Constructor finds $55M for tech that powers search and discovery for e-commerce businesses

One of the biggest problems in the world of e-commerce is the predicament of shopping cart abandonment: when shoppers aren’t getting to what they want fast enough — whether it’s finding the right item, or paying for it in a quick and easy way — they bounce. That singular problem is driving a wave of technology development to make the experience ever more seamless, and today one of the companies closely involved in that space is announcing some funding on the back of healthy growth.

Constructor, which has built technology that powers search and product discovery tools for e-commerce businesses, has picked up $55 million in a Series A round of funding. Constructor says that it powers “billions” of queries every month, with revenues growing 233% in the last year. Customers it works with include Sephora, Walmart’s Bonobos, Backcountry and many other big names.

The round is being led by Silversmith Capital Partners — which coincidentally, just today, led another round for an e-commerce startup, Zonos.

It is joined by a long list of notable individual investors. They include David Fraga, former president of InVision; Kevin Weil, former head of product at Twitter and Instagram; Jason Finger, founder of Seamless; Carl Sparks, ex-CEO of Travelocity; Robyn Peterson, CTO at CNN; Dave Heath, founder of Bombas; Ryan Barretto, president at Sprout Social; Melody Hildebrandt, EVP engineering and CISO at FOX; Zander Rafael, co-founder of Better.com; and Seth Shaw, CRO at Airtable. Cap Table Coalition — a firm that helps underrepresented-background investors back up-and-coming startups — was also involved. Fraga is joining Constructor’s board with this round.

The last year and a half has been a bumper one for the world of e-commerce — with more traffic, transactions and retailers moving online in the wake of social distancing measures impacting in-person, physical shopping. But that has also exposed a lot of the cracks in how e-commerce works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be).

One of the more dysfunctional areas is search and discovery. As most of us have unfortunately learned first-hand, when we search for things in the search window of an online store, it’s almost always the case that the results don’t have what we want.

When we browse as we might in a physical store, because we are not sure of what we want, all too often we are not prompted with pictures of things we might actually like to buy. They may be there — we typically visit sites because we either already know them, or have seen something we like elsewhere — but nevertheless, finding what we might actually like to buy can take a lot of time, and in many cases may never happen at all.

Eli Finkelshteyn, Constructor’s CEO and founder, says that one of the issues is that search and discovery are often built as static experiences: they are designed to meet a one-size-fits-all model where site architects have effectively guessed at what a shopper might want, and built for that. This is one area that Constructor has rethought, specifically by making search and discovery more dynamic and responsive to what’s happened before you ever visit a site.

“One of the things wrong with product discovery was that prescriptively sites show you what they think is valuable to you,” he said. “We think the process should be descriptive.”

As an example, he talked about Cheetos. Sometimes people who might want to buy these start out by navigating to the potato chip category. In many static searches, those results might not include Cheetos. Some people might abandon their search altogether (bounce), but some might navigate away from that and search specifically for Cheetos and add them to their carts. In a descriptive and more dynamic environment, Finkelshteyn believes that these two flows should subsequently inform all future chip searches.

“We take into account as much data as we can learn from, and that list is always growing,” he said. “The goal is anything we can learn from should become part of the user experience.”

Google is the current, undisputed leader in the world of search, and it too uses a lot of dynamic, AI-based tools to learn and tweak how it searches and what results it produces.

Interestingly it hasn’t extended as much of this to third parties as you might think. The company wound down its own site search product in 1997 and now if you look for this you are redirected to the company’s enterprise search suite.

There are however others that have also stepped into that void to provide services that compete with Constructor, including the likes of Algolia, Yext, Elasticsearch and more. Finkelshteyn believes that among all of these, none have managed yet to provide a service like Constructor’s that learns and adjusts its results constantly based on search and browsing activity.

This is one reason the company has stood out with its customers, and with investors.

“Constructor has built a search and discovery platform that is truly making a difference for enterprise retailers. They are providing customers with comprehensive and optimized search and discovery that is unmatched in the market,” said Sri Rao, Constructor board member and general partner at Silversmith Capital Partners, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with the Constructor team as they continue to revolutionize search and discovery capabilities for retailers across all platforms.”

Looking forward, there will be some interesting opportunities ahead for Constructor to take its search and discovery tools to new frontiers. These could include ways to bring in and account for shoppers on third-party platforms — currently Constructor does not power experiences on, say, social media, so that is one potential area to explore — as well as more offline experiences, critical as retailers and shoppers take on more blended approaches that might start online and finish in stores, or proceed the other way around, or find users walking around with their phones to shop even as they are in physical stores.

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How to establish a health tech startup advisory board

When you enter the health tech industry as a new startup, an advisory board is a crucial foundational step. A board can guide you through industry-specific nuances, help you make important decisions and prove your legitimacy to investors looking for a strong industry background.

An advisory board will be able to give you strategic insights about both your company and the wider healthcare and technology industries.

In my experience of raising capital, the unpredictable financial situation at the beginning of the pandemic meant we nearly lost our $2 million round, but came through with a committed $250,000, which we used to bring in about $500,000 in revenue.

Something that helped this process was building our advisory board and starting small — we didn’t go for all of healthcare but instead focused on two healthcare verticals. This allowed us to prove our concept, build case studies and win contracts with specific teams in our customers’ companies.

It pays off to stay focused and prove your worth so that your advisory board members can champion you in niche markets, with the potential to expand in the future. For this reason, it’s important to identify the main intention behind your board, and exactly who should be on it.

Who to recruit

Three to five people is an ideal starting point for an advisory board, depending on the size and stage of your company. In health tech, you need more than just the healthcare perspective — you also need the insight of those who have already grown technology companies, perhaps outside of the industry. Our company’s board is an even split of two healthcare and two technology advisers, and, ideally, you want to find a fifth who is well versed in both industries.

It pays off to stay focused and prove your worth so that your advisory board members can champion you in niche markets, with the potential to expand in the future.

An M.D., a Ph.D. from a respected institution or a thought leader in your relevant field of healthcare is the most important asset to an advisory board. These are the highly decorated physicians who have strong connections and act as a reference for their peers.

They provide instant credibility for your company, help you get into the minds of both patients and healthcare providers, and can outline how various health systems work.

#advisory-board, #board-member, #column, #corporate-governance, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-health, #ec-enterprise-health, #ec-how-to, #health, #healthcare, #startups, #tc

What’s the board’s role in an early-stage startup?

What’s the board’s role in an early-stage startup?

Startup founders frequently ask me about the role of a board of directors. A board can be a crucial asset in an early-stage startup.

Here’s a framework for how it can help drive success at your company: Strategy, People, Image, Finance and Systems for compliance, or “SPIFS.”

