Parsable secures $40M investment to bring digital to industrial workers

Parsable secures M investment to bring digital to industrial workers

As we increasingly hear about automation, artificial intelligence and robots taking away industrial jobs, Parsable, a San Francisco-based startup sees a different reality, one with millions of workers who for the most part have been left behind when it comes to bringing digital transformation to their jobs.

Parsable has developed a Connected Worker platform to help bring high tech solutions to deskless industrial workers who have been working mostly with paper-based processes. Today, it announced a $40 million Series C cash injection to keep building on that idea.

The round was led by Future Fund with help from B37 and existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, Airbus Ventures and Aramco Ventures. Today’s investment brings the total to nearly $70 million.

The Parsable solution works on almost any smartphone or tablet and is designed to enter information while walking around in environments where a desktop PC or laptop simply wouldn’t be practical. That means being able to tap, swipe and select easily in a mobile context.

Photo: Parsable

The challenge the company faced was the perception these workers didn’t deal well with technology. Parsable CEO Lawrence Whittle says the company, which launched in 2013, took its time building its first product because it wanted to give industrial workers something they actually needed, not what engineers thought they needed. This meant a long period of primary research.

The company learned, it had to be dead simple to allow the industry vets who had been on the job for 25 or more years to feel comfortable using it out of the box, while also appealing to younger more tech-savvy workers. The goal was making it feel as familiar as Facebook or texting, common applications even older workers were used to using.

“What we are doing is getting rid of [paper] notebooks for quality, safety and maintenance and providing a digital guide on how to capture work with the objective of increasing efficiency, reducing safety incidents and increasing quality,” Whittle explained.

He likens this to the idea of putting a sensor on a machine, but instead they are putting that instrumentation into the hands of the human worker. “We are effectively putting a sensor on humans to give them connectivity and data to execute work in the same way as machines,” he says.

The company has also made the decision to make the platform flexible to add new technology over time. As an example they support smart glasses, which Whittle says accounts for about 10 percent of its business today. But the founders recognized that reality could change and they wanted to make the platform open enough to take on new technologies as they become available.

Today the company has 30 enterprise customers with 30,000 registered users on the platform. Customers include Ecolab, Schlumberger, Silgan and Shell. They have around 80 employees, but expect to hit 100 by the end of Q3 this year, Whittle says.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Fantasmo is a decentralized map for robots and augmented reality

Fantasmo is a decentralized map for robots and augmented reality

“Whether for AR or robots, anytime you have software interacting with the world, it needs a 3D model of the globe. We think that map will look a lot more like the decentralized internet than a version of Apple Maps or Google Maps.” That’s the idea behind new startup Fantasmo, according to co-founder Jameson Detweiler. Coming out of stealth today, Fantasmo wants to let any developer contribute to and draw from a sub-centimeter accuracy map for robot navigation or anchoring AR experiences.

Fantasmo plans to launch a free Camera Positioning Standard (CPS) that developers can use to collect and organize 3D mapping data. The startup will charge for commercial access and premium features in its TerraOS, an open-sourced operating system that helps property owners keep their maps up to date and supply them for use by robots, AR and other software equipped with Fantasmo’s SDK.

With $2 million in funding led by TenOneTen Ventures, Fantasmo is now accepting developers and property owners to its private beta.

Directly competing with Google’s own Visual Positioning System is an audacious move. Fantasmo is betting that private property owners won’t want big corporations snooping around to map their indoor spaces, and instead will want to retain control of this data so they can dictate how it’s used. With Fantasmo, they’ll be able to map spaces themselves and choose where robots can roam or if the next Pokémon GO can be played there.

“Only Apple, Google, and HERE Maps want this centralized. If this data sits on one of the big tech company’s servers, they could basically spy on anyone at any time,” says Detweiler. The prospect gets scarier when you imagine everyone wearing camera-equipped AR glasses in the future. “The AR cloud on a central server is Big Brother. It’s the end of privacy.”

Detweiler and his co-founder Dr. Ryan Measel first had the spark for Fantasmo as best friends at Drexel University. “We need to build Pokémon in real life! That was the genesis of the company,” says Detweiler. In the meantime he founded and sold LaunchRock, a 500 Startups company for creating “Coming Soon” sign-up pages for internet services.

