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Zocdoc founder returns with Shadow, an app that finds lost dogs

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Every year, around 10 million pets go missing in the U.S., and millions of those end up in shelters where they aren’t always reunited with their owners, due to their lack of identification or a microchip. A new mobile app, Shadow, aims to tackle this problem by leveraging a combination of a volunteer network and A.I. technology to help dog owners, in particular.

The startup is working in partnership with animal shelters and rescue organizations around the U.S. to pull in photos of the dogs they’re currently housing, then supplements this with photos pulled from social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook.

It then uses A.I. technology to match the photograph of the missing dogs to possible matches from nearby shelters or the web.

Image Credits: Shadow

If there’s not a match found, Shadow will then programmatically set a search radius based on where and when the dog went missing, and suggest other actions that the dog’s owner can take as the next steps.

This includes viewing all the photographs from the shelters directly, in the case that the technology matching process missed a possible match, as well as working with other Shadow users to help crowdsource activities like hanging “Lost Dog” flyers around a neighborhood, for example, among other things.

The app also relies on a network of volunteers who help by also reviewing shelter photographs and broadcasting missing posters to social media sites they use to increase the chances of the dog being found. Dog owners can even advertise a reward in the app to encourage people to help search.

Today, Shadow has grown its volunteer user base to over 30,000. And it’s partnered with the ASPCA, Animal Care Centers of New York and L.A., the Dallas shelter system, and others.

Image Credits: Shadow

While Shadow is free to use, it makes money through a virtual tipping mechanism when it makes a successful match and the dog is found. It also offers users the ability to buy an Instagram ad in-app for $10. Here, Shadow provides the visual assets and manages the ad-buying process and placement process on owners’ behalf.

The startup, founded by former Zocdoc founder Cyrus Massoumi, has been in a sort of public stealth mode for a few years as it grew beyond its hometown of New York. It’s now offering dog-finding services in 76 counties across 20 U.S. states.

We should note that Massoumi’s exit from Zocdoc was complicated. He sued his co-founders and CFO for orchestrating a plot to oust him from the company during a Nov. 2015 board meeting, claiming fraud. The lawsuit detailed the internal strife inside Zocdoc at the time. A New York Supreme Court judge recently determined this lawsuit, which is ongoing, needs to be filed in Delaware, instead of New York. So a ruling is yet to be determined.

Ahead of this, Zocdoc had been accused by Business Insider of having developed a stressful,  “bro culture,” in which young, male employees would make inappropriate remarks about the women who worked there. This was ahead of the larger rise of the Me Too movement, which has since impacted how businesses address these issues in the workplace.

Massoumi disputes the claims were exactly as described by the article. The company had 300 salespeople at the time, and while he agrees some people may have acted inappropriately, he also believes company’s response to those actions was handled properly.

“The allegations were fully investigated at Zocdoc and found to be without merit,” he told TechCrunch, adding that Zocdoc was repeatedly recognized as a “best place to work” while he was CEO. (There were never allegations against Massoumi, but ultimately, the buck stops with the CEO.)

Shadow today claims a different makeup. It has a team twelve people, and two-thirds of its product and engineering team are women. Some Zocdoc investors have also returned to back Massoumi again.

The startup is funded by Founders Fund, Humbition (Massoumi and Indiegogo founder Slava Rubin’s fund), Lux Capital, firstminute Capital, and other angels, including a prior Zocdoc

Despite the complicated Zocdoc history, the work Shadow is doing is solving a problem many people do care about. Millions of pet owners lose their pets to euthanization as they end up at shelters that cannot keep animals indefinitely due to lack of space. Meanwhile, the current system of having lost pet messages distributed across social media can mean many of those posts aren’t seen — especially in larger metros where there are numerous “lost pet” groups.

Image Credits: Shadow

 

 

As Shadow began its work in 2018, it was local to the New York area. Its first year, it reunited 600 dogs. The next year, it reunited 2,000 dogs. The third year, it reunited 5,000 dogs. Today, it’s nearing 10,000 dogs reunited with owners.

More than half of those were since the pandemic began, which saw many new pet owners and increased time spent outdoors with those pets, when dogs can sometimes get loose.

Massoumi says he was inspired to found Shadow after a friend lost his own dog, the namesake Shadow. It took the friend over a month to find the dog after both following false leads and being connected with people who tried to help him.

“I’m thinking to myself, this is something that happens 100 million times a year, globally…and for people who love pets, this is a lost family member,” Massoumi explains. “It seemed to me to be a similar problem that I’d already been solving in healthcare, where there’s fragmentation — people want to see the doctor and the doctor wants to see the patient, but there’s just not a central way to make it work,” he says.

More broadly, he wants to see technology being put to good use to solve problems that people actually care about.

“I think there needs to be more technology that injects the humanity back in what everyone does. I think that it’s very core that’s what we’re doing,” he says.

Shadow’s app is a free download on iOS and Android.

