Business at Tushy is booming.
While the circumstances that led to the boom are sobering, the bidet company needed to adapt its strategy after seeing an uptick in business amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Other companies in this cohort include video conferencing service Zoom, meal kit service Blue Apron and Facebook, thanks to its social network, video hardware Portal and Oculus Quest VR headset. These companies all have something in common — they offer solutions to problems that, until recently, were not all that urgent.
Founded in 2015 by Thinx founder Miki Agrawal, Tushy aims to replace toilet paper, CEO Jason Ojalvo tells TechCrunch. Ojalvo, who joined the company as CEO in 2018, says North America has been a holdout when it comes to bidets. As a result, the nation flushes about 15 million trees down the toilet every year.
Tushy, which has raised $ 2.9 million since its founding, has been profitable for the last two years. That’s in part thanks to the company’s focus on sustainability — not just from an environmental standpoint, but from a business one, Ojalvo says. That means not over-hiring or spending too much on marketing.
“We’re really careful about doing it in a way so we won’t explode like some other direct-to-consumer companies can do when they raise too much money and they over-hire and then they have to let people go,” Ojalvo says. “That’s just a debacle that I’ve seen first hand and I don’t want to be part of it. Not only do I not want to be part of it but I don’t want to be the leader of the company that does that.”
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Tushy saw its growth double year-over-year. Ojalvo says that’s partly been a result of having customers who evangelize on their behalf. Fast-forward to around March 9, when sales really started to double beyond the norm; a few days later, Tushy was having days where it brought in $ 500,000 in sales.
We build more than 10 unique networking opportunities into the agenda to make it easy. Enjoy events at awesome locations, with specialty foods from local vendors.
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If you want to keep pace with the way the modern consumer likes to buy, then you need to be able to meet them wherever they are on your website and in the sales funnel. Cue chatbots…These are an excellent intermediary to help curate customized experiences, lower friction and get buyers the answers they need at the speed of a pop-up window.
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At the end of last year, Grand Central Tech announced plans to work with the Milstein real estate family to transform a midtown Manhattan high-rise into a tech hub called Company. And startups remain an important part of the mix — in fact, Company is unveiling a list of 20 startups participating in this year’s GCT Startup-in-Residence program.
What does Startup-in-Residence mean? Well, Company CEO Matthew Harrigan said the program will continue to offer what it’s always offered — desk space, as well as access to events and amenities, for a select group of early-stage entrepreneurs. And participants don’t have to give up equity or pay rent.
The deal might seem too good to be true, but Harrigan argued that the startups make Company more appealing to its enterprise tenants: “We are retrofitting this building to look and feel and operate like a brand new building … but the one amenity that cannot be simply rolled out is people.”
He also said the program is only taking up 15,000 square feet of the building’s 150,000 total square feet.
“It sounds like an exceptionally generous offering and it isn’t,” he said. “It sounds like it doesn’t make a ton of business sense but that’s actually wrong … Fifteen thousand square feet of space to great early-stage founders helps establish a truly remarkable program and campus in New York City. Those resources are well spent.”
In the past, we’ve written about Grand Central Tech as an accelerator program, but Harrigan said, “We weren’t and aren’t an accelerator” — it just used “the nomenclature that’s known.” Now the program is taking on a more fitting name, though it sounds like the operations won’t be changing too dramatically.
“We typically have very sophisticated founding teams, giving them an ideal environment in which to work,” Harrigan said. “By and large, our companies are left to their own devices — we don’t presume to create a curriculum or some series of programming. It’s a somewhat passive approach, but we make sure all people in the community are linked up with each other.”
Also worth noting: This year’s class consists of 40 percent women founders and CEOs, and it covers industries like energy, mental health, e-commerce, biotech, adtech and food.
Here’s a list of the companies, with descriptions provided by Company (and edited by me for clarity and length). We’ve also written about a number of them before, so I’m including links to past coverage when possible.
- Dandelion Energy is a geothermal energy company that’s building a scalable and cost-efficient geothermal heating solution for the U.S. residential housing market. The company is a spin-out of Alphabet and Google X.
- Octave is a full-stack mental health provider, purpose-built to capitalize on evolving consumer habits and a new wave of interest in the space.
- Vowel is a multi-user enterprise voice platform operating in stealth. The company enables businesses to analyze, manage and drive actionable insights from audio data generated in the workplace/meetings.
- Nara Organics is a natural baby food company that is manufacturing the first biodynamic infant formula in the U.S.
- Twine Labs is a workforce analytics platform that’s creating a single source of truth on employee data across various disaggregated internal corporate databases. Data is then benchmarked against industry standards to help chief people officers gain vital, previously unavailable perspective.
- Taskade is a new workplace collaboration platform that enables more efficient team management and product workflows.
- Oova is a biomedical technology company for women’s health that uses smart connected devices to actively monitor hormone levels and help manage women’s fertility health. The company is a spin-out of Mt. Sinai.
- Summer is a next-generation student loan management and repayment platform providing users with a comprehensive view of their debt and targeted recommendations on how to alleviate it, which evolves based on their current life circumstances.
- Chartable is creating a new enterprise adtech and analytics platform for audio. It’s aiming to do something similar to what DoubleClick, App Annie, Flurry and others did when apps were first introduced.
- Particle Health is creating a new medical record data company, leveraging blockchain technology to enable a single health record tying together previously disparate information from a patient’s various doctors, and yielding valuable data insights in the process.
- Project OTC is a holistic new consumer brand targeting outdated over-the-counter brands and products such as antacids, Vitamin C/immunity support and headache relief. The company is operating in stealth.
- Moved is building a new concierge layer on top of the disorganized, disaggregated moving services supply chain. A user calls Moved, shares details and is given a concierge who manages the move and coordinates across all the various service providers, including the landlord or real estate owner.
- Hydra is a new network of membership-based wellness spaces in metropolitan areas that complements the growth of small format fitness classes and provides its members areas to refresh, regroup and recharge.
- GoodTalk is a new consumer app meant to distill and amplify one of the primary aspects of social platforms. For example, five experts on a given topic can form a chat thread, which other users of the app can view but not comment on.
- Otis is building a new investment platform to enable distributed ownership in fine art and collectibles.
- Snackable uses natural language processing to intelligently digest podcasts into “snackable” 30-60 second moments to enable easier social sharing of podcast content — something that has plagued the burgeoning podcast space.
- Lolli is building a new e-commerce platform that allows customers to accumulate Bitcoin rewards through simple brand and retail purchases by capturing the rebate/coupon value already broadly distributed throughout e-commerce.
- RaisedByUs is a nonprofit workplace social good program for companies that already includes Casper, Squarespace, Shutterstock, Seatgeek, Sailthru, Birchbox, MongoDB and DigitalOcean among others. RaisedByUs helps teams do meaningful, team-building, vetted volunteer work easily.
- Nesterly is a home-sharing platform that is working to bring affordable housing to the next generation by allowing senior homeowners to easily rent out their extra space.
- Bokksu is a subscription-based food company that curates exclusive artisan snacks in local markets and uses video and written storytelling to detail origin stories through an immersive customer experience.
The Amazon boogie-man has every retailer scrambling for ways to fight back. But the cost and effort to install cameras all over the ceiling or into every shelf could block stores from entering the autonomous shopping era. Caper Labs wants to make eliminating checkout lines as easy as replacing their shopping carts while offering a more familiar experience for customers.
The startup makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, but it’s finalizing the technology to automatically scan items you drop in thanks to three image recognition cameras and a weight sensor. The company claims people already buy 18 percent more per visit after stores are equipped with its carts.
Today, Caper is revealing that it’s raised a total of $ 3 million including a $ 2.15 million seed round led by prestigious First Round Capital and joined by food-focused angels like Instacart co-founder Max Mullen, Plated co-founder Nick Taranto, Jet’s Jetblack shopping concierge co-founder Jenny Fleiss, plus Y Combinator. Caper is now in two retailers in the NYC area, though it plans to use the cash to expand to more and develop a smart shopping basket for smaller stores.
“If you walked in to a grocery store 100 years ago versus today, nothing has really changed” says Caper co-founder and CEO Lindon Gao. “It doesn’t make sense that you can order a cab with your phone or go book a hotel with your phone, but you can’t use your phone to make a payment and leave the store. You still have to stand in line.”
Autonomous retail is going to be a race. $ 50 million-funded Standard Cognition, ex-Pandora CTO Will Glaser’s Grabango, and scrappier startups like Zippin and Inokyo are all building ceiling and shelf-based camera systems to help merchants keep up with Amazon Go’s expanding empire of cashierless stores. But Caper’s plug-and-play cart-based system might be able to leapfrog its competitors if it’s easier for shops to set up.
Inventing The Smart Cart
“I don’t have an altruistic reason to care about retail, but I really want to put a dent in the universe and I think retail is severely under-innovated” Gao candidly remarked. Most founders try to spin a “super hero origin story” about why they’re the right person for the job. For Gao, chasing autonomous retail is just good business. He built his first startup in gaming commerce at age 14. The jewelry company he launched at 19 still operates. He went on to become an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan but “I always felt like I was more of a startup guy.”
Caper was actually a pivot from his previous entry to the space called QueueHop that made cashierless apparel security tags that unlocked when you paid. But during Y Combinator, he discovered how tough it’d be to scale a product that requires a complete rethinking of a merchant’s operations flow. So Gao hoofed it around NYC to talk to 150 merchants and discover what they really wanted. The cart was the answer.
V1 of Caper’s cart lets people scan their items’ barcodes and pay on the cart with a credit card swipe or Apple/Android Pay tap and their receipt is emailed to them. But each time they scan, the cart is actually taking 120 photos and precisely weighing the items to train Caper’s machine vision algorithms in what Gao likens to how Tesla is inching towards self-driving.
Soon, Caper wants to go entirely scanless, and sections of its two pilot stores already use the technology. The cameras on the cart employ image recognition matched with a weight sensor to identify what you toss in your cart. You shop just like normal but then pay and leave with no line. Caper pulls in a store’s existing security feed to help detect shoplifting, which could be a bigger risk than with ceiling and shelf camera systems, but Gao says it hasn’t been a problem yet. He woudn’t reveal the price of the carts but said “they’re not that much more expensive than a standard shopping cart. To outfit a store it should be comparable to the price of implementing traditional self-checkout.” Shops buy the carts outright and pay a technology subscriptions but get free hardware upgrades. They’ll have to hope Caper stays alive.
“Do you want guacamole with those chips?”
Caper hopes to deliver three big benefits to merchants. First, they’ll be able to repurpose cashier labor to assist customers so they buy more and to keep shelves stocked, though eventually this technology is likely to eliminate a lot of jobs. Second, the ease and affordable cost of transitioning means businesses will be able to recoup their investment and grow revenues as shoppers buy more. And third, Caper wants to share data that its carts collect on routes through the store, shelves customers hover in front of, and more with its retail partners so they can optimize their layouts.
One big advantage over its ceiling and shelf camera competitors is that Caper’s cart can promote deals on nearby or related items. In the future, it plans to add recommendations based on what’s on your cart to help you fill out recipes. ‘Threw some chips in the cart? Here’s where to find the guacamole that’s on sale.’ A smaller hand-held smart basket could broaden Caper’s appeal beyond grocers amongst littler shops, though making it light enough to carry will be a challenge.
Gao says that with merchants already seeing sales growth from the carts, what keeps him up at night is handling Caper’s supply chain since the product requires a ton of different component manufacturers. The startup has to move fast if it wants to be what introduces Main Street to autonomous retail. But no matter what gadgets it builds in, Caper must keep sight of the real-world stress their tech will undergo. Gao concludes “We’re basically building a robot here. The carts need to be durable. They need to resist heat, vibration, rain, people slamming them around. We’re building our shopping cart like a tank.”
Former Facebook VP of News Feed and recently appointed Instagram VP of Product Adam Mosseri has been named the new head of Instagram following the resignation of Instagram’s founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger last week.. “We are thrilled to hand over the reins to a product leader with a strong design background and a focus on craft and simplicity — as well as a deep understanding of the importance of community” the founders wrote. “These are the values and principles that have been essential to us at Instagram since the day we started, and we’re excited for Adam to carry them forward.”
Systrom will recruit a new executive team including heads of product, operations, and engineering to replace himself, Instagram COO Marne Levine who went back to lead Facebook partnerships last month, and engineering leader James Everingham who moved to Facebook’s blockchain team in May before finishing at Instagram in July. Instagram’s product director Robby Stein is a strong candidate for the product head decision, as he’s been overseeing Stories, feed, Live, direct messaging, camera and profile.
