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March 23, 2019
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It’s a new era for fertility tech

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Women’s health has long been devoid of technological innovation, but when it comes to fertility options, that’s starting to change. Startups in the space are securing hundreds of millions in venture capital investment, a significant increase to the dearth of funding collected in previous years.

Fertility entrepreneurs are focused on a growing market: couples are choosing to reproduce later in life, an increasing number of female breadwinners are able to make their own decisions about when and how to reproduce, and overall, around 10% of women in the US today have trouble conceiving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Startups, as a result, are working to improve various pain points in a women’s fertility journey, whether that be with new-age brick-and-mortar clinics, information platforms, mobile applications, wearables, direct-to-consumer medical tests or otherwise.

Although the investment numbers are still relatively small (compared to, say, scooters), the trend is up — here’s the latest from founders and investors in the space.

VCs want to help you get pregnant

Clue, a period and ovulation-tracking app, co-founder and CEO Ida Tin talks at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2017 (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

This fall, TechCrunch received a tip that SoftBank, a prolific venture capital firm known for its nearly $100 billion Vision Fund, was investing in Glow, a period-tracking app meant to help women get pregnant. Max Levchin, Glow’s co-founder and a well-known member of the PayPal mafia, succinctly responded to a TechCrunch inquiry regarding the deal via e-mail: “Fairly sure you got this particular story wrong,” he wrote. Glow co-founder and chief executive officer Mike Huang did not respond to multiple requests for comment at the time.

Needless to say, some semblance of a SoftBank fertility deal got this reporter interested in a space that seldom populates tech blogs.

Femtech, a term coined by Ida Tin, the founder of another period and ovulation-tracking app Clue, is defined as any software, diagnostics, products and services that leverage technology to improve women’s health. Femtech, and more specifically the businesses in the fertility and contraception lanes, hasn’t made headlines as often as AI or blockchain technology has, for example. Probably because companies in the sector haven’t closed as many notable venture deals. That’s changing.

The global fertility services market is expected to exceed $21 billion by 2020, according to Technavio. Meanwhile, private investment in the femtech space surpassed $400 million in 2018 after reaching a high of $354 million the previous year, per data collected from PitchBook and Crunchbase. This year already several companies have inked venture deals, including men’s fertility business Dadi and Extend Fertility, which helps women freeze their eggs.

“In the last three to six months, it feels like investor interest has gone through the roof,” Jake Anderson-Bialis, co-founder of FertilityIQ and a former investor at Sequoia Capital, told TechCrunch. “It’s three to four emails a day; people are coming out of the woodwork. It feels like somebody shook the snow globe here and it just hasn’t stopped for months now.”

Dadi, Extend Fertility and FertilityIQ are among a growing list of startups in the fertility space to crop up in recent years. FertilityIQ, for its part, provides a digital platform for fertility patients to research and review doctors and clinics. The company also collects data and issues reports, like this one, which ranked businesses by fertility benefits. Anderson-Bialis launched the platform with his wife, co-founder Deborah Anderson-Bialis, in 2016 after the pair overcame their own set of infertility issues.

Anderson-Bialis said he has recently fielded requests from seed, Series A and growth-stage investors interested in exploring the growing fertility market. His company, however, has yet to raise any outside capital. Why? He doesn’t see FertilityIQ as a venture-scale business, but rather a passion project, and he’s skeptical of the true market opportunity for other businesses in the space.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Sequoia-backed Medallia raises $70M at a $2.4B valuation

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Customer experience management platform Medallia has filed to raise up to $70 million in Series F funding, according to regulatory documents obtained by the Prime Unicorn Index. The new shares were priced at $15 apiece, valuing the nearly two-decades-old business at $2.4 billion.

Medallia confirmed the funding. A previous version of this report pinpointed Medallia’s valuation at $1.7 billion.

Medallia is expected to finally transition to the public markets in 2019, a year chock-full of high-profile unicorn IPOs. The downsized round, which is less than half of its Series E funding, will likely be Medallia’s final infusion of private investment.

San Mateo-headquartered Medallia, led by newly appointed chief executive officer Leslie Stretch, operates a platform meant to help businesses better provide for their customers. Its core product, the Medallia Experience Cloud, provides employees real-time data on customers collected from online review sites and social media. The service leverages that data to provide insights and tools to improve customer experiences.

Leslie Stretch, president and CEO of Medallia (PRNewsfoto/Medallia)

According to PitchBook, Medallia boasts a particularly clean cap table, especially for a roughly 18-year-old business. It’s backed by four venture capital firms: Sequoia Capital, Saints Capital, TriplePoint Venture Growth and Grotmol Solutions, the latter which invested a small amount of capital in 2010. Medallia has raised a total of $268 million in equity funding, including a $150 million round in 2015 that valued the company at $1.25 billion.

Prior to hiring Stretch to lead the company to IPO, Medallia co-founder Borge Hald ran the company as CEO since its 2001 launch. Hald is now executive chairman and chief strategy officer.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Startups Weekly: Flexport, Clutter and SoftBank’s blood money

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The Wall Street Journal published a thought-provoking story this week, highlighting limited partners’ concerns with the SoftBank Vision Fund’s investment strategy. The fund’s “decision-making process is chaotic,” it’s over-paying for equity in top tech startups and it’s encouraging inflated valuations, sources told the WSJ.

The report emerged during a particularly busy time for the Vision Fund, which this week led two notable VC deals in Clutter and Flexport, as well as participated in DoorDash’s $400 million round; more on all those below. So given all this SoftBank news, let us remind you that given its $45 billion commitment, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the Vision Fund’s largest investor. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the planned killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Here’s what I’m wondering this week: Do CEOs of companies like Flexport and Clutter have a responsibility to address the source of their capital? Should they be more transparent to their customers about whose money they are spending to achieve rapid scale? Send me your thoughts. And thanks to those who wrote me last week re: At what point is a Y Combinator cohort too big? The general consensus was this: the size of the cohort is irrelevant, all that matters is the quality. We’ll have more to say on quality soon enough, as YC demo days begin on March 18.

Anyways…

Surprise! Sort of. Not really. Pinterest has joined a growing list of tech unicorns planning to go public in 2019. The visual search engine filed confidentially to go public on Thursday. Reports indicate the business will float at a $12 billion valuation by June. Pinterest’s key backers — which will make lots of money when it goes public — include Bessemer Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Fidelity and SV Angel.

Ride-hailing company Lyft plans to go public on the Nasdaq in March, likely beating rival Uber to the milestone. Lyft’s S-1 will be made public as soon as next week; its roadshow will begin the week of March 18. The nuts and bolts: JPMorgan Chase has been hired to lead the offering; Lyft was last valued at more than $15 billion, while competitor Uber is valued north of $100 billion.

Despite scrutiny for subsidizing its drivers’ wages with customer tips, venture capitalists plowed another $400 million into food delivery platform DoorDash at a whopping $7.1 billion valuation, up considerably from a previous valuation of $3.75 billion. The round, led by Temasek and Dragoneer Investment Group, with participation from previous investors SoftBank Vision Fund, DST Global, Coatue Management, GIC, Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator, will help DoorDash compete with Uber Eats. The company is currently seeing 325 percent growth, year-over-year.

Here are some more details on those big Vision Fund Deals: Clutter, an LA-based on-demand storage startup, closed a $200 million SoftBank-led round this week at a valuation between $400 million and $500 million, according to TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden’s reporting. Meanwhile, Flexport, a five-year-old, San Francisco-based full-service air and ocean freight forwarder, raised $1 billion in fresh funding led by the SoftBank Vision Fund at a $3.2 billion valuation. Earlier backers of the company, including Founders Fund, DST Global, Cherubic Ventures, Susa Ventures and SF Express all participated in the round.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Menlo Ventures has a new $500 million late-stage fund. Dubbed its “inflection” fund, it will be investing between $20 million and $40 million in companies that are seeing at least $5 million in annual recurring revenue, growth of 100 percent year-over-year, early signs of retention and are operating in areas like cloud infrastructure, fintech, marketplaces, mobility and SaaS. Plus, Allianz X, the venture capital arm attached to German insurance giant Allianz, has increased the size of its fund to $1.1 billion and London’s Entrepreneur First brought in $115 million for what is one of the largest “pre-seed” funds ever raised.

Flipkart co-founder invests $92M in Ola
Redis Labs raises a $60M Series E round
Chinese startup Panda Selected nabs $50M from Tiger Global
Image recognition startup ViSenze raises $20M Series C
Circle raises $20M Series B to help even more parents limit screen time
Showfields announces $9M seed funding for a flexible approach to brick-and-mortar retail
Podcasting startup WaitWhat raises $4.3M
Zoba raises $3M to help mobility companies predict demand

Indian delivery men working with the food delivery apps Uber Eats and Swiggy wait to pick up an order outside a restaurant in Mumbai. ( INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Indian media reports, Uber is in the final stages of selling its Indian food delivery business to local player Swiggy, a food delivery service that recently raised $1 billion in venture capital funding. Uber Eats plans to sell its Indian food delivery unit in exchange for a 10 percent share of Swiggy’s business. Swiggy was most recently said to be valued at $3.3 billion following that billion-dollar round, which was led by Naspers and included new backers Tencent and Uber investor Coatue.

Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, is the latest venture-backed business to enter the unicorn club with the close of a $300 million Series D round this week. The latest round is split into two, with Hillhouse Capital leading the “D1” tranche and Sequoia China heading up the “D2” portion. New backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital, Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures also participated.

Longtime investor Keith Rabois is joining Founders Fund as a general partner. Here’s more from TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos: “The move is wholly unsurprising in ways, though the timing seems to suggest that another big fund from Founders Fund is around the corner, as the firm is also bringing aboard a new principal at the same time — Delian Asparouhov — and firms tend to bulk up as they’re meeting with investors. It’s also kind of time, as these things go. Founders Fund closed its last flagship fund with $1.3 billion in 2016.”

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I discuss Pinterest’s IPO, DoorDash’s big round and SoftBank’s upset LPs.

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News Source = techcrunch.com

Aurora cofounder and CEO Chris Urmson on the company’s new investor, Amazon, and much more

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You might not think of self-driving technologies and politics having much in common, but at least in one way, they overlap meaningfully: yesterday’s enemy can be tomorrow’s ally.

Such was the message we gleaned Thursday night, at a small industry event in San Francisco, where we had the chance to sit down with Chris Urmson, the cofounder and CEO of Aurora, a company that (among many others) is endeavoring to make self-driving technologies a safer and more widely adopted alternative to human drivers.

It was a big day for Urmson. Earlier the same day, his two-year-old company announced a whopping $530 million in Series B funding, a round that was led by top firm Sequoia Capital and that included “significant investment” from T. Rowe Price and Amazon.

The financing for Aurora — which is building what it calls a “driver” technology that it expects to eventually integrate into cars built by Volkswagen, Hyundai, and China’s Byton, among others —  is highly notable, even in a sea of giant fundings. Not only does it represent Sequoia’s biggest bet yet on any kind of self-driving technology, it’s also an “incredible endorsement” from T. Rowe Price, said Urmson Thursday night, suggesting it demonstrates that the money management giant “thinks long term and strategically [that] we’re the independent option to self-driving cars.”

Even more telling, perhaps, is the participation of Amazon, which is in constant competition to be the world’s most valuable company, and whose involvement could lead to variety of scenarios down the road, from Aurora powering delivery fleets overseen by Amazon, to Amazon acquiring Aurora outright. Amazon has already begun marketing more aggressively to global car companies and Tier 1 suppliers that are focused on building connected products, saying its AWS platform can help them speed their pace of innovation and lower their cost structures. In November, it also debuted a global, autonomous racing league for 1/18th scale, radio-controlled, self-driving four-wheeled race cars that are designed to help developers learn about reinforcement learning, a type of machine learning. Imagine what it could learn from Aurora.

Indeed, at the event, Urmson said that as Aurora had “constructed our funding round, [we were] very much thinking strategically about how to be successful in our mission of building a driver. And one thing that a driver can do is move people, but it can also move goods. And it’s harder to think of a company where moving goods is more important than Amazon.” Added Urmson, “Having the opportunity to have them partner with us in this funding round, and [talk about] what we might build in the future is awesome.” (Aurora’s site also now features language about “transforming the way people and goods move.”)

The interest of Amazon, T. Rowe, Sequoia and Aurora’s other backers isn’t surprising. Urmson was the formal technical lead of Google’s self-driving car program (now Waymo) . One of his cofounders, Drew Bagnell, is a machine learning expert who still teaches at Carnegie Mellon and was formerly the head of Uber’s autonomy and perception team. Aurora’s third cofounder is Sterling Anderson, the former program manager of Tesla’s Autopilot team.

Aurora’s big round seemingly spooked Tesla investors, in fact, with shares in the electric car maker dropping as a media outlets reported on the details. The development seems like just the type of possibility that had Tesla CEO Elon Musk unsettled when Aurora got off the ground a couple of years ago, and Tesla almost immediately filed a lawsuit against it, accusing Urmson and Anderson of trying poach at least a dozen Tesla engineers and accusing Anderson of taking confidential information and destroying the  evidence “in an effort to cover his tracks.”

That suit was dropped two and a half weeks later in a settlement that saw Aurora pay $100,000. Anderson said at the time the amount was meant to cover the cost of an independent auditor to scour Aurora’s systems for confidential Tesla information. Urmson reiterated on Thursday night that it was purely an “economic decision” meant to keep Aurora from getting further embroiled in an expansive spat.

But Urmson, who has previously called the lawsuit “classy,” didn’t take the bait on Thursday when asked about Musk, including whether he has talked in the last two years with Musk (no), and whether Aurora might need Tesla in the future (possibly). Instead of lord Aurora’s momentum over the company, Urmson said that Aurora and Tesla “got off on the wrong foot.” Laughing a bit, he went on to lavish some praise on the self-driving technology that lives inside Tesla cars, adding that “if there’s an opportunity to work them in the future, that’d be great.”

Aurora, which is also competing for now against the likes of Uber, also sees Uber as a potential partner down the line, said Urmson. Asked about the company’s costly self-driving efforts, whose scale has been drastically downsized in the eleven months since one of its vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, Urmson noted simply that Aurora is “in the business of delivering the driver, and Uber needs a lot of drivers, so we think it would be wonder to partner with them, to partner with Lyft, to partner [with companies with similar ambitions] globally. We see those companies as partners in the future.”

He’d added when asked for more specifics that there’s “nothing to talk about right now.”

Before Thursday’s event, Aurora had sent us some more detailed information about the four divisions that currently employ the 200 people that make up the company, a number that will obviously expand with its new round, as will the testing it’s doing, both on California roads and in Pittsburgh, where it also has a sizable presence. We didn’t have a chance to run them during our conversation with Urmson, but we thought they were interesting and that you might think so, too.

Below, for example, is the “hub” of the Aurora Driver. This is the computer system that powers, coordinates and fuses signals from all of the vehicle’s sensors, executes the software and controls the vehicle. Aurora says it’s designing the Aurora Driver to seamlessly integrate with a wide variety of vehicle platforms from different makes, models and classes with the goal of delivering the benefits of its technology broadly.

Below is a visual representation of Aurora’s perception system, which the company says is able to understand complex urban environments where vehicles need to safely navigate amid many moving objects, including bikes, scooters, pedestrians, and cars.

It didn’t imagine it would at the outset, but Aurora is building its own mapping system to ensure what it (naturally) calls the highest level of precision and scalability, so vehicles powered by the company can understand where they are and update the maps as the world changes.

We asked Urmson if, when the tech is finally ready to go into cars, they will white-label the technology or else use Aurora’s brand as a selling point. He said the matter hasn’t been decided yet but seemed to suggest that Aurora is leaning in the latter direction. He also said the technology would be installed on the carmakers’ factory floors (with Aurora’s help).

One of the ways that Aurora says it’s able to efficiently develop a robust “driver” is to build its own simulation system. It uses its simulator to test its software with different scenarios that vehicles encounter on the road, which it says enables repeatable testing that’s impossible to achieve by just driving more miles.

Aurora’s motion planning team works closely with the perception team to create a system that both detects the important objects on and around the road, and tries to accurately predict how they will move in the future. The ability to capture, understand, and predict the motion of other objects is critical if the tech is going to navigate real world scenarios in dense urban environments, and Urmson has said in the past that Aurora has crafted its related workflow in a way that’s superior to competitors that send the technology back and forth.

Specifically, he told The Atlantic last year: “The classic way you engineer a system like this is that you have a team working on perception. They go out and make it as good as they can and they get to a plateau and hand it off to the motion-planning people. And they write the thing that figures out where to stop or how to change a lane and it deals with all the noise that’s in the perception system because it’s not seeing the world perfectly. It has errors. Maybe it thinks it’s moving a little faster or slower than it is. Maybe every once in a while it generates a false positive. The motion-planning system has to respond to that.

