September 22, 2019 News Magazine

Category: Startups


Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service

September 21, 2019

September 21, 2019

As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed. The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement: “We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said. Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on thei..

Startups Weekly: Upfront Ventures bets on a bus service

September 21, 2019

September 21, 2019

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy news pertaining to startups and venture capital. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I profiled an e-commerce startup Part & Parcel. Before that, I wrote about Stripe’s grand plans. Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here. Startup Spotlight: Landline Some startups build space ships that will one day send us all to Mars, others put their time and energy into improving 350 year old infrastructure. Landline, the operator of a bus network in the Midwest, is one of the latest companies to raise venture capital. The business has closed a $3.85 million round led by Los Angeles firm Upfront Ventures, with participation from Mucker Capital and Matchstick Ventures. The company is actually based out of LA, too, but has ..

How Kobalt is betting on music’s middle class and DIY stars

September 20, 2019

September 20, 2019

Streaming services have made music ubiquitous, driving more exploration by consumers who don’t have to pay for each song or album individually. Musicians are correspondingly able to find their own niche of fans scattered around the world. (This is the third installment of our EC-1 series on Kobalt Music Group and changes in the music industry. Read Part I and Part II.) As Spotify gained rapid adoption in his native Sweden in 2006, Kobalt’s founder & CEO Willard Ahdritz predicted music streaming and the rise of social media would increasingly undercut the gatekeeping power of the major label groups and realign the market to center more on a vast landscape of niche musicians than a handful of traditional superstars. Both of these predictions have proven directionally true. The question is to what extent and how are industry players actually realigning as a result? What musicians need in addition to the administrative collection of their royalties (explained in Part II) is a menu of c..

At TechCrunch Disrupt, insights into key trends in venture capital

September 20, 2019

September 20, 2019

At TechCrunch Disrupt, the original tech startup conference, venture capitalists remain amongst the premier guests. VCs are responsible for helping startups — the focus of the three-day event — get off the ground and as such, they are often the most familiar with trends in the startup ecosystem, ready to deliver insights, anecdotes and advice to our audience of entrepreneurs, investors, operators, managers and more. In the first half of 2019, VCs spent $66 billion purchasing equity in promising upstarts, according to the latest data from PitchBook. At that pace, VC spending could surpass $100 billion for the second year in a row. We plan to welcome a slew of investors to TechCrunch Disrupt to discuss this major feat and the investing trends that have paved the way for recording funding. Mega-funds and the promise of unicorn initial public offerings continue to drive investment. SoftBank, of course, began raising its second Vision Fund this year, a vehicle expected to exceed $100 bil..

Lookiero closes $19M led by MMC Ventures to be the Stitch Fix for Europe

September 20, 2019

September 20, 2019

Lookiero, the online personal shopping service for clothes and accessories, has closed a $19 million funding round led by London-based VC MMC Ventures with support from existing investor All Iron Ventures, and new investors Bonsai Partners, 10x and Santander Smart. The company will use the backing to expand in its main markets of Spain, France and the UK. In June last year it closed a funding round of €4 million led by All Iron Ventures. The startup applies algorithms to a database of personal stylists and customer profiles to thus provide a personalized online shopping experience to its customers. It then delivers a selection of five pieces of clothing or accessories curated by a personal shopper to fit the customer’s individual size, style, and preferences. Customers then decide which items to keep or return (at no additional cost), allowing Lookiero to learn more about the customer’s tase before starting the whole process again. By generating look-a-like profiles and analyzing pre..

Vianai emerges with $50M seed and a mission to simplify machine learning tech

September 20, 2019

September 20, 2019

You don’t see a startup get a $50 million seed round all that often, but such was the case with Vianai, an early-stage startup launched by Vishal Sikka, former Infosys managing director and SAP executive. The company launched recently with a big check and a vision to transform machine learning. Just this week, the startup had a coming out party at Oracle Open World, where Sikka delivered one of the keynotes and demoed the product for attendees. Over the last couple of years, since he left Infosys, Sikka has been thinking about the impact of AI and machine learning on society and the way it is being delivered today. He didn’t much like what he saw. It’s worth noting that Sikka got his PhD from Stanford with a specialty in AI in 1996, so this isn’t something that’s new to him. What’s changed, as he points out, is the growing compute power and increasing amounts of data, all fueling the current AI push inside business. What he saw when he began exploring how companies are implementing A..