After Measel finished his PhD, the pair started Fantasmo Studios to build augmented reality games like Trash Collectors From Space, which they took through the Techstars accelerator in 2015. “Trash Collectors was the first time we actually created a spatial map and used that to sync multiple people’s precise position up,” says Detweiler. But while building the infrastructure tools to power the game, they realized there was a much bigger opportunity to build the underlying maps for everyone’s games. Now the Santa Monica-based Fantasmo has 11 employees.

“It’s the internet of the real world,” says Detweiler. Fantasmo now collects geo-referenced photos, scans them for identifying features like walls and objects, and imports them into its point cloud model. Apps and robots equipped with the Fantasmo SDK can then pull in the spatial map for a specific location that’s more accurate than federally run GPS. That lets them peg AR objects to precise spots in your environment while making sure robots don’t run into things.

Fantasmo identifies objects in geo-referenced photos to build a 3D model of the world

“I think this is the most important piece of infrastructure to be built during the next decade,” Detweiler declares. That potential attracted funding from TenOneTen, Freestyle Capital, LDV, NoName Ventures, Locke Mountain Ventures and some angel investors. But it’s also attracted competitors like Escher Reality, which was acquired by Pokémon GO parent company Niantic, and Ubiquity6, which has investment from top-tier VCs like Kleiner Perkins and First Round.

Google is the biggest threat, though. With its industry-leading traditional Google Maps, experience with indoor mapping through Tango, new VPS initiative and near limitless resources. Just yesterday, Google showed off using an AR fox in Google Maps that you can follow for walking directions.

Fantasmo is hoping that Google’s size works against it. The startup sees a path to victory through interoperability and privacy. The big corporations want to control and preference their own platforms’ access to maps while owning the data about private property. Fantasmo wants to empower property owners to oversee that data and decide what happens to it. Measel concludes, “The world would be worse off if GPS was proprietary. The next evolution shouldn’t be any different.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Hustle rallies $30M for grassroots texting tool Republicans can’t use

Hustle rallies M for grassroots texting tool Republicans can’t use

Hustle 20X’d its annual revenue run rate in 15 months by denying clients that contradict its political views. It’s a curious, controversial, yet successful strategy for the startup whose app lets activists and marketers text thousands of potential supporters or customers one at a time. Compared to generic email blasts and robocalls, Hustle gets much higher conversion rates because people like connecting with a real human who can answer their follow-up questions.

The whole business is built around those relationships, so campaigns, non-profits, and enterprises have to believe in Hustle’s brand. That’s why CEO Roddy Lindsay tells me “We don’t sell to republican candidates or committees. What it’s allowed us to do is build trust with the Democratic party and progressive organizations. We don’t have to worry about celebrating our clients’ success and offending other clients.”

Hustle execs from left: COO Ysiad Ferreiras, CEO Roddy Lindsay, CTO Tyler Brock

Investors agree. Tempted by Hustle’s remarkable growth to well over a $10 million run rate and 85 million conversations started, Insight Partners has led a $30 million Series B for the startup that’s joined by Google’s GV and Salesforce Ventures.

The round comes just 10 months after Hustle’s $8M Series A when it was only doing $3 million in revenue. Lindsay says he was impressed with Insight’s experience with communication utilities like Cvent and non-profit tools like Ministry Brands. Its managing director Hillary Gosher who specializes in growing sales teams will join Hustle’s board, which is a great fit since Hustle is hiring like crazy.

Humanizing The Call To Action

Founded in late 2014, Hustle’s app lets organizers write MadLibs-style text message scripts and import contact lists. Their staffers or volunteers send out the messages one by one, with the blanks automatically filled in to personalize the calls to action. Recipients can respond directly with the sender ready with answers to assuage their fears until they’re ready to donate, buy, attend, or help. Meanwhile, organizers can track their conversions, optimize scripts, and reallocate assignments so they can reach huge audiences with an empathetic touch.

