Sastrify snags $7M to help SMEs manage SaaS buying

With so much startup activity in the software as a service (SaaS) space it can be a challenge for businesses to figure out which of these SaaS (SaaSes?) are actually useful and worth continuing to shell out for. Well Cologne-based startup Sastrify is here to help — offering what it descries as a “highly automated” platform (covering some 20,000+ SaaS solutions) to help other businesses with procurement and management of third party services.

It may not sound the sexist startup business to be in but despite only launching earlier this year, Sastrify is already cash-flow positive — and can tout “a high 6-digit recurring revenue” just a few months post-launch. Not bad for a startup that was only founded last summer.

Today it’s announcing closing a $7M seed round from HV Capital and the founders of FlixMobility, Personio and SumUp. That follows a $1.3M pre-seed raised back in late 2020, ahead of its launch.

Sastrify tells us it has around 50 customers at this stage — including “unicorn startups like Gorillas”. It says its approach works best for growing companies with 100+ employees, and is perhaps especially suited to European tech scale ups.

On the competitive front the startup points to US-based Vendr and Tropic, which may further explain the regional focus (although it’s not only selling in Europe).

Sastrify’s sales pitch to SMEs includes that current customers have seen an average 6.5x return on their investment — in addition to what it bills as “thousands of working hours” saved from “wasted” activities related to SaaS procurement.

Cost savings are another carrot — which the startup claiming its customers are “typically” saving around 20-30% of their SaaS cost.

So how does it actually make it easier for businesses to navigate the pros & cons of the smorgasbord of SaaS(es) now out there?

“Our main mantra is: ‘Effective procurement asks the right questions at the right time’,” says co-founder Sven Lackinger, who previously co-founded a SaaS startup himself of course (evopark), exiting that company back in 2018.

“To ensure that we’ve defined and implemented a 5-step process into our platform, covering the whole life-cycle of SaaS applications within enterprises. Our clients can search for the suitable SaaS solutions while we guide them through the right evaluation process per use case and tool (e.g. what are similar companies using?).

“We then take over the whole buying process, aka automatically reaching out to different vendors, ai-/OCR-based comparing and benchmarking for offers. Once the tool is implemented, we make sure to track usage frequently (via regular, automated surveys to tool owners) and re-evaluate over time so there is no ongoing waste of licenses.”

“We have a more automated platform [than Vendr and Tropic] and can also resell licenses to our customers directly (e.g. for Google, Microsoft and others) to ensure best prices and fast delivery,” he also tells us. “This allows us to offer a faster and cheaper solution which is more suited to the European market (where the average SaaS expense per company is still smaller than in the US).” 

If you’re outsourcing all this other stuff to SaaS providers, why not get a specialist service to stay on top of how you do that too, is the basic idea.

The 30-strong Sastrify team will be using the seed funding to accelerate sales, marketing and product dev so it can expand its SaaS management service to more companies in Europe and beyond.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Jasper Masemann, partner at HV Capital, added: “Cloud software adoption is massively accelerating and almost every company nowadays uses SaaS products but does not buy and manage them efficiently. Sastrify’s astonishing growth underlines the broad customer value the team has already created. It is early days but Sastrify could create an SAP Arriba with a payment solution for SMB – a massive market just in Europe.”

Founders: How well do you really understand seed-stage financing?

I’ve fundraised a lot. Tactically, fundraising is a skill like any other. You get better the more you do it. But practicing gets you nowhere if you don’t have a strong foundation in understanding a fundraising round’s core components.

As a founder, you will understand less than investors when it comes to fundraising. For investors, negotiating with founders is their full-time job. For founders, fundraising is just a small part of building a business. Understanding the basics of venture financing can help founders raise on better terms.

We’ll cover:

  • How financing works: SAFEs versus equity rounds,
  • How much to raise
  • How to arrive at your valuation

How financing works: SAFEs versus equity rounds

Venture financing takes place in rounds. The first stage is the pre-seed or seed round, then a Series A, then a Series B, then a Series C, and so on. You can continue to raise funding until the company is profitable, gets acquired or goes public.

