Berkshire Hathaway reportedly agrees to buy stake in One97, owner of Paytm

Berkshire Hathaway has reportedly agreed to buy a stake in One97, the owner of India’s largest digital payments service Paytm . This would mark the first time the investment firm has invested in an Indian startup. According to Indian financial news site Mint, which first broke the news, Berkshire Hathaway, the investment firm headed by Warren Buffett, is set to buy shares worth about $300 million to $350 million, at a valuation of about $10 billion to $12 billion.

Another report in Bloomberg says Berkshire Hathaway will acquire a 3% to 4% stake in One97.

Paytm’s investors already include SoftBank, which led a $450 million round in Paytm earlier this year, and Alibaba. Already India’s largest digital wallet and payment service with 230 million registered users, Paytm has recently focused on adding a host of new mobile services that could potentially turn it into a WhatsApp competitor, including a messenger and games.

A spokesperson for One97 declined to comment. TechCrunch has also contacted Berkshire Hathaway.

Japanese fintech startup Paidy lands strategic investment from Visa

A month after announcing its $55 million Series C, Japanese fintech startup Paidy has snagged a strategic investment from payment giant Visa.

Paidy didn’t disclose how much Visa put into its business, which has raised over $80 million to date, but it did say that it will work with the credit card giant to develop “new digital payment experiences” in Japan.

For those in need of a refresher, the Paidy service is aimed at making it easier to shop online in Japan, which is the world’s fourth largest e-commerce market with high credit card penetration but yet many consumers opt for cash on delivery.

The startup asserts that cash accounts for some 40 percent of the country’s 16.5 trillion yen ($148 billion) annual e-commerce spend because credit card payments are cumbersome and cash is just more simple. It’s certainly true that whipping out your card and keying in digits is a pain, while Japanese systems layer on other security checks that make the process more tedious.

Paidy’s answer is an account tied to a customer’s phone number or email address that sits as a payment option at e-commerce checkouts. Payment itself requires entry of a confirmation code, and that’s it. Added to the simplicity, Paidy also offers various payback options to effectively give users the features of a credit card.

The company claims there are 1.5 million active Paidy accounts and it is aiming to grow that figure to 11 million by 2020. The main rocket for reaching that ambitious target is onboarding large retailers who integrate the service into their online sales process. That’s a tactic that has worked well for Paidy so far, but it’s also clearly an area where Visa’s network can be massively beneficial, especially if they are joint products on offer.

With Paidy operating like a virtual credit card system that rivals plastic cards, Visa has seen enough to warrant coming on board the project, according to Chris Clark, Visa’s Asia Pacific regional president.

“We have been following Paidy’s progress and the enhanced shopping experience they provide at the time of purchase. In Japan there is enormous opportunity to bring consumers more options to pay, whether all at once or in instalments, especially when shopping across multiple channels,” Clark said in a statement.

Paidy counts Itochu Corporation, Goldman Sachs, Eight Roads — the investment arm of Fidelity — SBI Holdings, SBI’s FinTech Business Innovation LPS, Arbor Ventures and SIG Asia as existing investors.

Alibaba confirms it raised $3B for its newly consolidated local services business

Alibaba has confirmed that it has raised $3 billion for its new-look local services business after it united its Koubei local services business with Ele.me, the on-demand delivery business it recently acquired.

The company said it put the capital into the business alongside SoftBank, according to a note within its financial results that were released today. TechCrunch understands that the actual amount raised may increase as existing Koubei investors have an option to be a part of the new round, while new backers may also be added. Bloomberg previously reported the consolidation and investment.

From the filing:

We have established a company to hold Ele.me and Koubei as our combined flagship local services vehicle, which we plan to separately capitalize with investments from Alibaba, Ant Financial and third-party investors. As of the time of this announcement, we have received over US$3 billion in new investment commitments, including from Alibaba and SoftBank. As a result of this reorganization, subject to closing conditions, we will consolidate Koubei, which would result in a material one-off revaluation gain when the transaction closes.

