Google unveils new options for removing personal data from search results

Gooood [your time of day] startup fans! It’s a brand new week and we’re flippin’ psyched that it’s… wait, it is May? How’d that happen? In any case – May 2nd 2022, here we go. Spring is a good time to do a bit of a spring clean; we loved Zack’s guide to how to remove your personal data from Google Search introduction. And if you’re on Android, Carly’s run-down of the operating system’s privacy-forward features are worth a skim, as well. 

HOLD THE PRESS. Well, don’t, because we schedule these newsletters in advance BUT! When it hits your inbox, click this right away, because someone is about to catch a falling rocket with a helicopter and it’s the single-most A-Team meets MacGyver thing we could imagine. 

See you tomorrow for extremely on-the-pulse references to 1980s TV shows tomorrow Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Glamping may not be so bad with this at your campsite: A battery the size of a cooler, that has wheels, plugs and air conditioning? Yes please. Being in Mother Nature may be fun for some, but battery maker EcoFlow is going after those who only occasionally have to do it. Factor in, too, a great origin story where the company went from a Kickstarter project to a $1 billion company in five years.
  • Open gets its horn: We’re not sure, but when your business is mentioned as having “dramatically changed the relationship between banks and fintechs,” we think that’s a sign you are doing well. Indeed, India-based neobank Open was rewarded with a $1 billion valuation. This is also taking place in a country where Manish reported, “just a few years ago, most banks in India were skeptical of neobanks and it was very difficult to persuade any of them for a partnership.” Raise a glass Open!
  • What happened at UiPath: By all accounts, the robotic process automation company had been doing well, bringing in investment dollars and a high valuation. It even did well on its first day as a public company last year. Since that time, share price is down, and so is valuation, prompting Alex and Ron to dive into why that might be.

Startups and VC

Over on Lucas and Anita’s shiny new Chain Reaction podcast, Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire is predicting that a lot of VCs are going to pull back; and exploring the regulatory challenges that are opaque to a lot of crypto investors. 

Meanwhile, Alex posits that no one told the crypto world that startup megadeals aren’t as plentiful anymore, and Natasha throws up her arms in frustration about all the weird shapes investors are wrappening themselves into in an effort to avoid calling spades spades. Folks, a rose is a rose, and it smells as sweet by any other name. And a seed round is a seed round, no matter its olfactory qualities. 

Can you smell what the Rock is cooking: 

2022 cybersecurity product-led growth market map

To paint a detailed picture of the competitive landscape for product-led growth cybersecurity companies, investor Ross Halieliuk tracked over 800 products in a market map that includes more than 600 vendors.

His map uncovered several trends redefining PLG adoption right now in the cybersecurity industry, and some of it is bad news for early-stage startups.

In this environment, most CISOs are experiencing “vendor overload,” which means small players that lack a robust network and fat marketing budgets can’t participate in the same sales channels. 

If your investors won’t approve a series of invitation-only dinners with your target clients, what are your options?

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

Going from Open to wanting to close our eyes to rub them and make sure we read this right: India’s anti-money laundering agency said over the weekend that it “seized assets worth about $725 million from Xiaomi India for breaching the country’s foreign exchange laws in a major blow to the Chinese phone maker that commands the Indian smartphone market.” Wow. 

In Apple news, the company ran into a bit of trouble with the European Union, which reported some preliminary findings related to an antitrust case: Apple was found to have made it so competitors could provide “NFC-enabled contactless payments on the iPhone to develop other mobile wallets and compete fairly with Apple Pay,” claiming this type of technology should be open to anyone. Now it’s Apple’s turn to respond to the charges. Meanwhile, you can now get Apple Music on Roku

We hand-picked these next items just for you. Enjoy:

Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire on competition and conviction in crypto venture — ‘A lot of VCs… are going to pull back’

As crypto continues its wild rise, storied venture firm Sequoia is not just competing with the a16z’s of the world but with a rising crop of crypto native venture funds that are seeing their assets balloon and their influence upend the traditional venture hierarchies. In a conversation on TechCrunch’s new web3 podcast Chain Reaction, Sequoia crypto partner Shaun Maguire talked about the firm’s commitment to the sector, regulatory challenges and what plenty of crypto investors still don’t understand.