“So the motion-planning people are lagging behind the perception people, but they get it all dialed in and it’s working well enough—as well as it can with that level of perception—and then the perception people say, ‘Oh, but we’ve got a new push [of code].’ Then the motion-planning people are behind the eight ball again, and their system is breaking when it shouldn’t.”

We also asked Urmson about Google, whose self-driving unit was renamed Waymo as it spun out from the Alphabet umbrella as its own company. He was highly diplomatic, saying only good things about the company and, when asked if they’d ever challenged him on anything since leaving, answering that they had not.

Still, he told as one of the biggest advantage that Aurora enjoys is that it was able to use the learnings of its three founders and to start from scratch, whereas the big companies from which each has come cannot completely start over.

As he told TechCrunch in a separate interview last year when asked how Aurora tests its technology, then it comes to self-driving tech, size matters less than one might imagine. “There’s this really easy metric that everyone is using, which is number of miles driven, and it’s one of those things that was really convenient for me in my old place [Google] because we’re out there and we were doing a hell of a lot more than anybody else was at the time, and so it was an easy number to talk about. What’s lost in that, though, is it’s not really the volume of the miles that you drive.” It’s about the quality of the data, he’d continued, suggesting that, for now, at least, Aurora’s is hard to beat.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Spotify, eBay set standard for fertility benefits, study finds

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The technology sector awards women and same-sex couples the most comprehensive fertility benefit packages, according to a survey by FertilityIQ, an online platform for fertility patients to review doctors and research treatments.

The company asked 30,000 in vitro fertilisation (IVF) patients across industries about their employers’ — or their spouse’s employer’s’ — 2019 fertility treatment policy, and allocated points based on their support for IVF procedures and egg freezing, among other services.

Silicon Valley semiconductor business Analog Devices and eBay led the ranking. The two companies offer employees unlimited IVF cycles with no pre-authorization requirement, meaning employees do not need permission from insurance providers before seeking certain medical services. Pre-authorization has historically impacted lesbian, gay or unpartnered employees from accessing care quickly or at all, FertilityIQ co-founder Jake Anderson explained

Spotify, Adobe, Lyft, Facebook and Pinterest were amongst the highest-ranked technology businesses, too.

“I think a lot of people see the tech sector as being unenlightened when it comes to family values but it’s still the sector that makes the fertility benefits the most widely acceptable,” Anderson, a former consumer internet investor at Sequoia Capital, told TechCrunch.

FertilityIQ’s fertility benefits survey results.

Despite an initial outpouring of skepticism, Facebook and Apple became leaders in the fertility benefit category when they began paying for their female employees to freeze their eggs in 2014. Since then, smaller firms have opted to beef up those benefits to stay competitive with their much larger and richer counterparts.

“The Lyfts, the Airbnbs and the Ubers of the world, who clearly need to compete for those companies for talent, have effectively matched those companies dollar-for-dollar despite a much smaller war-chest,” Anderson said. “These companies that are worth 1/1000th of these bigger companies are effectively going toe-to-toe to offer whatever women need.”

Anderson and his wife, FertilityIQ co-founder Deborah Anderson, noticed improved benefits in 2018 from companies implicated by the #MeToo movement, such as Vice Media, Under Armour and Uber.

“Silicon Valley is notorious for talent moving around on you but it’s probably not coincidental that some of the companies that were in the spotlight in the #MeToo movement have added really generous benefits,” Deborah Anderson told TechCrunch.

Uber, for example, now pays for its employees to complete two IVF cycles but still requires pre-authorization.

One in 7 Americans struggle with infertility and the rate of IVF procedures only continues to increase, with the latest data indicating a 15 percent year-over-year growth rate. IVF costs roughly $22,000 per cycle, per FertilityIQ’s survey, a cost which has similarly increased 15 percent since 2015.

That’s a whole lot of cash for a fertility patient to dole out. If companies foot the bill, they’ll have a better shot at retaining talent.

“Best we can tell, there is no question that employees that get this benefit and use it are more loyal and more likely to stick around,” Jake Anderson said. “The company that helps you build your family is the company that you remain committed to.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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