Ready, Set, Raise, an accelerator for women built by women, announces third class

In 2018, Leslie Feinzaig, the founder of Female Founders Alliance, launched a free, equity-free accelerator for women called Ready, Set, Raise. The goal was to provide under-networked female founders the coaching and connections needed to raise money.

This year, as funding for female founders drops to 2017 levels, Feinzaig realized why accelerators, hers included, might not work for women as well as they work for men: demo day. A common culminating event in most accelerators, demo day is an event where founders pitch to a room to investors, angels, and journalists with the hope of raising a round and landing some coverage.

“The truth is, you don’t raise a round based on a 5-minute, highly scripted, polished and practiced on-stage pitch,” Feinzaig continued. “You raise it by being able to pitch your startup to any person, at any time, in any context, and get them excited enough to want to participate in your journey.”

So, Feinzaig says the “aha moment” led to Ready, Set, Raise changing its programming, which will run 8-weeks, to be more focused on a “realistic fundraising process” vetted by hundreds of women.

The coronavirus has impacted the way that accelerators work, Y Combinator and Techstars moved to live, virtual programming, which has the opportunity to be more accessible to parents or people who cannot relocate to Palo Alto for three months out of the year. That said, Y Combinator’s latest batch had a drop in diversity, with only 16% of the companies having a founder who identified as female. In the previous batch, nearly 21% of companies had a founder who identified as female.

The drop in access makes Feinzaig’s work even more difficult, and important. This year, as applications rolled in for Ready, Set, Raise, Feinzaig noticed that more mature companies were applying than usual. The detail led to the founder surveying female founders and discovering that women who had the ambition to start a company before the pandemic, are less likely to do so now. Still, she’s optimistic, saying that they saw the “highest caliber of applicants” to her accelerator than ever before.

Today, Ready Set Raise announced its third cohort, including a startup that digitizes retailers which sell outdoor equipment, a marketplace for ethical and legal data exchange, and a digital platform that connects Black women to culturally-aware providers.

Here’s a look at Ready, Set, Raise’s third cohort of startups:

Brightly: Founded by Laura Wittig and Liza Moiseeva, Brightly is a startup that combines commerce, content, and community with the goal of scaling conscious consumerism. It is based in Seattle, WA.

Womp.ai: Founded by Gabriela Trueba, Womp wants to help anyone explore, create, and share 3D. It is based in Brooklyn, NY

FixFake: Founded by Kathryn Harrison and Jason Law, FixFake offers decision support tools to reduce fraud in e-commerce. It is based in Bozeman, MT

tbd health: Founded by Stephanie Estey, Daphne Chen, and Sherwin Lu, tbd health is an at-home, STI screening platform made for women. It is based in New York, NY.

Gearo: Founded by Justine Barone, Gearo digitizes outdoor retailer operations and brings in adventure-seekers as customers. It is based in Denver, CO

Mary Louise Cosmetics: Founded by Akilah Releford, Mary Louise Cosmetics sells natural skincare and personal care products. It is based in Los Angeles, CA

datacy: Founded by CEO Paroma Indilo and Kaleb Wilson, Datacy is a marketplace focused on enabling ethical and legal data exchange. It is based in San Jose, CA.

Health In Her HUE: Founded by Ashlee Wisdom and Eddwina Bright, the company is a digital platform connecting Black women to culturally competent providers. It is based in New York, NY.

The class will begin October 19th. Members will receive coaching from a variety of partners including Cooley LLP, Carta, Grasshopper Bank, Madrona Venture Group, UPS and Zendesk for Startups.

Atlanta-based Speedscale now has $2.2 million more to grow its API test automation business

It only took a few weeks after its Y Combinator demo day debut for the Atlanta-based API test automation company Speedscale to raise its first $2.2 million.

Founded by longtime developers and Georgia Institute of Technology alumni Ken Ahrens, Matthew LeRay and Nate Lee, the trio had known each other for roughly 20 years before making the jump to working together.

A circuitous path of interconnecting programming jobs in the DevOps and monitoring space led the three men to realize there was an opportunity to address one of the main struggles new programmers now face — making sure that updates to API integrations in a containerized programming world don’t wind up breaking apps or services.

