Standard Treasury (YC S13) Joins Silicon Valley Bank

Silicon Valley Bank announced today that it has acquired the team and assets of Standard Treasury, the startup that built a platform to support banks in creating developer platforms. Standard Treasury, which was founded by Zac Townsend and Daniel Kimerling, launched out of our Summer 2013 class.

Townsend wrote about the decision to join SVB in a blog post published today:

"Dan and I started Standard Treasury a little more than two years ago because we saw that APIs would become the dominant way that commercial clients connect with their financial institutions. Since then we have had the honor to collaborate with leading bank's in the US and Europe in their goal of creating open APIs for their customers. We have also worked with hundreds of start-ups around the world to understand how they consume banking services and how doing so over secure RESTful APIs would dramatically improve their business processes.

Last year we decided that the best way to bring the Standard Treasury vision to fruition was to build our own bank. That's a big dream. Earlier this year, primarily because of concerns around regulatory and geographic risks, we were unable to raise a Series A funding round against that goal. With that door closed, we decided the next best thing was to closely align ourselves with one bank, in order to build a richer, more full featured, set of API based services for customers. The more we learned about SVB, the more we believe this partnership will be a faster, better, way to create the impact that we sought to create."

In its statement about the acquisition, Silicon Valley Bank said it is planning to release new API banking services built by Standard Treasury's team over the coming months.

You can read the SVB press release about the deal here, and the full blog post from Townsend here.

YC Startup School Radio: How Optimizely Knew It Was On To Something Big

In Episode 3 of YC Startup School Radio, our host Aaron Harris sat down with Optimizely co-founder Pete Koomen and Lawn Love founder Jeremy Yamaguchi.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode here or on iTunes here, and read the full transcript on Genius here.

In one particularly interesting portion of Pete's interview, he talked about how A/B testing platform Optimizely was actually the third startup idea that he and his co-founder Dan Siroker pursued once they decided to dive into entrepreneurship together back in 2009. Their first two projects, an education startup called CarrotSticks and an enterprise customer acquisition platform, failed to generate enough traction to keep going.

Pete described how those experiences showed them that they were really onto something special with Optimizely:

Pete: I'm sure there are plenty of sayings about good ideas, and how sometimes, it's the most obvious one right in front of your nose that ended up being the best... But it wasn't until we'd realized that, A., we really weren't as great as we thought we were, and B., that the stuff was really tough, that we went searching around for a problem that we could really prove to ourselves that someone would pay for. So that was really big.

With CarrotSticks, it took us about six months to earn our first dollar. With our second idea, it took a month and a half. And with Optimizely, we were able to earn revenue on day one before we'd written any other code. And that illustrates how we changed our thinking to focus on making sure we found something people wanted before we built it.

Aaron: ...So Pete, the last thing that you just said was we needed to make something people actually wanted, which is the model of Y Combinator. It's on all of our shirts. It just says, "Make something people want." And I think it's a really tough idea for a lot of people to actually internalize, because they can find things that maybe they want. "I want a puppy." But that might not be a startup.
I think you gave me the answer. The way that you actually figure out something that people want, that's actually a business. It's that they are willing to pay for.

Pete: That was our proxy. Because we need up building a business that sold things to people for actual money, I think, unlike a lot of tech startups, we had an easy proxy there for demand. It was just trying to get someone to pay for it.

Aaron: How long did it take for you to get someone to pay for it?

Pete: It was a single day, actually, with Optimizely.

Aaron: One day?

Pete: Dan called a couple of agencies that he'd worked with on the Obama campaign and just described, "This is what we are working on. Will you pay us $1,000 a month for access to early versions of it?" And sure enough, two of them signed up. And we earned more revenue that one day than we had the entire preceding year with our two startups.

Aaron: Wow! Did you have the software yet?

Pete: We had nothing.

Aaron: You had nothing?

Pete: We had nothing.

Aaron: So you sold a promise of future software?

Pete: We sold a promise of future software.

Welcome Simon

I'm delighted to announce that Simon Lu is joining YC. He will focus on our investment activities and advise YC alumni companies.

Simon joins with both operational and investment experience. He joined Twitter in 2010 and held various roles during his five years with the company in business development, corporate strategy, platform operations, and corporate development. Prior to Twitter, he was at The Carlyle Group, where he focused on technology and education investments.

I mentioned to a few people today that Simon was joining us; the response in all cases was "Wow, he's one of the best people I've ever worked with."

Welcome, Simon!

