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Landbot closes $8M Series A for its ‘no code’ chatbot builder

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Barcelona-based Landbot, a ‘no-code’ chatbot builder, has bagged a $8M Series A led by the Spanish-Israeli VC firm Swanlaab, alongside support from Spain’s innovation-focused public agency, CDTI. Previous investors Nauta Capital, Encomenda and Bankinter also participated in the round.

We last chatted to Landbot back in 2018 when it raised a $2.2M seed and had 900+ customers. It’s grown that to ~2,200 paying customers, with some 50,000 individuals now using its tool (across both free and paid accounts).

Since its seed it’s also increased recurrent revenues 10x — and is expecting growth to keep stepping up, fuelled by the new financing.

It says the coronavirus pandemic has supercharged demand for conversational landing pages as all sorts of businesses look for ways to automate higher volumes of digitally inbound customer comms, without needing to make major investments in in-house IT.

Landbot’s customers range from SMEs to specific teams and products within larger organisations, with the startup name-checking the likes of Nestlé, MediaMarkt, CocaCola, Cepsa, PcComponentes and Prudential among its customer roster.

“We are seeing strong traction from industries like eCommerce, Financial Services and Marketing Agencies,” CEO & co-founder Jiaqi Pan tells TechCrunch. “The ecommerce segment is one we have seen the most growth in since COVID-19, where we increased 2x the number of customers from ecommerce industry.”

The new funding will be used to double Landbot’s team during 2021 (currently it employs 40 people) — with hiring planned across sales, marketing and engineering.

The startup, which launched its ‘no code’ flavor of chatbot builder back in 2017, previously relocated HQ from Valencia to Barcelona to help with recruitment.

Since Landbot’s launch, the burgeoning ‘no code/low code’ movement has become a fully fledged trend driven by demand for productivity- and lead-boosting digital services outstripping most businesses’ supply of expert in-house techies able to build stuff.

Hence the rise of service-builder tools that make customizable tech capabilities accessible to non-technical staff.

The pandemic has merely poured more fuel on this fire — and low-friction tools like Landbot are clearly reaping the rewards.

Interestingly, as well as competing with other conversational chatbot builders, like San Francisco-based ManyChat, Landbot says it’s seeing traction from customers who are seeking to replace web forms with more engaging chat interfaces.

Its drag-and-drop chatbot builder tool supports information workers to design what Landbot bills as “an immersive web page experience filled with gifs and visual elements to capture the attention of the end-user” — so you can understand the appeal for SMEs to be able to replace their boring old static forms with an experience any smartphone user is familiar with from using messaging apps like WhatsApp.

“In terms of the main competitor in the no-code space, we have some overlap with ManyChat as the most direct competitor for Chatbot. On the other hand, as we have a lot of customers using us to replace their forms we are competing also against form builders like Typeform,” says Pan, the latter another Barcelona-based startup which similarly bills itself as a platform for “conversational” and “interactive” data collection.

Landbot notes it recently acquired India-based Morph.AI, a chat-based marketing automation tool, which it’s using to help convert social, website and ad traffic into leads — also with the aim of further expanding into presence in the Asian market.

To date, 90% of its customers are international, with 60% coming from the U.S., U.K. and Germany.

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Juan Revuelta, general partner of Swanlaab, said: “The beauty of Landbot is in the drag and drop solution of the product. The simplicity is critical to making this product accessible to everyone across many different types of business. If you’re a small company you don’t have the luxury of time or money to solve issues in customer service or run lavish marketing campaigns.

“Landbot helps all businesses to have truly frictionless conversations with customers and exchange the data they need to make smarter decisions and scale. The team has had a remarkable 2020, and we’re excited to support them in helping more businesses this year.”

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

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Last-mile delivery robotics company Refraction AI raises $4.2M

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Ann Arbor-based Refraction AI announced today that it has raised a $4.2 million seed round. The startup, which debuted on the TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility stage back in 2019, was founded by a pair of University of Michigan professors (Matthew Johnson-Roberson — now CTO — and Ram Vasudevan) seeking to solve a number of issues posed by many delivery robots.

With an initial prototype built on a bicycle foundation, the company’s REV-1 robot is designed to operate in bike lanes and roads, rather than the standard sidewalk ‘bot. The different approach allows the robot to travel at higher speeds (topping out at 15 miles per hour) and removes some of the messy pedestrian-dodging issues that come with sidewalk use (while introducing some new ones on that narrow sliver of asphalt shared by cyclists).

Refraction is currently testing a small fleet in its native Ann Arbor. The seed round, led by Pillar VC, will be used for R&D, expanding the company’s reach and recruiting more customers, with a focus on grocery store and restaurant deliveries. Other investors include, eLab Ventures, Osage Venture Partners, Trucks Venture Capital, Alumni Ventures Group, Chad Laurans and Invest Michigan.

Another key differentiator is the use of cameras, versus LIDAR. The decision comes with some technological trade-offs, but benefits include a lower price point and the ability for the company to more quickly scale its fleet. The technology is also not easily districted by weather conditions encountered in the upper midwest, though it has limitations, too. As the company puts it, if you’re not comfortable walking out in it, the robot probably won’t be, either.

“Our platform uses technology that exists today in an innovative way, to get people the things they need, when they need them, where they live,” CEO Luke Schneider said in a release tied to the news. “And we’re doing so in a way that reduces business’ costs, makes roads less congested, and eliminates carbon emissions.”

With this new funding, the company plans to expand operations beyond its native Ann Arbor, though no additional test markets have been announced.

