Hunting Greek Unicorns #35
The future of health and fitness passes by way of the APIs, Greek online grocery boom, YC startups, attract diverse candidates, Beat Tesla service, funding rounds, jobs and more
👋 Happy Friday! Welcome to Hunting Greek Unicorns #35. I’m a startup guy based in Greece, and every two weeks I share news, jobs and more from the Greek startup scene, and not only.
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The future of health and fitness passes by way of the APIs
To understand your personal diagnostic data, you might soon depend more upon an iPhone app developed in a garage than on your local MD.
This is a quote from Balaji Srinivasan, former general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and co-founder of genetic testing company Counsyl, published in 2015. Not sure what Balaji’s definition of soon was, but fast forward 2021, the disruption of healthcare by personal technology devices is well under way. Constant heart rate monitoring from Apple Watch, personalised sleep data from Oura, female hormonal health from Inne, metabolic health from Sync and ZOE, genetics insights from 23andme and much more, gave rise to a new phase in how humans perceive medical diagnosis.
Alongside health, technologies such as Peloton, Fitbit, and others changed the fitness landscape forever. What was the reason? Personalised activity data and workouts. Software is eating the bio and fitness world.
This was just the beginning. The tipping point that will accelerate the pace of innovation in this space hasn’t arrived yet. This will happen when a platform democratises access to data and ties the fragmented health and fitness ecosystem together, making it easier for developers to build. Think what Stripe did to payments, Twilio to communications and Plaid to banking.
Enter Terra, a company building the platform for fitness and health founded by Kyriakos Eleftheriou and Raouf Yousfi, that recently raised a $2.8m Seed round from a list of prominent investors including Y Combinator, General Catalyst, Samsung Next, the founder of Monzo and GoCardless, and others.
Personal health and fitness data, everywhere
David Sinclair, an Australian biologist and Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, wrote in his book Lifespan:
Real-time monitoring of our bodies, the likes of which we could hardly have imagined a generation ago, will be as inherent to the experience of living as dashboards are to the experience of driving. And for the first time in history, that will permit us to make data-driven, day-to-day health decisions... Future generations of sensors will measure and track a person’s basic vital signs, the level of oxygen in the blood, vitamin balance, and thousands of chemicals and hormones.
Real-time monitoring of our bodies is revolutionising medicine and contributing to an extension of human lives. This wave really started as various quantified self, personal genomic, and mobile diagnostic technologies became more accessible the past years. And like pretty much everything involving tech, the pandemic accelerated it. Worldwide spending on wearables will total $81.5b in 2021, an 18.1% increase from 2020; a rise partly attributed to the increased interest in health monitoring (source).
In a previous Hunting Greek Unicorns, Nikos Drandakis, founder & CEO of the biotracking company Sync, mentioned:
Right now we’re at an inflection point where technology is in place to connect and listen to our bodies. There has been an explosion of wearable devices and more importantly, there’s research underway that will bring even more exciting technology in our hands to watch our body’s data in real time, without the friction of visiting doctors or diagnostic centers.
Big tech companies didn’t sit on their hands watching this revolution unfold:
Apple introduced new biometric features in Watch and launched Fitness+ to incorporate workout metrics from its smartwatch. To give you an idea of how much the company is betting on health, this is a quote from Tim Cook, Apple CEO:
“I believe, if you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, ‘What was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind?’ it will be about health.”
Google acquired Fitbit, which now plays a major role in its hardware revenues (after the acquisition was signed off by European Commission enforcing specific data use from Google and third-party developers) and recently announced its plans to invigorate Wear OS through a partnership with Samsung.
Amazon is coming really big into this too, with the recent launch of Halo and Halo Band, a no-screen wrist band accompanied by an app showing activity, sleep, bmi, tone of voice and more data.
Competition is already rising with companies trying to lock-in users inside their ecosystems, leading to silos (e.g. Fitbit and Samsung devices not being compatible with Apple Health). As much as this seems like a race to win the consumer electronics front, there’s much more at stake. This is all the data these sensors can retrieve, and the high-value services that can be built on top.
