Newness, a startup co-founded by former Twitch employees, has raised $ 3.5 million in a Sequoia-led seed round for its live-streaming platform aimed at beauty creators and their fan communities. Though today’s creators are not without options when it comes to livestreaming — Twitch, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook are all popular choices — Newness is focused on building differentiated tools and features that work well for the beauty streamer market in particular. This includes offering options for both public and private streams, engagement mechanisms that reward positive contributions, moderation features and the ability for fans to earn access to free beauty products by community participation.
In the new round, Jess Lee invested on behalf of Sequoia Capital. Other investors in Newness include Cowboy Ventures (Aileen Lee), Upside Partnership (Kent Goldman), Dream Machine (former TechCrunch editor Alexia Bonatsos), Index Ventures (Nina Achadjian), Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, former Twitch execs Jonathan Shipman and John Sutton, Eventbrite founders Kevin and Julia Hartz, Incredible Health co-founder and CEO Iman Abuzeid and other angel investors from Twitch.
The idea for Newness comes from CEO Jenny Qian, an early Twitch employee who held a number of roles at the game-streaming site over the years, most recently as the senior director of Business Strategy for Twitch’s video platform. She’s joined by CTO Youri Park, who also previously worked at Twitch, as well as Blizzard and Facebook Gaming.
Though always an avid gamer herself, Qian says she began getting into skincare after she turned 30. She then soon realized the potential in the livestreaming beauty space.
“I was so used to the format from Twitch. And, in some ways, I feel like I was spoiled with livestreaming,” she explains. Being able to hang out with streamers, ask questions and learn from them was something that made the live format so compelling, she believes.
“It made me scratch my head and think: Why didn’t something like this exist for the beauty community? It’s a community that is just as passionate, if not more so … and it’s a content category that is so incredibly popular. How come there isn’t a live medium available?” she wondered.
But at the same time, Qian admits she didn’t feel comfortable going live on Twitch.
“It’s one thing to be made fun of for my gameplay. But I think it’s another if I take my makeup off and people are making fun of me for how I look. It just cuts to a whole new level,” she says.
With Newness, the goal is to create a sort of anti-Twitch, in a way. It aspires to be a wholesome, positive community for beauty creators and fans, where moderation is a key focus and fans get rewarded for quality participation, not trolling.
When creators go live, Newness will pair them with an in-house moderator to help them feel more comfortable and to keep the content flowing. Once they’re a more established streamer, Newness will work with the creator to locate and elevate a moderator from their own fan community to help out with future streams.
Meanwhile, fans are awarded virtual items called crystals for positive participation and good behavior — for example, for watching your favorite stream and engaging in chat. In Newness, every chat message also has a little heart next to it. And the more hearts you earn over time for higher-quality comments, the more crystals you also earn.
These crystals can be redeemed for full-size beauty products, which Newness will source through brand deals. Because moderators spend more time on the platform, they’ll also earn more crystals — and that means more opportunities for products.
The positive reward system has so far proven successful during beta tests, as around 66% of Newness viewers, on average, end up chatting during live streams, Qian says.
Another differentiating feature for Newness is the ability for creators to host both public and private streams. The latter is not meant to be some sort of OnlyFans equivalent, but is instead focused on allowing creators to host more professional and exclusive live events. With private streams, creators can sell both general admission and even pricier VIP tickets that could come with some sort of reward — like a goodie bag of beauty supplies.
In addition to events, Newness supports an in-app tipping mechanism called “gifting” on everyday streams.
Eventually, the startup plans to take a share of the revenue these transactions generate, but it hasn’t yet rolled that out as it’s still beta testing.
At present, the Newness community is small. And it still chooses which creators are allowed to livestream.
“We handpick the creators that we let on to our platform and keep it invite-only because we want to make sure that our earliest creators are helping to set the tone and building the culture of the community,” she says. The startup wants to ensure there are enough community members to sustain itself, while also not allowing the community to become toxic as it scales.
