All posts in “Startups”

Drink-a-day startup Hooch adds a perk-filled premium membership plan

Hooch, the subscription startup that allows members to claim one free drink per day from hundreds of different bars and restaurants, is adding a new membership level called Hooch Black.

Signing up for Hooch Black will cost you significantly more than the regular subscription — instead of $9.99 per month, it’s $295 per year. And you don’t just get in automatically; you actually need to fill out an application.

But in exchange for that money and work, Hooch Black members get access to a variety of perks (on top of the standard drink-a-day option), including deals at more than 100,000 hotels worldwide — co-founder and CEO Lin Dai said that because they’re are only visible to members, Hooch gets access to lower “unpublished” prices that you won’t find elsewhere online, with discounts as high as 60 percent.

It also offers preferred reservations, discounts and free champagne at select restaurants. And there are other giveaways, too — in New York City, the launch offerings include Hamilton and Governor’s Ball tickets.

Dai suggested that Hooch has always been meant as an antidote to apps that “facilitate a couch economy” — instead of delivering stuff to your home, Hooch convinces you to go out to bars. Dai said Hooch Black “continues the concept” with all additional perks tied to real-world experiences. (There’s some couch-centric stuff too, like a $100 Postmates credit.)

Hooch Black

In addition, Hooch Black members will get access to what Dai described as an “concierge who can make travel arrangements and dining reservations for you.” (Those reservations don’t have to be with Hooch partners, by the way.) He compared the experience to an American Express concierge, but with the advantage that the communication is handled in the Hooch app: “No one wants to pick up the phone anymore.”

About that application: Dai said he wants to limit the initial membership to around 295 people in the three launch cities of New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He hopes to bring in more people eventually, but at first, having thousands of members would “dilute the experience,” particularly since some of the benefits (like access to celeb-hosted parties) don’t really scale.

At the same time, Dai said the application is “not about income or job title.” Instead, he sees the service as appealing to the same audience of “young professionals or millennial hustlers” as Hooch itself. So the application is focused on your bigger ambitions and “how hard you want to work to get there.”

Dai also noted that Hooch’s current membership is roughly even between men and women, something he’s hoping to continue with Hooch Black.

“We want to build a very inclusive community,” he added. “The primary criteria is, I would say, aspiration. We’re not just catering to a specific income level or race or gender.”

Bluedot Innovation gets $5.5 million in funding to track smartphone users more precisely

When it comes to the promises of persistent location hyper-awareness, the promises of mobile have largely fallen flat. While this has been a bummer for consumers looking for more contextual services from the apps they have installed, this also has been a pain for marketers keen to get their hands on more quality user data.

Bluedot Innovation wants to tackle this by building out tech that can zero-in on smartphone users’ locations in the background. Bluedot announced today they have raised $5.5 million in Series A funding led by a major toll road company, Transurban. The Melbourne startup has raised $13 million to date.

The startup’s tech focuses on dialing-in user location data to just a few meters so that companies utilizing the API can tell whether their marketing efforts are actually turning into consumers visiting physical locations. There are no shortage of players in this space; what makes Bluedot unique, the company insists, is their focus on R&D to develop more precise, low-power solutions that rely on networks and a variety of sensors in the phone to deliver data insightful enough that customers can distinguish what users are doing in tighter urban areas and how they’re getting around.

Bluedot had initially focused its efforts entirely on developing a service that could make mobile payments for toll roads, the idea being that rather than having to install something on your windshield, you could just download an app, allowing persistent location access so whenever you drove through a tollway that had been mapped within the app, you’d make a payment without any friction.

The startup’s ambitions have certainly expanded since then, particularly through a partnership with Salesforce, though given the fact that this round was led by a toll road company it suffices to say that this use case is still firmly within their sights. In November, the startup released the LinktGO app with Transurban, which allows Australian users to make toll road payments from their phone.

The startup says it’s using this latest fund raise to build out its U.S. office in San Francisco and its Melbourne HQ, where it plans to double its current staff of 30 employees.

Slite raises $4.4M to create a smarter internal notes tool

Slack exposed the demand for a dead-simple internal communications tool, which has inspired a wave of startups trying to pick apart the rest of a company’s daily activities — including Slite, which hopes to take on internal notes with a fresh round of new capital.

Slite is more or less an attempt at a replacement for a Google Doc or something in Dropbox Paper that is sprawling and getting a little out of control. An employee might create a Slite note like an onboarding manual or an internal contact list, and the hope is to replace the outdated internal wiki and offer employees a hub where they can either go and start stringing together important information, or find it right away. The company today said it has raised $4.4 million in a new seed funding round led by Index Ventures after coming out of Y Combinator’s 2018 winter class. Ari Helgason is joining Slite’s board of directors as part of the deal.

“We now have to develop this product enough to show we can actually replace large amounts of things,” co-founder Christophe Pasquier said. “Today we have more than 300 active teams, and we have to show that we can make it scale. In the short term is just we’re replacing Google Docs because these tools ahven’t evolved and we’re bringing something super fresh. The longer-term vision of really bringing all the information that has value from a team and becoming this single source of truth for teams.”

Slite tracks permissions and changes to the notes in order to allow companies to do a better job of maintaining them, rather than sharing around links and having different people jump in and make changes. The part about sharing links is one in particular that stung for Pasquier, as even larger companies can have issues with employees asking in Slack what policies are — or even for links to parts of the internal wiki where that important information is buried.

