Tag Archives: Startup

Essential Products, Startup from Android Creator Andy Rubin, Lays Off 30% of Staff
October 18, 2018 12:01 am|Comments (0)

A startup founded by the creator of Android has laid off about 30% of its staff, according to sources that spoke to Bloomberg News. Andy Rubin started Essential Products in 2015 with Brian Wallace, formerly of Magic Leap, to create a smartphone with high-end design features that wasn’t associated with a particular operating-system maker.

Cuts were particularly deep in hardware and marketing. The company’s Web site indicates it has about 120 employees. A company spokesperson didn’t confirm the extent of layoffs, but said that the decision was difficult for the firm to make and, “We are confident that our sharpened product focus will help us deliver a truly game changing consumer product.”

The firm was Rubin’s first startup after leaving Google in 2014, which had acquired his co-founded firm, Android, in 2005.

Essential’s first phone came out in August 2017, a few weeks later than initially promised. It received mixed reviews, with most critics citing its lower quality and missing features relative to competing smartphones, such as a lack of waterproofing and poor resiliency to damage. The company dropped the price from an initial $ 699 within weeks to $ 499, and offered it on Black Monday in November 2017 for $ 399.

Analyst reports showed the company sold just 5,000 units in the first two weeks of sales, and 88,000 in the first six months. By comparison, over 400 million other smartphones sold in just the last three months of 2017.

The company canceled production of its second smartphone model in May 2018, and shifted to work on other hardware, reportedly including smart speakers. At the time, Rubin said that his company had “multiple products in development,” including mobile and home hardware. The company had a valuation of nearly $ 1 billion in 2017, and was seeking additional financing earlier this year. It may have been or may remain up for sale. The company didn’t deny reports at the time, and hasn’t provided more detail on its plans since.

Rubin took a short leave of absence from Essential in late 2017 after the tech news site The Information reported on a complaint lodged against him at Google in 2014 that alleged he engaged in a relationship with a subordinate. Rubin said the relationship was consensual and didn’t involve someone who reported to him.

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Messaging For Customer Service: Bozeman Startup Quiq Brings Its Tech To Office Depot, Overstock.com
July 14, 2018 6:49 am|Comments (0)

Things have been looking up for customers of Office Depot since last year, when the commercial-messaging startup, Quiq, came to their rescue. According to Mike Myer, Quiq’s founder and CEO, Office Depot customers no longer have to call or fill out an online inquiry form to find out, say, what a particular location has in stock or the status of an existing order. Today, that customer can send a text and have it answered by a helpful Office Depot employee almost immediately. (The first text reply generally gets to the customer within a minute, and the entire back-and-forth is usually completed in less than ten).

Office Depot (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Skiers in Jackson Hole are in luck as well, says Myer, who spoke to me from Quiq’s offices, located in the improbably booming tech hub of Bozeman, MT. Wondering about snow conditions or tram hours? All that’s needed is to text the resort for an immediate and up-to-the-minute response. For the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Company, whose entire customer base is a certifiably mobile-only whenever they’re on or headed toward the slopes, this makes a lot more sense, Myer tells me, than a desktop- and email-based support approach.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Gondola. (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Overstock.com has also recently implemented Quiq’s solution and is now providing up-to-the minute order information via text. According to Overstock, the most quantifiable “aha” they’ve enjoyed from the new approach is the open rate: 98% for text messages as opposed to “in the single digits” for email.

Micah Solomon, Forbes.com: Tell me what Quiq is and what makes it special.

Mike Meyer, CEO and Founder, Quiq: Quiq is a company in Bozeman Montana that’s focused on making people’s lives easier. You, me and nearly all the consumers out there lead a digital-first lifestyle, where we are always connected. People love text messaging (SMS, Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat, Web chat, etc.) because it’s convenient and fits in with the crazy pace of our lives. By bringing text to business communication, Quiq makes it as easy to talk with companies as it is with friends.

No one likes to make phone calls (let alone to customer service!) and waiting for an email response is like waiting for paint to dry. Messaging is also more efficient for companies since one agent can serve multiple customers concurrently, unlike phone calls, and there’s no seemingly endless back and forth with to solve even a single issue, like there can be with email.

Who are some of Quiq’s marquee clients?

Pier 1, Brink’s Home Security, Tailored Brands (Men’s Wearhouse, Joseph A. Bank), Overstock, Office Depot, Tile, Insikt, and about 80 other great companies.