Alchemist Accelerator is launching a European program

September 20, 2019

September 20, 2019

Enterprise-focused startup accelerator Alchemist is expanding its footprint this morning with the launch of an initiative focused on European startups. While Alchemist was happy to accept European companies into their U.S. program before — they tell me they’ve had about 25 European startups go through Alchemist already — it hasn’t been a focus. With the aptly named Alchemist Europe, Alchemist will be opening an office in Munich and bringing in its first Europe-focused cohort. Alchemist expects this first class of companies to debut with its first Europe Demo Day sometime in early 2020. Like Alchemist U.S., Alchemist Europe will focus on enterprise companies and teams that make their money from corporations. More specifically, Alchemist says in its announcement of the program that the European base will specialize in “Industry 4.0, robotics, mobility, power generation and distribution, industrial artificial intelligence and virtual reality.” Ethan Prater, formerly the VP of Product ..

Clutter acquires The Storage Fox for $152M to add self-storage to its on-demand platform

September 20, 2019

September 20, 2019

The world of on-demand storage has seen some ups and downs, with some of the biggest hopefuls pivoting into new areas, some as unrelated as cryptocurrency, in the search for better product-market fit. One that found its groove early on, however, is today announcing an acquisition to expand its existing business into a new market category. Clutter, the on-demand removals and storage company backed by SoftBank, is today announcing that it has acquired The Storage Fox, a startup that will spearhead Clutter’s expansion in to self-storage services in urban locations, starting first in the New York metro area where The Storage Fox is currently active. The deal is valued at $152 million, Clutter said. Ari Mir, Clutter’s co-founder and CEO, added in an interview that Clutter did not need to raise any extra funding to finance this acquisition, but said his company is likely to be taking on more financing in the future for growth. To date, Clutter has raised $310 million, according to PitchBoo..

The cult of the founder and Silicon Valley’s lack of moral authority

September 20, 2019

September 20, 2019

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week Kate and Alex were back at TechCrunch’s San Francisco headquarters to chat the news with Kleiner Perkin’s Mamoon Hamid. Hamid is best known as a former member of the Social Capital team, and for driving generational change at Kleiner Perkins, a decades-old venture capital firm. While we were prepping our notes, Airbnb announced that it is indeed going public next year. The firm’s terse statement launched 1,000 blog posts (here is one, here is another), while instigating a few jokes. After all, the IPO market is hot now. Saying that you are going to try your best to get out next year isn’t incredibly impressive from a firm with as many billions as Airbnb is today. It’s also not at all surprising. Still, it’s a near-promise. And that means eventually we’ll get to see what the popular home-sharing and accommodations company spends all its gross mar..

Subscription email app Tempo hits the right minimalist notes

September 19, 2019

September 19, 2019

Email will likely never die, but if new apps can change how we think about using it, maybe it will feel like the worst parts have croaked. In the wake of popular apps like Inbox and Mailbox being sunsetted, like many, I’ve been left rudderless trying to find an email client that fills the void. I’ve been experimenting with so-called premium email clients for a while, and a tiny team in Copenhagen has built what has become my favorite as of late. Tempo is an email app — currently in free beta — that tries to minimize distractions while helping you be more deliberate and less obsessive about email. “We believe that we can provide something better for email, but you can’t be everything for everybody,” co-founder Sebastian Stockmarr told TechCrunch in an interview. “I think we’re ready for this fragmentation of the market where we can actually have these niche products, but then they’re still for the most widely used technology for communication.” It’s Mac-only for Gmail users at the ..