Monthly Archives: March 2018

Twitch’s extensions come to mobile

Twitch’s extensions – the tools that allows streamers to customize their channel pages with interactive experiences, including leaderboards, polls, schedules, and more – are now available on mobile. The game streaming company announced this highly requested feature at the Game Developers Conference this week, along with the launch of a web app for developers that will allow them to test extensions against production APIs across a variety of views – like the broadcaster’s live view, for example.

Extensions were first introduced to Twitch in August 2017 as a means of adding more excitement and interest to channel pages to keep fans engaged and, in some cases, to help streamers make more money. For instance, there’s an extension call “Gear on Amazon” that allow creators to point fans to their favorite products on the retailer’s website. When the viewer clicks through and purchases, the creator earns a commission.

That extension, not surprisingly, is today in the top five. The other top extensions include leaderboards from Streamlabs and Muxy, Streamlabs’ Stream Schedule and Countdown, and Twitch’s own Prime Subscription and Loot Reminder, which reminds viewers to use their free Channel Subscriptions on their pages to claim their loot.

However, not all extensions are immediately mobile -friendly, notes Twitch.

Instead, only a small handful have made the jump to mobile at this time.

This includes the all-in-one extension Streamlabs Loyalty, Music, Polls, and GamesSchedule (by LayerOne) which tells viewers when a channel is live; and World of Warcraft Armory (by Altoar), which shares World of Warcraft game and character progression with viewers.

In total, around a dozen-plus are available on mobile at this time, Twitch says.

Viewers can visit the Twitch feedback forums to request extensions’ mobile compatibility – something that’s up to the developer, not Twitch, as extensions are generally a third-party effort.

Since the launch last summer, the number of available extensions has grown to over 150, with over 2,000 developers signed up – but Twitch thinks more developers would build if the process wasn’t so difficult.

On that front, Twitch also announced a new tool for developers building extensions with the launch of its developer rig. The company said it heard from developers that it was hard to get started building extensions, and extensions were difficult to test. The developer rig is essentially a web app that lets developers test extensions locally. The rig includes the new “Hello World” sample code, with a basic backend in place, so developers can focus on building out their unique experience instead.

A thriving developer community that can help make Twitch’s experience better for streamers and fans alike is one of Twitch’s competitive advantages versus rivals like YouTube Gaming and Microsoft Mixer. Though YouTube’s streamer base has been growing, any Twitch rival has a long way to go to catch up.

The mobile-friendly extensions are available across both iOS and Android, in the Twitch mobile app, version 6.0 or higher. The developer rig is open sourced on Github.

AI game trainer raises $1.9M to give gamers a virtual assistant

If you play hardcore and competitive games, you want to win, so it would be useful to have someone leaning over your shoulder giving you tips on how to play better. Someone who knows all your moves and behaviors, for instance.

That’s the thinking behind, which has developed an AI assistant to help gamers play smarter and improve their skills. It’s now raised a $1.9M funding round led by Runa Capital, with participation from Ventech and existing investor, Sistema_VC. Previously, the startup was backed by Gagarin Capital, a new Silicon Valley-based early-stage VC firm focusing on AI investments, which invested in Prisma and MSQRD, which exited to Facebook and Google, respectively. provides tools and guidance for users to improve their skills in competitive games. It analyzes their matches and makes personal recommendations. It also helps players prep, suggesting gear sets, starting items and offering ideas on how to take on a particular opponent. The platform currently works with Dota 2, with plans to support CS:GO and PUBG in the near future.

The company was founded by Alisa Chumachenko (pictured), who was the creator and former CEO of Game Insight, a big gaming world player. She says: “There are 2 billion gamers in the world now and 600 million of them play hardcore games, such as MOBAs, Shooters and MMOs. We can help those players reach their full potential with our AI assistants.”’s main competitors are Mobalytics, Dojomadness and Moremmr. But the main difference is that these competitors make analytics of raw statistics, and find the generalized weak spots in comparison with other players, giving general recommendations. analyzes the specific actions of each player, down to the movement of their mouse, to cater direct recommendations for the player. So it’s more like a virtual assistant than a training platform.

In addition, Gosu works in the B2B field, as well, by offering gaming companies a variety of AI tools, for example a predictive analytics.

Our 8 favorite startups from Y Combinator W18 Demo Day 2

Microbiome pills, gambling for one-on-one video games and potential cancer cures were the highlights from legendary startup accelerator Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 Demo Day 2. You can read about all 64 startups that launched on Day 1 in verticals like biotech and robotics, our picks for the top 7 companies from Day 1 and our full coverage of another 64 startups from Day 2. TechCrunch’s writers huddled and took feedback from investors to create this list, so click (web) or scroll (mobile) to see our 8 picks for the top startups from Day 2.

Additional reporting by Greg Kumparak, Lucas Matney and Katie Roof

Our 8 favorite startups from Y Combinator W18 Demo Day 2

Microbiome pills, gambling for one-on-one video games and potential cancer cures were the highlights from legendary startup accelerator Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 Demo Day 2. You can read about all 64 startups that launched on Day 1 in verticals like biotech and robotics, our picks for the top 7 companies from Day 1 and our full coverage of another 64 startups from Day 2. TechCrunch’s writers huddled and took feedback from investors to create this list, so click (web) or scroll (mobile) to see our 8 picks for the top startups from Day 2.

Additional reporting by Greg Kumparak, Lucas Matney and Katie Roof

Mobile gaming is having a moment, and Apple has the reins

It’s moved beyond tradition and into the realm of meme that Apple manages to dominate the news cycle around major industry events, all while not actually participating in said events. CES rolls around and every story is about HomeKit or its competitors; another tech giant has a conference and the news is that Apple updated some random subsystem of its ever-larger ecosystem of devices and software .

This is, undoubtedly, planned by Apple in many instances. And why not? Why shouldn’t it own the cycle when it can — it’s only strategically sound.

This week, the 2018 Game Developers Conference is going on and there’s a bunch of news coverage about various aspects of the show. There are all of the pre-written embargo bits about big titles and high-profile indies, there are the trend pieces and, of course, there’s the traditional ennui-laden “who is this event even for” post that accompanies any industry event that achieves critical mass.

