– 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? .
The Stay Alfred team didn’t win in the Next Tech Titan category at the GeekWire Awards, but they were happy to take the stage afterward at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Twenty-six people loaded onto a party bus that left Spokane, Wash., at 10 a.m. on Wednesday with three cases of beer and a professional driver. The destination? Seattle, and the . The team from , a Spokane-based startup transforming the hospitality business, wasn’t just hard to miss Thursday night because they were all wearing matching and quintessentially Northwest flannel shirts. They were also wearing ear-to-ear grins as if they were crashing a big-city party. “This is a big deal for us,” said Jordan Allen, founder and CEO of the 8-year-old company. “For some of the other folks here, maybe they’ve done this before, but for a Spokane company to be invited to this, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to join the likes of some of the companies that are here. So we are thrilled.” Stay Alfred, No. 48 on the index of Pacific Northwest startups, certainly earned its place at the event and as a nominee in the Next Tech Titan category, which was ultimately won by pet-sitting juggernaut Rover. The company, which operates upscale apartments for travelers in prime downtown locations, has been “growing like wildfire,” according to Allen, raising $62 million to date and expanding to 32 cities across the U.S. They have their sights set on Europe, next. On the bus ride over to Seattle, the day before the Awards, Allen shared a selfie of his team, beers in hand, as they made the 5-hour trek west across Washington. Stay Alfred CEO Jordan Allen and his team on a bus traveling from Spokane, Wash., to Seattle this week for the GeekWire Awards. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Allen) The bus journey fell on Steve Helmbrecht’s first day on the job, as Stay Alfred’s new president. After joining from a private investment company, he knew the trip would be part of his initial experience with the startup, and he was looking forward to it. “During [the drive] Jordan and I made two investment banking calls and then I had a couple of beers before noon with the crew,” Helmbrecht told GeekWire at the Museum of Pop Culture, site of Thursday’s Awards. “It was great. I already love it.” Helmbrecht said that Stay Alfred had a board meeting in Seattle during the day and then geared up for the big event later on. “What I really like about it is not only did Jordan bring over the executive team, he brought the five longest serving members of the company to come over, including employee No. 1,” Helmbrecht said. “They get to share this tonight. We’re honored to just be even nominated. We feel really good about it.” Stay Alfred employees arrive at MoPOP and walk the pink carpet. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Stay Alfred leases hundreds of apartments and condos to short-term travelers in its bid to get ahead of the likes of Airbnb. Allen believes tourists and business travelers have outgrown that 10-year-old company and now, with families in tow, are looking for a consistent guest experience that still comes with a unique, boutique-hotel-style setting. Part of its plan is to take over entire floors or buildings so as to control guest amenities. “We’re really forming an army of people that are excited about changing what the future of hospitality looks like and multifamily real estate,” Allen said. In Seattle, Stay Alfred and the team took advantage of that this week, which Allen said illustrates just what their mission is. “We had a pre-funk in one of the buildings,” he said. “That’s why our model exists — 10 people in the living room having a great time, we’re able to hang out versus being scattered across 10 hotel rooms. And it was just super cool, to have beer in the fridge and have appetizers out for all the employees and stuff. It was awesome.” A Stay Alfred property on First Avenue in downtown Seattle offers guests access to this swimming pool. (Stay Alfred Photo) With 1,000 people in attendance at the Awards, from some of the most successful, innovative and fastest growing companies in the Seattle area, the flannel-clad Stay Alfred team mixed and mingled and perhaps tried to do a little recruiting for anyone who might want to jump ship and head to the other side of the state. Allen’s pitch was pretty impressive. “We’re a big deal in Spokane, we’re a big fish in a small pond,” he said. “If we were in Seattle maybe we’d be the 20th coolest company. But it has a lot of advantages because we can get to recruit the best of the best in Spokane. There’s close to a million people in the overall metropolitan area, so there’s a lot of really talented people there. “Spokane is the greatest place to live, especially once you have a family and kids,” Allen added. “You can buy a really, really nice house for what you can buy a parking space in Seattle for. It’s a 37-minute flight back and forth, and it’s really cheap to do. If you’re into the outdoors, there’s 10 ski mountains and 75 lakes within an hour, so it’s a pretty attractive place to live.” As good as he made Spokane sound for the business he has been building, and for the team he bused over with, Allen was clearly feeding off the Seattle energy Thursday night as he made his way around MoPOP. “I really can’t say enough, for our team to be able to come over here … we don’t have events like this in Spokane for the startup community,” he said. “Everybody’s so damn excited they can’t even see straight.”
EnergySavvy co-founder and CEO Aaron Goldfeder (left) and COO Scott Case. (EnergySavvy photo) Seattle-based EnergySavvy has been acquired by Tendril, a Boulder, Colo. firm that provides software and analytics to electric and gas utilities. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. EnergySavvy’s team of more than 60 employees will not relocate under the acquisition. The company has offices in Seattle and Boston. EnergySavvy is an 11-year-old startup with a suite of products that help utilities manage their relationships with customers. Aaron Goldfeder left a role at Microsoft to co-found the company in 2008. In 2016, EnergySavvy , bringing its total funding to $30 million. At the time, EnergySavvy had about 40 utility customers, including Seattle City Light, Minnesota Energy Resources, New Mexico Gas Company, and others. Using EnergySavvy, utilities can provide personalized electricity plans for customers, accounting for changes in the industry like the growing popularity of rooftop solar panels. “Teaming up with Tendril creates a platform that unites all residential utility customer data, analytics and insights in one place,” Goldfeder said in a statement. Prior to the acquisition, EnergySavvy was ranked No. 110 on the , our index of top Pacific Northwest startups.
Spruce Up CEO Mia Lewin. (Spruce Up Photo) has some new spending money. The high-tech home shopping startup just closed a $3 million seed round, bringing its total funding to $4.5 million. New York investment firm Two Sigma Ventures led the round. Other investors include Madrona Venture Group, Female Founders Fund, Alumni Ventures Group, and Peterson Ventures. Spruce Up uses artificial intelligence to recommend home products from a catalog of more than 25,000 items curated by home stylists. Shoppers fill out an interactive quiz to gauge their taste and then receive curated suggestions from designers. “With this seed round, we are doubling down on AI powering every aspect of our product and operations,” Spruce Up CEO Mia Lewin said in a statement. The new funding will also help Spruce Up grow its engineering and data science teams. The startup currently has eight full-time employees and nine part-time stylists. Two Sigma Ventures’ Dan Abelon will join Spruce Up’s board of directors as part of the deal. “We believe AI-powered personalization is the future of e-commerce, and Spruce Up is addressing a multi-billion dollar market and significant pain point for consumers today stuck in eternal scroll,” Abelon said in a statement. Spruce Up is a spin out of Madrona Venture Labs, the venture capital firm’s in-house startup studio. The startup’s co-founders are technology and interior design veterans. Lewin is a former eBay executive who founded several design studios before joining Madrona Venture Labs as CEO-in-residence. Her co-founder Mike Dierken previously held leadership roles at Amazon and McKinsey & Co.
