Clear Labs uses kickstarter to fund ‘consumer reports’ for food quality

Have you ever spent a little more money on a supposed “premium” brand of hot dogs? You know, the ones that claim to be all-natural and contain 100 percent beef? The truly unnerving thing about hot dogs is you still don’t quite know if spending a few extra bucks means you’re getting something more healthy. It’s something food analysis startup Clear Labs aims to do something about, and today has launched a crowdfunding campaign to make it happen.
It’s often weird when venture-backed startups turn to crowdfunding platforms. Somehow it feels like someone double-dipping a potato chip: There’s no law against it, but it’s hard not to feel a little grossed out when you see it happen. Clear Labs, a food analytics company hoping to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter shortly after receiving $6.5 million in funding, knows this might be the case.
“As is typical for most venture-backed startups,” co-founder Mahni Ghorashi told me, “we raised just enough to hit our milestones and get the company where it needs to be for the next round of financing.” The costs of making the consumer-facing reports Clear Labs will make when the Kickstarter campaign finishes weren’t included in the financial model the company used to fundraise.
First, a little more about the reports themselves. Clear Labs was founded to analyze on a molecular level the foods people might find in grocery stores. The company is currently focused on selling its services to members of the supply chain, but it’s introducing a Clear Food division that will tell consumers about all the potentially gross things they’re picking up off the grocery store shelves.
This will be a costly endeavor. For each report Clear Labs needs to buy foods, catalog them, run it through a series of tests, then analyze the results against its own database and several public domain databases it uses to inform its findings. When all this is done the company will assign different brands a Clear Score ranging from zero to 100, which is supposed to indicate the accuracy of the brand’s labeling in terms of ingredients, nutrients, and other information.
Clear Labs estimates this will cost $10,000 per report; the campaign will fund 10 of these reports, which will be published once a month, after which the hope is they’ll be funded in other ways. (The idea is that revenues from the business-focused side of Clear Labs will be able to subsidize reports after the first 10.)
“After these first 10 reports, we kind of see consumers demanding more and more transparency in the industry and having a bigger say in what does the industry adopt,” Ghorashi said. “The cadence might slow down a bit, given that we’re not crowdfunding additional reports, but we still hope to keep the initiative going and to provide value to consumers on an ongoing basis.”
Ghorashi and his co-founder, Sasan Amini, also say the consumer-facing reports could help Clear Labs land more enterprise customers. Turning to Kickstarter is supposed to make consumers even more interested in learning more about their food; backers will be able to choose the categories examined by Clear Labs, and having a little skin in the game is a sure way to keep people’s attentions focused.
There’s also the potential gross factor associated with each category. The first report focused on hot dogs — probably the most disgusting foodstuff on Earth — and claims made by different brands. It found that many “vegetarian” dogs aren’t, that a small percentage of hot dogs contained human DNA, and that hot dogs supposedly made from something other than pork do, in fact, contain pork. (That’s the kind of shit — possibly literally, in terms of the human DNA — people like to gross each other out with on Facebook and viral email threads.)
Clear Labs will have to overcome the stigma of a fairly-well-funded startup turning to the masses for even more money. But once it does that, it’s not hard to see the company’s reports becoming popular among people curious about their food.
“We’re super excited to launch Clear Food on Kickstarter and start to measure consumer demand,” Ghorashi said, “and we believe the data we’re going to publish over the next six to 12 months will grab consumer attention, and the attention of industry as well.” That’s probably the understatement of the year.

Podo: It’s like a selfie stick that you just stick to things

Meet Podo. It’s a Bluetooth-enabled camera that fits easily in the palm of your hand, and connects to your Android or iOS device. There’s not a lot to say about this device, other than a certain class of people will probably really, really see the value in buying a tiny cube that sticks to walls, mirrors or any smooth, solid surface and lets you snap a selfie with ease.

Obviously, you could use it for more than taking a selfie. It might be fun to set it up to snap photos of your pet sleeping in a hard to reach location or less positively, could become a boon to voyeurs everywhere. The photos it snaps are transmitted wirelessly back to your device via the Bluetooth connection.

