Docs startup Almanac raises $34 million from Tiger as remote work shift hardens

As companies continue to delay their returns to the office and find temporary remote work policies becoming permanent, the startups building tooling for remote work-first cultures are finding a seemingly endless supply of customers.

“Companies are finding the shift to remote work is not a one-time aberration due to Covid,” Almanac CEO Adam Nathan tells TechCrunch. “Over the past several months we’ve seen pretty explosive revenue growth.”

Almanac, which builds a doc editor that takes feature cues like version control from developer platforms like Github, has been seizing on the shift to remote work, onboarding new customers through its open source office document library Core while pushing features that allow for easier onboarding like an online company handbook builder.

In the past couple years, timelines between funding rounds have been shrinking for fast-growing startups. Almanac announced its $9 million seed round earlier this year led by Floodgate, now they’re taking the wraps off of a $34 million Series A led by the pandemic’s most prolific startup investment powerhouse — Tiger Global. Floodgate again participated in the raise, alongside General Catalyst and a host of angels.

The company wants its collaborative doc editor to be the way more companies fully embrace online productivity software, leaving local-first document editors in the dust. While Alphabet’s G Suite is a rising presence in the office productivity suite world, Microsoft Office is still the market’s dominant force.

“We see ourselves as a generational challenger to Microsoft Office,” Nathan says. “It’s not only an old product, but it’s totally outmoded for what we do to today.”

While investors have backed plenty of startups based on pandemic era trends that have already seemed to fizzle out, the growing shift away from office culture or even hybrid culture towards full remote work has only grown more apparent as employees place a premium on jobs with flexible remote policies.

Major tech companies like Facebook have found themselves gradually adjusting policies towards full-remote work for staff that can do their jobs remotely. Meanwhile, Apple’s more aggressive return-to-office plan has prompted a rare outpouring of public and private criticism from employees at the company. Nathan only expects this divide to accelerate as more companies come tor grips with the shifting reality.

“I personally don’t believe that hybrid is a thing,” he says. “You have to pick a side, you’re either office culture or ‘cloud culture.’”

For BioNTech, the COVID-19 vaccine was simply the opening act

BioNTech’s founding story dates back to the late 1990s, when CEO and co-founder Uğur Şahin, his wife and co-founder Özlem Türeci, and the rest of the seven-person founding team began their research.

Focused specifically on an area dubbed “New Technologies,” mRNA stood out as one area with tremendous potential to deliver the team’s ultimate goal: Developing treatments personalized to an individual and their specific ailments, rather than the traditional approach of finding a solution that happens to work generally at the population level.

Şahin, along with Mayfield venture partner Ursheet Parikh, joined us at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, his long journey as a founder, what it takes to build a biotech platform company, and what’s coming next from BioNTech and the technologies it’s developing to help prevent other outbreaks and treat today’s deadliest diseases.

“At that time, mRNA was not potent enough,” Şahin recalled. “It was just a weak molecule. But the idea was great, so we invested many years in an academic setting to improve that. And in 2006, we realized ‘Wow, this is now working. Okay, it’s time to initiate a company’.”

Really, this market isn’t good enough?

It’s the first day of Disrupt, so things are a bit busy here at TechCrunch. In honor of that fact, entries from The Exchange concerning NFT volume viz recent marketplace valuations and how an accelerating pace of change helps startups by exposing more market voids will have to wait.

But we do have time this morning for a little incredulity, so let’s indulge.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


CNBC reported today that Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski is not enthused about present-day market conditions, and thus isn’t in a hurry to take his company public.

There’s some merit to the idea; after all, Klarna has shown a strong ability to raise huge sums of capital while private.

Why not just keep at it? In short, because the company has to either go public or sell itself to a larger company at some point. Given that we’ve already seen PayPal and Square cut checks to buy BNPL volume, the list of potential acquirers for Klarna is not as long as you might think. The company, flush with billions in private-market funding, will need to go public. It’s a simple question of when. 

