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.

Last week, we suggested that for a truly diverse venture industry, the limited partners who provide investing capital to VCs — institutions like universities and hospital systems — need to start incorporating diversity mandates into their work. Say a venture firm wanted to secure a commitment from the University of Texas System; it would first need to agree, in writing, to pour a certain percentage of its capital into startups founded by underrepresented groups.

Given how fragmented the world of institutional investing, the idea might sound impracticable. But Lo Toney, one of a small but growing number of black VCs in Silicon Valley, suggests it might actually be inevitable. He points, for example, to pension funds like the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which manages the assets of 1.6 million employees, many of whom “look like me,” says Toney. Imagine what might happen if they started asking more questions about who is managing their money.

Not that Toney is waiting on this development. He doesn’t need to. As a former partner at Comcast Ventures, then GV, Toney was able to secure Alphabet as the anchor investor in his own investment firm, Plexo Capital, whose debut vehicle has been funding venture outfits, as well as making direct startup investments. Now, with renewed attention being paid to the dearth of people of color throughout the startup industry, Plexo has LPs knocking on its door again, and Toney’s plans for that second fund involve not just helping his current fund managers but helping more investors of color form venture firms of their own.

It’s an extension of work that’s already in progress. Plexo, which closed its debut fund last year with $ 42.5 million — including from the Ford Foundation, Intel, Cisco Systems, the Royal Bank of Canada, and Hampton University — already has stakes in 20 funds, including Precursor Ventures, Ingressive Capital, Kindred Ventures, Equal Ventures, Boldstart Ventures, and Work-Bench.

Almost all are run exclusively or in part by people of color. Meanwhile, Work-Bench has a female cofounder in Jessica Lin, a former Cisco Systems manager. “We have enough reports from the Harvard’s and the McKinsey’s of the world to show us that diversity at all levels matters,” says Toney. “We see better performance from companies with diverse boards, public companies with diverse management teams; when there are diverse managers, we see better performance.”

With his second fund, he’s hoping to turn the dial even further. More specifically, he says, to better assist those GPs in Plexo’s first fund and to fund more black GPs, it aims to help “develop a Y Combinator of sorts” that helps them understand some of the “nuances of making the transition from being a great investor to being a great fund manager.”

Part of the idea is to institutionalize the work that Plexo already does in an ad-hoc way around helping managers to prepare marketing materials, pitch their strategy to both high-net-worth individuals and institutions, and manage LP communications after that base of investors has been established. And those are just three aspects of the many elements of fund management with which Plexo can help, he says.

Plexo is also exploring “putting a strategy in place [to] help a lot of these younger GPs with working capital, to be able to incur the expenses that it takes to start a fund [given that] it can take, on average, a million dollars.” (That’s taking into account no salary, travel expenses, service providers, and the money that a general partner typically has to kick in to his or her own the fund, he adds.)

It’s a model that Plexo thinks it can use to move things along faster than were it solely investing in individual companies.

Still, Plexo can’t do it alone. Neither can its friends and allies, some of whom include Elliott Robinson of Bessemer Venture Partners, Frederik Groce of Storm Ventures and Sydney Sykes of the retail startup Dolls Kill, who separately steer a young organization called BLCK VC that works to connect and advance black venture investors.

Toney remains especially concerned over the few people of color at bigger and later-stage venture firms — investors who might otherwise have the networks and know-how to support black entrepreneurs as their startups mature. It’s a valid worry. According to a 2018 report in The Information, there were just seven black decision-makers at the then 102 venture firms with more than $ 250 million under management, and those numbers are relatively unchanged. The dearth is particularly glaring for black investors who are women.

The industry could, slowly, over time, grow less homogenous and more inclusive of underrepresented groups. But it would happen faster if institutions that accept federal funding or else manage the money of public employees decided to focus more on the issue. In fact, it’s conceivable that their constituents — including donors and employees through their pension fund contributions — might at some point insist on it.