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New clinical trial data from Locus Biosciences shows promise in CRISPR-Cas3 technology

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Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest potential threats to global health today. But Locus Biosciences is hoping that their crPhage technology might provide a new solution.

Based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the startup recently announced promising phase 1b clinical trial results for their use of CRISPR-Cas3-enhanced bacteriophages as a treatment for urinary tract infections caused by escherichia coli. Led in part by former Patheon executive and current Locus CEO Paul Garofolo, the startup launched in 2015 with the goal of using a less popular application of CRISPR technology to address growing antimicrobial resistance.

CRISPR-Cas3 technology has notably different mechanisms from its more well-known CRISPR-Cas9 counterpart. Where the Cas9 enzyme has the ability to cleanly cut through a piece of DNA like a pair of scissors, Garofolo describes Cas3 more like a Pac-Man, shredding the DNA as it moves along a strand.

“You wouldn’t be able to use it for most of the editing platforms people were after,” he said, noting that meant there wouldn’t be as much competition around Cas3. “So I knew it would be protected for some time, and that we could keep it quiet.”

Garofolo and his team wanted to use CRISPR-Cas3 not to edit harmful bacteria found in the body, but to destroy it. To do this, they took the DNA-shredding mechanism of Cas3 and used it to enhance bacteriophages—viruses that can attack and kill different species of bacteria. Together, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Dave Ousterout—who has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Duke—thinks this technology offers an extremely direct and targeted way of killing bacteria.

“We armed the phages with this Cas3 system that attacks E. coli, and that sort of dual mechanism of action is what comes together, essentially, as a really potent way to remove just E. coli,” he said in an interview.

That specificity is something that antibiotics lack. Rather than targeting only harmful bacteria in the body, antibiotics typically wipe out all bacteria they come across. “Every time we take antibiotics, we’re not thinking about all the other parts of us that are impacted by the bacteria that do good things,” said Garofolo. But the precision of Locus Biosciences’ crPhage technology means that only the targeted bacteria would be wiped out, leaving those necessary to the body’s normal function intact.

Beyond offering this more specific approach to treatment of pathogens, or any bacteria-based disease, Garofolo and his team also suspect that their approach will also be extremely safe. Though deadly to bacteria, bacteriophages are typically harmless to humans. The safety of CRISPR in humans is well-established, too.

“That’s our secret sauce,” said Garofolo. “We can build drugs that are more powerful than the antibiotics they’re trying to replace, and they use phage, which is probably one of the world’s safest ways to deliver something into the human body.”

While this new technology could certainly help treat pathogens and infectious diseases, Garofolo hopes that indications in immunology, oncology, and neurology might benefit from it too. “We’re starting to figure out that some bacteria might promote cancer, or inflammation in your gut,” he said. If researchers can identify the bacteria at the root cause of those conditions, Garofolo and Ousterout think the crPhage technology might prove to be an effective treatment.

“If we’re right about that, it’s not just about infections or antimicrobial resistance, but helping people overcome cancer or delay the onset of dementia,” Garofolo said. “It’s changing the way we think about how bacteria really help us live.”


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Amazon expands its food delivery service across Bangalore

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Amazon said on Monday it has expanded its food delivery service, called Amazon Food, across 62 zip codes in Bangalore, in what is the first public update since entering the new category in India last May.

The American e-commerce group said Amazon Food now reaches key localities in Bangalore such as Whitefield, HSR, Sarjapur, Koramangala, Indiranagar, MG Road, Jayanagar, JP Nagar, Frazer Town, Malleshwaram, Rajajinagar, and Vijayanaga.

At the time of the launch in May last year, Amazon Food was available in just four zip codes in Bangalore.

Even as Amazon Food remains limited to one key market in India, the company is aggressively trying to undercut the competition — heavily funded startups Zomato and Swiggy — in the city.

Food delivery is free to Prime members, while others have to pay a fee of 19 Indian rupees (26 cents) — cheaper than fees levied by Swiggy and Zomato.

The company, which has committed to investing $6.5 billion in its India operations, said it has amassed 2,5000 restaurants and cloud kitchens in Bangalore — also referred as Bengaluru. Amazon Food customers can enjoy “offers” from these restaurants as well as cashbacks from Amazon, the company said.

It, however, did not share why it has been uncharacteristically so slow with the expansion of Amazon Food in the country.

(Well, I mean, there is a global pandemic — but Amazon also makes a number of what its employees say “one-way door” and “two-way door” bets. Two-way door bets are those that the company has not fully committed to and is just attempting to test the waters before making a concrete decision. Think of Amazon Prime as a one-way door bet. So it’s not clear from day 1 how committed Amazon is to any new service.)

“With the expansion of Amazon Food in Bengaluru, we continue in our endeavor to offer unmatched convenience and value while being a part of their everyday lives. Amazon Food brings some of the city’s top restaurants including national outlets and as well as local favorites which are popular and follow strict delivery and safety protocols,” said Sameer Khetarpal, Director of Category Management at Amazon India, in a statement.

Ant Financial-backed Zomato and Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy have established duopoly in the food delivery market in India, with analysts at Bank of America estimating their combined market share to be over 90%. (Uber exited the Indian food delivery market early last year after selling its local food business to Zomato.)

The expansion of Amazon Food also comes at a time when Zomato, which according to analysts leads the market, is preparing to file for an IPO.

India’s food delivery market is especially tough to crack because of local conditions. Unlike in the developed markets such as the U.S., where the value of each delivery item is about $33, in India, a similar item carries the price tag of $4, according to research firms. Both Zomato and Swiggy have significantly improved their unit economics in the past year.

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