All posts in “funding”

Drink-a-day startup Hooch raises $5M as it plans blockchain initiative

Right on the heels of launching its concierge service Hooch Black, Hooch announced today that it has raised $5 million in seed funding.

The company’s basic subscription of $9.99 gets you one free drink per day from a variety of partner bars and restaurants. Hooch Black (which you have to apply for, and which costs $295 per year) adds hotel deals, concierge service and other perks on top.

Even though Hooch had already raised $2.75 million in two pre-seed rounds, co-founder and CEO Lin Dai said it was more important to bring on strategic investors than it was to raise a lot of money: “We feel like the most important thing for our business is really the relationships.”

After all, he said the hospitality industry is controlled by “a few key companies,” so success is determined by working with those companies — it’s not a situation where someone can just beat you by outspending you.

The funding was led by Revelis Capital Group and Blue Scorpion Investments, with participation from Access Industries Holdings, Warner Music Group (Dai said that Hooch will be working with Warner Music on content, events and promotions), FJ Labs, Diesel CEO Stefano Rosso, former Comcast CTO Sree Kotay and others.

At the same time, the company is expanding its advisory board to include Bob Hurst (previously vice chairman of Goldman Sachs), Bonin Bough (former chief media and ecommerce officer at Mondelez) and Teymour Farman-Farmaian (previously CMO and CRO at Spotify and now managing director of Bitcoin wallet company Xapo).

Dai also said Hooch is preparing to launch its blockchain initiative this summer. What does blockchain have to do with free drinks? Well, Dai didn’t go into detail, but he suggested that by launching its own cryptocurrency token, Hooch could work with partners to create a “decentralized model for consumer rewards.”

Looking ahead, Dai said that Hooch might raise a “proper” Series A in 12 to 18 months, though he expects to reach profitability before then.

“At that point, we will have already built the moat around us with exclusive deals with all the top hospitality and experiential players,” he said. “That would be the appropriate time for us, if needed, to go back to a traditional round of funding.”

Openpath raises $7M to help you access your office with your phone

If you’ve ever worked in an office building, chances are somebody issued you a keycard or NFC-enabled badge to open the doors to the building. Those cards and badges do their job, but they can be both cumbersome and prone to problems. Openpath wants to do away with all of these issues and add a new level of convenience to this whole process by replacing these access cards with the phone you already have.

Until today, Openpath, which currently has about 20 employees, remained in stealth mode since it was founded by Edgecast co-founders Alex Kazerani (CEO) and James Segil (President), together with a number of other former Edgecast execs. The founders are putting their own money into this startup and are leading a $7 million seed round. A number of institutional investors also participated in this round, though, including Upfront Ventures, Sorenson Ventures, Bonfire Ventures, Pritzker Group Venture Capital and Fika Ventures.

Over the course of the last few years, the team developed — and patented — both the hardware and software for allowing employees to securely open doors and for security teams to manage their access. Instead of NFC, the company’s so-called SurePath Mobile technology uses Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LTE to authenticate the user. The system integrates directly with G Suite and Office 365 so that users and IT teams don’t have to create multiple user accounts to give employees access to their spaces.

Segil argues that employees have come to expect a certain level of convenience in the workplace and while our homes are getting smarter, most offices aren’t. During our conversation ahead of today’s announcement, Kazerani also stressed that the company’s platform had to be enterprise-grade and ready to be used thousands of times a day.

The Openpath team developed its own reader hardware, which businesses have to install at their doors. The hardware uses the same wiring as existing services, though, making it easy to replace a legacy system with this new solution.

TheSkimm closes its $12M Series C with big names Shonda Rhimes and Tyra Banks on board

In March, the female-led media company and newsletter provider theSkimm reported it was raising a $12 million Series C from Google Ventures and Spanx founder Sara Blakely, along with several existing investors. Today, the company is confirming its Series C round has closed with a number of new, mostly female investors joining — including big names like Shonda Rhimes and Tyra Banks.

Variety was the first to report the news of the new investors.

The Series C’s additional investors include former TV journalist Willow Bay, now dean at the USC Anneberg School for Communication and Journalism; Jesse Draper of Halogen Ventures; Shonda Rhimes; founder and CEO of GingerBread Capital, Linnea Roberts; CEO of ELY Capital, Hope Taitz; as well as the Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.; and Michael Karsch of Juice Press.

Earlier Series C investors included GV (formerly Google Ventures); Spanx founder Sara Blakely; plus former lead investors 21st Century Fox, RRE Ventures and Homebrew Ventures.

