Seattle Children’s spin-out MDMetrix raises $3M to unlock data from medical records

Seattle Children’s spin-out MDMetrix raises $3M to unlock data from medical records

11:24am, 14th May, 2019
(MDMetrix Photo) Imagine knowing that all the data you need to do your job better was locked in a system that you couldn’t access. That’s the frustrating reality for many healthcare workers who aren’t able to extract useful data from their hospital’s electronic medical records systems. Seattle startup just landed $3 million to make medical records more useful with a product that lets caregivers ask data-driven questions about their patients. Warren Ratliff. (Warren Ratliff Photo) The seed round was led by Founders’ Co-op along with investors Arnold Venture Group and WRF Capital. , CEO at MDMetrix, said the company plans to use the money to speed up its plans and apply artificial intelligence to help clinicians filter out “the signal from the noise” of patient data. The idea behind MDMetrix is to give healthcare workers the ability to track improvements over time. “We give clinicians visibility they’ve never had before into what’s going on. They’re able to ask questions on the fly. They’re able to really manage clinical operations in a continuously improving way,” said Ratliff. The company, which has raised more than $4 million to date, was started in 2016 by , an anesthesiologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. It employs around a dozen full-time and contract staff. Seattle Children’s uses MDMetrix at its main campus hospital and surgery center, but the company declined to talk about its other customers. Dr. Dan Low, an anesthesiologist and co-founder of MDMetrix. (GeekWire Photo / Clare McGrane) Electronic health records are a popular punching bag. They’ve been blamed for everything from among doctors to . “Something’s gone terribly wrong. Doctors are among the most technology-avid people in society; computerization has simplified tasks in many industries. Yet somehow we’ve reached a point where people in the medical profession actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers,” wrote Haven CEO Atul Gawande last fall. Haven is a healthcare joint venture between Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway. Ratliff says the frustration doesn’t just come from the countless hours spent clicking around poorly-designed interfaces. Doctors are also fed up with not being able to use data from the health record to answer questions. Ratliff joined the company last August. He was previously co-founder and COO of Caradigm, a healthcare joint venture between GE Healthcare and Microsoft. MDMetrix essentially tries to make it as easy as possible for a licensed practitioner to find answers to basic questions related to patient care. Ratliff said the interface was designed to be as easy to use as the Airbnb app. The platform also brings together key metrics into a control center for leaders and staff to monitor. The idea is to avoid a situation in which important questions go unasked and unanswered. With more useful data, clinicians can more easily establish best practices. Ratliff contrasts the situation facing medical professionals with that of a chief financial officer, who has tools to easily see high-level profit-and-loss statements as well as granular expenses. “In medicine, we’ve tolerated a system where clinicians don’t have the visibility you would expect in any other kind of industry or business,” Ratliff said. “Imagine trying to run a complex financial organization with a spreadsheet. There are just better ways of doing that.”
When LinkedIn isn’t enough: Ex-Microsoft leaders raise $6M for recruiting startup SeekOut

When LinkedIn isn’t enough: Ex-Microsoft leaders raise $6M for recruiting startup SeekOut

10:22am, 14th May, 2019
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.”
Seattle startup TomboyX raises $18M to further develop its underwear brand for all body types

Seattle startup TomboyX raises $18M to further develop its underwear brand for all body types

1:04am, 14th May, 2019
(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.
Women’s sexual health startup Joylux raises more cash, lands in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop store

Women’s sexual health startup Joylux raises more cash, lands in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop store

11:30am, 10th May, 2019
(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.
Seattle’s Joe Coffee is uniting indie coffee shops through tech to compete against Starbucks

Seattle’s Joe Coffee is uniting indie coffee shops through tech to compete against Starbucks

