Leg Up co-founder and CEO Jessica Eggert (Leg Up Photo) was spending too much time and headache trying to research and arrange childcare for her 6-year-old son, Oliver. She wondered if other parents felt the same way. So Eggert created an Airtable spreadsheet listing Seattle-area childcare options and posted it online. This minimal viable product blew up, drawing 1,000 unique views in three days. Daycare facilities and camp operators reached out to ask for their data to be added. Leg Up CEO and co-founder Jessica Eggert and her son, Oliver Eggert. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Eggert) “Parents I’d never met were finding me on Facebook or LinkedIn and thanking me for surfacing the information they needed to find care,” Eggert said. “This problem went far beyond what I was struggling with on a monthly basis.” With the proof that she needed, Eggert pulled down the rough draft and in January, she and her friend officially launched The Seattle-based startup is building a marketplace to help parents find daycare, after school care and classes, and camps for summer and other school breaks. The duo will launch a beta version of the product this spring, exact date TBD, and a more polished version later this year. Eggert is CEO and Bell is chief brand officer for Leg Up. The two previously worked together at , a Seattle-based startup that provides women-focused coworking space and has spread to cities nationwide (Eggert was head of culture and innovation and Bell was head of marketing and communications). Most recently they teamed up at , a management consulting company focused on inclusion. Eggert and Bell are building the platform themselves and have 3,200 providers already in the database, which will initially focus on the greater Seattle area. The site will allow families to tailor their searches by the age of their child, the hours of care needed, the availability of financial aid, if the program serves children with special needs and other parameters. The database will include information such as costs, contact information, addresses and other details. Families will be able to rate programs with a more nuanced scoring system than the conventional 1-to-5 stars model. While Leg Up is a practical scheduling tool, to Eggert and Bell it represents something much bigger. It’s really about empowerment for working women. Leg Up is “opening up access for women and breaking down barriers,” Bell said, “and really removing the barriers that keep someone from reaching their greatest potential.” Childcare is a top-of-mind concern for many moms. A group of “Momazonians” at Amazon recently began raising childcare concerns, asking the company to provide them with as an employee benefit. Leg Up co-founders Jessica Eggert, left, and Jonna Bell. (Leg Up Photo) And numerous mothers simply opt for part-time work, if they’re in the workforce at all. Moms are spending 25 hours a week on average doing paid work, according to the while 14 hours are spent on childcare and 18 on housework. Some 60 percent of mothers say that it’s hard to balance work and family. “We’re really focused on solving problems that can help women,” Eggert said. In their own survey of 300 parents, the Leg Up team found that families were spending more than 30 hours a year managing childcare arrangements and camps. Leg Up will launch as a free service and eventually move to a subscription model for families. The founders decided to seek revenue from parents rather than providers given that many childcare services are working on margins too slim to afford any additional costs. While Poppy, another Seattle-based startup connecting parents to childcare, Eggert said their approach is different. Poppy matched parents with individual babysitters and nannies, as compared to Leg Up’s approach to helping families find childcare businesses. Poppy was a great service, she said, but “the economics just weren’t there.” Leg Up is competing against online parenting magazines with childcare listings and sites including Care.com, a public company $192 million a year and connecting people with care providers for kids, pets, elderly parents and house sitting. Eggert and Bell think they can offer more trustworthy, comprehensive information. We caught up with Eggert for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Leg Up is a platform that allows parents to find childcare faster, and helps providers grow so they can keep up with growing demand. It’s a way to remove a barrier to the success of working moms. And a way for companies to retain one of their biggest and brightest talent pools. Inspiration hit us when: My son started elementary school this past year and I thought managing childcare would get a lot easier. Instead, it got harder. We’re on several two-year wait lists for after-school programs and, because school schedules don’t work with either mine or my husband’s work schedule, we found ourselves looking for a new type of care every month to fill the off days. I started slowly building a personal database of childcare programs that could help our family now and in the future. Thinking it would be great to share this information with others, I added in additional childcare programs for surrounding neighborhoods, embedded my database in a simple Squarespace website, and shared the website to a few individuals in my network. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who had this problem. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’re bootstrapping currently, although we’ll be raising quickly to make sure we give this company every chance possible to survive and make an impact in millions of parents’ lives. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Jonna and I have been friends longer than we’ve been coworkers, but have also been at two other companies together so we work together really well and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We’ve worked for a startup and launched a consulting company. We’ve had some small wins, but have been kicked in the teeth more often than not. This time around, we not only have experience but a really strong network who continues to open doors for us and believes strongly in this idea. We’re so grateful for the people in our lives on this journey. We couldn’t have made such incredibly fast progress without them. The smartest move we’ve made so far: I would say we’ve done three really smart things so far that have made a big difference. We locked in our vision from the beginning of how we wanted to help working parents. We not only talked to and surveyed hundreds of parents and providers, but we talked to people who have built products for the childcare industry and those who built businesses in other industries with strategies similar to ours — both those who have found great success and exits, and those who failed despite being amazing entrepreneurs. We learned what went right, what went wrong and what they suggested we do. We then took a lot of that advice (though not all) and pivoted quite a few times from our original idea. Because we’ve kept our vision in mind, it was just the strategy and how we executed that changed. Our vision has stayed our guiding star from the beginning. I’ve been building the technology from the beginning with advice from engineering advisors. Although it’s been hard playing CTO and CEO, I now understand the technology we want to build so much better and it’s helped me understand what our engineers and UX designers need to be paying attention to from the beginning. A core belief of mine is to not hire anyone whose shoes I haven’t walked in, even for just a moment. While I can’t always do this in the future, at least I’ll know who I need on my beginning team really well. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Being afraid to ask for money. I’ve asked for a lot of help from investors during this process, but it got to a point where I didn’t need to hear more and more advice (although always welcome). I needed to get money to help this company grow, and to learn while we build. I listen to a lot of podcasts and read stories of entrepreneurs who were able to tap their friends and family networks to get the first round that would help them grow, test and fail (then succeed) fast. However, it’s always been white men or women who worked for the best companies, who went to the best colleges, or who grew up around the best people. I didn’t have anywhere close to that kind of upbringing and my career has mostly been on the East Coast working for amazing companies whose names no one would recognize here in Seattle. A lot of imposter syndrome often makes me feel nervous to ask for more or ask to be in spaces where people who look like me or have my background aren’t always welcomed with open arms. Thankfully I’ve met some fantastic advisors and have a fantastic co-founder that pushes me to stop thinking that way and ask for what I not only want, but need. Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Serena Williams, without a doubt. We have several Olympic athletes in our network who have shared their experiences with us. Their ability to push through mental barriers of not being good enough or their bodies telling them they can’t go any further, is the kind of strength and stamina I want in my corner. Also, being a woman of color brings on different challenges, and the road to get to where I am today has felt really lonely — especially now as I walk into rooms and rarely, or never, see anyone who looks like me. I believe Serena Williams has that strength and stamina that would remind me that I can and will be better, to rise above the noise, and to make an impact in millions of people’s lives. Also, let’s be real. Having access to her and husband (Reddit co-founder) Alexis Ohanian’s network along this journey wouldn’t hurt! Our favorite team-building activity is: Every two weeks, Jonna and I head to our favorite nail salon in north Seattle for a mani-pedi. Our nail lady is a perfectionist so it takes a really long time, but we are able to relax, brainstorm, reconnect as friends and humans, and we walk out ready to dive back into work with a fresh perspective and, often, new ideas. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We aren’t hiring just yet, although we are having conversations with some individuals whose work I’ve admired for a long time to potentially come on in the future once we’ve secured funding. Both Jonna and I have been on teams in the past that haven’t truly cared about bringing in diversity or building inclusive spaces, but it’s a huge priority for us. We want our core team to not only be gender and ethnically diverse, but they also need to have built teams and technology that have focused on being inclusive across multiple spectrums. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Have your vision, be ready to work really hard and then be flexible. You may have lots of plans and spreadsheets and strategies, but like Mike Tyson says, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Be prepared to get punched in the face quite a bit along this journey. It’s a long road, but if you do it right, it’s a journey that’s enjoyable and incredibly rewarding.
