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LA-based A-Frame, a developer of celebrity-led personal care brands, raises cash for its brand incubator

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A-Frame, a Los Angeles-based developer of personal care brands supported by celebrities, has raised $2 million in a new round of funding led by Initialized Capital.

Joining Initialized in the round is the serial entrepreneur Moise Emquies, whose previous clothing lines, Ella Moss and Splendid, were acquired by the fashion holding company VFC in 2017.

A-Frame previously raised a seed round backed by cannabis dispensary Columbia Care. The company’s first product is a hand soap, Keeper. Other brands in suncare and skincare, children and babycare, and bath and body will follow, the company said.

“We partner with the investment groups at the agencies,” said company founder and chief executive, Ari Bloom. “We start interviewing different talent, speaking with their agents and their managers. We create an entity that we spin out. I wouldn’t say that we compete with the agencies.”

So far, the company has worked with CAA, UTA and WME on all of the brands in development, Bloom said. Two new brands should launch in the next couple of weeks.

As part of the round, actor, activist, and author Hill Harper has joined the company as a co-founder and as the company’s chief strategy officer. Emquies is also joining the company as its chief brand officer.

“Hill is my co-founder. He and I have worked together for a number of years. He’s with me at the holding company level. Identifying the opportunities,” said Bloom. “He’s bridging the gap between business and talent. He’s a part of the conversations when we talk to the agencies, managers and the talent. He’s a great guy that I think has a lot of respect in the agency and talent world.”

Initialized General Partner Alda Leu Dennis took point on the investment for Initialized and will take a seat on the company’s board of directors alongside Emquies. Other directors include Columbia Care chief executive, Nicholas Vita, and John D. Howard, the chief executive of Irving Place Capital.

“For us the calculus was to look at personal care and see what categories need to be reinvented because of sustainability,” said Bloom. “It was important to us once we get to a category what is the demographic opportunity. Even if categories were somewhat evolved they’re not all the way there… everything is in non-ingestible personal care. When you have a celebrity focused brand you want to focus on franchise items.”

The Keeper product is a subscription-based model for soap concentrates and cleansing hand sprays.

A serial entrepreneur, Bloom’s last business was the AR imaging company, Avametric, which was backed by Khosla Ventures and Y Combinator and wound up getting acquired by Gerber Technology in 2018. Bloom is also a founder of the Wise Sons Delicatessen in San Francisco.

“We first invested in Avametric at Initialized in 2013 and he had experience prior to that as well. From a venture perspective I think of these all around real defensibility of brand building,” said Dennis.

The investors believe that between Bloom’s software for determining market preferences, A-Frame’s roster of celebrities and the company’s structure as a brand incubator, all of the ingredients are in place for a successful direct to consumer business.

However, venture capitalists have been down this road before. The Honest Co. was an early attempt to build a sustainable brand around sustainable personal care products. Bloom said Honest provided several lessons for his young startup, one of them being a knowledge of when a company has reached the peak of its growth trajectory and created an opportunity for other, larger companies to take a business to the next level.

“Our goal is a three-to-seven year horizon that is big enough at a national scale that a global player can come in and internationally scale it,” said Bloom.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 will land on phones in Q1 2021

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As promised, more info following yesterday’s Snapdragon 888 announcement. First off, as expected, the company’s next flagship SoC will arrive in the first quarter of next year. We’re still waiting on specific models, but as noted yesterday, the San Diego-based chip giant already has a lineup of smartphone makers planning to employ the 765 follow-up, including ASUS, Black Shark, LG, MEIZU, Motorola, Nubia, realme, OnePlus, OPPO, Sharp, vivo, Xiaomi and ZTE.

The focuses are also what you’d expect: 5G, AI, speed, security, imaging and gaming. As Qualcomm announced earlier, the new system sports the third-gen X60 5G modem, which supports both sub-6 and mmWave variations of the wireless technology with speeds up to 7.5 Gbps. Also on board is support for Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2.

The sixth-gen version of the company’s AI Engine brings faster processing speeds at lower power consumption — specifically up to 3x performance per watt, per Qualcomm’s numbers. That’s capable of up to 26 tera operations per second (TOPS). Compare that to the “incredible” 5.5 TOPS the company was talking up on the Snapdragon 765 roughly this time last year. The AI stuff is primarily used to boost camera, gaming, connectivity and voice assistants like Google’s.

On the camera side, the new chip features the improved Spectra 580, sporting the line’s first triple ISP (image signal processor). That’s going to go a ways toward fostering multi-camera setup, with the ability to simultaneously have three cameras at up to 2.7 gigapixels a second. The system also supports capture of three 4K HDR videos at once — overkill, perhaps, but neat. There’s improved low-light support as well, to brighten up dark shots — always a nice thing.

