Remitly CEO Matt Oppenheimer. (Remitly Photo) Remitly, the Seattle international money transfer company, is teaming up with Visa to give people sending money abroad a new option. The companies today unveiled a plan to let people send money to Visa debit cards across borders through the push payment service. Visa Direct powers massive payments platforms such as Square’s credit card readers and Uber payments to drivers. Out of the gate, users will only be able to send money from the U.S. to debit card holders in other countries. Remitly and Visa hope to add more sender countries to the program later. “Our highest priority is to create the best possible money transfer experience for immigrant communities and their families around the world. Our customers have unique money transfer needs including a need for more choices in how they send and receive money,” Matt Oppenheimer, Remitly co-founder and CEO said in a statement. “This collaboration with Visa, the world’s leader in digital payments, helps us meet this need with instant scale, security and reach that will help us continue to improve our service.” Remitly describes itself as the largest independent mobile remittance company in North America, and it has more than 800 employees worldwide. In December it , and it is now active in 40 nations across the globe. Remitly’s technology helps eliminate the need for forms, codes, agents, and other fees typically associated with the international money transfer process. The company allows free transfers if the sender can wait three days for the funds to arrive; it charges a $3.99 flat rate for same-day transfers and credit card transfers include an additional 3 percent fee. Customers send more than $6 billion each year with Remitly — up from $4 billion in 2017, and $1.5 billion the year prior — which also works with a global network of more than 40,000 bank and cash payout partners. It has helped more than 1 million customers to date. Total funding is $175 million to date, including a $115 million investment round that was one of the largest for any Seattle startup in recent years. Remitly’s investors include Naspers’ PayU; World Bank’s International Finance Corporation; Silicon Valley Bank; Stripes Group; DN Capital; QED Investors; Tomorrow Ventures; Trilogy Equity Partners; Bezos Expeditions; Founders’ Co-op; and DFJ.
Armoire CEO Ambika Singh in front of the company’s new pop-up store. (Armoire Photos) aims to help women access new clothes without having to enter a physical store. But now the Seattle startup is testing a brick-and-mortar strategy to compliment its online fashion rental service. Armoire will open its first pop-up location this week in downtown Seattle, taking over an old Sprint retail store and using it as a place for members to learn about new clothes and styles. Armoire CEO Ambika Singh and Lili Morton, community development, inside the company’s new store. Starting at $149 per month, the 3-year-old company ships designer clothes to customers who can swap out the items at any time or purchase them at a discounted rate. The pop-up store will allow new and existing members to try on clothes, experiment with different styles, and take home anything without pulling out their wallet. It will be open seven days a week and staffed by Armoire employees and stylists. Armoire CEO Ambika Singh told GeekWire that the company aims to improve the dressing room experience, which she said “has historically been a negative experience for women.” “We set ourselves up for failure as soon as we walk into that room,” she said. “With guidance from Armoire staff and stylists, we hope to create a shift where women instead see everything they love about themselves. We’re creating an environment where women choose self-confidence in the dressing room and in life, by armoring them with clothes they feel great in.” The startup also hopes that because the clothing is rental and “temporary,” its service will help women stop agonizing over size and body perception in a relaxed gathering place, which was designed by Fernish, a furniture rental startup that . “Our hope is that members come to think of this space as home — dropping in for a new item or just a chat,” Singh said. Armoire follows a similar playbook to Rent the Runway, the 10-year-old New York City-based company that was recently at nearly $800 million. Rent the Runway also operates physical locations; it its fifth store last year. Starting with digital and expanding to physical is also a recent retail strategy used by Amazon, which built a massive online e-commerce business and now has several brick-and-mortar locations, including Whole Foods stores and Amazon bookstores. Speaking of Amazon, the Seattle-based tech giant is also testing new ways to help people buy clothes. It recently rolled out a try-before-you-buy service . Armoire has raised $4.2 million from investors such as Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens; Foot Locker exec Vijay Talwar; and a number of female backers who decided to invest after first becoming customers. They include Sheila Gulati of Tola Capital, former Drugstore.com CEO Dawn Lepore, and Angela Taylor of Efeste.
Tuzag CEO Neal Sofian. (Tuzag Photo) is betting that health bots need a better bedside manner. The startup just launched a chat service that’s part concierge, part health assessor and comes with a healthy dose of compassion. Tuzag’s first product, , is an out-of-the-box service that CEO sums up as an “engagement bot.” In a demo of Tuzag’s app for Amazon Alexa, the bot responded to news that a patient was having a bad day by saying, “I wish I could give you a big hug right now.” Other details, like remembering your pet’s name and asking for doggy updates, bring the humanistic angle a step further. Health bots that use artificial intelligence are having a moment. Microsoft recently , and a number of health companies have built bots for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. “We’re doing two things that I think are very different,” Sofian said. “One is we’re building profiles on people so that we have a persistent memory and we’re learning every time we interact with you. The second part is we’re actually tailoring content down to the word just for you.” Tuzag’s MyHealthyDay voice app is also available in other channels, such as a web dashboard, shown above. (Tuzag Screenshot) Tuzag Founder Dave Bulger. (Tuzag Photo) Tuzag’s bots can be programmed to have different personalities, which can change the experience, for example, from a friendly and bubbly conversation to a stern one. With the help of artificial intelligence, Sofian thinks more personalized bots can change patient behavior. But it all starts with engagement. “A good concierge in a hotel gets to know you. What are your needs? What do you want?” Sofian said. “Why wouldn’t we do that for consumers in health care when it’s 20 percent of the economy?” In addition to the off-the-shelf MyHealthyDay product, Tuzag creates custom bots and can provide its product as middleware to other companies. While the startup is focused on voice apps, its services can be deployed through text messages, an online chatbot or other channels. Tuzag is focused on the user experience to help improve engagement. “We want to build the concierge that can do what it takes to get people to connect to the products and services that are meaningful to them,” Sofian said. In the future, Sofian said that MyHealthyDay could integrate with smart devices to give tailored advice, such as synching with a smart pill bottle to track whether a patient is taking their medicine. “It’s pretty startling how bad adherence is,” Sofian said. Sofian runs the company with Tuzag founder , who first started working on the project in 2013. The startup has offices in Seattle and Syracuse, New York, where Bulger is based. Tuzag has partnered with the YMCA as well as Vanderbilt University, which is developing its own bot for newcomers to Nashville, Tenn. The startup has raised around $500,000 in seed funding. Sofian developed the successful smoking cessation program called Free and Clear, later renamed Quit for Life, in the 1980s. The program is now offered by more than 700 employers and health plans across 26 states. He also previously spent 14 years at Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative and was director of member engagement at Premera Blue Cross for seven years.