The Hustle admin script editor

The app claims to be 77X faster than making phone calls and 5.5X more engaging than email, which has won Hustle clients like LiveNation’s concert empire, NYU, and the Sierra Club. Clients pay $0.30 per contact uploaded into Hustle, with discounts for bigger operations. Now at $41 million in total funding, Hustle plans to push further beyond its core political and non-profit markets and deeper into driving alumni donations for universities, sales for enterprises, and attendance for event promoters.

Hustle will be doing that without one of its three co-founders, Perry Rosenstein, who left at the end of 2017. [Disclosure: I know Lindsay from college and once worked on a short-lived social meetup app with Rosenstein called Signal.] Lindsay says Rosenstein’s “real excellence was about early stage activities and problems”. Indeed, in my experience he was more attuned to underlying product-market fit than the chores of scaling a business. “It was Perry’s decision, it was a departure we celebrated, and he’s still involved as an informal adviser to me and the company” Lindsay concluded.

Hustle is growing so fast, this recent photo is already missing a third of the team

Hustle has over 100 other employees in SF, NYC, and DC to pick up the torch, though. That’s up from just 12 employees at the start of 2017. And it’s perhaps one of the most diverse larger startups around. Lindsay says his company is 51 percent women, 48 percent people of color, and 21 percent LGBT. This inclusive culture attracts top diverse talent. “We see this as a key differentiator for us. It allows us to hire incredible people” Lindsay says. “It’s something we took seriously from day one and the results show.”

Partisan On Purpose

What started as a favored tool of the Bernie Sanders campaign has blossomed into a new method of communicating at scale. “We’re massively humanizing the way these organizations communicate” Lindsay said. “Humans really matter, no matter if what you care about is getting lots of people to come to events, vote, or renew a season ticket package. Having a relationship with another person can cut through the noise. That’s different than your interactions with bots or email marketing campaigns or things where it’s dehumanized.”

Lindsay felt the frustration of weak relationships when after leaving Facebook where he worked for six years as one of its first data scientists, he volunteered for Mark Zuckerberg’s Fwd.us immigration reform organization. Its email got just a 1 percent conversion rate. He linked up with Obama’s former Nevada new media director Rosenstein and CTO Tyler Brock to fix that with Hustle.

Working with Bernie aligned with the team’s political sentiments, but they were quickly faced with whether they wanted to fuel both sides of the aisle — which would mean delivering fringe conservative campaign messages they couldn’t stomach. Hustle still has no formal policy about declining Republican money, and a spokesperson said they point potential clients to TechCrunch’s previous article mentioning the stance. Meanwhile, Hustle is growing its for-profit client base to make shunning the GOP feel like less of a loss. Having Salesforce as a strategic investor also creates a bridge to a potential exit option.

Focusing on the left is working for now. Over 25 state Democratic parties are clients. Hustle sent 2.5 million messages and reached over 700,000 voters — 1 in 5 total — during the Alabama special election, helping Democrat Doug Jones win the Senate seat.

“Let’s build this great business for the Democratic party. Let’s let someone else take the Republicans” Lindsay explains. A stealth startup called OpnSesame is doing just that, Lindsay mentions. But he says “we don’t actually see them as competitive. We see them as potential allies that advocate for the power of p2p texting in getting everyone included in our democracy.” Instead, Lindsay sees the potential for Hustle to lose its sense of purpose and drive as it rapidly hires as its biggest threat.

Long-term, Hustle hopes to propel the right side of history by sticking to the left. Lindsay concludes, “You can really just put on your business hat and see this is a good choice.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

DFS Lab is helping the developing world bootstrap itself with fintech

DFS Lab is helping the developing world bootstrap itself with fintech

Entrepreneurs have it rough in Africa, India, Pakistan — places where VC cash doesn’t fall from the sky and necessary infrastructure like reliable banking and broadband can be hard to come by. But companies grow and thrive nevertheless in these rugged environments, and DFS Lab is an incubator focused on connecting them with the resources they need to go global.

The company was founded, and funded, on the back of a $4.8 million grant from the Gates Foundation, which of course is deeply concerned with tech-based solutions for well-being all over the world. Its name, Digital Financial Services Lab, indicates its area of focus: fintech. And anyone can tell you that sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most interesting places in the world for that.

