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MonetaGo switches to R3’s Corda from Hyperledger

MonetaGo is leaving Hyperledger Fabric and porting its fraud mitigation network to Corda Enterprise, R3’s commercial distribution of its open source blockchain platform, Corda.

A blockchain-based solution launched in March this year, MonetaGo’s fraud mitigation network helps banks reduce fraud in receivables financing by enabling them to check if invoices have already been financed and verify the authenticity of electronic waybills. The blockchain network enables a bank to hash certain elements of the invoice, create a unique fingerprint for it and then publish it to the network. The bank can then apply different states to the invoice, such as whether it has been registered or financed. MonetaGo is also working to add in other states, including whether an invoice has been registered with the tax authority.

The fraud mitigation network is currently being piloted by Swift in India, and the Corda Enterprise migration will power the next deployment of the solution in Latin America, with an initial launch consortia in Mexico comprising six banks.

“With the new deployments that we have coming up in Mexico, as well in other Latin American countries, the regulators themselves have been potentially looking at adopting this system and Corda has a good architecture for that. Because we are not just publishing anonymised hashes any more, having the architecture for them to actually participate in the blockchain makes a lot of sense,” Jesse Chenard, CEO of MonetaGo, tells GTR. “As we have seen the distributed ledger technology (DLT) market unfold, it has become clear R3 is emerging as the leader in the financial services space. In order to make sure we take advantage of this momentum, it makes sense to provide our applications built on Corda Enterprise.”

Alisa DiCaprio, head of trade and supply chain at R3, explains: “The really exciting part of this announcement is that it unlocks some of the additional benefits of blockchain, beyond familiar topics like immutability and deterministic transactions. It does this by combining multiple applications for specific use cases that result in a richer solution. Today we’re joining fraud mitigation together with trade finance; in the future we’ll add things like KYC, onboarding, sanctions monitoring, and settlement.”

This announcement is the latest in a growing trend of financial services providers shifting over to Corda from Hyperledger. In June last year, the Blockchain Insurance Industry Initiative, B3i, a joint effort between 13 insurance and reinsurance companies to leverage blockchain for insurance, partnered with R3 to bring its solution into production on the Corda platform, leaving the Hyperledger Fabric framework on which it had developed its prototype.

Like B3i, MonetaGo’s reasoning for moving to Corda comes down to data privacy, scalability, interoperability and developer productivity. “Where you’ve got multiple different entities and you need to do one-to-many permutations, testing between the two different protocols has shown right now that at least for the foreseeable future it is Corda which is best suited for this,” says Chenard.

MonetaGo has been a member of the R3 partner network since September 2018, and the Corda Enterprise migration will be completed in early 2019.

Data startup Narrative raises $3M more

Narrative, a startup that makes it easier to buy and sell data, is announcing that it’s raised $3 million in additional seed funding.

The round was led by Glasswing Ventures .  XSeed, Tuhaye and Revel also participated.

When I first wrote about the company two years ago, it had already raised $2.25 million, and its business revolved around a marketplace for data. Founder and CEO Nick Jordan told me that’s still what Narrative offers — but customers have also started using its software to manage data transactions beyond the marketplace.

“Buying or selling data sounds really simple — anybody can write in a board deck … ‘We’re going to acquire data, we’re going to distribute data,'” Jordan said. “But it’s much more complex. As a buyer you want specific records, you’re buying for multiple parties. Every seller sells data in a different format. Broadly speaking, there’s a ton of fragmentation.”

And yet, these transactions do happen, with or without Narrative . But Jordan said companies have “historically built their own systems out of duct tape and prayers,” and they often lack features that “seem incredibly trivial, like reporting how much data was sold or bought.”

With Narrative, on the other hand, businesses don’t need to spend the time and resources to create this infrastructure, and they get a tool that allows them to monitor, and hopefully grow, their entire data business.

As this happens, the broader landscape around buying and selling user data is changing, thanks to GDPRthe California privacy bill and the potential for more regulation.

Jordan acknowledged that when GDPR went into effect, Narrative saw “a fairly precipitous drop in data made available in the EU.” At the same time, he said, “The industry as a whole grew up a bit,” and that’s made the technology more appealing to some customers, because it provides “full transparency between the buyer and seller.”

“It [gives] you the ability to do your own due diligence and make sure the data you’re getting is compliant, based on your own reading of GDPR law,” Jordan said.

In fact, he claimed that Narrative really started to see a positive response from customers in the second and third quarter of last year — coincidentally or not, right as GDPR was going into effect.

“This money is really to show that we’ve found product market fit,” Jordan added. That means investing in sales and marketing — and if that pays off, Narrative can probably go out and raise a bigger round.

25 Best Workout and Fitness Apps to Stay Healthy in 2019

The best fitness apps help keep you on that fitness grind no matter where you are. The best new workout apps make it easy to take your workout anywhere—especially when you're traveling, or even when life just gets too busy. The best free workout apps also provide awesome motivation, whether you need more variety in your workouts, ultra-convenient ways to exercise, accountability buddies, or just a digital nudge to stay committed.

There are so many apps out there, however, that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Once you find one that works for you and your goals it can be easy to stay on track. Here are 25 of the best workout apps to choose from.

Get personalized advice based on your Fitbit data with Fitbit Coach.

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What it is: Fitbit Coach takes your Fitbit daily activity data into account to recommend exercises and provide fitness feedback just for you.

Why it's great: If you never leave home without your trusty Fitbit, this app takes the information from your wearable tech to the next level. It reccomends exercises and provides personalized fitness guidance, plus it's chock-full of workout videos with step-by-step directions and tips. You can also customize each sweat session to the best workout music with Fitbit Radio, which has stations ranging from pop to hip hop. Plus, if you have a Fitbit Ionic device, you can access the app right on the screen. (iOS and Android, $40/year)

Get focused out with fitness and yoga classes taught by world-class yogis on Alo Moves.

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What it is: Alo Moves offers up thousands of guided yoga practices taught by some of the biggest names in yoga.

Why it's great: Created by the ultra-popular apparel brand Alo Yoga, Alo Moves has over 2,000 videos organized into 200 plans and over 500 single classes taught by the top names in yoga, including Dylan Werner, Ashley Galvin, Caley Alyssa and Mackenzie Miller. And there's more than just straightforward yoga sessions: You can work on your skills with a handstand workshop, improve strength with total-body workouts, relax with guided meditations, and more. (iOS and Android, $20/month)

Start your day off right with the Yoga Wake Up alarm clock.

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What it is: The Yoga Wake Up app uses the sounds of yoga and meditation to gently get you moving for the day.

Why it's great: Who says alarm clocks have to be jarring? This app offers different audio yoga and meditation sequences that are designed to start in bed and end with you on your feet. Choose a wakeup that lets you ease out of bed slowly with calm stretching, or get energized with a faster-paced flow. (iOS, $7/month)

Access prenatal and postnatal fitness videos with Studio Bloom.

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What it is: This app from The Bloom Method studio in Boulder, Colorado offers fitness videos tailored to pregnant women and new moms.

Why it's great: Created by certified personal trainer and pre- & postnatal corrective exercise specialist Brooke Cates, The Bloom Method's classes are designed to be safe for pregnant women and new moms. The Studio Bloom app has more than 50 workouts ranging from 7 to 40 minutes, along with guided meditations and pre- and postnatal nutrition support. (iOS, $39/month)

Tune into obé's live 28-minute classes to add a fun pop of color to your workout.

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What it is: obé (which stands for Our Body Electric) offers a schedule of Sculpt, Power, Dance, and HIIT classes that you can join in on, or sweat your way through a pre-recorded class.

Why it's great: One look at obé's videos and you'll see what the hype is about—bright colors, neon accents, and an electric pastel palette make their workouts feel like a mini party (especially when you're tuning into one of their Dance sessions). obé has both strength and cardio-driven classes, and they take less than 30 minutes each. It's one of the best new workout apps of 2018. (iOS, $27/month)

Join the Peloton community (without investing in a whole bike or treadmill) with Peloton Digital.

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What it is: You can live-stream cycling and treadmill workouts from the sleek Peloton Studio in any space.

Why it's great: Sure, Peloton's bikes and treadmills have created a fitness revolution, but if that's not in the budget for you a Peloton Digital subscription still nets you access to their live-streamed classes. Set your phone up on the bike or treadmill at the gym to follow along, or try one of their bootcamp, floor, or outdoor classes. (iOS, $20/month)

Get your yoga classes and other yoga-inspired workouts in one place with Asana Rebel.

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What it is: Asana Rebel is a yoga-inspired fitness app that had guided yoga flows alongside "regular" workouts (that still have some yoga elements in them).

Why it's great: This is one of the best free workout apps around (although you can buy additional classes through the app). It's the best of both worlds if you're looking for other workouts to complement your yoga practice (or vice versa). In the app, you can input your goals, track your progress, and choose classes and programs based on how much time you have or the intensity you're after. (iOS and Android, free)

Get a custom workout program and support from your own personal trainer on Trainiac.

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What it is: Choose one of Trainiac's personal trainers to keep you motivated and create a workout program that's tailored exactly to your goals and your lifestyle.

Why it's great: Trainiac's plans aren't one-size-fits-all—you're talking a real, accredited fitness pro in real time who provides workouts just for you, along with encouragement and support over text, audio, and video messaging. They adjust your workouts to the equipment and space you have available at any given time (whether it's a full gym or nothing at all), and your workouts can evolve with your goals and your fitness level. (iOS, $50/month)

Work toward your fitness and nutrition goals in one app with 8fit.

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What it is: 8Fit offers custom no-equipment workouts ranging from 15 to 20 minutes long, along with nutrition guidance, meal plans, and other healthy eating tools.

Why it's great: If you're working on your fitness and your healthy eating habits, this app keeps it simple by putting everything in one place. You start by determining your goal and your current level, and from there, the app provides custom workouts and meal plans to help get you where you want to go. Plus, 8Fit actually explains proper exercise form and progression for all of their moves, so you can make sure you're getting the most out of every rep. (iOS and Android, $60/year)

Adjust your workouts to your heart rate in real time with PEAR.

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What it is: The PEAR Personal Fitness Coach uses heart rate monitoring to coach you through a workout, so you'll know when to push harder and when to scale back.

Why it's great: If you wear a heart rate monitor when you work out, this app takes out the guesswork out of heart rate zones and determines exactly what it should mean for your workout. The app can tell you when to speed up, slow down, or adjust what you're doing to make sure you're "training smarter, not harder," as they say. (iOS and Android, $6/month)

Keep track of all of your weightlifting stats with Stacked.

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What it is: Stacked is a strength training app that tracks what you lift, how often, and what areas of your body you're working.

Why it's great: This intuitive app is an excellent way to up your lifting game. It lets you choose a goal to work toward and keep track of your progress. You can also use it to create and store individual workouts, come up with a training schedule, or find an existing strength workout to try. (iOS, free)

Get outside with REI's Trail Run Project app.

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What it is: The Trail Run Project app is a guide to the best outdoor running trails in your area.

Why it's great: Designed for runners of all levels, this app makes it easy to find new routes—while the sidewalks around town can be great to get in a few miles, trail running gets you on softer surfaces, meaning your knees don't take as much pounding. Open REI's Trail Run Projects app to see just how many trails are near you, find loops, view images of the trail, and check out the elevation. The best part is that the app works offline, too, which is a life saver when you have zero service. There's no shortage of trails listed in every state, plus Canada, South America, Central America, and Europe. (iOS and Android, free)

Enjoy outdoor scenery on the treadmill with Treadmill Trails.

