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April 23, 2019
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Blueland launches with a suite of eco-friendly cleaning supplies designed to reduce plastic waste

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Sarah Paiji had the idea to launch the eco-friendly refillable cleaning supply retailer Blueland after hearing about the abundance of microplastics in the water she was using to dilute her child’s baby formula.

Paiji wanted to cut back on her plastic consumption, and reduce her contribution to the overabundance of plastic waste in the environment, but felt that as a consumer she didn’t have a choice. So the former venture capital investor from the consumer startup brand studio Launch set out to create one.

The answer she came up with is Blueland, a new line of cleaning products that launches today. Blueland’s cleaners — a bathroom cleaner, glass cleaner, and multi-purpose cleaner —  are sold as tablets that customers add to the cleaning containers the company provides.

“These cleaners are mostly water,” says Paiji. “I’m paying for a plastic bottle that I don’t really need and water which I have at home for free.”

By adding water to the company’s cleaning formulation in refillable containers the company sells, Blueland thinks its customers over time can eliminate the need for 100 billion single-use plastic bottles in the U.S.

Blueland cleaning products/Image courtesy of Blueland

To provide the initial marketing push and continue its product development and sales efforts, the company has raised $3 million in a new round of funding from Global Founders Capital, Comcast Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, BAM Ventures, along with individual investors like Justin Timberlake and the founder of the Los Angeles-based sustainable fast food chain, Sweetgreen, Nicholas Jammet; and sustainable online food retailer, Thrive Market, Nick Green.

After coming up with the idea Paiji had to find a manufacturer, who’d be willing to help reinvent an entire product category for a startup retailer.

Blueland also wasn’t Paiji’s first choice for a new startup idea. That would have been a botox bar that would sell cosmetic treatments to folks who wanted treatments, but didn’t want to pay high prices for them.

After putting the brakes on the botox business, Paiji reached out on LinkedIn to Syed Naqzi, the director of research and development at Method with her pitch for the cleaning product business.

With Naqzi on board, the company began filing patents for its unique process and the products it’s bringing to market, says Paiji. “Everything is proprietary everything is backed by patents,” she says.

While Paiji won’t disclose who the manufacturing partner is for the cleaning supplies, she did note that the company was in an adjacent consumables category to cleaners.

Within a year of reaching out to Naqzi last April, Paiji had a product supplier and the $3 million she needed to go to market.

Blueland refills/Image courtesy of Blueland

Joining Paiji and Naqzi in setting up the business was John Moscari, a fellow Harvard Business School classmate of Paiji’s who’d launched a company called Bundle Organics.

The company’s refills cost $2 and the initial cleanup kits clock in at $30. “With the refills it’s unequivocally cheaper than buying a full bottle on the market,” says Paiji.

The refills are 300 times lighter and 200 times smaller than traditional packaging for cleaning supplies and the company has plans to develop new products with similar packaging footprints across adjacent categories each quarter.

Just from a shipping perspective alone we cut out 90% because one to one we’re that much smaller,” says Paiji. 

Other, far larger, companies are thinking about their waste streams and end of life issues around their products — an issue which is becoming more important since China tightened the regulations around the scrap materials it would collect — and the amount of contamination those pallets of scrap could contain.

Last year, a coalition of major manufacturers of consumer packaged goods and foods formed Loop — an ambitious project to create zero-waste supply chains for their products with consumers who’d opt in.

Taking their cues from the milkman models of years long passed, companies like Procter & Gamble, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever, worked with the company TerraCycle to develop an updated version of the plan.

Consumers get refillable containers and as they use up the items, they can call a Loop pick up driver to take their containers away to be refilled or send them off at a UPS store.

Paiji argues that Blueland does something different — with lower carbon emissions coming from the process and a greater impact on reuse.

“We’ve completely invented a new form factor for this,” she says. “And we’re providing a more convenient way for people to reuse and refill.”

Blueland box/Image courtesy of Blueland

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Kindbody raises $15M, will open a ‘Fertility Bus’ with mobile testing & assessments

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Kindbody, a startup that lures millennial women into its pop-up fertility clinics with feminist messaging and attractive branding, has raised a $15 million Series A in a round co-led by RRE Ventures and Perceptive Advisors.

The New York-based company was founded last year by Gina Bartasi, a fertility industry vet who previously launched Progyny, a fertility benefit solution for employers, and FertilityAuthority.com, an information platform and social network for people struggling with fertility.

“We want to increase accessibility,” Bartasi told TechCrunch. “For too long, IVF and fertility treatments were for the 1 percent. We want to make fertility treatment affordable and accessible and available to all regardless of ethnicity and social economic status.”