This week DFS Lab is announcing a handful of new investments — modest ones on the scale companies are used to in Silicon Valley, but the money is only a small part of the equation. Investment comes at the end of a longer process, the most valuable of which may be the week-long sprint DFS Lab does on the ground, helping solidify ideas into products, or niche products into products at scale.

The relative lack of VCs and angel investors puts early-stage companies at risk and can discourage the most motivated entrepreneur, so the program is aimed at getting them over the hump and connected to a network of peers.

The latest round puts a total of $200,000 into four startups, each touching on a different aspect of a region or vertical’s financial needs. All, however, are largely driven by the massive growth of mobile money in Africa over the last decade and the more recent, ongoing transition to modern smartphones and the app/data landscape familiar to the U.S. and Europe.

  • Nala aims to move p2p payments away from the antiquated but widely used USSD system (more on this later) to a Venmo-like app interface that integrates multiple native mobile currencies like M-Pesa into a single tool.
  • Cherehani connects female entrepreneurs with financial resources; the idea is to provide both much-needed credit and financial literacy at as early an age as possible. (They have a chatbot too, naturally.)
  • Nobuntu is a platform through which South Africans can open and contribute to pension plans via mobile money, simply and with low overhead costs.

The fourth company is choosing to remain in stealth mode for now, but you see the general theme here.

For one reason or another there are major gaps in everyday services that many of us take for granted — the ability to prove one’s identity, for example, is critical but commonly absent. I talked with Paul Damalie, founder of a DFS-funded company called Inclusive that helps address that particular shortcoming.

Basic ID verification can be difficult when you remove many of the things we take for granted. So when, for example, someone wanted to get a loan, a savings account, or some other basic financial service, “Originally you’d have to literally walk into the bank to do it,” Damalie said. Needless to say that isn’t always convenient, and banks as well as users want better options.

“We’ve been collecting existing databases and building a layer of rich access around it,” he continued. “Now we can use facial recognition to check those details. Once you have the ID, you need to check it with the government records” — which Inclusive also does. A range of other data creates a confidence score in the person’s identity, helping avoid identity fraud.

Another opportunity arises not from these gaps but from the unique ways in which the African ecosystem has evolved. USSD, which I mentioned before, is probably unknown to many of our readers — it certainly was to me. But it’s become a standard tool used regularly by millions for important tasks in Africa; if you want to work in that market, you have to deal with USSD one way or another.

The problem is that, as you might guess from Nala trying to deprecate it, USSD is a technology dating back to the ’90s, a text-based interface that’s rudimentary but, much like SMS, universally accepted and intelligible. The importance of cross-platform compatibility in mobile markets as fragmented as these can’t be overstated.

So bridging the gap between USSD and a “traditional” (as we might call it) payment app is a unique opportunity, and one a company called Hover (also in the DFS Lab portfolio) is addressing. Its tech acts as a sort of translation layer between USSD and smartphone app interfaces, allowing for modern app design but also deep back-compatibility. It’s an opportunity specific to this time and this area of the world, but nevertheless one that may end up touching millions.

And from the narrowness of its vision that DFS Lab derives its effectiveness.

“They’re one of the most specialized accelerators in the world,” said Damalie. “It goes beyond just funding — it involves having the right kind of network: access to partners, data, sources across the continent. They had context-relevant fellows, people who had very specific challenges.”

“The grant was useful and let us build a proof of concept, and of course the Gates Foundation gives us credibility. But they were taking bets on us as individuals.”

Although DFS Lab has heretofore been funded by the Gates infusion, that well will run dry soon. Jake Kendall, DFS Lab’s executive director, indicated that the plan is to move towards a more traditional investor fund. They already focus on profitability and the potential for growth to the continental stage or beyond; this isn’t a charity but tactical investment in such a way that social good is a necessary byproduct.

