Archive for the ‘y combinator’ tag
Ready for a sky full of robo-planes?
Airware, a company that’s building the brains and guts for commercial unmanned drones, is announcing this morning that they’ve raised a big ol’ $10.7M Series A.
The round is led by Andreessen Horowitz, and backed by Google Ventures (Cue the conspiracy theories about why Google’s venture arm is puttin’ money into drones in 3…2…) As part of the round, Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon will be joining Airware’s board.
To be clear, Airware doesn’t make drones — they make the brains for drones. If you were to order something from Airware, you’d get a logic board (which handles things like auto-pilot, wireless communication, etc.) and all of the actuators and sensors you’d probably want to put in a drone.
The word “drone” can be a bit spooky. The first thing most folks think of when they hear “drone” (or “unmanned aircraft”) is their crazy controversial (and, yes, pretty terrifying) use by the world’s militaries.
That’s a shame, though. Like all technology, drones are not inherently evil — nor are they all killing machines. There are a bunch of completely innocent uses for drones — none of which involve shootin’ you from the sky or getting all Big Brother-y, and all of which are only made feasible by having a robot soaring a few thousand feet above the ground.
Over in Kenya, Airware-powered drones are being built to monitor the dwindling population of Northern White Rhinos to combat poaching. Head for the slopes, and companies are working on building drones to search for lost skiers. Other teams, meanwhile, are working on drones that use high-res infrared cameras to monitor their infrastructure for damaged power or gas lines. Vaccine delivery! Air quality research!
It’s important to make that distinction, as Airware doesn’t seem all that interested in working with the military. While they don’t rule out the possibility moving forward, Airware CEO Jonathan Downey tells me that not a one of their dozens of customers are military-focused.
(Plus, the U.S. military is already spending a few billion a year on their own drone research. They’re probably pretty good to go on their own.)
Instead, Airware wants to fill the gap between the massively-funded military drone work and the nascent DIY drone (or “personal UAV” — yeah, it exists) community.
While Airware came into existence back in 2011, Downey actually found his love for drones while studying at MIT a few years prior. He and a few friends entered a drone-building competition, and were surprised at just how limited and black-boxy all of the available drone tech was. A few years and a stint at Boeing later, Jonathan dove into building drones full time, raising a small seed round to get the ball rolling.
By the end of last year, that money had run dry. Through a twist of fate and a bit of good timing, the company made it into Y Combinator’s Winter 2013 class just as the FAA was opening up U.S. airspace to commercial drones. 4 months and one big YC demo day later, the company’s $10.4M Series A is the biggest post-Demo Day round in YC history.
App integration startup Zapier has launched a new API status dashboard, a tool that can help developers and companies identify downtime for nearly 200 APIs.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Zapier’s main offering allows users to streamline connections between about 200 different web apps and APIs. It was created in such a way that even non-coders can be build intergrations between tools. Zapier recently grabbed a few headlines when it raised $1.2 million in seed funding from Bessemer Venture Partners and Draper Fisher Jurvetson after attracting attention from Y Combinator.
The company was already tracking all of these APIS and says it performs “hundreds of millions of API requests” each month, so it made sense to offer this new solution. Any company that relies on more than a few APIs and needs a free way to monitor them
Zapier co-founder and CEO Wade Foster told VentureBeat that this new solution is better than dashboards such as Amazon Web Services, Basecamp, and 37Signals because this gives status information for many services in one place.
“The way you [normally] find out about API downtime is by making a call to the API and realizing it’s busted, but usually people don’t think it’s busted right away,” Foster said via email. “They assume something must be wrong with their code and start investigating.”
Image via Zapier
Filed under: Dev
The price of airfare is an ongoing point of frustration for travelers, especially considering that it feels like airlines find every conceivable opportunity to shake you down for a few more bucks. Many startups and businesses have come and gone trying to find a way to give leisure travelers access to cheaper airfare, as airlines just keep shutting them down. The reason? Airlines make more money off business travelers, who are less flexible in their travel dates and destinations, so, while they’re open to the idea of offering discounts to the average leisure traveler, they don’t want to include both.