We will focus here on seed-stage funding — your very first funding round.

SAFEs

Post-money SAFEs are the most common way to raise funding. These documents are used by Y Combinator, angel investors, and most early-stage funds. You should raise on post-money SAFEs using standard documents created by YC. Standard documents have consistent terms that have been drafted to be fair to both investors and founders.

By using the standard post-money SAFE, your negotiation can focus on the two terms that matter:

  1. Principal: The amount you want to raise per investor.
  2. Valuation cap: The value of your business.

Cloverly snags $2.1M seed to continue developing API to measure and offset carbon usage

Cloverly, an Atlanta-based early stage startup, has developed an API that helps companies measure and then offset their carbon emissions. Today the company announced a $2.1 million seed round.

TechSquare Ventures led the round with participation from SoftBank Opportunity Fund and Panoramic Ventures along with Circadian Ventures, Knoll Ventures, and SaaS Ventures
.

While it was at it, the company announced that founder Anthony Oni has stepped back from running the company day-to-day, but will remain on the board as advisor. The company has hired former eBay exec Jason Rubottom as CEO in his place.

“We’re a Sustainability as a Service company that helps other companies measure and reduce their carbon footprint. Our API measures the carbon emissions from various activities or processes within a business and allows that business or its customers to offset those emissions. And then it provides comprehensive reporting on that,” Rubottom explained.

Rudy Krehbiel, who runs operations for the company says that the API is designed to be flexible to meet the needs of each company accessing the services, but once developers create an application, it works automatically to measure emissions and purchase the offsets. “The solution itself is automated. Most of the work happens up front, and once we get integrated it becomes a fully productized and operationalized ongoing measurement and offsetting solution,” he said.

As customers build solutions using the tool, they can then offset their carbon usage by buying carbon offsets from the public markets, and this can be automated based on the usage of a given company. Cloverly monitors the offset market to ensure that the sources are credible and are adding new ones as they develop.

The company is working with over 6000 brands, which have offset over 55 million pounds of carbon to this point. The API was originally conceived by Oni when he was working at the Southern Company and spun out as a startup on Earth Day in 2019.

Oni, who is Black, is moving away from day-to-day operations as he hands the baton to Rubottom, but he recognizes the significance of this funding from a diversity perspective.

“As a Black tech founder of a climate tech company, it’s incredibly validating to have TechSquare Ventures and Softbank’s Opportunity Fund as investors. It will take diverse people and teams to find solutions to create a more sustainable future,” he said.

Meet Mighty, an online platform where kid CEOs run their own storefronts; a “digital lemonade stand”

For kids of a certain age — think 9 to 15 — options for enrichment are somewhat limited to school, sports, and camps, while the ability to make money is largely non-existent.

A new startup called Mighty wants to provide them with a new alternative through a platform it’s building that, like a kind of Shopify for kids, enables younger kids to open their own store online and to learn a lot in the process. In fact, Mighty — led by founders Ben Goldhirsh, who previously founded GOOD magazine, and Dana Mauriello, who spent nearly five years with Etsy and was most recently an advisor to Sidewalk Labs — sees itself as smack dab in the center of fintech, ed tech, and entertainment.

As is often the case, the concept derived from the founders’ own experience. In this case, Goldhirsh, who has been living in Costa Rica, began worrying about his two daughters, who attend a small school and he feared might fall behind their stateside peers so began tutoring them after school. He says he was using Khan Academy and every other software platform that he thought might be helpful to the cause, but their reaction wasn’t exactly positive.

“They were like, “F*ck you, dad. We just finished school and now you’re going to make us do more school?'”

Unsure of what to do, he encouraged them to sell the bracelets they’d been making online, figuring it would teach them needed math skills, as well as teach them about startup capital, business plans (he made them write one), and marketing. It worked, he says, and as he told friends about this successful “project-based learning effort,” they began to ask if he could help their kids get up and running.