Koubei, the company’s local services platform, got a $1.1 billion injection in early 2017 and is predominantly focused on enabling local commerce. Other investors besides Alibaba include Silver Lake, CDH Investments, Yunfeng Capital and Primavera Capital.

Ele.me, meanwhile, first landed an investment from Alibaba two years ago. The e-commerce giant bought it out in April in a deal that valued Ele.me at $9.5 billion. Ele.me is a key piece of Alibaba’s recent partnership with Starbucks — the on-demand service will be used to deliver coffee to Starbucks customers across China as the U.S. coffee giant seeks out new growth opportunities and competes with rival services.

The deal may be a footnote in Alibaba’s Q1 earnings report but it is representative of a new battle that’s taking place to own China’s ‘local services’ market. That is on-demand services such as groceries deliveries, takeouts, movie tickets and other commercial activities within local areas.

Meituan Dianping, a firm backed by Alibaba rival Tencent, has led the charge into local services. The company was formed from a merger deal involving China’s two largest group deals sites in 2015 and it has since raised significant capital, including a $4 billion round two years ago.

Meituan’s next act is an IPO in Hong Kong, and the ambitious firm has expanded into ride-hailing to take on Didi Chuxing, bike-sharing via a $2.7 billion acquisition of Mobike, and even Southeast Asia, where it invested in ride-hailing startup Go-Jek.

Local services — and in particular food delivery — remains its core focus. Alibaba is betting that pairing Koubei with Ele.me, throwing in a couple of billion and adding a dash of SoftBank can give it a strong rival that can compete for China’s ‘online to offline’ market. Another war is brewing.

Alibaba shrugs off China concerns as revenue jumps 61%

Mail digitizing service Earth Class Mail acquires receipt digitizing service Shoeboxed

Earth Class Mail, a company that digitizes your physical mail so you don’t have to go to the mailbox every day, today announced that it has acquired receipt scanning and expense tracking service Shoeboxed.

The reason Earth Class Mail would be interested in Shoeboxed is pretty obvious, given that both companies focus on taking the pain out of dealing with paper. Both services will continue to operate as usual, though we’ll likely see some deep integrations between the two over time.

Shoeboxed, which launched eleven years ago, currently digitizes over five million documents per year for its over 1 million customers in 90 countries. Its main market is small businesses in the U.S., though, which make up 500,000 of its users.

“When we started in 2008 and put the first iPhone app in the app store to scan receipts; there was one other powerhouse around helping small business go digital — Earth Class Mail,” the company’s CEO and co-founder Tobias Walter tells us. “The combined power of our two companies will be a massive shift for small businesses to finally become paperless and say goodbye to old workflows that cost them hours of their productivity. I could not be happier with the new home we found for the company, the team, and our customers!”

What sets Earth Class Mail apart from the United States Postal Service’s Informed Delivery service is that it not only scans the outside of the envelopes that you are about to receive but that you can also give the company permission to scan all the documents inside, too (and the price you pay for the service depends mostly on how many of these full scans you want per month). While Oregon-based Earth Class Mail had to file for bankruptcy protection in 2015, its new leadership team turned the company around. The company says that its annual run rate is now $10 million, up 20 since Jess Garza become its new CEO last December.

Walter also notes that users would occasionally send unopened envelopes, too, but the company wasn’t allowed to open them. These customers can now easily become Earth Class Mail users.

Over the course of its existence, Shoeboxed only raised a moderate amount of funding, with a $580,000 Series A round led by Novak Biddle Venture Partners in 2008 (when Series A rounds were still much smaller than today) and a $1.4 million Series B round in 2011. The financial details of today’s acquisition were not disclosed.

Braavo raises $6M for its app financing business

Braavo, a startup that provides financing to mobile app developers, is announcing that it has raised $6 million in Series A funding.

The might not seem like much compared to the $70 million that Braavo announced raising last year, but that was debt financing, used to loan money to developers. This new round is equity financing, used to fund Braavo’s own operations and growth.

Co-founder Mark Loranger told me Braavo was founded in 2015 in response to the “new dynamics” of mobile app businesses. And it’s worked with developers including Verv, Fanatee and Pixite.

“The data is there to create ways to provide financing to companies that otherwise would have to raise more [venture funding] and dilute themselves,” Loranger said.

For its first financing product, Braavo looks at Apple App Store and Google Play data, specifically the amount of money already earned by an app but not yet paid out. It can then provide an advance on some of that revenue.

Loranger described Braavo’s newer product as “more exciting” and “more data-driven.” It looks at user acquisition, user engagement and revenue, projecting how revenue would grow if a developer had more money for user acquisition — and then it can provide debt financing for that growth.

Braavo gets paid back as “a fixed percentage of future earnings,” Loranger said, so its incentives are aligned with the developers: “We only make our money back as they earn more revenue in the future.” And if app revenue doesn’t grow as anticipated, that just means Braavo gets paid back more slowly.

“We’ve never, ever lost a dime,” he said.

The company is also announcing the launch of a new analytics product that will allow businesses to track key metrics like the lifetime value of their customers.

Loranger said this will be available for free to anyone to anyone with a “revenue-generating mobile app business.” Rather than charging for the product directly, the goal is to “create more success for mobile app business that may end up qualifying for funding.”

The new round brings Braavo’s total equity financing to nearly $8 million. It was led by e.ventures, with participation from SWS Venture Capital (founded by Green Dot CEO Steve Streit) and Shipt CEO Bill Smith.

RDMD attacks rare diseases with data mined from health records

You wouldn’t expect a medical app to get its start as a Snapchat competitor. Neither did video chat startup TapTalk’s founder Onno Faber. But four years ago he was diagnosed with a rare disease called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 that caused tumors leading Onno to lose hearing in one ear. He’s amongst the one in ten people with an uncommon health condition suffering from the lack of data designed to invent treatments for their ails. And he’s now the co-founder of RDMD.

Emerging from stealth today, RDMD aggregates and analyzes medical records and sells the de-identified data to pharmaceutical companies to help them develop medicines. In exchange for access to the data, patients gets their fragmented medical records organized into an app they can use to track their treatment and get second opinions. It’s like Flatiron Health, the Google-backed cancer data startup that just got bought for $2 billion, but for rare diseases.

Now RDMD is announcing it’s raised a $3 million seed round led by Lux Capital and joined by Village Global, Shasta, Garuda, First Round’s Healthcare Coop, and a ton of top healthtech angels including Flatiron investors and board members. The cash will help RDMD expand to build out its product and address more rare diseases.

RDMD founders (from left): Nancy Yu and Onno Faber

We believe that the traditional way rare disease R&D is done needs to change” RDMD CEO Nancy Yu tells TechCrunch. The former head of corp dev at 23andme explains that, “There are over 7,000 rare diseases and growing, yet <5% of them have an FDA-approved therapy . . . it’s a massive problem.” 

While data infrastructure supports development of treatments for more common diseases like cancer and diabetes, rare diseases have been ignored because it’s wildly expensive and difficult to collect the high-quality data required to invent new medicines. But “RDMD generates research-grade, regulatory-grade data from patient medical records for use in rare disease drug R&D” says Yu. The more data it can collect, the more pharma companies can do to help patients.

Trading Utility For Patient Data

With RDMD’s app, a patient’s medical data that’s strewn across hospitals and health facilities can be compiled, organized and synthesized. Handwritten physicians’ notes and faxes are digitized with optical character recognition, structuring the data for scientific research. RDMD lays out a patients’ records in a disease-specific timeline that summarizes their data that can be kept updated, delivered to specialists for consultations, or shared with their family and caregivers.

If users opt in, that data can be anonymized and provided to research organizations, hospitals, and pharma companies that pay RDMD, though these patients can delete their accounts at any time. Since it’s straight from the medical records, the data is reliable enough to be regulation-compliant and research-ready. That allows it to accelerate the drug development process that’s both lucrative and life-saving. “It normally takes millions of dollars over several years to gather this type of data in rare diseases” Yu notes. “For the first time, we have a centralized and consented set of data for use in translational research, in a fraction of the time and cost.”

So far, RDMD has enrolled 150 patients with neurofibromatosis. But the potential to expand to other rare diseases attracted a previous pre-seed round from Village Global and new funding from angels like Clover Health CEO and Flatiron board member Vivek Garipalli, Flatiron investor and GV (Google Ventures) partner Vineeta Agarwala, Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal, former 23andme president Andy Page, and the husband and wife duo of former Instagram VP of product Kevin Weil and 137 Ventures managing director Elizabeth Weil.

“Onno and Nancy realized there’s an opportunity to do in rare diseases what Flatiron has done in oncology — to aggregate clinical data from patients, and to leverage that data in clinical trials and other use cases for biotech and pharma” says Shasta partner Nikhil Basu Trivedi. RDMD will be competing against pharma contract research organizations that incur high costs for collecting data the startup gets for free from patients in exchange for its product. Luckily, Flatiron’s exit paved the way for industry acceptance of RDMD’s model.

“The biggest risk for our company is if we lose our focus on providing real, immediate value to rare disease patients and families. Patients are the reason we are all here, and only with their trust can we fundamentally change how rare disease drug research is done” says Yu. RDMD will have to ensure it can protect the privacy of patients, the security of data, and the efficacy of its application to drug development.

Hindering this process is just one more consequence of our fractured medical records. Hopefully if startups like RDMD and Flatiron can demonstrate the massive value created by unifying medical data, it will pressure the healthcare power players to cooperate on a true industry standard.

Global unicorn exits hit multi-year high in 2018

Unicorn exits are taking flight.

With the IPO window wide open, an apparent record number of venture-backed companies privately valued over $1 billion have launched public offerings this year. Crunchbase data shows 23 unicorn IPOs globally so far in 2018, well outpacing full-year totals for 2016 and 2017.

Collectively, this year’s newly public unicorns are doing pretty well too. Most priced shares around or above expectations. We’re also seeing a lot of impressive aftermarket gains. At least six are currently valued at more than $10 billion.

Meanwhile, unicorn M&A volumes are chugging along as well, with at least 11 deals so far this year. Big transactions like Walmart’s $16 billion acquisition of Flipkart and Microsoft’s $7.5 billion purchase of GitHub have helped boost the totals.

It all adds up to some enormous numbers. We’ll delve into those in more detail below, focusing on year-over-year comparisons, geographic breakdown, biggest exits and more.

How 2018 compares to prior years

First off, a bit of context. A lot of startup-related metrics are on track to hit multi-year or record highs in 2018. These are lofty times for supergiant funding rounds, venture capital fundraising and unicorn investment, to name a few. Given that pattern, it’s not surprising to see a pickup in unicorn exits too, including some really big names like Xiaomi, Spotify and Dropbox.

That said, if one focuses on anticipated exits, as opposed to the ones that already occurred, even this year’s phenomenal IPO streak may seem comparatively humdrum. There’s mounting excitement around the potential for even bigger offerings next year from Uber, Airbnb, Didi Chuxing and others.

If markets don’t implode in the next few months, and at least some of these household names make it to market, it’s likely 2019 will be an even bigger year for unicorn IPOs than 2018. Unfortunately, however, we don’t have hard data on the future, so we’re left comparing this year to the prior two in the chart below:

As you can see, we’re already well ahead of last year’s totals. On the IPO front, not only are the 2018 unicorn offerings more numerous, they’re also bigger. In 2017, out of 16 unicorn IPOs, there were two at initial valuations above $10 billion (Snap and online insurer ZhongAn). So far this year, there have been five.

