Astranis raises $250M at a $1.4B valuation for smaller, cheaper geostationary communications satellites

Space startup Astranis has raised a $250 million Series C round to provide it with a capital injection to help scale manufacturing of its unique MicroGEO satellites — geostationary communications satellites that are much smaller than the typical massive, expensive spacecraft used in that orbital band to provide communications and connectivity to specific points on Earth.

The Astranis Series C was led by BlackRock-managed funds, and includes participation from a host of new investors including Baillie Gifford, Fidelity, Koch Strategic Platforms and more. Existing investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Venrock, and more also chipped in, with the raise valuing the company at $1.4 billion post-money.

This brings the total funding raised by Astranis to over $350 million, including both equity and debt financing. Astranis got started only in 2016, and was part of the YC Winter 2016 cohort. While a lot of other companies are looking to build satellite constellations in low-Earth orbit to provide low-cost broadband on Earth, Astranis, led by co-founder and CEO John Gedmark, is focused on the GEO band, where the large legacy communications satellites currently operate, orbiting the Earth at a fixed position and providing connectivity to a set area on Earth.

Gedmark has told me previously that the company’s offering is very different from the LEO constellations being put up and operated by companies including SpaceX, because they’re essentially a much more targeted, nimble solution that works with existing ground infrastructure. Customers who have a specific regional need for connectivity can get Astranis to put one one up at a greatly reduced cost compared to a traditional GEO communications satellite, and do so to replace or upgrade aging existing satellite network infrastructure, for example.

It’s worth noting that BlackRock, which led this round, has also been a key participant in the PIPE components of high-profile space startup SPACs like launcher company Astra’s. Not saying that’s the exit plan this round is setting up, but definitely something to think about.

#aerospace, #andreessen-horowitz, #astranis, #blackrock, #funding, #outer-space, #satellite, #satellite-constellation, #satellite-constellations, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startup-funding, #tc, #venrock

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ConsenSys raises $65M from JP Morgan, Mastercard, UBS to build infrastructure for DeFi

ConsenSys, a key player in crypto and a major proponent of the Ethereum blockchain, has raised a $65 million funding round from J.P. Morgan, Mastercard, and UBS AG, as well as major blockchain companies Protocol Labs, the Maker Foundation, Fenbushi, The LAO and Alameda Research. Additional investors include CMT Digital and the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund. As well as fiat, several funds invested with Ethereum-based stablecoins, DAI and USDC, as consideration.

Sources told TechCrunch that this is an unpriced round because of the valuation risk, and the funding instrument is “full”, so the round is being closed now.

The fundraise looks like a highly strategic one, based around the idea that traditional institutions will need visibility into the increasingly influential world of ‘decentralized finance’ (DeFi) and the Web3 applications being developed on the Ethereum blockchain.

In a statement on the fundraise, ConsenSys said it has been through a “period of strategic evolution and growth”, but most outside observers would agree that this is that’s something of an understatement.

After a period of quite a lot of ‘creative disruption’ to put it mildly (at one point a couple of years ago, ConsenSys seemed to have everything from a VC fund, to an accelerator, to multiple startups under its wing), the company has restructured to form two main arms: ConsenSys, the core software business; and ConsenSys Mesh, the investment arm, incubator, and portfolio. It also acquired the Quorum product from J.P. Morgan which has given it a deeper bench into the enterprise blockchain ecosystem. This means it now has a very key product suite for the Etherum platform, including products such as Codefi, Diligence, Infura, MetaMask, Truffle, and Quorum.

This suite allows it to serve both public and private permissioned blockchain networks. It can also support Layer 2 Ethereum networks, as well as facilitate access to adjacent protocols like IPFS, Filecoin, and others. ConsenSys is also a major contributor to the Ethereum 2.0 project, for obvious reasons.

Commenting on the fundraise, Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder, Ethreum said in a statement: “When we set out to raise a round, it was important to us to patiently construct a diverse cap table, consistent with our belief that similar to how the web developed, the whole economy would join the revolutionaries on a next-generation protocol. ConsenSys’ software stack represents access to a new automated objective trust foundation enabled by decentralized protocols like Ethereum. We are proud to partner with preeminent financial firms alongside leading crypto companies to further converge the centralized and decentralized financial domains at this particularly exciting time of growth for ConsenSys and the entire industry.”

With financial institutions able to see, ‘in public’ DeFi happening on Ethereuem, because of the public chain, they can see how much of the financial system is gradually starting to merge with the blockchain world. So it’s becoming clearer what attracts these major institutions.

Mike Dargan, Head of Group Technology at UBS said: “Our investment in ConsenSys adds proven expertise in distributed ledger technology to our UBS Next portfolio.”

For MasterCard this appears to be not just a pure investment – Consensys has been working with it on a private permissioned network.

Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president of digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships at Mastercard said: “Enterprise Ethereum is a key infrastructure on which we and our partners are building payment and non-payment applications to power the future of commerce… Our investment and partnership with ConsenSys helps us bring secure and performant Enterprise Ethereum capabilities to our customers.”

Colleen Sullivan, Co-Founder and CEO of CMT Digital said: “ConsenSys is the pioneer in bridging the gaps across traditional finance, centralized crypto, and DeFi, and more broadly, between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. We are proud to participate in this funding round as the ConsenSys team continues to pave the way for global users  — retail and institutional — to easily access the crypto ecosystem.”

TechCrunch understands that the fundraise was started around the time of the Quorum acquisition, last June. The $65 million round is in majority fiat currency as opposed to cryptocurrency and is an adjunct to the round done with JP Morgan last summer.

The presence of significant crypto players such as Maker Protocol Labs shows the significance of the fund-raise, beyond the simple transaction. The announcement also comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO, which makes for interesting timing.

ConsenSys’ products have become highly significant in the world where developers, enterprises, and consumers meet blockchain and crypto. In its statement, the company claims MetaMask now has over three million monthly active users across mobile and desktop, a 3x increase in the last five or six months, it says. This is roughly the same amount of monthly active customers as Coinbase.

The ConsenSys announcement comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO. While Coinbase is acting as an exchange to turn fiat into crypto and vice versa, it has also been getting into DeFi of late. Where there are also resemblances with ConsenSys, is that Coinbase, with 3 million users, is used as a wallet, and MetMask, which also has 3 million users, can also be used as a wallet. The comparison ends there, but it’s certainly interesting, given Coinbase’s $100 billion valuation.

As Jeremy Millar, Chief Development Officer, told me: “Coinbase has pioneered an exchange, in one of the world’s most regulated financial markets, the US. And it has helped drive significant interest in the space. We enjoy a very positive relationship with Coinbase, trying to further enable the ecosystem and adoption of the technology.”

The background to this raise is that a lot of early-stage blockchain and crypto companies have been raising a lot of money recently, but much of this has been through crypto investment firms. Only a handful of Silicon Valley VCs are backing blockchain, such as Andreessen Horowitz.

What’s interesting about this announcement is that these incumbent financial giants are not only taking an interest, but working alongside ConsenSys to both invest and build products on Ethereum.

It’s ConsenSys’ view that every payment service provider, banks will need this financial infrastructure in the future, especially for DeFI.

Given there is roughly $43 billion collateralized in DeFi, it’s increasingly the case that major investors are involved, and there are increasingly higher returns than traditional yield and bond or bond yields.

The moves by Central Banks into digital currencies is also forcing companies and governments to realize digital currency, and the ‘blockchain rails’ on which it runs, is here to stay. This is what is suggested by the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund’s (a Shenzhen / Hong Kong joint partnership) decision to get involved.

Another aspect of this story is that ConsenSys is sitting on some extremely powerful products. Consensys has six products that serve three different types of people.

Service developers who are building on Ethereum are using Truffle to develop smart contracts. Users joining the NFT hype are using MetaMask underneath it all.

The MetaMask wallet allows users to swap one token for another. This has proved quite lucrative for ConsenSys, which says it has resulted in $1.8 billion in volume in decentralized exchange use. ConsenSys takes a 0.875 percent cut on every swap that it serves.

And institutions are using Consensys’ products. The company says more than 150,000 developers use Infura’s APIs, and 4.5 million developers create and deploy smart contracts using Truffle, while its Protocols group — developer of Hyperledger Besu and ConsenSys Quorum — are building Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) for six central banks, says Consensys.

Consensys is also making hay with the NFT boom. Developers are using Consensys products for the nodes and infrastructure on Ethereum which stores the NFT files.

Consensys is also riding two waves. One is the developer eave and the other is the financial system wave.

As a spokesperson said: “Where the interest in money and invention started happening was on public networks like Ethereum. So we really believe that these are converging and they will continue to, and every one of our products offers public main net compatibility because we think this is the future.”

Millar added: “If we want to help the world adopt the technology we need to meet it at its adoption point, which for many large enterprises means inside the firewall first. But similarly, we think, just like the public Internet, the real value – the disruptive value – changes the ability to do this on a broader permissionless basis, especially when you have sufficient privacy and authentication available.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #blockchains, #co-founder, #coinbase, #consensys, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #firewall, #founder, #joseph-lubin, #jp-morgan, #mastercard, #player, #protocol-labs, #quorum, #shenzhen, #smart-contract, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #technology, #united-states

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Formation raises $4M led by Andreessen Horowitz to train truly ‘exceptional’ software engineers

Sophie Zhou Novati worked as a senior engineer at Facebook and then Nextdoor, where she struggled to hire great engineers for her team.

Frustrated, she decided to try training engineers to meet her team’s hiring standards by mentoring at a local coding bootcamp. After two and a half years of mentoring on nights and weekends, Novati decided to turn her passion into a career.

She and her husband, Michael, founded Formation with a couple of goals in mind. For one, they wanted to offer personalized training to help people not just learn to code, but to become “exceptional” software engineers. Sophie was also struck by the diversity of the people she witnessed going through coding bootcamps, but she realized that those graduates weren’t getting access to the same opportunities that students from traditional universities do.