Fast forward and Goldhirsh and Mauriello — who ran a crowdfunding platform that Goldhirsh had helped fund before she joined Etsy — say they’re now steering a still-in-beta startup that has become home to 3,000 “CEOs” as Mighty calls them, with a smaller percentage of “super CEOs” logging into the platform 30 times each month to manage their business affairs.

The interest isn’t surprising. Kids are spending more of their time online than at any point in history. Many of the real-world type businesses that might have once employed young kids are shrinking in size. Aside from babysitting or selling cookies on the corner, it’s also challenging to find a job before high school, given the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act<, which sets 14 years old as the minimum age for employment. (Even then, many employers worry that their young employees might be more work than is worth it.)

Investor think it’s a pretty solid idea. Mighty recently closed on $6.5 million in seed funding led by Animo Ventures, with participation from Maveron, Humbition, Sesame Workshop, Collaborative Fund and NaHCO3, a family office.

Still, building out a platform for kids is tricky. For starters, not a lot of 11-year-olds have the tenacity required to sustain their own business over time. While Goldhirsh likens the business to a “21st century lemonade stand,” running a business that doesn’t go away is a very different proposition.

Goldhirsh acknowledges that no kid wants to hear they have to “grind” on their business or to follow a certain trajectory, and he says that Mighty is certainly seeing kids who show up for a weekend to make some money. Still, he insists, many others have an undeniably entrepreneurial spirit and tend to stick around.  In fact, says Goldhirsh, the company — aided by its new seed funding — has much to do in order to keep its hungriest young CEOs happy.

Many are frustrated, for example, that they currently can’t sell their own homemade items through Mighty. Instead, they are invited to sell items like hats, totes, and stickers that they customize and which are made by Mighty’s current manufacturing partner, Printful, which then ships out the item to the end customer. (The Mighty CEO gets a percentage of the sale, as does Mighty.)

They can also sell items made by global artisans through a partnership that Mighty has struck with Novica, an impact marketplace that also sells through National Geographic.

The idea was to introduce as little friction into the process as possible at the outset; eentually, Mighty intends to enable its smaller entrepreneurs to sell their own items over time, as well as services, and not just products. Mighty also plans to eventually generate revenue through both a revenue split as well as via freemium services.

Of course, the startup, which launched last year, needs to overcome potential competition from established companies like Shopify to get there. Should Mighty begin to gain traction, these stalwarts might pay closer attention.

It’s also conceivable that parents might push back on what Mighty is trying to do. Entrepreneurship can be alternately exhilarating and demoralizing, after all.

Mauriello insists they haven’t. For one thing, she says, Mighty recently launched an online community where its young CEOs can encourage one another and trade sales tips, and she says they are actively engaging there.

She also argues that, like sports or learning a musical instrument, there are lessons to be learned by creating a store on Mighty, and not simply about storytelling and sales. As critically, she says, the company’s young customers are learning that “you can fail and pick yourself back up and try again.”

Adds Goldhirsch, “There are definitely kids who are like, ‘Oh, this is harder than I thought it was going to be. I can’t just launch the site and watch money roll in.’ But I think they like the fact that the success they are seeing they are earning, because we’re not doing it for them.”

This QR code startup just raised $5 million led by Coatue to make one-click shopping ubiquitous

Amazon revolutionized one-click shopping, and it has a nearly $2 trillion market cap to show for the effort.

Now, a 10-person startup founded by JD Maresco, who previously cofounded the public safety app Citizen, says it plans to make it a lot easier for retailers who sell directly to their customers to make re-ordering their products just as fast and simple through its QR codes. Indeed, Maresco’s new startup, Batch, is already working with numerous products and brands that use Shopify, promising their customers “one-tap checkout” when it’s time to reorder an item as long as the retailer has slapped one of Batch’s codes on their items or incorporated the codes directly into their packaging.

