96% of the employees of the 15 highest rated machine learning startups would recommend their company to a friend looking for a new job, and 98% approve of their CEOs.
Across all machine learning startups with Glassdoor ratings, 74% of employees would recommend the startup they work for to a friend, and 81% approve of their CEO.
There are over 230 cities globally who have one or more machine learning startups in operation today with Crunchbase finding 144 in San Francisco, 60 in London, 69 in New York, 82 in Tel Aviv, 22 in Toronto, 20 in Paris, 18 in Seattle and the remainder distributed over 223 global locations.
These and many other insights are from a Crunchbase Pro analysis completed today using Glassdoor data to rank the best machine learning startups to work for in 2020. Demand reminds high for technical professionals with machine learning expertise. According to Indeed, Machine Learning Engineer job openings grew 344% between 2015 to 2018 and have an average base salary of $146,085 according their Best Jobs In The U.S. Study. You can read the study shows that technical professionals with machine learning expertise are in an excellent position to bargain for the average base salary of at least $146,085 or more.
In response to readers’ most common requests of which machine learning startups are the best to work for, a Crunchbase Pro query was created to find all machine learning startups who had received Seed, Early Stage Venture, or Late Stage Venture financing. The 2,682 machine learning startups Crunchbase is tracking were indexed by Total Funding Amount by startup to create a baseline.
Next, Glassdoor scores of the (%) of employees who would recommend this company to a friend and (%) of employees who approve of the CEO were used to find the best startups to work for. 79 of the 150 machine learning startups have 15 or more Glassdoor reviews and are included in the analysis. 41 have less than 15 reviews and 30 have no reviews. The table below is a result of the analysis, and you can find the original Microsoft Excel data set here.
I am currently serving as Principal, IQMS, part of Dassault Systèmes. Previous positions include product management at Ingram Cloud, product marketing at iBASEt, Plex Systems, senior analyst at AMR Research (now Gartner), marketing and business development at Cincom Systems, Ingram Micro, a SaaS start-up and at hardware companies. I am also a member of the Enterprise Irregulars. My background includes marketing, product management, sales and industry analyst roles in the enterprise software and IT industries. My academic background includes an MBA from Pepperdine University and completion of the Strategic Marketing Management and Digital Marketing Programs at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. I teach MBA courses in international business, global competitive strategies, international market research, and capstone courses in strategic planning and market research. I’ve taught at California State University, Fullerton: University of California, Irvine; Marymount University, and Webster University. You can reach me on Twitter at @LouisColumbus.
Plenty of entrepreneurs adhere to the mantra of “hire slow, fire fast” and for good reason. Then there’s Melanie Perkins, the co-founder and CEO of Sydney-based design software company Canva. She spent a year trying to find her first technical hire.
While Perkins didn’t intend to spend so much time filling her first engineering position, looking back on it now, she wouldn’t have done it any other way. The year-long quest informed how she’s made every other hire since. And it’s hard to argue with the results: With 700 employees, Canva is a hiring machine, and it’s been doubling in size every year.
In an industry that sees engineers switch jobs with frightening speed, many of Canva’s early technical hires are still with the company. While Canva won’t discuss revenue, Perkins, the company’s co-founder and CEO, says the company has been profitable since 2017. Canva has 20 million monthly users in 190 countries. In October, Canva announced an $85 million investment, with a valuation of $3.2 billion.
This is going to be bigger than yearbooks
When Perkins started the predecessor company to Canva in 2007, she was just 19. She was frustrated by how hard it was to use design software. When she started teaching design at university, she noticed that her students were similarly frustrated. With her boyfriend (now fiance), Cliff Obrecht, she built a website called Fusion Books that helped students design and publish yearbooks.
It did well–becoming the largest yearbook company in Australia and moving into France and New Zealand. Perkins quit university to work on it full-time. By 2011, Perkins and Obrecht realized Fusion Books could be much more: an engine to make it easy for anyone to design any publication. But to build that more ambitious product, they’d need outside investment.
