Researchers at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle developed a way to test for microbiome diversity from a blood sample. (Artist rendering courtesy of ISB) If you want to know what’s going on in your gut microbiome, the community of bacteria in our intestines that are tied to overall health, there are plenty of companies willing to help. You just have to pay them — and send in a poop sample. But it turns out that bottling feces isn’t the only way to gain insights into the gut. Researchers at the (ISB) in Seattle have devised a new way to look into the state of your microbiome with a blood test. Microbiome startups have proliferated in recent years. Some are going after drug discovery for specific diseases, such as Finch Therapeutics and Maat Pharma. Others, including Seattle-based , are selling microbiome insights directly to consumers for overall health. Given the relatively early stage of microbiome research, how useful insights from the gut can be. That’s why ISB researchers decided to focus on the diversity of microbes. “There’s not a good correlation between diversity in and of itself and clinical health. But there are specific cases in which it does seem to be a huge risk factor,” said, who worked with on the study, which was published today in Nature Biotechnology. Low microbiome diversity is a strong risk factor for patients with recurring Clostridium difficile (C. diff), Gibbons said. C. diff is a potentially life-threatening bacterium that comes back in nearly a third of patients following antibiotic treatment. ISB researchers Dr. Nathan Price and Dr. Sean Gibbons. (ISB Photos) “Getting these recurrent infections is super hard on patients,” Gibbons said. “If you could avoid that cycle, you could not only decrease the cost of healthcare, you would actually be saving lives and producing a lot less suffering.” Patients with C. diff can be treated with a fecal transplant, but those are only administered after antibiotics have failed. Gibbons thinks that a blood test could pre-screen patients at risk of recurring C. diff and avoid the painful cycle. Related: To create the test, researchers leaned heavily on data compiled by Arivale, a Seattle startup that aimed to help people become healthier and avoid disease through wellness. in April after it failed to find a market for its pricey service. But Dr. Lee Hood, who co-founded both Arivale and ISB, rescued much of the data and technology from the startup and brought it to ISB. That resource gave Price and Gibbons extensive data on hundreds of former Arivale customers who had their microbiomes sequenced and their blood tested, among other tests. The researchers were able to train a model to predict which individuals are likely to have very low microbiome diversity by looking at 11 blood metabolites. Arivale customers gave permission for their data to be used for research, and the information was anonymized. The ISB study is a “beautiful example” of how personal data clouds can give new insights into biology and disease, Hood told GeekWire in an email. They also found what they believe to be a “Goldilocks zone” of gut diversity. People with low diversity tended to have diarrhea and inflammation, whereas those with very high diversity tended to be constipated or have toxins in the blood. With the help of Arivale’s data, ISB researchers think more microbiome-related insights can be found. “We’re trying to build a real map that can lead to actionable insights of how to manipulate the microbiome,” Gibbons said. One disadvantage of the dataset is that it skewed toward white, health-conscious people, who were more likely to be Arivale’s customers. “It is a bit of a biased sampling,” said Gibbons. In the future, ISB intends to partner with Providence St. Joseph Health, which would give researchers access to a more representative population.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, right, with Jason LeeKeenan, CEO of Tally, in Seattle in 2018. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) When the Seattle Seahawks take on the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 3 this season, fans might want to predict how many touchdowns quarterback Russell Wilson will throw against his division rival on that day. The best way to do so could be through a new mobile experience from the NFL team that is powered by , the startup that was founded by Wilson. The Rams launched “Pick’em” for use during a pre-season game against the Oakland Raiders. The intention is to engage fans to make real-time predictions as the action unfolds on the field. Fans, playing on the web or through the Rams’ mobile app, earn points for every correct prediction and those over 18 can compete for prizes such as game tickets, field passes and autographed merchandise. Tally is a free-to-play predictions platform, not a gambling app. But the move by the Rams, along with a , signals what’s ahead with the eventual spread of legalized sports betting in the wake of a 2018 that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It’s all poised to change how we watch and interact with live events. Seattle-based Tally, which employees 14 people now, is an , the company Wilson helped launch in 2017 as a celebrity content app. TraceMe shut down in 2018 and the business pivoted to the sports prediction model. Wilson was touting Tally in February. “We believe that real-time predictive gaming experiences are going to be the critical components of engaging in live sports in the years to come,” Tally CEO Jason LeeKeenan told GeekWire. “We are positioning Tally to be the leading technology provider behind this evolution.” The Tally app, showing, from left, phone authentication, dynamic odds, and a real-time leaderboard. (Tally screen shots) According to its website, Tally white labels its user interface, custom branding it for any property looking to create such content. The Rams are the first NFL team to partner with Tally. LeeKeenan said other partnerships are in the works, but he wasn’t ready to announce whether the Seahawks might be one of those teams. reported that Tally worked with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and the NHL’s St. Louis Blues on similar games earlier this year. The Rams plan to use the mobile experience to present a mix of game-specific questions and micro-outcomes, according to the team’s news release. “Which team completes a passing play of 30+ yards in the opening half?” or “Which of these players racks up 10+ rushing yards first?” are example of questions posed to fans. Those playing can can track their success throughout a game and rankings are updated in real time as results are tallied live. Point values increase as the game progresses. “We are thrilled to bring our fans closer to the action with an engaging second-screen experience,” Marissa Daly, Rams VP of media, said in a statement. “We feel that our free-to-play predictions game will be a fun way for fans to compete against one another while watching their Rams compete on the field.” The Rams have leapfrogged the San Francisco 49ers to emerge as the Seahawks’ most heated division rival over the past couple seasons. Surely Seattle’s star QB will be more engaged with winning games on the field than worrying about predictions being generated in an app built by his company. Regardless, LeeKeenan makes it sound like Wilson has already won. “What can I say? Russell is a great entrepreneur and we hope all sports teams will be using our technology one day,” LeeKeenan said.