“We really care about cultivating an incredibly wholesome community. So for us, safety, moderation — all that is really important to us,” Qian notes.
The creators produce a range of content, including more expert advice and product reviews to more casual “get ready with me” videos and vlogs.
Newness, of course, will face steep competition from larger, existing platforms for streamers, like YouTube and Instagram, as well as from newcomers more focused on beauty videos, like Supergreat.
The startup has been in beta testing since last year and is only available on the web for the time being. With the seed funding, Newness expects to build out its iOS consumer app in 2021, to complement its dedicated streaming app for creators. (Creators can also opt to stream from their DSLRs, if they prefer.)
It also aims to hire engineering talent and build out its 14-person team that’s now spread out across San Francisco, New York (thanks to some ex-Glossier hires), and L.A.
Much of our daily lives have been transformed in one way or another by technology – and often through intentional efforts to innovate thanks to the advent of new technology. Now more than ever, we rely on shared collaboration platforms and digital workspaces in our professional lives, and yet most of the changes wrought by tech on our home and family lives seem like the accidental effects of broader trends, rather than intentional shifts. Maple, a new startup launching today, aims to change that.
Founded by former Shopify product director and Kit (which was acquired by Shopify in 2016) co-founder Michael Perry, Maple is billed as “the family tech platform,” and hopes to ease the burden of parenting, freeing up parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and kids to spend more quality time together. The startup, which is launching its app on iPhone and Android for all and onboarding new users from its waitlist over the next few weeks, has raised $ 3.5 million in seed funding – an impressive round for a company just about seven months into its existence. The round was led by Inspired Capital, and includes participation by Box Group, but is also supported by a number of angels who were Perry’s former colleagues at Shopify, including Shopify President Harley Finkelstein.
Perry and his co-founder Mike Taylor, who also co-founded Kit, decided to leave Shopify in order to pursue Perry’s vision of a platform that can help parents better manage their family lives – a platform made up of a social layer, a task-focused list of shared responsibilities, and a bourgeoning service marketplace that looks and feels a lot like the ecosystem Shopify has built for empowering e-commerce entrepreneurs. That’s by design, Perry says.
“I think you’re gonna see a lot of Shopify inspiration in this product – we think we’re the back office of every family,” Perry told me in an interview. “And we think we’re building the app ecosystem of apps, services, all kinds of things that are going to live on this platform that’s going to revolutionize parenting.”
In its current early incarnation, Maple’s primary interface for parents is a list of various tasks they need to take care of during the day. During onboarding, Maple asks parents what they’re typically responsible for in the household, and then uses some basic machine learning behind the scenes to build a customized schedule for getting those things done. Maple has signed on three initial partners to assist with accomplishing some of these tasks, including Evelyn Rusli’s Yumi food and nutrition brand for infants; Lalo, a DTC baby and toddler furniture and gear brand; and Haus, which will be providing date night packages for parents to enjoy for some getaway time.
The platform will offer users the ability to tap others for help with tasks – these could be other family members added to the household, or the partners mentioned above (the plan is to bring on more, but to gate admittance initially while developing API endpoints that any company can potentially tap into). When interacting with family members, Maple also encourages smalls social interactions, like thanking someone for their help on a particular task or just showing general appreciation. Perry says this is a key ingredient he prioritized in product design.
“We have this cool thing that every day at eight o’clock, we give you an end of the day recap with your family,” Perry said. “So you click on it, and it will show me that, for example, Alex [Perry’s wife] completed three responsibilities for our family today, and how many I did for my family today, and how much help I received from other people today. And directly in app, you can send these cool little ‘Thank you ‘messages and say, you know, I love you, I appreciate you – we’re a great team. And Alex will get those messages. We believe in a world where this can be incredibly dynamic, in many different ways kto kind of bring some love and appreciation and make parenting feel more rewarding and easier.”