Earlier this year, Sequoia announced a $500 to $600 million sub-fund dedicated exclusively to buying up cryptocurrencies. The firm has made a number of equity investments in crypto startups over the years including Fireblocks and FTX, but while Andreessen Horowitz was early to commit to a dedicated crypto fund in 2018, Sequoia has continued made its equity investments through its general funds.

While the crypto industry continues to mint new unicorn startups, the rapid cooling of public market tech stocks has threatened to stall growth in the emerging category, which has still proven awfully susceptible to macro conditions. In our conversation, Maguire emphasized his belief that plenty of other funds dipping their toes into crypto “are going to pull back” when the market grows less frothy, but he believes that Sequoia has already committed to a lengthy relationship with the sector — “we have permanent intentions.”

“Sequoia is very deliberate with everything we do and we spend huge amounts of time debating every strategy change, everything, we debate every seed investment to sometimes excruciating detail, but it helps us make really good decisions and make decisions as a team rather than as individuals,” Maguire tells us. “When we make a decision to do something, it doesn’t happen unless the whole team is behind the decision. So that’s what you’ve seen get unleashed with crypto over the last 18 months, we went from it being some people with really, strong positive views, to the whole firm being completely behind it.”

The crypto category has dealt with plenty of skeptics, some in the venture capital community, who believe that the sector’s benefits are being oversold and that the web3 promise of decentralization is just smoke and mirrors.

“I am an absolute crypto maxi, but I think there are a lot of things that are misunderstood by the masses today,” Maguire said. “Decentralization is not a silver bullet that just solves all problems and is better for everything. You know for the vast majority of compute, you want it to be centralized. For a lot of decision making, centralization can be better for certain types of decisions.”

Maguire said that more important than decentralization for its own sake, is the ability of users to “be able to leave with their identity and data,” an effort which should protect consumers from platform overreach. While decentralization allows for a certain type of consumer protections, Maguire still contends that the rulebook of traditional investor protections shouldn’t be thrown out.

“One of the tensions I have in my head is that I think people sometimes forget that a lot of the consumer protections put in place by US law were won out of hard-fought lessons over like a century. And there’s a lot of wisdom in there,” Maguire says. “In some ways, one way to view what’s happening in crypto right now is it’s almost like throwing all the old rules out and starting with a blank canvas.. I think what we’re seeing is a lot of the crypto community is actually coming back in 90% of the situations and realizing that, ‘Oh, actually, the way things were done in the past was actually pretty good and got there for an optimal reason,’ But 10% is like radically different and… you can kind of meaningfully improve the whole system by getting some of those things right.”

You can listen to the entire interview with Maguire on our podcast, Chain Reaction. Subscribe to Chain Reaction on AppleSpotify or your alternative podcast platform of choice to keep up with us every week. 

Why a bipartisan embrace of crypto might never extend to Bitcoin

Hey everyone, and welcome back to Chain Reaction

In our Chain Reaction podcast this week, Anita and I chatted with Sequoia Capital’s Shaun Maguire on why gamers are skeptical of NFTs and where decentralization really matters. More details below.

Last week was our inaugural newsletter and we chatted at length about the changes Twitter could make to expand its crypto business. At that point, I — like many others — was operating under the assumption that a Musk Twitter deal was ultimately doomed, but low and behold we’ve got a deal. Everything has been approved at this point, but I can’t shake a feeling that something is going to kill this deal in the eleventh hour. If that happens, Twitter’s board or Musk will be on the hook for a $1 billion penalty for walking away from the deal, but I suppose we’ll see… This week, I’m looking at a controversial Bitcoin mining ban working its way through New York regulators and what bills like it could mean for the political reputation of crypto’s #1 coin.

To get this message in your inbox on Thursday mornings, you can subscribe on TechCrunch’s newsletter page. Follow me on Twitter while you’re at it!

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Getty Images

the hottest take

Crypto’s biggest skeptics see plenty of reasons to criticize the industry, but generally at the heart of most complaints is a belief that crypto is contributing very little to society while burning massive amounts of energy.