Perkins headed to San Francisco to visit angel investor Bill Tai, who is known for making about 100 investments in startups that have yielded 19 initial public offerings. She’d met him in Perth a year earlier, where she had collected an award for innovation. “If you come to California, come see me,” he remembers telling her. “Without me knowing exactly what she was doing, she engineered a trip. She’s a very ballsy woman, if that makes sense. And I’m thinking, you know, I should help her. I know hundreds of engineers.”
Early in her San Francisco visit, Tai introduced her to Lars Rasmussen, the co-founder of the company that became Google Maps. Tai told her that if she could hire a tech team that met Rasmussen’s standards, he’d invest. “I didn’t realize at the time what that meant,” says Perkins. She bought an Ikea mattress, and planted it on the floor of her brother’s San Francisco apartment. “Obviously, that was free rent,” she says. “I had food to get by and I felt safe.”
Perkins set out initially to hire by doing the obvious: She went to every single conference she could get into. She’d speak if the organizers let her. Tai invited her to his MaiTai Global networking event in Hawaii, even though, for most attendees, a big draw was kitesurfing, which she’d never attempted. “It was great fun,” she says gamely. Then, “I really don’t like it. I have the scars to prove it. I’ve … retired from kitesurfing.”
Back in San Francisco, Perkins passed out flyers, trying to pique people’s interest. She cold-called engineers, and approached suspects on buses. She scoured LinkedIn, but Rasmussen wouldn’t even deign to meet most of her finds. “He didn’t think they had enough startup gumption or experience with a world-scale company, or with complex technology,” she said. She says fewer than five LinkedIn finds ended up interviewing with Rasmussen. He’d give them a problem-solving challenge that, inevitably, they flubbed.
After a year of this, Perkins was thoroughly frustrated. Surely it’s better to at least make some progress, she told Rasmussen, than to continue to do nothing. But he was adamant.
The perfect candidate and the bizarre pitch deck
That same year, Rasmussen introduced her to two candidates that he thought might be a good fit and recruitable. The first, Cameron Adams, a user interface designer who had worked at Google, was busy trying to raise money for his own startup. The second, Dave Hearnden, a senior engineer at Google, initially said he wasn’t interested. In 2012, both had a change of heart.
“We were absolutely over the moon,” says Perkins. Adams came on board first, as a co-founder. Hearnden, on the other hand, started to have second thoughts: Google wasn’t happy with his leaving, obviously, and was trying to get him to stay. He worried that his project would be abandoned without him, and he didn’t want to disappoint his team.
At this point, Perkins sent him something that has since become known as the Bizarre Pitch Deck. In 16 slides, the deck tells the story of a man named Dave, who longed for adventure but was torn by his loyalty for Google. In the pitch deck, as in life, Dave eventually joined Canva. It helped that Google had already poached his replacement.
In 2012, Perkins was able to raise a seed round of $1.6 million, and got another $1.4 million from the Australian government. Tai finally agreed to put in $100,000. “It was really hard for her to raise,” he says. “You’ve got a young girl in her 20s from Australia who had never worked at a company, with her live-in boyfriend as COO. People would say to me, What if they break up? I didn’t have a good answer.” Now, things look much different: Tai says Obrecht is Canva’s “secret weapon,” and that “Cliff has just blown me away.”
Keeping the bar high, hundreds of hires later
While Tai drove her nuts at the beginning, Perkins appreciates his stubbornness now. “We’ve been able to attract top talent across the globe,” she says. “It wouldn’t have been possible without setting such a high technical bar early on.” Tai says he hasn’t made exactly this condition with other startups. But he’s done it in reverse: He’s backed highly technical people without knowing what, exactly, the business opportunity would turn out to be.
The experience also showed her, the hard way, just how much effort she’d have to put into hiring if she wanted to build a successful tech company. By Canva’s second year, the company had a recruiting team. “We knew we needed to invest heavily in hiring,” she says. Now, each open position gets a strategy brief. That document lays out the goals for the person in that role and the project they will be working on. It also identifies the people who will be involved in the hiring process. “Getting everyone on the same page is really critical,” says Perkins. “It sets that person up for success.”
And like Rasmussen looking for the first technical hire, Canva asks each candidate to take a challenge. Candidates have a choice of doing a four-hour challenge or a one-hour challenge. “Maybe they’re working parents and they can do it in an hour,” says Perkins. “Other people prefer to have a longer time and work at their own pace. We’re looking for people happy to take on challenges and who get a real buzz out of being able to solve hard things.”
