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TC Top Picks Berlin 2019: Glazomer



Glazomer says it’s an affordable eye-tracking system that can measure user focus and attention. The TC Top Picks program showcases outstanding early-stage startups across these categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS and Social Impact & Education.

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Married co-founders are a startups secret weapon



“If I was

“If I were running the company by myself, it would be half its size,” adds Michele Romanow, Clearbanc’s other co-founder.

In addition to starting the $420 million-backed fintech company together, D’Souza and Romanow are in a relationship.

The two initially met at an event in San Francisco, and followed up with a friendly informational interview at a Mexican restaurant. D’Souza’s fundraising experience was a draw for Romanow, who at the time was looking for information about how to raise cash for her startup. Romanow ended up selling her company to Groupon, but her conversation with D’Souza helped to anchor the valuation. It was also the beginning of a relationship. 

When they started dating in 2014, they swapped war stories about company building. Their connection hinged on this initial commonality — D’Souza had fundraised all his businesses, whereas Romanow had bootstrapped. It was from these conversations that they created Clearbanc, the Canada-based VC firm that specializes in non-dilutive revenue share agreements for startups.

Startups with coupled co-founders at the helm are scoring big funding rounds and exiting companies. Julia and Kevin Hartz co-founded Eventbrite, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2018. Married couple Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum were on the co-founding team of VMware, which sold to Dell in 2015. The bond of a relationship may be a secret weapon in company building for new-wave tech startups, but that doesn’t come without risks, like co-founder disharmony, equity supermajority and even divorce.

Clearbanc founders Andrew D’Souza and Michele Romanow

“Just put the phone down.”

Talk to anyone with a co-founder title at a startup and you’ll find one trend: free time is nearly nonexistent. Couples running a business together say it’s advantageous to be on the same workday cycle. “When you’re working on the same business, you’re on the same cadence of when things are blowing up,” says Romanow. “So I know exactly why Andrew is on his phone. I know that if he doesn’t do this, I will have to do it.” 

NEXT Trucking co-founders Lidia Yan and Elton Chung have raised $125 million total for their logistics startup, including a $97 million Series C from Brookfield and Sequoia. The pair says that the company is a presence that’s fully built into their lives and their relationship at all times. While that may be great for a business, it’s not always great for their marriage. “We got into a momentum of talking about work all the time. Not only at the office but at home,” says Yan. The solution is a simple rule enforced by an iPhone alarm. All work-related talk must cease after 8pm every day after the alarm goes off. They also use free time on the weekends to go to restaurants in LA, one of their shared passions. 

NEXT Trucking co-founders Lidia Yan and Elton Chung

Co-founder couples say that if you’re scaling a company, you’ll have to be okay with putting other life decisions on hold, like going on your honeymoon or having kids. 

Leslie Voorhees and Calley Means were married in 2016, but still haven’t taken their honeymoon. They co-founded Anomalie, a wedding dress customization startup that has raised $18.1 million. Instead of vacationing to Bora Bora the day after their wedding, the newlywed founders hopped on a plane to China, where Leslie stayed for a couple of months to set up the supply chain for Anomalie. The couple admits that even now, they don’t make time for their personal lives.

“We have not spent more than an hour of our entire marriage not talking about wedding dresses. It’s not necessarily the healthiest thing, but we’ve enjoyed obsessing about wedding dresses every day,” says Leslie.

Their skills complement each other: Calley’s superpower is that he can move fast, whereas Leslie is more methodical and good at setting up structure. While they say that being a co-founder couple has strengthened their bond, they’re working on setting boundaries. Being a founder means you have to sacrifice other areas of your life for the company. 

“Once we raise the Series D, we’ll start thinking about having kids,” jokes Calley — in what may not actually be a joke. 

Leslie Voorhees and Calley Means, Anomalie co-founders

Investors are warming up to married co-founders

Clearbanc wants to make it easier and faster for startups to raise growth capital. Their 20-minute term sheet product is meant to help founders raise money in 20 minutes, rather than the traditional 3 to 6 months the process typically takes. But how did investors react to Clearbanc’s co-founders relationship status? Not well, at first. 

A Clearbanc investor passed on an early round, explaining to D’Souza and Romanow that they would have backed either of them individually, but that they were worried about backing them as a couple, especially since they had only been dating for a year at that point.

“The same investor ended up coming in two rounds later at 100 times the valuation,” says D’Souza. This, they felt, proved that fear of investing in a couple was a false sense of increased risk.

It seems investors today agree. When the married co-founders of Apli, a Mexico-based on-demand recruiting platform, walked into the office of ALLVP, the fund wasn’t entirely sure about what it meant to invest in a company run by a married couple.

Founders Vera and Jose met while studying together at Harvard Business School before working at two separate Rocket Internet companies in Mexico and foundling Apli. The business model, product market fit and potential impact for the company were typical factors the fund mulled over before writing a check, but ALLVP also considered the founders’ married status.

“After some discussion, we decided to analyze the team as any other founding team,” says ALLVP partner Federico Antoni. Besides the obvious personal chemistry, there was a professional chemistry between Vera and Jose. “We weighed the risk of divorce and decided to take it. We gained a team fully invested in the company and one that could balance personal life and startup life.” 

Equity could pose another risk factor. Investors could be wary of founder couples depending on the equity structure. If their finances are combined, a co-founder couple could own a supermajority of a startup. Say two non-married founders owned 20% of a company — a co-founder couple whose finances are tied together would own 40%. Given this logic, VCs would inherently have more negotiating power if the founders aren’t financially linked.

VCs I talked to didn’t necessarily agree with that logic, though.

“The only thing with equity that matters to me is if the founders have enough,” says Andreessen Horowitz General Partner David Ulevitch. “Venture capital investments are inherently minority investments, so it’s really just about ensuring founders are motivated and rewarded for building something enduring.” 

But what happens when the dual identities of co-founder and spouse don’t work?

Divorce won’t necessarily be the demise of a startup

Sara and Josh Margulis founded Honeyfund, a honeymoon registry site, in 2006. The then-married couple appeared on Shark Tank in 2015, winning an investment from Kevin O’Leary. Sara says that Honeyfund is different from popular wedding startups like Zola and The Knot in that the core product is a crowdfunding platform enabling newly engaged couples to organize wedding and honeymoon financing. 

When Sara and Josh divorced in 2019, the first instinct was to sell the company. However, “the more we pulled apart professionally, the more opportunities I saw to organize the team the way I wanted to and push the priorities that I wanted,” Sara says. Ultimately, Sara decided she would buy her ex-husband out of the company and continue on a new trajectory as CEO. 

“If we hadn’t been working together, our separation process would have been different. There were truths that needed to be spoken that were emotionally difficult in a marriage, that I didn’t want to put on Josh in the middle of a big Target partnership launch.”

The genesis of their business was rooted in their own experience as a married couple. They’d won the affection of Sharks, operating in a $72 billion industry hinging on the commoditization of love and lasting marriage. But the honeymoon phase can’t last forever. Up to 50% of married couples in the United States will split, according to the American Psychological Association.  

Now, Margulis’ experience of divorcing her co-founder is informing new products and a marketing strategy as she continues to iterate on her startup.

Post-divorce, Margulis has been working on a content-focused strategy at Honeyfund that will include a book and a podcast centered around the idea of how couples can successfully navigate marriages. She’s sourcing 14 years’ worth of Honeyfund couples to be interviewed, along with research from psychologists and marriage experts to help couples avoid the doom she went through. 

The secret weapon

Co-founder couples are the first to eagerly point out an obvious advantage. Aligned passions, equal motivation, complementary skillsets and industry experience are a baseline for any co-founder relationship, married or non-married. But being married to your co-founder includes unique challenges like time management and setting boundaries in the boardroom and in the bedroom.

“Co-founder disputes are the number one early startup killer, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” writes Garry Tan, managing partner at Initialized Capital and former Y Combinator partner.

