Y Combinator abruptly shutters YC China

Prolific startup accelerator Y Combinator has abandoned plans to establish a branch of the program in China. The company cites a general change in strategy, but a deafening silence on the complexity and controversy of working with China right now suggests there’s more at play.

In a short blog post, YC leadership explained that “as we worked to establish YC China, we had a change in leadership,” viz. the replacement of CEO Sam Altman with Geoff Ralston in May. This apparently led to a complete about-face on YC’s China strategy.

Qi Lu, hired a little more than a year ago to lead the YC China effort, is departing to run his own program, MiraclePlus. And Chinese companies will still be welcome at Y Combinator “— but as part of our U.S. program.”

A Y Combinator representative confirmed that it has no involvement with MiraclePlus or Qi Lu whatsoever, and that the company will no longer have any local presence in China at all.

It’s hard to accept at face value this vague explanation for such a costly, high-profile retreat.

Altman said when announcing Qi’s hiring that he had been trying to recruit him “for years.” As for the program itself, Altman said that “China has been an important missing piece of our puzzle” and that they would be building “a long-term local organization that will combine the best of Silicon Valley and China.”

That there is no mention of the uncertain international politics and U.S.-China relations right now, nor the explosive situation in Hong Kong, or ongoing human rights issues elsewhere in the country, seems a deliberate choice to make this move seem as ordinary as possible. But those things are major questions for anyone looking to do business in China, and it’s hard to believe none had any bearing on the decision to abruptly pack up and leave a major enterprise behind.

It seems like with a company like Y Combinator, it would be easy enough to provide a modicum of transparency and say that there was a mismatch in culture, or the logistics weren’t working out, or they ended up forwarding too many of the companies to the YC prime location anyway.

Perhaps that information was not deemed material for a public statement, but it only leaves inquiring minds to speculate. Was there pressure from this or that quarter? Is the culture at YC changing? Are other Altman-era projects being abandoned? Did the company gain anything at all by this boondoggle?

For such a major endeavor by one of the most prominent tech communities in Silicon Valley, this highly guarded and obviously incomplete account of its total abandonment seems strange and inadequate. We’ll be looking into it further.

Convoy raises $400 million to expand its on-demand trucking platform

Convoy, the digital freight network that connects truckers with shippers, has raised $400 million in a Series D funding round as it aims to scale its business amid an increasingly competitive market.

The funding round brings Convoy’s post-money valuation to $2.75 billion.

The round was co-led by Generation Investment Management and previous Convoy investor T. Rowe Price Associates. Asset management firm Baillie Gifford, which has fondness for pre-IPO tech companies, Fidelity and Durable Capital Partners as well as Series C investors CapitalG and Lone Pine Capital also participated in the round.

Convoy has managed to attract a slew of high-profile investors— and their capital — such as Jeff Bezos, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and even U2’s Bono and the Edge. In the four years since its founding, Convoy has raised a total of more than $668 million. Early investors include Greylock Partners, Y Combinator, Cascade Investment (the private investment vehicle of Bill Gates) and  Code.org founders Hadi and Ali Partovi.

And that money has been put to work. Convoy co-founders Dan Lewis and Grant Goodale set out in 2015 to modernize freight brokerage, a fragmented and oftentimes analog business that matches loads from shippers with truckers.

The company has gone from hundreds of loads per week in 2016 to tens of thousands per week across the U.S. Notably, Convoy’s platform handles 100% of the matching, as opposed having humans complete the task.

Convoy also has about 100 routes, many of them concentrated around economic hubs such as Chicago. Michigan and California, Lewis told TechCrunch.

The 850-person company wants to accelerate those efforts with capital raised in this latest round. Although it’s bound to face more competition. Uber Freight, Loadsmart and Flexport are just a few online marketplaces that are targeting freight.

Convoy has added new features to its platform as part of its scaling strategy. The company launched in 2019 an automated reloads feature that allows truckers book multiple loads at a time. It also added Convoy Go, which allows drivers to bring their truck cab and hook up to a trailer pre-filled with cargo.

Chaka opens up global investing to Africa’s most populous nation

Fintech startup Chaka aims to open up online investingd to Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria.

The seed-stage company recently went live with its mobile-based platform that offers Nigerians stock trading in over 40 countries.

Chaka positions itself as a passport to local and global investing. The startup has created an API and interface that allows Nigerians with a bank account (and who meet KYC requirements) to create trading accounts to purchase global blue chip and local Nigerian stocks.