Which makes the following all the more surprising. Via CNBC:

“The volatility in the market right now makes me nervous to IPO to be honest,” Siemiatkowski told CNBC’s Karen Tso at the London Tech Week conference on Monday. “I think it would be nice to IPO when it’s a little bit more sound. And right now it doesn’t feel really sound out there.”

Huh. Color us confused.

The public market for BNPL companies actually feels pretty damn strong at the moment.

Affirm, for example, is a BNPL company publicly listed in the United States. In Q2 2021 (Q4 fiscal 2021 for the company), Affirm reported gross merchandise volume of $2.5 billion, and revenues of $261.8 million. Those figures were up 106% and 71%, respectively. Affirm also posted a net loss of $128.2 million in the quarter, and $430.9 million in red ink during its most recent fiscal year (the 12 months ending June 30, 2021).

Niio announces $15M Series A following strategic partnership with Samsung Displays

Niio, a Tel Aviv-based digital art platform that offers access to digital art, from contemporary artists and galleries to NFTs, announced today it has closed $15 million Series A funding in the wake of a strategic partnership with Samsung Displays last week.

The round was co-led by L Catterton, which is a joint venture company between LVMH and Catterton, Entrée Capital and Pico Venture Partners. Additional investors also joined, including Saga VC, as well as leading artists, art collectors, museums, gallerists and trustees at institutions such as MOMA and Guggenheim as well as Shalom McKenzie, who recently acquired a CryptoPunk NFT at Sotheby’s. Prior to the Series A round, Niio had raised $8 million, initially from strategic angels, followed by a seed round from institutions in 2017.

Niio will use its capital to grow its artist community and scale its app-enabled subscription and purchase platform, which is blockchainbased and will include a trading-enabled marketplace for NFTs and other digital art assets.

“Digital art has become an accepted, mainstream medium with the market accelerating largely due to the explosive growth of NFTs,” said Niio CEO and co-founder Rob Anders. “The transformation people are experiencing is the most significant and consequential moment for culture in decades, making new kinds of art accessible and experienced on screens in ways like never before,” Anders added.

Niio’s technology enables users to stream digital artwork on any digital screen or canvas anywhere, bridging the gap between art and creating a platform similar to what music and entertainment streaming services have done for albums and movies.

Niio, founded by Rob Anders and Oren Moshe in 2014, combines an accessible streaming subscription service alongside the ability for people to purchase editioned NFT artwork directly from artists, galleries and content owners, through its public marketplace or via private transactions, Anders told TechCrunch.

Niio is launching its subscription service at the end of 2021 followed by its NFT marketplace — which makes Niio, backed by a global community of art professionals, the most comprehensive end-to-end solution for the digital art medium and ensuring that premium digital art is easily accessible by anyone on any screen, Anders continued.

By providing Niio’s tools to a global community of 6,000 galleries, institutions and artists from renowned to emerging, Niio’s platform and blockchain enables artists to require, distribute, manage and monetize and preserve their work.

Niio will be free for all artists, forever, to respect and support the creative community and artists’ ability for publishing, managing and protecting their life’s work.

“We have realized our vision for a platform that first and foremost empowers artists and enables their work to be experienced digitally and available globally. We are gratified by the trust that more than 6,000 artists have placed in us — as we enable them to publish, manage protect and monetize their life’s work,” Niio co-founder Oren Moshe said.

Approximately 10,000 global business customers have been using the Niio platform for the past two to three years, Anders said. Clients range from art professionals, including galleries, museums, studios and art schools, to luxury brands, hotel chains and real estate developers, who subscribe and display curated art streams from the 15,000 premium works available on the platform, to millions of people across public spaces and places in over 30 countries, Anders said.

“There are over 1 billion Smart TVs in the market and our partner Samsung has 30-40% of the market contributing to our ability to offer a ‘last mile’ proposition,” Anders said.

The digital art market is projected to be approximately $50 – $100 billion by 2025, according to Anders.

“The digital art has long been on our radar at L Catterton. We are very bullish on its future, and our ongoing evaluation of the sector brought us to Niio,” said Michael Farello, managing partner at L Catterton’s Growth Fund. “We are convinced that their platform approach including both subscription and an NFT offering combined with the reputation they have built in the critical artist community and the validation from their partnership with Samsung – will make them a market leader.”