Perry is quick to note that what Maple offers today is only the beginning, and it’s clear he has bold ambitions for the platform. He talked about building “the family graph,” or a trove of data that can be used to not only build intelligent recommendations and develop ever more advanced machine learning to optimize family management, but also to provide partners with the tools they need to build products to best serve families. I asked Perry what that means for privacy, given that people are likely to be far more reluctant to share info around their families than they are about their work lives. He said the they team plans to go slow in terms of what it exposes to partners, when, and how, and that they’ll have user privacy in mind at each step – since, after all, Perry himself is a father and a husband and is wary of any incursions on his own private life.
For now, partners like Yumi only receive what users share with them through their own account creation and login mechanism, and they only pass back a basic attribution token – essentially letting Maple know the task was completed so it can mark it off in a user’s list.
Maple’s partners today are representative of the kind of businesses that might make use of the platform in future, but Perry has a much broader vision. He hopes that Maple can ultimately help parents handle their responsibilities across a wide range of needs and income levels. Right now, Perry points out, a lot of what’s available to parents in terms of support is only available to higher income brackets – ie., nannies and dedicated caregivers. Perry says that his experience growing up relatively poor with a single mother supporting the entire family led him to want to provide something better.
“You have 125 million households in America, you have 3 million children being born every year, you have 30% of the households in America being single parent-run households,” Perry said. “It’s hard. Some people are working one two jobs, most couples are working couples. Every industry that’s changed has been about making things more accessible. In the case of Shopify, at one point building, an online store required hundreds of thousands of dollars and a bunch of skilled people. Now you can start a store for $ 20 in five minutes – 20 years ago, that was unfathomable.”
For Perry, Maple represents a path to that kind of shift in the economics of parenting and a network of family services, including goods, care, leisure and more. The startup has plans to eventually enlist other parents to provide services, which Perry says will unlock part-time income generation for full-time parents, allowing parents to help each other at the same time.
I asked him if he thought people would be reluctant to treat their family lives with the same kind of optimization approach favored by enterprise and commercial platform tools, but he suggested that in fact, not taking advantage of those same technologies in our personal lives is a missed opportunity.
“We believe that, uniquely, we’re living through a generation where we can start creating more time for people,” Perry said. “I think what makes Maple so unique is that no company has approached this by asking ‘How do we create more time for you so that you can spend more time with your kids?’ in the consolidated way that we have.”
Disclosure: I worked at Shopify from 2018 to 2019 while Perry was employed there, but we did not work together directly.
After online dating’s tremendous 2020 growth that culminated in last week’s epic Bumble IPO, a new entrant has tossed its hat into the dating app ring.
Snack, founded by Kimberly Kaplan, looks to merge the popularity and format of TikTok with the dating world. Kaplan hails from Plenty of Fish, where she was one of the earliest employees at the dating site. She led product, marketing and revenue and was on the executive team that eventually sold PoF to Match Group for $ 575 million in 2015.
Kaplan said that she noticed a specific user behavior among folks using dating apps, particularly the coveted Gen Z demographic. Essentially, folks would match on Bumble or Tinder and immediately move the connection over to apps like Snap and Instagram, where they would watch each others’ stories and more casually flirt, rather than carrying on in a more high-pressure DM conversation on the dating apps.
Around the same time, TikTok surged in popularity, showing a shift in the average consumer’s attitude toward creating short-form video on the web.
Snack is a video-first dating app that asks users to create a video and post it to a feed. Other users can scroll through a feed (à la Instagram) rather than swipe right or left on individual profiles, and when someone likes a video, it opens up the ability to comment. Once two users have liked each others’ videos, DMs are open.
The app is still in its early days, so there is no location filtering yet to ensure that everyone who joins the app has a full feed of videos to browse through. Kaplan said that Snack is also working on video editing features similar to that of TikTok to let people get super creative with their profiles.