The Xealth team — and office dogs — inside the company’s office in Seattle’s Smith Tower. (GeekWire Photo / James Thorne) Is there big market for prescriptions beyond drugs? Several investors with deep experience in health are betting on it — joining in a new $11 million funding round for Xealth, a digital health startup building a platform that lets doctors prescribe everything from wheelchairs and insulin monitors to articles and Lyft rides. Xealth CEO Mike McSherry. (Xealth Photo) Founded by two Seattle startup veterans and spun out of Providence Health & Services, Xealth uses patient data to recommend services from a variety of vendors for possible prescription. The company wants to make its marketplace available to hundreds of thousands of doctors and nurses, letting them issue digital prescriptions, such as apps and digital media, or anything else they want to prescribe beyond a traditional drug. If a patient is overweight and doesn’t have a history of eating disorders, for example, Xealth might recommend that a doctor prescribe a service from Weight Watchers. Xealth’s Series A funding round drew new investors McKesson Ventures, Novartis, Philips and ResMed. Those names are notable in that they represent many of the medical supplies, digital therapeutics and devices that can be prescribed over Xealth’s platform. “I’m a huge fan of strategic investments,” said Mike McSherry, Xealth’s CEO and co-founder, in an interview at the company’s headquarters at Seattle’s Smith Tower, explaining why he likes to seek out investors from inside the industry, not just traditional venture capital. McSherry has followed this approach before, with success. He was previously CEO of Swype, maker of a popular swipe texting keyboard, and , key players in the world of mobile devices. Following , Xealth’s total cash raised now stands at $19.5 million, and the new round brought back prior investors Threshold Ventures, Providence Ventures, Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin Health Network, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. McSherry and Xealth co-founder Aaron Sheedy make for unlikely healthcare innovators. The pair have been working together for more than two decades, tracing their roots back to a shared office at Microsoft in the 90s. They worked together at Swype, which sold to Nuance Communications in 2011. McSherry became Nuance’s VP of advertising and content and Sheedy its VP of mobile product. They took the plunge into healthcare after McSherry was invited by Providence CEO Rod Hochman to be an entrepreneur-in-residence at Providence Ventures in 2015. Founded two years later, Xealth now has 40 employees, up from 12 in 2017. Xealth’s marketplace lives inside of hospitals’ electronic health records systems. (Xealth Screenshot) The company reflects a broader surge in interest in health by people and companies from the tech industry. The frenzy around digital health has been stoked by significant entries into the space from the likes of Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Venture investment in digital health grew 42 percent last year to $8.1 billion, according to . Xealth was founded with a mission to be the ultimate marketplace for doctors to prescribe anything and everything digital. But the company says its platform is more than a marketplace: It also routes the flow of data from services back into the hospital’s electronic health record system. Xealth is currently tracking data from 40,000 sleep apnea patients who are using CPAP devices for Providence St. Joseph Health. “If you can more seamlessly engage with the patients digitally, like they’re used to in their consumer lives, you’re providing a better patient experience,” McSherry said. “But that also gives the hospital system a 360-degree view of the patient’s health.” Last year, Xealth for products that could be prescribed through its marketplace. What seemed like a simple integration — a surgeon could send a patient a link to buy a product for recovery, for example — was practically revolutionary in a world where doctors often hand their patients a photocopy of the product they recommend. Not surprisingly, navigating tech-style disruption in healthcare is complicated. Amazon’s service on Xealth doesn’t use the e-commerce giant’s recommendation engine; instead, doctors manually curate the products they want. And to avoid conflicts of interest, Xealth doesn’t get affiliate payments from Amazon. McSherry said that other e-commerce sellers would soon join the platform. The startup currently offers services from 30 digital health vendors. One recent addition to Xealth’s platform is Proteus, which sells pills with sensors that monitor a patient’s drug adherence. Xealth also recently added Duke Health and Baylor Scott & White Health as customers. The startup makes money by licensing its platform to healthcare providers. Competitors include Redox and Sansoro Health, both of which integrate third-party applications into electronic health records systems. McSherry made it clear that using data to make recommendations is central to realizing Xealth’s ambitions. It just has to make sure that healthcare providers are on board. Over time, McSherry said, the company should know what works best for patients down to an individualized level. “We didn’t get into this to play small ball,” he said. “We’re going to have a huge data set that works to optimize the best patient care and clinical recommendations for patients.”
Elliott Bay Office Park, Zipwhip’s future home. (Geekwire Photo / Nat Levy) Zipwhip has leased space for a new Seattle headquarters that will give the fast-growing business text messaging startup room to nearly double its headcount. The company has leased the top floor and a half at Martin Selig’s five-story , a 75,000-square-foot space with room for approximately 500 people. It will move into the new offices toward the end of 2019, said John Lauer, Zipwhip CEO. Zipwhip CEO John Lauer. (Zipwhip Photo) Zipwhip is “busting at the seams” in its current space, Lauer said. Today, it subleases a 50,000-square-foot space from Real Networks at a building called Home Plate Center, across the street from the Zipwhip has 270 employees today. Though the new space isn’t a whole lot bigger, the ability to design it from scratch, rather than taking over someone else’s offices, will allow for a better layout that can accommodate more employees, Lauer said. The new office is north of downtown Seattle at the intersection of the Lower Queen Anne and Interbay neighborhoods. The neighborhood is becoming a bit of a startup hotspot, with just across the street from the future Zipwhip space. Zipwhip is coming to the neighborhood around the same time just down the street. The area has popped recently because smaller companies are having a hard time finding office space in competitive neighborhoods in and around downtown. Zipwhip looked all over for a new HQ, but found this building to be the best fit for its culture. “Real estate in Seattle is a pretty tough market,” Lauer said. “This city has grown so wildly in the last five years that there’s not a lot of real estate. So we looked at as much as we could, and this turned out to be our best option.” Zipwhip’s current HQ is in this office building, across from T-Mobile Park. (Zipwhip Photo) Zipwhip factored in where its employees live when looking for space. The company found that many of its workers lived in neighborhoods north of downtown, making the new location ideal for a variety of commutes. Zipwhip sells software that lets businesses across various industries — from pro sports teams to large enterprise companies to small insurance shops — send and receive text messages with their customers using an existing business phone number. The company is coming off a $51.5 million Series D investment round . The round, which was one of the largest in the Seattle area in the last year, was led by Goldman Sachs Private Capital investing group, with participation from existing investors including OpenView, M12, and Voyager Capital. The Zipwhip team. (Zipwhip Photo) Founded in 2007, Zipwhip and set out to be the “Facebook of text messaging.” But it pivoted around 2013, taking a different approach by working with wireless carriers to enable hundreds of millions of business landlines to receive and send text messages. This allowed companies to text with their customers from landline phones, VoIP services, and toll-free numbers. Zipwhip has more than 30,000 businesses using its software and saw revenue increase 86 percent year-over-year in 2018. It has text-enabled 3.3 million landlines. Lauer sees a huge market for business texting, with more than 200 million business phone numbers in the U.S. alone. “We have a long way to go in solving this industry,” Lauer said. It’s this huge market that has the company planning for future growth. Today, Zipwhip has , and the new space will give the company capacity to grow even more.
Orbityl’s earbuds can detect mental states as well as a few distinct thoughts — after a lot of calibration. Co-founder Kristina Pearkes demos the startup’s prototype. (Orbityl Photo) What if you could control the volume of your headphones with a thought? Vancouver, B.C.-based startup wants to make that happen with a brain-computer interface that looks like an ordinary pair of headphones. The startup is currently partnering with a headphone manufacturer to make a product that can sense a user’s mental state — i.e. whether they’re awake, asleep, and how alert they are. That’s the first application, which works by sensing the change in voltage in the brain over time. They haven’t yet disclosed the identity of the hardware maker. The more ambitious plan is to use machine learning to decode thoughts. Orbity co-founders Sean Kaiser and Kristina Pearkes. (Orbityl Photo) “A lot of the research that we’ve done is in brain-computer interface applications — looking for discrete thoughts that an individual is having as a mechanism to be used for control [of a device],” said Orbityl co-founder . The startup, which first launched two years ago, is working out of the VentureLabs accelerator at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Orbityl raised around $120,000 from the Next 36 program in Toronto and the Highway1 accelerator in San Francisco, and it’s looking to add team members in the coming months. Orbityl plans to start small, training its algorithms to recognize basic commands. For instance, if you’re listening to music, you might think “right” to skip a track or “up” to raise the volume. Both Kaiser and co-founder studied at McGill University in Montreal. Pearkes brings the electronics hardware knowledge and Kaiser is the machine learning expert. Right now, their prototype can recognize basic thoughts from Kaiser’s brain, but it struggles with other users. “One of the challenges in developing this stuff is that you need a lot of examples to train the algorithms,” Kaiser said. “The calibration time is very high for other individuals to use, so that’s where a lot of our research is going right now.” Brain-computer interfaces are a longtime sci-fi moonshot, but there are signs that the tech might be moving out of the experimental phase. Earlier this month, Mark Zuckerberg revealed that . The FDA last month on brain-computer interfaces for medical applications. And Elon Musk’s secretive Neuralink venture, the subject of an from the Wait But Why blog, is exploring the space. Mind-machine ambitions aside, Kaiser says there’s also plenty of value simply making mental state detection easier. Doctors and researchers often use an electroencephalogram (EEG), essentially a bunch of electrodes attached to your head, to monitor brain activity. Kaiser thinks that a more practical device could make it easier to do some kinds of research and testing. “We started by looking at sleep. So we were looking at these EEGs and we saw this issue in sleep monitors. You have to go to a clinic, and you have to get these things set up. And it was a big barrier to a lot of individuals that created a lot of waiting time,” Kaiser said.
