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The 25 hottest San Francisco startups to watch in 2016

San francisco altschool 4319 max ventillaMelia Robinson/Business Insider

Amid discussions about blood in the water and the impending doom and gloom of the startup ecosystem, there’s plenty of great startups out there still poised to change the world.

Business Insider talked to industry insiders, venture capitalists, startup founders, and looked at some fundraising data from PitchBook and CB Insights to derive this list of startups to watch in 2016.

To limit the list, we looked at companies founded in the last five years and narrowed it down to companies with a San Francisco headquarters (that excluded Palo Alto, Mountain View, and San Jose-based ventures).

It’s guaranteed to be an interesting year ahead, so here’s the hottest startups in San Francisco to keep your eye on:

Honour wants to reinvent how you take care of your elderly parents.


What it is: While many other 'on-demand care for seniors startups' rely on independent contractors, Honour flipped the system on its head. The company launched in April 2015 as another startup that aims to match seniors with professionals who can take care of them in their homes while giving concerned family members a way to keep track of everything.

Unlike on-demand services like Uber and Lyft that let people accept jobs right away, Honour wants its home-care professionals, who start at $15 an hour, to foster long-lasting relationships with seniors. In January 2016, the startup changed its caretakers from contractors to employees of the startup, even offering stock options and benefits. Its model of taking care of not only the elderly, but also its caretakers, made Honour stand out among the new startups in San Francisco. Earlier this month, it earned the Crunchie for 'Best New Startup.'

Founded: 2014 by Sandy Jen, Cameron Ring, Monica Lo, and Seth Sternberg

Funding: $20 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Homebrew, and Kapor Capital.

Checkr may be the big winner of the 'gig economy.'

What it is: More companies are providing on-demand services carried out by independent contractors, who drop off your deliveries and drive you from place to place, and many of these have gone through Checkr. The company is poised to take advantage of the growing freelancer market by offering the same background checks offered by traditional firms, but quicker. Its background checks have become staples for companies like Uber, Handy, Instacart, and GrubHub.

Checkr's background reports can be ready anywhere between a few hours and a couple of days, though most are ready within 24 hours. Its background checks include address history, sex-offender searches, and social-security number verification, in addition to checking applicants' names against terrorist watch lists and crime databases.

Founded: 2014 by Jonathan Perichon and Daniel Yanisse

Funding: $39 million from Y Combinator, Accel Partners, Khosla Ventures, and Google Ventures among others.

Gusto solves the payroll and benefits problems for small businesses.


What it is: Formerly known as ZenPayroll, Gusto tries to help the headaches small businesses face by handling their insurance, payroll, and other HR tasks for them. Up until a few weeks ago, Gusto was known as the competitor to Zenefits, but in the past few weeks, Zenefits has faced a meltdown as its CEO resigned and regulatory issues were brought to light. That leaves a major opportunity open for Gusto, which has so far touted its industry compliance rather than skirted it.

Founded: 2011 by Joshua Reeves, Edward Kim, and Tomer London

Funding: $136.7 million from Google Capital, General Catalyst, Obvious Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Slack is doing away with email and changing how we work.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield

What it is: Slack is a workplace communication app that has taken the tech world by storm, and wants to change the way businesses everywhere communicate.

Slack does away with long email threads and gives users a group chat room. This isn't a chat room from the days of AOL Instant Messenger either. Slack lets user share files and work collaboratively, in addition to setting up private groups and sending direct messages to other individual users.

Founded: 2013 by Stewart Butterfield. Slack was originally an internal tool used by Butterfield's team at Tiny Speck, the company that made the multiplayer game 'Glitch,' but Butterfield decided to spin it out into its own product and company. The team started working on it at the end of 2012, but it launched in beta in 2013.

Funding: $340 million from Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Social+Capital, KPCB, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, IVP, Spark, DST, and Index

AltSchool wants to change the education system.

Melia Robinson

What it is: There's a lot of money being poured into reforming the education system, but AltSchool is a particular favourite in Silicon Valley. AltSchool creates a network of schools for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. Each school, called a 'microschool,' has about 100 students who learn in multiage groups.

