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Taali takes its popped water lily snacks from Y Combinator to the world – TechCrunch

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Taali takes its popped water lily snacks from Y Combinator to the world – TechCrunch

Aditya and Aarti Kochhar Kaji didn’t set out to start the snack food business Taali Foods when they were studying for their business degrees at Harvard.

The couple both hail from Mumbai and met at the University of Pennsylvania . They were married before starting at Harvard’s Business School and initially were interested in other areas — Aarti was exploring a career in venture capital and Aditya Kaji was looking at the food and beverage industry broadly in his classes at Harvard, Kochhar Kaji said.

Addicted to snack foods like chips and popcorn to fuel her Harvard study sessions, Kochhar Kaji started making popped water lily seeds as a snack — a food both she and her husband had grown up eating in India, she said.

The seeds, which are high in anti-oxidants, low in fat, have been a staple of Ayurvedic medicine — thank to their purported  anti-inflammatory properties and are a staple of Indian snacking traditions. Now, with American consumers on the hunt for healthier snacks, they’re becoming a big business in the U.S. as well.

Y Combinator is very on trend, with its decision to invest and accelerate Taali as part of its most recent cohort of startups. But in this instance you may call the accelerator a fast follower rather than a progenitor of this trend.

No less auspicious a food tastemaker than Whole Foods named water lily seeds as one of the top ten new food trends of 2019. With that attention competitors to Taali abound.

Bohana and AshaPops are just two new snack food companies floating on the popped water lily seed movement. Bohana even managed to nab the attention of PepsiCo’s Nutrition Greenhouse competitive accelerator.

It’s no secret that technology investors are investing more heavily in consumer businesses — everything from snack foods to period products and baby formula — and startups need only point to the success of Amazon as the everything store to show that there’s always money to be made in the category.

Indeed, at $1.47 trillion, the consumer packaged goods industry dwarfs technology as a share of the nation’s economy.

As Ryan Caldbeck, the head of the consumer-focused investment firm CircleUp noted last year.

The uptick in tech VC dollars going to the CPG market is partly because tech investing is brutally competitive and saturated, and largely because these VCs are awakening to the strong historical returns in CPG, especially with the trend leaning towards small brands stealing market share.

Consumer is a massive market – about 3x the size of tech, as seen below.

Despite the size of the market, the early-stage has historically been underserved by investors due to market inefficiencies like the geographic dispersion of brands and a lack of structured information sources (i.e. there is no Silicon Valley for consumer, and certainly no Crunchbase equivalents – yet).

Strong exits are already possible for consumer brands — and not necessarily from the big ticket, headline grabbing acquisitions like Dollar Shave Club. Last week This is L — the condom and period product retailer — sold for roughly $100 million after raising seed funding from investors including 500 Startups and Y Combinator.

Taali was similarly bootstrapped before it was accepted into Y Combinator . The company is already selling its snacks through Amazon and in retail locations like Fairway in New York and Central Market in Texas. The founders expect to be in stores in California in the next few months.

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Netflix cancels ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘The Punisher,’ its last Marvel shows – TechCrunch

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Netflix cancels ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘The Punisher,’ its last Marvel shows – TechCrunch

Netflix is no longer in the Marvel superhero business, with the cancellation of “Jessica Jones” and “The Punisher.”

The writing has been on the wall since last fall, when the streaming service canceled its other three Marvel shows — “Iron Fist,” “Luke Cage” and “Daredevil.” Plus, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg was already announced to leave “Jessica Jones” after the upcoming third season.

There have been conflicting reports about which company ultimately decided to pull the plug, but this does seem to be part of a broader corporate rift, with Disney ending its overall deal with Netflix and producing Marvel shows for its yet-to-launch streaming service.

Disney has also announced a slate of animated Marvel series on Hulu (where Disney will become the majority owner, post-Fox acquisition), following a similar structure to the Netflix shows — four separate series followed by a big crossover.

Netflix, meanwhile, just released the first season of “The Umbrella Academy,” an offbeat superhero series based on the comics by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.

In a statement, Netflix said:

Marvel’s The Punisher will not return for a third season on Netflix. Showrunner Steve Lightfoot, the terrific crew, and exceptional cast including star Jon Bernthal, delivered an acclaimed and compelling series for fans, and we are proud to showcase their work on Netflix for years to come.

