Loftium co-founders Yifan Zhang and Adam Stelle. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) Loftium, the Seattle real estate startup that helped people buy homes in exchange for renting out an extra room on Airbnb, has shifted its focus to rentals. The company to providing down payment assistance to potential homebuyers who agreed to split their Airbnb profits with the company. But late last year, Loftium quietly pivoted in a big way. Now it rents out apartments to tenants at a discounted rate if they agree to become an Airbnb host. In an interview with GeekWire, Loftium CEO cited skyrocketing housing prices as the reason for the shift. Loftium’s original offering was popular — the company signed up more than 10,000 customers for down-payment assistance, Zhang said. However, thanks to high housing prices, competition among buyers and the complexity of the mortgage process, many of Loftium’s customers still weren’t able to afford to buy the homes they wanted. “Given how quickly home prices have risen, we realized that a large portion of our customer base were not able to buy a home even with Loftium’s down payment assistance, and that was a very frustrating part of the business,” said Zhang, a finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the . Loftium CEO Yifan Zhang leads an all-hands meeting at the company’s new office. (Loftium Photo) Similar to WeWork’s business model with office space, Loftium now rents units directly from landlords and then leases them out to its customers. Zhang wouldn’t say how many units Loftium has in its portfolio, but the switch to rentals has let the company expand quicker. Loftium collects rent from customers, as well as a cut of the money from renting rooms on Airbnb. It hopes that those combined income sources outweigh rent the company pays directly to landlords. The new model is easier to scale because Loftium doesn’t have to raise huge loads of capital to help people with down payments, and it’s much faster and easier to lease out units than it is to close home sales. After making the switch to rentals, Loftium quickly expanded beyond its core area of Seattle to Denver and Portland. Further expansion appears on the horizon, as the company has open positions on its for property acquisition leads in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and San Jose, Calif. Loftium today has approximately 15 employees, and it is hiring across a variety of areas. Though still small, the company is anticipating significant growth, and it just signed a lease for a new office space: A single floor at in downtown Seattle totaling 5,600 square feet. The Loftium office. (Loftium Photo) The idea for Loftium struck Zhang, who has founded multiple startups, when she first moved to Seattle. She and her husband bought a townhome and rented out one bedroom on Airbnb. “I was just amazed by the income stream from that,” Zhang told GeekWire in 2017. “Just one bedroom in our three-bedroom condo could cover the vast majority of our mortgage, taxes, and insurance, which was a little crazy.” Technology companies of all sizes are trying to figure out how to disrupt buying a house, which remains one of the most challenging and costly experiences a person faces. A number of well-funded large companies including Zillow, Redfin, Opendoor and Offerpad have decided that taking control of the process by purchasing homes directly, sprucing them up then and selling them to consumers is the solution. In the Seattle area alone, startups such as FlyHomes, JetClosing and others are tackling different parts of the problem. As she ran Loftium, Zhang was exposed to every wart in the homebuying process. Zhang pointed to the mortgage approval process as a major headache. It can be tough to get a mortgage if you haven’t been in a job for more than two years, an issue that could impact tech workers who make good money but tend to jump around. Zhang would like to see potential revenue from renting out rooms on platforms like Airbnb figured into mortgage calculations as well. “We signed up homebuyers, and then we sent them into this complex process of homebuying,” Zhang said. “With rentals, we do get to control the experience much more and create a really good experience for renters and landlords.”
Seattle startup Crowd Cow accepts the Startup of the Year award at the 2018 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) A quick gander at the , our index of Pacific Northwest startups, shows the density of up-and-coming tech companies based in this region. That’s what makes the five nominees for this year’s Startup of the Year category at the all the more impressive. Amperity, Boundless, The Riveter, Rubica, and Sana Biotechnology beat out a bevy of other early-stage startups as nominees for a category that has honored fast-growing companies such as Crowd Cow, Convoy, Arivale, Rover, and others in the past. We’ve opened voting in 11 categories, and community votes will be factored in with feedback from more than 30 judges. On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19. This year’s nominees are using technology to disrupt everything from gene editing to cybersecurity — read more about them below and vote on all the categories while you’re here. And don’t forget to grab your tickets , as the GeekWire Awards sell out every year. Amperity Amperity co-founders Kabir Shahani (left) and Derek Slager. (Amperity Photo) launched a year-and-a-half ago and already has clients such as GAP, Nordstrom, Alaska Airlines, Wynn Hotels, and others who use its customer data technology platform. The company made headlines in October 2017 when it from Tiger Global Management, a New York-based firm known globally for making long-term investments in companies including Spotify, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flipkart, and other tech giants. The Seattle startup is led by co-founders and . The entrepreneurs previously started Appature and in 2013. What’s your secret sauce? Amberity CEO Kabir Shahani: “It’s still early days for us, but it will come as no surprise that our secret sauce is absolutely our people. We are fortunate to have attracted a world-class team, that beyond having skills, experience, and ambition that is unrivaled, are just wonderful to spend time with. This has been foundational to our ability to attract and maintain world-class customers like Gap, Nordstrom, Wynn Hotels, Alaska Airlines, and several other iconic consumer brands. The support of these organizations and the forward thinking leaders in these companies that took a chance on us early in our journey, have allowed us the opportunity to be an iconic company ourselves one day. We’re fortunate that all of this started with unwavering support from our investors and a strong board of directors that continually push us to be bold and ambitious in the pursuit of our mission to enable the world’s most loved brands to use data to unleash the full potential of their teams, and in turn create meaningful customer experiences.