Unito raises $10.5M to help workplace collaboration tools speak to each other

Startup productivity tools have never been better, but that’s led to employees being more passionate than ever about the tools that they want to use themselves. PMs don’t want to use Jira, engineers don’t want to mess with Trello and keeping everyone happy can mean replicating processes again and again.

Montreal-based Unito is building software that helps these platforms communicate with each other so teams can keep their favorite tools without bringing the company to a crawl. The startup has just closed a $10.5 million Series A round led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from existing investors Mistral Venture Partners, Real Ventures, and Tom Williams.

Unito’s tool works by collaborating among most of the major workplace productivity software suites’ APIs and automatically translating an action in one piece of software to the others. Updates, comments and due dates can then sync across each of the apps, allowing employees to only interact with the software that’s best for their job.

For Unito, the challenge is convincing startups that are paying for more subscription tools than ever that they need another tool to make sense of what they already have. Unito CEO Marc Boscher tells TechCrunch that company leaders are already having to deal with impassioned pleas for adopting or abandoning certain tools, something that his product can alleviate.

“Every company’s got a debate about which tools to use to get their work done and track their work, and it’s never the same so someone has to lose out eventually,” Boscher says. “People are becoming really passionate about their tools whether they love them or hate them.”

Venture capitalists have been increasingly pouring money into SaaS products built for specific workflows. For employees that have long had to deal with software built for someone else’s role, the proliferation of more team-specific has been welcome, but the ease of use comes with the danger that data or updates can get siloed.

Bessemer partner Jeremy Levine led this deal, saying that the firm was attracted to Unito after seeing how the product allowed teams to choose their own tools, something that was becoming more critical amid the proliferation of vertical-specific SaaS products. Levine’s other early stage bets include Shopify, Yelp and LinkedIn.

Unito’s current integrations include tools like Jira, Asana, Trello, GitHub, Basecamp, Wrike, ZenDesk, Bitbucket, GitLab and HubSpot.

Tim Cook-backed Nebia releases a much cheaper third-gen shower head

Last year, Tim Cook-backed shower startup Nebia announced it had raised a Series A led by the faucet-maker Moen, this year, we’re seeing the fruits of the exclusive partnership, the startup’s third-generation shower head. The product, called Nebia by Moen, is launching on Kickstarter for $199 and will retail for $269 for the shower head and wand.

The startup’s latest product is by far its least expensive offering yet, and after a side-by-side shower test conducted by yours truly, I can say there isn’t a major difference between the Nebia by Moen and the company’s Nebia Spa Shower 2.0, something that may make continued sales of the last-gen shower, which retails for $499, a bit of a challenge.

The aesthetics of the new offering are more mass-market, but it still feels distinctly similar to the design of the last two generations. The product comes in three colors and users can buy the shower head on its own for $160 during the Kickstarter campaign.

Former CEO Phillip Winter has stepped down into the role of CMO and President while fellow co-founder Gabe Parisi-Amon has taken over the reigns as CEO. I chatted with Winter at length on the broader hardware market and whether consumers were willing to fork over money for a premium shower experience. Check out the interview linked below.

 

Week in Review: Forget cord cutting, here comes the stream slashing

Hey everyone, welcome back to Week in Review where I dive deep into a bit of news from the week or just share some thoughts and go over some of the more interesting stories of the week.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here.


The big story

“Cord cutting” might still be a major trend for those walking away from cable subscriptions in favor of online streaming services, but the world of online subscription TV is nearly saturated and as 2020 prepares to inundate us with more services, it’s likely growing time for consumers to stop adding services and start prioritizing.

NBCUniversal delivered some more details this week on its Peacock network and earlier this month we heard more about the mobile-only streaming network Quibi . These launches will come along in the spring, arriving just months after the high-profile launches on Apple TV+ and Disney+. Adding four high-spend streaming platforms in a short time frame could rattle the cages of consumers that have been bumbling along with only a couple streaming service subscriptions.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock seems to walk the line between both worlds, leveraging Comcast subscribers without seeming to invest heavily in original content for the service. Their strategy is pinned on the attractiveness of their existing content library which they’re promoting heavily on both free and paid plans. There could be something here, it feels like a marked return to the early Hulu playbook, which could very well be played out.