In addition, in reviewing our Marvel programming, we have decided that the upcoming third season will also be the final season for Marvel’s Jessica Jones . We are grateful to showrunner Melissa Rosenberg, star Krysten Ritter and the entire cast and crew, for three incredible seasons of this groundbreaking series, which was recognized by the Peabody Awards among many others. We are grateful to Marvel for five years of our fruitful partnership and thank the passionate fans who have followed these series from the beginning.

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Google Assistant Actions up 2.5x in 2018 to reach 4,253 in the US – TechCrunch

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Google Assistant Actions up 2.5x in 2018 to reach 4,253 in the US – TechCrunch

In addition to competing for smart speaker market share, Google and Amazon are also competing for developer mindshare in the voice app ecosystem. On this front, Amazon has soared ahead — the number of available voice skills for Alexa devices has grown to top 80,000 the company recently announced. According to a new third-party analysis from Voicebot, Google is trailing that by a wide margin with its own voice apps, called Google Assistant Actions, which total 4,253 in the U.S. as of January 2019.

For comparison, 56,750 of Amazon Alexa’s total 80,000 skills are offered in the U.S.

The report notes that the number of Google Assistant Actions have grown 2.5 times over the past year — which is slightly faster growth than seen on Amazon Alexa, whose skill count grew 2.2 times during the same period. But the total is a much smaller number, so growth percentages may not be as relevant here.

In January 2018, there were 1,719 total Google Assistant Actions in the U.S., the report said. In 2017, the number was in the low hundreds in the beginning of the year, and reached 724 by October 2017.

Voicebot also examined which categories of voice apps were popular on Google Assistant platforms.

It found that three of the 18 categories accounted for more than one-third of all Google Assistant Actions: Education & Reference; Games & Fun; and Kids & Family.

The Education category topped the list with more than 15 percent of all Actions, while Games & Fun was 11.07 percent and Kids & Family was 9.29 percent.

Local and Weather were the least popular.

On Alexa, the top categories differ slightly. Though Games & Fun is popular on Google, its Alexa equivalent — Games & Trivia — is the No. 1 most popular category, accounting for 21 percent of all skills. Education was second most popular at around 14 percent.

It’s interesting that these two top drivers for voice apps are reversed on the two platforms.

That could indicate that Alexa is seen to be the more “fun” platform, or one that’s more oriented toward use by families and gaming. Amazon certainly became aware of the trend toward voice gaming, and fanned the flames by making games the first category it paid developers to work on by way of direct payments. That likely encouraged more developers to enter the space, and subsequently helped boost the number of games — and types of gaming experiences — available for Alexa.

Voicebot’s report rightly raises the question as to whether or not the raw skill count even matters, though.

After all, many of the Alexa skills offered today are of low quality, or more experimental attempts from developers testing out the platform. Others are just fairly basic — the voice app equivalent of third-party flashlight apps for iPhone before Apple built that feature into iOS. For example, there now are a handful of skills that turn on the light on Echo speakers so you can have a nightlight by way of the speaker’s blue ring.

But even if these early efforts sometimes fall short, it does matter that Alexa is the platform developers are thinking about, as it’s an indication of platform commitment and an investment on developers’ part. Google, on the other hand, is powering a lot of its Assistant’s capabilities itself, leaning heavily on its Knowledge Base to answer users’ questions, while also leveraging its ability to integrate with Google’s larger suite of apps and services, as well as its other platforms, like Android.

In time, Google Assistant may challenge Alexa further by capitalizing on geographic expansions, but for the time being, Alexa is ahead on smart speakers as well as, it now seems, on content.

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Amazon’s Echo Wall Clock is back on sale after connectivity fix

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The Echo Wall Clock was first announced by Amazon in September and started shipping just before the holidays in December. Just over a month after the clock was first made available to buy, Amazon decided to pull it because of problems with Bluetooth connectivity. That feature is essential to the device’s function, as it needs to connect to another Echo device in order to operate with voice controls. With the fix, users will once again be able to set alarms and timers via Alexa that will be displayed on the 60 LED lights around the edge of the clock’s face.

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