These sneakers vibrate

Sometimes it seems like you can hear a song all the way in your toes. With these new sneakers, you actually can.

Meet the new EP 01 sneakers out of DropLabs. Yes, you read that right. We’re talking about sneakers.

Invented by a man named Ross Seiler, and led by former Beats by Dre CEO Susan Paley, DropLabs aims to take audio to a whole new level by syncing music, movies and other audio to shoes that vibrate the soles of your feet.

It started when Seiler, who works in the music industry, was standing in a side room at a recording studio while a band was recording. He could feel every beat and low note in the song in his feet while standing over this particular patch of floor, and wanted to experience all music like that, as though he could feel the energy of the stage itself.

Eventually, Paley signed on as CEO of DropLabs and the EP 01 was born.

The EP 01 is a slightly chunky sneaker that’s equipped with Bluetooth, a speaker-grade transducer, and a power source to sync with almost any audio. As a movie or music or video game plays, the sneaker picks up the audio and sends it as a perfectly synced vibration right to the soles of your feet. For big, thunderous steps of a T-Rex in Jurassic World, the vibrations are heavy and full. For the pitter patter of the townspeoples’ footsteps in Red Dead Redemption II, the vibrations are light and muted.

What’s more, the vibrations are slightly directional. Noise that’s coming from the right vibrates on the right, and vice versa, which can be particularly impactful while playing video games.

Indeed, Paley sees gaming as a huge opportunity to enter the market. Audio, and particularly good directional audio, is incredibly important for gamers who compete at a high level. The growth of esports has allowed a number of brands to emerge as the “X for gamers”, not least of which being energy drinks.

DropLabs has an opportunity to market to gamers, offering a more immersive experience across their games and potentially even a competitive advantage.

Paley explained to TechCrunch that the brain actually functions at a higher level when three or more of the senses are engaged. Feeling something, alongside hearing and seeing it, flips a switch when it comes to processing information.

For this reason, Paley sees a huge potential to target gamers as an early demographic, particularly big name streamers and gaming influencers.

In fact, DropLabs has given the shoes to various researchers and universities around the country to learn more about how these shoes might be used. After meeting with them, Paley believes that there are applications that extend well beyond entertainment and into the health space.

I got a chance to try on the shoes and play around with them for a little while last week, and while I’d like to reserve my complete thoughts for a proper review, it goes without saying that wearing the shoes surely leaves an impression.

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But the EP 01 have challenges ahead.

For one, the shoes cost upwards of $500. It’s a mighty high price point for a gadget that most folks will need to try before they feel committed to buying.

“Whenever you create a new category and a new product, you have the challenge of asking consumers to change their behavior,” said Paley. “And this, in particular, is so visceral. How do you communicate viscerally what is an emotional experience? You can talk about it, but it’s very different to put someone in the shoe.”

The EP 01 must also find their place in a category that’s defined by fashion and personal style. Our shoes say something about us, and for now, the EP 01 comes in one style and one color (black). It’s as universal a shoe as it can be, considering all the electronics packed in there, but it doesn’t leave customers many options to change up their own look.

Of course, DropLabs is deep in the learning phase, soaking up as much information about its first-gen sneaker as possible as it looks to iterate for v2.

The EP 01 is available for pre-order now, and DropLabs has plans to launch pop-up shops and other IRL experiences for folks interested in the shoes.

Learn how to scale your startup globally at Disrupt Berlin

The rise of the internet has given every company the chance to be a global company. But as a founder, growing from your garage to the worldwide markets can be tricky business.

That’s why we’ve assembled a panel of top-tier experts to talk through the peaks and pitfalls of scaling strategies at Disrupt Berlin in December.

I’m very pleased to announce that Holger Seim, founder and CEO of audio startup Blinkist, Karoli Hindriks, founder and CEO of Jobbatical, and prominent Silicon Valley immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn will be joining us at the show, which runs December 11 and December 12.

