From left to right: Madrona’s S. “Soma” Somasegar, Ted Kummert and Chris Picardo; Ovation’s Barry Wark (seated) and Winston Brasor (standing). (Madrona Photo) , which makes cloud-based software for medical testing labs, has raised a $5 million round led by Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group. Fellow Seattle firm also participated, along with Borealis Ventures, Nat Turner, Zach Weinberg, and David Shaw. Ovation, based in Boston, is focused on helping labs — in particular, those that do genomics and molecular testing — manage their data and run their business. The startup’s platform helps with things like tracking samples, integrating with health records systems and managing client relationships and revenue cycles. Ovation was founded by Barry Wark and Winston Brasor with the idea that existing laboratory software needed a cloud-era makeover. Wark launched the company shortly after receiving his doctorate in neurobiology and behavior from the University of Washington. “Genomics and molecular testing labs have complex workflows that require new functionality that can only come from a modern SaaS and cloud-based solution,” S. “Soma” Somasegar, managing director at Madrona Venture Group, said in a statement. “At the same time, these labs have clinical and genomic data that is being under-utilized to provide improved patient outcomes.” “Barry, Winston, and the team have built an easy to use and rapidly deployable system for one of the most vibrant areas of precision medicine diagnostics and we are excited to help them grow their team and presence in the market,” he added. Madrona has shown a growing appetite for health tech with three recent investments in the arena, including: , which makes AI assistant for physicians; , a personalized population health company led by Concur co-founder Rajeev Singh; Envisagenics, a startup that’s developing RNA therapeutics. While Madrona doesn’t plan to greatly expand investments in this area, the VC firm said it sees room for innovation when combining the cloud, data analytics, and the large amount of data being produced by life sciences companies.
Cyemptive CEO Rob Pike. (Cyemptive Photo) Former executives from the National Security Agency, Microsoft, Hitachi, and other companies are behind a Seattle-area cybersecurity startup that just came out of stealth mode three years after it launched. on Tuesday announced a $3.5 million investment round from undisclosed investors. The company’s executive team includes founder , who was previously an executive at Hitachi; , who was formerly chief information officer at Microsoft; and , who spent 30 years at the NSA, most recently as chief computer architect. Cyemptive describes its cybersecurity software as an “automatic self-repairing reliable platform.” It sells products including an endpoint protection service and advanced perimeter firewalls, among others. “We have invented technology that detects and deals with hackers in seconds, as opposed to existing solutions which can take weeks to months,” Pike told GeekWire. Pike said the technology is “a truly preemptive solution” which disallows actions that would corrupt a system or encrypt a file. It does not rely on API monitoring. “Such an approach is both too late and much too cumbersome as the sheer volume of APIs prevents effective protection after the fact,” he said. Cyemptive has more than 100 business and government customers, but Pike declined to provide details on specific clients. The 60-person company has additional offices in Washington D.C., Nevada, Canada, and India. Other execs include Bryan Greene, a former cybersecurity solution architect at HP and Pat McDermott, a veteran finance executive. Cyemptive recently won a national competition hosted by the Department of Homeland Security’s , beating out more than 60 other companies. “We were successful in convincing a comprehensive panel of senior government officials that our technology solution was the most innovative compared to the other concepts,” Pike said. “Cyemptive’s technology can be applied across a broad range of systems, including multiple border security needs and requirements.” The global cybersecurity market is expected to eclipse $200 billion by 2021, according to .
A Toyota concept car at CES 2017. (GeekWire File Photo) Since first launched in 1997, a lot has changed in the automotive world. The Seattle-based company has not only remained relevant but is now attracting investor attention from one of the world’s largest car companies. Airbiquity today announced a $15 million investment round from Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Tsusho Corporation (Toyota’s trading arm), and DENSO Corporation (a giant automotive parts manufacturer partly owned by Toyota). Airbiquity has been building automotive telematics technology for more than two decades. Its focus is now on Choreo, a cloud-based connected car delivery platform, and , software that lets car manufacturers continuously update in-car software technology. (Airbiquity Photo) The company supports more than eight million vehicles across more than 60 countries and 30 languages. “We are delighted to receive investment from three of the most successful corporations in the automotive industry,” , the Airbiquity CEO who joined the company in 2002, said in a statement. “This is an exciting time for our company, and we look forward to working with our new strategic partners to optimize and leverage OTAmatic for the next generation of connected vehicle.” Investment in self-driving cars and related technology could help boost Airbiquity’s value proposition. Toyota itself has been over the past several years. The market for advanced driver-assistance systems technology could reach $35 billion by 2021, according to .
Vtrus’ ABI Zero drone is designed to conduct indoor inspections autonomously. (Vtrus via YouTube) Seattle startup has raised investment for a different kind of drone — one that’s designed to conduct precision inspections of industrial facilities. A published today shows a $2.9 million cash infusion for Vtrus. , the company’s CEO and co-founder, declined to comment on the new funding when contacted by GeekWire. Salas-Moreno was previously the co-founder of Surreal Vision, a computer vision startup that was , Facebook’s VR subsidiary. He went on to work at Oculus VR for more than a year as a research scientist in Redmond, Wash., then helped lay the groundwork for Vtrus, which he launched in 2017 with chief technology officer and chief design officer . The company, based near Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood, has developed an indoor autonomous drone known as the ABI Zero that can navigate its way around the tricky surroundings of a warehouse environment without the need for a remote operator or GPS waypoints. ABI Zero can conduct an aerial survey for as long as 10 minutes, and then return to its base station for charging. The base also serves as a WiFi-enabled link for receiving streaming data from the drone and relaying it to Vtrus’ cloud service. Because Vtrus’ platform is designed exclusively for indoor use, it doesn’t have to satisfy the Federal Aviation Administration restrictions on outdoor flights of unmanned aerial systems. The company has been demonstrating its technology in a “pilotless” pilot program, and the newly-reported funding round should help Vtrus get further down the path to commercialization. Vtrus takes advantage of a computer vision technique called SLAM (Simultaneous Location and Mapping), which enables drones to build a high-fidelity map of their surroundings. Thirty times a second, the SLAM software keeps track of 300,000 depth points captured by an array of cameras and sensors. The drone market is expected to reach $100 billion by 2020, according to research from . Vtrus showed off its technology and said it was seeking investment. The startup has put together a variety of videos showing how the drone does its work. Check ’em out … and watch the (indoor) skies:
Nanodropper team members Jennifer Steger, Mackenzie Andrews and Allisa Song. (Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship Photo) What if something as simple as a more precise eyedropper could cut the cost of glaucoma medication by more than half? That’s the idea behind the startup Nanodropper, which won the $15,000 grand prize at the University of Washington Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge on Wednesday night. The team also won a $2,500 medical device consulting award. created an FDA-approved adapter for eyedrop bottles that aims to reduce waste in the delivery of medication, especially for patients with glaucoma, which causes blindness. Here’s how it works: Take any eyedropper medication, screw on Nanodropper’s device, and you’ll get drops that are much smaller — but still large enough to deliver the medication effectively. Eyedroppers often deliver more medication than the eye can physically absorb, and the Nanodropper reduces the size of drops by a quarter or more. The team was inspired by about how larger-than-necessary eyedrops were increasing costs for glaucoma patients, who can spend $500 per month on medication. The issue is , in which patients sued massive drug companies like Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Merck and Pfizer. “The problem is that the companies have no incentive to reduce the size of their drops, because then they would be selling less medication,” Nanodropper’s Allisa Song, a medical student at the Mayo Clinic, told GeekWire. Nanodropper’s team also includes UW graduate students Jennifer Steger and Mackenzie Andrews, as well as Elias Baker, a mechanical engineer who has worked with SpaceX and Spacelabs. Following its launch a year ago, Nanodropper has raised $60,000 primarily from healthcare providers. The grand prize was sponsored by Seattle-based life science incubator Intuitive X. Nanodropper said five eye care clinics are interested in presales and that it’s in talks with Premera Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente and Bartell Drugs. The startup will use the cash to start making the product, which is manufactured in Minnesota and will sell for $12.99. The device has received class I FDA approval with a 510(k) exemption. $10,000 2nd Place Prize: Appiture (Washington State University) (Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship Photo) Appiture is developing a mobile-based hardware and software system to detect autism spectrum disorder in children. The team, which includes students from Washington State University’s chemical engineering, bioengineering and veterinary medicine departments, also won a $2,500 digital health prize. The Herbert B. Jones Foundation sponsored the second-place prize. (GeekWire Photo) $5,000 3rd Place Prize: Pulmora (University of Washington) Pulmora created an autonomous ventilator that can easily be applied to patients who have stopped breathing. The company, comprised of UW bioengineering students, said that it hopes to make ventilators common and easy to use, in the same way that defibrillators are today. The third-place prize was sponsored by WRF Capital, the investment arm of the Washington Research Foundation. $1,000 “Judges Also Really Liked” Award: DopCuff and Insulin Anywhere In addition to the top prizes, the judges gave $1,000 to DopCuff, which is working on a better blood pressure device for patients with end-stage heart failure. Insulin Anywhere also won the “Judges Also Really Liked Award” for its system that is both an insulin-cooling chamber and a compact needle kit, which was designed to get insulin to diabetics in emergency situations such as natural disasters.
