Friday, April 12, 2019

Stripe for ID verification: Investors bet on new Madrona Venture Labs accelerator startup Vouched - GeekWire

Stripe for ID verification: Investors bet on new Madrona Venture Labs accelerator startup Vouched - GeekWire


Stripe for ID verification: Investors bet on new Madrona Venture Labs accelerator startup Vouched - GeekWire

Posted: 12 Apr 2019 07:28 AM PDT

Vouched CEO John Baird. (Vouched Photo)

Vouched, a Seattle startup using AI to verify people's identities online, has joined the Madrona Venture Labs accelerator.

The 3-month accelerator program launched last year in a bid by VC firm Madrona Venture Group to lure talent from tech giants. It is focused on established teams and offers startups coaching and connections to investors.

Vouched uses AI to review documents in order to help companies verify the identity of its customers, clients and contractors. Those documents could be anything from passports and driver's licenses to proofs of address and insurance. The idea is to turn a manual process requiring lots of time and staff into an automated one.

"We're working behind the scenes to verify people on sites you might use every day. You might have already used Vouched and don't even know it," Vouched CEO John Baird said in an email.

Vouched has raised $700,000 to date. In addition to a $100,000 investment Madrona Venture Labs, Vouched's other investors include Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens, New Engen CEO Dave Atchison, investor Mike Potter, Bulletproof 360 VP Brian Watkins, Revolve CFO Jesse Timmermans, and Vijay Talwar, CEO of EMEA at Footlocker.

Baird said Vouched aims to do for ID verification what services like Stripe have done for online payments, with a focus on ease of use, affordability, accuracy and scale. Vouched is incorporated under the name Woolly Labs.

Baird founded the company with John Cao, who serves as chief product and technology officer. Vasanth Balakrishnan is the startup's head of AI research.

"Increasingly, companies never meet their customers, clients, or even employees," Baird said. "How do you know, for example, that a gig economy worker has the legally required credentials to work in their industry?"

Baird declined to share the names of customers, but said that Vouched works with "companies in sectors such as the gig and sharing economy, telemedicine, transportation, and enterprise software."

This is the second company to join Madrona's accelerator. The first was Invio, a software startup that helps speed up clinical trials, which graduated in January and was a GeekWire Elevator Pitch finalist. The Madrona Venture Labs accelerator is currently accepting applications. The program is run by managing directors Mike Fridgen and Ben Elowitz, Partner Shauna Causey, and CTO Jay Bartot out of Create33, the "founder center" that opened beneath Madrona Venture Group last year.

Work Life How these black women startup founders are using blockchain - Fast Company

Posted: 12 Apr 2019 12:30 PM PDT

As blockchain technology continues to transform financial services and seemingly every other new startup, it faces a major challenge: how to fix a major gender imbalance, one that's even more pronounced for black women. While the technology itself has revolutionary potential, it's remained very traditional when it comes to inclusivity. Only 8.78% of individuals in the blockchain and crypto community are women, according to CoinDance. The data was not broken down by race, but there are major racial disparities in employment in the financial services and tech sectors between white women and black women.

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Though their numbers may be low, there are a few black women in blockchain working as entrepreneurs and corporate leaders who are looking to bring more black women into the industry. Here are two of them, offering their advice for incorporating the technology in business.

Eliminating friction within the self-service retail space

Dawn Dickerson uses her influence to engage with the blockchain community, inform people who are interested in the technology, and fundraise for her company, Popcom, an automated retail technology company. Popcom develops software and IoT-connected hardware for self-service retail, including vending machines and digital kiosks used to dispense products and perform transactions.

"Our goal overall is to reduce the friction and transactions in automation in the retail setting and then allow retailers to collect data from and about their customers," says Dickerson. "It's very similar to what's currently being done in the e-commerce environment, from Google Analytics and other platforms like Shopify."