Holger Seim founded Blinkist in 2012. The learning service condenses the information and knowledge found in nonfiction books and repackages that info into small text or audio packets. The company charges $12.99/month for a subscription, with a steep discount for those who pay annually. Today, Blinkist has customers in more than 150 countries. Seim brings experience from his time at Deutsche Telekom, where he focused on digital growth and partnership initiatives.

Karoli Hindriks, CEO and founder of Jobbatical, brings a wealth of experience on the topic of scaling, not only from growing her own startup’s footprint, but by the very nature of the company itself. Jobbatical offers reliable relocation for folks joining high-growth tech companies, handling the nitty gritty of immigration on behalf of employers, including visa documentation and residence permits. Hindriks, a native of Estonia, also led the launch of seven television channels in Northern Europe, including National Geographic channels and MTV. In short, Hindriks knows how to cross borders, from tech talent to products.

Last, but certainly not least, we’ll have Sophie Alcorn, founding partner of Alcorn Immigration Law, to round out the panel. The firm was one of the fastest-growing immigration law firms in Silicon Valley. Alcorn can help founders understand the complexities of immigration and how they can leverage different immigration options to secure key talent. Alcorn can also inform investors of the things to look out for when ensuring founders can legally build companies in the U.S.

Join us in Berlin at TechCrunch Disrupt to hear more from our experts on how to scale your company globally. Tickets are available right here.

Fortnite’s black hole stunt is the kind of alpha energy we’re here for

As you are likely already aware, Epic Games is pulling a massive PR stunt that has shrunk the world’s most popular game down to a single black hole.

As part of Fortnite’s Season 10 live event, called “The End”, the entire Battle Royale Island was sucked into a black hole, with every Fortnite social media channel deleting all of its content save for a livestream of aforementioned black hole.

It’s like the game never even existed.

This has been going on for nearly 24 hours now. I’d say there’s less than one percent possibility that this is actually the end of the game.

For one thing, Fortnite is an insane revenue generator for Epic Games, a company that not only makes games but develops software for others to make games. In fact, Fortnite was actually built as a marketing vehicle for Epic’s Unreal Engine, to show off what’s possible with the technology.

No numbers have been released recently, but at one point last summer, The Verge reported that the game was making $300 million/month.

Fast forward to today, more than two years after launch, and the game is far and away the most popular video game on the planet, with 250 million registered accounts. It’s also one of the biggest esports by prize pool, with Epic pledging $100 million in prize cash for 2019.

But beyond the money (and let’s not underplay the money here), there is also some evidence that the black hole event is slated to end on Tuesday morning. A data miner who goes by Lucas7yoshi on Twitter points to code on Fortnite.com that allegedly reveals the end of the event is on Tuesday at 6AM EST. Of course, this is far from confirmed and though we’ve reached out to Epic, we haven’t heard back.

The point? Epic didn’t just delete Fortnite. (However, it’s been terribly fun to watch gamers’ temper tantrums play out on social media.)

Rather, the company is building as much hype as possible around its next chapter. With the entire map sucked into a black hole, all signs point to a brand new map.

This is important for two unequal reasons.

First and foremost, Fortnite has always taken place on the same map. Points of interest have been wiped away and replaced, and biodomes have been updated and tweaked along the way. Indeed, the ‘current’ Fortnite map is markedly different from the map the game launched with.

fortnite season1 season10

But it has been a slow transition, with one small change here and there for more than two years. Whatever the reason behind this, one symptom has undoubtedly had an effect on the game. The longer you’ve played Fortnite, the more of an advantage you have.

This is particularly true with mechanics like building. Experience in other games, be it Battle Royale or third-person shooters, doesn’t carry over into Fortnite where winning on both defense on offense rests in a player’s ability to build.

But, the map plays its part, too. Long-time players of the game know this island inside and out. They know that you can slide down this part of the mountain without taking fall damage, or that it’s difficult to jump your way onto this plateau without building. They know every single loot spawn on the map.

This has meant that, after two years, Fortnite has favored the veterans, which has left newcomers in a particularly difficult position.

Epic has tried to counter the imbalance of its players in a number of ways. For one, the game added Playground mode to give players a chance to practice in a relatively low-stakes environment. But Fortnite also made changes in the game that have given an edge to brand new players. The easiest and most obvious example of this is the introduction of the mechs in the beginning of Season 10, which were essentially unbeatable at their debut and took little to no skill to operate. Veterans were not pleased.

The piece that has been missing for the game is a good jumping-on point.

A brand new map may be the biggest opportunity yet for brand new players to join up alongside veterans of the game and have a fighting chance of being successful. For the first time, everyone will be lost. No one will know where all the loot is spawned in this or that building, or how to rotate from one point of interest to another with the greatest height advantage or the most cover.

But, instead of transitioning from the original map to a new one in a matter of hours, as is standard with every other update to a game, Epic has decided to draw this one out.

And let’s keep this in context. Most schools are off today for Columbus Day. All those kids who were excited to grind out Season 11 on their day off are now left staring into a Black Hole with nothing to do but simmer in rage or… ya know, do something else.

This is exactly the kind of alpha energy from a game maker that I am here for. The ego!

While other games worry about getting as many players on their servers as possible at any given second of any day, Fortnite is taking a few days off to let you really miss it. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. For both old and new players, a new map means a fresh start and a fresh reason to get excited about Fortnite.

Much less critically, a new map addresses competition.

EA’s Apex Legends remains one of the biggest threats to Fortnite. The Battle Royale game had an explosive (and reportedly expensive) launch and hit 50 million users faster than Fortnite did at launch. But interest in the game petered out until very recently, when EA introduced a brand new map for the first time.

The new map, called World’s Edge, reinvigorated the player base. It’s been out for about two weeks now.

With Epic’s black hole stunt, the publisher is having a true snap back moment.

“Go play your other game, if you must, or better yet just stare longingly into this cryptic black hole,” Fortnite is saying. “You’ll come running back the moment you hear I’ve returned.”

BoxGroup raises its first externally backed fund to invest in seed-stage startups

BoxGroup, the seed-stage investment firm led by David Tisch, has today announced that it has raised its very first fund from limited partners. To date, Box Group has been internally backed, meaning that the cash came from none other than the three partners at the firm, David Tisch, Adam Rothenberg, and Nimi Katragadda. BoxGroup has primarily written smaller checks, usually between $250K and $500K, for early stage startups.

The new fund is actually two separate funds: a regular seed fund and an Opportunity fund, each managing $82.5 million in capital. Limited partners in BoxGroup IV include Willoughby Capital, TrueBridge, and founders from BoxGroup’s portfolio, TJ Parker (PillPack), Jeff Raider (Harry’s) and Nat Turner (Flatiron Health).

That said, not much should change at BoxGroup. The firm will still be writing $250K to $500K checks for pre-seed, seed, and early Series A companies as a participant, not a lead.

“The most important part of our message with this is that we’re not changing,” said Tisch. “In an industry where everyone is regularly changing, we believe it’s important to stay true to what we do, which is write collaborative seed checks.”

BoxGroup doesn’t take board seats or ‘ownership’ over the companies in which it invests, but rather participates in seed rounds across a wide variety of verticals, including health, biotech, and food among the usual suspects like SaaS products, marketplaces and ecommerce.

The portfolio thus far includes names like Warby Parker, Airtable, Flexport, Roman, and RigUp, which recently raised $300 million led by Andreessen Horowitz. The firm also takes a shine to New York-based companies, including Bowery Farms, Classpass, Glossier, Chief, Mirror, and David Chang’s Ando.

BoxGroup has also had three separate (nearly) billion dollar exits: Flatiron Health which sold to Roche for $2.1 billion, Harry’s which sold for $1.37 billion to Edgewell Personal Care, and PillPack which sold to Amazon for just shy of a billion.

So why raise outside capital after 10 years of internal backing?

“This is the right evolution for our fund,” said Tisch. “It takes about ten years to get returns and results in this business and we’re about ten years old. We feel very good about what we’re doing. We have the confidence and track record now to justify asking other people to take risks on us and our model.”

