Review: Apple’s new iPad mini continues to be mini

The iPad mini is super enjoyable to use and is the best size tablet for everything but traditional laptop work. It’s very good and I’m glad Apple updated it.

Using Apple Pencil is aces on the smaller mini, don’t worry about the real estate being an issue if you like to scribble notes or make sketches. It’s going to fall behind a larger iPad for a full time artist but as a portable scratch pad it’s actually far less unwieldy or cumbersome than an iPad Pro or Air will be.

The only caveat? After using the brilliant new Pencil, the old one feels greasy and slippery by comparison, and lacks that flat edge that helps so much when registering against your finger for shading or sketching out curves.

The actual act of drawing is nice and zippy, and features the same latency and responsiveness as the other Pencil-capable models.

The reasoning behind using the old pencil here is likely a result of a combination of design and cost-saving decisions. No flat edge would require a rethink of the magnetic Pencil charging array from the iPad Pro and it is also apparently prohibitively expensive in a way similar to the smart connector. Hence its lack of inclusion on either Air or mini models.

Touch ID feels old and slow when compared to iPad Pro models, but it’s not that bad in a mini where you’re almost always going to be touching and holding it rather than setting it down to begin typing. It still feels like you’re being forced to take an awkward, arbitrary additional action to start using the iPad though. It really puts into perspective how fluidly Face ID and the new gestures work together.

The design of the casing remains nearly identical, making for broad compatibility with old cases and keyboards if you use those with it. The camera has changed positions and the buttons have been moved slightly though, so I would say your mileage may vary if you’re brining old stuff to the table.

The performance of the new mini is absolutely top notch. While it falls behind when compared to the iPad Pro it is exactly the same (I am told, I do not have one to test yet) as the iPad Air. It’s the same on paper though, so I believe it in general and there is apparently no ‘detuning’ or under-clocking happening. This makes the mini a hugely powerful tiny tablet, clearly obliterating anything else in its size class.

The screen is super solid, with great color, nearly no air gap and only lacking tap-to-wake.

That performance comes at a decently chunky price, $399. If you want the best you pay for it.

Last year I took the 12.9” iPad Pro on a business trip to Brazil, with no backup machine of any sort. I wanted to see if I could run TechCrunch from it — from planning to events to editorial and various other multi-disciplinary projects. It worked so well that I never went back and have not opened my MacBook in earnest since. I’ll write that experience up at some point because I think there’s some interesting things to talk about there.

I include that context here because, though the iPad Pro is a whole ass computer and really capable, it is not exactly ‘fun’ to use in non standard ways. That’s where the iPad mini has always shined and continues to do so.

It really is pocketable in a loose jacket or coat. Because the mini is not heavy, it exercises little of the constant torsion and strain on your wrist that a larger iPad does, making it one-handed.

I could go on, but in the end, all that can be said about the iPad mini being “the small iPad” has already been said ad nauseam over the years, beginning with the first round of reviews back in 2012. This really is one of the most obvious choices Apple has in its current iPad lineup. If you want the cheap one, get the cheap one (excuse me, “most affordable” one). And if you want the small one, get the iPad mini.

The rest of the iPads in Apple’s lineup have much more complicated purchasing flow charts — the mini does indeed sell itself.

Back even before we knew for sure that a mini iPad was coming, I wrote about how Apple could define the then very young small tablet market. It did. No other small tablet model has ever made a huge dent on the market, unless you count the swarm of super super crappy Android tablets that people buy in blister packs expecting them to eventually implode as a single hive-mind model.

Here’s how I saw it in 2012:

“To put it bluntly, there is no small tablet market…Two years ago we were talking about the tablet market as a contiguous whole. There was talk about whether anyone would buy the iPad and that others had tried to make consumer tablets and failed. Now, the iPad is a massive success that has yet to be duplicated by any other manufacturer or platform.

But the tablet market isn’t a single ocean, it’s a set of interlocking bodies of water that we’re just beginning to see take shape. And the iPad mini isn’t about competing with the wriggling tadpoles already in the ‘small tablet’ pond, it’s about a big fish extending its dominion.”

Yeah, that’s about right, still.

One huge difference, of course, is that the iPad mini now has the benefit of an enormous amount of additional apps that have been built for iPad in the interim. Apps that provide real, genuine access to content and services on a tablet — something that was absolutely not guaranteed in 2012. How quickly we forget.

In addition to the consumer segment, the iPad mini is also extremely popular in industrial, commercial and medical applications. From charts and patient records to point-of-sale and job site reference, the mini is the perfect size for these kinds of customers. These uses were a major factor in Apple deciding to update the mini.

Though still just as pricey (in comparison) as it was when it was introduced, the iPad mini remains a standout device. It’s small, sleek, now incredibly fast and well provisioned with storage. The smallness is a real advantage in my opinion. It allows the mini to exist as it does without having to take part in the ‘iPad as a replacement for laptops’ debate. It is very clearly not that, while at the same time still feeling more multipurpose and useful than ever. I’m falling in real strong like all over again with the mini, and the addition of Pencil support is the sweetener on top.

Guesty, a tech platform for property managers on Airbnb and other rental sites, raises $35M

The growth of Airbnb — and likewise other platforms like Booking.com, VRBO and Homeaway for listing and renting short-term accommodation in private homes — has spawned an ecosystem of other businesses and services, from those who make money renting their homes, to cleaning companies that make properties “Airbnb-ready”, to those who help design listings that will get more clicks. Airbnb has seen some wild success so far, but it turns out that being a part of that ecosystem can be a lucrative business, too.

Today, Guesty — a Israeli startup that provides a suite of tools aimed at property managers that list on these platforms — is announcing that it has raised $35 million, money that it will use to fuel its growth, after seeing the number of properties managed in some 70 countries through its tech double to over 100,000 in the last year.

