at encouraging people to present a picture of other people. In fact, that quote above? It was written by former TechCrunch writer Evelyn Rusli in a 2010 review of a similar app called Unvarnished that also used a five-star rating system and invited people to explain the rating.

    You may not remember it, because Unvarnished didn’t work, and its path strongly suggests that Peeple may head in the same direction.

    Let’s start with what went wrong at Unvarnished, which, like Peeple, was widely vilified in the press at its launch — so much so that it changed its name to Honestly six months after its public debut.

    Honestly co-founder Pete Kazanjy — who later remodeled the San Francisco company into a recruiting startup called TalentBin and sold it to Monster  — says Honestly ran into a number of obstacles in its attempt to become an enduring reputation management site.

    First, as you might imagine, there’s was a disconnect between the people who were being rated and the users who were doing the rating (anonymously, it should be mentioned).

    More here.

  • CrunchBase to Become a Standalone Company

    CBEight-year-old, San Francisco-based CrunchBase looks to become a standalone company in the very near future. According to several sources, the unit, which calls itself the “definitive database of the startup ecosystem,” is finalizing a term sheet with the venture firm Emergence Capital Partners for an investment of between $5 million and $7 million.

    AOL, we’re told, remains a “significant” investor.

    It’s both the closing of a chapter for CrunchBase, and the beginning of a new one.

    More here.


  • EShares, Now Valued at $77 Million, Looks Far Beyond Silicon Valley

    eSharesThree-year-old eShares digitizes paper stock certificates along with stock options, warrants, and derivatives to create a real-time picture of who owns what at a startup. It also makes it far simpler to transfer ownership of all of the above — which goes a long way in explaining the company’s traction. The Mountain View, Ca.-based outfit right now maintains the cap tables of 1,500 companies, including Slack and Blue Bottle Coffee, and says it’s adding 200 more companies each month. Perhaps more important, eShares has won the trust of roughly 35 law firms, the gatekeepers for most startups and their paper certificates.

    But eShares — which has just raised $17 million in Series B funding at a post-money valuation of $77 million from insiders like Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures — isn’t just racing to win over tech startups. Now, the 42-person company wants the rest of the world’s still-private small and mid-size businesses on its platform, too.

    We talked with cofounder and CEO Henry Ward about his big plans yesterday.

    As of last year, eShares charged companies $159 a month or roughly $1,900 a year to maintain an ongoing valuation. It also charged a $20 fee every time a company issued a new grant and another $20 every time someone exercised the sale of one of their holdings.

    That hasn’t changed, and the model works well at the early stage, though a lot of our larger customers go to an all-you-can-eat annual subscription model. We don’t publish the pricing (publicly) but that typically happens when companies hit 50 employees.

    Worth noting: Employees on eShares can hook up their bank account to their eShares account and self-exercise their options and we wire the money straight to the company, as well as issue the employee new stock certificates. It’s much easier than the normal paper exercise, where employees have to get the company to process [the transaction every time they want to exercise their options].

    You must have pretty good insight into what’s happening in terms of secondary sales, too. Are you noticing more shares selling to insiders versus third parties or vice versa? 

    I can’t talk specifics, but secondaries are getting a lot of attention. We joined forces with [the secondary investment firm] Industry Ventures [which participated in eShare’s new round] to work on streamlining the process and bringing more transparency to it.

    As an investor, does Industry Ventures get “first dibs” on secondary sales where you’re helping companies facilitate their movement?

    For more of our conversation with Ward, click here.

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