After selling his last startup to Google, this founder now wants to automate mundane tasks with Relay
Some seven years after selling his previous company to Google, Jacob Bank is preparing to launch his next project, this time with a focus on automating mundane, repetitive tasks.
Bank was previously cofounder and CEO at Timeful, a smart scheduling app that helped users make better use of their time through automatically prioritizing their various commitments. After selling up to Google in 2015, Bank joined Google’s ranks and set about integrating core Timeful technology into Gmail and Google Calendar, before transitioning into various roles at the tech giant — including product lead for Gmail, Calendar, Google Chat, and Google Workspace.
Fast-forward to July 2021, and Bank parted ways with Google to found Relay, which has a self-stated mission to “tackle collaborative workflows” with a product that sits somewhere at the intersection of Zapier and Asana. He also said that he’s managed to hire a number of product, design, and engineering personnel from the Gmail and Google Calendar development team.
“From a product perspective, we aim to combine the time saving automations of Zapier with the accountability of Asana, but optimized for repeated workflows,” Bank explained to TechCrunch.
Automation for the people
There are certainly no shortage of workflow automation tools out there, Zapier perhaps chief among them, while newcomers such as Bardeen have also been attracting the attentions of venture capitalists. And it’s this desire to reduce tedious, repetitive tasks that Relay is looking to capitalize on too, with specific scenarios in mind — use-cases that are less about “automated mechanical data flows from one product to another,” as Bank puts it, and more about supporting collaborative activities that may require multiple people to work together.
For example, anything that recurs or repeats across the business sphere, such as all-hands meetings, investor updates, board meetings, newsletters, planning cycles, and so on, are within Relay’s scope. As are “function-specific playbooks” such as new-hire onboarding, customer onboarding, or feature launches. It’s basically aimed at reducing time-consuming admin from various business functions, from COO to product management and customer success.
Relay sits on top of existing productivity tools such as calendars and team collaboration software, and reduces much of the manual labor involved in organizing a specific event or activity. For example, a monthly all-hands meeting may involve several contributors from different departments, each charged with preparing their own updates — with Relay, companies can preconfigure a lot of the administrative steps such as messaging contributors a few days before the all-hands with the correct presentation template, who are then prompted to add their content, and then automatically create a dedicated Slack channel for that specific meeting.
Using these various productivity tools separately in their own silos, if the all-hands meeting date has to be pushed back a few days at the last minute, this would ordinarily require organizers or management to manually update dates and schedules in Asana, for example. With Relay, any change is reflected up and down the chain.
“Maybe the most consequential difference between our product and what’s out there is that we’re going after a class of use-cases that haven’t been explicitly served before,” Bank said. “The operating workflows required to run a great team: all-hands, leads meetings, executive updates, product reviews, business reviews, newsletters, planning processes, onboarding, project tracking, feature launches, customer updates, and much more.”
For now, Relay remains a closed early-access product, with plans to transition into an open beta phase before the end of the year. While it’s keeping most of its early users under wraps for now, it did confirm Ramp and Lumos as “design partners” as it readies for a wider rollout.
“We’re targeting organizations that are between 30 and 500 [workers] in size, and most of our early design partners are tech companies,” Bank said.
To help take things to the next level, Relay has also announced it has raised $5 million in a seed funding round led by Khosla Ventures, which also invested in Timeful back in 2014, with participation from Neo, BoxGroup, SV Angel, and a handful of angels.
“Relay’s vision of understanding the best practices of top-performing teams and creating assistive software to bring those workflows to everyone could transform the entire way people work,” Khosla Ventures’ partner Sandhya Venkatachalam said in a statement. “In Jacob, we have a founder that we have backed before, with a team that has the track record, conviction and talent to execute on this incredibly daunting challenge.”
Tesla more than tripled its Austin gigafactory workforce in 2022
Tesla’s 2,500-acre manufacturing hub in Austin, Texas tripled its workforce last year, according to the company’s annual compliance report filed with county officials. Bloomberg first reported on the news.
The report filed with Travis County’s Economic Development Program shows that Tesla increased its Austin workforce from just 3,523 contingent and permanent employees in 2021 to 12,277 by the end of 2022. Bloomberg reports that just over half of Tesla’s workers reside in the county, with the average full-time employee earning a salary of at least $47,147. Outside of Tesla’s factory, the average salary of an Austin worker is $68,060, according to data from ZipRecruiter.
TechCrunch was unable to acquire a copy of the report, so it’s not clear if those workers are all full-time. If they are, Tesla has hired a far cry more full-time employees than it is contracted to do. According to the agreement between Tesla and Travis County, the company is obligated to create 5,001 new full-time jobs over the next four years.
The contract also states that Tesla must invest about $1.1 billion in the county over the next five years. Tesla’s compliance report shows that the automaker last year invested $5.81 billion in Gigafactory Texas, which officially launched a year ago at a “Cyber Rodeo” event. In January, Tesla notified regulators that it plans to invest another $770 million into an expansion of the factory to include a battery cell testing site and cathode and drive unit manufacturing site. With that investment will come more jobs.
Tesla’s choice to move its headquarters to Texas and build a gigafactory there has helped the state lead the nation in job growth. The automaker builds its Model Y crossover there and plans to build its Cybertruck in Texas, as well. Giga Texas will also be a model for sustainable manufacturing, CEO Elon Musk has said. Last year, Tesla completed the first phase of what will become “the largest rooftop solar installation in the world,” according to the report, per Bloomberg. Tesla has begun on the second phase of installation, but already there are reports of being able to see the rooftop from space. The goal is to generate 27 megawatts of power.