If my readers want to see your technology in action, where can they look?

Here’s an example they can see for themselves. Go to http://officedepot.com on your mobile phone, you’ll see a Text Us link right next to the phone number at the bottom of the page, which is powered by Quiq. If you were to have a question about a product or order with Office Depot, all you have to do is use that link to get assistance.

There’s a lot of excitement (and apprehension) about AI and chatbots. Your solution takes a different tack. Is this a philosophical choice on your part, a practical one, or both? Tell me your thoughts here. 

The hype curve for AI and chatbots is nearing the apex. But I wouldn’t say that these technologies are much help by themselves to true customer service at the moment. Most consumers (me included) can’t point to a satisfying interaction they’ve had with a chatbot that has solved a true, actual customer service issue. Getting the weather from Alexa is perfectly suited for a chatbot. Checking payment status or getting account info is harder, but within chatbot capabilities. Getting an actual customer service issue that requires troubleshooting resolved is orders of magnitude harder.

Quiq is in a great place at a great time because our success isn’t dependent upon how fast AI research is able to solve the chatbot problem. There is a ton of ROI and customer satisfaction to be gained from just adding messaging into existing contact centers with human agents serving customers via text messaging.

This doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to AI and chatbots, when properly deployed  I think where they excite me most is in the realm of “bot fusion”: the fusion of chatbots and human agents. A lot of people think about chatbots as first handling the conversation and then passing it to a human if the bot can’t handle it. But we think that agents and bots can work together. There may be a specific dialog that a bot can handle during a conversation between the agent and customer. For instance, identity verification or return address confirmation. If the bot gets confused in its task, it can tap the agent for help. The fusion is the seamless transition of the conversation back and forth between the human agent and their bot assistant without the customer’s awareness.

What role will telephone and email support have in the contact center of the future?

In the future, I believe the majority of interactions in the contact center will be messaging, rather than phone or email. Frankly, I don’t see a need for email to continue to be offered for much longer as a channel in the contact center, since it is so prone to laggy, circular conversations. The phone will still have a place but only in a minority of interactions, and even these will likely start with messaging. Why will the phone still have value? Because there are, and will continue to be, situations in which the consumer wants to be solely focused on troubleshooting a problem. In these cases, speaking is likely to continue to be more efficient than typing. But, the voice conversation will be multimedia, meaning that the agent and customer will be able to text back and forth and view images and video at the same time that they’re on the phone call.

Any advice  you can share for other entrepreneurs?   

The biggest challenge for entrepreneurs is finding and hiring the right people who can stand side-by-side to build a business from the ground up. It isn’t easy work. My advice for entrepreneurs is 1) find a great market opportunity, 2) hire amazing people, and 3) set the direction. Then, get out of the way and let the magic happen!

What about working with investors and partners?

When working with investors and partners, you need to make sure you keep your focus. While investors and partners are important, they’re not building your product and they are not the ones buying it, so be sure to allocate focus to them in the appropriate proportion.

What is the competitive landscape for Quiq?

We think about our competitive landscape in three broad buckets: 1) legacy chat vendors, 2) CRM vendors with a messaging option, and 3) social vendors adding messaging. Quiq is the first messaging platform built from scratch for asynchronous messaging, as opposed to adding messaging onto their synchronous systems.

[Author’s Note: LivePerson’s messaging solution, LiveEngage, was also built from the ground up for asynchronous communications, to the best of my knowledge. Read about LiveEngage in my previous article.]

Our goal isn’t to displace existing CRM or customer support systems.  Quiq integrates seamlessly with Salesforce, Zendesk, Oracle and internal systems.  So, we’re only competing against other messaging solutions, not the incumbent systems.