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? Shahani: “Every entrepreneur starts their journey with clarity of vision to make something better. I find that it’s important to be bold in your ambition when trying to solve that problem, and reduce the noise at each step of the way, including your own self-talk. I’ve found that every time I focus on the opportunity at-hand, in its largest, most audacious form, and work to enable those around me to achieve their goals against that vision, all the right things happen.” Boundless The Boundless team has grown to 28 employees in the company’s first two years. (Boundless Photo) In the two years since it launched, has become the top destination for immigrants applying for marriage-based green cards in the United States. The company, a spinout of Seattle startup studio Pioneer Square Labs, helps customers connect with attorneys, file applications online, and receive support throughout the immigration process. It also publishes and resources on its website to help immigrants navigate an increasingly complex system. Boundless, which was also nominated for this category last year, just an additional $7.8 million last month to fuel growth. Its co-founders— , , and — previously worked at Amazon, Microsoft, and the White House. What’s your secret sauce? Boundless CEO Xiao Wang: “Creating an environment and culture where people can thrive. One of the huge advantages of being an early-stage startup is to be able to deliberately craft the type of place you have always wanted to work at. I think that everyone is capable of doing incredible work, but often organizations put into place structures, policies, and processes that deliberately hamper the motivation and effectiveness of its employees. What we take seriously is to continuously evaluate how we operate — establishing the right levels of ownership, autonomy, and trust — that makes Boundless a place people want to build at. Are we perfect? Not even close. But as with everything else at Boundless, we will never stop experimenting and working at making it better.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? Wang: “First, it’s to focus. When you are building something new, there are an infinite number of opportunities that have potential or should be pursued. It is so easy (and usually it’s the entrepreneur’s fault) to fall into the trap of ‘let’s just add one more thing to this project’ or ‘what if we just tried that?’ In nearly all cases, you’re better off pursuing fewer initiatives at a deeper level than to scatter your precious time and resources. Spreading too thin often results to lots of inconclusive results that barely move the needle. Focus on the few things that matter. Second, it’s to hire people who are better than you. Looking across my team, each one of my reports is much, much better at their areas than I am, which is exactly how it should be. Your job is to find and convince these people to leave well-paying, stable jobs to join your crazy idea, and then to clear as many obstacles as possible so that they can do their best work.” The Riveter Inside The Riveter’s West L.A. space. (The Riveter Photo) Founded in 2017, The Riveter differentiates itself from other co-working spaces by providing amenities, programming, and other membership perks geared toward female professionals. The company, which is open to all genders, a $15 million investment round last year that is helping it expand across the nation. Last month it opened its sixth location in Austin, Texas, and has plans to launch in Dallas, Denver, Portland, Ore., Minneapolis – St. Paul, and Atlanta. The plan is to reach 100 locations by 2022. The Riveter, which won the Newcomer of the Year category at the , was co-founded by , a former Wall Street lawyer who helped launch the company after continuously running into “bro-working” spaces. What’s your secret sauce? The Riveter CEO Amy Nelson: “We (and I do mean ‘we’ – this is an enormous collective effort) are building something we believe the world needs and we are emboldened by the fact that we need it, too. We live in a world where we welcome A.I. into our homes and yet current trends show that men and women will continue to be compensated — and, valued — differently for 100 years, until the year 2119. We know we can do better and we’re building a movement and a company around that fact. Our need for a different tomorrow drives us when it’s hard — and it’s often hard. In less than two years, we’ve accomplished a lot but we know there is so much more work to be done.