Hydrate, intoxicate, caffeinate, repeat: Meet the startups pouring the future

These days, it seems like everyone with extra cash has some kind of pricey drinking habit. It might be fine wine, craft beer or cocktails. Or it could come in the form of coconut water, cold-pressed juice or the latest frothy caffeinated concoction.

No matter what your preference, startups and their backers likely have you covered.

In a follow-up to our story earlier this month about food startups gobbling up venture funding, Crunchbase News is taking a look at beverage companies guzzling capital. We found that while drinkables receive a smaller portion of funding than edibles, it’s still a sector that draws hundreds of millions of dollars in annual investment.

Where are investors pouring all that money? Some unlikely places. For instance, it appears the largest funding recipient so far this year is a China-based chain called Hey Tea that’s well known for a specialty called cheese tea. (An unfortunately named, slightly salty iced drink that a Crunchbase News team sampling determined was actually pretty tasty.)

Besides cheese tea, we found startups are also raising millions to bottle deep ocean water, customize instant coffee and make your party punch more portable.

Bottom line: So long as there are profit margins to squeeze out, the quest continues for new ways to get you drunk, hydrated or caffeinated. Below, we look at what’s trending on all these fronts.

Hydrate

Venture investors and startup entrepreneurs are betting there are highly scalable businesses to be built in doling out more exotic varieties of water, coconut-based beverages and other drinks to hydrate calorie-conscious consumers.

An analysis of Crunchbase data unearthed at least a dozen companies developing new varieties of water and fitness drinks that have raised funding in recent quarters.

Funding data reveals that investors still see the potential for significant returns from coconut water. The largest round in the hydration category went to Harmless Harvest, a seller of fair trade, organic coconut water and probiotic drinks that recently raised $30 million. The funding comes as the sector is on a tear, with the U.S. spending alone on coconut water projected to reach $2 billion next year.

We also saw a couple of deals involving startups offering alternatives to bottled or tap water. The most heavily capitalized one to receive funding in the past couple of years appears to be FloWater, a Denver-based startup that provides pure water refill stations and has raised about $8 million to date. Meanwhile, bottled water is still generating attention, too, as evidenced by the $5.5 million round late last year for Kona Deep, a bottler of deep ocean water.

Intoxicate

You may need water to survive, but if you’re looking to secure venture capital, it helps to throw in a bit of alcohol.

Since last year, venture investors have poured more than $300 million into an assortment of companies providing alcoholic beverages, drinking gadgetry and services to connect consumers with booze. Crunchbase News highlighted about a dozen that raised sizable rounds, along with one hangover cure startup.

Some of the larger funding rounds are for companies that don’t make alcohol; instead, these startups offer easier ways to select and buy it. These include Vivino, a popular wine rating app, as well as Drizly and Saucey, two ordering and delivery services.

There are emerging brands in the mix, too, including BeatBox Beverages, a purveyor of party punch in portable packages; Milestone Brands, a producer of organic tequilas and other spirits; and Plum, which has a gadget for dispensing good wine by the glass.

Caffeinate

If too much drinking makes you sleepy, let caffeine come to the rescue. Venture investors, known to be heavy consumers of caffeine, also seem to like investing in the stuff.

Using Crunchbase data, we highlighted more than a dozen companies in the coffee and tea space that have secured good-sized rounds in roughly the past year. They range from fast-growing chains, like China’s Hey Tea, to packaged drinks, like non-dairy blended drink maker Willow Cup, to instant beverage innovators, like Sudden Coffee. We even found a blockchain company in the mix, Crypto N Kafe, which aims to connect coffee farmers and consumers directly.

It’s not a bad area for exits, either. The most recent significant exit was Blue Bottle Coffee, a venture-backed brand known for really, really strong brews that sold a majority stake to Nestlé last September at a valuation of over $700 million.

Nourish

One additional beverage category in which we saw a high level of activity was in meal-replacement and nutrition drinks. Overall, we found at least a half-dozen companies developing nutritional drinks that have raised funding in recent quarters.