What is a board of directors, anyway?

The board of directors helps with governance of the company. U.S. law requires that any company have one, though does not require how big it should be. By generic definition, the board of directors consists of elected individuals that represent shareholders. It is the governing body that provides company oversight and helps set business policy and strategy.

On a more practical level and in a startup environment, the board can aid in creating a successful business strategy, putting together the right management team, developing branding, building good financial habits, and avoiding legal and compliance issues. The needs and composition of the board will change depending on the startup’s stage, management and financing history (e.g., if there are preferred shareholders, investors that require a board seat and more).

Investors often ask founders about their board: It says a lot about their character, their judgment and their willingness to be challenged.

Investors often ask founders about their board for two reasons. First, it says a lot about their character, their judgment and their willingness to be challenged. The founder can typically choose who is on their board (through careful selection of investors and advisers) and negotiate a board structure they prefer.

Typically, a healthy board will have a good balance between common shareholders, preferred shareholders and independents. It also helps investors and analysts understand who will ask critical questions and give important advice to the company’s executive management, especially when the going gets tough (it inevitably does!).

What exactly can a board help you do?

After 20 years as a venture capitalist and board member, I boiled down the value of a board into five main pieces under the acronym SPIFS: Strategy, People, Image, Finance and Systems for compliance.

SPIFS matrix that describes the role a board of directors plays in an early stage startup

Image Credits: Dell Technologies Capital

Strategy

Setting business strategy is one of the main ways that the board helps founders, especially if it’s their first time running a business. It is a valuable sounding board for validating that you have taken a sober account of the market and have the right plan to develop your product and acquire customers.

The board should ask these questions when guiding founders through setting strategy:

YELA secures $2M to reproduce Cameo’s celebrity success with an app for the Middle East

The Cameo app, where celebrities send video messages to paying fans, has taken off globally. But now the concept is set to come to the Middle East and South Asia.

Tech startup YELA has secured $2 million in investment to support its launch, and will — similar to Cameo — offer users the opportunity to get close to their idols via voice, video and direct text messages.

The investment is led by U.S investors Justin Mateen (co-founder of Tinder) and general partner of JAM Fund, joined by Sean Rad (co-founder Tinder) and general partner of RAD Fund. Participation from the U.S. also includes Graph Ventures, championed by Razmig Hovaghimian (board member at Rakuten). In addition, U.K investment comes from Samos Fund, Ascension Ventures, and from MENA-based Hambro Perks Oryx Fund, who joined the round.

The twist is that YELA plans to sign some big celebrities known in the region, but less so in the Western world. That doesn’t mean the market is small. There are over 365 million Arabic speakers online and over 65% of the population is under 35. Meanwhile, smartphone penetration is very high.

Alex Eid, CEO and co-founder of YELA said: “There is a huge appetite in the MENA market for a premium offering in the creator space.”

He said YELA has onboarded high-profile celebrities, confirming A-list signees including Amr Diab, the multiaward-winning Egyptian singer, and Haifa Wehbe, three-time Big Apple Music Award winner, amongst others.

YELA will launch in August 2021 with prices starting from $100.

#ascension-ventures, #board-member, #companies, #europe, #hambro-perks, #iac, #jam-fund, #justin-mateen, #mena, #middle-east, #rakuten, #sean-rad, #smartphone, #software, #south-asia, #tc, #tinder, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Fewer CEOs are serving on outside boards. That’s good (and bad)

It used to be a heavily traveled two-way street in corporate America: CEOs joined other companies’ boards to broaden their experiences, expand their influence, or simply because it felt good. Boards sought out CEOs because of the knowledge they bring and their unique ability to interact with the company CEO as an equal.

But the number of sitting CEOs on outside boards keeps shrinking. As the CEO role has become more difficult and demanding, greater numbers of chief executives are shying away from external board roles and many boards now limit their own CEOs’ board assignments as well.

The pandemic accelerated the trend, according to a report by management consulting firm Korn Ferry, citing “evidence that the unprecedented demands posed by the pandemic led many CEO directors to resign from outside boards to focus on their own organizations.” Fewer than half of CEOs now serve on an outside board, the report said.

One good thing about the drop in CEO board assignments is more opportunity for non-CEOs and other traditionally underrepresented groups to join corporate boards.

At the same time, many corporations are feeling pressure to bring more gender and racial diversity to their boards and are making membership available to a broader array of candidates than in the past.

Is the decrease in CEO board participation a positive or negative? Interestingly, it’s both.

Here are four benefits of CEOs serving on boards:

Advising another company can make for a better CEO. CEOs who opt out of corporate board directorships out of fear of overextending themselves — and boards who restrict their own CEOs’ board assignments for the same reason — miss a key point: Time on a board usually makes them a better leader.

I’m on two outside boards. An inside view of another company’s challenges and opportunities, its peaks and valleys, what strategies worked and didn’t, has revealed insights I’ve ended up applying at my own company. Being on the other side of the table has even helped me better understand how to communicate with my company’s board.

Serving on a board can prevent myopia. Because of digital disruption, businesses must move at an unprecedented pace to stay competitive. Job No. 1 for all CEOs is to act on this reality every day inside their companies. But drawing exclusively from their own company’s experience can blind a leader to broader perspectives in the outside world. A board stint is a great way to ensure they’re getting those.

Board memberships can make CEOs more empathetic. There’s a lot of talk these days about the need for heightened empathy in the C-suite, and with good reason: The global health crisis, racial injustice and other extraordinary stressors demand that senior executives possess what McKinsey described as four qualities “to manage in crisis and shepherd their organization into a post-crisis next normal” — awareness, vulnerability, empathy and compassion.

In these times, it’s critically important for a CEO to cultivate as wide a frame of reference as possible, and involvement with another company through a board directorship accomplishes that.

Helping another company does broader good. If a CEO has the wherewithal beyond their own company responsibilities to bring value to another firm’s board, that’s a positive for the world at large. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all.

For example, I’m a board member at a company that once was strictly a manufacturer of home standby generators. It’s now digital savvy, with Wi-Fi-equipped generators providing a number of services on users’ smartphones. This means they also needs a strong cybersecurity strategy, my area of expertise. I take satisfaction in believing my guidance is benefiting the company, its shareholders and its customers.

So what’s good about the drop in CEO board assignments? That’s easy: more opportunity for non-CEOs and other traditionally underrepresented groups, including women and people of color, to join corporate boards.

“In a little-noticed but remarkable shift, many firms are skipping the corner suite and looking elsewhere for directors,” Korn Ferry reported. “Recent data shows that nearly two-thirds of the more than 400 director seats filled last year were taken by someone other than a CEO. Experts say since both the pandemic and the racial-equality protests of last year, companies are determined to create boards with more diverse faces and more specific skill sets.”