Alan acquires Jour and launches mental health service Alan Mind

French startup Alan is better known for its health insurance products — they now insure 200,000 people. But it has been slowly building a superapp for your health and expanding with new services. Today, the company announced its first acquisition ever with the acquisition of Jour for $20 million. This is going to be the foundation for a new service called Alan Mind.

“More than 13 million people in France are facing a mental health issue. If you look at people under 35, it’s 3 out of 4 people — so it’s basically everybody,” co-founder an CEO Jean-Charles Samuelian-Werve said in a press conference earlier today.

And if you look at the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on mental health. Depressive moods and anxiety issues have basically doubled. 66% of people are dealing with sleep disorders.

“The question we asked ourselves is: How did we get there?” Samuelian-Werve said. “We see two important topics. First, there has been a chronic lack of prevention that is quite obvious. Mental health has been neglected by public health policies.”

“The second pillar that led us where we are is poor care. There are disparities between regions that are very high. In Paris, it can take up to 8 months in some hospitals if you want to see a therapist. In the Rhône-Alpes area, it takes 67 days on average to book an appointment,” he added.

And even if you can find the right person, you’ll often end up spending a lot of money. France’s national healthcare system doesn’t cover mental health that well.

With Alan Mind, the startup wants to work on these two areas of improvement. It’s a B2B service, so the company is selling access to Alan Mind to its B2B clients, who can then recommend Alan Mind to their employees.

“Do companies have a role to play in mental health? We believe that they do. Companies are responsible for protecting their employees’ health,” Samuelian-Werve said. In particular, they reached that conclusion when they realized that lockdowns have affected work-life balance. It’s hard to say when your work day ends and your personal time starts.

Image Credits: Alan

By acquiring Jour, Alan is betting on cognitive behavioral therapy. Employees can install an app and start answering questions to evaluate their current state of mind. They can find content in the app, put words on their feelings and work on themselves. There are videos, a dashboard feature, breathing exercises, etc.

If employees feel like that’s not enough, they can start an individual therapy with a health professional. Alan Mind lets you book a telehealth appointment. The company has hired a handful of psychologists so that you can get an appointment in just a few days.

Of course, companies never know that someone in the team has used Alan Mind. But HR teams receive an anonymized report every month. It’s not about spying on employees, but more about identifying common issues and providing ideas for prevention workshops.

Alan Mind is just getting started as the company only has five clients for this service — BioSerenity, Brut, Joone, Opal and Talk. Companies pay €5 per month per employee if they’re already Alan customers, or a bit more if they just want Alan Mind.

As for Jour, the B2C app will remain available in the App Store. The startup has attracted 2 million downloads before its acquisition. It has a slightly different positioning and it’s going to be useful to identify areas of improvement for Alan Mind.

Screenshots of Jour. Image Credits: Alan

Alternative financing startup Pipe snaps up Stripe and HubSpot execs, expands to UK

Pipe, a two-year-old startup that aims to be the “Nasdaq for revenue,” announced today it has snagged former Stripe EIC Sid Orlando and HubSpot’s ex-Chief Strategy Officer Brad Coffey to serve on its executive team.

The Miami-based fintech also revealed today its first expansion outside of the United States with its entry into the U.K. market.

It’s been a good year for Pipe. The buzzy startup has raised $300 million in equity financing this year from a slew of investors, such as Shopify, Slack, Okta, HubSpot, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six, Chamath Palihapitiya, MaC Ventures, Fin VC, Greenspring Associates and Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), among others.

Since its public launch in June 2020, over 8,000 companies have signed up on the Pipe trading platform. That’s double from the reported “over 4,000” that had signed up at the time of the company’s last raise in May — a $250 million round that valued the company at $2 billion.