Tisch added that this external money will allow BoxGroup to better support its portfolio of early stage companies with follow-on investments.

100 Thieves’ Nadeshot and Scooter Braun are coming to Disrupt

If you’re at all familiar with esports, chances are you’ve heard of 100 Thieves. The esports org, founded by Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, has grown over the past couple years into an absolute powerhouse of esports and a household name for those who follow gaming.

Which is why we’re thrilled to have Nadeshot and 100 Thieves part owner Scooter Braun join us at Disrupt SF 2019.

Matthew Haag got his start as a pro gamer when esports were still in their infancy. He became one of the most decorated esports athletes in history, serving as Captain of the legendary Optic Gaming CoD team where he led the team to an X Games Gold Medal and a CoD World Championship.

In 2015, Nadeshot retired from competitive gaming and started some of the most-watched YouTube and Twitch channels in the gaming world. A year later, he founded his own esports org with 100 Thieves, which combines streaming content, competitive esports and apparel under a single brand name.

Scooter Braun is one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, managing megastars like Justin Bieber and Arianna Grande. But Bruan is also the founder of SB Projects, which is a highly diversified media company that focuses on music management, film/TV, as well as Silent Labs, a tech incubator which holds investments in companies like Uber, Spotify, Songza, Casper, Waze, and Pinterest.

Braun is also at the helm of Ithica Holdings, which made waves this year with the acquisition of Big Machine Label Group (Taylor Swift’s former label). Ithica also owns Mythos Studios with Marvel Founding Chairman David Maisel, Atlas Publishing and has partnerships with various management companies.

In 2018, Drake and Scooter Braun became co-owners in 100 Thieves through a $25 million Series A investment.

At Disrupt SF, we’ll ask Braun and Nadeshot about the opportunities ahead in the esports industry, what it’s like to grow a brand and team from scratch, and how they see esports evolving over the next few years.

Nadeshot and Braun join an amazing list of speakers, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Will Smith and Ang Lee, Snap CEO Evan Spiegal, Zola CEO Shan Lyn Ma, and many more.

Disrupt runs October 2 to October 4 right in San Francisco. If you still need tickets, you can pick those up right here.

Cannabis logistics startup Wayv launches dynamic distribution platform

Supply chain logistics is a headache and a half across any industry, but the difficulty level goes way up within the world of cannabis. Because of federal laws, FedEx, UPS and USPS are not an option. Distributors need a variety of licenses and must operate within specific regulation. For example, cannabis brands must either become their own first-party distributor, with W2 employees and company-owned cars, distribution centers, etc., or use a licensed third-party distributor.

Wayv, the B2B cannabis logistics platform founded by serial entrepreneur Keith McCarty, is looking to solve this problem with the launch of its Dynamic Distribution platform. Of course, Wayv has been operational for upwards of a year, having received $5 million in seed led by Craft Ventures’ David Sacks (former coworker to McCarty from the Yammer days) back in October 2018.

Today, however, marks the public launch of Dynamic Distribution, which not only connects brands, retailers and distributors to streamline cannabis supply chain logistics, but allows brands to list themselves as third-party distributors for other brands. Plus, the platform automatically checks for compliance with all parties on the platform across federal, state and local laws.

While companies like Anvyl and Flexport are looking to support other, less regulated industries in their supply chain logistics evolution, the cannabis industry has been mostly left in the paper age. Wayv aims to streamline that by providing a single interface for brands, retailers and distributors to move cannabis products within the state of California.

For the past year, Wayv’s platform has helped power logistics among several cannabis brands — Caliva, Kurvana, High Style Brewing Company, and GoldDrop to name a few — as well as distributor Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group.

With Dynamic Distribution, brands who handle their own distribution can hop on the Wayv platform and get listed as a third-party distributor for other brands, opening up new revenue streams. Plus, this will allow brands across the state to access a much bigger pool of distribution options, allowing for small upstart brands to get selling without scaling up their own distribution operation.