AltSchool wants to bring personalised learning to schools, but not just through putting a screen in front of a kid and pretending its customisation. Instead, AltSchool uses something called 'playlists,' which consist of a weekly mix of 20 to 25 activities per student per week, including individual projects, small-group projects, or whole-class projects.

Founded: 2013 by Max Ventilla and Bharat Mediratta

Funding: $137 million from Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, and the Omidyar Network

Navdy will change how you drive.


What it is: Navdy's tagline is 'Feels like driving in the future' because it is. The SOMA-based startup created a heads-up display that sits on your dashboard and projects onto your windshield. When you're driving, the directions seem to magically appear on the road before you, telling you to turn left in half a mile or how fast you're going. For drivers, not having to look down at your phone for directions could be a literal life-saver.

Founded: 2013 by Doug Simpson and Karl Guttag

Funding: $30 million from Upfront Ventures, Shervin Pishevar, Naval Ravikant, Eric Ries, and Brad Feld.

In a key election year, Brigade rallies people to vote.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

What it is: It's an election year, and Brigade is facing its make or break moment. In a bold attempt to try to engage a millennial class in politics, Brigade turns political discussions into an app. Instead of un-friending your high school classmates on Facebook because of their political view points, Brigade tries to identify friends or neighbours that you're most similar to so you can team up to sign petitions or champion causes you are passionate about.

It's earned the nickname 'a Tinder for politics.'

But Brigade wants to do more than have its users hit agree or disagree on important issues. The company used interactive voting guides to draw in millennials into local politics. Its users' opinions on a local San Francisco election accurately reflected (with one exception) how the voter base ended up voting in the polls.

Founded: 2014 by Sean Parker, Matt Mahan, John Thrall, James Windon, Jason Putorti, and Miche Capone

Funding: $9.5 million from Sean Parker, Ron Conway, SV Angel, and Marc Benioff.

After School is an anonymous app teens are obsessed with.

After School

What it is: Normally being banned from the App Store would be the kiss of death for a company, but not for After School. The popular anonymity app lets teens send anything from messages to their crush to gossip to their friends. Yet, anonymity and teens breeds safety and cyberbullying problems -- something After School wasn't prepared for when it launched in late 2014. The app was taken off the app store and its founders, Cory Levy and Michael Callahan, went back to work creating a new way to make a safe, but anonymous place for teens. Since it relaunched in February, it's already caught back on with teens and raised new funding.

Founded: 2014 by Michael Callahan and Cory Levy

Funding: $17.65 million from Accomplice, Naval Ravikant, and Cowboy Ventures among others

21 could change how payments work on the internet.

What it is: In 2015, 21 launched with a $400 bitcoin computer that was supposed to jump-start a developer ecosystem around the cryptocurrency. The actual device is just a small part of its vision. At its launch, its investors compared it to the invention of the Netscape internet browser -- no one forecast what would be built on top of it. 21 wants its computer to be that baseline and have developers reimagine how bitcoin could change payments on the internet.

Founded: 2013 by Nigel Drego, Daniel Firu, Veerban Kheterpal, Matthew Pauker, and Balaji Srinivasan.

Funding: $116 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Qualcomm, Cisco, and Peter Thiel.

Chariot wants to crowdsource a new way to commute.


What it is: Out of all the startups that have tried to create private shuttle networks in San Francisco, Chariot is the only one still in business -- and growing.

The company crowdsources new routes based on demand from its riders. A person can suggest a route, and if there are enough votes to support it, the company launches it. Already people are ditching public transit options in San Francisco to take more efficient routes between the Financial District and the Marina, or the Embarcadero to Portrero Hill.

Founded: 2014 by Romain Di Vuolo and Ali Vahabzadeh

Funding: $3 million from Major League Baseball Ventures, Winklevoss Capital, SoftTech VC, and Haystack

Workflow makes complicated tasks on your phone as easy as an app.