“We were helping to solve incident outages and incidents that would cause downtime,” said Lee. “It’s hard to ensure the quality between all of these connection points [between applications]. And these connection points are growing as people add APIs and containers. We said, ‘How about we solve this space? How could we preempt all of this and ensure maintaining release velocity with scalable automation?’ ”

Typically companies release new updates to code in a phased approach or in a test environment to ensure that they’re not going to break anything. Speedscale proposes test automation using real traffic so that developers can accelerate the release time.

“They want to change very frequently,” said Ahrens, speaking about the development life cycle. “Most of the changes are great, but every once in a while they make a change and break part of the system. The state of the art is to wait for it to be broken and get someone to fix it quickly.”

The pitch SpeedScale makes to developers is that its service can give coders the ability to see the problems before the release. They automate the creation of the staging environment, automation suite and orchestration to create that environment.

“One of the big things for me was when I saw the rise of Kubernetes was what’s really happening is that engineering leaders have been able to give more autonomy to developers, but no one has come up with a great way to validate and I really think that Speedscale can solve that problem.”

The Atlanta-based company, which only just graduated from Y Combinator a few months ago, is currently in a closed alpha with select pilot partners, according to LeRay. And the nine-month-old company has raised $2.2 million from investors, including Sierra Ventures from the Bay Area and Atlanta’s own Tech Square Ventures, to grow the business.

“APIs are a huge market,” Ahrens said of the potential opportunity for the company. “There’s 11 million developers who develop against APIs… We think the addressable market for us is in the billions.”

Startup founders set up hacker homes to recreate Silicon Valley synergy

In Y Combinator’s early days, founders would move to Palo Alto, split a two-bedroom with five others to save money and trade notes around the clock with their new, like-minded roommates.

Now, as remote work continues and the pandemic persists, scores of entrepreneurs are working from home around the world. Y Combinator isn’t requiring its recent cohorts to relocate and collaboration is a screen-to-screen affair.

Now that they can work from literally anywhere, many entrepreneurs are forming homes with other founders. Hacker homes, the newest iteration of remote work adaption, feels like a nostalgic attempt to recreate some of the synergies COVID-19 wiped out. Generally speaking, it’s a nod to the digital nomad lifestyle, but in some cases, hacker homes feel closer to Hype House, a TikTok mansion laden with sponsored indulgence and wealth.

For Greg Isenberg, a growth advisor to TikTok and former head of strategy at WeWork, entrepreneur homes are a signal of what the foreseeable future of building could look like.

“The type of vibe you used to get from Y Combinator just doesn’t exist anymore,” Isenberg said, as these houses could recreate some of the scrappiness and like-mindedness that defined the incubator’s early days.

While some see founder communes as vehicles for creating a more level playing field, critics say the model perpetuates Silicon Valley cultural constructs that favor white men.

In other words, sometimes there’s a cost to after-work happy hours making a comeback.

Product Hunt, and then TikTok

Michael Houck, a former product manager at Airbnb and Uber, rented a home in Tulum, Mexico in May 2020. He put $21,000 of non-refundable money on his credit card and invited friends and people he met on the internet before hopping on a plane. Anyone who came had to be okay with a few rules: you must pay rent, launch projects and you have to be okay with building your company in public.

In all, 18 entrepreneurs, including Houck, formed The Launch House. Residents include former startup fellowship participants from On Deck, product managers and solo entrepreneurs. On the plane ride over, house founder Brett Goldstein launched its first tool.

Habitants of the Launch House use the pool for recreation and brainstorm sessions, called “pool-storms.” Image Credits: The Launch House

“How do you actually launch a consumer product? You need wide reach, influence, community and media properties all together,” Goldstein said. “I wouldn’t say we’re the next Y Combinator, but the next YC would look something like that.”

In just a few weeks, The Launch House has produced nine products, including a discovery platform for the best OnlyFans accounts, an anonymous Twitter bot that sends positive comments and tools that enhance newsletter and email reading experiences.

Launch House members described a strong focus on inclusion when populating future homes and just opened up the application process for Launch House 2. One way the house is trying to give access to other people is by open-sourcing information and projects that residents build together.