(Bernard Spragg Photo via Flickr) For , maritime data is both personal and professional. King grew up sailing in New England and is now the owner of “Northern Lights,” a vintage Coronado 41 sloop that he restored. ioCurrents CEO Cosmo King. (ioCurrents Photo) He’s also the CEO and co-founder of Seattle startup , which today announced a $5 million investment to grow its platform for collecting and analyzing real-time data for the maritime industry. The company’s platform, MarineInsight, collects reams of data from various pieces of ship machinery and analyzes it in the cloud whenever a connection is available. The software then suggests actions based on any problems it finds or anticipates; it can help reduce fuel costs or prevent engine failures, for example. The startup has customers in commercial shipping, fishing and passenger industries. King was formerly an engineer at Isilon Systems, a Seattle startup that was acquired by EMC in 2010 for $2.25 billion. He launched ioCurrents in 2015 with co-founder and CTO. “This additional investment will allow ioCurrents to build on our existing success, and provide even more value to the maritime industry as a whole,” King said . The Series A round, which brings the company’s total amount raised to $6.4 million, was led by . Imagen, a Seattle-based venture capital firm focused on data and software startups, has also invested in Seattle-area companies such as and outdoors app maker BaseMap. “ioCurrents is defining itself as the market leader in the development of real-time, predictive analytics to the maritime industry,” John Polchin, managing director of Imagen, said in a statement. “Imagen’s investment will help ioCurrents capitalize on the global demand for their solutions and accelerate the company’s pace of product innovation.”
From left to right: Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens; Rad Power Bikes co-founder Ty Collins; Rad Power Bikes co-founder Mike Radenbaugh; and Zulily co-founder Mark Vadon. Cavens and Vadon announced their investment in the Seattle startup this week. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) and know what it takes to build a successful consumer company. The entrepreneurs built not one but two online retail giants that went public, teaming up at Blue Nile starting in 1999 and then co-founding Zulily in 2009. So when the duo decides to invest together in an up-and-coming Seattle startup, it’s worth taking note. has become one of the best-known e-bike brands in North America over the past four years without raising any outside capital. But with revenue projected to double to more than $100 million this year, co-founders and are ready to spark their business. The company today announced an investment from Vadon and Cavens. Privately held Rad Power Bikes did not reveal the size of the deal, instead describing the cash infusion as “significant.” Cavens is joining the board of directors as a result of the funding. The Securities and Exchange Commission, where privately held companies typically report the sale of unregistered securities, does not yet show a record of the investment. Mike Radenbaugh, left, and Ty Collins, founders of Rad Power Bikes. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) In many ways, the e-bike business is much different than selling kids clothing or engagement rings. But Vadon and Cavens see a lot of similarities to Zulily and Blue Nile at their early stages. “I see a business with super passionate customers, a cool product, and awesome entrepreneurs,” Vadon told GeekWire. “That’s what you want to be investing in.” Radenbaugh, 29, and Collins, 30, met as students at Humboldt State University in Northern California and the idea for Rad Power Bikes was born in 2007 when they built their first e-bike. After years of doing custom conversions of traditional bikes to electric, they launched their company in 2015, raised $320,365 in an , and have been profitable ever since. The startup now sells its e-bikes in the U.S., Canada, and 30 European countries to both consumers and commercial in industries such as logistics, law enforcement, deliveries, and more. It has taken advantage of the direct-to-consumer model to shorten its supply chain, bypass traditional bike shops and create a tight feedback loop with customers to constantly improve its limited line of e-bikes that sell for around $1,500. Radenbaugh said the company’s bikes are priced “at a point that’s approachable to people” — cheaper than high-end options from top brands such as Trek and Specialized, with more power and range than competing products from European companies. The RadBurro can be outfitted with a variety of conversions, including flat bed, truck bed, cargo box and pedi cab. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) Rad Power Bikes is also riding a wave of interest in electric bicycles, which has become the fastest-growing bicycle type in the U.S., year-over-year in 2017. In addition, new forms of mobility are also “making privately owned vehicles obsolete,” reported last month. Rad Power Bikes describes itself as the largest e-bike brand in North America by e-bike volume. Mark Vadon at the GeekWire Summit 2014. (GeekWire File Photo) “We’re in the business of giving cars an early retirement,” Radenbaugh said. In an interview with GeekWire this week, Vadon and Cavens were unwavering in their optimism for Rad Power Bikes. Based on financial metrics and outlook just four years in, Vadon said the company reminds him of his other early investments in companies such as online pet supply retailer Chewy, which in 2017, and Allbirds, the high-flying sneaker startup that is at more than $1 billion. “This is going to be a very sizable business,” said Vadon, who is a board member at Home Depot and Seattle startups such as New Engen and Flyhomes. Vadon met Radenbaugh through a mutual acquaintance. After his first ride, he was hooked. “You feel like a 10-year-old,” Vadon said. “They are just a blast to ride.” A large addressable market, from millennials to moms to retirees, gets Cavens excited about how much Rad Power Bikes can grow. Cavens, — the e-commerce giant was acquired for $2.4 billion in 2015 — said his wife was skeptical when he took her into the company’s Seattle retail store. “She’s not a bike enthusiast and hadn’t ridden in 15 years,” Cavens said. “But she got on one and thought it was really fun. When customers get exposed to this, the connection is immediate.” Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens at the GeekWire Awards in 2013. (GeekWire File Photo) Rapid innovation in technology — batteries, motors, controls, production capabilities for electric bikes — has created a perfect storm for Rad Power Bikes. The ubiquity of the transportation option is helping, too, with thousands of shareable electric bikes from companies such as LimeBike that are easily accessible and can lead customers to investigate owning their own. “We’ve just hit a perfect tipping point,” Radenbaugh said. The challenge for Rad Power Bikes is managing growth and inventory. The company, which has physical stores in Seattle, Vancouver B.C., and the Netherlands, plans to double its 100-person workforce and expand into more markets. It is also relocating its HQ and showroom across Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood to a significantly larger building . Vadon and Cavens, both longtime entrepreneurs and angel investors in Seattle, aren’t forming a fund together but both plan to continue participating in the local ecosystem. “I remember Mark telling me when we started Zulily that our most limited resource was time. How do we put our time to where our biggest opportunities are?” Cavens said. “Joining the board at Rad Power Bikes — this is worthy of a tremendous amount of time and has potential to become something really special based here in the Northwest.”