Formation co-founder and CEO Sophia Zhou Navati

Formation co-founder and CEO Sophia Zhou Navati

With Formation, her goal is to personalize the training experience via a remote fellowship program that combines automated instruction with access to a “network of top tier mentors” from companies such as Facebook and Google. After one year in beta, Formation is unveiling its Engineering Fellowship, where every fellow gets a “personalized training plan tailored to their unique career ambitions.” So far, it’s placed just over 30 people in engineering roles at companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Lyft with an average starting salary of $120,000.

Formation aims to offer an experience beyond bootcamps, which Sophie argues “have gotten too big, too fast, churning hundreds or thousands of students through fixed curriculums without individualized attention.”

The startup attracted the attention of Andreessen Horowitz, which just led its $4 million seed round. Designer Fund, Combine, Lachy Groom, Slow Ventures and engineers from Airbnb, Notion, Rippling and others also participated in the financing.

“The first thing that really struck me about this community is just how diverse it is. Forty-four percent of graduates are reporting that they identify as nonmale, and the percentage of Black and Latinx graduates is nearly double the national average at traditional universities,” Sophie told TechCrunch. “But the problem is that only about 55% of bootcamp grads are getting a job as a software engineer, and of the ones that do, their median salary is only about $65,000. At the same time, companies everywhere are just desperately looking for ways to diversify their talent pool.”

Instead of having students follow a fixed curriculum, Formation leverages adaptive learning technology to build a personalized training plan tailored to each student’s specific skillset and career goals. The platform continuously assesses their skills and adapts their roadmap, according to Sophie.

About half of the people participating in Formation’s program are current engineers already working in the industry in some capacity. 

Connie Chan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said she’s been examining the edtech space for a while, including companies building new tools for teaching and upleveling coding skills. 

Formation stood out to her as the “only true tech-based and scalable solution that optimizes each student’s mastery of important skills.” Its ability to dynamically change based on a student’s performance in particular was compelling.

“The founder-product fit is also super clear — Sophie brings her own best-in-class engineering experience to Formation, as well as her long-time passion for mentoring,” Chan wrote via email.

#ai, #airbnb, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #coding-bootcamp, #connie-chan, #designer-fund, #distance-education, #diversity, #edtech, #education, #facebook, #formation, #funding, #google, #lachy-groom, #lyft, #mentorship, #recent-funding, #slow-ventures, #software-engineer, #startups, #venture-capital

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Note-taking app Mem raises $5.6 million from Andreessen Horowitz

The competition for note-taking is as fierce as it has ever been with plenty of highly-valued productivity startups fighting for an audience it can potentially serve endless productivity offshoots. In the past year, Notion raised at a $2 billion valuation, Coda raised at $636 million, and Roam raised at $200 million.

A new competitor in the space is emerging out of stealth with fresh funding from Andreessen Horowitz. The free app, called Mem, is an early access platform dedicated to pushing users to quickly jot down their thoughts without focusing too heavily on the underlying organization of them. The startup’s founders have vast ambitions for what their platform could become down the road, tapping into further advances in machine learning and even AR.

“Really the differentiation is [information] that is summonable ubiquitously wherever you are,” Mem co-founder Kevin Moody tells TechCrunch. “So, in the near term, through your desktop app with Mem Spotlight as a heads-up display for wherever you are, in the medium term through an assistive mobile application, and then in the long term, imagine contact lenses that are overlaying useful content to you in the world.”

Moody and his co-founder Dennis Xu tell TechCrunch they’ve raised $5.6 million led by a16z with additional participation from their Cultural Leadership Fund, Will Smith’s dreamers.vc, Floodgate and Unusual Ventures. The round also was host to a handful of angel investors including Harry Stebbings, Julia Lipton, Niv Dror, Tony Liu, Rahul Vohra and Todd Goldberg, among others.

In its current iteration, Mem push users towards “lightweight organization” rather than clicking through folders and links to find the perfect place to nestle their thoughts. Users can quickly tag users or dedicated topics in their notes. The user workflow relies pretty heavily on search and chronological organization, presenting users with their most recently accessed notes. Users can also set reminders for certain notes, bringing a popular email framework to note-taking.

For users of stock apps like Apple Notes, these interface quirks may not sound very jarring, though the design is still a departure from apps like Notion and Airtable which have heavily focused on structure over immediacy.

Mem Spotlight

Perhaps Mem’s biggest shift is how users access the information they’ve dumped into the platform. The founders say they want to avoid their app being seen as a “destination,” instead hoping users rely heavily on a keyboard-shortcut-prompted overlay called Mem Spotlight that allows them to search out information that they may need for an email, presentation or text message. The broader hope of the founders and investors behind Mem is that the team can leverage the platform’s intelligence over time to better understand the data dump from your brain — and likely other information sources across your digital footprint — to know you better than any ad network or social media graph does.

“What would it mean to just capture passively your digital footprint and then make use of that as though it were structured,” Moody posits. “If we can actually have our own Mem modeling of all of these entities, whether it’s text, or maybe it’s contacts, the people that you know, or it’s the events that you’re going to and these different sources feed into Mem, what would it mean for Mem to be able to have a product that is the ‘you’ API?”

For now, the startup’s app isn’t quite as grandiose in scale as what the founders may see in its future, but as Mem continues to onboard early users from its waitlist and add to its desktop functionality, the company is driving towards a platform they hope feels more instrumental to how its users “remember” information.

#ad-network, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #api, #co-founder, #harry-stebbings, #machine-learning, #notion, #rahul-vohra, #tc, #todd-goldberg, #unusual-ventures, #will-smith

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Can the Gleam of High-End Watches Thrive on Audio-Only Clubhouse?

It took luxury brands years to get used to the internet — but just months to start talking on the audio chat site. Are they a fit?

#andreessen-horowitz, #breitling-sa, #clubhouse-mobile-app, #grainger-herr-christoph, #iwc-schaffhausen, #luxury-goods-and-services, #social-media, #watches-and-clocks

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Lowkey raises $7 million from a16z to help game streamers capitalize on short-form video

While the growth of game-streaming audiences have continued on desktop platforms, the streaming space has felt surprisingly stagnant at times, particularly due to the missing mobile element and a lack of startup competitors.

Lowkey, a gaming startup that builds software for game streamers, is aiming to build out opportunities in bit-sized clips on mobile. The startup wants to be a hub for both creating and viewing short gaming clips but also sees a big opportunity in helping streamers cut down their existing content for distribution on platforms like Instagram and TikTok where short-form gaming content sees a good deal of engagement.

The startup announced today that they’ve closed a $7 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from a host of angel investors including Figma’s Dylan Field, Loom’s Joe Thomas and Plaid’s Zach Perret & William Hockey.

We last covered Lowkey in early 2020 when the company was looking to build out a games tournament platform for adults. At the time, the company had already pivoted after going through YC as Camelot but which allowed audiences on Twitch and YouTube pay creators to take on challenges. This latest shift brings Lowkey back to the streaming world but more focused on becoming a tool for streamers and a hub for viewers.

Twitch and YouTube Gaming have proven to be pretty uninterested in short-form content, favoring the opportunities of long-form streams that allow creators to press broadcast and upload lengthy streams. Lowkey users can easily upload footage captured from Lowkey’s desktop app or directly import a linked stream. This allows content creators to upload and comment on their own footage or remix and respond to another streamer’s content.

One of the challenges for streamers has been adapting widescreen content for a vertical video form factor, but CEO Jesse Zhang says that it’s not really a problem with most modern games. “Games inherently want to focus you attention on the center of the screen,” Zhang tells TechCrunch. “So, almost all clips extend really cleanly to like a mobile format, which is what we’ve done.”

Lowkey’s desktop app is available on Windows and their new mobile app is now live for iOS.

#andreessen-horowitz, #ceo, #digital-media, #gaming, #hockey, #instagram, #joe-thomas, #mass-media, #microsoft-windows, #twitch, #video-hosting, #world-wide-web, #youtube, #zach-perret

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Apple invests $50M into music distributor UnitedMasters alongside A16z and Alphabet

Independent music distribution platform and tool factory UnitedMasters has raised a $50M series B round led by Apple. A16z and Alphabet are participating again in this raise. United Masters is also entering a strategic partnership with Apple alongside this investment. 

If you’re unfamiliar with UnitedMasters, it’s a distribution company launched in 2017 by Steve Stoute, a former Interscope and Sony Music executive. The focus of UnitedMasters is to provide artists with a direct pipeline to data around the way that fans are interacting with their content and community, allowing them to connect more directly to offer tickets, merchandise and other commercial efforts. UnitedMasters also generally allows artists to retain control of their own masters.

Neither of these conditions are at all typical in the music industry. In a typical artist deal, recording companies retain all audience and targeting data as well as masters. This limits an artist’s ability to be agile, taking advantage of new technologies to foster a community. 

While Apple does invest in various companies, it typically does so out of its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to promote US manufacturing or strategically in partners that make critical components of its hardware like silicon foundries or glass manufacturing. Apple does a lot more purchasing than investing, typically, buying a company every few weeks or so to supplement one product effort or another. UnitedMasters, then, would be a relatively unique partnership, especially in the music space. 

I spoke to UnitedMasters CEO Steve Stoute about the deal and what it means for the businesses 1M current artists and new ones. Stoute credits Apple executive Eddy Cue having a philosophy aligned with the UnitedMasters vision with getting this deal done. 

“We want all artists to have the same opportunity,” says Stoute. “Currently, independent artists have less opportunity for success and we’re trying to remove that stigma.”

This infusion, Stoute says, will be used to hire talent that are mission oriented to take UnitedMasters global. They’re seeking local technical talent and artists talent to build out the platform worldwide. 

