Kevin Rose’s fasting app Zero beefs up with new CEO, $1.2M funding

Cancer almost killed the acquisition of video workout startup FitStar and its co-founder Mike Maser, who’s just become the CEO of the No. 1 fasting app, Zero. It was a dream that turned into a nightmare.

Fitbit came right out and said they wanted to buy the True Ventures-funded company. “But even in that meeting, I felt pretty ill,” Maser tells me. At first he thought the weird temperature fluctuations, swollen glands and tiredness were just normal wear and tear from running a startup. A week later he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was terrified that the disease could derail the acquisition.

“I was very scared they were going to pull out. I would have understood if they said that ‘you’re part of the reason we’re buying this’ but they were supportive. They all stood behind me,” Maser recalls. “I signed the term sheet from my hospital bed during chemo. Fitbit allowed me an immediate leave of absence to get my stem cell treatment.”

Maser was determined to do everything he could to maximize his chances of beating cancer. That’s when he came across the research of Dr. Valter Longo that purported that fasting could make chemotherapy more effective with fewer side effects. Mice that fasted during chemo saw their healthy cells go into a protective mode while cancer cells remained exposed to the treatment. Maser began the practice of not eating for five days and believes that contributed to him being declared cancer free after just two of his six scheduled rounds of chemo. “I’ve been in remission ever since. I became very much a believer in fasting.”

That made him the perfect person to lead Zero. The fasting app lets people choose from popular fasting methods or create their own, set goals and track their will power to avoid food. Digg founder Kevin Rose started it in late 2016 after getting into fasting when he heard Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman used the practice to shed weight. It’s become the top app in the space with over 8 million fasts tracked, even as Rose’s attention has drifted to his meditation app Oak and becoming an investor at True Ventures. But all the while, he’d been friends with Maser for 18 years.

When Maser left Fitbit last year, he envisioned building his own app for fasting.  But after some conversations with Rose, they figured out “a win for both of us. I could take Zero to the next level while Kevin could give his undivided attention to both True Ventures and Oak. The lightbulb went off,” Maser explains.

So today, Maser announced he’s become Zero’s CEO and it’s raised a $1.2 million seed round led by Rose’s True Ventures, whose Tony Conrad will join the board, Trinity Ventures, NFL legend Tony Gonzalez and Maser’s brother from Sutter Health, Dr. Ben Maser, are joining the round too.

With the new cash, the plan is to make the streamlined but bare-bones Zero app into a fasting educational guide as well as an eating tracker. The startup wants to be able to teach people about the benefits of temporarily ditching food, intelligently recommend whether 13-hour, 16-hour or another fasting regimen is best for users depending on their health goals and provide guidance to keep people motivated when their craving a bite.

In the meantime, Zero today launches its Apple Watch app, which users have been aggressively requesting. Being able to easily key in the starts and ends to fasts will help Zero compete with BodyFast’s wider range of programs and LIFE’s social-focused app that pairs you with fellow fasters.

Long-term, Zero hopes to legitimize fasting and help the practice become more recognized for clinical applications. The research data is still a bit thin, and TechCrunch isn’t endorsing the science here. Those interested in fasting should always consult a doctor first. Propelling more explicit human trials about how fasting impacts well-being could further fuel Zero. But given the epidemic of obesity, the increasing convenience of food delivery and our screen-based lifestyles, any technology that helps us eat less deserves a shot.

Snapchat adds new styles as Spectacles V2s get used 40% more than V1

Snapchat isn’t revealing sales numbers of version 2 of its Spectacles camera sunglasses, but at least they’re not getting left in a drawer as much as the V1s. The company tells me V2 owners are capturing 40 percent more Snaps than people with V1s.

And today, Snapchat is launching two new black-rimmed hipster styles of Spectacles V2 — a Wayfarer-esque Nico model and a glamorous big-lensed Veronica model. Both come with a slimmer semi-soft black carrying case instead of the chunky old triangular yellow one, and are polarized for the first time. They look a lot more like normal sunglasses, compared to the jokey, bubbly V1s, so they could appeal to a more mature and fashionable audience. They go on sale today for $199 in the US and Europe and will be sold in Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom later this year, while the old styles remain $149.