Musk has also promised to turn the site into an “ecological paradise,” complete with a boardwalk and a hiking/biking trail that will open to the public. There haven’t been many updates on that front, and locals have been concerned that the site is actually more of an environmental nightmare that has led to noise and water pollution. The site, located at the intersection of State Highway 130 and Harold Green Road, east of Austin, is along the Colorado River and could create a climate catastrophe if the river overflows.
The site of Tesla’s gigafactory has also historically been the home of low-income households and has a large population of Spanish-speaking residents. It’s not clear if the jobs at the factory reflect the demographic population of the community in which it resides.
Launch startup Stoke Space rolls out software tool for complex hardware development
Stoke Space, a company that’s developing a fully reusable rocket, has unveiled a new tool to let hardware companies track the design, testing and integration of parts. The new tool, Fusion, is targeting an unsexy but essential aspect of the hardware workflow.
It’s a solution born out of “ubiquitous pain in the industry,” Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa said in a recent interview. The current parts tracking status quo is marked by cumbersome, balkanized solutions built on piles of paperwork and spreadsheets. Many of the existing tools are not optimized “for boots on the ground,” but for finance or procurement teams, or even the C-suite, Lapsa explained.
In contrast, Fusion is designed to optimize simple inventory transactions and parts organization, and it will continue to track parts through their lifespan: as they are built into larger assemblies and go through testing. In an extreme example, such as hardware failures, Fusion will help teams connect anomalous data to the exact serial numbers of the parts involved.
“If you think about aerospace in general, there’s a need and a desire to be able to understand the part pedigree of every single part number and serial number that’s in an assembly,” Lapsa said. “So not only do you understand the configuration, you understand the history of all of those parts dating back to forever.”
While Lapsa clarified that Fusion is the result of an organic in-house need for better parts management – designing a fully reusable rocket is complicated, after all – turning it into a sell-able product was a decision that the Stoke team made early on. It’s a notable example of a rocket startup generating pathways for revenue while their vehicle is still under development.
Fusion offers particular relevance to startups. Many existing tools are designed for production runs – not the fast-moving research and development environment that many hardware startups find themselves, Lapsa added. In these environments, speed and accuracy are paramount.
Brent Bradbury, Stoke’s head of software, echoed these comments.
“The parts are changing, the people are changing, the processes are changing,” he said. “This lets us capture all that as it happens without a whole lot of extra work.”
Amid a boom in AI accelerators, a UC Berkeley-focused outfit, House Fund, swings open its doors
Companies at the forefront of AI would naturally like to stay at the forefront, so it’s no surprise they want to stay close to smaller startups that are putting some of their newest advancements to work.
Last month, for example, Neo, a startup accelerator founded by Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi, announced that OpenAI and Microsoft have offered to provide free software and advice to companies in a new track focused on artificial intelligence.
Now, another Bay Area outfit — House Fund, which invests in startups with ties to UC Berkeley — says it is launching an AI accelerator and that, similarly, OpenAI, Microsoft, Databricks, and Google’s Gradient Ventures are offering participating startups free and early access to tech from their companies, along with mentorship from top AI founders and executives at these companies.
We talked with House Fund founder Jeremy Fiance over the weekend to get a bit more color about the program, which will replace a broader-based accelerator program House Fund has run and whose alums include an additive manufacturing software company, Dyndrite, and the managed app development platform Chowbotics, whose most recent round in January brought the company’s total funding to more than $60 million.
For founders interested in learning more, the new AI accelerator program runs for two months, kicking off in early July and ending in early September. Six or so companies will be accepted, with the early application deadline coming up next week on April 13th. (The final application deadline is on June 1.) As for the time commitment involved across those two months, every startup could have a different experience, says Fiance. “We’re there when you need us, and we’re good at staying out of the way.”
There will be the requisite kickoff retreat to spark the program and founders to get to know one another. Candidates who are accepted will also have access to some of UC Berkeley’s renowned AI professors, including Michael Jordan, Ion Stoica, and Trevor Darrell. And they can opt into dinners and events in collaboration with these various constituents.
As for some of the financial dynamics, every startup that goes through the program will receive a $1 million investment on a $10 million post-money SAFE note. Importantly, too, as with the House Fund’s venture dollars, its AI accelerator is seeking startups that have at least one Berkeley-affiliated founder on the co-founding team. That includes alumni, faculty, PhDs, postdocs, staff, students, dropouts, and other affiliates.
There is no demo day. Instead, says Fiance, founders will receive “directed, personal introductions” to the VCs who best fit with their startups.
Given the buzz over AI, the new program could supercharge House Fund, the venture organization, which is already growing fast. Fiance launched it in 2016 with just $6 million and it now manages $300 million in assets, including on behalf of Berkeley Endowment Management Company and the University of California.
At the same time, the competition out there is fierce and growing more so by the day.
Though OpenAI has offered to partner with House Fund, for example, the San Francisco-based company announced its own accelerator back in November. Called Converge, the cohort was to be made up of 10 or so founders who received $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and other events that ended and that received their funding from the OpenAI Startup Fund.
Y Combinator, the biggest accelerator in the world, is also oozing with AI startups right now, all of them part of a winter class that will be talking directly with investors this week via demo days that are taking place tomorrow, April 5th, and on Thursday.
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