Category Archives: Mobile

Teaching autonomous cars to drive

There are a few ways to teach autonomous cars to drive.

One is to have them drive in the real world and to test different autonomy features by enabling them in different contexts. This requires the presence of a human driver who can intervene whenever necessary.

Another is to have them drive in a simulated virtual world.

Finally, you can have them drive in a fake real world. This is a real world setting that’s built for the specific purpose of teaching autonomous cars to drive. So, for example, the roads, signs, and traffic lights reflect real world conditions but dummies are used rather than pedestrians. Here’s an example from the University of Michigan’s Mcity.

The second and third approaches are low risk ways to prepare for the first approach.

TBH is acquired by Facebook

TBH (short for “to be honest”) is an anonymous messaging app that promotes positive communications rather than the negative communications that often plague anonymous messaging apps. We had invested in the app’s parent company at Aslanoba Capital, and TBH was recently acquired by Facebook.

At the time of our investment in February 2015, TBH’s parent company was working on an on-campus messaging app, not the anonymous messaging app that is currently TBH. The team then went through several iterations of other messaging apps before finding success with TBH. This article outlines their journey well. In other words, TBH wasn’t an overnight success, but the result of perseverance, learning, and continual growth.

I commend the TBH team and its CEO Nikita Bier for each of these three traits.

Toys R Us’ bankruptcy

I remember how I used to always look forward to going to the local Toys R Us store when I was a child. I was therefore suprised, and disappointed, to read the news that Toys R Us is filing for bankruptcy earlier this week. I imagine that many adults who relied on the retailer for their childhood toys felt the same way.

Most of the stories covering the bankruptcy have focused on Toys R Us’ inability to pay off its debts as the source of the bankruptcy. While that is indeed the final manisfestation of the problem which led to the company’s bankruptcy filing, this final manifestation of the problem is actually the result of the company’s profits not being large enough to cover its debts.

And the shortfall in profit is the result of the primarily offline toy retailer losing sales to two alternatives. The first is online toy retailers and the second is smartphone and tablet apps that offer children an alternative source of entertainment to toys. These are the core problems, and both of these core problems are examples of technological progress.

As tough as it is to see Toys R Us go, the fact that technology is responsible both for the company’s departure and as an alternative to the products it sold, is a small consolation.

Rinse in Chicago

Rinse, a tech-enabled laundry and dry cleaning managed marketplace where we’re investors, announced its Series B funding round in June of this year. At the time of the announcement, Rinse shared that most of the round would go towards expanding into new cities.

The first of these post-round new city expansions is now taking place with Rinse beginning to serve customers in Chicago. This is the fourth city that Rinse is operational in, following San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC.

If you live in Chicago and want to check out Rinse, you can do so here.

The commoditization of AI algorithms

Butterfleye, where we’re investors, is the producer of the Nero 1, a wireless security camera which comes equipped with facial recognition technology.

Once you start using the Nero 1, it captures and prompts you to tag the faces it identifies. This lets the Nero 1 remain passive in the event that it sees a known face while alerting you to new faces who could represent potential intruders.

What’s interesting about the facial recognition feature is that Butterfleye developed it using the Amazon Rekognition API. In other words, Amazon built the general image recognition algorithm, and Butterfleye is now using it for the specific case of facial recognition by applying the algorithm to the facial data that it collects.

This is a great example of the commoditization of AI algorithms. As more people have access to these algorithms, the source of value increasingly shifts from the algorithm itself to the data to which the algorithm is applied.

Ininal’s public API

Ininal is a digital banking service where we’re investors. In a post from October 2016, I shared how Ininal launched its API for developers to build apps that leverage Ininal’s technical banking infrastructure. This includes the ability to create accounts and prepaid cards, deposit money, and perform money transfers.

At the time, several companies including Bitaksi and Sinemia from our portfolio began to leverage Ininal’s API. However, Ininal offered its API privately to developers working on specific projects on a case by case basis. It wasn’t public.

Now, Ininal has officially launched its public API. This means that Ininal’s API is now accessible to all developers. As a result, the pace at which we’re going to see new projects being built using Ininal’s banking infrastructure is going to increase. That means more financial services innovation, which is a great thing.

You can check out Ininal’s public API here.

It’s not the category

Most investors state that a startup’s team is the most important determinant of its success.

Simultaneously, when a few companies in a category run into trouble and/or fail and the category therefore falls out of favor, we are quick to dismiss new companies which emerge in that category.

This happened for mobile gaming companies several years back when Zynga, the at the time leader of the pack, started facing difficulties.

More recently, it’s happening in e-commerce as all but a horizontal approach is falling out of favor.

The first two statements of this post are contradictory. Specifically, if a startup’s team is indeed the most important determinant of its success, it isn’t correct to explain failure by pointing to the category.

And the reality is exactly that. Most startups that don’t succeed are faced with this outcome because of the team’s approach to and decisions within a category, not the category itself.

Outsiders don’t see the inside of a company. As a result, they assign responsibility for the outcome to the category. When, in most cases, insiders know that responsibility lies with the team.

This creates opportunities for great teams in out of favor categories.

Building tech businesses in the Middle East

Souq, Namshi, and Careem are 3 of the most successful tech startups in the Middle East.

Horizontal e-commerce business Souq was recently acquired by Amazon for $650M, 51% of fashion e-commerce business Namshi was acquired for $151M by Mohamed Alabbar’s Emaar Malls, and car hailing business Careem is valued at over $1B.

Each of these companies is proof that large tech businesses can be built in the Middle East.

Here’s an interview hosted by Wamda Capital‘s Fadi Ghandour featuring the CEO’s of these impressive companies, Ronaldo Mouchawar of Souq, Faraz Khalid of Namshi, and Mudassir Sheikha of Careem.

Rinse’s Series B round

Rinse is a tech-enabled laundry and dry cleaning managed marketplace where we’re investors. The company recently announced the closing of its $14M Series B round of funding led by Partech Ventures.

Now that Rinse has solidified its playbook for expanding into geographies and bringing these geographies to contribution margin profitability, it will be using the new funding to apply the same playbook to grow to 10 new US cities. Rinse is currently operational in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC, and among the 10 new cities that it will expand to are New York, Chicago, and Boston.

We commend the Rinse team for their decision to achieve operational excellence with their existing model before rolling it out to new cities. This requires patience and this patience eventually pays off.

We also thank Partech and Rinse’s existing investors for continuing to support the company on its exciting journey.

Rinse at Twilio’s developer conference

Tech-enabled dry cleaning and laundry service Rinse, where we’re investors, was featured at Twilio‘s developer conference, Signal, last week.

Rinse uses Twilio’s SMS API and Twilio co-founder Jeff Lawson is a Rinse customer.

The segment featuring Rinse’s co-founder Ajay Prakash is between minutes 38 and 45 in the conference’s opening keynote speech below.