Dr. Sanford Markowitz, founder of Rodeo Therapeutics. (Case Western Reserve University Photo) Seattle-based startup is raising more cash for its work on tissue repair and regeneration. The company has reeled in another $4.3 million, according to , adding to an investment round that also included a $3.7 million cash infusion . Rodeo, which raised a $5.9 million Series A round in 2017, declined to comment on the new funding. The biotech startup is focused on creating treatments for inflammatory bowel disease as well as a drug that helps cancer patients’ cells grow quickly following stem cell transplants. Rodeo was started by gastrointestinal cancer expert Dr. Sanford Markowitz, stem cell and drug development specialist Dr. Stanton Gerson, and regenerative medicine expert Dr. Joseph Ready. Thong Le is the company’s CEO; he’s also president and CEO of Seattle-based Accelerator Life Science Partners, one of Rodeo’s investors. Thong Le, CEO of Rodeo Therapeutics. (Accelerator Corporation Photo) Regenerative medicine holds the promise of creating new tissues to replace damaged ones. Rodeo’s therapies could one day help the living with an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease, as well as the 22,000 who receive a bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant . Rodeo’s investors include AbbVie, Lilly, Arch Venture Partners and Johnson & Johnson, among others. The new regulatory filing listed the following venture investors: Steve Gillis, managing director at Arch Venture Partners Asish Xavier, vice president of venture investments at Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation Joel Marcus, founder of Alexandria Venture Investments Tadataka Yamada, venture partner at Frazier Healthcare Margarita Chavez, managing director at AbbVie Ventures
(Xevo Photo) Global automotive giant today that it will acquire Seattle-area connected car startup for $320 million. Xevo, originally founded in 2000 as UIEvolution, develops connected-car software with more than 25 million vehicles on the road today using its proprietary technology. It sells two products, Xevo Journeyware and Xevo Market, that allow drivers to interact with in-car content and connects them with popular food, fuel, parking, hotel, and retail brands via touchscreen and mobile apps. The company, which a partnership with Domino’s Pizza last month, employs 300 across offices in Bellevue, Wash., and Tokyo. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter. “Automakers have embraced the potential of Xevo’s e-commerce platform, as well as the deeply customizable driver experiences made possible by Xevo’s artificial intelligence technology,” Xevo CEO Dan Gittleman said in a statement. “Today, with Lear’s reach, we can scale Xevo’s innovative technology and business model to a global customer base.” Lear, based in Southfield, Mich., specializes in automotive seating and electrical systems and employs nearly 170,000 people across 39 countries. It $21.1 billion in sales last year, up from $20.5 billion in 2017. The company’s stock reached record-highs in mid-2018 but has dropped 30 percent since then, trading at $141 per share on Tuesday. “The acquisition of Xevo broadens Lear’s connectivity portfolio, bringing together Xevo’s leading e-commerce vehicle platform technology with Lear’s expertise in electronic systems,” said John Absmeier, Lear’s Chief Technology Officer. “Xevo’s user interface establishes a connected marketplace for consumers in their vehicles, unlocking previously unrealized value from vehicle data and opening up new revenue streams.” Xevo was founded in 2000 by , who is known as the architect behind Microsoft products like Windows 95 and Internet Explorer 3. It in 2016 after the company acquired Seattle-based machine learning startup Surround.io Corp.
The PebbleBee BlackCard is a new credit-card-thin tracking device that can help locate a lost wallet or anything else. (Pebblebee Photo) , the Bellevue, Wash.-based startup that makes a smart tracker to help people find missing keys and more, has found an investor. The company, founded by engineers Daniel Daoura and Nick Pearson-Franks, has landed a “substantial investment” from , a division of the massive Japanese wireless carrier KDDI Corp. The amount, which was not disclosed on Tuesday, contributes to what Daoura called an “ongoing $10 million funding round.” Soracom is a global provider of smart IoT connectivity, offering cloud-native wireless service designed specifically for the needs of connected devices. The company previously invested $5 million in Seattle-based balena.io (). Pebblebee has been making moves toward growing its brand and reach since last fall when it landed the Finder tracking device across the U.S. Daoura told GeekWire that the product sold really well and “proved the market” and they have expanded to Canada and other countries. He said they started entertaining the idea of looking into acquiring capital because growing the consumer brand requires hefty investment. “We got quite a bit of interest from the Bay Area as well as international VCs. Not so much local just because the nature of us being hardware and not software focused,” said Daoura, the startup’s CEO. Where’s the kid?! Pebblebee’s new BlackCard shown being tucked into a child’s jacket. (Pebblebee Photo) In the meantime, as Pebblebee aims to attract even more investors, the company isn’t slowing on development, and is releasing a new product this week called BlackCard. “It’s essentially a wallet tracker; it’s very thin — as thin as two credit cards — and it’s rechargeable,” Daoura said. The BlackCard has a range up to 500 feet — “definitely more than any other tracker out there today” — and will hold a single charge up to five months, and it emits a very loud buzzing sound. The price will be $29.99. BlackCard will launch along with a new and improved Pebblebee website on Wednesday. With eight employees, Daoura credits Pebblebee’s small team for bringing a Kickstarter vision to reality. “Their level of commitment and perseverance has been integral to our success,” he said. Soracom Americas CEO Eugene Kawamoto said in a news release that his company is passionate about identifying and supporting companies like Pebblebee. “Pebblebee’s hardware expertise and impressive patent library are already advancing the state of the art in the crucial asset tracking category,” said Kawamoto, who will take a seat on the Pebblebee board of directors. “By providing both smart connectivity and strategic investments, Soracom helps to accelerate IoT development and create a more connected world.”
The co-founders of Possible Finance, from left to right: Prasad Mahendra, vice president of engineering; Tyler Conant, chief technology officer; and Tony Huang, CEO. has access to another chunk of cash to supercharge growth of its mobile-only loan program. The Seattle startup just landed a $30 million credit facility from Park Cities Asset Management, an alternative credit manager based in Dallas, Texas. This follows a $4.3 million investment round the company in February from various angels and venture capital firms. Possible Finance CEO said he was drawn to Park Cities because of its “unique understanding of the Texas consumer lending market and it’s regulatory challenges.” The startup today launched in Texas, its fifth U.S. state. Possible Finance offers loans of up to $500 and is similar to payday lenders, but with some differences. Borrowers have more time to pay back the money in installments and the repayments are reported to the credit agencies, helping people rebuild their credit. Traditional payday loans are structured differently, so those payments don’t count for credit scores, which can trap consumers in a costly cycle of borrowing. Using the Possible Finance app, people can apply for loans without a credit check and receive funds the next day. Possible Finance links to a customer’s bank account and uses machine learning to analyst financial transaction data to make credit risk decisions rather than relying on FICO credit scores. (Possible Finance screenshot) Since in April 2018, the company has originated 24,000 loans, up from 13,000 two months ago, and has more than 100,000 users on its waitlist. It has been growing revenue by 50 percent month-over-month and recently crossed a $1 million annual revenue run rate milestone. Huang said in February that he sees a “clear path” to profitability. In addition to Texas, Possible Finance also serves customers in Washington, California, Utah, and Idaho. It will launch in Ohio later this month. The company has ten employees. “We’re really proud of the fact that 40 percent of new customers every month come from organic, non-paid channels,” Huang said in an email. “By making a small dollar loan into a credit building opportunity, we’re helping everyday Americans improve their credit scores and achieve long-term financial wellness.” Huang and his co-founders — , vice president of engineering, and , chief technology officer — previously worked together at , the leading manufacturer of non-lethal Taser stun guns and policing software and supplies including in-car and policy body cameras. That experience instilled in them a passion for developing technology that serves a social good. As part of his role as product manager at Axon, Huang did ride-alongs with police across the country, giving him some insight into disadvantaged neighborhoods and reinforcing his commitment to helping underserved communities. Huang was nominated last year for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category at the .
Integris CEO Kristina Bergman. (Integris Photo). Back in 2016, a Seattle startup called Integris with a modest $3 million in funding and a vision to help companies manage customer data with integrity. Fast-forward to 2019, when privacy issues are making daily headlines as politicians seek to rein in Big Tech, and business is booming for Integris. In a little over two quarters, Integris more than tripled its team to 30 full-time employees. The startup opened a second office in Vancouver, B.C. and is working with a number of Fortune 500 companies to help them implement data protection and privacy standards. Integris’ growth is driven by new laws in the U.S. and Europe that seek to crack down on tech companies that handle consumer data. The European Union is spearheading the effort with its broad General Data Protection Regulation. In the U.S., federal regulation has been sluggish as states step in to implement their own laws. Last summer, to give consumers more control over their data and dozens of other states are considering similar laws. Related: “When we started three years ago, most people couldn’t spell GDPR … but fast forward a few years and privacy is in the headlines,” said Integris co-founder Kristina Bergman. “It’s front page news in all the major publications and so the biggest thing that we’ve seen is a huge awakening among people everywhere about the impacts of privacy, the importance of privacy, and we’ve seen a lot of market maturity happen over the last few years.” Ironic as it might sound, big tech companies are . Apple and Microsoft have been actively promoting themselves as the secure, privacy-sensitive foils to their younger tech industry peers. It’s catching on. In March, Facebook by doubling down on encrypted, ephemeral messaging. But there is a growing concern in the business community about a future in which companies that handle consumer data are forced to comply with different laws in every state. “The concern is that if the federal government doesn’t step up and unify it in the way that Europe unified privacy legislation under GDPR, we’re going to end up with a privacy legislation framework in the U.S. that’s incredibly fractured, very hard to comply with, and not really feasible and implementable,” said Bergman. That fear is leading a number of tech leaders to support a federal privacy law that would pre-empt state regulations. Related: Integris surveyed 258 business executives at companies with 500 employees or more and at least $25 million in annual revenue as part of released Monday. Of those surveyed, 80 percent believe there should be a federal privacy law, though they may not be ready for it. About half of the respondents said they take inventory of the personal data they store just once a year or in response to an audit. However, 88 percent said their companies are increasing their data privacy management budgets in 2019. “What’s been a boon to the business is not the murkiness but the opportunity that privacy presents,” Bergman said. “In our discussions with companies, they’re looking at privacy increasingly as a differentiator for their business … they look at that as an opportunity to differentiate against their competition by being able to prove that they’re operating with integrity, they’re treating customer data with the utmost care, and they can prove it.” Integris’ goal is to help companies set up best practices in data privacy. The company uses machine learning and other technology to map a company’s sensitive data, apply regulatory obligations, and automate actions like encryption and deletion. On top of its initial $3 million round, last summer to amp up its regulatory compliance services.
Cole Brodman. , a Seattle-area networking startup led by former T-Mobile executive , was acquired last month by , a new company led by former Qualcomm CEO and chairman Paul Jacobs. The news was revealed Monday by in a story that details how Jacobs dropped plans to take Qualcomm private and is now focusing on San Diego-based XCOM. M87 launched out of Austin, Texas in 2014 and . That’s when Brodman, who spent 17 years at T-Mobile — including stints as CMO and CTO — took over as CEO. M87 develops technology to help wireless carriers improve network performance by creating dynamic device-to-device mesh networks. It’s similar to what Jacobs, whose father founded Qualcomm, and a group of former Qualcomm execs are building at XCOM: “giving everyone’s phones the ability to route traffic like a cell tower,” as WSJ reported. Paul Jacobs. (XCOM Photo) “We believed in the XCOM thesis of edge networks and compute, and Paul’s vision on how device-to-device technologies will enhance wireless networks,” Brodman told GeekWire in an email Monday evening. “That’s been our thesis all along, so it’s a great match. Plus, the XCOM team has some fantastic engineering talent and track record in wireless technology to help amplify our go-to-market and product roadmap.” M87 was folded into XCOM but will continue developing its technology, Brodman said. The company’s 20 or so employees are staying onboard, including Brodman. “XCOM likes the access to telecom and software talent in the Seattle area and is keeping an office here,” Brodman added. XCOM had about 30 employees before acquiring M87. It raised additional investment to buy the Seattle-area company, per the WSJ. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. M87 had raised around $12 million. It reeled in a $5 million fundraising round in 2016 led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Qualcomm Ventures, the company’s VC arm, and Trilogy Equity Partners, the Seattle-area firm where Brodman holds a position as partner. “It can be a really interesting business,” Brodman said in 2016. “There aren’t a lot of solutions today to help wireless carriers solve coverage capacity problems and most require them to build new cell sites. I’m excited about software-based solutions to approach this problem.” Brodman and spent the next four years as a board member for a handful of startups. Len Jordan, managing director at Madrona, told GeekWire he’s excited to see M87 “realize its vision for extending the power of networks all the way to the edge.” “The acquisition by XCOM is a great outcome for everyone involved,” he said. “The combined team has the experience and skill to reshape an industry.”