Investors can get started with as little as 1000 Naira or $10 to create a local and global wallet to trade, according to Chaka founder and CEO Tosin Osibodu.

The platform has partnerships with two brokers to facilitate stock purchases: Citi Investment Capital and U.S. based DriveWealth.

“Embedded in our offer is the ability to buy on the local stock market…we make it more seamless than usual, and assets…from this whole universe outside the continent,” said Osibodu.

The Nigerian Stock Exchange has been upgrading its platform to digitize and accommodate more listings. It has a five-year partnership with NASDAQ and Airtel Africa listed on the NSE in July. 

On the Chaka’s addressable market, “Our outlook is that within Nigeria…between one and two million people are strongly in the market for this product,” Osibodu said.

Tosin Osibodu

Chaka looks to offer more than stocks. “Our product road-map includes not just equities, but other investment products people are interested in — mutual funds, fixed income products, and eventually even cryptocurrencies — so that really expands our bounds,” said Osibodu.

Chaka’s fee structure is 100 Naira (or 3%) for local trades and $4.00 for global trades.

To mitigate the FX risk of the often volatile Nigerian Naira, the startup converts locally to dollars and funds client trades in USD. Chaka agrees to intra-day forward rates at 9am each day and locks them in until 2pm for transactional activity on its platform, according to Osibodu

Chaka hasn’t disclosed amounts, but confirms its has received pre-seed funding from Nigerian founder and investor Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, aka E.

The startup is in a unique position in African fintech. The sector receives the bulk of the continent’s VC (according WeeTracker), but most of it is directed toward P2P payments startups — vs. personal investment platforms.

An alum of U-Penn and Dartmouth, Chaka’s founder got the idea to form the venture, in part, due to challenges attempting to access well-known trading platforms, such as E-Trade.

“I tried to open these accounts and whenever I…disclosed I was Nigerian very shortly after those accounts were closed or denied,” said Osibodu. 

For decades, Nigeria has been known as an originating country for online fraud, commonly referred to as 419 scams. This is something for which the country’s legitimate business operators pay an undue reputational cost, according to Osibodu. 

In recent years, Nigeria has also become a magnet for legitimate business in Africa. The country has the continent’s leading movie and entertainment industry and has emerged as a hotspot for startup formation and VC activity.

Chaka backer Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, who confirmed his investment in the company to TechCrunch, believes progressive trends in Nigeria will open up a new investor class.

In addition to Aboyeji, Chaka has also received seed-funds from Microtraction, a Lagos located early-stage investment shop founded by Yele Bademosi and supported by Y-Combinator CEO Michael Seibel.

Chaka allows for API integrations and has a developer team. The company has created an automated customer verification process. “It sounds trivial compared to the American market, but it’s a bit of a first in Nigeria,” said CEO Tosin Osibodu.

On Chaka’s long-game, “The grand mission of the company is to reduce capital market access barriers,” cording to Osibodu.

“With a two to five million customer base — and a $40 to $200 ARPU — on the really conservative end that’s a $100 million revenue opportunity,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant-based dairy replacements are coming to ice cream pints in San Francisco and New York

Plant-based replacements are so hot right now, they’re even hitting the coolest thing in food — ice cream.

The new plant-based dairy replacement maker, Eclipse Foods, has just signed a deal with hipster ice cream brands Humphry Slocombe and Oddfellows to put its dairy replacements into their mixes.

Unlike other plant-based products which provide an alternative to dairy without mimicking its texture and taste, the folks at Eclipse Foods say their product is indistinguishable from milk from animals — and made using allergen-free ingredients.

Starting on Saturday, store shelves in New York and San Francisco will be stocked with the OddFellows and Humphry Slocombe artisanal ice cream brands made from plants.

The company has raised $3.5 million from investors including Alexis Ohanian and his Initialized Capital investment firm, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit and the former chairman of Daiya Foods, Eric Patel.

“I’m excited to be investing in more plant-based foods,” said Ohanian, in a statement. “Aylon and Thomas were immediately impressive as accomplished experts in food science and the quality of the ice cream is already near indistinguishable from its dairy counterpart and it’s only going to get better. This is filling a need in the surging plant-based food space that is competitively priced, sustainably produced, and — most importantly –delicious.”

Compared to some of its competitors, the Eclipse Foods path to market is relatively straightforward — since it’s not using any genetically modified ingredients to make its dairy replacements. It’s more like the Beyond Meat than the Impossible Foods of the dairy industry.