While crypto’s believers could squabble over the former point until they’re blue in the face, the latter is a little harder to deny. Bitcoin uses an estimated 204.50 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity per year at current rates according to the oft-cited tracker built by Digiconomist, this number is equal to the power consumption of Thailand. Meanwhile Ethereum’s energy footprint is half the size but still comparable to the power consumption of Kazakhstan. In 2018 the United States reported its total consumption of electricity as 4,222.5 TWh.

For some legislators, those numbers are hard to swallow. This week, the New York State Assembly passed a bill that had team crypto up in arms. The bill blocks the formation of crypto mining firms in the state that rely on non-renewable power. It notably doesn’t apply to existing facilities. A corresponding bill is currently making its way through the Democrat-controlled state senate.

This is fascinating for a whole bunch of reasons.

For one, crypto is increasingly becoming a partisan topic. Republicans are typically wary of regulating unregulated industries and thus a number of major figures in the party have thrown their full support behind crypto with few concessions. This includes prospective future party leaders like the governors of Texas and Florida. Meanwhile, most of crypto’s most ardent critics appear to be Democrats, but that’s not to say it’s a party-line issue. President Biden’s recent cryptocurrency executive order was generally regarded as very friendly to the space by industry insiders. The energy usage seems to be the most salient sticking point for many regulators looking at sweeping bans.

The other reason that this is interesting is that this bill really only impacts a handful of major crypto networks, but that includes the two biggest ones — Bitcoin and Ethereum.

These networks use something called a proof-of-work mechanism to secure their networks. The work in this case is mining which involves computers working around the clock to essentially solve math problems which are protecting the integrity of the blockchain, making it extremely expensive and technically challenging for hackers to overwhelm the network to make unauthorized transactions and steal tokens. Crypto seems to be generally trending away from proof-of-work, most notably, Ethereum is deep in the process of transitioning its network towards a less energy intensive consensus method. But Bitcoin seems unlikely to make its own transition, suggesting that regulatory maneuverings, like New York’s bills, are likely going to be increasingly antagonistic towards Bitcoin (and a few smaller networks) specifically.

This could lead to an interesting scenario where the crypto industry increasingly finds mainstream tolerance among its current critics but Bitcoin finds itself growing more and more politically isolated.

Bitcoin already broadcasts its libertarian bent a bit more prominently than other blockchains. At recent industry events, it’s becoming clearer that amid a burgeoning developer ecosystem for blockchains like Ethereum and Solana, the philosophy of the Bitcoin network’s infrastructure is increasingly its most harmonizing element. Bitcoin’s continuing resistance to criticism and calls for change may only embolden its supporters, but critiques around the power consumption of the network aren’t going anywhere and further adoption may only make this a more visible target for aggressive regulation.

Some politicians may grow to love crypto but hate Bitcoin all the same.

this week’s pod

Hey y’all, it’s Anita here. Our second episode of the weekly Chain Reaction podcast just dropped, and this week, we’ve been so immersed in the Elon Musk/Twitter news that we thought we’d tackle two other topics first to get our minds off the bird app for a second.

I wrote earlier this week about how Fidelity, the largest retirement plan provider in the United States, announced its plans to bring bitcoin to the 401(k) plans it administers for 23,000 companies. It’s a bold move from this tradfi incumbent because it legitimizes crypto as a long-term investment just a month after regulators tried to discourage retirement plan providers from doing exactly this. We kicked off the podcast with some spirited back-and-forth about who will benefit from Fidelity’s move, especially if it takes off as a larger trend. Personally, I think the news is great for non-billionaires – you can read about why in my latest for TC+ here.

We also covered:

  • Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong throwing shade at Apple for their App Store policies
  • Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter and what it means for web3. We just couldn’t skip this one, especially because of Twitter’s position as a watering hole for the crypto community

Our guest interview this week was with Shaun Maguire, an investor at Sequoia and, of course, a crypto Twitter personality. We chatted with him about Sequoia’s recent crypto moves, the possibility of a multichain future, and whether we’ll ever reach true decentralization at a mass scale or will end up stuck in “web 2.5” forever.

Subscribe to Chain Reaction on AppleSpotify or your alternative podcast platform of choice to keep up with us every week. Follow Chain Reaction on Twitter.

