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Welcome to the 2-Minute Drill -- a curated selection of the week's hottest stories from the world of tech, all in 2 minutes.

As a reminder, join us on Tuesday mornings at 8am PT / 11am ET in the Crossover Club on Clubhouse where we talk through the week's stories in more detail and with a rotating panel of special guests from the worlds of pro sports, entertainment and technology. 

As always, shoot me a note to learn more or if you just want to say 👋.


📱 650.468.9543
📸 @crossovervc 
👋 @ndl / the Crossover Club

On my whistle...


Papa Picks Up a Unicorn Horn (and Your Grandpa)
This week, Miami-based eldercare startup Papa announced that it raised a fresh $150 million Series D round of funding, and reached unicorn status with a $1.4 billion valuation in the process. The four-year-old startup has now raised nearly $250 million in total.

Papa is part of a new wave of startups focused on leveraging technology to address our growing elderly population. The good news is that people are living longer. The bad news is that more than a quarter of all seniors live alone. And social interaction isn't just a nice to have. According to studies, social isolation has reached epidemic proportions, with downstream effects like heart disease and stroke costing the U.S. government $6.7 billion per year.

As we wrote about in past coverage, the startup was founded with the goal of helping provide assistance and companionship to older adults and families. Through its "Papa Pals" program, the company pairs vetted service providers with the elderly to offer both companionship and help with everyday tasks like prescription refills, light chores, transportation, doctor visits, and more. One of the bigger developments as the company has scaled is that many of its services are now covered by insurance, having partnered with more than 65 health plans.

Of course a key part of the company's model is earning trust of both the seniors and oftentimes the family members hiring Papa to assist their relatives. To achieve this trust, Papa invests heavily in screening processes, including personality tests, background checks and more.

(more here)


Shall We Make it a Call, a Zoom, or a Gather?
With all the talk of the metaverse these days, it should come as no surprise that funding continues to pour in for technology companies innovating on creating interactive virtual environments. The latest beneficiary is Silicon Valley-based Gather, which creates fully-customizable virtual 2D spaces to support a future where remote work and play becomes the norm. This week, the nearly two-year-old startup announced that raised a very real $50 million Series B round of funding co-led by Index and earlier backer Sequoia capital.

One of the things I find intriguing about Gather is that it has made the conscious decision to not try to create a virtual environment that mimics real life visually. The technology just isn't there yet for us to overcome our brains telling us that the environment we are in isn't real when we put on a headset. So no Oasis or Matrix-level immersion yet!

Instead, Gather looks to mimic the activities and creativity of the real world, but in a 2D virtual setting. This is manifest in the ability to customize your virtual workspace to reflect your personality, the use of collaborative digital whiteboards and workspaces, and the integration of casual gaming in a way that mimics playing foosball in a real world office--but instead, using a game that is more natively-suited to a virtual environment. In other words, same outcome (real human connections and interactivity), but different approach.

Gather also takes a cue from the gaming industry (and increasingly being used in social audio apps like Clubhouse), leveraging spatial audio to produce the sense of encountering someone in the hallway or around the office, the same way you might hear someone sneaking up on you from behind in a first-person shooter game.

As we wrote in our prior coverage of Gather back in March, from an investment perspective, it's hard to bucket Gather into a particular category. Is it a communication platform? A game? A social network? Something altogether different?  It's too soon to say, but one comp could be gaming engine Unity, which Sequoia also backed, and which has been adopted by industries from gaming to film, architecture, construction, and more. But for now, the company has quickly attracted millions users, and has more than $75 million in funding to build with

(more here)


Nuro Ramps Up Its Driverless Delivery Fleets
Over the past decade we have seen tens of billions of venture capital investment dollars poured into autonomous vehicle technology, with the bulk of the headlines focused on companies looking to more efficiently get humans from Point A to Point B. But an equally compelling part of the market are those startups raising capital to leverage this same technology to help deploy fleets of low-speed autonomous vehicles focused on delivering packages.

This week, Silicon Valley-based developer of autonomous vehicle technologies Nuro announced that it raised a whopping $600 million growth round of capital from Tiger Global at an $8.6 billion valuation. This represents a more than 70% increase in valuation over its last funding round, bringing the startup's total funding to more than $2 billion. Apparently the 5-year old startup is good at delivering not only packages, but also stacks of cash!

As we talked about in past coverage on the 2-Minute Drill, Nuro was founded by two former employees of Google’s Waymo autonomous vehicle division (since spun out of the mothership), and makes robotic delivery vehicles that are half as wide as a compact sedan and specifically made for in-town deliveries. Instead of transporting humans (like Waymo) or large interstate freight (like Otto), Nuro's vehicles feature two compartments that can fit up to six grocery bags each, and has partnered with likes of grocery chain Kroger and Domino's pizza to pilot the program (you may have seen those Domino's tv ads featuring Nuro).

It's worth noting that Nuro is by no means the only player in the autonomous package delivery sector. We've covered Starship's campus delivery robots (here), as well as the unveiling of Serve by Postmates and others like Kiwibot and Marble in the mix.

(more here)


MilkRun Orders Up Another $6M for Local Produce Delivery 
This week, Oregon-based online marketplace and grocery delivery service MilkRun announced that it placed an order for a $6 million Series A round of funding to help connect consumers and chefs directly with hundreds of local farmers. This brings the 3-year-old startup's total reported funding to $10 million.

As we've written about at length on the 2-Minute Drill, one of the beneficiaries of the COVID pandemic has been those startups leveraging technology to support a shift from in-person to online grocery shopping. Whether legacy players like Instacart, or the new wave of on-demand convenience stores like Gopuff, or the B2B players focused on helping brick and mortar retailers compete with the online grocery behemoths like Amazon and Wal-Mart, investors have been pouring capital into the sector.

For many of these startups, the way to increase profitability (or reduce losses, for many), is to focus on the items and SKUs that are straightforward, where selection of items among the same SKU are interchangeable, and they are staples that are regularly ordered and supply chain can be optimally predicted. For example, a box of Fruit Loops is interchangeable with a box of Fruit Loops. This gets trickier though when dealing with produce, where many shoppers--myself included--are picky about which items they want in my shopping cart, and are less likely to include these items in the regular online grocery orders.

MilkRun is looking to help streamline that process of ordering produce online, while focusing on connecting shoppers with local farmers, and doing so in a way that helps deliver more favorable economics to small and mid-sized producers who are already struggling. Customers in markets where the startup is active can order from more than 300 local farms producing anything from eggs and meat to fresh produce and bread. They can either do 1-off orders, or sign up for a subscription.

It's worth noting that MilkRun isn't the only player offering online produce delivery. Good Eggs has been around for years, and there are a wave of startups like Imperfect and Misfits Market looking to rescue "ugly" produce and deliver it straight to consumers' door.

As someone who grew up on a small farm in rural Oregon, and whose family sold blueberries to local markets, I'm all for startups that are supporting local farmers. With the new funding, MilkRun will look to expand into new markets, and hopefully scale into a startup that is both profitable, and helps local farmers operate more sustainably as well.

(more here)

Talent in Tech: Practice
As the saying goes, "practice makes perfect," and in the case of Montreal-based practice management software startup Practice, the hope is that their new $10 million seed round of funding led by our friends over at a16z will help them on their journey to startup perfection.

Practice is building software to help individuals launch and run coaching and consulting businesses. As we have noted repeatedly in past issues of the 2-Minute Drill, we are big believers in the technologies supporting the evolution from pen and paper, spreadsheets or a mishmash of enterprise software solutions cobbled together, to modern tech stacks that support the booming solo-preneur economy.

In the first wave it was all about building software solutions for large enterprises to replace rote offline processes. Then came software that reimagined these same solutions but for the particular needs of a booming SMB sector. Now, with the rise of the solo practitioner (and adjacent creator economy), these same solutions are being reimagined yet again with the individual end-user in mind. From scheduling to payments to accounting to CRM to messaging and more, a new wave of tools built for the creator or solo practitioner economy is raising capital at a record pace.

For Practice, the startup is initially focusing on the coaching and consulting vertical. The goal is to stay focused on building tools that solve for this particular workflow, and then expand and adjust to best support additional workflows as the startup grows. The startup is still super early, but added coaching celeb Tony Robbins to the cap table to help leverage his star power to help attract more customers in the coaching and consulting space

Athletes + Entertainers involved include: celebrity coach and speaker, Tony Robbins.

(more here)

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Disclaimer: The content in this newsletter is for informational purposes only and should NOT be taken as legal, business, tax, or investment advice. It also does NOT constitute an offer or solicitation to purchase any investment or a recommendation to buy or sell a security.

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