The last we heard from Luther.ai, the startup was participating in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in September. The company got a lot of attention from that appearance, which culminated in a $ 3.2 million seed round it announced today. While they were at it, the founders decided to change the company name to Human AI, which they believe better reflects their mission.
Differential VC led the round, joined by Village Global VC, Good Friends VC, Beni VC and Keshif Ventures. David Magerman from Differential will join the startup’s board.
The investors were attracted to Human AI’s personalized kind of artificial intelligence, and co-founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti says the Battlefield appearance led directly to investor interest, which quickly resulted in a deal four weeks later.
“I think overall the messaging of what we delivered at TechCrunch Disrupt regarding an individual personal AI that is secured by blockchain to retain and recall [information] really set the stage for what the company is all about, both from a user standpoint as well as from an investor standpoint,” Kanuganti told me.
As for the name change, he reported that there was some confusion in the market that Luther was an AI assistant like Alexa or a chatbot, and the founders wanted the name to better reflect the personalized nature of the product.
“We are creating AI for the individual and there is so much emphasis on the authenticity and the voice and the thoughts of an individual, and how we also use blockchain to secure ownership of the data. So most of the principle lies in creating this AI for an individual human. So we thought, let’s call it Human AI,” he explained.
As Kanuganti described it in September, the tool allows individuals to search for nuggets of information from past events using a variety of AI technologies:
It’s made possible through a convergence of neuroscience, NLP and blockchain to deliver seamless in-the-moment recall. GPT-3 is built on the memories of the public internet, while Luther is built on the memories of your private self.
The company is still in the process of refining the product and finding its audience, but reports that so far they have found interest from creative people such as writers, professionals such as therapists, high-tech workers interested in AI, students looking to track school work and seniors looking for a way to track their memories for memoir purposes. All of these groups have the common theme of having to find nuggets of information from a ton of signals, and that’s where Human AI’s strength lies.
The company’s diverse founding team includes two women, CTO Sharon Zhang and designer Kristie Kaiser, along with Kanuganti, who is himself an immigrant. The founders want to continue building a diverse organization as they add employees. “I think in general we just want to attract a diverse kind of talent, especially because we are also Human AI and we believe that everyone should have the same opportunity,” Zhang told me.
The company currently has seven full-time employees and a dozen consultants, but with the new funding is looking to hire engineers and AI talent and a head of marketing to push the notion of consumer AI. While the company is remote today and has employees around the world, it will look to build a headquarters at some point post-COVID where some percentage of the employees can work in the same space together.
Openbase founder Lior Grossman started his company the way that many founders do — to solve a problem he was having. In this case, it was finding the right open source components to build his software. He decided to build something to solve the problem, and Openbase was born.
Today, the company announced a $ 3.65 million seed round led by Zeev Ventures with participation from Y Combinator and 20 individual tech industry investors. Openbase was a member of the YC 2020 cohort.
Grossman says that being part of YC helped him meet investors, especially on Demo Day when hundreds of investors listened in. “I would say that being part of YC definitely gave us a higher profile, and exposed us to some investors that I didn’t know before. It definitely opened doors for us,” he said.
As developers build modern software, they often use open source components to help build the application, and Openbase helps them find the best one for their purposes. “Openbase basically helps developers choose from among millions of open source packages,” Grossman told me.
Grossman found that his idea began resonating with developers shortly after he launched in 2019. In fact, he reports that he went from zero to half a million users in the first year without any marketing beyond word of mouth. That’s when he decided to apply to Y Combinator and got into the Summer 2020 class.
The database is free for developers and that has helped build the user base so quickly. Eventually he hopes to monetize by allowing certain companies to promote their packages on the system. He says that these will be clearly marked and that the plan is to have only one promoted package per category. What’s more, they will retain all their user reviews and other associated data, regardless of whether it’s being promoted or not.
Grossman started the company on his own, but has added 5 employees with plans to hire more people this year to keep growing the startup. As an immigrant founder, he is sensitive to diversity and sees building a diverse company as a key goal. “I built this company as an immigrant myself […] and I want to build an inclusive culture with people from different backgrounds because I think that will produce the best environment to foster innovation,” he explained.
So far the company has been fully remote, but the plan is to open an office post-pandemic. He says he sees a highly flexible approach to work though with people spending some days in the office and some at home. “I think for our culture this hybrid approach will work. Whenever we expand further I obviously imagine having more offices and not only our office in San Francisco.”
