Masters, an app for training with celeb athletes, closes a $2.7M Seed funding round

It’s now 2022 and there are many, many apps out there that allow you to do cardio or build muscle by taking classes inside smartphone apps. We are all familiar with the success of platforms like Peloton (IPO’d), but there are of course new upstarts such as FiiT (raised £9M) or Fitplan (raised $9.9M). Plus there is Moxie, where coaches creator their own courses. What has not quite been cracked yet is the celebrity fitness class. Masterclass has largely cornered the market in the higher-arts, but celebrity fitness is a relatively undiscovered country. Yes, of course, there have been individual celebrities who’d made their own fitness app – but these have limited appeal and amount to a side-hustle for the celeb.

Now a new startup – in beta since 2021 – hopes to become that platform where elite athletes can train mere mortals such as myself.

Masters (see what they did there?) is an app that lets users train with some of the world’s most famous athletes and learn the tricks of their trade via 4-week-long, guided, on-demand, training programs.

The startup has now closed a $2.7M Seed funding round led by Sweet Capital (the founders fund) with participation from Mucker Capital, Goodwater Capital and Luxor Capital. In addition, a number of athletes also threw in some angel cash including Shaun White, Bam Adebayo, Kai Lenny and A’ja Wilson and professional tech angel investors including Anton Gauffin, Jakob Joenck, Henrik Kraft, Greg Tseng, Prerna Gupta, Hank Vigil, Janis Zech and Andreas Mihalovits.

The company has signed-up world-famous athletes such as X Games & 3x Olympic snowboarding champion, Shaun White; World & 9x US champion in 3,000 meter steeplechase, Emma Coburn; Surfing world champion, Kai Lenny; Soccer superstar and Golden Ball winner, Ada Hegerberg; and 2x Wimbledon tennis champion, Petra Kvitova – among many others.

Greg Drach, CEO and co-founder of Masters said: “The future of learning is ‘learning from the best,’ and in that same vein the future of training is training with the best. If ten people can go to an in-person group exercise class led by a very good trainer, then why can’t 1,000 people, or 10,000 people take a virtual class led by an Olympic champion or NBA legend?… Our goal is to translate those winning methods into actionable programs that anyone can adopt.”

Masters app

Masters app

Masters is live now as an iOS app, with each course being cohort-based, meaning that those participating are doing so alongside peers who are on the same journey. Each course is presented in high-quality video.

The startup was founded in 2021 by Greg Drach and Christian Dorffer – the founders of Midnight Runners, an urban running communities, along with Daniel Taschik, the former CTO/co-founder of Dubsmash, the video-sharing app which was acquired by Reddit in 2020 and shut down by same last year.

Riccardo Zacconi of Sweet Capital commented: “I always wanted to know what the best professional athletes do to reach the top. Like, what do they actually do when they go to the gym? Masters has managed to distill their routines into tangible programs that anyone can do, and they’ve struck a powerful chord with a lot of people.”

Capital from this round of funding will be deployed by Masters to sign new athletes, launch the Android app and improve the product.

Dorffer told me: “People love to follow their sports idols on TV, social media, print and audiobooks… Masters represents a brand new publishing format, we call it ‘interactive training documentaries’. We believe this premium educational format is the future and that traditional lean-back video formats will struggle to compete.”

Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Shaun White, Shawn Mendes get behind Shelf Engine

Shelf Engine’s mission to eliminate food waste in grocery retailers now has some additional celebrity backers. The company brought in a $2 million extension to its $41 million Series B announced in March.

Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Shaun White and Shawn Mendes are the new backers, who came in through a strategic round of funding alongside PLUS Capital to bring the Seattle-based company’s total funding to $60 million since the company’s inception in 2016. This includes a $12 million Series A from 2020.

Shelf Engine’s grocery order automation technology applies advanced statistical models and artificial intelligence to deliver accurate food order volume so that customers can reduce their food waste by as much as 32% while increasing gross margins and sales of more than 50%. The company has already helped retailers divert 1 million pounds of food waste from landfills, Stefan Kalb, co-founder and CEO of Shelf Engine, told TechCrunch.

“We’ve had phenomenal growth last year, some of it from our mid-market customers, but mostly from customers like Target and Kroger,” Kalb said. “Our other big news is that we hired a president (Kane McCord) in the past six weeks, which is cool to have the reinforcement on the leadership side.”

Over the past 12 months, the company, which works with retailers like Kroger, Whole Foods and Compass Group, saw over 540% revenue growth. At the same time, it grew its employees to 200 from 23, Kalb said. He expects to more than double Shelf Engine’s headcount over the next 12 months.

As a result, the new funding will be used to scale with current customers and accelerate further investment in R&D of its AI systems and automation capabilities.

Meanwhile, Amanda Groves, partner at PLUS Capital, said her firm works with about 65 individuals who are in film, television, sports and culture, including the four new investors in Shelf Engine.

She says many of her clients are looking to participate in business as an investor or with sweat equity. Her firm works with them to determine interests and will then source opportunities and invest alongside them.

Shelf Engine fits into one of PLUS Capital’s core investment areas of sustainability. The firm looks across different sectors like food, energy, apparel, packaging and recycling. Shelf Engine’s approach of leveraging technology to aid in sustainability efforts was attractive to all of the investors, as was their method of scaling within grocery clients without affecting consumer behavior.

“When Shelf Engine is installed in the grocery store, they can reduce spoilage by 10% right off the bat — that immediacy of the impact was what got our clients excited,” Groves added.

One of Shelf Engine’s first celebrity investors was Joe Montana, and Kalb said partnering with celebrities enables the company’s mission to eliminate food waste and address the climate crisis to be made more aware.

“B2B software is not as glamorous, but the climate has become a big issue and something many celebrities care about,” he added. “Shawn Mendes has over 60 million followers, so for him to share about this issue is extremely meaningful. Where he invests will lead to his followers knocking on the doors of stores and saying ‘this matters to me.’ That is the strategy shift from B2B to a movement for our community.”

The company is not alone in tackling food waste, which globally each year amounts to $1.3 trillion. For example, Apeel, OLIO, Imperfect Foods, Mori and Phood Solutions are all working to improve the food supply chain and have attracted venture dollars in the past year to go after that mission.

Shelf Engine is already in over 3,000 stores nationwide in the areas of grocery, food service and convenience stores, which “is a large lift from 18 months ago,” Kalb said. Next up, the company is progressing to open new categories and managing more projects. He is specifically looking at what the company can manage in the store and manage for the customer.

“We are getting to the point where we can manage more of the store in complex categories like meat, seafood and deli that are mainly custom,” he added.