Instagram’s founders announced last week that they were leaving the Facebook corporation after sources told TechCrunch the pair had dealt with dwindling autonomy from Facebook and rising tensions with its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The smiling photo above seems meant to show peace has been restored to Instaland, and counter the increasing perception that Facebook breaks its promises to acquired founders. TechCrunch has previously reported Mosseri was first in line for the role according to sources, and The Information later wrote that some inside the company saw him as a lock.
Mosseri’s experience dealing with the unintended consequences of the News Feed such as fake news in the wake of the 2016 election could help him predict how Instagram’s growth will affect culture, politics, and user well-being. Over the years of interviewing him, Mosseri has always come across as sharp, serious, and empathetic. He comes across as a true believer that Facebook and its family of apps can make a positive impact in the world, but congniscent of the hard work and complex choices required to keep them from being misused.
Born and raised in New York, Mosseri started his own design consultancy while attending NYU’s Gallatin School Of Interdisciplinary Study to learn about media and information design. Mosseri joined Facebook in 2008 after briefly working at a startup called TokBox. Tasked with helping Facebook embrace mobile as design director, he’s since become part of Zuckerberg’s inner circle of friends and lieutenants. Mosseri later moved into product management and oversaw Facebook’s News Feed, turn it into the world’s most popular social technology and the driver of billions in profit from advertising. However, amidst his successes, Mosseri also oversaw Facebook Home, the flopped mobile operating system, and the was the officer on duty when fake news and Russian election attackers proliferated.
After going on parental leave this year, Mosseri returned to take over the role of Instagram VP of Product Kevin Weil as he move to Facebook’s blockchain team. A source tells TechCrunch he was well-received and productive since joining Instagram, and has gotten along well with Systrom. Mosseri now lives in San Francisco, close enough to work from both Instagram’s city office and South Bay headquarters. He’ll report to Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox as he did at Facebook. Cox wrote “Kevin and Mike, we will never fill your shoes. But we will work hard to uphold the craft, simplicity, elegance, and the incredible community of Instagram: both the team and the product you’ve built.”
“The impact of their work over the past eight years has been incredible. They built a product people love that brings joy and connection to so many lives” Mosseri wrote about Instagram’s founders in an…Instagram post. I’m humbled and excited about the opportunity to now lead the Instagram team. I want to thank them for trusting me to carry forward the values that they have established. I will do my best to make them, the team, and the Instagram community proud.”
Mosseri will be tasked with balancing the needs of Instagram such as headcount, engineering resources, and growth with the priorities of its parent company Facebook, such as cross-promotion to Instagram’s younger audience and revenue to contribute to the corporation’s earnings reports. Some see Mosseri as more sympathetic to Facebook’s desire than Instagram’s founders, given his long-stint at the parent company and his close relationship with Zuckerberg. Interestingly, Zuckerberg wasn’t mentioned or pictured in the transition announcement and hasn’t posted anything congratulating Mosseri as is common in Facebook’s employee culture. Zuckerberg may be seeking to reduce the appearance that he’s playing puppet master and instead does actually let Instagram run independently.
The question now is whether users will end up seeing more notifications and shortcuts linking back to Facebook, or more ads in the Stories and feed. Instagram hasn’t highlighted the ability to syndicate your Stories to Facebook, which could be boon for that parallel product. Instagram Stories now has 400 million daily users compared to Facebook Stories and Messenger Stories’ combined 150 million users. Tying them more closely could seem more content flow into Facebook, but it might also make users second guess whether what they’re sharing is appropriate for all of their Facebook friends, which might include family or professional colleagues.
Mosseri’s most pressing responsibility will be reassurring users that the culture of Instagram and its app won’t be assimilated into Facebook now that he’s running things instead of the founders. He’ll also need to snap into action to protect Instagram from being used as a pawn for election interference in the run-up to the 2018 US mid-terms. While he’ll never have the same mandate and faith from employees that the founders did, Mosseri is the experienced leader Instagram needs to grapple with its scaled-up influence.
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Last week, @kevin and @mikeyk announced that they're leaving Instagram. The impact of their work over the past eight years has been incredible. They built a product people love that brings joy and connection to so many lives. I'm humbled and excited about the opportunity to now lead the Instagram team. I want to thank them for trusting me to carry forward the values that they have established. I will do my best to make them, the team, and the Instagram community proud.
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