Live Content: Keynote Speaker Micah Solomon on Customer Service, Customer Experience, Company CultureMicah Solomon

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Trailblazers14 Startup Pitch Competition Recap: 14 Innovators, 4 Judges, 3 Winners
June 29, 2018 6:24 pm|Comments (0)

Coresight Research

Pavan Bahl, CEO, MouthMedia Network, Tami Fersko, EVP Finance, The James Group, Josh Wexler, Cofounder and CEO, RevCascade, Brendan Phelan, Cofounder and VP of Strategy, Radius8, Marc Estigarribia, Managing Director, MSQ Ventures, Balaji Ravindran, COO, Markable, Katy Gaul-Stigge, President and CEO, Goodwill of NYNJ, Meredith Darnall, SVP, Business Intelligence & Strategy, GGP, Deborah Weinswig, Founder and CEO, Coresight Research, Janice Wang, CEO, Alvanon

Earlier this week, I shared an overview of the inclusive design event that our Coresight Research team recently cohosted with Alvanon, a global apparel and product development consultancy that solves the challenges of sizing and fit inherent in the apparel industry. Our daylong conference concluded with the Trailblazers14 Startup Pitch Competition, in which 14 innovative, early-stage companies presented their solutions to a panel of four judges and an audience of more than 300 fashion industry leaders. Pitch events are a great way to cross-pollinate tomorrow’s innovations with today’s retail leaders, and this program far surpassed my expectations.

Our Trailblazers event, called One Size Does Not Fit All: Inclusive Design & the Modern Consumer, was one of the first conferences to focus solely on inclusive fashion across the entire retail value chain, from design to manufacturing to retail to the customer experience. The audience was full of innovators and forward-thinking influencers—change agents from across the industry.

We handpicked potential participants from our Coresight Labs retail startup database and nearly every startup we invited signed up to present: our plan was to feature 10 Trailblazers, but the number quickly grew to 14.

Our sponsors provided amazing prizes for the winning startup:

  • MSQ Ventures offered a four-week consulting project to help the winner determine how to effectively introduce its solution to the Chinese market and investment community.
  • MouthMedia Network offered to produce a 45-minute podcast for the winner, to be featured in the weekly Fashion Is Your Business
  • Goodwill NYNJ offered a one-week pop-up shop for the winner at its Union Square location in New York City.
  • Silicon Valley Bank provided a case of wine for a random drawing.

Each of the 14 competitors gave a three-minute pitch. I emceed the competition, and the presentations were evaluated by four distinguished judges: Meredith Darnall, SVP, Business Intelligence & Strategy, GGP; Marc Estigarribia, Head of Cross-Border Origination and Engagement, M&A, MSQ Ventures; Tami Fersko, EVP, Finance, The Jones Group; and Katy Gaul-Stigge, CEO and President, Goodwill of NYNJ.

Fourteen pitches and 15 minutes of deliberations later, our four judges announced a three-way tie for winner. Fortunately, some of our sponsors stepped up and tripled the prize pool, so each winner received the MouthMedia Network podcast and the Goodwill NYNJ pop-up shop.

The Winners

Markable is using AI to make all visual content shoppable in order to monetize visual fashion and improve engagement. Publishers can monetize their video content through contextual ads that show viewers where to buy the products that appear in videos. COO Balaji Ravindran presented the company’s solution to the panel of judges.

Video content with typical ads                                                                             Markable: Video content with contextual ads

Markable.ai


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Singapore start-up secures $12.3 billion in assets for blockchain platform
June 1, 2018 6:01 pm|Comments (0)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – FUSION, a Singapore-based crypto-finance start-up, has secured $ 12.3 billion in financial assets from three strategic partners that have committed to lock in those funds with the organization’s public blockchain platform, FUSION founder DJ Qian told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: Representations of the Ripple, Bitcoin, Etherum and Litecoin virtual currencies are seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration picture, February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The secured funds come from FormulA, Carnex, and KuaiLaiCai, three companies operating in asset management, car financing, and restaurant supply chain management, respectively.

The locked-in funds represent a commitment from the three companies, which have deposited their assets with the FUSION blockchain, for them to manage them or handle transactions from those funds.

Blockchain, the system powering cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, is a shared database that is maintained by a network of computers connected to the internet.

“FUSION is like a value connector,” Qian said in an interview late on Thursday. “Every company has its own ecosystem and the money flows from one player to another. But that ecosystem is actually limited.

“What FUSION is trying to do is create a platform that will help those ecosystems connect with each other once they have digitized their assets,” he added.

By locking the assets onto FUSION, companies are able to gain access to a global finance network, interact across various cryptocurrencies and have a broader choice of financial instruments, Qian said.

FUSION raised more than $ 100 million in a token sale in February but had to return half of that to investors because the start-up had already hit its limit for capital, said Qian. It raised more than $ 50 million in less than 24 hours for its token offering.

