Startups

Last Week In Venture: Gender-Neutral Undies, Order Bots, ML Model Management, And Sofas As A Service

A warm hello to you! Welcome back to Last Week In Venture, a weekly highlight reel of startup funding deals which may have flown under your radar.

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Before we get to those, though, a bit about what the Crunchbase News crew covered this week. Oh gosh, so much. We also covered supergiant (>$100 million) venture capital rounds raised by the likes of plant protein powerhouse Impossible Foods, neighborly social networking site Nextdoor, Indian delivery startup Grofers, vacuum tube transporter Virgin Hyperloop One, travel planning platform GetYourGuide, and food delivery giant Deliveroo.

On the public side, we reflected on Uber’s lackluster IPO and why it might be misguided to compare it to the early trading days of Google and Facebook, which had historically humdrum public debuts of their own. The weather on the other side of the IPO window isn’t all dreary though. Chinese coffee brand Luckin Coffee and edge CDN provider Fastly priced their IPOs and subsequently popped on opening day. We rounded out public-market coverage with a retrospective on the ups and downs of recent unicorn IPOs.

Of course, this is just a portion of what we covered this week, which, in turn, is a tiny fraction of all that happened in the news. The thing is, there are companies outside the unicorn and public-market limelight, and we believe there are trends and lessons found in their stories.

So, let’s hear ‘em. Here are some of the other deals announced during the week that was in venture-land.

Sofas As A Service

The internet facilitates delivery of software as a service. Media companies are spinning up subscription services left and right. As long as you pay for it, it’s yours to use. But when you stop, it goes away. Applied to the physical world, you get something like rent-to-own furniture, which has been a thing for awhile. Feather is a New York-based company that offers contemporary, higher-end furniture on a subscription basis. The company raised $12.5 million in a Series A round led by Spark Capital. Prior seed investors Fuel Capital, Bain Capital Ventures, PJC, Kleiner Perkins, and Y Combinator followed on in the round, according to Crunchbase.

On its website, the company bills itself as “a sustainable alternative to fast furniture.” Its for people who move around a lot or don’t have the cash on hand to buy quality furniture up-front. I’m kind-of-sort-of in the market for something like this (but I don’t live in Feather’s current service area of NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Orange County) so I checked out the site.

If I wanted, say, a couch, I could get one delivered and assembled at my place. If I just wanted the couch, I might opt out of Feather’s $19/month membership fee (on top of the furniture cost); I’d end up paying more per month, and pay for the delivery, but that couch would be mine in seven months. If I wanted more furniture and joined as a member, I’d pay less and fully own the couch in two years. If I want to switch it out, it costs $100 for Feather to pick it up, buff out the scuffs, and send it out to someone else. If I’m moving and want rented furniture moved, Feather facilitates that transfer for $198.

Crunchbase News mentioned Feather in our analysis of furniture industry startups back in July 2018.

Other Interesting Deals

  • TomboyX is no regular merchant of undies. The Seattle-based company caters its wares (‘wears?) to folks who don’t want, or don’t identify with gendered or overtly sexual underwear which might not fit their bodies. Married pair Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzales co-founded TomboyX in 2013 to make apparell for “plus-sized, gender non-conforming and specialized tradespeople.” The company picked up $18 million in Series B funding from The Craftory, a London-based firm “focused exclusively on amplifying the world’s boldest challenger brands.” According to coverage in GeekWire, The Craftory is now TomboyX’s majority shareholder.
  • Machine learning isn’t magic; it’s math. Sourcing training data, extracting useful features, implementing a neural network, and ultimately generating a predictive model is a multi-step process. Algorithmia, also based in Seattle, is building infrastructure for the final step of the machine learning workflow: integrating a predictive model into a production code environment. Basically, what the company calls its “AI Layer” is a software environment that automatically produces a model-specific API the data scientist can call. Algorithmia’s integration system then handles containerization, deployment, and management using Docker and Kubernetes. Algorithmia raised $25 million in Series B funding led by Norwest Venture Partners. Google-backed Gradient Ventures, which led the company’s Series A round, was among the participants in this week’s deal.
  • In the world of AI-powered systems that integrate with restaurant menus and let folks order by phone—without human involvement on the part of restaurants—player two has entered the game. A few weeks ago in Last Week In Venture, we covered a $2 million seed round raised by Novo Labs. Well, this week, San Jose-based voice commerce company Kea did one (million) more. Kea raised $2.8 million in a seed round. The press release doesn’t designate a lead investor, but it says that Streamlined Ventures, Xfund, Deepcore, and several angel investors participated in the round. Breaking the fourth wall for a second: I’m familiar with both sides of this. My first job was in high school, taking phone orders at a pizza franchise owned by a family member. On the one hand, the job taught me how to listen and how to be nice on the phone, two skills I employ nearly every day. On the other hand, I was only seriously busy for a couple hours of my shift and spent the rest goofing off and sneaking food from the buffet. I was basically just a natural language parser and API manifest in human form, fueled by grifted pizza. I’m not exactly cheering on the replacement of humans with AI bots, but I can see the appeal for restaurants, many of which are having margins squeezed by rising food and labor costs.

And with that we’re done for the week! Have a great weekend. See you back ‘round these parts in a jiffy.

Image Credits: Last Week In Venture graphic created by JD Battles. Photo by Jakob Owens, via Unsplash.