Mar
31
2021
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PingPong is a video chat app for product teams working across multiple time zones

From the earliest days of the pandemic, it was no secret that video chat was about to become a very hot space.

Over the past several months investors have bankrolled a handful of video startups with specific niches, ranging from always-on office surveillance to platforms that encouraged plenty of mini calls to avoid the need for more lengthy team-wide meetings. As the pandemic wanes and plenty of startups begin to look toward hybrid office models, there are others who have decided to lean into embracing a fully remote workforce, a strategy that may require new tools.

PingPong, a recent launch from Y Combinator’s latest batch, is building an asynchronous video chat app for the workplace. We selected PingPong as one of our favorite startups that debuted last week.

The company’s central sell is that for remote teams, there needs to be a better alternative to Slack or email for catching up with co-workers across time zones. While Zoom calls might be able to convey a company’s culture better than a post in a company-wide Slack channel, for fully remote teams operating on different continents, scheduling a company-wide meeting is often a nonstarter.

PingPong is selling its service as an addendum to Slack that helps remote product teams collaborate and convey what they’re working on. Users can capture a short video of themselves and share their screen in lieu of a standup presentation and then they can get caught up on each other’s progress on their own time. PingPong’s hope is that users find more value in brainstorming, conducting design reviews, reporting bugs and more inside while using asynchronous video than they would with text.

“We have a lot to do before we can replace Slack, so right now we kind of emphasize playing nice with Slack,” PingPong CEO Jeff Whitlock tells TechCrunch. “Our longer-term vision is that what young people are doing in their consumer lives, they bring into the enterprise when they graduate into the workforce. You and I were using Instant Messenger all the time in the early 2000s and then we got to the workplace, that was the opportunity for Slack… We believe in the next five or so years, something that’s a richer, more asynchronous video-based Slack alternative will have a lot more interest.”

Building a chat app specifically designed for remote product teams operating in multiple time zones is a tight niche for now, but Whitlock believes that this will become a more common problem as companies embrace the benefits of remote teams post-pandemic. PingPong costs $100 per user per year.

Mar
19
2021
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Nigeria’s Termii raises $1.4M seed led by Future Africa and Kepple Africa Ventures

Ideally, it is expected of every business to reach its customers effectively. However, that’s not the case, as limiting factors that hinder proper digital communication come into play at different growth stages. Termii, a Nigerian communications platform-as-a-service startup that solves this problem for African businesses, announced today that it has closed a $1.4 million seed round.

The round was co-led by African early-stage VC firm Future Africa and Japanese but Africa-focused VC Kepple Africa Ventures. Other investors include Acuity Ventures, Aidi Ventures, Assembly Capital, Kairos Angels, Nama Ventures, RallyCap Ventures and Remapped Ventures.

Angel investors like Ham Serunjogi, co-founder and CEO of Chipper Cash; Josh Jones, former co-founder and CTO, Dreamhost; and Tayo Oviosu, co-founder and CEO of Paga also participated.

Gbolade Emmanuel and Ayomide Awe launched Termii after Emmanuel’s experience as a digital marketer helped him recognize the need for businesses to have exceptional communication channels. The CEO consulted for these companies and leveraged emails to retain customers, but as he found out that this process was lethargic, he sought other channels as a replacement.

“That got me to start thinking about multichannel messaging. What it meant was that we needed to find how to allow companies to use WhatsApp, voice, SMS effectively,” he said to TechCrunch. “And we had to make the process simple because in the African market, you can’t do complex stuff. You have to be as simple as possible.”

In 2017, the company officially launched and subsequently secured investment from Lagos-based VC Microtraction. Emmanuel says the company found product-market fit two years later after collating enough data from companies in different industries to understand what they really wanted.

Termii found out that in addition to assisting businesses to retain customers, there was a clear need to verify, authenticate and engage them.

“Many of these businesses we started engaging said they required tools to effectively communicate and verify customers because they were losing money at those points. For us, we saw it was a bigger problem,” Emmanuel added.

