Mar
19
2019
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The top 10 startups from Y Combinator W19 Demo Day 1

Electric-vehicle chargers, heads-up displays for soldiers and the Costco of weed were some of our favorites from prestigious startup accelerator Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 Demo Day 1. If you want to take the pulse of Silicon Valley, YC is the place to be. But with more than 200 startups presenting across two stages and two days, it’s tough to keep track.

You can check out our write-ups of all 85 startups that launched on Demo Day 1, and come back later for our full index and picks from Day 2. But now, based on feedback from top investors and TechCrunch’s team, here’s our selection of the top 10 companies from the first half of this Y Combinator batch, and why we picked each.

Ravn

Looking around corners is one of the most dangerous parts of war for infantry. Ravn builds heads-up displays that let soldiers and law enforcement see around corners thanks to cameras on their gun, drones or elsewhere. The ability to see the enemy while still being behind cover saves lives, and Ravn already has $490,000 in Navy and Air Force contracts. With a CEO who was a Navy Seal who went on to study computer science, plus experts in augmented reality and selling hardware to the Department of Defense, Ravn could deliver the inevitable future of soldier heads-up displays.

Why we picked Ravn: The AR battlefield is inevitable, but right now Microsoft’s HoloLens team is focused on providing mid-fight information, like how many bullets a soldier has in their clip and where their squad mates are. Ravn’s tech was built by a guy who watched the tragic consequences of getting into those shootouts. He wants to help soldiers avoid or win these battles before they get dangerous, and his team includes an expert in selling hardened tech to the U.S. government.

Middesk

It’s difficult to know if a business’ partners have paid their taxes, filed for bankruptcy or are involved in lawsuits. That leads businesses to write off $120 billion a year in uncollectable bad debt. Middesk does due diligence to sort out good businesses from the bad to provide assurance for B2B deals, loans, investments, acquisitions and more. By giving clients the confidence that they’ll be paid, Middesk could insert itself into a wide array of transactions.

Why we picked Middesk: It’s building the trust layer for the business world that could weave its way into practically every deal. More data means making fewer stupid decisions, and Middesk could put an end to putting faith in questionable partners.

Convictional

Convictional helps direct-to-consumer companies approach larger retailers more simply. It takes a lot of time for a supplier to build a relationship with a retailer and start selling their products. Convictional wants to speed things up by building a B2B self-service commerce platform that allows retailers to easily approach brands and make orders.

Why we picked Convictional: There’s been an explosion of D2C businesses selling everything from suitcases to shaving kits. But to drive exposure and scale, they need retail partners who’re eager not to be cut out of this growing commerce segment. Playing middleman could put Convictional in a lucrative position, while also making it a nexus of valuable shopping data.

Dyneti Technologies

Dyneti has invented a credit card scanner SDK that uses a smartphone’s camera to help prevent fraud by more than 50 percent and improve conversion for businesses by 5 percent. The business was started by a pair of former Uber employees, including CEO Julia Zheng, who launched the fraud analytics teams for Account Security and UberEATS. Dyneti’s service is powered by deep learning and works on any card format. In the two months since it launched, the company has signed contracts with Rappi, Gametime and others.

Why we picked Dyneti: Cybersecurity threats are growing and evolving, yet underequipped businesses are eager to do more business online. Dyneti is one of those fundamental B2B businesses that feels like Stripe — capable of bringing simplicity and trust to a complex problem so companies can focus on their product.

AmpUp

The “Airbnb for electric-vehicle chargers,” ampUp is preparing for a world in which the majority of us drive EVs — it operates a mobile app that connects a network of thousands of EV chargers and drivers. Using the app, an electric-vehicle owner can quickly identify an available and compatible charger, and EV charger owners can earn cash sharing their charger at their own price and their own schedule. The service is currently live in the Bay Area.

Why we picked ampUp: Electric vehicles are inevitable, but reliable charging is one of the leading fears dissuading people from buying. Rather than build out some massive owned network of chargers that will never match the distributed gas station network, ampUp could put an EV charger anywhere there’s someone looking to make a few bucks.

Flockjay

Flockjay operates an online sales academy that teaches job seekers from underrepresented backgrounds the skills and training they need to pursue a career in tech sales. The 12-week bootcamp offers trainees coaching and mentorship. The company has launched its debut cohort with 17 students, 100 percent of whom are already in job interviews and 40 percent of whom have already secured new careers in the tech industry.