TheSkimm began its life as an email newsletter, founded by former TV news producers Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg. The newsletter targets millennial women who want an easy way to keep up with the key news of the day. What makes the product so appealing is how it’s written in a conversational tone, making it accessible to a wide audience who often finds reading the news a dreary but necessary chore. Mixed in with its highlights from key U.S., political and international news are samplings of stories from pop culture and the entertainment industry, which gives the newsletter a bit of a palate cleanser — something that’s much appreciated these days.

That newsletter has now grown to around 7 million subscribers, the company says. (This is the same number it reported in March.)

The company has also expanded to other products since its launch, including a $2.99 per month subscription-based app for keeping up with upcoming news and televised events, a podcast, as well as original videos for YouTube and Facebook Watch via its production arm, Skimm Studios.

Its video offerings include Skimm’d with…” and “Get Off the Couch” for Facebook, and digital series “Sip n’ Skimm,” which landed an interview with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, followed by a discussion with House Speaker Paul Ryan assessing the proposed GOP tax plan.

Meanwhile, theSkimm’s podcast, “Skimm’d from The Couch,” reached No. 1 on Apple Podcasts hours after its launch.

The company generates revenue from a variety of sources, including its app subscriptions, native ads, affiliate, content licensing and distribution, theSkimm notes in an announcement. The company is not offering revenue details, however.

“As a female led and founded company, we are excited to have the opportunity to bring such an impressive and dynamic group of female investors into theSkimm fold,” co-founders and co-CEOs Zakin and Weisberg, said in a statement. “With a majority of our audience being female, it’s vital to the success of our business to involve women at every single level, and that includes our investors. With their added perspective and resources, we look forward to this next chapter in our company’s history.”

Banks added she had a personal appreciation for the product, in addition to her desire to support female entrepreneurs.

“Going from one business meeting, to the next studio set, and as a new mama, it’s more difficult than ever to stay up to date on the day’s headlines,” the media mogul said. “theSkimm created a media platform that works seamlessly with on-the-go lifestyles. As a fervent supporter of trailblazing female-led businesses, I am thrilled to be a part of the next phase of theSkimm’s development,” Banks said.

The company didn’t offer many specifics in terms of how it plans to utilize the additional capital, but told us that it plans to “continue evolving the brand” and grow its product offerings — both premium and free. One of its plans involves expanding its No Excuses political-engagement campaign, reports Variety, which registered 110,000 U.S. voters.

New York-based theSkimm has 72 full-time employees and has raised $29 million to date.

CREXi raises $11 million to bring commercial real estate out of the Dark Ages

Managing, buying and selling commercial real estate is a fairly primitive process. CREXi founder Mike DeGiorgio remembers one experience in 2014 when he was required to fax and mail details about an urgent transaction to the leasing office, a move that made him think he was back in the era of Pogs and MTV’s Real World Season 1.

“There simply was no great industry solution for researching markets, finding comps, transacting, connecting with key stakeholders, purchasing or investing in properties, renting or leasing space, getting a loan, finding partners to purchase properties with, marketing yourself or the properties you own, sell or lease etc.,” he said. “I started thinking about technology solutions for the commercial real estate industry to solve many of these inefficiencies in the CRE space. I could not figure out why it hadn’t been done and set out to build CREXi to help industry stakeholders be more efficient and to make the industry more liquid, transparent and easier to access.”

CREXi — the CRE stands for “commercial real estate” — has been around since 2015, but recently announced an $11 million Series A as well as some interesting user numbers. Key investors include Jackson Square Ventures, Manifest Investment Partners, Lerer Hippeau, Freestyle Capital, TenOneTen Ventures and Founder Collective. The company has managed more than 100,000 “properties brought to market” on its platform and they have 200,000 users per month. They see more than 6,000 properties listed on the site each month.

The service is a suite of tools that streamlines the entire CRE processing.

“We give brokers the ability to find, manage and qualify leads, market their properties with customizable emails, and communicate with interested parties through in-app messaging. Additionally, our features help brokers interact with the industry and its stakeholders; solicit, make, accept, counter and negotiate offers; run competitive bidding processes; run escrow and closing processes; research markets and sold properties etc.,” said DeGiorgio.

While CRE isn’t very sexy, it’s clear that the industry can use all the help it can get. Considering CREXi manages $450 billion in property value, it’s also clear that this is a lucrative market ripe for disruption.