Bob Crimmins with his daughters on the day they met their Kickstarter goal for the ‘Wise Walker.’ There are plenty of stories of entrepreneurs who got their start in dorm rooms and garages, but how many can trace their startup hustle back to the playground? At 12-years-old, Bob Crimmins began his education in entrepreneurship by upselling lollipops from 7-Eleven to his classmates, learning a valuable lesson in demand-based pricing. As a kid, Crimmins also worked for his family’s businesses and went door-to-door selling custom glasswork he made. Entrepreneurship and innovation often go hand-and-hand, and Crimmins was no exception. “I wrote my first program on punch cards in 1978, a time when it was neither cool nor lucrative to be a 15-year-old programmer,” he said. Crimmins founded his first tech startup in 1999 and went on to launch four more after that. Along the way, he started a poker game for friends in the startup community. That was back in 2006. Fast-forward to 2019 and what began as a casual gathering has grown into Startup Haven, a community for entrepreneurs with chapters in six cities and 2,300 members. Up until now, Crimmins estimates he dedicated about 15 percent of his time to Startup Haven. This year he decided to make it his full-time gig so he can continue to scale the organization. He plans to expand Startup Haven to three additional cities in 2019 and 10 in 2020. Members must qualify as “venture-scale” founders before they are accepted into Startup Haven. In addition to regular poker games, the group hosts founder dinners and other events each month. Crimmins still makes time for the occasional side hustle, like , a startup he founded with his daughters. Together they designed a clip-on carrying case for dog owners to stash smelly poop bags on walks. Related: “The most rewarding experience I’ve ever had as an entrepreneur and as a father was teaching my twin daughters about entrepreneurship by actually co-founding a company with them,” he said. We caught up with Crimmins for this Geek of the Week. Learn more about his journey and Startup Haven below. What do you do, and why do you do it? In 2006, I started asking folks I knew if they wanted to learn how to play poker. Since virtually everyone I knew at the time was a startup founder, exec or investor, that’s who joined in. Learning the game was fun but what fascinated me was the relationships that were formed by the folks around the table. Seeing the impact of those relationships was amazing and it inspired me to keep the game going and growing. Fast forward a dozen years and that humble monthly card game took on a life of its own and became what is now Startup Haven, a founder support community with more than 2,300 founder, exec and investor members in six cities. We still host that fun, invite-only, low-stakes poker event every month in all six of our chapter cities (we have hosted more 300 Startup Poker 2.0 events so far)! But if you’re not a Startup Haven member then the reasons we play poker are probably not what you think. I have written extensively about . If you’re a full time, venture-scale founder or an active startup investor, you might find it interesting. Over the years, Startup Haven has become much more than just a poker event. We have hosted hundreds of Founders Dinner events, dozens of special educational events. Beginning in 2019, scaling Startup Haven’s impact has became my full-time focus and over the past few months, we have launched a members-only recruiting program, an accelerator program and an investor matching program. Startup Haven started a personal passion project and it will always remain that. But scaling requires a different mindset and that makes it feel like a startup. It’s an exciting time. What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? My “field” these days is helping founders succeed more by failing less. Startups fail so often that it’s a wonder why everyone hasn’t just stopped trying. A “Top 10” list of the reasons why startups fail would include a hundred reasons. This stuff is hard and there is no silver bullet, but I have come to believe that relationships and cogency are the two best hedges against failure. I’ll buy dinner for the first person to convince me otherwise. These principles are precisely what motivated me to keep Startup Haven going for all these years and it’s why I’m genuinely excited about the new . Where do you find your inspiration? My daughters. Humble founders. The magnitude of human experience. What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? CNC lasers. I reckon I use mine three to four days a week — there’s always something to make, to fix, to experiment with. Growing Startup Haven has made that more difficult lately but it’s always on my mind and if it’s been more than a week since I’ve had the opportunity then I really miss it. What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I’m a nomad. I work out of a backpack. As a community organizer and a mentor, I spend time at a variety of co-working spaces around town. I’m currently working primarily out of Thinkspace, which I love. Crimmins at the Columbia Tower Club, where he often works. Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. Everyone in the startup world is perpetually overcommitted. So protecting your calendar can be a superpower. Largely, this amounts to figuring out how to say “no” respectfully, helpfully, and more often. Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows. Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard. But, go Janeway! Transporter, time machine or cloak of invisibility? Philosopher’s Stone is missing from the list, so I’ll go with time machine. However, I will travel back in time to the moment the cloak of invisibility was discovered and find it myself the day before. Then I would travel forward in time to whenever the Philosophers Stone becomes and option. If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would Put the money in the bank and use the interest to fund experiments with the aim of developing a cogent startup thesis that warrants putting $1 million to work at day zero. I once waited in line for: I waited in line to see Star Wars when it first hit the theaters. Your role models: I often find myself channeling great entrepreneurs and investors I’ve known. What would Andy do? What would Dan do? What would TA do? What would Chris do? What would Dave do? Without fail, I immediately see the issue/questions/challenge/decision in a new light. It’s palpable. I don’t always take the action I think they would but I’m always informed by what I think their perspective would be. Of course, I could be terribly wrong about what they would actually do if I were to ask them, but the exercise is so effective and immediate that I wouldn’t want to break it by actually asking them. Besides, none of them have time to take speed dial calls from Bob. Greatest game in history: D&D. Viva la imagination. Best gadget ever: Staedtler 2.0mm mechanical pencil … and paper. First computer: I learned to program on VAX-11 in high school, then got excited about computers with my best friend’s TRS-80. I really wanted the Osborne 1 to be my first computer but they were so expensive that I had to eventually settle for building an IBM XT Clone. Current phone: Samsung S8+. Every time someone switches from an iPhone to an Android, an angel gets its wings. Favorite app: I love, love, love Audible. Audiobooks are a secret weapon for sure. I even read the Mueller report in less than two weeks while driving to and from meetings. Favorite cause: My “favorite” is youth entrepreneurship, which I think is an important and valuable cause and it’s something I think I am especially equipped to help with. But I don’t think it’s nearly as important as so much other work that needs to be done in the world. Most important technology of 2019: Boring old social media has proven its ability to fundamentally subvert democracy. That needs to be fixed. I can’t think of much that’s more important than that. Most important technology of 2021: AI … for as far out as our headlights go. Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: My advice is for early entrepreneurs. Having good ideas is easy. The hard part is determining whether and how some good idea or other could also be a successful business — before you sacrifice your savings account, your relationships and your emotional health. Mostly, good ideas turn out not to be good businesses. And to be clear, I’m not just talking about the ideas that only half the room thinks are good. I’m also talking about the ideas where everyone in the room thinks the idea is good, i.e., that the problem should be solved, that the product should exist and that the world would be a better place with your startup in it. If it were only the marginally good ideas that failed then the startup failure rate would not be in the neighborhood of 95 percent. Aye, the allure of an idea that everyone tells you is “such a good idea” is irresistible. Coupled with your passion, confidence and ambition, keeping an open mind about whether your good idea can also be a good business is super hard. So hard that you barely paused before jumping off the cliff. Reid Hoffman famously described entrepreneurship as the act of jumping off that cliff and building a plane on the way down. He is right. But he didn’t say you had to design the plane on the way down. You can do a lot to figure out which planes might possibly be built in the distance from the top of the cliff to the bottom. Of course, certainty is impossible; but there are ways to reduce your chances of disintegrating on impact at the bottom of the cliff. Passion is helpful, even necessary; but it’s not sufficient. You also need a lot of customer development, some math and a little critical thinking. Constantly be on the lookout for assumptions you are making, i.e., what would have to be true in order for your startup to be a good business? Notice that this is a different question than “what would have to be true in order for your startup to be a good idea.” Ideas don’t come with labels that identify them as a good business or not. You have to figure that out yourself. To do that, talk to lots of customers and then identify and quantify as many of your assumptions as possible and model them in a spreadsheet. If you can’t tell a cogent and quantifiable story about how you could get from here to there (wherever you think “there” should be) then you are operating at a ridiculously high level of uncertainly and risk. Founder, meet cliff.