I still don’t know what to think of Quibi. They are dropping plenty of cash but spending your way into building a Gen Z network seems like a tall order. They’ve already nabbed a big partnership with T Mobile which seems promising when considering their broader industry adoption and yet it still seems like Snapchat Discover Prime. I’ll withhold judgment until launch but other mobile-first video networks have had less than stellar receptions.

Side note: At this point in the streaming video product life cycle, I would imagine cracking down on password-sharing is going to start being a more attractive option for streaming service operators.

We’ll see how this all shakes out, but it’s getting crowded.

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • Visa buys Plaid for $5.2 billion
    The biggest acquisition of the week was the very bold purchase of Plaid by Visa. Visa paid up double the banking API startup’s last private valuation. Read more here.
  • Google acquires Pointy
    Google has announced a couple deals in the past few weeks. This week, we heard that they had acquired the Dublin startup Pointy, which builds hardware and software to help physical retailers track product inventory levels. Read more about it in our coverage.
  • Alphabet is a $1 trillion company
    In the current age of big tech, there’s an elite club for public companies worth more than $1 trillion in market cap. This week, Alphabet joined its ranks. Read more here.

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription business had another great week of content. My colleague Darrell Etherington talked a bit about the next frontier of early-stage space investments.

Space Angels’ Chad Anderson on entering a new decade in the ‘entrepreneurial space age’

“Space as an investment target is trending upwards in the VC community, but specialist firm Space Angels has been focused on the sector longer than most. The network of angel investors just published its most recent quarterly overview of activity in the space startup industry, revealing that investors put nearly $6 billion in capital into space companies across 2019.…”

Sign up for more newsletters, including my colleague Darrell Etherington’s new space-focused newsletter Max Q, here.

Copilot is a subscription personal finance tracker aiming to kill Mint

When Intuit acquired Mint more than a decade ago, mobile was in a different place — as were tech-enabled financial services. There hasn’t been much progress for the personal finance tracker app category in the meantime. Mint has stumbled along with integration issues and tiresome data misclassifications. For many, the best alternative has been firing up a spreadsheet.

Copilot is a new personal finance-tracking app from a former Googler that seems like it could garner a following based on its slick design and ease of use. The subscription iOS app lets you load your financial data, create custom categories for transactions and set budgets. It has been invitation-only for the past several months, but is launching publicly today.

Founder Andrés Ugarte told TechCrunch that he started the effort after eight years at Google — most recently inside its Area 120 experimental products division — because of slow progress in the personal finance space since Mint’s acquisition.

“I’ve been trying to use personal finance apps for the last eight years, and I eventually ended up giving up on them,” Ugarte says. “I was willing to make them work, and create my own categories and fix the data so that stuff was all categorized correctly. But I was always disappointed because the apps never felt smart because they would make the same mistakes again.”

I spent a few hours poking around Copilot over the past couple of days and I like what I’ve seen. The design is friendlier than other options, but its major strengths are that you can easily re-categorize a transaction that didn’t automatically fall in the bucket that you wanted it to, mark internal transfers between accounts and exclude one-off purchases from your tracked budget. Other apps have also allowed these functionalities, but Copilot lets you denote whether you want every transaction with a particular vendor to route to a certain category or bypass your budget entirely, so it actually learns from your activity.

In some ways, the killer feature of Copilot is just how great Plaid is. The app relies heavily on the Visa-acquired financial services API startup, and I can see why the startup was so successful. The integration’s intuitiveness alongside Copilot’s already smooth on-boarding process gives users early indication for the app’s thoughtful design.

Copilot has its limitations, mainly in that the team is just two people right now, so those holding out for desktop or Android support might have to wait a bit. Some may be turned off by the app’s $2.99 monthly subscription price, though there are more than a few reasons to avoid free apps that have access to all of your financial info. Copilot maintains that users’ financial info will never be sold to or shared with third parties.

