Without fail, one of the first questions people ask about new startup is: “Are they for real?”
So we at Technical.ly made a list to help answer the big question, called the realLIST. It’s an annual ranking of the top 10 young startups in Brooklyn, with 10 more on the horizon to watch out for next year.
From covering the Brooklyn tech scene day in and day out, interviewing founders, reporting on raises, hirings, projects, trends and the rest, we have as firm a handle on the startups based here as anyone else does. The results come from some heavy spreadsheet use by Technical.ly editorial staff and not a trivial amount of back-and-forth and moving around. Below are the companies that impressed us, that we think are legit, and that we will keep particularly close tabs on as we progress through 2018.
(By the way, this informed analysis is a keystone of the community journalism we produce at Technical.ly. If you find this information valuable and unique, please consider becoming a member.)
But first! Some ground rules:
- The startup has been founded no earlier than 2014. That sunset period stems from Technical.ly cofounder Christopher Wink’s 2012 definition of a startup. This sunset period took away some of the largest and best-known Brooklyn tech companies (Etsy, Kickstarter, BioLite, goTenna, etc.). Everyone already knows they’re real.
- Companies must make the majority of their revenue from a product. That means creative agencies were not eligible (sorry, Huge).
- The startups have not been acquired or otherwise exited.
So here we go!
Bubble created a web application that allows people who don’t know how to code to program websites. When we interviewed the founders in 2015, they compared Bubble to Legos, explaining that building a good website still takes time, but that the barrier to entry to doing it has been lowered to just about anyone who can use Microsoft Office. Now, two years later, the app boasts more than 100,000 users, one of whom was recently accepted into the prestigious startup accelerator Y Combinator. Founded by Joshua Haas and Emmanuel Straschnov, the company has never raised venture funding, remaining impressively bootstrapped as it’s grown its user base. That is real indeed.
Founded by Ali Kriegsman and Alana Branston, Bulletin attempts to break down the traditional retail store, allowing individual brands to rent a fraction of a space, from a single shelf to a whole corner of a store. It’s been called the “WeWork of retail” and although it may be a simple enough idea, so was doing the same thing with office spaces (and WeWork just bought Lord & Taylor’s flagship building on 5th Avenue for $850 million). Since 2016, the company has gone through Y Combinator, raised a $2.2 million round (including from Brooklyn VC Notation Capital) and hired seven full-time employees.
“We joke about how a year ago we were working out of Alana’s apartment in Williamsburg and eating bean burritos and hoping someone would take notice of what we were doing,” Kriegsman told Technical.ly in September 2017.
If the future of the world is autonomous cars, those cars will need good maps. That’s what Ro Gupta and Justin Day’s Carmera is all about. The company makes 3D maps they hope will one day be essentially constantly updating for use by autonomous vehicles (and other entities that need good maps, too, like architects). Also funded in part by Notation Capital, Carmera raised a $6.6 million Series A round this summer. With autonomous vehicles potentially one of the most world-altering innovations of the future, Carmera seems well-positioned in a good sector.
The world of the blockchain has proved one of the most difficult for us to judge the realness of, in part because the technology is so complicated and in part because there’s so much money in that world that it seems ripe for scammers and overvaluations. That’s where GRID+ stands out.
Its founder was able to clearly and simply explain what the company’s product is. The company will build electrical grid infrastructure that will allow energy producers to sell electricity between each other in smart contracts built on the Ethereum blockchain. The company did ICO, in November, where it sold its energy token, GRID to early adopters, for future use. They brought in 94,070.8 ether, 570.5 bitcoin, and $125,000, which at the time was equivalent to about $38 million, and which right this minute would be worth about $128 million. How much of that they’ve spent we don’t know, but it seems like a good stake to build a company with, regardless.
Perhaps most importantly, founder Alex Miller told us that users of GRID+ will experience it like any other company.
“The idea is we don’t want people to have to know or care about cryptocurrency to use this.”
6. Gimlet Media
One of Brooklyn’s strengths is the diversified nature of its tech companies, and nowhere is that better realized than the difference between blockchain at No. 7 and what is basically updated radio storytelling, at No. 6. Gimlet set the world on fire in 2017, raising $20 million and announcing a move to a new, Downtown Brooklyn office. The company reaches 12 million monthly downloads with its stable of 17 podcasts, which include the popular Reply All and Crimetown. Gimlet has about 85 employees, but has been hiring like crazy all year, including the addition of a chief marketing officer recently.
Jimmy Chen’s Propel is a testament to the Brooklyn tech scene, where it was incubated in Blue Ridge Labs for years, where it won the Make It In BK Pitch Competition, and where it was ranked as the No. 8 startup in Brooklyn in 2017. Propel’s principle product is FreshEBT, an app which allows users to check the balance of their monthly food stamp allocation, a function which had been hard to do priorly. Propel raised $4 million in 2017, from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and the rapper Nas. Chen told us in December 2017 that the app had reached 1 million active users and is partnering with the corporation Quotient to offer users coupons. The company ranks high in the realness of its success and promise, but also in the change it’s affecting in the actual world around us.
3D printing was not a hot technology in 2017 but this list isn’t about hotness! East Williamsburg’s Voodoo Manufacturing continues to lead the industry with its mix of realism, ambition and startlingly outside-the-box approach to problem solving, like the robotic arm the company built, which it hopes can reduce the cost of 3D printing by 90 percent. This year the company also went through Y Combinator and raised $5 million.
“We’re not competing with Shapeways, we’re trying to go after Foxconn,” cofounder and CEO Max Friefeld told us in June.
Croissant also came in at No. 3 on this list last year and its growth in the intervening 12 months has done nothing to dislodge it.
The company offers a sort of EZ Pass for coworking spaces. If you pay for a Croissant membership, you can work out of any coworking space in the network. If this was a good enough model when Croissant was in about a dozen locations in New York City and you could take a meeting in just about any neighborhood in the city and then find somewhere to work afterward; it’s an even better one now that Croissant has expanded its network of spaces to more than 150 in over 10 cities, including Tel Aviv, Lisbon and Berlin. To top it off, the company achieved that growth while basically bootstrapped. Its raised just $125,000 to date and has expanded overseas on the strength of revenue. That’s real.
For the uninitiated, coliving is like coworking for apartments. Instead of each person having their own kitchen, living room, bathroom, roof deck, etc., Common residents all have their own bedrooms and share the rest of the rooms of an eminently Instagrammable house. Renting is on a month-to-month basis, although most residents sign up for 12-month leases. It’s a bit like a fancy dorm for grownups. And it’s working. Common now has 14 coliving houses with more than 400 members in five cities. With a recently announced $40 million Series C funding round, its founder Brad Hargreaves has his sights set high.
“We certainly are aiming to build a global company,” Hargreaves told us in December 2017.
Founded by one of the creators of the Ethereum blockchain, Joseph Lubin, ConsenSys is an amorphous business, but basically it helps Ethereum-based startups get up and running. It announced a $50 million venture fund this year, ConsenSys Ventures, which will fund startups that run on the Ethereum blockchain, and created a coding program, ConsenSys Academy, to bring more developers onto the Ethereum blockchain. We have no clue what Lubin’s holding of Ether tokens is, but given that he helped create the cryptocurrency and given that the value of an ETH token rose more than 12,000 percent in the last year, the company is likely well-funded. The headcount at ConsenSys also had a dramatic increase this year, from about 85 last year to more than 450 in six cities on three continents.
We are still waiting for the breakout application, or what people call the “Netscape moment” when blockchain technology goes mainstream, like the internet did in the mid-1990s. We certainly got a hint of it with the explosion of popular understanding of cryptocurrencies this year, but the promise of the blockchain technology could make these months of currency speculation a footnote in the history of the blockchain by this time next year. If that’s the case, there is virtually no company better situated to seize the opportunity than ConsenSys.
And our honorable mention list of promising up and comers:
- Thursday Finest
- Square Roots
- StrongArm Technologies