Equilar’s most recent Gender Diversity Index found that at the end of Q1 2021, 24.3% of all board seats in the Russell 3000 were occupied by women, up from 15% at the end of 2016. “The path toward equal representation of men and women in public company boardrooms seemed to go nowhere for decades, but there has been a significant clearing in recent years,” the report said. (Nevertheless, Equilar cautions that boards won’t hit gender parity until 2032.)

And many of these non-CEO board members are doing an excellent job. According to a survey by Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, 79% of board members feel that, in practice, active CEOs are no better than non-CEO board members. A CEO may bring cachet to the board, but many non-CEOs contribute real work as a director, the study said.

Increased diversity on boards isn’t just an excellent development by itself; board experience positions members well for future leadership roles and thus can act as a proxy to get more women and people of color into corner offices.

Making board membership accessible to a wider range of candidates beyond typically white male CEOs — they still account for almost 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs — offers hope that diversity in the business leader ranks will keep rising.

All things considered, I think this potential outweighs the negatives of more CEOs staying out of outside companies’ board rooms.

#board-member, #board-of-directors, #ceo, #column, #corporate-governance, #diversity, #gender-diversity, #gender-equality, #opinion, #startups

6 strategies for running more effective startup board meetings

For many companies in the United States, a board of directors is a fact of doing business. While sole proprietorships and LLCs are not obligated to have one, C and S corporations must. The board’s goal is to ensure the best is done for the company and its shareholders. While many entrepreneurs see board meetings as a chore, they can be a powerful tool if used well.

Communicate often

While board meetings usually happen quarterly, it’s good practice to keep the conversation going in between them. Sending a monthly email update to the board offers multiple advantages:

  • Shorter updates: Business professionals’ attention spans are shrinking. Shorter content is easier to digest, and therefore more likely to be read.
  • Timely feedback: A quarter can be a long time, especially for young startups or during challenging times. The monthly format allows the company to receive help or feedback from the board earlier. In business, speed of iteration is key!
  • Keep them posted: Keeping directors up to date will avoid lengthy updates during board meetings, ensuring focus remains on strategic conversations.

Reach out when in need

When meeting online, founders should pause often and regularly ask if there are questions — even if moments of silence feel awkward at times — to give directors a better opportunity to speak up.

Board members can also be solicited on an ad-hoc basis — founders should keep in mind that board members are here to help the company. If you have doubts about a project decision or want a second, informed opinion, reach out to a board member. This is especially true of directors who have expertise on a specific topic. A quick five-minute call can be a game changer.

Being a founder can be a lonely experience because it can be difficult to discuss sensitive matters with the team. Board members should sign nondisclosure agreements, allowing entrepreneurs to share confidential information and get a different perspective on things.

Discuss goals for the next fundraising event

Founders should make sure to regularly discuss business goals to ensure they reach their next round of funding. Because the industry landscape or economy evolved or the competition stepped up, investors may reconsider their expectations to further fund the company.

#advisory-board, #board-member, #board-of-directors, #column, #ec-column, #ec-future-of-work, #meeting, #startup-company, #startups, #venture-capital

Productivity startup Time is Ltd raises $5.6M to be the ‘Google Analytics for company time’

Productivity analytics startup Time is Ltd wants to be the Google Analytics for company time. Or perhaps a sort of “Apple Screen Time” for companies. Whatever the case, the founders reckon that if you can map how time is spent in a company enormous productivity gains can be unlocked and, money better spent.

It’s now raised a $5.6 million late seed funding round led by Mike Chalfen, of London-based Chalfen Ventures, with participation from Illuminate Financial Management and existing investor Accel. Acequia Capital and former Seal Software chairman Paul Sallaberry are also contributing to the new round, as is former Seal board member Clark Golestani. Furthermore, Ulf Zetterberg, founder and former CEO of contract discovery and analytics company Seal Software, is joining as President and co-founder.

The venture is the latest from serial entrepreneur Jan Rezab, better known for founding SocialBakers, which was acquired last year.

We are all familiar with inefficient meetings, pestering notifications chat, video conferencing tools and the deluge of emails. Time is Ltd. says it plans to address this by acquiring insights and data platforms such as Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, Zoom, Webex, MS Teams, Slack, and more. The data and insights gathered would then help managers to understand and take a new approach to measure productivity, engagement, and collaboration, the startup says.

The startup says it has now gathered 400 indicators that companies can choose from. For example, a task set by The Wall Street Journal for Time is Ltd. found the average response time for Slack users vs. email was 16.3 minutes, comparing to emails which was 72 minutes.

Chalfen commented: “Measuring hybrid and distributed work patterns is critical for every business. Time Is Ltd.’s platform makes such measurement easily available and actionable for so many different types of organizations that I believe it could make work better for every business in the world.”

Rezab said: “The opportunity to analyze these kinds of collaboration and communication data in a privacy-compliant way alongside existing business metrics is the future of understanding the heartbeat of every company – I believe in 10 years time we will be looking at how we could have ignored insights from these platforms.”

Tomas Cupr, Founder and Group CEO of Rohlik Group, the European leader of e-grocery, said: “Alongside our traditional BI approaches using performance data, we use Time is Ltd. to help improve the way we collaborate in our teams and improve the way we work both internally and with our vendors – data that Time is Ltd. provides is a must-have for business leaders.”

#accel, #analytics, #apple, #articles, #board-member, #business-intelligence, #ceo, #chairman, #computing, #digital-marketing, #e-grocery, #europe, #google, #leader, #london, #microsoft, #mike-chalfen, #seal-software, #serial-entrepreneur, #slack, #socialbakers, #software, #tc, #the-wall-street-journal, #time-is-ltd, #video-conferencing, #webex

Canvas lands $20M so tech’s biggest companies can find diverse talent

Ben Herman and Adam Gefkovicz launched Jumpstart in 2017 with a clear mission: to make the world more equitable via a more fair and balanced hiring process.

The company released its “Diversity Recruitment Platform” in July of 2018 with the aim of helping people earlier in their careers get a “jumpstart” via technology.

Over the years, the startup’s mission has evolved beyond helping college grads to helping all employees — regardless of career stage — get a fair shot at jobs. And it’s doing that by teaming up with hundreds of companies — such as Airbnb, Bloomberg, Coinbase, Samsung, Lyft, Pinterest, Plaid, Roblox, Audible, Headspace and Stripe — to help them hire a more diverse pool of candidates.

Demand has accelerated exponentially, and the San Francisco-based startup saw its revenue grow “3x” in 2020 compared to 2019, although execs declined to provide hard figures. Considering its broadened focus, Jumpstart has rebranded to Canvas and announced today that it has closed on $20 million in funding. Early Stripe employee and angel investor Lachy Groom and Sequoia Capital co-led the round, which included participation from Four Rivers Capital. The raise brings Canvas’ total raised to $32.5 million.

