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Afore Capital raises second pre-seed venture capital fund

Judhajeet Das

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As expectations from seed investors intensify, a new stage of investment has established itself earlier in the venture-backed company life cycle.

Known as “pre-seed” investing, one of the first legitimate outfits to double down on the stage has refueled, closing its second fund on $77 million.

Afore Capital’s sophomore fund is likely the largest pool of venture capital yet to focus exclusively on pre-seed companies, or pre-product businesses seeking their first bout of institutional capital. In many cases, a pre-seed startup may even be “pre-idea,” yet to fully incorporate. While some funds are happy to invest that early, Afore seeks slightly more mature companies.

Afore invests between $500,000 and $1 million in nascent startups. As it kicks off its second fund, founding partners Anamitra Banerji and Gaurav Jain tell TechCrunch they plan to lead all of their investments.

We have the opportunity to build a firm that defines a category. – Afore founding partner Anamitra Banerji

Standouts in Afore’s existing portfolio include the no-fee credit card company Petal — which has raised roughly $50 million to date — mobile executive coaching business BetterUp, childcare information platform Winnie and Modern Health, a B2B mental wellness platform.

Afore portfolio companies have raised more than $360 million in follow-on funding, with an aggregate market cap of $1.5 billion, Jain, the founding product manager at Android Nexus and former principal at Founder Collective, tells TechCrunch. “These are high-quality teams with high-quality projects and ideas.”

Jain and Banerji — a founding product manager at Twitter and former partner at Foundation Capital — began raising capital for Afore’s $47 million debut fund in 2016. Since then, the landscape for seed investing has shifted. Early-stage investors have begun funneling larger sums of capital to standout teams at the seed, while billion-dollar venture capital funds set aside capital for serial entrepreneurs working on their next big idea. As a result, deal sizes have swelled and deal count has shrunk simultaneously.

“Pre-seed has replaced seed in the venture ecosystem,” Banerji tells TechCrunch. “We saw this early as a result of both of us having been at funds. We knew that this was going to be a massive category just like seed was before it. Now we think it’s clearly here to stay and we have the opportunity to build a firm that defines a category.”

Since launching the firm, the pair explain they’ve noticed more and more founders explicitly stating that they are in the market for a pre-seed round, a statement you wouldn’t have heard as recently as two years ago.

This is a result of Afore’s efforts to legitimize the stage through investments and programming, including its annual Pre-Seed Summit. Though Afore is certainly not the only VC fund focused on the earliest stage of startup investing — other firms deploying capital at the stage include Hustle Fund, which closed an $11.8 million debut fund last year, plus the $20 million immigrant-focused pre-seed fund Unshackled Ventures and the predominant seed and pre-seed stage firm Precursor Ventures, which announced a $31 million second fund earlier this year.

In the past year alone, more than $200 million has been dedicated to the pre-seed stage, with at least nine new funds launching to nurture early-stage startups.

More and more firms are setting up shop at the pre-seed stage as competition at the seed stage reaches new heights. As we’ve previously reported, monster funds are becoming increasingly active at the seed stage, muscling seed funds out of top deals with less dilutive offers. While the pre-seed stage, for the most part, remains protected from competition at the later stage, these firms still have to compete.

“Nobody wants to lose sight of a deal, so they are willing to toss small amounts of capital very early behind interesting founders,” Jain said. “But frankly, we aren’t sure if it’s good for a company to raise that much capital that early in their life cycle.”

Working with a fund that isn’t passionate about what you are building or familiar with the plights of the stage of your business is terrible for founders, adds Jain. Pairing with a focused fund like Afore, on the other hand, allows for “incentive alignment.”

Afore invests across all industries, preferring to back startups in categories “before they are categories.”

“What we are looking for is deep authenticity and passion around the product they are building,” says Banerji. “Ideas on their own aren’t enough. Founder resumes on their own aren’t enough. While we do care about all of those aspects, we get crazy about their clarity of thought in the short term.”

“We don’t take the point of view of ‘here is some money, it’s OK to lose it,’ ” he adds. “For us to invest, the founder must be all in. And we generally don’t invest in celebrity founders; we are going after the underdog founder.”

Tech Passionate and Heavy Geek! Into Blogging world since 2014 and never looked back since then :) I am also a YouTube Video Producer and a Aspiring Entrepreneur. Founder, MyDroidDoes

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Logitech’s MX Master 3 mouse and MX Keys keyboard should be your setup of choice

Judhajeet Das

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Logitech recently introduced a new mouse and keyboard, the MX Master 3 ($99.99) and MX Keys ($99.99) respectively. Both devices borrow a lot from other, older hardware in Logitech’s lineup – but they build on what the company has gotten really right with input devices, and add some great new features to make these easily the best option out there when it comes to this category of peripherals.