Cofactor Genomics (YC S15) Is Studying RNA Testing To Diagnose Disease Earlier

Cofactor Genomics is a company in our current Summer 2015 class that is developing RNA testing that could allow doctors to diagnose diseases earlier and more accurately than existing test technologies.

Cofactor Genomics was founded in St. Louis in 2008 by a team of scientists that has collectively spent decades contributing to a number of high-profile and important genomic discovery projects, including the Human Genome Project. The company expects to begin making its diagnostic tests available for use next year.

TechCrunch's Kim-Mai Cutler wrote about Cofactor Genomics in a story published recently:

"[Cofactor Genomics] argues RNA, which is the intermediate step between a person’s DNA and the proteins their bodies make, is a much more accurate and real-time way of diagnosing disease. DNA, on the other hand, is predictive. It can tell you your risks of contracting a disease later in life. But for many conditions, it can’t definitively tell you if you have them at the moment.

RNA also dynamically changes over time in response to what you eat and what kind of environment you’re living in.

'We believe that RNA is a better barometer of health. It changes dynamically and we think it’s a much more accurate and much earlier way to diagnose disease,' said Jarret Glasscock, the company’s CEO. 'DNA is pre-symptomatic. But with RNA, we think we’ll be able to see a molecular signature sooner.'

Read more about Cofactor in TechCrunch here.

Vernox Labs (YC S15) Uses Predictive Analysis To Help Construction Projects Actually Finish On Time

When a construction project begins, it's often taken as a foregone conclusion that it is going to run overtime -- and therefore, over budget.

Vernox Labs is a company launching out of our current batch that wants to change that, by collecting all the unstructured data around a construction project and running predictive analysis on it to help contractors and project managers accurately budget their time and costs. At launch, it's particularly focused on large-scale construction projects, and projects in urban areas.

TechCrunch's Kim-Mai Cutler wrote about Vernox Labs in a story this week:

"A new Y Combinator-backed company called Vernox Labs is hoping to eliminate some of this unpredictability by using reams of unstructured data from previous projects to help general contractors, designers and project managers figure out how to sidestep common building errors. 

They’re applying artificial intelligence techniques to the pile of e-mails, Word documents and Excel files that are traded back and forth between contractors and designers as a residential project or hospital is built.

From that data, Vernox Labs produces a predictive checklist or automated design review that project managers can run through with a new proposal. They’re also creating a Google-like search engine so that if sub-contractors or construction workers have questions about specific components or materials, they can get that information instantaneously."

Read more in-depth about Vernox in TechCrunch here, and participate in the Hacker News discussion here.

80,000 Hours (YC S15) Helps Top Graduates Choose Careers That Matter

Nowadays, many of the best-performing college graduates don't simply want to go into the most highly-paid jobs -- they want to do things that will make a positive difference in the world. 80,000 Hours is a company in our current class that wants to help top graduates find the kinds of jobs where they can do the most good.

TechCrunch's Anthony Ha explained how 80,000 Hours works in a story published today:

"People in the tech world like to talk about doing great things. But what does that actually mean for your career? If you’re serious about making a positive impact on the world, should you go work for a startup? A nonprofit? Or none of the above?

80,000 Hours is an organization aiming to help with those decisions. It’s a nonprofit in the current class of startups incubated by Y Combinator, but it was founded back in 2011 by Ben Todd (the organization’s executive director) and Will MacAskill (its president).

MacAskill is an associate professor of philosophy at Oxford University, and he said that when they met, Todd was a student wrestling with many of these questions. They ended up forming a discussion group and giving lectures on the topic, then eventually creating 80,000 Hours to spread their ideas. (The name refers to the number of hours in your career.)"

You can read much more in-depth about 80,000 Hours and how it works in TechCrunch here.

Oolu (YC S15) Supplies Affordable Solar Energy To Off-Grid Villages In West Africa

Though West Africa has some of the best conditions for solar power on the planet, the penetration of solar home systems in the region is extremely low -- and some 150 million people in West Africa are currently without any electricity at all. Families in off-grid West Africa are forced to use expensive, poor quality lanterns and flashlights or dangerous candles and kerosene to light their homes. Often, residents travel many miles just to charge their cell phones.

Oolu is a startup in our current class aiming to change all of this, by renting solar home systems to off-grid families in West Africa at a rate nearly all can afford to pay.

TechCrunch's Christine Magee wrote about Oolu in a story published recently:

"Oolu’s in-home solar system is composed of three adjustable lights and two USB plugs, powered by a battery that holds a charge for up to six hours with maximum output. For a low monthly fee, Oolu will install the system and perform all necessary maintenance, including free battery replacements and system upgrades.