Kindbody operates a fleet of vans — mobile clinics, rather — where women receive a free blood test for the anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), which helps assess their ovarian egg reserve but cannot conclusively determine a woman’s fertility. Depending on the results of the test, Kindbody advises women to visit its brick-and-mortar clinic in Manhattan, where they can receive a full fertility assessment for $250. Ultimately, the mobile clinics serve as a marketing strategy for Kindbody’s core service: egg freezing.

Kindbody charges patients $6,000 per egg-freezing cycle, a price that doesn’t include the cost of necessary medications but is still significantly less than market averages.

Bartasi said the mobile clinics have been “wildly popular,” attracting hoards of women to its brick-and-mortar clinic. As a result, Kindbody plans to launch a “fertility bus” this spring, where the company will conduct full fertility assessments, including the test for AMH, a pelvic ultrasound and a full consultation with a fertility specialist.

In other words, Kindbody will offer all components of the egg-freezing process on a bus aside from the actual retrieval, which occurs in Kindbody’s lab. The bus will travel around New York City before heading west to San Francisco, where it plans to park on the campuses of large employers, catering to tech employees curious about their fertility.

“Our mission at Kindbody is to bring care directly to the patient instead of asking the patient to come to visit us and inconvenience them,” Bartasi said.

A sneak peek of Kindbody’s “fertility bus,” which is still in the works

Kindbody, which has raised $22 million to date from Green D Ventures, Trailmix Ventures, Winklevoss Capital, Chelsea Clinton, Clover Health co-founder Vivek Garipalli and others, also provides women support getting pregnant with in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI). 

With the latest investment, Kindbody will open a second brick-and-mortar clinic in Manhattan and its first permanent clinic in San Francisco. Additionally, Bartasi says they are in the process of closing an acquisition in Los Angeles that will result in Kindbody’s first permanent clinic in the city. Soon, the company will expand to include mental health, nutrition and gynecological services.

In an interview with The Verge last year, Bartasi said she’s taken inspiration from SoulCycle and DryBar, companies whose millennial-focused branding strategies and prolific social media presences have helped them accumulate customers. Kindbody, in that vein, notifies its followers of new pop-up clinics through its Instagram page.

In the article, The Verge called Kindbody “the SoulCycle of fertility” and questioned its branding strategy and its claim that egg freezing “freezes time.” After all, there is limited research confirming the efficacy of egg freezing.

“The technology that allows for egg-freezing has only been widely used in the last five to six years,” Bartasi explained. “The majority of women who froze their eggs haven’t used them yet. It’s not like you freeze your eggs in February and meet Mr. Right in June.”

Though Kindbody touts a mission of providing fertility treatments to the 99 percent, there’s no getting around the sky-high costs of the services, and one might argue that companies like Kindbody are capitalizing off women’s fear of infertility. Providing free AMH tests, which often falsely lead women to believe they aren’t as fertile as they’d hoped, might encourage more women to seek a full-fertility assessment and ultimately, to pay $6,000 to freeze their eggs, when in reality they are just as fertile as the average woman and not the ideal candidate for the difficult and uncomfortable process.

Bartasi said Kindbody makes all the options clear to its patients. She added that when she does hear accusations that services like Kindbody capitalize on fear of infertility, they tend to come from legacy programs and male fertility doctors: “They are a little rattled by some of the new entrants that look like the patients,” she said. “We are women designing for women. For far too long women’s health has been solved for by men.”

Kindbody’s pricing scheme may itself instill fear in incumbent fertility clinics. The startup’s egg-freezing services are much cheaper than market averages; its IVF services, however, are not. Not including the costs of medications necessary to successfully harvest eggs from the ovaries, the average cost of an egg-freezing procedure costs approximately $10,000, compared to Kindbody’s $6,000. Its IVF services are on par with other options in the market, costing $10,000 to $12,000 — not including medications — for one cycle of IVF.

Kindbody is able to charge less for egg freezing because they’ve cut out operational inefficiencies, i.e. they are a tech-enabled platform while many fertility clinics around the U.S. are still handing out hoards of paperwork and using fax machines. Bartasi admits, however, that this means Kindbody is making less money per patient than some of these legacy clinics.

“What is a reasonable profit margin for fertility doctors today?” Bartasi said. “Historically, margins have been very, very high, driven by a high retail price. But are these really high retail prices sustainable long term? If you’re charging 22,000 for IVF, how long is that sustainable? Our profit margins are healthy.”

Bartasi isn’t the only entrepreneur to catch on to the opportunity here, as I’ve noted. A whole bunch of women’s health startups have launched and secured funding recently.

Tia, for example, opened a clinic and launched an app that provides health advice and period tracking for women. Extend Fertility, which like Kindbody, helps women preserve their fertility through egg freezing, banked a $15 million round. And a startup called NextGen Jane, which is trying to detect endometriosis with “smart tampons,” announced a $9 million Series A a few weeks ago.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The team behind Baidu’s first smart speaker is now using AI to make films

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The HBO sci-fi blockbuster Westworld has been an inspiring look into what humanlike robots can do for us in the meatspace. While current technologies are not quite advanced enough to make Westworld a reality, startups are attempting to replicate the sort of human-robot interaction it presents in virtual space.

Rct studio, which just graduated from Y Combinator and ranked among TechCrunch’s nine favorite picks from the batch, is one of them. The “Westworld” in the TV series, a far-future theme park staffed by highly convincing androids, lets visitors live out their heroic and sadistic fantasies free of consequences.

There are a few reasons why rct studio, which is keeping mum about the meaning of its deliberately lower-cased name for later revelation, is going for the computer-generated world. Besides the technical challenge, playing a fictional universe out virtually does away the geographic constraint. The Westworld experience, in contrast, happens within a confined, meticulously built park.

“Westworld is built in a physical world. I think in this age and time, that’s not what we want to get into,” Xinjie Ma, who heads up marketing for rct, told TechCrunch. “Doing it in the physical environment is too hard, but we can build a virtual world that’s completely under control.”

Rct studio wants to build the Westworld experience in virtual worlds. / Image: rct studio

The startup appears suitable to undertake the task. The eight-people team is led by Cheng Lyu, the 29-year-old entrepreneur who goes by Jesse and helped Baidu build up its smart speaker unit from scratch after the Chinese search giant acquired his voice startup Raven in 2017. Along with several of Raven’s core members, Lyu left Baidu in 2018 to start rct.

“We appreciate a lot the support and opportunities given by Baidu and during the years we have grown up dramatically,” said Ma, who previously oversaw marketing at Raven.

Let AI write the script

Immersive films, or games, depending on how one wants to classify the emerging field, are already available with pre-written scripts for users to pick from. Rct wants to take the experience to the next level by recruiting artificial intelligence for screenwriting.

At the center of the project is the company’s proprietary engine, Morpheus. Rct feeds it mountains of data based on human-written storylines so the characters it powers know how to adapt to situations in real time. When the codes are sophisticated enough, rct hopes the engine can self-learn and formulate its own ideas.

“It takes an enormous amount of time and effort for humans to come up with a story logic. With machines, we can quickly produce an infinite number of narrative choices,” said Ma.

To venture through rct’s immersive worlds, users wear a virtual reality headset and control their simulated self via voice. The choice of audio came as a natural step given the team’s experience with natural language processing, but the startup also welcomes the chance to develop new devices for more lifelike journeys.

“It’s sort of like how the film Ready Player One built its own gadgets for the virtual world. Or Apple, which designs its own devices to carry out superior software experience,” explained Ma.

On the creative front, rct believes Morpheus could be a productivity tool for filmmakers as it can take a story arc and dissect it into a decision-making tree within seconds. The engine can also render text to 3D images, so when a filmmaker inputs the text “the man throws the cup to the desk behind the sofa,” the computer can instantly produce the corresponding animation.

Path to monetization

Investors are buying into rct’s offering. The startup is about to close its Series A funding round just months after banking seed money from Y Combinator and Chinese venture capital firm Skysaga, the startup told TechCrunch.

The company has a few imminent tasks before achieving its Westworld dream. For one, it needs a lot of technical talent to train Morpheus with screenplay data. No one on the team had experience in filmmaking, so it’s on the lookout for a creative head who appreciates AI’s application in films.

rct studio

Rct studio’s software takes a story arc and dissects it into a decision-making tree within seconds. / Image: rct studio

“Not all filmmakers we approach like what we do, which is understandable because it’s a very mature industry, while others get excited about tech’s possibility,” said Ma.

The startup’s entry into the fictional world was less about a passion for films than an imperative to shake up a traditional space with AI. Smart speakers were its first foray, but making changes to tangible objects that people are already accustomed to proved challenging. There has been some interest in voice-controlled speakers, but they are far from achieving ubiquity. Then movies crossed the team’s mind.

“There are two main routes to make use of AI. One is to target a vertical sector, like cars and speakers, but these things have physical constraints. The other application, like Alpha Go, largely exists in the lab. We wanted something that’s both free of physical limitation and holds commercial potential.”

The Beijing and Los Angeles-based startup isn’t content with just making the software. Eventually, it wants to release its own films. The company has inked a long-term partnership with Future Affairs Administration, a Chinese sci-fi publisher representing about 200 writers, including the Hugo award-winning Cixin Liu. The pair is expected to start co-producing interactive films within a year.

Rct’s path is reminiscent of a giant that precedes it: Pixar Animation Studios . The Chinese company didn’t exactly look to the California-based studio for inspiration, but the analog was a useful shortcut to pitch to investors.

“A confident company doesn’t really draw parallels with others, but we do share similarities to Pixar, which also started as a tech company, publishes its own films, and has built its own engine,” said Ma. “A lot of studios are asking how much we price our engine at, but we are targeting the consumer market. Making our own films carry so many more possibilities than simply selling a piece of software.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Tesla Model Y orders are now open

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Customers can already place an order for the Tesla Model Y, a mid-sized crossover SUV that won’t go into production until 2020.

Tesla requires a $2,500 deposit to complete the order for the all-electric vehicle, according to information posted on its website. A disclaimer on the order form states that “production is expected to begin late next year.” Under that timeline, deliveries wouldn’t begin until late 2020 or possibly early 2021.

There are other clues on the order page, including that the seven-seat interior won’t be available until 2021. The Model Y will come standard as a five seater.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Model Y on Thursday night at the Tesla Design Studio in Los Angeles. During the presentation, Musk didn’t mention that customers could order the Model Y. That’s a departure from previous events, notably the Model 3 reveal in March 2016, which prompted thousands of people to put down $1,000 deposits.

The Model Y bears a striking resemblance to Model 3, and for good reason. The Model Y shares about 75 percent of the same parts as the Model 3.

The vehicle, which will come in a standard, long range, dual-motor all-wheel and performance variants, is larger than the Model 3, allowing it to accommodate seven people (for those who opt to pay the $3,000 up charge). The order page of the Model Y shows that it comes standard as a 5-seater. To get the 7-seater configuration, customers have to pay an additional $3,000.

The Model Y also sits higher than the Model 3, a distinction that is more obvious once you’re sitting inside. One of the most distinguishing differences is the Model Y has a panoramic roof.

The standard range version will start $39,000 and have 230 mile range. However, Tesla will first produce the performance, dual-motor and long range versions. Customers who want the standard range version of the Model Y will have to wait until at least spring 2021. The performance and dual motor variants will be able to travel 280 miles on a single charge, while the long-range version will, as it sounds, have the longest range at 300 miles.

All of the variants are designed to have the same kind of performance as its smaller sibling. The performance version of the Model Y will be able to travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 150 mph.

But that kind of performance comes at a higher price. The performance version will start at $60,000. The dual motor variant will start at $51,000 and the base price of the long-range version will be $47,000.

News Source = techcrunch.com

How to watch Elon Musk unveil the Tesla Model Y

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Tesla is scheduled to reveal the Model Y — the next electric vehicle in electric automaker’s lineup — tonight at an event in Los Angeles after, not months, but years of teasers and hints from CEO Elon Musk .

Tesla will live stream the Model Y unveiling event at 8 pm PT via its website. However, folks who want to watch the event should head over to the site (https://www.tesla.com/modely) prior to the 8 pm start time. There is a registration process. Once completed, a new page pops up with the message “Thank you for registering. We will send you an invite in the hours leading up to the event.”

TechCrunch will be at the event to hunt for other interesting tidbits about the Model Y as well as possibly get a ride in the compact SUV. Stay tuned.

What to expect

Details about the compact SUV are scant, although Musk has provided some information leading up to the March 14 Tesla Model Y event.

The Model Y is expected to be 10 percent bigger than the Model 3 and cost 10 percent more, according to Musk. It will have the same battery as the Model 3, but its beefier profile will mean “slightly less” range than the Model 3.

Tonight’s event should answer many, but not all questions. Expect more information on the vehicle specs such as range and performance, two favorite go-tos for Musk. Price could be revealed as well. Those kinds of splashy data points can create buzz and attention. But TechCrunch is more interested in the how, than the what.

What we’ll be watching for is any information about where the Model Y will be produced, a production timeline, and what manufacturing strategy the company plans to pursue. TechCrunch will also be paying attention to how Tesla handles reservations for the Model Y.

Some of Tesla’s biggest problems stem from how it builds its electric vehicles. The company emphasized highly automated systems and then backed away from that approach. (Remember the tent?)

Why it matters

Model 3 has long been considered Tesla’s most important car. And it still is. Without continued sales of the Model 3, Tesla will lack the necessary capital to produce the Model Y.

Meanwhile, the Model Y, if Tesla can apply all of the lessons it learned from its troubles with the Model 3 production, could be a smash hit for the automaker. More importantly, Musk is counting on the Model Y to hit the company’s goal of delivering 1 million cars by 2020.

Americans are still lusting after SUVs, particularly smaller ones,  and it’s an appetite that has grown beyond U.S. borders and into other important markets such as China.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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