I recently had a calll with someone who specialises in validating startup concepts pre-launch, he was super helpful. I specifically asked him what I should make sure I work on while my tech co founder is building the MVP, it will be finished in 1-1.5 months hopefully.
This is what I've done so far to validate the idea (before I had a tech co founder):
- Survey 1200 skincare fans (its a skincare startup)
- Interview 50 of them on the phone for an hour
- Create a waitlist landing page
- Drove traffic to it via Facebook ads (targeting skincare fans)
- Got 250 signups in 2 days, turned the advert off
So I'm aware that this is a good start but no-one has actually exchanged money for this idea, though in theory there is demand. He said that, while my partner is building the MVP, I should conduct a wizard of Oz experiment. While I think this is a good idea, I also think it is probably quite time consuming, and I will also need to be working on getting a group of beta/pilot customers together, since I expect we'll be working on product market fit for a while (if all goes well).
I'd like to know – do you think I should do the Wizard of Oz experiment? and also, what other things are absolutely crucial for me to work on pre-beta? I am CEO (of nothing right now, ha) but my core skills are marketing (day job) and product.
Automation is one of the biggest growth drivers in the intralogistics sector, as per the robotics company, Magazino. Double-digit growth rates are expected in this segment in the coming years. This trend is driven above all by the persistently strong growth in online trade and the global shortage in logistics specialists, particularly forklift operators. In order to ride this growth wave, Magazino has raised €21M.
Series B & financing from EIB
The Munich-based robotics company Magazino has raised €21M in its Series B round of funding. The round was led by intralogistics giant Jungheinrich and the European Investment Bank, with existing investors also participating.
Besides, Jungheinrich and Magazino have also agreed on broad strategic cooperation and intend to combine their skill sets in the field of mobile automation.
The raised capital will be used to expand its international sales activities and to accelerate the expansion of ACROS.AI (Advanced Cooperative Robotic Operating System), its software platform for intelligent robots that can be used for third-party hardware.
In addition to the investments made by the existing investors and Jungheinrich AG, the European Investment Bank (EIB) is providing Magazino with the financing of up to €12M. The investment from the EU bank is secured by a guarantee from the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).
Robotics for logistics
Founded in 2014 by Frederik Brantner, Lukas Zanger, and Nikolas Engelhard, Magazino develops and builds perception-controlled, mobile robots for intralogistics.
The company has build two products:
1) TORU: A mobile robot that interacts with its environment: TORU can pick small boxes completely autonomously.
2) SOTO 2: A mobile robot for industrial small parts supply. It can handle boxes of upto 20 KG.
These autonomous robots work alongside people and can help streamline the processes in e‑commerce, fashion, and production logistics sectors.
With Magazino’s technology individual objects can be identified on the shelf and localised via 2D and 3D cameras. After this, the objects can be securely grasped, and finally placed precisely at their destination.
“Jungheinrich’s investment in Magazino demonstrates the high market demand for our robotics software ACROS.AI and our robots. With it, Magazino will take on a central role in software in the rapidly growing market for mobile robotics,” says Frederik Brantner, CEO, and Co-Founder of Magazino.
Back in 2016, the company had landed its major clients like Fiege, which now uses Magazino robots for some of its warehouse work, and have recently ordered 30 more robots.
The company has a team strength of 100 employees in Munich, and counts Korber AG, Zalando, and Fiege Logistik among its investors.
Image credit: Magazino
The demand for plant-based foods continues to soar, and the chewing gum shelves are no different. The Copenhagen-based startup True Gum, who produces a plastic-free and plant-based chewing gum, has just raised €1 million from a German VC to further expand their efforts. The investor is the venture capital fund Oyster Bay, which specializes in…
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working has become the name of the game for knowledge workers in the tech industry. Today, a startup that was an early mover on the opportunity of that model is announcing some news to double down on the concept.
Andela, the New York startup that helps tech companies build remote engineering teams while at the same time shrinking the digital divide by tapping talent out of hubs in Africa for those teams, is today announcing a big step up in its efforts. The company is itself going fully remote, and as part of that it’s widening the pool of people that it taps to work and train by extending its reach across the whole of the African continent, while also shutting down its existing physical campuses.