“We knew we were only scratching the surface of our vision, and knew we had a solution that could reimagine diversity hiring for everyone,” said co-founder and CEO Ben Herman. “You know how everyone has a CRM? We believe every company should have a DRP, which is a diversity recruitment platform. That’s the category we want to create and we want to be the largest in that space.”

No doubt that the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder helped, well jumpstart, the company’s efforts. Canvas is able to sell its offering as more companies “are being held accountable for their promises of equity and hiring diverse talent,” Herman said.

“Hiring diverse teams is not only a matter of corporate social responsibility,” he added. “Diversity and inclusion are a competitive advantage and strategic priority for every company in today’s landscape. We believe representation is a huge part of what we stand for. So we want everyone to be able to create their own canvas, and to be able to paint their own picture.”

Canvas describes its SaaS offering as a “fully virtual” recruiting platform that is based on self-reported data. About 87% of candidates on its platform disclose their demographic information (which it says is 7x the industry standard), according to the startup. Canvas also says it gives companies the ability to narrow down the priority groups and talent it wants to focus on by filtering over 75+ self-reported candidate data points.

The startup claims that it’s different from others in the space for that reason, among other features.

“Unlike other solutions that might utilize inferred data that could be inaccurate or illegal, Canvas helps create a more accurate data set to identify diverse candidates, helping to solve the core problem of talent discovery,” Herman said. 

It also — unlike some diversity hiring platforms — does not rely on artificial intelligence, a fact that Herman is actually proud of.

“We don’t believe that AI is the future. It’s not about getting someone’s gender or ethnicity based off of their name, or to inform the hiring decision without candidates knowing,” Herman told TechCrunch. “It’s all about how to empower talent to self-identify…We want to enable the talent to own their data, and truly be able to represent themselves in unique ways. That’s not leveraging AI.”

Canvas also gives companies a way to design, promote and run events, such as webinars, aimed at hiring diverse talent.

The startup also wants to get to a place where companies are working together “to complete the diversity data gap.”

“The problem is about accessibility, and so we want to give equal access to anyone and everyone — from all companies to all candidates,” Herman said. “And so that is really the most important part of what we are creating — the ability for companies to share data.”

So, how does it measure its own success? Canvas claims that 56% of all hires on the Canvas platform are made from underrepresented groups (URGs), and that it helps employers achieve a 30% reduction in time to hire.

Herman is not your typical startup founder, having dropped out of high school and starting his own recruitment agency at the age of 21. His tenacity is one of the things that attracted Sequoia partner and Canvas board member Mike Vernal to back the company.

“When we first met Ben, it was clear that he was…a natural-born talent scout,” Vernal told TechCrunch. “He thought there was a better way for the industry to work — one where companies and recruiters were more collaborative and used technology to build stronger, more diverse teams.”

Since its initial investment in the company, Vernal believes building diverse teams has never been more important.

“Those teams create better products, make stronger business decisions, and it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “We believe companies can do a better job sourcing underrepresented talent using Canvas than on their own.” 

Canvas plans to use its new capital to expand the product into other industries and verticals beyond technology and continue to address the recruiting process for later stages of people’s careers. The company currently has 70 employees and expects to have 100 by the end of 2021.

As mentioned above, hiring diverse talent is becoming a bigger priority for big tech companies (such as HP) and startups alike. Earlier this year, diverse hiring startup SeekOut raised $65 million. The company has built out a database with hundreds of millions of profiles using its AI-powered talent search engine and “deep interactive analytics.”

#artificial-intelligence, #board-member, #canvas, #coinbase, #diversity, #economy, #employment, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hiring, #human-resource-management, #jumpstart, #lachy-groom, #lyft, #mike-vernal, #pinterest, #recent-funding, #recruitment, #san-francisco, #search-engine, #sequoia-capital, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #talent, #tc, #venture-capital

Fraud prevention platform Sift raises $50M at over $1B valuation, eyes acquisitions

With the increase of digital transacting over the past year, cybercriminals have been having a field day.

In 2020, complaints of suspected internet crime surged by 61%, to 791,790, according to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report. Those crimes — ranging from personal and corporate data breaches to credit card fraud, phishing and identity theft — cost victims more than $4.2 billion.

For companies like Sift — which aims to predict and prevent fraud online even more quickly than cybercriminals adopt new tactics — that increase in crime also led to an increase in business.

Last year, the San Francisco-based company assessed risk on more than $250 billion in transactions, double from what it did in 2019. The company has over several hundred customers, including Twitter, Airbnb, Twilio, DoorDash, Wayfair and McDonald’s, as well a global data network of 70 billion events per month.

To meet the surge in demand, Sift said today it has raised $50 million in a funding round that values the company at over $1 billion. Insight Partners led the financing, which included participation from Union Square Ventures and Stripes.

While the company would not reveal hard revenue figures, President and CEO Marc Olesen said that business has tripled since he joined the company in June 2018. Sift was founded out of Y Combinator in 2011, and has raised a total of $157 million over its lifetime.

The company’s “Digital Trust & Safety” platform aims to help merchants not only fight all types of internet fraud and abuse, but to also “reduce friction” for legitimate customers. There’s a fine line apparently between looking out for a merchant and upsetting a customer who is legitimately trying to conduct a transaction.

Sift uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to automatically surmise whether an attempted transaction or interaction with a business online is authentic or potentially problematic.

Image Credits: Sift

One of the things the company has discovered is that fraudsters are often not working alone.

“Fraud vectors are no longer siloed. They are highly innovative and often working in concert,” Olesen said. “We’ve uncovered a number of fraud rings.”

Olesen shared a couple of examples of how the company thwarted fraud incidents last year. One recently involved money laundering through donation sites where fraudsters tested stolen debit and credit cards through fake donation sites at guest checkout.

“By making small donations to themselves, they laundered that money and at the same tested the validity of the stolen cards so they could use it on another site with significantly higher purchases,” he said. 

In another case, the company uncovered fraudsters using Telegram, a social media site, to make services available, such as food delivery, with stolen credentials.

The data that Sift has accumulated since its inception helps the company “act as the central nervous system for fraud teams.” Sift says that its models become more intelligent with every customer that it integrates.

Insight Partners Managing Director Jeff Lieberman, who is a Sift board member, said his firm initially invested in Sift in 2016 because even at that time, it was clear that online fraud was “rapidly growing.” It was growing not just in dollar amounts, he said, but in the number of methods cybercriminals used to steal from consumers and businesses.