10:28am, 10th May, 2019
Joe Coffee’s co-founders, from left to right Nick Martin, Brenden Martin and Lenny Urbanowski: (Joe Coffee Photo) In Starbucks’ own backyard, a family-built startup has taken hold and assembled one of the largest networks of independent U.S. coffee shops. Launched in 2014, Seattle-based has created a platform that allows customers of local coffee shops to pre-order and pay for their drinks on mobile devices. The service also tracks purchase and rewards frequent caffeinators with free drinks, just like a paper punch cards do. The business has 300 independent coffee shop partners using its service, with 150 participants in Seattle. Last fall, Joe raised $1 million in its first round of funding, led by Flying Fish Partners. The idea for Joe was sparked by a road trip. More than four years ago, brothers and were driving from Eastern Washington to Seattle and made what should have been a quick pit stop for java. The two started talking about the long waits at coffee shops and drive-thrus and began percolating ideas for a solution, ultimately landing on the notion of a mobile ordering system. Take your pick of independent coffee shops through the Joe Coffee app (Joe Coffee Image) Between the two of them, they had experience in marketing, startups and product management. And as kids, they’d had front-row seats to entrepreneurship when their dad started a company in Central Washington building and selling lawn-and-garden storage sheds. They saw firsthand that “you have to pour your heart and soul into that thing to make it work,” Nick said. And even then, it isn’t always enough. After running his company for about 10 years, the national brand Tuff Shed squeezed out their dad’s local business. Not long after Joe got its start, Starbucks launched a pilot of its mobile ordering app. That made Joe’s product key not only to speeding up coffee purchases, but also to competing with international purveyors. A main driver for Joe’s founders is “empowering small businesses in the coffee space,” Nick said. To round out their team’s skill set, Brenden enrolled in a coding school so that he could lead the development of their minimal viable product (MVP). It was there that he met , who would become their third co-founder and chief technology officer. Joe’s business model charges a small “convenience fee” for consumers of 35 cents per transaction, and charges coffee shops an 8 percent fee on purchases made through its system. Some of that money is used to cover the cost of the rewards program for loyal coffee drinkers, essentially a buy-10-drinks-get-one-free sort of deal, which can be redeemed at any shop using the Joe platform. Coffee shops manage the Joe-enabled orders through a tablet provided by the startup. The eight-person company expects to triple in size in the near future and in August is moving to larger offices in Seattle. They have plans to expand into a second market soon, saying it will be another large, West Coast city. Competitors in the space include Cups, which has offices in Brooklyn and San Francisco, and Vancouver, B.C.-based JoJo. Growth is still challenging for Joe. Every coffee shop has a different menu, a different work and customer flow, a different physical setup. For the company to succeed, partnering businesses need to ensure that freshly-made drinks are ready to go as quickly and smoothly as possible for their customers. Despite that challenge, the Joe founders have venti-sized dreams. “Our goal,” said Nick, “is building a network that meets and beats what you can get at a Starbucks.” We caught up with Nick, who is Joe’s CEO; Brenden, software developer and product manager; and Urbanowski for this . Continue reading for their answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Joe is a mobile order and rewards app for local and independent coffee retailers that empowers them to compete with the “shop on every corner convenience” of national chains and allows coffee consumers to quickly and easily order directly from their phone. Joe Coffee CEO Nick Martin. (Joe Coffee Photo) Inspiration hit us when: Initially, it was while waiting in the drive-thru — a process that is designed for speed and efficiency that was clearly failing. When people pass up the experience they prefer for one that is more convenient, it hurts the relationships that our partners work so hard to cultivate. Ultimately, it also affects their bottom line. We started thinking about a way to level the playing field on convenience while enhancing the things that make local coffee so special to begin with. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’ve done all three now. We bootstrapped it ourselves in the beginning because we had to: cashing in 401Ks, putting expenses on credit cards, taking on multiple freelance jobs and driving for Lyft. We didn’t have access to the right network of people, but eventually, we did make the right connections. Our first round was a mix of angles and VC. Initially, we were targeting angels because we weren’t sure that VCs would be interested in us. As it turns out, they were. The feedback and guidance we’ve gotten from both Flying Fish and our angel investors have been invaluable to our development. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We have a significant lack of ego and a real focus on outcomes. We have an intense focus on doing whatever it takes to empower our partners and relying on data to create value around coffee-specific behavior on both sides of the transaction. We believe that our coffee-specific focus creates a comparative advantage that allows us to deliver higher value faster for partners and our users. The smartest move we’ve made so far: We started working closely with our partners to refine the experience. We needed to think beyond just the technical experience and more on providing real, tangible value to their customers. Through that learning, we’ve built a better experience for everyone in a way that fits seamlessly into our customers’ existing processes at a cost structure that equals in-person orders. Making an order through Joe Coffee (Joe Coffee Image) The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: The biggest mistake we’ve made is basically the inverse of our smartest move. We thought that if something didn’t scale right away, it wasn’t worth building from a product and process perspective. In the early phase, it’s more about learning than anything else. Once we took a step back and focused on learning about the unique needs of different segments of our audience, we could move faster and find a model that would scale. Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Nick: I have great respect for the leadership team from my time at Zillow. The way that and represented themselves as leaders — they were authentic and approachable. To me, you empower your team to move faster and take risks when they know you trust them and that everyone has a shared mission of moving the business forward. Brenden: I would love to spend time with the leadership team at . The way they’ve been able to scale in the food space, there’s a lot of things we can learn from them. Also, the Lyft team. They way they’ve gamified the experience is awesome. They know what makes a great end-user experience and they truly empower their partners and make them feel valued. Lenny: While at Microsoft I had the pleasure to work under (now chief product officer at Looker). He is truly one of the most inspirational engineering leaders I’ve ever encountered. He continuously fought to empower and elevate those who reported to him, and his example largely guides my management style today. Our favorite team-building activity is: Every Friday we do what we call an “unwinder.” We get a few cocktails and we debrief on the week as a team. We talk through what’s going on with partners and the end users. We try to bubble up as many insights as possible, and we talk about wins and opportunities. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We are looking for people who are ambitious, eager and want to stretch and contribute in big ways. We are still testing and learning, so we need people who are OK trying new things and can come with solutions. They also need to be able to speak their truth while also leaving their ego at the door. We have a culture of always speaking up, and assuming any criticism comes from a place of good intention. Ultimately, we all want to grow and improve so this has been critical to the quality of the Joe experience. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: First of all, startup life can be overly glorified — it’s not always as sexy as you might think. You go through serious ups and downs and some extremely challenging times so you have to believe in what you’re doing and be in it for the right reasons. To us, we couldn’t NOT work on Joe. We almost didn’t have a choice — that’s how hot the fire was burning to get it done and it’s taken every bit of that to get this far. Similarly, ideas are worthless without the right execution and as a startup, you’re already facing an uphill battle. Make execution and relentless improvement your core competencies. Lastly, spend time really developing your network. Regardless of the merit of your ideas, the right advisers can create an incredible amount of value in keeping you on track and connecting you to people and investors. For three founders from a working-class background, getting access to those networks was imperative.
Seattle’s Joe Coffee is uniting independent coffee shops with tech to compete against Starbucks

