Blaze Bioscience’s “Tumor Paint” is a synthetic version of a peptide originally found in the Israeli deathstalker scorpion. (Alastair Rae Photo via Flickr) Seattle biotech company has raised $5 million in funding as it pursues a pivotal trial for its “Tumor Paint,” a molecule that binds to cancer cells and lights them up to help brain surgeons remove tumors. The money is the first tranche of a larger round that could reach $20 million. Heather Franklin, co-founder and CEO of Blaze Bioscience. (Blaze Photo) Blaze is on children with central nervous system tumors at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where it enrolled its first patient last fall. The company decided to concentrate on pediatric neurosurgery because it filled an unmet need, said Blaze co-founder and CEO Heather Franklin. “Brain cancer is the number one killer of kids with cancer,” Franklin said. “[Tumor Paint] allows the surgeon to cut out all of the tumor, but it also allows them to not cut out normal tissue. And you can imagine, in a child’s brain that’s really critical.” More than 4,000 children are diagnosed with brain or central nervous system tumors , making them the second most common cancers in children after leukemia. Brain cancer in children was also a natural fit for Franklin’s co-founder, Dr. Jim Olson, a brain cancer researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Tumor Paint was created using a peptide, basically a small protein, from the Israeli deathstalker scorpion. But Franklin is quick to point out that the formula is entirely synthetic. “No scorpions are harmed in the making of our products,” she joked. The company’s Tumor Paint, also called tozuleristide or BLZ-100, is being evaluated in a phase 2/3 clinical trial. In the phase 1 study of Tumor Paint, 80 percent tumors “lit up” safely. Tumor Paint “lights up” cancerous growths to help brain surgeons cut out tumors. (Blaze Photo) The company, which launched in 2011, hasn’t made major changes to its core technology in recent years. Franklin said the difficult part has been creating hardware that works with existing surgical microscopes. “We’ve got the right drug with right properties,” Franklin said. “We need to make sure surgeons have the right devices to see them.” To accomplish that, Blaze acquired medical device company Teal Light Surgical and its Canvas Imaging System. The company aims to expand its trial to treat 114 patients across up to 14 other sites this year. Blaze has 17 employees, 14 of them women, and has raised $40 million to date. Below is an account from a Danica Taylor, one of the children who participated in the trial. Danica entered the hospital this morning at 9 am, and the Phase 2 nationally available clinical trial for tumor paint… Posted by on
Small Run co-founders Sarah Ward, left, and Libby L. Gerber. (Small Run Photo) If you’ve graduated from tacking up posters — including the faux-fancy kind that are shrink wrapped on cardboard — and you find that the offerings from West Elm and Pottery Barn evoke a mass produced, screwed-to-a-hotel-wall vibe, it’s time to consider . The Seattle startup offers an online, curated selection of original artworks or limited edition prints by local artists. Most of the pieces are in the $250-$1,000 range, with a handful costing more than $2,000. The company launched last year, founded by , a visual artist whose work is available on the site, and a former Microsoft attorney who seriously considered majoring in art. The two saw an unmet need for people who wanted authentic art, but found massive, online marketplaces overwhelming and shopping at art galleries inconvenient or too lacking in transparency. “A lot of galleries don’t publish the price of artwork and there are some other barriers for the market we’re trying to sell to,” Gerber said. “We want to make it really easy to buy local art.” Small Run has a pilot in Seattle and currently features seven local artists. The team plans to expand to other cities and is considering a B2B model, selling to interior designers or building managers. The art includes landscapes, images of animals and bold abstracts. The Small Run site features a limited number of art works and displays them in simulated rooms. (Small Run website) “We are still exploring how much variety in terms of style and medium we should feature. We’re trying to show art that is appealing to a lot of different people, but there’s a lot of variety,” Ward said. Customers tell them that they want art that ads interest to a room, but isn’t overpowering. Small Run is following the pricing model used by galleries, which is a 50-50 split between artist and dealer, though they’re considering shifting the percentages to favor the artists. Launching their own startup provides “the opportunity to re-envision the way things can be,” Gerber said. “That there can be a better way to do it is really exciting.” We caught up with Gerber and Ward for this . Continue reading for their answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Small Run lists both original, one-of-a kind artwork and high-quality, limited edition, archival prints of artwork, by established local artists. Inspiration hit us when: We both noticed that it seemed unnecessarily difficult for people who appreciate art, but aren’t traditional art collectors, to find and buy locally made art for their homes. Each artist gets a bio and Q&A. (Small Run website) VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap. We want to prove our business model works before seeking funding. We have have done a lot of customer research, but see great value and actually testing out our model. We want to see if what our customers have told us about their preferences translates to actual sales. Once we feel confident that we have a product that our customers love, we will fundraise to expand to markets outside of Seattle. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Being nimble and responsive as we grow and learn from our customers. It’s really easy to fall in love with your own ideas, but we have found that pivoting quickly when one of our “brilliant” ideas isn’t working has been invaluable. The smartest move we’ve made so far: Partnering with other local businesses. All of the artists whose work we sell operate as small, local businesses. Each of them has spent years honing their craft, and they create stunning artwork that reflects their dedication to art making. Rock’s Studio, the local print shop who produces our SR Prints (limited-edition archival prints), has the same commitment to quality and customer service that we do. They only approve prints that are nearly indistinguishable from the original artwork. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Overlooking the possibility of developing a B2B product early on. Initially, we only focused on selling art directly to consumers. As we got further into the business, we discovered there was a pain point we could solve for other businesses like interior designers, office managers and building managers. We wish we would have been more open to that idea at the outset and built our business with that in mind. Easy-to-browse thumbnails of the artwork. (Small Run website) Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? , CEO and co-founder of . Snyder has a mix of experience that would be valuable to us at this stage: product management, marketing and building a company from scratch. We’d love her input on product development, marketing and building a diverse team. Our favorite team-building activity is: Visiting artists’ studios. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We haven’t done any hiring yet. When we do, we’ll be looking for people who can do things better than we can, and who bring diverse viewpoints to the table to help us improve and grow faster. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Find an awesome co-founder with complementary skills.
