The sign of a true entrepreneur is someone who can look around and go “wait a minute, there must be a better way.” That approach worked well for Outlines‘ founders, who are tackling the unsexy but pretty serious recycling issue of shower curtain liners. The company just closed a $1 million pre-seed lead by Social Impact Capital to make sure that the giant water-splash-stopping sheets of plastic that are present in most of the 128 million households in the U.S. get sustainably recycled, rather than putting them in landfills.
“I moved to New York from London about six years ago. Like all New Yorkers I moved into like an old apartment that required me to have like a shower liner — one of those plastic shower curtains. Coming from Europe, like I was very used to a door or a plexiglass screen on the shower, or a separate shower unit. I was caught in this constant dilemma; I would pick up my shower liner, three or four months would go by it would get slimy and gross,” Outlines co-founder Luke Barkley Young explains. “I was in this really awkward position where I’d want to get a new one, but I had this plastic-guilt of throwing it away. I was used to being able to recycle everything, and I just hated this constant pain point.”
Long story short, Young and his co-founder Megan Murphy set out to solve the problem in a rather elegant way. The pair developed a shower curtain system where the top of the curtain, the weights and the shower curtain hooks are made from sturdy, long-lasting materials, and the shower liner itself is made from easy-to-recycle plastic. The company developed a business model where it can take the shower liner in return and recycle it responsibly, as it ships out replacement shower liners on a regular rotation.
The company started as a project called “Drip,” where the duo found 2,500 early adopter customers who, in addition to being early paying customers, gave a lot of feedback about their needs as consumers. After a while, the company decided that there was almost certainly a sustainable market there, and spun up the Outlines company to explore that direction further.
Of course, a single-product company rarely makes a great investment opportunity, so I pressed the founding team on what might happen next in their product portfolio.
“We haven’t decided fully on what our second product will be. What we are interested in is bringing to market links to a much larger audience. We have a couple of ideas. Things like loofahs, potty scrubbers, dish scrubbers, these things that just by the sheer nature of what they do, are possible products for us. Nobody wants to clean their dishes with the same dish scrubber forever,” explained Young. “So we are working to really understand our customer base, to determine what we should release next. We definitely hope to do that in the first half of 2022.”
On the one hand, the cynic in me is wondering “wait, we are giving VC funding to shower curtains, now?” but on the other hand, if 10% of households in the U.S. replace their shower curtain liners once every other year, that’s still 6 million sheets of plastic that need to be dealt with every year, somehow. Ensuring that it’s recycled responsibly doesn’t seem so bad. Still, I found myself wondering if a washable shower liner wouldn’t make more sense than shipping recyclable sheets of plastic around.
“First of all, shipping in general — especially in the United States — is becoming less carbon-intensive. So if you look at all the major couriers, they are adding more electric vehicles to their fleet. So carbon cost of shipping things back and forth is reducing, which is far superior to constantly shipping new stuff from the Far East where typically these plastic products are made. Also, when you do recycle in the U.S., there’s a lot more legislation and regulation around how recycling can happen versus overseas. The other point on this is when we throw items away they go to landfills. As they decompose, they actually release methane, which is a far more heavy greenhouse gas than CO2 from shipping back and forward,” Young argues. He further explains that washable solutions aren’t really an option: “Reusable, washable plastics would be a dream, but there are two problems with that. First of all, a lot of plastic-based materials that are waterproof, like polyester, when you put them in your washing machine, the friction of that actually really releases millions of microplastics. Municipal water systems just cannot get them out of the water supply. And then if you were to use a natural fiber, they’re covered in what’s called a Durable Water Repellent (DWR). Over time, because of the heat of a shower, it actually corrodes off. When that happens, your shower liner doesn’t work. So for this use case, plastic is by far the best material to use.”
The company today announced it raised its $1 million round, and I wondered what’s possible now that wasn’t possible before they closed the round.