The device is part of a Kickstarter campaign launching Monday with an early bird special of $79 per Podo and a regular Kickstarter price of $89 per camera. The regular price will be $99. Podo was founded in 2013 and had raised $1.5 million. It was part of the Highway 1 incubator and the camera is expected to ship by August.

Sense analyzes your sleep as well as the bedroom it takes place in

Last spring, a Kickstarter project raised more than $2.4 million by promising a gadget that not only tracks how well you slept, but also the environmental condition of the room you slept in. On Tuesday, Sense, the sleep tracker from Hello, will go on sale to the general public and will start shipping to Kickstarter backers.

For $129, Sense comes with two different pieces of hardware. One piece is a glowing orb, a little smaller than a baseball, with a design reminiscent of the design of Beijing’s famous “bird’s nest” National Stadium. It sits on your bedside table and has a whole host of sensors for measuring ambient light, temperature, humidity and air quality.

Sense-Bed-Shot

Along with the bird’s nest Sense, you also get a little button, called the Sleep Pill, which clips onto your pillow and, like other accelerometer-based sleep trackers, measures how deeply you’re sleeping. One advantage to the separate Sleep Pill is that users don’t have to put on a tracker or turn it on before hitting the hay. Another advantage is that two people who that sleeps together can each have a Sleep Pill on their pillow, collecting independent sleep data that syncs with a single Sense.

Sense is the first product from San Francisco-based startup Hello. Its founder, James Proud, was one of the first Thiel Fellows in 2011 to skip college and start building companies. Proud told me Hello’s Potrero Hill offices now house over 30 employees. The company has quietly raised over $10.5 million from backers to date.

“When it comes to wearables, sleep is the [metric] everyone’s most fascinated about. But everyone was doing it in such a poor way,” Proud said. “The fact that they’re making you wear something, that’s wrong. The fact that it looks clinical, that’s wrong.”

While nearly every major fitness tracker, including Fitbit and Jawbone, does sleep tracking through an accelerometer, there haven’t been that many connected products aimed at quantifying the room the sleep takes place in. Withings launched a product, called the Aura, with a focus on tracking the bedroom environment last year, but eventually its CEO had to admit it brought the product to market too early.

The idea is that environmental data measured by the Sense could provide indicators that are correlated with whether you got a good night’s sleep or not. For instance, if your bedroom is sometimes noisy, that might be linked to nights where you toss and turn. Like the Aura, Sense will use an algorithm that improves its sleep recommendations as you log more sleep cycles.

Sense-Screenshot

But just because Sense is a product that promises to get better as you feed it more data doesn’t mean it’s “faithware.” The hardware and the apps promise to be useful out of the box. For instance, Sense will glow green if the sleeping conditions in your bedroom are optimal, yellow if something’s not right, and orange if you need to adjust something — like the temperature or noise level. Sense also has free iOS and Android apps that collect your sleep data and present it in an attractive timeline as well as provide a simple “sleep score” out of 100 points.

“I wanted to design a product that didn’t feel like a piece of technology,” Proud said.

Sense was a Kickstarter last Spring, and although the company missed its promise to ship the first units by November, they’re starting to ship now. It’s also on sale at the Hello website.

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Come see August, Electric Imp and more at our SXSW Hardware House

No matter what you think about South by Southwest Interactive, tens of thousands of people still head to Austin, Texas in the Spring to partake of tacos, barbecue and some decidedly weird tech culture when the second and third weeks in March collide. So this year Gigaom and Stage Two have teamed up to throw a celebratory happy hour to honor those who love and build gadgets and connected devices.

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On Friday March 13th we’ll have an evening event — The SXSW Hardware House — featuring interviews with Jason Johnson, CEO of August Locks; Hugo Fiennes, CEO of Electric Imp; Sam deBrouwer, Co-founder of Scanadu; and Nick Yulman community manager for hardware and design at Kickstarter, all prepared to share their insights and tips about getting your products off the ground and into consumers hands. They’ll have stories to share about manufacturing, crowdfunding, government regulations and finding the right retail partners.