GeekWire’s Kurt Schlosser and his son find their way through “Wonderfall: Tale of Two Realms,” a Hyperspace virtual reality experience at Pacific Science Center in Seattle. (Jeff Ludwyck Photo for GeekWire) I tried to reach down and pet a cat that wasn’t real. And with that, 15 seconds into a 15-minute walk through the virtual reality world of “Wonderfall: Tale of Two Realms,” I was sold on what has built and continues to build at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. In a 3,000-square-foot corner of the longtime facility, Hyperspace’s interactive exhibit is part of the broader in which the Science Center is offering space to startups as a way to show off local creativity and innovation to guests. Hyperspace is also looking to show off for and attract a broader investor audience as it has turned to the to raise as much as $1 million. Hyperspace CEO Jeff Ludwyck — who shared his vision on last year — and a team that has grown to more than 20 have been creating both the real-world physical walls and pathways and the in-game experience of “Wonderfall” for a year and a half. Plywood marked with neon tape disappears in game to become the buildings and rooms in a small village. Haptic touches including fans, heaters and vibrating floors are sprinkled throughout, along with touchable props such as books, a spinning globe and a bench to sit on. Jeff Ludwyck, CEO of Hyperspace XR, stands along what turns into the main cobblestone street inside “Wonderfall.” (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) “You can’t have this at home,” Ludwyck said during a visit this week. “You’re standing on real cobblestone. Every little trick cements that immersion, without even really noticing. People come in all the time and go, ‘I felt like I was actually there,’ compared to sitting in your home where you know your coffee table is right there.” Hyperspace relies on inside-out tracking and has partnered with Microsoft on its Windows mixed reality platform. “Wonderfall” follows the story of a young girl named Elena inside the fantasy-magical experience. An experiment goes wrong for the would-be inventor and users get to help her fix it as she looks to re-establish contact with her parents in another world. Fifteen minutes of the 30-minute story arc are complete right now. Users do not have fully formed avatars — just virtual hands and a floating head — and there is no dual-player capability yet, so the interaction with the story is yours alone. Wearing a Samsung Odyssey headset and a high-powered HP Z VR backpack, I walked through with my 11-year-old son, Henry, to get a better feel for how the experience might appeal to the many schoolchildren who visit Pacific Science Center. Hyperspace has partnered with with Samsung and Microsoft on “Wonderfall.” Participants carry the computing power on their backs. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Throughout the 15 minutes (which costs $15), I listened as Henry reacted and exclaimed over different aspects of the virtual world, shouting repeatedly over the dialog in the headset for me to “come here and check this out!” as we explored parts of the set at a different pace. Some of the more captivating touches involved the ability to catch virtual elements in our hands, such as firefly-like bursts of light or a small rotating planet or a little darting purple creature. Reaching toward certain stacks of books also released 3D illusions such as a dragon, a demon and a clipper ship — all swirling past our heads. A split view shows how the village in “Wonderfall” looks in actual reality, left, alongside virtual reality. (Hyperspace Image) “We tried to put sounds in different locations so you’re constantly trying to find things and look around the environment, and I noticed you guys basically got everything,” Ludwyck said after he watched our walk-through while not wearing a headset of his own. After following Elena out onto a virtual dock, where it looked like we were suspended high in the clouds, the experience came to a close and pronounced that the adventure was “to be continued.” It is here that Hyperspace will extend the physical set and the virtual game another 15 minutes in the months ahead. “So coooool,” Henry said as he removed his headset. “I wish it didn’t end!” As a normal kid who already struggles with disengaging from traditional video games, he clearly wasn’t ready to step back out of Hyperspace’s virtual reality. Hyperspace’s goal is to provide the platform for developers to create their content on and to get other venues to build out similar spaces. But the plug-and-play nature of it all could evolve greatly — and keep Ludwyck from expressing his carpentry skills late into the night. “We’re working with an outside manufacturer to build modular pieces so that a venue could have a kit, basically, of parts that could shape together for a bunch of different experiences,” Ludwyck said. “Walls, flooring, doors, props, all that stuff will be part of an almost LEGOs for VR.” Ludwyck said they have three venues lined up and three projects with outside development teams. He said Hyperspace has the team, the technology, the location and new locations and just needs to “hit the gas,” which is why the formerly bootstrapped company is keen on raising a round right now. According to the Wefunder page, the company projects being in more than 50 venues in five years. Hyperspace has placed props throughout “Wonderfall” which line up with what’s visible in VR. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) “We want to create an open platform that allows everybody to jump in,” Ludwyck said. “I mean, you should see the list of people … theaters, aquariums, all kinds of random groups are saying, ‘I want to build something like this, do you have the know-how and technology and everything to to do that?’ We’re excited to enable those.” Hyperspace’s Science Center experience has attracted more than 5,000 “travelers” so far. Other startups showing off their entrepreneurial process include , which brings children’s books to life in VR, and , which spent about a year at the Science Center, and will continue to use the space to demo its interpretive exhibits and educational products. “It’s cool because it matches really well with the Science Center,” Ludwyck said of his company’s work. “The whole mission of the Science Center is igniting curiosity and we do it all the time here. Whether a kid is interested in technology or maybe art side or creative, they get to go into this other world in their brain and go, ‘Man, I could really do this someday. I could build out fully virtual and physical worlds. So I think that’s what’s been so exciting about this.”
Seattle’s tech scene has been built based on nitty-gritty infrastructure. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Despite all its success, Seattle’s tech community needs an unprecedented win to take it to the next level — a fast-growing, world-changing startup that creates a huge return for its backers and sparks a new wave of angel investing. The challenge: this isn’t what has historically fueled the region’s tech sector. But all of the work so far might have laid the foundation for this next generation. Those are some of the takeaways from a conversation with GeekWire co-founder John Cook on an episode of a new podcast from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, hosted by Seattle Metro Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland. “In past because Seattle is isolated in the Northwest and doesn’t sit in a big media hub, a lot of the innovations and creations that you’ve seen come out of Seattle are what you would maybe call a bit more boring,” Cook said on the show. “There’s a reason why enterprise software and cloud computing have grown up here.” It’s “the nitty-gritty infrastructure,” the technology that “makes everything work,” he said. GeekWire co-founder John Cook “It’s extremely important. There’s a ton of money in it,” he said. “There are some amazingly valuable companies that are growing up in this area. And so I think Seattle historically has been able to develop technologies in hard and complex areas — and that’s a real benefit.” Historically, that has translated into long company life cycles, not the breakout successes more common in Silicon Valley. Examples from Seattle include Tableau Software, the data visualization company that went public in 2013, a decade after it was founded; and travel and expense management company Concur Technologies, which sold to SAP in 2014 for $8.3 billion, more than a decade after it was founded. “What Seattle needs in order to spark this next generation of capital and investing is a home run that hits really quickly, like an Instagram … where twenty or thirty angels are invested in it and they make a crap-ton of money really quickly,” Cook said. Seattle Metro Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland hosts the Chamber’s new “Under Construction” podcast. While it might not lend itself to such rapid growth, health technology is one promising area, he said. Much of the breakthroughs in that space would be impossible without the cloud infrastructure coming out of Seattle. Innovative health technology is “an area that I think is just going to accelerate and I think Seattle is really interestingly positioned for that with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure,” Cook said. “Cloud computing is going to power the intelligence behind the ability for these researchers to … make the medicines or the cures that they want to go after.” “I see that transformation really happening in a big way and Seattle being positioned very well for that with the scientific health research, with UW, Fred Hutch and then the computing horsepower from Amazon, Microsoft and others.” Listen to the “Under Construction” podcast above, which includes more of Cook’s comments on Seattle and tech. Listen more episodes of the Seattle Chamber’s Under Construction podcast and (We’re featuring the discussion as part of a new GeekWire series spotlighting some some of our favorite podcasts about startups, leadership, technology, science and more from the Seattle region and beyond. Email suggestions for future guest podcasts to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