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What it is: Treadmill Trails lets you download follow-along videos of iconic runs fore when you're stuck indoors.

Why it's great: If you're getting bored with watching the same Housewives reruns on the treadmill, this app has you covered. Hike the Appalachian trail in fall, run along the bluffs in Big Sur, or check out New York City's Central Park. Each silent video is 30 minutes long, meaning you can listen to your own music as you run along the river banks. (iOS and Android, free)

Test out different workouts on the sleek Nike Training Club app.

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What it is: The Nike Training Club app offers a variety of guided workouts at different intensities and lengths in easy-to-follow video formats.

Why it's great: This is one of the best workout apps around, and for good reason—there's something for everyone, no matter how much time you have, your fitness level, or your workout interests. You've got plenty to choose from, including bodyweight strength workouts, heart-pumping cardio, yoga, and more. There are several workouts created or inspired by athletes and celebrities, too. (iOS and Android, free)

Book discounted classes last-minute with Zenrez.

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What it is: Zenrez offers up empty spots in fitness classes at a discount the night before.

Why it's great: This app is the perfect way to mix up your routine with new boutique fitness classes at a discount. For example, a barreyoga, or boot camp class you might normally pay $25 for may be available for $14 (prices vary based on the studio). Score. A new batch of classes for the following day shows up every night at 9 P.M., and it's available in most major U.S. cities. (iOS, free)

Track your reps, sets, and weights with Lift Log.

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What it is: Lift Log is a workout tracker and weightlifting journal that lets you jot down sets of exercises as you work out, along with weight and reps.

Why it's great: Keeping track of reps, sets, and weights in your strength training sessions is one of the best ways to see your improvements in the gym. This simple app makes it easy to keep track of your progress, and as you log each exercise, the app charts your improvement over time to keep you motivated and proud of your accomplishments. (iOS, free)

Find new teammates with Bvddy (basically, Tinder for sports).

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What it is: Set up a profile on Bvddy to start playing sports with other active people you match with in your area.

Why it's great: Your Bvddy profile takes into account your location, skills, and the sports you like and suggests matches who have similar interests. Just like a dating app, once you've "swiped right" on each other you can coordinate a meet-up, whether it's a tennis match or starting a kickball league. You can also join other people's events or create your own for a group of people, like a hike or a soccer game. (iOS and Android, free)

Take a music-driven fitness class for one with a pro trainer on Aaptiv.

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What it is: Aaptiv offers audio classes taught by trainers and perfectly matched to the best workout music.

Why it's great: During Aaptiv's on-demand audio classes, the voice of a trainer guides you through a fitness studio-style session. And with over 2,500 workouts to choose from (and more than 30 new ones added each week), there's no shortage in options, including cycling, yoga, strength training, stretching, elliptical workouts, and more. And for runners, the membership also comes with full marathon, half marathon, 10K, and 5K training programs. (iOS and Android, $15/month)

Keep track of your interval and circuit workouts with the Seconds timer.

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What it is: The Seconds Interval Timer app times your high-intensity and low-intensity intervals during HIIT workouts.

Why it's great: High-intensity interval training is effective for improving your cardiovascular health, and this app makes it easy to get in on the benefits. The app can also keep track of your circuits, so if you're doing, say, 20 seconds of push-ups and then 40 seconds of squat jumps, it'll let you know when to switch, so the only thing you have to think about is working hard during every rep. (iOS and Android, free)

Record your training sessions and connect with fellow runners and cyclists with Strava.

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What it is: Great for beginners and seasoned pros alike, Strava is a favorite of runners and cyclists to track their training and connect with other users.

Why it's great: The Strava app records distance, speed, routes, and pace, so your stats are always a touch away. It also has a social aspect, so you can compare and share your workouts with fellow road warriors for a little motivation-meets-healthy-competition. Plus, if you're a distance athlete, you can also share your location with other people with the Strava Summit Safety Pack ($3/month) for an added security measure. (iOS and Android, free)

Use Sworkit to follow a guided workout plan and get in-app access to personal trainers.

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What it is: Sworkit gives users custom no-equipment training plans, complete with guided videos for each workout.

Why it's great: Sworkit tailors straightforward, effective workout plans to three different fitness goals (whether you're looking to be leaner, fitter, or stronger). There are plans for beginners, intermediate, and advanced exercisers, and users can also connect with personal trainers to ask questions and get expert advice. The best part? There's no equipment required in their plans, so workouts ranging from five to 60 minutes long can be done right at home or on the road. (iOS and Android, $29.99/quarter)

Get your flow on at home with YogaGlo.

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What it is: The YogaGlo app offers yoga classes and guided meditations that you can do anytime, anywhere.

Why it's great: There are more than 3,800 (!!!) yoga workouts on the app, so you'll never run out of options. Whether you're in the mood for a long, heart-pumping sweat session or a quick, relaxing flow, there's an option for every mood and experience level. The subscription-based app also offers guided meditation classes when you feel like keeping your mind and body still. (iOS and Android, $18/month)

Make working out a habit with Today, which uses a "don't break the chain" approach to keep you motivated.

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What it is: The Today app keeps your fitness habits on track by allowing you to create a "streak calendar" for your workouts, or any other goals you're working on (like getting more sleep or drinking enough water).

Why it's great: By marking off your workouts (and planned rest days), you'll have a visual representation of your fitness habits. It's so satisfying to see the little green boxes add up as you build consistency, and it also reminds you of your longest streak so you can stay encouraged to beat it. The app also rewards with you with badges for keeping up the good work. Other habit-supporting features include Apple Health Charts for iPhone users (so you can see your daily steps), to-do lists, charts, a journal, photo galleries, and more. You can build your dashboard with the features that work best for you. (iOS and Android, free)

HIIT it hard with the short, high-intensity workouts on Keelo.

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What it is: Keelo keeps it simple with pre-programmed HIIT workouts under 20 minutes so you can get in, get sweaty, and get out.

Why it's great: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to get more done in less time, and Keelo makes it easy to get started. There's no need to keep track of your work and rest intervals or which exercise comes next—all you need to do is concentrate on working hard and the app does the rest. You can also reach out to a coaching team via email for advice and recommendations. The best part? There's no routine longer than 20 minutes. (iOS and Android, free)

Stay accountable and encouraged by getting involved in the PumpUp fitness community.

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What it is: PumpUp is a health-minded social network is great for connecting and building community with other people who are working toward fitness goals.

Why it's great: If you're not quite comfortable sharing your workouts and achievements with all of your Facebook friends or Instagram followers, PumpUp is the perfect place to post a gym selfie, share an accomplishment you're proud of, or just seek some encouragement and inspiration from fellow users. (iOS and Android, free)

10 Predictions for the Tech Industry in 2019

By Chris Cunningham, Founder of C2 Ventures

It’s become something of a tradition for me to look at the year ahead and predict where the industry is headed. Part of that process involves looking back at the trends that dominated last year and looking to see how much of that momentum will continue into the New Year.

And, what a year it was. Companies like Amazon and Netflix continued to assert their dominance, while others faltered in the face of heightened scrutiny (I’m looking at you, Facebook). On top of that, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented and virtual realities (AR/VR) have continued to develop rapidly, to the point where voice assistants and other smart gadgets have become commonplace.

It can be hard to keep up in the face of such innovation, but here’s what I consider to be the top issues and trends facing the tech industry in 2019.

2019 is the year of the consumer.

My favorite tech movement of 2018 has to be the steady growth of companies focusing on direct-to-consumer products. Allbirds, Casper, Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, Netflix, Peloton — the list is endless. So many of the best brands nowadays are choosing to go straight to the consumer, instead of having to rely on middlemen and third parties. What do these brands all have in common? They all know how to talk and listen to their consumers, and they don’t rely on suspect adtech to do it.

In 2019, consumers will take back control of their data, and start becoming more choosier about the brands they interact with. People will start participating more with the brands they love in a personalized way, which in turn, will allow them to get more value out of the interaction.

The cannabis industry will embrace technology wholeheartedly.

2019 will be the year that cannabis companies start to utilize technology to grow their businesses. While the ecosystem remains highly fragmented and not standardized, technology will allow companies to build a more robust infrastructure, and better meet the demands of its consumers. As cannabis becomes less of a taboo subject and more of a revenue driver, expect to see more brands branching out into the space.

Personalized animation will captivate the public imagination.

What text chain would be complete without at least one gif, emoji, or meme? I’ll add one element to the mix: personalized animation. As we continue to incorporate visuals into our written communications, it’s only natural to want to include more dynamic forms of creative — including animated forms of ourselves and our stories. Apple’s Animoji and Memoji are just a few examples of this.

Fintech will continue to eat financial institutions’ lunches.

Fintech is no longer a cute concept that banks can ignore or make fun of. Instead, it’s quickly taking over every element of the financial industry, from credit cards to savings accounts to payments to determining credit scores. Fintech is THE sector to invest in 2019 — so consumers, take notice.

The wellness craze will continue.

People want to live long lives and feel good while doing so. The global wellness industry is currently worth a whopping $3.7 trillion, so companies that help people on their journey, whether by providing an app that helps you meditate (Headspace) or giving you flexible access to a host of fitness classes in your area (Zenrez: Disclosure, I’m an investor and EVP.), will absolutely crush it in the next year.

Services and software that support SMBs will win.

While larger retailers struggle to leverage their data effectively, smaller businesses will get smarter about their customers through software, CRM tools, and pricing. This will make SMBs nimbler, and better able to respond to shifts in consumer sentiment.

Consumer tech products will stage a comeback.

After a long dark winter of believing that consumer products are impossible to win, new consumer-shaped businesses will rise. Long live the consumer — but maybe this time, do more than just build an app.

People will opt for curated travel experiences.

Everybody wants to feel like something’s been made just for them — that’s why personalization has worked so well. In 2019, more companies will arise that focus specifically on creating personalized travel itineraries based on previous behavior. Given both the premium that people currently put on unique experiences and the fact that more people are traveling than ever before, expect such services to become hugely popular. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see large hospitality companies such as Travelocity or Hilton opting to bring such services in-house.

More industries will embrace dynamic pricing.

Dynamic pricing isn’t just for airlines anymore. Other industries, such as auto and real estate, will also rely on the model so that they can better manage available inventory and reduce production costs. It could also have implications for the customer journey, as it allows users to get better deals depending on when they purchase and how much stock is available at the time.

AI and machine learning (ML) will break past the blockchain.

Let’s face it, the utopia that blockchain promised has failed to materialize. Instead of continuing to spend resources on a technology that has not paid dividends, both investors and entrepreneurs should focus on how to use AI and ML to grow and develop companies. Not only has AI been shown to provide value to businesses, but it’s also much less of a hassle to implement.

There you have it, folks — my 10 predictions for the coming year. In case you’re curious about my predictions last year, check them out on Medium. Check back next year to see how many in 2019 came to pass!

Chris Cunningham is an active tech startup investor and founder of C2 Ventures and C2V Studios focused on investing in amazing founders in consumer-tech, data, financial-tech, travel, and wellness. Follow him on Twitter atC2cunningham and through www.c2ventures.co

Behind the interview with Chris Cunningham

On Thursday, December 13th, I interviewed Chris Cunningham with C2 Ventures at my studio.

About Chris:

Chris is an investor with operator experience, some of that experience was in public facing companies such as appssavvy (the first business ad platform on Facebook). During our interview of which he admitted had a long and painful exit from the company.