The data collection and metrics were largely unavailable for the self-service retail space until Dickerson created the software. The idea started after she began to grow her first business, Flat Out of Heels. "Blockchain came into play around protecting customers' data and identity. Since we use facial recognition, it was important for me to keep the data secure and only release the information for the retailer that the customer wants to share," she says. Her new software will use facial recognition to purchase regulated retail products like cannabis, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals to be sold in vending machines and digital kiosks.

This software is turning customers' images into a biometric half, "which is a series of numbers and letters that represent that person's identity." Dickerson explained that the biometric half would be stored on the blockchain with their unique private keys as the only way to unlock any types of data associated with that profile.

Helping companies incorporate blockchain solutions

Natasha Bansgopaul is the cofounder and COO of DarcMatter, a global fintech platform for alternative investments. The company creates fintech solutions to make the process of raising capital easier for fund managers and smoothing the way for investors to access deal flow in the alternative space. Now that the company is in its fourth year, they launch a blockchain division called Konstellation, focused on creating blockchain solutions for the global financial services industry.

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"We're thinking about taking that next step of fintech and using blockchain feed supplements that apply both broad and specific sectors of financial services. Knowing that this is where a lot of the foundational blockchain innovation is needed, we want to continue to embrace this industry and take it to the next stage," shared Bansgopaul.

Blockchain was always a part of DarcMatter's product road map for a launch in 2020, but due to the excitement and interest in the technology, the company accelerated the plan to launch Konstellation in 2018. Since the launch, they've leveraged partnerships within traditional financial services on a global scale. "We also provide access and exposure within the blockchain world for more established institutions looking to figure out how to incorporate blockchain solutions in their companies as well," she says.

Be intentional when exploring blockchain

Although it's a great time to explore blockchain and the need to get more black women in the industry is urgent, Dickerson and Bansgopaul believe that entrepreneurs should be wary of jumping on the bandwagon. "If you don't have to use blockchain, it makes no sense to spend the $100,000 it takes for developers to integrate it into your product," says Dickerson.

Dickerson, who has pitched herself to investors, knows all too well that many entrepreneurs are pushed by investors into business strategies that won't work for their business. She was once told that Flat Out Heels should be a subscription box service because her company was not tech. "If blockchain is applicable, if it is the best solution, absolutely use it, but never make any business decisions based on what investors want, because [many are] bandwagon jumpers. They love one thing today and tomorrow they don't," she says.

Given the expense and novelty of the blockchain industry, Bansgopaul also agrees that it's not a requirement for all companies. She believes the traditional path of securing loans and investors is still a viable option for most companies."There's an influx of people just trying to take advantage of the financial gain opportunity or the lack of understanding from investors, and the immaturity of the market. There's a lot of people coming in and trying to do stuff and putting the name 'blockchain' on things," Bansgopaul says.

Funding your blockchain projects

If you are looking to attract investors with your blockchain project, she suggests you learn more about it by spending time with blockchain developers and joining blockchain community meet-ups or attending conferences. "The technical aspects of the project are what drives a community of investors to support blockchain projects, and this is a community that has become professional at identifying the technological ideas that will be core to the development of the industry as a whole," Bansgopaul says.

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Dickerson is raising money in the form of a token, and she promotes her token sales on social media. Right now she does not see any black women raising money in this way, and she's hoping to change it. "I do encourage black women to tokenize a cap and use a security token to raise money, because that's just a great way to raise money and allow for your investors to get liquidity. It also allowed me to raise money from the general public through equity crowdfunding under the JOBS Act Title III Reg CF," Dickerson says.

Although the blockchain and crypto world was created for anonymity, what's unique in its growth is the willingness and eagerness for people to meet, learn, and engage with one another. Groups and organizations like Black Women in Blockchain Council, Stealth Mode, and many other communities for people of color in blockchain offer the connections to more black women in the industry.

ServiceNow’s first employee — and top engineer — founds software startup Perspectium - The San Diego Union-Tribune

Posted: 22 Mar 2019 12:00 AM PDT

David Loo, a top San Diego engineer and the first employee of the $45 billion technology colossus ServiceNow, is building his own tech startup in Rancho Bernardo. The under-the-radar venture — called Perspectium — is growing quietly but quickly, bursting at the seams of its local office.

