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

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

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

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

8:33pm, 9th May, 2019
Joe Coffee’s co-founders, from left to right Nick Martin, Brenden Martin and Lenny Urbanowski: (Joe Coffee Photo) In Starbucks’ own backyard, a family-built startup has taken hold and assembled one of the largest networks of independent U.S. coffee shops. Launched in 2014, Seattle-based has created a platform that allows customers of local coffee shops to pre-order and pay for their drinks on mobile devices. The service also tracks purchase and rewards frequent caffeinators with free drinks, just like a paper punch cards do. The business has 300 independent coffee shop partners using its service, with 150 participants in Seattle. Last fall, Joe raised $1 million in its first round of funding, led by Flying Fish Partners. The idea for Joe was sparked by a road trip. More than four years ago, brothers and were driving from Eastern Washington to Seattle and made what should have been a quick pit stop for java. The two started talking about the long waits at coffee shops and drive-thrus and began percolating ideas for a solution, ultimately landing on the notion of a mobile ordering system. Take your pick of independent coffee shops through the Joe Coffee app (Joe Coffee Image) Between the two of them, they had experience in marketing, startups and product management. And as kids, they’d had front-row seats to entrepreneurship when their dad started a company in Central Washington building and selling lawn-and-garden storage sheds. They saw firsthand that “you have to pour your heart and soul into that thing to make it work,” Nick said. And even then, it isn’t always enough. After running his company for about 10 years, the national brand Tuff Shed squeezed out their dad’s local business. Not long after Joe got its start, Starbucks launched a pilot of its mobile ordering app. That made Joe’s product key not only to speeding up coffee purchases, but also to competing with international purveyors. A main driver for Joe’s founders is “empowering small businesses in the coffee space,” Nick said. To round out their team’s skill set, Brenden enrolled in a coding school so that he could lead the development of their minimal viable product (MVP). It was there that he met , who would become their third co-founder and chief technology officer. Joe’s business model charges a small “convenience fee” for consumers of 35 cents per transaction, and charges coffee shops an 8 percent fee on purchases made through its system. Some of that money is used to cover the cost of the rewards program for loyal coffee drinkers, essentially a buy-10-drinks-get-one-free sort of deal, which can be redeemed at any shop using the Joe platform. Coffee shops manage the Joe-enabled orders through a tablet provided by the startup. The eight-person company expects to triple in size in the near future and in August is moving to larger offices in Seattle. They have plans to expand into a second market soon, saying it will be another large, West Coast city. Competitors in the space include Cups, which has offices in Brooklyn and San Francisco, and Vancouver, B.C.-based JoJo. Growth is still challenging for Joe. Every coffee shop has a different menu, a different work and customer flow, a different physical setup. For the company to succeed, partnering businesses need to ensure that freshly-made drinks are ready to go as quickly and smoothly as possible for their customers. Despite that challenge, the Joe founders have venti-sized dreams. “Our goal,” said Nick, “is building a network that meets and beats what you can get at a Starbucks.” We caught up with Nick, who is Joe’s CEO; Brenden, software developer and product manager; and Urbanowski for this . Continue reading for their answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Joe is a mobile order and rewards app for local and independent coffee retailers that empowers them to compete with the “shop on every corner convenience” of national chains and allows coffee consumers to quickly and easily order directly from their phone. Joe Coffee CEO Nick Martin. (Joe Coffee Photo) Inspiration hit us when: Initially, it was while waiting in the drive-thru — a process that is designed for speed and efficiency that was clearly failing. When people pass up the experience they prefer for one that is more convenient, it hurts the relationships that our partners work so hard to cultivate. Ultimately, it also affects their bottom line. We started thinking about a way to level the playing field on convenience while enhancing the things that make local coffee so special to begin with. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’ve done all three now. We bootstrapped it ourselves in the beginning because we had to: cashing in 401Ks, putting expenses on credit cards, taking on multiple freelance jobs and driving for Lyft. We didn’t have access to the right network of people, but eventually, we did make the right connections. Our first round was a mix of angles and VC. Initially, we were targeting angels because we weren’t sure that VCs would be interested in us. As it turns out, they were. The feedback and guidance we’ve gotten from both Flying Fish and our angel investors have been invaluable to our development. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We have a significant lack of ego and a real focus on outcomes. We have an intense focus on doing whatever it takes to empower our partners and relying on data to create value around coffee-specific behavior on both sides of the transaction. We believe that our coffee-specific focus creates a comparative advantage that allows us to deliver higher value faster for partners and our users. The smartest move we’ve made so far: We started working closely with our partners to refine the experience. We needed to think beyond just the technical experience and more on providing real, tangible value to their customers. Through that learning, we’ve built a better experience for everyone in a way that fits seamlessly into our customers’ existing processes at a cost structure that equals in-person orders. Making an order through Joe Coffee (Joe Coffee Image) The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: The biggest mistake we’ve made is basically the inverse of our smartest move. We thought that if something didn’t scale right away, it wasn’t worth building from a product and process perspective. In the early phase, it’s more about learning than anything else. Once we took a step back and focused on learning about the unique needs of different segments of our audience, we could move faster and find a model that would scale. Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Nick: I have great respect for the leadership team from my time at Zillow. The way that and represented themselves as leaders — they were authentic and approachable. To me, you empower your team to move faster and take risks when they know you trust them and that everyone has a shared mission of moving the business forward. Brenden: I would love to spend time with the leadership team at . The way they’ve been able to scale in the food space, there’s a lot of things we can learn from them. Also, the Lyft team. They way they’ve gamified the experience is awesome. They know what makes a great end-user experience and they truly empower their partners and make them feel valued. Lenny: While at Microsoft I had the pleasure to work under (now chief product officer at Looker). He is truly one of the most inspirational engineering leaders I’ve ever encountered. He continuously fought to empower and elevate those who reported to him, and his example largely guides my management style today. Our favorite team-building activity is: Every Friday we do what we call an “unwinder.” We get a few cocktails and we debrief on the week as a team. We talk through what’s going on with partners and the end users. We try to bubble up as many insights as possible, and we talk about wins and opportunities. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We are looking for people who are ambitious, eager and want to stretch and contribute in big ways. We are still testing and learning, so we need people who are OK trying new things and can come with solutions. They also need to be able to speak their truth while also leaving their ego at the door. We have a culture of always speaking up, and assuming any criticism comes from a place of good intention. Ultimately, we all want to grow and improve so this has been critical to the quality of the Joe experience. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: First of all, startup life can be overly glorified — it’s not always as sexy as you might think. You go through serious ups and downs and some extremely challenging times so you have to believe in what you’re doing and be in it for the right reasons. To us, we couldn’t NOT work on Joe. We almost didn’t have a choice — that’s how hot the fire was burning to get it done and it’s taken every bit of that to get this far. Similarly, ideas are worthless without the right execution and as a startup, you’re already facing an uphill battle. Make execution and relentless improvement your core competencies. Lastly, spend time really developing your network. Regardless of the merit of your ideas, the right advisers can create an incredible amount of value in keeping you on track and connecting you to people and investors. For three founders from a working-class background, getting access to those networks was imperative.
Fast-growing sales tech startup Highspot leases big Seattle waterfront office with room for 800 people