The Kaskada leadership team, from left to right: Davor Bonaci, Ben Chambers, and Emily Kruger. (Kaskada Photo) After spending several years working at Google Cloud, and saw an opportunity to help companies take better advantage of machine learning technology. Their idea turned into , a Seattle-based startup that is launching out of stealth mode and unveiling its software that uses real-time, event-based data to bolster machine learning features. Davor Bonaci. (Kaskada Photo) More and more companies are implementing machine learning capabilities into their workflows to serve up better recommendations, detect fraud, and other related applications that use the burgeoning technology. But Kaskada contends that these models aren’t using the most up-to-date information, resulting in stale data and poor predictions that don’t accurately reflect the needs of a given user. The startup’s tools let companies implement machine learning features that fully take advantage of up-to-date streaming data. “There is lots of evidence that this is not done as well as it could be done,” Bonaci said of using real-time data. “Companies are leaving money on the table.” Kaskada has raised $1.8 million from investors including Voyager Capital; NextGen Venture Partners; Founders’ Co-op; and Bessemer Venture Partners. The company, founded in January 2018, employs four people and expects to grow. In March it hired , a veteran of Amazon Web Services, as vice president of product. We caught up with Bonaci for this , a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire. What does your company do? Kaskada is a machine learning studio that uses event-based data to compute feature vectors for machine learning in real time. Kaskada empowers data scientists by allowing them to discover, test, and deploy features from event-based data sources in a collaborative, version-controlled environment. By empowering data scientists we help organizations make better predictions and drive more impact from machine learning. Inspiration hit us when: All the time — we’re inspired by progress. Every conversation with data scientists and data leaders helps us refine our vision and make a better, more impactful product. VC, Angel, or Bootstrap: VC. We’ve been incredibly lucky with our investors so far, which include Voyager Capital, NextGen Venture Partners, Founders’ Co-op, and Bessemer Venture Partners. We are also supported by a group of angels that includes directors and senior vice presidents of companies like Google, Twitter and Yelp. Not only have they provided the working capital, but they are also meaningfully helping build the company. Their insight, personal networks, and day-to-day support have been instrumental in getting where we are today. The value we have gotten from our investors is as important — if not more important — than the funding itself. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Streaming data of course! Our team has deep experience in building distributed systems for data streams and data processing and believe we can fundamentally change how ML is practiced by helping companies harness the power of real-time data. The smartest move we’ve made so far: We came to the startup world with a lot of experience in the data space which also meant we had many existing opinions and biases about it. It can be hard to listen carefully, probe, and ask the right questions if you think you already know the answer. It was important for us to forget what we thought we knew and look at the space with fresh eyes. We also had to be willing to admit when we were wrong and refocus our direction based on what we heard from customers. Putting the customer stories first allowed us to learn and ultimately make much better decisions about product and company direction than we would have made in a vacuum. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Gauging time it will take to get to major milestones. Everything takes longer than you expect that it will — particularly if you’re an optimistic person! Sometimes those same delays can end up ultimately being positive, though, as you realize a much better way of achieving the same goal. Which leading entrepreneur would you most want working in your corner? Success doesn’t depend on a single individual. We believe that building a strong team that can work together toward a common vision is more important than any single individual. Our favorite team building activity is: Game night! We have a weekly team game night and (optional) whiskey tasting. We typically play various cooperative board games, which makes it more about winning together. Our current favorite is Hanabi. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Culture fit. Building a company is a journey requiring significant growth — both personally and as a group. We’re looking for people who want to be part of that journey and actively participate in that growth. We’re looking for people who would have fun participating in lively discussions as we seek to push each other and the company to be the best we can be. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Pick your team and supporters wisely. They will make you or break you. No other early decision is more important than that one. When you start a new company, there are many people seeking to be involved. Regardless of the role, you’ll hear how much they can help you. But, there are no shortcuts; you and your team will have to solve the hard problems. Always focus on the team and the people who are committed to the long-term success of the company.
Rigado’s lineup of Bluetooth modules. (Rigado Photo) , a nine-year-old Portland, Ore. startup that builds commercial IoT products and services, to Swiss wireless company . Rigado sold off its , a group that builds hardware components to enhance wireless connectivity and make it easier to link up Internet of Things devices, the companies said Wednesday. As part of the deal, Rigado CEO Ben Corrado and six other Rigado employees will join u-blox’s Short Range Radio product strategy team. Rigado’s Salem, Ore. office will become a North American engineering center for u-blox. , Corrado said Rigado co-founder will stay on at the startup and lead its technical vision as chief technology officer, and will step into the role of president. Going forward, Rigado will focus on its “edge-as-a-service” solution providing connectivity for smart buildings, asset tracking, connected retail, and other applications. “We’re very proud of both our market-leading modules division and Rigado’s fast-growing edge infrastructure gateway business,” Rau said in a statement. “The value we capture from the acquisition of the modules division will allow us to further accelerate Rigado’s growth in the gateway market — especially in key solution areas such as smart building and asset tracking.” Rigado was founded in 2010 and it raised a lifetime total of $20 million, including a just over a year ago. It has amassed more than 300 customers around the world for its edge-as-service products and connected more than 5 million commercial IoT devices. Rigado has offices in Portland, Salem, London and Shenzen, China.
The SeekOut team. (SeekOut Photos) LinkedIn can be a valuable resource for hiring managers sourcing potential candidates. But oftentimes it isn’t enough — and that’s where is stepping in. The Seattle-area startup today announced a $6 million investment round led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Mayfield. The company helps HR departments by using swaths of data to provide an AI-powered “360-degree profile” of potential candidates — particularly those that have sparse or no LinkedIn profiles, but may be qualified based on harder-to-find accolades. SeekOut is led by CEO and co-founder , a former technical assistant to Bill Gates who previously led Microsoft’s Unified Communications Group; and CTO , a former Microsoft partner engineering manager who worked on products including Bing and Office. Anoop Gupta with Aravind Bala, co-founders of SeekOut. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop) Their company is an evolution of , a professional messaging service formerly known as that Gupta and Bala founded. The premise of Nextio was to give recipients of promotional LinkedIn messages money paid by marketers, recruiters and others seeking to reach them. Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 — one year after Gupta and Bala left the company. While Nextio never took off, there was a “career insights” feature that analyzed millions of resumes to give users a birds-eye view of potential career paths and the necessary steps to achieve certain jobs. That garnered interest from recruiters who wanted to understand requirements for various roles at companies; how people moved from different jobs; and so forth. About 18 months ago, Nextio pivoted to SeekOut. “Since then the growth and traction has been phenomenal, and we are truly humbled and energized about serving this critical need for companies,” Gupta said. SeekOut’s thesis is that developers and engineers often don’t promote their experience or work on a LinkedIn profile, but may do so in a place such as GitHub or in research papers and patents. But sourcing potential hires based on public data is only one part of the company’s business. SeekOut also provides built-in diversity filters to help reduce unconscious bias; a machine learning-driven search engine that understands past hiring patterns and needs based on job descriptions; and the ability for recruiters to “hyper-personalize” messages when engaging with candidates. SeekOut has more than 75 enterprise customers from various industries including tech, defense, pharma, consumer-packaged goods, and more. “Our secret sauce is that we are engineering leaders who have tons of experience hiring tech talent for our teams and with challenges our recruiters faced,” Gupta said. “We also know of data available and how to apply machine learning, natural language processing and other technologies to the problem that we and our customers face every day: finding qualified candidates.” SeekOut competes against a flurry of existing hiring-related tools, from giants such as LinkedIn itself and Workday, to smaller startups including fellow Seattle company . Gupta said that most competing HR tech tools are spread over a wide range of tasks, such as chatbots or candidate scheduling. “The companies in the sourcing space where SeekOut focuses are fewer, and less mature,” he said. Gupta and Bala both left Microsoft in November 2015 and came up with the Nextio idea in early 2016. SeekOut has raised $8.2 million to date. The company employs 12 people and expects to double headcount this year. As a result of the funding, Madrona Managing Director S. “Soma” Somasegar will join the board. “As every company goes through the digital transformation, the need for technical talent is growing leaps and bounds,” he said. “The SeekOut team deeply understands these challenges and has the expertise and drive to address them.”
(TomboyX Photo) , the Seattle-based startup bringing gender-neutral underwear to the masses, is apparently a good fit for investors, too, as the company just closed an $18 million Series B funding round. Launched in 2013 by married founders Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez, TomboyX targets “plus-sized, gender non-conforming and specialized tradespeople” with its apparel products. The company raised $4.3 million in a Series A round last summer, and total funding is $24.3 million to date. This round was led by , which becomes TomboyX’s majority stakeholder, and the capital will be used to invest in product development and brand-related campaigns, according to a news release. “We are very excited to collaborate with the team at The Craftory as we continue in our mission to design inclusive and gender-neutral underwear for our diverse global audience,” Dunaway and Gonzalez said in a statement. “We are confident that their expertise in branding and consumer goods will complement our own creativity and disruption of traditional products.” TomboyX founders Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez. (TomboyX Photo) TomboyX stresses that its underwear produces comfort across a broad range of silhouettes and sizes, and is fit-tested on hundreds of bodies, from size XS-4X. Elio Leoni Sceti, co-Founder and chief crafter at The Craftory, called TomboyX a “forward-thinking brand” taking on some of society’s biggest issues. “We are extremely proud to be welcomed to join the team as they expand their global reach and continue to design innovative sustainable pieces,” Sceti said. “It is crucial that companies like TomboyX continue to champion self-esteem as we move towards a more open, progressive society.” Craftory directors will join the TomboyX board along with fashion industry veteran Pauline Brown of TAU Investment Management, a New York and Hong Kong-based investment firm with expertise in the global apparel and textile value chain.