But the absolute biggest story of the event wasn’t even at the event. It was the launch of Fortnite and, shortly thereafter, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on mobile devices. Specifically, both were launched on iOS, and PUBG hit Android simultaneously.

The launch of Fortnite, especially, resonates across the larger gaming spectrum in several unique ways. It’s the full and complete game as present on consoles, it’s iOS-first and it supports cross-platform play with console and PC players.

This has, essentially, never happened before. There have been stabs at one or more of those conditions on experimental levels, but it really marks a watershed in the games industry that could serve to change the psychology around the platform discussion in major ways. 

For one, though the shape of GDC has changed over the years as it relates to mobile gaming, it’s only recently that the conference has become dominated by indie titles that are mobile centric. The big players and triple-A console titles still take up a lot of air, but the long tail is very long and mobile is not synonymous with “casual gamers” as it once was.

I remember the GDC before we launched Monument Valley,” says Dan Gray of Monument Valley 2 studio ustwo. “We were fortunate enough that Unity offered us a place on their stand. Nobody had heard of us or our game and we were begging journalists to come say hello, it’s crazy how things have changed in four years. We’ve now got three speakers at the conference this year, people stop you in the street (within a two-block radius) and we’re asked to be part of interviews like this about the future of mobile.”

Zach Gage, the creator of SpellTower, and my wife’s favorite game of all time, Flipflop Solitaire, says that things feel like they have calmed down a bit. “It seems like that might be boring, but actually I think it’s quite exciting, because a consequence of it is that playing games has become just a normal thing that everyone does… which frankly, is wild. Games have never had the cultural reach that they do now, and it’s largely because of the App Store and these magical devices that are in everyone’s pockets.”

Alto’s Odyssey is the followup to Snowman’s 2015 endless boarder Alto’s Adventure. If you look at these two titles, three years apart, you can see the encapsulation of the growth and maturity of gaming on iOS. The original game was fun, but the newer title is beyond fun and into a realm where you can see the form being elevated into art. And it’s happening blazingly fast.

“There’s a real and continually growing sense that mobile is a platform to launch compelling, artful experiences,” says Snowman’s Ryan Cash. “This has always been the sentiment among the really amazing community of developers we’ve been lucky enough to meet. What’s most exciting to me, now, though, is hearing this acknowledged by representatives of major console platforms. Having conversations with people about their favorite games from the past year, and seeing that many of them are titles tailor-made for mobile platforms, is really gratifying. I definitely don’t want to paint the picture that mobile gaming has ever been some sort of pariah, but there’s a definite sense that more people are realizing how unique an experience it is to play games on these deeply personal devices.”

Mobile gaming as a whole has fought since the beginning against the depiction that it was for wasting time only, not making “true art,” which was reserved for consoles or dedicated gaming platforms. Aside from the “casual” versus “hardcore” debate, which is more about mechanics, there was a general stigma that mobile gaming was a sidecar bet to the main functions of these devices, and that their depth would always reflect that. But the narratives and themes being tackled on the platform beyond just clever mechanics are really incredible.

Playing Monument Valley 2 together with my daughter really just blew my doors off, and I think it changed a lot of people’s minds in this regard. The interplay between the characters and environment and a surprisingly emotional undercurrent for a puzzle game made it a breakout that was also a breakthrough of sorts.

“There’s so many things about games that are so awesome that the average person on the street doesn’t even know about,” says Gray. “As small developers right now we have the chance to make somebody feel a range of emotions about a video game for the first time, it’s not often you’re in the right place at the right time for this and to do it with the most personal device that sits in your pocket is the perfect opportunity.”

The fact that so many of the highest-profile titles are launching on iOS first is a constant source of consternation for Android users, but it’s largely a function of addressable audience.

I spoke to Apple VP Greg Joswiak about Apple’s place in the industry. “Gaming has always been one of the most popular categories on the App Store,” he says. A recent relaunch of the App Store put gaming into its own section and introduced a Today tab that tells stories about the games and about their developers.

That redesign, he says, has been effective. “Traffic to the App Store is up significantly, and with higher traffic, of course, comes higher sales.”

“One thing I think smaller developers appreciate from this is the ability to show the people behind the games,” says ustwo’s Gray about the new gaming and Today sections in the App Store. “Previously customers would just see an icon and assume a corporation of 200 made the game, but now it’s great we can show this really is a labor of love for a small group of people who’re trying to make something special. Hopefully this leads to players seeing the value in paying up front for games in the future once they can see the craft that goes into something.”

Snowman’s Cash agrees. “It’s often hard to communicate the why behind the games you’re making — not just what your game is and does, but how much went into making it, and what it could mean to your players. The stories that now sit on the Today tab are a really exciting way to do this; as an example, when Alto’s Odyssey released for pre-order, we saw a really positive player response to the discussion of the game’s development. I think the variety that the new App Store encourages as well, through rotational stories and regularly refreshed sections, infuses a sense of variety that’s great for both players and developers. There’s a real sense I’m hearing that this setup is equipped to help apps and games surface, and stayed surfaced, in a longer term and more sustainable way.”

In addition, there are some technical advantages that keep Apple ahead of Android in this arena. Plenty of Android devices are very performant and capable in individual ways, but Apple has a deep holistic grasp of its hardware that allows it to push platform advantages in introducing new frameworks like ARKit. Google’s efforts in the area with ARCore are just getting started with the first batch of 1.0 apps coming online now, but Google will always be hamstrung by the platform fragmentation that forces developers to target a huge array of possible software and hardware limitations that their apps and games will run up against.

This makes shipping technically ambitious projects like Fortnite on Android as well as iOS a daunting task. “There’s a very wide range of Android devices that we want to support,” Epic Games’ Nick Chester told Forbes. “We want to make sure Android players have a great experience, so we’re taking more time to get it right.“

That wide range of devices includes an insane differential in GPU capability, processing power, Android version and update status.

“We bring a very homogenous customer base to developers where 90 percent of [devices] are on the current versions of iOS,” says Joswiak. Apple’s customers embrace those changes and updates quickly, he says, and this allows developers to target new features and the full capabilities of the devices more quickly.

Ryan Cash sees these launches on iOS of “full games” as they exist elsewhere as a touchstone of sorts that could legitimize the idea of mobile as a parity platform.