For the moment, New York-based Batch is wholly reliant on Apple’s App Clip technology, which produces a lightweight version of an app to save people from having to download and install it before using it. (Users can instead load just a small part of an app on demand, and when they’re done, the App Clip disappears.)

But Maresco — whose company just raised $5 million in seed funding led by Coatue, with participation from Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six, Weekend Fund, and the Chainsmokers, among others — says Batch will eventually work on both iOS and Android phones. We talked with him yesterday to learn more about its ambitions to make the physical world “instantly shoppable.” Our chat has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

TC: Citizen and Batch are very different companies. Is there a unifying thread?

JM: I’ve spent a good portion of my career, trying to change the way people think about and interact with their physical environment. With Citizen, we were questioning why everyone doesn’t have immediate access to information about what the police are doing in our neighborhoods. With batch, we’re asking a simpler question but something that matters to me as a consumer: Why isn’t it easier for me to get more of a product I love and use?

With subscriptions in general, I’ve found myself constantly frustrated because every few weeks I’m emailing to either pause a subscription,  or restart it. I wanted an easier way to use my phone to reorder in 10 seconds on the spot. Our phones are capable of much more than we put them to use for and, so we set out to tackle that problem.

TC: Right now, Batch integrates with Shopify alone, correct?

JM: We have a Shopify plugin that brands can connect into the Batch platform, and then we integrate the experience, all the way from the physical world wherever this QR code lives, through the purchase experience on the mobile side of things into their fulfillment on the back end. But we’re also expanding to other e-commerce platforms.

TC: And Batch takes a per-transaction fee from every item that’s purchased using your codes?

JM: We’re developing our pricing model over time, but currently we’re taking a service percentage-based fee.

TC: How are you getting brands to partner with you?

JM: Brands are starting to wake up to this idea that they can actually create a new retail channel off their physical packaging, where a customer can effectively shop throughout their home or their place of work or anywhere where they interact with these products the moment they run out of an item. So we’ve been able to spend time with dozens of brands now, and work with them to actually reengineer their packaging and say, ‘Let’s put QR codes front and center and figure out how to make this a really important customer touchpoint.’

TC: How many brands are using the codes currently?

JM: We’re launching dozens of brands this summer. We’ve had overwhelming demand, to be honest, and we haven’t really even fully launched yet.

TC: These are physical codes that you’re sending off to your retail partners — stickers, magnets. Are you also creating digital QR codes?

JM: We have customers that are integrating QR codes into out-of-home advertisements, into direct mail, into T shirts, into promotional vans, so we’re not just limited to packaging. There’s a wide range of places that you can integrate QR codes for your customers.

TC: It’s interesting that Coatue led your round. We’ve seen the firm delve more into early-stage deals but a seed round seems anomalous. How did you connect with the firm?

JM: We met during the seed process. They reached out to me and I developed a relationship with Andy Chen and Matt Mazzeo and it was a great opportunity to to work with their platform — the way they support the go-to-market motion around B2B companies; they have a great data platform. Alexis [Ohanian’s] experience in the consumer space was really appealing, too.

TC: Your company makes sense, but I wonder what’s special about these codes. What’s to prevent countless other startups from doing what you’re doing?

JM: QR codes or are not patentable; they’re all over the place. The product we’re building makes it really easy for brands to create high converting shopping experiences and a native mobile interface. It’s a combination of our Shopify integration and our native product design experience and the relationships we have with these brands and how we help them with their packaging that’s not something you can spin up overnight.

TC: I have to ask about Citizen, which was in the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons. Is there anything you want to say about the company or the app or some of that recent coverage?

JM:  I’m not going to comment on the recent press, but I continue to be proud of what the company is continuing to do to help communities stay safe and understand what police and first responders are doing in their neighborhoods.

Holy Grail raises $2.7M seed fund to create modular carbon capture devices

The founders of Holy Grail, a two-year old startup based in Cupertino, California, are taking a micro approach to solving the outsized problem of capturing carbon.