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

5:59pm, 7th May, 2019
The World Trade Center East building. (Highspot Photo) will soon have a new spot to call home. The startup that builds artificial intelligence-powered sales software has leased two floors with options to take more at the World Trade Center East building near the Seattle waterfront. The 55,000-square-foot space, which will be ready around the end of the year, will have room for roughly 450 people. Highspot CEO Robert Wahbe. (Highspot Photo) Today, Highspot has about 200 employees and expects to hit 300 when it moves into the space. The company will hold on to its existing offices in Seattle, giving it a total footprint of more than 90,000 square feet and capacity for roughly 800 employees. Robert Wahbe, co-founder and CEO of Highspot, said the company is experiencing explosive growth in revenue and other key business metrics, and it is hiring fast to keep up. “We are growing more than 100 percent per year across all the normal business metrics and growing more than 100 percent in our headcount,” Wahbe said. “Given how competitive the environment is we are very focused on attracting and developing world-class people.” Last year, Highspot landed a to power its rapid growth. The company has raised more than $64 million in its lifetime. Wahbe called his company the fastest-growing tech startup with fewer than 1,000 employees in the area. He came to that conclusion by looking at headcount growth numbers on LinkedIn of companies in the index of the top Pacific Northwest startups. Highspot’s customer base is growing 300 percent year-over-year, Wahbe told GeekWire last year, adding to a big-name stable of customers that includes Amazon, Dropbox, Uber, Lyft Twitter, Zillow, Airbnb and SAP. A finalist for at the 2019 GeekWire Awards, Highspot equips sales teams with artificial intelligence-infused technology to improve how they have conversations with prospective buyers. Its “sales enablement platform” is a sales playbook of sorts, analyzing hoards of internally-produced information — historical data; marketing presentations; case studies; data sheets, etc. — and then applying AI to optimize the selling process. Highspot also provides communication and analytics tools with a goal of helping marketing and sales teams better collaborate. Highspot’s future office space. (Highspot Photo) The concept of bringing sales and marketing teams together has been around since the beginning of the modern office, but the technology hasn’t been there. That all changed around 2010, as mobile technology, AI and software-as-a-service innovations progressed rapidly. Since then, the category has taken on a renewed importance, Wahbe said. “It’s a problem that’s been around that people have been trying to solve, but now that it can be solved, you’re seeing the heads of marketing and the heads of sales really excited about this category and buying this software to help their teams be more competitive,” Wahbe said. Wahbe named and as Highspot’s top competitors. The company’s differentiator is its sophisticated AI that helps identify what content should be surfaced at the right time. Wahbe got the idea for Highspot when he was working at Microsoft, where he spent 16 years equipping sales teams with necessary information to help craft perfect pitches to potential customers. He quickly realized it was a difficult task and made a bet that others were experiencing the same problem. He founded the company seven years ago with former colleagues with and . Highspot was recently named to list for 2018, one of just two Seattle companies to earn the honor — Outreach, another fast-growing sales tech startup and a , was the other. Seattle has established itself as a hub for enterprise software, led by giants such as Microsoft, homegrown startups, and satellite offices for big companies including Salesforce. Wahbe emphasized Highspot’s commitment to Seattle, saying he didn’t plan to expand its offices internationally anytime soon. “It’s a little bit against the grain, but we really think the best way to build great software is to be here in Seattle,” Wahbe said.
GeekWire Calendar Picks: Mother’s Day tech events; celebrating Seattle’s creativity; and more

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

4:32pm, 3rd May, 2019
– The dilemma of raising kids as a working mother arose when women entered the workforce en masse in the mid-1900s. A from Edison Research published in 2018 shows most moms still shoulder the majority of parenting responsibilities — whether they work or not. So how are some working moms handling those challenges? In celebration of Mother’s Day, Code Fellows is hosting the panel on May 9. The panel will feature a variety of moms who work in the tech sector talking about the challenges they’ve faced and the victories they won throughout their careers. – Also in celebration of Mother’s Day, Democracy Lab is hosting on May 11. This hackathon is open to the public and teams will be comprised not just of developers, but of professionals in other fields such as research and project management. The projects encompass a variety of community-driven missions from environmental issues to government transparency to reducing school violence. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: A presentation about how to enter the software engineering field without a traditional computer science degree at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m., Friday, May 10. : A talk about new applications of mathematics in a variety of fields at Kane Hall at the University of Washington in Seattle; 4:30 to 6 p.m. Friday, May 10. : A tour through the South Lake Union neighborhood focused on some of the changes in the area as a result of tech companies moving in, starting at Triangle Park in Seattle; 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday, May 11. A panel about how Seattle’s creativity is having an impact not only in the city but also other places in the world, at The World Trade Center Seattle; 7 to 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, May 14. : An event where entrepreneurs can get feedback on their pitches at The Riveter in Seattle; 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 14. : An informal networking event at The University of Washington in Seattle; 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 14. : An event connecting entrepreneurs with angel investors at the Intellectual House in the University of Washington in Seattle; 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 15. : A panel comprised of venture capitalists and financial and legal consultants at OnePiece HQ in Seattle; 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 15. For more upcoming events, check out the , where you can find meetups, conferences, startup events, and geeky gatherings in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Organizing an event? .
More cash crops up for TerraClear as startup raises $6.1M in bid to change farming with advanced tech

More cash crops up for TerraClear as startup raises $6.1M in bid to change farming with advanced tech

8:25am, 1st May, 2019
The TerraClear team poses with the farmland rock picker that is part of what they’ve been developing. Founder and CEO Brent Frei is second from right in second row. (TerraClear Photo) TerraClear’s bid to upend the farming industry by using advanced technology to help farmers clear rocks from fields is producing a reliable crop — cash. The startup just closed a $6.1 million funding round led by Madrona Venture Group to bring its total capital raised to more than $13 million since launching in December 2017. Based in Bellevue, Wash, and in the farming community of Grangeville, Idaho, TerraClear was founded by Brent Frei, the former CEO of Onyx Software who co-founded Smartsheet in 2005. Born out of a desire to take the heavy lifting out of vital farm work and prevent damage to expensive machinery, Frei’s team and technology have been growing steadily. TerraClear will add Madrona Managing Director Matt McIlwain to its board of directors and has just hired Trevor Thompson, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar, as president. The new funds will help to accelerate hiring, product development and testing as the company brings more automation to the $5 trillion global agriculture industry. PREVIOUSLY: McIlwain was the first venture investor in Smartsheet, the publicly-traded software company that helps automate key work processes. “The value that he and the team at Madrona brought to Smartsheet was significant,” Frei said. “He had exceptionally good advice along the way, he was very good at mentoring the leadership and our strategy. So in a lot of ways when he said he was interested in being on [TerraClear’s] board, I felt honored. We’re still at a very small stage right now relative to the things he’s involved in. To get his focus on this, there’s just nothing but upside.” For his part, McIlwain called Frei a “visionary leader” and said the TerraClear team is drawing on their “deep understanding of both the life and work of a farmer as well as expertise with robotics and software-enabled machine learning to change how fields are cleared and planted.” TerraClear’s Dwight McMaster addresses a group of farmers in Grangeville, Idaho, during a demonstration of the company’s rock-picking machinery. (TerraClear Photo) With 15 employees now and positions currently open, Frei said he wouldn’t be surprised if the team is double the size at this time next year. The company formally opened a fully outfitted lab and test facility this spring in Grangeville, a town of 3,000 where Frei grew up and where his family still farms. Earlier this month they hosted a field day and invited a dozen farmers from the biggest and most advanced farms in the area and showed them end to end how TerraClear works. Fields are surveyed by drones, rocks are classified and localized by a neural network, rock size and location data is mapped, and finally the heavy lifting is done by automated machinery. “It was fantastic. It exceeded all of my expectations,” Frei said of the show and tell. “Both from the candidness of the input and the things that we learned all the way to the interest and the financial potential of the product and the business.” (TerraClear Graphic) Farmers can be a stubborn lot, a characteristic perhaps born out of having to locate and lift heavy rocks out of their fields by hand over generations. Finally showing those who have been relying on inferior processes that the tables have potentially been turned was eye opening for the farmers and Frei. “One of the farmers there, who I have a lot of respect for, when he first came in he said, ‘I’m interested in seeing what you’ve got, but we’ve got a process in place and we don’t really need anything, but I’m perfectly happy to give you advice.’ As we went through the process his opinion didn’t change much until ultimately he saw the thing working and he said, ‘Yeah, we probably need this.’ “That admission all by itself was a real checkmark in the box of ‘this has got legs,'” Frei added. “Because when you’ve got some of the more advanced farmers who have really worked on automating the expensive and mundane and routine processes and they’re looking at this going, ‘I could save a lot of time and money doing this’ … that’s meaningful.” Brent Frei holds a “field day” with farmers in Grangeville, Idaho, where TerraClear has established a production and test facility. (TerraClear Photo) With ready access to many thousands of acres of farmland around Grangeville, TerraClear plans to be all about testing this summer, with hundreds of hours in the field planned. The picker is mounted on either a human-driven piece of machinery, like a front-end loader, or could eventually be attached to an autonomous vehicle. If TerraClear’s engineers can collect and analyze data and innovate and iterate on the picker prototype quickly enough, the hope is to put a beta product in the hands of farmers next year and learn from real customers. “Right now it’s just making sure that that thing grabbing the rocks is as foolproof as possible,” Frei said. “The market is huge and we’re laser-focused on building exactly what farmers need to make their lives easier.”
IPOs without profits: New tech giants pin their initial public offerings on long-term potential