“We have a few die-hard Fortnite players on the team, and the mobile version has them extremely excited,” says Cash. “I think more than the completeness of these games (which is in and of itself a technical feat worth celebrating!), things like Epic’s dedication to cross-platform play are massive. Creating these linked ecosystems where players who prefer gaming on their iPhones can enjoy huge cultural touchstone titles like Fortnite alongside console players is massive. That brings us one step closer to an industry attitude which focuses more on accessibility, and less on siloing off experiences and separating them into tiers of perceived quality.”

“I think what is happening is people are starting to recognize that iOS devices are everywhere, and they are the primary computers of many people,” says Zach Gage. “When people watch a game on Twitch, they take their iPhone out of their pocket and download it. Not because they want to know if there’s a mobile version, but because they just want the game. It’s natural to assume that these games available for a computer or a PlayStation, and it’s now natural to assume that it would be available for your phone.”

Ustwo’s Gray says that it’s great that the big games are transitioning, but also cautions that there needs to be a sustainable environment for mid-priced games on iOS that specifically use the new capabilities of these devices.

“It’s great that such huge games are transitioning this way, but for me I’d really like to see more $30+ titles designed and developed specifically for iPhone and iPad as new IP, really taking advantage of how these devices are used,” he says. “It’s definitely going to benefit the App Store as a whole, but It does need to be acknowledged, however, that the way players interact with console/PC platforms and mobile are inherently different and should be designed accordingly. Session lengths and the interaction vocabulary of players are two of the main things to consider, but if a game manages to somehow satisfy the benefits of all those platforms then great, but I think it’s hard.”

Apple may not be an official sponsor of GDC, but it is hosting two sessions at the show, including an introduction to Metal 2, its rendering pipeline, and ARKit, its hope for the future of gaming on mobile. This presence is exciting for a number of reasons, as it shows a greater willingness by Apple to engage the community that has grown around its platforms, but also that the industry is becoming truly integrated, with mobile taking its rightful place alongside console and portable gaming as a viable target for the industry’s most capable and interesting talent.

“They’re bringing the current generation of console games to iOS,” Joswiak says, of launches like Fortnite and PUBG, and notes that he believes we’re at a tipping point when it comes to mobile gaming, because mobile platforms like the iPhone and iOS offer completely unique combinations of hardware and software features that are iterated on quickly.

“Every year we are able to amp up the tech that we bring to developers,” he says, comparing it to the 4-5 year cycle in console gaming hardware. “Before the industry knew it, we were blowing people away [with the tech]. The full gameplay of these titles has woken a lot of people up.”

Roblox, the Club Penguin for Gen Z, is now cash-flow positive

I’m familiar with Roblox because my 8-year old daughter watches YouTube videos of kids playing the game almost every day. I’m also familiar with Roblox because she whined while we were running errands one weekend that she needed to “get on the internet right now” because she had scheduled a playdate with a friend in Roblox. And I’m familiar with Roblox because the other day, she uttered, “ugh, this obby,” which forced me to turn to Google like the old person I am to find out what the heck an obby was.

(It’s an obstacle course, in Roblox lingo, by the way.)

You see, I’m not the core demographic for Roblox, the massive gaming platform that now sees over 50 million kids playing every month. I’m a grown-up.

Roblox users tend to be young – ages 8 through 18 play the game, though the core demographic is really more 9 to 15.

For those unfamiliar, Roblox is a universe of user-generated 3D virtual worlds, where kids can engage in open-ended play. They customize their own characters, and then do things like run through obstacle courses, build the roller coaster of their dreams, pretend to be a superhero, ride a hot air balloon to a castle in the sky, go scuba diving, run a pizza parlor, and much more.

But more importantly, kids aren’t generally playing alone.

“A lot of kids come to Roblox to play with their friends,” explains Craig Donato, Roblox Chief Business Officer. “It’s like a virtual playground where they tend to jump from game to game with their friends – almost like jumping like I used to jump from the swing set to the monkey bars.”

Kids can chat in the game, which is moderated both automatically to filter out bad words, as well as by human moderators. There are also “report abuse” features, and Roblox scans all user-gen content before it’s added to the platform.

But often, kids aren’t using in-game chat – they’ll call each other on FaceTime and play Roblox together. And sometimes record long YouTube videos of them just goofing around in the game.

Also of note, everything in Roblox has been built by other players, typically kids or young adults. That’s why the company of ten years only really began to take off a couple of years ago – when there was finally enough user-generated content to keep kids engaged.

Users often start off by playing Roblox in elementary school, then in middle school download Roblox Studio, the company’s creation engine, to build their own games and experiences. By high school, those who have learned to code start to customize their games even further.

To date, there are over 15 million user-generated games on Roblox, with over 11 million titles released last year alone. Those 11 million titles were produced by over 2 million creators, up from 1 million creators the year prior. 1,500 of those titles have topped 1 million views.

The games themselves are all free-to-play, with the creators instead charging for virtual items that kids can buy with virtual cash called Robux.

Roblox says it paid out more than $30 million to its creator community in 2017. (The company splits revenue from the games with creators, keeping about 30 percent after payment processing and hosting costs.)

“The top creators on the platform – which are typically high school kids – are making two to three million dollars a year,” notes Donato.

Roblox, in other words, is hitting its stride.

Today the company is announcing these metrics and others, along with news that it’s now cash-flow positive having generated hundreds of millions in 2017 billings, up 150 percent over last year. It’s now bringing on a CFO, Mike Guthrie, previously CFO at TruCar, to help it figure out its next steps.

To determine its position in the state of the entertainment industry, Roblox had comScore compile data on how it compares to other online entertainment properties during the month of December 2017, and found that kids under 13 were spending more time in Roblox (51.5M hours) than on YouTube, Netflix or other social properties. And Roblox came into second place for teens, behind YouTube.

Roblox also saw more monthly visits during the month, for both kids and teens.

Around half Roblox usage is on mobile, with 40 percent on desktop and 10 percent on consoles.

“We’ve been around for about ten years, but the company started taking off about two years ago,” says Donato. (It was formally founded in 2006, and became COPPA compliant in 2007). “It just took awhile before we hit that mix of having a great amount of content. Obviously, the more players showed up, the more content was created, and that created a virtuous circle,” he added.