The startup is prototyping a direct air carbon capture device that it is modular and small — a departure from the dozens of projects in the U.S. and abroad that aim to capture CO2 from large, centralized emitters, like power plants or industrial facilities. Holy Grail co-founder Nuno Pereira told TechCrunch that this approach will reduce costs and eliminate the need for permits or project financing.

While Holy Grail has a long development and testing phase ahead, the idea has captured the attention and capital from well-known investors and Silicon Valley founders. Holy Grail recently raised raised $2.7 million in seed funding from LowerCarbon Capital, Goat Capital, Stripe founder Patrick Collison, Charlie Songhurst, Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt, Songkick co-founder Ian Hogarth, Starlight Ventures and 35 Ventures. Existing investors Deep Science Ventures, Y Combinator and Oliver Cameron, who co-founded Voyage, the autonomous vehicle acquired by Cruise, also participated.

The carbon capture device is still in the prototype stage, Pereira said, with many specifics – such as the anticipated size of the end product and how long it will likely function – still to be worked out. Cost-effectively separating CO2 from the air is an extremely difficult problem to solve. The company is in the process of filing patents for the technology, so he declined to be too specific about many characteristics of the device, including what it will be made out of. But he did stress that the company is taking a fundamentally different technical approach to carbon capture.

“The current technologies, they are very complex. They are basically either [using] temperature or pressure [to capture carbon],” he said. “There is a lot of things that go into it, compressors, calciners and all these things.” Pereira said the company will instead use electricity to control a chemical reaction that bind to the CO2. He added that Holy Grail’s devices are not dependent on scale to achieve cost reductions, either. And they will be modular, so they can be stacked or configured depending on a customer’s requirements.

The scrubbers, as Pereira calls them, will focus on raw capture of CO2 rather than conversion (converting the CO2 into fuels, for example). Pereira instead explained – with a heavy caveat that much about the end product still needs to be figured out – that once a Holy Grail unit is full, it could be collected by the company, though where the carbon will end up is still an open question.

The company will start by selling carbon credits, using its devices as the carbon reducing project. The end goal is selling the scrubbers to commercial customers and eventually even individual consumers. That’s right: Holy Grail wants you to have your own carbon capture device, possibly even right in your backyard. But the company still likely has a long road ahead of it.

“We’re essentially shifting the scaling factor from building a very large mega-ton plant and having the project management and all that stuff to building scrubbers in an assembly line, like a consumer product to be manufactured.”

Pereira said many approaches will be needed to tackle the mammoth problem of reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. “The problem is just too big,” he said.

A men’s brand, Faculty, launches with nail polish — and seed funding from Estee Lauder

“It’s not a nail polish company,” says Fenton Jagdeo of Faculty, the startup he cofounded in 2019 with Umar ElBably. Though their Toronto-based company currently sells just three shades of nail polish along with a sleeve of nail stickers at its site — that’s it —  the products are a wedge to something much larger, says Jagdeo.

There will be merchandise, according to the former business management consultant. There will be men’s foundation, and eye shadow, and very possibly hair dye, all of which is focused around a “new wave of masculinity,” he explains.

Not that anything is available for purchase right now — by design. Why? First, this isn’t your everyday brand, found in the aisles of Sephora or CVS, suggests Jagdeo. Faculty is instead “going to be very selective about who we have conversations with. We’re imagining the the Essences of the world, the StockXs, the Kiths. That’s where our clientele is.”

He also says that in the same way that the prominent culture publication Hypebeast created a “desire for new product and newness,” Faculty has “mastered the drop model, which we’ve taken from street culture,” meaning that Faculty has and will continue to advertise a limited supply of a product before invariably selling out of that item.

If you find yourself wondering if Faculty aims to become a streetwear company or a cosmetics company, Jagdeo’s job is done. As he explains it, “essentially, our goal is to blur” that dividing line.