Jeremy Johnson, the co-founder and CEO, said that he believes that the move will extend the talent pool that it can tap to more than 500,000 engineers from the 250,000 that it could reach through its earlier model. To date some 100,000 engineers have applied to and used Andela’s skills training tools (it works in partnership with a number of other tech companies to provide these, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook) and it has connected some 1,000 people to job opportunities.
The news comes on the heels of the company laying off 135 employees in May, with senior employees taking 10%-30% pay-cuts ahead of what the company hinted would be a big change in its business — the news that’s getting announced today. Andela has confirmed that it is not making any more cuts to its staff with today’s news. (It has around 1,200 employees globally.)
We’re seeing a huge shift right now to remote working due to the persistent existence of COVID-19 and the need to keep more social distancing in place, and a byproduct of that has been people actively moving out of expensive tech hubs now that it’s been accepted that being in them isn’t a fundamental requirement to do work.
At the same time, a lot of companies have either slowed down or frozen hiring of full-time employees but are continuing to tap people for project-based work because their businesses are no less in need of talent to operate.
Both of those trends are an endorsement of the model that Andela helped to pioneer with its remote teams concept, and they more pointedly spell opportunity for companies like it that already have networks in place to speak to those demands.
All the same, it’s a major shift for the startup, not least because it’s closing down its physical campuses.
Founded in 2014 out of Lagos, Nigeria, and backed by investors like Generation (Al Gore’s fund), the Omidyar Network, Spark Capital and Chan Zuckerberg Education and valued at $ 700 million as of its most recent funding round last year, Andela has for the last six years focused on building a network based around the biggest tech hubs on the continent, building physical spaces in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, that helped source, vet and further train talent to become part of remote company teams for some 200 customers, with a large proportion of those in the US, including Cloudflare, Wellio, ViacomCBS, and Women Who Code.
As Andela started to scale that model, starting with a pilot in Ghana in 2018 and a second in Egypt last year, it saw that the more efficient route was to forego the physical hubs completely for virtual ones.
Indeed, Jeremy Johnson, the CEO who co-founded the company with Christina Sass, said that its move was not a direct response to the pandemic per se, although global events have definitely given a fillip to the concept.
“What we’ve done historically is go and build campus in each location and in early days that made a ton of sense because that was helpful for training and from an infrastructure standpoint it was what we needed to do,” he said in an interview.
“But as we’ve transitioned to focus more on the breadth and depth of talent and diversity across the continent, we opened satellites in Egypt and Ghana where we didn’t require a campus. It’s actually worked really well and some ways feels like it’s opening opportunities for even greater growth.”
Our own interview was via Zoom, with me in London and Johnson in New Hampshire: Andela’s New York office (where he is normally based) closed for the moment.
“Our headquarters has technically been the internet, but we’ve had a big presence in NYC,” he said referring to its US base. He added that the expansion in Africa using the satellite/remote concept is the limit to how it apply the remote concept, with the question of what will happen in the future to even its US offices still not fully answered.
“We announced a few weeks ago we are going to be a remote-first company overall going forward,” he said. “It lets you think differently about where to live and more. I don’t know what it means longer term but for now we are all living on Zoom.”
While Andela is obviously expanding its talent pool with this move, and potentially giving a huge boost to providing more job opportunities for technology talent on the continent, the interesting next step for all of us will be to see how that connects with the other side of the marketplace — that is, the big tech companies themselves and how much they need to and are willing to invest in growing their own workforces. That is not a minor issue, considering the millions that have been laid off so far in the last few months.
Andela, Johnson said, has no plans to raise more capital at the moment with money in the bank and revenues continuing to come in. Last year, it confirmed that it was on an annual revenue run rate of $ 50 million, but it’s not updating that figure at the moment.
Grow Credit, the startup that launched last year to help customers build out their credit scores by providing a credit line for online subscriptions like Spotify and Netflix, has added Mucker Labs as an investor and closed its seed round with $ 2 million in total commitments.
The Los Angeles startup founded by serial entrepreneur Joe Bayen, had been bootstrapped initially and then received funding from a clutch of core angel investors before signing a deal with Mucker earlier this month, according to Bayen.
