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YC alum Modern Health, a startup focused on emotional wellbeing, gets $2.26M seed funding

About one year ago, a note from a CEO thanking his employee for using sick days to take care of her mental health went viral. It was a reminder to Alyson Friedensohn of what she wants to accomplish with Modern Health, the emotional health benefits startup she founded last year with neuroscientist Erica Johnson.

“We want that to be normal. We want the email she sent to be normal, to be able to be that open,” Friedensohn tells TechCrunch.

Modern Health, a Y Combinator alum, announced today that it has raised $2.26 million in seed funding for hiring, accelerating the development of its healthcare platform and growing its network of therapists, coaches and other providers. Offered as a benefit by companies, Modern Health’s services are meant to improve employee well-being and retention rates. The round was led by Afore, with participation from Social Capital, Precursor Ventures, Merus Capital, Maschmeyer Group Ventures, Y Combinator and angel investors.

Friedensohn, Modern Health’s chief executive officer, says several employers have already signed up for its platform, which includes services like counseling and career and financial coaching. One of its newest customers, human resources startup Gusto, hit a 43% utilization rate of its services, including connecting employees to coaches and therapists, among registered users just four days after it began offering the platform. 

The startup is especially proud of the fact that Modern Health’s team is currently all female and Friedensohn wants to parlay their points of view into services that address issues affecting women. For example, the platform already works with providers who specialize in postpartum depression and infertility.

“People don’t talk about what working moms are dealing with and countless things like that,” says Friedensohn, who previously worked at health tech companies Keas and Collective Health. “People don’t want to talk about it because they are worried it will jeopardize their careers, but it makes a difference.”

Several other tech startups are working on mental health care platforms for employers to offer as a benefit, including Ginger.io, Lyra Health and Quartet, which have all have received significant amounts of funding from prominent investors. The space is especially important, given the alarming rise in the United States’ suicide rate and the fact that about 6.7% of all adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one major depressive episode.

One of Modern Health’s priorities is to reach employees before they hit a crisis point. Since many people are daunted by the idea of therapy, the platform connects them to coaches instead to focus on specific issues, like their careers, or overall emotional wellbeing. This helps referrals, Friedensohn notes, because it makes the service feel more approachable.

“They can say to friends, I have this awesome Modern Health coach, versus saying I have a therapist, so it’s way easier for people to engage,” she says.

Modern Health also makes its services more accessible by offering several ways to use the platform: texting, video calls or, for people who don’t want to talk to a therapist or coach yet, meditation apps and other digital tools created by the company. Friedensohn adds that it’s not uncommon for people to write essays on their sign-up forms when registering because it’s the first time they’ve been able to unload their problems.

“People like that it’s coaching,” she says. “What we found is that by focusing on that point, the biggest thing is lowering the barrier to entry, so that people who are depressed are also comfortable reaching out.”

Scooters go mad, Opendoor wants to buy your house and Meituan’s IPO

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week was something of a first for the crew, twice. First, we had two guests on the show, and, also, we only made it through two and a half topics. The former is good, the latter is, well, we’ll see.

So, this week Matthew Lynley and I were joined by David Chao, co-founder and general partner at DCM, and Steve Vassallo, a general partner at Foundation Capital. Points to both for being guinea pigs.

Heading into our first topic I’m sorry to inform you that, at least in terms of Equity, scooters are the new Uber. So, we wound up talking about both this week. We started with the fact that Bird is raising new capital at an even more staggering valuation than before ($2 billion!), and that Lime is working to raise a truckload of capital itself. (Reports vary, but it’s probably a $250 million equity round at around a $750 million valuation. There may also be some debt in the mix for Lime. More when we lock that down.)

And, as Chao’s firm is an investor in the space, we had even more to chew on.

Next up we dug into the massive new Opendoor round. The firm’s new $325 million puts it into a solid position to help people sell their houses. Which markets are the best fit was something for us to unspool, along with public market comps, such as they are. But most critical, at least in my view, was the idea of risk. On that point Vassallo made a reasonable argument regarding stress testing. We’ll see.