The company is not disclosing valuation with this round, which was led Viola Growth with participation also from Vertex Ventures, Journey Ventures, Kingfisher Investment Advisors, La Maison Compagnie d’Investissement, TLV Partners and Magma Ventures. But Amiad Soto, the CEO and co-founder, noted that it too has “more than doubled” since its last funding almost a year ago. PitchBook notes that round was around $90 million post-money, so this would put the current valuation at at least $180 million, likely more.

The idea for Guesty came about like many of the best startup ideas do: out of a personal need. In 2013, twin brothers Amiad and Koby were renting out their own apartments on Airbnb, and found themselves spending a lot of time doing the work needed to list and manage those properties.

Their first stab at a business was an all-in-one service to help hosts get their properties ready and subsequently tidied up for listings. “I was cleaning apartments, Koby was doing the business development, and my girlfriend was doing the laundry,” Soto told me in an interview. They quickly realised that this was never going to scale, “and also that our competitive advantage was building software. We are computer geeks.”

So the company quickly pivoted to building a platform that could provide all the tools that property managers — who work with individual property hosts/owners and had started emerging as key players as Airbnb itself scaled out — needed to juggle multiple listings. (That girlfriend is now his wife, so seems like they may have pivoted just in time.)

Guesty started as SuperHost and, like Airbnb, went through the Y-Combinator accelerator. It eventually rebranded to Guesty, and it now provides tools in a dozen areas that touch property managers and the job they do: Channel Manager (“channel” being the platform where the property is being listed), Multi-Calendar, Unified Inbox, Automation Tools, Mobile Management App, Branded Website Task Management, Reporting Tools, Owners Portal, Payment Processing, Analytics, Open API, 24/7 Guest Communication.

The plan is to complement that in coming years with more “smart” tools: the company is introducing AI and machine learning elements that will help it suggest more services to users, and for managers to use to do their jobs better. (One example of how this might work: if you have a property manager in New York City, and the city regulator changes something in the tax code for properties in Brooklyn, this will now be suggested through to managers whose properties are affected, and this can help with pricing modelling down the line if the manager, say, wanted to keep a specific margin on rentals.)

Perhaps because short-term property renting is a relatively new area of the accommodation and residential market, it’s fairly fragmented, and so Guesty is providing a clear move to consolidate and simplify some of that work.

“There are about 700 different services and other things that go into short-term property rentals,” Soto noted when I asked him about this. “It would take me hours to go through it all with you.”

And indeed, the market itself is much bigger than what Guesty is currently working with. Soto estimates that there are around 7 million properties now collectively getting listed on these short-term letting platforms, speaking to the opportunity ahead.

Guesty very much got its start with Airbnb and that helped it not only establish what property managers needed, but also to forge a close relationship with Airbnb at a time when it wasn’t yet building many bridges to third-party services. Soto said Guesty built its own private API to use with Airbnb, and subsequently helped inform how Airbnb eventually build an API that others could use.

It’s still a trusted partner in that regard. Now that Airbnb is moving into multi-dwelling arrangements — that is, rooms in hotels (which will now expand with its HotelTonight acquisition), plus multiple apartments in single buildings for big groups that might want to secure bookings at several places at once — it will very soon be launching a tool for these kinds of listings. Guesty has helped in the building of that, too.

Still, the opportunity for short-term lettings is bigger than Airbnb itself these days. Booking.com and its many subsidiary businesses have made a big move into this area, as have many other companies, and Guesty now handles bookings on a number of “channels”. Soto said on average, the number of bookings on its platform that are listing on Airbnb is 60 percent, with some vacation spots seeing the percentage much lower, and some urban markets seeing a much higher penetration.

This is one of those cases where being an early mover in identifying a market opportunity has worked in a startup’s favor. Guesty’s strong work with Airbnb has helped the startup build stronger ties with those companies that hope to compete with it and give Airbnb a run for its money: Booking.com, Soto notes, is a premier partner these days.

“Guesty was the first to recognize the potential of the property management market and has quickly become a category leader with its vertical-oriented, end-to-end approach,” said Natalie Refuah, partner at Viola Growth, in a statement. “Technology and AI continue to disrupt the innovation stack, acting as a catalyst to the digitization of “traditional” areas such as real estate and travel. Guesty is leading the charge, fostering a more seamless experience for property managers while providing clear advantages to customers and ultimately, their guests. We believe that with its experienced and elite executive team, Guesty is fully equipped to modernize and revolutionize the property management ecosystem.” Refuah is joining Guesty’s Board of Directors.

Guesty, a tech platform for property managers on Airbnb and other rental sites, raises $35M

The growth of Airbnb — and likewise other platforms like Booking.com, VRBO and Homeaway for listing and renting short-term accommodation in private homes — has spawned an ecosystem of other businesses and services, from those who make money renting their homes, to cleaning companies that make properties “Airbnb-ready”, to those who help design listings that will get more clicks. Airbnb has seen some wild success so far, but it turns out that being a part of that ecosystem can be a lucrative business, too.

Today, Guesty — a Israeli startup that provides a suite of tools aimed at property managers that list on these platforms — is announcing that it has raised $35 million, money that it will use to fuel its growth, after seeing the number of properties managed in some 70 countries through its tech double to over 100,000 in the last year.

The company is not disclosing valuation with this round, which was led Viola Growth with participation also from Vertex Ventures, Journey Ventures, Kingfisher Investment Advisors, La Maison Compagnie d’Investissement, TLV Partners and Magma Ventures. But Amiad Soto, the CEO and co-founder, noted that it too has “more than doubled” since its last funding almost a year ago. PitchBook notes that round was around $90 million post-money, so this would put the current valuation at at least $180 million, likely more.

The idea for Guesty came about like many of the best startup ideas do: out of a personal need. In 2013, twin brothers Amiad and Koby were renting out their own apartments on Airbnb, and found themselves spending a lot of time doing the work needed to list and manage those properties.

Their first stab at a business was an all-in-one service to help hosts get their properties ready and subsequently tidied up for listings. “I was cleaning apartments, Koby was doing the business development, and my girlfriend was doing the laundry,” Soto told me in an interview. They quickly realised that this was never going to scale, “and also that our competitive advantage was building software. We are computer geeks.”