The Zigantic team, from left to right: Vignav Ramesh, Rishab Mohan, Arav Manchanda and Sahil Kancherla. Not pictured: New York-based Vihaan Dheer. (Zigantic Photo) The co-founders of the startup looked at the U.S. labor pool and saw an opportunity in high school students — and specifically those who play video games. They’ve launched a business that harnesses teens’ passion for gaming with video game developers who need to test and validate their games. It’s a niche that the Zigantic crew is uniquely suited to plug into, given they’re all teens themselves. “The high school market is an untapped market that most developers can’t tap,” said Vignav Ramesh, the company’s 14-year-old CEO. Zigantic’s other four founders range from 13-to-15 years old and include Rishab Mohan, Vihaan Dheer, Sahil Kancharla and Arav Manchanda. The business and most of the team are based in the Bellevue, Wash. area, while Dheer is from New York. The company got its start in August 2017, and officially incorporated a little more than a year ago. Image of games for testing. (Zigantic Image) They estimate that game validation is a $33 billion sector. For now, they’re offering their product for free in order to build credibility (their first customer was so pleased with the service that he paid them $100 anyhow). The team is cold-calling developers and going to meetups to find customers, and would like to connect with game makers at universities. Once they gain traction, they plan to offer testing packages from $9.99 up to $21.99, depending on the range of services and level of feedback provided. “We’re trying to make it a lot easier for [developers] and cut down the cost,” said Mohan, chief product officer. The Zigantic founders have been recruiting students at their own schools to do the testing, and spreading the word that they’re hiring to other schools and districts through friends. Zigantic is in its second round of incubation with Young Entrepreneur program. Last year, they won the regional competition. The program provides mentorship and guidance, helping the startup develop and prove its business model and launch the company. The teens said they each work about 4-to-5 hours a week on the business. They’ve already done their first pitch to investors, raising $18,000 through friends and family. “The funds have been raised to accelerate the release of our next-gen play-testing application, to aid with go-to-market activities and to broaden our reach to mobile and PC game-developers, said Ramesh. The team is working with its second and third customers, and set a goal of reaching 30 customers this year. We caught up with Ramesh and Mohan for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for their answers to our questionnaire. Members of team Zigantic working on their product. (Zigantic Photo) Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Zigantic’s platform is designed to create a new generation mobile validation platform to help mobile and PC game developers solve the burden of game validation. Inspiration hit us when: We were working on a coding project as friends when we came up with the idea to create a company. Our mentor was excited to hear of it and encouraged us to further deliberate and even “sleep over it.” Having recently won the “Best Product Design” award at Washington State Middle School Computer Science Competition Computing for All, we were buoyed by the possibilities that lay ahead. We began brainstorming ideas (teaching investment to teens, developing a game-changing algorithm to predict losers and winners of American football games, cricket, drone championships, etc.). Ultimately, we picked the idea of game validation for mobile and PCs. Each of us were passionate about it and furthermore the idea was one that every student in middle and high school — regardless of gender, race and ethnicity — would relate to. And everyone gets to play. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We incorporated in Delaware in March 2018, and bootstrapped for the first year until we built the first version of our product and acquired our initial customers. We have recently raised a small round of pre-seed investment from friends and family and plan to use it toward expansion. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We have access to an untapped audience of high school students. These generation-Zs have used the internet from a young age and are comfortable with mobile and PC technology. We know gaming. Our users are excited to try new games, provide their first opinions in addition to describing the experience of a moderate to advanced user. We involve students of all gender identities and backgrounds and reward them for providing their perspective on a wide range of features with respect to game. The smartest move we’ve made so far: We bonded with believers and ignored the naysayers. So many people told us that they don’t believe high school students could build a startup and predicted our demise; they also felt that game developers would not trust companies that are run by young adults. Game developers were skeptical about the quality of feedback they would receive and sometimes stated their preference for certified testers. We believed in the idea and in our ability to execute, and we evolved and started to receive vigorous nods from developers as they reviewed our work (they generally don’t like to test, so the value we bring to them is significant). I’d recommend to all founders that you do your research, be willing to change and don’t be afraid to follow your instincts. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: So many to pick from. First, we have realized that creating a strong culture is incredibly important. We made mistakes early on by not focusing on creating the right work environment, mission and values. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” rings true. Today we spend just as much time on creating the right culture as much as strategizing our next expansion goal or tactic. Second, we underestimated the value of a strong execution of our go-to-market strategy and roadmap. The initial customer traction we received was encouraging but somewhat misleading; we had to tap into our networks for early success. Since then we have worked hard to develop a consistent, continuous and responsive outbound marketing engagement model with our prospects. A sample of reviewer feedback. (Zigantic Image) Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? , executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft. He’s leading Microsoft’s gaming business across all devices and services, and is himself a passionate gamer. It would be cool to meet with Phil and share our ideas. We’ve been following the future plans for Xbox and the ability to play games with mobile devices and feel that is a game changing idea. Our favorite team-building activity is: As you may expect, we bond over playing mobile and PC games, and it’s a special experience to be playing with friends after we’ve completed our school and Zigantic work. But it’s not online games at all times. We also enjoy playing physical and team-based sports like cricket, baseball and American football, and believe in the power of teamwork. The adrenaline rush experienced when we win together is truly special. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Passion for playing games, to understand the inner workings of how games are developed, and the desire to make them better. We don’t look for experience in game-testing as much as we do for someone who has a fresh, unique and authentic point-of-view and is unafraid to express her or his opinions. We look for gaming mavericks and strong communicators. In addition, in order to evolve our application into game-changing software, we look for top talent in software development among high school students. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: It’s never too early to start. The journey of building a company is both challenging and rewarding, but don’t let the barriers block you from moving forward. When we started, we pivoted on the idea several times, and have had growth challenges in people management and customer acquisition. We’re determined to win and, more importantly, we’re obsessed with delivering value to our customers. We are overwhelmed and grateful for the trust game developers have shown in Zigantic.
