Quantopian, a community where around 11,000 or so quants collaborate on algorithmic trading strategies, has raised $6.7 million from Khosla Ventures and Spark Capital. The new round brings the company’s total funding to $8.8 million.
Quantopian says it is the world’s first browser-based algorithmic trading platform. Developers can build and test algorithmic trading strategies on the platform. Then, they can share their work and collaborate with others.
Over the past 10 years, quantitative and high-frequency trading strategies have risen in power as daily turnover has exploded. Human speed and judgment hasn’t been able to keep up with the ever-growing complexity of global financial markets.
“People are realizing that anything that is subject to human judgement can be improved by automation and machine learning,” said CEO John Fawcett.
Fawcett, who used to be a chief technology officer at Tamale Software, a investment research software company that sold to Advent back in 2008, said that he saw an opportunity to support a community of independent traders who wanted to refine algorithmic strategies on their own outside of big funds.
“It’s directed at the individual who wants to strike out on their own,” said Fawcett said. “I saw that there were people practicing as quants today, who wanted to operate on their own but couldn’t given compensation, lifestyle and the nature of funds.”
He added, “The other thing I wanted to do was be part of a movement for an increasingly systematic approach to investing.”
The company has racked up about a decade of pricing data and history that developers can backtest their ideas against. Right now, it’s just U.S. equity data, but it wouldn’t be hard to imagine added historical data on currencies, commodities or other asset classes.
“We built this cloud infrastructure that has historical market data for U.S. equities and an integrated development environment where you implement two functions,” he said. “We feed all the data through those two functions, which can decide when to buy or sell any security.”
They launched earlier this year and recently poached Jessica Stauth, who used to run Thomson Reuters’ quant strategy, as a vice president. So far, the site has about 50,000 algorithms.
But they don’t have a revenue model yet. They’re merely building the community first. Fawcett is critical of the typical fee model where fund managers pick up a set percentage of assets under management and a percentage of how much they return.
He says that model incentivizes firms to break up as star investors accumulate resources and start to think about going off on their own.
“Having an umbrella organization over many managers never really worked because it’s a star driven business,” he said. “With the fee or following model, you’re taking a little bit of the compensation out of what the fund manager is earning. This basically penalizes success.”
They’re thinking about charging a monthly fee for access to a particular algorithm, but haven’t settled on that.
“We’re still in the phase of building a community, in the same way that AngelList spent a couple years getting access to startups before they built syndicates,” Fawcett said.
As for investors who want to harness the strategies that quants have built on the platform, Fawcett is still thinking about how much Quantopian should open the kimono and help prospective investors understand what they’re buying into.
“We envision having progressive disclosures about the way these strategies work for people that are backing them,” he said.Read More →
Editor’s Note: Regular contributor Thomas Vass, who is the manager of the subscription-based crowdfunding platform The Private Capital Market, kicks off a series of articles aimed at company executives considering crowdfunding investments. Ever interested in the details, Vass’ series focuses on how crowdfunding affects estate settlement plans for owners of closely-held companies. We leave it up to him to introduce the series.
Under Title II of the JOBS Act, commonly known as Accredited Investor Crowdfunding, technology company executives can publicly solicit potential investors. The major change in the new way of crowdfunding capital from the traditional venture capital method is that there will not be a period of time for negotiations between the buyers and sellers of private stock, under Regulation D, Rule 506(c).
In order to avoid the allegation of fraud in a public solicitation, the technology company must have already prepared the terms and conditions of the offering. Otherwise, what is said by the executive in public to one set of investors may turn out to be a false representation, if the company changes the terms with a second set of investors, in private, non-public negotiations over the terms.
Getting the offering terms and subscription agreements right from the start has serious implications for the estate settlement plans of the owners of technology companies. In other words, there is a critical nexus of financial and legal issues between crowdfunding and estate settlement that the owners need to get right, before the crowdfunding project begins.
This series of articles is a first effort to explore how estate settlement plans of technology executives change as a result of crowdfunding. This is a new area of law and finance, and the analysis provided in the four articles is speculative and untested by experience, so readers should be cautioned to seek legal counsel on how to adjust their current estate settlement plans, if they intend to engage in a crowdfunding project.
