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Heights raises $2M for its subscription supplements aimed new ‘braincare’ category

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New wellness startup Heights is formally launching this week, focusing on a category it describes as ‘braincare’. The startup will market “ultra high quality, sustainable plant-based supplements that feed your brain” based on what it says is scientific data.

It has raised a $2 million Seed funding round (£1.7M) via the Seedrs crowdfunding platform, with the round also including the institutional investor Forward Partners. Angel investors include Tom Singh (founder of New Look), Damian Bradfield (WeTransfer), Dhiraj Mukherjee (Shazam), Renee Elliot (Planet Organic), and celebrity investor Chris Smalling (an England and Manchester United professional footballer).

The funds will be used for customer growth and new product development, including soon-to-launch a ‘psychobiotic‘ probiotic aimed at cognition and mental health.

Customers first take a ‘brain health’ survey, then sign up for a monthly, quarterly, or annual subscription.

Customers need only take two capsules a day, thus hugely decreasing the complexity of juggling regular vitamin taking.

The product fits through a letterbox and the unusual bottle was designed by the well-known product design agency Pentagram. A content and coaching program included in the subscription helps customers, and another brain health survey happens after a month. Heights claims that “93%” improve their brain health score within one month.

Heights is not alone in this new market for what some describe as ‘designer vitamins’ and the arena is already populated by the likes of Hims / Hers, MotionVitabiotics and Bulletproof.

These companies broadly fall into the “Nootropics” category — vitamins and minerals designed to improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals. But the market is not small. The ‘self care’, ‘healthcare’, and ‘personal development’ market is worth over $1Trillion but supplements alone is worth at least $100BN+.

Heights founders Dan Murray-Serter and Joel Freeman, with adviser Dr Tara Swart.

Heights founders Dan Murray-Serter and Joel Freeman, with adviser Dr. Tara Swart.

However, co-founder Dan Murray-Serter says Heights is aiming to do something different to the aforementioned players.

In a text-based interview, he said: “Nootropics as a category really focus on quick fixes, which is why we’re working on the category creation of ‘braincare’ because there are no ‘quick fixes’ in life, and that terminology and category have essentially set people up with the same false hopes as ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes do. We’re set up differently — aka, starting with scientifically researched articles and journal references.”

He said Heights will be positioned more like a skincare or haircare brand, “because people understand that the daily habit/practice is what creates the longevity and impact, not just a one-day miracle.”

Murray-Serter says there are 20 key nutrients science says our brains need to thrive, and these are mostly found in a combination of buying multivitamins, omega 3s, and ‘nootropics’. He says Heights has sourced the “highest quality” ingredients in the most ‘bioavailable form’ in a patented capsule which makes it easier to digest for the body.

“One of the most common reasons the habit of taking vitamins doesn’t stick for people is that the bottle goes into a cupboard and gets ignored. So we started with design alongside quality,” he says. The Heights vitamins come in a distinctive, recyclable bottle which Heights will also aven recycle if you send it back to them.

Murray-Serter, who previously founded the mobile startup Grabble, says he came up with the idea for the startup after a bout of chronic anxiety and a 6 month-long period of insomnia. The problem was solved by high-quality, high-density vitamins and supplements, as opposed to normal supplements which usually only have the lowest recommended daily levels of vitamins inside them.

After starting a newsletter on the subject of optimizing cognitive performance with cofounder Joel Freeman, the pair amassed a following of 60,000 readers www.yourheights.com/sundays

and then came up with the idea of launching the actual product.

The company now has a ‘Braincare‘ podcast that has reached 100,000 downloads, and the founders have also been joined by key team member Chief Science Officer, Dr Tara Swart (pictured).

Two things may help Heights. Firstly, in the era of Covid-19, public health authorities and governments around the world have recommended taking Vitamin D to boost the body’s immune system should someone fall prey to the disease. It’s not insignificant that two Heights capsules contain 400% of the ‘Nutrient Reference Value’ (formerly known as Recommended Daily Allowance) of Vitamin D3, as well as many other supplements. Theoretically, one could take four normal tablets of this, but the customer experience and other added vitamins in Heights will appeal to many. Secondly, the growing awareness of mental health and interest in maintaining good mental health is now a regular subject of public discourse. So Heights appears to be well-positioned to ride both those waves.

