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Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson will be a Startup Battlefield Judge at Disrupt 2021

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Dayna Grayson has been in venture capital for more than a decade and was one of the first VCs to build a portfolio around the transformation of industrial sectors of our economy.

At NEA, where she was a partner for eight years, she led investments in and sat on the boards of companies including Desktop Metal, Onshape, Framebridge, Tulip, Formlabs and Guideline. She left NEA to start her own fund, Construct Capital, that focuses exclusively on early-stage startups, with a portfolio that includes Copia, ChargeLab, Tradeswell and Hadrian.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we’re absolutely thrilled to have Grayson join us at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 in September.

Grayson has more than proven that she has a keen eye for transformational technology. Desktop Metal went public in 2020 — she still sits on the board as chair of the compensation committee. Onshape, another NEA-era investment, was acquired by PTC in 2019 for a whopping $525 million. Framebridge was also acquired by Graham Holdings in 2020.

Grayson saw an opportunity to develop a venture brand more hyperfocused on the types of deals she was doing at NEA, which centered around manufacturing and digitizing industrial verticals. That’s where Construct Capital came in. It’s a $140 million fund helmed by Grayson and former Uber exec Rachel Holt.

At Disrupt, Grayson will serve as a Startup Battlefield judge. The Battlefield is one of the world’s most prestigious and exciting startup competitions. Twenty+ early-stage startups hop on our stage and present their wares to a panel of expert VC judges, who then grill the founders on everything about the business, from the revenue model to the go-to-market strategy to the team to the technology itself.

The winner walks away with $100,000 in prize money and the glory of being a Battlefield winner. Households names in tech have gotten their start in the Battlefield, from Dropbox to Mint.

Grayson joins plenty of other seasoned investors on the Battlefield stage, including Camille Samuels, Deena Shakir, Terri Burns, Shauntel Garvey and Alexa Von Tobel.

Disrupt 2021 goes down from September 21 to 23 and is virtual. Snag a ticket here starting under $100 for a limited time!

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/16/construct-capitals-dayna-grayson-will-be-a-battlefield-judge-at-disrupt-2021/

Startups

How Staycations Have Become The New Vacations

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The word staycation has become highly popular amidst the pandemic, and for good reason. A combination of the words stay and vacation, a staycation saves a lot of money by allowing you to stay away from home in a home-like place. 

A few years ago very few people were even aware of this concept and just preferred to go for a vacation. But in these unprecedented times, it doesn’t make sense to opt for a vacation as there are restrictions on going outdoors in almost every country. Hence, the staycation. 

A staycation is when you stay for a longer duration at a place and instead of dedicating all your time to explore the location, you choose to live your normal life there. So basically you are working and living your normal routine from a location that is not your home.

The upside is that you can take some time every day to go explore whatever areas are open to tourists in these times. Technically this gives you the best of both worlds – you get to travel to a new location and don’t miss out on work while being there.

Here are 5 reasons why staycations are so popular now:

  • Cost-effective:

For a vacation, people usually take out 7-10 days to explore a location. Staycations involve staying for longer than the usual in the same location which ensures you get a better deal on the accommodation. 

In fact, there are many hostels and hotels that are not introducing discounts on a long-term stay. The meal plans also get cheaper for those opting for a staycation. This makes it more cost-effective than a vacation or a getaway.

  • Reduced planning stress:

Planning a trip is stressful. You want to ensure you cover every spot and visit all popular places during your stay in order to make the vacation worthwhile. On the contrary, staycation allows you to just go with the flow and plan your days as per your convenience.

Moreover, since there is no plan to execute you end up feeling more relaxed and live in the moment. It allows you to engage in activities as and when you please. This keeps you in good spirits and improves your mental well-being. 

  • Explore more:

Since a staycation is longer, you get to explore more places at your own pace. This means visiting the local markets and enjoying their authentic cuisine instead of just dining at a popular hotel in the area.

Additionally, not having to rush through the exploration part makes it easy to rediscover hidden gems and spend as much time as you want there. You can pick a small unexplored cafe to sit there and work on your laptop.

  • No need to compromise on work:

The best part about a staycation is that there is no need to take leaves from work. If your work allows, you can work remotely from anywhere – be it the hills or a beach. At the same time, you can also continue growing your knowledge by learning from tools like LMS. 

Businesses offer flexible learning solutions through LMS so employees can access them from anywhere at any time. 

A great example would be the iSpring LMS which also has a mobile app through which employees can learn regardless of the Internet connection as this tool allows them to easily view content even when they are offline. 

  • Bond with new people:

You may meet new people during every trip, but do you ever get enough time to bond with them. Staycations allow you to develop connections with people as you get to spend some quality time with them.

Even if you are on a solo staycation, you will find it easier to get company for local visits, meal outings, and small adventures. Who knows, you may end up making some new friends for life?

