Butterfly Network

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Overview

Butterfly Network is an innovative medtech startup that has designed an ultrasound device called the iQ you can use with a smart phone. The ultrasound probe is sold for $2,000 with a $420 per year per user subscription for the software. Usually ultrasounds are a large device transported on a cart with costs starting at $20,000 and up but Butterfly Network’s turns it into a handheld portable scanner. The difference with Butterfly’s device is they redesigned ultrasound from the ground up using microchips as opposed to the traditional quartz crystals. Their technology simultaneously replaces the multiple wands needed by traditional ultrasound machines with just one that gathers the same data. The subscription gives access to ever improving AI to help doctors and even casual users interpret the imagery. The company has sold tens of thousands of units over the last several years.

The team is based in Guilford, Connecticut.

Why I like Them

The innovation here is amazing and widely needed. By turning phones into ultrasound scanners Butterfly Network has made a breakthrough, making healthcare more affordable and easier to access globally. The vision of the company is even more compelling, that of consumers having medical imaging devices in their own homes and read by doctors remotely and AI locally. This would allow diagnostics to be more frequent, catching diseases and conditions much more early than is typically found by an ultrasound scan today.

This is especially key as the world’s population ages and lower cost and greater accessibility in medicine is more widely needed. Doctors in rural Africa are already using the device in villages far from medical centers with Butterfly Network donating a number of the devices.

Even more exciting will be when the team turns it attention to other medical imaging devices, which are traditionally very large and extremely expensive.

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Emerging Trend: The Potential Future Role of Virtual Assistants

A fascinating trend I recently came across is the humanization of virtual assistants that seems to be emerging in Japan and South Korea. Line, through its subsidiary Vinclu last year released a holographic virtual assistant called Gatebox that initially seems to have sold rather well. It’s basically a limited virtual assistant that has a 3D avatar in a box you keep in your house that can interact with you. The video below explains it better than words could. The company right now markets it as “living with characters”.

Currently virtual assistants are seen as tools or utilities, but it is a fascinating thought that eventually they might be seen as friends or confidants. The loneliness epidemic, especially among Generation’s Y and Z is very well documented and publicized with data showing 13% of the country has 0 close friends. This leads to all sorts of negative health effects from additional stress, substance abuse, suicide, etc. This might be a technological answer to coping with the issue, especially as the algorithms become better and more lifelike.

I am curious to see how this type of technology/interface develops and especially if AI virtual assistants become a health tool and as common in a household as a television is.

Big Trends for 2019

For the last 2 years ARK Invest has put out an interesting look ahead for the year focused on what they see as the big technology trends. You can find the latest for 2019 here. Some points I found particularly interesting this year are:

  • This has been apparent for several years but barely talked about in the media, but the cost of lithium ion batteries is dropping rapidly, allowing a transformation in how we consume energy and our electrical grid systems. Due to this they forecast electric vehicles will be cheaper by early 2020s than any comparable internal combustion engine vehicle.

  • They might be cherry picking their data but they do make the case that bitcoin and crypto demand is accelerating in emerging markets with unstable currencies.

  • The rise of digital wallet apps in the US grabbing market share, just like they’ve long been dominant in China with WeChat. They specifically call out Venmo and Square as evolving into the center of a consumers financial life.

AI and Cybersecurity

The AI Now Institute recently released their annual review looking at AI and security. Their annual report for 2018 can be seen here. The main theme this year is that governments need to start regulating AI yesterday, especially the use of facial recognition technologies. The institute believes that the biggest near term risk is the use of AI in surveillance technologies and automated decision making, especially by the state on their people.

The report is a fascinating read on an area of AI most people haven’t thought about so take a look.

Trim

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Overview

Trim is a fintech startup that offers an AI personal assistant that improves the financial health of its users. Services include saving automation, spending analysis and automatic budgeting. Its hottest offering is an automated service that negotiates and lowers a user’s bills. Trim does this with subscriptions such as Comcast cable by using AI to look at billing and pricing trends regionally. It’s customers tend to be younger and more tech savvy individuals, mostly in the millennial demographic. Their next set of offerings will be focused on helping solve debt challenges people have, especially around student loans and credit card debt.

Trim has an interesting business model that takes a percentage of what they save their users by negotiating their cable and internet bills.

The team is currently less than 20 people and is based in San Francisco, CA.

Why I like Them

Automation - the team is hyper focused on automating the personal finances of its users. A long term thesis of mine is the growth of more automatic personal finance since the vast majority of people don’t understand and hate dealing with their finances. Trim recognizes this and is investing heavily in R&D to ultimately become a platform that improves user’s financial health.

The team is also laser focused on their users’ needs and their mission of solving people’s financial problems. In finance and fintech in general to often firm’s are offering a service, but not helping the end user actually improve their financial well being. Trim talks to their user’s weekly to target the next products to build that directly helps them solve an issue they need. As expected with this focus, they have strong traction and growth. Even more interesting, they find that their service is very sticky as they deliver a newsfeed of transactions and information via SMS to their users that is very engaging, so much so that most users stop using their banks app.

Disclosure:  I have spoken to members of the team.