After making some tweaks, the team began to see an increase in customer numbers, especially amongst fintech startups. Positioning itself in the fast-moving space, Termii created an API-based communication infrastructure that caters to more than 500 fintech startups across the continent. That’s not all. More than 1,000 businesses and developers are also using Termii’s API.

Some of these businesses include uLesson, Yassir, Helium Health, PiggyVest, Bankly, Paga and TeamApt.

Playing in a $3.6 billion B2C communications market estimated to grow 6% annually, Termii runs a B2B2C model. But how does it make money? While a subscription-based model would’ve made sense, the two years spent by the company trying to find PMF made them think otherwise.

So the company leverages a virtual wallet system tied to a bank account and customers can make payments to the platform using mobile money, bank transfer and credit cards. The startup charges these wallets on a per-message basis. It also does the same on every successful customer verification made toward customers’ contacts.

The Termii team. Image Credits: Termii

In early 2020, Termii started seeing immense progress and this coincided with their acceptance into Y Combinator. The growth continued throughout the year, growing its messaging transactions by 1,000% and experiencing a 400% increase in its ARR.

Spilling into this year, Emmanuel says the company’s revenue is growing 60% month-on-month as a result of the surge in online financial transactions, which to date makes up for 68% of the company’s total messaging transactions.

The seed investment that is coming a year after Termii graduated from YC will be used for expansion and launch more messaging offerings across Africa.

Emmanuel says the company has its sights set on North Africa with a physical presence in Algeria for the expansion. The reason lies behind the fact that in this quarter, Nigeria has accounted for 76% of the company’s messaging transactions, while Algeria currently accounts for 15%.

With this new fundraising, the company plans to tap into the wealth of experience from some of its new investors like Oviosu and Serunjogi, who have also taken local companies into expansion phases.

Termii’s round is also noteworthy because it strays away from the usual fintech, mobility, agritech and cleantech sectors that investors typically notice. In fact, there are only a handful of venture-backed communications platform-as-a-service companies on the continent. A notable example is Kenya’s Africa Talking. It might be a stretch to say we might see more funding activity from this segment, but one thing is apparent — investors are willing to place bets on less popular sectors.

Another highlight of Termii’s investment is that while foreign investors continue to dominate rounds in African tech startups, local and Africa-focused firms are beginning to step up by leading some, which is a good sign for the bubbling ecosystem.

This round is also a big step for Future Africa. According to publicly available information, the firm is leading a million-dollar round for the first time since officially launching last year. This achievement is a continuation of its work over the past three quarters, having invested in more than 10 African startups in the last three quarters and 30 startups in general. 

Kepple Africa Ventures, the co-lead, is also an active investor and can be argued to be the most early-stage VC firm on the continent — in terms of the number of deals made. So far, the firm has invested in 79 companies across 11 countries. 

Speaking on the investment for Kepple Africa, Satoshi Shinada, a partner at the firm, said, “Fragmented and unstable communication channels are one of the biggest challenges for the digitization of businesses in Africa. Emmanuel has proven that with his visionary goals and solid implementation of iterations on the ground, his team is unparalleled to build an innovative solution in this space.”


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE” at checkout to get 20% off tickets right here.

Mar
02
2021
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Airbyte raises $5.2M for its open-source data integration platform

Airbyte, an open-source data integration platform, today announced that it has raised a $5.2 million seed funding round led by Accel. Other investors include Y Combinator, 8VC, Segment co-founder Calvin French-Owen, former Cloudera GM Charles Zedlewski, LiveRamp and Safegraph CEO Auren Hoffman, Datavant CEO Travis May and Alain Rossmann, the president of Machinify.

The company was co-founded by Michel Tricot, the former director of engineering and head of integrations at LiverRamp and RideOS, and John Lafleur, a serial entrepreneur who focuses on developer tools and B2B services. The last startup he co-founded was Anaxi.

Image Credits: Airbyte

In its early days, the team was actually working on a slightly different project that focused on data connectivity for marketing companies. The founders were accepted into Y Combinator and built out their application, but once the COVID pandemic hit, a lot of the companies that had placed early bets on Airbyte’s original project faced budget freezes and layoffs.

“At that point, we decided to go into deeper data integration and that’s how we started the Airbyte project and product as we know it today,” Tricot explained.