Currently, he’s the founder of C2 Ventures and is a limited partner at Bowery Capital.

Why this interview?

Chris is a great example of failing forward and gaining success from learning through experience. Drawing from the experience of massive ups and downs in founding and funding companies, he likes to consider himself as a Jerry Mcguire “like” sounding board for early stage founders.

Today, he’s got some really impressive portfolio companies such as PetalMonetagoBloom Credit and Little Fund.

Scheduled airing date: 03/14/2019 subscribe iTunes, Google Play,Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRadio

A side note:

Chris’s experience is a lesson in the “fight goes on” which is based on the pure tenacity of an individual. All fintech founders and funders will eventually face a failure, go through hell and get burnt at some point in their journey. It just happens, yet, quitting will cause them to fail indefinitely, but if they keep buggering on, they might just win eventually.

When life hits you with a brick will you suck it up and move forward? Or will you suck your thumb and give up? The circumstances of that challenge may be fully out of your control, the choice on how you respond every day, that’s on you.

Subscribe now on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcherSpotify and iHeartRadio to hear from all the amazing fintech leaders I’ve had the opportunity to chat with.

About me:

I’m the host of the twice-weekly “Bank On It” podcast recorded onsite at offices of Carpenter Group, a creative services agency focused on the financial services industry. I’m a fintech, VC and financial services industry enthusiast and connector. I’m in the center of the fintech ecosystem, keeping current with the ever-innovating industry.

4 perfectly reasonable-sounding 2018 technology predictions that failed

What were they thinking?! These erroneous guesses about tech in 2018 would shatter any crystal ball.

It’s getting harder to predict the future, what with entrepreneurs creating companies based on the pairing of trendy buzzwords (for example, Uber + edibles = UberEats). But that doesn't stop market analysts, trend spotters, science fiction writers, and technology journalists from venturing their reasoned guesses about the next techno trends.

Accurate prognostications deserve a high five for a job well done. But it's the failed guesses that are most interesting. It gives us a reason to reflect on why the market made twists and turns rather than going boldly forward.

It also gives us an opportunity for snarky commentary.

We found four predictions (made in late 2017) of notable technological achievements expected for 2018. None of these predictions are close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades. But they do make for some amusing what-iffing. Even more amusing: our predictions for 2019.

Celebrities will influence purchasing decisions in augmented and virtual reality

Chris Cunningham, founder of C2 Ventures, saw 2018 as the year the two buzzwords “AR” and “celebrities” would merge and become a super-powered marketing tool. He wrote, “Right now, celebrities and influencers metaphorically stand behind products. In 2018, you’ll start seeing them standing right beside it. They’re going to show you how to get to the store and walk you down the aisle, all while holding a two-way conversation.”

Following up in a phone chat, Cunningham acknowledges, “That was atrociously wrong.”

The reality

You cannot blame Cunningham for considering the possibility. Influencer marketing is a time-honored tradition: The first celebrity endorsements came more than 250 years ago, when Wedgwood pottery received a royal thumbs-up from Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, in 1760.

However, despite its usefulness in the real world, VR and AR have one real drawback, Cunningham says: “It’s still a high-price point of entry.” VR, in particular, hasn’t actually become the must-have tech toy forecasters had predicted.

Celebrity endorsements also come with high price tags, and brands need to afford all that star power. While the two most well-established VR companies, Oculus and HTC, may be able to negotiate celebrity deals, they seem uninterested. As Cunningham says, “The VR/AR space is being dominated by smaller players.”

Cunningham says “a bridge between fans and the person they want to follow” will happen when innovation brings price points down. But, he admits, “that’s the hard part: calling the timing.”

In addition, 2018 has seen the rise of micro-influencers, meaning people who have as few as 1,000 social media followers. If these people are passionate about, say, mechanical keyboards and have friends who are equally passionate, a keyboard company could reach more potential customers with a micro-influencer than through any celebrity endorsement.

Besides, celebrities are too busy throwing shoes at each other to snag an endorsement deal.

Our 2019 VR/AR prediction

Thanks to VR, you will be able to interact with well-known-yet-artificial celebrities like Cortana.

But when you do, your goggles will draw power from you in order to change you into a human battery.

Thanks to automation, security will become simpler to use

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) got the first part of its two-part prediction right: “Automated and artificial intelligence-assisted protection measures will make security less intrusive…”

That’s a fact. Smartphones used to require the scan of a thumbprint or, gasp, physically typing in a password before you could tap that app. Now, iPhone users merely wave their phones in front of them, 30,000 infrared dots invisibly caress the user's face, and the phone opens itself up to its master. If it’s an uncomfortable thought, remember that it’s a small price to pay to not have to burn a single calorie.

But, oh, the second part to the IEEE's prediction: “…reducing the burden and dependency upon users to perform and make decisions about security-related actions.” If this prediction were true, our decision-making burden would actually be reduced.

The reality

Yeah, it’s easier to use these protective measures. But they also make you potentially less secure.

For example, take iPhone facial-recognition technology: If a law enforcement official wants you to unlock your phone, you can still refuse to offer your thumb. But the police can simply unlock your phone by holding it up to your face. If you’re security minded, you must actively turn off Face ID. And that kinda defeats the purpose.

Then there are home assistants (also known as smart speakers), such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and HomePod. Using only your voice, you can create a to-do list, find out sports scores, or even learn the spelling of a word you can’t google because you don’t know how to spell it. But when they’re not assisting you, those home assistants can listen in on your conversations or, just as bad, assist someone else.

Also, security may be less intrusive than it used to be, but no matter how secure a device is, your personal information will be compromised when you freely offer your name, email address, and date of birth in order to take a quiz titled “Which Harry Potter House Do You Belong To?” (Ravenclaw.)

Our security prediction for 2019

Automated security technology will reduce the burden of most user interaction. But when you finally have a request, it will respond, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Cryptocurrency will be widely accepted

Despite the fact that the best way to describe cryptocurrency to your mother is “invisible math money,” it has some serious benefits over coin of the realm. Your transactions remain anonymous, which is handy if you don’t want “Adult My Little Pony Toyz” on your credit card bill. It’s also a currency that is not regulated (yet), which means that only you own your money and your government can’t access it (yet). Best of all, anyone with a high-quality graphics card, as well as inexpensive electricity, can mine their own cash.

The most popular digital currency is Bitcoin, currently worth over $6,000. That means people who traded (or mined) for 1,000 coins in its infancy, when it was worth 30 cents, are now 6 Million Dollar Men and Women. Yes, Bitcoin is now too expensive for a casual purchase. But with 1,600 different currencies to choose from, your next cryptocurrency investment may prove Lambo-worthy—that is, worth a Lamborghini.

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Last year, Business Insider predicted you’d pay for your cappuccino by opening up a digital wallet, rather than a physical one. Sadly, it didn’t read the tea leaves right.

The reality

Cryptocurrency is volatile, and although the fluctuations in value that cryptocurrencies experienced this year have made them exciting to speculators, it also makes them less appealing as a form of exchange. Businesses are shying away from cryptocurrency, which can drop as much as 17 percent in a single day. It’s why the ultra-popular video game distributor Steam said “Game over” to accepting cryptocurrency as payment.

As a result of this volatility, adoption of Bitcoin and other currencies such as Ethereum or Litecoin has not been as universal as pundits had anticipated for 2018.

Also, although thieves may not be able to pick your pocket, your cryptocurrency is still vulnerable to theft in the form of hacking. And because it’s unregulated, it may be more attractive to digital muggers who don’t want to sully their hands with an actual mugging.

Our cryptocurrency prediction for 2019

AI-based cryptocurrency will evolve and take control of your purchasing decisions: “No, I will not let you buy that shirt. It makes you look fat.”

Smart clothing will be en vogue

You don’t use wearable technology. Instead, you adorn yourself and the wearables do their work. They monitor your heart rate, stress levels, posture, and even the quality of your sleep. Wearables are most commonly worn on the wrist, but you can find technology embedded in rings, jackets, and shoes.

You could argue that endoscopic imaging capsules are a wearable, because after you swallow one, you wear it in your colon.

Wearables were a $10 billion business in 2017. In early 2018, wareable.com made 50 separate wearables predictions, all of which boiled down to, “These boots are made for walking and for tracking your distance.”

It’s here we should mention that wearables are one of the oldest tech trends we know, as people began pocketing watches as far back as 1462. We should have predicting wearable trends down to a science by now, right guys? Guys?

The reality

According to trends expert Daniel Levine, wearable technologies are not dead. “But they haven't become ubiquitous. There's a slow uptake, and we're seeing more of it, but it didn’t take over the world like the smartphone did.”

However, Levine expects to see wearables become the fashion choice for the fashionable when wireless charging becomes ubiquitous. After all, who wants a pair of socks you have to remember to plug in?

Our 2019 prediction for wearables

Smart socks will walk their way to the outlet, where they can plug themselves in. By 2020, they will agree with your AI that your shirt makes you look fat.

Runners-up

  • Google Lunar X Prize: The prediction was made in 2007 that a company would land a rover on the moon, drive it 500 feet, then send images back to Earth. No one had achieved this by the time the prize of $20 million expired in March 2018. If you have the financial and aerospace engineering background, feel free to give it a go. Note that success will have to be its own reward, as the cash prize is off the table.

  • Drone delivery: Back in 2013, Jeff Bezos predicted that drones would be delivering packages to your doorstep by 2018. Although this forecast may eventually become reality, we predict that his first pizza delivery will be successful…but his pizza will come with pineapple.

Failed predictions: Lessons for leaders

  • Just because these technologies haven’t proved themselves in 2018, it doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing them in 2019 or 2020.

  • Not every prediction is a winner. Even the best forecaster can’t predict exactly when the market will melt down or if a CEO will make false claims about taking his company private, but holy smokes, if you really could predict that, you’d be Lambo rich.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.

Most Start-Ups Fail. Beat the Odds By Avoiding These Common Mistakes.

Chris Cunningham, founder of C2 Ventures, has built companies himself and now invests in them. I first met Chris seven years ago when I interviewed him for my "Corner Office" series in The New York Times, and he always has sharp insights about what makes companies succeed or fail, particularly in those crucial first two years. There are smart takeaways here for anybody in the start-up space — entrepreneurs, investors and directors.

Q. Let’s talk about the critical first phase of all new tech companies – pre-launch through the first two years or so. What are the patterns you’ve seen? The do’s and don’ts?

A. In this day and age, first and foremost, without having technical DNA in the cockpit, you’re doomed to fail. You have to have the understanding of how quickly technology is moving. It’s not enough to hire your third or fourth person as the VP of Engineering and assume everything’s going to be great. You need that person as committed from the outset as the potential commercial lead of the organization.

"If you didn’t quit your job to do this, then you’re not serious."

So mistake No. 1 is using some outsourced development shop or a friend who’s going to do it. Without a best-in-class technology co-founder, that’s a mega red flag. You can’t really think about or present a company without having that domain expertise because you basically have half a deck of cards.

Q. That would seem like table stakes to me.

A. It’s not, unfortunately. It’s still problematic. A lot of people believe they can navigate the early stage through PowerPoints and things like that, and the truth is they often can. The biggest dilemma for some of these startups is that they lean on friends and family to raise, say, $750,000. Where most of the startup failure happens is when they go looking for the next tranche of money.

Q. What else do you want to know about the team when they’re pitching you, beyond their expertise?

A. How long have you known each other? Did you just meet a few weeks ago? Is there a history of working together? When you look at a lot of successful companies, there are usually two founders who are friends, and what that means is that there is trust. Because without trust, you’ve got nothing. It doesn’t matter if you have the idea for the next Instagram.