The website has a Launch Library where builders can submit their email addresses to access resources on how to build anything from a podcast to a clothing brand to a community.

“There’s this sort of veil of mystique that surrounds a lot of entrepreneurs and founders,” Goldstein said. “The curtain has been lifted, and now you can get a social media perspective, and inside look at what it takes to start and launch a company.”

Now, more than 1,500 people are on the Launch House waitlist. Multiple investors have approached the group to sponsor internal and external events and some companies have even asked for the right to do product placements.

The concept has surely brought in an audience, and copycats: an unaffiliated group called The Rocketship House posted a trailer on Twitter in October:

When reached via e-mail, organizers of Rocketship House declined to answer specific questions about the launch, or as they put it, “blast off.” The group confirmed that it is funded by a few unnamed large investors based in Beverly Hills, and includes a mix of marketers and influencers that invest in social media. It is currently accepting applications, drawing itself as similar to a TikTok mansion.

“Similar to Sway House [a residence for TikTok personalities], we will be making fun and dramatic dope bro content, centered around launching startups. We all live exciting lives, and there’s plenty of drama, so we’re excited to showcase that,” the e-mail from Rocketship House read.

Not all entrepreneur homes are following suit in terms of strategy, for more reasons than one.

Startup founders set up hacker homes to recreate Silicon Valley synergy

In Y Combinator’s early days, founders would move to Palo Alto, split a two-bedroom with five others to save money and trade notes around the clock with their new, like-minded roommates.

Now, as remote work continues and the pandemic persists, scores of entrepreneurs are working from home around the world. Y Combinator isn’t requiring its recent cohorts to relocate and collaboration is a screen-to-screen affair.

Now that they can work from literally anywhere, many entrepreneurs are forming homes with other founders. Hacker homes, the newest iteration of remote work adaption, feels like a nostalgic attempt to recreate some of the synergies COVID-19 wiped out. Generally speaking, it’s a nod to the digital nomad lifestyle, but in some cases, hacker homes feel closer to Hype House, a TikTok mansion laden with sponsored indulgence and wealth.

For Greg Isenberg, a growth advisor to TikTok and former head of strategy at WeWork, entrepreneur homes are a signal of what the foreseeable future of building could look like.

“The type of vibe you used to get from Y Combinator just doesn’t exist anymore,” Isenberg said, as these houses could recreate some of the scrappiness and like-mindedness that defined the incubator’s early days.

While some see founder communes as vehicles for creating a more level playing field, critics say the model perpetuates Silicon Valley cultural constructs that favor white men.

In other words, sometimes there’s a cost to after-work happy hours making a comeback.

Product Hunt, and then TikTok

Michael Houck, a former product manager at Airbnb and Uber, rented a home in Tulum, Mexico in May 2020. He put $21,000 of non-refundable money on his credit card and invited friends and people he met on the internet before hopping on a plane. Anyone who came had to be okay with a few rules: you must pay rent, launch projects and you have to be okay with building your company in public.

In all, 18 entrepreneurs, including Houck, formed The Launch House. Residents include former startup fellowship participants from On Deck, product managers and solo entrepreneurs. On the plane ride over, house founder Brett Goldstein launched its first tool.

Habitants of the Launch House use the pool for recreation and brainstorm sessions, called “pool-storms.” Image Credits: The Launch House

“How do you actually launch a consumer product? You need wide reach, influence, community and media properties all together,” Goldstein said. “I wouldn’t say we’re the next Y Combinator, but the next YC would look something like that.”

In just a few weeks, The Launch House has produced nine products, including a discovery platform for the best OnlyFans accounts, an anonymous Twitter bot that sends positive comments and tools that enhance newsletter and email reading experiences.

Launch House members described a strong focus on inclusion when populating future homes and just opened up the application process for Launch House 2. One way the house is trying to give access to other people is by open-sourcing information and projects that residents build together.

The website has a Launch Library where builders can submit their email addresses to access resources on how to build anything from a podcast to a clothing brand to a community.

“There’s this sort of veil of mystique that surrounds a lot of entrepreneurs and founders,” Goldstein said. “The curtain has been lifted, and now you can get a social media perspective, and inside look at what it takes to start and launch a company.”

