All posts in “Startups”

Ooma acquires AI-powered video camera platform Butterfleye for its home security service

Ooma, the company that’s probably still best known for its VoIP platform, today announced that it has acquired Butterfleye, an AI-powered video camera and security platform that produces a smart security camera for home and business use. Ooma plans to integrate Butterfleye’s camera into its Ooma Home security solution, but the company will also continue to sell the camera under its original brand.

The companies did not disclose the financial details of the transaction.

“Butterfleye offers a fantastic intelligent security camera system and we’re excited to add its capabilities to the Ooma Home security service,” said Eric Stang, chief executive officer of Ooma, in today’s announcement. “Our strategy is to build upon Ooma’s smart communications platform to provide advanced connected home solutions and this acquisition is an important step in that direction.”

Founded in 2015, the Butterfleye team launched its camera with an Indiegogo campaign in 2016. The company raised a total of just under $4 million since its launch, though it has mostly remained under the radar. In terms of its features, which include face and person recognition, thermal, sound and motion sensors, as well as the usual 24/7 live streaming to virtually any device.

Overall, the Butterfleye may not look all that different from the kind of cheap WiFi cameras you can often buy on Amazon for under $30. But the company promises a bit more intelligence than these cameras, though, and a degree of robustness that most of the cheaper WiFi camera’s can’t offer. Still, with a price of at least $199,99 for a single wireless camera and $499.99 for a three-pack, we’re talking about a serious investment, especially when even Nest’s premium camera, which has far wider name recognition, retails for similar prices.

Tandem’s acquisition of Harrods Bank, the banking arm of UK department store, is approved by regulators

Back in August, ‘challenger’ bank Tandem said that it had signed an agreement to acquire Harrods Bank, the banking arm of the U.K.’s most famous luxury department store, subject to regulatory approval. Today, the startup bank is announcing that it has now received the go-ahead from the Prudential Regulation Authority, a division of the Bank of England, and the Financial Conduct Authority, the two relevant U.K. regulators.

Tandem says this brings the deal much closer to completion, and when it does complete will give it access to a full banking licence. In addition, Tandem will gain 10,000 Harrods bank customers, Harrods Bank’s mortgage and savings books, as well as a significant capital injection.

Under the agreement, for which financial terms aren’t being disclosed, Tandem will acquire 100 percent of Harrods Bank, and has previously said it will benefit from around £80 million of capital coming into the business. At the time of the announcement, a spokesperson for the challenger bank said the £80m of capital is made up of the capital within Harrods Bank, as well as some additional investment from new and existing shareholders.

In a statement issued today, Ricky Knox, Tandem’s founder and CEO says: “This is a major step forward in our plan to acquire Harrods Bank. When the deal is finally done early in the New Year, it will transform Tandem into one of the UK’s leading digital challenger banks”.

The complete of Tandem’s acquisition of Harrods Bank would appear to draw a line under what has been a turbulent year for the burgeoning challenger bank. Last December it announced that it had secured a £35 million investment from department store House of Fraser, owned by China’s Sanpower. However, restrictions on capital leaving China led to part of the investment being withdrawn and Tandem eventually losing its own banking license and having to re-jig the business, including layoffs.

As we noted at the time of the Harrods Bank announcement, acquiring an existing licensed bank is effectively a short cut to Tandem getting its own regulatory status back on track. Those Harrods Bank savings deposits won’t do any harm, either.

PayPal backs pan-European savings deposit marketplace Raisin

Raisin, the savings deposit marketplace that lets you shop for a better interest rate across Europe, has picked up backing from PayPal. Described as a “strategic investment,” the new funding round remains undisclosed.

The Berlin-based company had previously raised a total of €60 million from various backers, including Thrive Capital, Ribbit Capital, and Index Ventures. Meanwhile, I’m told the new investment will be used by Raisin to accelerate growth in its core European geographies.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see PayPal push Raisin to its users, as another channel for the startup to reach savers. Like other fintechs, half of Raisin’s battle is likely educating consumers that such a proposition exists. To that end, the company has already partnered with N26 to be listed in the challenger bank’s own app, and white labels its offering for others.

Originally founded in 2013, Raisin set out to crack open the savings deposit market in Europe by taking advantage of EU-wide banking regulation. The problem the startup solves is that saving deposit rates differ not only from one local bank offer to another but even more strikingly across Europe as a whole.

The Raisin marketplace lets you shop around and compare different rates European-wide. However, the key difference to a comparison site is that, via its own bank partner, the company offers consumers a single interface that includes account opening and anti-money laundering checks, making it easy to switch and continually ensure you get a competitive interest rate.

Related to this, for the banks that integrate with the Raisin marketplace, especially smaller and midsize banks, they get exposure to customers across Europe that might otherwise never be reached. It also gives them potential access to many more deposits, which helps with their own balance sheet lending and scale. Currently, 40 banks offer savings accounts through Raisin, ranging from overnight flexible savings to long-term deposits.

Noteworthy, regarding today’s funding announcement, Raisin recently announced that it is planning new products related to investing, in addition to its existing savings deposit marketplace. Specifically, it says it will launch its first retail investment product in the coming months. Last year, PayPal strategically backed Acorns, the U.S. micro-savings app for millennials.