IPOs without profits: New tech giants pin their initial public offerings on long-term potential

9:21pm, 29th April, 2019
Screenshots from the IPO filings from (clockwise from upper left) Lyft, Uber, Slack and Pinterest. What do Pinterest, Lyft, Uber and Slack have in common? Yes, they’re all newly public companies, or preparing to make their initial public offerings. But they also share something in common on the bottom line — proceeding with their IPOs with lots of revenue and growth but, so far at least, without the consistent profits to show for it. And they’re part of a trend. Eighty-three percent of IPOs in the first three quarters of 2018 . Ben Gilbert, co-founder of Pioneer Square Labs and co-host of the podcast Acquired. So what’s the future of these companies? And what do they say about the state of the tech industry? On this episode of the GeekWire Podcast, we’re joined by someone who has spent a lot of time looking at the financials of many of these companies: , co-founder of Seattle’s Pioneer Square Labs, and co-host of the podcast , which tells the stories of major tech companies, acquisitions, IPOs and other deals. “I would say we are seeing way too much similarity between these IPOs and what you would see in early stage pitch decks, which is selling on a story and selling on a narrative,” he says. At the same time, he notes, some of these companies have reached unit profitability, making money on their products and services even as marketing and related expenses make them unprofitable. And there’s a lot more in play with these companies that could impact their long-term earnings — from autonomous vehicles and electric scooters to the future of workplace collaboration. Ben Gilbert and his Acquired co-host David Rosenthal have been focusing on this new wave of public companies on their recent podcast episodes, starting with and . Subscribe to the Acquired podcast . Listen to the GeekWire Podcast above, or subscribe in your favorite app. Related Links
Experts from Google, T-Mobile and other tech frontiers weigh in on the future of AI

Experts from Google, T-Mobile and other tech frontiers weigh in on the future of AI

11:30pm, 25th April, 2019
SalesPal CEO Ashvin Naik, Google Cloud’s Chanchal Chatterjee, Audioburst’s Rachel Batish and T-Mobile’s Chip Reno discuss the future of artificial intelligence at the Global AI Conference in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) Artificial intelligence can rev up recommendation engines and make self-driving cars safer. It can even . But what else will it be able to do? At today’s session of the , a panel of techies took a look at the state of AI applications — and glimpsed into their crystal balls to speculate about the future of artificial intelligence. The panelists included Chanchal Chatterjee, AI leader at ; Ashvin Naik, CEO of , which markets AI-enabled sales analysis tools; Rachel Batish, vice president of product for , an audio indexing service; and Chip Reno, senior advanced analytics manager at . The moderator was Shailesh Manjrekar, head of product and solutions marketing for , a multi-cloud data storage and management company. Here are five AI frontiers that came up in today’s conversations, plus a couple of caveats to keep in mind: Smarter grocery stores: AI-enabled grocery shopping was pioneered right here in Seattle at , but the trend is catching on. Today called the Intelligent Retail Lab in Levittown, N.Y. Britain’s takes a different tack: Users fill up a virtual shopping cart, then schedule a one-hour delivery slot. Google Cloud helped Ocado develop the , including a recommendation engine that figures out customers’ shifting preferences, an algorithm that handles and prioritizes customer service emails, and a as Ocado’s previous system. Energy-saving server farms: Chatterjee pointed to how Google used its DeepMind machine learning platform to . Before AI was put on the case, 10 years’ worth of efficiency measures could reduce energy usage by merely 12 percent, he said. Within six months, AI brought about a 40 percent reduction. “That was a huge difference that AI made in a very short amount of time that we could not do with 10 years of research,” Chatterjee said. Financial market prediction: Hedge fund managers and bankers are already , detect market manipulation and assess credit risks. But Chatterjee said the models are getting increasingly sophisticated. AI is being used to predict how margin trades could play out, or whether undervalued financial assets are ripe for the picking. AI models could even anticipate . “When the lock-in period expires … that’s a great time to short,” Chatterjee said. Deeper, wider AI conversations: Chatterjee predicted that our conversations with voice assistants are likely to get wider, deeper and more personal as AI assistants become smarter. Audioburst’s Batish said conversational AI could provide a wider opening for smaller-scale startups and for women in tech. “Women are very much prominent in conversational applications and businesses,” she said. Salespal’s Naik agreed with that view — but he worried about the dearth of compelling applications, based on his own company’s experience with voice-enabled devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. “They’re gathering dust. … We use them just to listen to music or set up alarms. That’s it,” he said. AI for good, or evil? Chatterjee said AI could be a powerful tool to root out fraud and corruption. AI applications could be built “to see what influence relationships have on outcomes — that tells you if there are any side deals being made,” he said. But Batish worried about the rise of , virtual and . “I’m actually afraid of what that could bring into our world,” she said. “It would be interesting to see how companies are trying to be able to monitor or identify fake situations that are being built out of very complicated AI.” Watch out for job disruption: Many studies have pointed out that automation is likely to disrupt employment sectors, especially in the service, manufacturing and transportation sectors. “Anything that is repetitive, that can be extracted from multiple sources, that doesn’t have a lot of creativity amd innovation, is at risk due to AI,” Chatterjee said. “That means that more people will have to move into other sectors.” Watch out for the hype: “I’d like to see people get away from the hype a little bit,” T-Mobile’s Reno said. “I’m on the client side, so I see all the pitches involving AI and ML or deep learning. … A lot of times, AI is not applicable to certain use cases where we’re applying it. Just good old-fashioned statistics or business intelligence is fine. So I think that the future of AI relies on getting past the hype and getting more into aligning these awesome tools and algorithms to specific business cases.”
Cooking tech startup ChefSteps, funded by Valve’s Gabe Newell, cuts jobs but says it will live on

Cooking tech startup ChefSteps, funded by Valve’s Gabe Newell, cuts jobs but says it will live on

11:15pm, 24th April, 2019
Chris Young, CEO and co-founder of ChefSteps, demonstrating the Joule sous vide cooking device at the GeekWire Summit in 2016. (GeekWire File Photo / Dan DeLong) , the high-tech cooking startup financed by video game titan Gabe Newell, cut an unspecified number of jobs on Wednesday, significantly scaling back its operations. But the company plans to remain in business, and continue selling and supporting its Joule sous vide cooking device, according to co-founder and CEO Chris Young. , ChefSteps built a community around online videos, vivid photographs and cooking insights from its expert founders, before expanding into hardware with the Joule device. , controlled via smartphone, heats water to precise temperatures to cook immersed food evenly over extended periods of time, using the sous vide cooking technique. A reported Wednesday that ChefSteps had “laid off almost their entire staff and will be shuttering day-to-day operations.” However, Young told GeekWire via text Wednesday evening that ChefSteps remains in business and will continue to sell and support Joule. Further details on the cutbacks weren’t immediately available. People familiar with ChefSteps said the company had employed about 50 people in addition to contractors. The company is currently of the Pacific Northwest’s top privately held companies. ChefSteps co-founders Chris Young, far left, and Grant Crilly, far right, with other early members of the ChefSteps team at their Pike Place Market studio and kitchen in 2012. (GeekWire File Photo / Todd Bishop) Young and co-founder Grant Crilly are known in part for their past roles collaborating with former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, the Intellectual Ventures chief, on the epic . Young previously was the founding chef of Heston Blumenthal’s influential Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen. Crilly’s experience includes serving as chef de cuisine at Busaba in Mumbai and Mistral in Seattle, and head development chef at Delicious Planet. The company has been funded through a low-interest loan from Newell, head of video game company Valve, the operator of the Steam video game platform. In , the ChefSteps co-founders credited the funding from Newell with giving them the ability to focus on the long-term goals of building and serving a large, high-quality community of users, without the short-term pressures of monetizing that community or generating a quick return. It’s not an easy business: Another Seattle startup that made a sous vide device, Sansaire, .
Growing like weed: Pot tech startups bloom as Pacific NW becomes hub for cannabis innovation

Growing like weed: Pot tech startups bloom as Pacific NW becomes hub for cannabis innovation