In this sector, probably the best-known startup name is Soylent, which has raised over $70 million for a line of drinks marketed to consumers who don’t have the time or inclination to sit down for a traditional meal. We also found a potential rival, meal-replacement beverage maker Ample, which secured angel funding last month.

The biggest round in the past couple of months for the space, however, went to REBBL, a startup that raised $20 million in May for its line of bottled drinks featuring health-promoting herbs, protein and coconut.

Mix it all up: Caffeinated, full and buzzed

Beverage investments, like everything else, aren’t always a home run for VCs. The demise of juicer startup Juicero last year offers a cautionary tale that large rounds don’t always translate into compelling business models.

That said, beverage purveyors don’t have to worry much about demand drying up. People will always be thirsty. And while we typically quench our thirst with simple tap or filtered water, where’s the fun (or the massive exit potential) in that?

Methodology

Our analysis focused primarily on companies that have secured funding in the past year; however, we also included some rounds outside those parameters that were exceptionally large or noteworthy in other ways.

Announcing TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Latin America in São Paulo on Nov. 8

TechCrunch is excited to announce that the Startup Battlefield Latin America is coming to São Paulo on November 8 this year. This is the first event TechCrunch has ever held in Latin America, and we are all in to make it a memorable one to support the fast-emerging startup ecosystem in the region.

The Startup Battlefield is TechCrunch’s premier startup competition, which over the past 12 years has placed 750 companies on stage to pitch top VCs and TechCrunch editors. Those founders have gone on to raise more than $8 billion and produce more than 100 exits. Startup Battlefield Latin America aims to add 15 great founders from Latin America to those elite ranks.

Here’s how the competition works. Founders may apply now to participate in Startup Battlefield. Any early stage (pre-A round) company with a working product headquartered in an eligible Latin American country (see list below) may apply. Applications close August 6. TechCrunch editors will review the applications and, based on which applicants have the strongest potential for a big exit of major societal impact, pick 15 to compete on November 8. TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield team will work intensively with each founding team to hone their six-minute pitch to perfection.

Then it’s game day. The 15 companies will take the stage at São Paulo’s Tomie Ohtake Institute in front of a live audience of 500 people to pitch top-tier VC judges. The judges and TechCrunch editors will pick five for a finals round. Those lucky finalists will face a fresh team of judges, and one will emerge as the winner of the first-ever Startup Battlefield Latin America. The winner takes home $25,000 and a trip for two to the next Disrupt, where they can exhibit free of charge in the Startup Alley and may also qualify to participate in the Startup Battlefield at Disrupt. Sweet deal. All Startup Battlefield sessions will be captured on video and posted on TechCrunch.com.

It’s an experience no founder would want to miss, considering the opportunity to join the ranks of Battlefield greats from years past, including Dropbox, Yammer, Mint, Getaround, CloudFlare, Vurb and many more.

Get that application started now.

Here’s the need-to-know about qualifying to apply:

  • Have an early-stage company in “launch” stage
  • Headquartered in one of these countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela (Central America) Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama (Caribbean – including dependencies and constituent entities), Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
  • Have a fully working product/beta reasonably close to, or in, production
  • Have received limited press or publicity to date
  • Have no known intellectual property conflicts
  • Apply by Aug. 6, 2018, at 5 p.m. PST

Tickets to attend Startup Battlefield Latin America will go on sale soon. Interested in sponsoring the event, contact us here

The hottest investors at The Europas, & your specially discounted ticket

In partnership with TechCrunch, The Europas Conference & Awards, features smaller breakout sessions on key subjects for startups, followed by a glittering awards show for the hottest startups in Europe, based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. Plus loads of networking opportunities with investors, and the super-fun Pitch Rolette pitch competition.