Co-founders aren’t always aligned on big decisions at the company. Is remote work allowed? Who do we accept funding from and how do we deploy capital? Who do we hire for a key executive role?

There are plenty of things to fight about when the stakes are high and your employees’ careers are at risk. And co-founder disharmony has been a key reason many startups flounder. But being proactive about conflict management rather than avoiding it is key — as is knowing when to get professional help from an executive coach or a therapist. This could help early-stage companies recalibrate and dodge turmoil. 

If this line of reasoning holds, co-founder couples may be at an advantage because they already have built-in communication tools in their relationship.

Ulevitch says that for him, couples as co-founders is not a turn off.

“Lots of co-founding teams fall apart, and it’s often to not really knowing each other very well, especially when the going gets tough. Couples actually solve for that aspect nicely.” Founders certainly back up this assertion. 

“One of the company values is to disagree and commit,” says NEXT Trucking’s Lidia Yan. In what she describes as a rare occasion when executives are not aligned on a decision, she says that a vote will take place, and then the team will all commit to the final decision. In order to mitigate risk, founders say it’s key to have well-defined job descriptions. Stay in your zone, and because you are partners, you should already trust each other with what each person is specialized at. 

Being married to your co-founder is a secret weapon, according to Helena Price Hambrecht and Woody Hambrecht.

Haus co-founders Helena Price Hambrecht and Woody Hambrecht

Helena and Woody met during the pre-swipe era on OkCupid in 2012. “I had just joined the online dating space and saw this hot farmer dude. We were a 96% match, so I messaged him,” says Helena of how she first connected with her future husband. 

“I literally thought someone was catfishing me,” thought Woody upon reading Helena’s message. “There’s no way this person is writing me. It took me three or four times to write her back because I wasn’t sure if she was a real person.” 

After some back and forth, the two met at a dive bar in the San Francisco Richmond neighborhood on a date that culminated in drinking 40s and watching rap videos on their phones in the park. “It’s kind of hard to explain, but it was just so easy. We knew we were going to know each other for the rest of our lives. Maybe as friends, maybe more, we didn’t know.” They stayed friends for four years, and were married in 2018. 

Haus’ genesis was a combination of the founders’ backgrounds, and the direct-to-consumer aperitif brand just scored a $4.5 million seed round. Woody owned a wine and aperitif brand but felt that he wasn’t making a big enough impact. Helena, a Silicon Valley branding and production veteran, felt that Gen Z didn’t want to get drunk anymore, and millennials are tired of compulsory, expensive happy hours. In deciding where to put their money, younger consumers are thinking about their bodies, brand image, transparency, sustainability and authenticity.

Helena wondered why the same standards aren’t being applied to as big of an industry as liquor. Why was there not a Glossier or Everlane of alcohol? She felt that while there’s a massive opportunity with all these shifting consumer trends, no one can make a direct-to-consumer alcohol brand. Haus was born from what the founders say was a magic “techie married a wine maker” moment. Woody knew about a legal loophole that could allow the couple to build the Glossier of alcohol. 

“There’s this tiny sliver in the aperitif realm, where if a beverage is made of mostly grapes and is under 24% alcohol, it can be classed as a wine and sold DTC,” explains Helena. They had that idea when they had a three-month-old baby. “We do not have time to do this but we have to do it because it’s the best idea we’ll ever have in our life,” she says. 

“We have a tool kit. We are married. If we have a disagreement about something, we are going to work it out because we’re married. Our skillsets are so clearly defined so there’s not much friction. For us it’s this cool balance where we have two totally separate camps of expertise,” remarks Helena. 

Woody and Helena have another secret weapon. They work with a business coach who has a background in psychotherapy, and believe that all co-founders should go to therapy together, because it’s always deeper than just business. 

Talkspace founders Roni and Oren Frank

Talkspace’s Roni and Oren Frank would agree. Their journey to the mental health world started from a crisis within their own relationship.