What it is: Named Apple's most innovative app of 2015, Workflow saves you time by stringing together tasks into one easy action. You can add a 'Call Mum' button or a 'Home ETA' to send to a contact how long it will take you to get home. You can set workflows to automatically calculate the tip of a bill, or to upload the photos you take to Dropbox. There's even a 'Time Machine' workflow that will show you the photos you took one year ago. Its power to transform how you use your phone had already gained it a cult following before Apple recognised it as a game-changer.

Founded: 2014 by Conrad Kramer, Nick Frey, and Ari Weinstein

Funding: Unknown. Self-funded from app store and initially supported by Rough Draft Ventures.

Lever already powers hiring for many Silicon Valley companies and wants to make it easy for the world.


What it is: Lever is hot in Silicon Valley because it already powers the hiring of some of the biggest names in tech, from Netflix to Lyft to Yelp. Now, the startup is shifting from handling the high-volume growth to helping companies attract the high-quality candidates. There's plenty of competitors in the space, like Workday, but the company believes its candidate-centric approach could help it distinguish itself. Recruiters love its 'snooze' function, which reminds them to check back in a few months to go after the candidate again, and companies like Lyft have ditched giants like Oracle in favour of the scrappy startup.

Founded: 2012 by Sarah Nahm, Nate Smith, and Randal Truong

Funding: $32.8 million from Scale Venture Partners, Y Combinator, and Redpoint Ventures among others.

Product Hunt discovers the newest and best products.

Steve Jennings/Getty

What it is: Some of the most tech-prolific investment firms in New York and Silicon Valley -- including Greylock Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Betaworks, SV Angel, Y Combinator, and Techstars -- use Product Hunt to find the next big thing or recommend what's just launching.

The company evolved from an email newsletter to a site similar to Reddit, but for products. Users up-vote the new products, startups, apps, podcasts, and websites that are the most popular that day. As it's grown, the company has added sections for games, podcasts, and books, although it still leans heavily on its tech audience. It doesn't stop either at attracting the hot new products -- top Valley investors and founders now do 'Live' session where they answer questions and provide advice.

Founded: 2013 by Ryan Hoover

Funding: $7 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, SV Angel, and Y Combinator, among others.

Gigster lets top programmers work how they want, when they want.


What it is: Gigster sounds like another freelance platform, but connecting programmers with companies. Customers write in plain English what they want done, like a website, and Gigster analyses the request and spits out a guaranteed price. Under the hood, though, Gigster is using machine learning to identify similarities between requests and even speed up completion time by suggesting bits of code that can be used again to complete a task. Its freelancers, often ex-Google or Facebook employees, take on the projects as creative challenges, but get to skip the mundane code that can be easily swapped in and out on each project. As its investor described it, Gigster is all about 'software eating software.'

Founded: 2013 by Debo Olaosebikan and Roger Dickey

Funding: $12 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Y Combinator, Ron Conway, Jason Calacanis, and Ashton Kutcher.

HackerOne turns hackers into help that makes companies secure.

HackerOne CEO Marten Mickos

What it is: No company is immune from a security bug, so why not pay a hacker to find your vulnerabilities before they become a costly company issue? That's the theory behind HackerOne, a marketplace for bug bounty programs. HackerOne's researchers communicate with a company's response team, which in turn pay the hackers for helping find and repair weaknesses on its website or in the software. HackerOne gets 20% of these 'bounty' payments.

'The general problem is that vulnerabilities are inevitable. No matter what your security system, you are going to find issues,' HackerOne cofounder and CTO Alex Rice told Business Insider last year. 'The current state of the world is pretty terrible. A researcher that finds (a bug) in the wild doesn't know what to expect.'

Founded: 2012 by Alex Rice, Michiel Prins, Jobert Abma, and Merijn Terheggen

Funding: $34 million from Benchmark Capital, Drew Houston, David Sacks, and Jeremy Stoppelman

Shyp makes mailing packages painless.


What it is: Shyp takes all the hassle out of shipping packages and, one day, wants to own the whole shipping experience. Instead of taking a package to UPS or the post office, all you have to do with Shyp is take a picture of whatever it is you want to send. A driver will then pick up the package within minutes, and you're done.