Where Estate Planning For CEOs Meets Section 4(a)(2) and Regulation D Rule 506(c) Crowdfunding
Corporate Law Meets Family Law, Who Then Meet Crowdfunding Law
The first article in this series explained how a legal document called a will is reviewed by a judge down at the local probate court to see if the terms in the will seem accurate and legitimate. If the will seems to be in order, the probate judge may issue an order to transfer ownership title of estate assets to family members or other beneficiaries named in the will.
In an entirely different part of the local courthouse, another judge may be hearing a related case between owners and family members about the management and administration of a company owned by a technology executive who died without a will.
The second judge would be reviewing the terms and conditions of a legal documents involving buy-sell agreements between the owners of the company on what happens to shares of the company if one of the owners dies.
It is not likely that the two judges, in two different courts, would necessarily meet each other and coordinate strategy on resolving the two cases. One possible scenario for increasing the chances that the two judges meet each other is if both sets of legal documents referred to the terms and conditions in the other documents.
The priority of events in creating the two sets of documents would first be the creation of the family estate settlement legal documents because those documents have many more options for moving the title of property and assets from one owner to another, both before and after someone dies.
Property rights are primarily a state issue, while crowdfunding is primarily a federal issue, so it is best to get the state property rights set first, in wills and trusts, and then deal with the federal issues of how crowdfunding affects property rights and federal estate taxes.
The terms of the family estate settlement documents would refer to the terms and conditions in the second set of business documents related to the buy-sell agreements and the other corporate legal documents (like the minutes and resolutions passed at board meetings), and then, both sets of documents (family and business) would be reviewed for conformity and consistency with the new crowdfunding rules, because crowdfunding has legal implications on how company ownership changes when capital is added to a company.
Crowdfunding creates legal rights and possible claims of the new crowdfunding investors against the estate of the CEO. In addition to that set of claims, the existing owners and early round investors may also have claims and grievances against the new crowdfunding investors. And, family members and family beneficiaries may have claims against both sets of investors, leading to many different judges in many different courtrooms listening to many sad stories about what the CEO intended, before she up and died.
Long before a CEO engages in a Title II accredited investor crowdfunding initiative, the CEO should meet with both the family estate attorney and the company attorney to make certain that the proposed crowdfunding is compatible with the entire estate settlement plans of the CEO.
Those two attorneys would probably schedule a meeting with the company securities attorney several months prior to the CEO making her first public solicitation for new investors.
Goal #1: Avoid Probate Court On Business Ownership Transfer Issues
The first priority in coordinating estate settlement with crowdfunding is to segregate the transfer of business property owned by the CEO from oversight of the probate court, when the CEO dies.
The main idea here is to involve one less judge in the estate settlement process involving the on-going management of the company.
As an issue of property law in most states, properties the grantor (owner/CEO) transfers to the revocable living trust during life are not subject to probate at the grantor’s death. Thus, assets, such as the CEO’s shares in the company, can be placed in a trust to avoid the delays and the costs of settling or probating an estate. Probate costs, probate time, and probate claims may be substantial.
A trust looks like, smells like, and acts like a unique corporation, with its own imaginary life existence. As the name suggests, a trust involves a lot of trust between the creator of the trust (trustor and CEO) and the beneficiaries of the trust (beneficiaries) and the administrator of the trust (trustee).
The CEO creates the trust, and then places her ownership interests into the trust before she dies, and a long time before she starts the crowdfunding project. Putting her shares of the company in the trust helps to avoid having those ownership interests subjected to review by a probate judge because the title of the shares passes directly to the legal control of the trustee, much like the card in the game Monopoly called “Pass Go and Collect $100.”
Placing the CEO’s shares in the trust is exactly the opposite of the Monopoly card that says “Go Directly to Jail,” which in this analogy would be “Go Directly to Probate.”
In the absence of a trust to place the shares, the local probate court judge would appoint an estate executor who will collect all the properties of the estate, and hold these properties under the jurisdiction of the probate court until creditors’ claims are satisfied and other formalities of death, including taxes, are complied with. Then, when the estate legal issues have been resolved, the executor will distribute the remaining properties as directed in the decedent’s will.
If the company owed money to suppliers, or had bank lines of credit, then the executor would direct that estate assets be used to pay those debts. Until those business debts are cleared, the management and administration of the company will be in limbo because only the executor can make legal decisions about the business during the estate settlement period.
This management limbo applies to securities that may have been bought by investors during a previous crowdfunding project.
During this estate settlement time, which usually ranges from six months to a year or more, the estate assets may be poorly invested and income or principal may not be readily available to the beneficiaries or heirs. The probate court is not under any obligation to select an executor who knows how to run a business.
The revocable living trust can be especially important if the grantor owns business or real estate property in states other than the state of his residence. The grantor can avoid multiple probate proceedings in several states (called ancillary probate) by legally re-titling the shares and placing them in the trust during the life of the CEO.
In the case of business ownership shares of the CEO, the trust document would authorize the trustee to sell the shares that had been placed in the trust to other buyers, such as the other owners of the company. When the trustee obtained the cash from the sale of the shares, the trustee would be obligated to use the proceeds to provide income and benefits to the beneficiaries of the trust, usually the spouse or children of the CEO.
Goal #2: Using The New Crowdfunding Estate Valuation of the Company Shares
The creation and execution of the trust must be coordinated with the other legal documents involving the business interests held by the CEO, including the value of the securities owned by the CEO that may have been issued under crowdfunding that are held in the trust.
The new wrinkle in crowdfunding for valuing shares is that the CEO and the other senior managers involved in crowdfunding set the terms and conditions of the securities, including their price when the new investors buy them. While the shares previously issued in crowdfunding do not go through the probate court, if they had been placed in a trust before death, the shares are includable in the valuation of the CEO’s estate.
In the older venture capital method, the venture capitalists and investment bankers set the terms and conditions, including the price of the securities. The price established by the venture capitalists may not have been the most advantageous to the CEO in valuing the shares, especially in the case of estate valuation.
Under IRC Sec. 2703, a business buy-sell agreement must be:
A bona fide business arrangement
Not a device to transfer property to family members for less than full and adequate consideration, and
Comparable in its terms to those entered into by persons in arm’s-length transactions
Must prohibit an individual owner from selling his or her interest during life without first offering it to the business or to the other owners at the price specified in the agreement
Presumably, but subject to review by legal counsel, the value of shares set by the CEO for crowdfunding securities would be legitimate evidence of a bona fide business arrangement that could be used to place a value on the shares that are bought from the trust, when the CEO dies.
Where Estate Planning Meets Section 4(a)(2) and Regulation D Private Placements
Accredited investor crowdfunding, under Title II of the JOBS Act, is a regulated activity, as were all Reg. D private placements, under the old venture capital/angel method. The new crowdfunding rules increase the risk for CEOs related to committing fraud in any part of an investment offering.
To be clear, if everything in a future Reg. D 506(c) ran perfectly, the CEO and all the senior executives of a company, would need to modify their estate plans because the new capital investments in the company change ownership interests and create new, unknown future liabilities and claims, both during the life, and after the death, of a CEO.
The new Reg. D Rule 506(c) breaks the entire crowdfunding offering period into two distinct periods of time. First, the company can now publicly solicit investors during a sales and marketing period, prior to actually issuing securities. Anyone in the public is eligible to review the sales material and attend crowdfunding events about the company.
Second, in the period of time just before the securities are issued (90 days), the CEO must conduct an investigation of the credentials of the potential investor, and verify the status of an accredited investor, before accepting investment capital from the investor.
The new increased risk arises from the CEO making a mistake in the offering. The mistake creates potential claims against the estate of the CEO, if the CEO happens to die within one year of the close of the Reg. D offering. The one year period is related to new rules on the rights of rescission of investors who may have made an investment, under an exemption granted to the company under Reg. D Rule 506(c), if that exemption is subsequently revoked because the CEO made a mistake.
The CEO has two new balls to juggle with crowdfunding. First, the CEO must get the terms and conditions right, and then not stray from the set of terms described in the documents by offering different terms and conditions to different sets of investors.
Second, the CEO must confirm the identity and credentials of the investor, prior to accepting any capital from the investor.
If the CEO drops the ball, then the Reg. D Rule 506(c) exemption may be revoked, and the CEO’s estate settlement plans, including the value of the shares held in the trust, would be in jeopardy.
Under the new rules, the CEO must come up with the following list of terms and conditions prior to the public solicitation of investors:
Type of security
Price of security
Right to vote on board members
Under the old rules, the venture capitalists came up with these terms and conditions, and prepared a document called a term sheet that was circulated to all prospective investors and the company. The term sheet, under the old VC/angel model, often went back and forth between all the parties many times, and eventually was used to create the private placement memorandum (PPM).
Under the new rules, the CEO will prepare the term sheet in advance of the offering period, and if the investors like the terms, they will invest. This is much like what investors do when they see a stock on the NYSE that they like. In that case, they buy the stock and do not attempt to quibble with the NYSE about the terms and conditions of the stock they are buying.
The CEO of a company that is crowdfunding, under Reg. D Rule 506(c), now also has an increased burden of determining the credentials of accredited investors, prior to accepting investment capital. If the CEO makes a mistake about the credentials of the investor, and sells private securities to an unqualified investor, the issuer cannot rely on the 1933 Securities Act private placement exemption in 4(a)(2).
Selling securities without a registration exemption is illegal. The antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws require issuers to provide investors with full, fair and complete disclosure of all material facts about the issuer, its management, business, operations and finances.
The PPM is designed to simultaneously satisfy the issuer’s disclosure requirements while serving as a shield against any future charges of violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. The value of the disclosure documents can be destroyed if the issuer, its placement agent or a broker makes oral or written representations that are different from or inconsistent with those in the PPM.
If a CEO makes a mistake, and the exemption is revoked, then all the investors (not just the unqualified purchaser) have the right to rescind or cancel its purchase and recover the purchase price (plus interest) from the issuer for one year after the sale.
Obviously, every time an investor claimed the right of rescission, the ownership interests of the CEO would change, and thus, affect the estate settlement plans. It would also affect the travel and vacation plans of the CEO, after the Federal and State securities regulators showed up.
The third article in this series will describe an even better idea for transferring ownership interests than the revocable trust.
Thomas Vass is a regional economist with a research interest in the relationship between regional technological innovation, regional capital markets and regional economic growth. He is the author or Predicting Technology: Identifying Future Market Opportunities and Disruptive Technologies (Wingspan Press, 2007). He is a registered investment advisor, and his investment management work involves a commercial application of the Feser Technology Cluster methodology to selecting technology stocks for investment portfolios and identifying private capital investments in regional economies. He is the holder of a patent on technology stock selection. (Vass 7,251,627 July 31, 2007, Method of identifying a universe of stocks for inclusion into an investment portfolio), and the manager of a subscription based equity crowdfunding website, The Private Capital Market. He graduated with a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has a Masters of Regional Planning, also from UNC-CH. He is located in Calabash, North Carolina. You can contact Thomas Vass at firstname.lastname@example.org, and read his economic research papers on the Social Science Research Network here.Read More →
Sharran Deora said it took a lot of hustle to get his first job out of school.
“I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I didn’t have the right connections,” said Deora, who was dreaming of working in banking. He ultimately ended up at Lehman Brothers and then Barclays Capital in product marketing and product management.
But now that he’s back out of the finance industry, he’s looking to solve that old problem of finding the right career connections for future graduates.
He’s launching an app today called Mounza for Android and iOS, that puts together all on-campus recruiting opportunities in one place. He’s starting with Stanford and UC Berkeley through partnerships with about 25 on-campus organizations like the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and the Berkeley EECS (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science) department.
“The career center mayabe only holds 5 percent of recruiting events on-campus,” he said. “The majority is coming from the clubs.”
Students can in-put their own events and subscribe to specific career fields for events in medicine or finance. The number of users in the beta right now is still pretty small at about 3,000 users.
But Deora said that active users are logging in about twice a day and that the company hasn’t done any active marketing.
He says that he’ll be able to expand campus-by-campus by marketing the app through the national parent organizations of different business clubs and fraternities.
As for the business model, Deora said he plans to charge recruiting companies and corporations about $100 a month to get access to the app for posting jobs and hosting events.Read More →
It’s not often you come across a founder that measures startup success by winning the Nobel Peace Prize one day. When ResearchGate founder Ijad Madisch said that to Benchmark partner Matt Cohler a few years ago, he knew that his startup, which has developed a communication and crowdsourcing platform by which scientists can share and publish their research, was going to potentially change the way we solve real world problems with scientific collaboration. Flash forward two years, and Berlin-based ResearchGate is actually seeing progress being made in areas like disease, terrorism and more from collaborations and shared knowledge taking place on its platform.
Madisch joining us on stage at Disrupt Europe in late October, in Berlin, with a conversation with his board member and early investor Cohler.
One of major challenges to plague scientific research and innovation is redundancy. A team of scientists hard at work on protein data analysis publish their results only to learn that a group on the opposite side of the world has just done the same. The collaborative web changes this. As both a physician and a researcher, Madisch decided that the best way to reduce research redundancy would be to create an online professional network in which scientists could easily share data, information and results.
Investors have caught wind of the power of ResearchGate, and to date, the company has raised over $35 million from Benchamrk, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Tenaya Capital, Dragoneer Investment Group, Thrive Capital, Accel Partners, Simon Levene, Bebo co-founder Michael Birch, Founders Fund, and Yammer CEO David Sacks, among others. The fact that Gates, who doesn’t rarely invests in startups with his personal wealth, is betting on ResearchGate is a big deal.
Matt Cohler is a General Partner at Benchmark. He’s responsible for identifying investment opportunities in Internet-related companies, in addition to working closely with companies across the firm’s portfolio.
At Benchmark, Matt has partnered with entrepreneurs from across the social, mobile and cloud industries from around the globe such as Instagram, Dropbox, Quora, Asana, Domo, Edmodo, Baixing, CouchSurfing, Peixe Urbano, ResearchGate, 1stdibs, and Zendesk.
Prior to joining Benchmark he served as the VP of Product Management at Facebook, where he led the development of new strategic initiatives for the company. As the seventh employee at Facebook, Matt played a crucial role within the team during many critical growth phases. Previously Matt was Vice President and General Manager at LinkedIn, where he was a member of the founding team. Matt also has been a consultant in McKinsey & Company’s Silicon Valley office and worked in Beijing for AsiaInfo, the Chinese startup that built the infrastructure for the Internet in mainland China. Matt’s writings on the startup economy have been published in Harvard Business Review. He holds a bachelor’s degree with honors and distinction from Yale University.
Ijad Madisch is the co-founder and CEO of ResearchGate, the social networking site for scientists and researchers to share papers, ask and answer questions and find collaborators.
Ijad holds a M.D. and Ph.D., and studied medicine and computer science in Hannover at Harvard University. In 2005 he received the RSNA Young Investigator Prize for his work on ultra high-resolution CT Imaging of tissue-engineered bone growth.
After several years in Boston, where he worked as a radiology researcher at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Ijad moved to Berlin and founded ResearchGate in 2008. The company is now based in Berlin and has offices in Cambridge, Mass. Ijad has stated that he wishes to win a Nobel Prize through the site by disrupting the way in which science is conducted.
As we mentioned above, the real power of ResearchGate is in the actual discoveries and advancements in science being made through the platform. Here are just a few of the many examples of how ResearchGate is changing scientific collaboration.
Emmanuel Nnadi (Nigeria) and Orazio Romeo (Italy) recently discovered a deadly pathogenic plant yeast together. This yeast killed a 38-day-old baby girl in Emmanuel‘s hometown in Nigeria. It was the first time report of a death caused by this pathogen. Orazio and Emmanuel sent the yeast to a lab in the Netherlands where it‘s currently being investigated further. The unlikely team who got to know each other through ResearchGate previously found the first time occurrence of another pathogenic yeast in Nigeria, and published a paper about it in a peer-reviewed journal.
Rafael Luque, professor for organic chemistry at the University in Cordoba and Rick Arneil Aracon, graduate student from the Philippines also found each other in a forum. The unlikely pair discovered that the leftovers of corncobs make highly effective and eco-friendly catalysts for bio-fuel made from old cooking oil and published a paper on the technique.
David Chau stumbled into a discussion that had a huge impact on his current project. Through ResearchGate, he managed to connect with colleagues from different departments within his university and, as a result, gain access to equipment for the experiments he was conducting. He is now working on a new technique to detect tiny quantities of water in biological samples.
Hector Vazquez-Leal, professor for applied mathematics at the University of Veracruz in Mexico, was looking for a research partner on ResearchGate. Here he found Guillermo Fer Andez-Anaya. They collaborated and discovered a new solution to Troesch’s Problem which allows the improved determination of the movement of gas in a confined environment. They published their result in a peer-reviewed journal. Vazquez-Leal is currently working on two more projects in the same field with
research partners he found on the network.
Sohail Malik (Political Science and Engineering, Pakistan) was looking for help in statistics, when he found Michael Sandholzer (Radiologist, UK) on ResearchGate. Together, they worked on Malik’s project to identify risk factors generating terrorism and insurgency in Pakistan. Their article has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal and will appear in 2014.
“ResearchGate will change how we conduct science in the future,” says Madisch. He says that similar to the way that developers can code on engineering projects from across the work, there is the same opportunity in the scientific world.
Madisch tells us that 56 percent of research papers published in 2013 include an author that is on ResearchGate. From 2008 to 2011, 1.4 million papers were added to the profiles of scientists on ResearchGate. Now the network is seeing 1.4 million papers added each month, with 27 million papers uploaded in total. And much of the collaborative power is in sharing the raw data between scientists, and Madisch says that every two days, 1,300 data sets are uploaded. “The engagement is just growing exponentially,” he says.
However, ResearchGate isn’t the only company to have recognized the power of this collaboration—Academia.edu is also competing in the space.
How Madisch will continue to grow ResearchGate as a network, and use technology for this purpose will be part of the discussion with Cohler on stage at Disrupt. And we’ll also hear from him about the challenges and benefits of starting and maintaining a startup in Europe (Cohler believes Berlin will be the next big startup ecosystem).
Disrupt Europe will take place from October 26-29 (Hackathon on 26-27; Main Event on 28-29) and lots more info can be found here.Read More →
It seems there’s still money be made in money transfers. Azimo, the UK-based social money transfer service that competes with legacy players Western Union and Moneygram, and to a lesser extent, PayPal, has raised just over $1 million in seed funding from the European arm of VC firm eVentures. Existing angel investors also participated in the round, including CapitalOne founder Matt Cooper, which brings the company’s total funding to-date to around $1.5 million.
Azimo says the new capital will be used to expand the service to other parts of Europe, in terms of who can send money (the service already supports 190 destination countries around the world). TechCrunch understands that Germany will be first, with Ireland, France, Spain, and Netherlands pegged to follow on the startup’s roadmap.
Launched in August 2012, Azimo aims to disrupt the remittance industry by letting users transfer money internationally to friends, family or other contacts via the Web, its mobile apps or Facebook, charging between 1% and 2% of the transaction, which is significantly cheaper than the rates charged by the likes of Western Union, PayPal or the indeed the banks. The recipient receives the money either in their bank account, at local cash collection points, or as “mobile wallet” top-up credit.
Talking up the size of the online money transfer market as a whole — $500 billion, citing the World Bank — Azimo claims 30,000 registered users, and says that 60% of customers make a repeat visit in their first month. To mark its one year anniversary, the company is waving its fees from today till the end of October. I guess that’s one way to spend VC money.
In a canned statement, Azimo’s fund raise seems to have got the approval of the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, who says: “This German investment into a British startup demonstrates that the UK has the infrastructure, the skills base and the competitive edge to capitalise on our expertise in both financial services and digital technology and UKTI is working to ensure that the UK is leading the way in the FinTech revolution. Competition in the financial services sector is vital to ensure consumers get the best deal possible and I commend Azimo on securing this financing.”
Of course, Cable is right, the UK does punch above its weight in financial services, and this is also translating to FinTech. To that end, another potential competitor in Europe is the multiple VC-backed TransferWise. However, Azimo is more about consumer transfers via collection points akin to Western Union, while TransferWise largely targets bank transfers, particularly by businesses, not least startups.
Cue the now obligatory statement from Joanna Shields, CEO to Tech City UK, the British government organisation charged with trumpeting startups in London: “Fin-tech is a lucrative and exciting growth market with many start-ups and young businesses creatively disrupting traditional models and re-imagining our relationship with money. I hope that Azimo’s success and this funding milestone will inspire other investors to join in the new wave of financial innovation happening in London.”Read More →
The very mention of the word “drone” often conjures up images of autonomous machines cruising over battlefields, but that’s far from the future 3D Robotics has in store for its own aerial machines. And thanks a recent infusion of capital, that future may be closer than you think.
3D Robotics announced earlier today that it locked up a $30 million Series B round, with a list of participants that includes Foundry Group, True Ventures, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, and SK Ventures.
The company previously closed a $5 million round last December that featured many of those same names, and at the time CEO (and former Wired EiC) Chris Anderson said the infusion of funds would be used to open and staff a then-new San Francisco office. Another crucial component of the 3DR growth story was to launch a new website, flesh out the community experience, and developer and a new slew of products meant to make “drones and other aerial robotics technology easier, more powerful and cheaper”.