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Dan Grebler

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A New Startup Wants to Use Crispr to Diagnose Disease
April 26, 2018 6:01 pm|Comments (0)

In 2011, biologists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier published a landmark paper introducing the world to Crispr. The arcane family of bacterial proteins had a talent for precisely snipping DNA, and one of them—Cas9—has since inspired a billion-dollar boom in biotech investment. Clinical trials using Cas9 clippers to fix genetic defects are just beginning, so it will be years before Crispr-based cures could potentially reach the world.

But Crispr tech could actually be showing up in your doctor’s office way sooner. Not to treat what ails you, but to diagnose it.

Today, Doudna joined with researchers from her lab at UC Berkeley and bioinformaticians from Stanford to launch the first commercial Crispr platform for detecting disease-causing DNA. Called Mammoth Biosciences, the startup is developing point-of-care diagnostic tests that work by using Crispr to pick up bits of genetic material circulating in your blood, spit, or urine—say, a few copies of Zika virus left behind by a mosquito, or some mutations in a cancer cell shed from a tumor.

They’re not the only scientists working on this new Crispr capability, but they are the first to finance a company for its use. “There are these really amazing biosensing properties of Crispr that people hadn’t realized for a long time,” says Trevor Martin, Mammoth’s CEO and one of its five co-founders. “Billions of years of evolution have given us these incredible proteins, which science is just beginning to characterize.” Their goal is to use those properties to design diagnostics for the frontlines of outbreaks and in hospital emergency rooms, places where patients don’t have days to wait to send samples off to labs for testing.

One of those incredible proteins is Cas12a, formerly known as Cpf1. In a paper published in Science in February, Doudna and two other Mammoth co-founders, Janice Chen and Lucas Harrington, showcased how Cas12a could accurately identify different types of the human papillomavirus in human samples. Like Cas9, Cas12a latches on to a DNA strand when it reaches its genetic target, then slices. But then it does something Cas9 doesn’t: It starts shredding up any single-stranded DNA it finds.

So the researchers decided to hack that hunger for nucleotides. First they programmed Cas12a to chop two strains of HPV that can cause cancer. They added it, along with a “reporter molecule”—a piece of single-stranded DNA that releases a fluorescent signal when cut—to test tubes containing human cells. The samples that had been infected with HPV glowed; the healthy ones didn’t.

Martin wouldn’t disclose which Crispr systems Mammoth would be using, saying only that the company is confident in the technology it has exclusively licensed from UC Berkeley. And because patent applications are secret for the first 18 months after they’re filed, there’s no good way to know exactly which Crispr system Mammoth is working with. But with Chen and Harrington and Doudna all coming on board, all signs point to Cas12a.

That could potentially present a problem, since the Broad Institute’s Feng Zhang filed gene editing patents on Cas12a back in 2015, and licensed them to Editas Medicine for its work pursuing human therapeutics. Any potential dispute may come down to the protein’s intended use. In the ongoing conflict between Berkeley and Broad over Cas9, the US Patent and Trademark Office has ruled that using Crispr to detect DNA, rather than edit it, constituted a separate, valid claim. In 2016, the office issued a Cas9 patent for detecting nucleic acids to Caribou Biosciences in Berkeley, which was co-founded by Doudna as a Crispr tool developer and has also filed Cas12a patents of its own. Why it wasn’t a good fit for building a new diagnostics platform is unclear. (Doudna declined to answer any questions for this story).

But there are other signs that a patent war over Crispr’s diagnostic capabilities may never come. Zhang’s group has been hard at work on using another protein—Cas13—to detect disease. They reported last year in Science that their system could pick out multiple viruses, such as Zika and dengue, in one sample simultaneously. And they moved beyond fluorescence to something more practical: disposable paper strips. Dip them in the prepped sample and a red line shows up if there are viral genes present, no lab instruments or electricity required.

The Broad says it is exploring a licensing strategy that will make the tests—which cost only a few dollars to make—widely available, especially in the developing world where the need for field-based diagnostics is most urgent. Another research group at the institution, led by virus hunter Pardis Sabeti, plans to begin validation and benchmarking trials of the tech later this year in Nigeria, where an outbreak of Lassa fever has infected hundreds of people since January. If those go well, the hope is to eventually set up the infrastructure to test people when they first start showing symptoms, to help public health officials better track and contain the virus.

