Felt’s $15 million chance to prove cards are the next big medium – TechCrunch
Despite economic turmoil in the tech world, an Oakland-based startup shows that moonshots are still being funded. Felt, co-founded by Sam Hashemi and Can Duruk, wants to shake up the role of cards in society and rethink the way we think about the medium. The startup allows users to create a map with integrated datasets and work with each other to present impact in a less static way than your average Google Maps query.
Despite a massive mission – to prove that cards are a forgotten but fundamental medium worth renovating – the co-founders cited Figma and Notion’s proven business models, both valued in the billions, as reason to believe in their work. The aforementioned companies have both successfully rolled out to users for personal use and then pivoted to enterprise, a playbook that Felt wants to follow (and whose language VCs can certainly speak).
“That kind of business model and market access is – I don’t mean immune, but is a bit removed from the kind of market swings we see,” Hashemi said. “It’s really not about consumer spending, it’s not about an advertising business, it’s just the day-to-day work that businesses rely on.”
The argument worked. Today, the collaborative software startup tells TechCrunch that it recently closed a $15 million Series A led by Footwork, with participation from Bain Capital Ventures, Moxxie Ventures, and Designer Fund.
Since its funding round, a $4.5 million investment announced in August 2021, Felt has grown its team from seven to 15 people in Hawaii, California, Missouri, Vermont, Canada and Spain. One of Felt’s team members — Mamata Akella — is even a internal cartographer – a job title you don’t see too often in the ranks of early-stage startups.
The funding and growth of the team means that Felt thinks it’s ready for the next phase of growth: feedback. The startup launched its platform publicly today after weeks of private beta testing with over 1,000 people. The public beta combined 50 layers of data, such as earthquake history or wildfire data, with a clean interface meant to allow users to draw their own maps. That in itself is a feat, the co-founders say, given that the data is often fragmented, inaccurate, or just plain badly formatted.
Felt is meant to be a continuation of the collaborative software movement underscored by everyday tools like Google Docs and top companies like Notion and Figma, as well as a sequel to Hashemi’s former company Remix. Acquired by Via for $100 million, Remix is an urban transportation planning startup born out of the Code for America Hackathon. Felt was the follow-up story, this time taking mapping beyond cities. From August to present, the co-founders say Felt went from a tech demo to a product with more “commercial legs,” including richer, verified datasets, fewer bugs, and hopefully -the, faster loading time.
Felt was launched with a climate-focused angle, but that focus seems broader today. Hashemi said the company is also investing in ways to serve other use cases, such as science needs to understand the ocean landscape, or the national park wanting a better way to follow trails.
Duruk said they no longer view climate as a single industry, but rather as a horizontal idea. “Now every industry that has a physical presence on Earth has to have climate, weather, fires and floods in mind…it impacts everything.” An example given by Hashemi was how maps can help people fleeing war in Ukraine. How do people offer homes, get matched, or see what’s available?
Many of these collaboration use cases, he explained, “require a larger audience using the product and pushing the boundaries.”
The next chapter should help Felt prioritize which features to launch next or identify surprising use cases, but it should also give Felt the pressure to address some of his most imminent challenges, such as map moderation or creating processes that limit bad actors. These are massive questions that need to be answered before cards become the next big medium. The startup launches with a moderation-first approach at the start, prohibiting any type of criminal and illegal activity such as “the next insurgency map”. Duruk thinks the public launch will show what gaps they have in their understanding.
“You have to moderate,” said Duruk, who previously worked at Uber and data security firm VGS. “I don’t believe in opening something up to the world just filled with hopes and dreams, a small number of bad actors can make the experience horrible for everyone and turn the platform into a bad place.”
The startup has a well-fed competition. Along with Google Maps and Apple Maps, social map app Zenly, a company owned by Snap, recently announced that it’s creating its own mapping data and engine. After three years of work, Zenly wants to integrate social data and cartographic data into a single framework; focus less on “pixel perfect” and more on deploying a different kind of map.
For Felt, it’s both a competition and an affirmation. While Zenly is consumer-oriented, Felt wants to be enterprise-ready. The success of both efforts hinges on the world’s appetite for a new way to map their thoughts. Even if it takes more than getting from point A to point B.