 

The new Spectacles styles (from left): Veronica and Nico

Spectacles V2 original style (left) and V1 (right)

Snap is also trying to get users to actually post what they capture, so it’s planning an automatically curated Highlight Story feature that will help you turn your best Specs content into great things to share. That could address the problem common amongst GoPro users of shooting a ton of cool footage but never editing it for display.

The problem is that V1 were pretty exceedingly unpopular, and those that did buy them. Snap only shipped 220,000 pairs and reportedly had hundreds of thousands more gathering dust in a warehouse. It took a $40 million write-off and its hardware “camera company” strategy was called into question. Business Insider reported that less than 50 percent of buyers kept using them after a month and a “sizeable” percentage stopped after just a week.

The new styles come with a slimmer semi-soft carry case

That means the bar was pretty low from which to score a 40 percent increase in usage, especially given the V2s take photos, work underwater, come in a slimmer charging case, and lack the V1s’ bright yellow ring around the camera lens that announces you’re wearing a mini computer on your face. Snap was smart to finally let you export in non-circular formats which are useful for sharing beyond Snapchat, and let you automatically save Snaps to your camera roll and not just its app’s Memories feature.

I’ve certainly been using my V2s much more than the V1s since they’re more discrete and versatile. And I haven’t encountered as much fear or anxiety from people worried about being filmed as privacy norms around technology continue to relax.

But even with the improved hardware, new styles, and upcoming features, Spectacles V2 don’t look like they’re moving the needle for Snapchat. After shrinking in user count last quarter, Snap’s share price has fallen to just a few cents above its all-time low. Given most of its users are cash-strapped teens who aren’t going to buy Spectacles even if they’re cool, the company needs to focus on how to make its app for everyone more useful and differentiated after the invasion of Instagram’s copy-cats of its Stories and ephemeral messaging.

Whether that means securing tentpole premium video content for Discover, redesigning Stories to ditch the interstitials for better lean-back viewing, or developing augmented reality games, Snap can’t stay the course. Despite its hardware ambitions, it’s fundamentally a software company. It has to figure out what makes that software special.

German mobility startup Wunder Mobility raises $30M Series B

Wunder Mobility, the Hamburg-based startup that provides a range of mobility services, from carpooling to electric scooter rentals, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by KCK Group, with participation from previous backer Blumberg Capital and other non-disclosed investors.

The German company says the investment will be used to expand the company’s engineering team in its home country and to establish an international B2B sales organisation. Currently, Wunder Mobility has 70 employees working from four offices in Asia, Germany, and South America. The aim is to add another 100 employees over the next twelve months in the areas of product development and B2B sales.

Founded in Hamburg in 2014, but now with an international focus, including emerging markets, Wunder Mobility supplies software, hardware, and operational services for various “future-oriented” mobility concepts. These span smart shuttles, fleet management and carpooling, reaching more than two million users in a dozen countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, India, and the Philippines.

“We are enabling communities on four continents to address the global traffic challenge and to deploy more sustainable mobility options faster by hosting a full-stack urban mobility tech platform,” explains founder and CEO Gunnar Froh.

“Our three product lines either allow private people to share empty seats with people headed in the same direction (Wunder Carpool), match professional drivers with passengers in 6-10 seater vans (Wunder Shuttle), or give travellers the option to rent vehicles (electric scooters, cars) by the minute (Wunder Fleet)”.

In recent months, transport companies as well as customers from the automotive industry in Japan, Europe and America have committed to using Wunder technology. The company is already processing around one million trips per month worldwide.

To that end, Froh describes Wunder Mobility’s typical B2C customers as the emerging middle class in mega cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Manila or Dehli.

“Many of these customers commute to work every day for several hours, are often first-time car owners and are open to sharing empty seats in their cars in order save on gas and car expenses,” he says.

On the B2B side, the startup’s customers are large OEMs, and public transit companies or suppliers, such as the Japanese conglomerate Marubeni. “We are working with Marubeni on ambitious new mobility services worldwide,” adds Froh.

Meanwhile, Wunder Mobility’s competitors are cited as Via in New York on the shuttle side. In Europe it perhaps competes most directly with Berlin’s Door2Door, and Vulog in Paris.