(Techstars Seattle Photo) Validate the market. Sell before you build. Seek failure. And go all in. Those are some of the tips shared by founders participating in the latest class. GeekWire caught up with the entrepreneurs who are apart of the tenth Techstars Seattle cohort, a milestone for the 3-month accelerator that has graduated 100 companies to date over the past decade. Alumni of the organization — companies such as Remitly, Outreach, Skilljar, Bizible, Leanplum and Zipline — have collectively raised more than $700 million in investment capital. Most have built their startups in the Pacific Northwest, helping expand the entrepreneurial clout in the region. Here are the ten startups in the newest class (Demo Day is set for May 7 in Seattle), with descriptions from Techstars, which provides $120,000 in funding in exchange for 6 percent common stock as part of the three-month accelerator. , who reflected on the longevity of Techstars Seattle and dishes on how the Seattle tech scene has changed. AdaptiLab founders James Wu and Allen Lu. Founders: James Wu and Allen Lu Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: AdaptiLab helps companies build machine learning teams with our automated and robust technical screening platform for candidates’ coding and analytics skills. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? AdaptiLab has built the first-ever coding platform for assessing data analysis, feature engineering, and model training tasks. We automatically grade candidates’ code and models for quality and performance and provide in-depth technical scoring to the hiring managers distributing the interviews. We also handle question generation and anti-cheating measures. Overall, we add robustness to the recruiting process and drastically reduce the amount of time hiring managers and engineers spend interviewing candidates. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Conduct significant customer discovery before building a product. Automaton founders MH Lines and Julia Funderburk. Founders: MH Lines, Julia Funderburk, and Andrew Graves Headquarters: Kirkland, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We provide quality and test automation for the millions of business users managing SaaS technology stacks, to keep lead flow and configurations working as expected. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? Our competitors are built for SDETs or require software development skills. We provide a simplified UI so that marketers and sales ops pros can do recurring testing, regression testing or smoke testing at the click of a button. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Know your stuff — your TAM, your moat, your customer — and then go with it. The high-growth approach doesn’t make sense for every business, but if it does, find a tribe and some leaders — we chose Techstars — and just go with it. DataChain founders Arjun Pillai and Prasanna Venkatesan. Founders: Arjun Pillai and Prasanna Venkatesan Headquarters: Denver, Colo. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: DataChain is a B2B sales and marketing insights platform — an artificial intelligence platform that proactively keeps track of companies and lets salespeople know the right time and context to sell. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? The way we unify the first party (company-owned) data with the publicly-available data about a company is pretty unique. We bring in huge amounts of public data about the company from more than 200 sources and tie it intelligently with the company-owned data. This enables us to do effective intelligence that will help the companies to better market and sell to their customers. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Before writing a single line of code, go out and talk to your potential customers and ask them how much they’d pay for it (don’t ask if they need it). Don’t build because you feel that the world needs it; make sure it really does. Kristalic founders Filip Kozera and Jos van der Westhuizen. Founders: Filip Kozera and Jos van der Westhuizen Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We crystallise your memories by extracting information from what you hear and say and make that content rapidly searchable. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We’ve finished a masters and PhD in machine learning at Cambridge University. We leverage powerful deep learning models, developed during our research, in order to extract rich latent representations from spoken dialogues. These representations constitute our secret sauce for information extraction and rapid search. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Actively push yourself to have the widest possible perspective on everything. Whether it be through reading books and articles, or speaking to the wisest people you know, try to develop a habit that makes you take a step back. With our heads in developer mode, we thought we could simply publish a different app each week to test customer interest. After two brutal weeks and two mediocre apps, a meeting with one experienced mentor shed light upon the much better technique of landing pages. Now we know of even better techniques, and we could have saved a lot of work by forcing ourselves to take a step back from the start. Level founder David Edelstein. Founder: David Edelstein Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Level delivers affordable and appropriate credit and savings through employers to enable hard-working Americans to break out of the payday-to-payday cycle. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? Inspired by innovations in the design and delivery of financial services in “developing” countries, Level employs strategies which are proven outside of the U.S. but are considered novel here. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Identify a problem you are passionate about solving and make the leap! Logixboard founders Julian Alvarez (left) and Juan Alvarez (center), with Daniel O., head o operations. Founders: Julian Alvarez and Juan Alvarez Headquarters: Miami, Fla. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Our software is built to help companies all over the world better manage and control their freight operations in an easy and intuitive way. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? From first-hand industry experience, we understand that the freight industry has low quality and decentralized data. Our solutions are built to tackle this data problem head-on, as opposed to shying away from it. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Start selling before you start building. We pivoted three times before we wrote a line of code. Grind your way to customer meetings, pitch your idea, iterate, validate, validate again, and then build. Nodesmith founders Samm Desmond and Brendan Lee. Founders: Samm Desmond and Brendan Lee Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We manage complicated and unreliable blockchain infrastructure so that you can focus solely on your blockchain based application. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We focus on the holistic experience of building a blockchain based application. Not only do we provide basic access to blockchain networks, but we provide a suite of services that allow developers to easily build user friendly applications that don’t feel limited by the underlying blockchain infrastructure. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? There is no substitute for getting connected with folks in your local startup scene. In our experience, there is a ton of variance in how startups are built in the various tech hubs across the world — what you read on popular startup blogs is not necessarily reflective of the ecosystem where you’re trying to start a company. Rammer.ai founders Surbhi Rathore and Toshish Jawale. Founders: Surbhi Rathore and Toshish Jawale Headquarters: San Jose, Calif. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Rammer.ai automates notetaking in meetings. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? Our APIs enable communication platforms to add actionable insights on their platforms without any human intervention. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Validate the market but trust your instinct. Tribl founders Ikechi Nwabuisi and Jordan Sterling. Founders: Ikechi Nwabuisi and Jordan Sterling Headquarters: Austin, Tex./Oakland, Calif. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Tribl is a P2P platform connecting immigrants to the cultural conversations, communities and experiences happening. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We leverage people’s cultural identity/affiliations to connect multinational people no matter where they are instantly. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Seek failure! Toggl founders Amr Adawi and Siamak Freydoonnejad. Founders: Siamak Freydoonnejad and Amr Adawi Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Toggl is a mobile app that lets users browse interactive, entertaining AR experiences. It’s YouTube for AR content. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We’ve figured out what users actually like to do in AR, and what they find engaging. Also, no one else is doing aggregation of AR content as a platform. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Go all-in, full-time as fast as you can! Then, quickly build a team of advisors from your network to keep you accountable and give you ongoing feedback.
Gaia co-founders Mehtap Ozkan, David Vaskevitch and Hal Berenson. (Gaia Photo) As a former longtime Microsoft chief technology officer, has seen most of the major computer revolutions. He’s ready for the next wave, autonomous machines, and is building a platform to get in on the ground floor. Vaskevitch is one of three co-founders behind Gaia, a new Seattle-area startup aims to be a kind of app store for robots. “Autonomous apps are not going to be like any kind of preceding apps,” Vaskevitch said. “We’re going to build a platform that makes it easier and even practical to write them.” Gaia, which has raised $10 million, is looking for partners who are building autonomous machines. The startup does not yet have a website. Vaskevitch said that solving the autonomous software problem will spread the adoption of these independent robots. “Imagine if Steve Jobs had introduced iPhone but not Xcode or the App Store,” Vaskevitch said. “Apple would be a much smaller platform.” Gaia plans to build a kind of app store for autonomous machines, such as delivery drones and robotic chefs. Above, a test model from Amazon’s delivery drone program. (Amazon Photo) In recent years, Vaskevitch has been working on Mylio, which is known for a photo management app that . Two years ago, Mylio from Chinese investors to build a private cloud. The Gaia team has borrowed Mylio’s hybrid mesh network to make its vision possible. “Gaia is designed from the ground up for tomorrow’s yin and yang distributed world,” Gaia co-founder wrote in a in 2017. “Applications can be written just once and still run on a phone, a tablet, in a car or robotic surgeon, in a server or in the cloud.” Ozkan comes from a venture capital background as the founder of Istanbul-based Golden Horn Ventures. The third member of Gaia’s founding team, , first met Vaskevitch at Microsoft and also worked on relational databases at Amazon. One problem the team foresees is that today’s infrastructure — billions of devices connected through the cloud — won’t work with tomorrow’s autonomous machines. Instead, much of the computing power will have to be done locally. “Nobody’s really worked in that problem for the last 20 years,” Vaskevitch said. In his blog post, Ozkan added: “The good news is that hardware to create the new world is either here or clearly on the way. The challenge is that the software to enable a world like this is almost entirely missing in action.” At least for now, the startup isn’t diving into the rat race for self-driving cars, focusing instead on an application platform for everything else. Among your future companions: autonomous chefs, security robots and delivery drones. “Ten or 15 years from now, we’re going to see autonomous machines in our homes, at work, everywhere we go,” Vaskevitch said.