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

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UK challenger bank Starling raises $376M, now valued at $1.9B

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Challenger banks continue to see huge infusions of cash from investors bullish on the opportunity for smaller and faster-moving tech-based banking startups to woo customers from their larger rivals. In the latest development, UK-based Starling announced that is has closed £272 million ($376 million at current rates), at a pre-money valuation of £1.1 billion.

This means that the round, a Series D, values the company at £1.372 billion ($1.9 billion) post-money.

Starling — which competes against incumbent banks, as well as other challengers like Monzo and Revolut — said it will be using the money to continue its growth. The bank is already profitable. In updated financials posted today, Starling said it generated revenue of £12 million ($16.6 million) in January of this year, up 400% compared to a year ago, with an annualized revenue run rate of £145 million. It posted operating profits for a fourth consecutive month, and net income currently exceeds £1.5 million per month.

Starling, founded in 2017, has now pased 2 million accounts, with 300,000 business accounts among them. It’s not clear how many of those accounts are active: the figures are for opened accounts, Starling said. Gross lending has passed £2 billion, with deposits at £5.4 billion.

Starling said it plans to use the funding both to expand its lending operations in the UK, to expand into other parts of Europe, and make some strategic acquisitions.

“Digital banking has reached a tipping point,” said Anne Boden, founder and CEO of Starling Bank, in a statement. “Customers now expect a fairer, smarter and more human alternative to the banks of the past and that is what we are giving them at Starling as we continue to grow and add new products and services. Our new investors will bring a wealth of experience as we enter the next stage of growth, while the continued support of our existing backers represents a huge vote of confidence.”

The round is being led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, with Qatar Investment Authority (QIA); RPMI Railpen (Railpen), the investment manager for the £31 billion Railways Pension Scheme; and global investment firm Millennium Management also participating, and it comes on the heels of us reporting in November that it was raising at least £200 million.

The funding comes at a critical time in consumer banking. The trend in the UK — the market where Starling is active — for the last several year has been a gradual shift to online and mobile banking, with those trends rapidly accelerating in the last year of lock-downs and enforced social distancing to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Challenger (neo) banks have been some of the biggest winners of evolving consumer habits. Using rails provided as white-label services by way of APIs from banking infrastructure providers (another startup category in itself with companies like Rapyd, Plaid, Mambu, CurrencyCloud and others all involved) they will offer the same basic services such as checking and deposit, but they will typically do so with considerably  more flexibility, and additional savings and financial tips, and savings services to customers — all carried out over digital platforms.

Big, incumbent banks have scrambled to keep up with innovation, but newer generations of users are less beholden to their brands and incumbency, not least a result of the banking crisis last decade that revealed many of them to be cosiderably less competent and solid than many might have assumed.

That bigger market picture has also meant a surge of many neobanks, and so Starling competes with more than just the incumbents. Others include Monese, Revolut, Tide, Atom and Monzo — the latter a particularly acute competitor, founded by the ex-CTO of Starling.

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Deliveroo posted narrowed loss of $309M, with gross transactions surging to $5.7B in 2020, EITF shows

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The clock has officially started ticking on Deliveroo’s plans to go public in April. After announcing last week that it planned to list on the London Stock Exchange, today the on-demand food delivery company backed by Amazon and others published selected updated financials for the previous fiscal year, along with its Expected Intention to Float (EITF) — a more formal document that marks the two-week period until the company publishes its prospectus and, at the start of April, embarks on its subsequent IPO.

The bottom line is that Deliveroo is still unprofitable. It posted a 2020 underlying loss of £223.7 million ($309 million), but that figure was down by nearly £100 million from 2019, when it chalked up a loss of £317 million ($438 million). It did not disclose revenues (sometimes called turnover) in today’s statement.

The company said that it now serves some 6 million customers, with its three-sided marketplace also including more than 115,000 restaurants, takeaways and grocery stores, and 100,000 riders in 800 locations among 12 markets.

At the same time, Deliveroo showed some clear momentum in a year where many restaurants had to close their doors and shift operations to take-away models because of Covid-19.

It notes that it has been profitable on an “Adjusted EBITDA basis” over two quarters, with underlying gross profit up by 89.5% to £358 million ($495 million) compared to £189 million in 2019.