“The best way to have a global impact is to be self-sustaining,” he said.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Tech Will Save Us raises $4.2M for its tech-focused range of toys, partners with Disney

Tech Will Save Us raises .2M for its tech-focused range of toys, partners with Disney
Tech Will Save Us, the U.K. startup getting kids excited about technology through a range of ‘hackable’ toys, has raised $4.2 million in Series A funding led by Initial Capital. The round also includes Backed VC, SaatchInvest, All Bright, Unltd-inc, and Leaf VC, along with angel investors Chris Lee (co- founder of Media Molecule), Martin McCourt (ex CEO of Dyson) and Jonathan Howell (CTO of Made.com).
The London-based startup says the new capital will be used to expand its product range — which now includes a first partnership with Disney with a Marvel Avengers themed kit inviting children to help superheroes complete secret missions — and to continue its mission to “create a brighter future for kids by encouraging them to create with, rather than be fearful of or passive to, technology”.
Founded by wife and husband duo Bethany Koby and Daniel Hirschmann, over the last four and a half years Tech Will Save Us has developed a range of digital and physical toys that combine play with STEM education to help kids get on the front foot of learning the skills they’ll need in the future. It sells its products direct online and through retailers such as Amazon, John Lewis, Best Buy and Target, and claims to have reached customers in over 97 countries.
“We were just very aware that education doesn’t move fast enough to keep up with technology and it probably never will,” Koby tells me when I ask why her and Hirschmann started the company. “The other thing that really motivated us is having a child. Going into the toy department was actually slightly depressing. It didn’t really feel like there was any motivation around empowering kids with technology that was future-facing, that was about the way the world is unfolding, and in a way that is really creative and fun. It just felt like tech shoved inside of plastic”.
In contrast, the Tech Will Save Us product range is anything but. Covering multiple price points and age groups, the ‘kits’ span electronic dough products, wearables where kids have to program their own games and activities that respond to movement, all the way to gaming devices where kids build their own game consoles and invent and program their own video games. For the first few years of the company’s existence, you would have been hard pressed to find anything quite like it on toy store shelves.
“We’re creating a category, ultimately,” says Koby. “And I think creating a category, in addition to scaling and growing a business — with people, with culture, with all of the beautiful and complicated things that businesses possess — is a challenge, right. Building a category is not the same as just entering a category, and when we started, this category didn’t even exist”.
Fast-forward to today and Tech Will Save Us is benefiting from an aligning of the macro stars, with Koby noting that governments in Europe and the U.S. are pushing STEM education and computer science, and that Target now has a STEM buyer, and Walmart has a STEM section. “The challenge has been riding these macro trends and really building the category, while simultaneously building a product business,” she says.
Reaching kids also means securing buy-in from parents, which has its own challenges from a marketing but also product perspective. “Parents are really fearful of tech. They don’t understand it, they want their kids to be a part of it, they want their kids to understand it, but they themselves are fearful of it,” says Koby. To mitigate this, it was important to design products that ensure parents “are on that journey too” and can support their kids being creators of technology.
To that end, the tie-in with Disney, in addition to today’s Series A round, feels like a major milestone for the startup. Koby says it came about after someone from Disney bought one of the startup’s products at John Lewis and contacted the company to say they were really excited about the area of STEM. This led to Tech Will Save Us meeting lots of interesting people within Disney and developing a multi-year, multi-product pipeline, launching with Marvel Avengers.
“We’ve not just taken characters and slapped them on a product, we’ve created new experiences,” explains Koby. “Our product is the first for kids to go on secret missions with the Avengers, and solve these secret missions by learning about electronics… with the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, using electronic dough and electronics as part of their problem solving tools to solve these missions”.
Like all of the Tech Will Save Us products, the experience mixes digital and physical, and Koby says there is the capacity to add new missions with different superheroes and different characters from the Avengers, as well as superheroes and missions that kids create.
“I’ve always believed that there is a partnership strategy in our business. We are a play experience business, we’re not a character business, and the beauty of having partnerships like Avengers and Disney is that our goal is to reach as many kids as possible and to help them see that they have the capacity to be creators of technology. But the way we do that is not by necessarily convincing them, it’s by meeting them where they’re at. Leveraging the things that kids already love and using those things to create new experiences and tell stories”.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch