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Contact, a platform for creatives backed by Maisie Williams, raises $1.9M Seed led by Founders Fund – TechCrunch

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With the pandemic digitizing every aspect of our lives, the Creator Economy has taken off like never before, with some estimates saying it’s now a $100Bn+ market. And yet, managing your professional life as a model, actor, writer or designer remains a mish-mash of emails, manual booking processes, and dreaded PDFs. Creatives face late payments, often opaque industry practices, even as top talent agencies have collectively achieved a valuation of $20Bn in value. But while modeling talent can be charged as much as a 20-40% commission fee, social media has been gradually displacing traditional agencies by reducing the barriers to entry and making talent more accessible. However, as everyone knows, social media is nowhere near a place anyone can manage their career.

Late last year the Contact platform launched, initially offering models a way to take bookings and manage some aspects of their work. It’s now looking to address the wider problems referred to above, with a new round of funding involving some key players in the creative industries.

It’s backed and supported by Maisie Williams, best known for her work on Game of Thrones, who has become Creative Strategist and Advisor to the startup after becoming a passionate advocate for better conditions for creatives in the industry.

Contact has now raised a $1.9 million (£1.4 million) Seed round of funding led by Founders Fund. Also participating is LAUNCH (the fund led by investors Jason Calacanis), Sweet Capital (via Pippa Lamb), Rogue VC (via Alice Lloyd George) and Angel investors Simon Beckerman (co-founder of Depop), Eric Wahlforss (co-founder of SoundCloud and now Dance), Abe Burns and Joe White.

Although Contact’s initial incarnation is addressing the modeling world, its vision is far bigger. Contact co-founder and CEO Reuben Selby — a fashion designer who was formerly of William’s founding team, when she started her career — has worked with Nike, Thom Browne, and JW Anderson. He says the platform aims to become a scalable back-end solution across the $104.2 Billion Creator Economy, “democratizing” access to the world’s best creative talent.

Reuben Selby

Selby, who recently spoke about being a founder with autism is also the founder and creative director of his own label Reuben Selby, and co-founder of Cortex a creative agency and community. Selby is joined by CTO Josh McMillan previously of Deliveroo, Daisie, the Government Digital Service, and among others.

While its competitors might, broadly speaking, include Patreon, Creatively, and The Dots, it’s fair to say that Contact’s vision to bring many aspects of these platforms under one roof could be described as ambitious, it is also tantalising.

In a radical move for what is an industry dominated by agencies, individuals and businesses can discover and book creators and creative services directly, without going through an agency.

Contact initially launched its platform in October 2020 with the ability to discover and book fashion models, but post-fundraising plans to roll out other creative verticals such as photographers, stylists, videographers, and more.

Selby says the idea for Contact has been informed by his own personal experiences trying to break into the creative industry as a model, photographer, and creative director. After finding scant methods for secure and safe ways to get paid – while booking companies lacked basic technological tools – he realized that ‘middle-men’ and agencies were there main ones that benefitted, taking cuts on both sides and often still delivering a sub-par-product.

So how does Contact work?

When a Creator joins, they are able to showcase their portfolio across different creative services and take direct bookings.

A business can then browse and discover talent using filters, shortlist creative talent, providing details about the job, and book creators directly. Creatives can accept or reject jobs via the web platform or, soon, via a smartphone app. Once the job has been completed, the talent gets paid out via Contact.

Since soft-launching within the modeling vertical, Contact says it has onboarded almost 600 creatives and over 1,400 clients including Depop, Farfetch, Nike, Vivienne Westwood, and Vogue. Users of the platform have increased 100% YoY, says the startup.

Selby says Contact intends to remain in the background and allow the talent to brand itself independently across different verticals. Crucially, Contact does not take money from creators, only booking companies, from which it will levy a 20% fee on transactions.

Commenting, Trae Stephens, Partner at Founders Fund, said: “We are always excited when we find founders who seem to have been born to build a specific company. Reuben definitely seems like one of those founders. We are really excited to watch the company scale and expand into new creative verticals.”

Pippa Lamb, Partner at Sweet Capital, added: “The team at Contact have been pushing frontiers in the creator economy long before ‘the creator economy’ became a buzzword. Contact possesses a rare combination of world-class technical talent with the raw innovation of today’s most creative minds. We are excited about this next chapter.”

Williams, best known for playing Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, is no stranger to working on startups. She previously contributed to the Daisie platform, which continues to connect creators with one another to work on each others’ projects, helping creators find collaborators for their art.

But clearly her desire to disrupt the creative world largely controlled by ‘middle men’ was not sated by the experience.

Speaking to me in an exclusive interview, Williams and Selby outlined their vision:

Selby said the existing marketplace for models is just the start: “The vision has always been about creatives, and getting creatives paid for their work. We basically started out in one vertical, the modeling industry… and we’re in the process of rolling out new verticals so bringing on photographers, makeup artists, stylists, etc. But that’s a very very small part of the overall vision.”

He said the focus now is “on the distribution of work, how that relationship works with that audience, how they can monetize it. So it’s basically giving them a toolkit to monetize their creativity rather than just the physical constraints. That’s what we’re exploring right now. We have this marketplace but we see that as being a very small part, but the larger piece.”

He said the marketplace model can connect brands directly to creators or creatives, but, he said, brands continue to have a great deal of power: “The creators are just sitting there waiting for somebody to give them something. So we’re now working out how they can just distribute by their own work and monetize it in their own ways, with the back end of how all of the logistics work, and the operational side handled by the product that we’ve built, handling the payments and the licensing and insurance.”

Despite being a major Hollywood star, Williams told me the creative and entertainment industry she’s familiar with and works in remains stuck in an old world of emails and links, rather than the kinds of platforms the tech industry is used to building and using: “Being someone who has been represented by talent agencies for my career, that whole interaction online is emails. At no point are any of the assets digitised. There’s no ‘vault’ where all of my scripts go. There’s no place where I can upload all of my audition tapes. It’s always just a link in an email. There’s not really an industry standard. From an agency perspective, none of the work that they is very streamlined or directional.”

She says that need to change: “There’s a casting process and at the moment, and it’s a hugely dated way of doing things between the casting directors and the actors, the writers etc. We want to build a very streamlined process.”

Speaking about the investors he’s assembled to back Contact, Selby said the team chose Founders Fund to be their lead investor because of their approach: “The way that they work with founders… I found that personally very empowering. [They] give you a lot of freedom and space to think creatively. So there was a clear alignment.”

Talking about the other Angel investors in the round he said: “People like Eric and Simon are majorly connected in fashion and music culture in general.”

Speaking about how the entertainment industry might react to Contact, Williams said: “Actors have many other things that they do. Being able to have a platform that they can monetize all those other things is really important, especially because, as an actor you spend a lot of time unemployed.” But said the system is constructed in such as a way that “you’re only valuable as the auditions your agent puts you up for. It’s not very inspiring or rewarding. So a lot of actors make their own shows on streaming platforms or create their own documentaries or sell their work in other ways.”

She said Contact wants to be able to facilitate that through the platform, and for creatives to have more independence: “The film industry and the music industry is full of incredibly talented people who are multi-talented across many different industries. But they are still, kind of held by representatives and agencies and record labels or managers who have a lot of power in, sort of, keeping them ‘small’. Being able to introduce something which can offer so many other tools, I think, is really important.”

It’s clear that the vision Selby, his co-founders, and Williams have, is very big. The question is, will they be able to pull it off?

It has to be said, however, that the combination of a passionate Gen-Z-influential team (with added star power), a full-blown technology platform, heavyweight US investors, and Angels pulled from creative industries certainly points to the potential for success.



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Bolt to expand EV option in South Africa – TechCrunch

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Estonian on-demand transport firm Bolt is set to roll out electric taxi options in South Africa four months after introducing e-bike food delivery services in the country.

Bolt’s plan follows the introduction of a ‘green category’ – which lets riders hail an electric or a hybrid vehicle. This comes as the company expands its services to environmentally friendly modes of transport.

“We are looking to roll out a green taxi category in South Africa in the next few months, and plan to roll out green categories in other African markets,” said Bolt’s regional director for Africa and Middle East, Paddy Partridge.

The company already offers a green option in Kenya, where it also runs e-bike food delivery. It also plans to launch e-mobility options for food delivery in its other markets across East Africa, including Uganda and Tanzania. 

Founded in 2013 by Markus Villig, the tech firm, which has operations in 45 countries – including seven in Africa – runs a gamut of services comprising ride-hailing, car, scooter and bike rentals, food delivery, and recently grocery delivery, fashioning itself as a transport and deliveries company.

“In East Africa we see a lot of potential on the motorbike side, and especially for delivery. We plan to invest more in this direction as it also serves to eliminate the challenges associated with constantly fluctuating fuel prices, currently the most significant operating cost for our couriers,” said Partridge.

Opportunities for electric mobility are said to be huge, but a majority of countries lack the necessary infrastructure to support their adoption, says a UNEP report

A lack of recharging infrastructure, low grid power connectivity, and generally expensive e-vehicles remain hindrances to the adoption of electric transportation options in many African countries. 

A transition to electric power would offer countries in sub-Saharan Africa a range of gains, including affordable transport and a reduction in emissions, with fossil-fuel vehicles contributing 12% of the region’s total emissions, according to the SSA Nature Sustainability report.

Bolt is planning arrangements with banking institutions in its markets in Africa to help its drivers access credit for purchasing electric vehicles, exploring other options away from its current scheme with leasing companies.

“The purchase cost and import duties are often high, thereby deterring ownership. We are exploring a number of vehicle financing partnerships in Kenya and South Africa for electric cars and bikes, which would help make it easier for drivers to get access to, and eventually own, electric vehicles,” he said.

The company’s plan to expand its offering across the continent comes in the wake of growing competition from companies such as Uber, which is currently testing a carpooling service in Nairobi, with plans to roll it out in Ghana and Nigeria.

Bolt recently launched the food delivery service in Nigeria, and also expanded its reach in South Africa by rolling out the service in Johannesburg after introducing it in Cape Town last year.

This comes in the wake of the company’s recent $696 million (€600M) funding round that the tech firm said will go into growing the new grocery delivery service, Bolt Market, as well as in expanding its other transport and delivery services. 

Sequoia Capital, Tekne Capital, and Ghisallo, G Squared, D1 Capital, and Naya Capital are some of the investors that participated in the funding round that increased its valuation to €4 billion. The new funding came after the International Finance Corporation injected $24 million (€20) into the business at the beginning of the year.

Among the services it is looking to grow is Bolt Drive, the car rental service launched early this year to offer different choices including compact, mid-size, electric, premium, SUV, and van. The service is currently available in Estonia’s capital Tallin with plans to roll it out in other Europe and Africa markets. Bolt Drive adds to the micro-mobility options – scooters and e-bikes – that the company introduced in line with its goal of availing to the masses, more budget environmentally friendly transport solutions. The e-mobility service is available in over 100 cities across Europe.

“We continue to scale up our operations for the benefit of our customers.  Our core business is to provide reliable, safe and affordable transportation services to everyone and we are excited to make travel easier and quicker in many cities across the continent,” said Partridge.



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“Pikmin Bloom,” an AR mobile game, is Niantic’s next collaboration with Nintendo – TechCrunch

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Niantic announced yesterday that its next augmented reality mobile game will be Pikmin Bloom, a collaboration with Nintendo. The free game is available now for iOS and Android in Singapore and Australia, but will roll out globally in the coming days.

Like Pokémon Go, Pikmin Bloom will encourage players to get outside and explore their neighborhoods. Only now, instead of catching Pidgey and Rattata, you’ll collect seedlings and create a squad of Pikmin. The more you walk, the more Pikmin you’ll collect. These plant-animal hybrid creatures come from Nintendo’s strategy and puzzle game franchise of the same name.

