All posts in “Startups”

Quirk wants to make cognitive behavioral therapy more accessible

Quirk, a YC-backed company, is looking to bring cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to more people suffering from anxiety or depression.

CBT aims to lessen or stop harmful behavior by changing the way people think, stopping them from falling into established patterns of negatively distorting their reality to justify or account for unhelpful habits.

“CBT has 40 years of research behind it,” says CEO and founder Evan Conrad. “I’ve had severe panic attacks my whole life and saw different therapists who tried what I now know is CBT. I assumed it was a pseudo science. It wasn’t until 10 months ago that I re-discovered CBT on my own and learned about its efficacy. It’s the gold standard.”

The app helps users practice one of the most common exercises in CBT: the triple-column technique.

Here’s how it works:

Users jump into the app whenever they have anxiety or a depressive thought to record it. They then identify any distortions that apply to that thought, such as Catastrophizing, Magnification of the Negative, Fortune Telling, or Over-Generalization, among others. From there, the user can challenge the thought with reasons why that thought might have been illogical to begin with. Finally, the user replaces the thought with something more reasonable.

For example, if I was worried about not getting a response to a text, I might believe (irrationally) that it has something to do with how that person feels about me, rather than the more obvious explanation: they’re just busy.

The hope of CBT is that identifying thought distortions, and manually replacing them with beliefs grounded in reality retrains the brain to experience the world in a realistic way and relieves patients from their depression and/or anxiety.

Conrad says that he went from having two anxiety attacks a week to two every six months.

The problem that Quirk is trying to solve is two-fold. First, people may not know the benefits or the empirical data supporting CBT. Secondly, the process of manually recording this on pen and paper can be more tedious and feel less private out in a public space.

Quirk’s attempt to solve these problems is to make CBT accessible to more people and to make the process of doing CBT slightly more private.

We asked Conrad about the potential negative affects of practicing CBT without the oversight of a mental health professional.

“As for self-administered CBT, we’ve run this by a number of therapists and all of them have said it’s generally a net-benefit,” Conrad said via email. “What would be harmful is if someone with a severe condition decided that they should use Quirk instead of seeing a therapist. But in practice we’ve seen the opposite effect. People who would have otherwise done nothing about their condition use Quirk as ‘first step’ towards therapy or will use Quirk when they would otherwise have no option (either because their isn’t a treatment in their country/area or because they can’t afford it).”

Dr. Daniel A. Fridberg, a practicing CBT psychiatrist from the University of Chicago, says that the triple-column technique is a great CBT exercise, but that it’s just part of the whole package of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. He also said that the only way to know if a product like this can do harm is through a study, but that CBT itself is an evidence-based psychotherapy and has been proven effective.

“CBT is an effective, time-limited, reasonably cost-effective psychotherapy for things like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc,” said Dr. Fridberg. “The problem is that finding a good CBT therapist who delivers evidence-based treatment isn’t always easy in smaller communities where there isn’t easy access to a research hub. In some respects, an app that is packaged in an attractive way, gets people’s attention and promotes CBT as effective is a good thing.”

Dr. Fridberg also stated that anyone suffering from an issue that’s disrupting their day-to-day functioning should seek professional help.

Conrad says that he hopes Quirk can be a jumping off point for folks suffering from anxiety and depression, with the app suggesting that those suffering seek professional help in conjunction with using the app. He also shared that Quirk hopes to be able to connect users to professionals in their area as soon as they have the scale to do so.

Quirk costs $4/month for users.

Apply to TC Top Picks before the deadline & exhibit free at Disrupt SF 2019

Does your company have what it takes to be part of an elite cadre of early-stage startups and exhibit for free at Disrupt San Francisco 2019? There’s only one way to know for sure, but time is running out. Apply to be a TC Top Pick now — before the application window closes for good at 5:00 p.m. (PT) on July 19.

Why should you apply? For starters, it doesn’t cost anything, and all TC Top Picks receive a free Startup Alley Exhibition Package good for one full day of exhibiting in Startup Alley, the heart of every Disrupt. It’s the intersection of tech present and tech future — where more than 1,200 pre-Series A startups and sponsors exhibit their products, platforms and services. It’s a breeding ground of opportunity, and you never know who you might meet and where that connection might lead.

TechCrunch editors vet all applications and choose up to five startups in each of these (and only these) tech categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS and Social Impact/Education.

TC Top Picks also receive three Founder passes and plenty of other perks, starting with the VIP treatment. You’ll exhibit in a dedicated space within Startup Alley, and we promote the Top Pick startups in our pre-conference marketing. Everyone wants to see who made the cut, including journalists covering the show and investors looking to add to their portfolios.