So the company quickly pivoted to building a platform that could provide all the tools that property managers — who work with individual property hosts/owners and had started emerging as key players as Airbnb itself scaled out — needed to juggle multiple listings. (That girlfriend is now his wife, so seems like they may have pivoted just in time.)

Guesty started as SuperHost and, like Airbnb, went through the Y-Combinator accelerator. It eventually rebranded to Guesty, and it now provides tools in a dozen areas that touch property managers and the job they do: Channel Manager (“channel” being the platform where the property is being listed), Multi-Calendar, Unified Inbox, Automation Tools, Mobile Management App, Branded Website Task Management, Reporting Tools, Owners Portal, Payment Processing, Analytics, Open API, 24/7 Guest Communication.

The plan is to complement that in coming years with more “smart” tools: the company is introducing AI and machine learning elements that will help it suggest more services to users, and for managers to use to do their jobs better. (One example of how this might work: if you have a property manager in New York City, and the city regulator changes something in the tax code for properties in Brooklyn, this will now be suggested through to managers whose properties are affected, and this can help with pricing modelling down the line if the manager, say, wanted to keep a specific margin on rentals.)

Perhaps because short-term property renting is a relatively new area of the accommodation and residential market, it’s fairly fragmented, and so Guesty is providing a clear move to consolidate and simplify some of that work.

“There are about 700 different services and other things that go into short-term property rentals,” Soto noted when I asked him about this. “It would take me hours to go through it all with you.”

And indeed, the market itself is much bigger than what Guesty is currently working with. Soto estimates that there are around 7 million properties now collectively getting listed on these short-term letting platforms, speaking to the opportunity ahead.

Guesty very much got its start with Airbnb and that helped it not only establish what property managers needed, but also to forge a close relationship with Airbnb at a time when it wasn’t yet building many bridges to third-party services. Soto said Guesty built its own private API to use with Airbnb, and subsequently helped inform how Airbnb eventually build an API that others could use.

It’s still a trusted partner in that regard. Now that Airbnb is moving into multi-dwelling arrangements — that is, rooms in hotels (which will now expand with its HotelTonight acquisition), plus multiple apartments in single buildings for big groups that might want to secure bookings at several places at once — it will very soon be launching a tool for these kinds of listings. Guesty has helped in the building of that, too.

Still, the opportunity for short-term lettings is bigger than Airbnb itself these days. Booking.com and its many subsidiary businesses have made a big move into this area, as have many other companies, and Guesty now handles bookings on a number of “channels”. Soto said on average, the number of bookings on its platform that are listing on Airbnb is 60 percent, with some vacation spots seeing the percentage much lower, and some urban markets seeing a much higher penetration.

This is one of those cases where being an early mover in identifying a market opportunity has worked in a startup’s favor. Guesty’s strong work with Airbnb has helped the startup build stronger ties with those companies that hope to compete with it and give Airbnb a run for its money: Booking.com, Soto notes, is a premier partner these days.

“Guesty was the first to recognize the potential of the property management market and has quickly become a category leader with its vertical-oriented, end-to-end approach,” said Natalie Refuah, partner at Viola Growth, in a statement. “Technology and AI continue to disrupt the innovation stack, acting as a catalyst to the digitization of “traditional” areas such as real estate and travel. Guesty is leading the charge, fostering a more seamless experience for property managers while providing clear advantages to customers and ultimately, their guests. We believe that with its experienced and elite executive team, Guesty is fully equipped to modernize and revolutionize the property management ecosystem.” Refuah is joining Guesty’s Board of Directors.

Opendoor raises $300M on a $3.8B valuation for its home marketplace

Last month, we reported that Opendoor — the startup that is taking on the real estate industry with its own platform for buying up homes and selling them on to interested buyers — filed to raise $200 million on a $3.7 billion valuation. Now, we can confirm that the round has closed, and it has turned out to be higher on both counts. The company has raised an addition $300 million, and sources close to it tell TechCrunch that the valuation is now at $3.8 billion.

This latest round was led by previous investor General Atlantic, with participation also from Hawk Equity, the SoftBank Vision Fund, Access Technology Ventures, Lennar Corporation, Fifth Wall Ventures, SV Angel, Norwest Venture Partners, NEA, GGV Capital, Khosla Ventures, and GV. Opendoor has now raised $1.3 billion in equity, with some $3.0 billion in debt financing for buying in properties.

Opendoor’s funding underscores a couple of big themes. The first is the “safe as houses” maxim. That is to say, the housing market — despite some huge dips resulting either from wider economic tides, or simply scandalous mismanagement around, for example, sub-prime lending — continues to be a major draw not just for investors but also consumers.

“Our business is designed to operate in up markets, down markets and flat markets,” co-founder and CEO Eric Wu said in an email to TechCrunch. “During a slowdown, it becomes increasingly more painful to sell a home, which impacts mobility for homeowners and increases the need for reliable home sales through products like Opendoor. It is our responsibility to manage that risk and charge the proper fees to account for the volatility.” The company says that in 2018, more than 800,000 people toured Opendoor homes.

And that leads to the second theme this funding touches on: the disruption of the business model for buying and selling homes.

That process has largely remained unchanged for decades, but Opendoor is part of (and arguably leading) a new guard of startups that is trying to shake that up. In Opendoor’s case, it’s doing so by creating data modelling that lets it spot opportunities and gaps in the market for homes, as well as optimal pricing for properties, which helps the company mitigate some of the risk associated with taking assets on to its own books with the understanding that it will be able to offload them in a predictable way.

There are signs that over time, those algorithms have been getting more efficient. Eric Wu, who co-founded the company with Ian Wong, Justin Ross and Keith Rabois, told TechCrunch that the average time a home is now held on its books is now 90 days, versus 140 days when the company first launched in 2015.

Wu said that this latest round of funding will be used both for product development as well as to continue expanding to more markets in North America.