There’s been plenty of progress made on that final front too as the 3D Robotics portfolio is now comprised of a single plane-style drone and four copter drones. The newest of addition to the lineup? The Iris, a $720 drone that can be controlled with ease from a PC or an Android device (as long as you have the corresponding app) that can also follow paths “drawn” on an on-screen map thanks its built-in GPS. While Anderson and the rest of the team have spent the past year trying to more effectively court hobbyists and DIY drone buffs, the company’s ambitions hinge on proving that drone’s have plenty of commercial value as well.
Anderson gave the Financial Times a clearer view of the wildly varying fields that he thinks 3D Robotics’ drones can disrupt, and all of the usual suspects are accounted for. Remotely controlled drones can make for cheaper, more effective search and rescue operations, as well as hyperlocal deliveries (I personally can’t wait for someone to put together a fleet of tacocopters.
Perhaps the most curious application is in agriculture, in which farmers and ranchers could remotely keep tabs on the all their land and livestock without having to trudge into the fields themselves.Read More →
JustFab Has Raised Another $40M Led By Hong Kong’s Shining Capital To Take Its Fashion Subscription Commerce Model To Asia
Hot on the heels of its acquisition of rival ShoeDazzle (yes, pun intended), subscription-based fashion commerce site JustFab, now with 35 million users, is once again adding to its coffers, to pick up the pace on international growth. Today the company is announcing that it has raised $40 million in a Series C round of funding.
This latest round was led by Shining Capital of Hong Kong, with participation from existing investors Matrix Partners, Rho Ventures, Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) and Intelligent Beauty. Co-CEO Adam Goldenberg tells me the funding will specifically be used to keep building out its international business, in Asia as well as Europe.
JustFab has been doing a fair amount of international growth already, both organically and inorganically. Other purchases have included Fab Shoes to expand into France and Spain, and FabKids, to enter the children’s clothes market.
The Series C comes a little over a year after JustFab closed a $76 million round, also with the aim of using the investment to expand its footprint and product line-up beyond its mainline offering of footwear for women. The company has now raised some $149 million in total.
Goldenberg says that while the interest from an Asian investor will certainly see the company moving into that part of the world, this will not be the only target.
“France and Spain so far are going extremely well,” he told me in an interview, “so we want to do more in Western Europe.” In fact, the company says that it is currently adding 400,000 members per month in the region, with over 3 million users in Western Europe.
“We are also looking at Australia, in addition to Asia, because over the next four years we want to build a global brand,” he added. This may include more acquisitions, or simply more offices opening on its own steam. “It’s important to have a strong balance sheet so that if there is good opportunity to buy something we can.”
Indeed, with much of e-commerce a game of scale, netting more users and more sales are essential to make the economics of companies like JustFab work. Goldenberg notes that this round is not related to the ShoeDazzle acquisition, which was financed from working capital. JustFab expects the newly-merged company to be profitable by next year.
The new round of investment also comes at the same time that JustFab is moving into a new product category beyond the shoes, accessories, kids’ clothes and apparel that it already sells. No word on what that will be, except that it will be launched before the year is out.
JustFab is not sharing any details on its company valuation, but it is increasingly becoming more competitive against a Fab of another name — that is, Fab.com. JustFab is currently suing the latter company for trademark infringement and unfair competition, a suit that Goldenberg says is still ongoing, with no further comment.Read More →
Naveen Selvadurai, the Foursquare co-founder who left the company last year, has found a new role at Oscar, the health insurance startup co-founded by Thrive Capital’s Joshua Kushner. The startup just raised $40 million ahead of sweeping changes to U.S. health insurance regulations that go into effect next year.
Selvadurai came on board within the last month and is now working there full-time. He’s running the company’s mobile team ahead of a slated January launch. However, we hear that Selvadurai continues to harbor ambitions to do his own startup again, so it’s unclear how long he will stay with Oscar.
Nevertheless, he’s passionate about the space. Earlier this year, he opened up a “personal API” that shows his sleep patterns, weight, steps, food intake, and activity levels. When he launched it, he wrote:
“as i’ve gotten older, i started getting more interested in tracking my health and fitness. when we are young and in our twenties, we can get away with pretty much anything. but like everyone else, the older i get, the more i realize i only have one body – and that i should try to keep it tuned to get the most performance out of it.”
Oscar now has 35 people, half of whom are focused on technology, data, and design. The other half are healthcare executives focused on product. Co-founders Mario Schlosser, Kevin Nazemi, and Josh Kushner are leading operations along with chief technology officer Fredrik Nylander, who used to be the head of engineering and operations at Tumblr.