Now, more than 1,500 people are on the Launch House waitlist. Multiple investors have approached the group to sponsor internal and external events and some companies have even asked for the right to do product placements.

The concept has surely brought in an audience, and copycats: an unaffiliated group called The Rocketship House posted a trailer on Twitter in October:

When reached via e-mail, organizers of Rocketship House declined to answer specific questions about the launch, or as they put it, “blast off.” The group confirmed that it is funded by a few unnamed large investors based in Beverly Hills, and includes a mix of marketers and influencers that invest in social media. It is currently accepting applications, drawing itself as similar to a TikTok mansion.

“Similar to Sway House [a residence for TikTok personalities], we will be making fun and dramatic dope bro content, centered around launching startups. We all live exciting lives, and there’s plenty of drama, so we’re excited to showcase that,” the e-mail from Rocketship House read.

Not all entrepreneur homes are following suit in terms of strategy, for more reasons than one.

YC grad DigitalBrain snags $3.4M seed to streamline customer service tasks

Most startup founders have a tough road to their first round of funding, but the founders of Digital Brain had it a bit tougher than most. The two young founders survived by entering and winning hackathons to pay their rent and put on food on the table. One of the ideas they came up with at those hackathons was DigitalBrain, a layer that sits on top of customer service software like Zendesk to streamline tasks and ease the job of customer service agents.

They ended up in Y Combinator in the Summer 2020 class, and today the company announced a $3.4 million seed investment. This total includes $3 million raised this round, which closed in August, and previously unannounced investments of $250,000 in March from Unshackled Ventures and $150,000 from Y Combinator in May.

The round was led by Moxxie Ventures with help from Caffeinated Capital, Unshackled Ventures, Shrug Capital, Weekend Fund, Underscore VC and Scribble Ventures along with a slew of individual investors.

Company co-founder Kesava Kirupa Dinakaran says that after he and his partner Dmitry Dolgopolov met at hackathon in May 2019, they moved into a community house in San Francisco full of startup founders. They kept hearing from their housemates about the issues their companies faced with customer service as they began scaling. Like any good entrepreneur, they decided to build something to solve that problem.

“DigitalBrain is an external layer that sits on top of existing help desk software to actually help the support agents get through their tickets twice as fast, and we’re doing that by automating a lot of internal workflows, and giving them all the context and information they need to respond to each ticket making the experience of responding to these tickets significantly faster,” Dinakaran told TechCrunch.

What this means in practice is that customer service reps work in DigitalBrain to process their tickets, and as they come upon a problem such as canceling an order or reporting a bug, instead of traversing several systems to fix it, they chose the appropriate action in DigitalBrain, enter the required information, and the problem is resolved for them automatically.  In the case of a bug, it would file a Jira ticket with engineering. In the case of canceling an order, it would take all of the actions and update all of the records required by this request.

As Dinakaran points out they aren’t typical Silicon Valley startup founders. They are 20 year old immigrants from India and Russia respectively, who came to the U.S. with coding skills and a dream of building a company. “We are both outsiders to Silicon Valley. We didn’t go to college. We don’t come from families of means. We wanted to come here and build our initial network from ground up,” he said.

Eventually they met some folks through their housemates, who suggested that they apply to Y Combinator. “As we started to meet people that we met through our community house here, some of them were YC founders and they kept saying I think you guys will love the YC community, not just in terms of your ethos, but also just purely from a perspective of meeting new people and where you are,” he said.

He said while he and his co-founder have trouble wrapping their arms around a number like the amount they have in the bank now, considering it wasn’t that long ago that they struggling to meet expenses every month, they recognize this money buys them an opportunity to help start building a more substantial company.

“What we’re trying to do is really accelerate the development and building of what we’re doing. And we think if we push the gas pedal with the resources we’ve gotten, we’ll be able to accelerate bringing on the next couple of customers, and start onboarding some of the larger companies we’re interested in,” he said.

To fill funding gaps, VCs boost efforts to find India’s standout early-stage startups

After demonstrating scale, growth and financial improvement, one founder of a two-year-old agritech startup based in India told me that he’s now confronting a new challenge: Unlike his peers in edtech, fintech or e-commerce, there are very few investors he could approach for raising funds, he told TechCrunch, requesting anonymity. He suggested that a startup of a similar scale solving a similar problem would have little issue raising more than $50 million. But for his startup, seeking a $10 million financing round has proven very elusive in recent quarters, he said.