Investors also want to see some level of traction, sweat equity and pain. Show me your scars and bruises before you come ask for money. If you didn’t quit your job to do this, then you’re not serious. Did you max out a credit card? What risks were you prepared to take and what traction did you generate? Tell me that you spent $10,000 to get this MVP – minimum viable product – delivered.

"Founders need Jerry Maguires. They need rabbis. They need mentors."

The alternative to that is someone saying, “Here’s my idea. I want your money.” That’s a relatively quick out for me from the conversation because you’re not showing me that you’re an entrepreneur. I need to see the fire in their eyes and that the hustle is there and that they’re willing to literally run through a burning building.

When I started my company, AppSavvy, I had $650,000 in booked revenue before we raised money. The point is that there needs to be a there there. You need to show that that you’re not going anywhere tomorrow and that you’re willing to take the risk and make the sacrifice. As an investor, you want to see that you have those characteristics, and those proof points.

Q. How do you get a sense of whether the CEO can scale themselves as a leader and build the culture of the company?

A. The first four to ten people are going to set the culture for you, long before the values are ever written on the wall. You may not realize it, but if everyone in the company is never late to a meeting, always responds in a timely fashion, are always respectful and follows through on what they say they’re going to do, those four to ten people are going to set the leadership of the organization, perhaps even more than the CEO.

One of the biggest drivers of culture early on is getting some wins. Whether you get that first product out and people adopt it or you get that first check, a big part of the culture of the two or three companies I’ve been involved in is getting some early traction. If you feel like you’re having wins and celebrating them – even though you’re going to have a ton of bad days, which are normal for a startup – that is a huge motivating factor for people to rally around a common goal.

Q. What else?

A. Trust and transparency. Quite frankly, when I started my first company, I made a lot of mistakes. I wanted to send that beacon of light 24-7, which you need to do. You need to keep morale and excitement up. But people are smart, they’re intuitive and they talk. If there’s one moment of people feeling like you misled them a tiny bit, then you have a crack in the culture. Trust and transparency will take you really, really far.

Q. It’s a challenge for leaders – to inspire confidence when things are not going well.

A. And a lot of times the founder-CEO can’t let their ego go. Maybe the marketplace isn’t buying the thing you created. At that point, you should regroup quickly and adjust. But sometimes the founder will push and push. They’re not trying to be deceitful, but they want to believe their idea was right. If they have that blind perseverance, they might burn through three to six months of runway and cash.

When finally that conversation comes up, there’s two months left and there’s not enough time to adjust. This is probably the most fundamental breakdown I’ve seen with startups. You need an agreed-upon timeframe and some level of data that supports the fact that there is a there there.

Q. When you give talks at business schools to aspiring entrepreneurs, what advice do you give them?

A. I try to share some of these lessons and insights about the obstacles in front of them. It’s not about giving them the reality check of X percent of all startups fail. It’s more about telling them, “Go for it. Go start a company. You’re in your early 20s, you can afford to fail, and failure’s okay. Because with every failure, you’re just going to learn and get better. You’re not going to be able to take as much risk when you’re 50 with two kids and two cars.”

I also think we need to change the tune in regards to the acceptance of startup failure.

Q. Because it’s a black mark?

A. Yeah, and 90 percent of startups do fail. But is it because you didn’t have the technical co-founder? Is it because you didn’t have that proof of concept? Is it because you didn’t actually understand the market? Is it because you didn’t have an investor who was patient and would stick with you once you have that proof of concept?

There’s a list of 20 or 30 key components, but what I’d love to see is, how do we get the percentage of startup success to be higher? Founders need Jerry Maguires. They need rabbis. They need mentors. And you can’t expect it to come from the VCs. At the end of the day, the VC wants a return, so they’re going to make decisions that are good for the VC and for their board.

In a lot of cases, we’re allowing founders to basically go out without the supervision that they need and they deserve. There’s a great opportunity to provide more insight and experience with founders who are open to listening. And those are the ones you want to work with – the people who say, “I’m all ears. I want to listen. I want to learn. I don’t have the ego.”

 


Rethink the Slides

Let’s be honest, most pitch decks suck and don’t get investors excited about the company or the founders behind the business. Slides can’t highlight the founders and at an early stage, you bet on people. Not only does the personality or energy of the founder not come across but the general business idea and strategy can fall flat and that can hurt the founders potential on fundraising as well as force an investor to miss an opportunity.

Part of the challenge is founders struggle to tell their story in a clear and concise way. They might know their business but often don’t sell it the right way so pushing the pitch into a deck makes it even more challenging.

Slides can only do so much and given there is no standard template you see a far range of decks that are all over the place.

So why am I telling you this and what is the potential solution?

The solution is to kick off your first pitch with a short video explaining the story and how you got here. Keep it under two minutes, let your personalities shine and make the ask. The video keeps you engaged, lets you feel the founder out and voice is more effective than reading a deck. All of this allows to break through the clutter, save time for the investor and get them to ask for more information or a meeting.

Earlier this year I helped co-found a company called Mekl through my early stage investment platform C2 Ventures. Romet and Martin the other co-founders who star in the story created a video as they were the finalist for a startup competition and needed to submit a video for their pitch at this conference. But then we discussed why not flip this video into a fundraise pitch as we are about to raise seed money for Mekl. After some editing, we had something that was ready to send to other investors and the response and success rate was way higher than I’ve seen compared to other companies. This could be for a number of reasons such as the idea, the likeability of the founders or maybe creating just enough differentiation from other pitches to get the first meeting or lock down the second.

I’ve received so much positive feedback from the video from other investors it made me want to write this post and share the learnings so maybe other startups consider the same format

“Even though Martin and I have spent our careers in data and startups, we are young and this is our first real rodeo as founders. So we figured video is the best medium to show our expertise, build trust and show the investors who we really are. It took us a day to film and put together and we have received great feedback! You can convey a lot of information in 2 min vs. risking someone spending 5–10 min on your deck, misinterpreting it and missing your chance to meet them.

As a couple of bootstrapping founders, we used the tools that we had. Two phones (different angles makes your video look more professional, search in youtube “how to film an interview”), a $5 video recording app (the default app limits quality) a $15 microphone (there’s a world of difference between a dedicated mic vs phone mic) and a free trial in the most basic video editing tool to put it together. Luckily Martin is also a talented musician and he made our background music for the video. If you don’t have such a privilege of making your own feel free to use ours here or there are plenty of websites that have free music as long as you give credits. You should definitely have music, as it will help to grab the attention of the viewers!

There’s also additional business value for recording the video, as you are forced to distill your core message into a short period of time and you get to witness yourself how you talk about the company. As a founder, you have to be ready to pitch your company in a couple of minutes and it’s not always easy to do so, especially in the beginning where a lot of things change and evolve really quickly. Looking at our video now, there’s a lot we would change already but as a bootstrapping founder you need to follow the 80–20 rule, as time is your enemy!”

- Romet Kallas, Co-Founder @ Mekl”

Find the video and the Mekl story here and hope you get a chance to meet the guys, partner and our round is still open :)

Chris

Petal Set To Flourish With $34 Million Funding As US FinTech Finally Blossoms

US FinTech company Petal, a 'new kind of credit card company built to help people financially succeed' has today raised $34 million in new funding from global investment bank Jefferies and Silicon Valley Bank.

This funding will support the public roll-out of the Petal Visa credit card that launched today.

The company also said that 100,000 people who had already joined a waiting list in 2018, who will (obviously) be the first holders of the card. This sounds like a big deal for US FinTech startups, currently struggling to keep up with those in Europe.

There are a number of reasons why. US tech behemoths such as Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google tend to discourage new opposition. Their ongoing forays into real-time payment apps and mobile banking services are frightening in their possible scope.

It’s not only that. Europe has especially benefited from legislation for the customer.

When authorized by the customer, the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) enables the sharing of user (banking) data with other parties and here’s also the controversial General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that allows EU citizens to control their personal data; both initiatives mean a more transparent environment for consumers, banks and FinTech startups alike.

No surprise then that European FinTechs such as Monzo, Revolut, Transferwise, iZettle, Curve and many others have soared ahead in customer acquisition.

Now it may be time for the US FinTech revolution to finally accelerate with Petal, a credit card company that has recruited a team from the likes of  Google, Amazon, Square, WeWork, CitiBank, Capital One, American Express and Chase.

Petal may finally be the US FinTech product that hits critical mass.PETAL

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Petal says its product has been ‘established to help people build credit, not debt, by providing a credit card with no fees no financial traps and no prior experience with credit required’.

That doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary when compared to the European companies previously cited, but in an American banking culture with ten millions of Americans without a credit score, it could be a very big deal.

According to Business Insider, bad credit can cost as much as $250,000 over the course of an American’s lifetime in fees, interest and other charges. At the same time, the credit card industry rakes in $50 billion in fees each year.

Petal is a Visa credit card with high limits and low rates that people can qualify for even if a potential customer has never used credit before. The company sees the money its clients make and the bills they already pay to see if they qualify instantly.

Its ‘radically simplified’ user interface and mobile app makes it easy to manage money, track spending and build credit without thinking about it.

Speaking from London, Sarah Kocianski, Principal Research Analyst, 11:FS Research and Benchmarking thinks Petal has great ambition, but will need to focus on user behavior to become a success. 11:FS was listed in this week's LinkedIn Top Startups 2018, so her words have gravity.

Petal's ambition to provide simple and transparent credit products to those unserved by existing credit card providers is admirable.

That said, its success will depend on providing quality education for its customers around how to build healthy financial behaviours and support to help them achieve that end.

While Petal's strategy to bring America's 'uncredited' citizens may sound very familiar to the increasing numbers of people signing up for European FinTech, the potential growth of Petal in its American garden may be a game-changer.

Time will tell if it blooms or wilts, but $34 million is a decent round of funding to start planting.

I have 15 years' experience in the mobile, web and digital sectors. I write for The Economist, MIT Tech Review, Mashable, TechCrunch and Wired UK, and I have a weekly column for UK broadsheet The Telegraph. I speak on the BBC World Service and am a sought-after speaker aroun...

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Let's carry on the conversation over at my Google News-verified blog Mob76 Outlook or on Twitter - @montymunford

Petal Raises $34 Million, Publicly Launches Credit Card

Mobile-first credit card company Petal has raised $34 million in credit. The round was led by Jefferies and Silicon Valley Bank.

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This is Petal’s third funding round. Most recently, the company raised $13 million in January 2018. Previous investors in the company include Valar VenturesGreat Oaks Venture CapitalRiverPark Ventures and others. The round brings Petal’s total known funding to about $50 million, according to the company.

Founded in 2016, Petal aims to make financial services more accessible. Petal co-founder and CEO Jason Gross told Crunchbase News a close friend who had moved to the U.S. was unable to achieve basic financial goals— qualifying for a credit card, securing a lease, and getting a cell phone plan—due to his lack of a credit history in the U.S. His friend’s experience motivated Gross to start Petal.

“One of the major financial regulators also started to publish research about access to credit,” Gross explained. “They found that a tremendous number of people in the United States are excluded from the credit system […] because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to build credit.”

With that in mind, the mobile-first startup offers a no-fee credit card. Its approval process differs significantly from other providers, not taking into consideration a lack of past credit history. While the company doesn’t discount an applicant because of a lack of credit, credit history does carry weight in the process.