Conclusion:

With so many upsides and the fact that it’s difficult to explore too much amid the pandemic, staycations can be rightly termed the new vacations.

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Unmuted founder Max van den Ingh on success beyond the metrics

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There is no authoritative playbook for marketing these days. Every company must find its own voice, and as it grows and evolves, its marketing needs to evolve as well.

Relying on proven tactics and measurable metrics isn’t enough — today, the most effective marketers constantly study and learn from innovative approaches while exploring new avenues.

This is where Unmuted comes in. A growth marketing agency based in Amsterdam, this company focuses on LinkedIn marketing, content marketing, marketing automation and email marketing. Before starting Unmuted, Max van den Ingh was head of growth and product at MisterGreen, an electric vehicle leasing company, and he also served as head of growth marketing at ShopPop, a chat-based marketing platform.

Van den Ingh, who also serves as a guest lecturer at Nyenrode Business University, was recommended to TechCrunch through the TechCrunch Experts project. We’re currently on the lookout for top-tier growth marketers that you can recommend to other startups. If you know of one, let us know by filling out this quick survey.

Van den Ingh spoke with us about his “modern” approach to marketing, setting realistic goals, how startups had to shift during the pandemic and more.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You call Unmuted a “modern” growth marketing agency. What do you do that makes your approach to marketing modern?

The way we help our clients is fundamentally different from how most traditional marketing agencies operate. At Unmuted, our clients don’t come to us to have their ideas executed; they come to us for our process. In a way, we’ve productized a growth marketing process that generates ideas for our clients. They find immense value in that process.

Depending on the customer’s team size and resources, we either guide them during execution or execute autonomously and report back. This process-based service model is, in our opinion, the only way to grow a business in a sustainable way.

“The way we help our clients is fundamentally different from how most traditional marketing agencies operate. “

In a practical sense, this is what that process boils down to: We take all that we’ve learned from fast-growing companies and apply these principles to our clients’ businesses. Typically we focus on what we call “innovative companies” — whether that’s because they have a SaaS offering or they’re an innovator within a traditional industry doesn’t really matter. The process we’ve designed works for B2B startups, scaleups and SMBs. That last category can benefit greatly from the way we work.

Our role, then, is threefold: We come up with strategies that we carry out by experimenting with several proven marketing tactics based on our extensive in-house knowledge and experience. This relieves our clients’ marketing teams of potentially stifling tunnel vision.

Our growth program typically unfolds in three stages as well, which we call the Foundation, Acceleration and Transformation stages. In the Foundation stage, we set up the fundamentals based on an extensive audit of the client’s business, and start out with our initial experiments. In the Acceleration stage, we scale the experiments that have shown promising early results. Finally, in the Transformation stage, we teach our clients how to continue growing their business themselves. If necessary, we stick around in a consulting role.

Your work at MisterGreen helped it grow about 10x. How much can a client expect to grow when working with you? How do you help clients set realistic goals?

Setting goals is always a challenge, especially when it comes to marketing. Why should you aim for a certain number? Why not aim higher, or lower, for that matter? At Unmuted, when we start working with a new client, we perform a series of exercises together. This helps us get a clear picture of where the client is now and where they could be when we’ve optimized marketing.

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Next, instead of fixed numbers, like a specific amount of new customers in a given period, we focus on growth levers, like month-over-month growth in certain conversion or activation areas. Focusing on growth levers makes our work more actionable.

We then construct a framework as part of our growth program that also allows room for certain beliefs a company has. I feel this “belief system” is truly essential to any growth marketing strategy. If you don’t allow room for gut feeling activities and only focus on data-driven projects, you will end up only working on things you can measure. We believe that growth marketing will become more effective when you also invest time and effort in channels and spaces you can’t necessarily measure.

When people talk about your solution on WhatsApp or during podcast episodes, that’s amazing and will effectively influence revenue, but sometimes there’s just no way to track these activities.

Finally, we don’t make any guarantees when it comes to growth results. That’s not how it works. We’ll always aim to maximize results as part of the process. Diligent focus on continuous improvement and optimization comes first. Results will automatically follow afterward.

For instance, we recently helped a B2B SaaS platform increase demo requests by 350%. But this wasn’t the goal at all. The process we were following was focused on optimizing every aspect of the demo request journey, from acquiring visitors to optimizing the demo page and more. Every experiment we ran increased the demo request metric to some extent. After six months, you start seeing these compounded results.

You were also the head of growth at ShopPop. How did that experience shape the way you help your clients?

Working for a fast-growing B2B SaaS company with a self-serve product taught me quite a few things. For starters, the importance of getting a really clear understanding of what sustainable growth looks like. Especially in growth marketing, there are a lot of things you can do to gain short-term results. But this doesn’t necessarily help, because you might be acquiring customers that you lose in the long run.