Ugarte has largely been self-funding the effort by selling off his Google shares, but the team just locked down a $250,000 angel round and is searching for more funding.

Accel-backed Clockwise launches an AI assistant for Google Calendar

Startups are paying for more subscription services than ever to drive collaboration during working hours, but–whether or not the Slack-lash is indeed a real thing–the truth is that filling your day with meetings can sometimes be detrimental to actually… working.

Time management software and daily planners put the accountability on the individual, but when you’re in several hours of meetings per day, there’s a lot that’s out of your control. I recently met with Matt Martin, the CEO of Accel-backed Clockwise. His startup has a really interesting pitch for taking a look at individual employee schedules through the lens of the entire team and moving meetings around to maximize “focus time,” which Martin defines as blocks of at least 2 uninterrupted hours during your day.

Clockwise’s customers already include Lyft, Asana, Strava and Twitter, they’ve been aiming to build out a wide footprint of customers by offering their product for free at first. They’ve raised more than $13 million over two rounds from investors including Accel, Greylock and Slack Fund.

The startup’s software which integrates with Google Calendar has been bringing people into the fold for shifting these meetings around, but their latest update aims to give teams the option to let its Clockwise Calendar Assistant do some of the heavy-lifting automatically.

Managing calendars en masse obviously has the potential to piss people off. Clockwise has tried to build in certain accommodations to keep friction low and they’ve gotten good feedback from early testers.

Certain employees like engineers likely benefit more time to work uninterrupted time to work, so Clockwise gave employees a way to designate how much “focus time” they generally need per week. They’ve also added the ability to bring personal calendars into the mix so that users can designate time where they have unmovable personal conflicts. Not every meeting is in your office, when there are locations in the invites, Clockwise will account for travel between the two addresses inside your calendar.

Some meetings can’t be moved, others rely on off-site folks in different time zones, sometimes a high-level exec needs to be in a meeting and their schedule is all that matters. Not all meetings need to be flexible, but Clockwise hopes that by automatically resolving conflicts for team meetings, they can leave employees with fewer useless half-hour chunks of time during their day.

Alongside today’s Assistant update, Clockwise is also boosting its compatibility with Slack. Users have the ability to let Clockwise turn on do-not-disturb automatically during designated “focus time” and can let the app populate their Slack status with the current meeting they’re in.

When you think about how much energy has been spent by startups looking to reinvent email or chat, it’s fascinating that there hasn’t been more energy fixed on the humble calendar. Anecdotally, there seems to be plenty of demand for a “luxury” Google Calendar and yet there hasn’t seemed to be a proportional amount of action. Clockwise has one of the more interesting offerings, though I’m sure more will be popping up alongside it soon.

Obvious Ventures closes an irrationally-sized third fund

Obvious Ventures, the firm co-founded by Medium CEO and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, announced today that it has closed its third fund “OV3” at $271,828,182, a number that the graphing calculator-owning among us may recognize as e or Euler’s number.

When asked whether the firm had to return any LP money just so it could land at its magic number, Obvious’s Gabe Kleinman threw a “no comment” my way.

The firm has a bit of a tradition in being cutesy with its fund sizes. Their first fund was $123,456,789 and the second fund clocked in at $191,919,191. The focus on the naming scheme isn’t an accident, there isn’t too much to draw attention to with this fund in terms of changes to Obvious’s investment strategies, Kleinman tells TechCrunch.

“We’re investing in companies that are reimagining trillion dollar categories,” Kleinman tells TechCrunch. “… and these play out across our three themes, which are sustainable systems, healthy living and ‘people power.'”

Obvious saw some successful exits in 2019, including the public offering of Beyond Meat.

Paper-rich startup employees look for ‘pre-wealth’ help to lock down stock options

For Silicon Valley’s potential startup millionaires, compensation packages staked on future promises of wealth are where the action is, but what happens when these employees get laid off or have to leave before an exit?