Seattle’s Joe Coffee is uniting independent coffee shops with tech to compete against Starbucks

8:33pm, 9th May, 2019
Joe Coffee’s co-founders, from left to right Nick Martin, Brenden Martin and Lenny Urbanowski: (Joe Coffee Photo) In Starbucks’ own backyard, a family-built startup has taken hold and assembled one of the largest networks of independent U.S. coffee shops. Launched in 2014, Seattle-based has created a platform that allows customers of local coffee shops to pre-order and pay for their drinks on mobile devices. The service also tracks purchase and rewards frequent caffeinators with free drinks, just like a paper punch cards do. The business has 300 independent coffee shop partners using its service, with 150 participants in Seattle. Last fall, Joe raised $1 million in its first round of funding, led by Flying Fish Partners. The idea for Joe was sparked by a road trip. More than four years ago, brothers and were driving from Eastern Washington to Seattle and made what should have been a quick pit stop for java. The two started talking about the long waits at coffee shops and drive-thrus and began percolating ideas for a solution, ultimately landing on the notion of a mobile ordering system. Take your pick of independent coffee shops through the Joe Coffee app (Joe Coffee Image) Between the two of them, they had experience in marketing, startups and product management. And as kids, they’d had front-row seats to entrepreneurship when their dad started a company in Central Washington building and selling lawn-and-garden storage sheds. They saw firsthand that “you have to pour your heart and soul into that thing to make it work,” Nick said. And even then, it isn’t always enough. After running his company for about 10 years, the national brand Tuff Shed squeezed out their dad’s local business. Not long after Joe got its start, Starbucks launched a pilot of its mobile ordering app. That made Joe’s product key not only to speeding up coffee purchases, but also to competing with international purveyors. A main driver for Joe’s founders is “empowering small businesses in the coffee space,” Nick said. To round out their team’s skill set, Brenden enrolled in a coding school so that he could lead the development of their minimal viable product (MVP). It was there that he met , who would become their third co-founder and chief technology officer. Joe’s business model charges a small “convenience fee” for consumers of 35 cents per transaction, and charges coffee shops an 8 percent fee on purchases made through its system. Some of that money is used to cover the cost of the rewards program for loyal coffee drinkers, essentially a buy-10-drinks-get-one-free sort of deal, which can be redeemed at any shop using the Joe platform. Coffee shops manage the Joe-enabled orders through a tablet provided by the startup. The eight-person company expects to triple in size in the near future and in August is moving to larger offices in Seattle. They have plans to expand into a second market soon, saying it will be another large, West Coast city. Competitors in the space include Cups, which has offices in Brooklyn and San Francisco, and Vancouver, B.C.-based JoJo. Growth is still challenging for Joe. Every coffee shop has a different menu, a different work and customer flow, a different physical setup. For the company to succeed, partnering businesses need to ensure that freshly-made drinks are ready to go as quickly and smoothly as possible for their customers. Despite that challenge, the Joe founders have venti-sized dreams. “Our goal,” said Nick, “is building a network that meets and beats what you can get at a Starbucks.” We caught up with Nick, who is Joe’s CEO; Brenden, software developer and product manager; and Urbanowski for this . Continue reading for their answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Joe is a mobile order and rewards app for local and independent coffee retailers that empowers them to compete with the “shop on every corner convenience” of national chains and allows coffee consumers to quickly and easily order directly from their phone. Joe Coffee CEO Nick Martin. (Joe Coffee Photo) Inspiration hit us when: Initially, it was while waiting in the drive-thru — a process that is designed for speed and efficiency that was clearly failing. When people pass up the experience they prefer for one that is more convenient, it hurts the relationships that our partners work so hard to cultivate. Ultimately, it also affects their bottom line. We started thinking about a way to level the playing field on convenience while enhancing the things that make local coffee so special to begin with. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’ve done all three now. We bootstrapped it ourselves in the beginning because we had to: cashing in 401Ks, putting expenses on credit cards, taking on multiple freelance jobs and driving for Lyft. We didn’t have access to the right network of people, but eventually, we did make the right connections. Our first round was a mix of angles and VC. Initially, we were targeting angels because we weren’t sure that VCs would be interested in us. As it turns out, they were. The feedback and guidance we’ve gotten from both Flying Fish and our angel investors have been invaluable to our development. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We have a significant lack of ego and a real focus on outcomes. We have an intense focus on doing whatever it takes to empower our partners and relying on data to create value around coffee-specific behavior on both sides of the transaction. We believe that our coffee-specific focus creates a comparative advantage that allows us to deliver higher value faster for partners and our users. The smartest move we’ve made so far: We started working closely with our partners to refine the experience. We needed to think beyond just the technical experience and more on providing real, tangible value to their customers. Through that learning, we’ve built a better experience for everyone in a way that fits seamlessly into our customers’ existing processes at a cost structure that equals in-person orders. Making an order through Joe Coffee (Joe Coffee Image) The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: The biggest mistake we’ve made is basically the inverse of our smartest move. We thought that if something didn’t scale right away, it wasn’t worth building from a product and process perspective. In the early phase, it’s more about learning than anything else. Once we took a step back and focused on learning about the unique needs of different segments of our audience, we could move faster and find a model that would scale. Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Nick: I have great respect for the leadership team from my time at Zillow. The way that and represented themselves as leaders — they were authentic and approachable. To me, you empower your team to move faster and take risks when they know you trust them and that everyone has a shared mission of moving the business forward. Brenden: I would love to spend time with the leadership team at . The way they’ve been able to scale in the food space, there’s a lot of things we can learn from them. Also, the Lyft team. They way they’ve gamified the experience is awesome. They know what makes a great end-user experience and they truly empower their partners and make them feel valued. Lenny: While at Microsoft I had the pleasure to work under (now chief product officer at Looker). He is truly one of the most inspirational engineering leaders I’ve ever encountered. He continuously fought to empower and elevate those who reported to him, and his example largely guides my management style today. Our favorite team-building activity is: Every Friday we do what we call an “unwinder.” We get a few cocktails and we debrief on the week as a team. We talk through what’s going on with partners and the end users. We try to bubble up as many insights as possible, and we talk about wins and opportunities. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We are looking for people who are ambitious, eager and want to stretch and contribute in big ways. We are still testing and learning, so we need people who are OK trying new things and can come with solutions. They also need to be able to speak their truth while also leaving their ego at the door. We have a culture of always speaking up, and assuming any criticism comes from a place of good intention. Ultimately, we all want to grow and improve so this has been critical to the quality of the Joe experience. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: First of all, startup life can be overly glorified — it’s not always as sexy as you might think. You go through serious ups and downs and some extremely challenging times so you have to believe in what you’re doing and be in it for the right reasons. To us, we couldn’t NOT work on Joe. We almost didn’t have a choice — that’s how hot the fire was burning to get it done and it’s taken every bit of that to get this far. Similarly, ideas are worthless without the right execution and as a startup, you’re already facing an uphill battle. Make execution and relentless improvement your core competencies. Lastly, spend time really developing your network. Regardless of the merit of your ideas, the right advisers can create an incredible amount of value in keeping you on track and connecting you to people and investors. For three founders from a working-class background, getting access to those networks was imperative.
The top 3 pitches from Techstars Seattle 2019 Demo Day