(Tasso Photo) , the maker of a product that lets patients collect their own blood at home, raised $6.1 million in a round led by Vertical Ventures Partners. Startup accelerator Techstars and Los Angeles-based hospital Cedars-Sinai also invested in the round. The Seattle-based startup said the blood sample device, called Tasso OnDemand, should be available by the middle of this year. The idea is that people can take their own blood at home and mail it to a lab directly rather than go to a clinic. This allows for more frequent testing to monitor a drug’s effects on the blood, providing regular feedback for researchers and doctors while making the process easier for patients. The company developed the platform using $13.1 million of from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH). Tasso was started by and , who both received doctorates in biomedical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We are excited to work with VVP on furthering our mission of patient-centric blood collection,” said Casavant, who serves as Tasso’s CEO. “With the additional support of Techstars and Cedars-Sinai, we are well positioned to transform clinical blood testing by making it painless and convenient.” Tasso has pilot programs with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Cedars-Sinai and others. Vertical Ventures invests in early-stage tech companies across a range of industries. The VC firm’s other healthcare investments include health data company Roam and GE Ventures spinout Menlo Micro. Vertical Ventures partner Brad Corona said the company was looking to sell the product to labs and pharmaceutical companies. “Blood collection hasn’t changed in decades, and judging from the strong early interest from commercial partners, it’s time,” he said. Quest and LabCorp dominate the diagnostics industry, which a number of startups have tried to disrupt through at-home or direct-to-consumer testing. EverlyWell, a startup that received funding through “Shark Tank” and offers a menu of health tests based on samples collected at home, has over its accuracy.
The Powerit team, from left to right: Chairman David Bluhm, Manufacturing Operations Director Bob Coyne, Research Scientist James Downar, Materials Chemist Dan Shaw, and CEO David Clark. (GeekWire Photos / Taylor Soper) As we’ve become more and more dependent on smartphones, keeping our devices charged up has become increasingly important. “Low-battery anxiety” , and according to some surveys, . It’s spawned the popularity of portable chargers, phone charging cases, and charging stations. That’s why a new innovation from Seattle startup is intriguing. The company has developed a charging device that is powered by air. The idea sounds like a stretch, but GeekWire saw it in action at the company’s new office on the bottom floor of the Old Rainier Brewery in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood. When the small white circles are exposed to air, this device can start charging your smartphone. The zinc-air chemistry behind the technology, which is activated by simply pulling off an adhesive peel, is not necessarily new. It’s already used in high-end hearing aids and by the military. But Powerit has come up with a way that makes it easy to charge smartphones and other lithium ion-powered devices with a thin portable lightweight card-like product designed for one-time usage. The company is initially targeting adventurers traveling to “off-the-grid” areas and people attending all-day events with little access to power, such as concerts. Powerit CEO said the price for one charging device will be in the “single digit dollar” range and come down as production increases. The company has a larger vision to sell the device at convenience stores and as part of a subscription program. “Its core advantage is that it’s always ready to go,” Clark said. “It never needs to be charged in advance.” In that vein, it’s similar to solar-powered portable chargers. But those require direct sunlight, whereas Powerit’s product just needs air. The device provides one full charge for the newest smartphones and comes with a USB-C, USB-Micro, or Lightning connector. It is built with recyclable plastic, some of