(Dolly Photo) Things are moving at . The Seattle startup just raised $7.5 million, bringing its total funding to $20 million. The fresh cash will help the company expand its peer-to-peer moving app internationally. Like other gig economy startups, Dolly provides an app that connects people in need of services with other people willing to sell them. In Dolly’s case, individuals and businesses who need help moving stuff can find movers with the necessary trucks and equipment. , a new Seattle firm, led Dolly’s latest investment round. Unlock co-founder Andy Liu will join Dolly’s board as part of the deal. Original Dolly investors also participated, including Maveron and Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke. “Industry data shows that people are tired of the same old unpredictable and expensive delivery services,” Liu said in a statement. “So-called last-mile delivery is in desperate need of an upgrade, and Dolly is in a great position to lead this space.” Dolly has thousands of vetted independent contractors on its platform available to accept requests from customers who need something moved. Dolly’s “Helpers” can make $30 or more per hour if they have a truck and can lift more than 75 pounds. Dolly’s prices vary on the number and type of items being moved, the number of movers needed, the distance between pickup and drop off, and the service level. After launching in 2014, Dolly is now operating in 11 U.S. cities. The company in September that it was producing more than $1 million in revenue per month with more than 100,000 customers. Dolly’s future in its hometown, Seattle, has been uncertain for the past few months because of an with state regulators. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission ordered Dolly to cease operations in March 2018, ruling that the company was a “household goods carrier,” operating without the proper license and requirements. But the WUTC and Dolly seem to have found a path forward. “We are currently working with the WUTC to comply with their order and how best to re-apply for a household goods moving permit,” said Kevin Shawver, Dolly’s director of marketing. Dolly is currently available in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. The company plans to use the new funding to expand to additional cities in the U.S. and abroad. The moving services industry is estimated to be worth $12.6 billion, to the American Moving & Storage Association.
(Dolly Photo) Things are moving at . The Seattle startup just raised $7.5 million, bringing its total funding to $20 million. The fresh cash will help the company expand its peer-to-peer moving app internationally. Like other gig economy startups, Dolly provides an app that connects people in need of services with other people willing to sell them. In Dolly’s case, individuals and businesses who need help moving stuff can find movers with the necessary trucks and equipment. , a new Seattle firm, led Dolly’s latest investment round. Unlock co-founder Andy Liu will join Dolly’s board as part of the deal. Original Dolly investors also participated, including Maven Ventures and Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke. “Industry data shows that people are tired of the same old unpredictable and expensive delivery services,” Liu said in a statement. “So-called last-mile delivery is in desperate need of an upgrade, and Dolly is in a great position to lead this space.” Dolly has thousands of vetted independent contractors on its platform available to accept requests from customers who need something moved. Dolly’s “Helpers” can make $30 or more per hour if they have a truck and can lift more than 75 pounds. Dolly’s prices vary on the number and type of items being moved, the number of movers needed, the distance between pickup and drop off, and the service level. After launching in 2014, Dolly is now operating in 11 U.S. cities. The company in September that it was producing more than $1 million in revenue per month with more than 100,000 customers. Dolly’s future in its hometown, Seattle, has been uncertain for the past few months because of an with state regulators. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission ordered Dolly to cease operations in March 2018, ruling that the company was a “household goods carrier,” operating without the proper license and requirements. But the WUTC and Dolly seem to have found a path forward. “We are currently working with the WUTC to comply with their order and how best to re-apply for a household goods moving permit,” said Kevin Shawver, Dolly’s director of marketing. Dolly is currently available in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. The company plans to use the new funding to expand to additional cities in the U.S. and abroad. The moving services industry is estimated to be worth $12.6 billion, to the American Moving & Storage Association.
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.
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. 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,” said Madrona Managing Director Matt McIlwain. “We wanted to have a dedicated fund and a dedicated focus on that acceleration stage.” In an interview with GeekWire, McIlwain described this stage as when a company has already found product market fit and is “really starting to accelerate the growth of the business.” “This fund is focused on Madrona making new investments in companies for the first time in that acceleration stage, not only in Seattle but across the West Coast and the country,” McIlwain said. The longtime Madrona director admitted that the firm has missed out on investing in some companies early, pointing to fast-growing Seattle startups such as Outreach, Auth0, Icertis, and Textio. The new fund frees up Madrona to participate in later rounds for more mature companies both in and out of the Pacific Northwest. “It’s fair to say that there are some great Seattle companies that we didn’t get right early on,” McIlwain said. “If it makes sense to be able to add some complimentary value to the other folks on the syndicate, we’d love to be thought of as a group that can do that. “Madrona has been known for being the seed and Series A group,” he added. “This helps communicate that we could lead or partner in a B or C round with other great investors and entrepreneurs.” (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.