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? “The first is simple, hire a team of colleagues who you believe are smarter than you and who bring experience to the table that you don’t have. We have an incredible team of 51 people and every person brings something unique to what we’re building — and something we very much need. Second, lean into and highlight the differences that make you strong. I’m pregnant with my fourth daughter in four years. In a world where less than 3 percent of VC dollars go to all-female founding teams (and I believe The Riveter is the only all-female founding team in this category), I’ve been visibly pregnant or breastfeeding while raising every cent of the $21 million we’ve secured to grow The Riveter. Rather than hiding this or downplaying it, I talk a lot with investors, partners and teammates about how motherhood has made me a better leader. We can reframe the things society sees as weaknesses into the absolute strengths that they are.” Rubica (Rubica Photo) began as a research-and-design project focused on advanced cybersecurity within Concentric Advisors, a company the provides physical and digital security to prominent and high-net-worth families. In 2016, Concentric spun out its cyber division to become Rubica. The Seattle startup aims to protect both individuals and their families from cyberattacks. , previously an exec at Concentric, co-founded Rubica with , a cybersecurity expert and former colleague at Concentric. The company has raised more than $13 million from both angel investors and venture capital firms. What’s your secret sauce? Rubica CEO Frances Dewing: “Our people, and our inclusive culture. We’ve created an environment where people can trust each other and take risks and challenge the status quo. Rubica is a place of comradery where people are empowered to bring their multifaceted talents. We have cyber analysts who are also talented artists, software engineers with law degrees, and security professionals with creative writing skills. This collective creativity and diverse intelligence is the engine of our scrappy, innovative, mission-driven team.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? Dewing: “Be genuine. Be honest and transparent with your team. It builds trust – and trust is crucial on the rollercoaster ride of startups! The Rubica team knows that we are in this together, and that I will not abandon them or leave them in the dark. I’m honest about what’s working and what’s not, and we take the wins and losses together. When people know you mean it, and you’re all in, then they are too. Hire people that aren’t like you. Surround yourself with smart people that fill in your weaknesses. Intentionally look for people that are different or better than you in some way. This requires putting ego aside, but that’s what will allow you to build a winning team.” Sana Biotechnology Sana Biotechnology CEO Steve Harr. (Sana Photo) Former Juno Therapeutics executives and are behind , a stealthy startup focused on cell therapy, gene therapy and gene editing. Backed by ARCH Venture Partners, Flagship Pioneering and F-Prime Capital Partners, the company has an experienced leadership team that previously co-founded Juno, another Seattle biotech startup that was . Sana is reportedly working on a Series A funding round with the goal of raising between $800 million and $1 billion, . What’s your secret sauce? Sana CEO Steve Harr: “Sana focuses on the most challenging issues in understanding how to engineer biology to make important medicines. This vision and willingness to tackle big problems has attracted a unique and talented group of people, who are Sana’s secret sauce.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? Harr: “Companies are a combination of people, technology/opportunity, and capital. Great people attract great people. Great people attract and develop great technologies. Great people find great capital. Surround yourself with great people!”
(Techstars Seattle Photo) Validate the market. Sell before you build. Seek failure. And go all in. Those are some of the tips shared by founders participating in the latest class. GeekWire caught up with the entrepreneurs who are apart of the tenth Techstars Seattle cohort, a milestone for the 3-month accelerator that has graduated 100 companies to date over the past decade. Alumni of the organization — companies such as Remitly, Outreach, Skilljar, Bizible, Leanplum and Zipline — have collectively raised more than $700 million in investment capital. Most have built their startups in the Pacific Northwest, helping expand the entrepreneurial clout in the region. Here are the ten startups in the newest class (Demo Day is set for May 7 in Seattle), with descriptions from Techstars, which provides $120,000 in funding in exchange for 6 percent common stock as part of the three-month accelerator. , who reflected on the longevity of Techstars Seattle and dishes on how the Seattle tech scene has changed. AdaptiLab founders James Wu and Allen Lu. Founders: James Wu and Allen Lu Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: AdaptiLab helps companies build machine learning teams with our automated and robust technical screening platform for candidates’ coding and analytics skills. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? AdaptiLab has built the first-ever coding platform for assessing data analysis, feature engineering, and model training tasks. We automatically grade candidates’ code and models for quality and performance and provide in-depth technical scoring to the hiring managers distributing the interviews. We also handle question generation and anti-cheating measures. Overall, we add robustness to the recruiting process and drastically reduce the amount of time hiring managers and engineers spend interviewing candidates. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Conduct significant customer discovery before building a product. Automaton founders MH Lines and Julia Funderburk. Founders: MH Lines, Julia Funderburk, and Andrew Graves Headquarters: Kirkland, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We provide quality and test automation for the millions of business users managing SaaS technology stacks, to keep lead flow and configurations working as expected. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? Our competitors are built for SDETs or require software development skills. We provide a simplified UI so that marketers and sales ops pros can do recurring testing, regression testing or smoke testing at the click of a button. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Know your stuff — your TAM, your moat, your customer — and then go with it. The high-growth approach doesn’t make sense for every business, but if it does, find a tribe and some leaders — we chose Techstars — and just go with it. DataChain founders Arjun Pillai and Prasanna Venkatesan. Founders: Arjun Pillai and Prasanna Venkatesan Headquarters: Denver, Colo. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: DataChain is a B2B sales and marketing insights platform — an artificial intelligence platform that proactively keeps track of companies and lets salespeople know the right time and context to sell. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? The way we unify the first party (company-owned) data with the publicly-available data about a company is pretty unique. We bring in huge amounts of public data about the company from more than 200 sources and tie it intelligently with the company-owned data. This enables us to do effective intelligence that will help the companies to better market and sell to their customers. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Before writing a single line of code, go out and talk to your potential customers and ask them how much they’d pay for it (don’t ask if they need it). Don’t build because you feel that the world needs it; make sure it really does. Kristalic founders Filip Kozera and Jos van der Westhuizen. Founders: Filip Kozera and Jos van der Westhuizen Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We crystallise your memories by extracting information from what you hear and say and make that content rapidly searchable. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We’ve finished a masters and PhD in machine learning at Cambridge University. We leverage powerful deep learning models, developed during our research, in order to extract rich latent representations from spoken dialogues. These representations constitute our secret sauce for information extraction and rapid search. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Actively push yourself to have the widest possible perspective on everything. Whether it be through reading books and articles, or speaking to the wisest people you know, try to develop a habit that makes you take a step back. With our heads in developer mode, we thought we could simply publish a different app each week to test customer interest. After two brutal weeks and two mediocre apps, a meeting with one experienced mentor shed light upon the much better technique of landing pages. Now we know of even better techniques, and we could have saved a lot of work by forcing ourselves to take a step back from the start. Level founder David Edelstein. Founder: David Edelstein Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Level delivers affordable and appropriate credit and savings through employers to enable hard-working Americans to break out of the payday-to-payday cycle. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? Inspired by innovations in the design and delivery of financial services in “developing” countries, Level employs strategies which are proven outside of the U.S. but are considered novel here. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Identify a problem you are passionate about solving and make the leap! Logixboard founders Julian Alvarez (left) and Juan Alvarez (center), with Daniel O., head o operations. Founders: Julian Alvarez and Juan Alvarez Headquarters: Miami, Fla. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Our software is built to help companies all over the world better manage and control their freight operations in an easy and intuitive way. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? From first-hand industry experience, we understand that the freight industry has low quality and decentralized data. Our solutions are built to tackle this data problem head-on, as opposed to shying away from it. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Start selling before you start building. We pivoted three times before we wrote a line of code. Grind your way to customer meetings, pitch your idea, iterate, validate, validate again, and then build. Nodesmith founders Samm Desmond and Brendan Lee. Founders: Samm Desmond and Brendan Lee Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We manage complicated and unreliable blockchain infrastructure so that you can focus solely on your blockchain based application. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We focus on the holistic experience of building a blockchain based application. Not only do we provide basic access to blockchain networks, but we provide a suite of services that allow developers to easily build user friendly applications that don’t feel limited by the underlying blockchain infrastructure. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? There is no substitute for getting connected with folks in your local startup scene. In our experience, there is a ton of variance in how startups are built in the various tech hubs across the world — what you read on popular startup blogs is not necessarily reflective of the ecosystem where you’re trying to start a company. Rammer.ai founders Surbhi Rathore and Toshish Jawale. Founders: Surbhi Rathore and Toshish Jawale Headquarters: San Jose, Calif. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Rammer.ai automates notetaking in meetings. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? Our APIs enable communication platforms to add actionable insights on their platforms without any human intervention. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Validate the market but trust your instinct. Tribl founders Ikechi Nwabuisi and Jordan Sterling. Founders: Ikechi Nwabuisi and Jordan Sterling Headquarters: Austin, Tex./Oakland, Calif. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Tribl is a P2P platform connecting immigrants to the cultural conversations, communities and experiences happening. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We leverage people’s cultural identity/affiliations to connect multinational people no matter where they are instantly. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Seek failure! Toggl founders Amr Adawi and Siamak Freydoonnejad. Founders: Siamak Freydoonnejad and Amr Adawi Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Toggl is a mobile app that lets users browse interactive, entertaining AR experiences. It’s YouTube for AR content. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We’ve figured out what users actually like to do in AR, and what they find engaging. Also, no one else is doing aggregation of AR content as a platform. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Go all-in, full-time as fast as you can! Then, quickly build a team of advisors from your network to keep you accountable and give you ongoing feedback.