For example, running aggressive advertising campaigns in the early stages to acquire new users in sectors that you know won’t benefit considerably from your product. This type of superficial growth will come back in the form of churn sooner rather than later, and simply isn’t sustainable.

At Unmuted, when we start working with a new client, we put a lot of time and effort into understanding their best type of customers, what their problems are, and why that’s the case. Only then do we start looking at how to solve those problems with our client’s products or services.

You’re a guest lecturer at Nyenrode Business University and do speaking engagements as well. What do you hope people take away from your talks?

When I stand in front of a crowd during a speaking engagement, I always share stories about times where I took a pragmatic approach and did things differently. Growth can come in different shapes and forms, and although it often seems simple, it’s never easy. People, and especially management, have to understand that growth takes time and that you need failures to learn.

You need to have conversations to be able to learn and iterate. It’s better to have the wrong type of conversations than not having any at all. Without feedback, there’s no way to grow. And while an eagerness to learn comes naturally to most marketers, this isn’t necessarily the case for your average business person. If I can inspire audiences with my approach to growing by learning, I think that’s a great takeaway.

How have you seen startups change during the pandemic?

A lot of startups have been forced to change their approaches during the pandemic. Some have adapted successfully, while others are now stuck. I experienced it personally when I was still working at ShopPop, where we were focused on the music industry when the pandemic hit.

Music industry clients weren’t buying, for obvious reasons, so we had to pivot somehow. We ended up moving into e-commerce, which was, and still is, booming.

As the pandemic continues, what trends are you seeing in growth marketing?

The biggest trend I’m currently seeing is in the role marketing departments play. These have never been as important as they are now. Digital marketers, especially, are often the ones that come up with new ideas as to how a company can grow online. Nobody will know how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out, but in the meantime, every company is trying to adapt and find new ways to connect with their customers in unique, meaningful ways.

Logically, we’re seeing a surge in demand for online events like webinars and virtual summits. But everybody is doing those. So where can you carve out your own thing that becomes recognizable for your brand? Discovering these new channels and approaches — I think that should be the role of marketing.

How have you seen the startup market develop while working in growth?

The development of the startup market has been most noticeable in how new standards are being set. For example, startups have always been characterized as fast movers, but remote working and the rise of highly collaborative tools have further increased the speed at which startups operate. The whole industry transformed from speedboats into rocket ships. Talent became much more accessible, and through that internal cultures became more diverse and more resilient.

You can always depend on startups adopting new ways of working early on. They need to differentiate in order to survive, and a novel approach can be the one thing that makes them stand out from the crowd.

You have to understand that working at a startup often feels like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff. And that’s also the moment you’re at your most creative. I think this is also how growth marketing as a whole came about. In competitive markets, people have to fight for their right to exist. Marketing is often a way to radically differentiate. When people become really good at that, set new standards and raise the bar, the market develops as a whole.

What do startups continue to get wrong?

It’s been said many times before, but even today, most startups don’t learn quickly and deeply enough. Founders often have an amazing idea and vision of how things will play out. But how much field experience does this person really have? Enough to be able to foresee the future?

Usually, for startups, short-term growth goes well — they get some initial traction from their network, but then the next phase kicks in. Especially when there’s an investment involved, putting more pressure on the commercial side of things, this next phase will mean encountering a lot of hurdles.

When a company doesn’t find a strong enough product-market fit and doesn’t apply what its learned early on, things will get extremely tough. In this phase, a lot of research and experimentation is necessary. If the founding team isn’t up for this and they put their heads in the sand, the startup will deteriorate quickly.

On the other side: What are startups doing better now than ever before?

The best thing a startup can do, and I’m seeing it happen more and more, is investing in community early on. When I was leading growth at MisterGreen, we created a community for the first thousand Tesla Model 3 owners in the Netherlands. Everyone wanted to be a part of this founding tribe, learn from each other, get insights and so on.

This group turned out to be our most effective marketing tool. Word-of-mouth went through the roof. We had all of these people talking about our community at birthday parties, in their office, you name it. This is a great example of investing in marketing you can’t really measure, but which you do strongly believe in.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/unmuted-founder-max-van-den-ingh-on-success-beyond-the-metrics/

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Japanese sneaker platform SODA raises $56.4M, accquires rival Monokabu

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Just half a year after leading SODA’s Series B, SoftBank Ventures Asia is raising its bet on the Tokyo-based sneaker resell platform. The early-stage venture capital arm of SoftBank Group announced today it has returned to lead SODA’s Series C, which currently totals $56.4 million.

Other investors include South Korean sneaker reselling platform KREAM (another SoftBank Ventures Asia portfolio company), Altos Ventures and JAFCO.

Launched in 2018, SODA runs SNKRDUNK, one of Japan’s largest sneaker reselling platforms with about 2.5 million monthly users. Along with its new funding, SODA announced it has acquired rival Monokabu. SODA said that the deal means its share of Japan’s sneaker resale industry is now 80%, making it the market leader by far.

