Mylk Guys wants to be the online vegan grocery store that non-vegans can love

Gaurav Maken, the chief executive officer of the online vegan grocery store, Mylk Guys, doesn’t think of his company as a place to just buy food. For him, it’s a testing ground and platform for all of the new food products he expects to be developed as startup entrepreneurs and established food companies start tackling the plant-based and alternative meat market in earnest.

The company has raised $2.5 million in support of that vision from investors including Khosla Ventures, Pear Ventures, and Fifty Years.

“Today we’re an online grocery store,” says Maken. “We are also a place for cultured meats and any genetically engineered food that allows us to scale our food production and allows us to keep feeding people.”

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Maken isn’t wedded to plant-based products and envisions a virtual store stocked with products that create more sustainable consumption options for its customers. In fact, 40% of the company’s customers are not vegan, according to Maken. 

“We don’t only think about vegans. We think about sustainable food systems,” says Maken. “Our audience is an educated consumer who wants to have less of an impact from their diet… They’re just folks trying to do better with their eating habits.”

Right now, the company sells around 1300 products through its site. And the pitch that Maken makes to suppliers is that they can access the data around their customers (unlike other online retailers whose name rhymes with shmamazon).

“We provide analytics and a way for brands to unlock the data coming from their customers,” Maken says. “Our focus is how can we get you a personalized staple that works for you.” 

The company’s top sellers are vegan cheeses like Sparrow Camembert, lines of vegan jerkies, and the Beyond Burger, Maken said.

“You can build brands that are successful that are $1 million brands or $5 million brands and the reason why you haven’t is because they haven’t had the platform to provide national distribution to be successful,” says Maken.  

Mylk Guys launched in 2018 and went through the Y Combinator accelerator program. Now, with its new capital, the company is focusing on expanding its sales and marketing on the East Coast. Opening a new warehouse for distribution and reaching out to the vegan community on the Eastern Seaboard.

The model for selling more sustainable foods directly to the consumer has at least one precedent. Los Angeles-based Thrive Market raised $111 million in a 2016 round of funding for its online sustainable product-focused grocery store.

As recent reports indicate, the sustainable food business is only growing. Citing reports from Ecovia Intelligence, the publication Environmental Leader reported that organic food sales topped $100 billion for the first time in 2018.

Rent the Backyard wants to build a studio apartment in your yard

Rent the Backyard is one of the rare startups with a name that perfectly suits what it does.

The company, which is part of Y Combinator’s current batch, builds studio apartments in homeowners’ backyards, which are then rented out for income.

Of course, if you already own a house with a yard, you could theoretically do this for yourself, without getting a startup involved, but co-founder Brian Bakerman told me, “The goal is to have no headaches for the homeowners.”

That means Rent the Backyard works with a partner to build the apartment, finances the construction, lists the property, selects the tenant, collects the rent and serves as the landlord. In exchange for all that, it has an ownership stake in the unit and keeps 50 percent of the rent.

The startup also handles the permitting, which co-founder Spencer Burleigh said has become much easier with recent changes in California law. In fact, he pointed to stories about how these changes have led to skyrocketing applications (16 in 2016, 350 in 2018) to build “in-law” units in San Jose, which is where the startup is focused for now.

Bakerman said that many homeowners simply can’t afford the upfront cost of building these units, so by providing the financing, Rent the Backyard can unlock new income and make home ownership more affordable. At the same time, it’s also helping renters by creating more apartments.

Of course, for a homeowner, that means giving up a big piece of your backyard (which must be at least 30 feet by 30 feet in size), but Bakerman said that many yards are “underutilized” anyway.

“In places like the Bay Area … people are spending a ridiculous amount on their homes,” he added. “They often can’t afford those lifestyles, but everyone wants to attain home ownership.”

The company’s website includes a calculator of how much rental income you might earn, and it says that most owners will be able to make more than $10,000 of additional income each year.