Getting there certainly won’t be easy. Companies like Dropbox continuing to invest in these kinds of collaborative note-taking tools — that could easily evolve into internal hubs of information. And as Pasquier tries to liken the development arc to Slack, which showed employees wanted some more seamless tool for communication, that company is also working on making its search tools smarter, like helping employees find the right person to ask a question. It doesn’t look like an asynchronous notes tool just yet, but if all the information is somewhere in Slack already, a smart search tool may be the only thing necessary to find all that information.

Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

In the NYC enterprise startup scene, security is job one

While most people probably would not think of New York as a hotbed for enterprise startups of any kind, it is actually quite active. When you stop to consider that the world’s biggest banks and financial services companies are located there, it would certainly make sense for security startups to concentrate on such a huge potential market — and it turns out, that’s the case.

According to Crunchbase, there are dozens of security startups based in the city with everything from biometrics and messaging security to identity, security scoring and graph-based analysis tools. Some established companies like Symphony, which was originally launched in the city (although it is now on the west coast), has raised almost $300 million. It was actually formed by a consortium of the world’s biggest financial services companies back in 2014 to create a secure unified messaging platform.

There is a reason such a broad-based ecosystem is based in a single place. The companies who want to discuss these kinds of solutions aren’t based in Silicon Valley. This isn’t typically a case of startups selling to other startups. It’s startups who have been established in New York because that’s where their primary customers are most likely to be.

In this article, we are looking at a few promising early-stage security startups based in Manhattan

Hypr: Decentralizing identity

Hypr is looking at decentralizing identity with the goal of making it much more difficult to steal credentials. As company co-founder and CEO George Avetisov puts it, the idea is to get rid of that credentials honeypot sitting on the servers at most large organizations, and moving the identity processing to the device.

Hypr lets organizations remove stored credentials from the logon process. Photo: Hypr

“The goal of these companies in moving to decentralized authentication is to isolate account breaches to one person,” Avetisov explained. When you get rid of that centralized store, and move identity to the devices, you no longer have to worry about an Equifax scenario because the only thing hackers can get is the credentials on a single device — and that’s not typically worth the time and effort.

At its core, Hypr is an SDK. Developers can tap into the technology in their mobile app or website to force the authorization to the device. This could be using the fingerprint sensor on a phone or a security key like a Yubikey. Secondary authentication could include taking a picture. Over time, customers can delete the centralized storage as they shift to the Hypr method.

The company has raised $15 million and has 35 employees based in New York City.

Uplevel Security: Making connections with graph data

Uplevel’s founder Liz Maida began her career at Akamai where she learned about the value of large data sets and correlating that data to events to help customers understand what was going on behind the scenes. She took those lessons with her when she launched Uplevel Security in 2014. She had a vision of using a graph database to help analysts with differing skill sets understand the underlying connections between events.

“Let’s build a system that allows for correlation between machine intelligence and human intelligence,” she said. If the analyst agrees or disagrees, that information gets fed back into the graph, and the system learns over time the security events that most concern a given organization.

“What is exciting about [our approach] is you get a new alert and build a mini graph, then merge that into the historical data, and based on the network topology, you can start to decide if it’s malicious or not,” she said.

Photo: Uplevel

The company hopes that by providing a graphical view of the security data, it can help all levels of security analysts figure out the nature of the problem, select a proper course of action, and further build the understanding and connections for future similar events.

Maida said they took their time creating all aspects of the product, making the front end attractive, the underlying graph database and machine learning algorithms as useful as possible and allowing companies to get up and running quickly. Making it “self serve” was a priority, partly because they wanted customers digging in quickly and partly with only 10 people, they didn’t have the staff to do a lot of hand holding.

Security Scorecard: Offering a way to measure security

The founders of Security Scorecard met while working at the NYC ecommerce site, Gilt. For a time ecommerce and adtech ruled the startup scene in New York, but in recent times enterprise startups have really started to come on. Part of the reason for that is many people started at these foundational startups and when they started their own companies, they were looking to solve the kinds of enterprise problems they had encountered along the way. In the case of Security Scorecard, it was how could a CISO reasonably measure how secure a company they were buying services from was.

Photo: Security Scorecard

“Companies were doing business with third-party partners. If one of those companies gets hacked, you lose. How do you vett the security of companies you do business with” company co-founder and CEO Aleksandr Yampolskiy asked when they were forming the company.

They created a scoring system based on publicly available information, which wouldn’t require the companies being evaluated to participate. Armed with this data, they could apply a letter grade from A-F. As a former CISO at Gilt, it was certainly a paint point he felt personally. They knew some companies did undertake serious vetting, but it was usually via a questionnaire.

Security Scorecard was offering a way to capture security signals in an automated way and see at a glance just how well their vendors were doing. It doesn’t stop with the simple letter grade though, allowing you to dig into the company’s strengths and weaknesses and see how they compare to other companies in their peer groups and how they have performed over time.

It also gives customers the ability to see how they compare to peers in their own industry and use the number to brag about their security position or conversely, they could use it to ask for more budget to improve it.

The company launched in 2013 and has raised over $62 million, according to Crunchbase. Today, they have 130 employees and 400 enterprise customers.

If you’re an enterprise security startup, you need to be where the biggest companies in the world do business. That’s in New York City, and that’s precisely why these three companies, and dozens of others have chosen to call it home.