Cyan Banister to tell her story at Disrupt SF

When we look around at some of the Silicon Valley superstars, it’s easy to wonder how they got here. Was it luck? Brute force? Wits? Charm? At Disrupt SF, Founders Fund partner Cyan Banister is going to tell her story, and it might not be the narrative you’d expect. Not everyone in Silicon Valley goes to Stanford or Harvard, but sometimes it’s that alternative perspective that gives someone a leg up. Banister’s history isn’t what you’d expect, and at Disrupt SF she’ll explain where she came from and how she became one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful investors. Before joining Founders Fund, Banister was a wildly successful angel investor, with portfolio companies including Uber, Thumbtack, SpaceX, Postmates, EShares, Affirm and Niantic. Banister taught herself to code, and held a number of technical leadership positions prior to angel investing, including overseeing support infrastructure and performance at Cisco. If Banister had to
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Lyft’s app code reveals unlaunched bike or scooter feature

Lyft hasn’t acquired a bike-sharing startup or gotten a scooter permit yet, but it’s already preparing its app for them with a feature codenamed “last mile”. Code and screenshots dug out of Lyft’s Android app reveal a way to search a map for last mile vehicles, and scan a QR code or enter a pin to unlock them. These materials come to TechCrunch from Jane Manchun Wong, who’s recently established herself as a prolific app code investigator. Her work has led to TechCrunch scoops on Instagram video calling and Usage Insights, Twitter encrypted DMs, and Facebook’s personalized emoji Avatars that were confirmed by the companies. Lyft’s entrance into last mile vehicles could win customers looking for quick, cheap, and exciting transportation beyond the longer car trips it already offers. Renting scooters or bikes from the same app as its car rideshare options would allow it to compete with dedicated
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PAX introduces Session Control to let novice users control their intake

PAX Labs, makers of the popular PAX 3 and PAX Era vaporizers, have today updated their app to offer a new feature called Session Control. The idea here is based around the fact that people can sometimes overindulge when using a vaporizer for the first time, as the effects of cannabis oil can take a minute or two to kick in, leading people to continue puffing. With Session Control, users can control their intake by selecting micro, small or medium puffs. Once the user has maxed out their session by puffing, the PAX Era will lock for 30 seconds, stopping users from overdoing it. PAX launched an app called PAX Mobile in 2017 to give vape users even more control over their experience. From temperature control to different color schemes, the PAX Mobile app lets users fiddle with the PAX 3 or PAX Era on the fly. While temperature
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Paperless Post introduces Flyer for more casual invitations

Paperless Post, the design-first invitations service, has today announced the launch of a new product called Flyer. Flyer is meant to be a more lightweight invitation, for events like a BBQ or a casual birthday as opposed to a formal event. The idea started when Paperless Post founder and CEO James Hirschfeld realized there were certain events in his life where he still wasn’t using Paperless Post, despite the fact that he founded the company. “Even though Paperless is my baby and I love it, there were still moments in the year or in life or as a business or as a consumer where it doesn’t make sense to send something formal,” said Hirschfeld. “You don’t want to pay or you don’t want to labor over an invite.” That’s where Flyer comes in. Flyer is designed around Vibes, which are curated sets of images, GIFs, colors, layouts and
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Redpoint looks to fresh faces to pilot its latest $400M fund

When Redpoint’s partners handed hims CEO Andrew Dudum the term sheet for the company’s early financing round, one of the most surprising part of that whole process was that the investment partners had actually figured out the font that the company used — and printed out the term sheet with that font. “I have no idea how they even found it,” Dudum said. “I’ve obviously known these guys a long time. There’s this foundation of trust there, they were able to motivate the entire Redpoint partnership in 18 hours from a meeting at 6 p.m. at night on, like, a Thursday. We got a call that night an hour later saying, ‘are you free at 11 a.m. tomorrow morning,’ and the entire partnership showed up at our office, and they did what I’ve never seen done before which was present the term sheet right there on the spot
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IRL wants to get people together offline