Tech leaders Gillian Muessig, Kelly Wright, Lisa Hammitt, and Jennifer Savage discuss barriers and opportunities for women in venture-backed startups. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) in leadership is often cited as a driving factor behind the broader tech industry’s gender balance issues. The theory? If more women sat on corporate boards and wrote the checks, then more women would feel comfortable entering male-dominated fields and more female entrepreneurs would get funded. But even though there is a growing body of research to show that increasing women in leadership roles makes good business sense, the market is not correcting itself, at least not very quickly. That begs the question, should regulators step in? It’s a question that was raised Thursday during an event in Seattle that brought together women venture capitalists and executives to discuss opportunities and barriers in the venture capital world. Create33, under the umbrella of Madrona Venture Group, hosted the event. Create33 Director Rebecca Lovell moderated a discussion with Lisa Hammit, vice president of data and artificial intelligence at Visa; Gillian Muessig, general partner at Outlines Venture Group; Jennifer Savage, Partner at Illuminate Ventures, and Kelly Wright, board director at Amperity, Even, and Fastly. Tech leaders Rebecca Lovell, Gillian Muessig, Kelly Wright, Lisa Hammitt, and Jennifer Savage discuss barriers and opportunities for women in venture-backed startups. Reports from and the indicate that companies with at least one woman founder yield better results for venture capital firms, though when measuring by metrics like valuations. Researchers at the discovered female-founded companies generate more revenue than startups that only have men on their founding teams. In February, the (CAE) published a study asserting that women-founded companies perform at least as well as startups founded by men. But despite this track record, women-founded companies accounted for just 16 percent of first venture capital financings between 2005-2017, according to the CAE study. This year, researchers found 63 percent of startups have no women on their board of directors and 47 percent have no women in leadership. Regulators are starting to zero in on the slow progress toward gender parity across the tech industry — from startups to big public corporations. The question of whether government should regulate diversity in tech is more than theoretical in California. In September, California enacted a landmark law that requires public companies domiciled in the state to have at least one woman director by 2019 and larger corporations will need to have three women on the board by 2021. “Given all the special privileges that corporations have enjoyed for so long, it’s high time corporate boards include people who constitute more than half of the ‘persons’ in America,” former California Gov. Jerry Brown wrote in his to the California State Senate. New Jersey and Massachusetts . Legislators in Washington state, the West Coast’s other big tech hub, aren’t formally pursuing a board diversity law though that could change if the idea picks up steam. States are in a handful of European countries that require corporate boards to have women directors. A from 2016 found “evidence that firms with a larger fraction of female directors on their board have greater dividend payouts.” But the tech leaders on the Create33 panel and other female board members GeekWire interviewed have mixed feelings about regulators mandating diversity quotas. Muessig, who co-founded Moz and a venture fund that backs women-led startups, wondered if it was “thin thinking” to force this type of regulation companies. “Government does this so often,” she said. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to something that didn’t really solve the problem. I’m not against the idea … but I haven’t dug in deeply enough to say, is that really going to be the root of the problem or not?” Flying Fish Partners co-founder Heather Redman is concerned that the narrow focus on corporate boards could actually hurt efforts to increase representation of women in other tech leadership roles. “The data, so far, on how well the regulation works is kind of mixed,” she said in an interview with GeekWire. “One of the phenomenons that I’ve noticed is that we’re already seeing a lot of women retiring early from C-suite jobs instead of becoming CEO. The board path is becoming the easier path.” Redman added, “If I had to pick where I would want to see women be, I would pick CEO all day long … the board does not have its fingers on the knobs.” Several executives expressed a begrudging acceptance of the mandate’s necessity. “Frankly, I was disappointed that it had to be mandated,” said Nicole Piasecki, a Seattle executive who sits on several board seats, including Weyerhaeuser, in an interview with GeekWire. “I understand why it was mandated because progress wasn’t occurring.” California’s law will open up 692 board seats to women by 2021, . If the rest of the nation followed California’s lead, it would amount to more than 3,000 board seats available to women, nearly a 75 percent increase. During Thursday’s panel, Wright said that California’s board law is moving the needle. The former longtime Tableau executive noted that without a legal requirement, California’s big corporations were not making much progress on gender diversity among directors. She explained that California’s law actually started as a recommendation from the government, not a mandate. “Unfortunately, over time, nothing happened,” she said. “There was no change.” From Wright’s perspective, the power of California’s law — which governs some of the most powerful tech companies in the world — is the impact it’s having beyond the state’s borders. Seattle-based Amazon, for example, added to its board in February; it now has six men and five women on . “It’s at least raised the conversation to the point where now people are actually looking at the data and looking at the facts, and we are starting to see some positive progress,” Wright said.
(Photo via Black Girls CODE) — , a nonprofit dedicated to teaching girls of color ages 7-17 about computer programming and technology, is holding on Saturday, March 30 in advance of the opening of a Seattle chapter in April. The workshops, scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon, will be held at the following locations: Sammamish High School, 100 140th Ave. SE, Bellevue, Wash.; Seattle Central College, 1701 Broadway, Seattle; South Shore Pre K-8, 4800 South Henderson, Seattle. The events are free but require advance registration (via the Black Girls CODE homepage). The Seattle chapter, the organization’s 15th, was made possible . — When most of us were in school, we were probably told that nine planets existed in the solar system. Now there are eight. Poor Pluto lost its planetary designation in 2006 when astronomers decided it didn’t fit the criteria as the other eight “true” planets. But the debate has started again. You can get the full scoop on Pluto at the Evergrey’s presentation at the Pacific Science Center on April 11. — Women’s History Month may be drawing to a close, but the Female Founders Alliance is continuing the celebration with their annual on April 4. The Champion Awards were created to honor individuals and companies in the Pacific Northwest that are making a notable difference in helping women succeed in the workplace, regardless of their field or industry. The Champion Awards pick winners in five different categories, including advocates, investors and role models. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : An event honoring people and companies who are impacting change in the city, hosted by The Evergrey in Seattle; 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4. : An event featuring panels and guest speakers about the art of networking at The Columbia Tower Club in Seattle; 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 4. : A talk about how startups can effectively use social media to reach their goals at CoMotion Labs at the University of Washington in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 5. : A talk about the opportunities and how to get started in the public sector at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 5. : An event featuring panels and discussions with the goal of linking founders with other founders and investors at WeWork Labs in Portland; 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9. : An event focusing on the basics of blockchain at the Flatiron School in Seattle; 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 9. : A job fair specifically for startups to meet some of the students who might make for good additions to teams, at the University of Washington Intellectual House in Seattle; 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 10. For more upcoming events, check out the , where you can find meetups, conferences, startup events, and geeky gatherings in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Organizing an event? .