The startup is solving a problem that was created by the last wave of software unicorns: connecting and moving data between big software-as-a-service programs like ServiceNow.

As founder and CEO of Perspectium, Loo is about as unassuming as tech entrepreneurs get. When asked why no one seems to have heard of Perspectium, Loo shrugs and laughs sheepishly, "We're busy 'starting up,' I guess."

Although modest in nature, Loo is well known in tech. He was instrumental in two of San Diego's largest software companies over the past three decades: ServiceNow and Peregrine Systems. Loo was the first to join ServiceNow's founder Fred Luddy, who had worked with Loo at Peregrine and brought him on as his first employee.

"I saw the entrepreneur in (Luddy) and I knew he was capable of doing something great," Loo said. "He inspired me tremendously. When he left Peregrine, I said, 'Take me with you.'"

Loo joined ServiceNow in 2004 and stayed with the company until it went public in 2013, leading teams of engineers as the company's top trainer. Bow Ruggeri, who joined ServiceNow as employee number two, said Loo was key in the company's leadership.

"He always says he was just a developer, but he was far more than that," Ruggeri said. "He ran their training program and cultivated the culture at ServiceNow. He was one of the most loved employees there."

What Perspectium is building

After leaving the tech giant post-IPO, Loo founded Perspectium to solve a problem he thought was pervasive in his industry: getting disconnected, enterprise software programs to share information with one another.

In particular, Loo was interested in connecting big service management software like ServiceNow and Jira, which are used by global corporations to manage IT service requests, among other issues. Information can get lost at these corporate giants because they're using several programs to manage these inbound service requests, and important data doesn't always transfer from one program to another.

Say, for example, a bug in someone's software is reported to a sales representative. That salesperson might record the issue in several separate programs — ServiceNow, SalesForce or Jira, to name a few — before it actually gets addressed by the appropriate IT person or engineer. Because the information is recorded in a disjointed way, service requests can get lost or mismanaged. This is especially a problem for massive corporations that span the globe, as different geographies might use disparate software depending on what's available regionally.

Loo, who's best known as an integration specialist at his former roles, found a way to automate the transfer of information between these disparate software programs, linking them in a way that allows quick data transfer between all platforms. This is what Perspectium specializes in, calling it "integration-as-a-service."

How big is Perspectium now?

Since its 2014 launch, Perspectium has quickly racked up multibillion-dollar corporations as clients. Among its customers are TMobile (freshly signed this month), McDonald's, Pepsi Co., Southwest Airlines, and National Grid (the electric company that services most of the United Kingdom). Oh, and ServiceNow is a client, too.

Perspectium is quickly outgrowing its Rancho Bernardo office park, where the company has spilled into adjoining offices in a patchwork of space. Employees are squeezed into every pocket of the honeycomb office, so Loo is moving the startup to a new space in July. The new location will span 13,000 square feet near Scripps Ranch and will house the company's 60 local employees. Perspectium also has 12 staffers in London and three in New York.

Perspectium is not the first promising tech startup that emerged from ServiceNow's earliest employees. In January, the Union-Tribune profiled Dreamtsoft, a startup founded by Ruggeri (the second employee of ServiceNow) and former ServiceNow architect Jerrod Bennett. That company makes an online tool that allows businesses to create their own custom software without writing code.

Loo said he hopes to see San Diego transform into a mecca of software startups, fed by the talent that's been percolating at local tech giants and universities. His lifelong goal, he says, is to help San Diego flourish as a tech hub, either by bootstrapping more startups or attracting new engineers into the startup scene.

"We have great universities here producing really smart kids, but then they leave," Loo said. "Don't leave! Come to companies like Perspectium or Seismic. I want to see a vibrant software development community in San Diego."

Related reading:

Going rogue: Guys behind $30 billion giant ServiceNow launch tech startup in San Diego

Why San Diego missed the first wave of tech 'unicorns,' and what's changing now

Software startup Seismic gets $100M at $1 billion valuation, making it San Diego's latest unicorn

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