Social planning apps are a dime a dozen, but none have risen to become a mainstay in our digital lives. IRL, founded by Abe Shafi and Scott Banister, is looking to break the pattern, focusing on positivity to get people excited about hanging out offline. When users first sign up, they’re asked a series of multiple choice questions about their friends: “Who is the best at building pillow forts?” or “Who has the best style?” with four of your contacts as possible answers. These ‘nominations’ are meant to catalyze making plans with those friends. Those nominations stay anonymous. From there, users can choose from a wide variety of interests like “Netflix and Chill,” “Grab Burgers,” or “Watch the World Cup.” Once they’ve chosen an interest, they can mark the time (today, soon, or pick a date) and send an invite to friends, at which point the
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Crate.io raises $11M and launches its hosted IoT data platform.

Crate.io, the winner of our Disrupt Europe 2014 Startup Battlefield competition, today announced that it has raised an $11 million Series A round. In addition, the company also launched its ‘Crate Machine Learning Platform’ today, a new hosted solution for businesses that want to use the company’s SQL-based database platform for working with IoT data. The new funding round was led by Zetta Venture Partners and Deutsche Invest Equity, with participation from Chalfen Ventures, Momenta Partners and Charlie Songhurst. Existing investors, including Draper Espirit, Vito Ventures and Docker founder Solomon Hykes also participated. Crate co-founder and CEO Christian Lutz told me that over the course of the last year or so, the company has seen a large increase in paying customers, which now tally up to about 30. That has also allowed Crate to grow its revenue beyond $1 million in annual run rate. He attributed the current
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Brex picks up $57M to build an easy credit card for startups

While Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi were giving up on their augmented reality startup inside Y Combinator and figuring out what to do next, they saw their batch mates struggling to get even the most basic corporate credit cards — and in a lot of cases, having to guarantee those cards themselves. Brex, their new startup,  aims to try to fix that by offering startups a way to quickly get what’s effectively a credit card that they can use without having to personally guarantee that card or wade through complex processes to finally get a charge card. It’s geared initially towards smaller companies, but Dubugras expects those startups to grow up with it over time — and that Brex is already picking up larger clients. The company, coming out of stealth, said it has raised a total of $57 million from investors including the Y Combinator Continuity fund, Peter Thiel, Max
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Penta, the bank account for SMEs, adds multi-card support to manage expenses

Penta, the German fintech startup that offers a digital bank account targeting SMEs, has launched multi-card support to make it easier to manage company expenses. Dubbed ‘Team Access,’ the new feature — which affords similar functionality to the likes of Pleo, Spendesk, and Soldo — lets business owners issue multiple MasterCards to employees who need to make purchases on a company’s behalf. Each card is linked to a business’ Penta account but can have custom rules and permissions per card/employee, in terms of how much money can be spent and where. More broadly, the feature is designed to cut down the time and cost of expense management for SMEs. “As business owners know, it can take weeks of daunting paperwork to get another debit card from a legacy bank. The alternative solution for a business owner is to apply for a business credit card which has
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Talentry scores €6M for its ‘social recruitment and marketing’ platform

Talentry, a startup based in Munich that has developed a “social recruitment and marketing platform,” has closed €6 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Nauta Capital, the pan-European VC focused on SaaS, with participation from Rocket Internet’s GFC, Allgeier SE, and number of angel investors. I also understand that GFC previously backed Talentry’s €2 million seed round. Relatively low-key to date, Talentry offers a SaaS to enable companies to utilise their employees’ social networks to help with recruitment. The platform powers employee referral and employee advocacy programs, including the ability for employees to easily share job openings and corporate content. The premise is that, although social recruitment is as old as recruitment itself, simply having employees post job openings on various social channels alone, is no longer going to cut it. Instead, explained Talentry CEO Carl Hoffmann on a call last week, social recruitment combined
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ezCater raises $100M as it looks to own office catered meals around the world