With its community now well-established in the U.S., Roblox is preparing to take its gaming platform international this year, by adding support for other languages besides English, and other currencies.

It will also expand its efforts with physical goods, where it today has action figures and has started to sell branded apparel. Roblox books based on the intellectual property created by its community will be released, with creators getting a split of these revenues, too.

However, physical goods aren’t a large part of Roblox revenues, nor is advertising, which only constitutes around 5 percent of revenue. Most of it comes from the user-gen content.

Roblox will soon go after more brand partnerships, as well, like one it did recently with Warner Bros. to promote the movie “Ready Player One” in-game. And it will double its 300-person team to 600 over the next year.

To date, Roblox has raised over $100 million in funding from Meritech, Index Ventures, First Round Capital, and Altos Ventures.

The new Dragon Ball game is powered by Google’s cloud

Bandai Namco Entertainment announced the latest entrant in its series of Dragon Ball games this week. Dragon Ball Legends is a player versus player (PvP) mobile game that has players from all over the world battle with each other in real time by using their move cards. From all I’ve seen, it looks like a pretty fun game, though I know nothing about Dragon Ball and I have an unreasonable disinterest in card-based games. What made me perk up, though, was when I heard that Bandai Namco opted to use Google’s Cloud Network to host all the infrastructure for the game and that one of the main components of this system is Cloud Spanner, Google’s globally distributed database.

To make a real-time game work at all is hard enough, but Bandai Namco wanted players from all over the world to be able to play against each other. There’s a reason most games distribute players into regions based on their geography, though. In a real-time game, latency matters, as every hardened PUBG player will tell you, and the farther you get away from the game server, the higher your latency will likely be.

As Bandai Namco’s Keigo Ikeda and Toshitaka Tachibana told me ahead of the launch, the team opted to divide every game second into 250ms intervals, so while the game looks like it’s real-time to users, it’s actually a really fast turn-based game at its core. “Technically speaking, to the user’s eye, it’s real-time, but on the server, players have their own turn,” said Tachibana. By opting for the Google Cloud Platform and Cloud Spanner as the database to keep track of all moves, the average latency the team has seen during its tests is 138ms, which allows for plenty of wiggle room.

To make all of this work, the team spent almost two and a half years building out the necessary infrastructure, and Tachibana admitted that the team learned quite a bit more than it expected about network latency. During early tests, the team wanted to create a peer-to-peer connection to have players battle each other, for example, but depending on the carriers, the difference in user experience varied too much. The team also had to learn how to best route traffic between players, something that most gaming developers don’t really have to think about most days. “We were pretty frustrated with everyone who wasn’t Google,” said Tachibana.

Indeed, Cloud Spanner is the core service here, and the team says it opted for it because it gives it a globally distributed strongly consistent database to work with. Because any change propagates across the global network within milliseconds, Cloud Spanner is actually a really interesting option for game developers who need low latencies and a ground truth that can be distributed between a global player base. Cloud Spanner is not a cheap service, and the team acknowledged as much, though, as Google Cloud Director of Solutions Miles Ward noted, providing the service isn’t cheap either. “Spanner does things from a consistency standpoint that you can’t get from anybody else, so it’s a place where we have to spend more, too,” he said (and before my friends at Microsoft email me: yes, Cosmos DB also offers features that are comparable to Cloud Spanner, as well as a wider range of consistency options).

The Bandai Namco team also noted that Google’s vast private network was another major factor behind its decision. Because Google owns its own network, the data can jump between fewer networks to reach both the central database and the opposing player.

To make Dragon Ball Legends run smoothly, the team is also using BigQuery to manage and analyze its data, as well as some of the company’s Firebase services.

Tachibana noted that Bandai Namco is placing a big bet on this new game, but that the team also wanted to create a benchmark for what a globally distributed PvP game can look like. “We hope that when other developers look to a similar gameplay, they’ll say that it’s hard to top,” he said. “And also, from a technical side, we know that the people who are part of the industry will understand how amazing it is to realize this entire process.”

If you are not a developer and just want to play a new PvP Dragon Ball game, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little bit longer, though. The game will arrive in Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store later this year.

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8bitdo’s wireless adapter adds flexibility to Xbox, PlayStation and Switch controllers

Game controller compatibility is a labyrinthine nightmare most of the time: Some controllers work with some platforms some of the time, but it’s very hard to keep track of how and when. 8bitdo’s latest accessory adds some simplicity to the mix, enabling use of Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch controllers with Switch, Windows and macOS systems quickly and easily.

Yes, that means you can play your PC or Mac games with your favorite Xbox One X/S or DualShock 3/4 controller, or even use a Joy-Con. It also means that you can use a DualShock controller to play Breath of the Wild on the Switch, if that’s what you want to do.

The USB dongle also works with Android TV hardware, and with Raspberry Pi-based devices. It supports DualShock 4 vibration and 6-axis motion control on Switch, and it works lag-free for low latency gaming requirements. It’s also a tiny bit smaller than either the dedicated Xbox or PlayStation dedicated PC wireless controller USB adapters (and supports a broader range of platforms).

Oh, and it’s also just $20 from Amazon. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now and it performs exactly as advertised. If you’re looking to cut down your controller clutter or just have a strong preference for once design over another, this is definitely a smart buy.

Here are 64 startups that launched today at Y Combinator’s W18 Demo Day 1

Biotech, robotics, and fintech startups took the spotlight today at Y Combinator’s 26th Demo Day. This batch features 141 total companies from 23 countries, with presentations spread over two days. The house was packed at Mountain View’s Computer History Museum with wealthy investors forced to stand in the back or sit on the floor. Meanwhile, marijuana soda, wind turbine-cleaning drones, and indestructible panty hose startups demoed their products in the break room and parking lot. You can see our favorites here:

Y Combinator has made progress ramping up diversity in its startup school. Thirty-five percent of this batch’s companies are internationally based, 27 percent have a female founder, and 13 percent have an underrepresented minority founder. The 50-person YC team now includes 18 partners, with Eric Migicovsky of Pebble joining to help out hardware companies and explore the accelerator’s opportunities in China.