When Wouter Witvoet left a startup that he had joined as employee #4, he felt relatively prepared, having set aside $50,000 to exercise his available stock options, only to be informed by HR that he was also liable to pay taxes on said options so he was about $1.8 million short with 90 days to settle up.

“I ended up losing my entire equity stake,” Witvoet tells TechCrunch.

Witvoet later founded Secfi, which is just one of a handful of entities looking to establish itself in the hot “pre-wealth” management space with what it calls forward purchase agreements enabling startup employees to exercise stock options and wait until an IPO or exit to make payments.

Looking to leverage paper wealth is hardly a new trend, but more institutional investors are eyeing the non-traditional opportunity as high-growth startups get harder to access. For some of the hedge funds and private equity funds playing around in this space, these deals represents a back door into the paydays of mature IPO-bound startups at a discount.

There are a number of players with hundreds of millions at play. Section Partners has $120M in committed capital and calls it option exercise financing a “lifeline” for employees facing option expiration. Troy Capital Group’s Quid has partnered with Oaktree Capital Management on a $200 million fund. The Bay Area ESO Fund has been providing this financing to startup employees since its founding in 2012.

Secfi, which has raised $7 million in venture funding from investors including Rucker Park Capital, Social Leverage and the Weekend Fund, had previously been acting as a go-between for multiple firms, but is announcing today that they’ve partnered with New York hedge fund Serengeti Asset Management, locking down a $550 million debt facility.

Taking out run-of-the-mill loans to exercise options with the assumption that a great exit inevitably awaits your startup is an awful call. These forward purchase agreements are backed by the options themselves so the recourse is limited to the options in question. If your startup succeeds, you’ll be paying the company back the principal, plus an interest rate and an equity rate, i.e. a good chunk of your upside. If your startup endures a WeWork-like fiasco, no one is coming after your car.

With more late-stage startups pumping the brakes on spending and eyeing layoffs, there aren’t many great resources for affected employees looking to see what their options are worth. Many end up finding themselves going down Quora rabbit holes, browsing for information that is rarely one-size-fits-all. Educating on an individual basis has its merits, but most of these options financing firms are also trying to get HR departments at companies to do a bit of the marketing for them through partnerships with the startups themselves.

As more money gets directed from these behemoth funds toward “pre-wealth” financial services, you can expect to see more startups like Secfi popping up hoping to offer potential startup millionaires a platform that extends beyond the pathway to options upside.

Building long-tail success after a breakout game

For many gamers, Pokémon GO was an exciting fad that ate up their summer and was just another chapter in a franchise. A lot of these people would already treat the game like some sort of nostalgic mid-2010s hit, but the game is minting cash from users at a more expansive rate that ever. A report in Sensor Tower this week estimated that 2019 was Niantic’s best year to date in terms of in-app purchase revenue from Pokémon GO users, noting that the company likely pulled in nearly $900 million according to its estimates.

The rate of user revenue is still lower now than it was following launch, Pokémon GO launched in just a few markets at the beginning of July 2016 and Sensor Tower estimates its revenue reached $832 million in the final six months of that year. But with higher year-over-year totals compared to 2017 and 2018, the estimates do suggest that Niantic’s aggressive updates to gameplay and its in-game social features helped boost revenues.

The truth is, every couple years there’s a new gaming title that accumulates users at a startling pace. What happens after the press cycle churns and the game is left to its own devices is where the great studios prove themselves. Niantic is in a cushy position as its breakout title fills its coffers, but the company still has some soul-searching ahead of it as it simultaneously aims to chase a follow-on hit and a developer platform.

Building long-tail success after a breakout game

For many gamers, Pokémon GO was an exciting fad that ate up their summer and was just another chapter in a franchise. A lot of these people would already treat the game like some sort of nostalgic mid-2010s hit, but the game is minting cash from users at a more expansive rate that ever. A report in Sensor Tower this week estimated that 2019 was Niantic’s best year to date in terms of in-app purchase revenue from Pokémon GO users, noting that the company likely pulled in nearly $900 million according to its estimates.