The top 3 pitches from Techstars Seattle 2019 Demo Day

1:04pm, 8th May, 2019
The tenth Techstars Seattle cohort gathers after Demo Day on Tuesday at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry. (GeekWire Photos / Taylor Soper) From Seattle to Miami, from blockchain to augmented reality — it was another round of polished pitches at the annual Techstars Demo Day in the Emerald City. Techstars Seattle held its 10th annual Demo Day Tuesday night as founders walked on stage and pitched to an audience of fellow entrepreneurs, investors, family, friends, and community members at the Museum of History and Industry. This cohort marked a milestone as the 10th class for Techstars Seattle, which has now graduated 110 companies to date. Alumni of the accelerator — 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. Techstars Seattle Managing Directors Aviel Ginzburg and Chris DeVore give opening remarks on Tuesday. Techstars provides $120,000 in funding in exchange for 6 percent common stock as part of the three-month accelerator, which is part of a larger Techstars network that spans across the globe and also features a Techstars venture capital fund and a . Techstars Seattle is based at Startup Hall at the University of Washington and shares space with the , a separate program co-led by Techstars and Amazon focused around voice technologies. Amy Nelson, CEO of Seattle-based startup The Riveter — which just won Startup of the Year at the — gave the keynote address before Tuesday’s pitches. She recounted her own startup journey, one that started when Nelson was a corporate lawyer and became pregnant. That’s when she learned how 43 percent of women with college degrees “offramp” after having kids. “To me, that meant the system was broken,” Nelson said. “We all knew it and yet we weren’t doing anything about it.” The Riveter CEO Amy Nelson. Nelson, now pregnant with her fourth child, decided to do something and helped launch The Riveter two years ago. The women-focused co-working space operator a $15 million investment round last year and recently opened its sixth location in Austin, with plans to reach 100 locations by 2022. “Starting a company is, as many of you know, incredibly hard and nearly impossible,” Nelson told the crowd on Tuesday. “There will be many days when it is easier to quit than to keep going. There will be many days when you feel like you can’t keep going. But the thing is, you have to believe in the biggest ideas and believe that you can pull it off — and you likely can, if you truly believe that and dig into it.” Read on to learn more about and see our favorite pitches of the evening. , who reflected on the longevity of Techstars Seattle and on how the Seattle tech scene has changed over the past decade. Tagline: “Growing machine learning teams from hiring to productivity” AdaptiLab co-founder James Wu. Why we liked the pitch: Hiring engineers is hard, and AdaptiLab wants to help. James Wu, co-founder, didn’t miss a beat with his pitch on Tuesday, showing how his startup helps reduce the amount of time and money hiring managers spend interviewing candidates for machine learning-related roles. Wu said companies can spend as much as $180,000 hiring a single machine learning engineer. AdaptiLab has built a technical screening platform that customers use to screen and interview potential new employees. The company applies its own machine learning technology to rank candidates and provide technical report cards. It has already racked up customers such as Pinterest, Zillow, and Remitly. AdaptiLab is similar to fellow Seattle startup Karat, , though AdaptiLab is focused on one specific type of role with machine learning jobs. That specialization could limit how quickly the company can grow, but Wu teased its vision for scale. “Our plan is to use our screening product to build a wedge into the machine learning talent market by solving for the biggest pain points and building industry trust and customer relationships along the way,” he said. ” “As machine learning demand continues to skyrocket, we will leverage relationships to expand to a technical diagnostic marketplace, where we will source, evaluate, and place candidates,” he said. “…We will use this flow of candidate and company data to begin to own the machine learning hiring pipeline and to expand into the even larger talent development market for machine learning with strategic partnerships and SaaS products.” Tagline: “Building your personal electronic memory bank” Kristalic co-founder Jos van der Westhuizen. Why we liked the pitch: Kristalic has a big vision. The San Francisco-based startup is building an AI-powered assistant designed to record your work-related conversations throughout a day and capture all the data in an easy-to-digest searchable format. The idea is to help workers remember important information they might have otherwise forgotten — for example, who agreed to what in last week’s meeting, or what changes did the customer request? Kristalic does not require additional software, using already available hardware such as AirPods or your smartphone to record voice conversations. “We’re giving our customers memory superpowers not available to ordinary humans,” said Kristalic co-founder Jos van der Westhuizen. Both he and his co-founder Filip Kozera earned a master’s degree and PhD in machine learning at Cambridge University — a validation for their expertise that van der Westhuizen called out at this beginning of his pitch. The entrepreneurs aim to ride a surge in voice-related technology and usage. One investor that voice tech will replace keyboards in five years. Tech giants such as Google are also . Kristalic has a huge idea that could very well fall flat. There are also some privacy implications that the company will need to address. But it was refreshing to hear such an ambitious pitch — these “big swings” are something the Seattle startup scene could probably use more of, albeit from a Bay Area-based startup. Tagline: “Web3 made easy” Nodesmith CEO Brendan Lee. Why we liked the pitch: Even though big companies such as are building blockchain-related services along with a flurry of other , the jury’s still out on how important the technology will actually become. “Some of the skepticism is valid,” said Nodesmith CEO Brendan Lee. “Adoption hasn’t exactly been explosive. One of the core reasons for this is the lack of mature infrastructure and tooling that’s available for developers.” That’s where Nodesmith comes in. The Seattle startup provides access to blockchain networks and a suite of services that allow developers to easily build user-friendly applications. It provides the “picks and shovels” for blockchain developers, bringing a “much-needed professional polish to the wild west world of blockchain,” as Lee described. In his convincing pitch, Lee said building a blockchain app today is like building a traditional web app without the support of tools such as AWS, Auth0, or New Relic. It’s unclear how many customers Nodesmith has, and there’s the larger question of blockchain adoption. But investors oftentimes bet on people, and Lee and his co-founder Samm Desmond certainly have the necessary chops to fulfill their vision as they previously spent four years at Tableau building developer platforms. They’ve also been building on blockchain networks since 2016.
Led by F5 founder, Seattle cybersecurity startup Tempered Networks raises $17M

Led by F5 founder, Seattle cybersecurity startup Tempered Networks raises $17M

12:33pm, 8th May, 2019
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.
Fast-growing sales tech startup Highspot leases big Seattle waterfront office with room for 800 people

Fast-growing sales tech startup Highspot leases big Seattle waterfront office with room for 800 people

5:59pm, 7th May, 2019
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.
Seattle travel planning startup Utrip will shut down after critical deal falls through

Seattle travel planning startup Utrip will shut down after critical deal falls through

4:57pm, 7th May, 2019
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,
‘Airbnb for warehousing’ startup Flexe raises $43M to help online retailers take on Amazon

‘Airbnb for warehousing’ startup Flexe raises $43M to help online retailers take on Amazon

9:12am, 7th May, 2019
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.”
Real estate startup Loftium pivots to rentals, stops offering down payments for share of Airbnb profits

