Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain

Earlier this year we saw the headlines of how the users of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri and continue to face issues when their private data is compromised, or even sent to random people. In May it was reported that Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon insists its Echo devices aren’t always recording, but it did confirm the audio was sent.

The story could be a harbinger of things to come when voice becomes more and more ubiquitous. After all, Amazon announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, its Alexa system for hotels, in June. News stories like this simply reinforce the idea that voice control is seeping into our daily lives. The French startup Snips thinks it might have an answer to the issue of security and data privacy. Its built its software to run 100% on-device, independently from
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Inside the pay-for-post ICO industry

In a world where nothing can be trusted and fake news abounds, ICO and crypto teams are further muddying the waters by trying – and often failing – to pay for posts. While bribes for blogs is nothing new, sadly the current crop of ICO creators and crypto projects are particularly interested in scaling fast and many ICO CEOs are far happier with scammy multi-level marketing tricks than real media relations. The worst part of this spammy, scammy ecosystem is the service providers. A new group of media organizations are appearing where pay-to-post is the norm rather than the rare exception. I’ve been looking at these groups for a while now and recently found a few egregious examples. But first some background.

Oh yeah, Mr. Smart Guy? How do I get press?

Say you’re trying to publicize a startup. You’ve emailed all the big names in the industry and the
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Rent the Runway opens physical store in San Francisco

Rent the Runway, the fashion startup that began as a rental service for special occasions and has since evolved over the last couple of years into a service for people also looking to spice up their everyday wear, just opened up its fifth physical, standalone location. The new location, in downtown San Francisco, enables Rent the Runway members to try on clothes, rent and return them. Rent the Runway’s launch of a standalone brick-and-mortar location in San Francisco comes after it first opened up a location inside Neiman Marcus. With a standalone location, the company is able to offer longer hours for its members. Instead of opening at 10 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m., Rent the Runway can now stay open from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. It also, of course, has weekend hours. Thanks to some technology Rent the Runway developed
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Spire Health Tags are now on Apple’s shelves

Spire’s Health Tags, the dark and tiny devices you stick on your clothes to gather all sorts of health data from your steps, heartbeat and stress levels is now available at your local Apple Store. The company started out with a breath tracking device to detect when you are feeling tense and help calm you down. But four years in and its now all about the wearable “tags” you stick on items of clothing like your pants or sports bra. Yes, yes, there are lots of gadgets out there to gather similar information — the Apple Watch will now even detect if you have a fall or something is wrong with your heart — but the Spire health tag is nothing like a Fitbit or Apple Watch, according to the company. For one, there’s zero need to charge the device. One tag’s battery will last a year and a half
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The Gap Table: Women own just 9% of startup equity

Even bigger than the salary gap that sees women earn $.82 on the dollar is the equity gap. A new study from Carta and the ex-Twitter female investor group #Angels reveals that women make up 35 percent of startup equity-holding employees, yet own just 20 percent of the equity. That means they own just $0.47 for every $1 that men own. Even worse, women account for 13 percent of startup founder but just 6 percent of founder equity — or merely $0.39 on the dollar. Combined, that means only 9 percent of founder and employee startup equity is owned by women. “This is not just about wealth” says #Angels’ Chloe Sladden. “Wealth from successful exits goes on to shape the entire industry. It’s about who has power and who gets to decide what gets funded.” #Angels’ Jessica Verrilli notes that “Having this data is going to 
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Lyft hits 1 billion rides a couple of months after Uber hit 10 billion trips