The question on everyone’s minds is which startups will join the 15 previous ones like Stripe, Dropbox, and Airbnb now worth over $1 billion. But with YC’s portfolio moving beyond social apps and enterprise tools towards hard science innovation, and 18 percent of this batch’s companies coming from health and biotech, many of the software investors seemed a little overwhelmed. We’ll let you choose your favorites from our write-ups of all 64 that pitched on the record today. Check out our top 7 picks from today’s startups, and our full coverage of all the startups from day 2. Come back Wednesday morning for our top picks from day 2.

Bear Flag Robotics

Bear Flag is building autonomous tractors. They claim to be able to reduce input by 20 percent and increase production yield by 11 percent. They’re already testing tractors in the field in California. They plan to charge about $4,000 per tractor per month.


A mobile app for building mobile websites. Who would have thought? Universe lets users build a personal portfolio site with the same ease of editing a photo on Instagram. Users can follow other sites, which creates a bit of a Tumblr-like network of personal blogs. Users have already built one hundred thousand sites with the iOS app which has expanded its functionality in recent months to let users build multi-page sites. The app currently has 2,200 paid subscribers paying an average of $3.40 per month to gain premium features on the app.

Read more about Universe on TechCrunch here.

Juni Learning

Juni is an online education program for kids that is targeting the $9 billion after-school market. The idea is to start with teaching kids computer science in a virtual, one-on-one setting by pairing them with tutors. It charges $250 per month for once-a-week classes Juni says it’s grown 25 percent month over month in the last six months. The company also says it’s profitable, with a 95 percent monthly renewal rate. Without adequate computer science courses in schools, and the skills becoming clearly critical future employment, Juni could educate the next generation of programmers.

Read more about Juni on TechCrunch here.


There are 25 million digital nomads who move around the world while working on the Internet, and that can make health insurance complicated. SafetyWing offers $37 per month health insurance in 180 countries ($30 extra fee in the U.S.) that covers hospital visits and prescriptions but doesn’t cover preventative treatment or pre-existing conditions like cancer. SafetyWing has partnered with insurance giant TokioMarine to administer the plans. The goal is to build a global safety net for freelancers and digital nomads that the startup hopes will include banking and income protection in the future. The startup will have to convince travelers that health insurance is worth the price and hassle, but with a $15 billion per year market and the number of digital nomads doubling every five years, there’s room for a modernized vision for health insurance.

Read more about SafetyWing on TechCrunch here.


Macromoltek wants to “change the drug discovery process,” by building software that designs antibodies. The startup uses academic research combined with technology to help drug companies. So far, Macromoltek has ten paying customers, generating $50,000 in revenue for 2017. They’ve also secured $500,000 in LOIs (letter of intent) to design new antibodies.



Passerine makes unmanned aircrafts that take off and land like birds. They intend to sell it to companies to use for things like mapping large areas, light weight cargo delivery, lidar surveying, and powerline monitoring.


Visor wants to turn top gamers into even more skilled players. The startup analyzes eSports gameplay footage to help coach users on what gaming skills they need to improve on. The team analyzed 1.3 million minutes of footage in the past 30 days and they boast over 39 thousand monthly active users, growing 52 percent month-over-month since launching at the beginning of the year.


Proven uses data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to design individualized skincare products for consumers. To provide the best skin care products for people, Proven has built a database, which it calls the Beauty Genome Project, that uses 8 million reviews from people in conjunction with AI to understand what ingredients have an impact on people. The idea is to help find people the products that are best for their skin topology.

Read more about Proven on TechCrunch here.

Vena Medical

Vena Medical has created what they claim is the “world’s smallest camera” that is designed to help with medical treatments like liver cancer and strokes by looking at patient’s blood vessels. They’ve secured pilots with hospitals and believe there is a $5 billion market opportunity for their single use medical device. “Every patient treated is another camera used.”


Haiku wants to do for apps want Unity did for games. It’s a simple app creation tool, meant for developers and designers to use together. The apps it creates are cross platform across both iOS and Android

Patchd Medical

Patchd has built a chest-worn device that detects sepsis, the No. 1 cause of death in hospital patients. The idea is that patients would no longer have to stay in the hospital for monitoring, as the device can record and analyze vital signs and send results back to doctors. They currently have a paid pilot in Australia, and are currently testing the device with 20 people. They’ll conduct a clinical trial in 2019. If the product can reliably predict sepsis, patients will be able to get back to the hospital in time if they have complications. Patchd’s device could save tons of money for hospitals and insurers while getting sick people home where they want to be.


Proof helps websites turn their visitors into purchasing customers. As an example, websites can show visitors how many people are currently viewing a product. The idea is for those notifications to help convert people into buyers. Proof currently has 2,700 paying customers, who see an average 10 to 15 percent lift in conversions. Proof’s long-term goal is to personalize the entire marketing funnel.


Openland wants to create a better way for real estate developers to acquire properties. It does this through a slick interface that allows builders to sort through available lands and connect quickly with landowners, evaluate the properties and get through the paperwork. Openland’s co-founder called the fact that 90% of buildable space isn’t for sale the “biggest roadblock for the real estate industry.”


The biggest tech companies in the U.S. — the so-called FAANGs, or Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google — have massive recruiting efforts on university campuses and around the world. But SharpestMinds wants to build a set of tools to help the rest of those tech companies that don’t have those recruiting resources find talent before they get snatched up. SharpestMinds matches up students that apply on their site with companies where they can work on a trial basis, building up that early relationship that could lead to a job down the line.

Read more about SharpestMinds on TechCrunch here.

Curious Fictions

Curious Fictions is an mobile-friendly site where readers can find, read and pay for short stories. You can pay $5, $10 or $15 per month, and then the money is distributed to the authors of the stories that they liked that month. You can also tip authors for individual stories.

Read more about CuriousFictions on TechCrunch here.

Culture Robotics

Culture Robotics is growing organisms for biotech companies. It claims to have built “the first cloud bioreactor farm” and compare themselves to Amazon Web Services, but for biomanufacturing. Its technology creates bacteria like collagen for beauty companies. Culture Robotics believes its applicable for synthetic biology, microbiome and cellular therapy. So far, they’ve secured three paying customers and are generating $50k in revenue per month.