The rate of user revenue is still lower now than it was following launch, Pokémon GO launched in just a few markets at the beginning of July 2016 and Sensor Tower estimates its revenue reached $832 million in the final six months of that year. But with higher year-over-year totals compared to 2017 and 2018, the estimates do suggest that Niantic’s aggressive updates to gameplay and its in-game social features helped boost revenues.

The truth is, every couple years there’s a new gaming title that accumulates users at a startling pace. What happens after the press cycle churns and the game is left to its own devices is where the great studios prove themselves. Niantic is in a cushy position as its breakout title fills its coffers, but the company still has some soul-searching ahead of it as it simultaneously aims to chase a follow-on hit and a developer platform.

Week in Review: The old Vision Fund heave-ho

Hey everyone, welcome back to Week in Review where I dive deep into a bit of news from the week or just share some thoughts and go over some of the more interesting stories of the week.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here.


The big story

The WeWork saga already led SoftBank to make headlines months ago when CEO Masayoshi Son urged portfolio companies to chase cashflow, but this was the week that the shoe dropped for plenty of startups and the layoffs commenced.

  • Getaround let go of 150 employees according to The Information.
  • Zume is planning to fire 400 people, Business Insider reports.
  • Oyo is firing “thousands,” Bloomberg reports.
  • Rappi is laying off 6% of its workforce, the company announced.

These are just the Vision Fund portfolio companies to announce layoffs this week, in the past several months we’ve already seen restructurings at Fair, Wag, Katerra, Opendoor, Ola, Brandless, Uber and, of course, WeWork. Now, one batch of portfolio companies making a similar move does not a trend make, unless it’s SoftBank of course. It’s been a rocky year for late-stage startups chasing the public life. The less-than-rosy debuts of some of the decade’s most investor-adored startups has been embarrassing for plenty but Uber’s debut and WeWork’s near-implosion has been a pretty awful look for the Vision Fund.

On the positive side, in many ways it seems SoftBank isn’t ushering in a new ill to the world of late-stage capital, rather it’s being forced to correct a trend it helped usher in. Hyper-growth isn’t dead but there are limits in turning “Uber for X” into a universal mantra for revamping business strategies. Plenty of SoftBank’s startups are going to be stuck making on-the-move adjustments they weren’t expecting to need to make, but the move to trim the fat seems far from life-or-death for the majority of them. For the employees affected, there isn’t as much of a silver-lining.

Sonos Move 3

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • Sonos sues Google
    An interesting lawsuit to emerge this week, Sonos is suing Google for alleged patent infringement, with the speaker company alleging that Google has stolen some of its tech and owes it cash. Google acknowledges that the two had been in talks about licensing tech but doesn’t seem stoked about the suit. Read more here.
  • Twitter rethinks replies
    Twitter banning the nazis has become an unfortunate meme of sorts that highlights how many issues Twitter has with abuse on its site. Building a comprehensive blacklist was a pretty daunting challenge for Twitter which has significantly less resources that Facebook or YouTube, its new solution is to have different types of whitelists for tweets so that the original poster can limit replies. Read more about it in our coverage.

GettyImages 535059003

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

ab 5 uber lyft

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription business had another great week of content. My colleague Megan Rose Dickey talked a bit about the fight being waged to keep contractors classified as such in the face of new legislation.

How gig economy giants are trying to keep workers classified as independent contractors

“Now that 2020 has started, Uber, DoorDash and Lyft are taking additional steps to undermine a new California law that would help more gig workers qualify as full-time employees. These moves entail product changes, lawsuits and ramped-up efforts to get a ballot initiative in front of voters that would roll back the new legislation.

Let’s start with the most recent development; yesterday, Uber  sent a note to users announcing that it’s getting rid of upfront pricing in favor of estimated prices, unless they’re Uber Pool rides…”

Sign up for more newsletters, including my colleague Darrell Etherington’s new space-focused newsletter Max Q, here.