It might be swathed in dense freezing fog half the time, but San Francisco continues to produce among the most clear-sighted and audacious tech teams on the planet. The proliferation of accelerators, the encouragement of failure and availability of funding – not to mention tech superstars like Facebook and Apple being just around the corner – means it remains the world’s most-important hub for startups. From Tinder for job search and free-range egg delivery to Airbnb property management and an app for hooking up with your mates, here are 10 San Francisco startups to watch.
1. Jobr – Tinder For Job Search
The hyper-viral growth of dating app Tinder set everyone thinking, fast, about what other services the simple, swipe-controlled, interface would work in. Jobr is one of them and it’s a perfect fit for the outdated and arduous process of job hunting online. Users swipe yes or no for jobs, while recruiters do the same for job seekers. If there’s a match, they can start to chat. No more sending out hundreds of CVs, no more awkward email exchanges, no more time-consuming interviews to whittle down the pile of applications. The informal chat feature lets both parties work out if it’s going to be a good enough fit for an interview.
Applicants sign in with their LinkedIn profiles, which it uses to get an idea of what jobs they are interested in. Although it borrows from Tinder, it sounds like it’s a bit smarter in terms of learning what its users are interested in. Where Tinder resets after 500 swipes, Jobr resets after 12. With 3m swipes and 1,000 recruiters from companies ranging from Twitter and Yelp to Uber and Lyft under its belt after just a couple of months, it’s off to a strong start.
“LinkedIn is an unbelievable business, probably one of the most important social networks, but also the furthest behind on mobile. Facebook makes 68% of revenue from mobile, LinkedIn makes around USD10m per quarter. We saw an opportunity, feeling that in general the professional experience on mobile was pretty far behind," says founder TJ Nahigian. "Also getting to know the Tinder founders and Tinder model really well, there are a lot of analogies between dating and recruiting. There’s this immediate feedback loop for both the candidate and the recruiter that's very effient. With email it’s really hard,there aren’t really screening questions so it’s either a phone call or an interview straight off the bat and it often isn’t a good fit.”
Investors: Lerer Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Eniac Ventures, Lowercase Capital, The Hive, Tekton Ventures, Structure Capital, Tim Draper.
2. LendUp - Fixing Payday Loans
Fintech companies aren’t just disrupting the traditional finance market. We’re also seeing a new generation of companies looking to displace first-generation players – particularly in more mature sectors like online lending. LendUp is one of them, aiming to fix the many things broken about payday loans. This isn’t just about lending money, it’s about taking responsibility for keeping customers well informed and improving their financial health. The company puts a heavy emphasis on rewarding good financial behaviour and educating customers about how to help themselves. Aimed at people that most banks will not consider for loans, LendUp helps them build up their credit ratings and improve their financial health, as well as providing free classes.
“A lot in finance is still outdated, especially here in the US,” partnerships and social innovation head Leslie Payne tells StrategyEye. “Europe has done a little better on some measures like credit card security, but there are lots of other ways the infrastructure hasn’t changed. From our perspective there are a couple of things broken about payday loans. As you engage with us over time – pay back your loan, engage on the site - you gain access to more money for longer periods of time at lower fees. That’s where you can see the opportunity to use these payments to improve your credit score and get access to products you were locked out of before as a result of having a low credit score.”
Investors: Google Ventures, Data Collective, QED Investors, Founders Co-op, AFSquare, Thomvest Ventures, Kapor Capital, Start Fund, Justin Mateen.
3. HandUp – Crowdsourced Donations To Low-Income & Homeless People
Donating to the homeless is a process that has been broken since...probably forever. Although many people want to help, there are often valid concerns over where they money will be spent if they just hand it over in the street. Helping people give money that - it guarantees - will be spent on food, shelter and other basic needs, is HandUp.
How it works, briefly, is that homeless and low-income people register through local community organisations, create an online profile describing their needs – which might be anything from rent help to dentures – and set a fundraising goal. Donors then either set up a one off or recurring payment to a member, or to the SF Fund, which is spent on those with the most urgent needs. The firm says 100% of donations go directly to members – admin fees are opt in. Once a target is hit, a case worker helps buy whatever they need. This is a creative solution to a huge problem that really looks like it has legs.
Investors: Version One Ventures, Launch Fund, SV Angel, Urban.us, Tumml, Marc Benioff, Eric Ries, Kathy Salmanowitz.