Why we picked Flockjay: Unlike coding bootcamps that can require intense prerequisites, killer salespeople can be molded from anyone with hustle. Those from underrepresented backgrounds already know how to expertly sell themselves to attain opportunities others take for granted. Flockjay could provide economic mobility at a crucial juncture when job security is shaky.

Deel

Twenty million international contractors work with U.S. companies, but it’s difficult to onboard and train them. Deel handles the contracts, payments and taxes in one interface to eliminate paperwork and wasted time. Deel charges businesses $10 per contractor per month and a 1 percent fee on payouts, which earns it an average of $560 per contractor per year.

Why we picked Deel: The destigmatization of remote work is opening new recruiting opportunities abroad for U.S. businesses. But unless teams can properly integrate these distant staffers, the cost savings of hiring overseas are negated. As the globalization megatrend continues, businesses will need better HR tools.

Glide

There has been a pretty major trend toward services that make it easier to build web pages or mobile apps. Glide lets customers easily create well-designed mobile apps from Google Sheets pages. This not only makes it easy to build the pages, but simplifies the skills needed to keep information updated on the site.

Why we picked Glide: While desktop website makers is a brutally competitive market, it’s still not easy to make a mobile site if you’re not a coder. Rather than starting from a visual layout tool with which many people would still be unfamiliar, Glide starts with a spreadsheet that almost everyone has used. And as the web begins to feel less personal with all the brands and influencers, Glide could help people make bespoke apps that put intimacy and personality first.

Docucharm

The platform, co-founded by former Uber product manager Minh Tri Pham, turns documents into structured data a computer can understand to accurately automate document processing workflows and take away the need for human data entry. Docucharm’s API can understand various forms of documents (like paystubs, for example) and will extract the necessary information without error. Its customers include tax prep company Tributi and lending business Aspire.

Why we picked Docucharm: Paying high-priced, high-skilled workers to do data entry is a huge waste. And optical character recognition like Docucharm’s will unlock new types of businesses based on data extraction. This startup could be the AI layer underneath it all.

Flower Co

Flower Co provides memberships for cheaper weed sales and delivery. Most dispensaries cater to high-end customers and newbies that want expensive products and tons of hand-holding. In contrast, Flower Co caters to long-time marijuana enthusiasts who want huge quantities at low prices. They’re currently selling $200.000 in marijuana per month to 700 members. They charge $100 a year for membership, and take 10 percent on product sales.

Why we picked Flower Co: Marijuana is the next gold rush, a once-in-a-generation land-grab opportunity. Yet most marijuana merchants have focused on hyper-discerning high-end customers despite the long-standing popularity of smoking big blunts of cheap weed with a bunch of friends. For those who want to make cannabis consumption a lifestyle, and there will be plenty, Flower Co could become their wholesaler.

Honorable Mentions

Atomic Alchemy – Filling the shortage of nuclear medicine

Yourchoice – Omni-gender non-hormonal birth control

Prometheus – Turning CO2 into gas

Lumos – Medical search engine for doctors

Heart Aerospace – Regional electric planes

Boundary Layer Technologies – Super-fast container ships

Additional reporting by Kate Clark, Greg Kumparak and Lucas Matney

Mar
19
2019
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AI has become table stakes in sales, customer service and marketing software

Artificial intelligence and machine learning has become essential if you are selling sales, customer service and marketing software, especially in large enterprises. The biggest vendors from Adobe to Salesforce to Microsoft to Oracle are jockeying for position to bring automation and intelligence to these areas.

Just today, Oracle announced several new AI features in its sales tools suite and Salesforce did the same in its customer service cloud. Both companies are building on artificial intelligence underpinnings that have been in place for several years.

All of these companies want to help their customers achieve their business goals by using increasing levels of automation and intelligence. Paul Greenberg, managing principal at The 56 Group, who has written multiple books about the CRM industry, including CRM at the Speed of Light, says that while AI has been around for many years, it’s just now reaching a level of maturity to be of value for more businesses.

“The investments in the constant improvement of AI by companies like Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce are substantial enough to both indicate that AI has become part of what they have to offer — not an optional [feature] — and that the demand is high for AI from companies that are large and complex to help them deal with varying needs at scale, as well as smaller companies who are using it to solve customer service issues or minimize service query responses with chatbots,” Greenberg explained.

