Scrolling through Twitter could soon help you learn another language. That's the idea behind Toucan, a tech startup whose browser extension translates words on your screen from English to one of seven languages — soon to be 11.
On Tuesday, the Santa Monica-based company closed a $4.5 million seed round to launch the software in Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic and Hebrew.
"As you're on Facebook, Twitter, Google, Reddit, we serve you up with micro moments of learning," said co-founder and CEO Taylor Nieman. She and Brandon Dietz, Toucan's co-founder and chief product officer, were early employees at Headspace before it closed over $30 million in its Series A in 2015.
"Back in the day we changed our Facebook feeds to Spanish or our iPhone settings to Portuguese," Nieman said. "But with that full 100% immersion, your brain thinks 'What the heck is happening?' and you revert back to English. It's too much."
Instead of operating through a separate app for daily lessons and quizzes — like Duolingo's model — Toucan meets consumers wherever they're working online. It's an approach to education technology that co-founders Nieman, Dietz and Shuan Merritt, a former software developer at car-shopping app Fair, thought of after years working in consumer technology.
"These highly motivated people that are opening an app for 15 minutes every day are the 1% of learners," the chief executive said of traditional language app users. "It is the 99% of users that have tuned out of those apps that we're really excited to cater to."
The global edtech market is estimated to hit $404 billion by 2025, according to data from Pitchbook. In 2020, companies like Coursera and Masterclass closed deals at $130 and $100 million respectively.
Toucan users can hover their cursor over each translated word for a recorded pronunciation and its definition. The basic service for Google Chrome and Safari is free, but Toucan also sells a premium version that translates more words per page and lets users save words to review later.
To make extra revenue, the startup also launched a feature for users and companies to "own" words for $1 each month, which links to their URL each time the word shows up for a Toucan user. "Coffee," for example is owned by the daily newsletter Morning Brew and Headspace owns "meditation."
The 12-person team plans to hire and expand its language offerings by the end of next month. Also slated to arrive in early May is a Spanish-to-English translation option, which will propel the company into international markets. Eventually, Nieman said the company will start "dabbling in mobile" to explore how Toucan's tech can layer on top of social and messaging apps.
LightShed Ventures led the round, along with new investors Next Play Ventures, Concrete Rose Capital, GingerBread Capital, Form Capital, Goodwater Capital, Hampton VC, Spacecadet Ventures, GTMfund, Baron Davis Enterprises and Human Ventures. Existing investors GSV Ventures, Amplifyher Ventures and Vitalize also contributed.
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Los Angeles is home to around 5,000 startups, the majority of which are in their young, formative years.
Which of those thousands are poised for a breakout in 2021? We asked dozens of L.A.'s top VCs to weigh in. We wanted to know which companies they would have invested in if they could go back and do it all over again.
Yesterday, our investors picked their favorite Series-A or later startups, and not surprisingly there was more consensus, with familiar names like PopShop Live and Scopely leading the way.
But the most lucrative returns come from identifying companies in their infancy, as recent blockbuster IPOs vividly demonstrate. For instance, Sequoia's $600,000 seed check to Airbnb in 2009 accounted for 70% of its shares in the company and helped it get into competitive later rounds. When the vacation rental service went public last month, Sequoia's stake was worth $4.8 billion.
What will be the next breakout? The complete list is below and is ranked in random order except for the first three, which stood out by virtue of getting multiple votes: Pipe enables companies with recurring revenues to tap into their deferred cash flows with an instant cash advance. Clash App, Inc., is a TikTok alternative launched by a former employee of the social network in August. And XCLAIM allows bankruptcy claims to be digitally traded.
Pipe provides financial services to help cloud service companies tap into their deferred cash flows, allowing them to continue growing without taking on debt or giving up ownership. For subscription-based businesses, this makes it "as if all of your customers converted to annual plans overnight," according to the company.
Founded by Harry Hurst, Josh Mangel and Zain Allarakhia, the company raised $66 million of seed funding earlier this year in a deal led by Craft Ventures and Fin Venture Capital.
Created by former Vine-r Brendon McNerney and entrepreneur and marketing expert P.J. Leimgruber, Clash App is a short form video platform similar to TikTok, but without built-in sound libraries. It's geared toward empowering creators with innovative monetization options and inclusive communities.
XCLAIM has created an electronic platform where bankruptcy claims that take a notoriously long time to process can be digitally traded. Founded in 2018 by Matthew Sedigh, who has operated in the corporate restructuring field for more than a decade, the company says "rather than wait years for the bankruptcy court process to issue payment distributions, creditors can now access immediate liquidity by selling their claim to interested buyers." Earlier this year, it raised a $4 million seed round led from Luma Launch, First Round Capital and Freestyle Capital.