“We’re not using any expensive biotech to get to where we’re going,” says Aylon Steinhart, the company’s chief executive. “We take plants and we use our world class expertise in functional plant proteins and how they work to blend plants together in a quite simple way.”

Founded by Steinhart a former expert at the Good Food Institute, a non-profit focused on plant-based food innovation, and Thomas Bowman, the former director of product development at JUST, Eclipse Foods launched from Y Combinator’s famed accelerator in March of this year.

The low-cost inputs that the company says it uses, including corn and cassava, means that it won’t require as much capital to scale up, says Steinhart.

For now, the company is pursuing the roadmap laid out by Pat Brown’s Impossible Foods and replicated by dozens of other startups going after plant-based or lab-grown replacements to traditional proteins. That means partnering with famous chefs and artisanal brands whose products sell at a higher price point than your McDonalds or Burger King soft serve ice cream cones (or Wendys ultra-delicious Frosty).

Instead of plain vanilla, Eclipse Foods plant-based liquid ice cream base will be showing up in flavors like OddFellows‘ Miso Cherry and Olive Oil Plum ice creams or Humphry Slocombe‘s spiced Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Ultimately, the company has plans to go down market and sell into the same kinds of stores that are offering Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers and patties.

If every Burger King has an Impossible Whopper and every Carls Jr. has a Beyond Famous Star, then every restaurant should have a dairy-free ice cream offering,” says Bowman. “It’s got no allergens. No GMOs … no gums no gels and no stabilizers.”

Scanwell Health launches smartphone tests for UTIs in partnership with Lemonaid Health

Companies continue to refine digital diagnostic tools for in-home healthcare at a rapid clip and the latest to launch is an at-home test for urinary tract infections from the Los Angeles-based startup Scanwell Health.

The company was founded by Stephen Chen, who literally grew up in the diagnostics testing business. His family had built one of the largest manufacturers of urinalysis testing in the country and Chen’s earliest memories of work are standing on an assembly line putting together pregnancy tests.

“I come from a family that manufactures pee-tests,” says Chen. “I was born into the business.”

Through this window into the market, Chen knew that there was a way to circumvent the time consuming process of booking a doctor’s visit to get a test scheduled and performed. “These tests have been sold into doctors’ offices and hospitals and I always thought you could make these tests more accessible,” says Chen. 

Working with a team of technologists, Chen built a software product that can provide the same analysis of a test kit using a smartphone’s camera and an app that would have been performed in a brick and mortar diagnostics testing facility.

“The core chemistry is a traditional diagnostics kit that has been used by the healthcare systems for many years,” he says. “We’ve taken that standalone box and moved it to the smartphone.”

Just like a traditional test, a chemically treated strip reacts with a urine sample and then the company’s application uses computer vision technology to assess the results.

Scanwell Health chief executive, Stephen Chen

So far, Scanwell is the first company to receive clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for its tests, and the only company to receive clearance to be sold over the counter, according to Chen. The test has been cleared

Through its partnership with Lemonaid Health, a telemedicine provider for consultations with nurse practitioners and physicians, customers can get diagnosed using the Scanwell app and receive a consultation and a course of treatment all from the comfort of their home. The tests cost $15 for a pack of three and the consultation with Lemonaid is another $25. That’s compared with roughly $150 for a visit to an urgent care center.

For Scanwell, it’s the culmination of a three year journey to bring their first diagnostic test to market. The company first submitted its product to the Food and Drug Administration for approval in 2015. While Chen waited for clearance from the FDA, he launched Petnostics to build out a user base and test the product in the less stringent world of veterinary health.

Sales from the Petnostics product helped bootstrap the company through its first few years of development and get its first product onto the market. Now, Scanwell is ready to expand, says Chen.

The company has a test for chronic kidney disease in the works through a collaboration with Kaiser Permanent and the Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort Study to improve screening for and monitoring chronic kidney disease at home. Using urinalysis testing to screen for excess proteins, the company is hoping it can help identify CKD in more people earlier, allowing for earlier interventions and the potential to avoid costly medical procedures down the road.

“We believe in the power of telehealth and what it can do,” says Chen. “What’s missing is the diagnostics piece. When you go into a doctor’s office you talk to a doctor and they get your symptoms. We’re focused on translating as many of these diagnostics as possible and you can pair with telehealth.”