This would suggest that injecting intelligence in applications can help even the playing field for companies of all sizes, allowing the smaller ones to behave like they were much larger, and for the larger ones to do more than they could before, all thanks to AI.

The machine learning side of the equation allows these algorithms to see patterns that would be hard for humans to pick out of the mountains of data being generated by companies of all sizes today. In fact, Greenberg says that AI has improved enough in recent years that it has gone from predictive to prescriptive, meaning it can suggest the prospect to call that is most likely to result in a sale, or the best combination of offers to construct a successful marketing campaign.

Brent Leary, principle at CRM Insights, says that AI, especially when voice is involved, can make software tools easier to use and increase engagement. “If sales professionals are able to use natural language to interact with CRM, as opposed to typing and clicking, that’s a huge barrier to adoption that begins to crumble. And making it easier and more efficient to use these apps should mean more data enters the system, which result in quicker, more relevant AI-driven insights,” he said.

All of this shows that AI has become an essential part of these software tools, which is why all of the major players in this space have built AI into their platforms. In an interview last year at the Adobe Summit, Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis had this to say about AI: “AI will be the single most transformational force in technology,” he told TechCrunch. He appears to be right. It has certainly been transformative in sales, customer service and marketing.

Mar
19
2019
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Trello aims for the enterprise

Trello, Atlassian’s project management tool, is doubling down on its efforts to become a better service for managing projects at work. To do so, the team is launching thirteen new features in Trello Enterprise today, making this one of the company’s biggest feature releases since the launch of the enterprise version in 2015.

As the company also announced today, one million teams now actively use the service.

Most of these new features are for paying users, but even Trello’s free users are getting access to a few new goodies. In return, though, Trello is taking away the ability to create an unlimited number of boards for free Teams users (not regular users outside of a team). Going forward, they can only have 10 boards open in Trello at any given time. Teams without a subscription that already use more than 10 boards will continue to use them but will have to subscribe to a paid plan to add more. To help make all of this a bit easier, Trello will let existing free teams add up to 10 additional boards until May 1, 2019 — and they’ll be able to keep them going forward.

“We’re making this change to accelerate our ability to bring world-class business features to market, and Trello Business Class and Enterprise will get more useful and powerful to address our customers’ pain points in the workplace,” the company’s co-founder and today’s head of Trello Michael Pryor writes in today’s announcement — and to do bring those feature to market, it surely helps to convert a few more free users into paying ones.

One of the main new feature announcements here is that the Power-Up Butler is now available for free, for both paying and free users (though with some limitations if you aren’t on a subscription plan). Power-Up Butler is an automation extension for Trello that the company acquired in December. It makes it easier to automate workflows and other repetitive tasks in Trello — and that’s clearly something the service’s enterprise users were asking for.

With this update, Trello is also now getting a new board setting beyond ‘private,’ ‘team’ and ‘public.’ This new setting, ‘organization,’ allows you to share a board with the entire company, including those who are not on a particular team. Until now, that wasn’t really an option and creating a public board was obviously not an option for many companies.

Since IT admins love nothing more than access controls, the new version of Trello Enterprise also features a lot of new ways for them to create visibility controls, membership restrictions, board creation restrictions and more. Admins now also get tools to enforce the use of single sign-on solutions and new ways to manage public boards and users, as well as which power-up extensions employees can use.

The company also today announced that it has received SOX and SOC2 Type 1 compliance.

Mar
19
2019
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Teams, Microsoft’s Slack competitor, says it’s signed up over 500k organizations, adds whiteboard and live events support

Microsoft Teams, the collaboration platform that Microsoft built to complement its Office 365 suite of productivity apps for workers — which also ensures a way of keeping those workers staying within its own ecosystem — is hitting a milestone on its second birthday.

Today, the company announced that over 500,000 organizations are now using Teams. The company is not spelling out what that works out to in total users but notes that 150 of them have more than 10,000 users apiece, putting its total user numbers well over 1.5 million.

Alongside this, Microsoft also announced a number of new features that will be coming to Teams as it works on native integrations of more of Microsoft’s own tools to give Teams more functionality and more relevance for a wider range of use cases.

“The rigid hierarchy of the workplace has evolved, and environments are now about inclusivity and transparency,” said Lori Wright, General Manager of Workplace Collaboration at Microsoft, in an interview. “We see these trends playing out all over the world, and this is giving rise to new forms of technology.”