Between each of these interviews we’ll also have demonstrations from some of the most exciting products out on the market, and some that haven’t even launched yet from companies like Leeo, OMsignal, MetaWear and more. We’re still looking for some demos, so if you are interested fill out this form by the end of this week and we’ll evaluate the applications and let you know if we have room for your demo.

The event kicks off at 6 pm at the WeWork space at Sixth and Congress Ave. at the heart of the SXSW action. We’ll have some space set aside for tables and demos on the first floor for smaller startups and then an elevator ride up we’ll have the main event with tacos, beer, the presentations themselves and even live music for the full South by experience. If you’re into hardware and the internet of things, I hope to see you there.

Entrepreneurs embrace net neutrality plan (except Mark Cuban)

Propaganda machines are running full-blast ahead of next week’s landmark vote on net neutrality, so readers should take most “news” about the FCC with a grain of salt. That said, it’s worth noting a new letter in the debate over whether net neutrality will protect entrepreneurs (as supporters claim) or if it will instead damn small business to crushing regulations, as Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai, backed by the telecom industry, is warning.

The letter comes via the advocacy group Engine, and is signed by more than 100 startups and emerging businesses. Many of the names are unfamiliar but some — including Yelp, Etsy, Kickstarter, Tumblr and GitHub – are among America’s favorite new companies.

Their position, in short, is that the FCC’s proposed “Title II” rules, which would forbid ISPs from giving special treatment to some websites over others, is not the regulatory bugbear of Pai’s imagination:

“Any claim that a net neutrality plan based in Title II would somehow burden “small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs with heavy-handed regulations that will push them out of the market” is simply not true,” the letter said. It added, “The threat of ISPs abusing their gatekeeper power to impose tolls and discriminate against competitive companies is the real threat to our future.”

This, of course, is part of a public relations effort but it doesn’t change the fact that all these companies, which are run by sophisticated and successful entrepreneurs, put their names on it.

The entrepreneurs could be lying or maybe they’re deluded. The better bet, though, is that the they genuinely favor rules to prevent the likes of Comcast or Verizon using their power over pipes as a cudgel to demand money or favors.

So are there any bonafide entrepreneurs (as opposed to Pai and the telecom giants) concerned about the regulatory burden of Title II? Well, there’s at least one.

On Wednesday, Dallas Mavericks owner and startup booster Mark Cuban was at it again, railing at a Re/code conference how the FCC will “fuck up everything” with its new rules. (He’s made such rants before).

Normally, it’s worth paying attention to Cuban since he’s bang-on about other issues involving small business, especially patent reform, and has a lot of pull in investment circles.

On this one, though, his concern may be overblown since the FCC has been clear that it’s taking a light touch to Title II and will be using it to prevent internet throttling, while also staying clear of measures like rate regulation or forced access. (One also wonders if Cuban’s F-bombs have anything to do with the fact that he is the chairman of a cable network).

So there you have it. You entrepreneurs out there can join Etsy and all, and run the risk of FCC regulations, or throw your lot in with Cuban and put yourselves at the mercy of the big ISPs.

Here’s the Engine letter, which is short, and has all the companies’ names:

Engine Letter Re FCC

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The deluge continues: 3 smart home hubs worth checking out

I thought we’d be over hubs by now, but I was wrong. They are still coming hot and heavy, and if the Consumer Electronics Show was any indication, there are still more heading our way. So instead of doing deep dives into what I think is a pretty full market, I figured I’d start doing some roundups of products and hit on the features that make them interesting, because honestly, who can keep up anymore?

Today’s batch are the hubs found on crowdfunding sites. They have some cool tweaks that make them a bit different, but of course, as with all crowdfunding efforts, who knows when they will actually deliver.

Of all of these Hive looks to be the most likely one I’d back, and Oomi is the only one I’ve seen in person. Let’s get to it.

hive
Hive: This system combines a hub and speaker (or series of speakers) with an app that lets you control the whole shebang. The Kickstarter promises that the hub not only controls the speakers but also your connected gadgets via an impressive array of radios, including Z-wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The video shows a Nest, motion sensors and other devices working with the hub. The speakers not only tie in to become “the voice of your home,” but also act as a sound system that can be linked to play the same music all over your house or separate music from sites that appear to be supported by Google’s Chromecast ready program. The campaign shows the Spotify logo but makes no mention of it elsewhere.