In in-person interviews, someone on the Canva team will almost always ask the candidate, “How would your previous boss or manager talk about your work or rate you?” Perkins says people are “surprisingly honest” in their responses. The answers help her get a window into what type of leadership allows a particular candidate to thrive. Some people require a lot of structure or hierarchy, she says, and Canva doesn’t have much of either.
“One of the things I believe quite strongly is having a really strong idea of where you’re going,” says Perkins. “I have this visual metaphor. Plant 100 seeds. Until eventually one flowers or sprouts. For most people, if you’re rejected, you feel really hurt and don’t want to continue. The reality is that you have to push through. If I had given up quickly, I certainly wouldn’t be here today.”
I was barely getting any sleep,” Umar Afridi, cofounder and CEO of Truepill, says of the tech-enabled pharmacy company’s early days. From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day, he worked at Truepill’s distribution center in Hayward, California. Then he drove to his job as a pharmacy manager at a 24-hour CVS in East San Jose. On the side, he studied for a dozen state pharmacy exams so that Truepill, which at the time had no other pharmacists on staff, could legally ship to those states. “It was a pretty crazy first year,” he says with characteristic understatement.
That craziness has paid off for Afridi, 37, and his cofounder, Sid Viswanathan, 35, who hope to upend the staid, heavily regulated pharmacy business with technology. Truepill, which is based in San Mateo, California, shipped its first prescriptions in 2016. Last year its revenue reached $48 million, helped by the fast growth of direct-to-consumer customers like Nurx, which sells birth control, and Hims, which focuses on remedies for hair loss, erectile dysfunction and acne. This year Truepill could double its revenue to $100 million, as it expands its customer base beyond direct-to-consumer medications to prescriptions that treat more serious illnesses.
Those revenue numbers gained Truepill a spot on Forbes’ Next Billion-Dollar Startups list this year, despite its having raised just $13 million in venture funding led by Initialized Capital at a valuation of $80 million in its last round. That valuation makes Truepill an outlier on the list, as does the fact that Afridi and Viswanathan own the majority of the business and plan to continue to do so after raising the next round of capital, expected before the year’s end.
Afridi and Viswanathan—and their investors—are betting that Truepill will see a big payoff as consumers move away from in-person doctor visits and to a new model of telemedicine. “This is the building block of digital health and the future of healthcare,” says Initialized managing partner Garry Tan.
Pharmacy is a roughly $400 billion business in the United States, yet only recently have entrepreneurs begun tackling the market. In 2013, two young founders launched PillPack, a retail pharmacy startup that was acquired by Amazon last year for around $750 million. Other newcomers followed, including New York City’s Capsule, which grabbed $270 million in funding to do same-day prescription delivery refilled via text.
Truepill’s difference: Its business-to-business model makes it a behind-the-scenes player, invisible to retail customers, who will never have reason to know its name. That’s by design, and it allows Truepill to sign agreements with drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers, those industry intermediaries that sit between insurers and drugmakers, without directly competing with them. “We’re not a traditional mail-order pharmacy,” Afridi says. “We’re way more than that.”
Afridi was born in Salt Lake City and grew up in Manchester, England, where his mother’s family was from. He studied pharmacy at the University of Manchester and worked as a relief pharmacist, filling in for those who went on vacation, in England. After passing the tests to practice in the United States, he took a job at Fred Meyer near Seattle. Unlike the typical pharmacist, Afridi always had an entrepreneurial side gig. During college, he imported performance cars, like the Mazda RX-7 and the Mitsubishi Evo 5, from Japan and sold them at a profit.
While working as a pharmacist, he taught himself computer programming and began playing around with the idea of an on-demand pharmacy. His goal: to ease customers’ frustrations with waiting in line to pick up medications and to cut back the phone calls and faxes required for pharmacists to do their job. “I’ve always had a passion for technology, and every time I see a problem, I think, ‘How can technology fix this?’” he says.