which is harvested from the ocean, and a zero-emissions production process. “It’s important to our customer that we fully embrace the environmentally-friendly and sustainable aspects, and really try to be a leader in that regard over time, particularly as it relates to taking plastic out of the ocean,” said Clark, who was previously a marketing executive at Seattle startup Blab. Powerit’s headquarters is located on the basement of the Old Rainier Brewery in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood. Powerit has raised $4 million, including a recent $2 million round that closed earlier this month. , a serial entrepreneur who previously led companies such as Z2Live and DropForge Games, is helping back Powerit as chairman with other investors such as Varkain. Bluhm said there’s nothing like it in the market. He said the charger will be a “no-brainer” purchasing decision for consumers. “You won’t be forced to buy a $40 battery pack when you’re in a pinch running through the airport or at a concert or at a NASCAR race when you don’t know if your phone is going to make it, given what you’re doing,” he said. With more than 3 billion smartphone users , the total addressable market is massive. Powerit also sees opportunity in selling to specific industries such as medical or military. The company is exploring various revenue models, including selling advertising space on the device itself or partnering with event organizers. The device is “smart” and can collect data when connected to a smartphone. “We have the ability to deliver an engaging experience,” Bluhm said. Powerit has less than 10 employees working out of its HQ in Seattle that doubles as a test production lab. It partners with a larger scale manufacturer in Rochester, New York.
Alex Guirguis, co-founder of Off the Record, holds the app up on his phone as he poses in 2016 with the car that has gotten him a few speeding tickets. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) A Seattle startup that helps drivers fight traffic tickets is celebrating what it calls “a big win” this week in a dispute brought by attorneys who claim the service is unethical. The Washington State Bar Association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel dismissed a grievance brought against Off the Record, a 3-year-old startup that streamlines the process of fighting traffic tickets in court. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the decision, which means it cannot be appealed. “This really is a David vs. Goliath story — hot shot, establishment attorneys coming after a local startup because of our quick and unexpected success,” Off The Record co-founder Alex Guirguis said via email. In the complaint, Lisa Donaldson and 11 other Washington state traffic attorneys claimed that Off The Record’s business model raised ethical red flags. The grievance alleged Off The Record controls attorneys fees, which causes them to yield “their professional independence to the company.” Off The Record users provide a photo of their traffic ticket, answer a few questions, and are assigned a lawyer with an established track record fighting tickets. Customers communicate with their attorneys using the app, which Donaldson and co-signing attorneys said could threaten “the privileged nature of such communications.” Other allegations included deceptive advertising and compromising attorneys’ “duty of diligence” by pushing to streamline the process. The Washington State Bar Association regulates legal disputes pertaining to attorneys, known as grievances. Donaldson filed hers against Jacques LeJeune, an attorney who works with Off The Record. The disciplinary board recognized that “there is considerable nationwide discussion of the issues surrounding the use of marketing and matching services like OTR” but chose to dismiss the grievance because there isn’t “specific evidence of client/consumer harm.” Off The Record’s services are available in 30 states and the company fighting tickets. The company is fending off a similar grievance in California. Guirguis sees the friction as par for the course for a disruptive business. “We expect we’ll have to deal with this in each state in which we operate,” he said.