“Our marriage was falling apart, and we eventually decided to give it a last chance in couples therapy.” It was the first time either of them had experienced therapy. It taught them how to communicate better, read each other and support each other better. It gave them tools to manage conflict. 

Therapy inspired Roni to leave her career as a software developer and go back to graduate school to study psychology. While studying, she says she was exposed to how broken the mental health system in America is.

Roni says that research showed 25% of Americans suffer from mental health complications, yet an entire two-thirds of that bucket has no access to mental health care. The two founders both felt passionate about fixing this problem based on how instrumental therapy was in rescuing their own marriage. They decided to launch a platform that lets patients and therapists communicate online. 

Talkspace, which wants to open access to mental healthcare, has now raised $110 million, most recently a $50 million Series D. The product ideation for the company was integral to the relationship, and the company now has more than 100 employees. But when Talkspace was a young, 10-person startup, it was a lot harder. Roni notes that the co-founder relationship provoked extreme anxiety.

“I didn’t sleep well, I didn’t eat well and I experienced burnout.” She says she had to force herself to place boundaries when it comes to being consumed with work. However, overall, her experience has been that sharing a mission and a goal empowers the marriage, a healthy inverse.

Co-founder couples rave about the experience of running a business with their spouse. It’s no doubt these companies are developing proprietary products, running winning marketing strategies and generating big rounds and exits.

The married co-founder dynamic appears to be great for business, but time will tell if it works as equally well for marriages.

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Governments Begin to Roll Out FATF’s Travel Rule Around the Globe



It’s been nearly eight months since the Financial Action Task Force issued its divisive crypto directives, establishing traditional banking regulations within the crypto sector. With the year-long adoption deadline fast approaching, how have the world’s regulatory authorities responded to the guidelines so far?

The FATF — an intergovernmental organization tasked with combating money laundering — found itself at the center of controversy last June after issuing its latest crypto guidance. The directive merged the cryptocurrency industry into existing banking policy, requiring firms to comply with the same requirements as traditional financial institutions.

Among the more notable directives is the travel rule: a requirement for “virtual asset service providers” or VASPs — including crypto exchanges and custodial wallet providers — to disclose customer information when facilitating a trade of $1,000 or higher. The requested information covers both the sender’s and recipient’s name, geographical address and account details.

The directives arose from the FATF’s observation that the “threat of criminal and terrorist misuse of virtual assets” had the potential to develop into a severe problem. In a public statement, the authority stated that it would give its 37 members 12 months to adopt the guidelines. So, with less than five months to go until the FATF’s June review, how are member countries adhering to the directives?

The United States: Ahead of the curve

The U.S. is charged with the conception of the FATF guidance after basing the directives on the Bank Secrecy Act — the country’s primary Anti-Money Laundering law. In 2013, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, determined that the BSA should apply to the cryptocurrency industry. Within this recommendation, FinCEN also confirmed the application of the BSA travel rule, issuing its own guidance for VASPs in May 2019.

FinCEN has not been shy when it comes to enforcing control. In 2015, the agency slapped cryptocurrency payment protocol Ripple with a $450,000 fine after the firm “willfully violated” BSA rules.

Yet, according to FinCEN Director Kenneth Blanco, the breach of the travel rule is one of the most commonly cited violations — and it often goes unpunished. Speaking to Cointelegraph, Thomas Maxon, head of U.S. operations at blockchain solutions firm CoolBitX, reasoned that a lighter touch might have been exercised to foster U.S. innovation:

“This can be interpreted in two ways: either FinCEN has been lenient and understanding of the crypto industry, giving them time to build compliance solutions, or FinCEN realizing that an enforcement action too early would incentivize many U.S. entities to move their businesses offshore in order to avoid regulatory oversight. The latter is more likely.”

Switzerland takes on the travel rule

As recently reported by Cointelegraph, one of the latest countries to enforce FATF guidance is Switzerland. Last week, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority lowered the transaction threshold for unidentified crypto exchanges from $5,000 (5,000 CHF) to $1,000 (1,000 CHF). Falling in line with the FATF’s travel rule threshold, the new Financial Services Act aims to address the “heightened money-laundering risks” within the crypto market.

