All posts in “Health”

Natural home products startup Grove Collaborative bets niche wins over the Amazonization of everything

Who needs Amazon when you can make your own online distribution channel? At least, that’s the idea behind Grove Collaborative, a natural home care products company that ships natural cleaning brands like Method and Mrs. Meyer’s.

Co-founder Stuart Landesberg started the company in 2014 after working with retail brands during his time as an investor at TPG. He noticed how limited shelf space was for brands in brick-and-mortar stores and the idea came to him to launch a tech company that could help move products by prompting consumers to buy at the ideal time. The company pivoted to online retail products in 2016 and rebranded itself as Grove Collaborative.

But consumers have a lot of choices in this space and the brands offered through Grove could just as easily get to your door through same-day shipping on Amazon.

As unlikely as it seems a customer would turn to Grove when there’s the convenience of Target or Amazon, Landesberg tells TechCrunch the company has raked in “tens of millions of dollars” in revenue and that it has “hundreds of thousands” of active customers. He also says more than half of Grove’s customers have never shopped natural before.

Still, he admits there’s no special sauce here. The company is not trying to compete with lower prices and it offers similar prompts as Amazon to re-up supply when you’re likely to be out. But he says the difference is incumbents often prioritize profit over customers and environmental health.

Those numbers also look promising and VC’s have been eager to support Grove on its journey. The startup just pulled in $35 million in Series C funding led by Norwest Venture Partners. The funding comes right on the heels of a $15 million Series B, which quietly closed last March and was led by Mayfield VC.

The primary use of the funding will go toward marketing, which Landesberg told TechCrunch is mostly through influencers such as health bloggers and YouTube personalities with a following in the space.

The startup will also use some of that money to build out new offerings from the main Grove brand, which include items such as hand sanitizer, essential oils, moisturizers and natural sponges.

“Families want to make safe, sustainable, informed choices, and that’s how e-commerce can catalyze real progress,” Landesberg said. “This funding allows us to bring natural products to more homes, and help us build a brand that can serve our community unconstrained by the realities of offline sales.”

Sweatcoin lets you earn crypto for working out

Want a way to workout and earn some coin? Sweatcoin has risen to the top of the App Store for helping folks get something more than just a glow for taking those daily steps.

The startup says it has accumulated more than five million users in the past year and increased revenue by 266 percent in the last quarter. There are more than two million weekly active users on the app — and growing, making it one of the fastest growing fitness apps in the App Store and second to the top in the free apps, next only to the Google Arts & Culture app that blew up over the weekend.

It works like this: users sign up and then hook up their smartphone’s health and fitness data and GPS location to the app. The app then tracks how many steps you take in a day and rewards you a monetary “sweat” value according to your movements. For every 1,000 steps recorded, the app will pay out .95 in “sweatcoins.” Users can later trade these coins in for fitness gear, workout classes, gift cards and a number of other offerings.

The app says you can only earn these coins by walking outside so it theoretically doesn’t count if you are walking on a treadmill at the gym, though the app on my phone seems to count steps inside my apartment as well. That’s at least something.

Note: I’m in my third trimester of pregnancy so I’m not exactly going the distance (just walking up the stairs feels like I’m trying to climb Mount Everest some days). That makes it a bit hard to earn my coins — I’ve only earned .33 in sweatcoins today, for instance, so don’t feel bad if you aren’t hitting that 10,000 step stride.

Another reason you may hit a wall of motivation in the app — the free version limits you in how many coins you can earn a day to just five. However, you can earn more if you are willing to fork over some of those sweatcoins per month to get you in the upper tiers and make some real sweaty moola towards that coveted Fitbit or whatever fitness gear you’ve got your eye on.

The startup has now raised it’s own coin to the tune of $5.7 million in seed from investors such as Goodwater Capital, which led the round. Greylock also participated through its Discovery Fund, as did Rubylight, Seedcamp, SmartHub and a number of angels including Justin Kan and Rain Lohmus.

Sweatcoin founders say they plan to use the funding to now push beyond the U.S. and U.K. markets to other English-speaking countries, then on to continental Europe and Asia next.

Co-founder Anton Derlyatka also told TechCrunch he’d like to “even include the ability to pay taxes with sweatcoin” in the future. Other co-founder Oleg Fomenko also mentioned plans to develop an “open-source blockchain DLT technology that will allow Sweatcoin to be traded like any other major crypto- or fiat currency.”

“We are out to fundamentally change the value ascribed to health and fitness and provide the motivation for people to lead better lives,” Fomenko said.

Those interested in checking out the app can download it on either iOS or on Google Play and start earning their sweat equity today.

Y Combinator is launching a biotech track

Y Combinator is pulling the curtains off of a new experiment, YC Bio. The idea is to fund early-stage life-sciences companies that are still in the lab phase, YC President Sam Altman wrote on the YC blog today. YC Bio’s first area of focus will be on healthspan and age-related disease.

