Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

Amy Errett’s company, Madison Reed, sells women’s in-home hair coloring products. It may not sound like a glamorous business but, as it turns out, it’s a very durable one, done the right way. Not only has the seven-year-old outfit been slowly chipping away at the dominant personal care giants like L’Oreal that have long controlled what’s currently a $ 30 billion market, but during one of the most dramatic economic downturns of the past century, it has been attracting new customers.

In fact, Errett — who was previously a VC with Maveron Ventures and has a side hustle as a venture partner with True Ventures — says the 300-person company is seeing revenue in excess of $ 100 million per year and that it will be profitable in the second half of this year. Presumably, that makes it a likely candidate for an IPO in the not-too-distant future.

We talked with Errett earlier this week about the business, which has raised $ 125 million to date from investors, including True Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, and Comcast Ventures. We wanted know if, like so many other consumer companies hard hit by the pandemic, it has conducted recent layoffs, whether it is re-opening the “color bars” it has launched in the U.S., and where it’s headed next. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: Like a lot of direct-to-consumer brands, you more recently began opening real-world stores — color bars. How many did you have up and running before COVID-19 took hold?

AE: We had 12. We are reopening them now with 20 [because we had] eight that never got opened in March, April and May.  We’ll end the year with 25.

TC: Are they just scattered around the U.S.?

AE: They’re in hubs that we have selected based on the demographics of the women that live in those hubs and what we know from our online business. So they are in Northern California, where we’re headquartered. They’re New York, Dallas, Houston, and the Washington D.C. area. And we’re reopening in Atlanta, adding more in Dallas and Houston, and by year end, we’ll be in Miami and Denver.

TC: Can you comment on the financial metrics of the company? At one point, we’d read the company was doing around $ 50 million annually with 78% gross margins.

AE: The product margin of the business is in excess of 80%, meaning the actual product; the gross margin of the business, meaning fully loaded, is 60%. The growth has been amazing. We have 300,000 subscribers now, and we’re ahead of 2x the financials [you stated]. We’re a private company, so I don’t disclose [specifics] but we will be profitable the second half of this year.

TC: Obviously, you’ve captured some new customers who couldn’t go to a salon during this national lockdown. What percentage of your overall business do those 300,000 subscribers represent?

AE: It moves from day to day. So 52% of women in the U.S. color exclusively at home; 48% go to salons, some to our color bars; then 25% are called duelists. They’re excessively gray, or they want to stretch out salon appointments, so they do their hair at home [in between bookings].

Typically, 60% of the people that come to us that are salon goers, and 50% are home users. During the surge, the numbers did tip in the direction of 70% of the people that were coming to us were salon goers because they had no other place to go. The good news is that we are retaining an enormous amount of them. The average [subscriber] orders from us every six weeks, then we have people who buy a single box but there are serial one-timers who act like subscribers, so these are startlingly sustainable cohorts compared to typical D2C businesses.

TC: So you didn’t lay off anyone even as you were closing these color bars?

AE: I think seven employees decided they had kids at work and couldn’t even work on a distributed work basis, but we have not done any furloughing. We closed all of our color bars around March 15. . . and we moved all of our in store colorists to our call center. We had to buy and send headsets to everyone at home, teach them about all of the technology support in customer service, which is very different than the skills you’d use working in the store. And away we went.

[Everyone at our call center] was already a certified licensed colorist as our sale is a very technical sale. Every woman in the world has at least five bad hair stories, so we put what I call a belt and suspenders around the advice because the most important thing for a customer at Madison Reed is to get the color right. You get one shot.

TC: States are reopening. As colorists return to your stores, what precautions are you taking, and how uniform are your processes across different states?

ER:  We are reopening stores, at first with retail only [where] we’ll get the bag and bring it out to you, and [over time] with sensible scheduling. We don’t know when we’ll go back to every chair.

And we’re taking the most stringent guidelines of any state and laying that across the entire system. So even if a state says that a client doesn’t need to wear a mask, we’re wearing masks and our clients are wearing masks. Some people don’t want to do that. That’s okay. Then we’re not the right place for people to come if that’s true [because] our clients’ and our team members’ safety comes first.

TC: Last year, you announced a plan to roll out 600 stores, 100 of which would be operated by the company and 500 that were to be franchised. Is it fair to say that those plans are on hold and, if so, are they perhaps permanently on hold?

ER:  We were just starting to sell franchises in February. We actually had our first set of meetings with potential franchisees and we were about to file the documentation that one needs to file for disclosure of franchises — then this happened. And we made a decision right now that for the rest of this year, we’re pushing that decision off. We have not decided whether that’s final or not.

I think one of the things that I’ve learned through all of this is that making big, broad decisions right now isn’t the smartest thing a CEO can do. The world is just in flux. I can’t tell you with certainty what date we can take people back into our headquarters. I can’t tell you with any certainty if there [will be a] vaccine or a drug protocol or if it’s going to spread again or there will be hotspots. I can’t tell you, and I don’t think anybody can.

TC: Given your traction, is there any reason your next funding event wouldn’t be a a public offering?

ER: This is a massive category that has been widely overlooked. And when you look at the size of the prize — $ 15 billion alone in the U.S., with repetitive purchase patterns – – it has all the characteristics of a successful–

I’m an investor [too]. I was a GP and open and ran Maveron’s office in the Bay Area. Connie, you and I probably first met while I was a VC, having a more relaxing life. I’m also a partner at True, so I do invest as well as part of the investment team. And so I’m actually just commenting with that hat on. Like, 80%-plus of our revenues are recurring in this company. At our color bars, we’re the only people who have the ability to use our own product.

TC: Meaning?

The stylist is never going to give the product to most women going to a salon today. They’re never going to say, ‘Oh, you’re going on vacation? Take this home with to you.’ I use Madison Reed and I can walk into a Madison Reed color bar and get the same consistency. The same exact color that I could take home, someone’s going to apply for me. That is a game changer in this industry.

We are the only people who are agnostic as to whether you want us to color your hair [in a store] or you do it at home. If you look at L’Oreal, 85% of its business is selling tubes of color to stylists in salons. It is not a direct relationship with a consumer. The direct relationship with the consumer is the box sitting at Walgreens, which is a very small percentage of their business and it’s not a percentage they’re [focused on] because the margins are so thin. Remember, they’re charging $ 10; I’m charging $ 25.

The secret sauce here is that L’Oreal’s and Unilever’s professional channel [creates] a conflict for them to innovate directly, based on technology or otherwise, to the direct consumer.

TC: Do you see them moving in your direction?

They are smart and they can decide that they’re going to come after us in different ways, and that’s fine. I’ll take the customer service, the relationship to the client, the product innovation, the way that we lead with mobile technology first any single day.

TC: Speaking of these giants, how many products does Madison Reed sell currently, and what might you roll out that would surprise customers?

AE: We have about 15 products, all in the category of [ammonia-free] hair color that’s better for you, whether it’s permanent hair color, semi-permanent hair color, glosses, toners, a highlight kit with non-ammonia bleach . . .We’re also rolling out color depositing masks [that you apply in the shower] that aren’t permanent.

And then I’ll just give you this hint: right now our business is really focused on women, so you can imagine that there’s a separate gender that may color their hair. That is a market that’s just terrific, right? Just for Men?  I mean, are you kidding me? We’re going to blow the doors off that market.


TechCrunch

The X-37B spaceplane sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, and its mysterious past is equally evocative. What does the military put in this long-term orbital vehicle? Turns out it’s exactly the kind of neat, but not mind-blowing, science you’d expect to find in such a thing — though solar-powered masers do sound pretty cool.

Also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, the Boeing -designed X-37B has performed five prior missions, amounting to a total of nearly eight years in orbit; The last mission alone was 780 days. But while the craft’s owners (the Air Force, though it is used by many others) are proud to tout its remarkable longevity and reliability, they rarely if ever admit what they’re sending up, or what (if anything) it brings down.

While it’s fun to think that it may be truly top secret Area 51 type stuff, it’s much more likely that it’s just run-of-the-mill classified military research. The Defense Department bankrolls an enormous amount of basic science as well as advanced technology, and some of that is bound to require testing in space. While we love and respect our Russian friends with whom we share the ISS, the Pentagon would seem to prefer they didn’t run its experiments, so they have the X-37B.

On one occasion the Air Force said that the craft tests “advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing,” which narrows it down a bit.

For the spaceplane’s sixth mission, the various departments involved have broken tradition and given details on the payloads. That’s no small feat given it’s an operation combining the resources of the Air Force, Space Force, Naval Research Lab, and NASA.

The most broadly interesting experiment has to be a solar-powered microwave laser, or maser, built by the NRL. The device “will transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy which could then be transmitted to the ground.”

Image Credits: U.S. Air Force courtesy photo

The key word there is could, since this type of wireless energy transmission has been pursued for decades. It’s doubtful that a foot-wide solar cell can produce enough energy to be beamed to the surface in measurable levels, but proving the concept piece by piece is something that has to be done in space. And for all we know they’ve already sent multiple precursor device up there on previous missions.

Don’t worry that this is some kind of orbital beam weapon that fries surface-dwellers: The total amount of energy collected by a foot-wide cell would be difficult to change into a form that’s harmful a few feet away, let alone 200 miles up through the entire atmosphere. It could, however, be used to beam power to receptive spacecraft or (conceivably) to interfere with poorly protected adversary spacecraft.

Two other experiments on board are from NASA, and they have to do with seeing how various items react to being exposed to the space environment. “One is a sample plate evaluating the reaction of select significant materials to the conditions in space. The second studies the effect of ambient space radiation on seeds,” said Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett.

Last — that we know of — is FalconSat-8, an Air Force Academy satellite that will be performing its own, unspecified experiments once released into its own orbit by the X-37B. It is itself “an educational platform that will carry five experimental payloads for USAFA to operate

This rather large number of items being brought to space is made possible by a “service module” attached for the first time to the aft of the craft and containing some of the hardware.

It’s unknown how long this mission will be, but if it’s anything like the others, it will be on the order of months or years.


TechCrunch

Kitty Hawk, the flying car company backed by Google’s Larry Page and led by Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun, has struck a deal with aerospace giant Boeing.

The terms of the strategic partnership are vague. But it appears the two companies will collaborate on urban air mobility, particularly around safety and how autonomous and piloted vehicles will co-exist.

Kitty Hawk’s portfolio of vehicles includes Cora, a two-person air taxi, and Flyer, a vehicle for personalized flight. The partnership is focused on the fully electric, self-piloting flying taxi Cora, according to the announcement.

“Working with a company like Kitty Hawk brings us closer to our goal of safely advancing the future of mobility,” said Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of Boeing NeXt, an organization within the company focused on next-generation transport.

Thrun, who founded X, Google’s moonshot factory, also co-founded Kitty Hawk. The company is based in Mountain View, Calif., however much of its testing occurs in New Zealand. Last year, Kitty Hawk took the wraps off of Cora, a vertical take-off and landing aircraft that can take off like a helicopter and fly like a plane.


TechCrunch

There is so much to write about Libra, and so much which has already been written misses the mark, mostly, I think, because most pundits haven’t spent much time in the developing world, which is very clearly the target market here. Just look at its launch video:

I’ve seen apocalyptic reactions warning of Libra ushering in a new dystopia: the alleged logic appears to be 1) Libra will immediately conquer the world 2) Libra comes from Facebook 3) Facebook is evil 4) it’s the end of the world! I am most baffled by that first postulate. If you’re a rich Westerner, there are already dozens of payment systems out there, most of which offer huge advantages compared to Libra, such as reversible / contestable transactions, frequent-flier miles, and credit lines.

I’ve seen dozens of technical and regulatory and political and high-level analyses of Libra, many of which are worthwhile, but so far, little which has dwelt on its actual intended users, according to the white paper: the unbanked. That isn’t quite the category for whom Libra is something new, interesting, and important. But no one else seems to be talking about this. It’s strange to see this cornucopia of hotly argued reactions which go deep on pretty much everything but its actual users.

The white paper cites 1.7 billion people as “unbanked,” a number which is … questionable. Its source is the 2017 World Bank Global Findex database. “Aha,” you might think, “that sounds pretty definitive and recent,” and it does — but the same source also notes that 515 million people became “banked” between 2014 and 2017. By the time Libra actually launches, the “1.7 billion unbanked” might have dropped by fully half. Not because of banks: because of mobile money providers.

From its birth with M-Pesa in East Africa, mobile money has expanded massively worldwide. Orange Money in West Africa, Ovo in Indonesia, Paytm in India, and of course WeChat and Alipay in China: money on your phone is nothing at all new in most of the developing world.

This might make you think that Libra already has a legion of competitors who speak the local languages, understand the markets, and have pervasive distribution, just as in the rich world — but no. The whole point of Libra, after all, is that it’s not a local currency, but a global currency, which is both its competitive advantage and its Achilles heel. And its true market isn’t the unbanked per se; it’s people who might have a mobile money account, but no straightforward access to any global currency.

Why would that access matter? Because international remittances, transfers to the developing world from (usually) family members in the rich world, total half a trillion dollars a year, much of which is sent by slow, high-fee processors such as Western Union. The Libra whitepaper, accordingly, prominently cites “remittances” in its problem statement …

… but makes only a few handwavey mentions of exchanges. Why does that matter? Because remittances are indeed a huge market but as I’ve argued before, “yes, it’s great if you can send five thousand FaceCoin to your family in Ghana for an 0.1% fee. But then your family in Ghana has to somehow convert them to cedis at an exchange — a task which is, as of this writing, likely to be slower, much clumsier, far more user-hostile, and very possibly even more expensive than the usual medium(s) of remittances.”

“So what,” you might think, “doesn’t matter if the local businesses take Libra.” But a) it’s very hard to get every local business in a developing country to accept a new payment method b) eventually they too will have to pay exchange fees, in order to pay local taxes. (Before any dreamers suggest governments accept taxes in Libra and use it as a national currency, I assure you they won’t be eager to give up all control over their monetary supply.)

So for truly mass adoption, especially for business and institutional transactions, the exchange experience will be absolutely key. There’s a lot of competition in the remittance space, and they usually handle the actual currency exchange for you. It seems like Facebook is implicitly relying on the marketplace to provide highly competitive, liquid, effective, efficient, well-publicized Libra-to-local exchanges in every nation where it is used. Maybe. But that’s asking for a lot.

On the smaller scale, though — individuals and families — Libra makes a lot more sense. It won’t replace M-Pesa, but I don’t think it’s trying to. Instead Libra wants to be to mobile money what the US dollar is to the Kenyan shilling. Libra could become the global mobile reserve currency, maybe not for institutions, but for individuals. And on that level, exchanges are less important.

The US dollar is acceptable, and transferable, in small amounts almost everywhere around the world; there’s hardly a poor country where it doesn’t act as a de facto shadow currency. (I’ve been to places where taxi drivers are experts on the various different issuances of the US $ 20 because some are easier to counterfeit than others.) Furthermore, it’s often hoarded purely because it’s hard currency, unlike the local currency — consider Venezuela, or Zimbabwe, even Argentina.

I expect the same will be true of Libra. Individuals won’t need to open an account at any exchange; instead they’ll follow the Local Bitcoins model, and just transfer Libra to a local moneychanger, who will receive their Libra and send back local currency in exchange for — hopefully — a very competitive fee.

If that happens, if Facebook’s sheer size and reach makes that option near-universally available, then even if Libra doesn’t catch on in the rich world, or with businesses and institutions, then for the first time ever, individuals and families around the world will be able to receive, save, spend, and exchange a global hard currency, immediately, across borders, using only their phones, for fees (hopefully) drastically less than e.g. Western Union — without having to deal with the volatility, limited utility, and user-hostility of decentralized cryptocurrencies. That would be a huge deal, and a great good thing.

It’s by no means guaranteed. Much about Libra remains uncertain. It will somehow have to crack the extremely tough nut of the identity problem. And while not technically part of Facebook, it still comes from Facebook, a company increasingly despised by politicians and regulators (and journalists), which is at least one strike against it from the beginning, and makes many people question the true motives behind Libra.

But let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. If Libra manages to succeed, at scale, it will be massively important and highly important to an enormous number of people around the world. Be skeptical, by all means. Be concerned about privacy. Ask pointed questions. Remain well aware that it is not a decentralized solution and may never be. I’m with you: I’m a well-documented harsh critic of Facebook myself.

But in your rush to outrage and condemnation — as righteous as those might feel — please don’t ignore Libra’s potential to do a whole lot of good for many millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Do you think a decentralized, permissionless, censorship-resistance version would be better? I agree! Call me when one is anywhere near as usable as Libra is likely to be.


TechCrunch

After London and Johannesburg, startup accelerator and incubator Founders Factory is launching a third city — Paris. Once again, the company is partnering with a corporate backer. And this time, insurance company Aviva France is backing Founders Factory Paris.

Albin Serviant is heading the team in Paris and the plan is to hire 50 people. There will be more corporate backers coming soon, which should give enough runway for the next five years.

For now, given Aviva’s industry, Founders Factory Paris is going to focus on fintech startups. The company plans to develop a hybrid model between a traditional startup accelerator and a startup studio. Founders Factory has already applied this model in London and Johannesburg to launch and accelerate 100 startups.

For existing startups, you can take part in a six-month program that often leads to implementing pilots with corporate partners. In other words, if your startup targets big companies, Founders Factory wants to help you talk with corporate clients and sign deals.

Founders Factory also promises to support startups in multiple ways thanks to the accelerator’s network. It could be helpful when it comes to launching in new countries, attracting foreign talent and raising money.

But a good chunk of the team is going to work on the startup studio. Founders Factory plans to recruit a traditional startup-like team with engineers, designers, sales people and more. They’ll start new projects from scratch.

This isn’t the first time Aviva and Founders Factory work together. In the U.K., Aviva has already worked with 20 startups as part of the startup studio or accelerator. The company has conducted 16 pilot programs with them and signed 7 enterprise contracts. And Aviva has also invested in two startups directly, Acre and Shepper.

Other Founders Factory backers include L'Oréal, easyJet, Guardian Media Group, CSC, Holtzbrinck, Marks & Spencer and Standard Bank.


TechCrunch

Created by R the Company. Powered by SiteMuze.