— Anita Ramaswamy

follow the money

Where startup money is moving in the crypto world:

  1. P2P exchange 0x nabs $70 million from Greylock Partners
  2. NFT startup Proof gets $10 million from Alexis Ohanian’s 776
  3. Crypto TV startup Mad Realities scores $6 million from Paradigm
  4. African crypto app Afriex nabs $10 million from Sequoia China and Dragonfly Capital
  5. Gaming DAO Snackclub raises $9 million from Animoca
  6. DeFi platform Tonic gets $5 million from Electric Capital and Move Capital
  7. Cricket NFT platform Rario raises $120 million from Dream Capital
  8.  NFT game Apeiron nabs $10 million from Hashed
  9. NFT infrastructure co CXIP Labs gets $6.5 million from Courtside Ventures and Wave Financial
  10. Crypto banking startup Cogni scores $23 million from Hanwha Asset Management and CaplinFO

added analysis

Some more crypto analysis from our TechCrunch+ subscription service:

Stablecoins are here to stay, but will they see wider adoption?

Stablecoins’ total circulating supply has grown significantly over the past year, but the future of it is unclear. Kraken’s chief legal officer said the subasset is in a “Cambrian moment” as they gather their foothold in the market. But not everyone is a fan of stablecoins as they’re in nascent stages and have the potential to boom, in two very different ways.

Artists like Harry Connick Jr. are using web3 to engage with fans

Web3 has attracted people from all walks of life, from traditional finance analysts to software developers. But a fairly new group has been entering the space over the last 12 months: artists. While there are financial incentives, some are saying that these creators are deep diving into web3 for more than just a new revenue stream.

Jacquelyn Melinek

Thanks for reading! And, again, to get this in your inbox Thursday mornings, you can subscribe on TechCrunch’s newsletter page.

Have a great weekend,
Lucas Matney

Extra Crunch roundup: first-check myths, Miami relocation checklist, standout SaaSy startups

This may seem like a great time to launch a SaaS startup, but the landscape is crowded with well-designed applications that promise “blazingly fast and delightfully simple” experiences, according to seed-stage investor John Chen of Fika Ventures.

Most SaaS startups will fail, but not because of a sour marketing campaign or server downtime. The majority of these companies will fall victim to what Chen calls “the myth of frictionless onboarding.”

Despite the hype about ease of use, enterprise companies always ask customers to abandon familiar tools so they can learn something new.

“Just like with a new fitness program, participants feel good after completing the workout, but it takes a lot of activation energy to start and hard work to get there,” Chen notes.

Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription

Instead of putting the onus on customers to roll up their sleeves, he suggests that SaaS startups learn from cryptocurrency culture and find ways to “incentivize users to do the necessary work to have the right experience.”

But how do you encourage users to put in the time and effort required to produce an optimal customer experience?

“In a world where there is a surplus of alternatives for every job to be done, the scarce resource is not content, tooling, or hacks and tricks,” says Chen. “It’s attention.”

We’re off on Monday, May 31 in observance of Memorial Day; I hope you have a relaxing weekend!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch

Dismantling the myths around raising your first check

Full length side view of young woman carrying large pink block against white background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

As startups and venture capital grow in tandem, fundraising has gone from a formal affair on Sand Hill Road to a process that can happen anywhere from Twitter to Zoom.

While fundraising may no longer require a trip to California, it might depend on whether you got an invite to a private audio app. And while you may not need to be an insider, second-time founders — largely male and white — still have a competitive advantage.

The growing complexity of fundraising has the opportunity to make tech either inclusive or exclusive.

VC is the flashy gold medal, but the rapid growth of emerging fund managers means that a first check can be piecemealed together from a variety of different sources. The options for financing are seemingly endless: syndicates, public crowdfunding, VC firms, accelerators, debt financing, rolling funds, and, for the profitable few, bootstrapping.

Doximity’s S-1 may explain why healthcare exits are heating up

Telehealth startup Doximity filed to go public earlier today. Notably, the company has not fundraised since 2014, a year in which it attracted just under $82 million at a valuation of $355 million, per PitchBook data.

How has it managed to not raise money for so long? By generating lots of cash and profit over the years. Healthtech communications, it turns out, can be a lucrative endeavor.