11:58am, 20th April, 2019
An example of iUNU’s computer vision technology for monitoring cannabis and other indoor agriculture operations. iUNU’s cameras and AI monitors minute movements in plants to increase greenhouse efficiency. The company is based in Seattle. (iUNU Photo) If you happen to be searching for pot sales analytics today, on the annual celebrated by marijuana aficionados, look no further than the Pacific Northwest. Seattle startup , a marijuana retail business data intelligence provider, knows that sales grew by 111 percent on this day last year. , a Kirkland, Wash.-based cryptocurrency company serving the cannabis business, found that dispensaries in Washington, Colorado, and California saw a 91 percent increase in customers during last year’s festivities and a 22 percent increase in average transaction value. Headset and POSaBIT are just two of countless cannabis-related startups based in cities such as Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver B.C. Not only has this region been “the epicenter of cannabis culture in North America,” but it is also a “hub for innovative tech companies,” said , who recently an executive role at Amazon to become CEO at Seattle-based marijuana discovery platform . As a result, Leslie said Seattle is “well positioned” to be a cannabis tech hub. That’s helped along by the Northwest’s granola-crunchy, free-spirited culture, which is also somehow home to a Type-A, finish-it-yesterday tech culture. “People in this area get it,” said , POSaBIT’s co-founder and CEO. “They understand [cannabis] is a true business opportunity. As I travel around the United States … it blows me away on how the social stigmas and everything around cannabis are so much stricter.” Hamlin said he loves being in Washington, an epicenter of technical talent thanks to homegrown companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, for giants including Google, Facebook, Oracle, Uber, and others, and hundreds of smaller startups. Sure, the Bay Area is seeing a similar cannabis tech renaissance thanks to its own blend of expertise and culture. But Washington legalized recreational pot six years before California. That gave Northwest cannabis tech companies a head start in learning the industry’s needs and developing their products and business models. One of POSaBIT’s cryptocurrency point-of-sale units for cannabis retailers. (POSaBIT photo) The cannabis business is growing up — the legal marijuana industry grew to in the U.S. last year — and the tech companies serving pot enterprises are growing right along with it. And where cannabis-tech companies have typically sought to connect a fragmented, cash-only business emerging (more or less) from the black market, many are now talking about even more sophisticated systems — AI, computer vision, cryptocurrency and big data. Cannabis tech is entering a new era, and the Northwest is a key hub. Call it “Northwest Cannabis Tech 2.0.” “You’re seeing a second wave of noise,“ said , the co-founder and CEO of , a Seattle-based company that uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to increase the efficiency of greenhouse operations, including indoor cannabis farms. ”What you’re seeing is a market that’s become much more mature than the other markets around the country, around the world.” In Seattle alone, there’s Leafly, the online cannabis directory, which was bought by Seattle cannabis investing firm in 2011. Just across downtown in Capitol Hill is , another online cannabis directory, acquired in 2016 by Nesta.co, a Canadian pot private equity firm. In March, , a Redmond, Wash., provider of cannabis point-of-sale and tracking software, Seattle pot sales software company Soro, which came out of beta only last year. Together, the companies have set out to build what Soro founder and current Dauntless chief product officer calls “an entire ecosystem around what it means to be a cannabis business.“ There are plenty of British Columbia tech companies as well, and they’re theoretically on steadier ground because Canada legalized recreational pot at the federal level last year. One of the most prominent is , the medical marijuana manufacturer also owned by Privateer Holdings and helmed by Privateer co-founder , who upwards of $31 million in compensation last year — more than Satya Nadella or Jeff Bezos. And to the south, there is, of course, Portland, which has its own celebrating the city’s Bohemian sensibility and is perhaps an even pot-friendlier town than Seattle. There, you’ll find , a point of sale product for dispensary owners, as well as the pot genetic testing company , among others. Phylos Bioscience sells a kit that identifies cannabis plant seedlings seven days after germination. The company is based in Portland. (Phylos Bioscience Photo) Anyone who got a front-row seat for the dot-com boom of the 1990s will surely recall all the hype — big words and jargon that, as it turned out, weren’t backed by actual revenue. By the end of the decade, tech stocks imploded, wiping out a wave of tech 1.0 companies whose shares had once soared. While there hasn’t been a pot-tech implosion (at least not yet) and there is certainly still plenty of hype, Greenberg said cannabis customers are demanding better tech, which is placing more demand on vendors to move beyond talk and develop fast, powerful software. “You have to really perform in Washington,” said the IUNU CEO, adding that pot tech companies in this new phase increasingly face “pressure to put up or get out.” That pressure, and the expertise of startup founders and workers jumping ship from Microsoft and Amazon to work in the cannabis business, means Northwest tech companies typically build very solid pot software, Greenberg said. POSaBIT CEO Ryan Hamlin. (POSaBIT Photo) “I’d definitely put the companies in the Northwest in a favorable position,” said Greenberg, whose company $7.5 million in February in a round led by Bootstrap Labs and NCT Ventures. Total funding in IUNU is more than $13 million. “You’re going to have a lot of winners and successful companies in the Northwest around that tech,” he added. POSaBIT began trading April 8 on the Canadian Securities Exchange under the ticker symbol PBIT. It opened at $0.28 per share and closed Friday at $0.37 cents per share. U.S. pot companies such as POSaBIT have been flocking to the CSE because it’s far more liberal than other exchanges when it comes to cannabis stocks. POSaBIT makes it possible for customers to walk into a cannabis store and convert their cash to Bitcoin, which they can then use to buy pot. Because of federal prohibition, legal cannabis is still a cash-only industry, which has produced any number of headaches, from difficulty banking cannabis revenues to the security concerns that come with any cash enterprise. Hamlin, POSaBIT’s CEO, said a lot of those problems can be solved with cryptocurrency. POSaBIT was born during a campfire chat with friends about about the technology needs of the emerging marijuana business. “It was the combination of, OK — cash-only problem, massive industry, cryptocurrency. How could they all come together?” said Hamlin, a former Microsoft general manager. “And that’s when the ‘aha!’ moment was. Well, you can use a debit and credit card to purchase cryptocurrency. And you can use cryptocurrency to buy cannabis.” Leafly co-founder Cy Scott and his colleagues celebrate the App of the Year award at the 2014 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire File Photo) POSaBIT launched in 22 Washington cannabis stores in 2017. In 2018, it had expanded into Colorado, California, Oklahoma and Nevada. By the end of the year, POSaBIT had processed nearly $22 million in sales through its payment system. Like Greenberg, Hamlin said his cannabis industry customers are demanding a new level of sophistication from his software. One of the ways he’s trying to meet that need is to leverage bitcoin transactions to gather anonymous customer spending data and provide his clients with market research, a much-coveted service in an industry that has been cash-only since, well, at least the Monterey Pop Festival. “I can tell you precisely who a manufacturer is,” Hamlin said. “I can tell you (the ages and genders of those) buying. Males from 45 to 55 tend to buy edibles and they tend to buy them on Thursday night and they also live in these zip codes … that’s a gold mine.” Headset, the Seattle pot analytics and market data company started by Leafly co-founder , is providing similar metrics. Last month, Nielsen, best known for its TV ratings, and Deloitte forged a with Headset to provide U.S. and Canadian pot manufacturers with one of their first looks into how their customers think about cannabis, how often they use it and which brands they buy, among other data. Headset is an example of a Pacific Northwest pot tech ecosystem that’s already maturing. Scott originally founded Leafly in Irvine, Calif., but the company relocated its headquarters to Seattle after Privateer Holdings — the Seattle-based marijuana investment firm — acquired Leafly. Scott has stuck around town and is building another fast-growing cannabis tech company. Hamlin, POSaBIT’s CEO, noted that “you come to Washington and you don’t think twice.” “It’s part of doing business, so to speak,” he said.
Should gender diversity on corporate boards be legally required? Women VCs, tech execs weigh in

Should gender diversity on corporate boards be legally required? Women VCs, tech execs weigh in