Pikmin Bloom marks the sixth installment in the Pikmin video game series. There are many different types of Pikmin to interact with, and as you walk alongside them, you’ll leave augmented reality trails of flowers behind you. According to in-game footage in the announcement video (seen above), it looks like you can customize your avatar as a Mii.

Another feature that borrows from Pokémon Go is Pikmin Bloom’s monthly Community Day events. In the former, players are lured outdoors with special bonuses and rare featured Pokémon once per month, encouraging people to get outside and befriend fellow players. Niantic hasn’t released details, but the company said that it will host monthly Community Day events for Pikmin as well to plant and play together.

Pokémon Go has a weekly pop-up on Monday mornings that shows you how far you’ve walked that week. But Pikmin seems more specifically geared toward encouraging movement, showing the routes you walked and the steps you took at the end of every day.

The last time the two companies released a game together, it shattered expectations — so, no pressure to our floral friends. Even if Pokémon Go doesn’t feel as ubiquitous as it did in summer 2016, it’s making Niantic more money than ever, netting over $1 billion in 2020. But it doesn’t quite seem like there’s as much to do yet in Pikmin Bloom as there is in Pokémon Go or Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. So, this game might be geared toward a more casual crowd who just want to see some pretty pixels while they walk — no shiny-hunting and raid battle coordination here…at least not yet.



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QOA brings in seed round to do for chocolate what Oatly did for milk – TechCrunch

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Munich-based QOA is gearing up to be among the first to bring a chocolate product to market that is 100% cocoa free.

It is also now backed by $6 million in seed funding in an investment round led by Cherry Ventures with participation by 50years, World Fund, Nucleus Capital, Trellis Road, Pioneer Fund and Tet Ventures.

The company kicked off this year, founded by the sister-and-brother team of Drs. Sara and Maximilian Marquart. Sara Marquart is a food chemist with a specialty in flavor formation, while Max Marquart is a material scientist and now three-time entrepreneur.

QOA, chocolate

QOA’s product test kit

The global chocolate confectionery industry was valued at over $208 billion in 2020, and is the largest part of the industry in the U.S. Two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa, but is at risk — one of the reasons the Marquarts decided to focus on it. Currently, up to 50% of the current cocoa supply is at risk due to pathogens and climate change, and cocoa is playing a role in both deforestation and forced child labor.

“Our food supply is threatened due to the way we eat,” Max Marquart told TechCrunch. “We love chocolate, however, we realized that there are some sustainability risks and wanted to do something about it so we can still have it in the future.”

Companies, like California Cultured and Voyager Foods, are also creating chocolate without the cocoa using different approaches. Meanwhile, QOA developed a fermentation process that uses natural byproducts from other food-making processes for its base material. It then uses proprietary microbactera and flavor formation to create a vegan product that mimics the texture and flavor of chocolate, but without any artificial additives, he said.

The fermentation process will enable the company to scale production by 2035 and be able to price its products the same or below the cost of traditional chocolate. In fact, Marquart is predicting that in the future, the chocolate market will have two pillars: one half that is exclusive, expensive products made with normal cocoa, and the other QOA products.

QOA was part of Y Combinator this year and was able to get its product test kit going so people can sample nine options. Marquart expects to have QOA’s first product on the market in 2022, and the new funding will go toward building out its first pilot production facility in Munich to complement one it has in Switzerland and hiring.

The company is in talks with its first business-to-business customers and expects to close some smaller contracts soon, Marquart  said.

“After that, we will go after our Series A so we can build out larger production lines,” he added.



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How to root out shadow IT and maximize SaaS investments – TechCrunch

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Growing reliance on SaaS has opened the door to shadow IT: SaaS applications bought by individual employees without the knowledge or approval of their organization’s IT department.

While shadow IT can be an opportunity for innovation, if left unaddressed, it can lead to risks like duplicate subscriptions, wasted IT spend, a lack of compliance and greater risk of a data breach.

By leveraging SaaS management and taking some steps, businesses can more effectively manage shadow IT, gain a competitive edge, reduce unnecessary costs and empower a distributed workforce.