Microsoft is focusing on the development of quantum computers that take advantage of cryogenically cooled nanowires. (Microsoft Photo) REDMOND, Wash. — Quantum computing may still be in its infancy — but the is all grown up, fostered by in-house developers, research affiliates and future stars of the startup world. The network , during a Startup Summit that laid out the company’s vision for quantum computing and introduced network partners to Microsoft’s tools of the quantum trade. Quantum computing stands in contrast to the classical computer technologies that have held sway for more than a half-century. Classical computing is based on the ones and zeroes of bit-based processing, while quantum computing takes advantage of the weird effects of quantum physics. Quantum bits, or qubits, needn’t represent a one or a zero, but can represent multiple states during computation. The quantum approach should be able to solve computational problems that can’t easily be solved using classical computers, such as modeling molecular interactions or optimizing large-scale systems. That could open the way to world-changing applications, said Todd Holmdahl, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Azure Hardware Systems Group. “We’re looking at problems like climate change,” Holmdahl said. “We’re looking at solving big food production problems. We think we have opportunities to solve problems around materials science, personal health care, machine learning. All of these things are possible and obtainable with a quantum computer. We have been talking around here that we’re at the advent of the quantum economy.” Todd Holmdahl, Microsoft corporate vice president for the Azure Hardware Systems Group, speaks during a Startup Summit kicking off the Microsoft Quantum Network. (Microsoft Photo) Representatives from 16 startups were invited to this week’s Startup Summit, which features talks from Holmdahl and other leaders of Microsoft’s quantum team as well as demos and workshops focusing on Microsoft’s programming tools. (The closest startup to Seattle is , based in Vancouver, B.C.) Over the past year and a half, Microsoft has called Q# (“Q-sharp”) as part of its , and has worked with researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and academic institutions around the world to lay the technical groundwork for the field. A big part of that groundwork is the development of , based on a topological architecture that builds error-correcting mechanisms right into the cryogenically cooled, nanowire-based hardware. Cutting down on the error-producing noise in quantum systems will be key to producing a workable computer. “We believe that our qubit equals about 1,000 of our competition’s qubits,” Holmdahl said. There’s lots of competition in the quantum computing field nowadays: , and are all working on similar technologies for a universal quantum computer, while Canada’s is taking advantage of a more limited type of computing technology known as quantum annealing. This week, that it said would reduce quantum noise and more than double the qubit count of its existing platform, from 2,000 linked qubits to 5,000. But the power of quantum computing shouldn’t be measured merely by counting qubits. The efficiency of computation and the ability to reduce errors can make a big difference, said Microsoft principal researcher Matthias Troyer. For example, a standard approach to simulating the molecular mechanism behind nitrogen fixation for crops could require 30,000 years of processing time, he said. But if the task is structured to enable parallel processing and enhanced error correction, the required runtime can be shrunk to less than two days. “Quantum software engineering is really as important as the hardware engineering,” Troyer said. Julie Love, director of Microsoft Quantum Business Development, talks about the promise of quantum computing at a Startup Summit on the Microsoft campus. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) Julie Love, director of Microsoft Quantum Business Development, said that Microsoft will start out offering quantum computing through Miicrosoft’s Azure cloud-based services. Not all computational problems are amenable to the quantum approach: It’s much more likely that an application will switch between classical and quantum processing — and therefore, between classical tools such as the C# programming language and quantum tools such as Q#. “When you work in chemistry and materials, all of these problems, you hit this ‘known to be unsolvable’ problem,” Love said. “Quantum provides the possibility of a breakthrough.” Love shies away from giving a firm timetable for the emergence of specific applications — but last year, Holmdahl predicted that commercial quantum computers would exist (Check back in 2023 to see how the prediction panned out.) The first applications could well focus on simulating molecular chemistry, with the aim of prototyping better pharmaceuticals, more efficient fertilizers, better batteries, more environmentally friendly chemicals for the oil and gas industry, and a new class of high-temperature superconductors. It might even be possible to address the climate change challenge by custom-designing materials that pull excess carbon dioxide out of the air. Love said quantum computers would also be well-suited for addressing optimization problems, like figuring out how to make traffic flow better through Seattle’s urban core; and for reducing the training time required for AI modeling. “That list is going to continue to evolve,” she said. Whenever the subject quantum computing comes up, cryptography has to be mentioned as well. It’s theoretically possible for a quantum computer to break the codes that currently protect all sorts of secure transactions, ranging from email encryption to banking protocols. Love said those code-breaking applications are farther out than other likely applications, due to the huge amount of computation resources that would be required even for a quantum computer. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to be concerned. “We have a pretty significant research thrust in what’s called post-quantum crypto,” she said. Next-generation data security is one of the hot topics addressed that was approved by Congress and the White House last December. Love said Microsoft’s have already gone through an initial round of vetting by the . “We’ve been working at this in a really open way,” she said. Like every technology, quantum computing is sure to have a dark side as well as a bright side. But it’s reassuring to know that developers are thinking ahead about both sides.