Geography of unicorn exits

The exiting unicorns are also a geographically diverse bunch, with the U.S. and China accounting for the lion’s share and Europe trailing a distant third.

In the chart below, we look at the geographic breakdown in more detail:

While the U.S. produced the largest number of unicorn exits, they weren’t the biggest. Notably, this year’s most valuable IPOs and M&A deal involved companies based in Europe and Asia.

Of the six 2018 debuts currently valued at $10 billion or more, detailed below, only one, Dropbox, is a U.S. company. In the chart below, we look at who topped the rankings:

Adding it up

The grand tally of 2018 exits provides a clear counterpoint to skeptics (your author included), who questioned whether fast-growing unicorn populations and valuations would hold up with acquirers and public market investors.

It appears prices are keeping up nicely. The vast majority of U.S. unicorn exits this year, for instance, were close to or above private market valuations. Among U.S. IPOs the only big fizzle was Domo. While Dropbox looked like a “down round IPO” at first, strong aftermarket performance has the company above its highest reported private valuation.

The year’s largest unicorn IPO — China’s Xiaomi — also managed to slightly top its last reported private valuation, even after pricing shares for its June IPO far below initial projections.

All these giant exits add up. The unicorns that went public this year currently have a collective market capitalization north of $200 billion. Add in roughly $45 billion from M&A deals, and we’re talking close to a quarter of a trillion (!) dollars in post-exit value.

These big exits come as investors continue to funnel record sums into high-valuation private companies. So far this year, investors have poured more than $200 billion into venture and growth-stage startups, with more than $70 billion going into companies already valued at $1 billion or more.

In sum, we’re seeing big numbers all around — going in as investments and coming out as exits. Eventually, all parties wind down. But for now, this one rages on.

Movado Group acquires watch startup MVMT

The Movado Group, which sells multiple brands, including Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss, has purchased MVMT, a small watch company founded by Jacob Kassan and Kramer LaPlante in 2013. The company, which advertised heavily on Facebook, logged $71 million in revenue in 2017. Movado purchased the company for $100 million.

“The acquisition of MVMT will provide us greater access to millennials and advances our Digital Center of Excellence initiative with the addition of a powerful brand managed by a successful team of highly creative, passionate and talented individuals,” Movado Chief Executive Efraim Grinberg said.

MVMT makes simple watches for the millennial market in the vein of Fossil or Daniel Wellington. However, the company carved out a niche by advertising heavily on social media and being one of the first microbrands with a solid online presence.

“It provides an opportunity to Movado Group’s portfolio as MVMT continues to cross-sell products within its existing portfolio, expand product offerings within its core categories of watches, sunglasses and accessories, and grow its presence in new markets through its direct-to-consumer and wholesale business,” said Grinberg.

MVMT is well-known as a “fashion brand,” namely a brand that sells cheaper quartz watches that are sold on style versus complexity or cost. Their pieces include standard three-handed models and newer quartz chronographs.

Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop “Login with Coinbase” or a similar identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup founded in 2015 that was building an identity standard for dApps called the Clear Protocol.

The five-person Distributed Systems team and its technology will join Coinbase. Three of the team members will work with Coinbase’s Toshi decentralized mobile browser team, while CEO Nikhil Srinivasan and his co-founder Alex Kern are forming the new decentralized identity team that will work on the Login with Coinbase product. They’ll be building it atop the “know your customer” anti-money laundering data Coinbase has on its 20 million customers. Srinivasan tells me the goal is to figure out “How can we allow that really rich identity data to enable a new class of applications?”

Distributed Systems had raised a $1.7 million seed round last year led by Floodgate and was considering raising a $4 million to $8 million round this summer. But Srinivasan says, “No one really understood what we’re building,” and it wanted a partner with KYC data. It began talking to Coinbase Ventures about an investment, but after they saw Distributed Systems’ progress and vision, “they quickly tried to move to find a way to acquire us.”