Orlando has left her role as editor-in-chief of fintech giant Stripe, where she has worked for over four years, to head up content for Pipe. She was also previously manager of curation and content at Kickstarter. Coffey left HubSpot — where he worked for over 13 years and most recently served as chief strategy officer for nearly 5 — to serve as Pipe’s chief customer officer, where he will be responsible for driving continued growth and expansion of verticals beyond Pipe’s initial launch market of SaaS. Coffey was one of HubSpot’s first employees and witnessed the progression of the company from a startup with $1 million in ARR to a publicly traded company with $1 billion in annual recurring revenue. 

CEO Harry Hurst, Josh Mangel and Zain Allarakhia founded Pipe in September 2019 with the mission of giving SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)

The goal of the platform is to offer companies with recurring revenue streams access to capital so they don’t dilute their ownership by accepting external capital or get forced to take out loans.

Pipe’s platform has evolved to offer non-dilutive capital to non-SaaS companies as well. In fact, today over 50% of the companies using its platform are non-SaaS companies, compared to 25% in May.

Notably, Coffey led HubSpot’s investment into Pipe last spring and that’s how he first became familiar with the company.

“When I first came across Pipe, I realized they had the opportunity to be a company that not only transforms but also helps a generation of founders get access to the growth capital they’ve never had access to at scale before,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “This was even more obvious when I led HubSpot’s investment in Pipe…where HubSpot provides the software and education, and Pipe can provide the capital. As I got to know the founders and the team through that process, I realized it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss and had to be a part of.”

Orlando expressed similar sentiments around her decision to join the company.

“Pipe has such an intriguing opportunity to recontour aspects of the funding landscape, providing alternative financing option to founders looking to grow and scale companies on their own terms,” she wrote via email. “Being a part of the early team to build such an impactful product in the market was no doubt a compelling mandate! I’m also struck by Pipe’s team and mission, of pursuing the ambitious vision for leveraging a new asset class with both humility and immense motivation, in service of greater flexibility, agency, equitability and growth opportunities for founders and their teams.”

For Pipe’s Hurst, the new hires signal a new chapter for the company, which continues to grow at a rapid rate.

“There are lots of days on Pipe where tens of millions [of dollars] are traded in a single day. Tens of millions of dollars were being traded every month last time we spoke [in May], he told TechCrunch. “And it’s across a diversified set of customers and different verticals. We are even increasingly helping finance M&As. Growth has been explosive.” 

Tradable annual recurring revenue (ARR) on the Pipe platform is in excess of $2 billion and trending toward $3 billion, according to Hurst.

The company’s expansion into the United Kingdom is significant because while the region has a growing venture ecosystem, capital is not nearly as available to founders as it is in the U.S. Pipe’s availability in the region will give those founders an alternative means of financing, Hurst believes.

“There are a lot of fundamentally healthy companies that don’t have access to financing, period,” he told TechCrunch. “So we believe in the U.K., Pipe will be incredibly impactful and that is evidenced from what we’ve seen already.”

The move also represents a return to the CEO’s roots. 

“I left the U.K. for the United States seven years ago as it provided the best funding environment to build my first technology company, and it is enormously gratifying to bring those same opportunities to the burgeoning ecosystem of technology companies in the U.K.,” he said. “If Pipe existed a decade ago and offered company friendly financing options, I might never have left the U.K. … Now, I’m bringing it home and really excited to be launching in the U.K.” 

With the move, Pipe has opened a microhub in London and 10% of its 55-person team will be based there.

Cartona gets $4.5M pre-Series A to connect retailers with suppliers in Egypt

Year-old startup Capiter announced last week that it raised a $33 million Series A to digitize Egypt’s traditional offline retail market.

It’s looking to take a large pie in the budding e-commerce and retail play, where multiple startups are pulling their weight including Cartona, also a year-old startup out of Egypt.

Today, Cartona is announcing that it has raised a $4.5 million pre-Series A funding round to connect retailers and manufacturers via an application.

The company confirmed that Dubai-based venture capital firm Global Ventures led the round, with Pan-African firm Kepple Africa, T5 Capital and angel investors also participating.

Cairo-based Cartona, founded in August 2020, focuses on solving the supply-chain and operational challenges of players in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry by helping buyers access products from sellers on a single platform.