Viswanathan, an Indian immigrant, had worked at Johnson & Johnson, then cofounded CardMunch, a business-card scanning app. In 2011, LinkedIn bought the startup for a reported $3 million. Viswanathan stayed at the larger company after the deal, and when LinkedIn went public the stock he owned made him wealthy for the first time. “It was fairly life-changing coming from no money to having some,” he recalls. After nearly four years at LinkedIn, he was ready to leave and work on another startup. “My only criterion was what do I want to spend the next 10 years of my life on,” he says.
While he was pondering what to do next, he stumbled upon Afridi’s profile on LinkedIn—where Afridi had changed his header to “startup founder, pharmacist”—and messaged him cold to talk about healthcare. Soon the two were meeting regularly and brainstorming ideas for a business to start together.
By then, other startup pharmacies, like PillPack, were making inroads with retail customers. Rather than compete in what had become a crowded space vying for retail customers, Afridi and Viswanathan figured they could operate in the background, using technology to build an extremely efficient pharmacy distribution center. “Truepill is what you get when you put together a pharmacist and a software engineer,” Viswanathan says.
“This is the building block of digital health and the future of healthcare,” says Initialized Capital’s Garry Tan.
Their idea coincided with the rise of new direct-to-consumer health brands that needed a distributor that could follow all the pharmacy regulations. To consumers, these Instagrammable health products don’t look like drugs, and often their subscription boxes contain a mix of both prescription and over-the-counter products. But if there’s even one vial of prescription pills going out in the mail, the startup sending it needs a pharmacy to fulfill the order. In talking with Nurx, Viswanathan says, “we came to find out they were literally picking up the phone to mom-and-pop pharmacies in different states.” They gained a customer by offering a better way.
In 2017, Andrew Dudum cofounded Hims, the fast-growing direct-to-consumer therapeutics startup for men, and he, too, signed up with Truepill. “We knew from the beginning we were going to grow very fast,” Dudum says. “We expected 30 to 50 orders per day, and that was the scale we communicated to Umar and Sid that we needed to be prepared for. In the first week, we were getting 500 orders per day.” Today, Hims, which is valued at $1.1 billion, does thousands of orders per day and is one of Truepill’s largest customers. “They figured out a way to scale with us,” Dudum says.
At Truepill’s Hayward distribution center, all orders come in electronically. When Hims sends a prescription for finasteride, the male hair-loss treatment, for example, it goes through electronic vetting and then a robotic machine pulls the 1-milligram tablets from custom-made 1,000-count bottles into a small pill vial that gets labeled with Hims branding. That automation allows Truepill to work more efficiently than a traditional retail pharmacy. So, too, does its focus on a small number of medications: Ten medications, including finasteride and the erectile-dysfunction drug sildenafil, represent 80% of its volume. Its scale in those allows Truepill to turn over its inventory every few days and gives it the power to negotiate prices with drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers on those products.
“Truepill is what you get when you put together a pharmacist and a software engineer,” says cofounder Sid Viswanathan.
For Afridi and Viswanathan, direct-to-consumer medications are just the beginning. They are starting to sign agreements with drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers, though they won’t name those larger partners yet. This shift comes none too soon, as Hims has announced that it would open its own pharmacy in Ohio to shift a portion of its distribution in-house—a move that Viswanathan says will begin to impact Truepill in 2021. “Hims is a large part of the business in quantity, but not in revenue,” he says, noting that medications reimbursed by insurance are higher cost than lifestyle meds that consumers pay for out of pocket. Truepill currently has two distribution centers and is adding another five.
Afridi and Viswanathan’s next step: building a nationwide network of doctors in every state that will enable their pharmacy startup to play a bigger role in the shift to telemedicine. Those doctors will allow it to work directly with makers of specialty medications, say, so that they can distribute their medications to consumers more easily. Over time, Truepill figures its orders could rise from 5,000 to 10,000 per day to 100,000.
“Lifestyle and ED [erectile dysfunction] medications have allowed us to build the infrastructure to all these other areas,” Afridi says. “There is a lot of innovation that needs to happen in the space.”
