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Maple launches with $3.5 million in funding to become the SaaS backoffice for the family

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Much of our daily lives have been transformed in one way or another by technology – and often through intentional efforts to innovate thanks to the advent of new technology. Now more than ever, we rely on shared collaboration platforms and digital workspaces in our professional lives, and yet most of the changes wrought by tech on our home and family lives seem like the accidental effects of broader trends, rather than intentional shifts. Maple, a new startup launching today, aims to change that.

Founded by former Shopify product director and Kit (which was acquired by Shopify in 2016) co-founder Michael Perry, Maple is billed as “the family tech platform,” and hopes to ease the burden of parenting, freeing up parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and kids to spend more quality time together. The startup, which is launching its app on iPhone and Android for all and onboarding new users from its waitlist over the next few weeks, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding – an impressive round for a company just about seven months into its existence. The round was led by Inspired Capital, and includes participation by Box Group, but is also supported by a number of angels who were Perry’s former colleagues at Shopify, including Shopify President Harley Finkelstein.

Perry and his co-founder Mike Taylor, who also co-founded Kit, decided to leave Shopify in order to pursue Perry’s vision of a platform that can help parents better manage their family lives – a platform made up of a social layer, a task-focused list of shared responsibilities, and a bourgeoning service marketplace that looks and feels a lot like the ecosystem Shopify has built for empowering e-commerce entrepreneurs. That’s by design, Perry says.

“I think you’re gonna see a lot of Shopify inspiration in this product – we think we’re the back office of every family,” Perry told me in an interview. “And we think we’re building the app ecosystem of apps, services, all kinds of things that are going to live on this platform that’s going to revolutionize parenting.”

In its current early incarnation, Maple’s primary interface for parents is a list of various tasks they need to take care of during the day. During onboarding, Maple asks parents what they’re typically responsible for in the household, and then uses some basic machine learning behind the scenes to build a customized schedule for getting those things done. Maple has signed on three initial partners to assist with accomplishing some of these tasks, including Evelyn Rusli’s Yumi food and nutrition brand for infants; Lalo, a DTC baby and toddler furniture and gear brand; and Haus, which will be providing date night packages for parents to enjoy for some getaway time.

Maple co-founder Micheal Perry with his son.

The platform will offer users the ability to tap others for help with tasks – these could be other family members added to the household, or the partners mentioned above (the plan is to bring on more, but to gate admittance initially while developing API endpoints that any company can potentially tap into). When interacting with family members, Maple also encourages smalls social interactions, like thanking someone for their help on a particular task or just showing general appreciation. Perry says this is a key ingredient he prioritized in product design.

“We have this cool thing that every day at eight o’clock, we give you an end of the day recap with your family,” Perry said. “So you click on it, and it will show me that, for example, Alex [Perry’s wife] completed three responsibilities for our family today, and how many I did for my family today, and how much help I received from other people today. And directly in app, you can send these cool little ‘Thank you ‘messages and say, you know, I love you, I appreciate you – we’re a great team. And Alex will get those messages. We believe in a world where this can be incredibly dynamic, in many different ways kto kind of bring some love and appreciation and make parenting feel more rewarding and easier.”

Perry is quick to note that what Maple offers today is only the beginning, and it’s clear he has bold ambitions for the platform. He talked about building “the family graph,” or a trove of data that can be used to not only build intelligent recommendations and develop ever more advanced machine learning to optimize family management, but also to provide partners with the tools they need to build products to best serve families. I asked Perry what that means for privacy, given that people are likely to be far more reluctant to share info around their families than they are about their work lives. He said the they team plans to go slow in terms of what it exposes to partners, when, and how, and that they’ll have user privacy in mind at each step – since, after all, Perry himself is a father and a husband and is wary of any incursions on his own private life.

For now, partners like Yumi only receive what users share with them through their own account creation and login mechanism, and they only pass back a basic attribution token – essentially letting Maple know the task was completed so it can mark it off in a user’s list.

Image Credits: Maple

Maple’s partners today are representative of the kind of businesses that might make use of the platform in future, but Perry has a much broader vision. He hopes that Maple can ultimately help parents handle their responsibilities across a wide range of needs and income levels. Right now, Perry points out, a lot of what’s available to parents in terms of support is only available to higher income brackets – ie., nannies and dedicated caregivers. Perry says that his experience growing up relatively poor with a single mother supporting the entire family led him to want to provide something better.