CTRL-labs connects the human brain to a machine via a wrist-worn device. (CTRL-labs Photo) , the New York-based startup that is reimagining how the human brain can connect with machines, has closed another big funding round, with Amazon’s Alexa Fund pitching in on the $28 million haul. The round was led by GV, according to a news release on Friday, and Amazon was joined by Lux Capital, Spark Capital, Matrix Partners, Breyer Capital, and Fuel Capital. A also raised $28 million and included the late Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital among investors. The company was co-founded by Thomas Reardon, who helped develop Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser, and Patrick Kaifosh, a theoretical neuroscientist. CTRL-labs has raised $67 million to date and the latest round will help with, among other things, the building and distribution of its developer kit, , currently in preview for select partners. With a wristband that picks up signals from the brain and allows users to control a digital device without moving a finger, CTRL-labs’ long-term vision is to pave the way for mass consumer adoption of non-invasive neural interface technology. The new kind of universal controller is meant to “empower humans to harness their machines as natural extensions of thought and movement,” according to the company. “Like the developers and creators we hear from, we feel fundamentally dissatisfied with the pervading technologies of the last century,” Reardon said in a statement. “Our objective with CTRL-kit is to give the industry’s most ambitious minds the tools they need to reimagine the relationship between humans and machines.” Check out some of these videos, demonstrating CTRL-labs technology in action: And here’s Reardon introducing CTRL-kit at the startup event Slush 2018 in December:
Circle with Disney parental control device. (Circle Photo) , maker of the Circle with Disney parental control device, has raised $20 million in new investment. The Portland-based startup makes products that allow parents to set screen time limits and block certain content. Its technology pairs to a home router and lets parents manage online access for every device on a network. Circle also sells a subscription service for devices on 4G LTE or other WiFi networks. Its flagship product, , currently sells for $40 on Amazon. Circle CEO Lance Charlish. (Circle Photo) The company will use the fresh cash for research and development, marketing and strategic partnerships, Circle CEO and co-founder told GeekWire. Circle is also developing new consumer products as well as services delivered through the cloud and routers made by its partners. “The news is full of reports of parents struggling to support their children in a connected world,” Charlish said in an email. “We recognize that parents are looking for help in their crucial role guiding their children as they progress through developmental milestones of digital literacy.” Investors in the Series B round included Circle partners NETGEAR and T-Mobile US, who were joined by Third Kind Venture Capital, Relay Ventures and others. Circle developed a service called FamilyMode for T-Mobile and sells its parental control services through NETGEAR’s routers. The funding round brings Circle’s total money raised to $30 million. The startup employs more than 60 people in its offices in Portland, Ore. and Cypress, Calif. Charlish said the company was excited about its expansion plans for 2019 but declined to share specifics. There are countless apps and smart routers that come with built-in parental controls. Circle aims to distinguish itself by providing a holistic solution that manages time and content across devices both in and out of the house — a goal that it has mainly pursued through partnerships. Researchers are . A recent found that screen time for children under 2 years old has more than doubled since 1997. In addition to Charlish, the company’s leadership also includes Chief Creative Officer Jelani Memory, who co-founded the startup, and Chief Technology Officer Tiebing Zhang. Circle was founded in 2014.
Lytics CEO James McDermott. (LinkedIn Photo) has raised more funding to help brands such as Nestlé, The Economist, Atlassian and others bolster their 1-to-1 customer marketing outreach. The Portland, Ore.-based startup announced a $35 million Series C round led by late-stage software growth equity firm JMI Equity. Existing investors such as Comcast Ventures, Two Sigma Ventures, Rembrandt Venture Partners, and Voyager Capital also participated. What Lytics does: The 7-year-old company captures customer data across various databases and marketing tools, aggregating information in one place and using machine learning to help consumer-facing companies with their personalized marketing efforts. Traction: Lytics has more than 175 enterprise brands paying for its software. It saw revenue increase by nearly 3X last year. The company its Series B round this past April and total funding to date is north of $50 million. Competition: There are various competitors tackling the same problem. Many companies use their own software to analyze internal marketing data; external consultancies offer something similar; and several early-stage startups — , , and are three from the Pacific Northwest — have a similar pitch. Investor insight: Backers describe Lytics as the leader among customer data platforms. “As marketers seek to coordinate more of their campaigns across channels, Lytics is perfectly positioned to make this possible,” Suken Vakil, general partner at JMI Equity, said in a statement. “Starting with our initial investment, we recognized the disruptive role Lytics’ vision for customer data platforms could play within the world’s largest brands,” added Erik Benson, partner a Voyager Capital.
, a new Seattle biotech startup that aims to develop protein drugs that act only when needed, raised $11 million in an equity round seeking twice that amount, . The secretive startup is trying to “make safer, more effective drugs that act only when and where they are needed, limiting systemic toxicity without reducing therapeutic efficacy,” according to its website. Good said it is developing an algorithm that will design proteins for cancer therapies. Good Therapeutics CEO John Mulligan. (Good Therapeutics Photo) Founder and CEO confirmed the $11 million round but declined to comment on what it means for the company when contacted by GeekWire. Mulligan, who earned his doctorate in biology from Stanford University, previously worked as a consultant for Microsoft on , according to his LinkedIn. He also founded Glycostasis, a company that designed a protein to regulate insulin levels, and co-founded Cambrian Genomics, which created a way to laser print DNA. Good’s offices are in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, according to the filing. The company listed the following directors: , managing director of life science venture capital firm RiverVest Venture Partners. , an investment director at Roche Venture Fund, the investment arm of pharmaceutical giant Roche. , an investment director at Roche Venture Fund. , managing director of Portland-based VC firm 3×5 Partners.
(RealWear Photo) Vancouver, Wash.-based startup has raised another $5 million in a round led by Columbia Ventures Corporation to expand its global sales arm and invest in development of its industrial augmented reality headwear. Wearing his signature product, the HMT-1, Andy Lowery is co-founder and CEO of RealWear. (Andy Lowery Photo) Founded in 2016, RealWear sells a voice-controlled augmented reality device worn by industrial workers that provides remote video calling, document navigation, guided workflow, mobile forms and data visualization. It has two versions of the device priced at $2,000 and $5,000. The company has shipped more than 10,000 units to 800 customers globally in the past 18 months. It recently with China’s State Grid, the largest utility in the world. Other customers include Colgate-Palmolive, Volkswagen, Toyota, and others. “We essentially are the tip of the spear of a connected worker program for industry,” RealWear CEO Andy Lowery told GeekWire . “We are able to free a worker’s hands for the work by providing a wearable Android computer that is fully voice-controlled, even in extremely noisy environments. They can pull up documents, connect to other experts, and facilitate learning and problem solving in situ, meaning right there and then.” RealMax also invested in the new round, as did other strategic backers, advisors, employees, friends and family. Total funding to date in the 91-person company is $30 million. RealWear is ranked No. 98 on the , our index of Pacific Northwest startups. reported this week that funding in U.S.-based construction technology startups rose to nearly $3.1 billion last year, up from $731 million in 2017. Related:
Scorebook Live CEO Dan Beach. (Scorebook Live Photo) has reeled in another $2.5 million to help high school sports programs get access to the same level of technology that professional leagues use on a daily basis. The Spokane, Wash.-based company started with an app that lets high school football and basketball teams record stats and play-by-play information, but it has expanded to more sports and products. It now offers additional tools for scheduling, roster management, and a team website service. Scorebook Live also recently partnered with DragonFly Athletics to build software targeted at high school athletic departments and launched . (Scorebook Live Photo) , a media company that owns The Spokesman-Review in Spokane and a handful of TV stations across the Pacific Northwest, led the funding round. “Cowles leadership of Stacey Cowles, Steve Rector and Spokesman-Review Editor Rob Curley understand how important high school sports are to local communities and see that Scorebook Live’s technology and vision are solving a number of problems that have existed inside this market for many years,” said Scorebook Live CEO Dan Beach. Beach previously worked at ESPN from 2009 to 2012; he “spearheaded ESPN’s entry into the ‘high school scoring’ market,” according to his . Scorebook Live relocated from San Diego to Spokane after Beach’s son accepted an offer to play for Gonzaga’s basketball team; the CEO and his wife also grew up in the area. Other investors in Scorebook Live include ex-NBA players such as Jerry Stackhouse and former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison. Dan Dickau, another former NBA player who also starred at Gonzaga, is the company’s vice president of market development. Scorebook Live employs 11 people and makes money off a combination of licensing and sponsorship/advertising sales. Cowles Company has also in Pacific Northwest tech startups such as Zipwhip, Phytelligence, Skyward, etaliz, AnswerDash, SheerID, TurboPatent, and others.