The new features indeed speak to that trend of inclusivity and making platforms more personalised to users. They include customized backgrounds; and support for cameras to capture content to bring in new ways of interacting in Teams beyond text — something that will be further explored with the eventual integration Microsoft Whiteboard, for people to create and ingest presentations that are hand-written into the system.

For those who are either hearing-impaired or cannot use or hear the audio, Microsoft’s adding live captions. And to speak to the purview of CSOs, it’s adding secure channels for private chats as well as “information barriers” that can be put in place for compliance purposes and to make sure that any potential conflicts of interest between channels are kept out; screening for data-loss prevention to prevent sensitive information from being shared.

Finally, it is adding live events support, which will let users create broadcasts on Teams for up to 10,000 people (who do not need to be registered Teams users to attend).

All in all, this is a significant list of product updates. The company kicked off its service as very much a Slack-style product for “knowledge workers” but has since emphasized a more inclusive approach, for all kinds of employees, from front line to back-office.

No updates today to the number of third-party applications that are being incorporated into Teams — an area where Slack has particularly excelled — but Microsoft is focused on making sure that as many users as it has already captured in Office 365, which today number 155 million — eventually also turn on to Teams. “We using as many as the Microsoft services as we can, tapping the Microsoft Graph to feed in services and structure information,” Wright said.

Microsoft is somewhat of a late comer to the collaboration space, coming in the wake of a number of other efforts, but these user figures put the company’s effort well within striking distance of notable, and large, competitors. Last month, Facebook noted that Workplace, its own Slack rival, had 2 million users, also with 150 organizations with more than 10,000 users each included in the number. Slack, meanwhile, in January said it had over 10 million daily active users with the number of organizations on the platform at 85,000.

(Notably, just yesterday Slack made a timely announcement in its bid to court more large enterprises: they will now give regulated customers access to their encrypted keys, an important component to win more business in those sectors.)

 

Mar
19
2019
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Vonage brings number programmability to its business service

Chances are you still mostly think of Vonage as a consumer VOIP player, but in recent years, the company also launched its Vonage Business Cloud (VBC) platform and acquired Nexmo, an API-based communications service that competes directly with many of Twilio’s core services. Today, Vonage is bringing its VBC service and Nexmo a bit closer with the launch of number programmability for its business customers.

What this means is that enterprises can now take any VBC number and extend it with the help of Nexmo’s APIs. To enable this, all they have to do is toggle a switch in their management console and then they’ll be able to programmatically route calls, create custom communications apps and workflows, and integrate third-party systems to build chatbots and other tools.

“About four years ago we made a pretty strong pivot to going from residential — a lot of people know Vonage as a residential player — to the business side,” Vonage senior VP of product management Jay Patel told me. “And through a series of acquisitions [including Nexmo], we’ve kind of built what we think is a very unique offering.” In many ways, those different platforms were always separated from each other, though. With all of the pieces in place now, however, the team started thinking about how it could use the Nexmo APIs to allow its customers in the unified communications and contact center space to more easily customize these services for them.

About a year ago, the team started working on this new functionality that brings the programmability of Nexmo to VBC. “We realized it doesn’t make sense for us to create our own new sets of APIs on our unified communications and contact center space,” said Patel. “Why don’t we use the APIs that Nexmo has already built?”

As Patel also stressed, the phone number is still very much linked to a business or individual employee — and they don’t want to change that just for the sake of having a programmable service. By turning on programmability for these existing numbers, though, and leveraging the existing Nexmo developer ecosystem and the building blocks those users have already created, the company believes that it’s able to offer a differentiated service that allows users to stay on its platform instead of having to forward a call to a third-party service like Twilio, for example, to enable similar capabilities.

In terms of those capabilities, users can pretty much do anything they want with these calls — and that’s important because every company has different processes and requirements. Maybe that’s logging info into multiple CRM systems in parallel or taking a clip of a call and pushing it into a different system for training purposes. Or you could have the system check your calendar when there are incoming calls and then, if it turns out you are in a meeting, offer the caller a callback whenever your calendar says you’re available again. All of that should only take a few lines of code or, if you want to avoid most of the coding, a few clicks in the company’s GUI for building these flows.