The TerraClear team poses with the farmland rock picker that is part of what they’ve been developing. Founder and CEO Brent Frei is second from right in second row. (TerraClear Photo) TerraClear’s bid to upend the farming industry by using advanced technology to help farmers clear rocks from fields is producing a reliable crop — cash. The startup just closed a $6.1 million funding round led by Madrona Venture Group to bring its total capital raised to more than $13 million since launching in December 2017. Based in Bellevue, Wash, and in the farming community of Grangeville, Idaho, TerraClear was founded by Brent Frei, the former CEO of Onyx Software who co-founded Smartsheet in 2005. Born out of a desire to take the heavy lifting out of vital farm work and prevent damage to expensive machinery, Frei’s team and technology have been growing steadily. TerraClear will add Madrona Managing Director Matt McIlwain to its board of directors and has just hired Trevor Thompson, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar, as president. The new funds will help to accelerate hiring, product development and testing as the company brings more automation to the $5 trillion global agriculture industry. PREVIOUSLY: McIlwain was the first venture investor in Smartsheet, the publicly-traded software company that helps automate key work processes. “The value that he and the team at Madrona brought to Smartsheet was significant,” Frei said. “He had exceptionally good advice along the way, he was very good at mentoring the leadership and our strategy. So in a lot of ways when he said he was interested in being on [TerraClear’s] board, I felt honored. We’re still at a very small stage right now relative to the things he’s involved in. To get his focus on this, there’s just nothing but upside.” For his part, McIlwain called Frei a “visionary leader” and said the TerraClear team is drawing on their “deep understanding of both the life and work of a farmer as well as expertise with robotics and software-enabled machine learning to change how fields are cleared and planted.” TerraClear’s Dwight McMaster addresses a group of farmers in Grangeville, Idaho, during a demonstration of the company’s rock-picking machinery. (TerraClear Photo) With 15 employees now and positions currently open, Frei said he wouldn’t be surprised if the team is double the size at this time next year. The company formally opened a fully outfitted lab and test facility this spring in Grangeville, a town of 3,000 where Frei grew up and where his family still farms. Earlier this month they hosted a field day and invited a dozen farmers from the biggest and most advanced farms in the area and showed them end to end how TerraClear works. Fields are surveyed by drones, rocks are classified and localized by a neural network, rock size and location data is mapped, and finally the heavy lifting is done by automated machinery. “It was fantastic. It exceeded all of my expectations,” Frei said of the show and tell. “Both from the candidness of the input and the things that we learned all the way to the interest and the financial potential of the product and the business.” (TerraClear Graphic) Farmers can be a stubborn lot, a characteristic perhaps born out of having to locate and lift heavy rocks out of their fields by hand over generations. Finally showing those who have been relying on inferior processes that the tables have potentially been turned was eye opening for the farmers and Frei. “One of the farmers there, who I have a lot of respect for, when he first came in he said, ‘I’m interested in seeing what you’ve got, but we’ve got a process in place and we don’t really need anything, but I’m perfectly happy to give you advice.’ As we went through the process his opinion didn’t change much until ultimately he saw the thing working and he said, ‘Yeah, we probably need this.’ “That admission all by itself was a real checkmark in the box of ‘this has got legs,'” Frei added. “Because when you’ve got some of the more advanced farmers who have really worked on automating the expensive and mundane and routine processes and they’re looking at this going, ‘I could save a lot of time and money doing this’ … that’s meaningful.” Brent Frei holds a “field day” with farmers in Grangeville, Idaho, where TerraClear has established a production and test facility. (TerraClear Photo) With ready access to many thousands of acres of farmland around Grangeville, TerraClear plans to be all about testing this summer, with hundreds of hours in the field planned. The picker is mounted on either a human-driven piece of machinery, like a front-end loader, or could eventually be attached to an autonomous vehicle. If TerraClear’s engineers can collect and analyze data and innovate and iterate on the picker prototype quickly enough, the hope is to put a beta product in the hands of farmers next year and learn from real customers. “Right now it’s just making sure that that thing grabbing the rocks is as foolproof as possible,” Frei said. “The market is huge and we’re laser-focused on building exactly what farmers need to make their lives easier.”
Cherry blossoms were in full bloom at the University of Washington earlier this month. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The University of Washington has one of the world’s best computer science programs. MBA recruiters recently the UW’s business school No. 2 for entrepreneurship reputation. Its CoMotion innovation center has helped the university spin out 80 startups over the past five years and land among the top 10 on . Yet for some reason, , the famed Silicon Valley startup accelerator, sees far fewer UW graduates applying for its program compared to other top public universities. That’s why two YC partners, and , made a quick trip north earlier this month and spent several hours on the UW campus in Seattle, hosting both “group office hours” and a two-hour workshop. The purpose was to educate students about startups and encourage them to apply to YC. Of the more than 4,000 founders who have gone through YC’s 3-month cohort program over the past 14 years, only 50 of them attended the University of Washington, according to data from YC. “There is a lot of talent at the UW and a lot of talent in Seattle — and I want to make sure people know that YC is an available path if they want to start a startup,” Manalac told GeekWire after the event. Y Combinator Partner Gustaf Alstromer speaks to UW students at the Foster School of Business as part of a YC workshop on campus earlier this month. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Manalac, who specializes in finding entrepreneurs that can join the accelerator, said UW students tell her that they get so heavily recruited by big companies in Seattle — Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Expedia, T-Mobile, Starbucks, etc. — and “often don’t even think about starting a company as a viable option.” Added Manalac: “The pull of the FAANGs and big companies like Boeing are strong up here.” “In some cases, students are interested in starting a startup but fall into the trap of thinking, ‘I’ll work at a large company for a couple years to get experience and then start a company,'” she explained. “Once you’re used to working at big companies, it’s harder to make the shift into startups. And working at big companies doesn’t teach you what you need to know to start a company. The best way to learn about startups is to start one — or work at an early stage startup.” The thesis that homegrown tech giants such as Amazon and Microsoft, along with the bevy of Bay Area companies with huge engineering outposts in the region, are sucking up would-be startup talent and preventing Seattle from becoming another Silicon Valley startup mecca has been for . “In the past, I have noticed that most of our students do take the ‘safer’ established industry path over the startup path,” said , a UW computer scientist who has sold startups to , and . Patel agreed with Manalac and said it is indeed hard to jump to a startup after joining a big company. But others say that experience at a place such as Amazon or Microsoft can be valuable preparation for startup life. Knock co-founders Tom Petry and Demetri “Some of the fastest-growing companies in Seattle boast 20-something and 30-something entrepreneurs fresh out of Amazon who cite that experience at integral to their startup path and success,” noted Julie Sandler, managing director at Seattle startup studio Pioneer Square Labs and a lecturer at the UW’s Foster School of Business. and graduated from the UW and worked together at UBS Wealth Management before coming back to Seattle to launch their real estate startup Knock, which just a $10 million investment round. The founders say they picked up important skills and built a network at UBS that ended up being crucial to their decision to make the startup leap. “Ultimately, my time with a big company gave me enough confidence to enable me to say goodbye to that world,” Themelis said. “And I imagine a lot of founders get the necessary motivation to start something when they see first hand the rat-race of a big company culture — it definitely was for me.” But the opposite was true for , a 2013 UW grad who a fashion startup while still in school. He’s now working at Amazon as a product manager. “Beginning my career at a startup was definitely more beneficial for me than getting a job at a big company right away,” Bartlow said. “First of all, I don’t think I would have been able to get the product management roles I wanted without being able to leverage my startup experience. Second, it