The on-board Adreno 660 GPU can do up to 35% faster graphics. The Kryo 680 — based on the new Arm Cortex-X1 architecture — brings up to a 25% uplift in CPU performance. Game rendering has been improved by up to 30%, and titles will get access to Variable Rate Shading — a first for a Qualcomm chip. As for security, the new chip offers a number of new features aimed at protecting on-device data, including the Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit.

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Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple raises $350M from U.S. rail, retail and freight giants

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Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple has closed a $350 million funding round from a diverse consortium of strategic investors that include major U.S. corporations in rail, retail and freight, according to sources familiar with the deal. 

The round, which was oversubscribed, was led by VectoIQ LLC, confirming a report by TechCrunch in September. VectoIQ is the consulting and investment company founded by Steve Girsky, the former GM vice chairman, consultant and investor whose special purpose acquisition company merged with hydrogen electric startup Nikola Corp. this summer. 

The injection of capital stands out not only because of its size, but the array of companies involved. Goodyear, Union Pacific, CN Rail, freight company U.S. Xpress and retailer Kroger all participated in the round, sources familiar with the deal told TechCrunch. Existing investors Volkswagen AG’s heavy-truck business The Traton Group and Navistar also participated. (Last month, Traton, which already held a 16.6% stake in Navistar agreed to acquire its remaining shares.)

TuSimple has raised $648 million since its founding in 2015.

The company declined to comment. 

TuSimple was one of the first autonomous trucking startups to emerge in what has become a small, yet bustling industry that now includes Aurora, Embark, Ike, Kodiak and Waymo. While TuSimple’s founding team and its earliest backers Sina and Composite Capital are from China, a chunk of its operations are in the United States, including its global headquarters in San Diego. TuSimple also operates an engineering center and truck depot in Tucson and more recently set up a facility in Texas to support its autonomous trips —always with a human safety operator behind the wheel. TuSimple also has operations in Beijing and Shanghai. 

As TuSimple has scaled with workforce and testing in the U.S., it has diversified its customer and investor base. The company has attracted a number of investors and partners in recent years, including UPS, Korean Tier 1 supplier Mando Corporation, Traton Group and now U.S. Xpress. 

TuSimple raised $55 million in 2017 with plans to use those funds to scale up testing to two full truck fleets in China and the United States. By 2018, TuSimple began to test on public roads, beginning with a 120-mile highway stretch between Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona and another segment in Shanghai. TuSimple has since expanded operations into Texas. 

Last year, the company’s valuation eked over the $1 billion-mark after raising $95 million in a Series D funding round. It’s unclear what TuSimple’s new post-money valuation is.

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Jitsu nabs $2M Seed to build open source data integration platform

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Jitsu, a graduate of the Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort, is developing an open source data integration platform that helps developers send data to a data warehouse. Today, the startup announced a $2 million seed investment.

Costanoa Ventures led the round with participation from YCombintaor, The House Fund and SignalFire.

In addition to the open source version of the software, the company has developed a hosted version that companies can pay to use, which shares the same name as the company. Peter Wysinski, Jitsu’s co-founder and CEO, says a good way to think about his company is an open source Segment, the customer data integration company that was recently sold to Twilio for $3.2 billion.

But he says, it goes beyond what Segment by allowing you to move all kinds of data whether customer data, connected device data or other types. “If you look at the space in general, companies want more granularity. So let’s say for example, a couple years ago you wanted to sync just your transactions from QuickBooks to your data warehouse, now you want to capture every single sale at the point of sale. What Jitsu lets you do is capture essentially all of those events, all of those streams, and send them to your data warehouse,” Wysinski explained.

Among the data warehouses it currently supports include Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, PostGres and Snowflake.

The founders built the open source project called EventNative to help solve problems they themselves were having moving data around at their previous jobs. After putting the open source version on GitHub a few months ago, they quickly attained 1000 stars, proving that they had delivered something that solved a common problem for data teams. They then built the hosted version, Jitsu, which went live a couple of weeks ago.

For now, the company is just the two co-founders, Wysinski and CTO Vladimir Klimontovich, but they intend to do some preliminary hiring over the next year to grow the company, most likely adding engineers. As they begin to build out the startup, Wysinski says that being open source will help drive diversity and inclusion in their hiring.

“The goal is essentially to go after that open source community and hire people from anywhere because engineers aren’t just […] one color or one race, they’re everywhere, and being open source, and especially being in a remote world, makes it so so much simpler [to build a diverse workforce], and a lot of companies I feel are going down that road,” he said.

He says along that line, the plan is to be a fully remote company, even after the pandemic ends, as they hire from anywhere. The goal is to have quarterly offsite meetings to check in with employees, but do the majority of the work remotely.

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