Qulture.Rocks is HR management for Latin America. They’re have grown about 20% month over month for the past 2 years, and have hit the break-even point.


A bio-tech startup that aims to create a more patient-friendly way to deliver drugs. AesculaTech has invented a temperature responsive material that enables the company to make customized medical devices inside the body. The company’s first use of its technology is going toward the treatment of dry eye syndrome, which the founders say affects more than 20 million people in America. The goal is to become the go-to material used to make medical devices.

Read more about AesculaTech on TechCrunch here.

Evry Health

Evry Health wants to take on the employee health insurance market by tackling a specific type of customer. The startup is specializing in working with customer companies that have between 200-1,000 employees. They boast that their product is 20 percent less than competitors and offers enhanced coverage. They’re tackling the $10B Texas health care market when they launch at the beginning of next year.


Aspire provides loans to small businesses in Southeast Asia. Its team of “credit experts” promise to make a decision within two hours and have cash disbursed by the next day. So far, they’ve secured $500k in loans in just eight weeks. They support banks like Citi, Maybank and HSBC.


Sudden Coffee

Sudden makes instant coffee that the company claims is “better than fresh Starbucks” – backing it up with what they say was a blind test in which 8 of 10 coffee drinkers chose their instant stuff. They’re currently in 20 retail stores, and will soon be sold in REI. Their secret sauce, as they explain it: they’ve found a way to make instant coffee without requiring any boiling.


CoinTracker is a platform to track your crypto across all exchanges, wallets, and even currencies. Today most crypto-enthusiasts try to do this using complicated and bloated Google spreadsheets, so an automated solution has the potential to save a lot of people a lot of time. CoinTracker also has the ability to optimize tax filings by computing capital gains reports using FIFO, LIFO or HIFO accounting.

Read more about CoinTracker on TechCrunch here.


Supermedium is a web browser built natively for virtual reality. The team behind the browser was previously working at Mozilla working on A-Frame defining the WebVR standard which aims to get apps and games off your hard drive and onto the world wide web. Supermedium is working with developers to make their browser the default hub for quick and impactful games and demos. A beta of the app is available now on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets.

Read more about Supermedium on TechCrunch here.

Sheerly Genius

Sheerly Genius manufactures and sells rip-proof, snag-proof and “lifeproof” pantyhose that last up to 50 wears. The pantyhose are made with the same type of fiber found in bulletproof vests and climbing equipment. Right now, Sheerly Genius sells basic black, sheer pantyhose. Down the road, Sheerly Genius plans to move into the “nude” option, which entails a number of different colors.

Read more about Sheerly Genius on TechCrunch here.


Hexel lets any web community launch its own immediately-usable cryptocurrency. The idea is that sites could reward their own users for engagement or let them buy tokens for different purposes, but that they could also trade them for other sites’ currencies on the Hexel exchange. For example, Quora could reward you tokens for having the top answer to science questions. Those could potentially be used to promote your own answers or questions, or you could trade them in via Hexel for hypothetical Reddit tokens that would let that user post on science subreddits reserved for experts. Hexel will earn a fee when use use its exchange. While 300 currencies have been created since Hexel’s launch six weeks ago, the startup will have a tough time persuade popular web platforms to complicate themselves with tokens. Most people still only understand cryptocurrencies as stores of value like Bitcoin, so lots of user education would be required too.

Read more about Hexel on TechCrunch here.

Modern Health

A mental health benefit platform for employers and their employees. Modern Health connects employees to a healthcare professional or digital tools to address things like depression, anxiety

Since launching four weeks ago, Modern Health has posted $37,000 in annual recurring revenue. So far, employee engagement comes in at 30 percent.


One in five American households now have a new family member in the house named Alexa, Siri or Google. Volley wants to build a platform for voice-based gaming on home assistant hardware. The company has the number one game for Alexa and has 900k MAUs since they launched last April.

Read more about Volley on TechCrunch here. is an instant serverless computing platform. It lets you write and deploy apps for your browser. They claim to be the “easiest way to start coding,” letting users build “complex applications with thousands of lines of codes.” believes its cloud platform is perfect for building games and other interactive programs.

Read more about on TechCrunch here.


“Borderless shopping for Asia”. Trusu says that getting Western products in Asia is often difficult, requiring you to use a package forwarding service at a costly premium. They import products in bulk once a week, allowing their prices to be up to 75% lower than alternative services.


Leap is a private social network for women in tech. Designed by and for women, Leap could help people find investors, co-founders, mentors, jobs, and more. Leap uses a real names but allows some anonymous posts, and employs a light touch in moderation but with the perspective on abuse lacking at most male-run social networks. Leap now has 2000 users, but has plenty of room to grow with 4.8 million women in tech in the U.S. Social networks do have outstanding lifetime value if they can retain their users and understand what they buy.
The question will be whether one-off, niche social networks can succeed in the face of massive networks like Facebook and its Groups feature by focusing on thwarting abuse and creating a more civil discussion space. The private beta for Leap is now accepting signups.

Avro Life Science

A life science company that develops skin patches for drug delivery. Skin patches work by allowing the drugs to deliver through your skin, directly into your bloodstream. That means Avro’s skin patches eliminate the need to swallow pills and involve the GI tract.

Avro makes patches for hundreds of drugs, like Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin and Aerius. Avro’s research has shown effectiveness in terms of relieving seasonal allergies. Avro says it’s on track for FDA approval by Q2 of 2019.


Sourcify wants to be the Flexport for product sourcing by tackling how companies get in touch with manufacturing pipelines. They want to take manufacturing sorting out of Excel and stick into its software. The startup says that they can add visualization and transparency to the industry as it has already “pre-vetted” more than 700 factories.


Lawyaw builds “intelligent templates for law firms”. Built by an ex-law firm partner and an ex-Google engineer, it uses natural language processing to create new legal documents from a lawyer’s existing documents, allowing it to be re-used later as a template. 800+ lawyers are currently using the service, with 23,000 templates made so far.

The Lobby

The Lobby helps job applicants secure one-on-one calls with company insiders. With resume critique and mock interviews, the startup helps job seekers get advice “from a real human who has the job they want.” They already work with insiders at top investment banks like J.P. Morgan and Barclays and have a $100,000 gross merchandise volume (GMV) run rate, taking 45% margins on the calls. With 40 million Americans looking for high-skilled jobs, they hope that this is a $2.4 billion market opportunity. The Lobby “turns employes into talent scouts.”