“You have 125 million households in America, you have 3 million children being born every year, you have 30% of the households in America being single parent-run households,” Perry said. “It’s hard. Some people are working one two jobs, most couples are working couples. Every industry that’s changed has been about making things more accessible. In the case of Shopify, at one point building, an online store required hundreds of thousands of dollars and a bunch of skilled people. Now you can start a store for $20 in five minutes – 20 years ago, that was unfathomable.”

For Perry, Maple represents a path to that kind of shift in the economics of parenting and a network of family services, including goods, care, leisure and more. The startup has plans to eventually enlist other parents to provide services, which Perry says will unlock part-time income generation for full-time parents, allowing parents to help each other at the same time.

I asked him if he thought people would be reluctant to treat their family lives with the same kind of optimization approach favored by enterprise and commercial platform tools, but he suggested that in fact, not taking advantage of those same technologies in our personal lives is a missed opportunity.

“We believe that, uniquely, we’re living through a generation where we can start creating more time for people,” Perry said. “I think what makes Maple so unique is that no company has approached this by asking ‘How do we create more time for you so that you can spend more time with your kids?’ in the consolidated way that we have.”

Disclosure: I worked at Shopify from 2018 to 2019 while Perry was employed there, but we did not work together directly.

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‘Flying taxi’ startup Volocopter picks up another $241M, says service is now two years out

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In a year where mass transit on airplanes, trains and buses has had lower traveler numbers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the startups hoping to pioneer a totally new approach to getting individuals from A to B — flying taxis — has raised some significant funding.

Volocopter, a startup out of southern Germany (Bruchsal, specifically) that has been building and testing electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, has picked up €200 million (about $241 million) in a Series D round of funding. Alongside its aircraft, Volocopter has also been building a business case in which its vessels will be used in a taxi-style fleet in urban areas. CEO Florian Reuter tells us that live services are now two years out for the two vehicle models it has been developing.

“We are actually expecting to certify our VoloCity in around two years and start commercial air taxi operations right after,” he said. “Paris and Singapore are in pole position [as the first cities], where Paris wants to get have electric air taxis established for the 2024 Olympics. With our VoloDrone we expect first commercial flights even earlier than with our VoloCity.”

To date, Volocopter has shown off its craft in flights in Helsinki, Stuttgart, Dubai, and over Singapore’s Marina Bay. In addition to Europe and Asia, it also wants to launch services in the U.S..

For some context, this is basically on track with what the company had previously projected: in 2019 — when Volocopter raised an initial $55 million in funding for its Series C (finally closed out at €87 million, around $94 million) — the company said it was three years away from service.

This latest (oversubscribed) Series D includes investments from a mix of financial and strategic backers. Funds managed by BlackRock; global infrastructure company Atlantia S.p.A.; Avala Capital; automotive parts behemoth Continental AG; Japan’s NTT via its venture capital arm; Tokyo Century, a Japanese leasing company; multiple family offices are all new investors, among others. Volocopter also said that all of its existing investors — that list includes Geely, Daimler, DB Schenker, Intel Capital, btov Partners, Team Europe, and Klocke Holding and more — also contributed to the round.

If that sounds like a big list, it’s somewhat intentional, as the task of what Volocopter is complex and requires a wide ecosystem of other players, said Rene Griemens, the company’s CFO.

“Getting urban air mobility off the ground requires a full ecosystem that we are developing right now. Many of our strategic partners will support us on different aspects of the supply chain, scaling components, entering markets, improving operations amongst others. Most of them know certain aspects of our business model really well (eg. Japan Airlines for aviation, Atlantia for infrastructure),” he said. “Their investment is a reflection of their excitement about Volocopter as a leader in building the entire ecosystem of UAM, thereby giving credibility and comfort for purely financial investors.”

He added that many of these companies have a very “hands-on partnership” with Volocopter. “DB Schenker, for example, is rolling out leading-edge heavily-load electric logistics drones together with us around the globe.”

The company has now raised nearly $390 million. We’re asking for an updated valuation, but for some context, PitchBook data estimates its valuation now at $624 million.

Moonshots and sunsets

Founded in 2011, Volocopter has now been working on its idea — distinctive for its very wide circular design that sits where the rotor on a helicopter would be — for a whole decade, and in many regards it’s the classic idea of a moonshot in action.