Freck Beauty manufactures beauty products intended to make the user feel seen. Remi Brixton, the company's chief executive officer, founded the startup in 2015 when she was in search of a freckle makeup product. When she couldn't find one, she launched her own, the FRECK OG. The East Los Angeles-based company raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding in a deal led by KarpReilly and Stage 1 Fund earlier this year.
The Skills wants to be the master class on sports and life. The Los Angeles-based startup launched two months ago and offers classes from gold medal Olympians — including swimmer Michael Phelps and volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings — and Grand Slam tennis Champion Maria Sharapova. In December, it closed a $5 million seed round backed by Boston-based Will Ventures, Global Founders Capital, 8VC, Maveron, Hack VC and Correlation VC.
Founded by Shaun Cooley, former chief technology officer of Cisco's Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Industries division, Mapped provides IoT services in El Segundo.
The company raised $3 million of seed funding in a deal led by Greycroft earlier this year, putting its pre-money valuation at $9 million.
Created in 2016 by Geoffrey Michener, Dataplor indexes micro-businesses in Mexico (and will soon be expanding to other countries in Central and South America) and sells the data to larger companies.The company relies on contractors in those countries to collect the information from local businesses. It raised $4 million from ff Venture Capital, Quest Venture Partners and Space Capital earlier this year and expects to use it to expand into more Latin American countries.
Launched by serial entrepreneur Joe Bayen, Grow Credit helps customers improve their credit score by providing credit for subscription services like Netflix and Spotify. Their MasterCard can help consumers with thin or damaged credit scores and the small line of credit can be upgraded for a fee. The company closed a $2 million seed round earlier this year with participation from Mucker Labs.
The two-year-old Santa Monica-based company has seen business boom during the pandemic as retail stores shut down and online orders surged. The direct-to-consumer outdoor furniture brand uses backyards as showrooms and raised $4.3 million in a seed round earlier this year led by Mucker Capital. Founded by Jake Liu and Terry Lin, a former designer at Pottery Barn, Outer aims to appeal to Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn shoppers.
A livestreaming reseller of collectibles like FunkoPop vinyl figurines, Pokémon cards and sports cards, WhatNot taps into a growing retail trend and promises that the collectibles are verified, much like sneaker reseller GOAT.
The startup secured $4 million in seed funding this month from Scribble Ventures, Wonder Ventures, Operator Partners, Y Combinator, Liquid 2 Ventures, Twenty Two Ventures and other investors. The company plans to use the funds to expand into video games, comics books, designer toys and vintage fashion.
Fourthwall is the developer of an internet platform that helps content creators launch fully-branded websites focused on interacting with fans. Their website tag phrase is "Make a living doing what you love," which is complemented by their model, which provides creators 100% ownership of their website and brand.
Founded by Walker Williams and Will Baumann, the company has raised $4 million to date, from investors Defy Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Initialized Capital Management.
Shop LatinX calls itself the "leading beauty, fashion, and lifestyle ecommerce designed by and made for Latinas." The brainchild of two Los-Angeles-based Latinas, Brittany Chavez and Raquel Garcia launched their website before Black Friday in 2016. It features more than 200 brands.
Founded by former SpaceX software engineer Karan Talati and Neal Sarraf, First Resonance promises to ease the workflow for manufactures with software intended to provide greater visibility into production and test product development lifecycle. The company raised $1.75 million of seed funding last year from Wavemaker Partners, Stage Venture Partners and PLG Ventures, among clothes.
Vurbl offers curated, one-stop-shop of what it calls the best audio on the internet, which can include podcasts but also goes well beyond that from religious sermons to court arguments. The new platform founded by CEO Audra Gold is being built with the $1.3 million pre-seed round Vurbl closed in September led by AlphaEdison with participation from Halogen Ventures and Ten13.
Former Disney executive Chris Williams founded the studio that produces family-focused content from YouTube stars. This year it launched clock.work, an advertising agency designed to help major brands reach kids. Investors include Viacom, Greycroft, Third Wave Digital and United Talent Agency, along with strategic angels including Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Landau.
The app allows renters to see and share apartments that will soon be available before they're listed — reducing the time properties sit vacant and potentially heating up competition among apartment hunters. It launched earlier this year. The company has $2.8 million in seed funding led by David Sacks' Craft Ventures along with Abstract VC, Wonder Ventures and angel investor Spencer Rascoff, co-founder of Zillow and dot.LA.
The audio-based social platform promises to be the spot for "live, supportive, feel good conversations—just like hopping on the phone with a friend when you need it most." It lets people start a conversation around any topic or join by listening. Quilt raised an undisclosed amount of venture funding from Freestyle Capital in 2019.