The Thaw team, from left to right: Miles Ranisavljevic, Nate Rankin and Cooper Crosby. (Thaw Photo) For years, people have lamented the “Seattle Freeze” — the chilly reception that sometimes greets those looking to make friends in this area. Now a Seattle startup called offers an icebreaker for adults looking for new connections in the Northwest and nationwide. The business follows the standard dating app model of building profiles and making matches but with Thaw’s own twist, most notably the option of choosing more nuanced answers to questions about your interests that have the added bonus of being somewhat funny and clever. The goal was to make it “actually fun to build out a profile, which is something that is usually pretty tedious and unappealing,” said co-founder and CEO . Thaw also lets people to look for friends of the opposite sex. Other friend-matching sites such as Bumble BFF only allows you search for friends of the same gender and Hey! Vina, an app affiliated with Tinder, is only for women. The connecting site Shapr has more of a networking focus. Rankin officially launched Thaw near the end of 2018, but has been working on the project for a couple of years. Before Thaw, Rankin co-founded Wanderled, a digital marketplace for artisan goods from Guatemala. Nate Rankin, co-founder and CEO of Thaw. (Thaw Photo) Other Thaw co-founders include designer , who previously worked at and did design work for startups including and (which has also been ) and engineer , the iOS developer at , an online moving and delivery company. Rankin wouldn’t share their number of active users, but said there are a few hundred downloads a day. Thaw recently began running ads promoting the app. It’s currently only available for Apple devices, with plans to build an Android version. For revenue generation, Rankin said they’ll likely offer a basic service for free and eventually provide premium services as a subscription. They could also offer targeted advertising or partner with restaurants and event organizations to provide deals to users based on their profile interests. Social networking and the misuse of personal data are hot topics in the news these days as Facebook and Google, in particular, are facing serious criticism for some of their business practices. While these are early days for Thaw, what will the business do to avoid these sorts of missteps? “It’s something we’re going to need to think really hard about, and we’ve talked about already,” Rankin said. “I don’t exactly know what we’re going to do, but it’s something that is certainly very top of mind.” Rankin’s first startup shuttered in 2014 after two years. From the experience, he learned that while people might like your business idea, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually buy it. With Thaw, Rankin started with something people explicitly said that they wanted — a better tool for making friends — and then developed a product to meet that need. “If you ask someone, ‘What do you think of this idea?’ that’s not very helpful,” he said, “It’s a lot more effective to ask people very straightforwardly, ‘Would you use this, would you spend money on this, would you spend your time and energy on it?’” Rankin hopes that increasing numbers of people will continue to answer “yes.” We caught up with Rankin for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire. Thaw matches potential friends according to interests. (Thaw website) Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Thaw is an app that connects people looking to meet and make friends nearby. Making new friends as an adult is hard. Thaw makes it easier. Inspiration hit us when: I moved to San Francisco after graduating from college and had a really hard time making friends. Aside from my co-workers, I didn’t have the common connectors I had previously relied on to meet people: dorms, classes and sports teams. The more I talked to other people, the more I realized this was a problem I wasn’t experiencing in isolation, and Cooper and I got to work! VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Staying bootstrapped has allowed us to launch and transition into working on Thaw full-time on our own terms, but we’ll be looking to raise a seed round in the not-too-distant future. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Constantly talking to our users to better understand what’s hard about making friends, which features would help, and building them quickly. Other apps do a fine job of matching potential friends based on age and proximity, but it turns out there’s a lot more to making friends than that. For example, it can be tricky to initiate conversations and transition from chat-in-app friends to hang-out-IRL friends. Getting that feedback has allowed us to build features that directly address problems people face throughout the friend-making process. You say you like camping, but how much really do you like it? Thaw let’s users get precise in their preferences. (Thaw Image) The smartest move we’ve made so far: Turning some particularly “honest” feedback into the feature that really differentiates us from other apps in our space. We had planned on matching people using interests on a binary yes/no scale (for example, you either like snowboarding or you don’t), and the feedback we received showed us that approach was too limiting. Now you can indicate whether you hate snowboarding, snowboard a few times a year, or basically live in the mountains during the winter. Not only does this help us match potential friends better, but it takes something boring — setting up a profile — and makes it fun. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Initially we only launched in Seattle and users who downloaded Thaw outside of Seattle were put on a waitlist. We did consider that users who downloaded the app and had nobody nearby to match with would get frustrated and delete the app. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. We opened Thaw to the whole U.S. and retention has gone up considerably. Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Between his time as a founder and investor, it’s hard to imagine someone being able to add more value than Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. There’s a fair amount of overlap between Thaw and Reddit, where he built a strong community and helped connect people who didn’t previously know each other. It would be awesome to pick his brain about what he’s learned from the companies he’s invested in, and he’d be an invaluable resource as we start the fundraising process. Our favorite team-building activity is: Team dinners with our partners. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Communication and initiative. We often work out of our respective homes, so it’s important for us to be in contact throughout the day and take care of what needs to be done without much oversight. We’ve only hired one person so far, but the bar has been set high! What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Don’t ask people if they think your idea is good. Ask people if they would use it themselves, and why. Also, talk to users constantly, iterate quickly and be willing to admit when you’re wrong.
The Boundless team has grown to 28 employees in the company’s first two years. (Boundless Photo) In the two years since it launched, has become the top destination for immigrants applying for marriage-based green cards in the United States. Foreign nationals seeking legal status in the U.S. received more marriage-based green cards through Boundless than any other entity or law firm, according to the startup’s CEO Xiao Wang. Boundless CEO Xiao Wang. (GeekWire Photo) That early traction has helped the Seattle startup secure a $7.8 million funding round this month, led by Foundry Group. Previous investors, including Trilogy and Pioneer Square Labs, also participated in the Series A round. Wang said the fresh cash will help Boundless develop new products and grow its 28-person team in a bid to become “the one-stop shop for all family-based immigration.” Boundless currently offers two products. Immigrants seeking a marriage-based green card or U.S. citizenship can use the service to connect with attorneys, file applications online, and receive support throughout the process. The company also publishes and resources on its website to help immigrants navigate an increasingly complex system. “Legal immigration is important and critical for the future of the success of America and with technology and data, you can make immigration far more simple,” Wang said. Boundless charges $750 for its marriage green card service and $395 for its naturalization service. The flat rates cover legal and customer support until an application is approved. The service has been used by nearly 1,500 customers and has a 100 percent approval rate, according to Wang. Of course, Boundless can only expedite and simplify so much. Recent policy changes have led to delays and uncertainty for many seeking legal status in the U.S. The wait time for immigrants who apply for U.S. citizenship in the past two years. A could make it more difficult for immigrants to qualify for green cards and visas. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is and requesting follow-up evidence on applications more frequently than in years past. “We can’t speed up the government processing time but we can make meaningful improvements, helping families get their complete and accurate application faster than through any other source,” Wang said. Boundless has raised $11.3 million to date. It was one of the first spinouts from Pioneer Square Labs, a Seattle startup studio that has helped produce more than 15 companies .