Buyers, in this case, are retailers, while sellers are FMCG companies, distributors and wholesalers.

The problem retailers in Egypt and most of Africa face mainly revolves around limited access to suppliers. There are also issues around transparency in market prices, which are dependent on traditional logistical capabilities.

For suppliers, the lack of data and inability to make data-backed decisions to improve margins and aid growth add up to unoptimized warehouses. 

“The trade market is completely inefficient and it’s not good for the supplier nor the manufacturers, and it’s definitely not good for retailers,” CEO Mahmoud Talaat told TechCrunch in an interview. “So we came up with the idea of Cartona, which is basically a fully light-asset model that connects manufacturers and wholesalers to retailers.”

Talaat founded the company alongside Mahmoud Abdel-Fattah. Before Cartona, Abdel-Fattah founded Speakol, a MENA-focused adtech platform serving 60 million monthly users, while Talaat was the chief commercial officer of agriculture company Lamar Egypt.

Cartona works as an asset-light marketplace. On the platform, grocery retailers can get orders from a curated network of sellers. The company says this way, it can provide visibility through real-time price comparisons and clarity on delivery times.

Also, FMCGs and suppliers can optimize their go-to-market execution through the use of data and analytics. Cartona tops it off by providing embedded finance and access to credit to retailers and suppliers.

Cartona makes money through all these processes. It takes a commission on orders made, charges suppliers for running advertising to merchants (since they compete for the latter’s attention), and provides market insights on buyer behavior, price competition and market share.

“It is time to capitalize on technology beyond warehouses and trucks. Data and technology will transform traditional retail to a digitally native one, which in return will drastically improve the supply chain efficiency,” Abdel-Fattah said about how the company sells information to retailers and suppliers.

Cartona has over 30,000 merchants on its platform. Together, they have processed more than 400,000 orders with an annualized gross merchandise value of EGP 1 billion (~$64 million). Cartona also works with more than 1,000 distributors, wholesalers and 100 FMCG companies, offering consumers more than 10,000 products, including dry, fresh and frozen food.

The company’s business and revenue model is similar to other companies in this space, but the main difference lies in whether they own assets or not.

Taking a look at the players in Egypt, for instance, MaxAB operates its warehouses and fleets; Capiter uses a hybrid model in which it rents these assets and owns inventory when dealing with high-turnover products. But Cartona solely manages an asset-light model.

The CEO tells me that he thinks this model works best for all the stakeholders involved in the retail market. He argues that not owning assets and leasing the ones on the ground shows that the company is trying to improve the operations of existing suppliers and merchants instead of displacing them.

I believe that the infrastructure already exists. We already have many warehouses, many small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, and wholesalers and distributors and companies that have a lot of assets. If you want to fix the problem, we think one should enable the people who are strategically located in small streets all over Egypt and have the infrastructure but don’t have the technology needed to optimize their warehouses and carts.”

The current margins for suppliers with warehouses are slim, and Cartona provides the technology — an inventory and ordering system — to provide efficiency in its supply chain.

The general partner at lead investor Global Ventures, Basil Moftah, said in a statement that Cartona’s technology and not owning inventory proved critical in the firm’s decision to back the company.

“The trade market is one of the most sophisticated, yet [it is] characterized by multiple critical inefficiencies across the value chain,” he said.Cartona’s asset-light approach tackles those inefficiencies by optimizing the trade process in unique ways and does so with minimal capital spent.”

Proceeds of the investment focus on improving this technology, Talaat said. In addition, Cartona is expanding its team and operations beyond two cities in Egypt — Cairo and Alexandria — to other parts.

A longer-term plan might include horizontal and vertical product expansion into pharmaceuticals, electronics and fashion.

Australian growth marketing agency Ammo helps startups calibrate their efforts

When you are the founder of a young startup, it is always very hard to gauge the right amount of effort to dedicate to marketing. Botch it and you risk looking unprofessional. Hire a traditional agency and you might be wasting time and money.