(Joylux Photo) , a Seattle startup that aims to improve women’s sexual health with a wellness device, has raised an additional $7 million. Joylux plans to use the money to bolster its sales team and scale the company. Colette Courtion. (Joylux Photo) The additional Series A financing brings total funding to $12 million, with backing from the Alliance of Angels, Belle Capital, Portfolia, Sofia Fund and Kimberly Clark. Joylux first launched its flagship product, the , a little over a year ago. The vFit uses a combination of red light therapy, heat and sonic vibration to help restore healthy sexual function. It’s an at-home device that can be used on its own or in combination with in-office treatments. Joylux is now in 200 physicians’ offices and available through some retailers. The company’s business model pulls a page from the Sonicare toothbrush or Clarisonic pore cleanser, selling to customers through physicians. Goop, the wellness company started by Gwyneth Paltrow, last month. , CEO, said Joylux is filling a blind spot that has been overlooked by male entrepreneurs. “There’s been no innovation in this space in decades,” she said. “Imagine raising capital from a majority of men,” Courtion added. “It takes a lot of brave investors.” Courtion has a background in medical aesthetics and started Joylux with the goal of applying techniques that are commonly used in skincare to sexual health. The company has 12 employees with plans to grow to 20 by the end of 2019. Joylux is also working on gaining FDA approval for vSculpt, a device to treat incontinence and vaginal atrophy. The vSculpt is already approved as a medical device in Canada and Europe.
Jeff Hussey. (Tempered Networks) Seattle-based has raised an additional $17 million to invest in engineering, sales resources, and partnerships. The company confirmed the new funding to GeekWire this week. The fresh cash brings total funding to $57 million, with backing from Ignition Venture Partners, IDG Ventures, Fluid Capital, Ridge Ventures and Rally Capital. Founded in 2014 by , who formerly helped launch F5 Networks, Tempered Networks builds products around , in which anything that connects to a network must pass an identification test. That’s in contrast to the traditional approach of trusting people and machines who are connected the organization’s network on site or through VPNs, while keeping out bad actors with firewalls. The company’s main technology, called “identity defined networking,” is a platform for zero trust networking. Connections are granted based on a whitelist that identifies trusted entities and gives access to the network. Tempered also claims to make the process of creating and managing networks easy with a simple point-and-click interface. Tempered’s customers include oil drillers, electrical substations, hospitals and smart buildings. The 55-person startup has recently been working on to accommodate the growth with internet-of-things devices. It has also to build secure systems for smart buildings. Tempered is part of a hive of cybersecurity activity in Seattle, joining startups including Auth0, ExtraHop, DefenseStorm and Polyverse, among others.
The World Trade Center East building. (Highspot Photo) will soon have a new spot to call home. The startup that builds artificial intelligence-powered sales software has leased two floors with options to take more at the World Trade Center East building near the Seattle waterfront. The 55,000-square-foot space, which will be ready around the end of the year, will have room for roughly 450 people. Highspot CEO Robert Wahbe. (Highspot Photo) Today, Highspot has about 200 employees and expects to hit 300 when it moves into the space. The company will hold on to its existing offices in Seattle, giving it a total footprint of more than 90,000 square feet and capacity for roughly 800 employees. Robert Wahbe, co-founder and CEO of Highspot, said the company is experiencing explosive growth in revenue and other key business metrics, and it is hiring fast to keep up. “We are growing more than 100 percent per year across all the normal business metrics and growing more than 100 percent in our headcount,” Wahbe said. “Given how competitive the environment is we are very focused on attracting and developing world-class people.” Last year, Highspot landed a to power its rapid growth. The company has raised more than $64 million in its lifetime. Wahbe called his company the fastest-growing tech startup with fewer than 1,000 employees in the area. He came to that conclusion by looking at headcount growth numbers on LinkedIn of companies in the index of the top Pacific Northwest startups. Highspot’s customer base is growing 300 percent year-over-year, Wahbe told GeekWire last year, adding to a big-name stable of customers that includes Amazon, Dropbox, Uber, Lyft Twitter, Zillow, Airbnb and SAP. A finalist for at the 2019 GeekWire Awards, Highspot equips sales teams with artificial intelligence-infused technology to improve how they have conversations with prospective buyers. Its “sales enablement platform” is a sales playbook of sorts, analyzing hoards of internally-produced information — historical data; marketing presentations; case studies; data sheets, etc. — and then applying AI to optimize the selling process. Highspot also provides communication and analytics tools with a goal of helping marketing and sales teams better collaborate. Highspot’s future office space. (Highspot Photo) The concept of bringing sales and marketing teams together has been around since the beginning of the modern office, but the technology hasn’t been there. That all changed around 2010, as mobile technology, AI and software-as-a-service innovations progressed rapidly. Since then, the category has taken on a renewed importance, Wahbe said. “It’s a problem that’s been around that people have been trying to solve, but now that it can be solved, you’re seeing the heads of marketing and the heads of sales really excited about this category and buying this software to help their teams be more competitive,” Wahbe said. Wahbe named and as Highspot’s top competitors. The company’s differentiator is its sophisticated AI that helps identify what content should be surfaced at the right time. Wahbe got the idea for Highspot when he was working at Microsoft, where he spent 16 years equipping sales teams with necessary information to help craft perfect pitches to potential customers. He quickly realized it was a difficult task and made a bet that others were experiencing the same problem. He founded the company seven years ago with former colleagues with and . Highspot was recently named to list for 2018, one of just two Seattle companies to earn the honor — Outreach, another fast-growing sales tech startup and a , was the other. Seattle has established itself as a hub for enterprise software, led by giants such as Microsoft, homegrown startups, and satellite offices for big companies including Salesforce. Wahbe emphasized Highspot’s commitment to Seattle, saying he didn’t plan to expand its offices internationally anytime soon. “It’s a little bit against the grain, but we really think the best way to build great software is to be here in Seattle,” Wahbe said.