Sift has a novel approach to fighting fraud that combines massive data sets with machine learning, and it has a track record of proving its value for hundreds of online businesses,” he wrote via email.

When Olesen and the Sift team started the recent process of fundraising, Insight actually approached them before they started talking to outside investors “because both the product and business fundamentals are so strong, and the growth opportunity is massive,” Lieberman added.

“With more businesses heavily investing in online channels, nearly every one of them needs a solution that can intelligently weed out fraud while ensuring a seamless experience for the 99% of transactions or actions that are legitimate,” he wrote. 

The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand its product portfolio and to scale its product, engineering and sales teams.

Sift also recently tapped Eu-Gene Sung — who has worked in financial leadership roles at Integral Ad Science, BSE Global and McCann — to serve as its CFO.

As to whether or not that meant an IPO is in Sift’s future, Olesen said that Sung’s experience of taking companies through a growth phase such as what Sift is experiencing would be valuable. The company is also for the first time looking to potentially do some M&A.

“When we think about expanding our portfolio, it’s really a buy/build partner approach,” Olesen said.

#airbnb, #artificial-intelligence, #board-member, #credit-card, #credit-card-fraud, #crime, #crimes, #cybercrime, #doordash, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #food-delivery, #fraud, #funding, #fundings-exits, #identity-theft, #insight-partners, #jeff-lieberman, #machine-learning, #mcdonalds, #online-fraud, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #sift, #startup, #startups, #stripes, #tc, #twilio, #union-square-ventures, #wayfair, #y-combinator

Insuretech startup Counterpart raises $10M in funding round led by Valor Equity Partners

Insuretech startup Counterpart, has raised $10 million in funding led by Valor Equity Partners. Also participating was Susa Ventures and Felicis Ventures. Counterpart works in the ‘management liability’ insurance market. Counterpart will also partner with Markel Specialty, a specialty insurance division of Markel Corporation, to offer its management liability insurance products.

Insuretech startups like Oscar, Lemonade, and Root have made incursions into personal insurance. What has been less prevalent, says Counterpart, is startups tackling the $300bn corporate insurance market.

Counterpart is competing with Next Insurance which has raised $631M, and which also provides small business liability insurance, as well as the big insurance carriers, from AIG to Berkshire Hathaway.

Counterpart is used by some wholesale brokers in the United States to allow small to medium businesses get insurance coverage, because it digitizes much of the process, from application submission, coverage selection, binding, claims management, and loss prevention. Counterpart says this market has become less attractive to insurance carriers because of the increasing claims costs and severity, and their lack of digitization of the process.

Tanner Hackett, founder, and CEO, said in a statement: “The $1.2tn insurance industry is going through a digital revolution.. We saw an outsized opportunity with management liability, a critical insurance line in which we have unique expertise.”
 
Valor Equity Partners partner and Counterpart board member Jon Shulkin said: “Counterpart’s platform goes beyond the scope of a traditional insurer, layering in insights, tools, and services to help business stakeholders navigate this extremely challenging operating environment.”

Valor was an early backer of Tesla, SpaceX, Addepar, and GoPuff. Susa has previously backed Robinhood, PolicyGenius, and Newfront Insurance. Felicis has funded Hippo, Plaid, and Credit Karma.

#addepar, #board-member, #ceo, #companies, #credit-karma, #europe, #felicis-ventures, #insurance, #lemonade, #newfront-insurance, #oscar, #spacex, #susa-ventures, #tc, #tesla, #united-states, #valor-equity-partners

Investors Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

The transportation industry is abuzz with upstarts, legacy automakers, suppliers and tech companies working on automated vehicle technology, digital platforms, electrification and robotics. Then there are shared mobility companies from cars to scooters and mopeds to ebikes. And who can forget the emerging air taxi companies?

At the center of this evolving industry are the investors. Simply put: TechCrunch can’t hold an event on mobility without hearing from the people who are hunting for the best opportunities in the industry and tracking all of its changes. That’s why we’re happy to announce investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital will join us on our virtual stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The virtual event, which features the best and brightest minds in the world of mobility, will be held on June 9.

p.s. Early Bird tickets to the show are now available – book today and save 35% before prices go up.

Brenner, Garcia and Holt will come on stage to discuss their near and long-term investment strategies, overlooked opportunities, and challenges that face startups trying to break into the transportation sector. They’ll lean on their considerable experience to provide the advice and insight that will help attendees understand the state of the industry and where it is headed.

Brenner is a serial co-founder. She is co-founder and managing partner of the Urban Innovation Fund, a venture capital firm that provides seed capital and regulatory support to entrepreneurs solving urban challenges. Urban Innovation Fund has backed curbflow, Electriphi and Kyte among others. She also co-founded Tumml, a startup hub for urban tech that provided 38 startups with seed funding and mentorship, and hosts events around urban innovation. In 2014, Forbes listed her as one of its “30 Under 30” for Social Entrepreneurship.

Garcia, a lifelong ‘car guy’ with an MS degree in management science and automotive engineering from Stanford University, is managing director at Autotech Ventures. He’s also a board director, board observer and advisory board member to a number of mobility companies including Lyft, Peloton Technology, and Connected Signals.

Garcia has been on the ground floor of startups, notably as part of the initial team at the electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place, where he was responsible for partnerships with automakers and parts suppliers while living in Israel, Japan and China.

Holt is co-founder and Managing Partner of early-stage venture firm Construct Capital, which is focused on finding founders that are trying to change foundational industries such as manufacturing and supply chain, logistics and transportation. The company’s transportation-focused investments include ChargeLab. Holt also sits on the board of MotoRefi.

Prior to Construct, Holt was at Uber, where she was one of the company’s first 30 employees. During her 8.5-year stint at Uber, Holt rose through the ranks of the company, including roles running the U.S.  and Canada “Rides” business as well as global marketing and customer support. She was a longtime member of the company’s executive leadership team. Her last position at Uber was leading the company’s new mobility organization, which focused on its e-bike and scooter businesses as well as running its incubator, which funded and developed new products and services.

Rachel began her career at Bain & Company, advising companies in the private equity, financial services and healthcare industries. She was ranked No. 9 on Fortune’s 40 under 40 and was named by Fast Company as One of the Most Creative People in Business.

We can’t wait to hear from this investor panel at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9. Make sure to grab your Early Bird pass before May 6 to save 35% on tickets and join the fun!

#articles, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #better-place, #board-member, #business, #canada, #china, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #e-bike, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #events, #executive, #fast-company, #financial-services, #forbes, #innovation, #israel, #japan, #lyft, #manufacturing, #motorefi, #peloton-technology, #private-equity, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #stanford-university, #startup-company, #supply-chain, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #techcrunch, #transportation, #uber, #united-states, #urban-innovation-fund, #venture-capital

SoftBank-backed Volpe Capital raises $80M to invest in LatAm

In recent years, the tech and venture scene in Latin America has been growing at an accelerated pace. More global investors are backing startups in the region and certain sectors in particular, such as fintech, are exploding.