Vonage believes that these new capabilities will attract quite a few new customers. “It’s our value-add when we’re selling to new customers,” he said. “They’re looking for this kind of capability or are running into brick walls. We see a lot of companies that have an idea but they don’t know how to do it. They’re not engineers or they don’t have a big staff of developers, but because of the way we’ve implemented this, it brings the barrier of entry to create these solutions much lower than if you had a legacy system on-prem where you had to be a C++ developer to build an app.

Mar
19
2019
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Salesforce update brings AI and Quip to customer service chat experience

When Salesforce introduced Einstein, its artificial intelligence platform in 2016, it was laying the ground work for artificial intelligence underpinnings across the platform. Since then the company has introduced a variety of AI enhancements to the Salesforce product family. Today, customer service got some AI updates.

The goal of any customer service interaction is to get the customer answers as quickly as possible. Many users opt to use chat over phone, and Salesforce has added some AI features to help customer service agents get answers more quickly in the chat interface. (The company hinted that phone customer service enhancements are coming.)

For starters, Salesforce is using machine learning to deliver article recommendations, response recommendations and next best actions to the agent in real time as they interact with customers.  “With Einstein article recommendations, we can use machine learning on past cases and we can look at how articles were used to successfully solve similar cases in the past, and serve up the best article right in the console to help the agent with the case,” Martha Walchuk, senior director of product marketing for Salesforce Service Cloud explained.

Salesforce Service Console. Screenshot: Salesforce

The company is also using similar technology to provide response recommendations, which the agent can copy and paste into the chat to speed up the time to response. Before the interaction ends, the company can offer the next best action (which was announced last year) based on the conversation. For example, they could offer related information, an upsell recommendation or whatever type of action the customer defines.

Salesforce is also using machine learning to help route each person to the most appropriate customer service rep. As Salesforce describes it, this feature uses machine learning to filter cases and route them to the right queue or agent automatically, based on defined criteria such as best qualified agent or past outcomes.

Finally, the company is embedding Quip, the company it acquired in 2016 for $750 million, into the customer service console to allow agents to communicate with one another to find answers to difficult problems. That not only helps solve the issues faster, the conversations themselves become part of the knowledge base, which Salesforce can draw upon to help teach the machine learning algorithms about the correct responses to commonly asked questions in the future.

As with the Oracle AI announcement this morning, this use of artificial intelligence in sales, service and marketing is part of a much broader industry trend, as these companies try to inject intelligence into workflows to make them run more efficiently.

Mar
19
2019
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Oracle adds more AI features to its suite of sales tools

As the biggest sales and marketing technology firms mature, they are all turning to AI and machine learning to advance the field. This morning it was Oracle’s turn, announcing several AI-fueled features for its suite of sales tools.

Rob Tarkoff, who had previous stints at EMC, Adobe and Lithium, and is now EVP of Oracle CX Cloud says that the company has found ways to increase efficiency in the sales and marketing process by using artificial intelligence to speed up previously manual workflows, while taking advantage of all the data that is part of modern sales and marketing.

For starters, the company wants to help managers and salespeople understand the market better to identify the best prospects in the pipeline. To that end, Oracle is announcing integration with DataFox, the company it purchased last fall. The acquisition gave Oracle the ability to integrate highly detailed company profiles into their Customer Experience Cloud, including information such as SEC filings, job postings, news stories and other data about the company.

DataFox company profile. Screenshot: Oracle

“One of the things that DataFox helps you you do better is machine learning-driven sales planning, so you can take sales and account data and optimize territory assignments,” he explained.

The company also announced an AI sales planning tool. Tarkoff says that Oracle created this tool in conjunction with its ERP team. The goal is to use machine learning to help finance make more accurate performance predictions based on internal data.

“It’s really a competitor to companies like Anaplan, where we are now in the business of helping sales leaders optimize planning and forecasting, using predictive models to identify better future trends,” Tarkoff said.

Sales forecasting tool. Screenshot: Oracle

The final tool is really about increasing sales productivity by giving salespeople a virtual assistant. In this case, it’s a chatbot that can help handle tasks like scheduling meetings and offering task reminders to busy sales people, while allowing them to use their voices to enter information about calls and tasks. “We’ve invested a lot in chatbot technology, and a lot in algorithms to help our bots with specific dialogues that have sales- and marketing-industry specific schema and a lot of things that help optimize the automation in a rep’s experience working with sales planning tools,” Tarkoff said.