is much easier to stay in the frugal and hungry mentality coming right out of school.” Bartlow credited the UW’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship for promoting startups through business plan competitions and programs such as the Jones + Foster Accelerator program. In a statement, Amy Sallin, interim director of the Buerk Center, said that “the framework is in place for students or alumni to feel prepared to launch a startup at any point in their journey.” “Our graduates leave with the entrepreneurial skills that do make them attractive to very large companies looking to innovate from within,” she said. “However, we also see graduates who do take their startup and grow it into a business — whether in retail, food and beverages, health, social impact, cleantech, biotech, etc.” Nanodropper team members Jennifer Steger, Mackenzie Andrews and Allisa Song won the $15,000 grand prize at the University of Washington Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge in March. (Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship Photo) Sandler said she hopes the UW can encourage more cross-department connections across programs such as computer science, business, and human-centered design. She said that can help expose entrepreneurship to more students. “At other universities, it not uncommon to see one big student success kickstarting a positive entrepreneurial cycle,” Sandler added. “Students see other students successfully build impactful companies during their years in school and they’re inspired to do the same.” Whether the lack of UW grads applying to Y Combinator says anything about the university itself, or the larger Seattle tech ecosystem, is up for debate. It’s true that the UW ranks lower than schools including UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Texas, UCLA, and others . And some of the higher-profile startups with UW roots — Turi, Senosis Health, Vicis, etc. — originated due to the work of professors, not students. Ed Lazowska, a longtime UW computer science professor, said geographic influence must be considered when comparing what a graduate from Stanford does after school, for example, to what a UW grad might do. “Stanford sends a disproportionate number of students to startups because the startup ecosystem in the South Bay is an order of magnitude more vibrant than anywhere else in the U.S.,” he said. “UW sends a disproportionate number of students to major companies because all of those companies are either headquartered in Seattle or have engineering offices here, and UW is a public university where most students do internships, which have a high conversion rate to permanent employment, and the established companies have great internship programs.” Lazowska said the UW has taken a number of steps to “address this balance,” from work being done at CoMotion and the , to the activity at Startup Hall, which houses the Techstars Seattle program and Founders’ Co-op venture capital firm. He added that “as the startup community in Seattle expands, the involvement of UW students in startups will surely expand commensurately.” And while some UW grads, such as Jason Tan and Brandon Ballinger of , do migrate to the Bay Area and launch startups, many of them stick around Seattle, where there are plenty of startup accelerators and studios. “Yes, YC is the gold standard,” Lazowska said. “But UW students come from Washington and remain in Washington.” For some, the idea of relocating to the Bay Area to work on a startup may not be as attractive as in years past. , co-founder of Seattle startup , participated in a YC cohort last year and came right back to Seattle. “In my opinion, right now Seattle is the best place to start a software company,” Kalb said. “The talent is here, Seattle is a beautiful place to live, and it’s way cheaper to live in Seattle than in San Francisco. No wonder Bay Area VCs . I think we’ll see some of the greatest, fast-growing startups come from Seattle in the next ten years. If I were a YC partner, I would heavily index on whether a company is based in Seattle.”
ChefSteps co-founder and CEO Chris Young shows off the Joule sous vide cooking device during the 2016 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong) In the days following news that , the cooking technology startup, had to make , co-founder and CEO Chris Young has said that while the situation “truly sucks,” the company is still operating. Young shared some insight in a public group on Facebook last Friday night, writing that ChefSteps’ “funding situation unexpectedly changed” and a “significant fraction” of the 7-year-old company’s team — reported to be about 50 people — had to be let go. “I appreciate your understanding that in the coming days our focus will be on supporting our affected friends and that we may be a bit slower to respond than usual,” Young wrote in a post to the group, which is a community of more than 17,000 users and fans of ChefSteps’ signature product, the sous vide cooking device. Young said certain lines of business, including Joule Ready and any additional content being added to ChefSteps Premium, would be discontinued. But product and customer support for Joule will still be available. In a follow-up text to GeekWire this week, Young said he had nothing additional to add to what was in the Facebook post, and said, “We are still operating while we explore strategic options.” ChefSteps was by Young and Grant Crilly, who both previously collaborated with former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold on his epic . The startup, which is currently of the Pacific Northwest’s top privately held companies, has been funded through a low-interest loan from Gabe Newell, head of the video game company Valve. “I won’t lie, this is all incredibly difficult, but making these changes will allow us to focus on Joule and continue to support the hundreds of thousands of customers that cook with Joule,” Young wrote on Facebook. “We remain confident in our Joule sous vide business, which continues to exceed our expectations. We will continue to provide product and customer support for Joule — yes, your Joule is going to keep working.” Read the Facebook post in full and captured below: (Facebook screenshot)
Screenshots from the IPO filings from (clockwise from upper left) Lyft, Uber, Slack and Pinterest. What do Pinterest, Lyft, Uber and Slack have in common? Yes, they’re all newly public companies, or preparing to make their initial public offerings. But they also share something in common on the bottom line — proceeding with their IPOs with lots of revenue and growth but, so far at least, without the consistent profits to show for it. And they’re part of a trend. Eighty-three percent of IPOs in the first three quarters of 2018 . Ben Gilbert, co-founder of Pioneer Square Labs and co-host of the podcast Acquired. So what’s the future of these companies? And what do they say about the state of the tech industry? On this episode of the GeekWire Podcast, we’re joined by someone who has spent a lot of time looking at the financials of many of these companies: , co-founder of Seattle’s Pioneer Square Labs, and co-host of the podcast , which tells the stories of major tech companies, acquisitions, IPOs and other deals. “I would say we are seeing way too much similarity between these IPOs and what you would see in early stage pitch decks, which is selling on a story and selling on a narrative,” he says. At the same time, he notes, some of these companies have reached unit profitability, making money on their products and services even as marketing and related expenses make them unprofitable. And there’s a lot more in play with these companies that could impact their long-term earnings — from autonomous vehicles and electric scooters to the future of workplace collaboration. Ben Gilbert and his Acquired co-host David Rosenthal have been focusing on this new wave of public companies on their recent podcast episodes, starting with and . Subscribe to the Acquired podcast . Listen to the GeekWire Podcast above, or subscribe in your favorite app. Related Links
Bags of coffee beans are shown sitting on scales developed by Bottomless, a Seattle startup that measures coffee consumption and delivers refills. (Bottomless Photo) The next cup of coffee should be on . The Seattle startup using technology to make sure that coffee lovers never run out of the stuff they love has raised $1.9 million, according to a recent . The company declined to reveal investors. RELATED: Michael Mayer, the entrepreneur who co-founded Bottomless alongside his wife Liana Herrera, had been bootstrapping the 3-year-old company prior to raising $245,000 last summer. Bottomless combines original hardware, an online marketplace, machine learning and more to determine when customers need a shipment of fresh beans. The solution, in part, is a rechargeable scale on which users set a bag of fresh beans that they’re using to make their daily coffee. The scale is connected to WiFi (and to Bottomless) and as the bag becomes lighter, it triggers the order for more beans. Users select from numerous Seattle-area roasters — Caffe Vita, Ladro Roasting and more — who are partnering with Bottomless. Mayer, a “self-taught developer/technologist,” said his machine learning algorithms have already matured and that the plan with the new capital is to “add a few team members to continue investing in our algorithms and tech.” He also wants to scale up in the fresh coffee market with eyes on expansion, and they just added roasters in the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego.