“We just closed the round of $1 million before our launch, which was very exciting. We’ve done a ton of development up until this point, both in the product and the design of the product, the website and the entire online experience. But we’re really excited about investing in our digital tools. The first part is a part of responsible replenishment, it’s all about serving you a plan that is highly personalized to your needs. Obviously what we’re trying to do with that isn’t ensure that we’re not sending you more than you need, but you’re also receiving enough so that you’re not standing next to mold every single morning,” explains Murphy. “We are investing in that piece to make sure that we are as smart as possible, and that we’re creating something that’s genuinely valuable to you as a customer. We are also really excited about further product development. As Luke said, we are already beginning work on the second product, but this is a big category with lots of space for innovation. So we are investing in future product development, to make sure that we’re rolling out new products at a relatively quick pace.”
You can learn more about Outlines at LivingOutlines.com.
Match restructures executive leadership, hires former Snap VP of Product as new CTO
Match Group, the parent company of several popular dating apps, including Tinder and Hinge, has announced a revamped executive leadership team. Most notably, the company is bringing on former Vice President of Product at Snap Will Wu as its new chief technology officer in a newly created role. Wu will oversee product innovation across Match’s portfolio of apps, the company says.
During his time at Snap, Wu led the team charged with the creation and commercialization of Snap’s developer platforms. Wu led the creation of many of Snap’s popular features, including the “Discover” content platform, the “Chat” messaging feature and Snap’s social gaming initiative. Match says Wu will now work directly with its executives to launch new features, emerging technologies and innovative products.
“Will is truly a product savant,” said Match Group CEO Bernard Kim in a statement. “For nine years, he has forged new technologies at scale that have redefined user experiences and expectations of social products, particularly amongst Gen Z. I’ve known him for a long time, and have seen the massive impact he’s had on the way people connect at Snap, and I can’t wait to see what he will bring to the dating experience. This leadership team has a deep bench of knowledge, proven track records, and we are all ready to collaborate and capitalize on the opportunities ahead.”
The company also announced that Gary Swindler, who was previously the chief operating officer and vhief financial officer of Match, will become the president and chief financial officer of Group. In addition, Malgosia Green, who was previously CEO of Plenty of Fish, will become chief executive officer of Match Group Asia.
Another leadership change will see Hesam Hosseini, the CEO of Match and Affinity brands, taking on a newly created role as Match Group CEO of Evergreen & Emerging Brands. In this position, Hosseini will oversee Match, Meetic, Plenty of Fish and OkCupid, in addition to emerging brands such as The League, BLK and Chispa. Last, Justin McLeod, the founder and CEO of Hinge, will now report directly to Kim.
Match says the new changes are designed to maximize profitability, enhance growth, streamline operations and prioritize new business opportunities. The move comes as Match is looking to grow its business beyond traditional, swipe-based matchmaking and into the so-called “metaverse.” Match has spoken previously about its plans for a dating metaverse, complete with a virtual goods-based economy, real-time audio and the ability for online daters to meet up in a virtual space to have conversations.
A network of knockoff apparel stores exposed 330,000 customer credit cards
If you recently made a purchase from an overseas online store selling knockoff clothes and goods, there’s a chance your credit card number and personal information were exposed.
Since January 6, a database containing hundreds of thousands of unencrypted credit card numbers and corresponding cardholders’ information was spilling onto the open web. At the time it was pulled offline on Tuesday, the database had about 330,000 credit card numbers, cardholder names, and full billing addresses — and rising in real-time as customers placed new orders. The data contained all the information that a criminal would need to make fraudulent transactions and purchases using a cardholder’s information.
The credit card numbers belong to customers who made purchases through a network of near-identical online stores claiming to sell designer goods and apparel. But the stores had the same security problem in common: any time a customer made a purchase, their credit card data and billing information was saved in a database, which was left exposed to the internet without a password. Anyone who knew the IP address of the database could access reams of unencrypted financial data.
Anurag Sen, a good-faith security researcher, found the exposed credit card records and asked TechCrunch for help in reporting it to its owner. Sen has a respectable track record of scanning the internet looking for exposed servers and inadvertently published data, and reporting it to companies to get their systems secured.
