If you had asked Genies CEO Akash Nigam a year ago when he would start making money off his cartoon avatar business, he would have said probably not until 2023. But in the last year, Genies’ digital caricatures have popped up everywhere—from Scooter Braun’s Instagram account to DJ Khaled’s and attracted a star-studded list of investors from athletes Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving to musicians like 50 Cent. Suddenly brands like scooter company Bird were calling Nigam, five years ahead of his own revenue deadline, to pay to get Genies’ celebrity network to post videos of the digital avatars riding Birds on the day of its new scooter launch. Even Gucci partnered with Genies to let people style their avatars in Gucci-branded products from inside Genies' app. The lifelike avatars can then be exported and used in everything from iMessage to Instagram.
Pillar launches with $5.5M from Kleiner Perkins and others to tackle your student loan debt
A new startup aims to help you get your student loans under control. Today, an app called Pillar, backed by $5.5 million in seed funding led by Kleiner Perkins, is launching a simpler way for consumers to better understand their student loan debt — and even pay it off early. To do so, the app connects with your student loan servicer and bank, then makes personalized suggestions based on your loans, your income, and your spending. When it finds a way you can make a bigger dent in your overall student loan debt, it will send an alert to your smartphone. Pillar co-founder and CEO Michael Bloch, an early DoorDash employee, said he came up with the idea after his wife graduated from law school with around $300,000 worth of student loans.
Welkin Health Raises $17.5 Million in Series B Funding from Altos Ventures
Welkin Health, a patient relationship management software company, today announced $17.5 million in Series B funding led by Altos Ventures. Existing investors, Thrive Capital, Red Swan Ventures, and Asset Management Ventures also contributed to the round, which brings Welkin’s total funding to $30 million. Welkin’s patient relationship management software is designed to meet the unique patient care needs of its customers, which include medical device companies, payers, providers, and disease management service providers. The platform enables health care teams to work effectively and improve health outcomes. “Over the past two years, we’ve transformed how customers use our platform,” says Chase Hensel, CEO and co-founder of Welkin Health. “Our APIs and Workshop tool enable customers to launch quickly, to flexibly plug us into their tech stack, and to make changes to their care programs over time. We’re excited to work with Altos to continue our mission of helping health care organizations create meaningful patient relationships at scale.”
VC Henry McNamara: ‘The term direct-to-consumer is outdated’
Henry McNamara, a partner at Great Oaks Venture Capital, wants founders to throw out the DTC playbook. “A lot of people look at some of the digitally native brands that have scaled significantly over the last five years and think [they can take] a commodity product, and can throw influencer marketing into it and there’s not much more to it than that. That’s a pretty common belief,” McNamara said. In reality, McNamara and his team at Great Oaks, a seed fund that has invested in brands like Allbirds, Away, Dirty Lemon and Recess, are looking for differentiation, as well as scale. McNamara finds that product differentiation is the No. 1 influencing factor when it comes to deciding on a potential investment, along with consistent branding and a distribution strategy that relies on customer insight, not necessarily selling direct-to-consumer.
Petal Visa Card Now Earns up to 1.5% Cash Back on All Purchases
The Petal Visa® Credit Card — an alternative card for those with little or no credit — is blossoming into new territory: cash-back rewards. The new incentive, along with the card’s lack of fees and nontraditional underwriting, makes it something of a unicorn in the garden of plastic. Previously, the card offered no rewards. On May 14, 2019, Petal announced that the card’s rewards structure will work like this: You start by earning a flat rate of 1% cash back on everything. After six monthly on-time payments, your rewards rate bumps up to 1.25% cash back. The rate rises to 1.5% cash back when you make 12 monthly on-time payments.
Online Luggage Retailer Away Lands $1.4 Billion Valuation as It Plots Expansion
Away, a direct-to-consumer travel products business founded by alumni of eyewear specialist Warby Parker, has raised financing to help it expand beyond its roots in selling luggage. The New York-based company, formally called JRSK Inc., said it has raised $100 million at a $1.4 billion valuation. The investment was led by Wellington Management Co., with participation from Baillie Gifford, Lone Pine Capital and Global Founders Capital.
These hip, healthy TV dinners just might win over the Sweetgreen generation
TV dinners have always been frozen, but they’re about to get cool, too. Mosaic is a new startup shaking up the frozen meal industry with a line of healthy, vegetarian options that look more like what you would order at Sweetgreen than that Hungry-Man Salisbury Steak dinner lurking in your grandparents’ freezer. While meal kits like Blue Apron and Purple Carrot are convenient, they require spending your valuable free time peeling and chopping vegetables and then following the detailed instructions. And if you don’t have time to whip up whatever they’ve sent you that week, the ingredients spoil.
How Frozen Food Startup Mosaic Is Disrupting The Category With A DTC Subscription Service
Mosaic, a direct-to-consumer startup that takes a different approach to frozen, taking stock of the vertical’s untapped potential to provide consumers with meals cooked with care and delivered straight to their door. The just-launched brand offers consumers the chance to pick from all-inclusive meal bowls like Greek Jackfruit and Smoky Southwest to Tuscan Pesto, providing a variety of cuisines from around the world. PSFK had the chance to interview the founders, Sam McIntire and Matthew Davis, to find out about what led to the founding of the all-vegetarian brand, why going the DTC route enables them to better serve consumers and why they believe this is only the beginning of a new era for frozen.
Celeb-Loved Brand Allbirds Just Launched Flats So Comfortable, You’ll Never Want to Take Them Off
PEOPLE Magazine - By now, you’ve likely heard of sustainable footwear brand, Allbirds. Known for its popular Wool Runner sneakers — which are beloved among Hollywood stars including Mila Kunis, Hilary Duff, Amy Adams, and tons of other celebs — the brand has gained a cult-like following since it started in 2016 thanks to its insanely comfortable and sustainable styles. And there’s a new shoe member joining the popular footwear gang, an old-school ballet flat known as the Tree Breezers. The latest addition to the Allbirds family comes after its loyal customers begged the brand for a feminine silhouette they could wear all week long. With such a high demand, the Tree Breezers were born. The flats are just a step above casual, making them the perfect flats for work — and everything about these flats adds up to total comfort!
The Telemedicine Startup Closing the Gap in Women's Health Care
Cover Launches New Auto Insurance Service in Texas To Ease Driver Frustrations
Cover, the mobile-first insurance brokerage, today officially begins selling its own policies in Texas to address widespread frustration with insurance shopping felt by drivers in the state. In a recent survey, Cover found that five million drivers in Texas haven't shopped around for a better rate in over two years, even though Texans pay the 13th highest premiums in the U.S. The new service — an evolution from the company's nationally-licensed insurance brokerage — combines a streamlined process for buying policies, using smartphone technology such as camera and location services, with the ability to set fairer rates. These features are designed to alleviate common insurance shopping pain points for Texans. Survey data published by Cover shows that the vast majority of Texans (62%) are frustrated by auto insurance shopping, citing the time it takes to shop (29%) and doubts about the potential to find lower premiums (40%) as reasons they don't shop more often.
Blueshift announces $15M Series B to expand AI-fueled cross-channel marketing tool
Blueshift is a startup founded by tech industry veterans who saw first-hand how difficult cross-channel marketing was. They decided to launch a company and build a cross-channel marketing platform from the ground up that uses AI and machine learning to make sense of the growing amount of customer data. Today, the startup announced a $15 million Series B round to keep it going. The round was led by SoftBank Ventures Asia, a fund focused on AI startups like Blueshift . Previous investors Storm Ventures and Nexus Venture Partners also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $30 million, according to the company.