We are more than seven years into the notion of modern containerization, and it still requires a complex set of tools and a high level of knowledge on how containers work. The DockerSlim open source project developed several years ago from a desire to remove some of that complexity for developers.
Slim.ai, a new startup that wants to build a commercial product on top of the open source project, announced a $ 6.6 million seed round today from Boldstart Ventures, Decibel Partners, FXP Ventures and TechAviv Founder Partners.
Company co-founder and CEO John Amaral says he and fellow co-founder and CTO Kyle Quest have worked together for years, but it was Quest who started and nurtured DockerSlim. “We started coming together around a project that Kyle built called DockerSlim. He’s the primary author, inventor and up until we started doing this company, the sole proprietor of that of that community,” Amaral explained.
At the time Quest built DockerSlim in 2015, he was working with Docker containers and he wanted a way to automate some of the lower level tasks involved in dealing with them. “I wanted to solve my own pain points and problems that I had to deal with, and my team had to deal with dealing with containers. Containers were an exciting new technology, but there was a lot of domain knowledge you needed to build production-grade applications and not everybody had that kind of domain expertise on the team, which is pretty common in almost every team,” he said.
He originally built the tool to optimize container images, but he began looking at other aspects of the DevOps lifecycle including the author, build, deploy and run phases. He found as he looked at that, he saw the possibility of building a commercial company on top of the open source project.
Quinn says that while the open source project is a starting point, he and Amaral see a lot of areas to expand. “You need to integrate it into your developer workflow and then you have different systems you deal with, different container registries, different cloud environments and all of that. […] You need a solution that can address those needs and doing that through an open source tool is challenging, and that’s where there’s a lot of opportunity to provide premium value and have a commercial product offering,” Quinn explained.
Ed Sim, founder and general partner at Boldstart Ventures, one of the seed investors sees a company bringing innovation to an area of technology where it has been lacking, while putting some more control in the hands of developers. “Slim can shift that all left and give developers the power through the Slim tools to answer all those questions, and then, boom, they can develop containers, push them into production and then DevOps can do their thing,” he said.
They are just 15 people right now including the founders, but Amaral says building a diverse and inclusive company is important to him, and that’s why one of his early hires was head of culture. “One of the first two or three people we brought into the company was our head of culture. We actually have that role in our company now, and she is a rock star and a highly competent and focused person on building a great culture. Culture and diversity to me are two sides of the same coin,” he said.
The company is still in the very early stages of developing that product. In the meantime, they continue to nurture the open source project and to build a community around that. They hope to use that as a springboard to build interest in the commercial product, which should be available some time later this year.
Coral reefs all over the world are struggling to survive, with millions of people and billions of dollars in business that rely on them at risk — on top of the fundamental tragedy of losing such a crucial ecosystem. Coral Vita aims to modernize both coral restoration techniques and the economy surrounding them, and has raised a $ 2 million seed round to kick things off in earnest.
I wrote about Coral Vita late in 2019 when I encountered co-founder Gator Halpern on the Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s Accelerator at Sea. At the time, the operation was both smaller and under siege by Hurricane Dorian, which wiped out the team’s coral farm in the Bahamas — and then, of course, the pandemic arrived just in time to spoil the team’s 2020 plans along with everyone else’s.
But despite the general chaos of the last year, Coral Vita managed to start and at last close a $ 2 million round, with the intention to come back bigger and better and demonstrate a new global model for the field.
“We decided rather than just rebuilding our pilot farm to that pilot level, we’d just take the next step forward in our journey. We really believe this is an opportunity to jump start a restoration economy,” said Sam Teicher, co-founder and chief reef officer.
To picture how reef restoration looks today, imagine (as Teicher invited me to) an underwater garden near the shore, with floating ropes and structures on which grow coral fragments that are occasionally harvested and transported to the area in need of young, healthy corals.
“But when you think about the scale of the problem — half the world’s reef are dead and the other half are predicted to die in the next 30 years — relying on underwater facilities isn’t possible,” he said.
The plan Coral Vita has is to transition away from ocean-based farms to land facilities that allow for much improved yield and survivability, and employ advanced techniques to speed up coral’s growth and increase its survival rate. One such technique is coral fragmenting, developed by the restoration community at large, in which corals are broken up into tiny pieces, which can grow as much as 50 times faster in aggregate. And by doing so on land they can exert much more control over the coral’s attributes.