Microsoft researchers Krysta Svore and David Reilly work on hardware for a quantum computer. (Microsoft Photo) Quantum computer scientist Krysta Svore has a dream. In her dream, she arrives at the week’s at the University of Washington in a self-driving car that uses quantum computation to sharpen the precision of its GPS readings and optimize its route through traffic. “So I got here faster than I ever have before,” Svore said. “I paid with my quantum credit card, which I know no one has stolen, because it’s fully secure,” she said “On the way, I looked outside, and the air was crisp and clear. We have more carbon being extracted from the atmosphere. We have cleaner energy solutions. In fact, the country was just rewired with room-temperature superconducting cable, so we have lossless power transmission across the United States.” In Svore’s dream, quantum computers have optimized the routes for transmitting that power, and have also come up with the chemistry for super-efficient storage batteries, turning solar and wind power into always-available electricity. “All of this is leading to a lower power bill for me,” she said. Svore dreams of quantum technologies that can design new drugs on the molecular scale, map distant black holes with incredible precision and create new types of games that will help the next generation get used to how the weird world of quantum physics works. “This was my dream last night,” Svore said. “The world was different. It was quantum. But in fact, this dream is here. The world is quantum. And it’s in our hands today to create this dream, to create it here in the Northwest.” In the waking world, Svore is general manager of quantum software at Microsoft — and one of the organizers of this week’s quantum computing summit, which concluded today. The aim of the event was to build new connections within the Pacific Northwest’s quantum research community. Microsoft, UW and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory already have a productive public-private partnership in the field, and this week’s event attracted hundreds of like-minded research leaders from Washington state, Oregon, British Columbia and beyond. Quantum computing is different from classical digital computing in that it relies on the manipulation of quantum bits, or qubits, that can hold different values simultaneously until the result of the computation is read out. The hardware and software are tricky to work out, but some companies — such as in Burnaby, B.C. — are already offering first-generation quantum cloud services. Within five years, Microsoft hopes to follow with its own on the Azure cloud platform. Funding for quantum research isn’t just a dream. Tech companies are pouring millions of dollars into their quantum efforts, and the sets aside $1.2 billion for quantum research over the next five years. The White House’s recently released budget proposal calls for spending $430 million on quantum information science in the coming fiscal year. “Quantum information science has the potential to revolutionize our scientific knowledge, improve our industrial base, and provide substantial economic and national security benefits,” the White House says in its . The $430 million would be divvied up among the Pentagon, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Chris Fall, director of the Energy Department’s Office of Science, said quantum information science will be crucial to the economy as well as national security, in part because of its potential for breaking encryption codes and creating new forms of secure communications. To follow through on the National Quantum Initiative Act, the Energy Department is gearing up to create a network of regional quantum research centers — a network that the Northwest Quantum Nexus hopes to get in on. Fall said he can’t predict where the centers will be placed, but he assured attendees that quantum research will be a priority for his department. “We’re really going to be all in on this,” he said. Jacob Taylor, assistant director for quantum information science at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, focused on the broader technological advances that will be sparked by the quantum quest. “When I think about building a quantum computer, I don’t think about building qubits,” he said. “I think about materials science. I think about control electronics. I think about cryogenics. I think about lasers. I think about vacuum systems. I think about control software. … I look at the stuff that’s happening in quantum sensing, and quantum networking to some extent, as big drivers of science and also a technological base, which will feed into what you might need to build a quantum computer.” As is the case for , the United States has rivals in the quantum computing race. The European Union has set aside more than a billion dollars for its , and by some accounts, China is . Taylor, however, cautioned against making dollar-to-dollar comparisons. He said it’s hard to determine exactly how much China is spending because different types of programs are classified in different ways. “All I can say is, it’s clear that they are spending a lot of money,” Taylor said. U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he looks at the quantum race primarily through the prism of national security. He acknowledged it’s not easy for him to understand the detailed workings of quantum computing. “One thing I do understand is it gives us the ability to test theories, to look at the challenges that we have and figure out ‘how can we get an answer to this?’ … In the defense world, it’s about doing everything better,” said Smith, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. Smith said he has a quantum dream of his own. “As a child, I read the by Isaac Asimov. What I want is, I want to be able to predict what our adversaries are going to do, what human beings are going to do,” Smith said. “I’m not actually entirely kidding about that.”