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

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Virgin Orbit will launch first Dutch defense satellite in mission that will demo rapid response capabilities

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Virgin Orbit isn’t slowing down after joining the exclusive club of small launch companies that have made it to orbit – the company just announced that it’s flying a payload on behalf of customer the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF). This is the first ever satellite being put up by the Dutch Ministry of Defense, and it’s a small satellite that will act as a test platform for a number of different communications experiments.

The satellite is called ‘BRIK-II’ – not because it’s the second of its kind, but rather because it’s named after Brik, the first airplane ever owned and operated by the RNAF. This mission is one of Virgin Orbit’s first commercial operations after its successful test demonstration, and will fly sometime later this year. It’s also being planned as a rideshare mission, with other payloads expected to join – likely from the U.S. Department of Defense, which is working with Virgin Orbit’s dedicated U.S. defense industry subsidiary VOX Space on planning what they’ll be adding to the mission load out.

This upcoming mission is actually a key demonstration of a number of Virgin Orbit’s unique advantages in the launch market. For one, it’ll show how the U.S. DOD and its ally defense agencies can work together in the space domain when launching small communications satellites. Virgin Orbit is also going to use the mission as an opportunity to show off its “late-load integration” capabilities – effectively, how it can add a payload to its LauncherOne rocket just prior to launch.

For this particular flight, there’s no real reason to do a late-load integration, since there’s plenty of lead time, but part of Virgin’s appeal is being able to nimbly add satellites to its rocket just before the carrier jet that flies it to its take-off altitude leaves the runway. Demonstrating that will go a long way to help illustrate how it differentiates its services from others in the launch market including Rocket Lab and SpaceX.

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As it hits $100 million run rate, The Pill Club adds former Uber exec Liz Meyerdirk as CEO

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Liz Meyerdirk made a name for herself at Uber as the Senior Director & Global Head of Business Development for the company’s Uber Eats business and she’s now turning her attention to women’s health as the new chief executive of The Pill Club.

The move comes at a perilous time for the remote delivery of women’s healthcare as the Supreme Court has taken steps to limit the provision of sexual healthcare to women in recent months.

“Women’s health care has never been more tested than right now,” Meyerdirk noted in a blog post announcing her new role. “COVID-19 has upended access to care; dozens of states have—and continue—to try and limit women’s choice; and last year, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the rollback of the ACA contraceptive mandate decision, a stunning move that could end up impacting as many as 126,000 women who previously received covered contraception through employer-based health insurance.”

A seasoned corporate executive, Meyerdirk is hoping to navigate The Pill Club through these treacherous times. “These events have shown that reliable, safe, and affordable access to women’s health and birth control is
just one more vulnerability in our health care system,” Meyerdirk wrote.

Liz Meyerdirk, chief executive of The Pill Club: Image Credit: The Pill Club

As it faces an uncertain legal environment on some fronts, the company couldn’t be in a better position financially.

The Pill Club, which is profitable and now has a $100 million run rate, is now ready for its closeup with Meyerdirk at the helm.

The company has managed to make its mark in the crowded world of online prescriptions and refill fulfillment by focusing specifically on women’s health and ensuring that those services are available to as many potential patients as possible.

“We’re now serving hundreds of thousands of women nationwide with 20% on Medicaid,” says Meyerdirk. “We prescribe in 43 states and the District of Columbia.”

For Meyerdirk, the background she had in logistics and fulfillment from her time at Uber Eats made the transition to the pill prescription and delivery service natural.

“There is a heavy logistics element to it,” said Meyerdirk.

As Meyerdirk takes the reins of the company, she said there’s a few areas that The Pill Club will expand into beyond its focus on birth control and contraception. “There are areas that our customers are asking for,” Meyerdirk said.

These areas include, initially, dermatology. Last year the company launched a delivery service for contraceptives and women’s hygiene products like pads and tampons.

As it continues to expand its product suite, it’s also growing its executive staff. The company not only added Meyerdirk, but also David Hsu as chief financial officer and Jeremy Downs as senior vice president of growth. Hsu joins the company from Honey, where led the $4 billion acquisition negotiations with PayPal, and Downs comes from Uber Eats, where he spent five years leading growth.

“We need sustained, long-term access to women’s health care, not just a bridge while the pandemic persists; and we need coverage for essential health services like birth control and prenatal care, regardless of whether or not you’re insured,” Meyerdirk wrote. “Reproductive care has and continues to be an essential part of our business, but there are countless opportunities to serve women in all of their life stages from puberty to menopause.”

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BlackCart raises $8.8M Series A for its try-before-you-buy platform for online merchants

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A startup called BlackCart is tackling one of the key challenges with online shopping: an inability to try on or test out the merchandise before making a purchase. That company, which has now closed on $8.8 million in Series A funding, has built a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with e-commerce storefronts, allowing customers to ship items to their home for free and only pay if they choose to keep the item after a “try on” period has lapsed.