Vikram Jandhyala. (UW Photo) After five years of leading the University of Washington’s innovation center, is stepping down. Jandhyala, executive director of , told GeekWire that he plans to depart this June. He’ll stay connected to the university and spend more time at the , the new U.S.-China joint technology innovation institute run by the UW and Tsinghua University in Beijing. Jandhyala became the university’s vice provost of innovation , taking over for Linden Rhodes after a 3-year stint leading the UW’s electrical engineering department. His title evolved into vice president of innovation strategy as Jandhyala led CoMotion, which helps startups through education and access to experts and funding sources. Originally started as the Center for Commercialization (C4C) at the UW’s main Seattle campus, CoMotion evolved a few years ago from a department that mainly helped commercialize ideas born at the university to what it now describes as a “collaborative innovation hub dedicated to expanding the economic and societal impact of the UW community.” Under the leadership of Jandhyala, the UW has ranked among the top 10 on for the past several years and cracked the top 10 of the Milken Institute national tech transfer rankings. CoMotion also helped open a makerspace on campus; created an Amazon Catalyst program; and launched the Mobility Innovation Center with Challenge Seattle. “These last five years have been amazing and I am really proud of the momentum and accomplishments made by the team at CoMotion,” said Jandhyala, who first joined the UW as an assistant professor in 2000 and founded his own startup in 2007. “They have produced a standout service for the community of UW innovators and built strong connections to the local and global innovation ecosystems.” Jandhyala is already the co-executive director at GIX, which recently , and will dedicate more time to the program after he leaves CoMotion in June. He’ll work closely with UW leadership to create a transition and succession plan for CoMotion.
LeoStella technicians work on the first of 20 satellites to be produced by the Tukwila, Wash.-based startup. (GeekWire Photo) When you hear the words “satellite factory,” ‘s operations in a nondescript office park south of Seattle probably isn’t the image that comes to mind. But that’s exactly what it is. By the middle of summer, the Tukwila, Wash.-based startup aims to pop out the first of a run of 20 small satellites. That initial production will go to in Seattle, which operates a constellation of Earth-imaging satellites and sells the insights to business clients. LeoStella CEO said the Tukwila location fulfilled three main criteria: it was close to BlackSky, affordable, and easy to get a building permit. Chris Chautard will step down as LeoStella CEO next month when Mike Hettich will take over. (GeekWire Photo) The startup, which launched less than a year ago, will manufacture small, low-cost satellites for Earth observation and telecommunications. Chautard said the satellites were designed to be simple and flexible. Chautard will step down as CEO next month, when , a vice president at Kirkland, Wash.-based aerospace firm Astronics, will take over. LeoStella’s structure is a 50-50 transatlantic joint venture between two entities: Seattle-based , which owns BlackSky. , an aerospace venture between France’s and Italy’s . Thales in Spaceflight last year as part of a $150 million fundraising round. The companies said a “big chunk” went to forming LeoStella. The basic pitch around small satellites is that they’ll let more companies get to space cheaper. With its purchase of LeoStella’s satellites, BlackSky is betting that what’s most important isn’t the size of your satellites that counts. It’s how you use them. “The economics of a high performing small satellite constellation are going to unlock a whole world of new data and information services for a much broader global market,” said BlackSky CEO . “Satellites are a great enabler. But ultimately, this is about delivering timely information so people can make relevant decisions that are going to impact their business,” he added. A satellite developed by BlackSky sits on the floor of LeoStella’s manufacturing room. (GeekWire Photo) LeoStella is actively looking for customers outside of BlackSky. The company has 34 employees and lots of empty desks, though it did not elaborate on hiring plans. LeoStella is already working on the design of its third-generation satellite. Once it is at full capacity, the startup will produce 30 small satellites per year and will add telecom satellites to its offerings. LeoStella uses parts from 20 different suppliers, including L3 GCS, Aitech Defense Systems and Seattle’s Jemco. When it comes to satellites, small is a relative term. LeoStella’s initial satellites will weigh between 50 to 150 kilograms (110 to 330 pounds). Other satellite makers are investigating tough scientific questions with . LeoStella’s Earth-imaging satellites were created to revisit heavily populated mid-latitude regions frequently, taking in 4×6 kilometer images. They have a 36-month service life. LeoStella’s first satellite should launch in late 2019. BlackSky said it will have 16 satellites in its constellation by early 2021 and hopes to eventually grow that number to 60.