The PTO Exchange team. Sitting, from left to right: Rob Whalen, co-founder and CEO, and Tom Gemmell, vice president of operations. Standing, from left to right: Rob Schwend, vice president of products and services, and Todd Lucas, co-founder and chief technology officer. (PTO Exchange Photo) If you believe that The Go-Go’s got it wrong and vacation is definitely not “all I’ve ever wanted,” then may be just the software that you do want. The company based northeast of Seattle in Woodinville, Wash., is turning paid time off into something fungible. Employees of participating companies that use the startup’s product can swap their unused PTO for cash, to pay for student loans, make donations to nonprofits, contribute to a 401(k) or health savings account or even give it to a colleague who has health or family issues and needs extra time off. PTO Exchange co-founder and CEO Rob Whalen. (PTO Exchange Photo) “The problem that we have seen is that almost one-third of all vacation gets left on the books,” said PTO Exchange co-founder and CEO . Whalen himself had that experience. While working at Cisco Systems for less than five years, he accrued more than 240 hours of paid leave. Like many of his colleagues, Whalen opted for work over vacation because he had so much to do. After leaving Cisco, the company paid him more than $30,000 for that time. “We are firm believers that [PTO] is an earned wage and individuals should be able to self-direct it for what matters most to them,” Whalen said, “instead of having to wait for companies to pay out the benefits during transition or termination periods.” It can be a challenge for the companies when employees accumulate large amounts of PTO. The time represents a liability and can put a strain on an employer’s cash flow when it’s paid out. The PTO Exchange platform costs companies $3 per employee per month, with lower rates for larger customers. The startup also charges a 3-to-5 percent fee per transaction fee, though the fee is waived during the first year of service. Whalen wouldn’t name his customers, but said that they include businesses with between 200 and 55,000 employees. PTO Exchange is also partnering with the HR services company Alight, which has 22 million employees on its platform. Whalen co-founded PTO Exchange in 2013 with , who serves as chief technology officer. They met because their kids went to the same school. Whalen has years of experience in sales and was a co-founder of a software company in the early 2000s. Lucas has worked as a software engineer at companies including Wire Stone, which is part of Accenture, Infinium Labs (now Phantom Entertainment) and Microsoft. The 11-person company is finishing a seed investment round. Whalen declined to say who was investing and how much. Competitors in the space are mostly focused on offering loans against PTO, Whalen said. In January the insurance company Unum announced that, with the help of Fidelity Investments, it would allow employees to cash out PTO to pay for student debt. PTO Exchange has a patent on this service, said Whalen, and the program might infringe upon it. And what about people who would like more time and less money? Can PTO Exchange run the equation the other direction? Not yet, said Whalen, but they’re considering it. While the next year or two will be focused on customer accrual, the team is thinking about bigger ideas as well. They’re interested in exploring PTO for the gig economy — people driving for Uber or Lyft, making Amazon deliveries and other freelance jobs. Additionally, Whalen said the industry in general is looking at ways to bank PTO so that you can take it from job to job like you do a 401(k). He pushes back against the idea of unlimited PTO being offered by some employers. While it sounds great, it’s often the case that an employee can’t actually take three or four weeks of vacation. That means it’s not really a benefit at all, Whalen said. “Taking time away from your job may be more stressful if you are living paycheck to paycheck, are overwhelmed with student loan debt, or have health and medical bills,” he said. “Relieving stress is not just about taking days off.” We caught up with Whalen for this . Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: PTO Exchange allows employees to exchange the value of paid time off for goods, services and experiences. From student loan repayment, educational support, healthcare or retirement savings, funding family vacations, giving to nonprofits and sharing with colleagues in need. Inspiration hit us when: We came up the idea at an entrepreneur’s dinner at my house; steak and good wine are the usual ingredients necessary to create new ideas. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: I like them all because each one is necessary for scaling a business. Bootstrapping is necessary to get your idea vetted by the market, but when you need to invest in front of revenue like most SaaS companies, then angels and VCs are critical. Just make sure investors have the experience to bring the right value and can help with customer and go-to-market strategy. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: When we started the company, we really saw that there was something unique in what we were doing and how it was being done. We decided to patent some of the unique things that our platform does. It took us four years to get through the process, but we received our patent in October 2018. The smartest move we’ve made so far: Partnering with large human resource solution providers early. We were one of the first partners in Alight Solutions’ partner network and it has allowed us to shorten the sales process and get in front of Fortune 500 companies more quickly. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Sales cycle understanding. Selling to large enterprises (B2B) is a much longer sales process than to everyday consumers (B2C). Underestimating the process and the entrenched mindset within those organizations is probably one of the biggest hurdles we are learning to overcome. The PTO Exchange interface. (PTO Exchange Image) Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Lars Dalgaard, founder of SuccessFactors, or Aneel Bhusri, co-founder of Workday. Both have built incredible companies around helping enterprises manage human and financial capital. Their experiences and knowledge from building those companies would be extremely valuable in what PTO Exchange is trying to accomplish. Our favorite team-building activity is: Breaking bread together with family and friends! We work hard and long hours so adding the extended team (spouses, partners and family) to the mix is a way of building the broader team support for the company. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We like people who know how to problem solve and ask questions. Like most startups, the job is about wearing lots of hats. We have a motto: “We don’t manage, can’t manage and if you need to be managed, then you don’t belong here.” Ask questions, solve problems and make s*** happen. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Be persistent, always think of the customer and remember the word “no” is just two letters and they do not define who you are as an entrepreneur or the company you are trying to build.
Kiran Raj, chief strategy officer of Bittrex, spoke about blockchain regulations at the TF Blockchain Conference in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / James Thorne) Founded by former Amazon and Microsoft security engineers, cryptocurrency exchange defies the Wild West reputation of the blockchain world with an appetite for government oversight. What does Bittrex want more than anything? “Regulatory clarity,” said , chief strategy officer at Bittrex, a Seattle-based company that allows users to buy and sell 200 different currencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. Raj said that current regulations put U.S. startups at a disadvantage. “It’s really difficult to complete with an unlevel platform,” Raj said during a conference hosted by TF Blockchain Conference in Seattle. Raj said the lack of regulatory clarity in the U.S. has hurt innovation and forced startups, including Bittrex, to set up shop in Europe and elsewhere. Bittrex has a European branch that operates within the EU’s legal framework. “It’s not too late for regulatory clarity,” he said. “There are ways to get some of this innovation back to the U.S.” Raj is not alone with his request. Several members of the House of Representatives to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, asking for plans to regulate cryptocurrency. This past November, Clayton said cryptocurrency ETFs (exchange-traded funds) won’t be approved until “market manipulation” concerns are addressed, according to . Raj’s perspective on regulation isn’t too surprising. He came to Bittrex after working at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. Raj was at the DoJ when the FBI was working on taking down Silk Road, an online marketplace known for using Bitcoin to sell illegal drugs. Bittrex co-founders , and bring over 30 years of experience in security engineering at Amazon and Microsoft. “Our executive team is probably one of the oldest teams in crypto,” said Raj. But that experience has also given Bittrex the ability to help other blockchain companies play by the rules, such as by performing background checks on users to comply with anti-money laundering laws. Raj said the founders set out to build an exchange for blockchain-related products with security in mind. After starting Bittrex in 2014, the founders ran the exchange as a side business until leaving their previous jobs in 2016 and 2017. Raj was optimistic that regulated cryptocurrency exchanges will eventually win out over unregulated ones. “We’re hoping for a level playing field in the long term,” Raj said. “We know we can compete. We just have better technology.”
Crelate CEO Aaron Elder. (Crelate Photo) In a startup environment where heavy funding, bold bets, and rapid growth are the norm, stands out for its modest, slow-and-steady approach. The recruiting software startup just raised $5.3 million from Five Elms, a venture capital firm in Kansas City, Mo. Crelate develops tools to help recruiting agencies manage their pipelines of talent and job opportunities. The four-year-old startup just crossed 900 customers. “There’s definitely different approaches to building a business,” said Crelate CEO Aaron Elder. “There’s the burn fast and either get really big or burnout. I’m operating more under the continuous improvement, high probability of success.” The new funding builds off of a $1.2 million round the company closed in early 2017. Crelate plans to grow its 21-person team and double down on sales with the fresh cash. “We see a lot of demand and need for our product,” Elder said. “The industry is growing and they have some very specialized needs.” Crelate is headquartered in Maryland but its engineering operation is in Kirkland, Wash. Elder, who is based at the Kirkland office, said he picked the Seattle suburb because “the tax climate is more friendly to business” and “it’s a little bit cheaper.” Crelate is that have set up outposts in the Seattle area to mine the region’s tech talent.