11:37am, 1st April, 2019
Tech leaders Gillian Muessig, Kelly Wright, Lisa Hammitt, and Jennifer Savage discuss barriers and opportunities for women in venture-backed startups. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) in leadership is often cited as a driving factor behind the broader tech industry’s gender balance issues. The theory? If more women sat on corporate boards and wrote the checks, then more women would feel comfortable entering male-dominated fields and more female entrepreneurs would get funded. But even though there is a growing body of research to show that increasing women in leadership roles makes good business sense, the market is not correcting itself, at least not very quickly. That begs the question, should regulators step in? It’s a question that was raised Thursday during an event in Seattle that brought together women venture capitalists and executives to discuss opportunities and barriers in the venture capital world. Create33, under the umbrella of Madrona Venture Group, hosted the event. Create33 Director Rebecca Lovell moderated a discussion with Lisa Hammit, vice president of data and artificial intelligence at Visa; Gillian Muessig, general partner at Outlines Venture Group; Jennifer Savage, Partner at Illuminate Ventures, and Kelly Wright, board director at Amperity, Even, and Fastly. Tech leaders Rebecca Lovell, Gillian Muessig, Kelly Wright, Lisa Hammitt, and Jennifer Savage discuss barriers and opportunities for women in venture-backed startups. Reports from and the indicate that companies with at least one woman founder yield better results for venture capital firms, though when measuring by metrics like valuations. Researchers at the discovered female-founded companies generate more revenue than startups that only have men on their founding teams. In February, the (CAE) published a study asserting that women-founded companies perform at least as well as startups founded by men. But despite this track record, women-founded companies accounted for just 16 percent of first venture capital financings between 2005-2017, according to the CAE study. This year, researchers found 63 percent of startups have no women on their board of directors and 47 percent have no women in leadership. Regulators are starting to zero in on the slow progress toward gender parity across the tech industry — from startups to big public corporations. The question of whether government should regulate diversity in tech is more than theoretical in California. In September, California enacted a landmark law that requires public companies domiciled in the state to have at least one woman director by 2019 and larger corporations will need to have three women on the board by 2021. “Given all the special privileges that corporations have enjoyed for so long, it’s high time corporate boards include people who constitute more than half of the ‘persons’ in America,” former California Gov. Jerry Brown wrote in his to the California State Senate. New Jersey and Massachusetts . Legislators in Washington state, the West Coast’s other big tech hub, aren’t formally pursuing a board diversity law though that could change if the idea picks up steam. States are in a handful of European countries that require corporate boards to have women directors. A from 2016 found “evidence that firms with a larger fraction of female directors on their board have greater dividend payouts.” But the tech leaders on the Create33 panel and other female board members GeekWire interviewed have mixed feelings about regulators mandating diversity quotas. Muessig, who co-founded Moz and a venture fund that backs women-led startups, wondered if it was “thin thinking” to force this type of regulation companies. “Government does this so often,” she said. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to something that didn’t really solve the problem. I’m not against the idea … but I haven’t dug in deeply enough to say, is that really going to be the root of the problem or not?” Flying Fish Partners co-founder Heather Redman is concerned that the narrow focus on corporate boards could actually hurt efforts to increase representation of women in other tech leadership roles. “The data, so far, on how well the regulation works is kind of mixed,” she said in an interview with GeekWire. “One of the phenomenons that I’ve noticed is that we’re already seeing a lot of women retiring early from C-suite jobs instead of becoming CEO. The board path is becoming the easier path.” Redman added, “If I had to pick where I would want to see women be, I would pick CEO all day long … the board does not have its fingers on the knobs.” Several executives expressed a begrudging acceptance of the mandate’s necessity. “Frankly, I was disappointed that it had to be mandated,” said Nicole Piasecki, a Seattle executive who sits on several board seats, including Weyerhaeuser, in an interview with GeekWire. “I understand why it was mandated because progress wasn’t occurring.” California’s law will open up 692 board seats to women by 2021, . If the rest of the nation followed California’s lead, it would amount to more than 3,000 board seats available to women, nearly a 75 percent increase. During Thursday’s panel, Wright said that California’s board law is moving the needle. The former longtime Tableau executive noted that without a legal requirement, California’s big corporations were not making much progress on gender diversity among directors. She explained that California’s law actually started as a recommendation from the government, not a mandate. “Unfortunately, over time, nothing happened,” she said. “There was no change.” From Wright’s perspective, the power of California’s law — which governs some of the most powerful tech companies in the world — is the impact it’s having beyond the state’s borders. Seattle-based Amazon, for example, added to its board in February; it now has six men and five women on . “It’s at least raised the conversation to the point where now people are actually looking at the data and looking at the facts, and we are starting to see some positive progress,” Wright said.
How the Silicon Valley tech invasion has reshaped Seattle’s startup landscape, 15 years after it began

How the Silicon Valley tech invasion has reshaped Seattle’s startup landscape, 15 years after it began