The story of this startup counters the narrative that fundraising for Indian startups has become easier than ever and that young firms have access to abundant capital from the market. India’s startup ecosystem raised about $14.5 billion in fundraises last year, beating its previous best of $10.6 billion in 2018, according to research firm Tracxn. But a closer look reveals that much of the capital went to a handful of late-stage startups, a trend that continues today.

In the first half of 2020, early-stage startups participated in 577 rounds to secure $1.84 billion, Tracxn told TechCrunch. That figure is the lowest the Indian startup ecosystem has seen in years. In the second half of last year, early-stage startups participated in 752 rounds to raise $3.03 billion, and in the first half of 2019, they raised $2.7 billion from 856 rounds. Series A and Series B startups are not immune to this trend either: In Q1 and Q2 2020, these startups raised $1.55 billion from 186 rounds, down from $2.69 billion from 254 rounds in the second half of last year and $2.37 billion from 279 rounds in the first half of last year, according to Tracxn. Once again, the first half of 2020 was the slowest in years for this segment.

Funding received by startups in India. Image Credits: Tracxn

Extra Crunch spoke with several VCs to understand how they were tackling this gap. We granted some of them the freedom to speak anonymously. At TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, Karthik Reddy, co-founder of Blume Ventures, India’s largest VC firm, acknowledged the gap, adding that, “There’s an artificial skew toward unicorns and chasing the unicorns.”

Human Capital: Coinbase and Clubhouse aside, Ethel’s Club founder wants to take us ‘Somewhere Good’

Welcome back to Human Capital, a weekly digest about diversity, inclusion and the human labor that powers tech.

This week, we’re looking at a number of topics because a lot went down. Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong took a controversial stance on social, Clubhouse found itself under scrutiny again, but this time around anti-Semitism and a new site launched that sheds light on some of the negative experiences of underrepresented people in tech. Meanwhile, the founder from Ethel’s Club unveiled Somewhere Good, which aims to provide a safe social platform for people of color. The timing couldn’t be better.

Human Capital launches as a newsletter on Friday, October 23. Be sure to sign up here to get it sent straight to your inbox. 


Stay Woke


Coinbase CEO’s stance on societal issues stirs up controversy 

Over the weekend, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said the company does not engage on border societal issues when they are not related to its core mission. On political causes, Armstrong said Coinbase also does not advocate for any causes or candidates that are not related to its mission “because it is a distraction from our mission.” In that Medium post, Armstrong recognized that some employees may disagree and even resign. 

A couple of days later, Armstrong began offering employees who don’t feel comfortable with the direction of the company a severance package, The Block Crypto reported

“It’s always sad when we see teammates go, but it can also be what is best for them and the company,” Armstrong wrote in an internal memo. “As I said in my blog post, life is too short to work a company that you aren’t excited about.”

It’s quite a statement to make just weeks away from a very important presidential election. But Armstrong’s justification seems to be that he doesn’t want the internal strife that has happened at companies like Google and Facebook to happen at Coinbase. 

Obviously, people have feelings and thoughts about Armstrong’s stance. One on side, there’s Y Combinator Founder Paul Graham saying Coinbase will push away the “aggressively conventional-minded” people but that those types of people “tend not to be good at building things anyway.”

And on another side, there’s Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pointing out how Armstrong’s stance leaves people behind. 

Then, there’s also confusion around how Armstrong could say that Black lives matter in June and then go on to say that workers essentially need to leave their politics and beliefs that don’t relate to work at home. Well, GitHub Director of Engineering Erica Baker tweeted that someone probably forced Armstrong’s hand into speaking out about Black lives. 

The latest Clubhouse drama

The invitation-only audio social app was home to a discussion titled, “Anti-Semitism and Black Culture” this week. During the discussion, someone reportedly said Black and Jewish communities differ because of their relationship to economic advancement, Bloomberg reported. In response, another person reportedly said, “The Jewish community does business with their enemies; the Black community is enslaved by their enemies” — to which some people pushed back, saying it perpetuates a harmful stereotype about Jewish people.