Arivale’s offices were empty this week after the company’s abrupt closure. (GeekWire Photo) Founded in 2015, Seattle startup Arivale aspired to pioneer a new sector called scientific wellness, combining genetic testing with personal coaching to improve the health of its members. Arivale raised more than $50 million in funding, employed 120 people, and served about 5,000 members over the life of its program. PREVIOUSLY: So optimistic was the company about this field that it trademarked the term “scientific wellness.” Seattle’s tech community voted Arivale the 2016 GeekWire Startup of the Year. Its co-founder, genomics legend Leroy “Lee” Hood, said when Arivale launched that the company “really stands a chance of being the Google or Microsoft of this whole arena.” It wasn’t to be. Four years later, Arivale , surprising its customers and employees, many of whom were left wondering what happened. Clayton Lewis, Arivale’s CEO, said in an interview that the company faced significant business headwinds, including the high costs of customer acquisition and genetic testing. But bigger picture, he said, the company also grappled with societal challenges, including the reluctance of Americans to invest in their health despite success stories among Arivale’s members. “I do not believe at this point that there is a meaningful market in the United States for a program that’s going to help people do something in the future,” he said. “I think that Americans, related to their health, are so living in the moment that the idea of optimizing your health so you can live this vibrant, joyful life as you age” isn’t appealing to enough people. But some former employees said Arivale also made things more difficult for itself. One former employee, who requested anonymity, told GeekWire that Arivale didn’t spend its marketing dollars effectively, focusing too much on events and parties rather than more effective digital campaigns; hired too many coaches and had many of them sitting idle for significant portions of the day; and had a culture where top executives seemed unwilling to take feedback from rank-and-file employees on ways that they and the company could improve. Arivale launched at a cost of $3,500 per year for its flagship program but had shifted to a model where many of its members were paying a $99/month subscription for ongoing genetic testing and coaching. Lewis said, in hindsight, he would have changed the way the company rolled out and priced its service. The company believed that it would see more adoption when it lowered its pricing and rolled out its service nationally after starting with a small number of states. “The mistake I would tell you I made as a CEO is that I drank my own Kool-Aid,” Lewis said. “For the first few years, we were not trying to rapidly scale the business because we wanted to prove the efficacy of the program. … Instead of launching with lower-cost, simpler programs, we stayed laser-focused on our flagship offering and we clearly did that to our peril.” Genomics pioneer Lee Hood, left, and Clayton Lewis, the CEO of Arivale. (GeekWire File Photo) Earlier this month, Hood about the future of Arivale. “In the future, we’ll be able to manage chronic diseases before they show up,” he said at an event hosted by Town Hall Seattle and the Institute for Systems Biology, which Hood co-founded. “We’re already doing this with Alzheimer’s, and early results look spectacular.” But Hood also admitted that Arivale’s wellness approach was “pretty expensive” at more than a thousand dollars per year. “In principle, most people spend a lot more money than that utter trivia. And if you could get healthy, I’d argue it’s a real bargain,” he said. Of Hood, Lewis said that “I’ve never met a man who’s a more determined optimist.” In the wake of the company’s closure, Lewis was blunter than Hood about the cost issues, calling the company’s research-based approach to wellness “wickedly expensive.” The startup’s resources were strained both by customer acquisition costs and the high price of novel testing services. Lewis said, “We tried an extraordinary number of ways to get people to join Arivale and we could not find a path to actually make that work as a viable business. Getting people into the program, the customer acquisition cost, we couldn’t master that.” Arivale CEO Clayton Lewis and co-founder Lee Hood accept the award for Startup of the Year at the 2016 GeekWire Awards. The company also had problems bringing down the costs of its services, such as tests for a person’s genetic makeup, microbiome and more than 40 blood markers. Arivale had expected the cost of those tests to fall more rapidly than they did. Paula Ladd, an entrepreneur who founded a genetic testing startup called SNPgenomics around the same time Arivale was getting started, said that the science can’t yet provide broad-based wellness advice. “What role does genetics plays in wellness? As a researcher, I don’t understand it well enough. How could the general public understand it?” Ladd said. Lewis agreed that Arivale arrived on the scene before its time. “We were very audacious,” he said. “What I believe is we were probably a decade too early.” Dr. Darren White, CEO of employee health and wellness startup Aduro, said a version of Arivale’s approach to personalized health coaching will inevitably reach consumers. “Health systems are already putting genetic testing inside primary care. It will be part of your annual visit with your doctor,” he said. Aduro does not yet incorporate genetic testing but plans to once costs decline sufficiently. Arivale competed in the wellness space with genetic testing companies like 23andMe, Orig3n and the Mayo Clinic’s GeneGuide. Startups that offered health advice based on microbiome tests include Voime, uBiome and Thryve. But Lewis said he considered Arivale unique in providing a comprehensive approach, with testing and coaching. Assessing rival firms, Lewis said that he thought genetic testing companies like 23andMe have been successful due to their lower, one-time price point and simpler offering, but he said that approach offers “surprise and delight” and “genetic entertainment” rather than improving health. As for those that give health advice based on microbiome tests, he said that some startups have made “false” claims. Last week, the wellness industry suffered a major blow after a looking at nearly 33,000 employees in workplace wellness programs found “no significant effects on clinical measures of health, health care spending and utilization, or employment outcomes after 18 months.” Human Longevity, a genomics startup backed by Celgene and DNA-sequencing company Illumina, late last year as investors lost faith in its ability to sell its services to wealthy individuals and pharmaceutical companies. Yet some data-driven wellness startups continue to draw funding. Viome, a startup that makes nutritional recommendations based on microbiome testing, recently in a round that included backing from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Arivale attempted to win customers directly through a healthcare system to no avail. Working with Michigan-based Spectrum Health, Arivale launched a test program directly in a health clinic. “Despite the fact that, if you walked in, it basically was an Arivale commercial, we saw about a 10% conversion into the program,” Lewis said. Ladd said she thought the general public does not yet crave this sort of service. “I don’t come home from work wishing I had tested my microbiome, but I do wonder whether I have influenza or not,” she said. Despite the startup’s challenges, Lewis said it was able to bring around 20 percent of customers with prediabetic or heart disease indicators to within a normal range in six months. Lewis, who competes in Ironman triathlons, was able to overcome a prediabetic diagnosis by following Arivale’s program. In a statement this week, Hood acknowledged the company’s business challenges but said he’s still a believer in the larger vision. “We started Arivale with the goal of helping people improve wellness and avoid disease through personalized data and actionable health coaching. This approach has positively changed many lives and has shown great scientific merit. While Arivale’s direct-to-consumer model isn’t yet sustainable because of the high cost of the assays, I am proud of and thankful to everyone at Arivale for their dedication and devotion to this mission. They gave real meaning to the term scientific (or quantitative) wellness, which will be a major component of 21st century medicine.”