“There’s often not really a collective realization of the power and influence that one can have within our asset class to actually affect change,” says Toney. “I suspect — and I don’t know this, and I’m not part of any initiatives — that we’ll see more of these [pension] funds take a stance, and that [this shift] will come from the bottom up, from their employee base.”

It might not take much to get the ball rolling. “They could put the pressure on our industry even simply asking questions [including]: ‘How many black partners do you have?’ ‘How many women do you have?’ ‘What does the composition of your portfolio look like?’”

“Even just asking those questions as a first step — that in and of itself would affect change,” he says, “because who wants to look bad when answering those questions?”


TechCrunch

Automation is the name of the game in enterprise IT at the moment: we now have a plethora of solutions on the market to speed up your workflow, simplify a process, and perform more repetitive tasks without humans getting involved. Now, a startup that is helping non-technical people get more directly involved in how to make automation work better for their tasks is announcing some funding to seize the opportunity.

Bryter — a no-code platform based in Berlin that lets workers in departments like accounting, legal, compliance and marketing who do not have any special technical or developer skills build tools like chatbots, trigger automated database and document actions and risk assessors — is today announcing that it has raised $ 16 million. This is a Series A round and it’s being co-led by Accel and Dawn Capital, with Notion Capital and Chalfen Ventures also participating.

The funding comes less than a year after Bryter raised a seed round — $ 6 million in November 2019 — and it was oversubscribed, with term sheets coming in from many of the bigger VCs in Europe and the US. With this funding, the company has now raised around $ 25 million, and while the valuation is considerably up on the last round, Bryter is not disclosing what it is.

Michael Grupp, the CEO who co-founded the company with Micha-Manuel Bues and Michael Hübl (pictured below), said that the whole Series A process took no more than a month to initiate and close, an impressive turnaround considering the chilling effect that the COVID-19 health pandemic has had on dealmaking.

Part of the reason for the enthusiasm is because of the traction that Bryter has had since launching in 2018. Its 50 enterprise customers include the likes of McDonalds, Telefónica, banks, healthcare and industrial companies, and professional services firms PwC, KPMG and Deloitte (who in turn use it for themselves as well as for clients). (Note: because of its target users being large enterprises, the company doesn’t publish per-person pricing on its site as such.)

Bryter’s been seeing a lot of attention from customers and investors because its platform speaks to a big opportunity within the wider world of software today.

Enterprise IT has long been thought of as the less-fun end of technology: it’s all about getting work done, and a lot of the software used in a business environment is complex and often requires technical knowledge to implement, use, fix and adapt in any way.

This may still the case for a lot of it, especially for the most sophisticated tools, but at the same time we have seen a lot of “consumerization” come into IT, where user-friendly hardware and software built for consumers — specifically non-technical consumers — either inspires new enterprise services, or are simply directly imported into the workplace environment.

No-code software — like automation, another big trend in enterprise IT right now — plays a big role in how enterprise tools are becoming more user-friendly. One of the biggest roadblocks in a lot of office environments is that when workers identify things that don’t work, or could work much better than they do, they need to file tickets and get IT teams — also often overworked — to do the fixing for them. No-code platforms can help circumvent some of that work — so long as the roadblock of IT approves the use, that is.

Bryter’s conception and existence comes out of the no-code trend. It plays on the same ideas as IFTTT or Zapier but is very firmly aimed at users who might use pieces of enterprise software as part of their jobs, but have never had to delve into figuring out how they actually work.

There are already a lot of “low-code” (minimal coding) and other no-code on the market today for business (not consumer) use cases. They include Blender.io, Zapier, Tray.io (a London-founded startup that itself raised a big round last autumn), n8n (also German, backed by Sequoia), and also biggies like MuleSoft (acquired by Salesforce in 2018 at a $ 6.5 billion valuation).

Bryter’s contention is that many of these actually need more technical know-how than they initially claim. Grupp pointed out that the earliest automation tools for enterprise have been around for decades at this point, but even most of the very modern descendants of those “will require some coding.” Bryter’s toolbox essentially lets users create dialogues with users — which they can program based on the expertise that they will have in their particular fields — which then sources data they can then plug into other software via the Bryter platform in order to “perform” different tasks more quickly.

Grupp’s contention is that while these kinds of tools have long been used, they will be in even more demand going forward.

“After COVID-19 workers will be even more distributed,” he said. “Teams and individuals will need to access information in a faster way, and the only way for big organizations to distribute that knowledge is through more digital tools.” The idea is that Bryter can essentially help bridge those gaps in a more efficient way.

Bryter’s target user and its approach underscores why investors like Accel see accessible, no-code solutions as a big opportunity.

“No-code software is really reducing the barriers of adoption,” Luca Bocchio, a partner at Accel, said in an interview. “If people like you and I can use the software, then that means demand can multiply by big numbers.” That’s in contrast to a lot of enterprise software today, which very limited in how it can grow, he added. “Plus, enterprises these days want to see more future visibility in terms of the products they adopt. They want to make sure something will stick around, and so they tend not to want to work with super young startups. But it’s happening for Bryter, and the is a testament to Bryter and to the market potential.”


TechCrunch

Vaping is a controversial habit: it certainly has its downsides, but anecdotally it’s a fantastic smoking cessation aid. The thing is, until behavioral scientists know a bit more about who does it, when, how much, and other details, its use will continue to be something of a mystery. That’s where the PuffPacket comes in.

Designed by Cornell engineers, the PuffPacket is a small device that attaches to e-cigarettes (or vape pens, or whatever you call yours) and precisely measures their use, sharing that information with a smartphone app for the user, and potentially researchers, to review later.

Some vaping devices are already set up with something like this, to tell a user when the cartridge is running low or a certain limit has been reached. But generally when vaping habits are studied, they rely on self-report data, not proprietary apps.

“The lack of continuous and objective understanding of vaping behaviors led us to develop PuffPacket to enable proper measurement, monitoring, tracking and recording of e-cigarette use, as opposed to inferring it from location and activity data, or self-reports,” said PhD student Alexander Adams, who led the creation of the device, in a Cornell news release.

The device fits a number of e-cigarette types, fitting between the mouthpiece and the heating element. It sits idle until the user breathes in, which activates the e-cigarette’s circuits and the PuffPacket’s as well. By paying attention to the voltage, it can tell how much liquid is being vaporized, as well as simpler measurements like the duration and timing of the inhalation.

An example using real data of how location and activity could be correlated with vaping.

This data is sent to the smartphone app via Bluetooth, where it is cross-referenced with other information, like location, motion, and other metadata. This may lead to identifiable patterns, like that someone vapes frequently when they walk in the morning but not the afternoon, or after coffee but not meals, or far more at the bar than at home — that sort of thing. Perhaps even (with the proper permissions) it could track use of certain apps — Instagram and vape? Post-game puff?

Some of these might be obvious, others not so much — but either way, it helps to have them backed up by real data rather than asking a person to estimate their own usage. They may not know, understand, or wish to admit their own habits.

“Getting these correlations between time of day, place and activity is important for understanding addiction. Research has shown that if you can keep people away from the paths of their normal habits, it can disrupt them,” said Adams.

No one is expecting people to voluntarily stick these things on their vape pens and share their info, but the design — which is being released as open source — could be used by researchers performing more formal studies. You can read the paper describing PuffPacket here.


TechCrunch

An Indian startup that is attempting to improve the way how millions of people in the nation lease or buy an apartment — by not paying any brokerage — just raised a significant amount of capital to further expand its business.

NoBroker said on Wednesday it has raised $ 50 million in a new financing round. The Series D round for the Bangalore-based real estate property operator was led by Tiger Global Management and included participation from existing investor General Atlantic. The five-year-old startup, which closed its previous financing round in June, has raised $ 121 million to date. The new round valued NoBroker at about $ 325 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

NoBroker operates in six cities in India: Bengaluru, Chennai, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune. The startup has established itself as one of the largest players in the local real estate business. It operates over 3 million properties on its website and serves about 7 million users. It is adding more than 280,000 new users each month, Amit Kumar, cofounder and CEO of NoBroker, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Real estate brokers in India, as is true in other markets, help people find properties. But they can charge up to 10 months worth of rent (leasing) — or a single-digit percent of the apartment’s worth if someone is buying the property — in urban cities as their commission. NoBroker allows the owner of a property to directly connect with potential tenants to remove brokerage charges from the equation.

The startup makes money in three ways. First, it lets non-paying users get in touch with only nine property owners. Those who wish to contact more property owners are required to pay a fee. Second, property owners can opt to pay NoBroker to have its representatives deal with prospective buyers — in a move that ironically makes the startup serve as a broker.

NoBroker also offers end-to-end services such as rent agreements, home loans, and movers and packers, for which it also charges a fee. The startup says it uses machine learning to speed up the transactions and make it service low-cost.

The startup processes about $ 14 million in rent each month, Kumar said. This is increasing by 25%-30% each month, he said. NoBroker’s business in Bangalore and Mumbai, two of its largest cities, are already profitable, Kumar said.

The startup will use the fresh capital to expand its business and build more products. It recently launched a community and digital management app to keep a digital log of all the entries — say a Flipkart delivery personnel comes to your house — occurring in a society, and maintain a dialogue with other people in a vicinity. The app also allows users to exchange goods with one another and pay their utility bills, startup’s executives said.

The new financing round is oddly smaller than $ 51 million NoBroker had raised in June this year. Saurabh Garg, chief business officer of NoBroker, told TechCrunch in an interview that the founding team did not want to dilute their stake in the startup, hence they opted for a smaller round.

NoBroker is competing with a number of players including Proptiger, 99Acres, and heavily backed NestAway, which counts Goldman Sachs and Tiger Global among its investors. NestAway operates in eight Indian cities and has raised north of $ 100 million to date. Budget hotel startup Oyo, which has already become one of the largest hotel businesses in the world, also operates in NoBroker’s territory with Oyo Living.

But NoBroker’s Kumar said he does not see Oyo and other startups as competition. Instead, “these other players are some of our largest clients,” he said. India’s real estate industry is estimated to grow to $ 1 trillion in worth by 2030.

The business model of NoBroker has also created new local challenges for the startup. Brokers are unsurprisingly not happy with startups such as NoBroker and have grown hostile in recent years. In recent years, they have attacked and harassed NoBroker employees. So much so that the startup had to delist its address from Google Maps. But Kumar said the mindset of people is changing.


TechCrunch

We’ve aggregated the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this Growth Report.

This is how you’re going stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice you can’t get elsewhere.

Our community consists of 600 startup founders paired with VP’s of growth from later-stage companies. We have 300 YC founders plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo, and Ritual .

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve’s marketing webinars, Slack group, or marketing training program. See past growth reports here and here.

Without further ado, onto the advice.


How can you send email campaigns that get opened by 100% of your mailing list?

Based on insights from Nick Selman, Fletcher Richman of Halp, and Wes Wagner.

  • First, a few obvious pieces of advice for avoiding low open rates:
    • Avoid spam filters by avoiding keywords commonly used in spam emails.
    • Consider using email subjects (1) that are clearly descriptive and (2) look like they were written by a friend. Then A/B your top choices.
    • Include the recipient’s name in your email body. This signals to spam filters that you do in fact know the recipient.
  • Now, for the real advice: Let’s say 60% of your audience opens your mailing, how can you get the remaining 40% to open and read it too?
    • First, wait 2 weeks to give everyone a chance to open the initial email.
    • Next, export a list of those who haven’t opened. Mailchimp lets you do this.
    • Important note: The reason many recipients don’t open your email is because it was sent to Spam, it was buried in Promotions, or it was insta-deleted because it looked like spam (but wasn’t). The goal here is to resuscitate these people. You have two options for doing so:
    • (1) Duplicate the initial email then selectively re-send it to non-openers. This time, use a new subject (try a new hook) and downgrade the email to plain text: remove images and link tracking. De-enriching the email in this way can help bypass spam filters and the Promotions tab.
    • (2) Alternatively, export your list of non-openers to a third-party email tool like Mailshake (or Mixmax).
      • First, connect Mailshake to a new Gmail account on your company domain.
      • Next, configure Mailshake to automatically dole out small batches of emails on a daily schedule. Let it churn through non-openers slowly so that Gmail doesn’t flag your account as a spammer.
      • Emails sent through Mailshake are more likely to get opened than emails sent through Mailchimp. Why? Mailshake sends emails through your Gmail account, and Gmail-to-Gmail emails have a greater chance of bypassing Spam and Promotions folders, particularly if the sender doesn’t have a history of its emails being marked as spam.