Remitly CEO Matt Oppenheimer. (Remitly Photo) Remitly, the Seattle international money transfer company, is teaming up with Visa to give people sending money abroad a new option. The companies today unveiled a plan to let people send money to Visa debit cards across borders through the push payment service. Visa Direct powers massive payments platforms such as Square’s credit card readers and Uber payments to drivers. Out of the gate, users will only be able to send money from the U.S. to debit card holders in other countries. Remitly and Visa hope to add more sender countries to the program later. “Our highest priority is to create the best possible money transfer experience for immigrant communities and their families around the world. Our customers have unique money transfer needs including a need for more choices in how they send and receive money,” Matt Oppenheimer, Remitly co-founder and CEO said in a statement. “This collaboration with Visa, the world’s leader in digital payments, helps us meet this need with instant scale, security and reach that will help us continue to improve our service.” Remitly describes itself as the largest independent mobile remittance company in North America, and it has more than 800 employees worldwide. In December it , and it is now active in 40 nations across the globe. Remitly’s technology helps eliminate the need for forms, codes, agents, and other fees typically associated with the international money transfer process. The company allows free transfers if the sender can wait three days for the funds to arrive; it charges a $3.99 flat rate for same-day transfers and credit card transfers include an additional 3 percent fee. Customers send more than $6 billion each year with Remitly — up from $4 billion in 2017, and $1.5 billion the year prior — which also works with a global network of more than 40,000 bank and cash payout partners. It has helped more than 1 million customers to date. Total funding is $175 million to date, including a $115 million investment round that was one of the largest for any Seattle startup in recent years. Remitly’s investors include Naspers’ PayU; World Bank’s International Finance Corporation; Silicon Valley Bank; Stripes Group; DN Capital; QED Investors; Tomorrow Ventures; Trilogy Equity Partners; Bezos Expeditions; Founders’ Co-op; and DFJ.
Armoire CEO Ambika Singh in front of the company’s new pop-up store. (Armoire Photos) aims to help women access new clothes without having to enter a physical store. But now the Seattle startup is testing a brick-and-mortar strategy to compliment its online fashion rental service. Armoire will open its first pop-up location this week in downtown Seattle, taking over an old Sprint retail store and using it as a place for members to learn about new clothes and styles. Armoire CEO Ambika Singh and Lili Morton, community development, inside the company’s new store. Starting at $149 per month, the 3-year-old company ships designer clothes to customers who can swap out the items at any time or purchase them at a discounted rate. The pop-up store will allow new and existing members to try on clothes, experiment with different styles, and take home anything without pulling out their wallet. It will be open seven days a week and staffed by Armoire employees and stylists. Armoire CEO Ambika Singh told GeekWire that the company aims to improve the dressing room experience, which she said “has historically been a negative experience for women.” “We set ourselves up for failure as soon as we walk into that room,” she said. “With guidance from Armoire staff and stylists, we hope to create a shift where women instead see everything they love about themselves. We’re creating an environment where women choose self-confidence in the dressing room and in life, by armoring them with clothes they feel great in.” The startup also hopes that because the clothing is rental and “temporary,” its service will help women stop agonizing over size and body perception in a relaxed gathering place, which was designed by Fernish, a furniture rental startup that . “Our hope is that members come to think of this space as home — dropping in for a new item or just a chat,” Singh said. Armoire follows a similar playbook to Rent the Runway, the 10-year-old New York City-based company that was recently at nearly $800 million. Rent the Runway also operates physical locations; it its fifth store last year. Starting with digital and expanding to physical is also a recent retail strategy used by Amazon, which built a massive online e-commerce business and now has several brick-and-mortar locations, including Whole Foods stores and Amazon bookstores. Speaking of Amazon, the Seattle-based tech giant is also testing new ways to help people buy clothes. It recently rolled out a try-before-you-buy service . Armoire has raised $4.2 million from investors such as Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens; Foot Locker exec Vijay Talwar; and a number of female backers who decided to invest after first becoming customers. They include Sheila Gulati of Tola Capital, former Drugstore.com CEO Dawn Lepore, and Angela Taylor of Efeste.
Tuzag CEO Neal Sofian. (Tuzag Photo) is betting that health bots need a better bedside manner. The startup just launched a chat service that’s part concierge, part health assessor and comes with a healthy dose of compassion. Tuzag’s first product, , is an out-of-the-box service that CEO sums up as an “engagement bot.” In a demo of Tuzag’s app for Amazon Alexa, the bot responded to news that a patient was having a bad day by saying, “I wish I could give you a big hug right now.” Other details, like remembering your pet’s name and asking for doggy updates, bring the humanistic angle a step further. Health bots that use artificial intelligence are having a moment. Microsoft recently , and a number of health companies have built bots for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. “We’re doing two things that I think are very different,” Sofian said. “One is we’re building profiles on people so that we have a persistent memory and we’re learning every time we interact with you. The second part is we’re actually tailoring content down to the word just for you.” Tuzag’s MyHealthyDay voice app is also available in other channels, such as a web dashboard, shown above. (Tuzag Screenshot) Tuzag Founder Dave Bulger. (Tuzag Photo) Tuzag’s bots can be programmed to have different personalities, which can change the experience, for example, from a friendly and bubbly conversation to a stern one. With the help of artificial intelligence, Sofian thinks more personalized bots can change patient behavior. But it all starts with engagement. “A good concierge in a hotel gets to know you. What are your needs? What do you want?” Sofian said. “Why wouldn’t we do that for consumers in health care when it’s 20 percent of the economy?” In addition to the off-the-shelf MyHealthyDay product, Tuzag creates custom bots and can provide its product as middleware to other companies. While the startup is focused on voice apps, its services can be deployed through text messages, an online chatbot or other channels. Tuzag is focused on the user experience to help improve engagement. “We want to build the concierge that can do what it takes to get people to connect to the products and services that are meaningful to them,” Sofian said. In the future, Sofian said that MyHealthyDay could integrate with smart devices to give tailored advice, such as synching with a smart pill bottle to track whether a patient is taking their medicine. “It’s pretty startling how bad adherence is,” Sofian said. Sofian runs the company with Tuzag founder , who first started working on the project in 2013. The startup has offices in Seattle and Syracuse, New York, where Bulger is based. Tuzag has partnered with the YMCA as well as Vanderbilt University, which is developing its own bot for newcomers to Nashville, Tenn. The startup has raised around $500,000 in seed funding. Sofian developed the successful smoking cessation program called Free and Clear, later renamed Quit for Life, in the 1980s. The program is now offered by more than 700 employers and health plans across 26 states. He also previously spent 14 years at Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative and was director of member engagement at Premera Blue Cross for seven years.