Praveen Seshadri, left, and Brian Sabino of AppSheet. (AppSheet Photo) Seattle startup has raised $15 million to fuel growth of its platform that helps businesses develop their own data-based apps without requiring a team of developers. Shasta Ventures led the round, with participation from existing investor New Enterprise Associates. Total funding to date is $19.3 million. Founded in 2014, AppSheet sells software that enables nearly 6,000 customers such as Husqvarna Group, Solvay, Tigo Guatemala, American Electric Power, M&O Partners, Boom Technology, and others to build “no-code” apps. More than 200,000 apps have been deployed using AppSheet and more than 18,000 “active app creators” build apps with AppSheet each month. Use cases include inventory management, CRM, and field service, and span across industries such as manufacturing, construction, scientific, and others. Examples of include those designed for requesting and tracking equipment maintenance; generating daily construction reports; or completing a pre-surgery checklist. AppSheet has been and natural language processing technology to further speed the creation of apps. AppSheet CEO launched AppSheet with , a former student in his database systems class at Cornell University. They had been exploring how mobile apps can make businesses more productive and discovered that businesses were hungry for modestly priced custom-built apps. AppSheet is among a number of platforms touting themselves as quick and easy app development platforms. The startup competes against products built by other Seattle-area companies such as Microsoft and K2 Software, as well as Siemens-owned Mendix, OutSystems, Betty Blocks. Asked about AppSheet’s secret sauce and differentiators, here’s what Seshadri shared with GeekWire: We disrupt traditional business software development across three dimensions: 1. Access: Our true no-code model allows every business user to create and innovate with apps without writing any code to build them. 2. Agility: Deployment of apps from the AppSheet intelligent no-code app platform is lightweight and instant. It is an order of magnitude more agile than a low-code solution, significantly more powerful, and comes at a fraction of the cost of using mainstream programming languages that convert a desired program into a sequence of low-level instructions computer hardware can execute. 3. Ambition: The expressive power of the AppSheet intelligent no-code platform is constantly improving. Our current generation of apps includes machine learning, rich integrations, micro-services, and are not limited to mobile/web apps. The fresh investment will be used to increase marketing spend and platform enhancements. AppSheet will also open a “center of machine learning excellence” in Portland, Ore. The company employs 20 people and expects headcount to grow to 50 over the next year. “We believe AppSheet’s demonstrated success with a broad horizontal customer base is a key indicator of its expected impact,” Ravi Mohan, managing director at Shasta Ventures, said in a statement. “There is no doubt that we are at the start of a technology revolution that will allow business users to create their own software solutions, and there is no doubt that AppSheet is the market-leading platform that will drive this transformation.” Other recent Shasta investments in Seattle-area companies include ; ; ; ; ; and . The firm is among a crop of Bay Area investors .
AskNicely CEO Aaron Ward. AskNicely Photo) It’s can be difficult to relocate your startup to a different city, let alone a different country. But the tech talent and affordability of Portland, Ore., made it an easy decision for . The CEO of just moved his company’s headquarters from New Zealand to the Rose City after it raised a $10 million investment round led by Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Blackbird Ventures and K1W1. AskNicely sells “Net Promoter Score software” that helps companies bolster their customer feedback process. Ward said the access to “customer-facing tech talent” in Portland was part of why he moved his HQ. “Portlanders ‘get’ customer experience more than any other city I’ve seen in the world because the service culture here is so strong,” he said. “This means new recruits come pre-loaded with the customer experience gene which, in turn, helps us build an authentic customer obsessed culture. Another important factor is how the economics of Portland enable us to support a standard of living for our people that we’re proud of.” Founded in Auckland four years ago, AskNicely has more than 1,000 customers and 50 employees. The company competes against the likes of Qualtrics, Promoter, SurveyMonkey, and others. Total funding to date is $15 million. “We’ve been huge believers in customer experience as a major priority for companies globally, yet it’s surprising that most have no scalable way to systematically measure, analyze, and operationalize it.” Abhishek Sharma of Nexus Venture Partners said in a statement. “We were blown away by the ease of use and simplicity of AskNicely.” Earlier this week, wind turbine engineering firm Diamond WTG Engineering & Services moved its headquarters from California to Portland, per .
Chris Young, CEO and co-founder of ChefSteps, demonstrating the Joule sous vide cooking device at the GeekWire Summit in 2016. (GeekWire File Photo / Dan DeLong) , the high-tech cooking startup financed by video game titan Gabe Newell, cut an unspecified number of jobs on Wednesday, significantly scaling back its operations. But the company plans to remain in business, and continue selling and supporting its Joule sous vide cooking device, according to co-founder and CEO Chris Young. , ChefSteps built a community around online videos, vivid photographs and cooking insights from its expert founders, before expanding into hardware with the Joule device. , controlled via smartphone, heats water to precise temperatures to cook immersed food evenly over extended periods of time, using the sous vide cooking technique. A reported Wednesday that ChefSteps had “laid off almost their entire staff and will be shuttering day-to-day operations.” However, Young told GeekWire via text Wednesday evening that ChefSteps remains in business and will continue to sell and support Joule. Further details on the cutbacks weren’t immediately available. People familiar with ChefSteps said the company had employed about 50 people in addition to contractors. The company is currently of the Pacific Northwest’s top privately held companies. ChefSteps co-founders Chris Young, far left, and Grant Crilly, far right, with other early members of the ChefSteps team at their Pike Place Market studio and kitchen in 2012. (GeekWire File Photo / Todd Bishop) Young and co-founder Grant Crilly are known in part for their past roles collaborating with former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, the Intellectual Ventures chief, on the epic . Young previously was the founding chef of Heston Blumenthal’s influential Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen. Crilly’s experience includes serving as chef de cuisine at Busaba in Mumbai and Mistral in Seattle, and head development chef at Delicious Planet. The company has been funded through a low-interest loan from Newell, head of video game company Valve, the operator of the Steam video game platform. In , the ChefSteps co-founders credited the funding from Newell with giving them the ability to focus on the long-term goals of building and serving a large, high-quality community of users, without the short-term pressures of monetizing that community or generating a quick return. It’s not an easy business: Another Seattle startup that made a sous vide device, Sansaire, .