TechCrunch

This week, a young, New York-based startup called Alma raised $ 8 million in funding to expand its “co-practicing community of therapists, coaches, and wellness professionals,” which it first launched from a space on Madison Avenue last fall.

As CNN was first to report, the company is charging psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and acupuncturists $ 165 per month to become Alma members, which comes with services like billing and scheduling and even a matchmaking service that purports to connect professionals with patients. They also pay an hourly rate to book identically outfitted rooms that can be used interchangeably.

CNN called the company a WeWork for therapists, but Alma and its venture backers are hardly alone in seeing promise in more specialized co-working spaces, which have proliferated as their best-known peer in the co-working craze, WeWork, has itself set up all over the globe. According to one estimate, the number of global coworking spaces, thought to be around 14,000 in 2017, is expected to reach 30,000 by 2022.

One of these outfits — one backed early on by WeWork itself — is The Wing, a nearly three-year-old startup that describes itself as a members-only community full of work and community spaces designed for women. (It dropped its practice of not admitting men as members or guests after a Washington, D.C. man brought a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the firm that sought damages of up to $ 12 million.) Though the startup has critics who worry that it advances only women who can afford to pay a few hundred dollars per month for a membership, investors have already given it nearly $ 120 million in funding.

They’re betting that women want to work and share ideas and see powerful female speakers alongside other women who are members. But investors and entrepreneurs are betting on broader trends, too. For one thing, it’s clear that commercial real estate owners need new ways to occupy underutilized space as our lives move increasingly online.

Greater numbers of people are also becoming freelance workers, a trend that shows no signs of stopping. According to the Freelancers Union, 3.7 million more people started freelancing between 2014 and 2018 for an estimated total of 56.7 million America freelancers. That’s a huge segment of the working population.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that Spacious, a three-year-old, New York-based company that turns restaurants into co-working spaces during the afternoon, is backed by some of the best investors in the business, including Baseline Ventures. (Other companies taking advantage of underused space include Breather and Flexe.)

More interesting is a newer trend of spaces built out for specific groups of people. Therapists is just the newest that we’ve heard, but there are plenty of others. L.A. alone is home to Glitch City, a 24-hour co-working space that caters to indie game developers; The Hatchery Press, for writers; and Paragon Spaces, for those working in the cannabis industry. Elsewhere, it’s possible to find with co-working spaces for people in the construction industry, and spaces for tech companies with on-demand workforces, and spaces for people committed to a zero-waste lifestyle.

It’s probably too early to say whether the niche spaces are any more sticky than more general co-working spaces like the fashionable spots that WeWork sells. Having been part of a long-standing, not-for-profit writers’ collective in San Francisco for roughly a decade — and aware that numerous of my former office mates continue to be a part of that community — this editor would guess that they are. They’re also far less scalable, presumably.

But the much bigger question — for WeWork and the growing number of more focused startups to emerge in recent years — is whether enough people can justify the cost of working in their spaces when the economy invariably hits the skids.

It’s easier to imagine this happening with communities of doctors or other professionals who, through sheer dint of working together, can defray their costs and generate more business for themselves. For the rest, only time will tell. Either way, VCs have a lot of money to put to work and plenty are willing to gamble that right now, at least, there are few limits on where the trend can go.


TechCrunch

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