It’s utterly implausible and yet strangely alluring, which likely explains why the cosmetics giant Estee Lauder just led a $3 million seed round in the five-person outfit, joined by RareBreed Ventures, Maple VC, Debut Capital, Creative Connectors, AUFI, 10K Ventures, actress Maisie Williams and recording artist Iann Dior.

After all, there is little to separate one cosmetics brand from another, aside from storytelling and the ability to build up a loyal following. (See, for example, Glossier and its mega-valuation.)

Even Jagdeo readily admits that Faculty’s nail polish is “not, from a purely chemical perspective, different” from what’s widely available in the market already. Yet he sells the vision easily while insisting that ElBably, who attended the same business school as Jagdeo, is the better storyteller of the two.

Certainly, their pitch — that men need more ways through unconventional men’s products to express themselves — is a smart one. Consider that the men’s personal care market alone is expected to balloon to $75 billion over the next six years, according to Grand View Research, and there are few established grooming brands for millennials, even while plenty of outfits are trying. (SNL even came up with a skit recently about a new men’s cosmetics brand called “Man Stain,” which pokes fun at men who want to wear make-up but feel insecure about it.)

Meanwhile, streetwear market is even bigger — it was in the range of $185 billion in sales in 2019, according to PwC analysis — and new brands are breaking through all the time, including brands that, like Faculty, are the express opposite of hyper masculine.

Naturally, Estee Lauder’s imprimatur could make a difference here, too, particularly given that the cosmetics giant isn’t known to actively invest in startups or lead seed rounds. Indeed, while Jagdeo says the funding will help Faculty with its marketing, R&D, and operational expenses, he notes the real advantage to working with Estee Lauder is the mentorship it can provide, as well as its ability to open doors for Faculty.

Says Jagdeo, “It’s a lot easier for us to say, ‘Hey, you know, we’re working with Estee Lauder and Estee Lauder is one of our investors,’ versus, ‘We’re two guys with a dream.’

 

Paired pulls in $3.6M to encourage more couples to get cosy with app-based relationship care

Can an app improve your romantic relationships? The founders behind Paired, a “relationship care” app for couples, believe it can. And since launching in October, with $1M to kick things off, they’ve convinced 5,000+ coupled-up others to try their custom blend of partner quizzes, “relationship satisfaction” tracking, and audio tips from experts — to try to feel closer to their S.O.

Paired is now gunning for serious growth: It’s announcing $3.6M in seed funding today, led by Eka Ventures with participation from existing investors including Taavet Hinrikus (Wise, formerly TransferWise), Harold Primat (investor and former professional racing driver), and the co-founders of Runtastic.

As part of the seed funding, Camilla Dolan of Eka Ventures will join the board alongside the app’s co-founders Kevin Shanahan and Diego López (who previously worked together at language learning app Memrise).

Paired says its goal for the new funding is to grow its user-base from 5,000+ to 100k over the next 18 months.

All sorts of audio-led wellness ‘self-care’ apps have been bubbling up in recent years — offering individuals app-wrapped help with stuff like meditation and mindfulness; targeted motivation to combat anxiety and stress; or dishing up sex tips and sexual self awareness.

Paired fits within that broader trend, albeit with a more explicit nudge to extend the self-care phenomenon to a unit of two romantically connected people.

As it looks for growth, the UK-based startup says it will continue to target the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, which are its main markets at this point. “We expect the growth to continue to come from here over the next 12 months,” says Shanahan.

“We’re building out our product team — hiring engineers, a product manager, a data scientist — to begin offering more varied and personalised relationship conversations for our users,” he goes on.

“Personalisation is a particular focus as every relationship is different and the app will begin to understand what your interests are, what stage you’re in, what would be most useful for you to discuss, etc. We’re also growing our content, working with new experts to cover more relationship topics and marketing the app via influencers, partnerships, and other channels.”