Matt Rubright. (Matt Rubright Photo) Editor’s note: This guest post is written by Matt Rubright, an operator turned banker at Silicon Valley Bank. Building an effective pitch deck is a unique topic of conversation in the startup ecosystem. It’s one of the few topics where every startup has created one before, many people have written playbooks about how to create them, yet many early stage companies I speak with are still looking for guidance. What I surmise from hearing this time and again is that pitch decks are so important to the livelihood of a startup that we’re constantly in the pursuit of more perfect information. In that spirit, I turned to Silicon Valley Bank’s unique data set that has been aggregated over the years and in various markets to provide tangible, quantifiable guardrails based on the successful fundraising processes of our clients. We then pressure tested our findings from the investor perspective with Randall Lucas of Voyager Capital, a first-round VC having led or co-led over 70 Seed and Series A rounds, to ensure we’re surfacing the most valuable points in the research. Companies in the study Our data set is comprised of Series A companies from diverse geographies, industries and founder experience levels. By doing so, we’re able to surface insight that has broad application in the innovation economy. No client-specific data is presented in this post to maintain confidentiality. Investors & funding outcomes The pitch decks we evaluated came from companies that garnered highly credible investors and were able to close larger rounds than asked for in their pitch decks. What we observed Pitch deck length: Keep it short + appendix. We saw a great deal of variation in the number of slides as shown below. If you’re grappling with the length of a pitch deck, compare the slides in to the . If you have many additional slides or expound upon sections for multiple slides, it’s probably worth leveraging an appendix section. At a minimum, ask yourself if the slide is critical to the story you are telling or if it’s supportive in nature. Randall advises entrepreneurs, “Shoot for 10–12 slides knowing you’ll wind up at 14-16 — entrepreneurs love to tell their stories, but you really need to ruthlessly focus.” Problem statement: Be clear & concise Every pitch deck had a problem statement but there was a decent amount of variability to how it was presented. The two most prevalent approaches we noted were “User X has Y problem” and “market A has B inefficiency or missed value.” Just shy of half (46 percent) actually specified a specific user in their problem statement; the remainder focused on the market problem/inefficiency approach. In speaking with Randall, there isn’t a “right” approach between the two options, as long as it’s clear what the company is solving for. A tactic that doesn’t resonate is merely describing how much better the future world would be with everyone using your product. “Asking investors to ‘imagine a world where…’ is not a great start to understanding an early stage startup’s opportunity,” says Randall. “Focus on pain that customers are having today, and on articulating sustainable competitive advantage — and the ‘great and glorious future’ will be clear.” Be concise in the problem statement — 1-to-2 slides maximum here. Market Size: Billions can make sense within a context If you’ve reached the point of pitching institutional venture capitalists, you must be able to prove that the market you operate in is capable of producing venture-size returns. We could belabor what the minimum market size is or how to assess a venture sized return, but we’ll defer to those who’ve already explained these concepts well (). That said, the desired VC return profile does have important implications on the approach to estimating size. As noted in the graphic above, a top down approach is the significantly more popular. In terms of total dollar size, Randall told us he didn’t have a strong expectation that founders should present deep rigor around the estimate, however this does not negate thoughtfulness in the approach. “Many of the best market opportunities don’t have historical data available, or don’t even fully exist at the time you’re pitching,” he says. “You need to show that your addressable market is plausibly big enough and lucrative enough for your goals.” Saying your market is $3T because your industry is “retail” does nothing for a potential investor because it’s too high level to tie to your company in any manner. The worst case scenario is having an investor question your market size and lose their confidence in you before you’ve really talked about what it is you do. Retail isn’t an appropriate context for your opportunity, but perhaps retail supply chain SaaS spend is. Furthermore, pitch decks that provided massive market sizes were often contextualized within an industry mega trend or paired with an addressable opportunity breakdown to show what is actually addressable. Less prevalent in both our data set and in Randall’s experience are startups that complement their top down with a bottom up approach as well. Extending our prior example, a large retail supply chain market can further be contextualized by starting with how much on average a Fortune 100 organization spends on supply chain software today. Extrapolating from this data point can help show cost that you’ll attempt to displace at a minimum. Randall indicated he would see presenting both top-down and bottom-up calculations as an positive exception, not the rule. “The more surprising or non-obvious the market opportunity is, the more support it demands,” he says. “Don’t burn a lot of time and screen space on reinforcing readily grasped, credible market numbers.” Your solution: Demo like a founder, not customer support Your problem statement, market size, competitive landscape slides don’t deep dive into granular detail, so why should your product demo? From what we observed in the study, founders are using simple visual tools to help provide product context but aren’t providing a level of detail to onboard investors as successful users. Perhaps the greatest indicator of the 50K foot approach is the prevalence of product screenshots over any other medium. Don’t forget, a pitch deck is just a first step — you’ll likely get into a much deeper product review during the diligence process, so don’t attempt to ramp up investors on the nuance of your product at this point. As you’ll note in the above graphic, 18 percent of companies didn’t use any product visualization in their presentation deck. However, we don’t want to draw conclusions here as it’s possible founders showcased their product outside of the presentation entirely. “For an entrepreneur, your product is your baby. Of course you think it’s beautiful and exciting. To a venture investor, though, all the baby pictures kind of look the same,” says Randall. “I generally don’t like to see a product demo in the first meeting.” Exceptions would be products where user experience or visualization are truly core elements. Focus product slides *only* on key product aspects that drive your unique go-to-market edge or sustainable competitive advantage. Traction: Showcase two types of credibility A successful pitch deck will successfully weave together quantifiable metrics and customer profiles to establish credibility behind what has been accomplished to date. We’ll briefly touch on both below. Metric Showcase Knowing that our study covered a wide range of industries and business models, it would be improper to place targets on metrics to illustrate expectations for a Series A (we’ll likely address in a future post). Regardless of the industry or business, we did see three distinct categories across a majority of pitch decks that should be accounted for. Customer Showcase If metrics are the quantifiable success of the company, customers are the qualitative context that helps put it in perspective. Most pitch decks leveraged one or more of the below tactics to further ground their metrics in a customer context. From what we’ve observed both in this study and in working with early stage companies, these illustrative approaches lend to different types of credibility: Customer logos: brand credibility — we are diligenced and paid by trusted brands! Testimonials: user passion credibility — our users can’t live without us! Case studies: end-to-end solution credibility — we can repeat this again! Pipeline: forecast credibility — look at the revenue we’re going to have! As you look to build your deck, be cognizant of why you choose the above mediums and how it reflects on the state of your business. You should be able to show traction that is both quantitative and qualitative in nature. Competition: Use it to demonstrate your strengths Every founder would like to say they are completely unique and they’ve found completely white space. It is almost never true. For a vast majority of startups, there are competitors, potential competitors, or substitutes for solving your customers’ problem. Not addressing this can look like you don’t know the space well enough or are obscuring detail. It’s also a missed opportunity to tie in your competitive advantage. As indicated by the data, most startups aren’t shying away from competition, but instead using this section as an opportunity to educate potential investors on how the startup will carve out their space. To illustrate this point, the majority of pitch decks leveraged a 2×2 graph to show position relative to competitive threats. When asked about the 2×2 visualization, Randall urged founders not to neglect considering magnitude vs. specificity. “When you choose how to present the ‘market map,’ it’s important to note the scale of competitors and substitutes, but also how specific and direct the competitive threat is,” he said. In other words: who else can do what you’re doing and how well are they resourced to do it? For example, a large enterprise may have the magnitude (or scale) to compete with you, but may not choose to do so because it doesn’t make sense to pivot resources to build in your narrow space. However, if a competing startup raises a significant round, they can solve a specific problem and have the capital to move quickly. Your ability to speak to these dynamics in a pitch will help illustrate your understanding of the real threats to your business in the market. Go to market: Sales channels + pricing at a minimum Perhaps the widest variability of content was observed in go-to-market approaches. It was interesting to observe that other sections we address throughout this blog post had definitive titles and a discrete number of slides, yet GTM was rarely ever titled as such. The most notable approach observed was a combination of sales channels and pricing strategy. In speaking with Randall, we attribute this variability and lack of depth to how tried and true markets and