Its gross transaction volume (total amount spent by consumers ordering food) grew by 64% to £4.1 billion ($5.67 billion) with the run-rate in Q4 surging to £5 billion. This figure is unsurprising when you consider that Q4 represented the holiday period, and additionally the UK market (Deliveroo’s primary market and its home) went through not one but two different periods of being locked down in that quarter (the second of these is still in place).

It also notes that gross profit margin as a percentage of GTV has grown from 5.8% in 2018 to 8.8% in 2020, with some markets getting to 12%.

“The company remains focused on investing in driving growth in a nascent online food market,” it noted in the EITF, although I’m not sure nascent is exactly the word I’d use. Its drivers are easily the most visible of the many delivery services that exist in London. Deliveroo estimates that the restaurant and grocery sectors represent an addressable market of £1.2 trillion ($1.66 trillion) across the 12 regions where it offers services. In that figure, it says that just 3% of sales are estimated to be online, “equivalent to less than 1 out of the 21 weekly meal occasions being online.”

The company was valued at over $7 billion in it last fundraising, a $180 million round from Durable, Fidelity and others, as recently as January of this year.

It’s a huge leap that is the stuff that tech myths are made of (with untold hours of blood, sweat and tears, and a lot of luck too). I met Will Shu, the CEO and founder, when he was just really getting started at Deliveroo, and he seemed somewhat bewildered by how fast the startup was growing and where it was leading him. It’s interesting that he himself hasn’t forgotten those early days, either, which surely help keep the company focused at a time when there are a lot of opportunities, and therefore a lot of potential for focus unravelling.

“I never set out to be a founder or a CEO. I was never into start-ups, I didn’t read TechCrunch. I’m not one of those Silicon Valley types with a million ideas,” he noted in his letter published in the EITF. “I had one idea. One idea born out of personal frustration. An idea that I was fanatically obsessed with: I wanted to get great food delivered from amazing London restaurants.”

The prospectus will tell us how much the company intends to raise in its IPO so we’ll know those numbers soon. In the meantime, Deliveroo said that it plans to “invest in its long-term proposition by developing its core marketplace, enhancing its superior consumer experience, providing restaurant and grocery partners with unique tools to help them grow their businesses, and providing riders with the flexible work they value alongside security.”

It’s also going to continue building out “dark kitchens” (which it brands Editions); Signature, a white-label service for restaurants to offer delivery via their own online channels; Plus, a Prime-style loyalty subscription service; and on-demand grocery — which is also shaping up to be a huge market in Europe and the rest of the world.

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Porsche raises stake in electric car and components maker Rimac Automobili

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Rimac Automobili, the Croatian company known for its electric hypercars and battery and powertrain development, has gained yet another investment from Porsche AG.

Porsche said Monday it has invested 70 million euros ($83.3 miilion) into Rimac, a move that increases its stake from 15% to 24%.

This is the third time Porsche has invested into Rimac. The German automaker made its first investment into Rimac in 2018. Porsche increased its equity stake into Rimac in September 2019. A few months earlier, Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors jointly invested €80 million ($90 million at the time) into Rimac.

Rimac was founded by Mate Rimac in 2009 and is perhaps best known for its electric hypercars, such as the two-seater C Two that it debuted in 2018 at the Geneva International Motor Show. The vehicle produces an eye-popping 1,914 horsepower, has a top speed of 256 miles per hour and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 1.85 seconds. Rimac plans to unveil C Two in its final form in 2021.

However, Rimac does more than produce hypercars. The company, which employs 1,000 people, also focuses on battery technology within the high-voltage segment, engineers and manufactures electric powertrains and develops digital interfaces between humans and machines.

Porsche is most interested in Rimac’s development of components, according to comments made by Lutz Meschke, the deputy chairman of Porsche AG’s executive board. Meschke noted that Rimac is “excellently positioned in prototype solutions and small series” and “is well on its way to becoming a Tier 1 supplier for Porsche and other manufacturers in the high-tech segment.”

Porsche has already placed its first orders with Rimac for the development of highly innovative series components, according to Meschke.

Despite its continued investments, Porsche said it doesn’t have a controlling stake in Rimac.

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