Y Combinator alum, GetGoing, launched in March with a model that it hopes will finally incentivize airlines to offer discounts to leisure travelers, in part, by giving them a fool-proof way of identifying them — and filling those unsold seats. The catch, however, is that GetGoing asks users to relinquish the choice over their final destination in return for tickets that are up to 40 percent less expensive.
It’s a hard pill to swallow at first, but it’s necessary to ensure airlines that you are actually a leisure traveler. In other words, users sign in, search for routes to over 1,000 destinations in 50 countries, then pick their top two destinations, whereupon GetGoing (randomly) decides where you’re headed. If you know where you want to go, it’s probably not for you, but if you’re flexible on whether you take the family to the Bahamas or Puerto Rico, GetGoing may be up your alley.
Of course, understanding the limitations of their so-called “Pick Two, Get One” platform, GetGoing is today expanding its service to offer a personalized flight search engine that aims to find better prices and cheaper alternatives. FlightFinder, as its called, allows anyone and everyone to search by location, regions or experiences (like scuba diving, safaris, etc.). The idea is to make it easier for flexible travelers to find more affordable airfare by offering variety.
In other words, if one searches for Maui, FlightFinder will return the best prices for both Maui, along with cheaper routes and airfare from nearby destinations, like Honolulu and Kauai, for example. Or, if you’re not quite sure where you want to go, but know you want to go some place warm, you can search for “beaches” or “snorkeling,” and GetGoing will serve up a few affordable options.
While FlightFinder still requires an element of flexibility on the traveler’s part if they’re going to find the best deal, it expands the traditionally limited scope of flight search, discovery and booking. It also adds much-needed flight search and booking functionality alongside its flight deals platform.
Yes, GetGoing has an uphill battle against sites like Kayak and Hipmunk, both of which have changed the way people search for and book flights, making it more expansive, transparent and efficient. For business travelers who know where they’re headed, it’s pretty difficult to beat Kayak, especially as it expands to offer complementary services directly, like hotel and adventure booking. But the GetGoing founders think there’s still room to improve online travel booking for leisure travelers by expanding the scope of results beyond one particular location or destination.
The new service adds an option for less-flexible travelers, while still unlocking discounts that Kayak might not pick up — or at least that’s the idea. While its Pick Two, Get One platform offers deals on flights to over 50 countries, FlightFinder is accessible to pretty much every flight to pretty much anywhere. However, at this point, GetGoing is only facilitating bookings for flights that originate in the U.S., but it plans to expand support to international users in the near future.
“Silicon Valley doesn’t have a monopoly on brilliant entrepreneurs and founders,” Derek Andersen tells me over coffee, “so we want to find them wherever they live, give them a stage and an opportunity to share their hard-won experiences with those who need it and might benefit from it.” That mission statement sounds like it might have come from one of the founders or mentors of Y Combinator, 500 Startups, DreamIt, AngelPad or Seedcamp. But Andersen isn’t a venture capitalist, nor is he building yet another accelerator or incubator. He’s not even interested in equity.
It sounds crazy, right? But Andersen is talking about Startup Grind, an events-based community for entrepreneurs he founded in 2010. For those unfamiliar, the company grew out the casual, episodic meetings Andersen had with friends and fellow entrepreneurs in his office in Mountain View, in which they’d gather at night to brainstorm, give feedback on ideas and business models and talk about being an entrepreneur. The meetings were productive, so Andersen decided to make them a monthly thing.
Startup Grind had its first event in February 2010 with nine people in attendance and the numbers have grown steadily since. It launched its first chapter outside of Silicon Valley in LA in December 2011. Seven months later, Startup Grind now has monthly events in 20 cities worldwide (Austin, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Toronto, Ottawa, Baltimore, Singapore, Tel Aviv, London and Sydney — to name a few) and the founder wants to be in 30 by year’s end.