Ethel’s Club founder teases Somewhere Good, a digital space that centers people of color

Amid private social app Clubhouse finding itself again under heavy scrutiny, there perhaps is no better time for the emergence of a platform that provides a safe space for people of color.

Naj Austin, founder and CEO of subscription-based physical and digital community Ethel’s Club, is building Somewhere Good to be a one-stop shop for people of color. Beyond being a place for people of color to connect, it’s also about creating a safe space for folks to be their authentic selves.

“A lot of how we’re talking about Somewhere Good with investors is this idea of a new online world where our identities are centered,” Austin told me. “The vision for Somewhere Good is you take your phone out of your pocket and, as a Black person or person of color, all of your needs are met there in that one place.”

Greylock teams up with Management Leadership for Tomorrow to diversify tech’s wealth cycle

Greylock is one of a number of VC firms that have kicked into action following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black people and people of color. The multi-pronged partnership will enable Greylock to tap into MLT’s network of around 8,000 Black, Latinx and Indigenous professionals and connect them with potential roles at the firm’s portfolio companies. Additionally, Greylock and MLT will work together to support retention at those companies, as well as help MLT professionals pursue careers in venture capital.

“And look, VCs and tech startups — we just have to be honest that we’ve been really bad at getting this right,” Greylock Partner David Sze told TechCrunch. “Historically, I mean, we’ve let the system sort of evolve without much top down oversight in regards of diversity and inclusion and we just really need to change that.”

Twitter releases latest diversity report

Twitter’s most recent diversity report showed that the company has done an okay job of increasing representation of Black employees at its company since 2017. In 2017, Twitter was just 3.4% Black and in August 2020, Twitter was 6.3% Black.

Image Credits: Twitter

By 2025, Twitter aims for at least 25% of its workforce to be underrepresented minorities, and at least 10% of that overall 25% to be Black. Overall, Twitter is 41.4% white, 28.4% Asian, 5.2% Latinx, 3.7% multi-racial and less than 1% Indigenous. 

Twitter’s technical team is also mostly white (41.4%) so perhaps it’s no wonder why Twitter has had some algorithmic bias issues

DiscoTech highlights diversity issues in tech

A new site popped up that details the discrimination people experience in tech. The folks behind DiscoTech describe themselves as “a diverse group of cross-tech organizers who are committed to ending discrimination in the workplace.”

The posted experiences — all anonymous — describe sexism, racism, ageism, sexual harassment and assault, weight discrimination, suicide and mental illness. Here are a few stories that jumped out:

On being a woman in tech:

After introducing myself to a peer at a social gathering, I was asked if I had ‘come to Microsoft to find a husband?’ The blatant question left me speechless, and I was shocked by his total disregard for my professional aspirations. My friend overheard and she quickly asked if he would pose the same question to a man, asking if he’d ‘come to Microsoft to find a partner?’ He got defensive and denied his originally offensive inquiry.

On being underpaid in tech:

This event happened prior to my joining the team, but I didn’t find out about it until years later.  The hiring manager bragged openly about how ‘little’ she hired me for while I was desperately leaving a toxic work environment. I pushed back, she was persistent and being afraid of losing the offer I took it. I ended up leaving the position for a job that paid market value. Irony.

On being a Black woman in tech:

I’m not sure where to begin with the amount of discomfort I’ve experienced in the work place. As a Black, woman in tech I’m all too familiar with being an extreme minority. I guess you could say my discomfort began at the beginning of my professional career. I accepted a position at my company in a 6 month training program for recent college graduates. Upon arrival at orientation I realized I was the only Black woman out of 70 participants. 70 other co-workers and I was the only one. I felt completely alone and as if I had no one who could relate to my unique experience. From there, it was small incident after small incident that caused my discomfort to grow. From my technical trainer referring to me as Sheba, as in the Queen of Sheba, in the middle of a training session to my colleagues constantly questioning my intelligence, work became a stressful environment. It didn’t help that when I tried to reach out throughout the company for assistance with existing in the workplace, I was often told to keep to myself and try my best to ‘fit in.’ It took me a while to find a support system but I’m glad I finally did because the amount of microaggressions I face on daily basis is often overwhelming.