“Every artist needs access to a CTO,” Stoute says. “Some of the value of what a manager is today for an artist needs to be transferred to that role.”

UnitedMasters wants to provide that technical edge at scale, allowing artists to build out their fanbase at a community level.

Currently, UnitedMasters has deals with the NBA, ESPN, TikTok, Twitch and others that allow artists to tap big brand deals that would normally be brokered by a label and manager. It also has a direct distribution app that allows publishing to all of the major streaming services. Most importantly, they can check stream, fan and earnings data at a glance. 

“Steve Stoute and UnitedMasters provide creators with more opportunities to advance their careers and bring their music to the world,” said Apple’s Eddy Cue in a release statement. “The contributions of independent artists play a significant role in driving the continued growth and success of the music industry, and UnitedMasters, like Apple, is committed to empowering creators.”

“UnitedMasters has completely transformed the way artists create, retain ownership in their work, and connect with their fans,” said Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz in a release. “We are excited to work with Steve and team to build a better, bigger, and far more profitable world for musical artists.” 

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry. Recent developments like NFTs, DAOs and social tokens, as well as an explosion of DTC frameworks have begun to re-write that deal. But the major players have yet to make the truly aggressive strides they need to in order to embrace this ‘artist centric’ new world. 

The mechanics of distribution have been based on a framework defined by DRM and the DMCA for decades. This framework was always marketed as a way to protect value for the artist but was in fact architected to protect value for the distributor. We need a rethinking of the entire distribution layer.

As I mentioned when reporting the UnitedMasters + TikTok deal, it’s going to be instrumental in a more equitable future for artists:

It’s beyond time for the creators of The Culture to benefit from that culture. That’s why I find this UnitedMasters deal so interesting. Offering a direct pipeline to audiences without the attendant vulture-ism of the recording industry apparatus is really well-aligned with a platform like TikTok, which encourages and enables “viral sounds” with collaborative performances. Traditional deal structures are not well-suited to capturing viral hype, which can rise and fall within weeks without additional fuel.

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community. 

A UnitedMasters tie up isn’t a straight line to that goal, but it’s definitely got the ingredients. I’m looking forward to seeing what this produces. 

Image Credits: Steve Stoute

#advanced-manufacturing-fund, #alphabet, #andreessen-horowitz, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-music, #apple-store, #artist, #ben-horowitz, #ceo, #co-founder, #companies, #cto, #eddy-cue, #espn, #executive, #general-partner, #manufacturing, #music-industry, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #operating-systems, #social-media, #software, #sony-music, #spotify, #steve-stoute, #streaming-services, #tc, #twitch, #united-states, #unitedmasters

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NBA Top Shot maker Dapper Labs is now worth $2.6 billion thanks to half of Hollywood, the NBA, and Michael Jordan

From the early success of Crypto Kitties to the explosive growth of NBA Top Shot, Dapper Labs has been at the forefront of the cryptocurrency collectible craze known as NFTs.

Now the company is reaping the benefits of its trailblazing status with a new $305 million financing led by some of the biggest names in Hollywood, sports, and investing.

The new round values the company at a whopping $2.6 billion, according to multiple media reports, and comes at a time when NFTs have captured the popular imagination.

Leading the company’s financing was Coatue, the financial services firm that’s behind many of the biggest later stage tech deals. But heavy hitters from the entertainment world also took their cut — these are folks like NBA legend Michael Jordan as well as current players and funds including Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Lowry, Spencer Dinwiddie, Andre Drummond, Alex Caruso, Michael Carter-Williams, Josh Hart, Udonis Haslem, JaVale McGee, Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis, Klay Thompson, Nikola Vucevic, Thad Young, and Richard Seymour’s 93 Ventures.

Entertainment and music heavyweights including Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures, Will Smith and Keisuke Honda’s Dreamers VC, Shawn Mendes and Andrew Gertler’s AG Ventures, Shay Mitchell, and 2 Chainz also bought in on the action.

And from the venture world comes other strategic investors like Andreessen Horowitz, The Chernin Group, USV, Version One, and Venrock.

The company said it would use the funds to continue building out NBA Top Shot and expanding the updated digital trading card platform to other sports and a broader creator community.

Top Shot has already notched over $500 million in sales for its animated trading cards featuring things like LeBron James dunking and the sky (at least for now) is seemingly the limit for the collectible applications of blockchain.

It’s like the one thing that cryptocurrency can do really well and it’s been embraced far beyond the world of sports collectibles. The recent $69 million sale of a digital piece of art at Christies also marks a watershed moment for art world.

“NBA Top Shot is successful because it taps into basketball fandom – it’s a new and more exciting way for people to connect with their favorite teams and players,” said Roham Gharegozlou, CEO of Dapper Labs. “We want to bring the same magic to other sports leagues as well as help other entertainment studios and independent creators find their own approaches in exploring open platforms. NFTs unlock a new model for monetization that benefits the fans much more than advertising or sponsorships.”

Powering the Top Shot system and Dapper Labs’ other offerings is a new blockchain protocol called Flow, which purports to handle mainstream consumer applications at scale, and can support mass adoption.

Flow also allows for transactions using fiat currency and credit cards in addition to provide a much needed ease of cryptocurrency, and can keep customers safe from the fraud or theft common in cryptocurrency systems, according to a statement from Dapper Labs.

Flow enables NFT marketplaces and other decentralized applications that need to scale to handle mainstream demand without extremely high transaction costs (“gas fees”) or environmental concerns, the company said.

“NBA Top Shot is one of the best demonstrations we’ve seen of how quickly new technology can change the landscape for media and sports fans,” said Kevin Durant, Co-Founder of Thirty Five Ventures. “We’re excited to follow the progress with everything happening on Flow blockchain and use our platform with the Boardroom to connect with fans in a new way.”

Already companies like Warner Music Group, Ubisoft, Warner Media, and the UFC, as well as thousands of third party developers, artists, and other creators are using the Flow mainnet to sell collectible cards, and develop custodial wallets.

Additional investors in the round include: MLB players like Tim Beckham and Nolan Arenado; NFL players: Ken Crawley, Thomas Davis, Stefon Diggs, Dee Ford, Malcom Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Jordan Matthew, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, DK Metcalf, Tyrod Taylor, and Trent Williams; team ownership including Vivek Ranadive (Kings), and notable sports investors Bolt Ventures.

#andre-iguodala, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #ashton-kutcher, #blockchain, #ceo, #co-founder, #coatue, #cryptocurrencies, #dapper, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #finance, #kevin-durant, #lebron-james, #michael-jordan, #mlb, #national-basketball-association, #national-football-league, #nba, #nfl, #tc, #technology, #the-chernin-group, #thirty-five-ventures, #ubisoft, #venrock, #version-one, #vivek-ranadive, #warner-media, #warner-music-group, #will-smith

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Closing on $103M, MaC VC is changing the face of venture capital

The partners at MaC Venture Capital, the Los Angeles-based investment firm that has just closed on $103 million for its inaugural fund, have spent the bulk of their careers breaking barriers.

Formed when M Ventures (a firm founded by former Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty); the first Black talent agency partner in the history of Hollywood, Charles D. King; and longtime operating executive (and former agent) Michael Palank joined forces with Marlon Nichols, a co-founder of the LA-based investment firm Cross Culture Capital, MaC Venture Capital wanted to be a different kind of fund.

The firm combines the focus on investing in software that Fenty had honed from his years spent as a special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz, where he spent five years before setting out to launch M Ventures; and Nichols’ thesis-driven approach to focusing on particular sectors that are being transformed by global cultural shifts wrought by changing consumer behavior and demographics.

“There’s a long history and a lot of relationships here,” said King, one of Hollywood’s premier power players and the founder of the global media company, Macro. “Adrian and I go back to 93 [when] we were in law school. We went on to conquer the world, where he went out to Washington DC and I became a senior partner at WME.”

Palank was connected to the team through King as well, since the two men worked together at William Morris before running business development for Will Smith and others.

“There was this idea of having connectivity between tech and innovation… that’s when we formed M Ventures [but] that understanding of media and culture… that focus… was complimentary with what Marlon was doing at Cross Culture,” King said.

Few firms could merge the cultural revolutions wrought by DJ Herc spinning records in the rec room of a Bronx apartment building and Sir Tim Berners Lee’s invention of the internet, but that’s exactly what MaC VC aims to do.

And while the firm’s founding partnership would prefer to focus on the financial achievements of their respective firms and the investments that now comprise the new portfolio of their combined efforts — it includes StokeGoodfairFinessePureStream, and Sote — it’s hard to overstate the significance that a general partnership that includes three Black men have raised $103 million in an industry that’s been repeatedly called out for problems with diversity and inclusion.

MaC Venture Capital co-founders Marlon Nichols, Michael Palank, Charles King, and Adrian Fenty. Image Credit: MaC Venture Capital

“Our LPs invested in us… for lots of different reasons but at the top of the list was that we are a diverse team in so many ways. We’re going to show them a set of companies that they would not have seen from any [other] VC fund,” said Fenty. “We also, in turn, have the same investing thesis when we look at companies. We want to have women founders, African American founders, Latino founders… In our fund now we have some companies that are all women, all African American or all Latino.”

The diversity of the firm’s ethos is also reflected in the broad group of limited partners that have come on to bankroll its operations: it includes Goldman Sachs, the University of Michigan, Howard University, Mitch and Freada Kapor, Foot Locker, and Greenspring Associates.

“We are thrilled to join MaC Venture Capital in this key milestone toward building a new kind of venture capital firm that is anchored around a cultural investment thesis and supports transformative companies and dynamic founders,” said Daniel Feder, Managing Director with the University of Michigan Investment Office, in a statement. “Their unified understanding of technology, media, entertainment, and government, along with a successful track record of investing, give them deep insights into burgeoning shifts in culture and behavior.”

And it extends to the firm’s portfolio, a clutch of startup companies headquartered around the globe — from Seattle to Houston and Los Angeles to Nairobi.

“We look at all verticals. We’re very happy to be generalists,” said Fenty.

A laser focus on software-enabled businesses is complemented by the thesis-driven approach laid out in position papers staking out predictions for how the ubiquity of gaming; conscious consumerism; new parenting paradigms; and cultural and demographic shifts will transform the global economy.

Increasingly, that thesis also means moving into areas of frontier technologies that include the space industry, mixed reality and everything at the intersection of computing and the transformation of the physical world — drawn in part by the firm’s close connection to the diverse tech ecosystem that’s emerging in Los Angeles. “We’re seeing these SpaceX and Tesla mafias spin out, entrepreneurs who have had best-in-class training at an Elon Musk company,” said Palank. “It’s a great talent pool, and LA has more computer science students graduating every year than Northern California.”

With its current portfolio, though early, the venture firm is operating in the top 5% of funds — at least on paper — and its early investments are up 3 times what the firm invested, Nichols said. 

“The way to think about it is MaC is essentially an extension of what we were building before,” the Cross Culture Ventures co-founder said. “We’re sticking with the concept that talent is ubiquitous but access to capital and opportunity is not. We want to be the source and access to capital for those founders.”

#adrian-fenty, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #california, #co-founder, #computing, #cross-culture-ventures, #finance, #finesse, #foot-locker, #goldman-sachs, #greenspring-associates, #houston, #investment, #king, #laser, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #m-ventures, #mac-venture-capital, #macro, #marlon-nichols, #mayor, #media, #michigan, #money, #nairobi, #seattle, #sote, #spacex, #stoke, #tc, #tesla, #tim-berners-lee, #university-of-michigan, #venture-capital, #washington-dc, #will-smith

0

Neighbor raises $53M for self-storage marketplace after 5x YoY revenue growth

Neighbor, which operates a self-storage marketplace, announced Wednesday that it has raised $53 million in a Series B round of funding.

Fifth Wall led the financing, which notably also included participation from returning backer Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and new investors DoorDash CEO Tony Xu and StockX CEO Scott Cutler. Xu and Cutler will join former Uber CEO Ryan Graves as investors and advisors to the Lehi, Utah-based startup. A16z led Neighbor’s $10 million Series A in January of 2020.

At a time when the commercial real estate world is struggling, self-storage is an asset class that continues to perform extremely well. Neighbor’s unique model aims to repurpose under-utilized or vacant space — whether it be a person’s basement or the empty floor of an office building — and turn it into storage.

Colton Gardner, Joseph Woodbury and Preston Alder co-founded Neighbor.com in 2017 with the mission of giving people a more accessible and personal alternative to store their belongings. 

Image Credits: Neighbor

The $40 billion self-storage industry is ripe for a shake-up, considering that most people are used to renting space out of buildings located in not necessarily convenient locations. 

Neighbor has developed a unique peer-to-peer model, connecting “renters” in need of storage space with “hosts” in their neighborhood who are willing to lease storage space in their home, garage or even driveway. The company says it has hosts on the platform making more than $50,000 a year in passive income.

“We really grew into a national business over the last year and now have active renters in more states than Public Storage, which is a $43 billion publicly traded company,” CEO Woodbury said.

Neighbor makes money by charging a service fee (a sliding-scale percentage) of each rent. Its algorithms provide suggested rental fees for hosts.

COVID has only accelerated Neighbor’s business, with revenue growing “5x” and organic reservations increasing “7x” year over year.

“If you think about it, fundamentally on the demand side, everyone’s moving out of these major metro areas like New York and San Francisco, and are moving to these more rural locations. All that moving activity has created a lot more storage demand,” Woodbury told TechCrunch. “In addition to that, people are just spending more time at home and cleaning out their homes more. And they no doubt need storage as a result of that.”

 It also doesn’t hurt that the company claims the self-storage offered on its marketplace on average is priced about 40% to 50% less than traditional storage facilities.

Neighbor also partners with commercial real estate operators to turn their under-utilized or vacant retail, multifamily or office space into self-storage. This provides new revenue streams to landlords hurting from the pandemic keeping so many people at home. And that increased demand led to Neighbor’s commercial real estate footprint growing 10x in 2020. 

With its new capital, the company plans to expand its nationwide network of hosts and renters as well as continue to spread awareness of its marketplace.

“We have tens of millions of square feet of self storage on the platform,” Woodbury said. “The beauty of that square footage is that it’s in every single state. But we want to continue to expand nationally and as we grow and mature, we’ll turn our eyes globally as well.”

Interestingly, before leading the round for Neighbor, Fifth Wall approached the company about business development opportunities. Partner Dan Wenhold said he offered to introduce the concept to the real estate venture firm’s LPs, which include more than 65 of the world’s largest owners and operators of real estate from 15 countries. For example, Fifth Wall partners Acadia Realty Trust and Jamestown are already onboarding properties onto Neighbor’s platform. 

“We are sort of the bridge between the largest owners and operators of physical real estate assets and the most disruptive technologies that are impacting those property managers and landlords, Wenhold said. “And Neighbor fits perfectly into that thesis for us.”

After introducing Neighbor to a short list of Fifth Wall’s strategic LP partners, the feedback the firm got “was fantastic,” Wenhold said. 

“A lot of owners in retail, office and even multi-family expressed interest in working with Neighbor to help monetize space,” he added.

The company’s mission also has a sustainable component considering that creating self-storage space out of existing property can help minimize the amount of new construction that takes place.

Fifth Wall, Wenhold added, is aware of the waste and the emissions that come from the construction process to build new space and admires Neighbor’s role in minimizing that.

“Our firm ardently pursued the opportunity to invest in a transformative proptech business like Neighbor,” he said.

#andreessen-horowitz, #fifth-wall, #funding, #fundings-exits, #marketplace, #neighbor, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #ryan-graves, #scott-cutler, #self-storage, #startups, #tc, #tony-xu, #utah, #venture-capital

0

Crypto social network BitClout arrives with a bevy of high profile investors, and skeptics

While much of the recent wave of relentless hype around NFTs — or non-fungible tokens — has been most visibly manifested in high-dollar art auctions or digital trading cards sales, there’s also been a relentless string of chatter among bullish investors who see a future that ties the tokens to the future of social media and creator monetization.

Much of the most spirited conversations have centered on a pre-launch project called BitClout, a social crypto-exchange where users can buy and sell tokens based on people’s reputations. The app, which launches out of private beta tomorrow morning, has already courted plenty of controversy inside the crypto community, but it’s also amassed quite a war chest as investors pump tens of millions into its proprietary currency.

Early backers of the platform’s BitClout currency include a who’s who of Silicon Valley investors including Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz, the startup’s founder tells TechCrunch. Other investors include Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Winklevoss Capital and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. A report in Decrypt notes that a single wallet connected to BitClout has received more than $165 million worth of Bitcoin deposits suggesting that huge sums have already poured into the network ahead of its public launch.

BitClout falls into an exploding category of crypto companies that are focusing on tokenized versions of social currency. Others working on building out these individual tokens include Roll and Rally, which aim to allow creators to directly monetize their internet presence and allow their fans to bet on them. Users who believe in a budding artist can invest in their social currency and could earn returns as the creator became more famous and their coins accrued more value.

“If you look at people’s existing relationships with social media companies, it’s this very adversarial thing where all the content they produce is not really theirs but it belongs to the corporation that doesn’t share the monetization with them,” BitClout’s founder, who refers to themselves pseudonymously as “diamondhands,” tells TechCrunch. (There’s been some speculation on their identity as a former founder in the cryptocurrency space, but in a call with TechCrunch, they would not confirm their identity.)

The BitClout platform revolves around the BitClout currency. At the moment users can deposit Bitcoin into the platform which is instantly converted to BitClout tokens and can then be spent on individual creators inside the network. When a creator gets more popular as more users buy their coin, it gets more expensive to buy denominations of their coin. Creators can also opt in to receive a certain percentage of transactions deposited into their own BitClout wallets so that they continue to benefit from their own success.

The company’s biggest point of controversy hinges on what has been opt-in and what has been opt-out for the early group of accounts on the platform. Most other social currency offerings are strictly opt-in. Users come to the platform in search of a way to create tokens that allow them to monetize a fanbase and build a social fabric across multiple platforms. The thought being that if the platforms own the audience then you are at their mercy.

BitClout has taken an aggressive growth strategy here, turning that model on its head. The startup has pre-populated the BitClout network with 15,000 accounts after scraping information from popular public Twitter profiles. This means that BitClout users can buy shares of Kim Kardashian’s social coin or Elon Musk’s without those individuals ever having signed up for a profile or agreeing to it. This hasn’t been well-received by all of those who unwittingly had accounts set up on their behalf including many crypto-savvy users who got scooped up in the initial wave of seeding.

The startup’s founder says that this effort was largely an effort to prevent handle squatting and user impersonation but he believes that as the platform opens, a sizable pre-purchase of creator coins reserved for the owners of these accounts will entice those users to verify their handles to claim the funds.

Perhaps BitClout’s most eyebrow raising quirk is that the platform is launching with a way to invest into the platform and convert bitcoin into BitClout, but at launch there’s no way to cash out funds. The project’s founder says that it’s only a matter of time before this is resolved, and points to Coinbase and the Winkelvoss twin’s status as coin holders as a sign of future exchange support to come, but the company has no specifics to share at launch.

While the founders and investors behind the project see a bright future for social currencies on the blockchain, many in the decentralized community have been less impressed with BitClout’s early efforts to achieve viral adoption among creators in a permission-less manner.