Over time, Rent the Backyard will give the homeowner an increasing share of equity in the apartment, until they own it completely after 30 years. Homeowners can also buy out the startup’s equity and take full ownership at any time (which they’ll need to do if they sell their home and move out).

To be clear, Rent the Backyard hasn’t actually built any apartments yet, but it’s already signed up construction partners, and the goal is to get 10 units permitted and ready for construction by the end of the summer.

“It’s a pretty fast process,” Bakerman said. “It could just be a handful of weeks before we’re able to start building” — and since the units use prefabricated construction methods, the actual building could take as little as a week and a half.

Brave Care, backed by Y Combinator, is an urgent care clinic just for kids

Brave Care is an urgent care facility for pediatric care that costs, on average, about 80% less than a pediatric ER visit. Darius Monsef and his co-founder came up with the idea shortly after a fateful week for the Monsef family, during which their four-year-old dove off a bike ramp and their one-year-old started having breathing problems.

For both visits, he went to a pediatric urgent care facility where his kids were thoughtfully and patiently treated by Dr. Corey A. Fish. Monsef and Fish went to coffee a couple of weeks later, and Fish revealed he wanted to build out more pediatric urgent cares but needed a business partner.

The duo brought on a COO, Maryam Taheri, and a CTO, Asa Miller, and Brave Care was born.

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

It’s no surprise that parents are quick to pull the trigger on an emergency room visit when their kid is hurt or injured. But ER visits are incredibly expensive, leaving caring parents in a punishing situation.

The idea behind Brave Care is to provide a service that fits in between a child’s regular doctor and the emergency room.

“We don’t want the treatment of an injury or illness to be more traumatic than how you got it,” said Monsef.

Brave Care is built specifically for children, meaning that the waiting rooms are kid-friendly and the medical instruments are kid-sized and not intimidating. Plus, Brave Care goes the extra step to make sure little patients aren’t afraid, whether that means numbing gels for injections or offering medicine in liquid form.

For now, Brave only has one location, in the Portland area, but the vision is to expand the brand to many locations across the country. Brave also wants to introduce a triage tool to help parents at home who are making difficult decisions about what to do with a sick or injured kid.

“One thing parents often do is they try to Google for whatever symptom or problem their kid is having,” said Monsef. “And searching for a problem is pretty awful because search engines are trained to return the most interesting result, and I don’t want that. That’s terrifying. What I want is to reasonably narrow down the area of the problem so I can find a better answer.”

He went on to explain that sometimes it can be very difficult to search a symptom without the right terminology. For example, how do you describe a certain type of cough?

In the near future, Brave Care wants to introduce a self-guided triage tool for parents looking to understand the basics of the issue so they can make informed decisions on where they need to go, what they need to do and how urgently they need to do it.

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The triage product is currently in development and will launch soon.

Eventually, Monsef sees the opportunity to introduce an asynchronous telemedicine product, which would combine in a HIPAA-compliant messaging system the data collected from the self-serve triage tool with pictures and videos provided by the parent.

That said, Monsef believes that fully remote telemedicine leads to overprescription of antibiotics and says Brave Care will stay away from remote-only care in the short term.

“Without the right device in a consumer’s hand, there isn’t much we can do remotely,” said Monsef. “We can’t look in the ear or throat, or listen to the heart. But as consumers get more of these devices, we can improve remote care for kids.”

For now, however, Brave Care is simply focused on providing the best possible care to patients in its Portland facility.

Brave Care is in the current Y Combinator class and has raised a total of $1.45 million in funding.

GetAccept’s workflow and e-signature platform for sales secures $7M Series A funding

Many years ago every sales deal was sealed with a handshake between two people. Today, digitization has moved into the sales process, but it hasn’t necessarily improved the experience. In fact, it’s often become a more time-consuming affair because information and communications are scattered across multiple channels and the number of people involved in a deal has increased. That means lots of offers and quotes are get lost in the mix.
GetAccept a startup which provides an all-in-one sales platform where video, live chat, proposal design, document tracking and e-signatures come together to simplify the life of a sales team.