But what does “being in” these cities entail? Andersen says he thinks of Startup Grind as being TED for startups and founders. Or one might think of it as an entrepreneurial Elk’s Club or a national, self-sustaining of local affiliate networks … a la Fight Club.
That means Startup Grind hosts monthly meetups in each of its affiliate cities, in which any and all entrepreneurs and founders can participate. These groups talk about the startup hustle, network, share notes on investors and partnerships, all of which is framed around keynotes or interviews given by local veterans, who share their knowledge and advice with the community. The founders of Pinterest, Digg, About.me, AngelList, Zaarly, Meetup, along with names like Jeff Clavier, Steve Blank and Dave McClure have all spoken at Startup Grind events in Silicon Valley.
Naturally, Andersen wants the Steve Blanks and Dave McClures of the world to be speaking at events in every city. So, initially, he and team would launch Startup Grind in nearby cities themselves, but entrepreneurs began taking the initiative themselves and now anyone (in any city can apply).
But that doesn’t mean everyone is getting accepted. Says the Startup Grind founder: “We’ve turned down the majority of requests to start new chapter. We’re very picky about making sure we find the best possible people in local markets to represent our community. We’ll start in just about any city, as long as we find the right person.”
If accepted, each city’s “Local Chapter Director” manages and runs their local network and community, organizing events and recruiting speakers. The team wants events to be the same everywhere, meaning that attending a “Fireside Chat” in Toronto should feel just the same as it would in Timbuktu, with an emphasis on “building meaningful relationships,” Andersen says.
That sounds great, but idealism only goes so far. There are a lot of valuable entrepreneurial communities and networks developing around accelerators, hacker events, and more. Andersen says that they really want to “keep it real,” acknowledging that everyone fails and struggles when building a company, no matter what level. Even the founders of Pinterest, or Steve Blank, have had moments of brilliance and despair, and Startup Grind wants to give equal value and voice to both sides.
When asked about the value for his city, Toronto Chapter Director Michael Caley said,
We saw an opportunity to connect the scene in Ontario to other hubs and the hottest topics in Silicon Valley. Startup Grind is a chance for us to crawl up out of the trenches and survey the whole battlefield. Having that perspective makes everyday at our startup more meaningful. Startup Grind Toronto has delivered a series of events to highlight the shifting context of early stage finance. In order to compete, Toronto needs to take these stories to heart.
So, while accelerators and incubators are known for accepting only a tiny percentage of startups that apply, Startup Grind provides a networking and educational venue for the other 97 percent. It doesn’t charge “dues” to its local affiliates, and the founder says that the team is trying to recruit the same people who help educate Y Combinator and TechStars companies, only instead prompting them to share their experience and knowledge with the local startup ecosystem.
The company brings on sponsorships for each event (like Bing, Google, local law firms, and others) and charges at its events, which the team believes can help create a more resolute crowd for networking. Startup Grind offers a rev-share deal for its local communities, but Andersen says the majority of money the events make goes to the organizers, who put it towards future costs and recruiting. Today, the company has a small staff and is profitable.
Communities like Startup Weekend, AngelHack and Lean Startup Machine are all providing great ways for founders and hackers to collaborate, learn and help build networks in their communities — and the more, the merrier. The world is a big place, and not all innovation is (or should be) happening in or around the Bay Area.
We’re hoping to build a community that acknowledges that, even in Silicon Valley, where the startup grass is always greener, building a startup is hard and can rattle the self confidence of even the most rugged lone wolf — and that can be a serious comfort and motivator to entrepreneurs all over the world.
Backed by Y Combinator, 500 Startups and SV Angel, Scoutzie launches today to give people looking for great mobile designers an online place to find the best of the best.