Just some of the investors coming to The Europas this Tuesday, July 3, in London include:

Alliott Cole, Octopus Ventures

Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel Partners

Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp

Damir Bandolo, Columbus Capital

Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital

Eze Vidra, Reimagine Ventures

George McDonuagh, KR1 (Blockchain/Crypto)

Jamie Burke, Outlier Ventures (Blockchain/Crypto)

Jason Ball, Qualcomm Ventures

Jeremy Yap, Angel Investor

Joe White, Entrepreneur First

Maria Wagner, Beringea

Michael Jackson, Mangrove Capital Partners

Nancy Fechnay, Angel Investor (Blockchain/Crypto)

Paul Dowling, Dreamstake Ventures

Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures (Blockchain/Crypto)

Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners

Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures

Stephanie Hospital, OneRagtime

Suzanne Ashman, LocalGlobe

Thomas Graham, TLDR Capital

Tugce Ergul, Angel Labs

Vishal Gulati, Draper Esprit

Wendy Tan White, BGF

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with a selected 800 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

Here’s the agenda.

And here’s 14 reasons to attend The Europas:

• Ultra-high quality Investors, speakers & featured guests

• New startup founders brought into the eco-system

• New deal-flow for investors

• Our “Diversity Matters” Free pass bringing in more women and POC

• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A

• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics

• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking

• Convivial, relaxed atmosphere conducive to networking

• Key press including WSJ, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, attending

• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene

• Content independently curated by journalists

• The only truly independent, industry-backed awards in Europe

• Percentage of profits will be donated to charity

• All on one day to maximize your time in London

europas8

Plus, as a special offer for TechCrunch readers, we have discounted tickets of up to 60% off:

Daytime conference plus evening awards tickets (£250, 60% discount) (valid all day, July 3rd) – this ticket includes the daytime conference and the awards dinner with ceremony and after party. It includes refreshments and lunch during the conference, and the awards drinks reception and dinner.

Daytime only, Unconference tickets (£75, 60% discount) – this ticket includes the afternoon Unconference only.

Evening Awards-only tickets (£195, 60% discount) – this ticket is for the awards dinner with ceremony and after party. It includes the awards drinks reception and dinner.

If you wish to sponsor the events or to purchase a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests, please contact petra@theeuropas.com

The conference and awards are supported by TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees, and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.

Benchmark’s Mitch Lasky will reportedly step down from Snap’s board of directors

Benchmark partner Mitch Lasky, who has served on Snap’s board of directors since December 2012, is not expected to stand for re-election to Snap’s board of directors and will thus be stepping down, according to a report by The Information.

Early investors stepping down from the board of directors — or at least not seeking re-election — isn’t that uncommon as once-private companies grow into larger public ones. Benchmark partner Peter Fenton did not seek re-election for Twitter’s board of directors in April last year. As Snap continues to navigate its future, especially as it has declined precipitously since going public and now sits at a valuation of around $16.5 billion. Partners with an expertise in the early-stage and later-stage startup life cycle may end up seeing themselves more useful taking a back seat and focusing on other investments. The voting process for board member re-election happens during the company’s annual meeting, so we’ll get more information when an additional proxy filing comes out ahead of the meeting later this year.

Benchmark is, or at least was at the time of going public last year, one of Snap’s biggest shareholders. According to the company’s 424B filing prior to going public in March last year, Benchmark held ownership of 23.1% of Snap’s Class B common stock and 8.2% of Snap’s Class A common stock. Lasky has been with Benchmark since April 2007, and also serves on the boards of a number of gaming companies like Riot Games and thatgamecompany, the creators of PlayStation titles flower and Journey. At the time, Snap said in its filing that Lasky was “qualified to serve as a member of our board of directors due to his extensive experience with social media and technology companies, as well as his experience as a venture capitalist investing in technology companies.”

The timing could be totally coincidental, but an earlier Recode report suggested Lasky had been talking about stepping down in future funds for Benchmark. The firm only recently wrapped up a very public battle with Uber, which ended up with Benchmark selling a significant stake in the company and a new CEO coming in to replace co-founder Travis Kalanick. Benchmark hired its first female general partner, Sarah Tavel, earlier this year.