“We’ve got tanks on land with clean sea water pumping through and the ability, among other things, to control conditions,” he explained. “So if you think of what it’ll be like off the coast of Grand Bahama in 40-50 years, we can essentially simulate that to harden the corals against those conditions. Up front, an ocean-based nursery is much cheaper, but when you start thinking about the need to grow millions or billions of corals around the world, land-based facilities start to look a lot more realistic. The cost goes down with scale, too — ocean-based nurseries go to about $ 30-$ 40 per coral; we can get it down to $ 10 as we get up to a hundred or a thousand tanks.”
Not only is the physical scale limited at present, but the income sources are as well: Often it’s government money instead of the inexhaustible well of private cash. Coral Vita hopes to be able to change that by increasing and diversifying supply and going directly to those affected.
“We’re trying to transform the space away from grants and aid — we’re selling to customers that depend on the ecosystems of reefs,” Teicher said. “If you’re a hotel that relies on scuba or snorkel tourists, if you’re a coastal property owner or insurer, a government, a development bank, a cruise line, you can hire Coral Vita to restore the reefs that you work on.”
This superficially mercenary business model where commercially important reefs get priority wouldn’t be necessary, of course, if governments and industry hadn’t systematically neglected these reefs to begin with. Not that privately funded projects are somehow fundamentally tainted, but this type of restoration work tends to be seen as the milieu of nonprofits and government agencies. One might consider this approach a direct, if late, tax that cuts out the government middle man.
The fact is this is globally crucial work that needs to start now, not in five or 10 years when the correct conservation funds are organized by concerned parties. Every month counts when reefs are actively deteriorating, and private money is the only realistic option to scale up fast and do what needs to be done. Plus, as the process becomes cheaper, it becomes easier to fund projects without commercial backing.
“On top of that is the ability to innovate,” added Teicher. “What we’re trying to do with this round is to make advances to the science and engineering, including 3D printing and robotics in the process. We’re launching R&D projects not just for restoration but protection.”
He cited Tom Chi, co-founder of Google X and an early advisor and investor, as someone who has pushed on the automation side, comparing the industry to agriculture, where robotics is currently having a transformative effect.
Proving out the scalable land-based farms opens up the possibility of a global presence, as well — lowering costs and lead times for corals to be brought to where they’re needed.
“We’re at a point where we need to rethink adaptation and how to fund it,” said Teicher. “The two-year plan is to launch more farms in other countries — ultimately we want this to be the biggest coral farm that ever existed.”
Leading the $ 2 million round was the environment-focused Builders Collective, with participation from Apollo Projects’ Max Altman and baseball’s Max and Erica Scherzer. Earlier investors (in a pre-seed or “seed one” round) include the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, Tom Chi as mentioned, Adam Draper, Yale University, and Sven and Kristin Lindblad.
Rendin, an Estonian proptech startup that wants to improve the home rental experience, including offering a no-deposit feature, has raised €1.2 million in seed funding. Backing the round is Tera Ventures, Iron Wolf Capital, Truesight Ventures, Atomico’s Angel Programme, and Startup Wise Guys.
Launched in Estonia in March this year and currently expanding to Poland, Rendin operates a long-term rental platform that promises to smooth out the process between landlords and tenants. Its headline feature is an insurance-backed solution that means no deposit is required from tenants.
The broader premise is that by digitising the rental process and adding an insurance layer, further trust can be generated between parties, therefore increasing occupancy rates.
For landlords, Rendin has created a “letting agreement service” with certain guarantees and has insured those risks via a partnership with ERGO Insurance SE (Munich Re Group). So, for example, if a tenant causes damage or ends up in debt, the property owner is covered. The letting agreement is handled via the startup’s app and platform that plugs into rental marketplaces and real estate CRMs on the backend to provide a fully digital experience.
“We launched publicly in Estonia on March 10th, 2020, two days before the country went into pandemic lockdown,” Rendin co-founder Alain Aun tells me. “It really looked like the world was going to fall apart and a lot of the risks in home renting skyrocketed. We had to reinvent some parts of our product insurance very quickly to adjust to the changes around us.