But in this case, Sen wasn’t the first person to discover the spilling data. According to a ransom note left behind on the exposed database, someone else had found the spilling data and, instead of trying to identify the owner and responsibly reporting the spill, the unnamed person instead claimed to have taken a copy of the entire database’s contents of credit card data and would return it in exchange for a small sum of cryptocurrency.
A review of the data by TechCrunch shows most of the credit card numbers are owned by cardholders in the United States. Several people we contacted confirmed that their exposed credit card data was accurate.
TechCrunch has identified several online stores whose customers’ information was exposed by the leaky database. Many of the stores claim to operate out of Hong Kong. Some of the stores are designed to sound similar to big-name brands, like Sprayground, but whose websites have no discernible contact information, typos and spelling mistakes, and a conspicuous lack of customer reviews. Internet records also show the websites were set up in the past few weeks.
Some of these websites include:
If you bought something from one of those sites in the past few weeks, you might want to consider your banking card compromised and contact your bank or card provider.
It’s not clear who is responsible for this network of knockoff stores. TechCrunch contacted a person via WhatsApp whose Singapore-registered phone number was listed as the point of contact on several of the online stores. It’s not clear if the contact number listed is even involved with the stores, given one of the websites listed its location as a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Houston, Texas.
Internet records showed that the database was operated by a customer of Tencent, whose cloud services were used to host the database. TechCrunch contacted Tencent about its customer’s database leaking credit card information, and the company responded quickly. The customer’s database went offline a short time later.
“When we learned of the incident, we immediately contacted the customer who operates the database and it was shut down immediately. Data privacy and security are top priorities at Tencent. We will continue to work with our customers to ensure they maintain their databases in a safe and secure manner,” said Carrie Fan, global communications director at Tencent.
All Raise CEO steps down again
Less than a year after assuming the role, All Raise CEO Mandela SH Dixon has stepped down from her position at the nonprofit. The entrepreneur, who previously ran Founder Gym, an online training center for underrepresented founders, said in a blog post that the decision was made after she realized “being in the field working directly with entrepreneurs everyday” is her passion. Dixon said that she will be exploring new opportunities in alignment with that.
Her resignation is effective starting February 1st, 2023. She will remain an advisor to the Bay Area-based nonprofit.
This is the second chief executive to leave All Raise since it was first founded in 2017. In 2021, Pam Kostka resigned as the helm of the nonprofit to rejoin the startup world as well; Kostka is now an operator in residence and limited partner at Operator Collective, according to her LinkedIn. With Dixon gone, Paige Hendrix Buckner, who joined the outfit as chief of staff nine months ago, will step in as interim CEO. In the same blog post, Buckner wrote that “Mandela leaves All Raise in a strong position, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue the hard work of diversifying the VC backed ecosystem.”
Dixon did not immediately respond to comment on the record. It is unclear if All Raise is immediately kicking off a permanent CEO search.
The nonprofit has historically defined its goals in two ways: first, it wants to increase the amount of seed funding that goes to female founders from 11% to 23% by 2030, and, second, it wants to double the percentage of female decision-makers at U.S. firms by 2028.
In previous interviews, Dixon said that the company will work on creating explicit goals around what impact it wants to have for historically overlooked individuals. The data underscores the challenge ahead. Black and LatinX women receive disproportionately less venture capital money than white women; non-binary founders can also face higher hurdles when seeking funding, as All Raise board member Aileen Lee noted in the blog post. The nonprofit has created specific programs for Black and Latinx founders but has not disclosed a specific goal for the cohort yet. These disconnects can be lost if not tracked. All Raise’s last impact report was published in 2020 and they’re working on bringing that analysis back, Lee tells TechCrunch in an interview.
“All Raise is in great hands with Paige as interim leader and we’ve got a lot of exciting things that we’re shaping and scaling,” Lee said. “We have to all continue to link arms to try and continue to make improvements for our industry…we’ve made good progress that we can’t let up.”
Since launch, the nonprofit has raised $11 million in funding, and opened regional chapters in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, DC and, soon, Miami.
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