We’ve reached out to both Snap and a representative from Benchmark for comment and will update the story when we hear back.

WhatsApp copies Telegram to add one-way ‘broadcast’ mode to group chats

“Good artists borrow great artists steal” is a phrase that Facebook seems acutely aware of.

It’s common to speak of Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo-app-now-social-network, borrowing from Snapchat, but now Facebook’s WhatsApp chat app is increasingly drawing its innovation from others such as Telegram.

This week, WhatsApp outed a new feature for its groups that is essentially a replica of Telegram’s channels — that is, a one-way broadcast communication stream.

Telegram channels are popular for setting up a broadcast news feed that allows people to sign up to get alerts from channel admins, who might be news agencies, companies, schools, public interest groups or more. Now WhatsApp is adding the feature to gives its message app new use cases.

Actually, as is often the case for WhatsApp, users have unofficially adopted channel-like behavior for some time. Last year, for example, there were reports of a rural journalist using the messaging app to report and broadcast local news. Doing that is suddenly a whole lot easier through this new ‘broadcast-only’ feature.

“One way people use groups is to receive important announcements and information, including parents and teachers at schools, community centers, and non-profit organizations. We’ve introduced this new setting so admins can have better tools for these use cases,” WhatsApp wrote in a short blog post.

Still, the fact that WhatsApp requires users to provide a phone number to join groups — anyone’s number can be looked up by any group member — is one issue when it comes to creating or joining public groups. Telegram has introduced usernames, which mitigate that issue, but still, the app doesn’t have anything like WhatsApp’s scale which is a crucial consideration when deciding which app to plump for.

WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion active users, more than 200 million of which are in India, whereas Telegram recently passed 200 million active users worldwide.

California man arrested for sending death threats to FCC’s Ajit Pai over net neutrality

While many people in this country are angry with current chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai, arguably with good reason, it’s unfortunate that at least one has descended to the level of sending credible death threats and, unsurprisingly, has subsequently been arrested.

Shortly after the FCC voted in December to nullify the agency’s 2015 net neutrality rules, Norwalk resident named Markara Man contacted Pai several times threatening him and his family.

According to a Justice Department press release, Man first told Pai that he was responsible for the death of a kid who had killed herself because of the loss of net neutrality. Next he sent a list of locations around Arlington, where the chairman lives, and threatening to kill members of his family. The third apparently was just an image of a framed photo of Pai’s family.

This clearly rises above the low-level — yet also deeply inappropriate — casual slurs against the chairman one sees in practically every discussion of FCC issues, including this website. As such it was investigated by the FBI, which traced the emails to Man’s location and confronted him.

He admitted to sending the emails in order to “scare” Pai, which I can only imagine it did. He’s been charged with the incredibly wordy crime of “threatening to murder a member of the immediate family of a U.S. official with the intent to intimidate or interfere with such official while engaged in the performance of official duties, or with the intent to retaliate against such official on account of the performance of official duties.” If convicted he could face up to 10 years, but that’s all up in the air still.

Listen: as you may be able to tell from TechCrunch’s own coverage of FCC issues and net neutrality (mostly by myself), I’m no fan of Chairman Pai’s, though I try my best to stick to the facts — which, helpfully, are also largely anti-Pai. But threatening the family of the man is, I hardly need say, taking it much too far. Not only is it reprehensible on its face, but it feeds a narrative of spite and ignorance that works counter to the very goals the threat-maker evidently espouses.

Net neutrality is a serious issue and the current administration’s elimination of the 2015 rules is a perfectly good reason to protest and, indeed, take Pai personally to task, since he is the foremost architect of our present situation. By all means call your elected officials, make net neutrality an issue in the 2018 midterms, and make your voice heard. But for everyone’s sake keep it civil.

Here’s what it was like to stumble into Netflix and Lyft’s activation for GLOW at ‘Muscle Beach’

Today at “Muscle Beach” in Venice, Calif., Netflix and Lyft joined forces for a promotional campaign in support of the streaming media site’s (really excellent) dramatization of the origin story for the women’s wrestling league — GLOW (or the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling).