Helping the company move along its journey are a clutch of well-positioned investors including the Y Combinator accelerator and institutional investors like Founders Fund, Mayfield, DCM, Version One, and Joe Montana’s Liquid 2 Ventures fund.

“This funding from an incredible group of investors, together with the national launch of our test and app, are exciting milestones that will allow us to realize our vision of making reliable, convenient at-home testing available to millions of people,” said Chen, in a statement. “Our partnership with Lemonaid is only the beginning. We have a number of additional diagnostic tests in the pipeline that have the potential to change the way we diagnose and treat infections and monitor chronic diseases. We look forward to working with additional partners to bring these tests to people across the country.” 

Meet Utah’s next unicorn

Weave, a developer of patient communications software focused on the dental and optometry market, was the first Utah-headquartered company to graduate from Y Combinator in 2014. Now, it’s poised to enter a small but growing class startups in the ‘Silicon Slopes’ to garner ‘unicorn’ status.

The business announced a $70 million Series D last week at a valuation of $970 million. Tiger Global Management led the round, with participation from existing backers Catalyst Investors, Bessemer Venture Partners, Crosslink Capital, Pelion Venture Partners and LeadEdge Capital.

The company was founded in 2011 and fully bootstrapped until enrolling in the Silicon Valley accelerator program five years ago. Since then, it’s raised a total of $156 million in private funding, tripling its valuation with the latest infusion of capital.

Weave

“Our aim with this funding round is to exceed our customers’ expectations at every touchpoint, investing heavily in the products we create, the markets we serve and the overall customer experience we provide,” Weave co-founder and chief executive officer Brandon Rodman said in a statement. “We will continue to invest in our customers, our products and our people to build a solid, sustainable, and scalable business.”

Weave charges its customers, small and medium-sized businesses, upwards of $500 per month for access to its Voice Over IP-based unified communications service. Rodman previously launched a scheduling service for dentists and realized the opportunity to integrate texting, phone service, fax and reviews to facilitate the patient-provider relationship.

While his second effort, Weave, has long been targeting the dentistry and optometry market, Rodman told Venture Beat last year the opportunities for the company are endless: “Ultimately, if a business needs to communicate with their customer, we see that as a possible future customer of Weave.”

Based in Lehi, Weave added 250 employees this year with total headcount now reaching 550. The company claims to have doubled its revenue in 2018, too. While we don’t have any real insight into its financials, given the interest it’s garnered amongst Bay Area investors, we’re guessings it’s posting some pretty attractive numbers.

“Weave has some of the best retention numbers we’ve ever seen for an SMB SaaS company,” Catalyst partner Tyler Newton said in a statement. “We’re continually impressed by their accelerated growth and results.”

Growth is out, profitability is in

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Kate and Alex held the reins as a duo (check out our chat with Greylock’s Sarah Guo from last week here) to dig into an enormous raft of news. And don’t worry, it’s not all late-stage happenings. We’re discussing early-stage news every week because that’s what the listeners want!

Up top we dug into Kate’s excellent work covering the Superhuman founder’s new micro fund, or at least his attempt at raising such a fund. Our main question is how can he be a good VC and a good executive at the same time? Folks don’t tend to do both at the same time because they’re each more than full-time jobs. Having two such gigs sounds hard.

But hey, it’s not just athletes and musicians who can bring outsized interest to deals. In-demand founders can have a similar effect. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the upcoming fun. Moving on. 

Next, we turned to the other end of the venture landscape, looking at Founders Fund’s new capital vehicles. With a combined $2.7 billion in eventual capital, FF is hoping to build a financial redoubt from which they can rain capital down on late-stage targets, wherever they may be.

Is it a bit late in the cycle to cut late-stage checks to companies that might otherwise go public? That’s the gamble so far, as we can see it, but perhaps with WeWork’s IPO dreams turned to nightmares, there’s demand among a group of companies for another 12 months in the private markets. And that means more money is required.

On the theme of more money, Lime is raising some more and we were treated to new financial results from The Information’s great work getting the figures. Our discussion asked the question of how far the company’s unit economics could improve. Kate said that Lime is investing a lot now in developing better hardware so their scooters can last more than five minutes on the roads before breaking down. She thinks things will start looking up when it’s deploying only new, fancy, good scooters. Alex is bearish.