Australian growth marketing agency Ammo, in contrast, wants to make sure that its clients aren’t overinvesting nor underinvesting. Geared toward tech startups, it boasts that it has “supercharged the growth of over 200 innovative businesses,” from fintech and SaaS to hardware.

Ammo is based in Perth and an active member of Western Australia’s startup community, where it is “very highly regarded,” in the words of the survey respondent who recommended it to TechCrunch. But if that person decided to work with Ammo, they said it’s because “their results spoke.” (If you have growth marketing agencies or freelancers to recommend, please fill out our survey!)

After reading this, we reached out to Ammo’s director Cam Sinclair for insights on early-stage brand development, marketing readiness and more. Check out our interview below:

Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you give us an overview of Ammo?

Cam Sinclair: Ammo is a growth marketing team based in Perth, Western Australia. We work with startups and innovative businesses to help them set and reach their growth goals.

Cam Sinclair

Cam Sinclair. Image Credits: Aline Kuba(opens in a new window)

We’ve been in this community for seven years now, and have a small, lean team from a variety of backgrounds — none of which are traditional marketing.

As a nerdy kid I loved tech and was fascinated by how business works. I always knew I wanted to find some way to help founders and innovators get their great ideas out into the world. After working in political campaigns, I realized that many of the skillsets overlapped with what startups need: moving fast, being lean, communicating well, being adaptable and staying flexible.

That inspired me to grow an “anti-agency” where startup founders could genuinely feel like they had someone on their team who understood their challenges and the risks they were taking.

How do you collaborate with startups?

Our services cater to every stage of the founder journey. When you’re starting, you’ll need a brand, strategy and the marketing infrastructure to reach early customers. As you’re growing, you’ll need ongoing marketing campaigns and automation that bolsters your funnel. As you’re maturing, you’ll need the broader reach that PR and ongoing strategic advice provides.

We like to keep engagements as flexible as possible because startups are always discovering new marketing opportunities or customer needs. Some relationships are ongoing, others are quick projects completed in a week. Our long-term relationships start with a growth strategy workshop, where we identify a north star metric so that everyone is pulling in the same direction from day one.

Our workshops help startup teams design a customer journey using the pirate metrics framework and turn that into a clear, step-by-step action plan which they can implement or outsource.


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There’s a survey on your site that encourages companies to check whether they are “ready for growth marketing.” What are the high-level points that make a company ready?

It’s really about having a small number of early fanatical customers — evangelists. Many people call it product-market-fit, but it’s really customer fit.

There is little point in lighting a rocket under a startup to grow and reach a wide audience without a clear, confident direction. Sure, you might get somewhere fast, but where are you going?

We’ve made the mistake of taking on clients who were too early for growth, so we know how important it is to say “no” when it’s not a good fit. We can direct all the traffic in the world to your website, but without customer fit you’ll be fighting for every sale.

Startups need to get a few things right to be primed for growth. Not every startup will be ready for what we can do for them. We’re focused on our own customer fit too.

For one-on-one work, who are your typical clients? 

Our most successful relationships are with startups who have already established customer fit and are looking to grow quickly. We work with B2B and B2C SaaS companies, as well as more traditional businesses who are looking to disrupt the way things are done in their industry.

We’ve grown startups in Australia and abroad, including neuroscience startup Humm, based in Berkeley, California. We worked with them to identify early customers and preorder channels while they were gathering initial investment, build a learning/experimenting system within the team as they grew and, more recently, provide advisory at a strategic level.

What mistakes do you help startups avoid when it comes to branding? 

After working with over 230 startups, we know what works and what doesn’t. Our clients work with us because they know we can help them avoid the pitfalls that inexperienced founders regularly fall into and make the most of the tight budgets that startups run on.

Marketing agencies are taking money that startups don’t have to build brand identities that startups don’t need. We would much prefer to see those resources invested into building their product and talking to their customers.

That said, it’s important for a landing page or slide deck to be believable to customers, investors and partners — and when startups underinvest in their branding, people are less likely to hand over their attention, email address and money.