Today marks a big milestone for Lyft — one billion rides. That’s a milestone Uber hit in December 2015. Uber has since grown to 10 billion trips completed — including Eats deliveries — as of this past July. Uber, of course, had a bit of head start given it launched in 2009 while Lyft first launched in 2012. This milestone for Lyft comes about a year after it announced it was completing one million rides a day. To celebrate it, Lyft employees are surprising 3,500 drives with a free tank of gas. Earlier this month, Lyft officially entered the scooter sharing space when it launched electric scooters in Denver, Colo. Lyft has since deployed its scooters in Santa Monica, Calif. as part of the city’s pilot program. Lyft’s entrance into scooters came close after its acquisition of bike-share company Motivate. We’ll be watching closely to see how Lyft’s additional modes
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Framer X design tool steps in the ring with InVision, Adobe, and Sketch

Design tools are becoming increasingly important to just about every brand out there. Today, a new entrant joins the race. Framer X, a revamped version of three-year-old Framer, was founded by Koen Bok and Jorn van Dijk after the duo sold design software Sofa to Facebook in 2011. Framer X is a rich, React-based design tool that lets any designer draw out their interface components and instantly send them over to the engineering team for collaboration. The key here is reusability and fidelity. With Framer X, engineers can send over existing components that are in production and let designers move forward from there. Conversely, designers aren’t sending developers a facsimile of a button or icon but the actual SVG code behind that component. Framer X also allows users to collect components and other design items as a package within the Framer X store, so that they’re easily accessible during
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Postmates raises another $300M, reportedly valued at $1.2B

On-demand delivery service Postmates announced this morning that it has raised $300 million in additional funding led by Tiger Global Management. While the company’s press release doesn’t mention this, Fortune reports that the deal valued Postmates at $1.2 billion. Tiger’s Scott Schleifer is joining the board of directors. Postmates does say that it’s completing “millions” of deliveries every month and is profitable in 90 percent of its markets, and that over the past four years, gross margins have “improved dramatically to nearly 50%.” Over the past few months, Postmates expanded into more than 100 new cities (it’s now available in more than 400 U.S. cities, as well as Mexico City) and also announced partnerships with companies like Instacart and Walmart. Postmates previously raised a $140 million round at a $600 million valuation in 2016. More broadly, it looks like VCs aren’t backing away from the on-demand delivery
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Marketing data startup Singular raises $30M

Singular, a startup working to unify data for marketers, is announcing that it has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The company was founded by former Onavo executives, including Gadi Eliashiv, Eran Friedman and Susan Kuo — who now serve, respectively, as Singular’s CEO, CTO and COO. Eliashiv explained that Singular was created in response to “this trend of data explosion in the marketing stack,” which require marketers to pull data from hundreds or thousands of different systems. “Essentially what we see is the creation of this new category of marketing intelligence, where the complexity of the marketing stack has created the need for this layer that sits on top,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you use a marketing cloud like Adobe that’s bundling five products together — at the end of the day, you need a layer on top on making sense of it, helping
Singular Dashboard
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UIpath lands $225M Series C on $3 billion valuation as robotics process automation soars

UIPath is bringing automation to repetitive processes inside large organizations and it seems to have landed on a huge pain point. Today it announced a massive $225 million Series C on a $3 billion valuation. The round was led by CapitalG and Sequoia Capital. Accel, which invested in the companies A and B rounds also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $408 million, according to Crunchbase, and comes just months after a $153 million Series B we reported on last March. At that time, it had a valuation of over $1 billion, meaning the valuation has tripled in less than six months. There’s a reason this company you might have never heard of is garnering this level of investment so quickly. For starters, it’s growing in leaps in bounds. Consider that it went from $1 million to $100 million in annual recurring revenue in under 21 months, according to
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Indigo raises $250M, launches marketplace to help farmers get paid for quality grain

Indigo, the startup bringing algorithms and machine learning to the agricultural industry, has raised a $250 million Series E, bringing its total raised to $650 million. The funding values the company at $3.5 billion, according to a source familiar with the deal. That’s a steep increase from its previously reported value: $1.4 billion with a $156 million Series D last September. Existing investors Baillie Gifford, the Alaska Permanent Fund, the Investment Corporation of Dubai and Flagship Pioneering participated in the round. New investors, who Indigo declined to name, also participated. Indigo initially launched in 2014 to help farmers improve the health and productivity of their crops with microbial products that protect against the environment, disease and pest stress. Now, the company is expanding its suite of digital tools with the launch of Indigo Marketplace, which is essentially eBay for farmers. Indigo CEO David Perry, who grew up on
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Mabl announces $20 million Series B to bring automated QA to enterprise customers