“BitClout will make a great case study on how badly crypto projects can mess up incentive engineering when they try to monetize social networks.” Jay Graber, a decentralized platform researcher involved in Twitter’s bluesky effort, said in a tweet. “Trust and reputation are key, and if you create a sketchy platform and mess with people’s reputations without their consent it is not going to go well.”

If BitClout comes out of the gate and manages to convert enough of its pre-seeded early adopter list that there is value in joining its closed ecosystem version of a social token then it may have strong early momentum in an explosive new space that many creators are finding valuable. The concepts explored by others in the social currency space are sound, but this particular execution of it is a high-risk one. The network launches tomorrow morning so we’ll see soon enough.

#alexis-ohanian, #andreessen-horowitz, #artist, #bitclout, #bitcoin, #co-founder, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #currency, #digital-currencies, #gemini, #kim-kardashian, #reddit, #sequoia-capital, #social-media, #social-networks, #tc, #winklevoss-capital

0

NFT marketplace OpenSea raises $23 million from a16z

OpenSea has been one of a handful of NFT marketplaces to explode in popularity in recent weeks as collectors wade into the trading of non-fungible tokens on the blockchain. While new startups have been popping up everyday, platforms that launched in crypto’s earlier times are receiving rampant attention from investors who see this wave of excitement for cryptocurrencies and tokens as much different than the ones that preceded it.

Today, the startup announced that it’s closed a $23 million round of funding led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from a laundry list of angels and firms including Naval Ravikant, Mark Cuban, Alexis Ohanian, Dylan Field and Linda Xie.

OpenSea launched back in 2017, announcing a $2 million round a few months later from Founders Fund and a few crypto-centric firms. At the time CryptoKitties mania was most of what Ethereum had to offer and early NFT projects were being slowly embraced by a community that was enthusiastic but more curious than anything.

Fast forward to 2021 and NFTs are certainly having a moment, and while the specific shades of that moment may be heavily focused on high-dollar artwork sales from traditional auction houses or NFT memes being tweeted out by Elon Musk, proponents see a future for the tokens that upends the economics of content creation and influence on the internet. The enthusiasm accompanies a months-long rally in the value of cryptocurrencies themselves which have taken Ethereum and Bitcoin to multiples of previous-all-time-highs.

The market for digital goods expanding widely may depend heavily on further adoption among gaming giants and larger media organizations, but early-on there’s hope that digital-first creators can use these marketplace to connect more directly with fans and begin to bypass the massive platforms they depend on now.

There are still some early hiccups as the tech develops. While Ethereum has committed to moving from its energy-intensive proof-of-work standard to a more efficient proof-of-stake one eventually, the existing structure has been far from efficient, which has opened many of the early NFT artists to criticism surrounding climate change concerns and whether the stakeholders in crypto tokens should be prioritizing environmental worries over the specific challenges of certain proofs. In February, OpenSea announced support for more efficient Tezos-based NFTs.

A more nebulous challenge for marketplaces like OpenSea may be cutting through the noise of speculation and providing a marketplace for more users that are actually buying to own, an especially difficult proposition given the breakneck pace of growth for the digital currencies being used to purchase the digital goods themselves.

#alexis-ohanian, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #blockchains, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptokitties, #decentralization, #distributed-computing, #dylan-field, #elon-musk, #ethereum, #founders-fund, #mark-cuban, #naval-ravikant, #tezos

0

Entertainment payroll startup Wrapbook raises $27M round led by A16Z

Wrapbook, a startup that simplifies the payroll process for TV, film and commercial productions, has raised $27 million in Series A funding from noteworthy names from both the tech and entertainment worlds.

The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Equal Ventures and Uncork Capital, as well as from WndrCo (the investment and holding company led by DreamWorks and Quibi founder/co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg) and from CAA co-founder Michael Ovitz.

“It’s time we bring production financial services into the 21st century,” Katzenberg said in a statement. “We need a technology solution that will address the increasing complexities of production onboarding, pay and insuring cast and crew, only exacerbated by COVID-19, and I believe that Wrapbook delivers.”

Wrapbook co-founder and CEO Ali Javid explained that entertainment payroll has remained a largely old-fashioned, paper-based process, which be particularly difficult to track as cast and crew move from project to project, up to 30 times in single year. Wrapbook digitizes and simplifies the process — electronically collecting all the forms and signatures needed at the beginning of production, handling payroll itself, creating a dashboard to track payments and also making it easy to obtain the necessary insurance.

Wrapbook founders

Wrapbook founders Cameron Woodward, Ali Javid, Hesham El-Nahhas and Naysawn Naji

Although the startup was founded in 2018, Javid told me that demand has increased dramatically as production resumed during the pandemic, with COVID-19 “totally” changing the industry’s culture and prompting production companies to say, “Hey, if there’s an easier, faster way to do this from my house, then yeah let’s look at it.”

Javid also described the Wrapbook platform as a “a vertical fintech solution that’s growing really fast in an industry that we understand really well and not many others have thought about.” In fact, he said the company’s revenue grew 7x in 2020.

And while Wrapbook’s direct customers are the production companies, co-founder and CMO Cameron Woodward (who previously worked in filmmaking insurance and commercial production) said that the team has also focused on creating a good experience for the cast and crew who get paid through the platform — a growing number of them (12% thus far) have used their Wrapbook profiles to get paid on multiple productions.

Wrapbook growth chart

Image Credits: Wrapbook

The startup previously raised $3.6 million in seed funding. Looking ahead, Javid and Woodward said that Wrapbook’s solution could eventually be adopted in other project-based industries. But for now, they see plenty of opportunity to continue growing within entertainment alone — they estimated that the industry currently sees $200 billion in annual payments.

“We’re going to double down on what’s working and build things out based on what customers have asked for within entertainment,” Javid said. “To that end, we’re working towards hiring 100 people in the next 12 months.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #enterprise, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc, #wndrco

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Eco raises $26M in a16z-led round to scale its digital cryptocurrency platform

‍Eco, which has built out a digital global cryptocurrency platform, announced Friday that it has raised $26 million in a funding round led by a16z Crypto.

Founded in 2018, the SF-based startup’s platform is designed to be used as a payment tool around the world for daily-use transactions. The company emphasizes that it’s “not a bank, checking account, or credit card.”

“We’re building something better than all of those combined,” it said in a blog post. The company’s mission has also been described as an effort to use cryptocurrency as a way “to marry savings and spending,” according to this CoinList article.

Eco users can earn up to 5% annually on their deposits and get 5% cashback on when transacting with merchants such as Amazon, Uber, and others. Next up: the company says it will give its users the ability to pay bills, pay friends and more “all from the same, single wallet.” That same wallet, it says, rewards people every time they spend or save.

After a “successful” alpha test with millions of dollars deposited, the company’s Eco App is now available to the public.

A slew of other VC firms participated in Eco’s latest financing, including Founders Fund, Activant Capital, Slow Ventures, Coinbase Ventures, Tribe Capital, Valor Capital Group, and more than one hundred other funds and angels.  Expa and Pantera Capital co-led the company’s $8.5 million funding round.

CoinList co-founder Andy Bromberg stepped down from his role last fall to head up Eco. The startup was originally called Beam before rebranding to Eco “thanks to involvement by founding advisor, Garrett Camp, who held the Eco brand,” according to Coindesk. Camp is an Uber co-founder and Expa is his venture fund.

For a16z Crypto, leading the round is in line with its mission.

In a blog post co-written by Katie Haun and Arianna Simpson, the firm outlined why it’s pumped about Eco and its plans.

“One of the challenges in any new industry — crypto being no exception — is building things that are not just cool for the sake of cool, but that manage to reach and delight a broad set of users,” they wrote. “Technology is at its best when it’s improving the lives of people in tangible, concrete ways…At a16z Crypto, we are constantly on the lookout for paths to get cryptocurrency into the hands of the next billion people. How do we think that will happen? By helping them achieve what they already want to do: spend, save, and make money — and by focusing users on tangible benefits, not on the underlying technology.”

Eco is not the only crypto platform offering rewards to users. Lolli gives users free bitcoin or cash when they shop at over 1,000 top stores.

#a16z-crypto, #activant-capital, #andreessen-horowitz, #bitcoin, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #coinlist, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #eco, #finance, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #garrett-camp, #katie-haun, #pantera-capital, #payments, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #startups, #tc, #uber, #valor-capital-group

0

Instacart raises $265M at a $39B valuation

On-demand grocery delivery platform Instacart has raises a $265 million funding ground from existing investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, D1 Capital Partners and others. The new funding, which, like its past few rounds, isn’t assigned a Series alphabetical designation, pushes the company’s valuation to $39 billion – more than double its $17.7 billion valuation when it raised is last financing, a $200 million venture round in October 2020.

What’s behind the massive increase in the value investors are willing to ascribe to the business? Put simply, the pandemic. Last year, Instacart announced three separate raises, including a $225 round in June, followed by a $100 million round in July. The rapid sequence of venture capital injections were likely designed to fuel growth as demand for grocery delivery services surged while people attempted to quarantine or generally spend less time frequenting high-traffic social environments like grocery stores.

In a blog post announcing the news, Instacart doesn’t put specifics on the growth rates of usage over the course of 2020, but it does express its intent to grow headcount by 50% in 2021, and continue to scale and invest in its advertising, marketing and enterprise efforts specifically in a quote.

On the product side, Instacart broadened its offerings from groceries to also include same-day delivery of a wide range of products, including prescription medicine, electronics, home decor, sport and exercise equipment and more. It’s capitalizing on the phenomenon of increased consumer spending during the pandemic, which is a reverse from what many anticipated given the impact the ongoing crisis has had on employment.

Instacart Chief Financial Officer Nick Giovanni said in a quote that the company expects this to be “a new normal” for shopping habits, and the size and pace of the company’s recent funding, as well as its ballooning valuation, seem to suggest its investors also don’t think this is a trend that will revert post-pandemic.