That’s actually just one display, reflected in an array of mirrors. This photo from technology startup Misapplied Sciences Inc. uses mirrors to show how a single “parallel reality” display looks from many different vantage points. The single screen is behind the photographer. (Misapplied Sciences Photo) , the Seattle-area company behind a screen that can show different displays to multiple people at the same time, has raised more cash. A new regulatory filing shows that the startup has reeled in a $7 million investment. The company did not respond when contacted by GeekWire. It previously raised a $3.4 million equity investment, and landed a $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research program. Misapplied’s tech is — one that can send different colors of light in tens of thousands of directions. Put those pixels together into a display, and it means that a bunch of people standing in a room, each looking at the same screen, see different images. Combine that with location sensors, and the company says it’s possible for a display to follow a person through space. Misapplied Sciences co-founders: Chairman and CTO Paul Dietz, CEO Albert Ng, and Chief Creative and Operating Officer Dave Thompson. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) The Redmond, Wash.-based company was started in 2014 and is led by CTO Paul Dietz, CEO Albert Ng and chief creative and operating officer Dave Thompson. The team operated in stealth mode for several years before unveiling their technology last year. Misapplied Sciences won the Innovation of the Year award at the this past May. Dietz, the company’s CTO and chairman, is known in the engineering world for pioneering work on multi-touch screens at Microsoft Research. He also spent time at Disney, working on the “Pal Mickey” interactive toy. Ng also worked at Microsoft Research during Dietz’s tenure. Thompson was a show producer at Walt Disney Imagineering while Dietz was working in that division. Other startups have tried to find ways to show different things to people using a single display. is a startup that uses projectors to display different content to multiple people on the same screen. At first, Misapplied’s screen sounds strange, like what would happen if Willy Wonka designed a jumbotron. But its overall vision aligns with the goals of modern advertising. Delivering unique advertising to people based on data is, after all, the magic sauce that built Google and Facebook. Beyond ads, Misapplied says the technology could eventually be used on roadways to show drivers individualized signs. In airports, information screens could display personalized flight information. Misapplied investor and board member Carl Ledbetter of Pelion Venture Partners was among those listed on the filing. So was Mike Edelhart, who is managing partner at startup investor Social Starts, .
The Armoire team has grown from four to 28 in the past two years. (Armoire Photo) If has its way, women can say goodbye to cluttered closets and hundreds of wasted hours shopping for clothes. The Seattle startup is picking up traction with its monthly subscription clothing rental service geared toward professional women. Starting at $149 per month, the 3-year-old company lets customers rent designer clothes and exchange for something new at any time. If they like something enough, members can purchase items at a discounted rate. At an event this past Thursday at Ada’s Technical Books in Seattle, the company lifted the hood on its tech-fueled recommendation engine that powers Armoire’s user experience. “We’re not really like a fashion company,” , co-founder of Armoire who leads engineering, told the crowd on Thursday. “We are more like a data company.” Armoire follows a similar playbook to Rent the Runway, the 10-year-old New York City-based company that was recently at nearly $800 million. Its rental business model is built on buying from brands at wholesale prices, constantly shuffling clothes in and out of its dry cleaning warehouse below The Riveter in Capitol Hill. Armoire aims to be cheaper than hiring a wardrobe consultant and more efficient than browsing through racks at various stores. But what makes the company stand out, according to co-founder and CEO , is technology. “[Rent the Runway] has really not taken advantage of the fact that they can service customers better through curation,” she said. “We call it the hunter-gatherer method — women are still tasked with digging through literally the entire Rent the Runway inventory.” Inside the curation process (Armoire Photo) At a basic level, Armoire aims to match people with clothes they want to wear — a task that sounds simple, but is actually quite complex due to varying individual preferences for style, fit, and other needs. Armoire’s recommendation algorithms are based on vectors that represent both customer preferences and item attributes (brand, color, tightness, occasion, etc.). The technology multiplies those vectors to determine strength of correlation between the two datasets, and ultimately to figure out what to show customers in their virtual closet. Owen called it a “big matrix multiplication