Today’s Airbyte is geared toward data engineering, without the specific industry focus of its early incarnation, but it offers both a graphical UI for building connectors, as well as APIs for developers to hook into.

As Tricot noted, a lot of companies start out by building their own data connectors — and that tends to work alright at first. But the real complexity is in maintaining them. “You have zero control over how they behave,” he noted. “So either they’re going to fail, or they’re going to change something. The cost of data integration is in the maintenance.”

Even for a company that specializes in building these connectors, the complexity will quickly outpace its ability to keep up, so the team decided on building Airbyte as an open-source company. The team also argues that while there are companies like Fivetran that focus on data integration, a lot of customers end up with use cases that aren’t supported by Airbyte’s closed-source competitors and that they had to build themselves from the ground up.

“Our mission with Airbyte is really to become the standard to replicate data,” Lafleur said. “To do that, we will open source every feature that addresses the need of the individual contributor, so all the connectors.” He also noted that Airbyte will exclusively focus on its open-source tools until it raises a Series A round — likely early next year.

To monetize its service, Airbyte plans to use an open-core model, where all of the features that address the needs of a company (think enterprise features like data quality, privacy, user management, etc.) will be licensed. The team is also looking at white-labeling its containerized connectors to others.

Currently, about 600 companies use Airbyte’s connectors — up from 250 just a month ago. Its users include the likes of Safegraph, Dribbble, Mercato, GraniteRock, Agridigital and Cart.com.

The company plans to use the new funding to double its team from about 12 people to 25 by the end of the year. Right now, the company’s focus is on establishing its user base, and then it plans to start monetizing that — and raise more funding — next year.


Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.


Feb
24
2021
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Aquarium scores $2.6M seed to refine machine learning model data

Aquarium, a startup from two former Cruise employees, wants to help companies refine their machine learning model data more easily and move the models into production faster. Today the company announced a $2.6 million seed led by Sequoia with participation from Y Combinator and a bunch of angel investors including Cruise co-founders Kyle Vogt and Dan Kan.

When the two co-founders CEO Peter Gao and head of engineering Quinn Johnson, were at Cruise they learned that finding areas of weakness in the model data was often the problem that prevented it from getting into production. Aquarium aims to solve this issue.

“Aquarium is a machine learning data management system that helps people improve model performance by improving the data that it’s trained on, which is usually the most important part of making the model work in production,” Gao told me.

He says that they are seeing a lot of different models being built across a variety of industries, but teams are getting stuck because iterating on the data set and continually finding relevant data is a hard problem to solve. That’s why Aquarium’s founders decided to focus on this.

“It turns out that most of the improvement to your model, and most of the work that it takes to get it into production is about deciding, ‘Here’s what I need to go and collect next. Here’s what I need to go label. Here’s what I need to go and retrain my model on and analyze it for errors and repeat that iteration cycle,” Gao explained.

The idea is to get a model into production that outperforms humans. One customer Sterblue offers a good example. They provide drone inspection services for wind turbines. Their customers used to send out humans to inspect the turbines for damage, but with a set of drone data, they were able to train a machine learning model to find issues. Using Aquarium, they refined their model and improved accuracy by 13%, while cutting the cost of human reviews in half, Gao said.

The 7 person Aquarium startup team.

The Aquarium team. Image: Aquarium

Aquarium currently has 7 employees including the founders, of which three are women. Gao says that they are being diverse by design. He understands the issues of bias inherent in machine learning model creation, and creating a diverse team for this kind of tooling is one way to help mitigate that bias.

The company launched last February and spent part of the year participating in the Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort. They worked on refining the product throughout 2020, and recently opened it up from beta to generally available.

Feb
10
2021
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Accord launches B2B sales platform with $6M seed

The founders of Accord, an early-stage startup focused on bringing order to B2B sales, are not your typical engineer founders. Instead, the two brothers, Ross and Ryan Rich, worked as sales reps seeing the problems unique to this kind of sale firsthand.

In November 2019, they decided to leave the comfort of their high-paying jobs at Google and Stripe to launch Accord and build what they believe is a missing platform for B2B sales, one that takes into account the needs of both the sales person and the buyer.