A backup battery and integrated 3G modem mean you have backup connectivity if your power goes out. The app will be available  for Android and iOS and everything is expected to ship in May. The retail price is expected to be $299 for the hub and $199 for each speaker, although the Kickstarter prices are cheaper. Those waiting for retail might get a discount if they buy optional security monitoring packages along with their purchase. This is certainly something I’m going to look for later this summer, although the Kickstarter is not doing well so far.

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Oomi: I ran into these guys at CES and thought they had a unique way of using NFC radios to get devices to connect to the system. Basically, you tap to touch a device to onboard a sensor to the main hub. It’s fun, but it only works with the Oomi products and any NFC-enabled phones. Still, even technophobes could use this and get started with a smart home. The main component is a stylish black cube that includes a lot of sensors, a microphone, a speaker and a video camera. It acts a security and communication device and has an IR sensor for controlling televisions and a variety home automation and media devices.

The system also comes with a connected outlet and a tablet to control the whole system. In keeping with the simple idea, Oomi is a learning system and once you connect your devices to it, it starts learning how you use your home and then starts building up its own rules and schedules for users. The folks behind Oomi already plan to launch a colorful light bulb, an air quality monitor and a Chromecast-like media streaming stick for the system. It also supports other Z-wave devices and says it integrates with other popular devices such as Sonos, Hue lights and Nest. Retail cost should be about $450 for a cube, a plug and the tablet, but it costs as low as $230 on Indiegogo with delivery in August and an adaptive intelligence engine released in November 2015(presumably after it is trained on early user data). I like this, but the integrated camera kind of freaks me out because it could monitor my home. I did see that it offers a shutter for the camera for folks like me.

branto
Branto: This is a glowing orb that plays music and changes color. It certainly offers less functionality than Oomi or Hive, but sometimes simpler is better. What sets Branto apart from almost anything out there is that it contains a 360-degree rotating camera that you control from an app. Plus, it has two microphones. So you can see your whole home or teleconference and look around the table.

The smart home elements come in because Branto also has a motion sensor, IR output, connected speaker capability that connected to various services and the ability to control popular home automation devices like WeMo, Nest and Philips Hue lights. The Kickstarter campaign notes that Branto will offer various options such as ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular modules down the line. The Branto will retail for about $500, although the Kickstarter prices are less than that, and it will ship to backers in September.

Chasing waterfalls? TLC hits Kickstarter to finance its final album

20 years after the release of CrazySexyCool, TLC is back for one last album: The two remaining members of the iconic RnB band took to Kickstarter Monday to raise funds for the production of a new and final studio album.

TLC is looking to raise at least $150,000, and promises to give fans who pledge $5 or more a chance to vote on one of the songs included on the album. From their Kickstarter page:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”Every penny we raise during this campaign will go towards making this final album together with you! The initial goal of $150,000 will go towards a writing session in the studio with a producer and engineer. The money beyond that will go to booking music producers, writing sessions, mixing sessions, recording sessions, and SO much more. We want to work with the best in the business, so the more we raise means access to the best.”[/blockquote]

TLC isn’t the first band that is taking to Kickstarter to raise funds, but the RnB trio was notable for being a very public manifestation of questionable music industry practices. The band’s label generated more than $100 million in sales with the bands two first albums, but TLC had to file for bankruptcy in 1995.

Those experiences may have been one more reason for TLC to take their case directly to fans this week. Here’s how the band put it on Kickstarter:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”While major labels offer artists multimillion dollar recording and marketing budgets, they don’t often give artists complete control of their own music. It is essential that we create our final album completely on our own terms, without any restrictions, with you.”[/blockquote]

David Cross launches his new movie as pay-what-you-want download

Filmmaker and comedian David Cross premiered his new movie at Sundance, but didn’t like any of the distribution deals offered by major studios, so he decided to give the film directly to fans as a pay-what-you want BitTorrent bundle, backed by a Kickstarter campaign