Distributed Systems began to hold acquisition talks with multiple major players in the blockchain space, and the CEO tells me it was deciding between going to “Facebook, or Robinhood, or Binance, or Coinbase,” having been in formal talks with at least one of the first three. Of Coinbase the CEO said, they “were able to convince us they were making big bets, weaving identity across their products.” The financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Coinbase’s plan to roll out the Login with Coinbase-style platform is an SDK that others apps could integrate, though that won’t necessarily be the feature’s name. That mimics the way Facebook colonized the web with its SDK and login buttons that splashed its brand in front of tons of new and existing users. This turned Facebook into a fundamental identity utility beyond its social network.

Developers eager to improve conversions on their signup flow could turn to Coinbase instead of requiring users to set up whole new accounts and deal with crypto-specific headaches of complicated keys and procedures for connecting their wallet to make payments. One prominent dApp developer told me yesterday that forcing users to set up the MetaMask browser extension for identity was the part of their signup flow where they’re losing the most people.

This morning Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong confirmed these plans to work on an identity SDK. When Coinbase investor Garry Tan of Initialized Capital wrote that “The main issue preventing dApp adoption is lack of native SDK so you can just download a mobile app and a clean fiat to crypto in one clean UX. Still have to download a browser plugin and transfer Eth to Metamask for now Too much friction,” Armstrong replied “On it :)”

In effect, Coinbase and Distributed Systems could build a safer version of identity than we get offline. As soon as you give your Social Security number to someone or it gets stolen, it can be used anywhere without your consent, and that leads to identity theft. Coinbase wants to build a vision of identity where you can connect to decentralized apps while retaining control. “Decentralized identity will let you prove that you own an identity, or that you have a relationship with the Social Security Administration, without making a copy of that identity,” writes Coinbase’s PM for identity B. Byrne, who’ll oversee Srinivasan’s new decentralized identity team. “If you stretch your imagination a little further, you can imagine this applying to your photos, social media posts, and maybe one day your passport too.”

Considering Distributed Systems and Coinbase are following the Facebook playbook, they may soon have competition from the social network. It’s spun up its own blockchain team and an identity and single sign-on platform for dApps is one of the products I think Facebook is most likely to build. But given Coinbase’s strong reputation in the blockchain industry and its massive head start in terms of registered crypto users, today’s acquisition well position it to be how we connect our offline identity with the rising decentralized economy.

What the Facebook Crypto team could build

To fight the scourge of open offices, ROOM sells rooms

Noisy open offices don’t foster collaboration, they kill it, according to a Harvard study that found the less-private floor plan led to a 73 percent drop in face-to-face interaction between employees and a rise in emailing. The problem is plenty of young companies and big corporations have already bought into the open office fad. But a new startup called ROOM is building a prefabricated, self-assembled solution. It’s the Ikea of office phone booths.

The $3495 ROOM One is a sound-proofed, ventilated, powered booth that can be built in new or existing offices to give employees a place to take a video call or get some uninterrupted flow time to focus on work. For comparison, ROOM co-founder Morten Meisner-Jensen says “Most phone booths are $8,000 to $12,000. The cheapest competitor to us is $6,000 — almost twice as much.” Though booths start at $4,500 from TalkBox and $3,995 from Zenbooth, they tack on $1,250 and $1,650 for shipping while ROOM ships for free. They’re all dividing the market of dividing offices.

The idea might seem simple, but the booths could save businesses a ton of money on lost productivity, recruitment, and retention if it keeps employees from going crazy amidst sales call cacophony. Less than a year after launch, ROOM has hit a $10 million revenue run rate thanks to 200 clients ranging from startups to Salesforce, Nike, NASA, and JP Morgan. That’s attracted a $2 million seed round from Slow Ventures that adds to angel funding from Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen. “I am really excited about it since it is probably the largest revenue generating company Slow has seen at the time of our initial Seed stage investment” says partner Kevin Colleran.