Founded by Abhi Nayar, Chris Garwood and Igor Licthmann, Tonebase provides high-level music education online. Yale School of Music alumnus Garwood and Lichtman told their alma mater that it built with the idea that it was "a way for people everywhere to learn from the very best musicians around the world — individuals who, due to their busy performing and teaching careers, are traditionally accessible to only a select few." The company has raised an undisclosed amount from Launch fund, e.ventures and other undisclosed last May.
Launched in 2013 by Jeff Su, Yu-Han Chang and Rajiv Maheswaran, Second Spectrum already has deals with the NBA and English Premier League. This year it scored another one with Major League Soccer to use its optical tracking system to evaluate and analyze performance.
Second Spectrum puts their tracking cameras inside the stadium. Machine learning and AI-powered analytics provide detailed data that helps coaches and others better understand the game from player speed and deceleration to shot velocity in near real time. That technology can also be used on broadcast platforms to give fans more insight. The company raised about $20 million backed by CAA Ventures, Raine Ventures and The Chernin Group in 2018.
Founded by CEO Taylor Nieman, Shaun Merritt and Brandon Dietz, Toucan is a Chrome browser extension that lets people learn a new language. It scans websites you visit and translates some words into the language you want to learn. The Santa Monica-based company most recently raised a $3 million round backed by GSV Ventures, Amplifyher Ventures, and Wonder Ventures, among others.
Created by former SpaceX engineers, Serve Automation aims to change the way foods get delivered. It has secured $7 million in a seed round and is operating in stealth mode.
Lead art by Candice Navi.
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In our final edition of "Female Founders Stories: to Live and Work in L.A," dot.LA Chief Host and Correspondent Kelly O'Grady talked with Slingshot Aerospace co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Melanie Stricklan and Toucan co-founder and CEO Taylor Nieman about the journey that brought them to where they are now.
Stricklan, an U.S. Air Force veteran, said she honed her leadership skills during her two decades in the military, where she met one of her co-founders — and the seed to the company began.
"There's not too many times in life that you get to do what you love and cultivate your leadership prowess," she said.
Her company uses AI and algorithms to analyze data collected by satellites and aerial drones in real time.
Nieman said she learned from her past roles at in business development and strategic partnership at tech startup companies There, she said, she soaked up as much as she could and learned a lot about fundraising. She tried several companies before landing on Toucan, her first venture-backed company.
"Tapping the best people to come on board first was the key to unlock," she said. "That's how we attracted investment, our first check."
Watch the full discussion below, and sign up for our newsletter to get notified about the latest dot.LA events.
Female Founders Stories: featuring Slingshot Aerospace & Toucan www.youtube.com
Melanie Stricklan, Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer
Melanie Stricklan, Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer
In 2016, Melanie Stricklan combined her military experience and indomitable spirit to co-found Slingshot Aerospace, a situational intelligence company that applies advanced analytics and computer vision to earth and space data, empowering customers with clarity in complex environments. Today, she is the company's Chief Strategy Officer where she leads the strategic vision and growth strategy. Having proudly served in the United States Air Force for 21 years, Melanie possesses a unique blend of leadership and technical expertise that enables her to create and execute winning business and product strategies.
She was named the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year for El Segundo, California, and named one of Inc. Magazine's 2019 Top 100 Female Founders in the United States. Melanie was named a Techstars All Star mentor, a recognition from her peers within the prestigious aerospace accelerator for her gold standard of mentorship. A trailblazer in the industry, Melanie frequently speaks at conferences about the value of situational intelligence and advancing space awareness, and hosted a TED Talk discussing how images from space help us protect earth. She is a champion for STEM initiatives, and enjoys inspiring youth to challenge themselves and pursue their dreams.
Taylor Nieman, Co-Founder and CEO of Toucan
Taylor Nieman, Co-Founder and CEO of Toucan
Taylor Nieman is the Co-Founder and CEO of Toucan (jointoucan.com), a platform that helps people learn new things as they go about their day browsing the web. Right now, Toucan will teach new languages, such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and German. Within a year, Toucan raised close to $3 million from Investors including Wonder Ventures, GSV, and Golden Ventures. Prior to building Toucan, Taylor joined many notable startups and helped scale them from Seed to Series B, including Headspace and Fair. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Taylor is a graduate of Cornell University.
Kelly O'Grady, Chief Host & Correspondent at dot.LA
Kelly O'Grady, Chief Host & Correspondent at dot.LA
Kelly O'Grady is dot.LA's chief host & correspondent. Kelly serves as dot.LA's on-air talent, and is responsible for designing and executing all video efforts. A former management consultant for McKinsey, and TV reporter for NESN, she also served on Disney's Corporate Strategy team, focusing on M&A and the company's direct-to-consumer streaming efforts. Kelly holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. A Boston native, Kelly spent a year as Miss Massachusetts USA, and can be found supporting her beloved Patriots every Sunday come football season.
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