Everyone at the office needs lunch (or in some cases dinner) — but for salespeople trying to entice a potential lead or convince an architect to pick up their project, they might need to use a free meal as a bit of a lure to get them in the room to make that pitch. It was a problem that Stefania Mallett, CEO of ezCater, and co-founder Briscoe Rodgers ran into plenty of times — and decided to turn it into a full company. ezCater gives all those sales people, or financial advisors, or anything along those lines a way to quickly set up a catered meal and have an expectation that it’ll work without any kinds of bottlenecks all across the country. The company said it has raised a new round of funding led by Wellington Management Company, with existing investors ICONIQ capital and Insight Venture Partners also participating among
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Veriff raises $7.7M Series A to become the ‘Stripe for identity’

Veriff, the Estonian startup that wants to become something akin to the ‘Stripe for identity’, has raised $7.7 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Mosaic Ventures, joining an impressive list of backers that include Taavet Hinrikus, Ashton Kutcher, Paul Buchheit, Elad Gil, SV Angel, ACE Ventures, and Superangel. Mosaic’s Simon Levene, and Hinrikus, who co-founded and is chairman of TransferWise, have joined the Veriff board. Founded by 23 year old Kaarel Kotkas — who is now on his third startup and has garnered quite a bit of publicity in his home country — Veriff has developed a SaaS and underlying technology to make it easy for companies, such as banks and fintechs, to easily verify a person’s identity online. In fact, Kotkas previously spent some time at TransferWise, where he solidified the idea, before founding the startup and going through Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator as
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Veriff raises $7.7M Series A to become the ‘Stripe for identity’

Veriff, the Estonian startup that wants to become something akin to the ‘Stripe for identity’, has raised $7.7 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Mosaic Ventures, joining an impressive list of backers that include Taavet Hinrikus, Ashton Kutcher, Paul Buchheit, Elad Gil, SV Angel, ACE Ventures, and Superangel. Mosaic’s Simon Levene, and Hinrikus, who co-founded and is chairman of TransferWise, have joined the Veriff board. Founded by 23 year old Kaarel Kotkas — who is now on his third startup and has garnered quite a bit of publicity in his home country — Veriff has developed a SaaS and underlying technology to make it easy for companies, such as banks and fintechs, to easily verify a person’s identity online. In fact, Kotkas previously spent some time at TransferWise, where he solidified the idea, before founding the startup and going through Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator as
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Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Pick a category, wager a few dollars and double your money in 60 seconds if you’re smarter and faster than your opponent. Proveit offers a fresh take on trivia and game show apps by letting you win or lose cash on quick 10-question, multiple choice quizzes. Sick of waiting to battle a million people on HQ for a chance at a fraction of the jackpot? Play one-on-one anytime you want or enter into scheduled tournaments with $1,000 or more in prize money, while Proveit takes around 10 percent to 15 percent of the stakes. “I’d play Jeopardy all the time with my family and wondered ‘why can’t I do this for money?’ ” says co-founder Prem Thomas. Remarkably, it’s all legal. The Proveit team spent two years getting approved as “skill-based gaming” that exempts it from some laws that have hindered fantasy sports betting apps. And for those at
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SpeakSee makes it simple for a deaf person to join a group conversation

There’s a great deal of activity in the fields of speech recognition and the “Internet of Things,” but one natural application of the two has gone relatively unpursued: helping the deaf and hard of hearing take part in everyday conversations. SpeakSee aims to do this (after crowdfunding, naturally) with a clever hardware design that minimizes setup friction and lets everyone communicate naturally. It’s meant to be used in situations where someone hard of hearing needs to talk with a handful of others — a meeting, a chat at dinner, asking directions and so on. There are speech-to-text apps out there that can transcribe what someone is saying, but they’re not really suited to the purpose. “Many deaf people experienced a huge barrier in asking people to download the app and hold the phone close to their mouth. These limitations in the interface meant no one kept using it,” explained
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Prisma co-founders raise $1M to build a social app called Capture