Real estate startup Loftium pivots to rentals, stops offering down payments for share of Airbnb profits

9:30am, 6th May, 2019
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.”
GeekWire Calendar Picks: Mother’s Day tech events; celebrating Seattle’s creativity; and more

GeekWire Calendar Picks: Mother’s Day tech events; celebrating Seattle’s creativity; and more

4:32pm, 3rd May, 2019
– The dilemma of raising kids as a working mother arose when women entered the workforce en masse in the mid-1900s. A from Edison Research published in 2018 shows most moms still shoulder the majority of parenting responsibilities — whether they work or not. So how are some working moms handling those challenges? In celebration of Mother’s Day, Code Fellows is hosting the panel on May 9. The panel will feature a variety of moms who work in the tech sector talking about the challenges they’ve faced and the victories they won throughout their careers. – Also in celebration of Mother’s Day, Democracy Lab is hosting on May 11. This hackathon is open to the public and teams will be comprised not just of developers, but of professionals in other fields such as research and project management. The projects encompass a variety of community-driven missions from environmental issues to government transparency to reducing school violence. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: A presentation about how to enter the software engineering field without a traditional computer science degree at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m., Friday, May 10. : A talk about new applications of mathematics in a variety of fields at Kane Hall at the University of Washington in Seattle; 4:30 to 6 p.m. Friday, May 10. : A tour through the South Lake Union neighborhood focused on some of the changes in the area as a result of tech companies moving in, starting at Triangle Park in Seattle; 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday, May 11. A panel about how Seattle’s creativity is having an impact not only in the city but also other places in the world, at The World Trade Center Seattle; 7 to 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, May 14. : An event where entrepreneurs can get feedback on their pitches at The Riveter in Seattle; 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 14. : An informal networking event at The University of Washington in Seattle; 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 14. : An event connecting entrepreneurs with angel investors at the Intellectual House in the University of Washington in Seattle; 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 15. : A panel comprised of venture capitalists and financial and legal consultants at OnePiece HQ in Seattle; 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 15. For more upcoming events, check out the , where you can find meetups, conferences, startup events, and geeky gatherings in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Organizing an event? .
At home on the road: Stay Alfred loaded a party bus to bring its Spokane startup energy to Seattle

At home on the road: Stay Alfred loaded a party bus to bring its Spokane startup energy to Seattle

1:57pm, 3rd May, 2019
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.”
Seattle startup EnergySavvy acquired by utility software firm Tendril

Seattle startup EnergySavvy acquired by utility software firm Tendril

12:55pm, 3rd May, 2019
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.
Seattle startup Spruce Up raises $3M for AI-powered home shopping platform

Seattle startup Spruce Up raises $3M for AI-powered home shopping platform

7:24pm, 2nd May, 2019
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.
Teenage founders aim to capitalize on an untapped labor pool with video game testing startup Zigantic

Teenage founders aim to capitalize on an untapped labor pool with video game testing startup Zigantic

6:22pm, 2nd May, 2019
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.
Peer-to-peer on-demand moving startup Dolly raises $7.5M to expand across the U.S. and globe

Peer-to-peer on-demand moving startup Dolly raises $7.5M to expand across the U.S. and globe

12:12pm, 2nd May, 2019
(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.
Peer-to-peer on-demand moving startup Dolly raises $7.5M to expand internationally

Peer-to-peer on-demand moving startup Dolly raises $7.5M to expand internationally

2:26am, 2nd May, 2019
(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.
Madrona expands geographic reach and targets later-stage deals with $100M ‘acceleration fund’

Madrona expands geographic reach and targets later-stage deals with $100M ‘acceleration fund’