The new round of financing was led by Origin Ventures and Hyde Park Ventures Partners, and saw participation from Struck Capital, Citi Ventures, 500 Startups, and several other angel investors including Christian Sullivan of Republic Labs, Dean Bakes of M3 Ventures, Greg Rudin of Menlo Ventures, Jordan Nathan of Caraway Cookware, and First National Bank CFO Nick Pirollo, among others.

Image Credits: BlackCart

BlackCart founder Donny Ouyang had previously founded online tutoring marketplace Rayku before joining a seed stage VC fund, Caravan Ventures. But he was inspired to return to entrepreneurship, he says, after experiencing a personal problem with trying to order shoes online.

Realizing the opportunity for a “try before you buy” type of service, Ouyang first built BlackCart in 2017 as a business-to-consumer (B2C) platform that worked by way of a Chrome extension with some 50 different online merchants, largely in apparel.

This MVP of sorts proved there was consumer demand for something like this in online shopping shopping.

Ouyang credits the earlier version of BlackCart with helping the team to understand what sort of products work best for this service.

“I think, in general, for try-before-you-buy, anything that’s moderate to higher price points, lower frequency of purchase, where the customer makes a considered purchase decision — those perform really well,” he says.

Two years later, Ouyang took BlackCart to 500 Startups in San Francisco, where he then pivoted the business to a B2B offering it is today.

Image Credits: BlackCart

The startup now provides a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with online storefronts, including those from Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Big Commerce, SalesForce Commerce Cloud, WordPress, and even custom storefronts. The system is designed to be turnkey for online retailers and takes around 48 hours to set up on Shopify around a week on Magento, for example.

BlackCart has also developed its own proprietary technology around fraud detection, payments, returns, and the overall user experience, which includes a button for retailers’ websites.

Because the online shoppers aren’t paying upfront for the merchandise they’re being shipped, BlackCart has to rely on an expanded array of behavioral signals and data in order to make a determination about whether the customer represents a fraud risk. As one example, if the customer had read a lot of helpdesk articles about fraud before placing their order, that could be flagged as a negative signal.

BlackCart also verifies the user’s phone number at checkout and matches it to telco and government data sets to see if their historical addresses match their shipping and billing addresses.

Image Credits: BlackCart

After the customer receives the item, they are able to keep it for a period of time (as designated by the retailer) before being charged. BlackCart covers any fraud as part of its value proposition to retailers.

BlackCart makes money by way of a rev share model, where it charges retailers a percentage of the sales where the customers have kept the products. This amount can vary based on a number of factors, like the fraud multiplier, average order value, the type of product and others. At the low end, it’s around 4% and around 10% on the high-end, Ouyang says.

The company has also expanded beyond home try-on to include try-before-you-buy for electronics, jewelry, home goods, and more. It can even ship out makeup samples for home try-on, as another option.

Once integrated on a website, BlackCart claims its merchants typically see conversion increases of 24%, average order values climb by 51%, and bottom-line sales growth of 27%.

To date, the platform been adopted by over 50 medium-to-large retailers as well as e-commerce startups, like luxury sneaker brand Koio, clothing startup Dia&Co, online mattress startup Helix Sleep, cookware startup Caraway, among others. It’s also under NDA now with a top 50 retailer it can’t yet name publicly, and has contracts signed with 13 others who are waiting to be onboarded.

Soon, BlackCart aims to offer a self-serve onboarding process, Ouyang notes.

“This would be later, end of Q2 or early Q3,” he says. “But I think for us, it will still be probably 80% self-serve, and then larger enterprises will want to be handheld.”

With the additional funding, BlackCart aims to shift to paying the merchant immediately for the items at checkout, then reconciling afterwards in order to be more efficient. This has been one of merchants’ biggest feature requests, as well.

Image Credits: BlackCart; team photo

The funding will also allow BlackCart to expand its remotely distributed 10-person team to around 50 by year-end, including engineers, product specialists, customer support staff, and sales.

More broadly, it aims to quickly capitalize on the growth in the e-commerce market, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[We want to] take advantage of the favorable macroeconomic situation to scale as quickly as possible,” Ouyang explains. “We’re hoping to get to around $250 million in transactions through our platform by the end of 2021. And this would be driven by both engineering and sales hires, and just pushing it up,” he says.

Longer-term, Ouyang envisions adding more consumer-facing features to BlackCart’s platform, like on-demand returns where a courier comes to the house to pick up your return, for example.

“Our firm is excited to partner with BlackCart as it makes try-before-you-buy the standard in online shopping,” said Prashant Shukla of Origin Ventures, who now sits on BlackCart’s board, as result of the new financing. “Its underwriting technology provides merchants with peace of mind, and its best-in-class consumer experience delivers significant sales and conversion lifts. Digital Native generations expect to be able to shop online exactly as they would in a retail store, and BlackCart is the only company providing this experience,” he adds.

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