On the product side, the company wants to continue making pricing more accurate (not just for selling but for buying in homes at competitive rates). Another focus will be continuing to bring down the time it takes to convert interested sellers into actual sellers, and likewise with buyers. This will include integrating more services like mortgage tools — including title and escrow — as well as other service providers and contractors, who might be needed by buyers to help consider the work that would need to be done once the home is purchased.

(If you’ve ever bought a home, you will know that access to estimates and work commitments from contractors and others can be essential to comprehending the ‘true cost’ of home purchase, since post-purchase work can sometimes be a massive and costly effort.)

Wu said that for now, the plan will be to focus all of this around the private home buying experience, rather than move into using the Opendoor platform to tackle the selling and buying of other large assets such as commercial real estate, cars or loans. “These capabilities lend themselves well to rental/residential income,” he noted, “but that is currently not on our roadmap.”

Zeus raises $24M to make you a living-as-a-service landlord

Cookie-cutter corporate housing turns people into worker drones. When an employee needs to move to a new city for a few months, they’re either stuck in bland, giant apartment complexes or Airbnbs meant for shorter stays. But Zeus lets any homeowner get paid to host white-collar transient labor. Through its managed ownership model, Zeus takes on all the furnishing, upkeep, and risk of filling the home while its landlords sit back earning cash.

Zeus has quietly risen to a $45 million revenue run rate from renting out 900 homes in 23 cities. That’s up 5X in a year thanks to Zeus’ 150 employees. With a 90 percent occupancy rate, it’s proven employers and their talent want more unique, trustworthy, well-equipped multi-month residences that actually make them feel at home.

Now while Airbnb is distracted with its upcoming IPO, Zeus has raised $24 million to steal the corporate housing market. That includes a previous $2.5 million seed round from Bowery, the new $11.5 million Series A led by Initialized Capital whose partner Garry Tan has joined Zeus’ board, and $10 million in debt to pay fixed costs like furniture. The plan is to roll up more homes, build better landlord portal software, and hammer out partnerships or in-house divisions for cleaning and furnishing.

“In the first decade out of school people used to have two jobs. Now it’s four jobs and it’s trending to five” says Zeus co-founder and CEO Kulveer Taggar. “We think in 10 years, these people won’t be buying furniture.” He imagines they’ll pay a premium for hand-holding in housing, which judging by the explosion in popularity of zero-friction on-demand services, seems like an accurate assessment of our lazy future. Meanwhile, Zeus aims to be “the quantum leap improvement in the experience of trying to rent out your home” where you just punch in your address plus some details and you’re cashing checks 10 days later.

Buying Mom A House Was Step 1

“When I sold my first startup, I bought a home for my mom in Vancouver” Taggar recalls. It was payback for when she let him remortgage her old house while he was in college to buy a condo in Mumbai he’d rent out to earn money. “Despite not having much growing up, my mom was a travel agent and we got to travel a lot” which Taggar says inspired his goal to live nomadically in homes around the world. Zeus could let other live that dream.

Zeus co-founder and CEO Kulveer Taggar

After Oxford and working as an analyst at Deutsche Bank, Taggar built student marketplace Boso before moving to the United States. There, he co-founded auction tool Auctomatic with his cousin Harjeet Taggar and future Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison, went through Y Combinator, and sold it to Live Current Media for $5 million just 10 months later. That gave him the runway to gift a home to his mom and start tinkering on new ideas.

With Y Combinator’s backing again, Taggar started NFC-triggered task launcher Tagstand, which pivoted into app settings configurer Agent, which pivoted into automatic location sharing app Status. But when his co-founder Joe Wong had to move an hour south from San Francisco to Palo Alto, Taggar was dumbfounded by how distracting the process was. Listing and securing a new tenant was difficult, as was finding a medium-term rental without having to deal with exhorbitant prices or sketchy Cragislist. Having seen his former co-founder go on to great success with Stripe’s dead-simple payments integration, Taggar wanted to combine that vision with OpenDoor’s easy home sales to making renting or renting out a place instantaneous. That spawned Zeus.

Stripe Meets OpenDoor To Beat Airbnb

To become a Zeus landlord, you just type in your address, how many bedrooms and bathrooms, and some aesthetic specs, and you get a monthly price quote for what you’ll be paid. Zeus comes in and does a 250-point quality assessment, collects floor plans, furnishes the property, and handles cleaning and maintenance. It works with partners like Helix mattresses, Parachute sheets, and Simple Human trash cans to get bulk rates. “We raised debt because we had these fixed investments into furniture. It’s not as dilutive as selling pure equity” Taggar explains.

Zeus quickly finds a tenant thanks to listings in Airbnb and relationships with employers like Darktrace and ZS Associates with lots of employees moving around. After passing background checks, tenants get digital lock codes and access to 24/7 support in case something doesn’t look right. The goal is to get someone sleeping there in just 10 days. “Traditional corporate housing is $10,000 a month in SF in the summer or at extended stay hotels. Airbnb isn’t well suited [for multi-month stays]. ” Taggar claims. “We’re about half the price of traditional corporate housing for a better product and a better experience.”

Zeus signs minimum two-year leases with landlords and tries to extend them to five years when possible. It gets one free month of rent as is standard for property managers, but doesn’t charge an additional rate. For example, Zeus might lease your home for $4,000 per month but gets the first month free, and rent it out for $5,000 so it earns $60,000 but pays you $44,000. That’s a tidy margin if Zeus can get homes filled fast and hold down its upkeep costs.

“Zeus has been instrumental for my company to start the process of re-location to the Bay Area and to host our visiting employees from abroad now that we are settled” writes Zeus client Meitre’s Luis Caviglia. “I particularly like the ‘hard truths’ featured in every property, and the support we have received when issues arose during our stays.”

At Home, Anywhere

There’s no shortage of competitors chasing this $18 billion market in the US alone. There are the old-school corporations and chains like Oakwood and Barbary Coast that typically rent out apartments from vast, generic complexes at steep rates. Stays over 30 days made up 15 percent of Airbnb’s business last year, but the platform wasn’t designed for peace-of-mind around long-term stays. There are pure marketplaces like UrbanDoor that don’t always take care of everything for the landlord or provide consistent tenant experiences. And then there are direct competitors like $130 million-funded Sonder, $66 million-funded Domio, recently GV-backed 2nd Address, and European entants like MagicStay, AtHomeHotel, and Homelike.