Your intrepid reporter was taking a walk on the beach and stumbled upon the marketing stunt (which was kind of genius).

For those of y’all who don’t know, Muscle Beach is sort of a mecca for weight lifters and body builders — including, back in the ’80s, a young Ah-nold Schwarzenegger. A history that made it an ideal spot to celebrate Netflix’s (pretty terrific) ode to all things new wave-d, hair metal-ed, neon accented, high-waisted, cocaine addled and muscle-bound.

Members of the cast posed for pictures, and wrestlers engaged in training sessions and ’80s-themed exercise classes throughout the day.

The activation will be up for the next week and included a Reebok pop-up with limited-edition ’80s styles; a photo booth and costumes for pictures; free copies of Paper Magazine and trading cards emblazoned with the pictures of each of the most popular characters from the show.

The day wasn’t without incident. Some Muscle Beach-goers got into a war of words with security over the event’s unannounced takeover of the basketball courts adjacent to the “beach.”

The second season of “GLOW” dropped today on Netflix.

Here’s how to use custom intent audiences in your GDN campaigns


Since its introduction to the Google Display Network last November, custom intent has been a game changer for display advertising.

Custom intent allows you to expand outside of predefined audience categories, identifying new prospects that are likely to be in the market for your product or service.

With your choice of keywords and URLs, Google builds audiences based on consumers’ behavior on the internet, allowing you to target audiences who have demonstrated an interest in similar products. Thanks to this close connection to intent to purchase, custom intent targeting is a great conversion-driver.

How to get started

To find custom intent audiences, go to the audiences interface of a display campaign, select “Targeting,” and then choose “Intent.”

Next, you’ll have to choose whether you give Google keywords and URLs to build an audience around, or whether you want Google to use machine learning to determine the traits of your ideal audience. This is based on insights from current campaigns you’re running, finding correlations between audience interests to create new segments. (NB: automated custom intent is only available in English at the moment.)

We don’t use automated custom intent audiences at our agency, but they’re a good option for beginners, as Google lets you see the keywords they base their automated audiences on, which can be interesting to learn from.

If you choose to use automated custom audiences, select “Custom intent audiences: auto-created.” To create your own, click on “New Custom Intent Audience,” and once you’ve chosen your keywords and URLs, you’re good to go!

I recommend using at least three to five keywords or URLs; Google suggests a total of 15. You’ll be able to see an estimate of impressions generated by this new custom intent audience.

Best practices

One of the great things about custom intent audiences is that they can be as broad or as targeted as you want. However, they really shine when they comprise narrow segments of relevant audiences, so the next step once you’ve set up and observed your campaign is to enhance your level of precision.

For every third-party audience, you should also make a custom affinity and custom intent audience. Sure, they might require a bit more effort to set up, but we’ve seen that they perform a lot better than third-party party audiences.

From there, it’s a game of constant optimization: make lots of custom intent audiences in all your campaigns and keep track of how they’re all performing. Unfortunately, you can’t edit them directly — you’ll have to make a new custom intent audience to improve upon the last one.

Get creative with composing your audiences

It’s important to get creative with the URLs and keywords you use. Play around with different options. Think about what your target audience members are browsing on the internet — what they’re reading, what they’re researching, what they’re interested in.

The goal is to reach an audience that is looking into products or services similar to yours. You can try a full set of URLs from your website, all branded keywords, a handful of generic terms, or mix and match all of those together.

I highly recommend a competitor-oriented approach, using only competitor brand keywords and URLs to set up a custom intent audience. For example, for a client in the financial industry, we created a custom intent audience based on people searching for financial services, including those browsing on competitors’ and comparison sites.

This performed incredibly well, so we then made a separate custom intent audience for each one of the competitors (the more precise, the more targeted the ads are, and the better they perform). Compared to third-party audiences and keyword targeting, we tend to see more impressions, higher CTRs and lower CPAs.