What Vimeo’s growth, profits and value tell us about the online video market

Image Credits: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The spin-out of video platform Vimeo from IAC completed this week, and the smaller company is now trading as an independent entity under the ticker ‘VMEO’.

If you missed the news that the internet conglomerate was spinning out the video service, don’t feel bad; it slipped past many radars. But with the company now trading, our access to its historical results, and our minds still enthralled by YouTube’s recent financial performance for Alphabet, it’s worth taking a moment to digest the company’s health.

Flywire’s flotation suggests the IPO slowdown is behind us

The Flywire IPO is neat from a financial perspective and notable in that it’s a Boston exit as opposed to yet another New York or San Francisco-based flotation. It’s nice to see some other cities put points on the board.

But more than that, this IPO is a useful measuring stick for keeping tabs on the IPO market as a whole. This year and the last are shaping up to be key exit periods for startups and unicorns of all shapes and sizes; many a venture capital fund return rests on these public debuts.

Dear Sophie: Any unique immigration strategies for quick hiring?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I do recruitment for tech startups. With a surge of VC investing, many startups are urgently hiring.

Which visas offer the quickest options for international talent? Are there any unique strategies that you would recommend we explore?

— Maverick in Milpitas

7 questions to ask before relocating your startup to Florida

a photo of an art deco style building in Miami with pastel gradient colors

Image Credits: Artur Debat (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cities like Miami, Pittsburgh and Austin have been drawing talent and wealth from Silicon Valley for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend.

In recent months, many investors and entrepreneurs have noisily departed for Miami, citing the region’s favorable business climate and quality of life.

It’s always good to consider one’s options, but before booking a moving van for the Sunshine State — or any emerging tech hub, for that matter — here are some basic questions entrepreneurs should ask themselves.

Vise CEO Samir Vasavada and Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire break down the art of the pitch

Image Credits: Sequoia Capital / Wolfe + Von / TechCrunch

In just a few short years, Vise has gone from launching on the Disrupt Battlefield stage to a unicorn. Co-founders Samir Vasavada and Runik Mehrotra met Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire at an after-party at the event, and Maguire ended up leading a seed and Series A round while Sequoia led the Series B.

Last week, Vise raised its Series C of $65 million and was officially valued at $1 billion post-money.

We spoke to the pair about the early fundraising process for Vise, what Vasavada has learned about delivering a good fundraising pitch, and what stood out about the pitch and the product for Maguire.

Acorns’ SPAC listing depicts a consumer fintech business with a SaaSy revenue mix

Another day, another unicorn public offering.

On Thursday, it was Acorns, a consumer fintech service that blends saving and investing into a freemium product.

Acorns fits inside the larger savings-and-investing boom seen over the last four or five quarters as consumers buffeted by the economic changes brought on by COVID-19 turned to stashing cash and boosting their equities investing cadence.

By now this is old news, but we haven’t had a clear picture of the economics of consumer fintech startups accelerated by the pandemic. Now that Acorns has decided to list via a SPAC — more on that in a moment — we do.

Poor onboarding is the enemy of good hiring

Image of a person talking to two colleagues via videoconferencing.

Image Credits: Olga Strelnikova (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The world of hybrid work is here, and the usual 10-minute intro call, swag bag and first-day team lunch are just not enough to make your new employee feel welcome.

While many companies have found a way to interview and select candidates in a fully remote environment, few have spent time and resources on aligning the “pre-boarding” and onboarding process for the new hybrid world of work. Many employers still rely on old ways of welcoming new hires, despite our totally changed work environment.

It’s important to capitalize on candidates’ enthusiasm and eagerness from the moment the offer is signed instead of when they log in on Day One, because first impressions can make or break a candidate’s chances of staying at a company.


Vise CEO Samir Vasavada and Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire break down the art of the pitch

In just a few short years, Vise has gone from launching on the Disrupt Battlefield stage to unicorn. Co-founders Samir Vasavada and Runik Mehrotra met Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire at an afterparty at the event, and Maguire ended up leading a seed and Series A round while Sequoia led the Series B. Last week, Vise raised its Series C of $65 million and was officially valued at $1 billion post-money.

A good pitch deck is short and simple, and covers the key points in less than 12 words a slide.