Zeus’ property unit growth

There’s plenty of pie, though. With 330,000 housing units in SF alone, Zeus has plenty of room to grow. The rise of remote work means companies whose employee typically didn’t relocate may now need to bring in distant workers for a multi-month sprint. A recession could make companies more expense-cautious, leading them to rethink putting up staffers in hotels for months on end. Regulatory red tape and taxes could scare landlords away from short-term rentals and towards coprorate housing. And the need to expand into new businesses could tempt the big vacation rental platforms like Airbnb to make acquisitions in the space — or try to crush Zeus.

Winners will be determined in part by who has the widest and cheapest selection of properties, but also by which makes people most comfortable in a new city. That’s why Taggar is taking a cue from WeWork by trying to arrange more community events for its tenants. Often in need of friends, Zeus could become a favorite by helping people feel part of a neighborhood rather than a faceless inmate in a massive apartment block or hotel. That gives Zeus network effect if it can develop density in top markets.

Taggar says the biggest challenge is that “I feels like I’m running five startups at once. Pricing, supply chain, customer service, B2B. We’ve decided to make everything custom — our own property manager software, our own internal CRM. We think these advantages compound, but I could be wrong and they could be wasted effort.”

The benefits of Zeus‘ success would go beyond the founder’s bank account. “I’ve had friends in New York get great opportuntiies in San Francisco but not take them because of the friction of moving” Taggar says. Routing talent where it belongs could get more things built. And easy housing might make people more apt to live abroad temporarily. Taggar concludes, “I think it’s a great way to build empathy.”

The next frontier in real estate technology

From entertainment to transportation, technology has upended nearly every major industry — with one notable exception: real estate. Instead of disrupting the sector, the last generation of real estate technology companies primarily improved efficiencies of existing processes. Industry leaders Zillow/Trulia and LoopNet* helped us search for homes and commercial real estate better and faster, but they didn’t significantly change what we buy or lease or from whom or how.

The next generation of real estate technology companies is taking a more expansive approach, dismantling existing systems and reimagining entirely new ones that address our growing demand for affordability, community and flexibility.

The increasing need for affordability

Home ownership has long been integral to the American dream, but for many young Americans today it’s an unattainable dream. A third of millennials live at home, and as a cohort, they spend a greater share of their income on rent than previous generations did — about 45 percent during their first decade of work. This leaves little money left over for savings, much less for home ownership, the largest financial expenditure of most people’s lifetimes.

The increasing need for affordable housing is driving some creative tech-enabled solutions. One segment of startups is focused on making existing homes more affordable, especially in high-cost markets like New York and the Bay Area. Divvy helps consumers, many of them with low credit scores, rent-to-own homes, which are assessed for viability by a combination of contractors and machine learningLandedfunded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, helps educators afford homes in the communities in which they teach. Homeshare divides luxury apartments into multiple more-affordable units, and Bungalow takes a similar approach with houses. Both companies have built technology platforms to manage their tenant listings and to allocate tenant expenses and streamline payments.

Consumers aren’t just craving affordability, they’re also seeking company.

Another segment of startups is aiming to reduce the costs of building new homes, such as with modular, prefab housing to reduce construction costs. Katerra, which just raised $865 million, is aiming to create a seamless, one-stop shop for commercial and residential development, managing the entire building process from design and sourcing through the completion of construction. Taking a “full stack” approach to every step of the building process should enable them to find efficiencies and reduce costs.

If the economy weakens, the need for more affordable housing will only grow, making these startups not only recession-proof but even recession-strong. Collectively, they’re helping Americans right-size their dreams to something more broadly attainable.

In search of community

Consumers aren’t just craving affordability, they’re also seeking company. More than half of Americans feel lonely, and the youngest cohort in their late teens and early-to-mid-twenties are the loneliest of the bunch (followed closely by millennials). Millennials are the first generation to enter the workforce in the era of smartphones and laptops. While 24/7 connectivity enables us to work anywhere, anytime, it also creates expectations of working anywhere, anytime — and so many people do, bleeding the lines between work life and personal life. Longer work hours make community harder to build organically, so many millennials place value on employers and landlords who facilitate it for them.

Airbnb and WeWork were early to capitalize on the demand for community, with one changing how we travel and the other redefining the modern office space. Co-working companies like WeWork, as well more targeted providers like The Assembly*, The Wing and The Riveter, offer speaker series, classes and other free member events aimed at building connections. Airbnb, once focused only on lodging, has broadened its platform to include community-building shared experiences.

Shared living and hospitality startups are also investing in community to attract and retain customers. StarCity provides dorms for adults, Common and HubHaus rent homes intended to be shared by roommates and Ollie offers luxury micro apartments in a co-living environment. These companies are leveraging technology to foster in-person connections. For example, Common uses Slack channels to communicate with and connect members, and HubHaus uses roommate matching algorithms.

Within the hospitality sector, Selina offers a blended travel lodge, wellness and co-working platform geared toward creating community for travelers and remote workers, complete with high-tech beachside and jungle-side office spaces. Meanwhile, experience-driven lifestyle hotel company Life House* connects guests through onsite locally rooted food and beverage destinations and direct app-based social introductions to other travelers.

Modern life requires flexibility

Life can be unpredictable, especially for young people who tend to change jobs frequently. Short job tenures are especially common within the growing gig economy workforce. People who don’t know how long their jobs will last don’t want to be burdened with long-term lease commitments or furniture that’s nearly as expensive to move as it is to buy.

The next frontier in real estate technology is as boundless as it is exciting.

Companies like FeatherFernish and CasaOne rent furniture to people seeking flexibility in their living environments. Among consumers ready to buy their homes but looking for some extra help, Knock, created by Trulia founding team members and which recently raised a $400 million Series B, provides an end-to-end platform to enable home buyers to buy a new home before selling their old one. Also emphasizing flexibility, OpenDoorvalued at more than $2 billion, pioneered “instant offers” for homeowners looking to sell their homes quickly, leveraging algorithms to determine how much specific houses are worth.