It’s now convinced investors there is such a need, raising a $7 million Series A funding round led by DN Capital, with participation from BootstrapLabs, Y Combinator and a number of Spotify’s early investors including ex-CFO of Spotify, Peter Sterky. The former CMO of Slack and Zendesk, Bill Macaitis, will also join the company’s Board of Directors.

The new capital will be used to scale sales and marketing, and accelerate product innovation for GetAccept’s industry leading document workflow solution for sales.
This round brings GetAccept’s total financing raised to $9M after then won their first seed round in 2017.
Samir Smajic, CEO, GetAccept says while CRM systems have made it easier for sales teams to manage pipeline and broker deals, “60 percent of all contracts are lost to indecision or simply go unanswered… Prospects no longer have to interact with reps to get basic information about a product or service, making the sales process highly impersonal. But prospects still need a rep to guide them through an increasingly complex B2B sales process in order to make better-informed buying decisions.” He believes GetAccept bridges this growing “engagement gap”.
GetAccept integrates into a company’s sales pipeline through technology partnerships with CRM and sales automation platforms including Salesforce, HubSpot, Microsoft Dynamics 365 and others.
It’s pitched as an all-in-one sales platform which compete with several separate tools including well-financed solutions likeDocsend, Pandadoc, Showpad, Highspot, Docusign, and Adobe Sign. Their ‘sales pitch’ is that companies can do all of the things in those products but the single GetAccept platform is actually geared toward to sales reps and includes the important features that help sales reps to actually move deals forward.
“Getting a deal to the point of contract has become increasingly difficult because buyers now get most of their information online,” said Thomas Rubens, Partner at DN Capital. “GetAccept honed in on this growing issue early on and built a best-in-class platform for managing document workflow and engagement across the entire sales cycle.”
GetAccept has so far signed customers including Samsung, Stanley and Siemens . It’s also expanded to the US and EMEA including Norway, Denmark and France.

Y Combinator-backed Project Wren is aiming to make carbon offsets more consumer friendly

When Landon Brand and Benjamin Stansfield graduated from the University of Southern California this year, they already had the plans for Project Wren, their service for selling carbon offsets to a new generation of conscious consumers.

Along with fellow co-founder Mimi Tran Zambetti (who’s still attending USC), Brand and Stansfield aim to make carbon offsets more accessible to people who may feel like there’s nothing they can do on a personal level to reduce their carbon footprint or support projects that reduce carbon emissions. 

It’s not a novel concept. In 2004, TerraPass launched its service to provide carbon offsets for consumers. The company was acquired in 2014 and now operates as a subsidiary of the publicly traded Canadian retail energy company, Just Energy.

Since TerraPass, other organizations have come in with services to offset consumer and corporate carbon emissions. The Swiss non-profit MyClimate is another organization working on offsets for corporations and individuals (as is the German non-profit, Atmosfair) and the North American public benefit corporation, NativeEnergy also has both a retail and corporate offset program.

Project Wren sources its offset investments from Project Drawdown and is trying to choose the projects that the company’s founders consider “most additional”, according to Brand.

Brand, Stansfield and Tran Zambetti met at USC while pursuing a bachelor of science degree in USC’s new Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy. The two men are the co-founders of Beats, which sold to Apple for roughly $3 billion, but perhaps are more famous for their work in the music business as the co-founder of Interscope records and the rapper and producer known as Dr. Dre.

From the outset the three students worked together on side projects and in student organizations, and decided last year to launch a sustainable business that could impact consumers in a positive way. The first idea, and the one that was initially incorporated as Project Wren, was to develop an algorithmically enhanced software service to promote diversity and inclusion in companies.

“The idea was promising, but it’s a hard product to sell. Companies aren’t used to leveraging software to help build their culture,” Brand wrote in an email. “Trying to get people to use the product made us realize how difficult it is to build something that’s useful and good for the world. If we were going to build a company around doing good, it would take a decade or more.”

The group convened earlier this year and decided, after spending a year working on their idea, that the over ten years it would take to build a successful business was too long for them to see the impact they wanted to make in the world. “We felt like the mission of making companies a better place to work was important, but not urgent,” Brand wrote to me in an email. “Climate change is urgent. It’s the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. That’s why we decided to pivot.”

The group then decided that they would pool their resources on another project — a vegan cloud kitchen that could potentially become a franchise or chain.

“Meat production is responsible for as much as 20% of greenhouse gas emissions,” Brand wrote. “If we could make eating vegan food easier than eating meat, we would have a huge impact.”

The group ran a cloud kitchen out of Brand’s apartment for two weeks before deciding that, too, ultimately was a wash for the three young co-founders.

With that idea behind them, the three began researching carbon offsets, which led them to Project Drawdown, which led them to build their current website and, ultimately, Y Combinator .

Customers who buy offsets using Wren will support projects that the company has selected for their additionality (meaning the projects would not have been done without the support of organizations like Wren). Once the offsets are purchased Project Wren retires them from circulation so they can’t be traded on any exchange after their creation.

The company makes money by taking a 20% commission above the price of the project for operating expenses and marketing, says Brand.

What Brand sees as the young company’s competitive advantage is its ability to communicate more directly with a new audience of offset acquirers — engaging them more in the process by providing updates on the project.

“Photos, and stories too, from people on the ground will add a more human, real, touch,” to the projects and their reporting back to carbon offset buyers, according to Brand. “We just talk to a bunch of potential partners and see which partners would be able to give unique compelling updates to our users.”

From seed to Series A: Scaling a startup in Latin America today

It’s not easy to raise growth-stage capital in Latin America, but it’s getting easier. As startups begin to flourish in the region’s largest markets, available funding is evolving to suit the needs of these maturing companies. However, Silicon Valley-style Series A rounds in Latin America are still rare, especially outside of Brazil and Mexico.

Even in Silicon Valley, only a small percentage of startups can bring together enough pieces to raise a Series A round. Jacob Mullins, a partner at Shasta Ventures, recently published an article on Medium on what it takes to raise a Series A round in San Francisco today, which inspired my take for the Latin American ecosystem.

In the piece, he lays out the table stakes for any startup looking to raise Series A capital, including product-market fit, a strong revenue model, 2x or 3x YOY growth, a data-driven go-to-market strategy, a compelling market opportunity, a great team and a great story. These prerequisites apply to startups anywhere in the world. However, if these requirements are the minimum needed for a Series A in San Francisco, startups outside of the Valley, including in Latin America, will have to work even harder.

Latin America’s exceptional growth in VC funding over the past 12 months speaks to the growing number of later-stage rounds startups are raising across the region. 2018 was Latin America’s inflection point for startups, with four big trends:

Record-breaking rounds: Mexico’s Grin Scooters raised Latin America’s largest seed round, and Brazilian bike and scooter-sharing startup Yellow raised Latin America’s largest Series A round to date (then they merged!). Food delivery startup Rappi became Colombia’s first unicorn, raising $200 million (and then $1 billion from SoftBank shortly thereafter), and Brazil’s iFood also raised $400 million, one of Latin America’s biggest rounds ever.

A closer examination reveals patterns in what it takes to raise scale capital in the Latin American market today.

Soaring Asian investment: Brazil’s most popular ride-hailing app, 99, was acquired by Didi Chuxing, China’s version of Uber . Tencent invested in Brazilian fintech Nubank; Ant Financial invested in Brazilian POS company StoneCo; SoftBank invested in Brazil’s logistics provider Loggi, Brazil’s Gympass and Colombia’s largest hotel chain, Ayenda Rooms. SoftBank also committed a $5 billion fund for Latin America, outstripping all previous funds by an order of magnitude.

Exits to Latin American and U.S. corporates: Chilean-Mexican grocery delivery startup Cornershop went to Walmart for $225 million and e-commerce company Linio was acquired by Falabella for $138 million. These deals reveal a growing concern from large companies in Latin America about competition from startups.