Thus far, Snack has received $ 3.5 million in funding, led by Kindred Ventures and Coelius Capital, with participation by Golden Ventures, Garage Capital, Panache Ventures and N49P.
Though we’re still a ways away from monetization, Kaplan says her experience in the dating space should be beneficial when looking to generate revenue at Snack, and that the startup will likely follow the same playbook as other dating apps, employing premium subscriptions and potentially ads.
There are 10 people on the Snack team, and Kaplan says that the team is 60% diverse with 40% of employees being visible minorities.
“The biggest challenge is going up against big players that have a lot of capital,” said Kaplan. “Starting out is hard and getting that initial foothold is hard. I fundamentally believe in our product and I see this open opportunity in the market. I very much believe someone will come in and usurp Tinder, and it’s going to be around video.”
The era of social audio 1.0 is in full swing, and while podcasts and Clubhouse have led the way, there are many other audio startups joining the fold. Quilt, an audio social network that focuses on wellness and community, has raised a $ 3.5 million seed round led by Mayfield Fund, with partner Rishi Garg joining the board, to do just that.
Quilt started as a community platform founded by Ashley Sumner, which let local folks meet up with one another in their own homes. Sumner was on the founding team at NeueHouse and has spent her career building community through physical space. Thousands of Quilt conversations were happening out of peoples’ homes until the pandemic struck in March, resulting in an existential crisis for the startup.
Sumner quickly moved Quilt over to Zoom but soon realized that video chat didn’t quite capture the magic that was happening in person, nor did it prove the right medium to foster the type of conversations that had made Quilt so special.
She worked to develop an audio app that would become the new Quilt 2.0, which went live in the App Store at the end of January.
Quilt allows anyone to start a room for a conversation, dropping a line or two of text to describe what they want to talk about. The app is focused on wellness, breaking rooms into three different categories: spiritual and personal development (with conversations around meditation, astrology, human design, etc.), career and purpose (“it was very important to link purpose to it,” said Sumner, “these aren’t networking events”), and relationships, sex and family.
The platform has put specific focus on balancing the engagement levels of content creators and consumers. According to Quilt, 98% of hosts attend other hosts’ conversations and more than 50% of Quilters talk during any given conversation.
Garg, who has spent nearly two decades in the emerging media space, talked about how the engagement ratio among creators, consumers and “bystanders” is different for each social platform based on the medium and product choices.
“With YouTube, the famous number was 1% create, 9% engage and 90% sit back,” said Garg. “At Twitter, interestingly, it was 10%, 30%, 60%. If you look at something like Clubhouse, you’re seeing that parallel already happen. It’s like celebrity central. Part of what got us excited about Quilt was that anyone could just start a room. We really focused in on the pathway between being a consumer to being a creator. Starting or hosting a room is shorter than on any other social media platform.”
He added that the norms within the Quilt community are a big part of what makes that possible, saying there is a hurdle associated with platforms that are more celebrity-driven or top-heavy. Consumers look at the bar that is set by the community and feel they’re not famous enough, or don’t have a big enough community to contribute, he said.
“Part of the magic of Quilt is that everyone can feel like they have something to offer,” Garg explained. “I think it’s a lot more scalable and a lot less fragile than an ecosystem built entirely on celebrity.”
Retention also seems to be strong in Quilt’s early days, with 80% of sign-ups coming back for conversations every week. The company also said that around 60% of conversations are started spontaneously, rather than being a planned and promoted “event.”
Sumner says that Quilt will never generate revenue through advertising, but rather employ a freemium model.
Existing investors such as Freestyle VC’s Jenny Lefcourt and Upside Partnership’s Kent Goldman and Christina Hunt also participated in this latest round, alongside new investors, including Houseparty CEO Sima Sistani, The Mini Fund’s Eros Resmini, former Discord CMO Allison Stoloff and others.
The Quilt team is currently made up of eight people, 50% of whom are female and 25% of whom are non-Black people of color. Twenty percent are LGBT and 10% are non-binary.