Today the company is launching with a $6 million seed round from former employer Stripe and Y Combinator. It should be noted that the founders applied to YC after leaving their jobs and impressed the incubator with their insight and industry experience, even though they didn’t really have a product yet. In fact, they literally drew their original idea on a piece of paper.

Original prototype of Accord sketched on a piece of paper.

The original prototype was just a drawing of their idea. Image Credits: Accord

Recognizing they had the sales skills, but lacked programming chops, they quickly brought in a third partner, Wayne Pan, to bring their idea to life. Today, they have an actual working program with paying customers. They’ve created a kind of online hub for B2B salespeople and buyers to interact.

As co-founder Ross Rich points out, these kinds of sales are very different from the consumer variety, often involving as many as 14 people on average on the buyer side. With so many people involved in the decision-making process, it can become unwieldy pretty quickly.

“We provide within the application shared next steps and milestones to align on and that the buyer can track asynchronously, a resource hub to avoid sorting through those hundreds of emails and threads for a single document or presentation and stakeholder management to make sure the right people are looped in at the right time,” Rich explained.

Accord also integrates with the company CRM like Salesforce to make sure all of that juicy data is being tracked properly in the sales database. At the same time, Rich says the startup wants this platform to be a place for human interaction. Instead of an automated email or text, this provides a place where humans can actually interact with one another, and he believes that human element is important to help reduce the complexity inherent in these kinds of deals.

With $6 million in runway and a stint at Y Combinator under their belts, the founders are ready to make a more concerted go-to-market push. They are currently at nine people, mostly engineers aside from the two sales-focused founders. He figures to be bringing in some new employees this year, but doesn’t really have a sense of how many they will bring on just yet, saying that is something that they will figure out in the coming months.

As they do that, they are already thinking about being inclusive with several women on the engineering team, recognizing if they don’t start diversity early, it will be more difficult later on. “[Hiring a diverse group early] only compounds when you get to nine or 10 people and then when you’re talking to someone and they are wondering, ‘Do I trust this team and is that a culture where I want to work?’ He says if you want to build a diverse and inclusive workplace, you have to start making that investment early.

It’s early days for this team, but they are building a product to help B2B sales teams work more closely and effectively with customers, and with their background and understanding of the space, they seem well-positioned to succeed.

Feb
03
2021
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Polytomic announces $2.4M seed to move business data where it’s needed

There is so much data sitting inside companies these days, but getting data to the people who need it most remains a daunting challenge. Polytomic, a graduate of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 cohort set out to solve that problem, and today the startup announced a $2.4 million seed.

Caffeinated Capital led the round with help from Bow Capital and a number of individual investors including the founders of PlanGrid, Tracy Young and Ralph Gootee, the company where Polytomic founders CEO Ghalib Suleiman and CTO Nathan Yergler both previously worked.

“We synch internal data to business systems. You can imagine your sales team living in Salesforce and would like to see who’s using your product from your customer data that lives in other internal databases. We have a no-code web app that moves internal data to the business systems of the office,” Suleiman told me.

Data lives in silos across every company, and Polytomic lets you build the connectors by dragging and dropping components in the Polytomic interface. This new data then shows up as additional fields in the target application. So you might have a usage percentage field added to Salesforce automatically if you were connecting to customer usage data.

The company actually sells the product to business operations teams, who would be charged with setting up a catalogue or menu of data sources that live in Polytomic. This is usually handled by someone like a business analyst who can configure the different sources. Once that’s done, anyone can build connectors to these data sources by selecting them from the menu and then choosing where to deliver the data.

The founders came up with the idea for the company because when they were at PlanGrid, they faced a problem getting data to the people who needed it in the company. The problem became more pronounced as the company grew and they had ever more data and more employees who needed access to it.

They left PlanGrid in 2018 and launched Polytomic a year later to begin attacking the problem. The two founders joined YC as a way to learn to refine the product, and were still working on it on Demo Day, delivering their presentation off the record because they weren’t quite done with it yet.