For example, some clients often don’t even have suitable logo files or a wide enough color palette to create websites that effectively convert people into customers. If someone can’t clearly see your “sign-up” button when they land on your website because everything on your website is blue, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is.

Can you explain why you advise startups to create a “minimum viable brand”? 

The temptation in the startup world is to use a freelancer through an online marketplace (or even worse — letting an overenthusiastic employee create a logo in PowerPoint). But this usually results in a surface-level logo design without any consideration for how it might develop over time or fit within a larger brand identity.

Other startups might work with an agency to create a brand identity, and this can lead to brand overkill — stationery kits, photography, lofty mission statements and endless meetings. None of which pre-seed startups need yet. This process wastes time and money better spent elsewhere and traps pivoting startups with an expensive brand that can’t evolve as they do.

We take branding processes used by world-class agencies and distill it down to the core parts of the brand you need right now. This leads to a minimum viable brand identity that’s built to grow and created with the expectation that it will change as your startup does. It’s inspired by lean methodology and the minimum viable product (MVP) — it’s built to challenge assumptions and catch the attention of customers without overinvesting.

What’s the process you follow to help startups develop their minimum viable brand?

Initially we help them come up with a name.

Naming is important so we generally invest time into this part to avoid changing it in the future if possible. We want to make sure it meets the basic principles of distinctiveness, brevity, appropriateness, easy spelling and pronunciation, likeability, extendibility and protectability (based on Marty Neumeier’s branding-in-business book Zag).

From there we design a logo. A good logomark (the “icon” part of the logo) is generally figurative and not literal. It should be scalable, simple and work in multiple environments including single color black or white. The logo is then complemented with brand color selections, fonts and simple imagery direction to create a basic but useful brand guide.

Most importantly, we believe your startup’s brand guidelines should be available publicly online, rather than in a PDF hidden in a folder on your Dropbox. Somewhere that you can direct your team members and partners to so you can ensure everyone can maintain brand consistency.

How does Ammo compare to having an in-house CMO?

Like a CMO, we’re strategic. But unlike a CMO, we have experience with hundreds of startups across dozens of industries — we can pull insights and lessons from unexpected places when we’re working with clients.

While we align closely with commercial goals like an in-house CMO, we also know the importance for startups to move quickly. That’s why everyone at Ammo rolls up their sleeves and gets things done for our clients.

We don’t have the mindset of taking months to develop an annual marketing strategy, we want to help our clients get in front of customers quickly, collect valuable data along the way and stay nimble to adapt when they need it.

How do you and your clients measure your impact?

At Ammo, we don’t measure time, we measure outcomes. At the start of every project we define what success looks like with the client. Every client is different, and we’re responsive to that. We check back in with ongoing clients in monthly meetings to see how we’re tracking toward the success metric we agreed on, adjusting as necessary.

All of this is measured through quantitative analytics, qualitative feedback from customers and gut instinct.

In the past we have described our role as making ourselves obsolete — that our clients would grow large enough to be able to hire their own in-house marketing team. Today we still retain many of these client relationships in different ways, by providing more strategic advice. Those long-term relationships are the greatest indication to us that we’ve had a valuable impact.

The next healthcare revolution will have AI at its center

The global pandemic has heightened our understanding and sense of importance of our own health and the fragility of healthcare systems around the world. We’ve all come to realize how archaic many of our health processes are, and that, if we really want to, we can move at lightning speed. This is already leading to a massive acceleration in both the investment and application of artificial intelligence in the health and medical ecosystems.

Modern medicine in the 20th century benefited from unprec­edented scientific breakthroughs, resulting in improvements in every as­pect of healthcare. As a result, human life expectancy increased from 31 years in 1900 to 72 years in 2017. Today, I believe we are on the cusp of another healthcare revolution — one driven by artificial intelligence (AI). Advances in AI will usher in the era of modern medicine in truth.

Over the coming decades, we can expect medical diagnosis to evolve from an AI tool that provides analysis of options to an AI assistant that recommends treatments.