In a classic “but wait, there’s more” moment, a TechCrunch editor conducts a live interview with each Top Pick on the Showcase Stage in Startup Alley. We record the interviews for posterity and promote them across our social media platforms. That’s the kind of marketing tool that keeps on giving.

Take a page from DiaMonTech’s playbook. The company, the maker of a non-invasive glucose monitoring device, earned a Top Pick designation for Disrupt Berlin 2018. Markus Teuber, head of strategic partnerships, had this to say about the Top Pick experience.

“Exhibiting as a TC Top Pick helped us build credibility right away, and it still pays off during pitches as an anchor point for further discussion. The interview and media coverage helped us generate awareness for our groundbreaking approach, and it also helped us identify leads and build substantial cooperation agreements.”

Pro Tip: Every startup that exhibits in Startup Alley has a shot to win a Wild Card entry to Startup Battlefield. Yet another great reason to apply to be a TC Top Pick.

Disrupt San Francisco 2019 takes place October 2-4. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to place your startup in the Disrupt spotlight. Apply to be a TC Top Pick before the deadline clocks out precisely at 5:00 p.m. (PT) on July 19. Show us what you’ve got!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt San Francisco 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Learn how to change banking one dollar at a time at Disrupt SF

Fintech startups are the hot new thing. Everybody wants to reinvent the way you manage money, invest and pay for things. That’s why we’re inviting three fintech experts to TechCrunch Disrupt SF to help you learn everything about the space.

They know that the bank of the future is not necessarily a bank and that the payment method of the future is not necessarily a card. And they’re going to tell you all about it.

First up is Chris Britt, the founder and CEO of Chime. While there are plenty of challenger banks in Europe, Chime is a rare success in the U.S. market.

The company has managed to attract over 3 million customers and $300 million in funding with a simple value proposition — a better user experience, an automatic way to save money and no fees for basic features. But Chime isn’t an overnight success. Britt has amassed a ton of experience in retail banking as Chief Product Officer at Green Dot and as a senior product leader at Visa.

We also invited Angela Strange, a general partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz . As a founder of a fintech startup, you might want to know what investors are looking for. And Strange is an expert on this front.

She focuses on financial services of all sorts, including insurance, real estate and increasing inclusivity. She’s a board observer at Branch, Earnin, HealthIQ, Mayvenn, PeerStreet and Point. As you can see, it’s an impressive portfolio and she has encountered a ton of different situations in the fintech industry.

And finally, Omer Ismail from Goldman Sachs has seen both sides of the banking coin. After many years working in private equity investing and investment banking, he was asked to lead an unusual team — the consumer business of Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs hasn’t been a powerful brand when it comes to consumer products — until very recently. The company successfully launched Marcus, a banking product focused on personal loans and online savings with high interest rates, and Clarity Money, a mobile app that acts as a financial dashboard.

More recently, Ismail was in charge of the surprising partnership with Apple for the Apple Card. It’s clear that he knows where the industry is heading, so you’ll want to learn a few tips from Ismail.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt SF to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on October 2-4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.

3 lessons from Roblox’s growth to gaming dominance

Our recently published EC-1 on Roblox recounts the origin story and growth prospects of the company. But there’s one more piece to the story: what Roblox’s impact will be on gaming and the broader startup industry, if the company manages to multiply its current 90 million users.

roblox maus 1

Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox

We’ve distilled three key ideas out of the EC-1 — lessons that may apply not only to game developers and gaming entrepreneurs, but also to the broader startup industry.

Lesson 1: UGC is a missed opportunity in games

Roblox has shown that user-generated content (UGC) is a missed opportunity for much of the game industry. The company aspires, in a way, to be the YouTube of games. And it is succeeding, with 2 million experiences to date.

The game industry generally has two problems with UGC. One is the games themselves: AAA games today are too complex, and lack the flexibility and simplicity needed for robust UGC. Roblox shows that a simpler look and feel is a valid alternative to today’s super-sized, beautiful AAA games. (Minecraft proved much the same.)

The other problem is the greater complexity of making games than, say, videos or music. Roblox solved this problem by building its own game engine, which is designed solely to output Roblox-style experiences.

But increasingly, engines like Unity are capable of accomplishing similar feats: games are getting easier to build. It’s now possible that savvy entrepreneurs could build a platform like Roblox, without building an entire game engine.

Lesson 2: New opportunities in gaming are still coming

The game industry is infamously cyclical. New platforms emerge, become promising, then grow overcrowded and competitive. Usually, this cycle relates to hardware (the iPhone, virtual reality helmets, game consoles like the Nintendo Switch) or massive changes in consumer behavior (the emergence of Facebook, the early growth of the internet). But Roblox, a pure software play, shows that exceptions could exist.