To avoid the negative consequences associated with shadow IT, you need to give IT teams visibility into your organization’s entire SaaS portfolio. Once IT has a line of sight into all applications in use and how they are used, they are positioned to optimize investments. Maximize your SaaS investments with these tips:

Implementing self-service SaaS at your organization is easier than you may think.

Discover all SaaS applications and spending

Some organizations take a spreadsheet-based approach to managing their SaaS applications. Others turn to web browser plugins, single sign-on tools and cloud access security brokers. But these discovery processes can be time-consuming and involve piecing together SaaS inventories from disparate sources, often resulting in records that are out of date before they’re even completed.

Even the most detailed, frequently updated spreadsheet is not always the most effective way to manage SaaS, especially when you consider that organizations manage over 650 SaaS applications on average, and they underestimate the number of SaaS applications within their ecosystem by two to three times. If you don’t know a SaaS application exists, how can you manage and budget for it?

To optimize your SaaS portfolio, you have to start with gaining complete visibility. Tools like SaaS management platforms with machine learning capabilities that detect SaaS purchases enable continuous discovery of software. These solutions can also integrate with your financial management systems to discover purchases.

It’s critical for this strategy to happen in real time so you have a picture of your tech ecosystem that’s always complete, accurate and up to date.

Optimize and rightsize licenses and features

Do you have as many active users as you accounted for or could you downgrade your plan? Perhaps an employee left, but their accounts were never deactivated. In practice, you may not need all the premium features or seats you’ve paid for, which means there could be opportunities to reduce your SaaS spend.



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Apple launches Fitness+ group workouts powered by SharePlay – TechCrunch

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Apple has launched a new way for Fitness+ users to work out or meditate with people in other locations through group workouts powered by SharePlay. The tech giant first teased the feature at its September 14th virtual event.

Fitness+ subscribers can use SharePlay to start a group workout or meditation session with up to 32 other people while using FaceTime on an iPhone or iPad. The Fitness+ session will stream completely in sync for everyone on the call.

To begin a group session, users need to start a FaceTime call and navigate to the Fitness+ app. From there, you can select a workout and get started. SharePlay also works with Apple TV so users can follow the workout on a larger screen while staying connected with their friends on FaceTime through their iPhone or iPad.

Apple notes that when you work out in a group through SharePlay, you’ll see their metrics and progress toward closing their Activity rings. When someone closes their Activity rings during a workout, everyone in the session will be notified.

Additionally, Fitness+ will be available in 15 new countries on November 3rd, including Austria, Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates. Fitness+ will be available in English, with subtitles in Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish.

The service is currently available in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K. With this upcoming expansion, Fitness+ will be available in 21 countries in total.

Apple also says that ​​beginning November 1, 2021, around 3 million fully insured UnitedHealthcare members in the U.S. will be able to enroll with Apple Fitness+ for a year-long subscription, at no additional cost as part of their plan benefits.

Fitness+ is also introducing a new episode of its Time to Walk series, which is an immersive audio walking experience, with actor and disability advocate Marilee Talkington. In this episode, she talks about defying expectations and how she helps empower others to do the same.

Apple launched Fitness+ on December 14, 2021, and has since worked to compete with other subscription fitness offerings, including Peloton. Fitness+ is available as a standalone subscription for $9.99 per month, or as a part of the Apple One Premier plan for $29.95 per month, which gives users access to Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News+, and iCloud+ with 2TB of storage.



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Marcy Venture Partners, cofounded by Jay-Z, just closed its second fund with $325 million – TechCrunch

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Marcy Venture Partners, the venture firm cofounded in 2018 by Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), former Roc Nation CEO Jay Brown, and former Walden VC general partner Larry Marcus, says it has closed its second fund with $325 million in capital commitments. The team, which closed its debut fund with $85 million, is now managing $600 million in assets altogether, says cofounder Marcus.

The firm describes itself as having a “consumer, culture and positive impact” investment strategy, and it says the majority of its existing portfolio companies are founded or run by people who identify as women or people of color.