Labor Organizing


Shipt shoppers protest new pay model

Shipt shoppers are organizing a handful of actions in protest of Shipt’s new pay structure that began rolling out this month. The first action is happening from Saturday, Oct. 17 through Oct. 19, when workers are calling on their fellow Shipt shoppers to walk out and boycott the company. Organizers are asking for shoppers not to schedule any hours or accept any orders during that time.

“Our goal is to draw attention to the fact that this pay scale really does affect shoppers and regardless of Shipt’s position of it taking into account effort and benefitting shoppers, we are finding it is the opposite on both fronts,” Willy Solis, a Shipt shopper in Dallas and lead organizer at Gig Workers Collective, told TechCrunch. “It’s not holding up to the true reality. We are getting paid less for more effort.”

Spin workers ratify first union contract

A group of 40 workers at Ford-owned Spin ratified their first union contract with Teamsters Local 665 this week. The group of workers consists of shift leads, maintenance specialists, operations specialists, community ambassadors, and scooter deployers and collectors.

“This new contract gives us job security and immediate money up front, with guaranteed increases each year going forward. We also got holiday pay and vacation, which we didn’t have before we organized,” Spin worker Shamar Bell said in a statement. “All this means a lot during the pandemic. We know our union will have our back if our boss or the city government tries to make changes. I can say for sure, we’re proud to be Teamsters.”

As part of the three-year agreement, Spin workers will get annual pay raises of more than 3% each year, six paid holidays (compared to zero holidays), vacation days based on years of employment (compared to no vacation days), five sick days a year, a $1,200 per employee ratification bonus, benefits accrual for part-time workers and other benefits.


In Other News


By the way, TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility is coming up next week. Since you made it to the end of this, here’s a 50% off code for you to get full access to the event. This code will get you into the expo and breakout sessions for free.

Datasaur snags $3.9M investment to build intelligent machine learning labeling platform

As machine learning has grown, one of the major bottlenecks remains labeling things so the machine learning application understands the data it’s working with. Datasaur, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 batch, announced a $3.9 million investment today to help solve that problem with a platform designed for machine learning labeling teams.

The funding announcement, which includes a pre-seed amount of $1.1 million from last year and $2.8 million seed right after it graduated from Y Combinator in March, included investments from Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and OpenAI CTO Greg Brockman.

Company founder Ivan Lee says that he has been working in various capacities involving AI for seven years. First when his mobile gaming startup, Loki Studios was acquired by Yahoo! in 2013, and Lee was eventually moved to the AI team, and most recently at Apple. Regardless of the company, he consistently saw a problem around organizing machine learning labeling teams, one that he felt he was uniquely situated to solve because of his experience.

“I have spent millions of dollars [in budget over the years] and spent countless hours gathering labeled data for my engineers. I came to recognize that this was something that was a problem across all the companies that I’ve been at. And they were just consistently reinventing the wheel and the process. So instead of reinventing that for the third time at Apple, my most recent company, I decided to solve it once and for all for the industry. And that’s why we started Datasaur last year,” Lee told TechCrunch.

He built a platform to speed up human data labeling with a dose of AI, while keeping humans involved. The platform consists of three parts: a labeling interface, the intelligence component, which can recognize basic things, so the labeler isn’t identifying the same thing over and over, and finally a team organizing component.

He says the area is hot, but to this point has mostly involved labeling consulting solutions, which farm out labeling to contractors. He points to the sale of Figure Eight in March 2019 and to Scale, which snagged $100 million last year as examples of other startups trying to solve this problem in this way, but he believes his company is doing something different by building a fully software-based solution

The company currently offers a cloud and on-prem solution, depending on the customer’s requirements. It has 10 employees with plans to hire in the next year, although he didn’t share an exact number. As he does that, he says he has been working with a partner at investor Initialized on creating a positive and inclusive culture inside the organization, and that includes conversations about hiring a diverse workforce as he builds the company.

“I feel like this is just standard CEO speak but that is something that we absolutely value in our top of funnel for the hiring process,” he said.

As Lee builds out his platform, he has also worried about built-in bias in AI systems and the detrimental impact that could have on society. He says that he has spoken to clients about the role of labeling in bias and ways of combatting that.