#andreessen-horowitz, #chief-financial-officer, #d1-capital-partners, #electronics, #finance, #funding, #fundraising, #instacart, #investment, #money, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #sequoia-capital, #startups, #tc, #valuation, #venture-capital

0

Autonomous drone maker Skydio raises $170M led by Andreessen Horowitz

Skydio has raised $170 million in a Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Growth Fund. That pushes it into unicorn territory, with $340 million in total funding and a post-money valuation north of $1 billion. Skydio’s fresh capital comes on the heels of its expansion last year into the enterprise market, and it intends to use the considerable pile of cash to help it expand globally and accelerate product development.

In July of last year, Skydio announced its $100 million Series C financing, and also debuted the X2, its first dedicated enterprise drone. The company also launched a suite of software for commercial and enterprise customers, its first departure from the consumer drone market where it had been focused prior to that raise since its founding in 2014.

Skydio’s debut drone, the R1, received a lot of accolades and praise for its autonomous capabilities. Unlike other consumer drones at the time, including from recreational drone maker DJI, the R1 could track a target and film them while avoiding obstacles without any human intervention required. Skydio then released the Skydio 2 in 2019, its second drone, cutting off more than half the price while improving on it its autonomous tracking and video capabilities.

Late last year, Skydio brought on additional senior talent to help it address enterprise and government customers, including a software development lead who had experience at Tesla and 3D printing company Carbon. Skydio also hired two Samsara executives at the same time to work on product and engineering. Samsara provides a platform for managing cloud-based fleet operations for large enterprises.

The applications of Skydio’s technology for commercial, public sector and enterprise organizations are many and varied. Already, the company works with public utilities, fire departments, construction firms and more to do work including remote inspection, emergency response, urban planning and more. Skydio’s U.S. pedigree also puts it in prime position to capitalize on the growing interest in applications from the defense sector.

a16z previously led Skydio’s Series A round. Other investors who participated in this Series D include Lines Capital, Next47, IVP and UP.Partners.

#3d-robotics, #aerospace, #aircraft, #andreessen-horowitz, #defense, #dji, #drone, #funding, #precisionhawk, #recent-funding, #robotics, #samsara, #science-and-technology, #skydio, #startups, #tc, #technology, #tesla, #wireless

0

What the NFT? VC David Pakman dumbs down the digital collectibles frenzy and why it’s taking off now

Non-fungible tokens have been around for two years, but these NFTs, one-of-one digital items on the Ethereum and other blockchains, are suddenly becoming a more popular way to collect visual art, primarily, whether it’s an animated cat or an NBA clip or virtual furniture.

“Suddenly” is hardly an overstatement. According to the outlet Cointelegraph, during the second half of last year, $9 million worth of NFT goods sold to buyers; during one 24-hour window earlier this week, $60 million worth of digital goods were sold.

What’s going on? A thorough New York Times piece on the trend earlier this week likely fueled new interest, along with a separate piece in Esquire about the artist Beeple, a Wisconsin dad whose digital drawings, which he has created every single day for the last 13 years, began selling like hotcakes in December. If you need evidence of a tipping point (and it is ample right now), consider that the work of Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, was just made available through Christie’s. It’s the venerable auction house’s first sale of exclusively digital work.

To better understand the market and why it’s blowing up in real time, we talked this week with David Pakman, a former internet entrepreneur who joined the venture firm Venrock a dozen years ago and began tracking Bitcoin soon after, even mining the cryptocurrency at his Bay Area home beginning in 2015. (“People would come over and see racks of computers, and it was like, ‘It’s sort of hard to explain.’”)

Perhaps it’s no surprise that he also became convinced early on of the promise of NFTs, persuading Venrock to lead the $15 million Series A round for a young startup, Dapper Labs, when its primary offering was CryptoKitties, limited-edition digital cats that can be bought and bred with cryptocurrency.

While the concept baffled some at the time, Pakman has long seen the day when Dapper’s offerings will be far more extensive, and indeed, a recent Dapper deal with the NBA to sell collectible highlight clips has already attracted so much interest in Dapper that it is reportedly right now raising $250 million in new funding at a post-money valuation of $2 billion. While Pakman declined to confirm or correct that figure, but he did answer our other questions in a chat that’s been edited here for length and clarity.

TC: David, dumb things down for us. Why is the world so gung-ho about NFTs right now?

DP: One of the biggest problems with crypto — the reason it scares so many people — is it uses all these really esoteric terms to explain very basic concepts, so let’s just keep it really simple. About 40% of humans collect things — baseball cards, shoes, artwork, wine. And there’s a whole bunch of psychological reasons why. Some people have a need to complete a set. Some people do it for investment reasons. Some people want an heirloom to pass down. But we could only collect things in the real world because digital collectibles were too easy to copy.

Then the blockchain came around and [it allowed us to] make digital collectibles immutable, with a record of who owns what that you can’t really copy. You can screenshot it, but you don’t really own the digital collectible, and you won’t be able to do anything with that screenshot. You won’t be able to to sell it or trade it. The proof is in the blockchain. So I was a believer that crypto-based collectibles could be really big and actually could be the thing that takes crypto mainstream and gets the normals into participating in crypto — and that’s exactly what’s happening now.

TC: You mentioned a lot of reasons that people collect items, but one you didn’t mention is status. Assuming that’s your motivation, how do you show off what you’ve amassed online? 

DP: You’re right that one of the other reasons why we collect is to show it off status, but I would actually argue it’s much easier to show off our collections in the digital world. If I’m a car collector, the only way you’re going to see my cars is to come over to the garage. Only a certain number of people can do that. But online, we can display our digital collections. NBA Top Shop, for example, makes it very easy for you to show off your moments. Everyone has a page and there’s an app that’s coming and you can just show it off to anyone in your app, and you can post it to your social networks. And it’s actually really easy to show off how big or exciting your collection is.

TC: It was back in October that Dapper rolled out these video moments, which you buy almost like a Pokemon set in that you’re buying a pack and know you’ll get something “good” but don’t know what. But while almost half it sales have come in through the last week. Why?

DP: There’s only about maybe 30,000 or 40,000 people playing right now. It’s growing 50% or 100% a day. But the growth has been completely organic. The game is actually still in beta, so we haven’t been doing any marketing other than posting some stuff on Twitter. There hasn’t been attempt to market this and get a lot of players [talking about it] because we’re still working the bugs out, and there are a lot of bugs still to be worked out.

But a couple NBA players have seen this and gotten excited about their own moments [on social media]. And there’s maybe a little bit of machismo going on where, ‘Hey, I want my moment to trade for a higher price.’ But I also think it’s the normals who are playing this. All you need to play is a credit card, and something like 65% of the people playing have never owned or traded in crypto before. So I think the thesis that crypto collectibles could be the thing that brings mainstream users into crypto is playing out before our eyes.

TC: How does Dapper get paid?

DP: We get 5% of secondary sales and 100% minus the cost of the transaction on primary sales. Of course, we have a relationship with the NBA, which collects some of that, too. But that’s the basic economics of how the system works.

TC: Does the NBA have a minimum that it has to be paid every year, and then above and beyond that it receives a cut of the action?

DP: I don’t think the company has gone public with the exact economic terms of their relationships with the NBA and the Players Association. But obviously the NBA is the IP owner, and the teams and the players have economic participation in this, which is good, because they’re the ones that are creating the intellectual property here.

But a lot of the appreciation of these moments — if you get one in a pack and you sell it for a higher price — 95% of that appreciation goes to the owner. So it’s very similar to baseball cards, but now IP owners can participate through the life of the product in the downstream economic activity of their intellectual property, which I think is super appealing whether you’re the NBA or someone like Disney, who’s been in the IP licensing business for decades.

And it’s not just major IP where this NFT space is happening. It’s individual creators, musicians, digital artists who could create a piece of digital art, make only five copies of it, and auction it off. They too can collect a little bit each time their works sell in the future.

TC: Regarding NBA Top Shot specifically, prices range massively in terms of what people are paying for the same limited-edition clip. Why?

DP: There are two reasons. One is that like scarce items, lower numbers are worth more than higher numbers, so if there’s a very particular LeBron moment, and they made 500 [copies] of them, and I own number one, and you own number 399, the marketplace is ascribing a higher value to the lower numbers, which is very typical of limited-edition collector pieces. It’s sort of a funny concept. But it is a very human concept.

The other thing is that over time there has been more and more demand to get into this game, so people are willing to pay higher and higher prices. That’s why there’s been a lot of price appreciation for these moments over time.

TC: You mentioned that some of the esoteric language around crypto scares people, but so does the fact that 20% of the world’s bitcoin is permanently inaccessible to its owners, including because of forgotten passwords. Is that a risk with these digital items, which you are essentially storing in a digital locker or wallet?

DP: It’s a complex topic,  but I will say that Dapper has tried to build this in a way where that won’t happen, where there’s effectively some type of password recovery process for people who are storing their moments in Dapper’s wallet.

You will be able to take your moments away from Dapper’s account and put it into other accounts, where you may be on your own in terms of password recovery.

TC: Why is it a complex topic?

DP: There are people who believe that even though centralized account storage is convenient for users, it’s somehow can be distrustful — that the company could de-platform you or turn your account off. And in the crypto world, there’s almost a religious ferocity about making sure that no one can de-platform you, that the things that you buy — your cryptocurrencies or your NFTs. Long term, Dapper supports that. You’ll be able to take your moments anywhere you want. But today, our customers don’t have to worry about that I-lost-my-password-and-I’ll-never-get-my-moments-again problem.