“It’s not called ROOM because we build rooms” Meisner-Jensen tells me. “It’s called ROOM because we want to make room for people, make room for privacy, and make room for a better work environment.”

Phone Booths, Not Sweatboxes

You might be asking yourself, enterprising reader, why you couldn’t just go to Home Depot, buy some supplies, and build your own in-office phone booth for way less than $3,500. Well, ROOM’s co-founders tried that. The result was…moist.

Meisner-Jensen has design experience from the Danish digital agency Revolt that he started before co-founding digital book service Mofibo and selling it to Storytel. “In my old job we had to go outside and take the call, and I’m from Copenhagen so that’s a pretty cold experience half the year.” His co-founder Brian Chen started Y Combinator-backed smart suitcase company Bluesmart where he was VP of operations. They figured they could attack the office layout issue with hammers and saws. I mean, they do look like superhero alter-egos.

Room co-founders (from left): Brian Chen and Morten Meisner-Jensen

“To combat the issues I myself would personally encounter with open offices, as well as colleagues, we tried to build a private ‘phone booth’ ourselves” says Meisner-Jensen. “We didn’t quite understand the specifics of air ventilation or acoustics at the time, so the booth got quite warm – warm enough that we coined it ‘the sweatbox.’”

With ROOM, they got serious about the product. The 10 square foot ROOM One booth ships flat and can be assembled in under 30 minutes by two people with a hex wrench. All it needs is an outlet to plug into to power its light and ventilation fan. Each is built from 1088 recycled plastic bottles for noise cancelling so you’re not supposed to hear anything from outsides. The whole box is 100 percent recyclable plus it can be torn down and rebuilt if your startup implodes and you’re being evicted from your office.

The ROOM One features a bar-height desk with outlets and a magnetic bulletin board behind it, though you’ll have to provide your own stool of choice. It actually designed not to be so comfy that you end up napping inside, which doesn’t seem like it’d be a problem with this somewhat cramped spot. “To solve the problem with noise at scale you want to provide people with space to take a call but not camp out all day” Meisner-Jensen notes.

Booths by Zenbooth, Cubicall, and TalkBox (from left)

A Place To Get Into Flow

Couldn’t office managers just buy noise-cancelling headphones for everyone? “It feels claustrophobic to me” he laughs, but then outlines why a new workplace trend requires more than headphones. “People are doing video calls and virtual meetings much, much more. You can’t have all these people walking by you and looking at your screen. [A booth is] also giving you your own space to do your own work which I don’t think you’d get from a pair of Bose. I think it has to be a physical space.”

But with plenty of companies able to construct physical spaces, it will be a challenge for ROOM to convey to subtleties of its build quality that warrant its price. “The biggest risk for ROOM right now are copycats” Meisner-Jensen admits. “Someone entering our space claiming to do what we’re doing better but cheaper.” Alternatively, ROOM could lock in customers by offering a range of office furniture products. The co-founder hinted at future products, saying ROOM is already receiving demand for bigger multi-person prefab conference rooms and creative room divider solutions.

The importance of privacy goes beyond improved productivity when workers are alone. If they’re exhausted from overstimulation in a chaotic open office, they’ll have less energy for purposeful collaboration when the time comes. The bustle could also make them reluctant to socialize in off-hours, which could lead them to burn out and change jobs faster. Tech companies in particular are in a constant war for talent, and ROOM Ones could be perceived as a bigger perk than free snacks or a ping-pong table that only makes the office louder.

“I don’t think the solution is to go back to a world of cubicles and corner offices” Meisner-Jensen concludes. It could take another decade for office architects to correct the overenthusiasm for open offices despite the research suggesting their harm. For now, ROOM’s co-founder is concentrating on “solving the issue of noise at scale” by asking “How do we make the current workspaces work in the best way possible?”