More YC grads: Latin America sent at least 10 startups to the Y Combinator, and many more to other international accelerators, in the past year. These companies include Grin, Higia, Truora, Keynua, The Podcast App, SkyDrop, UBits, Cuenca, BrainHi, Pachama, Calii, Cuanto, Pronto and Fintual.

2018 really was a breakout year for Latin American startups.

So who is raising Series A rounds in the region?

Within the list of 30 or so companies that have managed to raise a Series A in Latin America in the past year, most of the startups fit into a few categories. There is also significant overlap between the investors who are pursuing tickets of this size, most of whom are located in major markets like Mexico and Brazil, or have offices in Silicon Valley. A closer examination of these startups reveals patterns in what it takes to raise scale capital in the Latin American market today.

Copycats

Copycats — or startups that copy a successful business model from another market — are a good business in Latin America. Among those to raise Series A rounds within the past year were:

  • Grin and Yellow (now Grow Mobility): Bird/Lime clones raised $150 million as Grow Mobility from GGV Capital and Monashees.

  • LentesPlus: 1-800-Contacts clone raised $5 million from Palm Drive Capital, with participation from IGNIA and InQLab.

  • Mercadoni: Instacart clone raised $9 million from Movile.

  • Uala and Albo: Monzo/Revolut clones raised $10 million from Soros, Greyhound Capital, Recharge Capital and Point 72 Ventures, and $7.4 million from Omidyar, Greyhound and Mountain Nazca, respectively.

International investors often see copycat models as less risky, because the model has been tested before.

Logistics and last-mile delivery

Brazil’s CargoX, the “Uber for trucks,” is leading the market for logistics solutions in Latin America, receiving international investment from Valor Capital and NXTP Labs starting in their first round. They have also received funding from Soros, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone in later rounds. Recently, logistics startups like Colombia’s Liftit and Mexico’s Skydrop have raised multimillion-dollar rounds from Silicon Valley investors, including IFC, Monashees, MercadoLibre Fund, Variv Capital, Sierra Ventures and Sinai Ventures . Startups like Rappi, Loggi and Mandaê have also raised Series A rounds, and beyond.

Brazilian startups

In many ways, the Brazilian market operates separately from the rest of Latin America, and not only because of the language difference. Brazil has Brazil-centric funds and its startups follow their own rules, because the market is big enough to accommodate companies that only operate locally. Brazil also receives a majority of international VC funding and has produced a significant portion of Latin America’s unicorns.

Brazilian (and some Mexican) startups in edtech, healthtech and fintech, including Neon, Sanar, Mosyle, UnoDosTres and Nexoos, raised Series A rounds in 2018. Key investors included Quona Capital, e.Bricks Ventures, Elephant and Peak Ventures. Brazilian startups tend to scale more quickly at all sizes; Creditas and Loggi were able to raise their Series A in 2016 and 2014 respectively. In 2018, they were already raising $55 million at Series C and $100 million+ Series D from investors such as Vostok Emerging Capital, Kaszek Ventures, IFC, Naspers and SoftBank. However, startups in these industries in other Latin American countries might not find it as easy to raise larger rounds.

How much to raise in a Latin American Series A

Latin American valuations are noticeably lower than their Silicon Valley equivalents. A Series A round in a small or medium Latin American market like Chile or Colombia might end up looking a lot like a San Francisco seed round. Valuations and amount are bifurcated: those that have access to Silicon Valley-style capital can get higher valuations and bigger checks (still lower and smaller than the U.S.), while those that don’t have access have lower valuations.

The startup’s team, story and revenue model should all align to create an unbeatable business.

Outside of Brazil or Mexico, startups should not expect to raise more than $5 million in a Series A, even if they are receiving co-investments from the U.S. The average Series A round in the U.S. hit $11.29 million in 2018; however, the top 10% of deals averaged more than $60 million.