I’m a senior editor at Forbes, where I cover manufacturing, industrial innovation and consumer products. I previously spent two years on the Forbes’ Entrepreneurs team. It’s my second stint here: I learned the ropes of business journalism under Forbes legendary editor Jim Michaels in the 1990s. Before rejoining, I was a senior writer or staff writer at BusinessWeek, Money and the New York Daily News. My work has also appeared in Barron’s, Inc., the New York Times and numerous other publications. I’m based in New York, but my family is from Pittsburgh—and I love stories that get me out into the industrial heartland. Ping me with ideas, or follow me on Twitter @amyfeldman.
Hi, I’m Garry Tan, venture capitalist and cofounder at Initialized Capital. We were earliest investors in billion dollar startups like Coinbase and Instacart, and we’re spending time with some of our best founders to learn the secrets of their success and see the future they’re building. Today I sat down with Sid Viswanathan, cofounder of Truepill, an API for all needs for telemedicine. Telemedicine has the potential to bring down costs and make high quality care more accessible for every person on the planet. We’re headed to Hayward, California, their west coast HQ and fulfillment center out of which they provide pharmacy services for dozens of telemedicine startups and practices large and small, shipping to all 50 states. Come learn about how as a founder, you need to choose a problem space that you could want to work on for 10 years or more. Please like this video and subscribe to my channel if you want to see more videos like this with top founders. Find Sid on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sidviswanathan Find Garry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/garrytan Learn more about Truepill at https://truepill.com Learn more about the companies we fund, and how we work with them at https://initialized.com
In October 2018, microbiome testing startup uBiome was riding pretty high. Less than a month before, the company had announced a shift to more therapeutic products, raised $83 million in a venture capital round, and added a former Novartis CEO to its board.
The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2012, and its first product was an at-home kit where people could provide fecal samples and send them in for genomics testing. The company then purported to provide a report about its customer’s microbiome—the bacteria present in the intestines that can have a big impact on people’s health.
The company then began offering a test for irritable bowel syndrome and a test for vaginal health. These tests required a doctor’s order. The company’s practices involving doctors who ordered those tests are reportedly under scrutiny by law enforcement, and its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing included notes about millions of dollars owed to insurance companies as refunds. In July, the company’s cofounders and co-CEOs, Jessica Richman and Zac Apte, resigned from the company.
During the company’s Chapter 11 filing, the company had indicated that it would be looking into a sale. However, according to the motion it filed in court today, the company wasn’t able to secure lending that would enable it to continue operations. As a consequence, it has requested the court allow it to cease operations and liquidate its assets in order to pay off its creditors.
The bankruptcy court still needs to approve the motion. If it is accepted and the company moves to Chapter 7, the liquidation of uBiome’s assets will happen under the supervision of a court-appointed trustee.
Like a proud parent, Jack Davis has covered the refrigerator in his Wilshire Boulevard office with artwork. But these aren’t crayon-drawn stick figures of Mom and Dad. They’re the stuff of nightmares—a demonic entity with shark teeth, a cannibal with thorns sprouting from his head, a tree that likes to disembowel its victims.
The gruesome creatures crawled out of the imagination of Davis’ Crypt TV, a digital studio that aspires to become the Marvel of monsters for mobile. Davis, 27, has raised $11 million from investors including Hollywood producer Jason Blum (Us, Ma), media mogul Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital, Huffington Post cofounder Kenneth Lerer and NBCUniversal. The four-year-old Los Angeles studio, which creates horror videos for social networks, is on track to bring in about $20 million in revenue this year through production deals, running ads for films like Crawl and selling merchandise.
When he started, “no one was doing scary for mobile,” Davis says. That signaled a missed opportunity. “This is a huge genre. It has a solid fan base, and scary movies are very, very big.”
The Golden Age of streaming has birthed Netflix competitors that cater to nearly every genre, from U.K. shows on Britbox to anime on Crunchyroll and, yes, horror on Shudder and Screambox. At the same time, studios like Elisabeth Murdoch’s Vertical Networks have built audiences that are reached primarily through mobile-first social networks such as Snapchat and Instagram, which more than a billion people visit each month.
Davis and Crypt TV cofounder Eli Roth, the film director and producer who developed Netflix’s first horror series, Hemlock Grove, bet that an audience who loved films like Jordan Peele’s Oscar-nominated Get Out would snap up suspense and horror on the small screen, too.