We sat down with Vasavada and Maguire to talk about the early fundraising process for Vise, specifically the seed round, and get a look at the startup’s first pitch deck. We discussed what Vasavada has learned about delivering a good fundraising pitch, and what stood out about the pitch and the product for Maguire.

Simplicity is key

Vasavada says he’s made dozens of pitch decks since starting Vise and that this early deck was not his best because it was trying to do too much.

“A good pitch deck is short and simple, and covers the key points in less than 12 words a slide,” said Vasavada, adding that many founders think they need to show investors every part of their business.

“The deck has to show that you’re solving an important problem, that you’ve got the path to an important solution, that there is a big market opportunity, and that your team is positioned to execute,” he said. “Those are the only four things that matter. Everything else can be discussed in the Q&A.”

The goal of a pitch meeting is not to get the “yes” instantly, and satisfy every curiosity, but rather to give the investor something to think about and a reason to want another conversation.

Vasavada explained to the audience that this early seed deck certainly went into too much detail and was too text-heavy. (You can check out the full deck below.)

Why will this product be successful right now?

Beyond the problem, solution, market and team, there is an additional X factor that makes a difference in pitching for fundraising.

Timing can make or break a startup. Incredible ideas, ones that have gone on to be some of the biggest businesses in the world, have fizzled out and died for being too early.

Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire and Vise’s Samir Vasavada will talk success in fintech on Extra Crunch Live

In the past few weeks, we’ve heard Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand discuss the biggest opportunities in prop tech, heard why Scale AI’s Alex Wang and Accel’s Dan Levine think that unconventional VC deals can be the best option and taken a stroll through the Poshmark Series A deck with CEO Manish Chandra and Mayfield’s Navin Chaddha.

This is the particular flavor of content, rich in key insights and tactical advice for founders, that goes down on Extra Crunch Live.

In an upcoming episode on Wednesday, May 19, we’ll sit down with Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire and Vise CEO and co-founder Samir Vasavada. You can register here.

Maguire focuses on enterprise, fintech and frontier technology for Sequoia. His portfolio companies include AMP Robotics, Knowde, Physna and Vise. He joined Sequoia in 2019, before which he was a partner at GV, where he led investments in Stripe, Opendoor, IonQ, SpinLaunch, Lambda School, Dandelion Energy, Clutter and Mode and sourced the firm’s investment in Segment.

Maguire has also been an entrepreneur in his own right, co-founding Expanse (a cybersecurity company), which was ultimately acquired by Palo Alto Networks for more than $800 million.

If that weren’t enough, Maguire also spent two years working at DARPA, and was deployed to Afghanistan, participating on a team that earned a Joint Meritorious Unit Award from the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Samir Vasavada co-founded Vise in 2016. Vise is an AI-powered investment management platform that aims to give independent financial advisors access to technology and tools to build and manage personalized portfolios for their clients, ultimately giving those advisors more time and energy to spend on the relationships.

Vise has raised upwards of $60 million.

We’ll talk to Maguire and Vasavada about what brought them together, key tips for fundraising and how to be successful in the fintech space, and ask about the next great opportunity in fintech.

On the second half of the episode, Maguire and Vasavada will put on their feedback hats and listen to live elevator pitches from the audience as part of the ECL Pitch-off. Folks attending the event will be able to raise their hand and pitch their startup to the VC/founder duo, and then answer their questions and get their feedback.

But the only way you can pitch is to show up. This episode of Extra Crunch Live goes down on Wednesday, May 19 at 3pm ET/12pm PT. Anyone can attend as long as they register here, but on-demand access to the content is reserved strictly for Extra Crunch members, who also have access to the complete library of Extra Crunch Live content, among many, many other awesome articles and perks.


Three-dimensional search engine Physna wants to be the Google of the physical world

In June of 1999, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins invested $25 million into an early-stage company developing a new search engine called Google, paving the way for a revolution in how knowledge online was organized and shared.

Now, Sequoia Capital is placing another bet on a different kind of search engine, one for physical objects in three dimensions, just as the introduction of three-dimensional sensing technologies on consumer phones are poised to create a revolution in spatial computing.