Logitech MX Keys

This new keyboard from Logitech inherits a lot from the company’s previous top-of-the-line keyboard aimed at creatives, the Logitech Craft keyboard. It looks and feels a lot like the premium Craft – minus the dial that Logitech placed at the top of that keyboard, which worked with companion software to offer a variety of different controls for a number of different applications.

The Craft’s dial was always a bit of a curiosity, and while probably extremely useful for certain creative workflows where having a tactile dial control makes a lot of sense (for scrubbing a video timeline during editing, for instance), in general the average user probably isn’t going to need or use it much.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 5The MX Keys doesn’t have the Craft’s dial, and it takes up less space on your desk as a result. It also costs $70 less than the Craft, which is probably something most people would rather have than the unique controller. The MX Keys still have excellent key travel and typing feel, like its bigger sibling, and it also has smart backlighting that turns on automatically when your hand approaches the keys – and which you can adjust or turn off to suit your preference, and extend battery life.

MX Keys has a built-in battery that chargers via USB-C, and provides up to 10 days of use on a full charge when using the backlight, or for up to 5 months if you disable the backlight entirely. For connectivity, you get both Bluetooth and Logitech’s USB receiver, which can also connect to other Logitech devices like the MX Master series of mice.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 3The keyboard can connect to up to three devices at once, with dedicated buttons to switch between them. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS out of the box, and has multi-marked keys to make it easier to transition between operating systems. Plus, when you’re using the MX Keys in tandem with the MX Master 3 or other Logitech mice that support its Flow software, you can transition seamlessly between computers and even operating systems, for doing things like copying and pasting files.

AT $99.99, the MX Keys feels like an incredible value, since it offers very premium-feeling hardware in an attractive package, with a suite of features that’s hard to match in a keyboard from anyone else – including first-party peripherals from Microsoft and Apple .

Logitech MX Master 3

When it comes to mice, there are few companies that can match Logitech’s reputation or record. The MX Master series in particular has won plenty of fans – and for good reason.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 9The MX Master 3 doesn’t re-invent the wheel – except that it literally does, in the case of the scroll wheel. Logitech has introduced a new school wheel with ‘MagSpeed’ technology, that switches automatically between fluid scrolling and more fine-grained, pixel-precise control. The company claims the new design is 90 percent faster and 87 percent more precise than its previous scroll wheel, which is pretty much an impossible claim to verify through standard use. That said, it does feel like a better overall scrolling experience, and the claim that it’s now ‘ultra quiet’ is easy to confirm.

Logitech has also tweaked the shape of the mouse, with a new silhouette it says is better suited to matching the shape of your palm. That new shape is complimented with a new thumb scroll wheel, which has always been a stellar feature of the Master series and which again, does feel better in actual use though it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly why. Regardless, it feels better than the Master 2S, and that’s all that really matters.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 10In terms of tracking, Logitech’s Darkfield technology is here to provide effective tracking on virtually all surfaces. It tracks at 4,000 DPI, which is industry-leading for accuracy, and you can adjust sensitivity, scroll direction and other features in Logitech’s desktop software. The MX Master 3 also supports up to three devices at once, and works with Flow to copy and past between different operating systems.

One of the most noteworthy changes on the MX Master 3 is that it gains USB-C for charging, replacing Micro USB, which is fantastic news for owners of modern Macs who want to simplify their cable lives and just stick with one standard where possible. Since that matches up with the USB-C used on the MX Keys, that means you can just use one cable for charging both when needed. The MX Master 3 gets up to 70 days on a full charge, and you can gain 3 hours of use from a fully exhausted battery with just one minute of charging.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 7Bottom line

Logitech has long been a leader in keyboard and mice for very good reason, and the company’s ability to iterate on its existing successes with improvements that are smart and make sense is impressive. The MX Keys is probably the best keyboard within its price range that you can get right now – and better than a lot of more premium-priced hardware. The MX Master 3 is without a doubt the only mouse I’d recommend for most people, especially now that it offers USB-C charging alongside its terrific feature set. Combined, they’re a powerful desktop pair for work, creative and general use.

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Volvo unveils its first electric car, the XC40 Recharge

Judhajeet Das

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Volvo Cars introduced Wednesday the XC40 Recharge, its first electric car under a new EV-focused brand that kicks off a company-wide shift toward electrification.

“It’s a car of firsts and it’s a car of the future,” CTO Henrik Green said.

The Volvo XC40 Recharge is the first electric vehicle in the automaker’s portfolio. It’s also the first Volvo to have an infotainment system powered by Google’s Android operating system as well as have the ability to make over-the-air software updates.