#andreessen-horowitz, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #cryptokitties, #dapper-labs, #david-pakman, #gv, #samsung-next, #secondaries, #startups, #tc, #venrock, #venture-capital, #virtual-reality

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The carbon offset API developer Patch confirms a $4.5 million round led by Andreessen Horowitz

Patch, the carbon offset API developer, has raised $4.5 million in financing to build out its business selling customers a way to calculate their carbon footprint and identify and finance offset projects that capture the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions associated with that footprint. 

Confirming TechCrunch reporting, Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also included previous investors VersionOne Ventures, MapleVC, and Pale Blue Dot Ventures.

Patch’s application protocol interface works for both internal and customer-facing operations. The company’s code can integrate into the user experience on a company’s internal site to track things like business flights for employees, recommending and managing the purchase of carbon credits to offset employee travel.

The software allows companies to choose which projects they’d like to finance to support the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with projects ranging from the tried and true reforestation and conservation projects to more high tech early stage technologies like direct air capture and sequestration projects, the company said. 

Patch founders Brennan Spellacy and Aaron Grunfeld, two former employees at the apartment rental service Sonder, stressed in an interview that the company’s offset work should not be viewed as an alternative to the decarbonization of businesses that use its service. Rather, they see Patch’s services as a compliment to other work companies need to do to transition away from a reliance on fossil fuels in business operations.

Patch co-founders Brennon Spellacy and Aaron Grunfeld. Image Credit: Patch

Patch currently works with 11 carbon removal suppliers and has plans to onboard another 10 before the end of the first quarter, the company said. These are companies like CarbonCure, which injects carbon dioxide into cement and fixes it so that it’s embedded in building materials for as long as a building lasts.

“Carbon removal credits can help to dramatically accelerate the deployment of technologies like CarbonCure’s, which are absolutely critical to helping us reach our global climate targets. Demand for high-quality, permanent credits is sky-rocketing, and listing credits on Patch will help us to attract a broader range of buyers,” said Jennifer Wagner, President of CarbonCure Technologies, in a statement. 

It also has around 15 customers already using its service, according to earlier TechCrunch reporting. Those buyers include companies like TripAction and the private equity firm EQT, which intends to extend the integration of Patch’s API from its own operations to those of its portfolio companies down the road, according to Spellacy.

Grunfeld said that the company would be spending the money to hire more staff and developing new products. From its current headcount of six employees, Patch intends to bring on another 24 by the end of the year.

As the company expands, it’s looking to some of the startups providing carbon emissions audit and verification services as a channel that the company’s API can integrate with and sell through.  These would be businesses like  CarbonChainPersefoni, and another Y Combinator graduate, SINAI Technologies.

For project developers like CarbonCure, which makes direct air capture technology, companies like

“An increasing number of businesses are taking leadership positions in an effort to reduce emissions to try to counteract global warming,” said Jeff Jordan, Managing Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “Patch makes it much easier for companies to add carbon removal to their core business processes, aggregating verified carbon-removal supply and offering turn-key access to it to companies through an easy-to-implement API.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #api, #articles, #carbon-footprint, #carboncure-technologies, #energy, #eqt, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greenhouse-gases, #jeff-jordan, #managing-partner, #president, #sinai-technologies, #tc, #y-combinator

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Bringing jobs and health benefits, BlocPower unlocks energy efficiency retrofits for low income communities

Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and better at withstanding climate change induced extreme weather is going to be a big, multi-billion dollar business. But it’s one that’s been hard for low-income communities to tap, thanks to obstacles ranging faulty incentive structures to an inability to adequately plan for which upgrades will be most effective in which buildings.

Enter BlocPower, a New York-based startup founded by a longtime advocate for energy efficiency and the job creation that comes with it, which has a novel solution for identifying, developing and profiting off of building upgrades in low income communities — all while supporting high-paying jobs for workers in the communities the company hopes to serve.

The company also has managed to raise $63 million in equity and debt financing to support its mission. That money is split between an $8 million investment from some of the country’s top venture firms and a $55 million debt facility structured in part by Goldman Sachs to finance the redevelopment projects that BlocPower is creating.

These capital commitments aren’t charity. Government dollars are coming for the industry and private companies from healthcare providers, to utility companies, to real estate developers and property managers all have a vested interest in seeing this market succeed.

There’s going to be over $1 billion carved out for weatherization and building upgrades in the stimulus package that’s still making its way through Congress

For BlocPower’s founder, Donnel Baird, the issue of seeing buildings revitalized and good high-paying jobs coming into local communities isn’t academic. Baird was born in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood and witnessed firsthand the violence and joblessness that was ripping the fabric of that rich and vibrant community apart during the crack epidemic and economic decline of the 1980s and early 90s.

Seeing that violence firsthand, including a shooting on his way to school, instilled in Baird a desire to “create jobs for disconnected Black and brown people” so they would never feel the hopelessness and lack of opportunity that fosters cycles of violence.

Some time after the shooting, Baird’s family relocated from Brooklyn to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and after graduating from Duke University, Baird became a climate activist and community organizer, with a focus on green jobs. That led to a role in the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and an offer to work in Washington on Obama’s staff.

Baird declined the opportunity, but did take on a role reaching out to communities and unions to help implement the first stimulus package that Obama and Biden put together to promote green jobs.

And it was while watching the benefits of that stimulus collapse under the weight of a fragmented building industry that Baird came up with the idea for BlocPower.

“It was all about the implementation challenges that we ran into,” Baird said. “If you have ten buildings on a block in Oakland and they were all built by the same developer at the same time. If you rebuild those buildings and you retrofit all of those buildings, in five of those buildings you’re going to trap carbon monoxide in and kill everybody and in the other five buildings you’re going to have a reduction in emissions and energy savings.”

Before conducting any retrofits to capture energy savings (and health savings, but more on that later), Baird says developers need to figure out the potential for asbestos contamination in the building; understand the current heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that the building uses; and get an assessment of what actually needs to be done.

That’s the core problem that Baird says BlocPower solves. The company has developed software to analyze a building’s construction by creating a virtual twin based on blueprints and public records. Using that digital twin the company can identify what upgrades a building needs. Then the company taps lines of credit to work with building owners to manage the retrofits and capture the value of the energy savings and carbon offsets associated with the building upgrades.

For BlocPower to work, the financing piece is just as important as the software. Without getting banks to sign off on loans to make the upgrades, all of those dollars from the federal government remain locked up. “That’s why the $7 billion earmarked for investment in green buildings did not work,” Baird said. “At BlocPower our view is that we could build software to simulate using government records… we could simulate enough about the mechanicals, electrical, and plumbing across buildings in NYC so that we could avoid that cost.”

Along with co-founder Morris Cox, Baird built BlocPower while at Columbia University’s business school so that he could solve the technical problems and overcome the hurdles for community financing of renewable retrofit projects.

Right before his graduation, in 2014, the company had applied for a contract to do energy efficiency retrofits and was set to receive financing from the Department of Energy. The finalists had to go down to the White House and pitch the President. That pitch was scheduled for the same day as a key final exam for one of Baird’s Columbia classes, which the professor said was mandatory. Baird skipped the test and won the pitch, but failed the class.

After that it was off to Silicon Valley to pitch the business. Baird met with 200 or more investors who rejected his pitch. Many of these investors had been burned in the first cleantech bubble or had witnessed the fiery conflagrations that engulfed firms that did back cleantech businesses and swore they’d never make the same mistakes.

That was the initial position at Andreessen Horowitz when Baird pitched them, he said. “When I went to Andreessen Horowitz, they said ‘Our policy is no cleantech whatsoever. You need to figure out how software is going to eat up this energy efficiency market’,” Baird recalled.

Working with Mitch Kapor, an investor and advisor, Baird worked on the pitch and got Kapor to talk to Ben Horowitz. Both men agreed to invest and BlocPower was off to the races.

The company has completed retrofits in over 1,000 buildings since its launch, Baird said, mainly to prove out its thesis. Now, with the revolving credit facility in hand, BlocPower can take bigger bites out of the market. That includes a contract with utility companies in New York that will pay $30 million if the company can complete its retrofits and verify the energy savings from that work.

There are also early projects underway in Oakland and Chicago, Baird said.

Building retrofits do more than just provide energy savings, as Goldman Sachs managing director Margaret Anadu noted in a statement.

“BlocPower is proving that it is possible to have commercial solutions that improve public health in underserved communities, create quality jobs and lower carbon emissions,” Anadu said. “We are so proud to have supported Donnel and his team…through both equity and debt capital to further expand their reach.”

These benefits also have potential additional revenue streams associated with them that BlocPower can also capture, according to investor and director, Mitch Kapor.

“There are significant linkages that are known between buildings and pollution that are a public health issue. In a number of geographies community hospitals are under a mandate to improve health outcomes and BlocPower can get paid from health outcomes associated with the reduction in carbon. That could be a new revenue stream and a financing mechanism,” Kapor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in essentially taking the value creation engine they have and figuring out where to bring it and which other engines they need to have to have the maximum social impact.”

Social impact is something that both Kapor and Baird talk about extensively and Baird sees the creation of green jobs as an engine for social justice — and one that can reunite a lot of working class voters whose alliances were fractured by the previous administration. Baird also believes that putting people to work is the best argument for climate change policies that have met with resistance among many union workers.

“We will not be able to pass shit unless workers and people of color are on board to force the U.S. senate to pass climate change policy,” Baird said. “We have to pass the legislation that’s going to facilitate green infrastructure in a massive way.”

He pointed to the project in Oakland as an example of how climate policies can create jobs and incentivize political action.

“In Oakland we’re doing a pilot project in 12 low income buildings in oakland. I sent them $20K to train these workers from local people of color in Oakland… they are being put to work in Oakland,” Baird said. “That’s the model for how this gets built. So now we need them to call Chuck Shumer to push him to the left on green building legislation.” 