Who are Paired’s early adopters? Currently, the average user is a straight, early 30s Millennial who’s been in their current relationship for two-three years, according to Shanahan. (He says around 5% of users are LGBTQ+.)

But he also claims Paired has a wide mix of users, adding: “We have couples who have been together for 6 months and those who have been together for 10+ years, so it’s a wide spectrum.”

He says the split of women and men using the app is “fairly even” but avoids specifying exactly how usage splits on gender lines.

The app can be used by only one half of a couple — for solo relationship support/self-care, if preferred — but users have the option to pair with their partner to swap answers to relationship questions in order to encourage discussion. And that’s where Paired can offer the most personalized experience to users, by opening up a dedicated ‘relationship’ discussion channel between the couple. (Paired does not obviously cater to open/polyamorous couples — but presumably could be used as a discussion tool for the primary partners.)

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The idea isn’t to replace couples therapy, per Shanahan. Rather Paired wants to create a whole new intermediating layer — based on the notion that communication problems in a relationship can be tackled earlier (and more easily) if you stick a piece of software between you which nudges both halves of the relationship to notice and address potential disconnect.

“If couples therapy is a dentist for your relationship, then we would be a toothbrush,” is how Shanahan puts it when asked if the idea is to replace couples therapy.

“Like a toothbrush is not a substitute for the dentist, we aren’t trying to replace couples therapy. Our goal is to promote healthy relationship behaviours between couples and believe our audience will eventually grow to become the majority of couples,” he suggests.

He points to a study Paired commissioned from the Open University and University of Brighton — which he says showed that couples who used the app over the course of three months saw on average a 36% increase in their “relationship satisfaction”. (Albeit quantifying such a subjective measure as a percentile increase may not appeal to every romantic person’s tastes.)

Shanahan says Paired wants to offer ongoing support, too — rather than (the opposite scenario) of its users arriving at such a point of mutual understanding they could feel they don’t never need to take another partner quiz to understand what their life partner is thinking/feeling.

Its philosophy is, no matter how thoughtful you get vis-a-vis your S.O., there’s always more to learn and thus you always need to keep working on ‘relationship care’. It is of course a very convenient philosophy for a subscription app.

“You probably wouldn’t say success when you’re fit is to stop going to the gym,” says Shanahan. “Or when your teeth are healthy to stop brushing your teeth. Similarly we want Paired to be a tool to help keep your relationship in a good place, so success for us is keeping your relationship satisfaction high over time.”

So what have the founders learned about their own relationships from using Paired?

Shanahan confirms that he and his partner have been using the app “a ton (and not just for testing)”, adding: “I’ve personally learnt that there is always more to discover about your partner and it’s a fun journey. Also that discussing issues when they are small is useful so they don’t become big later down the line.”

Diego López, Paired’s other co-founder and CTO, tells us that the daily questions posed by the app have “helped my partner and I fight lockdown monotony”. “There’s been many occasions where we give the same answer to a question. It’s a great feeling to know that we understand each other and a reminder of the things we have in common,” he adds.

Commenting on Paired’s seed round in a statement, Camilla Dolan from Eka Ventures, said: “Despite relationship health being such an important and truly global part of our lives there is not currently an accessible and affordable way of supporting it — Paired has set out to change that.

“We love Kevin & Diego’s vision to bring happiness and health to relationships and be the global category leader for relationship management. What really got us excited though was the Paired user stories and the level of change that Paired is already having on their early users.”

In another supporting statement, existing investor Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of Wise, added: “Kevin and the Paired team have a vision for improving the relationships of hundreds of millions of couples. Building and strengthening relationships is something we all need help with from time to time, but lots of people feel unsure of where to turn for help. The rapid uptake from paid subscribers since their October launch makes me confident that it can become the global, digital platform for relationships.”

Paired’s app (available on iOS and Google Play) is free to download — but a monthly or yearly subscription is required to access the full range of content and support.