And finally, we touched on Meituan’s impending IPO, and how it came to be.

Thanks for sticking with Equity after all this time. We’ll be back next week with another round of chatter about the latest, greatest and dumbest that tech has to offer.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Cheq raises $5M for a proactive, AI-driven approach to safe ad placement

While brand safety and fraud prevention have been big topics in the online ad industry over the past couple years, Cheq CEO Guy Tytunovich argued that “first generation solutions for ad verification” aren’t good enough.

The problem, Tytunovich said, is that existing products use sampling to alert advertisers to issues “after the fact.” Compare this to credit card fraud — if the credit card company only alerted you long after the fraud had occurred, “You’re not going to be happy with that kind of answer.”

At Cheq, Tytunovich and his team have developed an approach that uses artificial intelligence to deliver what he calls “autonomous brand safety” — the idea is that when an ad is being served, Cheq can detect whether it might be a fraudulent impression that will only be seen by bots, or if it might show up next to content that a brand doesn’t want to be associated with. If there’s an issue, Tytunovich said, “We block [the ad] from being served in real time.”

Beforehand, advertisers set up their own ad placement guidelines, and afterwards, they can see the reason why individual ads didn’t get served.

Cheq is announcing that it has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Battery Ventures . Tytunovich said that 80 percent of the Cheq team consists of developers, and that most of the funding will go towards further product development.

If the Cheq approach really is so much better, why aren’t bigger, better-funded companies doing the same thing? Tytunovich pointed to his experience, and his team’s experience, in the Israel Defense Forces, where he said “they teach you to compensate for a lack of scale, of manpower, by focusing on automation and speed.”

Similarly, Tytunovich said that at Cheq, “the name of the game is speed.”

“A lot about our underlying technology lies around the speed of the data crunching,” he added. “We look at around 700 data parameters per impression … We need to be able to take all that data, analyze it and do it in real time.”

Cheq has offices in Tokyo, New York and Tel Aviv. Tytunovich said it’s currently focused on the American and Japanese markets — customers listed on the Cheq website include Coca Cola, Turner and Mercedes-Benz. Update: A spokesperson clarified that those companies are listed on the Cheq website because Cheq participated with them in The Bridge program.

Tainted, crypto-mining containers pulled from Docker Hub

Security companies Fortinet and Kromtech found seventeen tainted Docker containers that were essentially downloadable images containing programs that had been designed to mine cryptocurrencies. Further investigation found that they had been downloaded 5 million times, suggesting that hackers were able to inject commands into insecure containers to download this code into otherwise healthy web applications. The researchers found the containers on Docker Hub, a repository for user images.

“Of course, we can safely assume that these had not been deployed manually. In fact, the attack seems to be fully automated. Attackers have most probably developed a script to find misconfigured Docker and Kubernetes installations. Docker works as a client/server architecture, meaning the service can be fully managed remotely via the REST API,” wrote researcher David Maciejak.

The containers are now gone, but the hackers may have gotten away with up to $90,000 in cryptocurrency, a small but significant amount for such a hack.

“Today’s growing number of publicly accessible misconfigured orchestration platforms like Kubernetes allows hackers to create a fully automated tool that forces these platforms to mine Monero,” said a writer of a report by Kromtech. “By pushing malicious images to a Docker Hub registry and pulling it from the victim’s system, hackers were able to mine 544.74 Monero, which is equal to $90,000.”

“As with public repositories like GitHub, Docker Hub is there for the service of the community. When dealing with open public repositories and open source code, we recommend that you follow a few best practices including: know the content author, scan images before running and use curated official images in Docker Hub and certified content in Docker Store whenever possible,” wrote Docker’s head of security David Lawrence in a Threatpost report.

Interestingly, of late hackers have moved from attacking AWS Elastic Compute servers on Amazon’s platform to Docker and other container-based systems. While there are security systems available to manage Docker and Kubernetes containers, users should remain vigilant and assess their vulnerabilities before hackers get more of an upper hand.