Wayv generates revenue on a per transaction basis, charging a 15 percent fee to brands. Thus far, the startup has more than 80 brands on the platform.

McCarty says that one of the obstacles of an on-demand logistics business is supply constraint. He likened it to consumer on-demand services, like Uber and Lyft, whose growth is dependent on the number of drivers they can get on the platform.

“In the cannabis environment, there are so many compliance and licensing requirements, along with packaging and product testing requirements — which are all amazing and necessary — that we live in this environment that is very fragmented,” said McCarty. “It’s the fastest growing industry in the world, and there’s no Coca-Cola or Starbucks. There are no big chains. Just small companies individually. This means a lot more friction and a lot more need for something like Wayv to help solve the problem.”

McCarty has plenty of experience in the cannabis sector. Prior to Wayv, McCarty founded Eaze, the on-demand cannabis delivery platform for consumers. Before Eaze, McCarty was an early employee at Yammer, which was sold to Microsoft in June 2012 for $1.2 billion.

Pax Labs’ Bharat Vasan is out as CEO

Bharat Vasan is no longer the Chief Executive Officer at Pax Labs, the consumer tech company that makes cannabis vaporizers. A source familiar with the situation said that the board of directors made the decision to remove Vasan from the CEO role. His last day was Friday.

We’ve reached out to Vasan for comment. Pax is declining to elaborate on what drove its decision.

Certainly, it’s a surprising move, given that Vasan was appointed the CEO of Pax not so long ago —  in February of 2018. Before that, he served as President and COO of August Home, which was acquired by Swedish lock maker Assa Abloy in 2017. Previous to that, Vasan was the cofounder of Basis, a fitness-based wearable company that was acquired by Intel in 2014 for $100 million.

Vasan also led the company in its most recent round this past April, in which it secured $420 million from Tiger Global Management, Tao Capital, and Prescott General Partners, among others. The post-money valuation for the company at the time was $1.7 billion.

Vasan is a veteran of consumer electronics, but Pax may be looking for a CEO that has more operational experience in cannabis.

After all, Pax is at an interesting intersection in its path, navigating an oft-changing regulatory landscape around cannabis. Moreover, the entire cannabis industry — and vaporizer industry —  is under a microscope in the wake of hundreds of reports of vape-related lung illness. The CDC says that there have been 380 cases of lung illness reported across 36 states, with six deaths. Most patients reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC.

Pax is currently on the hunt for a new chief executive. In the meantime, its general counsel, Lisa Sergi, who joined the company at the end of July, will be its interim CEO and president.

Sergi had this to say in a prepared statement:

PAX is uniquely positioned as a leader in the burgeoning cannabis industry, with a talented team, an iconic brand, quality products and the balance sheet to achieve our ambitious goals and continued growth trajectory. I am extremely excited and honored to have been entrusted to lead this extraordinary company.

Twenty and Mappen merge to help users hang out IRL

Today, social networks Twenty and Mappen are joining together in a merger under the Twenty brand.

From the beginning, Twenty’s goal has been to get young people off of their phones and out in the real world with their friends. Twenty connects users with their friend groups and lets them browse fun experiences, from concerts to sports games to movies, with an easy UI for coordinating a group and making it happen. In fact, Twenty has forged relationships with orgs like Live Nation, Endeavor, Roc Nation, and Tao, which collectively produce 10,000+ events a year with an audience of over 100 million fans.

Mappen, on the other hand, is a location-based social network that let users share what they were doing (and where they were doing it) with their friends. For example, users could give a status update using a Fortnite emoji tagged to their house, inviting friends to come over and play a few games.

The two companies have been in talks, and collaborating, for the past nine months looking for ways to bring the experiences together. Where Twenty has relationships with experience providers, Mappen had the audience of young people looking to connect with each other.

The end result is an all-stock deal that unifies the user experience under the Twenty brand name.

twenty

Though the announcement of the merged app didn’t go down until today, the two apps have been combined for a while and CEO Diesel Peltz says the new app has seen 33 percent month over month growth in new users. Hangouts have increased 50 percent from July to August. Peltz will lead the combined company as CEO.