Of course, the FATF’s guidance is just that — guidance. Despite the foreboding June deadline, the directives are advisory and, therefore, not legally enforceable. It’s plausible that Switzerland is merely complying to EU standardization, especially in the wake of the recently imposed Fifth Money Laundering Directive, or 5AMLD.

The EU’s interpretation of FATF directives

The EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive came into force on Jan. 10 and seems to mostly correspond to the FATF guidance. With 27 member states, including Germany, France and — until recently — the United Kingdom, the EU’s implementation of the FATF directives is of enormous significance. However, while an attempt to adopt the directives has clearly been made, the 5AMLD is not as stringent as the FATF’s guidance.

The 5AMLD-attached custodian wallet providers and crypto-to-fiat exchanges to the directive’s list of obliged entities. This introduced the requirement for crypto-to-fiat exchanges to keep a record of customer dealings, as well as to conduct Know Your Customer and AML checks.

However, the distinction between this and the FATF’s guidance lies in the semantics. Crypto-to-crypto exchanges, which fall under the FATFs definition of a “VASP,” aren’t stated on the EU’s list of obliged entities. This indicates that crypto-to-crypto firms are exempt from 5AMLD compliance.

The 5AMLD directives also take a lighter approach to customer recordkeeping. FATF guidance recommends data-gathering on both the recipient and the sender as well as liaising with other VASPs, while the 5AMLD merely entails recordkeeping and the submission of data to financial intelligence organizations upon request.

Interestingly, despite the U.K.’s recent departure from the European Union, the country’s financial sector was compelled to follow the 5AMLD directives, as they came in before the Brexit deadline of Jan. 31.

Consequently, in its role as the U.K.’s AML authority for crypto business, the Financial Conduct Authority announced anew compliance regime. Alongside the standard AML practices, including those derived from 5AMLD, the FCA necessitated all crypto firms to undertake “ongoing monitoring of all customers” — a definitive nod to FATF compliance.

FATF impact around the world

Japan, South Korea and Singapore have been exceptionally receptive to FATF directives. At the end of January, Singapore announced its Payment Services Act 2019. Unlike the EU’s ambiguous 5AMLD definition, the PSA requires “digital payment token” services — which encompasses both crypto businesses and exchanges — to comply with FATF-ready AML rules. In line with FATF guidance, Singapore set its travel rule threshold at around $1000 (SG $1,500).

Related: Singapore AML Framework Can Attract Crypto Businesses, Not Chase It Away

Meanwhile, Japan has always been a keen observer of cryptocurrency regulation. As early as 2017, the government started acknowledging Bitcoin and its crypto derivatives as property within Japan’s Payment Services Act. Moreover, the document calls for domestic crypto firms to comply with AML regulations and register with a competent local finance bureau.

South Korea has also heeded the FATF’s advice, passing a bill back in November 2019 that established a legal structure for cryptocurrencies. The bill introduced an AML framework requiring all crypto-related businesses in South Korea to follow FATF compliance to the letter.

What action is being taken by crypto platforms?

Judging by the sheer volume of travel rule violations, it seems few crypto firms have actually heeded FATF guidance, regardless of the jurisdictional implementation. Maxon — whose company CoolBitX is attempting to ease KYC procedures — takes this one step further, asserting that crypto company compliance in the U.S. is nonexistent: “Not a single major crypto business has actually been compliant on the travel rule despite the applicability of the rule since 2013.”

Nevertheless, over the past few months, there has been an abundance of firms offering compliance solutions, including CipherTrace’s TRISA, Bitcoin Suisse’s OpenVASP, Chainalysis, Elliptic and Netki, among others.

For many, the FATF’s guidance is akin to squeezing a square peg in a round hole. Bob Morris, global chief of compliance for Apifiny — a distributed trading network — believes that the splintered nature of the crypto industry isn’t conducive to existing FATF policy. Speaking to Cointelegraph, Morris opined:

“In the traditional banking industry, the travel rule is feasible because everyone is collaborating across one system. But in the fragmented world of cryptocurrency exchanges, the challenge of devising a successful unified framework is too onerous to succeed — right now, exchanges don’t have a clue as to how to implement it.”

Taking the opposite stance, Reuben Yap, chief operations officer at Zcoin, told Cointelegraph that conventional banking rules could further legitimize the crypto industry, adding:

“It will also help shake the perception that cryptocurrency is used to facilitate illegal activity given that it will be now subject to the same rules as fiat.”

However, Yap cautioned that additional compliance costs may sound the death knell for smaller firms. Thomas Glucksmann, vice president of global development at blockchain analytic firm Merkle Science, shared a similar opinion to Yap’s, suggesting that faith from governments and regulators will eventually foster industry growth:

“Over the long term better information sharing between institutions provides more trust and confidence in the industry’s ability to combat money laundering and other criminal activity, which hopefully results in better relationships with banks and regulators to facilitate wider adoption of cryptocurrency.”

In the same vein, CipherTrace chief financial analyst John Jefferies claims that added scrutiny will help mature the cryptocurrency asset class, even though in the short-term, “VASPs will likely incur additional expenses as they seek to comply with the Travel Rule.” He went on to add:

“Some VASPs may cease to exist or others such as Deribit may move to unregulated countries such as Panama. It will be good for the industry in the mid and long term because the Travel Rule will help virtual assets grow into an asset class that is safe for investors.”

The (not-so-massive) impact on privacy coins

Still, one crucial question remains: Do the FATF directives pose a risk to privacy coins? Following the FATF guidance, exchanges such as Coinbase and OKEx started booting privacy coins in an effort to comply. This, Yap says, arises from a “misunderstanding” of the travel rule. According to him, privacy coins face the same trials as any other cryptocurrency, as travel rule compliance occurs off-chain:

“Whether a coin has privacy features or not does not affect its compliance with the Travel Rule since a VASP can always give information of its transactions with other VASPs since it already has the customer’s identity and KYC.”

Indeed, developers of privacy coins contend that their protocols are still able to submit to FATF directives. For instance, the crew behind Beam — a cryptocurrency based on the confidential transaction protocol MimbleWimble — have already taken steps to offer a transaction auditability feature.

Glucksmann explained that protocols such as these allow for privacy coins to continue unimpeded, “Exchanges and other cryptocurrency businesses can support these privacy coins while still complying with regulatory requirements.” However, Jefferies noted that additional privacy layers in major cryptocurrencies may add to compliance difficulties:

“Major tokens including Bitcoin and Ethereum are adding privacy layers so VASPs and regulators need to understand and mitigate the compliance risks. As central bank cryptocurrencies are introduced, privacy will play a critical role in their acceptance in countries that value privacy.”

For better or worse, the FATF guidance has at least prompted several member nations to advance cryptocurrency regulation. Arguably — even at its worst — regulation adds assurances that can help bolster industry legitimacy. While a few remain diametrically opposed to what they consider ill-fitting guidance, the positive impact on the industry could conceivably outweigh the short-term drawbacks.


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Anniversary Sale: Get 1 year of Extra Crunch for $99



Last February we launched Extra Crunch, and today we’re celebrating its one-year anniversary. As a token of appreciation to our readers, we’re offering a limited-time deal for annual Extra Crunch membership. From now until the end of February, new users signing up for Extra Crunch in the U.S. can get a full year of membership for only $99 plus tax (normally priced at $150/year). 

Get Extra Crunch membership for only $99 (plus tax) here.

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Since launching Extra Crunch, we’ve published more than 1,000 articles on fundraising, early-stage investing, startup PR and other topics targeted to entrepreneurs and investors. In addition to TechCrunch writers, we’ve run contributions from Julian Shapiro at Demand Curve, Jake Saper at Emergence Capital, Rory O’Driscoll at Scale and many others.

Some of our top stories from the past year:

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Readers can sign up for Extra Crunch for $99/year (plus tax) here.

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