Before we could turn back to the early-stage market and wrap up, we had to cover the latest from WeWork. SoftBank did, in the end, come and save the day (at least for now) for the company, meaning that WeWork lives on, though layoffs are expected sooner rather than later. Who knows what the future holds…

And finally, Vendr, a company that is profitable, raised a $2 million round. This is interesting because, again, it’s profitable! And the startup willingly shared some financial data with us — a rarity. Read more about the recent Y Combinator graduate here.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

YC grad Taskade raises $5M to take on Notion with a more collaborative productivity platform

Enterprise software tool startups are so often birthed to either un-bundle or re-bundle what came before them. In an age where “consumerization of the enterprise” is a trendy phrase for investors, it was natural a startup would come along to bundle its take on some of the trendiest startup tools.

Taskade appears to be the love child of Notion, Slack and Asana. It’s a tool for startup teams to collaborate around projects that can be re-organized based on how the individual user best works through tasks. The startup graduated from YC in the most recent batch and has now locked down $5 million in seed funding from Grishin Robotics and Y Combinator, Taskade CEO John Xie tells TechCrunch.

It’s a platform that tries to meet an awful lot of needs at once. You can take notes, designate tasks, chat with co-workers, set goals and visualize everything you’ve already completed.

The startup certainly seems to take a page or two from Notion, where you can re-visualize databases in tables or Kanban boards with ease. Taskade has built this framework into a more collaborative tool, while trying to place limits on itself so that users aren’t left with an endless amount of customizations, something that can be both a blessing (to the technically minded) and a curse (to those who don’t find exploring a piece of software deeply enjoyable).

Taskade’s platform is organized around tasks arranged inside projects. Rather than being organized around pages, which can contain multiple data sets and perspectives, Taskade’s projects are limited strictly to one database each. It’s certainly a limitation, but one that probably cuts down on confusion and the temptation to stuff pages with as much as you can think of.

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Notion is a beautiful product, I think at some point it just gets extremely hard to manage all the hierarchy with the cross-linking and whatnot,” Xie told TechCrunch. “For us, we just wanted to make it much simpler and more workspace-driven so you are able to collaborate with multiple teams.”

The collaboration is another distinguishing factor of the platform. The team has built a commenting stream that lives inside each project so that a project can have its own ongoing dialog without forcing users into another Slack channel. You also can fire up video chats inside the project pages and chat through the data without opening another app or sending another invite.

The startups that Taskade is taking on feel ubiquitous. Slack went public this summer and is sitting on a $11.4 billion market cap. Asana has raised north of $210 million from investors. Notion, the youngin’ of the group, recently nabbed new funding at an $800 million valuation.

The team at Taskade is still quite small; there are just six employees at the company right now, organized remotely, but the focus is on using this funding to build out the product over time rather than pumping cash into sales and marketing, Xie tells me. The company has largely been building up early customers through word-of-mouth and has taken a particular foothold among creative agency customers.

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The product has free and paid tiers, priced at $10 per month per user. Taskade is still flirting with how they want the relationship between their free and paid tiers to look. Xie tells me they’re hoping to transition to a usage-based free model rather than one that leaves certain features pay-walled.

The platform is available on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and the web.

Demodesk scores $2.3M seed for sales-focused online meetings

Demodesk, an early stage startup that wants to change how sales meetings are conducted online, announced a $2.3 million seed investment today.

Investors included GFC, FundersClub, Y Combinator, Kleiner Perkins and an unnamed group of angel investors. The company was a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 cohort.

CEO and co-founder Veronika Riederle says that the fact it’s so closely focused on sales separates it from other more general meeting tools like Zoom, WebEx or GoToMeeting. “We are building the first intelligent online meeting tool for customer facing conversations. So that is for inside sales and customer service professionals,” Riederle explained.

One of the key pieces of technology is what Riederle calls, “a unique approach to screen sharing.” Whereas most meeting software involves downloading software to use the tool, Demodesk doesn’t do this. You simply click a link and you’re in. The two parties online are seeing a live screen and each can interact with it. It’s not just a show and tell.

What’s more, in a sales scenario with a slide presentation, the customer sees the same live screen as the salesperson, but while the salesperson can see their presentation notes, the customer cannot.

She said while this could work for any number of scenarios from customer service to IT Help desks, at this stage in the company’s development she wants to concentrate on the sales scenario, then expand the vision over time. The service works on a subscription model with tiered-per user pricing starting at $19 per user per month.

When they got to Y Combinator, the company already had a working product and paying customers, but Riederle says that the experience has helped them grow the business to over 100 customers. “YC was extremely important for us because we immediately got access to an extremely valuable network of founders and potential customers, and also just a base for us to really [develop] the business.

