All posts in “Startup company”

Ding’s ‘smart enough’ doorbell raises $345k+ on Seedrs

Ding, a London-based hardware startup, has raised more than £263,000 (~$345k) via the Seedrs equity crowdfunding platform as it works to get its first product — a wi-fi connected doorbell — to market this year.

It’s the second tranche of crowdfunding the team has taken in, following a Kickstarter campaign that raised $111k in November 2016. They are also currently taking pre-orders for their smart doorbell via Indiegogo.

The founders originally specced out their idea for the product, in 2015, in order to enter a Design Council competition, going on to win some funding — which they put towards product development, working with an external product dev design office.

In 2016 they were also accepted onto the JLAB accelerator, run by UK retailer John Lewis — which they’re hoping will stock the device in future (they say they have a “letter of intent” from the company).

There’s somebody at the door…

While apartment buildings typically already have a hardwired intercom system so callers can be talked to and buzzed in without someone needing to go all the way downstairs, Ding is designed for people living in houses — which are less likely to have anything more high tech than an electric chime to alert a homeowner that someone is at their front door.

The main aim is therefore to save people from having to jump up and run to the door to see who it is every time the doorbell sounds. It also offers a way to customize and control how the doorbell can be used, via a companion app, and Ding’s team suggests, for example, that AirBnB hosts could make use of it to smooth the check-in process remotely.

The Ding product consists of a Wi-Fi connected button, a physical chime that can be placed within earshot in the home and an app that lets the user talk to the person who is at the door via their smartphone.

The product can also be configured to ring the user’s phone when someone presses the doorbell — in case they’re out of earshot of the chime or not at home or just don’t want the chime to sound (e.g. they have a baby sleeping).

While it might seem to offer relatively minimally utility vs some smart access products (such as those that include locking/unlocking functionality), the product design is intentionally being kept simple, says the team, with the intent being to avoid the need for lengthy user-manuals and unnecessary complexity, and thereby maximize appeal to the target homeowner demographic.

So while a user won’t be able to remotely unlock their door for a caller via Ding, nor is there — on the flip side — any need for the team to convince potential customers to trust it to securely connect their front door locks to the Internet. So it’s potentially a much simpler and more broadly appealing sales pitch than a full-on ‘smart access’/’smart lock’ product.

They’ve also evidently concentrated effort on the design aspect of the product, eschewing an overly shiny gadget aesthetic for something softer — a textile-covered chime speaker that’s intended to blend in with interior decoration trends — and thus more likely to appeal to the (likely) older homeowning consumers they have in their sights.

Ding’s oversubscribed Seedrs raise is now at 105 per cent funded, with 220 investors collectively taking a 9.51 per cent stake in the startup. The company is listed as having a pre-money valuation of just over £2.5M.

The startup says the funding will be used to grow the team and scale up production in order to meet “increasing demand from retailers including John Lewis”.

The RRP for the product, which they estimate will be on sale in time for Christmas, is £140 to £150 (~$180 to $195). It’s currently up for pre-order via Indiegogo starting at $140.

Reach Robotics closes $7.5M Series A for its augmented reality bots

After years of research and development, Reach Robotics has closed a $7.5 million Series A, co-led by Korea Investment Partners (KiP) and IGlobe, to bring its augmented reality bots to market in a big way. The Bristol-based startup is looking to expand into the U.S., and the team is exploring opportunities for growth into other European and Asian markets.

Reach Robotics’ first product, MekaMon, launched last fall. Today’s round comes after the company produced and sold an initial run of 500 of its four-legged, crab-like, bots. MekaMon fits into an emerging category of smartphone-enabled augmented reality toys like Anki.

Silas Adekunle, CEO of Reach Robotics, tells me the influx of capital will be used to make some strategic hires and increase brand recognition through marketing. This is the first time the startup has announced a funding round. Adekunle tells me his experience raising capital wasn’t easy; as they say, hardware is hard.