Mabl, a Boston-based startup from the folks who brought you Stackdriver, wants to change software testing using machine learning, and today it announced a $20 million Series B investment led by GV (formerly Google Ventures). Existing investors CRV and Amplify Partners also participated. As part of the deal, Karim Faris, general partner at GV will be joining the Mabl board. Today’s investment comes on top of a $10 million Series A announced in February. While it was at it, the company also announced a brand new enterprise product. In fact, part of the reason for going for a hefty Series B so soon after landing the Series A was because it takes some money to service enterprise clients, company founder Izzy Azeri explained. Azeri says that when he and his partner Dan Belcher decided to start a new company after selling Stackdriver to Google in 2014, they
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Erectile pharmacy app Roman raises $88M to launch ‘quit smoking’ kit

Roman is a rocket ship, and I’m not talking about how it sells Viagra and Cialis. Less than a year after launching its cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction with $3 million in funding and a five-person team, Roman has grown to seventy team members and a revenue run-rate in the 10s of millions — up 720 percent since January. It’s sparked over a million patient-physician visits, phone calls, and text conversations through its telemedicine portal for getting diagnoses and prescriptions. And now Roman is ready to expand beyond men, so it’s dropping the ‘Man. Today, the newly renamed ‘Ro’ unveiled its next product, Zero, a $129 ‘quit smoking’ kit containing a month’s worth of prescription cessation medication bupropion and nicotine gum, plus an app for tracking progress and learning how to stay motivated through hunger, nausea, and cravings. Pre-orders open today. “Erectile dysfunction medication is a knee brace. It helps you to walk
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Ostrichpillow Hood, the latest product from Studio Banana, is no joke

I’m not going to lie, when Studio Banana released the original Ostrichpillow back in 2012, despite breaking all Kickstarter records at the time, I thought the whole thing might be an elaborate joke. Or, worse still, since the sleep-at-your-desk styled product had found popularity amongst people who worked at startups, Silicon Valley was now parodying itself. Except that “transformative” design company Studio Banana is based in Europe, with offices based in London, Lake Geneva and Madrid. And 500,000 sales and five products later, the joke is arguably on its critics. As I’m fond of telling founders who ask for validation, ultimately it is the market that decides. Enter the latest Ostrichpillow creation: the aptly named Ostrichpillow Hood. Aptly named because, well, it’s a hood. However, unlike the previous products in the range, which were designed to facilitate sleep in non-traditional places, the Ostrichpillow Hood, we’re told, is to be
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Ultimate.ai nabs $1.3M for a customer service AI focused on non-English markets

For customer service, Ultimate.ai‘s thesis is it’s not humans or AI but humans and AI. The Helsinki- and Berlin-based startup has built an AI-powered suggestion engine that, once trained on clients’ data-sets, is able to provide real-time help to (human) staff dealing with customer queries via chat, email and social channels. So the AI layer is intended to make the humans behind the screens smarter and faster at responding to customer needs — as well as freeing them up from handling basic queries to focus on more complex issues. AI-fuelled chatbots have fast become a very crowded market, with hundreds of so called ‘conversational AI’ startups all vying to serve the customer service cause. Ultimate.ai stands out by merit of having focused on non-English language markets, says co-founder and CEO Reetu Kainulainen. This is a consequence of the business being founded in Finland, whose language belongs to a
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Divido, the consumer finance platform, scores $15M Series A