11:07am, 21st March, 2019
Google is building a new campus in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, just across the street from Amazon’s headquarters. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Back in 2005, when tech veteran joined Google to build its fledgling Seattle-area outpost, recruiting was straightforward. As the first in a new wave of Silicon Valley tech giants to establish an engineering center in the region, Google set up shop in Kirkland, Wash., just down the road from Microsoft, which was suffering at the time from a stagnant stock price and sagging employee morale. Google capitalized on Microsoft’s struggles and its own status as an emerging tech icon to expand its office to 400 people over the course of four years. Microsoft veteran Peter Wilson was instrumental in building the Google and Facebook engineering offices in Seattle. (File Photo) “For a lot of the people we hired, they basically came to us and said, ‘Hey, I think what you’re doing is right, and I’d like to come work with you,’ ” Wilson recalled in an interview with GeekWire this week. Tech recruiters today can only dream of having it so easy. Fifteen years after Google arrived, it’s not a stretch to see Seattle as Silicon Valley North. Nearly 120 out-of-town tech companies , many of them from the San Francisco Bay Area. Apple, Salesforce, Oracle, Uber and Twitter are just a few of the tech powerhouses building large teams in the region. Facebook employs more than 3,000 people here, . In the meantime, many homegrown tech companies are also surging. Microsoft is experiencing a renaissance as the world’s most valuable company. Amazon employs nearly 50,000 people in the Seattle region. Tableau, Zillow, Avalara, Smartsheet, T-Mobile, and F5 Networks recruit engineers aggressively. And Google, with 3,000 employees of its own in the area, is preparing to expand to a new South Lake Union campus — this time within poaching distance of Amazon’s headquarters. RELATED CONTENTCheck out GeekWire's established by out-of-town companies. Data from Seattle-based recruiting agency Fuel Talent shows more than 65,000 software engineers now in the Seattle area. But even with all that engineering horsepower close at hand, the growth of the major tech brands can make it more difficult for startups to land the talent they need to grow their businesses. “Every year since 2008, it has become more competitive, more challenging, and requires more creativity to attract senior engineering talent,” said , director of Fuel Talent’s technology practice. “Is it easier to identify engineers now than 10 years ago? Yes. Is it more difficult and expensive to hire engineers in Seattle? 100 percent.” So what does this mean for Seattle’s startup scene? From the beginning, the concern has been that the Silicon Valley influx keep talent away from promising upstarts. That still happens, and it’s still a big risk. But the long-term impact of these engineering centers is now becoming clear, and it’s more nuanced than it might have seemed. “They are really good for the Seattle startup ecosystem, but it’s not direct,” said , vice president of engineering at trucking logistics startup Convoy. “It takes a little time to play out.” Startup stepping stone Convoy’s leadership team now includes Viraj Mody (far left), who previously led the Dropbox Seattle office; Divya Mahalingam, who worked at Palantir’s Seattle office; Vishnu Challam, who led Twitter’s Seattle office; and Tim Prouty, who helped build Uber’s Seattle office. (Convoy Photo) Prouty’s own career tells the story. He graduated from the University of Washington in 2006 and joined Isilon, a fast-growing Seattle startup that had launched five years prior. He spent nine years there as Isilon went public and was later acquired by EMC, the data storage giant San Francisco-based Uber then recruited Prouty to establish a Seattle engineering office that grew from a few people to nearly 200 employees under his leadership. But after two years, he wanted to be at a company based in Seattle that “had all the benefits of being at the center where the energy is happening, where decisions are getting made, and where the core business is operating,” Prouty said. He landed at Convoy, an up-and-coming company backed by the biggest names in tech that has become . Other leaders from remote offices in Seattle followed Prouty, including , who previously led Twitter’s Seattle office; , who led Dropbox Seattle; and , who was development team lead at Palantir Technologies in Seattle. Prouty said the engineering centers offer a new “risk profile” or stepping stone that lets workers go from a big tech company such as Microsoft or Amazon to something smaller, but not as extreme as joining an early-stage startup. “The great thing about that is it sets the stage for them to go to a startup next,” Prouty said. The high-paying salaries might also benefit the Seattle startup scene in the long run, providing enough capital for future founders to chase their business ideas. In that vein, the engineering centers could be a key part of laying the groundwork for Seattle’s next billion-dollar startups. And more startup success stories may help encourage people at companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, or Facebook to build on their experience and make the entrepreneurial leap. That’s what happened to , co-founder of Seattle startup , and his business partner . The pair spent years at larger enterprises such as Microsoft and the Gates Foundation. “At some level you ask yourself, how do I make sure I’m building something as opposed to executing someone else’s vision?” Spector said. “Then you can find real problems that you’ve experienced and you want to go build that thing. We had a desire to build something meaningful and mission-driven that had a big impact. It was just a matter of time and phase of life that allowed us to do that.” Options, options, options Google’s campus in Kirkland, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) It’s a lucrative time to be an engineer in Seattle. Spector said most top engineers looking for a job in the region will have six or seven offers on the table. “They are basically getting to dictate what type of company they work at,” Spector said. “They can optimize for whatever they want to optimize for — upside, security, career growth, etc. They can pick and choose what they want to do.” Employer demand for technology roles in the Seattle metro area has grown by 23 percent over the past year, according to Indeed data. A search on for “software engineer” shows nearly 15,000 open positions. Seattle has become a battleground of sorts, with big companies and small startups competing for the same highly-skilled engineers, a crucial key to success for any tech operation. It can be tough to turn down a $200,000 salary with stock options at a deep-pocketed well-known company developing cutting-edge technologies. And Seattle is also developing a reputation where big tech companies thrive, with many employees at bigger orgs content to ride out their careers in comfort. “Trying to woo people away from those big names is extraordinarily difficult, if not all out impossible,” said , CEO of IT intelligence startup Movere. But there’s still something attractive about joining a nascent startup, even though it may not be the logical or rational financial choice. , CEO and co-founder at Seattle startup , said large companies are at a disadvantage when recruiting people who want more ownership of their work, want to have a bigger impact on the product and customer, and want more opportunities to grow into upper management positions. “It’s really all about the individual you’re recruiting and what they value,” said Nakhuda. , co-founder and CEO of , likes having giant companies down the street that help make Seattle a world-class hub for engineering talent. He said his pitch to candidates often comes down to offering “fulfillment.” “If you’ve got a worthwhile mission, top talent will be attracted to you,” Huang said. “Then, you’ll welcome having those large soul-sucking corporations in your backyard.” Middle ground Facebook’s Seattle engineering center. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) The wide array of engineering centers offer something in the middle. “At Dropbox Seattle, we have a special advantage in that we have the intimate feel of a smaller office that many candidates are looking for, while also having the resources and impact of a global company with more than 500 million users,” said , director of engineering for Dropbox. , who leads a 400-person office in Seattle for Uber, said remote sites “often round out the gaps between big and small companies, offering new missions and hard problems to solve.” helped open Facebook’s first office here nearly a decade ago. He left to launch a startup, sold it to Airbnb, and is now in charge of growing a Seattle hub for the travel giant. “I have really enjoyed being a part of the smaller community of Seattle offices that is a little more startup-like,” Steinberg . “I am really proud of the team culture in Airbnb’s Seattle office right now. Employees play much more active roles in making this a fun place to work than they tend to at larger companies and offices where employees tend to be more passive.” There can be downsides to joining these offices, given the separation from a company’s headquarters. “One of the most important parts of managing a ‘remote’ office is making sure it doesn’t feel like a remote office,” said , vice president of gaming and the Facebook Seattle site lead. “To do that, we work really hard to make sure we’re scaling Facebook’s culture. It’s a big challenge.” But there are also other benefits to being remote. For example, it provides an opportunity to craft a space to fit the culture of a local community. To that point, Raji said the impact of remote engineering centers goes beyond simply adding more talented coders to the Seattle ecosystem. Facebook’s Seattle employees have started “Resource Groups” around issues that matter to them and work with similar groups at other local companies. They participate in the South Lake Union Chamber of Commerce; the Washington Tech Alliance; and other civic engagement programs. Facebook Seattle also hosts community events and partnered with the University of Washington to create a virtual reality lab. “All of these touch points make us a better company, and, we believe, make the local tech scene stronger and more robust,” Raji said. But while companies such as Facebook reap the benefits of operating a remote office in a talent-rich region, startups could suffer, especially given salary demands. The average annual paycheck for a senior software engineer in Seattle is $144,000, according to ZipRecruiter, but that number can swell for positions within the larger giants. “Having all that great talent isn’t worth anything if you can’t afford it,” said Wilson, the Microsoft veteran who led Google’s early growth in the region. Wilson went on to play a similar role for Facebook Seattle before returning for another stint at Google. In 2016, he joined mobile marketplace company OfferUp as vice president of engineering. And by then, the recruiting scene had completely changed. With engineers enjoying an abundance of job opportunities, OfferUp was forced to sink a significant amount of time and money into recruiting, with no guarantee of success. If he were starting a company today, Wilson said he’d think twice about doing so in Seattle because of the costs. That’s in line with a recent trend of founders for their headquarters. Wilson, who has since returned to London to serve as ’s vice president of engineering, said he hopes companies in Seattle can do more to help each other out rather than wasting valuable resources trying to poach one another’s top employees. “They’ve created this zero-sum game of recruiting,” Wilson said of the engineering outposts. “It’s fabulous all these companies have moved in and created opportunities for engineers, but it would be very cool if they could work out between them how to make it more of a win-win.”
Tech Moves: OfferUp bulks up leadership team, taps former Starz exec Ameesh Paleja as CTO

Tech Moves: OfferUp bulks up leadership team, taps former Starz exec Ameesh Paleja as CTO

9:35am, 21st March, 2019
Ameesh Paleja. (OfferUp Photo) Bellevue, Wash.-based mobile marketplace startup has hired as its new chief technology officer. Paleja was previously the CTO of premium cable network Starz and the CEO of movie ticket service Atom Tickets. Paleja also worked at Amazon for more than a decade, where he managed teams focused on products including Amazon Prime Instant Video and the Amazon Appstore. “To disrupt an entire industry, you need a simple idea that’s brilliantly executed,” Paleja said in a statement. “OfferUp is a marketplace leader because of their passionate focus on the customer.” Paleja is the latest addition to OfferUp’s leadership team. Last month it former Microsoft exec and Buddy co-founder Jeff MacDuff as director of engineering; Amazon veteran Bill Carr was COO in October; and former eBay exec Rodrigo Brumana CFO in September. OfferUp is . The 8-year-old company has raised $221 million to date from investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Warburg Pincus, T. Rowe Price, Tiger Global Management and Jackson Square Ventures, among others. This past August the 240-person company as it aims for profitability and competes with Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace. OfferUp said it has 44 million active users and that its app has been downloaded 75 million times. The company last year, extending its reach beyond local commerce. Sarah Bilton. (OfferUp Photo) OfferUp also announced today that it hired as vice president of employee experience. Bilton was previously vice president of people practices at marijuana review and discovery platform Leafly. She also held senior human resources roles at e-commerce companies Julep Beauty and real estate tech company Zillow. “As a top five shopping app on iOS and Android, we’re rapidly entering our next stage of growth by investing in maturing business lines, and continuing to build our executive roster with strong leaders who have proven experience scaling companies,” said OfferUp co-founder and CEO Nick Huzar. Bellevue, Wash.-based OfferUp is ranked No. 13 on the list of the top Pacific Northwest privately-held companies.
Tech Moves: OfferUp bulks up leadership team, taps former Starz exec Ameesh Paleja as first CTO

Tech Moves: OfferUp bulks up leadership team, taps former Starz exec Ameesh Paleja as first CTO