“We are the first platform to take the entire commercial real estate transaction process online with a simple to use and intuitive interface,” said DeGiorgio. “We collaborate with brokers and principals to blend technology with the fundamentals of CRE transactions, addressing the shifting needs of industry professionals to maximize revenue and minimize time spent on administrative tasks.”

Now he just has to get everyone to throw away their postal scales and fax machines and help CRE enter the era of Honey Boo Boo and leave the era of the Olsen Twins.

Boosted Boards founders launch heavy-duty scooter renter Skip

All electric scooters are not created equal. I’ve found ones from Spin, Bird, and Lime to often be broken, shaky, or out of battery. But now the founders of Boosted Boards, which makes the steadiest and safest-feeling electric skateboards, are bringing their rugged hardware expertise to the scooter world. Today, they’re coming out of stealth with a supposedly stronger and longer-lasting dockless electric scooter rental startup called Skip. And the surprise is they’re hoping to only operate where permitted unlike their backlashed competitors [but no guarantees], with a deployment today in partnership with Washington D.C. and plans for San Francisco.

Formerly known by its Y Combinator codename Waybots, the company is exclusively announcing its funding and rebrand to Skip today on TechCrunch. The startup has raised a $6 million seed round led by Initialized Capital via Alexis Ohanian and Ronny Conway’s A Capital, with SV Angel joining in.”High integrity, thoughtful founders with all the relevant experience, demonstrated success, and an eye toward safety make this exactly the kind of investment I love” says Ohanian.

“We think the vehicle matters” Skip and former Boosted co-founder/CEO Sanjay Dastoor tells me. “It’s not the same as rideshare where two or more companies are all using the same car. There’s a big spectrum of quality in the base vehicles. A lot of these companies are buying off the shelf vehicles that are designed for personal ownership. I think these vehicles will need to be designed for a different level of use and upkeep.”

That’s why Skip is modifying bigger pre-made scooters to be more durable, and plans to build its own custom scooters. For the same $1 plus $0.15 per minute price as other services, you get a wider riding platform, full suspension, and head/tail/brake lights. The strategy is that if people feel safe and steady riding Skips, they’ll choose them over the competition. And while low-grade scooters might feel too unstable for the bike lane, leading to complaints about sidewalk riding, Skips are meant to feel secure enough to cruise next to cars.

With so much well-funded competition, Skip will have to hope customers really notice the difference. And its focus on permits could constrain growth. But if riders and cities decide they want a more reliable scooter service, Skip could carve out a solid business while being a better citizen.

Trusting Your Life To A Startup

My Boosted Board was perhaps my favorite gadget ever. After a decade as an unpowered longboard rider, I tested its electric skateboard in 2012 and loved the smooth rides so much I bought one of the first 10 of the Kickstarter. It felt like being able to effortlessly surf uphill. I tried many others and consistently found them to feel much more jerky, wobbly, and unpredictable. That’s not what you want when you’re riding a handle-less vehicle in traffic, and essentially betting your life on some startup’s hardware.

But then I crashed. The human body is not equipped for a 22mph meeting with the pavement. The board performed perfectly, I just hit a gravel patch at full-speed, shattered my ankle, and couldn’t walk for 5 months. In conclusion, even the safest electric skateboards are risky because at high speeds, the form factor’s small hard wheels are too vulnerable to obstructions, and you’ve got no handle to save you. I haven’t skated the two years since.

Yet that’s why I think Skip has a real opportunity. There’s demand for these vehicles. Skip says it sees seven rides per day per scooter. They’re a natural complement to more expensive Ubers that have to wade through traffic. But the whole industry will fall apart if everyone’s getting injured. You can absolutely feel the lack of stability and smoothness when riding a janky or half-broken scooter. I think consumers will choose the safer device if one’s available.

Skip To A New Startup

Skip co-founder and CEO Sanjay Dastoor

“We noticed that small personal portable electric vehicles weren’t only awesome alone” but as an option alongside ridesharing, ridepooling, and car ownership, says Dastoor. “The future of transportation is a combination of these.”

Boosted co-founder Matt Tran left the company two years ago, while Dastoor exited a year ago. They wanted to try an electric vehicle service model, but “Boosted wasn’t really the right place to do that, because the company is still focused on building great hardware for people to buy.” Tran was running marketing and also craved his engineering roots. So together with Mike Wadhera, a founding team member of Involver which sold to Oracle, they formed Waybots.