2:36pm, 1st May, 2019
Madrona managing directors, from left to right: Tom Alberg, S. “Soma” Somasegar, Scott Jacobson, Matt McIlwain, Tim Porter, Hope Cochran, and Len Jordan. (Paul Goodrich is Madrona’s other managing director) (Madrona Photo) Call it the “ones we missed” fund. has raised $100 million for what it calls an “acceleration fund.” The Seattle firm, which has focused on early-stage deals across the Pacific Northwest throughout its 24-year history, will target later-stage companies based across the country with the new investing vehicle. But it is also targeting deals in its Seattle backyard that slipped through the cracks. Madrona is one of Seattle’s most successful early-stage startup investors — with recent successes such as Apptio, Smartsheet and Redfin under its belt. But even so, Madrona’s Matt McIlwain admits that the firm missed some opportunities, pointing to fast-growing Seattle startups such as Outreach, Auth0, Icertis, and Textio. “It’s fair to say that there are some great Seattle companies that we didn’t get right early on,” McIlwain said. The new fund frees up Madrona to participate in later rounds for more mature companies both in and out of the Pacific Northwest. Madrona began thinking about this new strategy last fall, just after it $300 million for its seventh fund. The venture capital firm had dabbled with later-stage deals, investing in more established companies based outside of Seattle such as , Tigera, and over the past few years. Matt McIlwain. (Madrona Photo) “We’ve done some of those, but very selectively,” McIlwain told GeekWire. “We wanted to have a dedicated fund and a dedicated focus on that acceleration stage.” He described that stage as when a company has already found product market fit and is “really starting to accelerate the growth of the business.” Best known as an early-stage investor — including an insightful gamble on Amazon in the 1990s by partner Tom Alberg — the acceleration fund represents a new strategy for the firm. But it is one that other firms have experimented with, though the approach of investing across stages of company formation has not always worked in the topsy turvy world of venture capital. (Madrona Image) Madrona will be “super selective” with the acceleration fund, with plans to make six-to-nine investments over a three-year span, McIlwain said. The average check size will range from $7 to $10 million. If all goes to plan, Madrona could raise another acceleration fund when it starts planning for its eighth traditional “core fund.” Madrona’s existing investors provided the capital for the acceleration fund. The firm remains committed to making early-stage investments in Pacific Northwest startups via its traditional fund. Madrona prides itself on planting seeds in companies from “Day 1” and sticking with them throughout a journey to acquisition or an IPO — Smartsheet, Impinj, and Redfin are examples of those investments. “We love our core strategy,” McIlwain said. “Nothing is changing there.” In fact, cash from the acceleration fund could very well go toward additional Seattle companies. “We are more committed to this region than ever,” McIlwain said. He noted Madrona’s partnerships with organizations including Techstars Seattle and the University of Washington, and said the firm’s new founder center, , has been “incredibly successful.” Madrona employs 30 people at the firm and has been bulking up its lineup, adding and over the past year. The same team will be working with both funds — this could help Madrona avoid issues that plagued Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which dealt with internal rifts after establishing a “growth” fund in 2010 to compliment its early-stage fund. “Our approach is very different,” McIlwain said when asked about last month’s Kleiner Perkins story in . “A unified team, unified process and consistent fund economics across the firm along with our collaborative approach will allow us to bring the full Madrona team’s value-add to all our companies across all our funds.” A staircase connects Madrona Venture Group’s existing office to Create33, a new founder center that aims to be an epicenter for Seattle startups. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Madrona is facing increased competition from Silicon Valley firms that are . Recent investors in later stage rounds for companies such as Outreach and Auth0 include Mayfield, Spark Capital, Trinity Ventures, and Meritech Capital. McIlwain said he welcomes the new entrants in the Seattle market. “It is great for the Seattle ecosystem to have more investors partnering with great entrepreneurs and investors like Madrona to build global-leading companies,” he said. Madrona has proven its ability to back nascent startups that become huge companies. Its track record for investing in later-stage companies for the first time, especially those outside of its backyard, is not as clear. The firm hopes to use its hometown as an advantage. “And, we believe, it is essential to have the ‘Seattle Perspective’ as part of your team to accelerate growth and maximize long-term value,” it wrote in a blog post today. McIlwain said that perspective includes proximity to homegrown companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, and the cutting-edge technologies being developed across the city in industries such as cloud computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Madrona believes it can make a difference for companies not familiar with the Seattle tech scene. “It’s the access to the insights from those domains; access to the innovators both in small and big companies we’ve had the opportunity to work with; and this whole area of a cultural approach that really values taking a trust-based, long-term style to company building,” McIlwain said. In addition to Create 33, other Madrona-related initiatives include , the “startup studio” backed by Madrona. Recent investments made by the firm include deals backing Igneous, Ovation, Knock, Polly, Pro.com, and Clusterone.