“We’ve done a lot of sequencing of Lassa in the last few years to understand its evolution, and now we’re at a stage where we can use all that information to design these really cool, really discriminating tests,” says Cameron Myhrvold, a systems biologist at the Broad who’s helped develop the protocols for making the Cas13-based diagnostics work without any fancy instrumentation. “Those genetic resources are really what has allowed us to go beyond the standard antibody tests, which need to be done in a lab.”

Both the Broad’s and Mammoth’s methods need more work to demonstrate their accuracy before passing regulatory muster. But once that happens, you could design a test for just about anything; it’s just a matter of programming the right genetic guide to get Crispr to its intended target. Imagine testing ER patients for multiple kinds of bacterial resistance before prescribing life-saving antibiotics. Or being able to afford to offer the test to every woman of childbearing age in a Zika-infected zone. Or upping cancer screenings to three, four, five times a year, all for the cost of a craft beer.

That last one is Mammoth’s first order of business; the company is focusing on finding partners in the liquid biopsy space, to bring paper-based tests into the exam room. But someday they hope to be more all-purpose, helping farmers track root rot in their fields or using DNA barcodes to trace the flow of fracking water into aquifers. Crispr-Cas9 might be the first in the family to cure a human disease, but its cousins might be the first to save a life.

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AI Startup Logz.io Rides A Perfect Storm Of Technology And Market Trends
April 5, 2017 12:20 am|Comments (0)

Logz.io combines the power of 4 technology trends—open source, cloud computing, big data analytics, and machine learning—while addressing a new group of influencers in IT purchasing—DevOps staff and Site Reliability Engineers (SREs).


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AI Startup Logz.io Rides A Perfect Storm Of Technology And Market Trends
April 4, 2017 11:05 am|Comments (0)

Logz.io combines the power of 4 technology trends—open source, cloud computing, big data analytics, and machine learning—while addressing a new group of influencers in IT purchasing—DevOps staff and Site Reliability Engineers (SREs).

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Cloud computing rewriting the business playbook for Australian start-up
September 4, 2016 4:30 pm|Comments (0)

Like many start-ups, naturally sugar-free soft drink company Nexba has made full use of technology to streamline its operations, accounting, logistics, …

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This London startup is using AI to brew beer
July 9, 2016 8:00 am|Comments (0)


You’ve seen AI achieve incredible things like defeat world champions at Go, describe photos for the visually impaired and operate an elevator. But now, a startup in London has finally figured a genuinely useful application: brewing quality beers. IntelligentX offers four basic beers, including a classic British golden ale, a British bitter kissed with grapefruit, a hoppy American pale ale and a smokey marmite brew. Once you’ve tasted them, you can chat with the company’s Messenger bot to share your feedback, which its IBM Watson-based AI uses to improve on its recipes. That means that each batch of beer will…

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Sales research startup Mattermark raises $7.3 million, now valued at $42 million
March 21, 2016 12:50 am|Comments (0)

Mattermark screenshot large

Mattermark, which has evolved rapidly from a database to help investors rank startups to a sales intelligence service, today announced that it has raised $ 7.3 million in series B funding and is valued at $ 42 million. The equity investment was led by Foundry Group and Jon Hallett, with participation from existing investors. (Disclosure: VentureBeat occasionally publishes opinion pieces from Foundry Group’s Brad Feld.) Total funding to date is $ 18.4 million.

Mattermark's founders: Kevin Morrill, Danielle Morrill, and Andy Sparks.

Above: Mattermark’s founders: Kevin Morrill, Danielle Morrill, and Andy Sparks.

Image Credit: Mattermark

According to co-founder and CEO Danielle Morrill, “we’ve evolved a lot from our ‘Bloomberg for Startups’” origins and the startup is finding success with its sharpened focus.

Based in San Francisco, the three-year old Mattermark now has 50 employees, 500 customers drawn from the ranks of large corporations, private equity, and sales and marketing firms, and is generating $ 300,000 in monthly revenue, according to a company statement. The company will use the investment to build out its sales force and continue creating what it calls “an un­killable SaaS company.”

Mattermark’s service offers one­-click integrations with a wide range of sales tools like LinkedIn and Salesforce, spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets, and an API for software developers to write custom solutions that tie into the Mattermark platform. Mattermark’s customers use the service for lead discovery and qualification, detailed company information, as well as up to the minute data on a prospect’s brand footprint and employee headcount trends.

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