• A Slick New 401(k) Platform, From TaskRabbit Cofounder Kevin Busque

    1485040In recent years, Kevin Busque began to notice something at TaskRabbit, the outsourced jobs marketplace that he co-founded seven years ago with his wife, and TaskRabbit’s CEO, Leah.

    The company employs a lot of younger employees, and according to Busque (who was long the company’s VP of Technology but also tackled HR for some time), they weren’t taking advantage of TaskRabbit’s 401(k) program.

    In fact, the participation rate was somewhere in the range of 30 to 40 percent — on par with other U.S. businesses, where 401(k) participation is around just 36 percent, Busque says.

    According to Government Accountability Office testimony from 2013, numerous reasons explain such low figures. Sometimes, the employer plans of small businesses are too expensive. Sometimes, employees worry they aren’t making enough money to contribute to retirement savings. Often, too, retirement plans are so confusing that employees – younger staffers especially — decide they’re not worth the hassle.

    Enter Guideline Technologies, Busque’s four-month-old, San Francisco-based company, which has just raised $2 million in seed funding from New Enterprise Associates, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, SV Angel, Red Swan Ventures, BoxGroup, Xfund and 500 Startups.

    Its big idea: To work with small and mid-size employers in making 401(k) plans affordable for employees — as well as dead simple to set up.

    More here.

  • On the Bias Toward Writing About Bias

    WomenTechInvestorThe last two years have seen countless articles about why there aren’t more successful women in tech. First, a story is published about the dearth of female entrepreneurs or female investors (or both), then people either applaud the piece or enumerate why its wrong-headed (or both). Finally, someone else is legitimately wronged by some knucklehead, and the cycle begins anew.

    Much of the coverage has had a positive impact. By shining a light on age-old behaviors that were deemed acceptable for too long, more tech startups are instituting sensitivity training and diversity initiatives. Women who felt isolated in facing gender bias have learned that they’re far from alone.

    The many reports about women in tech have also put a finer point on some differences between male and female entrepreneurs that are now being actively addressed.

    For example, Mar Hershenson, a serial entrepreneur-turned venture capitalist, now advises some of the female entrepreneurs with whom she meets to “raise their voice – not be afraid to talk about the best-case scenario for their startups.” Talking up their work doesn’t always come as naturally to women, says Hershenson. But “venture firms look for big vision, nothing-is-going-to-stop-me type pitches,” and getting that memo beforehand is useful, she adds.

    Still, some think much of the coverage around women in tech is becoming counterproductive.

    Mada Seghete, cofounder of the deep-linking tech company Branch Metrics, says some of what she reads in the media rings true. For example, she observed more of a “risk-taking attitude, to some extent” by her male classmates at Stanford, where Seghete — who has two engineering degrees from Cornell — recently snagged her MBA.

    Yet Seghete also notes that a higher percentage of her female classmates have seen their businesses take off since graduating, partly because “a lot of guys played with the ideas and took their time” while their female peers dove into things that are “less risky,” says Seghete.

    Among those companies is The League, a dating startup cofounded by Seghete’s former classmate Amanda Bradford. It just closed on $2.1 million in funding last week.

    Seghete also seems to think the ongoing narrative of women as victims can have unintended consequences – namely, making women unnecessarily ill at ease.

    “Even as a software developer, I don’t consider that I’m different. And maybe it’s because I don’t anticipate bias that I’m confident in a way that people don’t look at me differently,” says Seghete. (Her own company — cofounded with classmates Alex Austin, Dmitri Gaskin, and Mike Molinet — has raised $3 million led by New Enterprise Associates.)

    “If I thought I’d be facing bias in a situation, then I might be more self-conscious,” she says. “It would be a self-fulfilling process.”

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  • NEA Partner Dayna Grayson on Turning Designers Into Founders

    team-Dayna_Grayson_520_990New Enterprise Associates is growing more serious about young design talent. On Wednesday, the 36-year-old venture firm announced the third of an ongoing series of two-week-long design mentorship programs that aim to transform more designers into founders. Among the big names who’ve signed on to help with the initiative are Albert Lee, the founder of the New York-based product studio All Tomorrows; and Liz Danzico, founding chair of the MFA in Interaction Design program at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

    To better understand why NEA — which manages billions of dollars — is bothering with the whole enterprise, I spoke yesterday with Dayna Grayson, the Washington, D.C.-based NEA partner who is herself a former product designer and who helped launch the program last summer.

    NEA and Kleiner Perkins are among a growing number of venture firms that are trying to close the gap between design and technology. Why do startups need investors to play that role?

    There are different flavors of these programs. But the reality is that for any startup – consumer or enterprise – great, intuitive design has become table stakes. Ten years ago, you could have clunky design and enterprise salespeople would explain it and get the technology into the hands of users. Today, technologies have to suit users from day one, so we asked ourselves last year: What if we could mentor and push more designers to become founders to ensure that that [design] DNA is there from the beginning rather than a bolt-on later?