Utrip CEO Gilad Berenstein accepts the award for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2015 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo) journey is over. The Seattle-based trip-planning startup is ceasing operations after a deal that would’ve kept the company afloat fell through at the last minute. “We are devastated to no longer be able to continue to operate and partner with you,” Utrip CEO said in an email to clients obtained by GeekWire. Bernstein declined to comment further when contacted by GeekWire. Utrip’s services will remain online until June 7, at which point the servers will come down, according to the email. Founded in 2011, the company offered free itinerary-planning tools to consumers built with machine learning. Users entered information about the types of activities they like to do when traveling and related preferences. Utrip would then produce a schedule and other information to help them plan their trips. Utrip made money by and building products for businesses in the hospitality space, such as hotels and cruise lines. In 2017, to create a trip-planning portal stitching together flights, hotels, must-see sites, activities, and restaurants. Other “strategic partners” included Hilton, Holland America Line, Allegiant, and Starwood Preferred Guest. “Leveraging machine learning and advanced traveler preference data, Utrip enables travel companies, both large and small, to increase conversion rates, ancillary revenue, customer loyalty and engagement,” the company wrote on its . Utrip’s itinerary service. Utrip also had some high-profile investors. Executives from Apple and Costco, as well as Acorn Ventures, Plug and Play, and Tiempo Capital, participated in in early 2017. Seattle hotelier Craig Schafer was also an investor and former sat on Utrip’s board of directors. The company has 27 employees, according to . It was ranked No. 194 on the , our index of top Pacific Northwest startups. “We are so grateful for your partnerships over the years and for enabling us to help millions of travelers see the world in unique and personal ways,” Berenstein said in his email. The CEO graduated from the University of Washington in 2009 and at the 2015 GeekWire Awards. He helped launch Utrip after a trip to Europe left him wanting a more personalized travel experience without paying a travel agent or spending a lot of time to research. Other Utrip founders include and Yair Berenstein. Travel startups have taken off over the past five years, with a bevy of competitors such as Noken and Journy offering similar services to Utrip. Over that period, travel companies raised more than $1 billion in venture capital funding,
The Flexe team in Seattle. (Flexe Photo) As more consumers shop online, retailers need capacity to ship products across the country — particularly as they battle e-commerce kingpin Amazon. , a Seattle logistics startup that operates an on-demand warehouse marketplace, is helping them do that. The company today announced a $43 million investment round to meet demand from a growing number of companies needing “pop-up” storage space. Activate Capital and Tiger Global Management led the Series B round. Seattle VC firm Madrona Venture Group also invested for the first time, while previous backers Redpoint Ventures, Prologis Ventures, and others put more cash behind Flexe. Total funding to date is $63.5 million. Flexe operates much like Airbnb — instead of matching travelers with open homes and apartments, it matches retailers with warehouses that have excess capacity. Companies such as Staples, Toms, Ace Hardware, and others use Flexe to help support their online businesses and reduce the costly “last mile” delivery expense. Giant brands including Walmart and P&G are also customers. Flexe benefits warehouse owners who make revenue on space that would have otherwise sat empty, which Flexe estimates is 20-to-30 percent of a given warehouse. More than across the U.S. and Canada use Flexe’s software to bid on various offers, up from 370 warehouses three years ago. Flexe tripled revenue in 2018 and was the fastest-growing company in Washington state last year by Deloitte. “Flexe invented the on-demand warehousing category for businesses facing a crisis of agility while trying to meet rising consumer demands,” Flexe co-founder and CEO told GeekWire. Flexe co-founder and CEO Karl Siebrecht. (Flexe Photo) Flexe offers customers pay-as-you-go flexibility; merchants don’t need to sign long-term leases for warehouse space — only when they know how much capacity is required, as well as where and when. They can avoid the fixed costs that often come with a lease, particularly for retailers that only need extra storage space for a limited amount of time — a beverage vendor that sees sales spike in the summer; a retailer that sells its inventory during the holiday season; or a company such as Lime, the fast-growing mobility startup that has thousands of shared bikes, scooters, and cars. There are other unique use cases, too, such as Ace Hardware using Flexe to support its emergency response initiatives during Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael. Flexe has described itself as a “warehousing-as-a-service” company. “We needed space in the northeast U.S., the Midwest, and on the West Coast,” Justin Schuhardt, a supply chain executive with Walmart, at a recent industry event. “So, what ended up happening was Flexe was able to, through their marketplace approach, give us a selection of different providers from coast to coast with different size buildings and different available capacity.” Walmart is one of many companies using Flexe in the e-commerce battle against Amazon. While Flexe’s customers are competing against Amazon, so too is Flexe itself. Instead of selling on Amazon, Flexe offers brands an alternative that lets them ship products in their own branded boxes and existing shopping software. The third-party warehouses, meanwhile, handle labor and administrative work. It also keeps retailers from having to share any data with Amazon. “Companies that depend on Amazon logistics to meet their customers’ expectations will hand over their customer data, customer experience and customer relationship to Amazon,” Siebrecht said. “We believe there’s a better way — a new option that uses technology to offer an entirely new model for on-demand warehousing and fulfillment.” (Flexe Photo) Amazon forever altered the retail landscape when it introduced the Prime two-day shipping program 14 years ago. The Seattle company upped the ante again late last month when for Prime members. Amazon will spend $800 million during this quarter alone on the new shipping initiative, signaling the importance of building out its fulfillment network to meet consumer demand. But Flexe can offer similar delivery speeds given how many warehouses are on its marketplace. In 2017, Flexe began . Siebrecht said Amazon’s recent 1-day shipping announcement “has already driven a pop in demand for Flexe.” “When Flexe announced one-day shipping capabilities two years ago, it allowed our clients to offer the most competitive delivery promises and successfully fulfill them,” he added. “Not only is our network of warehouses massive, it’s connected through a single technology platform and it’s provider agnostic. In other words, companies aren’t limited to a fixed provider or set locations of fulfillment centers.” Since launching in 2013, Flexe company has amassed a huge warehouse footprint, with approximately 30 million square feet available on its platform. But that’s still a far cry from Amazon, which owns of space at its own fulfillment centers across the world. (Flexe screenshot) Consumer expectation for fast shipping is driven not only by Amazon but rivals such as Target and Walmart that have instituted their own two-day shipping initiatives and turned physical stores into mini-warehouses for popular programs such as order online and pick up in store. Two market trends are playing to Flexe’s hand. One is the growing online shopping industry — e-commerce sales during the last holiday season $126 billion, up 16.5 percent year-over-year. Another is the rising cost of industrial real estate and . Will O’Donnell, managing partner at Prologis Ventures — an investor in Flexe — said vacancy rates in logistics real estate are near historic lows. “As the industry continues to grow, we recognize the value of integrating flexible options into supply chain planning,” he said in a statement shared with GeekWire. “We have been an investor in Flexe and are supportive of new business models that can help meet our customers’ business needs.” Prologis, a publicly-traded logistics real estate giant, is an example of a company that might be considered a competitor to Flexe “when in fact these companies are partners in the Flexe network,” Siebrecht noted. An additional use case for Flexe is when businesses face unpredictable problems that affect manufacturing and production with suppliers and distributors, such as President Trump’s China tariff that . (Flexe Photo) Flexe competitors include industry giant XPO Logistics, newer startup Stord, and UPS, which its own warehouse technology startup called Ware2Go in August. Siebrecht, a former executive at aQuantive and AdReady, said the new UPS service focuses on small and medium-sized businesses, while his company targets “high growth, venture-backed startups all the way up to Fortune 50 global corporations.” There are a bevy of other startups building solutions for supply chain improvement, including fellow Seattle on-demand trucking startup , which helps match trucking companies with shippers. Flexe has plans to expand internationally, but for now it is focused on the U.S. and Canada, said Siebrecht, a Pacific Northwest finalist for . Siebrecht co-founded the company with . Flexe estimates the logistics industry to be $1.5 trillion. The U.S. market for warehousing is worth $27 billion, according to . Flexe, a finalist for the category at last week’s , is ranked No. 88 on the index of top Pacific Northwest startups. The company has 80 employees and plans to double its headcount this year. This year Flexe has beefed up its C-suite by hiring , the company’s new chief people officer and general counsel; , chief technology officer who was previously a transportation exec at Amazon; and Matt Millen, chief revenue officer. Flexe also just moved into a new, 24,000 square-foot office headquarters in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. As a result of the new funding, Raj Atluru, managing director at Activate Capital, has joined the Flexe board. “Flexe presents such clear value for forward-looking businesses who recognize that structural flexibility is a competitive differentiator and key ingredient to winning in the market,” Atluru said in a statement. Tiger Global, which co-led the round with Activate Capital, has made several recent Seattle investments, including last week for Zenoti. It also led for Seattle marketing startup Amperity; in Seattle-based real estate company Redfin; and is an investor in Bellevue, Wash.-based OfferUp, a Craigslist competitor valued at more than $1 billion. Siebrecht called Tiger Global “one of the most sophisticated and experienced e-commerce and logistics technology investors in the world.”