“We think there’s an enormous opportunity to help people live healthier for longer, and that it could be one of the best ways to address our healthcare crisis,” Altman wrote.

For those unfamiliar with the idea of healthspan, it’s the amount of time someone is healthy rather than the amount of time they’re alive and potentially in bad health.

Similar to YC AI, companies in the YC Bio track will participate in YC’s traditional batch. But instead of taking 7 percent ownership in exchange for $120,000 in investment, YC will offer the biotech companies between $500,000 and $1 million for 10 to 20 percent ownership.

Because these companies will all still be in the lab phase, YC will offer them free lab space in partnership with a to-be-determined entity. YC Bio also will offer companies “a number of other special deals” and access to experts in the field.

YC backed its first biotech company in 2014, when Gingko Bioworks participated in the accelerator. At the time, Altman told TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr that three things had started happening in biotech: “upcoming hyper growth, costs coming down to series-A scale, and cycle time coming down to something reasonable for a startup.”

Lishtot’s TestDrop tells you whether water is safe to drink without even touching it

Consistent access to clean water is something billions lack, and part of that is the inability to check whether one’s water is clean or not. Lishtot could help change this with a tiny device that instantly determines if water is safe to drink just by analyzing the electric field around it — no strips, no microfluidics, no toxic chemicals. It honestly sounds too good to be true, but as far as I can tell it’s the real thing.

I talked with Lishtot (Hebrew for “drink”) CEO Netanel Raisch at CES, where he demonstrated the simplicity and effectiveness of the TestDrop device. He had with him two plastic cups of water, to one of which had been added a contaminant. Pressing the test button, he moved the TestDrop toward one cup — blue light, clean. Do the same for the other — red light, contaminated.

It’s that simple to operate; I did it myself successfully after one or two tries. It’s so simple, in fact, that I was suspicious. I thought it might be some kind of spectroscopy, but where was the emitter? Why did you have to move it, if not to create some kind of doppler effect?

Turns out that the whole thing is based on the electromagnetic fields that surround everything. Water creates its own local field, which is measured by moving the TestDrop through it, and it turns out that clean water emits a slightly different field than water with lead or chlorine in it, water with E. coli, water with dissolved animal matter and so on.

The device has been subjected to third-party testing, two reports from which I read; the thing really works. It detected even tiny amounts of lead and protein instantly and with 100 percent accuracy and no false positives or negatives.

The replaceable watch battery should last for years even if you’re using the device 10 or 20 times a day. Several of these known readings are built-in (it’s calibrated around half a plastic cup of water, as the plastic doesn’t interfere with the fields) and the TestDrop doesn’t need to check its data against the cloud in order to give a drink/don’t drink response.

If, however, you do want to bring in the smartphone and app part, there’s a service that Lishtot is running that tracks tests done with its devices, if users choose to submit them. Raisch hopes this will become a useful database both for ordinary users (who can find clean water sources if necessary) and governments or companies (who can tap in and watch for trends). You’ll be able to report problems directly to the utility, as well.

Lishtot has more water purity-related technology on the way, but for now the TestDrop is its main product. The devices cost $50 each, or $35 with the CES discount — but my guess is they’re more likely to spread when bought in bulk by NGOs, utilities and other organizations, which will then distribute them where they’re most needed.

Study: Seasons have little effect on dieting app reporting but the day of week does

If you’ve gotten three apps and a Fitbit so you can get skinnier this year, don’t worry so much about summer beach season or holiday weight gain. Instead, worry about Thursday.

Researchers at University of South Carolina found that self-reporting of food was integral to weight loss but that self-reporters often fell off, seemingly around the holidays. “A key question we wanted to answer is what impact the holiday season has on individuals’ efforts to monitor their calorie intake,” said lead author Christine A. Pellegrini, PhD.

They gave a dieting app to a group of 32 obese adults and asked them to self-report over various seasons. The app could tell when they reported intake, allowing the researchers to see when folks stopped reporting.

From the release:

After analysis of the data, a reduction in the number of foods reported by each person was seen with each successive day in the study. There was also a weekend effect such that participants reported significantly fewer foods between Thursday and Sunday relative to Monday. The study, however, determined that although more food was reported in January, an overall seasonality effect was not observed.

“Adults generally gain weight during the holidays and self-monitoring can help to manage weight during this period,” reported Pellegrini. “Weight loss is a common New Year’s resolution and may explain the increased number of foods reported in January; however, the typical pattern of self-monitoring during the holidays is not well established.”

The researchers saw food self-reporting fall off on a weekly basis between Thursday and Sunday which suggests that we are good at reporting what we eat at the beginning of the week but, as opportunities to cheat enter our weekend radar, we slow down considerably.

The bottom line? “Based on this study’s findings, providing these prompts on weekends may improve adherence to self-monitoring recommendations,” wrote the researchers. Basically someone has to remind us not to pig out on our days of rest.