Last summer, the company tried out a docked scooter sharing model in SF, but didn’t see great results. When they got accepted to YC, like Boosted before it, they started experimenting with a dockless version. Meanwhile, Washington D.C. had opened a pilot program for permitted dockless bikeshare, and Waybots convinced the city to give it the greenlight too. Those scooters now have Skip branding slapped on.

“We’re the first permitted [dockless electric scooter] system operating anywhere” Dastoor believes. “A lot of the story around dockless scooters has come from SF, and from companies that have launched without informing anyone or working with anyone.” That’s led SF to ban unpermitted dockless scooter rentals. “What we saw in DC was the opposite. We’re working with the cities to deploy, share data with them, and engage with the community, and we’ve seen none of the backlash that we’ve seen in SF.” Still, the startup wouldn’t guarantee it won’t go rogue and launch unpermitted in the future.

As for why Ohanian chose to fund Skip amongst the slew of scooter startups, he tells me “I’ve been looking for an answer that is going to be a high-quality, collaborative, and sustainable solution to the urban congestion crisis that is already upon us (and getting worse) — then Sanjay told me about Skip. Here was not only a last-mile solution, but also a company providing it that understands how to work with cities as well as deliver a best-in-class software and hardware experience.”

Designed To Deter Complaints

Skip could get along better with cities because it’s built the scooters to discourage a lot of the most annoying scooter behaviors. The Speedway Mini4 36V 21Ah scooters Skip modifies can get up to 30 miles at 10mph per charge, which means they’re less likely to have dead batteries by the afternoon like the useless vehicles-turned-paperweights from competitors that I commonly stumble across in SF. To keep them charged and off the streets at night, Skip has a crowdsourced charging program where people can get paid to pick up, plug in at home, and drop off scooters.

The durable hardware is meant to need less service so you’re less likely to rent a broken, or worse, half-broken-but-I’m-late-so-I’ll-ride-it-anyway scooter. You can adjust the handlebar height, they go up to 18mph and dual-suspension flattens road bumps.

As for keeping Skips from getting strewn in the sidewalks and obstructing pedestrians, Dastoor claims his company’s vehicles have more precise location tracking than competitors. That could help it tell the edge of a build from the center of the walkway. Combined with requiring users to photograph the scooter standing upright, and hardware in the vehicles, Skip is hoping to force users to park them properly. “They have to have the intelligence in them to give info back to the city or back to the operator to make sure they operating correctly” Dastoor says.

Unfortunately, Skip hasn’t solved the lack of helmets problem. Dastoor tells me “We’ve been looking at a bunch of ways to improve access to helmets” but for now there’s no on-vehicle compartment for them and the company merely encourages users to wear them.

Personally, I think that’s crap. Sure, Citi Bike and other scooter companies don’t offer them either. But if these are meant to be serendipitously rented for short periods, it’s crazy to think anyone other than regular commuters will bring their own helmets. I think cities should demand them. And if they don’t, an inevitable scooter fatality that could have been prevented will make permitters more cautious. At least Skip says you have to be over 18 and plans to add ID verification for that soon.

“I don’t really have a comment about our unit economics” Dastoor sidestepped, but notes how much cheaper a $1.50 or $3 ride is than hailing a car. We’ll have to see if competition spurs a scooter price war. For now, though, the well-equipped Skips have led customers to “want to use it over and over.” Still, with Lime reportedly trying to raise $500 million and Bird recently closing $100 million as they race to invade the world, Skip is starting late with a much smaller piggybank.

Competition aside, Dastoor cites maintaining relationships with cities as the startup’s biggest threat. Luckily, he says it will soon announce some big-name talent with experience here. I expect it’s hired someone like former Uber policy chief David Plouffe who already has connections.

Scoot To The Future

Where the dockless vechicle rental market goes is a mystery. Maybe it turns into a fundraising war, with the most aggressive deployers locking up markets, and the losers vaporizing in giant money bonfires. Maybe the cities get fed up, kick out the unpermitted, and only issue approvals to those with the best glad-handing or the best safety. Maybe users get tons of options on price, quality, and availability to choose from.

But absent the bad behavior spurring backlash, many who try dockless electric scooter and bike rentals love them. With traffic-jammed city streets and scarce parking, we could use ways to get cars off the road.

Eventually, I think we’ll see a ton of short rideshare trips turn into scooter cruises. And at today’s super low price point, walking could turn into a luxury depending on how you value your time. Even at minimum wage, you might save money paying $1.75 for a five-minute, one-mile Skip rather than walking for 20. Dastoor concludes, “It becomes part of their transportation routine and I think anything that does that is around to stay.”