In Latin America, a Series A could range from as little as $1 million to around $10 million in most countries. Brazil and Mexico might break the mold, but startups looking for growth capital in Latin America should not expect to raise more than $5 million if they are not in a massive market. For example, Chile’s Destacame raised $3 million in their Series A from Chilean funds in early 2019. By comparison, Brazil’s Neon raised $22 million in their Series A in the same year. While these are different industries and comparing apples to oranges, the orders of magnitude seem right.

If we compare in the same industry but different years, the results are similar. Nubank’s Series A in 2014, led by Sequoia Capital, was $14.3 million. Neobanks in smaller markets, like albo and Uala, raised $7.4 million and $10 million, respectively, in their Series A rounds.

To date, the largest Series A raised in the region went to Yellow, Brazil’s bike-share and e-scooter company, created by the founders of 99, Ariel Lambrecht, Eduardo Musa, and Renato Freitas. Yellow raised a $63 million Series A within a year after launch, then merged with Mexico’s Grin Scooters.

Where to look for investment: Latin America or USA?

There are still very few entirely Latin American funds investing at Series A. Most of the time, Latin American startups must look to Mexico and Brazil, or beyond the region to Asia and the U.S., to fund rounds beyond the seed stage.

Within Latin America, some of the actors in this investment sector include Brazil’s Monashees and Valor Capital, Argentina’s Kaszek Ventures, Peru and Mexico’s Angel Ventures and Mexico’s ALLVP, MITA Ventures and Ignia. Startups might also find Series A-level investment from major regional tech leaders who are scouting acquisition opportunities, like Movile’s investment in Mercadoni. Movile is Brazil’s leader in mobile technology, with a mission to impact one billion people, following in the footsteps of China’s giant conglomerate, Tencent. Movile has invested in and acquired many Latin American startups to increase their mobile offerings for its customers.

While some funds in Latin America participate in investments of this scale, most Latin American startups target at least a part of their Series A rounds from outside the region. Latin American startups have been able to reach U.S. VCs in one of three ways: through top-tier accelerators, by selling to consumers in the U.S. market or by taking on a copycat model. U.S.-based VCs Accel Partners, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Base10, Liquid2 Ventures, Quona Capital, QED, IFC and Sierra Ventures have all made multiple contributions to Series A rounds in Latin America within the past year.

Raising a Series A round in Latin America today

Raising a Series A round anywhere means checking a lot of boxes. Beyond bringing a great product to market, the startup’s team, story and revenue model should all align to create an unbeatable business. In Latin America, raising a Series A also means knowing where to look for capital, and which models are receiving funding.

Although there is no instruction manual for raising a Series A anywhere, following in the footsteps of companies that have done so successfully can be a wise way to start. Latin America’s Series A success stories outline a list of investors that are interested in this stage, as well as how much they are investing in Latin American companies. Founders can use this information to structure their fundraising efforts and optimize their time to raise a Series A and continue to scale.

‘This is Your Life in Silicon Valley’: Nomiku Founder CEO Lisa Fetterman on why Silicon Valley doesn’t care about female founders

Welcome to this week’s transcribed edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. We’re running an experiment for Extra Crunch members that puts This is Your Life in Silicon Valley in words – so you can read from wherever you are.

This is your Life in Silicon Valley was originally started by Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff in 2018. Rajaraman is a serial entrepreneur and writer (Co-Founded Scripted.com, and is currently an EIR at Foundation Capital), Kaykas-Wolff is the current CMO at Mozilla and ran marketing at BitTorrent. Rajaraman and Kaykas-Wolff started the podcast after a series of blog posts that Sunil wrote for The Bold Italic went viral.

The goal of the podcast is to cover issues at the intersection of technology and culture – sharing a different perspective of life in the Bay Area. Their guests include entrepreneurs like Sam Lessin, journalists like Kara Swisher and Mike Isaac, politicians like Mayor Libby Schaaf and local business owners like David White of Flour + Water.

This week’s edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley features Lisa Fetterman – the Founder/CEO of Nomiku (a Y Combinator alum). Lisa talks extensively about why Silicon Valley does not care about female founders, and proposes a solution to the problem.