... Oolu’s innovation isn’t the technology behind the solar products that they’re dispensing. The systems are produced by a large manufacturer, and similar products are already being used in areas of East Africa.

Instead, the company’s true feat is setting up a distribution model and payment infrastructure that West African families and community leaders are comfortable with. Oolu has partnered with Orange Money, a Senegalese money transfer company, so that customers can pay the monthly subscription fee from their mobile phones.

'We’re working with Orange Money to bring not only solar, but also mobile payments and mobile banking to millions of rural people,' says [Oolu co-founder Daniel] Rosa. 'People talk about a solar revolution, but really it’s a solar mobile revolution.'"

Read the full story on TechCrunch here.

Shotput (YC S15) Is Like AWS For Warehousing And Fulfillment

It's become easier for small companies to make and sell physical products in recent years, thanks to innovations such as crowdfunding and 3D printing. But once a product is manufactured, there is still a lot of work to be done -- finding freight services, securing warehouse space, packing and quality assurance. All of this is known as "logistics" in the supply chain world, and finding partners to handle these services can be very difficult and time-intensive for a startup.

Shotput is a company in our current class that makes it easy for companies of any size to find and manage logistics services.

VentureBeat's Ken Yeung wrote about Shotput in a story this week:

"Shotput cofounder James Steinberg describes it as 'Amazon Web Services for fulfillment' in that his service can scale to meet the needs of any company’s products.

Companies that need fulfillment assistance can go to Shotput’s website, enter in their product information–including the weight, size, and amount–and the service will tell you the cost. It’s pay as you go, so there’s no long-term contract. Steinberg claims that his service is better than a typical warehouse as the latter may give you a quote, but once your product arrives, that rate could change and end up costing you more.

Shotput will handle freight to and from the fulfillment center and shipping. Once an order has been placed, the company will pick up your product from the manufacturer and deliver it to the one of its partner warehouses in the U.S. — the closest one to the company’s bulk of customers. The average time for shipping from manufacturer to warehouse and then to customer is approximately 10 days."

Read more about Shotput in VentureBeat here.

Locent (YC S15) Is An E-Commerce Platform That's Powered Entirely By Text Messages

Launching out of our Summer 2015 class, Locent has created a platform that lets brands and individual "influencers" sell things through an easy-to-use, entirely mobile interface.

TechCrunch's Fitz Tepper wrote about Locent and the problems it is solving in a story published recently:

"One of the biggest challenges for online retailers is shepherding customers through a lengthy checkout process. By providing businesses with a custom, text-enabled phone number, Locent turns the checkout process into just a text message.

Here’s how retailers use the [Locent] service: After creating an account and being assigned a custom number, stores can use Locent’s backend to create different items, complete with price, photo, and keyword. When a user texts that keyword to a store’s number, they automatically get a link to a payment form to complete the transaction from their phone.

...Matt Joseph and Ryan MacInnes, co-founders of Locent, explained that their service lets any marketing channel become a one-click point of sale. The company is also looking into using Locent as a donation platform, especially with 2016 presidential candidates as they begin fundraising campaigns."

Read the full story in TechCrunch here.

GrowSumo (YC S15) Helps Companies Create And Manage Partner Programs

Sales partner programs can be hugely beneficial to a company's bottom line. Unfortunately, they can be time- and labor-intensive for companies to establish and maintain -- often prohibitively so for smaller businesses.

GrowSumo is a startup in our current class that makes it easier for companies of all sizes to create their own sales partner programs.

TechCrunch's Anthony Ha recently interviewed co-founder Bryn Jones, who started GrowSumo after seeing how difficult it was to establish sales partnerships at his previous company:

"'In order to scale our business, we needed to manage this complicated partner program… and there was nothing on the market that supported that,' Jones said. 'There were tons of referral marketing tools, like influencer tools, but there wasn’t anything that somebody could build their business around.'

...With GrowSumo, a company can create a page where new partners apply to work with them, then train and reward those partners while tracking their progress from a single dashboard. On the flip side, potential resellers can browse different companies on the GrowSumo platform and find products that their clients might be interested in.

GrowSumo is focused on businesses that are selling products to other businesses (rather than consumers). It’s already working with about 40 companies, including Swiftype, Layer, FreshBooks and Expensify. Jones said that on average, each company works with about 3,000 resale partners — those partners include independent consultants, web developers, human resources representatives and the most popular category, accountants."

Read more about GrowSumo in TechCrunch here.