4. Good Eggs – E-Commerce Meets Local Producers
Grocery shopping is having something of a renaissance online. The first wave saw companies like Ocado fill the streets with vans carrying French sticks, chickens and tinned tomatoes around the country to customers’ doors. The second wave sees delivery companies focusing on increasingly local products and providing a better deal for small producers by cutting out the supermarket chains that currently have the keys to our fridges.
Good Eggs users shop from a virtual farmers’ market for seasonal vegetables, preserves and freshly-baked goods, which producers then make to order – thus cutting out waste. Slicing out the Wal-Marts of the country, shoppers buy online directly from local food producers who either deliver the food directly or leave it at a drop-off point. Active in San Francisco Bay, New Orleans, Brooklyn and LA, we're seeing demand for local produce marketplaces emerging as a trend in Europe too and we expect this bunch to go far.
“Our model fundamentally supports small producers making food with integrity,” says head of marketing Cathy Bishop. “Nothing goes to waste sitting around on a shelf. You get a loaf of bread baked that morning or produce harvested to order so it's the freshest it can be. The food we carry is sourced sustainably and locally, which means you can feel good about what you're buying.
"And we're a mission-driven organisation—by shopping on Good Eggs, you're voting for a world that's healthier, more just, more community-minded - it's the kind of world we want to see. The future we envision is one where we eat 10 times more food grown locally and regionally and food distribution happens not through a few mega warehouses, but via lots of local food hubs.”
Amen to that.
Investors: Sequoia Capital, Collaborative Fund,Baseline Ventures, Harrison Metal, Correlation Ventures, The Westly Group, Max Ventilla, Mitchell Kapor.
5. Down – Dates & HookUps With Friends
You might not recognise the Down app, but you’ve definitely heard of this team before. Down is the second iteration of the infamous Bang With Friends App. After getting kicked out of the App Store and sued by Zynga, the app is now helping 2m users find out if their friend crushes are mutual. Offering more a more nuanced approaches than Tinder, users can pick from telling their contacts they want to date or they want to ‘get down’. If there’s a meeting of minds, they start to chat. Speaking to StrategyEye at the firm’s downtown office, co-founder and CEO Colin Hodge says:
“Dating used to be a very black and white thing where everyone was looking for marriage and you didn't date more than one person at a time, but there was not as much pre-marital sex and now it’s much more common to be friends with someone and blur those lines between friendship. Now you might hook up with someone first and then it turns into a relationship or go the other way.
"We wanted have something that is more flexible and more honest about what people’s intentions are. On OKCupid, Match.com or even competitors like Tinder, you don’t specify exactly what you’re looking for with that one person. What we came up with is that it’s actually different a lot of the time.”
Amen to that too. The app is currently free, but Hodge said multiple monetisation options include premium layers where users pay to boost their profile or add more content. He says location-based services, such as date recommendations and discounts at certain bars or cafes, or even events, is another.
Investors: Great Oaks Venture Capital, Tim Draper.
6. Guesty - Taking The Hassle Out Of Online Rentals
You know a property rental site’s got big when a startup offering to help hosts manage their assets pops up. Guesty is a Y-Combinator firm that wants to simplify the process for hosts on Airbnb when it comes to the nitty-gritty logistics like organising key drops and airport pickups. Formerly known as SuperHost, the service was created by twin brothers Koby and Amiad Soto, who are both former Airbnb hosts themselves.
“My brother was in Barcelona on the beach and he got a message from his guest and he had to pack his things, pay for Wi-Fi in a shop to tell them where the bowls were in his kitchen,” says Amiad Soto. "That’s not the optimal experience for hosts. We wanted to outsource to a different company, but we couldn’t find one so we built it ourselves.”
Airbnb’s experimentation with cleaning services suggests that it is looking for companies that take care of the logistical side of renting accommodation – for both the guest and the host. Although Guesty says it is looking to diversify beyond just Airbnb, it is also well-positioned as an acquisition target for the rentals giant. Either way, the scale of opportunity in online rentals continues to widen as consumers look for alternative travel options and ways to make money from dead assets. The company makes money by charging 3% on each booking and appears to be growing at a decent clip, doubling the properties under management to around 600 in June.
Investors: Wefunder, Y Combinator, Magma Venture Partners
7. BetterDoctor - Browse And Book Appointments With Doctors
The most-successful tech companies are born out of necessity. And surely there’s nothing in more desperately need of innovation in the US than its healthcare system. Part recommendations site, part appointment booking site BetterDoctor lets users browse reviews of doctors aggregated from sources including Yelp, professional networking platform Doximity and official registers to pick one that suits their needs. The firm says it lists only top-rated doctors who have passed rigorous quality thresholds. The site was founded by former Nokia execs Ari Tulla, who is now CEO, and Tapio Tolvanen, CTO, after Tulla became frustrated looking for a doctor to treat a complex family issue.