At least, that’s the bet that Sequoia Capital’s Shaun Maguire is making on the Cincinnati, Ohio-based startup Physna.

Maguire and Sequoia are leading a $20 million bet into the company alongside Drive Capital, the Columbus, Ohio-based venture firm founded by two former Sequoia partners, Mark Kvamme and Chris Olsen.

“There’s been this open problem in mathematics, which is how you do three dimensional search. How do you define a metric that gives you other similar three dimensional objects. This has a long history in mathematics,” Maguire said. “When I first met [Physna founder] Paul Powers, he had already come up with a wildly novel distance metric to compare different three dimensional objects. If you have one distance metric, you can find other objects that are a distance away. His thinking underlying that is so unbelievably creative. If I were to put it in the language of modern mathematics… it just involves a lot of really advanced ideas that actually also works.”

Powers’ idea — and Physna’s technology — was a long time coming.

A lawyer by training and an entrepreneur at heart, Powers came to the problem of three dimensional search through his old day job as an intellectual property lawyer.

Powers chose IP law because he thought it was the most interesting way to operate at the intersection of technology and law — and would provide good grounding for whatever company the serial entrepreneur would eventually launch next. While practicing, Powers hit upon a big problem, while some intellectual property theft around software and services was easy to catch, it was harder to identify when actual products or parts were being stolen as trade secrets. “We were always able to find 2D intellectual property theft,” Powers said, but catching IP theft in three dimensions was elusive.

From its launch in 2015 through 2019, Powers worked with co-founder and chief technology officer Glenn Warner Jr. on developing the product, which was initially intended to protect product designs from theft. Tragically just as the company was getting ready to unveil its transformation into the three dimensional search engine it had become, Warner died.

Powers soldiered on, rebuilding the company and its executive team with the help of Dennis DeMeyere, who joined the company in 2020 after a stint in Google’s office of the chief technology officer and technical director for Google Cloud.

“When I moved, I jumped on a plane with two checked bags and moved into a hotel, until I could rent a fully furnished home,” DeMeyere told Protocol last year.

Other heavy hitters were also drawn to the Cincinnati-based company thanks in no small part to Olsen and Kvamme’s Silicon Valley connections. They include Github’s chief technology officer, Jason Warner, who has a seat on the company’s board of directors alongside Drive Capital’s co-founder Kvamme, who serves as the chairman.

In Physna, Kvamme, Maguire, and Warner see a combination of Github and Google — especially after the launch last year of the company’s consumer facing site, Thangs.

That site allows users to search for three dimensional objects by a description or by uploading a model or image. As Mike Murphy at Protocol noted, it’s a bit like Thingiverse, Yeggi or other sites used by 3D-printing hobbyists. What the site can also do is show users the collaborative history of each model and the model’s component parts — if it involves different objects.

Hence the GitHub and Google combination. And users can set up profiles to store their own models or collaborate and comment on public models.

What caught Maguire’s eye about the company was the way users were gravitating to the free site. “There were tens of thousands of people using it every day,” he said. It’s a replica of the way many successful companies try a freemium or professional consumer hybrid approach to selling products. “They have a free version and people are using it all the time and loving it. That is a foundation that they can build from,” said Maguire.

And Maguire thinks that the spatial computing wave is coming sooner than anyone may realize. “The new iPhone has LIDAR on it… This is the first consumer device that comes shipped with a 3D scanner with LIDAR and I think three dimensional is about to explode.”

Eventually, Physna could be a technology hub where users can scan three dimensional objects into their phones and have a representational model for reproduction either as a virtual object or as something that can be converted into a file for 3D printing.

Right now, hundreds of businesses have approached the company with different requests for how to apply its technology, according to Powers.

One new feature will allow you to take a picture of something and not only show you what that is or where it goes. Even if that is into a part of the assembly. We shatter a vase and with the vase shards we can show you how the pieces fit back together,” Powers said.

Typical contracts for the company’s software range from $25,000 to $50,000 for enterprise customers, but the software that powers Physna’s product is more than just a single application, according to Powers.

“We’re not just a product. We’re a fundamental technology,” said Powers. “There is a gap between the physical and the digital.”

For Sequoia and Drive Capital, Physna’s software is the technology to bridge that gap.