They released the first iteration of the product last September and report some progress getting customers and gaining revenue. Early customers include Brex, ShipBob, Sourcegraph and Vanta.

The company has no additional employees beyond the two founders as of yet, but with the seed funding in the bank, they plan to begin hiring a few people this year.

Dec
02
2020
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Jitsu nabs $2M seed to build open-source data integration platform

Jitsu, a graduate of the Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort, is developing an open-source data integration platform that helps developers send data to a data warehouse. Today, the startup announced a $2 million seed investment.

Costanoa Ventures led the round with participation from Y Combintaor, The House Fund and SignalFire.

In addition to the open-source version of the software, the company has developed a hosted version that companies can pay to use, which shares the same name as the company. Peter Wysinski, Jitsu’s co-founder and CEO, says a good way to think about his company is an open-source Segment, the customer data integration company that was recently sold to Twilio for $3.2 billion.

But, he says, it goes beyond what Segment provides by allowing you to move all kinds of data, whether customer data, connected device data or other types. “If you look at the space in general, companies want more granularity. So let’s say for example, a couple years ago you wanted to sync just your transactions from QuickBooks to your data warehouse, now you want to capture every single sale at the point of sale. What Jitsu lets you do is capture essentially all of those events, all of those streams, and send them to your data warehouse,” Wysinski explained.

Among the data warehouses it currently supports are Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, PostGres and Snowflake.

The founders built the open-source project called EventNative to help solve problems they themselves were having moving data around at their previous jobs. After putting the open-source version on GitHub a few months ago, they quickly attained 1,000 stars, proving that they had delivered something that solved a common problem for data teams. They then built the hosted version, Jitsu, which went live a couple of weeks ago.

For now, the company is just the two co-founders, Wysinski and CTO Vladimir Klimontovich and couple of contract engineers, but they intend to do some preliminary hiring over the next year to grow the company, most likely adding engineers. As they begin to build out the startup, Wysinski says that being open source will help drive diversity and inclusion in their hiring.

“The goal is essentially to go after that open-source community and hire people from anywhere because engineers aren’t just […] one color or one race, they’re everywhere, and being open source, and especially being in a remote world, makes it so, so much simpler [to build a diverse workforce], and a lot of companies I feel are going down that road,” he said.

He says along that line, the plan is to be a fully remote company, even after the pandemic ends, as they hire from anywhere. The goal is to have quarterly offsite meetings to check in with employees, but do the majority of the work remotely.

Nov
19
2020
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Datafold raises seed from NEA to keep improving the lives of data engineers

Data engineering is one of these new disciplines that has gone from buzzword to mission critical in just a few years. Data engineers design and build all the connections between sources of raw data (your payments information or ad-tracking data or what have you) and the ultimate analytics dashboards used by business executives and data scientists to make decisions. As data has exploded, so has their challenge of doing this key work, which is why a new set of tools has arrived to make data engineering easier, faster and better than ever.

One of those tools is Datafold, a YC-backed startup I covered just a few weeks ago as it was preparing for its end-of-summer Demo Day presentation.

Well, that Demo Day presentation and the company’s trajectory clearly caught the eyes of investors, since the startup locked in $2.1 million in seed funding from NEA, the company announced this morning.

As I wrote back in August:

With Datafold, changes made by data engineers in their extractions and transformations can be compared for unintentional changes. For instance, maybe a function that formerly returned an integer now returns a text string, an accidental mistake introduced by the engineer. Rather than wait until BI tools flop and a bunch of alerts come in from managers, Datafold will indicate that there is likely some sort of problem, and identify what happened.

Definitely read our profile if you want to learn more about the product and origin story.

Not a whole heck of a lot has changed over the past few weeks (some new features, some new customers), but with more money in its billfold, Datafold is going to keep on growing, hiring and taking on the world of data engineering.

Nov
11
2020
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Mozart Data lands $4M seed to provide out-of-the-box data stack

Mozart Data founders Peter Fishman and Dan Silberman have been friends for over 20 years, working at various startups, and even launching a hot sauce company together along the way. As technologists, they saw companies building a data stack over and over. They decided to provide one for them and Mozart Data was born.