Because good design comes through a series of quality checks, the Scoutzie community vets all potential designers, either through a formal portfolio review or through a members-only invite process. This review process has resulted in 500 top notch members of the Scoutzie community and around 1,500 applicants who didn’t make the cut.
Some of the more prominent members of Scoutzie include the designer behind the Instagram icon, the Pair app and the Airbnb logo. Like everybody else in the world right now, the site is focused on mobile design, but founders Kirill Zubovsky and Jennifer Toda tell me that most designers’ efforts can be rerouted to web if need be.
To use Scoutzie as a consumer, visit the site and submit a design proposal, providing a product description, budget and deadline. Designers view the bid on the Scoutzie backend and contact you if it seems like a fit.
Zubovsky and Toda insist that Scoutzie is more like a traditional design agency like FJORD or Happy Cog than its most obvious competitor 99Designs, and hold that the curation of the community and emphasis on quality versus getting the cheapest possible option is what sets them apart from the aforementioned.
“In the past, when companies needed design, they would hire a big firm that would come in on site and charge you a lot of money. Thanks to the Internet, clients and individual designers can now connect directly,” says Zubosky. “It’s our goal to build a set of tools that make it really efficient for designers to connect with clients directly, in such way that designers and the end-customers could retain the money otherwise spent on the overhead.”
The startup, which monetizes by taking a 10% cut of all projects arranged via the site (versus an agency’s traditional 50% cut), is currently focused on building community feedback tools to encourage its members to feel at home and valued — which even further sets it apart from 99Designs.
TechCrunch readers interested in trying out Scoutzie can get 10% off their next project by typing in “ScoutzieTC” as a referral code here.
Attention (TechCrunch Product Manager) Christine Ying and Ned Desmond: Maybe we should use this to redesign? Right? Please?
Y Combinator Winter 2012 graduate Data Nitro (formerly known as IronSpread) has a simple proposition: it enables you to to use the popular programming language Python in Microsoft Excel. The plugin is free for individual non-commercial and enterprises will pay for the privilege. So far it’s only available for the Excel 2007 and 2010 for Windows. The company has no plans to support OSX.
The good news: You can still use all your old VBA scripts, Data Nitro won’t stop them from working. Plus you can use existing Python libraries. The bad news: anyone you send the spreadsheet to will need to install the plugin in order to run the Python script.
Noodle Labs, the mobile development startup that’s part of Y Combinator’s summer batch, launches today with its newest product: An iPhone and web app called Everyday.me. Co-founders Yu-Kuan Lin (a former Googler who worked on Maps, specifically for China), Weiting Liu (already a YC alum) and Yu-Te Lin (a former engineering lead at Wyse) describe their new app as “Evernote for your life.”
In other words, Everyday.me is a mobile and web-based notebook, with bells and whistles, which allows you to record your life and save those updates indefinitely. It’s a bit like Facebook Timeline were it plugged into all of your social networks and were it tailored to be a personal journal in one timeline.
To that point, an even bigger differentiator and likely a point of appeal for many, is that Everyday.me is a private, personal journal. Users can plug in their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles so that each feed is funneled into the app (with Foursquare, Tumblr next up for integration as well as life-logging apps like Nike+ and Fitbit) and can then tag using Twitter-style hashtags to organize and group posts so they’re easier to digest.
If you’re looking to tame your Twitter feed, it’s not a bad way to organize them, especially if you’re looking for that kind of functionality within the framework of a note-taking and journalizer. Everyday.me adds to its own feed, then, with some basic emoticons and integrates with your iPhone’s camera, so you can upload pics directly.
The founders also said that perhaps the most important aspect of Everyday.me is that it’s available everywhere, on the Web, on your phone (although a few mobile platforms would argue it’s not everywhere, at least not natively), offline and via email. The latter is a nifty little feature, taking a page out of Posterous’ book, meaning that users can update Everyday.me directly from their inbox by sending their emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The co-founders have developed a Quarterly Report, which will will offer a deluxe print edition of your timeline (complete with infographics), inspired by the Feltron Report. And, for the nostalgic among us, the app has a “Blast From The Past” feature, which sends you (via email) a social media update on where you were on that day in the past.