Vathys is an artificial intelligence startup that makes a deep learning chip that is supposedly 10x faster than the competition. Computation accounts for 8 percent of power consumption of a chip. The rest is data movement, according to the founder. By addressing data movement, Vathys has created a processor that is 10x faster than the competition. The company already has a purchase order for $50K.

California Dreamin’

California Dreamin’ is a cannabis-infused THC sparkling juice beverage designed to get you a little high the same way a beer gets you a little drunk. Marijuana legalization has opened the door to a massive new industry, including psychoactive products for people who don’t want to smoke anything. Each bottle retails for $8 to $10, and contains 10mg of energizing sativa THC — one standard dose. It tastes sweet but with a hint of earthy plant notes, and you can drink a whole bottle without ending up locked into your couch like some competitors that put 100mg in a bottle. If California Dreamin’ can appeal to baby boomers and soccer moms looking to avoid the hangovers of alcohol while still imbibing something to relax, the business could blossom. California Dreamin’ is now delivering its first cases to recreational dispensaries in SF after selling $10,000-worth in its beta program. The legal cannabis business is $10 billion per year and growing 30 percent each year, but California Dreamin’ wants to nab part of the $210 billion alcohol market by getting people to switch to cannabis.

Read more about California Dreamin’ on TechCrunch here.


Rhythmm wants to take live chat conversations from experts and interesting people and let others follow along. The startup wants to take the insights people are getting from chat groups on Telegram and remove all the noise with their own platform. Only people who have been invited by the chat creator can participate, everybody else just follows the conversations.

Algosurg Inc

Algosurg has built algorithms to simulate surgeries. They believe that “robotics is the future of surgery,” and have developed something called Tabplan3D, which uses cloud technology instead of Xrays to help orthopedic surgeons prepare using a 3D virtual surgery plan. They have four patents filed and FDA approval in process.


OSIMple helps build automated infrastructure inspections — in other words, software that helps optimize the inspection of things like roads, railways, bridges, and dams. 500 different bridges were inspected with their software in the last 6 months, and they have letters of intent from 2 large companies.

Orangewood Labs

Orangewood Labs uses massive 3D printer-esque wood-cutting robots to make on-demand furniture. With no inventory, Orangewood avoids the costs of unsold goods or massive warehouses. It crowdsources 3D designs which it can tweak into different styles, colors, and sizes to fit your home. As more of commerce moves online, customers no longer expect to be able to test everything in person before they buy. Perhaps Orangewood will use augmented reality to virtually try its desks and chairs in your home. The startup has already scored $2 million in orders.


OpenSea is a peer-to-peer marketplace for buying, selling and discovering crypto assets and collectibles. Just as Coinbase operates as an exchange for cryptocurrencies, this is a marketplace for all other asset types on the blockchain, like software licenses, collectibles, Cryptokitties and other digital goods on the blockchain. In the last two months, Open Sea has done $500,000 in ethereal volume.

Playing Viral

Playing Viral is an Indonesian startup that assists online publishers through delivering leads for advertisers. The team works with surveys over visual ad units and can analyze the text to ensure that users are getting surveys in their language and dialect.

Correlia Biosystems

Spun out of bioengineering research at UC Berkeley, Correlia Biosystems is able to analyze microsamples of blood, making it “easier to get more data from a tiny drop.” They claim to be “opening the space to next gen protein detection,” by reducing the time and cost for quantifying proteins for pharmaceutical applications. So far, they have brought in $55,000 in revenue in three months and have also secured $9.3 million in LOIs. Correlia believes this is a $11.6 billion market opportunity.


Sqreen is a tool that sits in your web app and tries to prevent attacks. It watches the behavior of users within your app to identify and block against SQL injections and cross-site scripting attacks. It currently works with apps built on Ruby on Rails, NodeJS, and Python.

Sqreen was in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Battlefield in 2016. You can read more about Sqreen on TechCrunch here.


Voice assistants may be the home product du jour, but Piccolo wants you to control your smarthome with your hands. No, not like you already do, but by using gestures. Point at a light to turn it on, scrub through a video on your TV by moving your hand in front of you etc etc. The company is building a smart camera that can map a user’s skeletal geometry and see what the user wants to control.

Read more about Piccolo on TechCrunch here.


Bootcamps became insanely popular in the mid 2010s, but there’s been a big shakeout since then — and NexGenT hopes to take the fundamentals of getting an engineer production ready, but with a different approach. Rather than try to have somoene ready to be a full-scale developer in 3 months, NexGenT focuses on just certificate programs to get people ready to be network engineers. The process is longer, but hopefully more robust as well.

Read more about NextGenT on TechCrunch here.


Voicery synthesizes ultra-realistic computer voices that can use natural emotion and inflection, and whisper or joke. 70 percent of people prefer its voices to Amazon Alexa’s. Voicery analyzes hundreds of human voices to train deep neural networks that power its product, rather than trying to train a computer to mimic a single specific voice. Voicery could be used to generate voice overs, read the news, dub television shows and more. It’s already got a letter of intent for $300,000 to make audio books. With more speech-enabled devices coming on the market every day, there could be a big market for giving different brands their own voice.

Read more about Voicery on TechCrunch here.

A marketplace for endurance events, like 5ks, half-marathons and other races. Let’s Do This says revenue has doubled every two weeks since launching. So far, it has partnered with over 850 races, like IronMan and The Color Run.


Flexport showed how ripe the freight industry is for disruption, Shone is retrofitting old cargo ships with its proprietary technology that allows them to deliver shipping containers autonomously and by remote control.

Quit Genius

Quit Genius is an app “that delivers personalized therapy to help people quit smoking.” It helps people identify the reasons they smoke and hopes to help them overcome them. They work with companies including a “technology giant” to pay for Quit Genius, in order to help employees. The startup says there is a $10 billion market for people trying to quit smoking, and wants to expand to alcohol and other addictions.


Molly uses AI to generate Q&As for people who are frequently asked the same questions — celebrities, field experts, etc.

Read more about Molly on TechCrunch here.