Brent Leary, principal at CRM Essentials, says that this kind of voice-driven assistant could make it easier to use CRM tools. “The Smarter Sales Assistant has the potential to not only improve the usability of the application, but by letting users interact with the system with their voice it should increase system usage,” he said.

All of these enhancements are designed to increase the level of automation and help sales teams run more efficiently with the ultimate goal of using data to more sales and making better use of sales personnel. They are hardly alone in this goal as competitors like Salesforce, Adobe and Microsoft are bringing a similar level of automation to their sales and marketing tools

The sales forecasting tool and the sales assistant are generally available starting today. The DataFox integration will GA in June.

Mar
18
2019
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Atlassian acquires AgileCraft for $166M

Atlassian today announced that it has acquired AgileCraft, a service that aims to give enterprises plan their strategic projects and workstreams. The service provides business leaders with additional insights into the current status of technical projects and gives them insights into the bottlenecks, risks and dependencies of these projects. Indeed, the focus of AgileCraft is less on technical teams than on the business teams that support them and help them manage the digital transformation of their businesses.

The price total of the acquisition is about $166 million, with $154 million in cash and the remainder in restricted shares.

“Many leaders are still making mission-critical decisions using their instincts and best guesses instead of data,” said Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s co-founder and co-CEO, in today’s announcement. “As Atlassian tools spread through organizations, technology leaders need better visibility into work performed by their teams. With AgileCraft joining Atlassian, we believe we’re the best company to help executives align the work across their organization – providing an all-encompassing view that connects strategy, work, and outcomes.”

As the name implies, AgileCraft focuses on the Agile methodology, though it also offers a bit of flexibility there with support for frameworks like SAFe, LeSS, Spotify. It supports pulling in data from tools like Atlassian’s Jira, but also Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server, IBM’s RTC and other services.

Atlassian will continue to operate AgileCraft, which had raised about $10.1 million before the acquisition. as a standalone service. “We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers’ success,” writes AgileCraft’s founder and CEO Steve Elliott. “We remain dedicated to pioneering enterprise agility and are thrilled to team up with the outstanding people at Atlassian to help our customers thrive.”

Over the years, Atlassian started embracing users and use cases for its tools that go beyond its core tools for development tools. Jira and Confluence are the prime examples for this. Today’s acquisition continues this trend in that AgileCraft aims to bring many of the methodologies that tech teams use to the rest of the company.

“One of the critical roles we play for lots of organizations is in helping drive this kind of digital transformation where we’re really empowering the teams that are building and developing the kind of technology that moves our customers forward,” Atlassian president Jay Simons told me. “AgileCraft basically complements all of that by extending visibility into what teams are using Atlassian products to do up into key stakeholders and leaders in the business that are trying to manage better visibility at a portfolio or program level.”

Simons also stressed that AgileCraft already has very strong integrations into the existing Atlassian tools — and indeed, that was one of the main drivers of the acquisition. He noted that the company plans to improve those and think about additional patterns. “We’ll continue doing what we’re doing,” he said.

Simons also noted that he expects that a lot of Jira customers will now look at AgileCraft as an additional tool in helping the businesses manage their business’s digital transformation.

Atlassian doesn’t typically make a lot of acquisitions. Its pace is close to about one major buy per year. Last year, the company picked up OpsGenie for $295 million. In 2017, it acquired Trello for $425 million, the company’s biggest acquisition to date. Other major products the company acquired include StatusPage, BlueJimp, HipChat and Bitbucket (all the way back in 2010).

Mar
18
2019
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ClimaCell bets on IoT for better weather forecasts

To accurately forecast the weather, you first need lots of data — not just to train your forecasting models but also to generate more precise and granular forecasts. Typically, this has been the domain of government agencies, thanks to their access to this data and the compute power to run the extremely complex models. Anybody can now buy compute power in the cloud, though, and as the Boston and Tel Aviv-based startup ClimaCell is setting out to prove, there are now also plenty of other ways to get climate data thanks to a variety of relatively non-traditional sensors that can help generate more precise local weather predictions.

Now you may say that others, like Dark Sky, for example, are already doing that with their hyperlocal forecasts. But ClimaCell’s approach is very different, and with that has attracted as clients airlines like Delta, JetBlue and United, sports teams like the New England Patriots and agtech companies like Netafim.