business models are. For example, enterprise B2B SaaS is very well defined, so there is no need to belabor the mechanics of a GTM. With that in mind, Randall did emphasize that you must answer two questions: How do you get the “kindling” started for very early sales if you’re still discerning product market fit? How do you think you’ll scale up the sales model once the fire is going? Growth projections: Work within a knowable range Similar to market sizing, projections help illustrate the aspiration and opportunity ahead of the business. Projections without any rigor will show lack of knowledge and/or understanding, while getting too granular in your attempt to model growth is unrealistic, cuz ya know, early stage startup. A quick way to gut check your forecast is by asking yourself how “knowable” the industry and business model truly are. If you’re entering an industry that is fairly well understood or you employ a proven business model (think enterprise SaaS), you may have the ability to show longer time frames with higher confidence. From what we’ve heard from Randall and what’s we’ve seen from clients historically, 36 months is probably a good projection horizon. It’s long enough to show growth potential, but it doesn’t put you firmly into an “unknowable” range. In terms of the metrics you choose to project, the two most common approaches were: (a) revenue + # of customers + headcount, or (b) income statement In speaking with Randall, option A was the much preferred approach as it anchors on the most important drivers, but doesn’t attempt to forecast income statement line items that end up being based on very little knowable data. Revenue was by far the most common top prioritized metric, but as noted above there are many other top line metrics a company could optimize for. Other important notes… Being cash flow positive: This may seem important to a founder, but don’t forget your Series A investors want to see rapid top line growth and another equity round to fuel continued growth and long term exit opportunities. Being cash flow positive isn’t the priority. Assumptions: None of the pitch decks stated explicit assumptions with their projections. The numbers aren’t perfectly knowable and having a reasonable approach is enough to satisfy investors during the pitch. Team: Highlight what makes you credible All pitch decks had a team slide that was either near the onset or the close. Team slides were primarily limited to the founders, but occasionally included other key team members. The data hierarchy on these slides was typically person A name, short title or statement about person A, previous companies and/or exits for person A. Many of the team slides observed also allocated space for existing investors and key mentors. “If you’re going to include advisors — other than employees or directors — you get far more credibility if you can also say that they’re investors. It’s easy for a Ph.D. or retired CEO to lend you their name — but will they put even a modest sum at risk?” asked Randall. “I personally discount non-investor advisor names in a deck.” All things considered, you should be able to accomplish this with one slide. The Ask: A conversation starter I’d imagine this is the most anxiety inducing slide for most founders. You’ve told your story and now it’s time to land the punchline. Most investors want to see a dollar ask. After all, you’ve already told the investor what you expect to build and the expected projection for the business — shouldn’t you be able to project how much it’s all going to cost? Beyond the capital ask, we saw common elements on the ask slide across many of the decks: Expected milestones and metrics to be achieved Projected spend allocation Remaining cash, burn rate and runway Expected participation from existing investors (if any) From Randall’s perspective, No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 are very important. He indicated No. 2, the specifics of spend, is helpful mainly when the business model doesn’t make it obvious where the funds will go. “OpEx — and head count in particular — is almost always the core spend driver. More detail in the use of funds is only helpful if it doesn’t clearly follow from a head count increase that ties to the GTM and product efforts,” he said. In summary, don’t forget this presentation is the first step in a dialogue. By presenting a transparent ask with the above context around it, you’ll be more likely to have a fruitful conversation where potential investors can understand where you’re trying to go and how they can play a part. Bonus round: wildcard slides Through inventorying every slide in a large number of pitch decks, we came across interesting slides that are not always discussed in pitch deck discussions, but worth considering for any startup. TL;DR slide: A summary slide at the beginning to highlight the key information to follow. Randall indicated this was very helpful and often found in above average pitch decks. Capital efficiency slide: Some of the pitch decks included a slide to show revenue and customer growth achieved with the previous capital. A handful of these slides also included net burn, remaining months of capital and total cash on hand. ‘Explainer’ slides: I use this as a catch all where you want to dive deeper into things like tech infrastructure, product, hiring plans, etc. These are fantastic appendix slides. Appendix: We believe founders should create an appendix section. You won’t always use it, but supporting information can be helpful in a pitch. About this post is dedicated to helping founders increase their probability of success. Be on the lookout for more data-driven posts in the near future. is a venture firm providing entrepreneurs with the resources, experience and connections to build successful technology companies. The firm prefers to invest in the software, analytics and cloud infrastructure startups. It is based in Seattle, Washington and was founded in 1997. For more writing from Randall Lucas check out his blog . NOTE: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of SVB Financial Group, Silicon Valley Bank, or any of its affiliates. Companies referenced throughout this document are independent third parties and are not affiliated with SVB Financial Group.
It seems like we’ve moved to the Midwest or East Coast with Seattle weather lately. And days like these make us think about how technology can help kids continue to learn when they’re outside the classroom. An upcoming weekend hack event will focus on improving education using technology. takes place Feb. 22 and Feb. 23 in Seattle. “Discover how developments like voice, AI, ML, and AR/VR will forever change the way we learn and teach information,” according to a description from the event site. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : A talk from fashion startup Armoire about how they’ve used machine learning in their business at Ada’s Technical Books in Seattle; 6 p.m. to 8 p.m Thursday, Feb. 21. If you’re a comic book fan, Seattle’s MoPop museum is currently showcasing The exhibit has more than 300 items on display, including props and costumes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as old, rare or out-of-print comics. The installation runs through March 2. : A presentation about Artificial Intelligence from startup veteran, computer scientist and Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence CEO Oren Etzioni at Create 33 in Seattle; 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb.26. : The first night in a series of hackathons where contestants work in teams to develop and program donkey cars at Code Fellows in Seattle; 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26. : An event highlighting current trends and innovations in robotics at WeWork Labs in Seattle; 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28. : A competition where five startups pitch their company to the audience members at The Collective in Seattle; 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28. 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 Seattle-area indie game developer and publisher of titles such as Hello Neighbor and Rapture Rejects, has raised a $15 million investment to fuel growth. Founded eight years ago, tinyBuild partners with third-party studios to turn small game prototypes into full products. It started with games such as No Time to Explain, Party Hard, and Clustertruck. Its most recent title, Hello Neighbor, was tinyBuild’s first franchise that spawned multiplayer spin-offs, prequels, and a book series that just crossed 1 million in sales. The 27-person company will use the fresh cash to hire in Seattle and Amsterdam. , co-founder and CEO, told GeekWire that tinyBuild plans to grow with what he described as a “dynamic structure.” “We don’t necessarily hire for specific roles, rather build roles around people’s skills — and when the industry changes, morph those roles into whatever is relevant at the time,” he said in an email. “I strongly believe it’s dangerous to build companies in the games industry that rely on a strict structure with specific roles — the industry is dynamic, and so is tinyBuild. The flip side of this is that it can often feel like everything is on fire. Organized chaos is what I call it!” Nichiporchik declined to provide details about investors in the round. The company previously from Makers Fund. According to the Washington Interactive Network, is home to roughly 400 video game developers, representing around 23,000 jobs and over $28 billion in annual revenue. Related:
Sales automation startup Outreach was the only Seattle company to make CB Insights’ list of future unicorns. (Outreach Photo) Can algorithms predict the next billion-dollar companies better than human venture capitalists? It seems possible, at least based on a formula created by CB Insights and The New York Times. Back in 2015, the companies published a list of 50 startups that would eventually becomes “unicorns,” or those valued at $1 billion or more. It identified candidates using CB Insights’ which analyzes the health of a startup based on various data including strength of market, financial performance, and overall traction — a “FICO score for startups,” as described by the investment data firm. Fast forward to today, and 48 percent of the companies on the 2015 list are now considered unicorns. “At the risk of sounding immodest, that is pretty good,” CB Insights this month. “And if we were a venture firm, this kind of hit rate would make us legendary.” That’s why it’s worth giving a look. (CBInsights Photo) The 50 future unicorns hail from various industries and the median company has about $111 million in total funding. A majority are based in the U.S., with 22 from California, five in New York, and two in Massachusetts. Outreach CEO Manny Medina. (Outreach Photo) There is just one from Seattle: sales automation startup , which this past spring, announced it was space this summer, made its , and was the only Seattle company to crack the top 25 in list for 2018. Outreach CEO Manny Medina said the company more than doubled its revenue in 2018 and met all goals and metrics. Outreach now has more than 3,100 customer accounts and 50,000-plus users. It employs 315 people and plans to reach 450 by the end of 2019. “This upcoming year we will make more investments in scaling the business efficiently and prepare for an IPO a few years out,” Medina told GeekWire. “This includes continued investment from our product to support, measure, and automate customer facing workflows. Our job is to make all sales reps great and drive higher revenue efficiency for their companies.” The 5-year-old sales engagement platform uses machine learning to help customers such as Cloudera, Adobe, Microsoft, Docusign, and others automate and streamline communication with sales prospects. Medina, a former director at Microsoft, originally launched a recruiting software startup called GroupTalent in 2011 with his co-founders Andrew Kinzer, Gordon Hempton, and Wes Hather. But the entrepreneurs in 2014 to focus on building tools for salespeople. Chris DeVore, managing director at Techstars Seattle — Outreach was a 2011 graduate of the accelerator — said the company is a good example of why he focuses on investing in people over ideas. “Outreach is one of my favorite stories,” . “The business they set out to build wasn’t working, but because they stuck together as a founding team and kept adapting and learning, they figured out how to find a productive thing. But that wasn’t because of where they started or the early metrics. It was because as humans, they were so committed and resilient and so gritty that they figured it out. “And that’s really what you’re betting on,” DeVore continued. “It’s a 10-year journey and it’s never always up and to the right. There are always setbacks and near-death moments. It’s the human capacity for resilience and persistence every time that will turn a bad investment into a good one.” While it’s a safe bet to invest in tenacious and dogged founders, CB Insights’ track record with its Mosaic score shows how data-driven formulas can drive smart investment decisions. That strategy has worked well for firms such as Seattle-based , an online revenue-based funding vehicle that uses proprietary technology to figure out which companies to back. Lighter Capital has invested in more than 300 companies across 500 deals since 2012 and plans to invest in close to 200 startups this year, CEO B.J. Lackland . A recent found that 38 percent of venture capitalists use data to source and evaluate investment opportunities. “Our survey shows strong adoption of data to inform investment decision-making and a growing appetite to increase usage,” Steve Bendt, vice president of marketing at PitchBook, said in a statement. “While the majority of respondents believe VC investing will always involve the human element, there’s enthusiasm to explore how machine learning can automate traditional VC.”
DNA Romance co-founders Timothy Sexton and Judith Bosire. (DNA Romance Photo) It’s Valentine’s Day, so romance is in the air. But it’s not the smell of Axe Body Wash or Chanel No. 5 that will do the wooing. It’s the scent that comes from the unique combination of proteins that pepper the surface of our cells, helping our immune system tell the difference between friend or foe. At least that’s the matchmaking strategy being embraced by , a Vancouver, B.C.-based startup that launched in 2014. “We are deciphering the essential elements behind the ‘scent of love’ and the ideal personality combinations for successful relationships,” said co-founder and CEO . DNA Romance generates potential matches based on a DNA analysis of genes involved with immune system response that research has connected to human attraction. It appears that people with greater differences in their receptors — known as the — are more likely to be appealing to each other. Opposites, it seems, do attract — which has the evolutionary advantage of potentially creating kids with a wider range of immuno-weapons for fighting disease. As an added layer of screening, the service also uses the results of Myers-Briggs personality tests to match singles. People can use a kit purchased from DNA Romance to sample and create their genetic blueprint, or share their results from one of the other DNA sequencing companies. Then DNA Romance applies its proprietary algorithm to the DNA results, adds in the Myers-Briggs analysis and runs the combo against the site’s other users, which number between 8,000-12,000 (Sexton declined to give an exact number). The company promises to generate potential matches within 30 minutes of providing your data. While the idea of bringing scientific rigor to dating holds an appeal, some researchers are skeptical that these genes provide meaningful insights into love connections. A 2018 advised that “experts caution the science behind matching you with someone who has different immune system genes remains theoretical,” though Sexton countered that the story incorrectly mixed up the idea of pheromones with MHC-driven attraction. Sexton, who has a Ph.D. in population genetics and a bachelor’s in biochemistry and molecular biology, is convinced by the research, and the DNA Romance website links to more than two-dozen research papers on the topic. He touts some anecdotal evidence as well. Sexton met DNA Romance co-founder through OkCupid. On his initial dates with Bosire, they talked about the concept of DNA-based matchmaking. Sexton explained the science and Bosire, who holds master’s degrees in economics and international development, considered the business case, asking why DNA-driven dating was not already being used. It appeared that the backend was difficult to code, Sexton said, requiring input from experts in fields including genomics, dating, software engineering and business. DNA Romance provides matching scores based on genetic results and a personality test. (DNA Romance Image) “Despite the challenges, we were still curious and decided to collect a DNA sample from both of us, and then prepare our couples DNA comparison,” he said. “It was a nerve-wracking few weeks waiting for the DNA testing and the analysis to be completed.” The test confirmed that they were a match, and the couple ultimately married in May 2016. Bosire is the chief financial officer for DNA Romance and a senior associate for Deloitte. The third member of the founding team is , now a project manager at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Shortly after launching, the trio participated in UBC’s accelerator. Other contributors include , a Google engineer who helped build the software side of DNA Romance, and lead investor , a psychology researcher at James Cook University who developed the personality compatibility rating. The startup has raised $120,000 from friends and family and has customers in 93 countries. Their business model was initially subscription based, but in the fall they shifted to selling home DNA testing kits and online advertising to generate revenue. The kits — on sale for Valentine’s Day — cost $74.75. DNA Romance is available online, with plans to develop mobile apps. Competitors in the DNA-assisted dating space include Pheramor, GenePartner and Instant Chemistry. We caught up with Sexton for this . DNA Romance co-founder and CEO Timothy Sexton. (DNA Romance Photo) Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: DNA Romance is an online dating platform where predictions of romantic chemistry are made online. DNA Romance also evaluates personality compatibility using information from Myers-Briggs personality types. Like other dating apps, users also see a photograph of each match allowing them to evaluate attraction to appearance. Inspiration hit us when: We had suffered from online dating fatigue! Judith and I had both been using online dating for about four years before we meet on OkCupid, both of us had several mismatches dates — with no “chemistry” at all. As a population geneticist, I understood that while online dating provided many choices, mismatching was occurring because the online sites were failing to predict chemistry before a first date. Online dating sites were overlooking decades of scientific research validated in independent labs showing that there was a genetic basis for romantic chemistry, and the mode of action was similar in all vertebrates. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We have bootstrapped in order to demonstrate the vision and attract investment from accredited investors. In recent weeks we have been talking to angel investors, VCs and even larger dating sites to secure our next round. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Romantic chemistry is written in your DNA code, and DNA Romance translates this genetic information into actionable advice to help your dating life. DNA Romance has developed a technological pipeline that has been improving with every customer. At the heart of our business is the DNA Romance matchmaking algorithm, which identifies the DNA markers of interest and calculates predictions of romantic chemistry between our members. The smartest move we’ve made so far: We didn’t hire full-time employees until our growth trajectory was clear. We have hired or contracted subject matter experts who could help to make DNA Romance a reality. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: We did not fully understand the challenge of educating people about our product. Consumer genetics is a fairly new field with precision health applications finally catching on. We also wish we had learned to code before day one. This would have made the overall development less stressful and costly. A potential match? (DNA Romance Image) Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? In an ideal world, we would love to be advised by Markus Frind, founder of the Vancouver, B.C.-based online dating service PlentyOfFish. He built the company and sold it to The Match Group (owner of Match.com and OkCupid) for $575 million. Our favorite team-building activity is: A day hike up a local mountain has so many benefits: We share spectacular views, take a break from technology and achieve a tough goal together. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We look for the smartest people available with a passion for our product and the company. It’s important for us to be able to meet every new hire in person. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Get out of the office and talk, people will only invest their time and money if they know you and believe in your vision, not everyone will like your idea if they don’t just move on. Starting a business is an endurance contest, strap in for the long haul and get multiple revenue streams flowing early.