As time goes by more devices will continue to launch, with increased levels of accuracy and reduced prices. Therein lies the key to unlock massive innovation by making it cheap and easy for developers to create products and services using this data. How can this be done? With APIs.
The gift of APIs: giving people superpowers
API is one of those acronyms you hear a lot. It means Application Programming Interface, and is the way software talks to other software. According to Justin Gage, who wrote about it in APIs for the REST of us and What's an API?:
Applications are a bunch of functions that get things done: APIs wrap those functions in easy to use interfaces, so you can work with them without being an expert.
An API abstracts away code’s complexity, so that using the code an engineer has written to manage complex things, can be as simple as writing a few lines of code. It’s a group of logic that takes specific input and gives specific output.
APIs help increase development speed, reduce cost, and yield new possibilities as developers can integrate with new datasets and implement features that wouldn’t be able to do before or would take them months to build. This is the reason why, in recent years, we have seen a surge in popularity and engagement with APIs and in particular API-first companies.
API-first companies are enterprises, which view APIs as their core business, giving their customers superpowers that they wouldn’t have otherwise. In fact, many of today’s multi-billion dollar companies have created their businesses on the backs of these scalable developer services that enable them to introduce operations from SMS and email to payments, search and more in just a few lines of code. The writer of Not Boring, Packy McCormick, wrote about it in the following way:
API-first companies let other companies focus on their core differentiators instead of re-inventing the wheel. Young companies can get bigger, faster than ever before.
In the chart below, you can see some of the most successful API-first companies. In fact, the second most valuable private tech company right now belongs to this field (Stripe valued at $95b).
Going back to health and fitness, there’s currently great potential for API-first companies to venture in this sector and serve as the infrastructure layer that helps other companies offer entirely new possibilities to their users in just a few lines of code. With the growing number of personal technology devices, leading to further fragmentation, there couldn’t be a better time to launch a platform that abstracts away the complexity behind all those different services, making it easier for developers to build.
Building the infrastructure for health and fitness data
Terra is building the infrastructure for health and fitness, making it easier for apps to aggregate real-time data (such as daily activity and biomarkers) from different devices. This enables developers to build apps faster, and consumers to access all of their personal information in one place. The way Kyriakos, Terra’s CEO, described to me his vision for the company was the following:
The way I’m thinking about the future is that in 5 years we will have a device that will constantly measure real time data, to predict scenarios. By measuring what you eat, it will tell you to avoid certain foods, otherwise you will have a disease. By measuring how you train, it will tell you how much muscle you will add in x months, and by measuring your activity, it will tell you how your health will look like in the future. We are building the infrastructure to enable this future reality to exist.
Terra acts as an interface between two modularized pieces of a value chain. On one side are the apps; the developers building services that require usage of health and fitness data. Interfacing with all the growing number of devices is not scalable especially for the smaller companies; now, though, they only need to interface with Terra.
Before starting Terra in December 2020, the two founders, Raouf and Kyriakos, worked on a project that focused on continuous glucose monitoring, but they soon realized there was a greater opportunity in introducing an API to the developer community to liberate valuable user data.
Earlier this year, the team graduated from Y Combinator, the US startup accelerator that has partnered with companies in the likes of Airbnb, Coinbase, Dropbox. Shortly after, the company announced a Seed round by prominent VCs including the investors of Snapchat, Deliveroo, Stripe. Here is where the company is right now: 100 developers and 200,000 end users using its platform, with more than 1m users in the pipeline. They currently support a number of devices such as Fitbit, Oura, Garmin, Suunto, Withings, Training Peaks, Polar, Strava, Garmin, Samsung, and finalising integrations with Peloton, Zwift, Whoop, Apple and others (at a rate of 2 integrations per week).
Kyriakos gave an idea of where this could take us, in terms of possible applications:
We started by enabling apps to connect to wearables in the sectors of health in general, such as sleep, nutrition and fitness apps. We are now having more and more use cases, such as universities doing research on fitness data, schools using exercise data to grade students, VR companies that create gym experiences and even music apps that play music based on your heart rate. So the possibilities are endless, the question is becoming ‘what can developers do with health data’.