Loftium co-founders Yifan Zhang and Adam Stelle. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) Loftium, the Seattle real estate startup that helped people buy homes in exchange for renting out an extra room on Airbnb, has shifted its focus to rentals. The company to providing down payment assistance to potential homebuyers who agreed to split their Airbnb profits with the company. But late last year, Loftium quietly pivoted in a big way. Now it rents out apartments to tenants at a discounted rate if they agree to become an Airbnb host. In an interview with GeekWire, Loftium CEO cited skyrocketing housing prices as the reason for the shift. Loftium’s original offering was popular — the company signed up more than 10,000 customers for down-payment assistance, Zhang said. However, thanks to high housing prices, competition among buyers and the complexity of the mortgage process, many of Loftium’s customers still weren’t able to afford to buy the homes they wanted. “Given how quickly home prices have risen, we realized that a large portion of our customer base were not able to buy a home even with Loftium’s down payment assistance, and that was a very frustrating part of the business,” said Zhang, a finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the . Loftium CEO Yifan Zhang leads an all-hands meeting at the company’s new office. (Loftium Photo) Similar to WeWork’s business model with office space, Loftium now rents units directly from landlords and then leases them out to its customers. Zhang wouldn’t say how many units Loftium has in its portfolio, but the switch to rentals has let the company expand quicker. Loftium collects rent from customers, as well as a cut of the money from renting rooms on Airbnb. It hopes that those combined income sources outweigh rent the company pays directly to landlords. The new model is easier to scale because Loftium doesn’t have to raise huge loads of capital to help people with down payments, and it’s much faster and easier to lease out units than it is to close home sales. After making the switch to rentals, Loftium quickly expanded beyond its core area of Seattle to Denver and Portland. Further expansion appears on the horizon, as the company has open positions on its for property acquisition leads in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and San Jose, Calif. Loftium today has approximately 15 employees, and it is hiring across a variety of areas. Though still small, the company is anticipating significant growth, and it just signed a lease for a new office space: A single floor at in downtown Seattle totaling 5,600 square feet. The Loftium office. (Loftium Photo) The idea for Loftium struck Zhang, who has founded multiple startups, when she first moved to Seattle. She and her husband bought a townhome and rented out one bedroom on Airbnb. “I was just amazed by the income stream from that,” Zhang told GeekWire in 2017. “Just one bedroom in our three-bedroom condo could cover the vast majority of our mortgage, taxes, and insurance, which was a little crazy.” Technology companies of all sizes are trying to figure out how to disrupt buying a house, which remains one of the most challenging and costly experiences a person faces. A number of well-funded large companies including Zillow, Redfin, Opendoor and Offerpad have decided that taking control of the process by purchasing homes directly, sprucing them up then and selling them to consumers is the solution. In the Seattle area alone, startups such as FlyHomes, JetClosing and others are tackling different parts of the problem. As she ran Loftium, Zhang was exposed to every wart in the homebuying process. Zhang pointed to the mortgage approval process as a major headache. It can be tough to get a mortgage if you haven’t been in a job for more than two years, an issue that could impact tech workers who make good money but tend to jump around. Zhang would like to see potential revenue from renting out rooms on platforms like Airbnb figured into mortgage calculations as well. “We signed up homebuyers, and then we sent them into this complex process of homebuying,” Zhang said. “With rentals, we do get to control the experience much more and create a really good experience for renters and landlords.”
The Stay Alfred team didn’t win in the Next Tech Titan category at the GeekWire Awards, but they were happy to take the stage afterward at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Twenty-six people loaded onto a party bus that left Spokane, Wash., at 10 a.m. on Wednesday with three cases of beer and a professional driver. The destination? Seattle, and the . The team from , a Spokane-based startup transforming the hospitality business, wasn’t just hard to miss Thursday night because they were all wearing matching and quintessentially Northwest flannel shirts. They were also wearing ear-to-ear grins as if they were crashing a big-city party. “This is a big deal for us,” said Jordan Allen, founder and CEO of the 8-year-old company. “For some of the other folks here, maybe they’ve done this before, but for a Spokane company to be invited to this, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to join the likes of some of the companies that are here. So we are thrilled.” Stay Alfred, No. 48 on the index of Pacific Northwest startups, certainly earned its place at the event and as a nominee in the Next Tech Titan category, which was ultimately won by pet-sitting juggernaut Rover. The company, which operates upscale apartments for travelers in prime downtown locations, has been “growing like wildfire,” according to Allen, raising $62 million to date and expanding to 32 cities across the U.S. They have their sights set on Europe, next. On the bus ride over to Seattle, the day before the Awards, Allen shared a selfie of his team, beers in hand, as they made the 5-hour trek west across Washington. Stay Alfred CEO Jordan Allen and his team on a bus traveling from Spokane, Wash., to Seattle this week for the GeekWire Awards. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Allen) The bus journey fell on Steve Helmbrecht’s first day on the job, as Stay Alfred’s new president. After joining from a private investment company, he knew the trip would be part of his initial experience with the startup, and he was looking forward to it. “During [the drive] Jordan and I made two investment banking calls and then I had a couple of beers before noon with the crew,” Helmbrecht told GeekWire at the Museum of Pop Culture, site of Thursday’s Awards. “It was great. I already love it.” Helmbrecht said that Stay Alfred had a board meeting in Seattle during the day and then geared up for the big event later on. “What I really like about it is not only did Jordan bring over the executive team, he brought the five longest serving members of the company to come over, including employee No. 1,” Helmbrecht said. “They get to share this tonight. We’re honored to just be even nominated. We feel really good about it.” Stay Alfred employees arrive at MoPOP and walk the pink carpet. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Stay Alfred leases hundreds of apartments and condos to short-term travelers in its bid to get ahead of the likes of Airbnb. Allen believes tourists and business travelers have outgrown that 10-year-old company and now, with families in tow, are looking for a consistent guest experience that still comes with a unique, boutique-hotel-style setting. Part of its plan is to take over entire floors or buildings so as to control guest amenities. “We’re really forming an army of people that are excited about changing what the future of hospitality looks like and multifamily real estate,” Allen said. In Seattle, Stay Alfred and the team took advantage of that this week, which Allen said illustrates just what their mission is. “We had a pre-funk in one of the buildings,” he said. “That’s why our model exists — 10 people in the living room having a great time, we’re able to hang out versus being scattered across 10 hotel rooms. And it was just super cool, to have beer in the fridge and have appetizers out for all the employees and stuff. It was awesome.” A Stay Alfred property on First Avenue in downtown Seattle offers guests access to this swimming pool. (Stay Alfred Photo) With 1,000 people in attendance at the Awards, from some of the most successful, innovative and fastest growing companies in the Seattle area, the flannel-clad Stay Alfred team mixed and mingled and perhaps tried to do a little recruiting for anyone who might want to jump ship and head to the other side of the state. Allen’s pitch was pretty impressive. “We’re a big deal in Spokane, we’re a big fish in a small pond,” he said. “If we were in Seattle maybe we’d be the 20th coolest company. But it has a lot of advantages because we can get to recruit the best of the best in Spokane. There’s close to a million people in the overall metropolitan area, so there’s a lot of really talented people there. “Spokane is the greatest place to live, especially once you have a family and kids,” Allen added. “You can buy a really, really nice house for what you can buy a parking space in Seattle for. It’s a 37-minute flight back and forth, and it’s really cheap to do. If you’re into the outdoors, there’s 10 ski mountains and 75 lakes within an hour, so it’s a pretty attractive place to live.” As good as he made Spokane sound for the business he has been building, and for the team he bused over with, Allen was clearly feeding off the Seattle energy Thursday night as he made his way around MoPOP. “I really can’t say enough, for our team to be able to come over here … we don’t have events like this in Spokane for the startup community,” he said. “Everybody’s so damn excited they can’t even see straight.”
EnergySavvy co-founder and CEO Aaron Goldfeder (left) and COO Scott Case. (EnergySavvy photo) Seattle-based EnergySavvy has been acquired by Tendril, a Boulder, Colo. firm that provides software and analytics to electric and gas utilities. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. EnergySavvy’s team of more than 60 employees will not relocate under the acquisition. The company has offices in Seattle and Boston. EnergySavvy is an 11-year-old startup with a suite of products that help utilities manage their relationships with customers. Aaron Goldfeder left a role at Microsoft to co-found the company in 2008. In 2016, EnergySavvy , bringing its total funding to $30 million. At the time, EnergySavvy had about 40 utility customers, including Seattle City Light, Minnesota Energy Resources, New Mexico Gas Company, and others. Using EnergySavvy, utilities can provide personalized electricity plans for customers, accounting for changes in the industry like the growing popularity of rooftop solar panels. “Teaming up with Tendril creates a platform that unites all residential utility customer data, analytics and insights in one place,” Goldfeder said in a statement. Prior to the acquisition, EnergySavvy was ranked No. 110 on the , our index of top Pacific Northwest startups.