“Suddenly we had desperate tenants losing their income, expats leaving the country in a hurry, and more. Our learning curve was tremendous. We figured, if we can survive this, we can survive anything. The last eleven months have been constant proof to us that the concept of Rendin can endure”.
Longer term, Rendin is building what Aun describes as “a new standard in home renting”. The first step is to manage the rental process risks to help establish trust between landlords and tenants. This has seen the proptech startup build an “end-to-end value chain,” from contracting, evidence-based handover, preventive insurance flows, loss control, and claim handling.
Aun says Rendin’s insurance product offers landlords more safety than regular deposits, while some risks for tenants are also covered. “The insurance is a tool that helps Rendin to solve real-life, often complicated situations in renting, both for landlords and tenants,” he explains. “Tenants in the Rendin platform don’t have to pay the security deposit, but this is just a feature, not the core product. Trust is the name of the game”.
To generate revenue and cover the insurance costs, Rendin charges a fee of 2.5 percent of the monthly rent. It can be paid by the tenant or by the landlord. “More and more landlords choose to pay the Rendin fee themselves as it helps find new tenants faster,” adds Aun.
On the competition, Rendin isn’t competing with real estate listing sites or letting agencies, and instead can be thought of more as a plugin that can be easily integrated into listing sites and agents’ business processes.
“There are a few no-deposit startups around but their business models, although similar at first glance, are entirely different from ours,” claims the Rendin co-founder. “Most of them are set up to be essentially lending businesses that collect interest from tenants with real estate agencies serving up demand for them, but they don’t really do anything to help mitigate risks for the parties [involved]”.
Joining a seed stage company is a huge risk, but there is also a risk to the founders having their equity stake diluted with each funding round. How can an early hire protect themselves from poor contract terms or unreasonable equity dilution?
Participating in the growth of a business is tough for everyone involved. How can you get hurt and how can you protect yourself from getting hurt?
StepZen, a new startup from the crew who gave you Apigee (which was sold to Google in 2016 for $ 625 million) had a different vision for their latest company. They are building a single API that pulls data from disparate sources to help developers deliver more complex customer experiences online.
With years of experience working with APIs, the founders wanted to take that a step further says CEO and co-founder Anant Jhingran. “StepZen is a product that lets front end developers easily create and consume one API for all the data they need from the back end,” he explained.
This is all in the service of providing a smoother, more consistent customer experience. That means whether you are on an eCommerce site accessing your order history or a banking app grabbing your current balance, these scenarios require pulling data from various back end data resources. Connecting to those resources is a time-consuming task and StepZen wants to simplify that for developers.
“Developers spend an enormous amount of time deploying and managing code that accesses the back end, and what StepZen wants to do is to give them that time back,” he said.
Instead of manually writing code to pull this data, StepZen enables developers to simply provide configuration information and credentials to connect to these back end data sources, and then it builds a single API that handles all of the heavy lifting of pulling that data and presenting it when needed.
Jhingran uses the example of presenting a list of open orders for a customer. It sounds simple enough, but once you consider that the data could live in several places including the CRM system, the order system or with your courier, that means accessing at least three separate and highly disparate systems. StepZen will help pull this all together via its API and present it smoothly to the user.
Today the company has 11 employees including the three founders with plans to add another 8 or so in 2021. As they do that, CBO and co-founder Helen Whelan says that they are working to build a diverse and inclusive company. While the founding team is itself diverse, they want to hire employees with diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking to build the most complete product and company.
“For the first 10 or so employees, we tapped into the networks of the people who’ve worked with, people who you know can do a great job. Then I think it’s about deliberately expanding from there and deliberately taking the time that you need to explore and expand your pipeline of candidates,” she said.
The company is just 9 months old and has been spending most of this year building the solution and working with pre-alpha users. Today the product is in alpha with plans to release it as a software service early next year.
As the company emerges from stealth, it’s looking to continue building the product and looking for ways to remove as much complexity as possible. “We know how to do the hard things on the back end. We’ve got the database technologies and the API technologies down, and it’s now about finding how to make all of that simple on the outside and easy for developers to use, ” Whelan said.
Surrogate.tv, the remote play and teleoperations platform, has announced raising a seed round of investment, led by Supernode Global and followed by PROfounders, Brighteye Ventures, and Business Finland. The new investment round allows Surrogate to continue to actively develop its ultra-low-latency streaming and robotics control software suite, SurroRTG, while enabling new experiences on its platform….
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