F-U-N-D-E-D: Algorithms aplenty, wearables for you, robots for rover

In the last week, Silicon Valley's venture capitalists have bet on a future where dogs are gamers and on-demand is in.

Max Taves Staff Reporter
Max writes about venture capitalism and startups while seeking out the new new thing to come out of Silicon Valley. He joined CNET News from The Wall Street Journal, where he contributed stories on commercial real estate, architecture, big data and more. He's also written for LA Weekly, Slate and American Lawyer Media's The Recorder, where he covered legal battles in Silicon Valley. Max holds degrees from Georgetown University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
Max Taves
4 min read

Silicon Valley money is being poured into drones, algorithms and wearables. Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

If Silicon Valley's cash is any guide to the future, here's a peek forward in time -- at least based on the bets it placed in the past week:

Dogs will get brain-training from robots that double as their bowls. Drones will be everywhere. People will still yearn for another photo-sharing app. Wearing gadgets to track your every move will be in; doing stuff you used to have to do for yourself will be out.

Oh, and algorithms will predict everything.

Raising money has probably never been easier, at least if you want to start a tech company. Each week, hundreds of startups get backing from the Valley's venture capital firms -- aka, the money trough where young companies get the cash they need to grow beyond the garage.

The money that flowed to startups in the last week provides a good glimpse of where Silicon Valley sees its next opportunities. Suffice it to say that robots, big data and wearables are among the items recently receiving the Valley's blessing.

Two startups -- JYMS and Fusar Technologies -- got $1.5 million in total to make fitness-oriented wearables. And even though this is an area that's already attracted much bigger players -- from Fitbit and Jawbone to Apple, Microsoft and Samsung -- the Valley put $460.9 million into the space in the first five months of 2015, according to startup research firm Tracxn. That's in line with last year's investments in wearable tech, which reached $1.1 billion.

Robots for Rover

Consumer robotics is booming, with almost as much money invested in these types of companies so far this year than all of last year ($143.3 million in 2015 versus $156.7 million in 2014, per Tracxn).

But if one of the companies backed in the last week is any guide, the robots in the pipeline are for Fido, not the factory.

CleverPet received $120,000 to help the San Diego-based company. Founded by neuroscientists, CleverPet is creating an interactive smart bowl that purports to "help pets lead happier and healthier lives by automatically teaching and engaging them when you're gone."

A CNET review last year said the product was really like a game console for dogs, requiring that they push the right touchpad in order to earn treats or food.

CleverPet might sound unique, but pet tech isn't. In March, Rover, a startup that matches dog owners with sitters, received $25 million. And late last year, Rover rival DogVacay raised $25 million as well.

More photo sharing

Is there enough room in the world for another Instagram? One of the key firms that backed Instagram thinks so.

PicsArt raised $15 million to grow the startup's photo-editing and -sharing app business. PicsArt describes itself as something of "a one-stop-shop for all your mobile photo editing and drawing needs," which makes it one among no less than 28 separate apps in the iTunes Store alone that promise photo editing, including VSCO Cam, SnapSeed, Hipstamatic and, of course, reigning photo giant Instagram.

The app has been well reviewed , but given all the competitors it has, does PicsArt stand a chance?

Yes, says the guy who's investing in it.

Omar Hamoui, a partner at Sequoia Capital, says PicsArt's quick growth speaks for itself. When Sequoia -- whose previous bets on startups include Apple, Google, Yahoo, Oracle and, importantly, Instagram -- started backing PicsArt, 40 million people were already using the app every month. Today, the company tells CNET, it now has more than 65 million active monthly users.

"We don't see that many businesses with that many users," says Hamoui, adding, "That's Pinterest-level interest. Not Pinterest when it started -- Pinterest today."

On Demand = In Demand

Yes, another startup got more cash to help you do your laundry.

After raising $2 million in December, Rinse just took in another $3.5 million. The San Francisco-based company will pick up, wash, dry and then return your clothes for you. One plan costs $1.50 per pound to wash and fold a bag of laundry. It'll dry clean, launder and press your shirts, pants and blouses, too, but that will cost more.

On-demand laundry is in demand -- or Silicon Valley thinks it will be. Wash.io, a Los Angeles-based startup, has raised $16.8 million already to disrupt dirty clothes.

And speaking of crowded markets catering to the uber busy....

A company that helps you cheat at making good food in your kitchen is now worth $2 billion.

Blue Apron raised $135 million this week. The New York company provides its customers with the raw ingredients and step-by-step instructions to make meals of their choice, and it offers a few different plans. Its two-person subscription includes 3 meals a week and costs $54.94.

So far, the company's value has been skyrocketing. Just a year ago Blue Apron was worth $500 million. Underlying the four-fold increase in Blue Apron's worth is the number of meals it's delivering. In November, the company served 1 million meals per month; now, it's up to 3 million per month.

Having already raised $193 million before the recent fundraising round, Blue Apron is among the most well-funded startups that'll feed you via app, but it competes with a bunch of companies, such as Plated, Munchery, HelloFresh and SpoonRocket.

Food tech is almost getting too hot for its own good, says Anand Sanwal, founder and CEO of CB Insights, which tracks venture capital and startups. He argues that the dinner-on-demand business is poised for a shakeup.

Referring to all the companies already in the space, Sanwal says, "Those guys will say they're not competitors, but you're only going to order one dinner."

And that means just one winner will take the cake.

F-U-N-D-E-D is part of a regular column looking -- and sometimes laughing -- at what Silicon Valley has backed in the last week.