Global investors are not only pouring money into companies. They’re also investing in funds.

Today, Volpe Capital  announced the $80 million first close of its fund targeting high growth technology investments in Latin America. Notably, Japanese investment conglomerate SoftBank, BTG and Banco Inter affiliates are anchor investors in the new fund, which is targeting aggregate commitments of $100 million with a hard cap of $150 million. Volpe also received a “large anchor investment” from its management team.

Andre Maciel, Gregory Reider and Milena Oliveira are the fund’s founding partners, and are based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Notably, Maciel is the former managing partner at SoftBank’s $5 billion Latin America-focused innovation fund. He launched Volpe in 2019 primarily with SoftBank’s backing. Reider formerly invested at Warburg Pincus.

Maciel said the fund’s raise was “significantly oversubscribed with firm commitments” and believed to be “among the best capital raises for a first-time fund in its asset class in Latin America.”

Volpe Capital plans to invest in about 15 companies over a two and half year time span, according to Maciel, who expects its average check size to be around $5 billion.

So far, it’s backed Uol Edtech, a subsidiary of Grupo Uol that aims to redefine the digital learning experience in Brazil. 

“We are in no rush,” Maciel told TechCrunch. “We are happy with our first deal and will take capital preservation in consideration. We believe markets are hot now and plan on taking advantage of the cycle by being patient.”

The fund’s strategy is to go after the companies that are not actively raising capital.

We want to invest in companies that are not necessarily raising capital when we approach them,” Maciel said.

The fund views itself as agnostic regarding stage and primary versus secondary.

It is seeking to back early-stage companies with less than $50 million in valuation as well as some later stage, high growth companies. The fund’s first investment — Uol Edtech — falls in the latter category with EBITDA margins above 30%, according to Maciel.

Volpe plans to avoid capital intensive industries, even if related to tech.

“Those are more suitable to investors with deeper pockets than Volpe,” Maciel said. 

Instead it’s eyeing edtech, healthtech, software and fintech investments (that are not credit-related).

“We like sectors that are prone for disruption in Latin America and that require local customization,” Maciel said. “Given the stage of the vc/growth industry in Latin America, we believe it is better to be a generalist.”

SoftBank International CEO Marcelo Claure describes Maciel as one of his “amazing founding partners for SoftBank in Latin America.”

“We are very happy to be one of Volpe’s anchor investors and look forward to continuing our relationship with them,” he added in a written statement.

Another anchor investor has a SoftBank tie. João Vitor Menin, CEO of Inter, a publicly traded fintech platform in Brazil with a market cap of over  $7 billion, points out that Maciel led an investment in Inter’s platform through SoftBank. He also “made valuable contributions” as a board member, according to Menin.

#board-member, #brazil, #business, #ceo, #companies, #finance, #funding, #latin-america, #managing-partner, #marcelo-claure, #sao-paulo, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Anuvia raises $103 million to commercialize its novel fertilizer

Anuvia Plant Nutrients has raised $103 million to commercialize its novel fertilizer technology.

The company, backed by investors like TPG ART, Pontifax Global Food and Agriculture Technology Fund, Generate Capital andPiva Capital, is now ready to roll out its tech, which is already used on roughly 1200 farms and is projected to be on 20 million acres of farmland by 2025. 

Now led by longtime agriculture executive Amy Yoder, who represents the sixth generation of a Michigan farm family, Anuvia pitches its tech as a supplement for crops that can boost productivity by taking excrement, food waste and agricultural processing waste and converting that into useful fertilizer using a proprietary catalytic process. 

By treating the waste with a specific blend of chemicals Yoder said Anuvia’s technology can control the release of nutrients as plants grow to make more productive crops and reduce leaching into soil, protecting groundwater and restoring carbon to the soil.

Anuvia is one of a growing number of agriculture technology companies trying to juice crop productivity and capture carbon to provide additional revenues from more abundant crops and carbon capture and storage. Other startups, including Pivot Bio, Indigo Agriculture, AgBiome, and Agrinos, are all developing other crop treatments that can purportedly boost agricultural production.

“Most of what I see would be very complimentary to us,” said Yoder. “Because we put the carbon back into the soil, because the nutrients are held in different way. You could utilize the pivot technology and the Anuvia technology. Those things when they could piggyback together could make really nice solutions in the longterm.”

The Winter Garden, Fla.-based company has a 1.2 million ton facility for production, but the company wants to build out additional capacity and continue developing new fertilizers to take to market, Yoder said.

Farmers using the product see increased yields of around five times their previous production levels and the product can be used on all the main row crops, according to Yoder.

That claim has been verified by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a leading global environmental consulting firm, versus traditional fertilizer on corn, rice, and cotton.

Anuvia’s treatment can also reduce greenhouse gases on production by up to 32% compared to commercial fertilizers. Anuvia estimates that its products could provide emissions reductions equivalent to removing 30,000 cars from roads. If the company can get farmers to apply its treatment to the 90 million acres of corn in the U.s. that would reduce the equivalent emissions of 1.8 million cars, according to a statement.

“With the world’s population expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, we need technology-enabled, large-scale agriculture to meet this growing demand,” says Dr. Geoff Duyk, Founder and Managing Partner of Circularis and Anuvia Board Member. “Anuvia’s technology will help farms continue to feed the world, while also advancing the circular economy, increasing sustainability, and enhancing resource efficiency.” 

 

#agriculture, #articles, #board-member, #chemicals, #florida, #food-waste, #indigo, #managing-partner, #michigan, #soil, #tc, #technology, #united-states

Conversa Health expands its Series B round to $20M

Portland, Oregon-based Conversa Health, a virtual care and communication platform that helps health organizations stay in touch with their patients and customers, today announced that it has expanded its Series B funding round from $12 million to $20 million. The round is still co-led by Builders VC and Northwell Health’s venture arm Northwell Ventures. Additional investors include UH Ventures, the venture arm of University Hospitals and VC firms P5 Health Ventures, Epic Ventures, StartUp Health and Nassau Street Ventures, as well Genesis Merchant Capital and J-Ventures, which came in as new investors in this expanded round.

“There’s been a recognition, especially with COVID, that the need for automated and virtual — which are two big trends in healthcare — were on the horizon but now the horizon has been pulled in because of COVID and the healthcare system recognizes that that’s going to be required to be able to allow access for patients and improve both the experience for patients and providers, and get better outcomes and do it at lower cost,” Conversa CEO Murray Brozinsky told me.