This is also the first vehicle under Volvo’s new Recharge brand. Recharge, which was announced this week, will be the overarching name for all chargeable Volvos with a fully electric and plug-in hybrid powertrain, according to the company.

The all-electric vehicle is based off Volvo’s popular XC40 small SUV. However, this is not a retrofit of a gas-powered vehicle.

The XC40 Recharge is equipped with an all-wheel drive powertrain and a 78 kilowatt-hour battery that can travel more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) on a single charge, in accordance with WLTP. The WLTP, or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, is the European standard to measure energy consumption and emissions, and tends to be more generous than the U.S. EPA estimates. The EPA estimates are not yet available, but it’s likely the XC40 Recharge will hit around the 200-mile range.

That would put the range of the Volvo XC40 Recharge below the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt EV, Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona.

However, Volvo did make a vehicle with impressive horsepower and fast charging capability, which could attract buyers. The vehicle’s electric motor produces the equivalent of 408 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque that allows the vehicle to go from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. The battery charges to 80% of its capacity in 40 minutes on a fast-charger system.

Volvo XC40 Recharge 1

Android-powered infotainment

The infotainment system in the all-electric Volvo XC40 will be powered by an automotive version of Android OS, and, as a result, bring into the car embedded Google services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store.

This Android-powered infotainment system is the product of a years-long partnership between the automaker and Google. In 2017, Volvo announced plans to incorporate a version of its Android operating system into its car infotainment systems. A year later, the company said it would embed voice-controlled Google Assistant, Google  Play Store, Google Maps and other Google services into its next-generation Sensus infotainment system.

The Android-powered infotainment system is fully integrated with Volvo On Call, the company’s digital connected services platform. Plug-in hybrid drivers using the Volvo On Call will be able to track how much time they spend driving on electric power.

Volvo XC40 infotainment system

The infotainment system in the Polestar 2, the new vehicle from Volvo’s standalone performance brand, also is powered by Android OS.

Android Automotive OS shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android Automotive OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

Volvo isn’t the only automaker to partner with Google to bring Android OS into its vehicles. GM began shipping vehicles with Google Android Automotive OS in 2017, starting with the Cadillac CTS and expanding to other brands. GM said in September that Google will provide in-vehicle voice, navigation and other apps in its Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles starting in 2021.

Over-the-air software updates

The electric XC40 is also the first Volvo that will receive software and operating system updates over the air. Over-the-air, or wireless, software updates were popularized by Tesla, which has used the capability to improve its vehicles over time. Tesla has used the OTAs to fix software bugs, roll out new features in its infotainment system and improve performance.

Volvo intends to use OTAs for the operating system and other software inside the vehicle, Green said. Other automakers, with the exception of Tesla, have slowly inched toward OTAs, but have minimized its use, and limited it to the infotainment system.

“So now the XC40 will stay as fresh as your phone or tablet, and no longer will a car’s best day be the day it leaves the factory,” Green said.

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Google Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL not launching in India

Judhajeet Das

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The Pixel 4 and Pixel XL smartphones that Google just unveiled at a press conference in New York won’t launch in India, one of the company’s key overseas markets, the Android-maker said on Tuesday.

The bottleneck lies in the headline feature Project Soli, a radar-based motion-sensing chip baked into the new Pixel smartphones that relies on using a certain frequency band — 60GHz mmWave. The company failed to secure permission from the local authority in India to use this frequency band, which the nation has yet to open for commercial usage, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. You may remember that in the U.S., the FCC approved the commercial usage of Soli earlier this year.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, “Google has a wide range of products that we make available in different regions around the world. We determine availability based on a variety of factors, including local trends, and product features. We decided not to make Pixel 4 available in India. We remain committed to our current Pixel phones and look forward to bringing future Pixel devices to India.”

The radar sensors on the new Pixel smartphones enable support for a number of human interactions, Sabrina Ellis, VP of Product Management at Google, said at the event today. “For instance, Pixel 4 has the fastest secure face unlock on a smartphone, because the process starts before you have even picked up the smartphone,” she claimed. “Motion sense prepares the camera when you reach for your Pixel 4, so you don’t need to tap the screen,” she added.

The radar sensor also enables other applications such as rejecting a call by just gesturing at the phone, Ellis said.

This is the first time Google has had to skip the launch of a phone in India, the second largest smartphone market and where all the Nexus and Pixel smartphones have launched a few days after their global unveiling.

Not launching the new Pixel smartphones won’t really hurt the company… at least financially speaking. The Pixel smartphones have failed to receive any substantial acceptance in the Indian market, especially as their prices increased over the years.

Even as 99% of smartphones shipped in India last year ran the Android mobile operating system, the vast majority of handsets carried a price tag of $200 or lower, research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch.

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