The Xealth team — and office dogs — inside the company’s office in Seattle’s Smith Tower. (GeekWire Photo / James Thorne) Is there big market for prescriptions beyond drugs? Several investors with deep experience in health are betting on it — joining in a new $11 million funding round for Xealth, a digital health startup building a platform that lets doctors prescribe everything from wheelchairs and insulin monitors to articles and Lyft rides. Xealth CEO Mike McSherry. (Xealth Photo) Founded by two Seattle startup veterans and spun out of Providence Health & Services, Xealth uses patient data to recommend services from a variety of vendors for possible prescription. The company wants to make its marketplace available to hundreds of thousands of doctors and nurses, letting them issue digital prescriptions, such as apps and digital media, or anything else they want to prescribe beyond a traditional drug. If a patient is overweight and doesn’t have a history of eating disorders, for example, Xealth might recommend that a doctor prescribe a service from Weight Watchers. Xealth’s Series A funding round drew new investors McKesson Ventures, Novartis, Philips and ResMed. Those names are notable in that they represent many of the medical supplies, digital therapeutics and devices that can be prescribed over Xealth’s platform. “I’m a huge fan of strategic investments,” said Mike McSherry, Xealth’s CEO and co-founder, in an interview at the company’s headquarters at Seattle’s Smith Tower, explaining why he likes to seek out investors from inside the industry, not just traditional venture capital. McSherry has followed this approach before, with success. He was previously CEO of Swype, maker of a popular swipe texting keyboard, and , key players in the world of mobile devices. Following , Xealth’s total cash raised now stands at $19.5 million, and the new round brought back prior investors Threshold Ventures, Providence Ventures, Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin Health Network, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. McSherry and Xealth co-founder Aaron Sheedy make for unlikely healthcare innovators. The pair have been working together for more than two decades, tracing their roots back to a shared office at Microsoft in the 90s. They worked together at Swype, which sold to Nuance Communications in 2011. McSherry became Nuance’s VP of advertising and content and Sheedy its VP of mobile product. They took the plunge into healthcare after McSherry was invited by Providence CEO Rod Hochman to be an entrepreneur-in-residence at Providence Ventures in 2015. Founded two years later, Xealth now has 40 employees, up from 12 in 2017. Xealth’s marketplace lives inside of hospitals’ electronic health records systems. (Xealth Screenshot) The company reflects a broader surge in interest in health by people and companies from the tech industry. The frenzy around digital health has been stoked by significant entries into the space from the likes of Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Venture investment in digital health grew 42 percent last year to $8.1 billion, according to . Xealth was founded with a mission to be the ultimate marketplace for doctors to prescribe anything and everything digital. But the company says its platform is more than a marketplace: It also routes the flow of data from services back into the hospital’s electronic health record system. Xealth is currently tracking data from 40,000 sleep apnea patients who are using CPAP devices for Providence St. Joseph Health. “If you can more seamlessly engage with the patients digitally, like they’re used to in their consumer lives, you’re providing a better patient experience,” McSherry said. “But that also gives the hospital system a 360-degree view of the patient’s health.” Last year, Xealth for products that could be prescribed through its marketplace. What seemed like a simple integration — a surgeon could send a patient a link to buy a product for recovery, for example — was practically revolutionary in a world where doctors often hand their patients a photocopy of the product they recommend. Not surprisingly, navigating tech-style disruption in healthcare is complicated. Amazon’s service on Xealth doesn’t use the e-commerce giant’s recommendation engine; instead, doctors manually curate the products they want. And to avoid conflicts of interest, Xealth doesn’t get affiliate payments from Amazon. McSherry said that other e-commerce sellers would soon join the platform. The startup currently offers services from 30 digital health vendors. One recent addition to Xealth’s platform is Proteus, which sells pills with sensors that monitor a patient’s drug adherence. Xealth also recently added Duke Health and Baylor Scott & White Health as customers. The startup makes money by licensing its platform to healthcare providers. Competitors include Redox and Sansoro Health, both of which integrate third-party applications into electronic health records systems. McSherry made it clear that using data to make recommendations is central to realizing Xealth’s ambitions. It just has to make sure that healthcare providers are on board. Over time, McSherry said, the company should know what works best for patients down to an individualized level. “We didn’t get into this to play small ball,” he said. “We’re going to have a huge data set that works to optimize the best patient care and clinical recommendations for patients.”
Elliott Bay Office Park, Zipwhip’s future home. (Geekwire Photo / Nat Levy) Zipwhip has leased space for a new Seattle headquarters that will give the fast-growing business text messaging startup room to nearly double its headcount. The company has leased the top floor and a half at Martin Selig’s five-story , a 75,000-square-foot space with room for approximately 500 people. It will move into the new offices toward the end of 2019, said John Lauer, Zipwhip CEO. Zipwhip CEO John Lauer. (Zipwhip Photo) Zipwhip is “busting at the seams” in its current space, Lauer said. Today, it subleases a 50,000-square-foot space from Real Networks at a building called Home Plate Center, across the street from the Zipwhip has 270 employees today. Though the new space isn’t a whole lot bigger, the ability to design it from scratch, rather than taking over someone else’s offices, will allow for a better layout that can accommodate more employees, Lauer said. The new office is north of downtown Seattle at the intersection of the Lower Queen Anne and Interbay neighborhoods. The neighborhood is becoming a bit of a startup hotspot, with just across the street from the future Zipwhip space. Zipwhip is coming to the neighborhood around the same time just down the street. The area has popped recently because smaller companies are having a hard time finding office space in competitive neighborhoods in and around downtown. Zipwhip looked all over for a new HQ, but found this building to be the best fit for its culture. “Real estate in Seattle is a pretty tough market,” Lauer said. “This city has grown so wildly in the last five years that there’s not a lot of real estate. So we looked at as much as we could, and this turned out to be our best option.” Zipwhip’s current HQ is in this office building, across from T-Mobile Park. (Zipwhip Photo) Zipwhip factored in where its employees live when looking for space. The company found that many of its workers lived in neighborhoods north of downtown, making the new location ideal for a variety of commutes. Zipwhip sells software that lets businesses across various industries — from pro sports teams to large enterprise companies to small insurance shops — send and receive text messages with their customers using an existing business phone number. The company is coming off a $51.5 million Series D investment round . The round, which was one of the largest in the Seattle area in the last year, was led by Goldman Sachs Private Capital investing group, with participation from existing investors including OpenView, M12, and Voyager Capital. The Zipwhip team. (Zipwhip Photo) Founded in 2007, Zipwhip and set out to be the “Facebook of text messaging.” But it pivoted around 2013, taking a different approach by working with wireless carriers to enable hundreds of millions of business landlines to receive and send text messages. This allowed companies to text with their customers from landline phones, VoIP services, and toll-free numbers. Zipwhip has more than 30,000 businesses using its software and saw revenue increase 86 percent year-over-year in 2018. It has text-enabled 3.3 million landlines. Lauer sees a huge market for business texting, with more than 200 million business phone numbers in the U.S. alone. “We have a long way to go in solving this industry,” Lauer said. It’s this huge market that has the company planning for future growth. Today, Zipwhip has , and the new space will give the company capacity to grow even more.
Orbityl’s earbuds can detect mental states as well as a few distinct thoughts — after a lot of calibration. Co-founder Kristina Pearkes demos the startup’s prototype. (Orbityl Photo) What if you could control the volume of your headphones with a thought? Vancouver, B.C.-based startup wants to make that happen with a brain-computer interface that looks like an ordinary pair of headphones. The startup is currently partnering with a headphone manufacturer to make a product that can sense a user’s mental state — i.e. whether they’re awake, asleep, and how alert they are. That’s the first application, which works by sensing the change in voltage in the brain over time. They haven’t yet disclosed the identity of the hardware maker. The more ambitious plan is to use machine learning to decode thoughts. Orbity co-founders Sean Kaiser and Kristina Pearkes. (Orbityl Photo) “A lot of the research that we’ve done is in brain-computer interface applications — looking for discrete thoughts that an individual is having as a mechanism to be used for control [of a device],” said Orbityl co-founder . The startup, which first launched two years ago, is working out of the VentureLabs accelerator at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Orbityl raised around $120,000 from the Next 36 program in Toronto and the Highway1 accelerator in San Francisco, and it’s looking to add team members in the coming months. Orbityl plans to start small, training its algorithms to recognize basic commands. For instance, if you’re listening to music, you might think “right” to skip a track or “up” to raise the volume. Both Kaiser and co-founder studied at McGill University in Montreal. Pearkes brings the electronics hardware knowledge and Kaiser is the machine learning expert. Right now, their prototype can recognize basic thoughts from Kaiser’s brain, but it struggles with other users. “One of the challenges in developing this stuff is that you need a lot of examples to train the algorithms,” Kaiser said. “The calibration time is very high for other individuals to use, so that’s where a lot of our research is going right now.” Brain-computer interfaces are a longtime sci-fi moonshot, but there are signs that the tech might be moving out of the experimental phase. Earlier this month, Mark Zuckerberg revealed that . The FDA last month on brain-computer interfaces for medical applications. And Elon Musk’s secretive Neuralink venture, the subject of an from the Wait But Why blog, is exploring the space. Mind-machine ambitions aside, Kaiser says there’s also plenty of value simply making mental state detection easier. Doctors and researchers often use an electroencephalogram (EEG), essentially a bunch of electrodes attached to your head, to monitor brain activity. Kaiser thinks that a more practical device could make it easier to do some kinds of research and testing. “We started by looking at sleep. So we were looking at these EEGs and we saw this issue in sleep monitors. You have to go to a clinic, and you have to get these things set up. And it was a big barrier to a lot of individuals that created a lot of waiting time,” Kaiser said.