8:33am, 21st March, 2019
Ameesh Paleja. (OfferUp Photo) Bellevue, Wash.-based mobile marketplace startup has hired as its first-ever chief technology officer. Paleja was previously the CTO of premium cable network Starz and the CEO of movie ticket service Atom Tickets. Paleja also worked at Amazon for more than a decade, where he managed teams focused on products including Amazon Prime Instant Video and the Amazon Appstore. “To disrupt an entire industry, you need a simple idea that’s brilliantly executed,” Paleja said in a statement. “OfferUp is a marketplace leader because of their passionate focus on the customer.” Paleja is the latest addition to OfferUp’s leadership team. Last month it former Microsoft exec and Buddy co-founder Jeff MacDuff as director of engineering; Amazon veteran Bill Carr was COO in October; and former eBay exec Rodrigo Brumana CFO in September. OfferUp is . The 8-year-old company has raised $221 million to date from investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Warburg Pincus, T. Rowe Price, Tiger Global Management and Jackson Square Ventures, among others. This past August the 240-person company as it aims for profitability and competes with Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace. OfferUp said it has 44 million active users and that its app has been downloaded 75 million times. The company last year, extending its reach beyond local commerce. Sarah Bilton. (OfferUp Photo) OfferUp also announced today that it hired as vice president of employee experience. Bilton was previously vice president of people practices at marijuana review and discovery platform Leafly. She also held senior human resources roles at e-commerce companies Julep Beauty and real estate tech company Zillow. “As a top five shopping app on iOS and Android, we’re rapidly entering our next stage of growth by investing in maturing business lines, and continuing to build our executive roster with strong leaders who have proven experience scaling companies,” said OfferUp co-founder and CEO Nick Huzar. Bellevue, Wash.-based OfferUp is ranked No. 13 on the list of the top Pacific Northwest privately-held companies.
Vikram Jandhyala, UW innovation leader and key figure in Seattle tech, dies at age 47

Vikram Jandhyala, UW innovation leader and key figure in Seattle tech, dies at age 47

4:15pm, 13th March, 2019
Vikram Jandhyala. (University of Washington Photo) Vikram Jandhyala, the University of Washington’s vice provost for innovation and a key link between the UW and the Seattle region’s technology community, has died as a result of suicide, by Ana Mari Cauce, the University of Washington president. RESOURCES: 1-800-273-8255741741 Jandhyala, 47, led the UW’s innovation center, CoMotion, for five years. Earlier this year, he announced that . Cauce described him as “, and someone for whom “inclusive innovation” wasn’t just a catchphrase, but a guiding principle.” She wrote, “This was core to his belief in combining innovation with empathy, because as he put it, “Once we understand someone else, compassion is what makes us want to help them.” This advocacy for what Vikram called a “Seattle style of innovation” can be seen in his leadership of CoMotion and in communities not just in the Puget Sound, but around the world.” According to , Jandhyala was the son of two physics professors. He graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in 1993 and attended graduate school at the University of Illinois. Jandhyala was well-known in the Seattle tech community over the past two decades as a respected professor, researcher, founder, speaker, and champion of entrepreneurship. He first joined the UW faculty in 2000 and founded his own startup in 2007 called Nimbic that was later acquired by Mentor Graphics. Jandhyala became chair of the UW’s electrical engineering department in 2011 and was named the university’s vice provost of innovation in June 2014. His title evolved into vice president of innovation strategy as Jandhyala led CoMotion, which helps startups through education and access to experts and funding sources. Under the leadership of Jandhyala, the UW has ranked among the top 10 on Reuters’ list of the world’s most innovative universities for the past several years and cracked the top 10 of the Milken Institute national tech transfer rankings. CoMotion also helped open a makerspace on campus; created an Amazon Catalyst program; and launched the Mobility Innovation Center with Challenge Seattle. He was the co-executive director of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a new U.S.-China joint technology innovation institute run in Bellevue, Wash., by the UW and China’s Tsinghua University, which recently graduated its first class. He planned to dedicate more time to the program after leaving CoMotion. Jandhyala is survived by two sons, ages 5 and 7, according to seeking financial support to cover basic living costs for his children. His wife, Suja Vaidyanathan, writes on that page that she and Jandhyala remained married, but had lived separate lives for a few years. “Vikram was a complex person and our relationship was equally complex,” Vaidyanathan wrote. “The pressures of two high-stress careers, raising young children and some incompatibilities took a toll on our marriage. We could have worked through one or two of these pressure but our relationship couldn’t take all three.” Vaidyanathan also said that the two were “highly supportive of each other’s life goals” and that “his life goal was to make entrepreneurship a part of higher education across all disciplines, not just technology.” The news of Jandhyala’s death has stunned many people in the Seattle tech community. Madrona Venture Group, which provided seed funding in 2006 for his startup Nimbic, released this statement from its managing directors. “Vikram was a close part of the Madrona family for years. He worked with us on the funding of a company thirteen years ago and since then we have worked with him in our business lives as well as had him as a part of our social fabric. He took CoMotion and made it a strong force of innovation for the entire ecosystem, making a real difference in the lives of students and professors. He gave so much to all of us and we are devasted by the news of his death.” Susannah Malarkey, former executive director of the Seattle-based Tech Alliance, called Jandhyala’s passing a “huge loss for the university and a huge loss for the larger community.” “What I loved about Vikram was that he was willing to think in very new ways,” she said. “He partnered with Ana Mari to really bring the innovation of the university out to the community in a way that it never had before. He was just a lovely man — so smart, so committed, so energetic, and really led by example. He was just a fabulous guy.” In , Jandhyala shared his thoughts on life changes, writing that he was “personally going through a challenging one right now.” He said that transitions “whether chosen or forced, are particularly difficult when you are moving on from something you have put all your heart, soul, belief, effort, and time into. It is doubly hard when it is not just you but a dedicated, loving, high-functioning team who believes in a common vision that has put in all that effort. People matter immensely.” He said that his personal take didn’t offer any business or leadership wisdom, but that he believed “self reflection at times of transition can be additionally focused and energized.” “Sometimes, to paraphrase (and misquote!) a great role model and technology leader and friend I would have loved to work for and with, it’s time to “hit reset,” Jandhyala wrote, in an apparent reference to “Hit Refresh,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s 2017 book. “And if that soft reset doesn’t work, to turn the power off and back on and hopefully to see something fresh and different.” In a answering a traditional question at the end of our questionnaire, Jandhyala offered these “final words of advice” for his fellow geeks: “Try to be inclusive, not exclusive. Technology is great. Think about how it can solve real problems for all people. Think about how technology itself can include all people.” GeekWire’s Taylor Soper and Kurt Schlosser contributed to this report.
Led by ex-Oculus research scientist, Seattle drone startup Vtrus raises cash for indoor inspection tech

Led by ex-Oculus research scientist, Seattle drone startup Vtrus raises cash for indoor inspection tech

1:57pm, 7th March, 2019
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:
The secret to Seattle’s success in tech, and what needs to happen to spark the next wave of growth

The secret to Seattle’s success in tech, and what needs to happen to spark the next wave of growth

8:32am, 23rd February, 2019
Seattle’s tech scene has been built based on nitty-gritty infrastructure. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Despite all its success, Seattle’s tech community needs an unprecedented win to take it to the next level — a fast-growing, world-changing startup that creates a huge return for its backers and sparks a new wave of angel investing. The challenge: this isn’t what has historically fueled the region’s tech sector. But all of the work so far might have laid the foundation for this next generation. Those are some of the takeaways from a conversation with GeekWire co-founder John Cook on an episode of a new podcast from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, hosted by Seattle Metro Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland. “In past because Seattle is isolated in the Northwest and doesn’t sit in a big media hub, a lot of the innovations and creations that you’ve seen come out of Seattle are what you would maybe call a bit more boring,” Cook said on the show. “There’s a reason why enterprise software and cloud computing have grown up here.” It’s “the nitty-gritty infrastructure,” the technology that “makes everything work,” he said. GeekWire co-founder John Cook “It’s extremely important. There’s a ton of money in it,” he said. “There are some amazingly valuable companies that are growing up in this area. And so I think Seattle historically has been able to develop technologies in hard and complex areas — and that’s a real benefit.” Historically, that has translated into long company life cycles, not the breakout successes more common in Silicon Valley. Examples from Seattle include Tableau Software, the data visualization company that went public in 2013, a decade after it was founded; and travel and expense management company Concur Technologies, which sold to SAP in 2014 for $8.3 billion, more than a decade after it was founded. “What Seattle needs in order to spark this next generation of capital and investing is a home run that hits really quickly, like an Instagram … where twenty or thirty angels are invested in it and they make a crap-ton of money really quickly,” Cook said. Seattle Metro Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland hosts the Chamber’s new “Under Construction” podcast. While it might not lend itself to such rapid growth, health technology is one promising area, he said. Much of the breakthroughs in that space would be impossible without the cloud infrastructure coming out of Seattle. Innovative health technology is “an area that I think is just going to accelerate and I think Seattle is really interestingly positioned for that with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure,” Cook said. “Cloud computing is going to power the intelligence behind the ability for these researchers to … make the medicines or the cures that they want to go after.” “I see that transformation really happening in a big way and Seattle being positioned very well for that with the scientific health research, with UW, Fred Hutch and then the computing horsepower from Amazon, Microsoft and others.” Listen to the “Under Construction” podcast above, which includes more of Cook’s comments on Seattle and tech. Listen more episodes of the Seattle Chamber’s Under Construction podcast and (We’re featuring the discussion as part of a new GeekWire series spotlighting some some of our favorite podcasts about startups, leadership, technology, science and more from the Seattle region and beyond. Email suggestions for future guest podcasts to tips@geekwire.com.)
Marketing tech startup Lytics raises $35M to help companies learn more about individual customers