Bio-programming toolkit maker Asimov launches with $4.7M from Andreessen Horowitz

Biotech is one of today’s many hot frontiers of technology, but one thing holding it back is that it’s significantly less amenable to traditional computing techniques than other areas. A new startup called Asimov, spun off from research at MIT, is working on bridging the gap between the digital and the biological by creating, essentially, a set of computer-aided biology design tools. It’s a prescient enough idea that it has attracted $4.7 million in seed funding.

The problem that Asimov addresses is this. Say you’re a pharmaceutical company trying to make a tiny biocompatible machine that holds a certain amount of medication and releases it when it senses some other molecule.

In order to do so, you’d have to — well, among about a million other things — design what amounts to a logic gate and signal processor that works at the molecular scale. This is a daunting prospect, as creating molecular machinery is a labor-intensive process often involving creating thousands of variations of a given structure and testing them repeatedly to see which works.

Asimov’s innovation is to allow people to create biological circuitry like the above using familiar tools and techniques. In fact, they’d use the same tools as if they were going to build a similar circuit in silicon and copper.

The technique Asimov’s founders created — MIT’s Alec Nielsen, Raja Srinivas, Chris Voigt and Doug Densmore — translates the logic and structure of a traditional circuit into a DNA strand that can be introduced to an organism and replicated inside it, where it will perform the same type of calculation (XOR, for instance) inside the cell.

Built-in protections prevent errors at the molecular level, such as conformational problems resulting from this or that structure being too close to one another, and as a result, the creators claim the platform can tell you with 90 percent accuracy whether a circuit you’ve designed will work or not.

Some of the technical details can be found at this MIT news release from last year, or in this more recent blog post by Nielsen.

In another post, A16Z general partner Vijay Pande explains what he sees as adequate reason for investment:

With Asimov’s approach, high-accuracy simulation, and circuit building-blocks, we can greatly speed the development of biological circuits — decreasing their cost, and greatly increasing their sophistication and complexity.

We’re still in the “transistor phase” of things, so are not yet at the point where the full complexity of a modern microprocessor can be realized into the circuits of cells. But there are many initial applications where this technology can make major advances — much like how early microprocessors, as simple as they were, became a dramatically enabling technology.

The company says in a press release that the funding will allow them to “quickly scale and partner with customers in diverse areas.”

“We strive for Asimov to be the go-to resource for designing biological computation as biotechnology steadily becomes a fully-fledged engineering discipline,” wrote Nielsen. “I personally hope that this technology one day improves our ability to cure disease, empowers clean and sustainable manufacturing, and helps nourish a growing global population.”

Update: This article originally stated the amount raised was $4.5 million — it’s $4.7 million. Entirely my mistake.

SendBird raises another $16M to help developers add chat functions to a service

If you go to any company’s website these days, you’re probably starting to see some chat functionality more and more often — and for good reason, as it’s a quick way for those companies to get in touch with their potential customers.

And SendBird, which launched in February this year out of Y Combinator, has tried to quietly begin eating up this space by giving developers tools to quickly roll out chat functionality for those companies. While the core version of SendBird is able to handle most use cases for organizations looking for chat functionality, co-founder John Kim said that as it’s continued to grow and bring on more companies, those niche cases are starting to fill out and the tools are more and more capable of helping larger organizations. The company said it’s raised $16 million in a new round of financing led by Shasta Ventures and August Capital thanks to that, along with existing investors Y Combinator and Funders’ Club.

“They usually have a very thorough list of use cases, a lot of people are used to WhatsApp or Slack,” Kim said. “They ask for features they’d like to build. Because we can work with some big companies, we go line-by-line and we cover 90% of their use cases off the bat. Others can be unique to their use cases, then we work hand-in-hand to build those features. Once we do that, the sales to the next customer become easier because we have a product that’s a little wider in coverage. That’s why we’re able to win bigger and bigger customers in a short period of time.”

SendBird’s core product is a development kit that helps companies begin to add chat functionality for their services. But Kim said much of the strength of the company is its ability to handle a big number of concurrent users, ranging all the way up to hundreds of thousands of people in the same channel simultaneously. There are plenty of obvious use cases here, like live streaming, and the company says it works with 1 million concurrent users in a single app and has 7,200 current integrations.

After launching in February this year out of Y Combinator, we haven’t heard much from SendBird — after all, it is an enterprise-y app geared toward developers. As an enterprise- and developer-focused app, the sales cycle for getting into those companies can be pretty long. But over time the pitch has become easier and easier, and now the company is starting to pitch other companies on their product instead of just relying on word of mouth, Kim said. That’s part of the growth phase of any company, and part of the reason why startups like this need to raise additional capital.

“Now [the goal is to get] the customer and the market to know [we] exist,” Kim said. “Based on research because our growth is mostly driven by inbound, a lot of customers still don’t know we exist. They saw a huge potential given the amount of inbound from companies big and small. We raised about $2.6 million cumulatively, and the capital efficiency really helped us.”

While there is a lot of focus on getting the name out there and attracting bigger clients, it’s been a little hard to articulate the changes that have come to the product — though there have been plenty, Kim said. One example he gave is whether companies want to notify people if they have been blocked or have it be a silent blocking process, allowing those users to still send messages to a person without realizing they’re blocked. It’s small changes like that, Kim said, that are part of the elements they want to invest in going forward.

There are, of course, going to be competitors, like Layer, which raised an additional $15 million in February this year. Those startups are already starting to attract the attention of potential clients, which means SendBird will have to figure out a way to sell itself as the best tool kit for developers looking to add some chat elements to their services.