Cased announces $2.25M seed round to help developers work in production environments

An issue every developer faces is dealing with problems on a live application without messing it up. In fact, in many companies such access is restricted. Cased, an early stage startup, has come up with a solution to provide a way to work safely with the live application.

Today, the company announced a $2.25 million seed round led by Founders Fund along with a group of prestigious technology angel investors. The company also announced that the product is generally available to all developers today for the first time. It’s worth noting that the funding actually closed last April, and they are just announcing it today.

Bryan Byrne, CEO and co-founder at Cased says he and his fellow co-founders, all of whom cut their teeth at GitHub, experienced this problem of working in live production environments firsthand. He says that the typical response by larger companies is to build a tool in-house, but this isn’t an option for many smaller companies.

“We saw firsthand at GitHub how the developer experience gets more difficult over time, and it becomes more difficult for developers to get production work done. So we wanted to provide a developer friendly way to get production work done,” Byrne explained.

He said without proper tooling, it forces CTOs to restrict access to the production code, which in turn makes it difficult to fix problems as they arise in production environments. “Companies are forced to restrict access to production and restrict access to tools that developers need to work in production. A lot of the biggest tech companies invest in millions to deliver great developer experiences, but obviously smaller companies don’t have those resources. So we want to give all companies the building blocks they need to deliver a great developer experience out of the box,” he said.

This involves providing development teams with open access to production command line tools by adding logging and approval workflows to sensitive operations. That enables executives to open up access with specific rules and the ability to audit who has been accessing the production environment.

The company launched at the beginning of last year and the founders have been working with design partners and early customers prior to officially opening the site to the general public today.

They currently have five people including the four founders, but Byrne says that they have had a good initial reaction to the product and are in the process of hiring additional employees. He says that as they do, diversity and inclusion is a big priority for the founders, even as a very early stage company.

“It’s very prominent in our company handbook, so that we make sure we prioritize an inclusive culture from the very beginning because [ … ] we know firsthand that if you don’t invest in that early, it can really hold you back as a company and as a culture. Culture starts from day one, for sure,” he said.

As part of that, the company intends to be remote first even post-pandemic, a move he believes will make it easier to build a diverse company.

“We will definitely be remote first. We believe that also helps with diversity and inclusion as you allow people to work from anywhere, and we have a lot of experience in leading remote-first culture from our time at GitHub, so we began as a remote culture and we will continue to do that,” he said.

Announcing the TC Early Stage Pitch-Off

Founders — by now you must have heard about TechCrunch Early Stage events on April 1 and 2 and July 8 and 9. The two-day founder and entrepreneur bootcamp brings together top experts to teach you how to get ahead and build a successful company. This year on the second day of each event we’re adding a twist — the Early Stage Pitch-Off. TechCrunch is on the hunt to showcase 10 early-stage startups to our global audience of investors, press and tech industry leaders. Apply here for the April 2 Early Stage Pitch-Off by February 21.

It wouldn’t be a TC event without highlighting the best startups in the business. Here’s how it will work. Ten founders will pitch on stage for five minutes, followed by a five-minute Q&A with an esteemed panel of VC judges. The top three will then proceed to the finals, pitching again but this time with a more intensive Q&A and a new panel of judges. The winner will receive a feature article on TechCrunch.com, one-year free subscription to ExtraCrunch and a free Founder Pass to TechCrunch Disrupt this fall.

Nervous to pitch on-stage in front of thousands? Fear not. After completing the application, selected founders will receive several training sessions during a remote mini-bootcamp, communication training and personalized pitch-coaching by the Startup Battlefield team. Selected startups will also be announced on TechCrunch.com in advance of the show. 

What does it take to qualify? TechCrunch is looking for early-stage, pre-Series-A companies with limited press. The Early Stage Pitch-Off is open to companies from around the globe, consumer or enterprise and in any industry — biotech, space, mobility, impact, SaaS, hardware, sustainability and more.

Founders don’t miss your chance to pitch your company on the world’s best tech stage. Apply today!