Google is building a new campus in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, just across the street from Amazon’s headquarters. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Back in 2005, when tech veteran joined Google to build its fledgling Seattle-area outpost, recruiting was straightforward. As the first in a new wave of Silicon Valley tech giants to establish an engineering center in the region, Google set up shop in Kirkland, Wash., just down the road from Microsoft, which was suffering at the time from a stagnant stock price and sagging employee morale. Google capitalized on Microsoft’s struggles and its own status as an emerging tech icon to expand its office to 400 people over the course of four years. Microsoft veteran Peter Wilson was instrumental in building the Google and Facebook engineering offices in Seattle. (File Photo) “For a lot of the people we hired, they basically came to us and said, ‘Hey, I think what you’re doing is right, and I’d like to come work with you,’ ” Wilson recalled in an interview with GeekWire this week. Tech recruiters today can only dream of having it so easy. Fifteen years after Google arrived, it’s not a stretch to see Seattle as Silicon Valley North. Nearly 120 out-of-town tech companies , many of them from the San Francisco Bay Area. Apple, Salesforce, Oracle, Uber and Twitter are just a few of the tech powerhouses building large teams in the region. Facebook employs more than 3,000 people here, . In the meantime, many homegrown tech companies are also surging. Microsoft is experiencing a renaissance as the world’s most valuable company. Amazon employs nearly 50,000 people in the Seattle region. Tableau, Zillow, Avalara, Smartsheet, T-Mobile, and F5 Networks recruit engineers aggressively. And Google, with 3,000 employees of its own in the area, is preparing to expand to a new South Lake Union campus — this time within poaching distance of Amazon’s headquarters. RELATED CONTENTCheck out GeekWire's established by out-of-town companies. Data from Seattle-based recruiting agency Fuel Talent shows more than 65,000 software engineers now in the Seattle area. But even with all that engineering horsepower close at hand, the growth of the major tech brands can make it more difficult for startups to land the talent they need to grow their businesses. “Every year since 2008, it has become more competitive, more challenging, and requires more creativity to attract senior engineering talent,” said , director of Fuel Talent’s technology practice. “Is it easier to identify engineers now than 10 years ago? Yes. Is it more difficult and expensive to hire engineers in Seattle? 100 percent.” So what does this mean for Seattle’s startup scene? From the beginning, the concern has been that the Silicon Valley influx keep talent away from promising upstarts. That still happens, and it’s still a big risk. But the long-term impact of these engineering centers is now becoming clear, and it’s more nuanced than it might have seemed. “They are really good for the Seattle startup ecosystem, but it’s not direct,” said , vice president of engineering at trucking logistics startup Convoy. “It takes a little time to play out.” Startup stepping stone Convoy’s leadership team now includes Viraj Mody (far left), who previously led the Dropbox Seattle office; Divya Mahalingam, who worked at Palantir’s Seattle office; Vishnu Challam, who led Twitter’s Seattle office; and Tim Prouty, who helped build Uber’s Seattle office. (Convoy Photo) Prouty’s own career tells the story. He graduated from the University of Washington in 2006 and joined Isilon, a fast-growing Seattle startup that had launched five years prior. He spent nine years there as Isilon went public and was later acquired by EMC, the data storage giant San Francisco-based Uber then recruited Prouty to establish a Seattle engineering office that grew from a few people to nearly 200 employees under his leadership. But after two years, he wanted to be at a company based in Seattle that “had all the benefits of being at the center where the energy is happening, where decisions are getting made, and where the core business is operating,” Prouty said. He landed at Convoy, an up-and-coming company backed by the biggest names in tech that has become . Other leaders from remote offices in Seattle followed Prouty, including , who previously led Twitter’s Seattle office; , who led Dropbox Seattle; and , who was development team lead at Palantir Technologies in Seattle. Prouty said the engineering centers offer a new “risk profile” or stepping stone that lets workers go from a big tech company such as Microsoft or Amazon to something smaller, but not as extreme as joining an early-stage startup. “The great thing about that is it sets the stage for them to go to a startup next,” Prouty said. The high-paying salaries might also benefit the Seattle startup scene in the long run, providing enough capital for future founders to chase their business ideas. In that vein, the engineering centers could be a key part of laying the groundwork for Seattle’s next billion-dollar startups. And more startup success stories may help encourage people at companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, or Facebook to build on their experience and make the entrepreneurial leap. That’s what happened to , co-founder of Seattle startup , and his business partner . The pair spent years at larger enterprises such as Microsoft and the Gates Foundation. “At some level you ask yourself, how do I make sure I’m building something as opposed to executing someone else’s vision?” Spector said. “Then you can find real problems that you’ve experienced and you want to go build that thing. We had a desire to build something meaningful and mission-driven that had a big impact. It was just a matter of time and phase of life that allowed us to do that.” Options, options, options Google’s campus in Kirkland, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) It’s a lucrative time to be an engineer in Seattle. Spector said most top engineers looking for a job in the region will have six or seven offers on the table. “They are basically getting to dictate what type of company they work at,” Spector said. “They can optimize for whatever they want to optimize for — upside, security, career growth, etc. They can pick and choose what they want to do.” Employer demand for technology roles in the Seattle metro area has grown by 23 percent over the past year, according to Indeed data. A search on for “software engineer” shows nearly 15,000 open positions. Seattle has become a battleground of sorts, with big companies and small startups competing for the same highly-skilled engineers, a crucial key to success for any tech operation. It can be tough to turn down a $200,000 salary with stock options at a deep-pocketed well-known company developing cutting-edge technologies. And Seattle is also developing a reputation where big tech companies thrive, with many employees at bigger orgs content to ride out their careers in comfort. “Trying to woo people away from those big names is extraordinarily difficult, if not all out impossible,” said , CEO of IT intelligence startup Movere. But there’s still something attractive about joining a nascent startup, even though it may not be the logical or rational financial choice. , CEO and co-founder at Seattle startup , said large companies are at a disadvantage when recruiting people who want more ownership of their work, want to have a bigger impact on the product and customer, and want more opportunities to grow into upper management positions. “It’s really all about the individual you’re recruiting and what they value,” said Nakhuda. , co-founder and CEO of , likes having giant companies down the street that help make Seattle a world-class hub for engineering talent. He said his pitch to candidates often comes down to offering “fulfillment.” “If you’ve got a worthwhile mission, top talent will be attracted to you,” Huang said. “Then, you’ll welcome having those large soul-sucking corporations in your backyard.” Middle ground Facebook’s Seattle engineering center. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) The wide array of engineering centers offer something in the middle. “At Dropbox Seattle, we have a special advantage in that we have the intimate feel of a smaller office that many candidates are looking for, while also having the resources and impact of a global company with more than 500 million users,” said , director of engineering for Dropbox. , who leads a 400-person office in Seattle for Uber, said remote sites “often round out the gaps between big and small companies, offering new missions and hard problems to solve.” helped open Facebook’s first office here nearly a decade ago. He left to launch a startup, sold it to Airbnb, and is now in charge of growing a Seattle hub for the travel giant. “I have really enjoyed being a part of the smaller community of Seattle offices that is a little more startup-like,” Steinberg . “I am really proud of the team culture in Airbnb’s Seattle office right now. Employees play much more active roles in making this a fun place to work than they tend to at larger companies and offices where employees tend to be more passive.” There can be downsides to joining these offices, given the separation from a company’s headquarters. “One of the most important parts of managing a ‘remote’ office is making sure it doesn’t feel like a remote office,” said , vice president of gaming and the Facebook Seattle site lead. “To do that, we work really hard to make sure we’re scaling Facebook’s culture. It’s a big challenge.” But there are also other benefits to being remote. For example, it provides an opportunity to craft a space to fit the culture of a local community. To that point, Raji said the impact of remote engineering centers goes beyond simply adding more talented coders to the Seattle ecosystem. Facebook’s Seattle employees have started “Resource Groups” around issues that matter to them and work with similar groups at other local companies. They participate in the South Lake Union Chamber of Commerce; the Washington Tech Alliance; and other civic engagement programs. Facebook Seattle also hosts community events and partnered with the University of Washington to create a virtual reality lab. “All of these touch points make us a better company, and, we believe, make the local tech scene stronger and more robust,” Raji said. But while companies such as Facebook reap the benefits of operating a remote office in a talent-rich region, startups could suffer, especially given salary demands. The average annual paycheck for a senior software engineer in Seattle is $144,000, according to ZipRecruiter, but that number can swell for positions within the larger giants. “Having all that great talent isn’t worth anything if you can’t afford it,” said Wilson, the Microsoft veteran who led Google’s early growth in the region. Wilson went on to play a similar role for Facebook Seattle before returning for another stint at Google. In 2016, he joined mobile marketplace company OfferUp as vice president of engineering. And by then, the recruiting scene had completely changed. With engineers enjoying an abundance of job opportunities, OfferUp was forced to sink a significant amount of time and money into recruiting, with no guarantee of success. If he were starting a company today, Wilson said he’d think twice about doing so in Seattle because of the costs. That’s in line with a recent trend of founders for their headquarters. Wilson, who has since returned to London to serve as ’s vice president of engineering, said he hopes companies in Seattle can do more to help each other out rather than wasting valuable resources trying to poach one another’s top employees. “They’ve created this zero-sum game of recruiting,” Wilson said of the engineering outposts. “It’s fabulous all these companies have moved in and created opportunities for engineers, but it would be very cool if they could work out between them how to make it more of a win-win.”