Brozinsky actually believes that within the next decade, 80% of care will be done remotely. This will allow for more personalized and evidence-based care, but it will also require investments in automation.

“Conversa links providers’ EHRs and other patient data to best-of-breed interactive digital care pathways and clinical analytics engine to automate care management 24×7. This improves care plan adherence pre and post visit, reducing costs and generating better outcomes for patients,” said Builders VC partner and Conversa board member Mark Goldstein. “Conversa’s enterprise platform and library of digital pathways are used by providers to care for patients across their populations, as opposed to one-off point solutions. It fills an enormous gap in the market.”

Given the pandemic, it’s maybe no surprise that Conversa’s business also boomed. The number of customers the company its services has grown fourfold while its financial metrics are up 6x because a lot of its larger companies have expanded their use of the platform.

The team decided to expand the existing Series B round to help it capitalize on this momentum and to bring on more engineers in order to scale the platform. Brozinsky believes that the need for a platform like Conversa’s will remain after the pandemic ends. In addition, the company is also already rolling out support for vaccination programs in its service to help educate consumers but also help in monitoring efforts after people get their shots.

“Everything we’re hearing from health systems, they recognize that they need to be prepared for this to happen again, they still need to care for the core demographics that haven’t changed — this aging population — with an acute shortage of healthcare workers,” Brozinsky said. “So the need for the systems and these platforms is going to be more acute and the investment is not so much an additional cost but an enormous return.”

#board-member, #builders-vc, #conversa-health, #epic-ventures, #health, #health-care, #healthcare, #murray-brozinsky, #northwell-ventures, #oregon, #portland, #primary-care, #recent-funding, #series-b, #startup-health, #startups, #vaccination, #vc

Hasura raises $25 million Series B and adds MySQL support to its GraphQL service

Hasura, a service that provides developers with an open-source engine that provides them a GraphQL API to access their databases, today announced that it has raised a $25 million Series B round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. Previous investors Vertex Ventures US, Nexus Venture Partners, Strive VC and SAP.iO Fund also participated in this round.

The new round, which the team raised after the COVID-19 pandemic had already started, comes only six months after the company announced its $9.9 million Series A round. In total, Hasura has now raised $36.5 million.

“We’ve been seeing rapid enterprise traction in 2020. We’ve wanted to accelerate our efforts investing in the Hasura community and our cloud product that we recently launched and to ensure the success of our enterprise customers. Given the VC inbound interest, a fundraise made sense to help us step on the gas pedal and give us room to grow comfortably,” Hasura co-founder and CEO Tanmai Gopa told me.

In addition to the new funding, Hasura also today announced that it has added support for MySQL databases to its service. Until now, the company’s service only worked with PostgreSQL databases.

Rajoshi Ghosh, co-founder and COO (left) and Tanmai Gopal, co-founder and CEO (right).

Rajoshi Ghosh, co-founder and COO (left) and Tanmai Gopal, co-founder and CEO (right).

As the company’s CEO and co-founder Tanmai Gopal told me, MySQL support has long been at the top of the most requested features by the service’s users. Many of these users — who are often in the health care and financial services industry — are also working with legacy systems they are trying to connect to modern applications and MySQL plays an important role there, given how long it has been around.

In addition to adding MySQL support, Hasura is also adding support for SQL Server to its line-up, but for now, that’s in early access.

“For MySQL and SQL Server, we’ve seen a lot of demand from our healthcare and financial services / fin-tech users,” Gopa said. “They have a lot of existing online data, especially in these two databases, that they want to activate to build new capabilities and use while modernizing their applications.

Today’s announcement also comes only a few months after the company launched a fully-managed managed cloud service for its service, which complements its existing paid Pro service for enterprises.

“We’re very impressed by how developers have taken to Hasura and embraced the GraphQL approach to building applications,” said Gaurav Gupta, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners and Hasura board member. “Particularly for front-end developers using technologies like React, Hasura makes it easy to connect applications to existing databases where all the data is without compromising on security and performance. Hasura provides a lovely bridge for re-platforming applications to cloud-native approaches, so we see this approach being embraced by enterprise developers as well as front-end developers more and more.”

The company plans to use the new funding to add support for more databases and to tackle some of the harder technical challenges around cross-database joins and the company’s application-level data caching system. “We’re also investing deeply in company building so that we can grow our GTM and engineering in tandem and making some senior hires across these functions,” said Gopa.

#api, #board-member, #computing, #developer, #enterprise, #financial-services, #gaurav-gupta, #hasura, #healthcare, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mysql, #nexus-venture-partners, #partner, #react, #software, #tc, #vertex-ventures, #web-development

Clockwise CEO Matt Martin: How we closed an $18M Series B during a pandemic

It all started with an email from a customer: “Do you know why Bain Capital Ventures is reaching out to me about Clockwise?”

That email would mark the beginning of a journey toward closing $18 million in new funding that will dramatically accelerate my company, Clockwise . It would require getting to know a partner in lockdown, long nights assembling a pitch deck and many bleary-eyed Zoom calls with some of the best VCs in the world.

Here’s how Ajay Agarwal from Bain Capital Ventures and I established trust online, how I made high-stakes decisions in extreme economic uncertainty and how we were able to turn the pandemic’s constraints into opportunities.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Building momentum: 2016 to 2020

Clockwise was founded in late fall of 2016. We realized that, as personal as time is, our schedules inside modern work environments are intertwined by a network of calendar events and attendees. People schedule meetings without considering the preferences of colleagues by simply hunting for any available “white space” (read: time to do real work). The net effect is that our most valuable resource, time, is easy to take and almost impossible to protect.

More than two years later, in June of 2019, we launched Clockwise to the public. After years of experimentation and refinement, we delivered to the world an intelligent calendar assistant that frees up your time so you can focus on what matters. Workers soon confirmed our hunch that they’re hungry for a tool that gives them more productive hours in their day. Our rapid user growth carried throughout 2019.

By January of 2020, we were on fire. Since January 1, our user base has grown by more than 90%, expanding at a clip of well over 5% week-over-week. As people sought remote tools during shelter-in-place, our rate of growth accelerated even further.

Our growth, incredible team, top-tier existing investors (Accel and Greylock) and strong cash position meant we didn’t need to raise additional capital until the fall of 2020. While COVID-19 certainly sent shock waves through the community, I was in regular communication with a few highly engaged investors who still seemed eager to invest in the future of productivity. I felt cautiously confident more capital could wait.

But, you know, best-laid plans.

Establishing trust while sheltering in place

#ajay-agarwal, #articles, #bain-capital-ventures, #board-member, #clockwise, #column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #growth-and-monetization, #recent-funding, #reputation-management, #software, #startups, #venture-capital

Colin Kaepernick joins Medium board of directors and inks partnership publishing deal

The online publishing platform Medium said that it has added former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and civil rights advocate Colin Kaepernick to its board of directors.