It’s an intuition that’s paying off. Crypt TV said on Friday that it had reached a deal with Facebook to develop five series exclusively for Facebook Watch, its on-demand video service. The deal extends a partnership started in 2018, when Facebook green-lighted a 15-episode series based on Crypt’s short film The Birch.
Facebook has been paying as much as $25 million for these original shows, though the bulk of them cost $3 to $5 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. Forbes estimates the new Crypt TV deal is valued at less than $20 million. Neither party would disclose the terms of the partnership.
Facebook might seem an unlikely place to screen monster movies for Generation Z and younger Millennials, who make up nearly half of Crypt TV’s audience. One Pew Research Center survey last year found that the world’s largest social network is no longer the most popular hangout for teens, a big drop from earlier in the decade. Plus, Facebook Watch has struggled to gain traction. A year after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched Watch to better compete with Google’s YouTube and Snapchat’s Discover, only half of Facebook users had ever heard of it, says The Diffusion Group, a media research consultancy.
Still, momentum is gathering for shows that capitalize on the network’s power to amass communities to talk about shared interests—say, Jada Pinkett Smith’s talk show, Red Table Talk, or Sorry for Your Loss, a drama on grief starring Elizabeth Olsen. Facebook says more than 140 million people each day spend at least a minute viewing Watch videos.
“It’s very hard to say that a platform … (of) two-plus billion people on it doesn’t have young people on it,” says Matthew Henick, Facebook’s head of content planning and strategy. “What Crypt does incredibly well is—because they’re able to tell their stories through many different modes or, in this case, products—they’re able to find those audiences and pull them in.”
Crypt TV taps into a community that likes to be scared. Horror has been reeling in fans on the big screen: The genre brought in a record $1 billion in box office sales in 2017, according to Comscore.
Some fans want to get their goose bumps for free. Thanks to The Birch, which was viewed 26 million times on Facebook, the studio now has 9.75 million followers, or more than triple its YouTube audience. On Davis’ fridge hang mementos from fans. One shared a photo of her tattoo—it’s of the Look-see, a creature with no eyes and flesh that’s been stitched together.
“Young people have so much emotion,” Davis says. A scary story “provides an amazing, permissive structure to take on deep emotional issues.”
A fortuitous encounter at a dinner party hosted by his parents in West Los Angeles led to the creation of Crypt TV. Then a student at Duke University, Davis found himself sitting next to Roth and began reciting dialogue from Roth’s portrayal of the bat-wielding Nazi killer Donny Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds.
The conversation turned to Davis’ career plans. The sociology and political science major said he hoped to launch his own company, capitalizing on the dramatic shift in media viewing habits he’d observed during his four years in college. Roth had a suggestion.
“I said, ‘You know that audience that’s going to see horror movies now’—because obviously now horror has exploded—‘They’re all on their phones,’” Roth recalls. “What is the next generation of characters? Who is creating the new Freddy Krueger? Is there a way to launch a Freddy? A Jason? A Michael Myers? A Chucky? Just on your phone?”
Roth introduced him to Blum, who became Crypt TV’s earliest investor and served as a mentor to the company’s 23-year-old founder.
An early success was #6SecondScare, an October 2014 online competition that encouraged users of Vine, Twitter’s six-second video service, to upload their scariest videos.
Roth lent his name to the contest and coaxed Hollywood celebrities including Quentin Tarantino and High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens to promote it and serve as judges. #6SecondScare attracted 20,000 submissions and ended up featured on ABC’s Good Morning America.
In the summer of 2015, Davis’ team launched Snapchat Murder Mystery, a show that gathered ten social media influencers to a mansion party, then killed off their characters in an Agatha Christie-styled whodunit. A year later came Crypt TV’s breakthrough moment with The Birch. The four-minute video follows a terrified schoolboy who summons an ancient being in the woods to dispense a particularly bloody form of retribution on the boy’s tormentor.
Davis faces his own monster lurking in the dark: Quibi. The mobile video subscription service comes with a Hollywood pedigree, a $1 billion cash horde and some of the best-known filmmakers in horror, Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth) and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead), as well as Blum, producing original content.
Quibi launches in April—though Crypt TV, in classic horror film fashion, has gotten a running start.