Digitization enables powerful AI

The healthcare sector is seeing massive digitization of everything from patient records and radiology data to wearable computing and multiomics. This will redefine healthcare as a data-driven industry, and when that happens, it will leverage the power of AI — its ability to continuously improve with more data.

When there is enough data, AI can do a much more accurate job of diagnosis and treatment than human doctors by absorbing and checking billions of cases and outcomes. AI can take into account everyone’s data to personalize treatment accordingly, or keep up with a massive number of new drugs, treatments and studies. Doing all of this well is beyond human capabilities.

AI-powered diagnosis

I anticipate diagnostic AI will surpass all but the best doctors in the next 20 years. Studies have shown that AI trained on sizable data can outperform physicians in several areas of medical diagnosis regarding brain tumors, eye disease, breast cancer, skin cancer and lung cancer. Further trials are needed, but as these technologies are deployed and more data is gathered, the AI stands to outclass doctors.

We will eventually see diagnostic AI for general practitioners, one disease at a time, to gradually cover all diagnoses. Over time, AI may become capable of acting as your general practitioner or family doctor.

Near Space Labs closes $13M Series A to send more Earth imaging robots to the stratosphere

The decreasing cost of launch and a slew of other tech innovations have brought about a renaissance in geospatial intelligence, with multiple startups aiming to capture higher-quality and more frequent images of Earth than have ever before been available.

Most of these startups, however, are focused on using satellites to collect data. Not so for Near Space Labs, a four-year-old company that instead aims to gather geospatial intelligence from the stratosphere, using small autonomous wind-powered robots attached to weather balloons. The company has named its platform “Swifty,” and each one is capable of reaching altitudes between 60,000 and 85,000 feet and capturing 400-1,000 square kilometers of imagery per flight.

The company was founded in 2017 by Rema Matevosyan, Ignasi Lluch, and Albert Caubet. Matevosyan, who is an applied mathematician by training and previously worked as a programmer, did her Masters in Moscow. There, she started doing research in systems engineering for aerospace systems and also flew weather balloons to test aerospace hardware. “It clicked that we can fly balloons commercially and deliver a much better experience to customers than from any other alternative,” she told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

Four years after launch, the company has closed a $13 million Series A round led by Crosslink Capital, with participation from Toyota Ventures and existing investors Leadout Capital and Wireframe Ventures. Near Space Labs also announced that Crosslink partner Phil Boyer has joined its board.

Near Space, which is headquartered in Brooklyn and Barcelona, Spain, is primarily focused on urbanized areas where change happens very rapidly. The robotic devices that attach to the balloons are manufactured at the company’s workshop in Brooklyn, which are then shipped to launch sites across the country. The company’s CTO and chief engineer are both based in Barcelona, so the hardware R&D takes place over there, Matevosyan explained.

The company currently has eight Swifies in operation. It sells the data it collects and has developed an API through which customers can access the data via a subscription model. The company doesn’t need to have specific launch sites – Matevosyan said Swifties can launch from “anywhere at any time” – but the company does work in concert with the Federal Aviation Administration and air traffic control.

The main value proposition of the Swifty as opposed to the satellite, according to Matevosyan, is the resolution: from the stratosphere, the company can collect “resolutions that are 50 times better than what you would get from a satellite,” she said. “We are able to provide persistent and near real-time coverage of areas of interest that change very quickly, including large metro areas.” Plus, she said Near Space can iterate it’s technology quickly using Swifties’ “plug-and-play” model, whereas it’s not so easy to add a new sensor to a satellite fleet that’s already in orbit.

Near Space Labs founders (from left): Ignasi Lluch, Rema Matevosyan and Albert Caubet Image Credits: Near Space Labs (opens in a new window)

Near Space has booked more than 540 flights through 2022. While customers pay for the flights, the data generated from each trip is non-exclusive, so the data can be sold again and again. Looking ahead, the company will be using the funds to expand its geographical footprint and bring on a bunch of new hires. The goal, according to Matevosyan, is to democratize access to geospatial intelligence – not just for customers, but on the developer side, too. “We believe in diverse, equal, and inclusive opportunities in aerospace and Earth imaging,” she said.