The company graduated from the Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort in August and announced a $4 million seed round today led by Craft Ventures and Array Ventures with participation from Coelius Capital, Jigsaw VC, Signia VC, Taurus VC and various angel investors.

In spite of the detour into hot sauce, the two founders were mostly involved in data over the years and they formed strong opinions about what a data stack should look like. “We wanted to bring the same stack that we’ve been building at all these different startups, and make it available more broadly,” Fishman told TechCrunch.

They see a modern data stack as one that has different databases, SaaS tools and data sources. They pull it together, process it and make it ready for whatever business intelligence tool you use. “We do all of the parts before the BI tool. So we extract and load the data. We manage a data warehouse for you under the hood in Snowflake, and we provide a layer for you to do transformations,” he said.

The service is aimed mostly at technical people who know some SQL like data analysts, data scientists and sales and marketing operations. They founded the company earlier this year with their own money, and joined Y Combinator in June. Today, they have about a dozen customers and six employees. They expect to add 10-12 more in the next year.

Fishman says they have mostly hired from their networks, but have begun looking outward as they make their next hires with a goal of building a diverse company. In fact, they have made offers to several diverse candidates, who didn’t ultimately take the job, but he believes if you start looking at the top of the funnel, you will get good results. “I think if you spend a lot of energy in terms of top of funnel recruiting, you end up getting a good, diverse set at the bottom,” he said.

The company has been able to start from scratch in the midst of a pandemic and add employees and customers because the founders had a good network to pitch the product to, but they understand that moving forward they will have to move outside of that. They plan to use their experience as users to drive their message.

“I think talking about some of the whys and the rationale is our strategy for adding value to customers […], it’s about basically how would we set up a data stack if we were at this type of startup,” he said.

Nov
10
2020
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Explo snags $2.3M seed to help build customer-facing BI dashboards

Explo, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 class, which is helping customers build customer-facing business intelligence dashboards, announced a $2.3 million seed round today. Investors included Amplo VC, Soma Capital and Y Combinator, along with several individual investors.

The company originally was looking at a way to simplify getting data ready for models or other applications, but as the founders spoke to customers, they saw a big need for a simple way to build dashboards backed by that data and quickly pivoted.

Explo CEO and co-founder Gary Lin says the company was able to leverage the core infrastructure, data engineering and production that it had built while at Y Combinator, but the new service they created is much different from the original idea.

“In terms of the UI and the output, we had to build out the ability for our end users to create dashboards, for them to embed the dashboards and for them to customize the styles on these dashboards, so that it looks and feels as though it was part of their own product,” Lin explained.

While the founders had been working on the original idea since last year, they didn’t actually make the pivot until September. They made the change because they were hearing this was really what customers needed more than the tool they had been building while at Y Combinator. In fact, Chen says that their YC mentors and investors have been highly supportive of the switch.

The company is just getting started with the four original co-founders — Lin, COO Andrew Chen, CTO Rohan Varma and product designer Carly Stanisic — but the plan is to use this money to beef up the engineering team with three to five new hires.

With a diverse founding team, the company wants to continue looking at diversity as it builds the company. “One of the biggest reasons that we think diversity is important is that it allows us to have a bigger perspective and a grander perspective on things. And honestly, it’s in environments where I have personally […] been involved where we’ve actually been able to create the best ideas was by having a larger perspective. And so we definitely are going to be as inclusive as possible and are definitely thinking about that as we hire,” Lin said.

As the company has grown up during the pandemic, the founding core is used to working remotely and the goal moving forward is to be a distributed company. “We will be a remote distributed company so we’re hiring people no matter where they are, which actually makes it a lot easier from a hiring perspective because we’re able to reach a much more diverse and large pool of applicants,” Lin said.

They are in the process of thinking about how they can build a culture as they bring in distributed employees. “I think the way that we’ve started to see it is that working distributed is not a reduced experience, but just a different one and we are thinking about different things like how we organize new people when they on-board, and maybe we can meet up as a team and have a retreat where we are located in the same place [when travel allows],” he said.

For now, they will remain remote as they take their first half-dozen customers and begin to build the company with the new investment.

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