Ameesh Paleja. (OfferUp Photo) Bellevue, Wash.-based mobile marketplace startup has hired as its new chief technology officer. Paleja was previously the CTO of premium cable network Starz and the CEO of movie ticket service Atom Tickets. Paleja also worked at Amazon for more than a decade, where he managed teams focused on products including Amazon Prime Instant Video and the Amazon Appstore. “To disrupt an entire industry, you need a simple idea that’s brilliantly executed,” Paleja said in a statement. “OfferUp is a marketplace leader because of their passionate focus on the customer.” Paleja is the latest addition to OfferUp’s leadership team. Last month it former Microsoft exec and Buddy co-founder Jeff MacDuff as director of engineering; Amazon veteran Bill Carr was COO in October; and former eBay exec Rodrigo Brumana CFO in September. OfferUp is . The 8-year-old company has raised $221 million to date from investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Warburg Pincus, T. Rowe Price, Tiger Global Management and Jackson Square Ventures, among others. This past August the 240-person company as it aims for profitability and competes with Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace. OfferUp said it has 44 million active users and that its app has been downloaded 75 million times. The company last year, extending its reach beyond local commerce. Sarah Bilton. (OfferUp Photo) OfferUp also announced today that it hired as vice president of employee experience. Bilton was previously vice president of people practices at marijuana review and discovery platform Leafly. She also held senior human resources roles at e-commerce companies Julep Beauty and real estate tech company Zillow. “As a top five shopping app on iOS and Android, we’re rapidly entering our next stage of growth by investing in maturing business lines, and continuing to build our executive roster with strong leaders who have proven experience scaling companies,” said OfferUp co-founder and CEO Nick Huzar. Bellevue, Wash.-based OfferUp is ranked No. 13 on the list of the top Pacific Northwest privately-held companies.
Ameesh Paleja. (OfferUp Photo) Bellevue, Wash.-based mobile marketplace startup has hired as its first-ever chief technology officer. Paleja was previously the CTO of premium cable network Starz and the CEO of movie ticket service Atom Tickets. Paleja also worked at Amazon for more than a decade, where he managed teams focused on products including Amazon Prime Instant Video and the Amazon Appstore. “To disrupt an entire industry, you need a simple idea that’s brilliantly executed,” Paleja said in a statement. “OfferUp is a marketplace leader because of their passionate focus on the customer.” Paleja is the latest addition to OfferUp’s leadership team. Last month it former Microsoft exec and Buddy co-founder Jeff MacDuff as director of engineering; Amazon veteran Bill Carr was COO in October; and former eBay exec Rodrigo Brumana CFO in September. OfferUp is . The 8-year-old company has raised $221 million to date from investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Warburg Pincus, T. Rowe Price, Tiger Global Management and Jackson Square Ventures, among others. This past August the 240-person company as it aims for profitability and competes with Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace. OfferUp said it has 44 million active users and that its app has been downloaded 75 million times. The company last year, extending its reach beyond local commerce. Sarah Bilton. (OfferUp Photo) OfferUp also announced today that it hired as vice president of employee experience. Bilton was previously vice president of people practices at marijuana review and discovery platform Leafly. She also held senior human resources roles at e-commerce companies Julep Beauty and real estate tech company Zillow. “As a top five shopping app on iOS and Android, we’re rapidly entering our next stage of growth by investing in maturing business lines, and continuing to build our executive roster with strong leaders who have proven experience scaling companies,” said OfferUp co-founder and CEO Nick Huzar. Bellevue, Wash.-based OfferUp is ranked No. 13 on the list of the top Pacific Northwest privately-held companies.