It has yet to make any money, and the product that it’s building to do so is very groundbreaking — flying into completely unchartered territory, so to speak — and therefore ultimately untested.

It’s not the only one working on “flying taxi” concepts — there are other very well-capitalised companies like Lilum, Joby Aviation, Kitty Hawk and eHang.

However, all of these have faced various hurdles ranging from investor lawsuits to bankruptcies, accidents, mothballed projects and divestments (perhaps most notably, Joby scooped up Elevate last year as Uber stepped away from costly moonshots).

And most importantly, none of them are flying commercially yet. With Volocopter (as with the others), investors have taken a long-term bet here on a concept and a team it believes can deliver.

For now, the company says that technology is no longer the barrier, and neither it seems are regulators, who are, in the pandemic, more focused on considering new approaches to old problems to improve efficiency and acknowledge that we might have to do things a little differently from now on, in the wake of new demands from public health, and the public.

In the case of VTOL craft, the promise has always been that they could bypass a lot of the issues with street congestion in urban areas, and provide a more environmental alternative to gas-guzzling, present-day transportation modes.

The challenge, on the other hand, has been determining the safety both of completely new devices, and also of the traffic and other systems that they would operate under. With the idea being that ultimately these craft would be autonomous, that adds another complex twist.

Interestingly, regulators in different markets that might have been more skeptical of new concepts seem to be more open to considering them differently now with the pandemic at hand. This has played out in other arenas, too, such as the electric scooter market in the UK, which saw a bump in activity after regulators long skeptical gave them a provisional nod last year, citing the need for more individualized transportation options in a pandemic-hit country.

Volocopter’s model is based around transporting one person or small parties, so in a sense might be attractive here too.

“There aren’t any major hurdles anymore in terms of the technology as such,” said Retuer. “It is now all about execution. EASA has defined what is necessary to get electric air taxis certified to the highest safety level in aviation. We have the best technology in the market to certify to EASA’s high safety standards and will keep our heads down to finalize the few remaining steps to certification.”

In contrast, he said the other challenges that remain are those of any highly technical startup: “Our largest challenge right now is talent acquisition,” he said. “We are looking for the best talents worldwide and growing our team quickly now, so that we can accelerate on the technical and market development sides. Especially in the markets where we will open early routes, such as Paris, Singapore, China and Japan, we are going full speed in preparing everything necessary from digital infrastructure to landing sites, city approvals and more.”

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Indonesian supply chain startup Advotics raises $2.75M led by East Ventures

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The rapid growth of e-commerce in Indonesia, especially during the pandemic, is placing increasing demands on its supply chain infrastructure. But the country’s logistics industry is highly fragmented, with companies usually relying on multiple providers for one shipment, and many warehouses are still concentrated around major cities. Advotics wants to help with software to make the whole supply chain easier to track, and recently closed a $2.75 million funding round led by East Ventures.

Founded in 2016 by Boris Sanjaya, Hendi Chandi and Jeffry Tani, Advotics currently counts more than 70 clients, ranging from individual resellers to large corporations like Exxonmobil, Danone, Reckitt Benckiser, Sampoerna, Kalbe and Mulia Group.

According to research institution Statistics Indonesia, there are about 5 million small and medium-sized manufacturers in Indonesia. They use a supply chain with 15 million small to mid-sized distributors and about 288,000 large distribution companies. This fragmentation means higher expenses, with Report Linker estimating that logistics costs range between 25% to 30% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product.

To help make logistics more efficient for its clients, Advotics offers SaaS solutions to monitor almost their entire supply and logistics chain, from warehouse inventory to generating delivery routes for drivers. It includes a product digitalization feature that uses QR codes to track products and prevent counterfeiting. The company’s new funding will be used to launch a online-to-offline system for SMEs and grow its sales team.

Advotics is among several tech startups that are taking different approaches to tackle Indonesia’s logistics infrastructure. For example, Shipper wants to give sellers access to “Amazon-level logistics,” while Logisly is focused on digitizing truck shipments. Waresix recently acquired Trukita to connect businesses to shippers and truck shipment platform Kargo’s backers include Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick.

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Atomic, which only funds the startups it launches, just closed its newest fund with $260 million

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Jack Abraham has a lot of confidence in what he’s building. Then again, you can’t be immodest or unsure of yourself if you’re going to bet exclusively on your own startups as an investor, which is precisely the model that Abraham’s San Francisco-based venture studio, Atomic, has followed since it was launched nine years ago.