If you are interested in diving deep into the diversity problem in technology, this episode is for you.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Rajaraman: Welcome to season three of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. A podcast about the Bay Area, technology and culture. I’m your host Sunil Rajaraman and I’m joined by my co-host Jascha Kaykas-Wolff.

Kaykas-Wolff: So, now I got a straw poll for you. Are you ready?

Rajaraman: I’m ready.

Nowports raises $5.3 million to become Latin America’s digital shipping answer to Flexport

Nowports, a developer of software and services to track freight shipments from ports to destinations across Latin America, has aims to become the regional answer to Flexport’s billion-dollar digital shipping business.

Almost 54 million containers are imported and exported from Latin America each year, and nearly half of them are either delayed or lost due to mismanagement.

Nowports is pitching shippers on its digital management software to keep track of each container, and has signed on a number of leading venture capital firms to fulfill its mission.

The Monterrey, Mexico-based company raised $5.3 million in its seed round of financing. The round was led by Base10 and Monashees, with participation from Y Combinator and additional investors like Broadhaven, Soma Capital, Partech, Tekton and Paul Buchheit.

“In Nowports we saw a very strong combination: well prepared and ambitious team using technology to help thousands of customers to improve their importing and exporting processes. By adding efficiency, reliability, and transparency to change a multi-billion dollar industry, Nowports has been able to attract many clients that saw significant improvements in their daily routines by using the solution” said Caio Bolognesi, general partner from Monashees, in a statement.

The company said it would use the money to expand into new markets, grow its team and integrate with more companies involved in the (very fragmented) Latin American logistics industry. It’s a market that needs a range of better logistics technologies.

“Even though over 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea, the most cost-effective way to move goods en masse, there has yet to be a solution that’s able to connect suppliers, customs brokers, carriers and transportation companies to provide an efficient and reliable service,” said Maximiliano Casal, founder and chief executive of Nowports, in a statement. “This is why we launched Nowports, combining our 10 years of industry expertise to fill this void and are currently working with over 40 customers in the region and growing.”

The company now has offices in Chile and Uruguay, and is planning to expand to Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

“With platforms, algorithms with AI and integrations, our platform allows companies to take control of their shipments and plan and predict the best timing to move the freight based on the needs of their own company,” said Alfonso De Los Rios, founder and CTO of Nowports.

As the company looks to expand, it has a strategic road map it can follow in the growth of Flexport, the Silicon Valley startup that has become a billion-dollar business by applying technology to the outdated shipping industry.

The two co-founders of Nowports met at a program at Stanford University, with De Los Rios hailing from a family with deep ties to the shipping industry. He and Casal linked up and the two began plotting a way to make the deeply inefficient industry more modern and transparent. To familiarize himself with the market for which he’d be developing a technology, Casal worked in a freight forwarder in Kansas City that had been operating for more than 30 years.

In all, freight providers are getting paid nearly $40 billion per year to move freight into Latin America.

“Alfonso and Max are the ideal founders we look to invest in as they are industry experts and passionate about evolving the industry using technology and automation,” said Adeyemi Ajao, general partner from Base10. “We are proud to be investors in Nowports alongside our friends at Monashees and look forward to watching the company’s continued growth.”

Machine learning for everyone startup Intersect Labs launches platform for data analysis

Machine learning is the holy grail of data analysis, but unfortunately, that holy grail oftentimes requires a PhD in Computer Science just to get started. Despite the incredible attention that machine learning and artificial intelligence get from the press, the reality is that there is a massive gap between the needs of companies to solve business challenges and the availability of talent for building incisive models.

YC-backed Intersect Labs is looking to solve that gap by making machine learning much more widely accessible to the business analyst community. Through its platform, which is being launched fully publicly, business analysts can upload their data, and Intersect will automatically identify the right machine learning models to apply to the dataset and optimize the parameters of those models.