Marketing tech startup Lytics raises $35M to help companies learn more about individual customers

12:44pm, 21st February, 2019
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.
Food safety monitoring tech startup wins first place at Madrona machine learning hackathon

Food safety monitoring tech startup wins first place at Madrona machine learning hackathon

12:45pm, 8th May, 2018
The HyperAI team, from left to right: Benji Barash, Yves Albers, Dave Matthew, and Elizabeth Nelson, with TiE Seattle board member Shirish Nadkarni and Madrona Venture Labs CTO Jay Bartot. (Not pictured, from the Hyper AI team: Ritesh Desai and Joaquin Zapeda) (Photo via Madrona) Food safety is a pressing issue. The latest example came last month when an elusive strain of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce sickened 121 people across 25 states and killed one, for how food is screened for safety and quality. Now a newly-formed group of entrepreneurs wants to use machine learning technology to help keep food free of harmful bacteria and containments before it reaches the dinner table. Hyper AI took home the first place prize at a hosted by TiE Seattle and Madrona Venture Labs, the startup studio housed inside Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group. The event featured eight teams who came together last month and spent this past weekend creating startup ideas that incorporated the latest machine learning and deep learning technology. Eight teams participated in the Machine Learning Startup Creation Weekend at Madrona Venture Labs. (Photo via Madrona) The winning team, Hyper AI, aims to help the food industry with hyper-spectral imaging tech that can detect everything from foreign objects to deadly bacteria. It plans to deploy edge devices on customer premises and do the heavy lifting for image analysis with machine learning in the cloud. The group, made up of Amazon vets and experienced technologists, explained that existing solutions are either too manual and expensive, or too specialized. It hopes to use machine learning to improve the food scanning technology over time as it learns how to detect more and more contaminants. “They were able to demonstrate why there is increasing awareness of the issue and demand for new, innovative solutions,” said Mike Fridgen, CEO of Madrona Venture Labs who helped judge the pitches. “They had defined their beachhead opportunity, where they would start, through in-depth conversations with potential food processor customers.” As the first place prize winner, the Hyper AI team will now meet with Madrona Venture Labs with a chance to land a $100,000 investment and participate in , which just . Accepted startups in the accelerator will use Madrona Venture Labs resources — expertise in company creation, design, engineering, etc.; access to Madrona’s advisor and investor network; and more. It will be housed in Madrona’s that opens later this summer underneath its existing downtown Seattle office. Madrona Venture Labs held in the past and ended up investing in the winning companies. The studio is focusing on supporting “vertical” machine learning and artificial intelligence startups, as explained . The second place team from last weekend’s event was FireWise, which aims predict wildfires before they happen. The third place team, HealthShop, wants to help guide healthcare patients to surgery centers. (Editor’s note: I was one of the six judges at the event. Others included Madrona Venture Labs CEO Mike Fridgen; Flying Fish Managing Partner Heather Redman; Madrona Ventures Venture Partner and University of Washington professor Dan Weld; Koru CEO Kristen Hamilton; and Microsoft GM Sona Vaish Venkat )
Fan-controlled football league to use blockchain; Amazon inks more streaming rights; and more sports tech news

Fan-controlled football league to use blockchain; Amazon inks more streaming rights; and more sports tech news

6:15am, 8th May, 2018
TAYLOR’S TAKE ON THE WEEK IN SPORTS TECH: A new football league controlled by fans is the latest endeavor to make use of blockchain technology. The begins play next year and will allow fans to be apart of everything from play-calling to hiring general managers. The FCFL will feature eight indoor football teams playing one hour-long games in a production studio on a 50-yard field. Games will air on Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming platform whose video overlay technology will allow fans to call plays in real-time. The league is also using helmet cameras, embedded chips in balls, drones, and other tech. The league this week that it has partnered with , a Seattle-based blockchain consulting group, to implement a first-of-its-kind blockchain token system. Fans will be able to earn Fan Access Network (FAN) tokens built on the Ethereum blockchain; the more tokens collected, the more power they’ll have to make decisions. , co-founder of FCFL, told GeekWire that his team wanted to use blockchain for three reasons: Voting transparency: “We’re letting fans dictate the careers of coaches and players, and the plays on the field,” he said. “We need to be able to provide true transparency in the voting process so there are no questions about the results.” Tokenization: “We’re building a ‘real-life video game’ so it’s a natural fit to have tokens in the game,” he said. “We’re tokenizing voting power in the league so the more FAN tokens a fan owns/earns, the more voting power the fan will have.” Digital collectibles: “We’re going to be tokenizing the players in the league and creating non-fungible digital ‘collectible tokens’ for each player, similar to trading cards,” he said. “We’re working with New Alchemy on some interesting ways to incorporate the collectible player tokens into fantasy sports games for the league.” New Alchemy is also an investor in the league, making a “low seven-figure” investment, Farudi said. Farudi and his colleagues tested an initial version of FCFL last year , an Indoor Football League team, and letting fans control plays with an app. FCFL is the latest evolution, expanding the format to an entire league with partners like Twitch and IMG Original Content. Highlights from the week in sports tech Amazon bought up more live sports rights, this time to stream the U.S. Open in Ireland and the U.K. on Prime Video. The NFL is investigating what it alleges as widespread fraud related to its $1 billion concussion settlement, reports . Amazon-owned Twitch from the NBA’s new 2K esports league. reports that MLB and the NBA are in talks to divest their stakes in DraftKings and FanDuel. Seattle startup Vicis for safe football helmets. Seattle esports betting startup Unikrn made another acquisition, to create the first “crypto gaming platform.” Another Seattle startup, IdealSeat, to integrate its ticketing intelligence platform. University of Pittsburgh awarded two projects for its first : tech that improves swimming technique, and a bio-screening platform that measures a user’s nervous system. Did you sign up for ESPN+? In case you missed it, on ESPN’s new $5 per month streaming service. Mobile Sports Report is out with . Blockchain-based startups are . Thanks for tuning in, everyone! — Taylor Soper
U2’s Bono and The Edge revealed as investors in Convoy on-demand trucking tech startup

U2’s Bono and The Edge revealed as investors in Convoy on-demand trucking tech startup

6:00am, 8th May, 2018
U2’s Bono and The Edge in concert Friday night on the 2018 Experience + Innocence Tourin St. Louis. (Photo by Remy, via , ) Seattle-based on-demand trucking technology startup Convoy already counts several rock stars of the tech world among its investors — including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Turns out some actual rock stars have invested, as well. Convoy that U2’s Bono and The Edge quietly invested in the company last year. Convoy declined to disclose the amount of the investment. The U2 frontman and guitarist were introduced to the company by Hadi Partovi, a Convoy board member, investor and CEO of Code.org. The news coincides with the recent start of U2’s “Bono and The Edge know more about trucking than you might think. They’ve spent most of their adult lives touring the world with U2, and trucks are an essential part of moving the show from city to city,” said Convoy CEO and co-founder Dan Lewis in . “When they heard about Convoy, they loved that we are using technology to empower millions of truckers to grow their businesses while at the same time reducing empty miles and waste.” Convoy co-founders Dan Lewis, CEO, and Grant Goodale, CTO, inside the company’s Seattle headquarters. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The company has been described as the “Uber for trucking,” using technology to connect truck drivers with excess capacity to shippers looking to move freight — including Fortune 500 companies — automating traditionally a slow and time-intensive process. Convoy works with 15,000 trucking companies and 100,000 truck drivers, and has grown to 225 employees. Bono and The Edge are no strangers to technology investing, from to cloud storage giant Dropbox. Partovi and his brother, Ali, who met Bono and The Edge through their previous startup iLike, also , as well. Convoy raised $62 million in a Series B round last year, led by , the investment arm of Silicon Valley-based accelerator Y Combinator. The investment by Bono and The Edge was not part of that round. Total funding in the company now tops $80 million. Convoy was named and is , set for Thursday night in Seattle.