“It was hard to pitch in our early days because people didn’t believe,” explained Adekunle.

MekaMon sits somewhere between toy and full-fledged robot. Unlike the radio-controlled RadioShack robots of yesteryear, MekaMon costs a hefty $329. At first glance this can be hard to swallow, but Adekunle remains adamant that he is building a platform and not a line of toys — think PS4 instead of an expensive, single-use robot collecting dust on a shelf.

Outside of retail sales, another avenue for the company to make money is through partnerships within the entertainment industry. Adekunle says that Reach would never go out of its way to deliver a specific product for a client, but he always keeps an eye out for overlap where a partnership could occur with minimal operational changes.

“People are taken aback that something could be this realistic,” asserts Adekunle. “If you strip back the product and lose that, then you don’t have an innovative company.”

Because Reach is selling software-enabled hardware, it has the opportunity to collect all sorts of interesting data that it can use to fine-tune its products. The startup is able to track retention in aggregate and look at how people actually use their robots. Moreover, if MekaMon suffers leg failure, Reach can analyze indicators like temperature readings and torque.

Adekunle insists on keeping the Reach Robotics team interdisciplinary — one employee helped shape the way robots move in the Transformers movie series. This same team is focused on empowering the next group of developers who will build on the MekaMon platform and create new use cases, beyond the company’s initial vision for the product.

Here are the winners of the Google Cloud machine learning pitch-off

Back in March at Google’s Cloud Next conference, the company announced plans to run its own machine learning startup competition side-by-side with Data Collective and Emergence Capital. Four months later, 10 startups, pulled from a pool of 350+ applicants, presented onstage at Google’s Launchpad Space in San Francisco.

The startups vied for three prizes — a choice each from DCVC and Emergence, as well as a Built with Google award for the top startup utilizing Google’s Cloud Platform. Additionally, Google provided $200k in GCP credits to all finalists. In advance of the competition, both VC firms committed to providing seed capital to their selections and both were involved from the beginning in diligencing applicants.

The event is in many ways the physical manifestation of GCP’s strategy to cozy up with machine intelligence startups. Google Cloud still lags behind Amazon and Microsoft in usage and the company is trying to position itself as “friendly” to a class of startups that will surely generate immense amounts of data at scale that needs to be stored somewhere. Founders participating in the competition pointed to both Kubernetes and TensorFlow as selling points for GCP — and of course, the free cloud credits don’t hurt.

We’ve briefly profiled the winners of each prize below and included a description of their reward.

DCVC’s Choice – BrainSpec

Alex Zimmerman, CEO of BrainSpec

$500K investment

BrainSpec is building its own platform that helps doctors measure brain metabolites using standard MRI equipment. Metabolites are the chemical result of cellular processes and often hold the key to understanding brain injuries, Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders.

Doctors can use Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, a traditionally complex process, to perform chemical analysis of tissue to detect key indicators of these neurological diseases. BrainSpec is simplifying this technique with a web interface and cloud-based statistical analysis.

Matt Ocko, a partner at DCVC, explained his investment by speaking to the sheer market size of the problem BrainSpec is looking to address. The startup brings strong domain expertise to a product with a clear path to productization and regulatory approval.

Emergence Capital’s Choice – LiftIgniter

Adam Spector, co-founder of LiftIgniter

$500K investment 

LiftIgniter, a former TC Disrupt Battlefield competitor, wants to help businesses personalize the content they deliver to users. Today, big players like Amazon and Spotify have their own advanced recommendation systems that drive engagement, but many other businesses struggle to deliver the same demanding technology.

The team, which had experience building YouTube’s machine learning recommendation system, is productizing its service around an API. The company says it has never lost an A/B test and is seeing strong traction with 1.8 million in ARR and 22 percent month-over-month growth.

The team also won an extra $500K in GCP credits as the runner-up for the Built with Google Award.