(Bernard Spragg Photo via Flickr) For , maritime data is both personal and professional. King grew up sailing in New England and is now the owner of “Northern Lights,” a vintage Coronado 41 sloop that he restored. ioCurrents CEO Cosmo King. (ioCurrents Photo) He’s also the CEO and co-founder of Seattle startup , which today announced a $5 million investment to grow its platform for collecting and analyzing real-time data for the maritime industry. The company’s platform, MarineInsight, collects reams of data from various pieces of ship machinery and analyzes it in the cloud whenever a connection is available. The software then suggests actions based on any problems it finds or anticipates; it can help reduce fuel costs or prevent engine failures, for example. The startup has customers in commercial shipping, fishing and passenger industries. King was formerly an engineer at Isilon Systems, a Seattle startup that was acquired by EMC in 2010 for $2.25 billion. He launched ioCurrents in 2015 with co-founder and CTO. “This additional investment will allow ioCurrents to build on our existing success, and provide even more value to the maritime industry as a whole,” King said . The Series A round, which brings the company’s total amount raised to $6.4 million, was led by . Imagen, a Seattle-based venture capital firm focused on data and software startups, has also invested in Seattle-area companies such as and outdoors app maker BaseMap. “ioCurrents is defining itself as the market leader in the development of real-time, predictive analytics to the maritime industry,” John Polchin, managing director of Imagen, said in a statement. “Imagen’s investment will help ioCurrents capitalize on the global demand for their solutions and accelerate the company’s pace of product innovation.”
From left to right: Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens; Rad Power Bikes co-founder Ty Collins; Rad Power Bikes co-founder Mike Radenbaugh; and Zulily co-founder Mark Vadon. Cavens and Vadon announced their investment in the Seattle startup this week. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) and know what it takes to build a successful consumer company. The entrepreneurs built not one but two online retail giants that went public, teaming up at Blue Nile starting in 1999 and then co-founding Zulily in 2009. So when the duo decides to invest together in an up-and-coming Seattle startup, it’s worth taking note. has become one of the best-known e-bike brands in North America over the past four years without raising any outside capital. But with revenue projected to double to more than $100 million this year, co-founders and are ready to spark their business. The company today announced an investment from Vadon and Cavens. Privately held Rad Power Bikes did not reveal the size of the deal, instead describing the cash infusion as “significant.” Cavens is joining the board of directors as a result of the funding. The Securities and Exchange Commission, where privately held companies typically report the sale of unregistered securities, does not yet show a record of the investment. Mike Radenbaugh, left, and Ty Collins, founders of Rad Power Bikes. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) In many ways, the e-bike business is much different than selling kids clothing or engagement rings. But Vadon and Cavens see a lot of similarities to Zulily and Blue Nile at their early stages. “I see a business with super passionate customers, a cool product, and awesome entrepreneurs,” Vadon told GeekWire. “That’s what you want to be investing in.” Radenbaugh, 29, and Collins, 30, met as students at Humboldt State University in Northern California and the idea for Rad Power Bikes was born in 2007 when they built their first e-bike. After years of doing custom conversions of traditional bikes to electric, they launched their company in 2015, raised $320,365 in an , and have been profitable ever since. The startup now sells its e-bikes in the U.S., Canada, and 30 European countries to both consumers and commercial in industries such as logistics, law enforcement, deliveries, and more. It has taken advantage of the direct-to-consumer model to shorten its supply chain, bypass traditional bike shops and create a tight feedback loop with customers to constantly improve its limited line of e-bikes that sell for around $1,500. Radenbaugh said the company’s bikes are priced “at a point that’s approachable to people” — cheaper than high-end options from top brands such as Trek and Specialized, with more power and range than competing products from European companies. The RadBurro can be outfitted with a variety of conversions, including flat bed, truck bed, cargo box and pedi cab. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) Rad Power Bikes is also riding a wave of interest in electric bicycles, which has become the fastest-growing bicycle type in the U.S., year-over-year in 2017. In addition, new forms of mobility are also “making privately owned vehicles obsolete,” reported last month. Rad Power Bikes describes itself as the largest e-bike brand in North America by e-bike volume. Mark Vadon at the GeekWire Summit 2014. (GeekWire File Photo) “We’re in the business of giving cars an early retirement,” Radenbaugh said. In an interview with GeekWire this week, Vadon and Cavens were unwavering in their optimism for Rad Power Bikes. Based on financial metrics and outlook just four years in, Vadon said the company reminds him of his other early investments in companies such as online pet supply retailer Chewy, which in 2017, and Allbirds, the high-flying sneaker startup that is at more than $1 billion. “This is going to be a very sizable business,” said Vadon, who is a board member at Home Depot and Seattle startups such as New Engen and Flyhomes. Vadon met Radenbaugh through a mutual acquaintance. After his first ride, he was hooked. “You feel like a 10-year-old,” Vadon said. “They are just a blast to ride.” A large addressable market, from millennials to moms to retirees, gets Cavens excited about how much Rad Power Bikes can grow. Cavens, — the e-commerce giant was acquired for $2.4 billion in 2015 — said his wife was skeptical when he took her into the company’s Seattle retail store. “She’s not a bike enthusiast and hadn’t ridden in 15 years,” Cavens said. “But she got on one and thought it was really fun. When customers get exposed to this, the connection is immediate.” Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens at the GeekWire Awards in 2013. (GeekWire File Photo) Rapid innovation in technology — batteries, motors, controls, production capabilities for electric bikes — has created a perfect storm for Rad Power Bikes. The ubiquity of the transportation option is helping, too, with thousands of shareable electric bikes from companies such as LimeBike that are easily accessible and can lead customers to investigate owning their own. “We’ve just hit a perfect tipping point,” Radenbaugh said. The challenge for Rad Power Bikes is managing growth and inventory. The company, which has physical stores in Seattle, Vancouver B.C., and the Netherlands, plans to double its 100-person workforce and expand into more markets. It is also relocating its HQ and showroom across Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood to a significantly larger building . Vadon and Cavens, both longtime entrepreneurs and angel investors in Seattle, aren’t forming a fund together but both plan to continue participating in the local ecosystem. “I remember Mark telling me when we started Zulily that our most limited resource was time. How do we put our time to where our biggest opportunities are?” Cavens said. “Joining the board at Rad Power Bikes — this is worthy of a tremendous amount of time and has potential to become something really special based here in the Northwest.”