Oscar recently won approval to open as a health insurance operator in New York, where it will launch first. Although the team remains quiet on the nature of the product, it is billing itself as a “modern health insurer” that will take advantage of design and data to humanize and simplify the consumer experience with health insurance.
They are not a front-end for existing health insurance providers. They are actually their own operator and $29 million of the massive initial round they raised is not going toward operations. It is instead being kept on reserve in compliance with state regulations for health insurance providers.
Oscar has raised money from Thrive, General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund and other angels.Read More →
Google Earth Meets The Body: BioDigital Gets $4M To Bring Its 3-D, Virtual Anatomy & Health Platform To Every Browser
While the film is extremely compelling, it turns out that there’s actually a better way to learn about and visualize the human body than by watching Osmosis Jones on repeat. It used to be that students and the anatomically curious had to turn to pictures in textbooks or plastic models (Gasp! I know) to get a virtual tour of the human body. Well, thankfully, it turns out that some graduate students are learning with a better, more tech-savvy interactive map — as if the human body were being given the Google Earth treatment.
A New York-based imaging startup, called Biodigital, emerged early last year with an ambitious mission and product: Animate, map and display the human body in 3-D through any browser. Co-founders Frank Sculli and John Qualter created their free technology by combining advances in CAD, HTML5, WebGL and other cool acronym-ed web technologies to push browser-based virtualization forward and perhaps finally replace your dog-eared, dusty old anatomy textbook.
Since launching a year ago, “Human,” Biodigital’s fittingly-named, 3-D virtual body that displays thousands of medically accurate health conditions and anatomy objects through an interactive web-based platform, has attracted over one million members. Sculli tells us that students in over 2,500 schools are using it to learn anatomy, and consumers have begun taking tours of the virtual body to investigate and better understand their health, fitness — and, of course, how babies are made.
Thanks to partnerships with schools and a handful of healthcare providers, hospitals and clinics are beginning to introduce Biodigital’s virtual body into their practices to help patients understand their illnesses, afflictions and maladies. But, the big, long-term vision, the Biodigital founder tells us, is to develop a powerful set of APIs that enable developers and engineers to tap into startup’s imaging technology — using to build new applications and expand on existing ones.
Putting its tech in the hands of smart builders and creators, Sculli hopes, could “improve healthcare in crazy ways we’d never have imagined” over the long-term. And, of course, there’s the other benefit of launching APIs, which Paul Graham summarized neatly, dubbing them instant, self-serve business development tools.
With traction slowly mounting and the scope for Biodigital’s technology beginning to expand, the startup today announced that it is taking on $4 million in series A financing, led by FirstMark Capital, with participation from NYU Venture Fund and a handful of angel investors.
The funding, in essence, validates the founding mission of Biodigital, Sculli tells us, considering that the company has in some form been hacking away at this problem (and the use of 3-D tech to simplify health concepts) for about a decade. But, really, the funding validates the problem that has existed for years now — throughout both health and education — that the traditional means of communicating and presenting critical health information do not reflect the huge strides innovation and technology has made on the technical side over that time. With some 80 percent of adults having searched for health information online at some point, the Consumer demand for health information is clear, and the demand for better ways to visualize that health information have begun to catch up.
After all, as Sculli explains in a blog post today, 3-D technology is already changing the face of games, movies and is has become familiar to the Average Joe through geo-browsers like Google Earth. As the founders correctly (in my humble opinion) surmise: “Nowhere does this 3-D technology make more sense than in representing the human body.” Once browsers began to natively support this technology, alongside the meteoric rise of cloud and API-based businesses, Sculli writes, the founders had the missing piece. They could not only develop this product for healthcare providers, but use universally available tools and supported web technologies to bring their virtual body explorer to the public.
With its new funding, Biodigital finally has the capital backing it needs to expand its team and spread the word about its virtual body, building on the organic growth it’s captured over the last 12 months. Not only that, but it will be able to put the finishing touches on an API that will potentially result in some mind-melting applications and utilizations. The startup’s virtual body is free for anybody to use and can be found here, thought Biodigital will also be offering premium (paid) version of its service to both providers and businesses.
For more, check out Johnny Johnny Biggs’ video demo of the early product and interview with the founders last year, right …. here. Or just see the video below:Read More →