“We want to approve as many people as possible, but today we’re really built more for people that are new to credit and just establishing credit,” Gross said. “Chances are much higher that you will be approved if you haven’t had missed payments or bankruptcy.”

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According to the company, its annual percentage rate is up to 50 percent lower than other entry-level credit cards, and Gross told Crunchbase News that the average credit limit for approved individuals is 10 times higher than that of bigger banks.

In addition to its credit card service, the mobile Petal platform gives its card holders insights into their payment history and habits. For example, the company sends individuals reminders and helps them assess how much interest will be paid based on the payment plan the individual has set in place.

The company, which was previously in beta, is officially launching the card publicly today. Gross told Crunchbase News that during its beta 100,000 individuals signed up to be notified of the launch. Gross also said that while debit and banking is an important aspect of financial services, Petal will be focused on credit for the foreseeable future.

“While 9 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have a bank account, more than 50 percent of the US population has limited access to credit because they have a low or no credit score,” Gross explained. “And that’s the problem that we’re focused on solving today.”

With the round, Petal plans to increase its headcount from 50 to over 100 within the next year. It is focused on acquiring customers, launching its Android app, and building out features, including a rewards program, in the future.

iStock Photo / vladwel

Editorial Update: A previous version of this article stated the funding was Series B. It has since been updated.

This NYC Startup Just Raised $3.87M to Give Denied Credit Applicants a Second Chance

For someone whose credit score is off a few points from a financial institution’s qualifying score has few options: they are either outright denied a loan or end up with an expensive financial product. But that’s changing with Bloom Credit, the financial wellness platform that provides denied applicants with a data-driven credit-building roadmap to help improve their financial health. This system analyzes credit reports to determine the cause of poor credit and it then provides a specific solution to improve customers’ scores. Customers normally become eligible for a loan within six months of using Bloom Credit.

AlleyWatch spoke with CEO and cofounder Matt Harris about the company and the process of raising capital to innovate the credit industry.

Who were your investors and how much did you raise?

Bloom Credit has raised a total of $3.87M in seed investment. Resolute Ventures led the latest investment with participation from Kindred Venturesand Slow Ventures. Earlier investors include 500 Startups through their Fintech Fund.

Tell us about the product or service that Bloom Credit offers.

Bloom Credit is a financial wellness platform that helps consumers and lenders build a healthy credit relationship.

Bloom Credit works with financial institutions to nurture consumers who are denied a loan. Our platform provides denied applicants with a data-driven credit-building roadmap to help them improve their financial health and become serviceable for the loan they requested. Most consumers typically become eligible within six months and increase their credit scores 17 points on average.

What inspired you to start Bloom Credit?

I was working on the marketing team at an NYC startup focused on student lending. Every month we would have to decline hundreds of applicants because of the underwriting standards of the 300+ lenders with whom we worked.

I learned that financial institutions do not have a good solution for helping the applicants they turn away to become future customers.

Someone who is five or ten points off from qualifying today will receive an adverse action letter but no guidance as to how to improve their credit health. They end up with an expensive financial product or not getting financing at all. We’re helping consumers take positive actions to get them back in a lender’s portfolio and get the loan they need.

We show our lenders that when given the right cues, more than 30 percent of consumers on the Bloom Credit platform improve their credit score by 10 points or more, with 9 percent improving by over 40 points or more. If many of today’s lenders originated a loan to just 1 percent of their declines they’d see a 10-point bump in origination volume, which is huge.

While your offering focuses on helping consumer before they get a loan, what sort of thought is given to ensuring that these consumers are paying their loans once they are issued?

If I’m a lender and I’m looking to grow I should have an interest in maintaining and growing the health of all consumers, not just the ones with elite credit scores. This is about more than financial literacy; it’s about showing consumers that you’re aligned in your purpose to help them get a loan that meets their needs—that they actually qualify for and can repay.

The platform itself is positively selecting towards people who are attempting to take control of their financial lives and get on the right track. The thing that often prevents them from doing so is lacking the tools to understand how to manage their credit situation. We’re not so focused on selling the consumer more products, as much as we are helping them stay on track of their existing ones to ensure they keep improving their score and remain in a credit viable position. Lenders will begin to care more about this as CECL compliance comes down the pipeline in December of 2019. For us, we see that these consumers are far more likely to keep repaying, and we care to enable these consumers because without their success everyone loses.

To me, the lending scene is currently overly dominated by lead-gen companies that advertise loans to consumers when they’re most vulnerable vs. most ready and credit fit. They don’t care so much about getting you the best loan in the context of your life, just that they can sell you any product at all. This approach often creates a negative relationship dynamic between consumers and financial providers.

It costs consumers thousands of dollars in interest and contributes to our nation’s personal debt problem. It does nothing to improve the health of the consumer. It adds institutional risk to lenders. And it completely fails to leverage the best competencies and know-how of the mainstream financial industry.

To put this another way, think about how many loan offers you get in the mail today that have nothing to do with what you want, by lenders who pre-qualify you for sums you haven’t even requested, and with terms that seem arbitrary. What if someone just asked you what loan you wanted, how much you wanted to pay, and helped you get the right price. The Bloom Credit platform is designed to help consumers and lenders make the best loan matches in the context of their financial lives and possibilities.

How is Bloom Credit different?

The lending market is fixated on lead-gen-and-transfer tactics, blind offer engines, and so-called credit improvement programs, where the goal is to change or manipulate an existing credit report rather than improve the consumer’s financial habits.

Bloom Credit is focused on building the personal-credit and financial capacity of consumers. We help consumers take positive action and chart a course for financial wellness that lasts for a lifetime.

We are a financial wellness company that uses technology to facilitate financial inclusion. Our platform empowers consumers to be able to access the financing they need, while helping financial institutions better nurture, and ultimately serve, consumers in a responsible way and grow their business.

What market does Bloom Credit target and how big is it?

We like to say that we’re for every consumer. We also believe every consumer is inherently creditworthy. Everyone, at some point, will apply for a loan. And even super-prime and prime consumers will get declined or receive offers that miss the mark. But our platform is particularly acute for near-prime and subprime borrowers; one-third of Americans have subprime credit scores. We want to make an impact in this space and help more consumers build their credit health so they can participate in the best parts of the credit market like everyone else.

What’s your business model?

We license our API product for a fee. And when we graduate a declined applicant and send them back to the lender, we receive a ‘graduation fee’ — a portion of the closed loan balance of each originated loan. We also receive fees for product recommendations.

What was the funding process like?

Fundraising is a great opportunity to take a step back from your business and get feedback. Feedback is ultimately neutral, it’s up to us as entrepreneurs to interpret it and put it to use. This can be incredibly rewarding when approached from an empowered place.

I actually enjoyed most of it, because it gave me a good sense of how the market viewed our product as well as perspective on risks that I wasn’t seeing. I got to meet some incredibly brilliant people throughout the process, which I am grateful for. I was willing to lean into what it was and accept that not everyone was going to say yes.

I actually enjoyed most of it, because it gave me a good sense of how the market viewed our product as well as perspective on risks that I wasn’t seeing. I got to meet some incredibly brilliant people throughout the process, which I am grateful for. I was willing to lean into what it was and accept that not everyone was going to say yes.

What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?

Ultimately, entrepreneurs get to treat this like a job interview for their prospective investors. You’re trying to find the right match, more so than just fill out a number in your round. If you can’t work with someone for the next five years, don’t take their money. However, this is way easier said than done and likely the biggest challenge for any entrepreneur is to make this decision as they feel the pressure of needing to raise funds.

What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?

I think it was the combination of team, technology and demonstrated market opportunity. We’re going after a market that has been neglected up to now, at a time when financial institutions need to find new ways to grow, and we’re doing it in a data-driven way that empowers and serves consumers.

We also bring some incredible perspective most investors aren’t used to. We’ve worked on both the debt and “sweat” side of the marketplace lending businesses, so we understand the business model better than most. This gives us a ton of advantages through information arbitrage in the space.

What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?

We want to really innovate on the technology side to give consumers personalized information and options that will help them achieve all their goals, not just the one in front of them today. We want to put them on a journey to empowerment. There has been a lot of innovation like this in the investment management space with companies like Betterment, Acorns and Personal Capital. But it still does not exist on the lending and credit side.

We want to really innovate on the technology side to give consumers personalized information and options that will help them achieve all their goals, not just the one in front of them today. We want to put them on a journey to empowerment. There has been a lot of innovation like this in the investment management space with companies like Betterment, Acorns and Personal Capital. But it still does not exist on the lending and credit side.

So, for example, when a consumer tells us they want to buy a house, we can say, “O.K., based on your profile you want this type of mortgage, and here’s exactly how to get there, and here’s how you’re going to lower your debt to achieve this goal.”

What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh

injection of capital in the bank?
Companies often focus a lot on the idea of getting money in the bank vs. what enables that capital to come through. When you look at most major successful companies, they start out with a hypothesis and a test that proves or disproves that hypothesis.

Facebook, Uber, and AirBnB all did these types of unscalable tests in order to prove they were businesses that could scale. If you’re looking to raise money, the first step isn’t to speak with investors. The first step is to prove your hypothesis to be true with real evidence. Once you’ve done this, raising money becomes far simpler.

Where do you see the company going now over the near term?

We’re going to build out the API technology further to make it really easy for companies to enable credit decisions now and into the future.

This is prevalent throughout the fintech world with budgeting, savings and investment management but the same type of planning and advice has yet to really breakthrough in the credit space, where a lot of the decisions can have much longer and more serious long-term ramifications. We intend to be sure we enable as many people as possible to be empowered and make good decisions when thinking about their credit picture.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?

Ho Foods in the East Village is great. Highly recommend everyone check it out.

"Know Your Shit Before Walking Into a Meeting” with Chris Cunningham"


I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Cunningham, active tech startup investor and founder of C2 Ventures, a privately-held investment firm with a focus on consumer, data and financial techs. Chris and C2 Ventures provides seed capital and hustle to early-stage companies both directly and via limited partnerships. C2 Ventures’ current portfolio includes 15 investments, three of which have been acquired or returned a multiple for the investors.

Jean: Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share your story about how you got into the VC space?

As a serial entrepreneur who has started multiple companies over my career, I was perplexed and frustrated with how broken the current venture model works for early-stage companies. The harsh truth is founders fuck up a lot and mistakes are made which, in short, allows start-ups to fail but it doesn’t have to be this way.

I believe the delta between first-time founders and institutional capital is too wide. Founders need a middle layer of support to help them drive their business forward and avoid classic mistakes. Let’s face it, the first two years of a start-up’s life are tough. To survive and thrive, you want hands-on, head down, get shit done investors and advisors on your side.

I didn’t see anyone in the space thinking like this, so I started investing myself four years ago and today have a 7X return over the industry standard 2.5X. We don’t just invest, we work beside you. Today C2 Ventures is the industry’s first operator-run, early-stage investment platform.

C2 Ventures’ fund’s focus is on the following five pillars — without which, companies are unlikely to achieve a Series A investment or scale:

  1. Expertise (Drive revenues & product execution cycles, launch MVP’s)

  2. Capital (Fundraise & M&A)

  3. Network (Drive relationships & deal flow)

  4. Operations (How to scale teams & build process)

  5. Availability (Founders need a voice & ear. Need humans with empathy and we provide this middle layer that traditional VC’s do not)

  6. Speed (Startups only have 12–24 months to build credible traction and speed is critical to insure it’s managed correctly)

Jean: What kinds of startups do you typically work with?