“The biggest problem is that to predict the weather, you need to have observations and you need to have models,” ClimaCell CEO Shimon Elkabetz told me. “The entire industry is basically repackaging the data and models of the government [agencies]. And the governments don’t create the relevant infrastructure everywhere in the world. Even in the U.S., there’s room for improvement.”

And that’s where ClimaCell’s main innovation comes in. Instead of relying on government sensors, it’s using the Internet of Things to gather more weather data from far more places than would otherwise be possible. This kind of sensing technology could turn millions of existing connected devices — like cell phones, connected vehicles, street cameras, airplanes and drones — into virtual weather stations. It’s easy enough to see how this would work. If a driver turns on a windshield wiper or fog lights, you know it’s probably raining or foggy. Often, these cars also relay temperature data. If a street camera sees rain, it’s raining.

What’s more complex is that ClimaCell has also developed the technology to gather data from how atmospheric conditions impact the signal propagation between cell phones and their base stations. And to take this one step further — and beyond the ground level — it has also figured out how to gather similar data from satellite-to-ground microwave signals.

“The idea is that everything is sensitive to weather and we can turn everything into a weather sensor,” said Elkabetz. “That’s why we call it the weather of things. It enables us to put in place virtual sensors everywhere.”

Using all this data, ClimaCell is providing its customers, like airlines, ridesharing companies and energy companies, with real-time weather data and forecasts.

Using all of this data the company also recently launched flood alerts for about 500 cities that can provide 24 to 48-hour warnings ahead of major flood events. To do this, the company combined its weather data with its own hydrological model.

For now, most of ClimaCell’s business model focuses on selling its data and predictions to other businesses. The company plans to launch a consumer app in May, though. I got a sneak peek of the app; while I can’t vouch for the forecasts, it’s a very well-designed application that you’ll probably want to look at, no matter whether you’re a weather geek or just want to see if you can get a quick bike ride in before the rain starts.

Why a consumer app? “We want to become the biggest weather technology company in the world,” Elkabetz said. To get to this point, the company has raised a total of $68 million to date from investors that include Clearvision Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Ford Smart Mobility,  Envision Ventures, Canaan Partners, Fontinalis Partners and Square Peg Capital.

Mar
18
2019
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WorkClout brings SaaS to factory floor to increase operational efficiency

Factory software tools are often out of reach of small manufacturers, forcing them to operate with inefficient manual systems. WorkClout, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 class, wants to change that by offering a more affordable SaaS alternative to traditional manufacturing software solutions.

Company co-founder and CEO Arjun Patel grew up helping out in his Dad’s factory and saw first-hand how difficult it is for small factory owners to automate. He says that traditional floor-management tools are expensive and challenging to implement.

“What motivated me is when my dad was trying to implement a similar system,” Patel said, noting that his father’s system had cost more than $240,000, took over a year to get going and wasn’t really doing what he wanted it to do. That’s when he decided to help.

He teamed up with Bryan Trang, who became the CPO, and Richard Girges, who became the CTO, to build the system that his dad (and others in a similar situation) needed. Specifically, the company developed a cloud software solution that helps manufacturers increase their operational efficiency. “Two things that we do really well is track every action on the factory floor and use that data to make suggestions on how to increase efficiency. We also determine how much work can be done in a given time period, taking finite resources into consideration,” Patel explained.

He said that one of the main problems that small-to-medium sized manufacturers face is a lack of visibility into their businesses. WorkClout looks at orders, activities, labor and resources to determine the best course of action to complete an order in the most cost-effective way.

“WorkClout gives our customers a better way to allocate resources and greater visibility of what’s actually happening on the factory floor. The more data that they have, the more accurate picture they have of what’s going on,” Patel said.

Production Schedule view. Screenshot: WorkClout

The company is still working on the pricing model, but today it charges administrative users like plant management, accounting and sales. Machine operators get access to the data for free. The current rate for paid users starts at $99 per user per month. There is an additional one-time charge for implementation and training.

As for the Y Combinator experience, Patel says that it has helped him focus on what’s important. “It really makes you hone in on building the product and getting customers, then making sure those two things are leading to customer happiness,” he said.

While the company does have to help customers get going today, the goal is to make the product more self-serve over time as they begin to understand the different verticals for which they are developing solutions. The startup launched in December and already has 13 customers, generating $100,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR), according to Patel.

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