“Our vision is to take the guessing game out of finding, evaluating and booking an appointment with the ‘right’ doctor,” says product and marketing manager Joel Goyette. “Unlike many of our competitors our apps include every doctor in the country, not just those who pay to be promoted. We believe the greatest opportunity is not to display millions of advertisements, but to build tools to help people answer one of the most important questions when looking for a new doctors: does this doctor have the unique qualifications, experience and ability to give world-class advice and career?”
The scale of the US healthcare market means that there’s more than one player looking to disrupt the space, with companies like HealthGrades operating in a similar space, but it also means there’s space for more than one to thrive. BetterDoctor offers a free service, with premium listings for practices and doctors. The firm says 70m US citizens, a fifth of the population, switch their primary care doctor for a specialist.
Investors: New Enterprise Associates, SoftTech VC, Lifeline Ventures, Commerce Ventures, Initial Capital, Burrill & Company, Commerce Ventures, Kima Ventures, 500 Startups, Jaan Tallinn, Steve Wolfe, Tapio Tolvanen, Ari Tulla, Devon George, Jason Johnson, Jack Kokko.
8. Airware - Operating System For Commercial Drones
Despite thorny regulatory issues, the potential of commercial drone technology is being touted in industries ranging from news reporting to wildlife conservation to industry to agriculture. Although the technology has, until now, been chiefly associated with weapons of war, there is also a huge opportunity to leverage drones for good.
Startups with bright ideas in this field are, however, severely hampered by how complicated building hardware and software from the ground up can be. Although open source materials exist, they’re pretty inflexible. That’s the issue Airware is attempting to solve, as it prepares to roll out its drone OS this year. Features will include autopilot hardware, navigation tools and cloud service to analyse data the drone picks up.
Investors: Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Felicis Ventures, First Round, Google Ventures, Shasta Ventures, Promus Ventures, First Round, RRE Ventures, Lemnos Labs
9. Shyp - Send Parcels With Your iPhone
Shipping anything bigger than a letter remains a hugely inconvenient process, as anyone who’s hungrily watched their lunch hour tick past in a line at the post office can confirm. Although there are multiple shipping companies operating worldwide, it’s hard to tell which one is the cheapest and safest for what you’re sending.
This startup claims it is the “easiest way to ship anything” and by the sound of its business, that might just be true. All a user has to do is take a picture of what they want to ship with their iPhone. Shyp then picks it up, parcels it up and picks the best (in terms of quality and price) of its network of shipping firms and posts the bundles over the seas and into the skies to wherever they’re going. From a consumer point of view, it’s sleek and low input, as well as good value for money – thanks to its backroom Skyscanner-for-shipping technology and transportation partnerships. The firm is now focused on expanding steadily, city by city, and though working with delivery logistics mean it won’t be plain sailing, the horizon’s looking pretty bright for these guys.
So where's the money? The firm charges the same as UPS and FedEx, plus a USD5 fee to pick up single packages. With two or more they waive the fee. By shipping in bulk at a discounted price, the firm aims to make a profit from the difference between what they charge and it actually costs. It’s an interesting model that will work only if the company can operate in big volumes, which means scaling super fast.
Investors: SherpaVentures, Shervin Pishevar, Winklevoss Capital, Homebrew, Brian McClendon, David Marcus, Daymond John.
10. Gild - Tech Talent Recruiter Favouring Skill Over Pedigree
We doubt there’s a single tech company we’ve spoken to that doesn’t name a lack of talent as one of its key challenges in scaling. It’s something 500 Startups venture partner Sean Percival touched on in our interview last month, arguing that one way to solve this deficit is to start approaching lower-income and minority communities that don’t have as much access to programming skills to teaching them would help infuse the talent pool a lot more. The perceived lack of talent comes amid a growing acknowledgement of the lack of diversity in the existing tech workforce from big players like Apple and Twitter.
That’s where Gild comes in, a tech talent recruitment platform that claims it can find top programmers that might not be available through traditional job application channels and favours skill over pedigree. At its core is a programme that aggregates data from sites like Facebook and Quora along with open source code channels to create adatabase of coders. Recruiters can then hire programmers on a monthly subscription basis. Given the demand, globally, for tech talent, this firm is well worth watching.
Investors: SAP Ventures, Globespan Capital Partners, Correlation Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Draper Nexus Ventures, Baseline Ventures, TMT. Mark Kvamme, Steve Anderson