It’s not just residents who seek flexible leases; many companies do as well, particularly those accommodating distributed employees or experiencing periods of uncertainty or rapid growth. To enable flexibility, several commercial real estate technology companies have developed platforms that balance pricing, capacity and demand.

Knotel, a “headquarters as a service” for companies with 100-300 employees, builds out and manages office spaces at lower risk and with more flexibility than is typically possible through commercial real estate leases, enabling tenants to quickly add or shrink office space as needed. WeWork allows members to pay only for the time periods when they come in to work. Taking flexibility to an even greater level, Breather lets workers rent rooms by the hour, day or month.

The next frontier in real estate technology is as boundless as it is exciting. A whole new generation of startups is designing innovative solutions from the ground up to address our growing demands for affordability, community and flexibility. In the process, they’re fundamentally reimagining how we live, work and play by transforming the modern workplace, leisure space and even our definition of home. We look forward to seeing — and experiencing — what lies ahead.

*Trinity Ventures portfolio company.

Meet the 19 startups in AngelPad’s 12th batch

AngelPad just wrapped the 12th run of its months-long New York City startup accelerator. For the second time, the program didn’t culminate in a demo day; rather, the 19 participating startups were given pre-arranged one-on-one meetings with venture capital investors late last week.

AngelPad co-founders Thomas Korte and Carine Magescas did away with the demo day tradition last year after nearly a decade operating AngelPad, which is responsible for mentoring startups including Postmates, Twitter-acquired Mopub, Pipedrive, Periscope Data, Zum and DroneDeploy.

“Demo days are great ways for accelerators to expose a large number of companies to a lot of investors, but we don’t think it is the most productive way,” Korte told TechCrunch last year. Competing accelerator Y Combinator has purportedly considered their eliminating demo day as well, though sources close to YC deny this. The firm cut its investor day, a similar opportunity for investors to schedule meetings with individual startups, “after analyzing its effectiveness” last year.

Feedback to AngelPad’s choice to forego demo day has been positive, Korte tells TechCrunch, with startup CEOs breathing a sigh of relief they aren’t forced to pitch to a large crowd with no promise of investment.

AngelPad invests $120,000 in each of its companies. Here’s a closer look at its latest batch:

LotSpot is a parking management tool for universities, parks and malls. The company installs cameras at the entrances and exits of customer parking lots and autonomously tracks lot occupancy as cars enter and exit. The LotSpot founders are Stanford University Innovation Fellows with backgrounds in engineering and sales.

Twic is a discretionary benefits management platform that helps businesses offer wellness benefits at a lower cost. The tool assists human resources professionals in selecting vendors, monitoring benefits usage and managing reimbursements with a digital wallet. Twic customers include Twitch and Oscar. The company’s current ARR is $265,000.

Zeal is an enterprise contract automation platform that helps sales teams manage custom routine agreements, like NDAs, independently and efficiently. The startup is currently working on test implementations with Amazon, Citi and Cvent. The founders are attorneys and management consultants who previously led sales and legal strategy at AXIOM.

ChargingLedger works with energy grid operators to optimize electric grid usage with smart charging technology for electric vehicles. The company’s paid pilot program is launching this month.

Piio, focused on SEO, helps companies boost their web presence with technology that optimizes website speed and performance based on user behavior, location, device, platform and connection speed. Currently, Piio is working with JomaShop and e-commerce retailers. Its ARR is $90,000.

Duality.ai is a QA platform for autonomous vehicles. It leverages human testers and simulation environments to accelerate time-to-market for AV sidewalk, cars and trucks. Its founders include engineers and designers from Caterpillar, Pixar and Apple. Its two first beta customers generated an ARR of $100,000.

COMUNITYmade partners with local manufacturers to sell their own brand of premium sneakers made in Los Angeles. The company has attracted brands, including Adidas, for collaborations. The founders are alums of Asics and Toms.

Spacey is a millennial-focused art-buying platform. The company sells limited-edition collections of fine-art prints at affordable prices and offers offline membership experiences, as well as a program for brand ambassadors with large social followings.

LegalPassage saves lawyers time with business process automation software for law firms. The company focuses on litigation, specifically class action and personal injury. The founder is a litigation attorney, former adjunct professor of law at UC Hastings and a past chair of the Family Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Revetize helps local businesses boost revenue by managing reputation, encouraging referrals and increasing repeat business. The startup, headquartered in Utah, has an ARR of $220,000.

House of gigs helps people find short-term work near them, offering “employee-like” services and benefits to those freelancers and gig workers. The startup has 90,000 members. The San Francisco and Berlin-based founders previously worked together at a VC-backed HR startup.

MetaRouter provides fast, flexible and secure data routing. The cloud-based on-prem platform has reached an ARR of $250,000, with customers like HomeDepot and Sephora already signed on.

RamenHero offers a meal kit service for authentic gourmet ramen

RamenHero offers a meal kit for authentic gourmet ramen. The startup launched in 2018 and has roughly 1,700 customers and $125,000 in revenue. The startup’s founder, a serial entrepreneur, graduated from a culinary ramen school in Japan.

ByteRyde is insurance for autonomous vehicles, specifically Tesla Model 3s, taking into account the safety feature of self-driving cars.

Foresite.ai provides commercial real estate investors a real-time platform for data analysis and visualization of location-based trends.

PieSlice is a blockchain-based equity issuance and management platform that helps create fully compliant digital tokens that represent equity in a company. The founder is a former trader and stockbroker turned professional poker player.

Aitivity is a security hardware company that is developing a scalable blockchain algorithm for enterprises, specifically for IoT usage.

SmartAlto, a SaaS platform with $190,000 ARR, nurtures real estate leads. The company pairs agents with digital assistants to help the agents show more homes.