Built with Google Award – PicnicHealth

Noga Leviner, CEO of PicnicHealth

$1M in GCP credits

PicnicHealth is layering machine learning on top of its centralized digital medical record system to produce outcomes data for pharmaceutical companies and research groups.

The startup combines automated extraction with a team of human nurses to annotate anonymized records. Pharmaceutical companies in particular are willing to pay serious money for data to the extent that PicnicHealth is seeing $5,000 gross margins.

Patients using the consumer side of the platform retain control of their data and are in charge of entering their care providers. From there, Picnic automates record collection, analysis and releases.

Pendo closes $25M Series C from Meritech to scale its customer understanding platform

Just seven months after announcing a $20 million Series B, Pendo, a platform to help businesses better understand their customers, has closed a new $25 million Series C led by Meritech Capital Partners. The North Carolina-based startup has been growing at a rapid clip — ballooning to 106 employees across offices in San Francisco, New York and Raleigh. Meritech’s Rob Ward will be joining the Pendo board of directors to help guide future acquisitions and an international expansion strategy.

Pendo is a tool that companies can use to track key customer metrics to better understand how users engage with products and services. The company is orienting itself around the rise in interest in satisfaction metrics like net promoter scores (likelihood to recommend products to others) that often are used as a proxy for projecting revenue.

Some of Pendo’s early customers, like Cisco Cloud, have seen a 20 percent increase in their net promoter scores since using the platform. With data, Pendo can determine the best ways to engage with users to get feedback — the team found that allowing feedback within products increases response rates considerably with respect to other channels like email.

“We went wide first,” explained Todd Olson, founder and CEO of Pendo. “A large part of our roadmap is looking at each of our core pillars and adding more depth.”

Pendo helps product managers analyze products with polls, contextual analytics, in-app guidance and walk-throughs. Olson told me that his team has discovered some surprising stats in its own course of product development — that, for example, customers typically only spend 10 hours in a 30-day trial testing a service. Armed with this knowledge, the company can offer value to its clients by telling them what users actually engage with during a trial to inform future product design decisions.

It’s a common saying that good founders are always raising capital, but Olson insists that it was Meritech that took the initiative in making the deal happen. Meritech approached Olson and was insistent with its interest in leading a growth round.

The extra capital opens up opportunities for Pendo to engage more freely in M&A activity — enabling the company to snap up some smaller competitors and perhaps an augmenting technology or two.

Datatron raises $2.7M to help companies query real-time and historical data

Fresh out of 500 startups, Datatron has raised $2.7 million in seed financing for its data-savvy assistant, Emma. But under the somewhat trite coating of an assistant, Datatron is making it easier for employees to gather insights from the complex web of historical and real-time data.

Businesses generate hordes of data on uneven timelines. Some data is updated less frequently, like the number of Uber drivers registered in a given city. Other data is updated to the minute, like the number of active Uber drivers on standby for pickup. Combine this with the myriad other types of data and business logic and you create an intricate mesh of data that’s difficult to derive conclusions from.

Founded by Harish Doddi and Jerry Xu, Datatron helps businesses apply this data to specific use cases within traditional verticals like sales, marketing and finance. From a simplified dashboard, users can query key indicators derived from predictive models held within the platform.

Datatron originated as a platform solution for enterprises — performing real-time feature extraction and data cleansing to speed up the process by which insights can be derived from data. In recent months, the company added the aforementioned means of top-level interaction to open up the power of the platform to a wider audience.

One of the system’s early optimizations is for sales — helping teams quickly evaluate leads and determine where to spend their precious time and resources. Datatron ships with key integrations for platforms like Zuora, Salesforce, Marketo and Zendesk.

The company has raised capital from Start X, Credence Partners, Authentic Ventures, Enspire Partners, Plug and Play and 500 Startups, and says it’s already working with a number of early customers.

Featured Image: John Lund/Getty Images