Divido, the consumer finance platform that lets you take out credit at the point of purchase to help spread the cost of buying new things, has raised $15 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Dawn Capital, and DN Capital, with participation from Mastercard, American Express Ventures and a number of previous investors. Renier Lemmens, who previously served as Chief Executive Officer of PayPal EMEA and was an executive at Barclays, has also been appointed as chairman. Launched in late 2015, London-based Divido currently works with over 1,000 partners to enable them to offer B2C and B2B finance to their customers at checkout. This includes being able to spread the cost of any product or service over a period of time by providing instant access to credit at the point of purchase, either online and in-store. However, where the company differentiates from the likes of Klarna is
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Ola raises $50M at a $4.3B valuation from two Chinese funds

Ola, the arch-rival of Uber in India, has raised $50 million at a valuation of about $4.3 billion from Sailing Capital, a Hong Kong-based private equity firm, and the China-Eurasian Economic Cooperation Fund (CEECF), a state-backed Chinese fund. The funding was disclosed in regulatory documents sourced by Paper.vc and reviewed by Indian financial publication Mint. According to Mint, Sailing Capital and CEECF will hold a combined stake of more than 1% in Ola . An Ola spokesperson said the company has no comment. Ola’s last funding announcement was in October, when it raised $1.1 billion (its largest funding round to date) from Tencent and returning investor SoftBank Group. Ola also said it planned to raise an additional $1 billion from other investors that would take the round’s final amount to about $2.1 billion. At the time, a source with knowledge of the deal told TechCrunch
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Congressional bill would improve startup valuations

Late last week, Congress moved one step closer to passing the American Innovation Act of 2018, a bill that would make accounting and tax changes that would likely increase the valuation of startups in an acquisition. The House Ways and Means committee approved a bill containing text that would improve the treatment of Net Operating Losses (NOLs) for start-ups. While many startup founders would probably rather watch paint dry (or build their companies) than dive into complex tax code changes, the provisions in the bill could greatly improve the ability of start-ups to invest in growth activity, and could drive meaningfully positive impacts to valuations, acquisition prices, capital markets participation, and venture returns.

First, though, what are NOLs? Each year, if a company loses money, it can claim the losses as a deduction off of its future taxes. Traditionally, the U.S. tax code has allowed companies

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WHILL raises $45M to help people with disabilities get around airports and other large venues

WHILL, the startup known for creating sleek, high-tech personal mobility devices, announced today that it has closed a $45 million Series C. The funding will be used for expanding into new international markets, as well as developing new products for large venues, including airports and “last-mile” sidewalk transportation. The round’s lead investors were SBI Investment, Daiwa Securities Group and WHIZ Partners, with participation from returning investors INCJ, Eight Road Ventures, MSIVC, Nippon Venture Capital, DG Incubation and Mizuho Capital. This brings WHILL’s total funding so far to about $80 million. Founded in Tokyo in 2012, WHILL plans to open a branch in the European Union and enter 10 new European countries. It also plans to start working with partners on developing autonomous capabilities for its mobility devices, senior marketing manager Jeff Yoshioka told TechCrunch. The company will build its own sensors and cameras to use in its “mobility as
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Mumford & Sons beware! An AI can now write indie music

A fascinating project called Amadeus Code promises to out-Tay-Tay Tay Tay and out-Bon Bon Iver. The AI-based system uses data from previous musical hits to create entirely new compositions on the fly — and darn if these crazy robot-songs aren’t pretty good. The app, which is available from the iTunes Store but doesn’t seem to be working properly, creates song sketches in minutes, freeing you up to create beautiful lyrics and a bit of accordion accompaniment. The video above is a MIDI version of an AI-produced song and the video below shows the song full-produced using non-AI human musicians. The results, while a little odd, are very impressive. Jun Inoue, Gyo Kitagawa and Taishi Fukuyama created Amadeus Code and all have experience in music and music production. Inoue is a renowned Japanese music producer and he has sold 10 million singles. Fukuyama worked at Echo Next and launched the
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