FunnelFox works with sales teams to help them spend less time on customer research, pipeline management and reporting. The AI-enabled platform has reached an ARR of $75,000 with customers including Botify and Paddle.

Blueground raises $20 million for flexible apartment rentals

Blueground, the startup providing turnkey flexible rental apartments, has raised $20 million in a round led by Athens-based VentureFriends, with participation from Endeavor Catalyst, Dubai’s Jabbar Internet Group and serial entrepreneur Kevin Ryan. Ryan — who helped found MongoDB, Gilt Groupe, Zola and others — will also join Blueground’s board of directors.

It’s no secret that remote work and frequent business travel are becoming more and more commonplace. As a result, a growing number of people are shying away from lengthy rental or lease commitments and are instead turning to companies like Blueground for more flexible short-term solutions.

Blueground is trying to be the go-to option for individuals moving or traveling to a city for as little as a month, or any duration longer. Similar to flexible office space providers, Blueground partners with major property owners to sign long-term leases for units it then furnishes and rents out with more flexible terms.

Users can rent listings for anywhere between one month to five years, and rates are set on a monthly basis, which can often lead to more favorable prices over medium-to-long-term stays relative to the short-term pricing structures commonly used by hospitality companies.

Filling hospitality gaps and easing rental friction

CEO Alex Chatzieleftheriou is intimately familiar with the value flexible leasing can unlock. Before founding Blueground, Chatzieleftheriou worked as a consultant for McKinsey, where he was frequently sent off to projects in far-off cities for months at a time — living in 15 cities over just seven years.

However, no matter how much time Alex logged in hotels, he constantly felt the frustration and mental strain of not having a stable personal living arrangement.

“I spent so much time in hotels but they never really resembled a home. They didn’t have enough space or enough privacy,” Chatzieleftheriou told TechCrunch. “But renting an apartment can be a huge pain in these cities. They can be hard to find, they usually have a minimum rental term of a year or more, and you usually have to deal with filling out paperwork and buying furniture.” 

Knowing there were thousands of people at his company alone dealing with the same frustrations, Alex launched what would become Blueground, beginning with a handful of apartments in his home city of Athens, Greece.

Chatzieleftheriou and his team structured the platform to make the rental process as seamless as possible for the needs of flexible renters like himself. Through a quick plug-and-play checkout flow — more similar to the booking process for a hotel or Airbnb — renters can lock down an apartment without having to deal with the painful, costly and time-consuming traditional rental process. Tenants are also able to switch to any other Blueground listing during their rental period if their preferences change or if they want to explore different locations during their stay.

Every Blueground listing also comes completely furnished by the company’s design team, so renters don’t have to deal with buying, transporting — and eventually selling — furniture. And each apartment comes outfitted with digital and connected infrastructure so that tenants can monitor their apartment and arrange maintenance, housekeeping and other services directly through Blueground’s mobile app. 

The value proposition is also fairly straightforward for the landlords Blueground partners with, as they avoid costs related to marketing and coordinating with fragmented brokers to fill open units, while also benefiting from steady rental payments, tenant vetting and free property management. 

The offering certainly seems to be compelling for renters — while Chatzieleftheriou initially focused on serving business travelers and those moving for work, he quickly realized the market for flexible leasing was in fact much bigger. Blueground’s sales have tripled over the past three years and after its expansion in the U.S. last year, Blueground now hosts 1,700 listings in 10 cities across three continents.

“The trend of flexible and seamless real estate is bigger and is happening everywhere,” Chatzieleftheriou said. “A lot of people throughout the real estate sector really want this seamless, turnkey, furnished solution.”

To date, Blueground has raised a total of $28 million and plans to use funds from the latest round for additional hiring and to help the company reach its goal of growing its portfolio to 50,000 units over the next five years.

Jupiter raises $23 million to tell businesses and governments how climate change will destroy them

Whether it’s by flood, fire, or the fury of a storm, climate-related catastrophes are now impacting most cities and towns across the country. As these natural disasters increase in frequency and severity, cities and the businesses that reside in them are mobilizing to understand how best to prepare for the climatological challenges they’re going to face — and increasingly they’re turning to companies like Jupiter Intelligence for information.

From offices in San Mateo, Calif., Boulder, Colo., and New York Jupiter Intelligence has made a business selling data from satellite imagery and advanced computer models to cities like New York and Miami, along with the Federal government and big insurance and real estate customers.

With its new financing, Jupiter plans to take its show on the global road, and is bringing its services to clients in Rotterdam, London, and Singapore.

It’s a story that has its roots in over two decades of work from founders Rich Sorkin, Eric Wun, Josh Hacker, and Alan Blumberg.

Wun and Sorkin met in 1996 in the early days of the development of mapping and weather prediction technologies. And got their start in the business co-founding Zeus, a weather prediction technology developer that was pitching its services to commodities traders.

“Zeus was way too early from a technology platform perspective,” says Sorkin. “We put Zeus on the shelf eight years ago. Then when we came up with the idea for Jupiter most of the early ideas were already there.”

In the interim, Sorkin served as the president of Kaggle, a company Google acquired back in 2017. By that point, Sorkin had already left to launch Jupiter, which he started in 2016.

While Zeus predicted the thirty day weather for commodities traders, Jupiter is a more powerful toolkit that predicts the possibility of damage from severe weather and climate change for a much broader set of customers, Sorkin says.

Wun and Sorkin were on board immediately, and the next person to join the fledgling team, was Hacker — who had run satellite operations for Skybox — another Google acquisition. Following the merger of Skybox with Planet Labs, Hacker took a job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce (one of the pre-eminent organizations focused on climate change).

The final recruit was Blumberg who was approached because of his role in developing the Princeton Ocean Model, which is used by over 5700 research and operational groups in 70 countries and his leadership position in developing 2-hour and 4-day flood predictions for Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Storm surge from Hurricane Sandy in New York City

After its launch the company was able to land three big insurance companies, QBE, Mitsui, and Nephila, which all agreed to throw cash into the company’s new $23 million round.