Rainway CEO Andrew Sampson at TechStars Seattle Demo Day in 2018. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Google today jumpstarted the ninth generation of gaming hardware with at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. Big on hype and , Stadia promises to use to let players jump straight into high-end, fast-paced games from existing devices without any need for additional hardware; if you can run a YouTube video at 4K, you’re already set up for Stadia. In Seattle, however, there’s already a startup doing what Google pitched on Tuesday. allows users to stream video games from personal devices to any other machine in their possession, as long as it has a browser and can comfortably run video at 60 frames per second. for its beta last year, the 2-year-old company that graduated from Techstars Seattle in 2018 made its official launch on the Windows platform at the end of January. “We did get there first,” Sampson told GeekWire over the phone from GDC. “It’s always good to beat the big guys to the punch.” Sampson fired off a set of tweets after Tuesday’s announcement, noting how Google “misrepresented” the performance of its beta tests for the new streaming service and said the search giant “goes on to pretend as if they are the first to get high-quality games playing in the browser.” Google then goes on to pretend as if they are the first to get high-quality games playing in the browser. They aren't. We launched two years ago with low-latency game steaming in Chrome, Firefox, and even Safari. — Andrew Sampson @ GDC (@Andrewmd5) If you want to maintain your freedom and begin playing your game library anywhere today, check out — we're building an extension to your games, not a replacement. — Andrew Sampson @ GDC (@Andrewmd5) Sampson told GeekWire that “Google doesn’t understand that openness is a big reason why people love playing video games.” “Some of the games that we love, like [Defense of the Ancients], are the result of people having access and control over the games that they’re playing,” he said. “By taking away the box, and taking away the ability to actually modify the game, what market are you serving, other than the publishers directly? People want to be able to configure and tinker. Being able to upgrade your console and PC is part of that experience. Getting rid of it is almost baffling.” Rainway has an announcement coming later this week regarding its availability on the Xbox. Since its launch, the company has racked up more than one million regular users. And remember, Rainway is coming to Xbox
It was Pi Day last week, so naturally, PIE held a Demo Day. The , or PIE, hosted its first Demo Day in five years on Thursday as 13 Portland-area startups pitched their ideas on stage. PIE launched a decade ago as a startup accelerator inside advertising company Wieden+Kennedy, following in the footsteps of organizations like Y Combinator and Techstars. But it that model in 2015 as PIE co-founder looked to help the Portland startup scene in other ways. Last year, though, with a reimagined model as a nonprofit funded in part by Prosper Portland and the Inclusive Business Resource Network. PIE no longer invests capital in participating companies and offers participation and office space for free, with a focus on attracting underrepresented founders. It also moved away from the traditional three-month format, allowing companies to stay in the new space as short or long as they need. After spending several months grooming pitches and tweaking business models, founders from the fifth PIE cohort showed off their ideas last week to a group of investors and other community members. Several folks called out the diversity among CEOs and founders who pitched. “The startups presenting didn’t fit the ‘traditional’ pattern matching of the Silicon Valley startup narrative, which is to say there weren’t any 20-something, white, male coders in hoodies pitching,” noted reporter Malia Spencer. 1/9 I got to see my first demo day Thursday and it was a huge personal reminder for me on how important diversity in background and thought are in the people you surround yourself with — Jesse Reichenstein (@JReichenstein) Here’s a quick rundown of the companies that pitched, in order of when they appeared. You can watch the full pitches at the video above. delivers groceries from local farmers, butchers, bakers, and makers. empowers Latinas to live healthier lives. makes a back support integrated postural alignment system. helps companies create resilient cultures that scale. is a social network connecting student athletes to community. helps support black entrepreneurs with funding. enables commercial architects, designers, owners and contractors to find materials and solutions for their projects. develops high-efficiency vertical farming. produces newsletters in Spanish to help inform voters. creates tools that make shopping according to one’s values convenient. develops cannabis vaporizer technology. hosts the largest database of workspaces for remote professionals provides insights on the comfort and accessibility of public places for plus-size people.
Igneous Systems CEO Kiran Bhageshpur (Igneous Photo) Seattle startup has reeled in a $25 million investment round to fuel growth of its software that helps companies manage their unstructured data. WestRiver Group led the Series C round, which pushes total funding to date to $70 million. Existing investors including Madrona Venture Group, NEA, Vulcan Capital, and Redpoint Ventures also participated. by veterans of Isilon Systems and NetApp, Igneous’ platform provides visibility and storage for unstructured data, or information that isn’t easily categorized, both in the cloud or on-premise. The company’s clients span across various industries and include The Allen Institute of Brain Science, OpSec, PAIGE, Tippet Studios, Altius Institute, and Bardell. Igneous has customers in the “mid-double digits,” said CEO and co-founder . “They use Igneous to see, organize, mobilize and protect their unstructured data — and for our customers this is petabytes of mission critical, often machine generated data typically living across disparate systems onsite, offsite and in public cloud,” Bhageshpur said in an email. “Igneous helps data-centric enterprises tap into their valuable unstructured data, optimize their storage and IT resources and reduce their data risk posture.” (Igneous Photo) Bhageshpur said Igneous differentiates from competitors with its focus on enabling efficiency at scale and the ability to support any file or object protocol. “Our customers are able to quickly (in days) get up and running, see all of their data, improve their backup SLAs and modernize their data protection services, surgically archive and migrate data to control tier 1 storage costs, organize their datasets for use in HPC/ML/EDA/RPA workflows … all without the need for a full-time system administrator,” he explained. The startup employs 70 people and expects to grow headcount by more than 50 percent in 2019. Bhageshpur said new sales growth has increased by 10X over the past year. Igneous originally sold a hardware data appliance for companies to help manage on-premises storage systems but has since expanded to develop services geared toward cloud computing. The global big data market size is expected to reach $70 billion by 2022, according to . Bhageshpur is the former vice president of engineering in the Isilon Storage Division at EMC, having spent five years in senior engineering roles at the company. Another Isilon engineering vet, co-founder , is CTO at Igneous. The company’s third co-founder, , was the first employee at NetApp. Madrona was also an early investor in Isilon, which sold to . Anthony Bontrager, WestRiver Group managing director, will join the company’s board as a result of the funding. “Igneous is uniquely positioned to enable enterprises to unlock the value of their datasets and simultaneously reduce their risk profile,” he said in a statement. “This is a complex problem that Igneous has tackled with impressive technology services.” Other recent Seattle-area investments by Kirkland, Wash-based WestRiver Group include , , , and .
(Hello Alfred Photo) is ready to do Seattle’s laundry. And groceries. And cleaning. The hospitality startup this week expanded its on-demand home help service to seven apartment buildings in the Seattle area. Hello Alfred also opened a local office and hired an area manager and operations specialists. Seattle seems a natural fit for the company, given the city’s abundance of wealthy young professionals in luxury high-rises. As the name implies, the service acts like a virtual butler to take care of all the daily tasks you’d rather not do — taking care of your home, your pet, your travel plans. It can even help you throw a party. The startup partners with property owners, who offer the service to their residents as a perk. Two of the inaugural Seattle-area buildings are Alley24, in Amazon’s South Lake Union backyard, and Velo, which is near Google’s offices in Fremont. One-bedroom apartments in the two buildings go for around $2,000. New York-based Hello Alfred said it’s not merely another gig economy app that connects consumers with freelance contractors. The startup’s home managers are full-time employees, which the company says is important to building long-term relationships with customers. The expansion comes on the heels of a last year. Hello Alfred currently operates in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, Denver, Houston, and Washington, D.C. The company recently hired Chris Haseman, former director of engineering at Uber, as its chief technology officer and launched an updated mobile app. Hello Alfred is not to be confused with , a Spokane, Wash. startup that rents out downtown apartments and turns them into short-term rentals.
From left to right: Madrona’s S. “Soma” Somasegar, Ted Kummert and Chris Picardo; Ovation’s Barry Wark (seated) and Winston Brasor (standing). (Madrona Photo) , which makes cloud-based software for medical testing labs, has raised a $5 million round led by Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group. Fellow Seattle firm also participated, along with Borealis Ventures, Nat Turner, Zach Weinberg, and David Shaw. Ovation, based in Boston, is focused on helping labs — in particular, those that do genomics and molecular testing — manage their data and run their business. The startup’s platform helps with things like tracking samples, integrating with health records systems and managing client relationships and revenue cycles. Ovation was founded by Barry Wark and Winston Brasor with the idea that existing laboratory software needed a cloud-era makeover. Wark launched the company shortly after receiving his doctorate in neurobiology and behavior from the University of Washington. “Genomics and molecular testing labs have complex workflows that require new functionality that can only come from a modern SaaS and cloud-based solution,” S. “Soma” Somasegar, managing director at Madrona Venture Group, said in a statement. “At the same time, these labs have clinical and genomic data that is being under-utilized to provide improved patient outcomes.” “Barry, Winston, and the team have built an easy to use and rapidly deployable system for one of the most vibrant areas of precision medicine diagnostics and we are excited to help them grow their team and presence in the market,” he added. Madrona has shown a growing appetite for health tech with three recent investments in the arena, including: , which makes AI assistant for physicians; , a personalized population health company led by Concur co-founder Rajeev Singh; Envisagenics, a startup that’s developing RNA therapeutics. While Madrona doesn’t plan to greatly expand investments in this area, the VC firm said it sees room for innovation when combining the cloud, data analytics, and the large amount of data being produced by life sciences companies.