ASG MarTech CEO Steve Reardon. (ASG MarTech Photo) , a Silicon Valley investment firm that acquires and then operates software-as-a-service companies, is swooping up six startups and forming a new marketing tech organization that will be based in Bellevue, Wash. The new company, called ASG MarTech, will consist of the six acquired startups and an existing Alpine SG portfolio company called Grade.Us. They will continue operating as standalone offerings as part of ASG MarTech, which will serve digital agencies and brands with a suite of marketing tools. Here are the six acquired startups, with descriptions from Alpine SG: and , managed by Mike Ciaglia, are software platforms for brands and agencies that allow firms to effectively and accurately monitor, test, measure and prove SEO strategies to their customer bases. , lead by CEO Ben Carpel, is an all-in-one online performance dashboard that helps marketers easily monitor and analyze vital enterprise data in one place. , founded by Jack Yu and Nori Yoshida, helps businesses operating multiple locations engage customers quickly and identify opportunities to improve through its monitoring and management platform. The business is a powerful complement to Grade.Us’s presence in the online reputation management market. , founded by Zach Anderson and Jeff Schwerdt, is a marketing platform that enables local business owners to easily control and expand their online reputation. , founded by Vitaly Veksler is a full-service social media management platform that offers both social media monitoring and scheduling of content. ASG MarTech will employ more than 50 people and will be led by CEO , who previously oversaw Alpine SG subsidiary Bill4Time and Grade.Us. “We are incredibly fortunate to be partnering with such quality businesses,” Reardon said in a statement. “Each business has been infused with the passion and energy of an incredibly talented founder and are well positioned to accelerate their already considerable growth.” Alpine SG is backed by Alpine Investors, a private equity firm. In September it Seattle startup Record360 and has bought 18 companies since 2016.
Polly co-founders Bilal Aijazi and Samir Diwan. (Polly Photo) With millions of employees at thousands of companies now getting work done with collaboration software such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, it’s created opportunities for startups to build tools that help enhance these new workflows. Investors — including Slack’s own VC fund — like what they see so far with , a Seattle startup that announced a $7 million funding round led by Madrona Venture Group. , Amplify Partners, Fathom Capital, and existing investors also participated. What Polly does: Polly’s software is used to quickly collect feedback from employees using Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Hangouts Chat. Use cases include anything from automated polls every time an IT ticket closes or periodic surveys for new hires going through the onboarding process. The idea is to gather and analyze data to improve operations across various parts of a company. “As work converges in Slack, we’ve seen an increase in demand from teams and organizations to connect these pieces of work together,” said Polly CEO and co-founder . “This is why you see Slack and Teams using the language ‘collaboration hub’ more often, because that’s exactly what’s happening. As teams look to measure the success of these processes, with Polly they can trigger feedback requests based off of key events.” Pivot: Polly launched more than three years ago. After graduating from Techstars Seattle in 2016, it a $1.2 million seed round. At the time, Polly was focused on using chatbots to survey employees inside of Slack. Diwan said the software shifted to be less conversational. “Conversational has a time/place, but when users and customers want something, sometimes there are significantly faster ways then to have a text-based conversation,” he said. “There is space in this world for conversational bots — Polly isn’t one of them.” But the company was certainly on the right path. Since Polly started, the use of Slack and other new tools such as Microsoft Teams has increased. Slack, , has 10 million daily users and more than 85,000 paying customers . Microsoft in September that it had 329,000 organizations using Teams. Competition: There are a few other Slack-related polling tools but Diwan said Polly’s software sees higher engagement in part because of its simple and intuitive design. “Others have tried to copy us but they haven’t been able to pull it off,” he noted. Customers: Polly has hundreds of customers, Diwan said. The company launched its enterprise product last year and tripled its user base in 2018. Founding team: Diwan and his co-founder, , are former Microsoft engineers. Employees: Polly employs 11 people and plans to double its headcount. Investor insight: Total funding to date is $10.4 million. Madrona Partner Sudip Chakrabarti will join Polly’s board as a result of the new funding. Here’s why he’s excited about the company, per a blog post from today: Our investment in Polly follows from our core thesis that, enterprise workflows, for the most part, will move away from legacy systems and email to modern online collaborations platforms like Slack, Teams and Mattermost. While these platforms started their lives as messaging tools, they now have the opportunity to become the “operating system” for modern enterprise workflows. That is already happening. Forward-looking organizations are creating Slack teams whose mandate is to adopt and/or build applications to enable enterprise workflows on Slack. As enterprise workflows move to collaboration tools, measuring the effectiveness of those workflows — so that those could be analyzed and further improved — becomes critically important. That is exactly what Polly enables. Polly enables organizations to collect and understand feedback from key constituents so that enterprises can measure and optimize their workflows and thereby, deliver a much better experience.
Tectonic Audio Labs CEO Craig Hubbell. (Tectonic Audio Labs Photo) Seattle-area startup has raised $6 million to further develop its audio technology used in smart speakers, TVs, cars, and other products. WestRiver Group and Delafield Hambrecht led the Series B round. Founded in 2011, Tectonic uses to provide more immersive sound across varying environments. The company’s product uses composite panel tech instead of pistonic vibrations from a traditional cone diaphragm design. Its customers across North America work in a wide spectrum of industries — Tectonic is used inside the ballroom at Treasure Island in Las Vegas; at the lobby and bar at the W Bellevue; and inside . Tectonic aims to ride the growth of the smart speaker market, which is to reach nearly $40 billion worldwide by 2025. CIRP last week an installed smart speaker base of 66 million units in the U.S., up from 36 million a year ago. “We believe the market will continue to shift toward audio products that provide higher voice intelligibility and full range, natural sound,” said , Tectonic’s CEO who joined in November after a 16-year career at PlayNetwork. “We expect that our products will be used in a broad range of consumer products across several industries that want to make voice interaction and audio playback more enjoyable for consumers.” Tectonic employs 25 people.