A SoftBank Ventures Asia spokesperson told TechCrunch the fund decided to invest in SODA again because the company’s growth has increased rapidly since its previous funding. SODA’s post-money valuation is now about 24 billion JPY, or about $218 million USD.

Part of SODA’s Series C funding will also be used to expand into other Asian markets, starting with Indonesia and the Philippines next year because both countries have growing e-commerce markets and a large percentage of Generation Zs, an ideal combination for SNKRDUNK.  

The company’s previous funding, its $22 million Series B, was announced in January. At the time, Uchiyama told TechCrunch demand for sneakers remained high despite the pandemic’s economic impact and increased adoption of online shopping also helped drive sales.

SODA claims it hit record sales of $34.7 million in May 2021, growing 900% year-over-year. Despite COVID-19, many sneaker C2C marketplaces, like StockX, have also seen their sales increase.

SNKRDUNK will work closely with KREAM to share knowledge about sneaker authentication, inventory management, logistics and other operations-related areas, with the goal of increasing their share of the Asian sneaker resell market.

In addition to KREAM and SODA, SoftBank Ventures Asia is also an investor in China-based sneaker trading platform Nice.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/japanese-sneaker-platform-soda-raises-56-4m-accquires-rival-monokabu/

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INKR draws in $3.1M to make more comics accessible to worldwide audiences

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A photo of digital comics platform INKR's team

Digital comics platform INKR’s team

INKR is a digital comics platform that crosses cultural and language divides, enabling creators to reach global audiences with its proprietary localization technology. Previously bootstrapped, the company announced today that it has raised $3.1 million in pre-Series A funding led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, with participation from manga distributor TokyoPop founder and chief executive Stu Levy and VI Management managing director David Do.

Headquartered in Singapore with an office in Ho Chi Minh City, INKR was founded in 2019 by Ken Luong, Khoa Nguyen and Hieu Tran. The company says that since it launched in October 2020, its monthly average users have grown 200%. It currently partners with more than 70 content creators and publishers, including FanFan, Image Comics, Kodansha USA, Kuaikan, Mr. Blue, SB Creative, TokyoPop and Toons Family, and has more than 800 titles so far, including manga, webtoons and graphic novels.

Luong, INKR’s CEO, told TechCrunch that the platform will focus first on translated comics from top global publishers, but plans to open to small and indie creators in 2022.

At the heart of INKR’s platform is its localization technology, which the company says reduces the time spent on preparing comics for different markets from days to just hours.

“Comics localization is more than just translation. It is a time-consuming process with many steps involving many people—file handling, transcription, translation, typesetting, sound effects, quality control, etc,” Luong said.

A screenshot with some of the titles on digital comics platform INKR

Some of the titles on INKR

In addition to language, publishers also have to take into account the differences between comic styles around the world, including Japanese manga, Chinese manhua, Korean manhwa, American comics. For example, comics can be laid out page-by-page or use vertical scrolling. Some languages read from left to right, while others go from right to left.

Luong says INKR’s proprietary AI engine, called INKR Comics Vision, is able to recognize different formats and elements on a comic page, including text, dialogue, characters, facial expressions, backgrounds and panels. INKR Localize, its tool for human translators, helps them deliver accurate translations more quickly by automating tasks like text transcription, vocabulary suggestions and typesetting.

Since localization is performed by teams, including people in different locations, INKR provides them with browser-based collaboration software. The platform supports Japanese-English, Korean-English and Chinese-English translations, with plans to add more languages. Some publishers, like Kuaikan Manhua and Mr. Blue, have used INKR to translate thousands of comic chapters from Chinese and Korean into English.

INKR provides content creators with a choice of monetization models, including ad-supported, subscription fees or pay-per-chapter. Luong says the platform analyzes content to tell publishers which model will maximize their earnings, and shares a percentage of the revenue generated.

INKR is vying for attention with other digital comics platforms like Amazon-owned Comixology and Webtoon, the publishing portal operated by Naver Corporation.

Luong said INKR’s competitive advantages include the the diversity of comics is offers and the affordability of its pricing. Before launching, it also invested in data and AI-based technology for both readers and publishers. For example, users get personalized recommendation based on their reading activity, while publishers can access analytics to track title performance based on consumption trends.

In a statement, Monk’s Hill Ventures general partner Justin Nguyen said INKR’s “proprietary AI-driven platform is addressing pain points for creators and publishers who need to go digital and global—localizing for many languages quickly and cost-effectively while also helping them improve reach and readership through analytics and intelligent personalized feeds. We look forward to partnering with them to quench the huge demand for translated comics globally.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/inkr-draws-in-3-1m-to-make-more-comics-accessible-to-worldwide-audiences/

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