Investment sector focus where we have domain experience and can provide value as builders and operators. Focuses include:

  • Consumer Technologies

  • Publisher Technologies

  • MarTech, Advertising Tech, Data, Media

  • AI

  • FinTech

  • Health and Wellness

  • Also open to opportunistic opportunities and will explore other verticals that our deep operational bench allows

Jean: What do you look for in the management team of your investment companies?

Entrepreneurs are more than ever, needing the support, guidance, expertise of “Operators Money,” to compete, scale and execute on their vision. So, we look for teams that are open to listening, humble and willing to have experienced operators sit in the trenches with them.

Jean: Can you share a story of a successful Angel or VC investment? What were some of the highlights?

I was the first investor and only advisor into Arbor, a data company that drives net new revenue for apps and publishers leveraging used data assets. I worked very closely with the founders for more than a year leveraging my network to fast track their commercial efforts. Arbor sold for over $150M to Acxiom two years later bringing a 30+X return to shareholders. I learned that there is no match for the power of top tech and the teams that support it. Arbor had a world class CTO out of Google and supporting team that build products and pipes which drove huge value in the publisher ecosystem.

Jean: What is one piece of advice you would give a startup?

Don’t do it unless you are willing to risk it all and willing to take crazy risks to will your idea to win. Also, surround yourself with experienced operators who have failed before you. It doesn’t make sense for you to learn the hard way.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

Principles by “professional mistake maker” Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates. The book is a #1 New York Times bestseller.

Here are three stories that pertain to Principles from my experience:

1) One of my favorites is that even though it might be tough or uncomfortable to talk about certain things, it’s better to tackle it head-on, as you are just avoiding an inevitable. Thus, radical transparency! You’ll get to the same outcome a lot quicker than if you drag it out and spend a lot of mental power on avoiding tough talks.

2) A company is a sports team, not a family.

3) Anything that is being done needs to have a clear responsible party. Be aware of “We need, we should. Every meeting and action point should have a clear conclusion and clear accountability.”

Jean: What are your “5 Things I Wish Founders Knew Before They Pitched To Me” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) The worst thing you can do when pitching me is calling out big names as a calling card that an idea will be successful, like a big VC or someone who has had wins. This is an important data point, but not the way to get my attention. Touting brands, people’s names, etc., is only a fraction of a story vs knowing your market, competition, showing traction, and proving you are ok with bootstrapping.

2) I, also, wish CEO’s didn’t always celebrate “headcount” when highlighting their business metrics. Headcount is not always the best indicator for the health of your company. It can also mean a high burn rate, internal inefficiencies, and inability to turn a profit

3) In addition, a startups cap table is simply a piece of paper that holds no real value in the early days. If you elect to hold equity close to protect your interest and miss opportunities to partner with others, your cap table may end up with the same value it did when you started. Thus, don’t pitch it.

4) Know your shit before walking into a meeting, do your homework, have a plan, show you have taken risk and have some social proof points and traction not just a PowerPoint presentation. Understand my thesis, partners and what I look for, such as technical co-founders.

5) Chasing money vs. the personal story. I believe every founder should have a real story or narrative of how they arrived at the point of wanting to start a company. It could be the emotional hard knocks tale or simply realizing they experienced pain and frustration in their professional or personal lives and they wanted to solve for it. On top of that, the ability to explain why they are the person to build this company. I can get turned off quickly if the company is going after buzzwords because they think there is money there, like Blockchain or AI, vs. having it be more personal.

Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

I’d like to hang with Mark Wahlberg, I’m from Boston so it starts there but love how he has diversified so well outside modeling in his underwear and starting businesses. I think it would be a very fun lunch.

Connect with me on Social Media:

Jean: This was really inspiring! Thank you so much for your time.

-Published on September 2018

How in-car tech will give new meaning to 'mobile commerce'

U.S. drivers are responsible for $212 billion of spending during their commutes, but carmakers have to overcome skepticism from consumers and advertisers about connected cars.

 

In-car commerce technology that lets people pay for gas, order food and see promotional offers from brands and retailers on the digital dashboards of connected vehicles is giving new meaning to the term "mobile commerce."

U.S. consumers spend a lot of time behind the wheel commuting to work, running errands or taking road trips to vacation spots, and interactive platforms increasingly will help them make the most of their travels. Americans are spending more time than ever before in their cars, with the average commute time increasing 20% since 1980, when the U.S. Census Bureau began asking people about their driving habits.

About 135 million people, or 54% of the U.S. adult population, rely on a car to get to work, and they typically spending 15 to 30 minutes each way, according to a study this year from Visa and Pymnts.com.

Those drivers are responsible for $212 billion of spending during their commutes, including $59.6 billion on gasoline. Nearly three quarters of all commuters surveyed, and 82% of millennials with long commutes, said they would shop more if the ability to shop and pay were integrated into their car, they survey of 2,000 people found.

Marketers are taking notice of the opportunities for in-car commerce as U.S. sales of connected vehicles are forecast to grow to 12.7 million a year, or 76% of new cars, by 2024 from 7.6 million two years ago, according to IHS Markit forecasts. The world's biggest automakers, such as General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen, have developed connected-car systems with varying capabilities ranging from on-demand music streaming to automatic payments at gas stations. Retailers like Starbucks, TGI Fridays, Applebee's, Dunkin' Donuts and Wingstop are exploring how their customers are using these systems. 

"It is important that the in-car payment solution is a seamless experience that the consumer wants to adopt," Olabisi Boyle, senior director of IoT, global connected car at Visa, said by email. "To aid in creating that 'adoptable' consumer experience, we are looking at the various driver personas, as vehicles today are used for different purposes — family car, ride sharing, weekend adventures, ride-hailing and more."

One of the biggest concerns among marketers is whether enough consumers have adopted in-car commerce technology, making the digital dashboard a worthwhile marketing platform that meets or exceeds their experiences with a smartphone.  

"We're keeping our eye on it [in-car commerce]," Mike Balducci, vice president of strategy at marketing firm Valassis Digital, said in an interview with Mobile Marketer. "It's still in the early stages, and it's a chicken-or-the-egg problem of whether there are enough users or enough content to make it interesting for brands. That makes it challenging to get off the ground."

He said carmakers have contacted his company about distributing promotions and offers for its clientele of advertisers.

Faces of Entrepreneurship: Mimi Chan, Founder & CEO of Littlefund

Mimi Chan is the founder & CEO of Littlefund , a new, more intentional way for family and friends to gift savings to a fund dedicated to a child's future goals and dreams. For instance, instead of gifting clothing that's outgrown or toys that will be donated, family and friends can choose to gift a monetary amount that grows at 1% APY in compounding cash rewards. Chan took a moment to update the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center  on her journey as a founder so far.

What does "entrepreneurship" mean to you?

MC:  Entrepreneurship means dreaming, creating, building, and sacrificing for change. I believe if you choose entrepreneurship, you are choosing to take on a mission to bring the world what you believe is missing and then, ultimately, improving the lives of others.

Could you describe the a-ha moment to lead to Littlefund?

MC:  I was inspired to start Littlefund after becoming a parent to our daughter Liv. Though I appreciated the material gifts received from family and friends for her, I felt guilty. Most went unused or donated. I wanted to find a way to better align a person's support with a child's needs and desires. As I spoke with family and friends about this problem, I realized our generation's values had changed there had been a shift away from hyper consumerism yet no simple and clear alternative to material gifting existed. This took me on the mission to reimagine gifting.

The aha moment came twice, when I had the idea, and then after we launched. So as you can imagine, there was a long time in between filled with insecurity, self-doubt, paranoia, and just pure hard work. Launching the product to the world made this journey more real because it became real to others. We've received positive feedback from the market which gives us promising signals we're on to something.

What is the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far?

MC:  My resilience has been tested over and over. More than I knew it was capable of being tested.

It was during Demo Day for 500 Startups preparation that I realized my ability to maintain composure or quickly rebound from adversity would be the secret to fulfilling the Littlefund mission. Our beloved nanny had to leave without notice after she was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. Within a matter of minutes, our child care and support system were gone. Finding last minute, trusting care, was a whole new level of stress for both my husband and I - he was in the midst of a fundraising round for his own startup and we had no family nearby to help. I had so many emotions to sort through but didn't have the adequate time to sort because I was focused on finding a solution. In the end, I survived, we survived, and our nanny was able to get the treatment she needed to survive.

I expected building a tech startup was going to be a tough journey, but I never fathomed the physical toll it would take on me. This time around felt different from the past. I'm older and wiser. I'm in constant recovery, reset, and go mode. The only way I can describe it to others is to call it an emotional rollercoaster without a clear end. When funding didn't go the way we hoped, hires didn't pan out, or the product didn't behave the way we wanted it to, I had to figure out how to forge on and rally the team quickly to keep moving forward. Entrepreneurs make sacrifices, some of which you are cognizant of, and others you only realize you've made in hindsight.

How is your company changing the landscape?

MC:  Littlefund is going against the grain but we're confident that the timing is right for a company like ours to exist so we believe we won't be against the grain in the long term. There was a time when paying to sleep on someone's couch "would never work" or "getting in stranger's car is crazy" left people wide-eyed. There's a white space and families are underserved in the financial landscape. Littlefund's mission is to inspire people to invest in a child's future, one gift at a time.

What do you wish you knew when you started?

MC:  I've learned through my entrepreneurship journey to have more confidence in my intuition. In retrospect, my gut knew the best decision for me, team, and product. Especially when it came to consumer messaging- telling an authentic story that resonates. Not telling the story that investors are guessing consumers want. That's the other thing I want to share- to not place so much confidence in investors, it's okay if they disagree with you because no one knows what you're vision is better than you do.

What is your professional and personal mission statement?

MC:  When I was younger, I was struck by this beautiful quote from Eleanor Roosevelt and I've kept it as a reminder to not be afraid to dream big and go for it: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." The second thing I keep with me is something an advisor told me when things got really tough in my last startup, "Startups are like football. You play until the game is over. Don't lose hope or quit before the clock runs out. Hail Marys are possible."

What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?

MC:   When you start, all you have is you and your idea so that's why I make sure that what I am doing is something I believe wholeheartedly in. It's true when people say it won't feel like work if you are choosing a problem you are passionate about solving. When working with others, invest in communication. Just as in a personal relationship, it's the foundation to everything else. It's what holds you accountable to the company's goals, team and vice versa.

Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?

MC:  My husband and daughter. None of this would be possible without their constant support. They also play an important role in my productivity. Some people work out to reset. I spend time with my family and let my mind not be on work.

What does "success" look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?

MC:  Success is a state of mind. I know that I am already successful in different areas of my life. I am a mother- a title that I am proud to serve. I am a wife to an incredible husband and teammate in life. I have wonderful family and friends. Professional life- I am proud to spend time on work that is of service to others. My ultimate goal is to leave a legacy with Littlefund as a company that gets to start every child's life journey and set the next generation's path to success. For me to achieve this, it will take personal discipline and diligence to get there but also a community of the smartest families rallying together for this future we envision.

Could you give some examples of the biggest highs and lows that are part of the founder's journey?

MC:   Proudest - launch day. Darkest - everything before launch and after launch. Highs are when people are showering you with congrats and love. Lows are when you constantly live in fear of running out of money or that you don't achieve product market fit.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?

MC:   It took me about a year to figure out my workflow and put into practice daily preparation and ruthless prioritization. I'm still not an expert at it and I admire those who are. I've made a conscious effort to set myself up to be success-oriented versus task-oriented. My most important decision at work every morning is how I will choose to spend my time. I spend a majority of it focused on the two things that I believe would provide the greatest value toward our overall success goals. Then the small things, I don't sweat. I had to learn what the small things were -t hey used to be clustered in with everything as a to-do list.