Riderle founded the company with CTO Alex Popp in 2017 in Munich. Prior to this seed round, the founders mostly bootstrapped the company,. With the $2.3 million it should be able to hire more people and begin building out the product further, while investing in sales and marketing to expand its customer base.

Superhuman founder seeks to raise debut venture fund

The founder of one of 2019’s most buzzworthy startups is putting on his VC hat.

Rahul Vohra, the creator of the $30/month subscription emailing service Superhuman, and Todd Goldberg, the founder of the marketing business Mailjoy, are circulating a pitch deck to potential limited partners, with plans to raise a $4 million debut angel fund, TechCrunch has learned.

Goldberg declined to comment. Vohra did not respond to a request for comment.

San Francisco-based Superhuman has raised millions in venture capital funding, attracting a $260 million valuation with a $33 million investment led by the respected firm Andreessen Horowitz earlier this year. Quickly, Superhuman developed a loyal fan base and inspired a new wave of startups building for the “prosumer.”

“Superhuman has become an aspirational brand and product that many SaaS companies want to emulate,” Vohra and Goldberg write in the deck, obtained by TechCrunch. “Founders of these companies seek out Rahul as an investor. This helps us get into the hottest rounds — even the closed ones.”

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Vohra and Goldberg have been seeding startups for the past four years, according to the deck. Both men have completed the Y Combinator startup accelerator and funded other graduates of the program, including Tandem, which emerged from YC this summer with funding from a16z, Vohra and several others. One or both of the pair have also invested in Command E, a tool that enables instant cloud search; Mercury, a bank tailored to the needs of startups; and Sandbox VR, which is developing premium virtual reality experiences in retail locations.

Many of Vohra and Goldberg’s existing investments, such as Sandbox VR, Tandem and Mercury, are also a16z portfolio companies, as is Superhuman. We’re guessing Vohra has served as a sort of scout for the firm, bringing in attractive deals for a16z to lead, with room for him to nab a friendly allocation.

Vohra and Goldberg are hoping to collect capital from LPs to scale their investment activity. According to the deck, they will make 25 to 35 deals with check sizes ranging between $50,000 to $150,000. The fund will invest in the “prosumerization” of the enterprise, business infrastructure, health, fitness & wellness, “devsumer” & low-code/no-code, audio-first products, creator tools and “enterprization” of consumers.

Indeed, the deck is packed with buzzwords. The “prosumerization” of the enterprise is tech-speak for work products with nicer interfaces and more premium features. A “devsumer” tool is one that enables consumers to complete developer tasks on their own, i.e. without coding — devsumer products on the market include Airtable, Notion and Retool. Finally, the “enterprization” of consumers simply means the rise of business tools built for consumers first.

Vohra and Goldberg cite their experience as operators as one of their “unfair advantages,” along with their ability to secure large allocations (a decent piece of the pie) in startups, their YC network, relationships with other angels & funds and their ability to get pro rata access in later rounds.

Founders often search for established operators to join their cap tables for exactly these reasons. Someone like Vohra can help startups foster relationships with big-name venture capital backers and make critical introductions to their own rapidly growing pool of customers.

The rise of micro-funds led by networked entrepreneurs, including Niv Dror’s Shrug Capital or Brianne Kimmel’s new outfit, Work Life Ventures, for example, could pose a threat to existing institutional seed investors, who may not be as well-versed in specific sectors or able to offer as much time to potential founders. On the other hand, many micro-funds co-invest with or are backed by VCs, which means returns from the fund end up in the same pockets, in essence.

Deploying capital from a fund, however, is time consuming. How Vohra can balance building a Series B startup and investing in upwards of 35 businesses remains to be seen.

Though Superhuman was founded in 2014 — Vohra incorporated the business immediately after the LinkedIn acquisition of his previous startup, Rapportive — the company is essentially still in closed beta (those looking for access must be approved for the service in iOS’s TestFlight, where constant beta updates are delivered). Today, it’s popular in the Bay Area tech scene where the tagline “sent via Superhuman” has become a status symbol of sorts. But many are uncertain non-techies will be willing to shell out $30 per month for a luxury email tool.

With that said, Superhuman has a wait list of 180,000 people, according to The New York Times, which spoke to Vohra in June. With a large and growing valuation, an email tool with rave reviews and a set of loyal followers, Vohra will likely have no trouble navigating his way into Silicon Valley’s hottest deals.