 

#advisor, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #barack-obama, #ben-horowitz, #biden, #brooklyn, #chicago, #co-founder, #columbia, #columbia-university, #construction, #department-of-energy, #director, #duke-university, #energy, #energy-conservation, #energy-efficiency, #federal-government, #georgia, #goldman-sachs, #mitch-kapor, #new-york, #oakland, #president, #tc, #u-s-senate, #united-states, #washington, #white-house

0

Why an Animated Flying Cat With a Pop-Tart Body Sold for Almost $600,000

A fast-growing market for digital art, ephemera and media is marrying the world’s taste for collectibles with cutting-edge technology.

#andreessen-horowitz, #andreessen-marc-l, #bitcoin-currency, #collectors-and-collections, #computers-and-the-internet, #cuban-mark, #gemini-trust-co-llc, #horowitz-ben, #lohan-lindsay, #music, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #venture-capital, #vine-labs-inc, #virtual-currency

0

Census raises $16M Series A to help companies put their data warehouses to work

Census, a startup that helps businesses sync their customer data from their data warehouses to their various business tools like Salesforce and Marketo, today announced that it has raised a $16 million Series A round led by Sequoia Capital. Other participants in this round include Andreessen Horowitz, which led the company’s $4.3 million seed round last year, as well as several notable angles, including Figma CEO Dylan Field, GitHub CTO Jason Warner, Notion COO Akshay Kothari and Rippling CEO Parker Conrad.

The company is part of a new crop of startups that are building on top of data warehouses. The general idea behind Census is to help businesses operationalize the data in their data warehouses, which was traditionally only used for analytics and reporting use cases. But as businesses realized that all the data they needed was already available in their data warehouses and that they could use that as a single source of truth without having to build additional integrations, an ecosystem of companies that operationalize this data started to form.

The company argues that the modern data stack, with data warehouses like Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery and Snowflake at its core, offers all of the tools a business needs to extract and transform data (like Fivetran, dbt) and then visualize it (think Looker).

Tools like Census then essentially function as a new layer that sits between the data warehouse and the business tools that can help companies extract value from this data. With that, users can easily sync their product data into a marketing tool like Marketo or a CRM service like Salesforce, for example.

Image Credits: Census

Three years ago, we were the first to ask, ‘Why are we relying on a clumsy tangle of wires connecting every app when everything we need is already in the warehouse? What if you could leverage your data team to drive operations?’ When the data warehouse is connected to the rest of the business, the possibilities are limitless.” Census explains in today’s announcement. “When we launched, our focus was enabling product-led companies like Figma, Canva, and Notion to drive better marketing, sales, and customer success. Along the way, our customers have pulled Census into more and more scenarios, like auto-prioritizing support tickets in Zendesk, automating invoices in Netsuite, or even integrating with HR systems.

Census already integrates with dozens of different services and data tools and its customers include the likes of Clearbit, Figma, Fivetran, LogDNA, Loom and Notion.

Looking ahead, Census plans to use the new funding to launch new features like deeper data validation and a visual query experience. In addition, it also plans to launch code-based orchestration to make Census workflows versionable and make it easier to integrate them into enterprise orchestration system.

#andreessen-horowitz, #business-intelligence, #canva, #ceo, #clearbit, #computing, #crm, #cto, #data-management, #data-warehouse, #dylan-field, #enterprise, #figma, #fivetran, #github, #google, #information, #information-technology, #logdna, #looker, #loom, #marketo, #netsuite, #notion, #parker-conrad, #recent-funding, #salesforce, #sequoia-capital, #startups, #tc, #warehouse, #zendesk

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SeedFi closes on $65M to help financially struggling Americans get ahead

Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and struggle to get out of a debt cycle.

One startup is developing financial products targeted toward this segment of the population, with the goal of helping them build credit, save money, access funds and plan for the future.

That startup, SeedFi, announced Wednesday it has raised $50 million in debt and $15 million in an equity funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, also known as a16z. The VC firm also led SeedFi’s $4 million seed funding when it was founded in March of 2019.

Flourish, Core Innovation Capital and Quiet Capital also participated in the latest financing.

SeedFi was founded on the premise that it is difficult for many Americans to get ahead financially. Its founding team has worked at both startups and big banks, such as JPMorgan Chase and Capital One, and operates under the premise that many legacy financial institutions are simply not designed to help Americans who are struggling financially to get ahead. 

“We’ve seen firsthand how the system has been designed for underprivileged Americans to fail,” said Jim McGinley, co-founder and CEO of SeedFi. “Our average customer earns $50,000 a year, yet they pay $460 a year in overdraft fees and payday loan companies charge them APRs of 400% or more. They barely make enough to cover their expenses and any misstep can set them back for years.”

In previous roles, McGinley was responsible for payday loans for underserved communities.

“There I got insights to the financial difficulties they had and the need for better products to help them get a step up,” he told TechCrunch.

Co-founder Eric Burton said he can relate because he grew up in Central Texas as part of “a super poor family.”

“I experienced all the struggles of being low income and the necessity of taking on high-priced credit to get through day to day,” he recalled. “I personally was trapped in a debt cycle for a long time.”

In fact, a job offer he got from Capital One was temporarily rescinded because the company said he had “bad credit,” which turned out to be a result of unpaid medical bills he’d incurred at the age of 18.

“I didn’t know about them, but was able to get the job after using my signing bonus to pay off that debt,” he said. “So I can understand how a certain starting point makes it very hard to progress.”

SeedFi’s goal is to tackle the root of the problem. It launched in private beta in 2019, and helped its initial customers build more than $500,000 in savings — even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, it’s launching to the public with two offerings. One is a credit building product that is designed to “create important long-term savings habits.” Customers save as little as $10 from every paycheck, which is reported to the credit bureaus to build their credit history, and are then able to generate $500 in savings in six months’ time.

After six months of on-time payments, SeedFi customers with no credit history were able to establish a credit score of 600, while customers with existing credit scores and less than three credit accounts boosted their scores by 45 points, according to the company.

The concept of enabling consumers to build credit history beyond traditional methods is becoming increasingly more common. Just last week, we wrote about Tomo Credit, which provides customers with a debit card so they can build credit based on their cash flow.

SeedFi’s other offering, the Borrow & Grow Plan, is designed to be a more affordable alternative to installment or payday loans. It provides consumers with “immediate access” to funds while also helping them build savings and credit. 

Andreessen Horowitz general partner Angela Strange , who has joined SeedFi’s board with the financing, believes there’s “a massive business opportunity for new financial services entrants to reach historically underserved populations through better product experiences, underwriting and technology.”

In a blog post, she shares an example of how SeedFi works. The company evaluates risk and extends credit to a customer that might be traditionally hard to underwrite. It determines how much to lend, as well as the proportion of dollars to give as money now versus savings. 

“For instance, a typical SeedFi plan might be structured as $500 right now and $500 reserved in a savings account. The borrower pays off $1,000 over time, and at the end of the plan, he or she has $500 in a savings account. Not only has the borrower paid a lower interest rate, he or she is in a better financial position after making the decision to borrow money,” Strange writes.

Looking ahead, SeedFi plans to use its new capital to build out its product suite and grow its customer base. 

“We will be able to more efficiently fund our growing loan portfolio and serve more customers,” McGinley said.

#andreessen-horowitz, #angela-strange, #core-innovation-capital, #credit, #credit-history, #credit-score, #debt, #economy, #finance, #funding, #loans, #personal-finance, #quiet-capital, #recent-funding, #seedfi, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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Clubhouse, a Tiny Audio Chat App, Breaks Through

The 11-month-old app has exploded in popularity, even as it grapples with harassment, misinformation and privacy issues.

#andreessen-horowitz, #censorship, #clubhouse-mobile-app, #computers-and-the-internet, #corporate-social-responsibility, #davison-paul-entrepreneur, #discrimination, #entrepreneurship, #innovation, #mobile-applications, #rumors-and-misinformation, #seth-rohan, #social-media, #start-ups, #venture-capital, #women-and-girls

0

Labster gets millions from a16z to bring virtual science lab software to the world

Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm with $16.5 billion in assets under management, has poured millions into an edtech startup that sells virtual STEM lab simulations to institutions.

Copenhagen-based Labster, which sells virtual science laboratory simulations to schools, announced today that it has raised $60 million in a Series C round led by the prominent Silicon Valley firm, including participation from existing investors GGV Capital, Owl Ventures and Balderton Capital. Labster has now raised $100 million in total known venture capital to date.

Like many edtech companies, Labster has found itself centered and validated as the pandemic underscores the need for remote work. In April, Labster signed a contract to bring its services to the entire California Community College network, which includes more than 2.1 million students. Months later, the startup brought on $9 million in equity funding to bring GGV’s Jenny Lee onto the board and expand its Asia operations.

“A16z is very excited about investing in technology companies that have a big impact and potential to become massive global successes’,” CEO and co-founder Michael Bodekaer Jensen said. “The fact that Labster is a platform innovating learning at scale is really what attracted them.”

The new capital will help Labster increase its staff, grow into new regions that include Latin America and Africa, as well as invest in new product development to better support teachers.

Jensen says that today’s raise, which is singularly larger than any capital Labster has raised prior, “dramatically increased” the valuation of the company. Jensen did confirm that Labster has not yet hit the $1 billion mark in terms of valuation, nor did he comment on whether the startup had hit profitability or not.

What Jensen did share, though, is that he thinks Labster’s new capital brings the startup one step closer to two big goals: serve 100 million students in the next few years, and become a platform to “enable anyone in the world to customize and build their own simulations on their platform.”

“We’re not a content company,” the co-founder said. “We’re a platform for immersive learning.”

Currently, Labster sells its e-learning solution to support and enhance in-person courses. Based on the subscription an institution chooses, participants can get differing degrees of access to a virtual laboratory. Imagine a range of experiments, from understanding bacterial growth and isolation to exploring