Two of the co-founders of the art filter app Prisma have left to build a new social app. Prisma, as you may recall, had a viral moment back in 2016 when selfie takers went crazy for the fine art spin the app’s AI put on photos — in just a few seconds of processing. Downloads leapt, art selfies flooded Instagram, and similar arty effects soon found their way into all sorts of rival apps and platforms. Then, after dipping a toe into social waters with the launch of a feed of its own, the company shifted focus to b2b developer tools — and we understand it’s since become profitable. But two of Prisma’s co-founders, Aleksey Moiseyenkov and Aram Hardy, got itchy feet when they had an idea for another app business. And they’ve both now left to set up a new startup, called Capture Technologies. The plan is to launch
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The long Cocky-gate nightmare is over

I’ve been wanting to write about Cocky-gate for some time now but the story – a row between self-published authors that degenerated into ridiculousness – seems finally over and perhaps we can all get some perspective. The whole thing started in May when a self-published romance author, Faleena Hopkins, began attempting to enforce her copyright on books that contained “cocky” in the title. This included, but was not limited to, Cocky Cowboy, Cocky Biker, and Cocky Roomie, all titles in Hopkins oeuvre. Hopkins filed a trademark for the use of the word Cocky in romance titles and began attacking other others who used the word cocky, including Jamila Jasper who wrote a book called Cocky Cowboy and received an email from Hopkins. After taking up the cause on Twitter and creating a solid example of Streisand Effect, Jasper changed the title of her book to The Cockiest Cowboy To
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Microsoft acquires social learning platform Flipgrid

Microsoft has acquired Flipgrid, a social education app that utilizes short video clips to create collaborative lesson plans. The Minneapolis-based startup, which began life as Vidku, has had strong growth for an experience that has been alternatively described as Instagram and Snapchat for the classroom. Early last year, it reported an 800 percent year-over-year growth in teacher accounts.

It’s certainly a play that makes sense in Microsoft’s portfolio, as the company looks to take back the education market currently being dominated by Google, thanks to its wildly popular Chromebook category. In May of last year, the company launched an educational variant of Windows 10, which joined such existing plays as its Minecraft Education Edition.

“We’re thrilled to see the impact Flipgrid has had in social learning thus far and look forward to helping them continue to thrive as part of the Microsoft family,” Microsoft VP Eran Megiddo, said in a

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Plum, the fintech chatbot that helps you save, adds theme-based investing

Plum, the fintech startup co-founded by early TransferWise employee Victor Trokoudes, is continuing its mission to help you manage your finances and save money. The AI-powered Messenger chatbot already offers savings functionality, including round-ups and regular savings, and today is launching an investment tool that lets you choose fund investments based on themes, such as ethical companies or technology. Similar to competitors Cleo and Chip, Plum connects to your bank accounts and its algorithm then analyses your spending patterns to work out how much you can afford to set aside. It is able to identify things like income and bills, and can take a number of actions on your behalf. This includes ‘micro-savings’ — rounding up any purchases you make — and other forms of regular saving, in which money is moved from your bank account to a segregated Plum savings account. From there you’re able to
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Zenaton lets you build and run workflows with ease

French startup Zenaton raised $2.35 million from Accel and Point Nine Capital, with the Slack Fund, Kima Ventures, Julien Lemoine and Francis Nappez also participating. The company wants to take care of the most tedious part of your application — asynchronous jobs and background tasks. While it has never been easier to develop a simple web-based service with a database, building and scaling workflows that handle tasks based on different events still sucks. Sometimes your background task fails and it’s going to take you days before you notice that your workflow stopped working. Some workflows might require so much resources that you’ll end up paying a huge server bill to get more RAM to handle those daily cron jobs and performance spikes. And yet, many small companies would greatly benefit from adding asynchronous jobs. For instance, you could improve your retention rate by sending email reminders. You could try
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