problem.” (Armoire Photo) The vectors can be plotted as arrows on an axis. In the example below, since the customer vector is close to the green dress, that would be a good match. The more data Armoire collects from customer feedback, the better its recommendation algorithms work. It also analyzes information such as the temperature in a given zip code to help drive the curation process. “There are a lot of holes we need to fill in to truly understand what your style and fit preferences need, and how that translates into a digital product that you can actually interact with,” said Miriam Subbiah, head of product at Armoire. A sample package of rented clothing from Armoire. (Armoire Photo) Yet despite the push for more automation, Armoire also provides in-house stylists that can help when algorithms can’t complete the job. “There is always a human element to fashion,” Owen said. From buying to renting (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The traditional way women shop for clothing is broken. That’s been the thesis ever since Singh and Owen first launched Armoire while at MIT’s accelerator program. Ambika Singh got the idea for Armoire when she was working on her MBA at MIT. (Armoire Photo) “We’re trying to change the relationship with clothes from owning to renting,” Singh said. Sustainability, efficiency, and risk are core tenets of Armoire. Singh said that 20 percent of new garments sit in a closet and are never actually worn, instead ending up in a landfill. She also said women spend more than 200 hours shopping every year. “It’s an extraordinary amount of time in terms of the productive hours that could translate to,” Singh said. “We really want to be a one-stop shop for her, and because of the power of curation, we are able to do that.” The CEO added that women can tend to fall into pattern wearing, or using the same clothes over and over because of wardrobe risk aversion. “Renting clothes gives you an opportunity to step outside what is standard for you on an individual consumer basis,” Singh said. “That is a really powerful experience.” Armoire has “thousands” of customers, with 40 percent of members living in Seattle, Singh said. The target market is professional women in the 30 to 50 year old range — a group that Singh said “has largely been ignored by the market yet is so important to the economy.” Amy Nelson, CEO of The Riveter, the Seattle-based women-focused co-working space company where Armoire is based, is a big fan of the service. Nelson said she started using Armoire after welcoming her third daughter, noting it was “perfect for that post-baby period when my size was fluctuating.” Now that Nelson is pregnant again, she’s excited that Armoire recently expanded its inventory to offer maternity clothes. “My time is my scarcest resource and Armoire allows me to change up my wardrobe on the fly — and do away with dry cleaning entirely,” she told GeekWire. Subbiah, the company’s product leader, noted how Armoire looks at fit “not as size but how people like the garment to actually drape on them.” “We know that size is constantly in flux,” she explained. “If a service like Armoire can actually understand that and support that instead of inhibiting it — that’s super liberating to me. It’s a much more positive way of thinking about sizing and interacting with clothing, than trying to fit in a numeric standard. It’s not a fashion-first approach but it’s something we can do because of the data.” From left to right: Armoire Head of Product Miriam Subbiah; Co-founder Zach Owen; and Lili Morton, community development. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Rent the Runway originally started as a rental service for party wear but now earns a bulk of revenue from its Unlimited program, which launched two years ago and, like Armoire, aims “to solve the problem of what to wear to work, for everyone from new hires to C-suite executives,” according to a story from October. “Unlimited frees mental space for women to think about more important matters: what to say in that big meeting; how to describe their employment history in a crucial job interview; how to, in the grand scheme of their professional lives, get ahead,” wrote Times reporter Sheila Marikar. Other startups trying to disrupt how we buy clothes include Stitch Fix, which went public in 2017 and is valued at $2.7 billion. And just down the road from Armoire’s office sits Amazon, a tech giant that recent rolled out a try-before-you-buy service . “Our differentiation from Stitch Fix is that we offer variety to our customers through the rental model,” Singh noted. “We’re also high end contemporary from an inventory perspective — average MSRP is $250-plus — and we strive to work with women owned and ethical fashion brands.” Armoire has raised $4.2 million from investors such as Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens; Foot Locker exec Vijay Talwar; and a number of female backers who decided to invest after first becoming customers. They include Sheila Gulati of Tola Capital, former Drugstore.com CEO Dawn Lepore, and Angela Taylor of Efeste. The company is currently raising more investment.