Genomics pioneer Lee Hood, left, and Clayton Lewis, the CEO of Arivale. (GeekWire File Photo) Arivale, the genetic testing and personal health coaching startup co-founded by genomics pioneer Leroy “Lee” Hood, shut down unexpectedly Wednesday — bringing an abrupt end to its ambitions to transform the lives of Americans through a new field that Hood dubbed “scientific wellness.” All of the Seattle-based company’s approximately 120 employees were let go as of noon today, confirmed Arivale CEO Clayton Lewis in an interview. Arivale raised more than $50 million over its lifetime. The company offered ongoing wellness and nutritional coaching tailored to the results of each person’s genetic, blood and microbiome tests. The decision was a surprise to many Arivale employees and customers. In a message to Arivale customers this afternoon, the Seattle-based company attributed the decision to “the simple fact that the cost of providing the service exceeds what our customers can pay for it.” The message added, “We believe the costs of collecting the genetic, blood and microbiome assays that form the foundation of the program will eventually decline to a point where the program can be delivered to consumers cost-effectively. However, we are unable to continue to operate at a loss until that time arrives.” Lewis told GeekWire that the high cost of acquiring customers also played a role in the decision. “What is tragic on so many levels is that we were not successful in going out and convincing consumers that you could optimize your wellness and avoid disease with a little bit data and some changes in your lifestyle — that there’s not a market for that product that I believe in passionately,” Lewis said. “And that’s what we were trying to do.” About 5,000 people took part in the Arivale program over the lifetime of the company, and Lewis said he is “incredibly proud” of the results. The program launched at a cost of $3,500 per year, but the price had dropped to the point where most customers were paying $99 per month for the flagship Arivale program, Lewis said. CEO Clayton Lewis and members of the Arivale team accept the GeekWire Award for Startup of the Year in 2016. (GeekWire File Photo) The larger personal wellness industry includes heavyweights such as 23andMe, a genetic testing startup valued at more than $1 billion, and smaller players including EverlyWell, which , and Viome, the microbiome company led by Naveen Jain that . Global Wellness Institute that the preventative and personalized medicine and public health industry is worth $575 billion. Some of Arivale’s underlying work will continue at the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), the not-for-profit biomedical research organization co-founded by Hood, where the ideas that led to Arivale were originally developed. ISB is now part of Providence St. Joseph Health, where Hood is chief science officer. Clayton said ISB is expected to hire some of the employees let go by Arivale as part of its closure. He declined to disclose details of the severance offered to employees, but said the same package was provided to all executives and employees. Investors in Arivale included Arch Venture Partners, Polaris, and Maveron, where Lewis worked full-time before joining Arivale as co-founder and CEO. Its scientific advisory board included George Church, a professor at Harvard and MIT; James Heath, president of Institute of Systems Biology; and Ed Lazowska, computer science professor at the University of Washington. “Lee Hood sees the future with unmatched clarity,” said Lazowska, an early participant in the Arivale program. “A clear view, however, does not always imply a short path. Scientific wellness, as pioneered by Arivale, will be a foundation of 21st century medicine. But not right now. Right now, the cost of providing the service (the tests, the coaching) exceeds what people are willing to pay. Those costs will fall in time, and Arivale’s model and Arivale’s discoveries will see another day.” Lewis said he has come to the believe that Arivale was about a decade too early. Arivale’s executive team included Sean Bell, chief operating officer; Jennifer Lovejoy, chief translational science officer; Mia Nease, head of healthcare and life sciences partnerships; Andrew Magis, director of research; Ashley Wells, chief product officer; and others. Hood, who led the Caltech team that pioneered the automated DNA sequencer, that Arivale was “the opening shot in a whole new industry called scientific wellness, and it really stands a chance of being the Google or Microsoft of this whole arena.” GeekWire chief business officer Daniel Rossi was a longtime customer of the program, and we chronicled his early experience with Arivale Here’s the text of the message sent to Arivale customers earlier today, a version of which was . To Our Customers, We are very sorry to inform you that, effective immediately, Arivale can no longer provide our program to you and our other customers. This letter explains why we are ending the consumer program and answers the questions you are likely to have about the process. Our decision to terminate the program today comes despite the fact that customer engagement and satisfaction with the program is high and the clinical health markers of many customers have improved significantly. Our decision to cease operations is attributable to the simple fact that the cost of providing the program exceeds what our customers can pay for it. We believe the costs of collecting the genetic, blood and microbiome assays that form the foundation of the program will eventually decline to a point where the program can be delivered to consumers cost-effectively. Regrettably, we are unable to continue to operate at a loss until that time arrives; in other words, we have concluded that it is simply too early for a direct-to-consumer scientific wellness offering to be viable. We founded Arivale with the vision of making personalized, data-driven, preventive coaching a new wellness paradigm in the United States. Since its launch in 2015, the results of the Arivale program have been remarkable. To cite but one example, our scientific paper describing the improvements seen in multiple health markers in ~2500 participants was recently accepted for publication in the journal Scientific Reports. While our direct-to-consumer model isn’t yet sustainable, we know that the Arivale program improved the lives of our customers and showed great scientific merit. We are proud of everyone at Arivale for their dedication and devotion to our mission and grateful to you and all of our other customers for joining us on this journey. Together, our efforts have launched a new paradigm—scientific or quantitative wellness—which, we are confident will become a major component of 21st century medicine. Developing story, more to come.
Cyemptive CEO Rob Pike. (Cyemptive Photo) Seattle-area cybersecurity startup today announced the acquisition of (ATG), a 14-year-old IT consulting service company also based in the Seattle region. The ten employees working for ATG will join Cyemptive, whose headcount is now north of 65 people. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Cyemptive came out of stealth mode , announcing a $3.5 million investment round from undisclosed investors. The company describes its cybersecurity software as an “automatic self-repairing reliable platform.” It sells products including an endpoint protection service and advanced perimeter firewalls, among others. Cyemptive’s executive team includes founder , who was previously an executive at Hitachi; , who was formerly chief information officer at Microsoft; and , who spent 30 years at the NSA, most recently as chief computer architect. The company plans to use ATG’s expertise in customer service and support to help serve its growing customer base of businesses and government clients. ATG founder and CEO Bryan Greene will join the Cyemptive management team. “Incorporating ATG’s already-established infrastructure of customer focus, service and support with our groundbreaking failsafe, pre-emptive cyber protection technologies is a natural next step in providing the best in cyber security solutions and support to them,” DuBois said in a statement.