To date, the trio has written checks to at least 21 companies, including in fashion, skin care, and food companies. Among those many bets includes Rihanna’s lingerie company Savage X Fenty; the sneaker marketplace StockX; Therabody, which makes percussion therapy tools; Simulate, which makes plant-based, chicken-flavored nuggets; and an allergen-free cookie maker called Partake Foods.

Carter and company have also begun investing in crypto projects, supporting Bitski, a San Francisco-based startup NFT marketplace, earlier this year, and investing more recently in spatial LABS (sLABS), a tech incubator that focuses on the metaverse and blockchain-based products

The San Francisco- and L.A.-based firm, named after the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn where Carter grew up, was initially targeting $200 million for the newest fund, per an SEC filing from April.



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Heart to Heart raises $750K to bring sweet, sweet flirtation to your ear-holes – TechCrunch

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Radio has long been described as the most intimate of media. Quips about putting radio on the internet aside, the persistent popularity of podcasting and the cockamamie climb of Clubhouse shows that audio-based platforms will continue to echo around the upper echelons of the ecosystem for a while yet. Joining the fray is Heart to Heart, an audio-first dating app aiming to bring back some intimacy to the process of finding the right person for your next foray, whether that’s a saucy encounter or a mate for life.

“I used to act, and from my time in acting, I saw how much voice, and audio experiences drive intimacy between people,” explains Joshua Ogundu, co-founder and CEO of Heart to Heart. “When it came down to the dating apps, it was never something I could get into. I felt like you needed to come up with a textual one-liner. That was never my way of approaching romantic conversations.”

Heart to Heart is pushing back against the endless swiping and messaging of many of its competitors, offering a contrasting experience to sending the same opening line to dozens of people or typing with your thumbs until deep into the night.

“I believe that the best consumer investments come from people who have unique insights on consumer behavior and ways that new tech products can allow new forms of social interaction,” said Charles Hudson from Precursor Ventures, who led the pre-seed investment round. “I have been a big fan of Josh’s TikTok videos for some time and his ability to poke at the tech industry with timely, relevant videos really showcased his creativity and ability to communicate via short-form video. I think the idea around confirming photos, storytelling, and audio will yield a product that really speaks to people’s unmet needs around communication and will create a whole new way for people to connect.”

While Precursor doesn’t particularly focus on audio-first startups, the team has seen a number of opportunities in that space. It was an early investor in Howard Akumiah’s company, Betty Labs (acquired by Spotify), as well as Isa Watson’s company (Squad), Falon Fatemi’s company (Fireside) and several others that are still in stealth.

“I believe that there is a major wave of interesting activity happening around non-music audio and I believe that we are still in the early innings of non-music, audio-driven social experiences,” says Hudson. “The last two companies that I feel really innovated in this category were Tinder and Bumble. I think Josh and his team have a new mechanic that feels differentiated and unique and I think it has the potential to be the foundation for a new way for people to meet and get to know each other in ways that aren’t easily accomplished today.”

Joshua Ogundu, co-founder and CEO of Heart to Heart (Photo provided by Heart to Heart)

The company raised the pre-seed round of $750,000. The round was led by Precursor Ventures, and Bryce Roberts of OATV & Angelica Nwandu of The Shade Room partnered on the investment, as well as Marie Rocha at Realist Ventures. In addition, a number of angel investors joined the round, including Chris Bennett (Wonderschool), Andy Weissman (USV) and Gregory Levey (Robinson Huntly).

“The main thing we are trying to accomplish with the $750K, is to focus on building our iOS app, and making LA our first launch market,” says Ogundu. “Dating is such a local experience, and it makes sense to us to build and improve locally, then scaling it up from there.”

“Voice is so intentional and intimate, and that is exactly what we’re building here at Heart to Heart,” says Ogundu, suggesting that the voice mechanic is helpful in a dating context because it helps slow people down. “I think that because it takes more energy to send that voice snippet to someone, you’ll be more intentional with who you even look to strike up conversations with.”

The founding team consists of Joshua Ogundu, who wears the CEO hat. He is joined by Arihant Jain and Komal Shrivastava, who have been heading up the engineering and design efforts. The company hopes to get its product to market by the end of the year.



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