Spruce Up CEO Mia Lewin. (Spruce Up Photo) has some new spending money. The high-tech home shopping startup just closed a $3 million seed round, bringing its total funding to $4.5 million. New York investment firm Two Sigma Ventures led the round. Other investors include Madrona Venture Group, Female Founders Fund, Alumni Ventures Group, and Peterson Ventures. Spruce Up uses artificial intelligence to recommend home products from a catalog of more than 25,000 items curated by home stylists. Shoppers fill out an interactive quiz to gauge their taste and then receive curated suggestions from designers. “With this seed round, we are doubling down on AI powering every aspect of our product and operations,” Spruce Up CEO Mia Lewin said in a statement. The new funding will also help Spruce Up grow its engineering and data science teams. The startup currently has eight full-time employees and nine part-time stylists. Two Sigma Ventures’ Dan Abelon will join Spruce Up’s board of directors as part of the deal. “We believe AI-powered personalization is the future of e-commerce, and Spruce Up is addressing a multi-billion dollar market and significant pain point for consumers today stuck in eternal scroll,” Abelon said in a statement. Spruce Up is a spin out of Madrona Venture Labs, the venture capital firm’s in-house startup studio. The startup’s co-founders are technology and interior design veterans. Lewin is a former eBay executive who founded several design studios before joining Madrona Venture Labs as CEO-in-residence. Her co-founder Mike Dierken previously held leadership roles at Amazon and McKinsey & Co.
The Zigantic team, from left to right: Vignav Ramesh, Rishab Mohan, Arav Manchanda and Sahil Kancherla. Not pictured: New York-based Vihaan Dheer. (Zigantic Photo) The co-founders of the startup looked at the U.S. labor pool and saw an opportunity in high school students — and specifically those who play video games. They’ve launched a business that harnesses teens’ passion for gaming with video game developers who need to test and validate their games. It’s a niche that the Zigantic crew is uniquely suited to plug into, given they’re all teens themselves. “The high school market is an untapped market that most developers can’t tap,” said Vignav Ramesh, the company’s 14-year-old CEO. Zigantic’s other four founders range from 13-to-15 years old and include Rishab Mohan, Vihaan Dheer, Sahil Kancharla and Arav Manchanda. The business and most of the team are based in the Bellevue, Wash. area, while Dheer is from New York. The company got its start in August 2017, and officially incorporated a little more than a year ago. Image of games for testing. (Zigantic Image) They estimate that game validation is a $33 billion sector. For now, they’re offering their product for free in order to build credibility (their first customer was so pleased with the service that he paid them $100 anyhow). The team is cold-calling developers and going to meetups to find customers, and would like to connect with game makers at universities. Once they gain traction, they plan to offer testing packages from $9.99 up to $21.99, depending on the range of services and level of feedback provided. “We’re trying to make it a lot easier for [developers] and cut down the cost,” said Mohan, chief product officer. The Zigantic founders have been recruiting students at their own schools to do the testing, and spreading the word that they’re hiring to other schools and districts through friends. Zigantic is in its second round of incubation with Young Entrepreneur program. Last year, they won the regional competition. The program provides mentorship and guidance, helping the startup develop and prove its business model and launch the company. The teens said they each work about 4-to-5 hours a week on the business. They’ve already done their first pitch to investors, raising $18,000 through friends and family. “The funds have been raised to accelerate the release of our next-gen play-testing application, to aid with go-to-market activities and to broaden our reach to mobile and PC game-developers, said Ramesh. The team is working with its second and third customers, and set a goal of reaching 30 customers this year. We caught up with Ramesh and Mohan for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for their answers to our questionnaire. Members of team Zigantic working on their product. (Zigantic Photo) Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Zigantic’s platform is designed to create a new generation mobile validation platform to help mobile and PC game developers solve the burden of game validation. Inspiration hit us when: We were working on a coding project as friends when we came up with the idea to create a company. Our mentor was excited to hear of it and encouraged us to further deliberate and even “sleep over it.” Having recently won the “Best Product Design” award at Washington State Middle School Computer Science Competition Computing for All, we were buoyed by the possibilities that lay ahead. We began brainstorming ideas (teaching investment to teens, developing a game-changing algorithm to predict losers and winners of American football games, cricket, drone championships, etc.). Ultimately, we picked the idea of game validation for mobile and PCs. Each of us were passionate about it and furthermore the idea was one that every student in middle and high school — regardless of gender, race and ethnicity — would relate to. And everyone gets to play. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We incorporated in Delaware in March 2018, and bootstrapped for the first year until we built the first version of our product and acquired our initial customers. We have recently raised a small round of pre-seed investment from friends and family and plan to use it toward expansion. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We have access to an untapped audience of high school students. These generation-Zs have used the internet from a young age and are comfortable with mobile and PC technology. We know gaming. Our users are excited to try new games, provide their first opinions in addition to describing the experience of a moderate to advanced user. We involve students of all gender identities and backgrounds and reward them for providing their perspective on a wide range of features with respect to game. The smartest move we’ve made so far: We bonded with believers and ignored the naysayers. So many people told us that they don’t believe high school students could build a startup and predicted our demise; they also felt that game developers would not trust companies that are run by young adults. Game developers were skeptical about the quality of feedback they would receive and sometimes stated their preference for certified testers. We believed in the idea and in our ability to execute, and we evolved and started to receive vigorous nods from developers as they reviewed our work (they generally don’t like to test, so the value we bring to them is significant). I’d recommend to all founders that you do your research, be willing to change and don’t be afraid to follow your instincts. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: So many to pick from. First, we have realized that creating a strong culture is incredibly important. We made mistakes early on by not focusing on creating the right work environment, mission and values. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” rings true. Today we spend just as much time on creating the right culture as much as strategizing our next expansion goal or tactic. Second, we underestimated the value of a strong execution of our go-to-market strategy and roadmap. The initial customer traction we received was encouraging but somewhat misleading; we had to tap into our networks for early success. Since then we have worked hard to develop a consistent, continuous and responsive outbound marketing engagement model with our prospects. A sample of reviewer feedback. (Zigantic Image) Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? , executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft. He’s leading Microsoft’s gaming business across all devices and services, and is himself a passionate gamer. It would be cool to meet with Phil and share our ideas. We’ve been following the future plans for Xbox and the ability to play games with mobile devices and feel that is a game changing idea. Our favorite team-building activity is: As you may expect, we bond over playing mobile and PC games, and it’s a special experience to be playing with friends after we’ve completed our school and Zigantic work. But it’s not online games at all times. We also enjoy playing physical and team-based sports like cricket, baseball and American football, and believe in the power of teamwork. The adrenaline rush experienced when we win together is truly special. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Passion for playing games, to understand the inner workings of how games are developed, and the desire to make them better. We don’t look for experience in game-testing as much as we do for someone who has a fresh, unique and authentic point-of-view and is unafraid to express her or his opinions. We look for gaming mavericks and strong communicators. In addition, in order to evolve our application into game-changing software, we look for top talent in software development among high school students. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: It’s never too early to start. The journey of building a company is both challenging and rewarding, but don’t let the barriers block you from moving forward. When we started, we pivoted on the idea several times, and have had growth challenges in people management and customer acquisition. We’re determined to win and, more importantly, we’re obsessed with delivering value to our customers. We are overwhelmed and grateful for the trust game developers have shown in Zigantic.