For now, the new Twenty does not have a business model in place. However, the plan is to use the event partnerships to generate revenue as opposed to ads, which relies on eyeballs on screens.

“If the model is solely based on ads, you want the users to spend as much time on the platform as possible,” said Peltz. “We’re looking to create a different opportunity for people to access these experiences.”

Thus far, the combined Twenty has raised approximately $40 million from partners including Accel, Maveron, 500 Startups, Sound Ventures, as well as Roc Nation, Live Nation and Endeavor.

YC-backed Brave Care raises $5 million for pediatric urgent care clinics

Brave Care, the YC-backed urgent care clinic for kids, has today announced the close of a $5 million seed round of funding.

The company recently graduated out of the last batch of Y Combinator companies but sat out of demo day because the this round was already oversubscribed, according to cofounder Darius Monsef .

Investors that participated in the round include Sesame Street (via their partnership with VC Collaborative Fund), Greycroft, Refactor, and Fifty Years.

Portland-based Brave Care launched in July with the goal of creating a pediatric-focused urgent care clinic that could both serve companies and save them from spending thousands of dollars on visits to the emergency room.

In 2015, there were approximately 30 million pediatric emergency room visits in the United States — 96.7% of them were treat-and-release visits.

Brave Care wants to be there for parents and kids when the situation calls for something in between their regular doctor and the emergency room.

The facility was built specifically for children. The waiting rooms are kid-friendly, the instruments in the patient rooms are kid-sized, and the general philosophy behind Brave focuses on taking extra time to clarify the diagnosis and the treatment options clearly and patiently to parents.

The company also has plans to introduce a triage tool that walks parents through symptoms and helps them decide if they should head to an urgent care clinic or straight to the Emergency Room.

The funding will allow Brave to build out a new electronic health records system that would streamline check-in, communication with parents during and after a visit, and help physicians and nurses spend more time focused on the patient and less time typing out notes on their computers.

“We can’t build a tech-enabled health care business on someone else’s platform,” said Monsef.

Moreover, Brave will use the funding to open up new, more lightweight facilities in the Portland area that can act as spokes to the main hub facility, where the company has expensive but not oft-used equipment like an X-ray machine or a full-service lab.

YC-backed Brave Care raises $5 million for pediatric urgent care clinics

Brave Care, the YC-backed urgent care clinic for kids, has today announced the close of a $5 million seed round of funding.

The company recently graduated out of the last batch of Y Combinator companies but sat out of demo day because the this round was already oversubscribed, according to cofounder Darius Monsef .

Investors that participated in the round include Sesame Street (via their partnership with VC Collaborative Fund), Greycroft, Refactor, and Fifty Years.

Portland-based Brave Care launched in July with the goal of creating a pediatric-focused urgent care clinic that could both serve companies and save them from spending thousands of dollars on visits to the emergency room.

In 2015, there were approximately 30 million pediatric emergency room visits in the United States — 96.7% of them were treat-and-release visits.

Brave Care wants to be there for parents and kids when the situation calls for something in between their regular doctor and the emergency room.

The facility was built specifically for children. The waiting rooms are kid-friendly, the instruments in the patient rooms are kid-sized, and the general philosophy behind Brave focuses on taking extra time to clarify the diagnosis and the treatment options clearly and patiently to parents.

The company also has plans to introduce a triage tool that walks parents through symptoms and helps them decide if they should head to an urgent care clinic or straight to the Emergency Room.

The funding will allow Brave to build out a new electronic health records system that would streamline check-in, communication with parents during and after a visit, and help physicians and nurses spend more time focused on the patient and less time typing out notes on their computers.

“We can’t build a tech-enabled health care business on someone else’s platform,” said Monsef.

Moreover, Brave will use the funding to open up new, more lightweight facilities in the Portland area that can act as spokes to the main hub facility, where the company has expensive but not oft-used equipment like an X-ray machine or a full-service lab.