Flint is a mobile banking solution for Mexico that lets people pay merchants and friends using scannable QR codes. And for the 56 percent of the population that is unbanked, Flint lets users deposit or withdrawal cash from their app’s account at local shops and restaurants. It’s essentially a crowdsourced ATM. Flint is growing payment volume 5X per month as it tries to do what WeChat and Alipay did for China.


A video platform for relaxation. Tingles is an iOS and Android app designed to help you relax and fall asleep. It’s a video genre called ASMR, which is supposedly growing 130 percent year over year. It currently has 60,000 monthly active users who view about 1.3 hours worth of content every day.

Read more about Tingles on TechCrunch here

Runa HR

Runa HR wants to help small businesses in Latin America by automating payroll. The startup is pricing its product the same as US alternatives, but is seeking to strike a balance in Latin America between expensive, inefficient solutions and those that don’t solve all of their employees needs. The team at Runa believes it can eventually take over the entire software business for small businesses in Latin America.


Aerones has built drones that clean wind turbines. They believe this is a safer and more efficient alternative to humans cleaning them and that this is a $1.4 billion market opportunity. They have heavy lifting drones that they hope will eventually clean buildings and have applications for other industries like oil, gas and solar. Aerones says that so far it has received 7 LOIs for 5000 cleanings, a promise of $5 million in revenue.


Snackpass is a food ordering app focusing on takeout rather than delivery. They’ve been running a field test at Yale, where they say 50% of students are monthly customers. There’s a social network-driven loyalty card aspect that they say is driving growth.

Reverie Labs

Reverie Labs uses machine learning to scan public molecule research, modify and develop its own molecules, and license the drugs they create to big pharmaceutical companies. The startup claims it can sell molecule licenses for $100 million, and has already signed a milestone deal worth up to $87 million. It expects to have 3 drugs ready for clinical trials by the end of 2019, which is much faster than most pharma companies take. The Harvard and MIT team plan to use their engineering-focused startup identity to recruit ML talent the pharma giants can’t match. And eventually, it wants to go full-stack and sell its own medicines.

Read more about Reverie Labs on TechCrunch here


Worklytics wants to get rid of those boring team meetings, and the right place to look is probably at the management layer. The tool keeps track of the kinds of distractions that employees might get, as well as whether the right processes like one-on-one reviews and code collaboration, happen. It doesn’t track specific employees, but it uses the data it gleans from teams to figure out what works best to help companies run more efficiently.

Read more about WorkLytics on TechCrunch here.


A third-party, confidential software platform to solve workplace harassment. If an employee is feeling discriminated against or harassed they can open up the app to talk to a professional advisor, then create an action plan to either address the issue or file a formal complaint.

Then tEQuitable will aggregate the data and come up with ideas to fix the company culture. The company’s clients include Twilio, GitHub, Obvious Ventures in pilot programs worth $120,000.


Storyline wants to make it easy for people to build content apps for the Alexa platform without any coding. Storyline wants to power content across Alexa the same way YouTube powers video, they say. The startup’s apps already have 180 thousand monthly active users across 500 apps.

Read more about Storyline on TechCrunch here.


CaptivateIQ is software to calculate sales commissions. They believe that 80% of commissions have errors and there’s an opportunity to help companies get it right. They’re starting with the tech industry, but believe this is ultimately a $1.5 billion market opportunity. Beyond commissions, they think they can also help companies increase revenue.


Cricket farming for now may be an art, but Ovipost — starting with the rearing process — wants to turn it into a science. By first working to optimize hatching and egg yield, Ovipost wants to lower the labor costs to produce crickets, which could then be turned into direct consumer food sources or even feed.

Read more about OviPost on TechCrunch here.


Veriff wants to be Stripe for online identity verification, handling the processing of drivers licenses, passports, and IDs for websites. They did $60k in revenue in February, and are currently profitable. They charge ~$1 per verification.


ObserveAI is AI-powered quality assurance for call center agents. They use natural language processing to determine how call center agents are interacting with customers and offer up suggestions as to what they might be doing better. The company charges $1000 per customer service agent per year.

Check out the rest of TechCrunch’s YC Demo Day Coverage

Internet Archive adds trove of cheap LCD handhelds to its emulation collection

During CES, the single piece of electronics I spent the most time with, apart from my laptop and camera, was a Mattel Dungeons & Dragons Computer Fantasy Game handheld. This decades-old device held the attention of John Biggs and myself through quite a few drinks as we navigated its arcane interface (eventually slaying the dragon, thank you). These cheap handhelds, sold as impulse buys at drug stores and Toys ‘R Us (RIP), are the latest thing to be collected and emulated in full by MAME and the Internet Archive.

At first when I heard this, I was happy but not particularly impressed. They’re great little devices — mostly terrible games, albeit a nostalgic kind of terrible — but how complicated can they be?

Oh, quite complicated, it turns out.

Unlike, say, an NES ROM, these little gadgets don’t have their graphics palettized, their logic isolated, etc. No, each one of these things is a strange and unique little machine. They must be carefully taken apart and their logic teased out by experts.

For one thing, the graphics aren’t pixels accounted for digitally. They’re etched into the liquid crystal system, to be activated when a charge runs through them. In other words, all the graphics are right there on the same screen, arranged like puzzle pieces.

So you may remember Space Jam looking like this:

But the LCD layer looks like this:

All that is hard-wired into the electronic part, where the logic resides telling which pieces to light up and when.

I won’t go into the details — read the interesting Internet Archive post if you’re curious. Basically it was a ton of hard work by a bunch of dedicated folks on the MAME crew. Incidentally, thanks to them and everyone else who’s kept that project going for years and years.

The only thing that’s missing is the interface — that is, the plastic. These things were great not because they were actually great games, but because they cost like $10 and would keep your kid occupied on a road trip for a few hours while they got beaten over and over again by the first three enemies. The cheap plastic enclosures and gaudy decorations are part of the fun.

No one wants to play this:

But this?

I’d definitely bug my mom to get me that. In fact, I think I did.

You can check out the scores of games the teams have already digitized at the Handheld History page, and if you’re in an emulatin’ mood, check out the other gazillion systems you can play in the browser in Archive’s Internet Arcade and Console Living Room.