To succeed in its vision, Terra has to scale fast by capturing value on both sides of the chain:
True aggregation by integrating with as many of the popular devices as possible. On one hand, this will require significant technical work from the team. At the same time, business development should be much more straightforward. Terra could really become a sales or distribution channel for the wearable companies, as they unlock new pools of potential customers; a growing number of people using the applications that have integrated with Terra’s platform.
Offer a great experience to developers. Here comes the more challenging part: How can Terra offer a super simple solution to the complex problem of real-time aggregating and passing health and fitness data to developers? How can they offer the same levels of simplicity and ease of use with Stripe, Plaid or Twilio that engineers are used to?
Terra is entering a hot industry with an ambitious vision: to create a more connected, integrated health and fitness data environment, while joining the list of API-first unicorns. The time is right with a boom in personal devices, which will soon cause the playing field to shift from hardware to software. And as this transition happens, one thing is certain: the future of health and fitness passes by way of the APIs.
🦄 Startup Jobs
A year ago I asked a good friend to help me out turn the monthly Google Sheets with Greek startup jobs into a website. We launched in early October. This curated list has now 950 jobs, 150 startups with company data and has led to over 25,000 views of open roles.
Intelligencia, a company using AI to de-risk drug development, announced a $12m Series A round by Big Pi Ventures and other investors.
Proptech startup Prosperty, raised €3.3m Seed from Big Pi Ventures, Velocity Partners, Metavallon and others. The team is planning to expand in other EU markets.
An on-demand delivery startup that launched 4 months ago and is already live in 7 countries. Jokr has a Greek co-founder & COO (ex-foodpanda and Softbank) and raised a whopping $170m Series A round.
DeepSea Technologies, a platform that optimizes the performance of commercial vessels to help them reach their decarbonization goals, raised €5m by investors including The Signal Group.
Three Greek founded startups in the latest Y Combinator (S21) batch: Promakhos Therapeutics, a therapeutics platform for curing inflammatory disorders, Zeit Medical, a Stanford Biodesign spin-off building a smart headband to help people affected by stroke, and Malloc, a mobile app that protects your phone from spyware.
Online insurance, Hellas Direct, acquired the operations of a road assistance company in Greece.
mk2 Biotechnologies, a team building a novel peptide production platform, announced a Seed round.
Meta Materials acquired Nanotech, a company developing secure and visually memorable nano-optic security features.
Greek Ministries and Amazon AWS signed a partnership to support the growth and education of professionals in Greek aerospace.
🤓 Interesting Reads
Online grocery in Greece grew 122% YoY in the first half of 2021. If the trend continues, 2021 will have a 6x turnover compared to pre-pandemic. A report by Convert Group.
A post by Zaharenia Atzitzikaki, Design leader and previously VP at Workable on how to attract diverse candidates.
Dimitris Niavis, Lead UX/Product Designer at ANIXE, discussing user research, the potential dangers of becoming data driven and the cost of bad data leading your UX decisions, here.
A behind the scenes look, from an engineering perspective, into Beat Tesla service from Georgios Chronis, Engineering Manager at Beat, Georgios Kechagias and Konstantinos Moraitis, Software Engineers at Beat.
Alexandros Chatzieleftheriou, co-founder & CEO of Blueground, on how the pandemic affected the company, goals for the years ahead and lessons learned from his journey so far, here.
How do you build your resilience muscle as a founder by Dafni Chontou, co-founder & CEO of Wonderpath, here.
A discussion on fintech, open banking, angel investing and more at Bad Guys show with Stelios Gerogiannakis, Software Architect at Go Cardless.
Nasos Papadopoulos discussing with DHH, creator of Ruby on Rails and co-founder & CTO at Basecamp, big tech monopolies, his learning process, culture wars at work and more.
A podcast deep diving into headcount planning for startup hyper-growth with Sanne Goslinga, Director of Talent at Marathon Venture Capital.
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Thanks for reading and see you in two weeks,
Greek Startup Pirate 👋