(iUNU Photo) Seattle startup has raised more cash to expand its platform that uses technologies such as artificial intelligence and computer vision to change the way commercial greenhouse operators monitor their crops. The 6-year-old company just reeled in a $7.5 million round led by Bootstrap Labs and NCT Ventures. It previously a $6 million round in August 2017 from backers such as Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s Initialized Capital; NFL legend Joe Montana’s Liquid 2 Ventures; Seattle’s 2nd Avenue Partners; Fuel Capital and others. The startup, called iUNU (pronounced “you knew”), has developed an AI system called LUNA that uses autonomous rail-mounted cameras and canopy level sensors to monitor plants, detect small changes, flag potential problems and recommend specific actions. (iUNU Photo) LUNA runs on computers and mobile devices, allowing greenhouse operators to access their analytics remotely, giving them more control over the production of food crops and other plants. iUNU CEO Adam Greenberg. (iUNU Photo) The idea is to modernize a historically manual process and make growing plants more like manufacturing products, using industrial computer vision. “With the greenhouse industry growing at a rate of 20 percent year over year, owners are scrambling to find solutions to manage and maintain their growing operations effectively,” iUNU CEO Adam Greenberg said in a statement. “iUNU’s solution turns growing operations into data-driven manufacturing facilities.” iUNU sells LUNA as a “system as a service,” installing and maintaining the system on behalf of the customer. The 35-person company has clients across nine U.S. states and two provinces in Canada. iUNU got its start for use in greenhouses. It began to work on LUNA by building the artificial intelligence system into those lights, before realizing that customers wanted the AI on its own. The company spent three years developing and testing the LUNA system in large-scale commercial greenhouses. Greenberg, the son of a botanist, attended the University of Washington and was co-founder of a clean water startup called Pure Blue Technologies, . He grew up in San Francisco and worked at Amazon from 2011 to 2013. iUNU, which has additional offices in San Francisco and San Diego, is among a group of up-and-coming startups developing technology for farmers. Another Seattle company, , is using drones, sensors, and swaths of data that helps winemakers quickly assess vineyards. More companies are also starting to use indoor farming as a way to grow crops, reported last week.
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.
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.
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.
has just bought up the talent it needs to make talking toys a part of Siri, HomePod, and its voice strategy. Apple has reportedly acquired PullString, also known as , according to . The company , artificial intelligence to power those experiences, and toys like and Thomas The Tank Engine toys in partnership with Mattel. Founded in 2011 by former Pixar executives, PullString went on to raise . Apple’s Siri is seen as lagging far behind Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, not only in voice recognition and utility, but also in terms of developer ecosystem. Google and Amazon has built platforms to distribute Skills from tons of voice app makers, including storytelling, quizzes, and other games for kids. If Apple wants to take a real shot at becoming the center of your connected living room with Siri and HomePod, it will need to play nice with the children who spend their time there. Buying could jumpstart Apple’s in-house catalog of speech-activated toys for kids as well as beef up its tools for voice developers. PullString did catch some flack for being a “child surveillance device” back in 2015, but by detailing the security built intoHello Barbie product and saying it’d never been hacked to steal childrens’ voice recordings or other sensitive info. Privacy norms have changed since with so many people readily buying always-listening Echos and Google Homes. In 2016 it rebranded as PullString with a focus on developers tools that allow for visually mapping out conversations and publishing finished products to the Google and Amazon platforms. Given SiriKit’s complexity and lack of features, PullString’s Converse platform could pave the way for a lot more developers to jump into building voice products for Apple’s devices. We’ve reached out to Apple and PullString for more details about whether PullString and ToyTalk’s products will remain available. The startup raised its cash including Khosla Ventures, CRV, Greylock, First Round, and True Ventures, with a Series D in 2016 as its last raise that PitchBook says valued the startup at $160 million. While the voicetech space has since exploded, it can still be difficult for voice experience developers to earn money without accompanying physical products, and many enterprises still aren’t sure what to build with tools like those offered by PullString. That might have led the startup to see a brighter future with Apple, strengthening one of the most ubiquitous though also most detested voice assistants.
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.
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.