Shyp comparison-shops across carriers and charges you the lowest price for shipping, adding on $5 plus the cost of shipping. In 2015, the company did away with addresses, allowing users to sign up with profiles so just typing in a name would send a shipment to an address that they choose.

It's just the beginning in Shyp's ambitions to change how people ship things. Its CEO has hinted at a future where FedEx takes care of the cross-country flights, but Shyp couriers then manage the delivery on the ground, letting its users pick delivery windows and locations that suit them.

Founded: 2013 by Joshua Scott, Jack Smith, and Kevin Gibbon

Funding: $62 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Homebrew, Machine Shop Ventures, and SherpaVentures among others.

Eero wants to make wi-fi less of a pain.


What it is: There's nothing worse than having choppy Wi-Fi throughout your apartment. That's the problem Eero is trying to solve. Eero's devices are little white pods that use Bluetooth and mesh networking to connect and extend the Wi-Fi in your home.

When you buy three -- that's how many Eero says a typical home needs -- you'll connect the first to your modem, and the others get plugged into power outlets. The devices connect to one another through internal radios. Eero's devices are available for preorder now -- you can get one for $199 or three for $499. Its devices are slated to ship by February 2016.

Founded: 2014 by Nick Weaver, Amos Schallich, and Nate Hardison

Funding: $40M from AME Cloud Ventures, Initialized Capital, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Homebrew, Menlo Ventures, First Round, Playground Global, Redpoint Ventures and Shasta Ventures

Eaze makes it easy to get a prescription and a delivery of medical marijuana.

What it is: This could only be started in San Francisco. Eaze offers a service that is so easy that a colleague both was subscribed and delivered medical marijuana without leaving her desk. Eaze offers to connect patients with a doctor who can offer a consultation. Given its legal to prescribe marijuana for medical use, the doctor can then decide whether or not to sign off on the prescription. Eaze then has a delivery network that can bring the green to your door, as long as you have a prescription.

While the 'Uber for weed' moniker might have pigeon-holed the startup at first, Eaze has shown it wants to be more than just another delivery company and become one of the early success stories in the legalization of the cannabis industry.

Founded: 2013 by David Chao and Keith McCarty

Funding: $12.5 million from 500 Startups, DCM Ventures, and Fresh VC.

Postmates lets you order almost anything and have it delivered to your door in under an hour.

Melia Robinson

What it is: Postmates promises to deliver you anything you want -- whether it's a new toothbrush from Walgreens or a burrito from the taqueria down the street -- in under an hour. The company has come to stand as a symbol for the on-demand economy and a generation of people who are willing to pay for the convenience of getting what they want in an instant. While investors (and other founders) are watching closely to see if Postmates can pull off the logistics challenge, its CEO Bastian Lehmann remains confident that his business isn't the next Webvan. Last week, he told the New York Times that his company 'can and will be profitable by 2017.' That makes 2016 a make-or-break year for one of the hottest startups in the city.

Founded: 2011 by Sam Street, Sean Plaice, and Bastian Lehmann

Funding: $140 million from Tiger Global, Spark Capital, and Founders Fund among others

Sano Intelligence wants to eliminate the finger prick.

Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

What it is: Diabetes patients have to rely on finger pricking multiple times a day to keep their glucose levels in range. Sano wants to eliminate the need entirely.

Still largely in stealth, the four-year-old startup is rumoured to be working on a noninvasive patch that monitors your metabolic levels, like blood glucose. It's not designed only for patients with diabetes, and instead, Sano wants to open up health tracking to the masses.

A large lunch can spike your glucose levels leaving you feeling sluggish, said its founder Ashwin Pushpala in an interview with TechCrunch. Knowing how much glucose tips you into that sluggish feeling versus just giving you a boost can help anyone make more informed decisions about when and what to eat.

Founded: 2012 by Ashwin Pushpala

Funding: $10.27 million in seed funding from lead investor True Ventures and Intel Capital in June 2015

Medium wants to make publishing accessible to everyone.