“When I speak with our clients, I talk to them about the potential for bias from their labelers and built into our product itself is the ability to assign multiple people to the same project. And I explain to my clients that this can be more costly, but from personal experience I know that it can improve results dramatically to get multiple perspectives on the exact same data,” he said.

Lee believes humans will continue to be involved in the labeling process in some way, even as parts of the process become more automated. “The very nature of our existence [as a company] will always require humans in the loop, […] and moving forward I do think it’s really important that as we get into more and more of the long tail use cases of AI, we will need humans to continue to educate and inform AI, and that’s going to be a critical part of how this technology develops.”

Atlanta gets a billion dollar startup business as Greenlight’s family-focused fintech nabs $215 million

Greenlight Financial Technology, the fintech company that pitches parents on kid-friendly bank accounts, has raised $215 million in a new round of funding.

The round gives the Atlanta-based startup a $1.2 billion valuation thanks to backing from Canapi Ventures, TTV  Capital, BOND, DST Global, Goodwater Capital and Fin VC.

It’s a huge win for the Canadian-based venture investor Relay Ventures .

Since it launched its debit cards for kids in 2017, the company has managed to set up accounts for more than 2 million parents and children, who have saved more than $50 million through the app.

“Greenlight’s rapid growth is a testament to the value they bring to millions of parents and kids every day. My wife and I trust Greenlight to give us the modern tools to teach our children how to manage money,” said Gardiner Garrard, Founding Partner at TTV Capital, in a statement. “TTV Capital is thrilled to provide continued investment to help the company empower more parents.”

The company pitches itself as more than just a debit card, with apps that give parents the ability to deposit money in accounts and pay for allowance, manage chores and set flexible controls on how much kids can spend.

It’s a potentially massive business that can lock in a whole generation to a financial services platform, which is likely one reason why a whole slew of companies have launched with a similar thesis. There’s Kard, Step, and Current which are pitching similar businesses in the U.S. and Mozper recently launched from Y Combinator to bring the model to Latin America.

“Greenlight’s smart debit card is transforming the way parents teach their kids about responsible money management and financial literacy,” said Noah Knauf, general partner at BOND. “Having achieved phenomenal growth year-over-year, this is a company on the fast-track to becoming a household name. We look forward to working alongside the Greenlight team to support their continued growth.”

Despite slowdowns, pandemic accelerates shifts in hardware manufacturing

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t hit every factory in China at once.

The initial impact to China’s electronics industry arrived around the time the nation was celebrating its new year. Two weeks after announcing 59 known cases of a new form of coronavirus, the national government put Wuhan — a city of 11 million — under strict lockdown.

As with most of the rest of the word, the manufacturing sector was caught somewhat flat-footed. according to Anker founder and CEO Steven Yang .

“Nobody had a great reaction,” said Yang, whose electronics company is based in Shenzhen. “I think this all caught us by surprise. In our China office, everybody was prepared to go on vacation for the Chinese New Year. I think the first reaction was that vacation was prolonged the first week and then another several days.

People were just off work. There wasn’t a determined date for when they could come back to work. That period was the most concerning because we didn’t have an outlook. They had to find certainties. People had to work from home and contact supplies and so forth. That first three to four weeks was the most chaotic.”

Numbers from early 2020 certainly reflect the accompanying slowdown in the manufacturing sector. In February, the Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) — a metric used to gauge the health of manufacturing and service sectors — hit a record low.

These bottlenecks resulted in product shortages — a fact that was rendered relatively moot in some sectors as demand for nonessentials dropped, many small businesses shuttered and COVID-19-related layoffs began. The U.S. lost 20.5 million jobs in April alone, hitting a record high 14.7% unemployment. (When you suddenly find yourself indefinitely unemployed, a smartphone upgrade seems much less pressing.) Such events only served to compound existing mobile trends and has delayed the adoption of 5G and other technologies.

It seems likely, too, that COVID-19 will accelerate other trends within manufacturing — notably, the shift toward diversifying manufacturing sites. China continues to be the dominant global force in electronics manufacturing, but the price of labor and political uncertainty has led many companies to begin looking beyond the world’s largest workforce.