Has being a female entrepreneur helped or discouraged you in your context? What do you think would help women, entrepreneurs and  leaders, the most?

MC:   There are moments that are discouraging when the playing field is obviously not equal or fair, especially as a woman in Fintech, but I've learned to forge on. I surround myself with those that are supportive. I also look to my peer mentors to share stories and get their perspectives on situations. It's going to take time and major cultural shifts for women entrepreneurs to have the same opportunities and confidence, especially from investors, to do the same jobs. It's happening though, I see the wheels in motion. Discussions that bring awareness to the issues and advocates, both men and women, putting initiatives forward to focus and fund female entrepreneurs are especially important in making change happen.

Nasdaq's Education Foundation helped launch The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in the fall of 2015. Located in San Francisco, it has quickly become the go to destination for the next generation of risk takers and idea makers who take the plunge into entrepreneurship.

6 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make Pitching Their Cannabis Company

The cannabis industry has matured significantly over the last several years and a top-quality presentation is now a requirement when pitching investors. Similar to tech entrepreneurs, cannabis business hopefuls need to nail a few vital components in their sales pitch or risk swiftly losing the attention of their audience.

Here are some common mishaps that should be avoided at all costs:

1. Don’t Pitch Cold

Before you can even take the first step forward, you must convince an investor to look at your deck. Active investors--the type you want to meet--will likely receive several pitch decks a week. Tom Ahlborg, Managing Director and Principal of Ahlborg Acquisitions, warns that emailing a deck without a warm introduction of some sort is a big mistake.

Ahlborg says that one of his biggest peeves is when “somebody sends me a pitch deck cold. I usually never read these pitch decks. If a serious entrepreneur can’t reach out and network to obtain an introduction to me from a friend, business associate, contact, network, or company that I mentor or invest and get a warm lead before sending his/her deck, I probably will not read it. I like to rely on my network to bring me leads, therefore, I really expect entrepreneurs to get someone to introduce them to me.”

 

LinkedIn can be your greatest asset in getting to that warm introduction. Look through the list of connections you have in common with an investor and ask one of them to send an intro on your behalf. This can be a sentence or two about your business and how you have partnered together in the past, (if applicable).

If you don’t have any common connections on Linkedin you can still send a message highlighting some shared connections, even if you vaguely know them. A suggested subject line may read: "Smith, Jones, Lee, Parker - all connections we share."

Not exactly a warm intro, but at least it's not frozen. 

Related: Exclusive: 5 'Shark Tank' Stars Weigh in on the Marijuana Boom

2. Don’t Be Ambiguous

Think: What is the problem in the industry that your company is actively working to solve?

If you cannot answer that question in a very clear and concise manner, your pitch deck is missing the mark.

Piers Cooper, General Partner of Fresh VC shared, “Whether your pitch desk is for the cannabis industry or any other industry, it needs to tell a compelling story and have a logical flow. I like to see the problem solved and to clearly see the market opportunity up front. Only when I understand why this company needs to exist, do I want to hear about the great product and strong team that can execute the plan.”

The need for your company must be explained very distinctly.

3. Don't Dumb It Down

Just as you would never perform stand-up comedy at a funeral, so you should never pitch the wrong deck to investors. For example, if you're pitching an active investor in the cannabis industry, there is very little point in showing them slides on the size of the market or growth potential. They're already investing in cannabis and are intimately familiar.

“The pitch deck needs to cater to new folks trying to learn, but also remain sensitive to advanced investors who want to get a real look under the hood and not have to run through a long deck telling them how much upside the cannabis industry has,” said Matthew Nordgren, Founder and CEO of Arcadian Fund. “They already know.”

It doesn’t hurt to have slides with industry data, but you might consider placing them in an appendix or at the very least skip over them when pitching to cannabis veterans.

4. Don’t Rely On Your Deck

Jim Parco, Ph.D., Founder of Mesa Organics and Purplebee’s Extracts and Professor, Economics & Business at Colorado College, offers some sage advice.“The pitch deck isn’t, and should never be the focus. It simply helps structure the narrative to communicate to potential investors the clarity and efficacy of the idea. The best ideas have a story, and the best entrepreneurs are often the best story-tellers. Use your deck to tell the story to make people feel the power of your idea.”

Before you walk into a meeting, you should know your pitch deck so well that you can do your entire presentation without it. You should be able to tell your ‘story’ without visuals. As a rule of thumb: If you need a slide to tell your story, chances are the story's too complicated.

5. Don't Go Long

“One of the biggest mistakes I see often in pitch decks is the length of the deck," said Marion Mariathasan, CEO and co-founder of Simplifya. “Most investors typically don’t have the time or attention span to spend on a pitch. The entrepreneur should be mindful of this and therefore try to keep the deck under 15 slides, 9 ideally, and clearly highlight the main points that he or she is trying to convey.”

Mariathasan adds,“Hit all the main points in each slide without crowding the slide. Remember that the idea with a pitch deck is to get the reader excited about the concept. Leave all the granular details for a follow-up conversation.”

6. Don’t Go In Blind. Assume Your Model Will Be Replicated

Every business can be copied--eventually. So how can you protect your company’s market position?

Start by asking, “What’s your moat? Is there unique IP that keeps a competitor from creating an identical product? Is there some other idea, traction or technique that will prevent others from duplicating your success?" says Chris Cunningham, founder of C2Ventures and creator of C2V Studios. “Entrepreneurs often poorly address this in their pitch decks and it will lead investors to question your vulnerability.”

On GDPR, High Colonics And Opportunities For Founders

As an investor and mobile native, I talk to a lot of young founders. The energy and pure innovative spirit they exude is fuel for me -- I love it. One thing that bugs me, though, is how easily some founders can be dissuaded from following a particular path based on feedback from their influencers, or whatever the big, scary industry buzz of the day happens to be.

About two years ago, the boogie man in the advertising industry’s room was ad blockers. Everybody was talking about it, everybody was writing about it. Ad blockers were going to eat everyone’s lunch and forever change the face of advertising.

In the end, the whole thing felt more like Y2K -- lots of Chicken Little, not much meat.

 

I’d argue that ad blockers have proven to be a good thing by making the industry focus more on users than on ad units. I’m pretty sure the words "user experience" have been uttered more by advertisers in the last few years than in the preceding decades. So, in the case of ad blockers at least, the boogie man turned out to be a bit of a rainmaker instead.

The boogie man of today -- the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) --  kicked-off in spring of 2018. The buzz is that GDPR means instant Armageddon for those reliant on location sources and user opt-in. I don't buy it.

The GDPR storm won’t be a cyclone, and the advertising landscape will ultimately benefit as a result of its introduction. Frankly, the whole industry is going through a cleansing process, and GDPR is just the high colonic the doctor ordered. Why?

Anything that compels the people who buy, sell and exchange consumer data to more actively manage those workflows is a good thing for the health of the industry. It establishes a code of conduct, guarantees users a path of resolution and helps keep the bad guys out.

 

Bravo, truly. No legitimate buyer or seller of data should have a problem detailing its legal compliance, origin or composition -- you can’t even buy dirt from Home Depot that way.

As someone who invests in companies that do cool things with data, I am not dissuaded by GDPR. It excites me because I know the quality of the data available to work with is better than ever before.

Pretty soon, data might even be labeled like groceries, so marketers will know the exact composition and freshness of what they’re getting. That’s going to be an exciting (and emergent) marketplace, but that’s not the only business opportunity that will come from GDPR.

New solutions and services will be built to assist with GDPR monitoring and compliance. New technical and legal specialties will arise, creating educational programs, industry forums and specialized roles for skilled personnel. Venture capital dollars will flow to the best and biggest ideas, and winners will emerge.

 

At the end of the day, the quality of the data product making it to marketer’s hands will be much, much better. With the right marketing technology stack and a smart, agile hand on the wheel, a good marketer can spin that raw data into target-marketed gold. That’s a fact.

Typically it’s younger, hipper companies and people that clue-in to these kinds of opportunities first, which is why innovation in the face of looming disruptions happen so quickly: Fast-movers don’t fear change, they make it work to their advantage.

GDPR is great for users because it’s their data and they should get to decide what to do with it. It’s also great for an ad industry desperate to cleanse the worst elements of its inner workings. As an investor, I am tuned-in to founders with ideas to help each of these parties accomplish their goals and scale a business globally.

Being a brand, tech company or a founder in the advertising space looking for an idea and seeing GDPR as a risk baffles me -- it’s clearly an opportunity.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?

Hipster internet favorite Reddit may have to lose its edge to go public

It's currently valued at almost $2 billion, but in this interview with NBC News, Chris thinks Reddit's offbeat, quirky feel might be an impediment to a successful IPO.

Questions about the social news aggregation site Reddit going public have been swirling for years — but the move seems more definite than ever, after CEO Steve Huffman saidit could happen by 2020. Now the questions is: What does the company need to do to get IPO-ready?

Reddit, which declined to comment to NBC News, is clearly prized by some major investors. It scooped up $200 million earlier this year, reaching a valuation of $1.8 billion, and is beloved by users: Analytics service Alexa rated it as the eighth-most popular site in the world. Plus, it’s shown it can stand the test of time, at least by internet standards, having been around since 2005. But the bare bones site has always been a bit of an outlier, and it’s been a hotbed for controversies (like the 2014 celebrity photo hack, six months after which Reddit enforced its photo sharing guidelines).

The 'front page of the internet'

The site's user-driven, niche feel is exactly what makes Reddit so appealing to so many people. It’s been slow to roll out a mobile strategy and still fosters an old-school, text-based vibe you may have recognized from 2005, which makes it feel almost like the secret basement of the world wide web.

“The culture of the site, even as they have scaled their user base, remains offbeat, quirky, and anti-establishment,” said Daniel Gulati, a partner at Comcast Ventures. “It's almost entirely user controlled, including on the user acquisition front. Anyone can start a subreddit and build their own community. To date there has been very little company-driven moderation of content (in contrast to what's happening over at Facebook now).”

Community first, money later

Reddit has a couple of key methods of monetization including Reddit Gold, a subscription service to allow users special access. It also has sponsored posts. But Brad Hines, a startup adviser, investor, and personal finance writer, opines that Reddit hasn’t wanted to risk losing its “cool factor,” and as such has remained “focused on continuing to stoke brand loyalty, and roll out methods of revenue slowly.”

“Reddit’s monetization is still well below where it would be needed to achieve a spectacular IPO," which is what would be expected of one of the most popular sites in the world, Richard Beale of Mindshare North America told NBC News. “As this improves with their new ad products and redesign, you can expect the conversations around an IPO to become more serious.”

A crucial pain point around monetization, as Greg Portell, lead partner in the consumer and retail practice of A.T. Kearney, sees it, is in the community aspect. That may seem ridiculous in considering that Reddit is all about community, but it’s really more like a collection of very disparate communities. This presents a challenge for advertisers.

“How can Reddit create stickiness among their users, when everyone has a different view?” asks Portell. “You and I may overlap on 20 percent of our content, but 80 percent is going in different directions. It's just not a very developed revenue model. Honestly, I just don’t think they have tried to monetize their audience to the greatest extent.”

Safe for free thinkers — but what about shareholders?

“Reddit can count big numbers in users — but that doesn't mean it's conducive to brand advertisers, which is generally a key monetization metric,” Chris Cunningham, CRO at Unacast and founder of C2 Ventures, told NBC News. “In addition, advertisers like safe and predictable content and Reddit is not that, which puts its ad business at risk.”