    Kleiner’s program aims to get more and better designers into its portfolio companies, whereas NEA’s is designed to help designers start their own companies. Where are your applicants coming from, and how far along must they be to gain admittance into NEA’s program?

    Some are coming straight out of design schools. Some have held agency jobs but want to own and commercialize a product themselves.

    We now have two types of sessions on a rolling basis. For the [upcoming] “go-to-market” session, you have to have a product that’s ready to be taken live imminently. We’ve also [organized two-week] “vision” sessions, where we take applicants that have nothing.

    So you’re first helping people create a vision, then inviting them back to hone it.

    We’ll have some teams back, though we’ll also select new teams.

    Many accelerator programs go on for months. What convinced you that two weeks of intense mentoring is enough?

    We want [these designers] to take what they’ve learned and ruminate on it and decide if it’s right for them. These aren’t necessarily people who are founders above all else. You have to let their entrepreneurial ability sort itself out. Also, frankly, I think it’s more true to life. With entrepreneurship, you have these intense periods of advice and ideation followed by intense periods of executing and scaling.

    What sorts of companies are people coming up with?

    We had one team come up Shortwave, an app that allows customers to easily exchange files via Bluetooth with others who are within 100 feet. Another, Factory, is a mobile application that features a stream of fascinating facts in short form. It’s like an ingestible Wikipedia. A third project, Booya Fitness, features high intensity workouts [online] for people who don’t have an hour-and-a-half to exercise.

    Have you funded any of the teams to pass through the program? Also, how much of your time is focused on it?

    We’re in the process of funding one startup now. Because we encourage some to come with nothing — they’re pre-seed — we expect more to [evolve into] seed-stage and Series A [type opportunities] over time.

    I’m an investor first and I have five portfolio companies, so the [NEA Design Studio] is a project that probably accounts for 10 to 20 percent of what I do. But it’s an important project of mine.

  • BetterDoctor Raises $10 Million, Led by NEA

    Ari TullaZocDoc, a seven-year-old online service that helps users find and book appointments with doctors who accept their insurance, is raising a new, $152 million round of funding that values the company at $1.6 billion.

    That kind of momentum might dissuade some competitors, but not Ari Tulla, the founder of BetterDoctor, whose Web and mobile apps also help users locate the most appropriate doctors for them. Before founding BetterDoctor three years ago, Tulla spent five years at the phone giant Nokia, including as the head of its app studio; he has seen first-hand what determined competitors can do — especially when there’s an enormous market up for grabs. (According to Tulla, 70 million people in the U.S. alone seek out new physicians each year.)

    We talked yesterday with Tulla about his 25-person company, which just raised $10 million in Series A funding led by New Enterprise Associates. Our chat has been edited for length.

    You had a nice job at Nokia. Why leave to start what seems like a very different business?

    It was a personal vendetta for me. About 10 years ago, my wife became ill and it took us many months to find the right help for her. [Afterward], I [began investigating] different systems and learning how they work – Aetna’s, Kaiser’s, even some hospitals like Stanford. You could always find doctors through these services, but you weren’t given any information beyond doctors’ names and where they worked; you couldn’t see who they are, what they focus on specifically [etc.]. Finding the right doctor is complicated, because your perception of quality might be very different than mine.

    ZocDoc, among others, also promises to help consumers find the right doctors. What does BetterDoctor differently?

    The big difference between BetterDoctor and ZocDoc is that we will feature millions of doctors, pulling in information from [reviews site] Yelp, Doximity [an online social networking service for U.S. physicians], and government data made available through the Open Data Act to [learn] where doctors are, which doctors are referring each other, all the procedures the doctors have done and performed and the prices they’ve charged. We’re not just going to feature those doctors whose are paying ZocDoc [to be listed in its service].

    Do doctors have any control over what you feature about them?

    They can claim their profile for free and edit their information. We’re also selling the doctor on the ability to upgrade their practice profile, where we create a mini website for them, because most practices still don’t have a good site or any online presence. They exist inside of BetterDoctor – they don’t get their own URL – but we take photos of the practice, write content for the doctor and basically create a picture that allows doctors to look more human to patients. We also [let validated doctors pay for] premium visibility.

    How many doctors are in the database currently, and how many doctors have paid for these mini sites?

    We have a clean database of million doctors at this point and we’ve built 15,000 [sites].

    You used to make mobile apps and games for Nokia. How are you using that background at BetterDoctor?

    We try to make it easy and fun for both doctors and patients to use the [platform] by making it very simple. Especially for patients, when you’re looking for a doctor, you’re often at your weakest. So the [user interface] works seamlessly and looks looks very minimalistic. We want to be sure that when you’re sitting there with a 100-degree fever, you can’t get lost.


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