It’s still early days. Roblox reported that it paid out $30 million to game developers in 2017, doubling to $60 million in 2018. Since Roblox keeps 65 percent of revenue from its games, that means it made around $230 million total in 2018. Its top 10 developers made about $2.5 million each. Seven of its games have also entered a “billion plays” club:

Adopt Me, a newer game, hit 440,000 concurrent users in June, a new record for the platform.

When a new platform appears, it’s usually found by amateur developers first. That’s certainly the case with Roblox: its successes are being created almost exclusively by first-time game developers in their teens and twenties. At some point, professional developers are likely to conclude they can do at least as well. The current market is particularly exciting because many games are fairly simple and lightweight — recent breakout hits like Camping 2 and Weight Lifting Simulator 3 are significantly smaller than comparable games on other platforms.

For entrepreneurs interested in creating new platforms or portals Roblox’s success as a combined game engine and self-contained platform also shows that opportunities still exist — if you have the patience to wait for them to mature.

Lesson 3: Patience can create amazing growth cycles

It took Roblox 15 years to grow to its current point. But most of that growth is recent: as seen in the chart above, Roblox experienced 10x growth in about 3 years, from 9 million users in February 2016 to 90 million in April 2019.

So what went into the decade or so during which Roblox was a much smaller platform? As we tell it in the origin story: a great deal of work, and very little paid acquisition.

In its early years, Roblox did buy users, to seed a user base while it worked on an impossibly large vision that included a game engine, platform, social features, a creator community, and its own games. But after a few years, it stopped buying users.

All of its growth since has been organic. That’s from two main sources: word of mouth, and YouTube users who watch one of the many Roblox streamers. Of course, any company can try to do the same. But Roblox had the patience to build a unique product — one which took years of work to even reach partial completion.

The key to it all was long-term adherence to a long-term goal: the creation of a new category, which it calls “human coexperience”. Today, Roblox still can’t be called part of a new category; it’s a game platform. But with more years of work, it may eventually get there.

For more on the Roblox story, see Part 1: The Origin Story, and Part 2: The Business Plan.

Newsletter platform Substack raises $15.3M round led by A16Z

Andreessen Horowitz is betting that there’s still a big opportunity in newsletters — the venture capital firm is leading a $15.3 million Series A in Substack.

To be clear, although Substack started out two years ago as a way turn newsletters into a paid subscription business, it’s since added support for podcasts and discussion threads . As CEO Chris Best put it, the goal is to allow writers and creators to run their own “personal media empire.”

Writers using Substack include Nicole Cliffe, Daniel Ortberg, Judd Legum, Heather Havrilesky and Matt Taibbi. The startup says that newsletters on the platform have now amassed a total of 50,000 paying subscribers (up from 25,000 in October), and that the most popular Substack authors are already making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

A16Z’s Andrew Chen — a blogger and newsletter writer himself — is joining the Substack board of directors. In Chen’s view, the startup represents the combination of the old and the new, allowing writers to reach longstanding “passionate online communities,” while also pursuing “a new way of doing micro-entrepreneurship,” where they make money directly from their audience.

“When you combine the two — wow, this is something special,” Chen said.

Y Combinator, where Substack was incubated, is also participating in the funding.

Substack screenshot

Best told me that until now, the team consisted entirely of the three co-founders — CTO Jairaj Sethi, COO Hamish McKenzie and Best himself — “working out of my living room.” (The three of them are pictured above.) Even with the new funding, Best and McKenzie said they want to grow cautiously.

“We’re conscious of the writers depending on a reliable and stable Substack for their income,” McKenzie said. “We don’t want to go out there and do a bunch of crazy startup stuff.”

Still, they will be moving out of that living room and hiring a bigger team. Best also said they have plans to build more “writer success” tools that help creators get the most out of the platform, and to expand into other formats, like video.

Even as Substack grows, McKenzie said it will maintain a focus on subscription products for “people who are attracted to the idea of owning their relationship with their audience.” Best argued that that this approach avoids the incentives that have pushed online news in the direction of “cheap outrage, attention and addiction.”

He added, “It’s just a better model for creating culture.”

As for whether the newsletter boom might eventually reach a saturation point, making it harder for new titles to find an audience, Best acknowledged that there’s probably “some finite limit” to the number of newsletters that most readers will subscribe, but he said, “Even if that’s the case, it can still be a very successful model. The magical thing about paid subscriptions is that you don’t need to have millions of people in your audience.”