What it is: The next act for Twitter founder Ev Williams was to ltear down the 140-character limit that confined the social network and build a new blogging platform that could democratize publishing for everyone. With its clean white background and no frills formatting, Medium has quickly taken off as a place for politicians, companies, startup founders, and bloggers alike to have a home for their thoughts.

An obvious example of its power came in October 2015 when Amazon fought back against a New York Times story by posting on Medium. The two companies exchanged posts not on their own sites, but in the 'neutral ground' (as Williams called it) of Medium. While the site is a well-known commodity in San Francisco, it's still trying to break out into a global force as big as WordPress.

Founded: 2012 by Ev Williams, Jason Goldman, and Biz Stone

Funding: $82 million from Google Ventures, Greylock Partners, Chernin Group, and Obvious Ventures, among others.

6SensorLabs makes a portable gluten tester to make sure people know what's in their food.


What it is: For those with severe food allergies, a slight slip up of a restaurant could mean thousands in medical bills. But people with allergies should still be able to enjoy a meal out with the comfort of knowing what they're eating, argues 6SensorLabs. The San Francisco startup has worked the past three years to develop Nima, a sensor that detects in under two-minutes whether there is gluten in your food. At $250 for the sensor and $5 per cartridge, the Nima is designed for those suffering from Celiac disease rather than the gluten-free trend person. It's a high price tag, but it's one that can give people (and their stomachs) piece of mind when eating out.

6SensorLabs won TechCrunch's Disrupt battlefield at CES in January, and is accepting pre-orders. The Nima's gluten testing is just the first step, and its co-founder Shireen Yates told the WSJ that it could one day detect everything from E. coli to salmonella in food.

Founded: 2013 by Shireen Yates and Scott Sundvor

Funding: $4 million from Upfront Ventures, SoftTech VC, and Mitch Kapor

Shift wants to become the largest car company in the US without owning a single vehicle.


What it is: Instead of collecting cars in a lot, Shift wants to change the age-old system of buying and selling of used cars. The two-year-old startup will deal with the hassle of selling the car, including photographing and setting a competitive price based on market research. For those in the market for new wheels, a Shift 'car enthusiast' acts as a personal concierge and brings the car to you to test drive -- no visits to a dealership or dealing with pushy salespeoples required.

The key to Shift's future, its CEO George Arrison said in September, is the fact that the company doesn't own a single car. While its competitors Vroom and Beepi both buy the cars and then sell them online, Shift doesn't keep any inventory. By not owning the cars in the process, Shift thinks it became the largest car company in the US, in the same way Airbnb has built a hotel company without a hotel room.

Founded: 2013 by Christian Ohler, Minnie Ingersoll, Morgan Knutson, George Arison, and Joel Washington

Funding: $73.8 million from DFJ, Highland Capital, and Goldman Sachs, among others.

Operator makes it easy to find anything you need.


What is it: Virtual assistants are going to be big in 2016, and Operator has been one of the most talked about. Launching from Uber co-founder Garret Camp's Expa incubator, the assistant acts as your 'operator' to help you book flights, send flowers, or pick out presents. It has growing competition from Facebook M, but it opened to the public in November, beating M, which is still in limited testing. The best part? It's free (at least for now).

Founded: 2014 by Robin Chan, Philip Fung, and Garrett Camp

Funding: $10 million from Greylock

Juicero is the future of juice, or so Silicon Valley believes.

What it is: Juicero, which has been stealthily raising money since 2013, is on a mission to produce freshly pressed juice in a way that will turn today's fresh fruit and vegetable delivery on its head. And as we reported in January 2015, the startup is rumoured to be raising $120 million to build out its vision of a device that's like a Keurig, but could revolutionise the fruit and vegetable industry.

The startup is still in stealth, but it's already the buzz around Silicon Valley. As one unaffiliated investor, Peter Nieh, put it 'Juicero is looking to be the Keurig of fresh juice. Massive market waiting to be disrupted.'

Founded: 2013 by Doug Evans

Funding: Unknown. The startup has completed two rounds totaling $22 million, according to PitchBook. Crunchbase claims the total is closer to $90 million. The company was rumoured to be completing an additional $120 million round in January 2015.

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