(Dolly Photo) Things are moving at . The Seattle startup just raised $7.5 million, bringing its total funding to $20 million. The fresh cash will help the company expand its peer-to-peer moving app internationally. Like other gig economy startups, Dolly provides an app that connects people in need of services with other people willing to sell them. In Dolly’s case, individuals and businesses who need help moving stuff can find movers with the necessary trucks and equipment. , a new Seattle firm, led Dolly’s latest investment round. Unlock co-founder Andy Liu will join Dolly’s board as part of the deal. Original Dolly investors also participated, including Maveron and Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke. “Industry data shows that people are tired of the same old unpredictable and expensive delivery services,” Liu said in a statement. “So-called last-mile delivery is in desperate need of an upgrade, and Dolly is in a great position to lead this space.” Dolly has thousands of vetted independent contractors on its platform available to accept requests from customers who need something moved. Dolly’s “Helpers” can make $30 or more per hour if they have a truck and can lift more than 75 pounds. Dolly’s prices vary on the number and type of items being moved, the number of movers needed, the distance between pickup and drop off, and the service level. After launching in 2014, Dolly is now operating in 11 U.S. cities. The company in September that it was producing more than $1 million in revenue per month with more than 100,000 customers. Dolly’s future in its hometown, Seattle, has been uncertain for the past few months because of an with state regulators. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission ordered Dolly to cease operations in March 2018, ruling that the company was a “household goods carrier,” operating without the proper license and requirements. But the WUTC and Dolly seem to have found a path forward. “We are currently working with the WUTC to comply with their order and how best to re-apply for a household goods moving permit,” said Kevin Shawver, Dolly’s director of marketing. Dolly is currently available in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. The company plans to use the new funding to expand to additional cities in the U.S. and abroad. The moving services industry is estimated to be worth $12.6 billion, to the American Moving & Storage Association.
(Dolly Photo) Things are moving at . The Seattle startup just raised $7.5 million, bringing its total funding to $20 million. The fresh cash will help the company expand its peer-to-peer moving app internationally. Like other gig economy startups, Dolly provides an app that connects people in need of services with other people willing to sell them. In Dolly’s case, individuals and businesses who need help moving stuff can find movers with the necessary trucks and equipment. , a new Seattle firm, led Dolly’s latest investment round. Unlock co-founder Andy Liu will join Dolly’s board as part of the deal. Original Dolly investors also participated, including Maven Ventures and Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke. “Industry data shows that people are tired of the same old unpredictable and expensive delivery services,” Liu said in a statement. “So-called last-mile delivery is in desperate need of an upgrade, and Dolly is in a great position to lead this space.” Dolly has thousands of vetted independent contractors on its platform available to accept requests from customers who need something moved. Dolly’s “Helpers” can make $30 or more per hour if they have a truck and can lift more than 75 pounds. Dolly’s prices vary on the number and type of items being moved, the number of movers needed, the distance between pickup and drop off, and the service level. After launching in 2014, Dolly is now operating in 11 U.S. cities. The company in September that it was producing more than $1 million in revenue per month with more than 100,000 customers. Dolly’s future in its hometown, Seattle, has been uncertain for the past few months because of an with state regulators. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission ordered Dolly to cease operations in March 2018, ruling that the company was a “household goods carrier,” operating without the proper license and requirements. But the WUTC and Dolly seem to have found a path forward. “We are currently working with the WUTC to comply with their order and how best to re-apply for a household goods moving permit,” said Kevin Shawver, Dolly’s director of marketing. Dolly is currently available in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. The company plans to use the new funding to expand to additional cities in the U.S. and abroad. The moving services industry is estimated to be worth $12.6 billion, to the American Moving & Storage Association.
The TerraClear team poses with the farmland rock picker that is part of what they’ve been developing. Founder and CEO Brent Frei is second from right in second row. (TerraClear Photo) TerraClear’s bid to upend the farming industry by using advanced technology to help farmers clear rocks from fields is producing a reliable crop — cash. The startup just closed a $6.1 million funding round led by Madrona Venture Group to bring its total capital raised to more than $13 million since launching in December 2017. Based in Bellevue, Wash, and in the farming community of Grangeville, Idaho, TerraClear was founded by Brent Frei, the former CEO of Onyx Software who co-founded Smartsheet in 2005. Born out of a desire to take the heavy lifting out of vital farm work and prevent damage to expensive machinery, Frei’s team and technology have been growing steadily. TerraClear will add Madrona Managing Director Matt McIlwain to its board of directors and has just hired Trevor Thompson, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar, as president. The new funds will help to accelerate hiring, product development and testing as the company brings more automation to the $5 trillion global agriculture industry. PREVIOUSLY: McIlwain was the first venture investor in Smartsheet, the publicly-traded software company that helps automate key work processes. “The value that he and the team at Madrona brought to Smartsheet was significant,” Frei said. “He had exceptionally good advice along the way, he was very good at mentoring the leadership and our strategy. So in a lot of ways when he said he was interested in being on [TerraClear’s] board, I felt honored. We’re still at a very small stage right now relative to the things he’s involved in. To get his focus on this, there’s just nothing but upside.” For his part, McIlwain called Frei a “visionary leader” and said the TerraClear team is drawing on their “deep understanding of both the life and work of a farmer as well as expertise with robotics and software-enabled machine learning to change how fields are cleared and planted.” TerraClear’s Dwight McMaster addresses a group of farmers in Grangeville, Idaho, during a demonstration of the company’s rock-picking machinery. (TerraClear Photo) With 15 employees now and positions currently open, Frei said he wouldn’t be surprised if the team is double the size at this time next year. The company formally opened a fully outfitted lab and test facility this spring in Grangeville, a town of 3,000 where Frei grew up and where his family still farms. Earlier this month they hosted a field day and invited a dozen farmers from the biggest and most advanced farms in the area and showed them end to end how TerraClear works. Fields are surveyed by drones, rocks are classified and localized by a neural network, rock size and location data is mapped, and finally the heavy lifting is done by automated machinery. “It was fantastic. It exceeded all of my expectations,” Frei said of the show and tell. “Both from the candidness of the input and the things that we learned all the way to the interest and the financial potential of the product and the business.” (TerraClear Graphic) Farmers can be a stubborn lot, a characteristic perhaps born out of having to locate and lift heavy rocks out of their fields by hand over generations. Finally showing those who have been relying on inferior processes that the tables have potentially been turned was eye opening for the farmers and Frei. “One of the farmers there, who I have a lot of respect for, when he first came in he said, ‘I’m interested in seeing what you’ve got, but we’ve got a process in place and we don’t really need anything, but I’m perfectly happy to give you advice.’ As we went through the process his opinion didn’t change much until ultimately he saw the thing working and he said, ‘Yeah, we probably need this.’ “That admission all by itself was a real checkmark in the box of ‘this has got legs,'” Frei added. “Because when you’ve got some of the more advanced farmers who have really worked on automating the expensive and mundane and routine processes and they’re looking at this going, ‘I could save a lot of time and money doing this’ … that’s meaningful.” Brent Frei holds a “field day” with farmers in Grangeville, Idaho, where TerraClear has established a production and test facility. (TerraClear Photo) With ready access to many thousands of acres of farmland around Grangeville, TerraClear plans to be all about testing this summer, with hundreds of hours in the field planned. The picker is mounted on either a human-driven piece of machinery, like a front-end loader, or could eventually be attached to an autonomous vehicle. If TerraClear’s engineers can collect and analyze data and innovate and iterate on the picker prototype quickly enough, the hope is to put a beta product in the hands of farmers next year and learn from real customers. “Right now it’s just making sure that that thing grabbing the rocks is as foolproof as possible,” Frei said. “The market is huge and we’re laser-focused on building exactly what farmers need to make their lives easier.”