It all started with $10 million of Abraham’s own money, capital he amassed by selling his first startup, a local shopping engine called Milo, to eBay in 2010, for $75 million. Abraham had dropped out of Wharton as an undergrad with $500,000 from a professor who believed that Abraham — whose father founded ComScore — would himself be a company-building machine.

The professor had good instincts. After selling Milo at age 24, Abraham spent more than three years building products inside of eBay and learning how to lead multiple teams before beginning to look outward, making angel bets, including on Uber and Pinterest, and, he says, spreading around some of his ideas. (Among these, he says, he “invented Postmates. I gave the founders literally the idea for the company; they were working on a B2B company at the time. I was fairly early on there; that helped spawn the whole food delivery thing.”)

He had so many ideas — hundreds, he says — that not long afterward, he created Atomic with cofounder Andrew Dudum, a Wharton peer who is also the son of entrepreneurs and who also dropped out of college to join the startup world. (Dudum’s first stop was a then-nascent startup backed by Sequoia Capital.)

At first, Atomic worked on one company. The following year, it worked on two. By 2018, the outfit had built out a team that could handle many of the back-end functions that startups need to thrive, from recruiting to accounting, and launched 10 companies. Impressed investors gave the firm $150 million to create even more startups.

By then, Abraham and Dudum had brought in two other general partners: Chester Ng and Andrew Salamon. Salamon left in 2019 to launch his own venture studio, Material, with Blue Apron founder Matt Salzberg. The same year, JD Ross, one of a handful of cofounders of the newly public company Opendoor, joined Atomic as a general partner.

The firm has only picked up speed since. Indeed, at this point, Atomic has created “dozens” of startups — including roughly one per month last year, says Abraham. It also just closed on $260 million in new capital commitments, including from a prominent university that now serves as its anchor investor but would prefer not to be named publicly.

Citing “proprietary aspects” to the model, Abraham declines to explain how Atomic’s economics work, except to acknowledge that it operates in “more of a fund context instead of a holding company” where investors would essentially be buying stakes in Atomic itself.

Certainly, it’s easy to appreciate the enthusiasm of Atomic’s investors, including early backers like Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen. Abraham and Dudum are both compelling storytellers, as we’ve witnessed first-hand in interviewing them at different times. The firm is also starting to see some exits.

One of Atomic’s creations, the telehealth company Hims, was taken public in January through a blank-check company in a deal that valued the company at $1.6 billion, and its shares have been rising since. As of this writing, the three-and-a-half-year-old outfit — run by Dudum, who is doing double-duty as Hims’s CEO and a general partner with Atomic — boasts a market cap of $2.9 billion.

Atomic also sold a voice-powered sales startup, TalkIQ, to the company Dialpad in 2018 for what Forbes reported at the time to be a “little under $50 million.” TalkIQ had raised $22 million altogether.

More exits are coming, suggests Abraham. “There many companies we have that are now approaching the sort of growth and run rate where they have the ability to go public, even as soon as in the next year,” he says.

One of those eventual prospects is Replicant, an autonomous call center startup that has raised $35 million since its 2017 founding, including a $27 million Series A round led by Norwest Venture Partners back in September. Another Atomic startup, Homebound, a three-year-old home-building outfit that handles everything from financing to construction, has also enjoyed some momentum, as well as attracted $53 million from investors.

Though Atomic prides itself on “pressure testing” its ideas, not every startup has been a hit with users. A photo-sharing app called Ever was quickly shut down after NBC reported that the photos people shared were used to train a facial recognition system — tech the company offered to sell to private companies, law enforcement and the military. A sleep-tracking specialist, Rested, was also shut down.

Meanwhile, ZenReach, a Wi-Fi marketing company that had collected at least $94 million from investors through 2018, laid off 20% of its employees that same year. A CEO who’d been brought aboard by Abraham and who was previously an operating partner with Atomic, has since moved on to a role elsewhere.

If not all of its ideas set the world on fire, Atomic has no shortage of others.

Asked about some of the areas where he sees the most opportunity to innovate, Abraham quickly ticks off “healthcare, finance, education, real estate, and other large industries where truthfully, when you’re inside them, you understand how broken they are, and they are broken up and down the entire stack.

“You study them,” he says, “and then you wonder how is this possible this happened.”

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