Everyday.me is obviously competing with a whole mess of different micro-blogging, journalizing, note-taking and life-logging apps and services, so it has plenty of work ahead. The team will have to nail the user experience to set itself apart from the pack and to help do that, I’d really like to see it be translated to tablets. The team says they’re working on an iPad version, but has no timeline for launch as of yet.
You know that frustrating feeling when you order clothes online and they fit really poorly, like the target demographic is some weird mix of Kim Kardashian and Yao Ming?
Tang came up with the idea for Vastrm, which is a Sanskrit word for cloth, when a customer told him he had purchased a perfect shirt in Italy and has never been able to find the same fit again. He was considering flying back to Italy to track the shirt maker down, but Jonathan managed to adjust Vastrm shirts to the same fit.
“If you could simply order online (like music and books) and ensure you are getting the right fit, e-commerce sites would probably sell a lot more product and get a lot less returns,” Tang says.
While a number of companies, like BleuFlamme, J. Hilburn and Blank Label, offer very similar services for dress shirts, Vastrm focuses exclusively (for now) on polo shirts, targeting golfers and corporate clients.
You can go on Vastrm’s site and take a short quiz, entering height, weight, body type and waist size, to “optimize size selection.” Vastrm has an algorithm that recommends 2-3 of their fit types (slim, sport and relaxed) to suit your body type. The company then ships you a few sample polos for free to try on.
Once you know your fit, you can go online and make any other size adjustments you want. Tang says they mostly receive adjustments to add or subtract an inch or so from the shirt and sleeve length, but are capable of doing far more alterations. Vastrm saves your fit so you don’t have to do the measuring process every time you want a shirt.
You can then select the fabric and different styles for the collar, cuff, pocket, vent, buttons and even an optional golf tee pocket. After you finalize your order, you’ll get your customized polo in about three weeks.
The company also gives you a few suggested shirts in case you’re overwhelmed by all the options. Sadly, there’s no Shooter McGavin look, though (I checked). Tang tells me they are just doing polos for now, but expects to expand to long-sleeve polos, henleys, t-shirts and more in the next six-twelve months.
Tang showed me the process in our San Francisco office and I’ve got to say, I’m impressed. The prices aren’t cheap, but they aren’t ridiculous especially given what other companies in the space charge, and the customization is very cool. Waiting three weeks for the shirt is the biggest negative to me, but luckily it’s always golfing weather in Palo Alto.
Many businesses begin with a simple, and then nagging, frustration. For Christian Yang and Neil Joglekar, it began with Entourage. Well, after Entourage. In college, as big fans of the show, they found themselves continually searching for clips of their favorite one-liners or the best scenes so that they could share them with friends. Naturally, after numerous fruitless searches, they quickly grew frustrated by the inability to find and share their favorite clips.
So, in 2008, Yang and Joglekar founded ReelSurfer out of their Stanford dorm room, developing technology to allow people to sift through the mountains of video content on the Web to find that elusive 30-second clip. Today, ReelSurfer is officially launching in public beta and, in turn, the startup is announcing that it has joined the summer batch of Y Combinator startups.
Since moving out of their dorm, the co-founders have been boot-strapping, testing and iterating on their product as part of a multi-year-long private beta. ReelSurfer set out to solve the problem of finding the right video clips online, which, using YouTube as an example, can often be a fool’s errand. So the co-founders developed technology to convert long-form video into 30-second clips, allowing users to then save, share and buy that content.
Initially, ReelSurfer took shape as a white-label solution, providing its video search and processing capabilities to universities and media networks, for example, enabling them to create a centralized hub for their digital video content, along with archiving (and organizing) news or classroom footage for future use.