Using the Marqeta platform, Grow Credit can extend a loan to customers to expand their subscription services. Using the Mastercard network for payments, and Marqeta’s tools to restrict payment access, Grow offers credit facilities to its customers to pay for their monthly subscriptions. By using Grow Credit for those payments, users can improve their credit scores by as much as 61 points in a nine-month span, says Bayen.
The company doesn’t charge any fees for its loans, but users can upgrade their service. The initial tier is free for access to $ 15 of credit, once a user connects their bank account. For a $ 4.99 monthly fee, customers can get up to $ 50 of subscriptions covered by the service. For $ 9.99 that credit line increases to $ 150, Bayen said.
Increases to a user’s credit score can make a significant dent in their costs for things like lease agreements for cars, mortgages for houses and better rates on other credit cards, said Bayen.
“Everything is cheaper, you can get access to a credit card with lower interest rates and better rewards,” he said. “We’re looking at ourselves as the single best route to getting access to an Apple card.”
Additional capital for the new round came from individual investors like DraftKings chief executive, Jason Robins; former National Football League player and hall of famer Ronnie Lott; and Sebastien Deguy, VP of 3D at Adobe.
Coming up, Grow Credit said it has a deal in the works with one very large consumer bank in the U.S. and will be launching the Android version of its app in a few weeks.
Imagine a model of collaborative research and development among hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, universities and other research institutions where no one shared any actual data.
That’s the dream of the new New York-based startup Owkin, which has raised $ 25 million in fresh financing from investors, including Bpifrance Large Venture, Cathay Innovation and MACSF (the French Pension Fund for Clinicians), alongside previous investors GV, F-Prime Capital and Eight Roads.
The company’s pitch is that data scientists, clinical doctors, academics and pharmaceutical companies can all log in to the virtual lab that Owkin calls the Owkin Studio.
In that virtual environment, all parties can access anonymized data sets and models exclusively to refine their own research and development and studies to ensure that the most cutting-edge insights into novel biomarkers, mechanisms of action and predictive models inform the work that all of the relevant parties are doing.
The ultimate goal, the company said, is to improve patient outcomes.
In its quest to get more companies and institutions to open up and share information — with the promise that the information can’t be extracted or used in a way that isn’t allowed by the owners of the data — Owkin is replicating work that other companies are pursuing in fields ranging from healthcare to financial services and beyond.
The Israeli company Qedit has developed similar technologies for the financial services industry, and Sympatic, a recent graduate from one of the recent batches of Techstars companies, is working on a similar technology for the healthcare industry.
Owkin makes money by enabling remote access to the data sets for pharmaceutical companies and licensing the models developed by universities to those companies. It’s a way for the company to entice researchers to join the platform and provide another revenue stream for research institutions who have seen their funding decline over the last 40 years.
“We have a huge loop of academic universities that have access to the data and are developing algorithms and we share data,” said the company’s chief executive Dr. Thomas Clozel. “At the end what it helps is developing better drugs.”
The investment from Owkin’s new and existing investors takes the company to $ 55 million in total capital raised through the extension of its Series A round. In all, the round totaled $ 52 million, Clozet said.
“We are exactly where we need to be because it’s about privacy and privacy is more important than ever before,” said Clozet.
The COVID-19 epidemic has emphasized the need for closer collaboration among different corporations and research institutions, and that has also increased demand for the company’s technology. “It touches everything… We have access to the right data sets and centers to build the best models for COVID,” said Clozet. “We’re lucky to have the right traction before the COVID happens and we have the right research that has been done.”
In fact, the company has launched the Covid-19 Open AI Consortium (COAI), and is using its platform to advance collaborative research and accelerate clinical development of effective treatments for patients infected with the coronavirus, the company said. All of its findings will be shared with the global medical and scientific communities.
The initial focus on the research is on cardiovascular complications in COVID-19 patients in collaboration with CAPACITY, an international registry working with over 50 centers worldwide, the company said. Other areas of research will include patient outcomes and triage, and the prediction and characterization of immune response, according to Owkin.
“Since we first backed Owkin in 2017, we have been sharing its vision to apply AI to fighting one of the most dreadful diseases on earth: cancer,” said Jacky Abitbol, a partner at Cathay Innovation. “Owkin has risen to become a leader in digital health, we are proud to grow our investment in the company to fuel its ambition to pioneer AI for medical research, while preserving patient-privacy and data security.”