Of course, you’ll want to keep using other targeting options like custom affinity and keyword targeting in your campaigns to keep them diverse and high-performing. With the ongoing implementation of GDPR, no one is really sure about the future of third-party audiences, so making use of custom intent is a great way to keep performance on track.

What’s next?

Custom intent offers a granularity in targeting similar to what’s available for other channels, like social, that was lacking from GDN before. There truly is a lot of potential here, though it will take some experimenting and optimization to see what works best.

We don’t know exactly how Google makes custom intent audiences; predictive audiences are complex and difficult to perfect. However, it seems that Google really is on the right track with targeting options for Display, and we’re very excited to see what’s in store for the future.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


What we know about Maryland’s controversial facial recognition database

When police had difficulty identifying the man who they believed opened fire on a newsroom in Maryland, killing five people, they turned to one of the most controversial yet potent tools in the state’s law enforcement arsenal.

As the New York Times reports, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare’s department failed to ID its suspect through fingerprinting. The department then sent a picture of the suspect to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center which combed through one of the nation’s largest databases of mug shots and driver’s license photos in search of a match.

That database is the source of some debate. Maryland has some of the most aggressive facial recognition policies in the nation, according to a national report from Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy & Technology, and that practice is powered by one central system: a pool of face data known as the Maryland Image Repository System (MIRS).

For facial recognition searches, Maryland police have access to three million state mug shots, seven million state driver’s license photos and an additional 24.9 million mug shots from a national FBI database. The state’s practice of face recognition searches began in 2011, expanding in 2013 to incorporate the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration’s existing driver’s license database. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) describes MIRS “as a digitized mug shot book used by law enforcement agencies throughout Maryland in the furtherance of their law enforcement investigation duties.”

According to the Georgetown report, “It’s unclear if the [Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services] ‘scrubs’ its mug shot database to eliminate people who were never charged, had charges dropped or dismissed, or who were found innocent.”

In a letter to Maryland’s House Appropriations and Senate Budget and Taxation Committees in late 2017, DPSCS Secretary Stephen T. Moyer notes that the software “has drawn criticism over privacy concerns.” In that report, the state notes that images uploaded to MIRS are not stored in the database and that “the user’s search results are saved under their session and are not available to any other user.” DPSCS provides these details about the software:

“MIRS is an off- the- shelf software program developed by Dataworks Plus. Images are uploaded into the system from MVA, DPSCS inmate case records, and mugshot photos sent into the DPSCS Criminal Justice System-Central Repository (CJIS-CR) from law enforcement agencies throughout the State at the time of an offender’s arrest and booking. Members of law enforcement are able to upload an image to MIRS and that image is compared to the images within the system to determine the highest probability that the uploaded image may relate to an MVA and/or DPSCS image within MIRS.”

In the 2017 fiscal year, DPSCS paid Dataworks Plus $185,124.24 to maintain the database. The report declined to answer questions about how many users are authorized to access the MIRS system (estimates in the Baltimore Sun put it at between 6,000 and 7,000 individuals) and how many user logins had occurred since 2015, stating that it did not track or collect this information. On a question of what steps the department takes to mitigate privacy risks, DPSCS stated only that “the steps taken to protect citizen’s privacy are inherent in the photos that are uploaded into the system and the way that the system is accessed.”

In 2016, Maryland’s face recognition database came under new scrutiny after the ACLU accused the state of using MIRS without a warrant to identify protesters in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray.

Last year, Maryland House Bill 1065 proposed a task force to examine surveillance techniques used by law enforcement in the state. That bill made it out of the House but did not progress past the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Another bill, known as the Face Recognition Act (HB 1148), would mandate auditing in the state to “ensure that face recognition is used only for legitimate law enforcement purposes” and would prohibit the use of Maryland’s face recognition system without a court order. That bill did not make it out of the House Judiciary Committee, though the ACLU intends to revisit it in 2018.