Jupiter’s predictive and analytics technologies have applications far beyond insurance. Airports, ports, power plants, water facilities, hospitals, municipal and even the federal government are turning to the company for information, according to Sorkin.

Jupiter raised $1 million in its seed round from DCVC (Data Collective) and then closed on $10 million more from Ignition Partners . The latest $23 million was led by Energize Ventures, a fund focused on infrastructure and climate-related investments.

SYSTEMIQ, which was co-founded by McKinsey veteran Jeremy Oppenheim, also invested in Jupiter’s Series B. The architect of McKinsey’s Sustainability and Resource Practice said in a statement, “For a decade the planet has needed the kind of repeatable, globally consistent, insurance grade analytics Jupiter now delivers.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The toolkit that the company pitches does purport to offer new levels of granularity and insight into the kinds of threats climate and weather-related disasters post to government and private assets.

“We predict probabilistically at the asset level… at the loading dock of a warehouse or a transmission box or a hotel on the beach, we determine the actual expected risk in a form that the insurance industry or the risk manager at an organization can use and integrate into their plans,” says Sorkin. 

The company’s process begins with global climate models and then drills down into a specific region which is used as the basis of predicting peril-like events, according to Sorkin.

That goes into a statistical model which translate the predictions into a form that quantifies the uncertainty and in a way that’s tailored to decision makers, he said.

Using APIs from Mapbox, the company can also provide a mapping interface that gives customers visualizations along with a product that lets users see what damage can look like inside of a building through virtual reality and a collaboration with Oculus.

“The strategy was to start with one peril in one place in one market so we started with flooding in Carolinas for the real estate,” says Sorkin. “We have expanded into much broader perils and geographies and market segments.”

For all of the time that Sorkin spends modeling out how cities will meet their doom in one form of cataclysm or another, Jupiter’s chief executive is fairly positive about the prospects for society to withstand the climate threat it currently faces.

“Even with all the bad things that could happen, we don’t think the apocalypse is inevitable,” Sorkin says. “The extent of damage is a function of how much people invest in avoiding it over the next decade.”

Tiger Global and Ant Financial lead $500M investment in China’s shared housing startup Danke

A Chinese startup that’s taking a dorm-like approach to urban housing just raised $500 million as its valuation jumped over $2 billion. Danke Apartment, whose name means “eggshell” in Chinese, closed the Series C round led by returning investor Tiger Global Management and newcomer Ant Financial, Alibaba’s e-payment and financial affiliate controlled by Jack Ma.

Four years ago, Beijing-based Danke set out with a mission to provide more affordable housing for young Chinese working in large urban centers. It applies the coworking concept to housing by renting apartments that come renovated and fully furnished, a model not unlike that of WeWork’s WeLive. The idea is by slicing up a flat designed for a family of three to four — the more common type of urban housing in China — into smaller units, young professionals can afford to live in nicer neighborhoods as Danke takes care of hassles like housekeeping and maintenance. To date, the startup has set foot in ten major Chinese cities.

With the new funds, Danke plans to upgrade its data processing system that deals with rental transactions. Housing prices are set by AI-driven algorithms that take into account market forces such as locations rather than rely on the hunches of a real estate agent. The more data it gleans, the smarter the system becomes. That layout is the engine of the startup, which believes an internet platform play is a win-win for both homeowners and tenants because it provides greater transparency and efficiency while allowing the company to scale faster.

“We are focused on business intelligence from day one,” Danke’s angel investor and chairman Derek Shen told TechCrunch in an interview. Shen was the former president of LinkedIn China and was instrumental in helping the professional networking site enter the country. “By doing so we are eliminating the need to set up offline retail outlets and are able to speed up the decision-making process. What landlords normally care is who will be the first to rent out their property. The model is also copiable because it requires less manpower.”

“We’ve proven that the rental housing business can be decentralized and done online,” added Shen.

danke apartment

Photo: Danke Apartment via Weibo

Danke doesn’t just want to digitize the market it’s after. Half of the company’s core members have hailed from Nuomi, the local services startup that Shen founded and was sold to Baidu for $3.2 billion back in 2015. Having worked for a business of which mission was to let users explore and hire offline services from their connected devices, these executives developed a propensity to digitize all business aspects including Danke’s day-to-day operations, a scheme that will also take up some of the new funds. This will allow Danke to “boost operational efficiency and cut costs” as it “actively works with the government to stabilize rental prices in the housing market,” the company says.

The rest of the proceeds will go towards improving the quality of Danke’s apartment amenities and tenant experiences, a segment that Shen believes will see great revenue potential down the road, akin to how WeWork touts software services to enterprises. The money will also enable Danke, which currently zeroes in on office workers and recent college graduates, to explore the emerging housing market for blue-collar workers.

Other investors from the round include new backer Primavera Capital and existing investors CMC Capital, Gaorong Capital and Joy Capital.

China’s rental housing market has boomed in recent years as Beijing pledges to promote affordable apartments in a country where few have the money to buy property. As President Xi Jinping often stresses, “houses are for living in, not for speculation.” As such, investors and entrepreneurs have been piling into the rental flat market, but that fervor has also created unexpected risks.

One much-criticized byproduct is the development of so-called “rental loans.” It goes like this: Housing operators would obtain loans in tenants’ names from banks or other lending institutions allegedly by obscuring relevant details from contracts. So when a tenant signs an agreement that they think binds them to rents, they have in fact agreed to take on loans and their “rent” payments become monthly loan repayments.

Housing operators are keen to embrace such practices for the loans provide working capital for renovation and their pipeline of properties. On the other hand, the capital allows companies like Danke to lower deposits for cash-strapped young tenants. “There’s nothing wrong with the financial instrument itself,” suggested Shen. “The real issue is when the housing operator struggles to repay, so the key is to make sure the business is well-functioning.”

Danke alongside competitors Ziroom and 5I5J has drawn fire for not fully informing tenants when signing contracts. Shen said his company is actively working to increase transparency. “We will make it clear to customers that what they are signing are loans. As long as we give them enough notice, there should be little risk involved.”