Would Reddit have to part with its user loyalty in order to please its shareholders? If so, that would pretty much defeat the whole venture of going public.

“If Reddit goes public, will its growth stop?” said David Mawhinney, associate teaching professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business. “It’s a worthy debate, but it’s not fair to frame it as an either/or situation. As long as Reddit has a quality product, it will keep growing. And that [$200 million in] funding probably wouldn't have come in if they weren't expected to keep growing.”

There’s also the idea that seasoned investors are often looking to diversify their portfolio with younger companies. Reddit stock could be the perfect opportunity.

“After a while, investors tire of investing in Apple or Netflix or Amazon because they fear their best growth days are behind,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. “They’re asking, ‘What will the next growth story be?’ That's where a company like Reddit could come into play. And plenty of [shareholders] want to get into the ground level of a good story.”

But still, Reddit will have to make some concessions — or at least, more modifications.

“Implementing greater brand safety controls for users and brands alike whilst accelerating their shift to mobile-first would be two key initiatives for Reddit pre-IPO to mitigate the risk of undesirable headlines and subsequently shareholder shakes,” said Beale.

Reddit’s goldmine of data

Reddit may not have the strongest monetization game (yet), nor the slickest, cleanest platform, and it may be all over the place with its users in a way that seems to counter the cohesiveness that advertisers desire when targeting consumers. But Reddit also has a very precious ball in its court: data. So much data.

“What Reddit can do to really differentiate themselves is figure out what unique elements of people’s behavior they identify from their datasets that other competitors can't,” said Portell. “That's really the cornerstone to getting them out of selling eyeballs. Digital advertising is very simple and there’s no scarcity of it, but if Reddit can say to brands ‘We can show you this type of person in this phase of the purchasing funnel and make them more likely to convert,’ then that becomes something differentiating. Facebook and Google are pretty close to doing this, so Reddit needs to come up with something unique.”

Something’s gotta happen

It’s true that Reddit could still bail on an IPO, especially if there’s a bad turn in the stock market. It could even sell to a bigger company, though that seems unlikely. Or perhaps it could simply decide against dealing with all the invasive pressures of going public.

“You could generate income until the cows come home as a private company and not be bothered by the regularity and exposure that comes with being public,” said Professor David Brophy, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity. “That's the biggest argument for staying private.”

It’s not a bad argument. Alas, it’s not so simple. Though currently private, Reddit has a lot of investors counting on it — and watching the company like hawks. Some kind of liquidity move may be necessary in the near future.

“All these people have put something in and at some point Reddit has to return on that investment,” said Portell. “The most certain way to get that ROI is with an IPO.”

However, Reddit doesn’t want to end up like Zynga, the video game developer that went prancing to its IPO only to get candy-crushed.

“Zynga was a shooting star, went public, then its growth rate stopped because it didn't have the next hit game,” said Mawhinney. “It’s not that the company will die, but it can be crippling in that they can't ever get their mojo back. People are asking whether Snapchat can rebound. Even Twitter struggled, though to a lesser degree. Reddit has teams both internally and externally asking, ‘How do we avoid that?’”

Sounds like we’ve got a few years to find out — and in the meantime, we’re sure to see plenty of innovations come Reddit’s way. Hopefully, its devout users, aka redditors, won’t take offense — or if they do, they won’t stay away for long.

“When Facebook introduced its News Feed everyone hated it, so without a doubt whatever [Reddit does], a segment of users will be upset,” said Gulati. “News Feed was [detested at first], but now no user can imagine Facebook without it, and it added great utility to the experience.”

10 Predictions for the Tech Industry in 2018

Last year around this time, I published a post titled How I’m investing in 2017 and see you at CES. In it, I tried to predict how various market segments (data techs, AR/VR, attribution techs, blockchain) would perform in that year. Looking back, I’d grade myself with a solid B — take a look and LMK what you think.

As we go into 2018, I’d like to focus on the advertising industry and try calling some shots that seem obvious (Snapchat = loser, podcast ads = winner), and some that may be a bit farther out there (Disney buying Fox = meh, Microsoft = emerging social powerhouse). As always, your thoughts are most appreciated.

Whatever 2018 brings in your personal and professional life, may you kick its ass fully!

1. Amazon will come to Madison Avenue like never before.

Amazon is about to take major advertising share from Google and Facebook. Why? The incumbents are fatigued, whereas Amazon has tons of cash, a solid identity graph, they understand purchase behavior, and can compete on a recommendation level. This shift will squeeze mid and long tail ad tech players. Content is still king and the most original stuff will still win, but there simply won’t be enough money generated to feed everyone that’s dependent on a media buyer.

2. Snapchat will tumble even deeper.

Given how well Instagram suits me I’ve never been a user, so I am biased, but Snapchathasn’t been able to scale beyond tweens and teens so far, and I don’t see their ad business turning a corner in 2018. They have no real social graph or purchase behaviors to work from. It’s a cute technology, at best.

3. Bad apples will try to worm their way into the location space.

As President of Unacast, I’ve been living and breathing the location data ecosystem for the last two years. In that time, I’ve formed the opinion that we may need to live through the same challenges the ad industry had with the media ecosystem, i.e. a few bad apples taking advantage through fraud, bots and a lack of transparency. That’s created widespread havoc and wasted millions — if not billions — of ad dollars. That led to opportunities for companies like Moat to help fight media fraud, and Uru Video to support brand safety. The parallel?

With location data so hot right now, there is an urgent need for scale and accuracy, leaving cracks in the market. No doubt, shady players will manufacture false interpretations of data lacking verifiable provenance. On the flip side, this will sharpen the opportunity for companies like Unacast that provide buyers of data with better quality and more transparency when engaging third parties. The space will remain white hot, just keep an eye out.

4. GDPR ends up being like Y2K.

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) being led by EU nations is set to kick-off in Spring of 2018. The buzz is loud and ubiquitous that GDPR means it’s instant-Armageddon for those reliant on location sources and user opt-in. I’m calling B.S.

It’s going to be like the Y2K build-up when we were going from 1999 into 2000 — a slow burn with lots of doomsday predictions, then nothing much happens, at least not this Spring. GDPR have some fallout but it will take some time for those ripples to make their way around the world.

5. Netflix continues to dominate, Disney just gets bloated.

There’s a lot of reasons Disney bought Fox for north of $52 billion, but what it boils down to is that Disney and every other traditional media company with any common sense should fear Netflix. High 5’s to Peter Naylor and the Huluad team for excelling here, as well. Netflix and Hulu users are always-on, always demanding choice, and always getting what they want. That’s the future.

While the Disney/Fox deal is massive and will evoke change, it’s not going to cause a mis-step in the Netflix march to the winner’s circle, because you can’t rattle a business with a core focus. Disney will be bigger and more bloated but it won’t overtake Netflix in content consumption. No chance.

6. Podcasts and all things audio/voice take a big chunk out of publishing readership.

We’ve already seen every major trade publication in technology, advertising and almost every other vertical move to add podcasts to their free editorial content. With increasingly more people mobile and connected, earbuds in, the demand to capture attention via bite-sized pieces of podcast consumption will skyrocket.

Ad dollars to voice and audio will rise, shifting share for middling and major publishers alike as user’s preferences for how they like to get their news and information continues to evolve. P.S. get used to hearing a lot about ‘dynamic insertion’ for podcasts (sounds dirty; will make some people filthy rich).

7. Old schoolers, such as IBM Watson, Oracle, NYT and GE will continue to leverage their scale and encroach in new innovation.

The ad industry is always quick to label companies as dinosaurs and discount large corporations that have had their bumps in the past, but time is a great healer and it takes a long time to create a diamond. Perhaps because of new leadership, a willingness to move faster, and the evolving means to leverage their tech DNA to win, GE, IBM and NYT have new life.

Thanks to Linda BoffDeon Newman, and Meredith Kopit Levien, digital natives with the power to think big and evoke change are at the helm and driving market share, while the Buzzfeeds of the world who laying people off.

8. Blockchain is coming, but not for a while.

While blockchain technologies are without a doubt the wave of the future, this shit doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to take three or four years time to cement change. This is particularly true in the ad tech world (despite already being blockchain saturated), where it will take time to change how transactions occur, ads are traded, etc.

Just like it was with mobile (I think it’s been the year of mobile since about 2008 now), blockchain will take longer to evolve than anyone thinks, and will be bigger than anyone can imagine. Full disclosure: via my investment platform, C2 Ventures, I have skin in blockchain through Monetago and others.

9. A post-M&A Linkedin will continue to win.

LinkedIn takes some lumps, but come-on, man! Does anybody else like this platform as much as I do, not just for the professional side of things, but people discovery, content discovery and messaging? Don’t get me wrong: random people emailing saying they like my profile is lame, and I laugh at some of the non personal messages I get, but if you look beyond that and get active, LinkedIn is better than Facebook.

That’s why people like Jon SteinbergJohn Battelle and Gary Vaynerchuk use its feed and scale to publish shit. Don’t sleep on Linkedin in 2018 — Microsoft is finally going to gain major share in the social game.

10. AR in mobile ads is going to be a thing.

Right now, celebrities and influencers metaphorically stand behind a products. In 2018, you’ll start seeing them standing right beside it. They’re going to show you how to get to the store and walk you down the aisle, all while holding a two way conversation, answering questions, smiling and posing for as many selfies as you can snap.

AR ads are the technical convergence of high speed mobile, location data, AI, chatbots and about a dozen other things. It will forever change the way brands, influencers and users tell stories and interact with one another, and it’s going to produce a whack of money.

Chris Cunningham is President of Unacast, founder of C2.Ventures and a Limited Partner with Bowery Capital and Techstars.

LiveLike will now let you watch sports with your Facebook friends in VR

LiveLike, the service that partners with sports broadcasters to create and host their VR viewing experiences, is going social.

As a refresher, LiveLike’s VR experience is a “virtual suite” overlooking the field, where you can select different camera angles, look around the suite, view pre-produced content, etc. We’ve looked at the experience before, and think it’s much more interactive than VR solutions that just provide viewers with a floating screen to watch the game.

And now you’ll be able to do this with friends. Starting with the CONCACAF Soccer Gold Cup next week, users in the Fox Sports VR App (made by LiveLike) will be able to watch with their friends.

Upon opening the app, users will be able to connect to Facebook and join a room with any of their Facebook friends who have also downloaded the app, or can select a random option where they are put in a room with three other viewers.

In the app you appear as an avatar (which is basic, but still slightly customizable) with your name above, and can turn and talk to your friends while watching the game. LiveLike explained that they’re using 3D audio, meaning your friend’s voice will get louder when you look at them and quieter when you turn back to the action, making the experience feel a little more real.

And to make it more accessible for everyone, you now don’t even need to have a headset to use the app. Users can still download the app on their phone or tablet and experience a slimmed-down version — basically they can scroll and pan around and see everything they’d see if they were actually in VR.

LiveLike is planning to put this social feature in every deployment they do going forward, but cautioned that there is a chance some partners may not want the feature in their broadcast. But outside of that, LiveLike sees these social features as the future of their platform.

Eventually the startup wants to build in community-focused functionality, like the ability to watch the game in a virtual room with other fans from your team. And this community aspect could convince fans to increase the time they spend in VR, which may help transform it from a novelty into an experience people actually prefer over traditional TV, especially if they are watching alone.

Here’s a video of what LiveLike’s experience looks like now (without the new social features).