The company was founded by Ankit Gordhandas and Aaron Fried in August of last year. In his previous job, Gordhandas deployed machine learning models to customers and started working on a tool that would speed up his work. “I actually realized I could build a version of the tool that was a little more advanced,” he said, and that work ultimately led to the foundation of Intersect Labs. He linked up with Fried in October, and the two have been working on the platform since.

Intersect’s goal is to move analysts from purely retrospective analysis to creating models that can predictively determine business strategy. “People who live in SQL and Excel, they are really good at pulling the data of the past, but we are giving them the superpower of seeing the future,” Gordhandas explained. “All you need is your historical data, upload to our platform, and answer two questions.”

Ankit Gordhandas and Aaron Fried of Intersect Labs. Courtesy of Intersect Labs.

Those questions essentially ask what the model should predict (the outcome variable). From there, Intersect begins by cleaning up the data and ensuring that the various columns are properly scaled for data analysis. Then, the platform begins constructing a range of machine learning models and evaluating their performance against the target output. Once an ideal model is identified, customers can integrate it into their other systems through a REST-style API.

What’s interesting here is that Intersect can get better and better at identifying models over time based on the increasing diversity of datasets that it gets access to. Plus, as researchers identify new models or ways to tune them, the platform can potentially proactively improve the models it had previously identified for its customers, ensuring that they stay at the cutting edge of the field.

Today, the platform can handle one table of standard rows and columns for processing. Gordhandas said that the company intends to expand in the future to “image processing, audio processing, video processing, unstructured data processing” so that the platform can be applied to as diverse a set of data sources as possible

Gordhandas says that Intersect is attempting to sit in the middle of more specialized machine learning platforms that are limited to hyper-focused niches, while also offering more analytical power than comparably simpler solutions.

Certainly the space has seen a proliferation of options. New York City-based Generable (formerly Stan) uses Bayesian modeling and probabilistic programming to improve drug discovery, while Mintigo uses AI modeling to improve customer engagement. A huge number of other startups target different stages of the data analysis pipeline as well.

In the end, Intersect hopes to make these tools more widely accessible. The company has a couple of early customers already, and is going through the Y Combinator accelerator this batch.

Still in stealth mode, Duffel raises $21.5m in Series A from Benchmark for its travel platform

Ten months ago London startup hinted that it would be “a new way to book travel online, aiming at the booking experience ‘end to end’”, announced a healthy $4.7M funding round, but not much else.

Today it goes further, announcing a $21.5m in Series A funding from VC giant Benchmark, which also backed Snap, Twitter and Uber. Benchmark is joined by Blossom Capital and Index Ventures, who participated in Duffel’s $4.7m seed round last year.

With this news, we at least get a little more detail. It will be a B2B offering, allowing individual travel agents to large online travel management companies and tour operators to offer a “seamless travel experience” to their end customers, making the booking experience simpler, faster and cheaper.

Is this a new Sabre? Steve Domin, co-founder and CEO of Duffel, hints that it is: “The travel industry is underpinned by archaic software and processes that are fundamentally prohibitive for the modern day traveler. We are reinventing the underwiring between online agents and the providers – airlines, hotels, transport operators – in much the same way that the payments world is changing for merchants, because of tools like Adyen and Stripe.”

In other words, Duffel appears to be building a new software stack for travel, in the same way that challenge banks started from scratch to make themselves more agile than the laggard, incumbent banks.

Duffel was one of the Y Combinator S18 cohort and have put together a team drawn from their alumni companies including GoCardless, Gitlab and Turo. It plans to launch this Autumn.

Chetan Puttagunta, general partner at Benchmark, said: “We have been watching Duffel from a distance and we are incredibly excited by the possibility it has to create something valuable for customers and travel providers alike. Duffel is focused on providing a better booking experience by building a platform that is easy to use with deep functionality.”

Ophelia Brown, founder of Blossom Capital, said: “Duffel has been clear on its vision to improve the travel experience for everyone from day one. This is a great example of the way that European founders are becoming more ambitious than ever before.”

The market is waiting with baited-breath to find out if Duffel’s stellar fund-raising capabilities can eventually match the claims made for the product.