The startup has since built an impressive roster of advisors, which include William Fay (the executive producer of 300, The Hangover and Independence Day), Yahoo Senior Director Anand Chandrasekaran, Carl Rosendahl (founder of PDI, which sold to DreamWorks and the executive producer of Antz) and Morphlabs Biz Dev VP Margo Drakos.
As part of its public launch today, the Menlo Park-based startup now allows anyone and everyone to clip and share any video from any website. To clip a video, users enter the video URL on ReelSurfer’s website or use their bookmarklet. From there, users can combine and organize clips into reels and share them with friends.
But why would you want to make clips, you ask? Joglekar says that, in the end, the whole point of sharing video is to have someone watch it, but the sad truth about our attention spans is that videos lose half their audience if they’re longer than 15 seconds. So, by keeping it short, you increase your chances of becoming a video star.
As to ReelSurfer’s own intended audience: The co-founder sees the platform having appeal to, say, friends who want to trade one liners from movies, or a bride who wants to share her wedding vows, Kickstarter clips, or maybe colleagues swapping cat videos.
As part of its launch, the startup is also adding advanced profiles so that users can link their reel collections to one central page, as well as built-in clip commenting.
For more, ReelSurfer’s homepage here.
Popular wisdom has it that tablets are great for consuming content but aren’t that useful for creating it. Don’t tell that to Josh Leong, though. His Y Combinator-backed startup, Grid, is based around the idea that a tablet should be a great place for spreadsheets. Indeed, as Leong told me earlier this week, his idea is to reinvent the spreadsheet around touch, all the tools and sensors available on mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad, and the way normal people (as opposed to Excel power users) actually use them.
Grid is launching in beta for iPhone and iPad today and you can sign up for an invite here. There are still some features missing in this beta, but you can already use Grid’s collaboration tools and get a feel for its ingenious “Maestro” user interface.
From Excel To Grid
The fact that Leong, Grid’s CEO and designer, is interested in spreadsheets and knows a lot about how people use them is no coincidence. He was the designer of Microsoft’s upcoming Excel 2013, after all. Most people, Leong told me, use spreadsheets like Excel for just about everything, whether that’s to keep track of their investment accounts or their wedding plans. The tools in Excel are built around power users, however, who write their own VBA scripts and juggle massive spreadsheets. The fact that people can do all of these different things using the same tool, Leong said, is a testament to the flexibility of the original idea of the spreadsheet.
Once you get to a mobile device, spreadsheets can be about a lot more than just numbers. By using a mobile device, after all, you now have access to location data, can add photos and movies and access contacts from your phone (or Facebook) with just a few clicks. This allows you, as the company puts it, “to organize and work with them in a whole new intuitive way.” By giving Grid local access to your contacts, for example, you can add so-called “people tiles” to your spreadsheets (useful when you’re using it to organize your wedding party, for example) and using its location feature allows you to quickly add an annotated map to your spreadsheets. Grid also allows you to draw sketches and put them into a cell. In addition, you can also invite others to work on a project with you in real time.
One feature that’s still missing, though, is actually running spreadsheet-style calculations on your numbers in Grid. The Grid team promises that this feature is coming in one of the next versions.
For a spreadsheet app, by the way, Grid is surprisingly visual, so to get a good idea for what it’s all about, take a look at the company’s demo video below:
One feature that really stands out here is Grid’s Maestro input system (“simply the best way to put things into the Grid”). Just touch a square and swipe left to bring up Grid’s input options and right to bring up more advanced options. While Microsoft is moving toward radial menus for its new Office apps, Leong believes that using his system based on swipe gestures makes you feel more connected with your data and is a more natural way to interact with the app. This system also scales very well and, for example, allows you to select multiple cells at the same time.
Here is what this looks like in practice:
As Leong told me, his vision is for Grid to “build something that gets more awesome because of the things that people are creating with it.” The current version of the app is still very basic, but it already shows a clear vision of what a modern spreadsheet app can look like on a mobile device.