The company also said it had inked a partnership agreement with Kaepernick to develop projects focused on race and civil rights in America under the Kaepernick Publishing imprint — Kaepernick’s personal publishing company founded in 2019.

Medium’s decision to bring Kaepernick on board as a director and publisher for the site follows an industry-wide reckoning within startups around the country about their role in perpetuating racial disparity in America. The accounting comes as protests in cities across the country shine a spotlight on police brutality and the political and economic disenfranchisement of the nation’s Black communities in the wake of the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

According to Medium’s chief executive Ev Williams, the deal with Kaepernick is the culmination of a long-running discussion between the company and the athlete and activist.

“We’ve been in talks with Colin for some time, and we are honored to be electing him to join our board,” said Williams, in a statement. “Colin’s voice and actions have led the discussion on racial justice, and the world is finally catching up to him.”

Kaepernick will be writing stories and working on features for Medium’s Level, which describes itself as a publication for the “interested man” and its new blog on anti-Black racism and civil rights, Momentum. The activist and former quarterback will also interview leaders, activists and athletes for the Medium platform.

“I am excited for Kaepernick Publishing to partner with Medium to continue to elevate Black voices in the news and publishing industry,” said Kaepernick, in a statement. “I also look forward to creating new opportunities and avenues for Black writers and creators with my new role as a Board member.”

Medium currently boasts 170 million monthly readers across its blogs and editorially driven publications including ZORA and Level, which are aimed at women and men of color, according to the company. Medium also publishes GEN, focused on “politics, power, and culture”; the technology-focused masthead, OneZeroElemental, a health-focused site; Forge, for self-help and advice; and Marker, which the company bills as a business-focused site.

Momentum is the latest addition to Medium’s suite of curated blogs and publications.

To date, Medium has raised over $130 million from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, GV, Greylock Partners, The Chernin Group, Lowercase Capital and Obvious Ventures.

#america, #andreessen-horowitz, #board-member, #colin-kaepernick, #director, #e-commerce, #ev-williams, #greylock-partners, #gv, #lowercase-capital, #medium, #obvious-ventures, #partner, #quarterback, #spark-capital, #tc, #the-chernin-group

Create a 90-day timeline after fundraising to strengthen investor-founder ties

As the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the nature of businesses and the way we work, it’s making even more clear how important communication is when it comes to effective collaboration.

I’ve been reflecting on this a lot, particularly with regard to building great relationships between founders and investors, because we’ve recently closed a number of new deals and are continuing to meet new founders. As this new reality has caused me to re-evaluate my “typical” post-investment playbook, it begs the question: What does building a productive relationship post-close look like now and in more ordinary times?

I always tell founders that as a board member, my goal is to earn the right to be their first phone call in good times and especially bad, and that I also want to be able to proactively pitch both in times of crisis and when it’s business as usual. I know that there’s a fine line between an investor being helpful and being a tax, though, but this onboarding can help reduce the risk that it’s the latter. This is a two-way street, of course, but the better established this process is, the faster valuable contributions can happen.

Here’s where I’d start.

The first 30 days

Forming a new board and onboarding investors is similar to launching a team, and there’s plenty of research that shows that the way you approach this launch period is important for long-term success.

First, you’ll want to align with investors on update and sync cadence — and start implementing it. It’s a good idea to plan on regular email updates on a monthly basis leading up to the first board meeting, with the goal of getting new board member(s) up to speed so they can provide value and be helpful.

I appreciate seeing high-level metric updates as well as a few bullets on what is going well and what is not, and what is top of mind for the CEO. This might include new executives joining the ranks, new marketing activities or product planning and updates on key KPIs. For big milestones like a major launch or impactful competitive moves, or in extraordinary circumstances, like the coronavirus pandemic, it’s good hygiene to do more ad hoc updates.

#board-member, #column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #doug-hudson, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch, #fundraising, #human-resource-management, #management, #onboarding, #recruitment, #remote-work, #venture-capital

Volkswagen to start sales of first edition all-electric ID.3 hatchback in June

Volkswagen plans to start selling the launch edition of its ID.3 vehicle next month to customers who placed pre-orders of the all-electric hatchback.

Customers who made reservations for the launch edition, known as ID.3 1st, will be able to order their vehicle starting June 17, according to a tweet posted by Volkswagen board member Jürgen Stackmann. Volkswagen has registered more than 37,000 reservations for the first edition, which will be limited to 30,000 units. Orders for right-hand drive markets will open up in July, Stackmann said.

The announcement follows the automaker’s decision last month to restart production of the ID.3 at its Zwickau, Germany factory, which had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Production of the ID.3 1st resumed April 23, initially with reduced capacity and slower cycle times.

The ID.3 is the first model in the company’s new all-electric ID brand and the beginning of its ambitious plan to sell 1 million electric vehicles annually by 2025. The ID.3 will only be sold in Europe. Other models under the ID brand will be sold in North America.

 

The four-door, five-seater hatchback is as long as VW Golf. However, thanks to the ID.3’s shorter overhangs, its wheelbase is larger, giving the vehicle a roomier interior. The special edition version will start under €40,000 in Germany, the company has previously said.

Volkswagen will fulfill its orders for the special launch edition of the ID.3 first. VW customers paid a deposit of €1,000 ($1,122 based on conversion last year) to pre-order the special edition vehicle. Volkswagen said that the ID.3 1st will include free electric charging for the first year, up to a maximum of 2,000 kWh, at all public charging points connected to the Volkswagen charging app WeCharge and using the pan-European rapid charging network IONITY.

Volkswagen plans to produce the ID.3 in three configurations — the Pure, Pro and Pro S.

The ID.3 Pure is the entry-level model that will be equipped with a 45 kWh battery pack that can travel up to an estimated 260 miles under the WLTP standard. The entry-level version will be priced under €30,000 on the German market and come standard with 18-inch steel wheels, LED headlights with automatic lighting control and LED tail light clusters.

The ID.3 Pro has a larger battery than the Pure, increased range, more power and shorter charging times and will start at under €35,000 in Germany. The Pro S sits at the top of the model range and includes sportier equipment, including 19-inch Andoya wheels and “Play & Pause” design pedals.

#automotive, #board-member, #cars, #germany, #tc, #transport, #transportation, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group

Tesla’s newest board member has a long stance against short selling

Tesla has added Hiromichi Mizuno as a new member to its board of directors and audit committee — the former chief investment officer of Japan’s $1.5 trillion pension fund and a longtime opponent of common market practices like short selling.

With Mizuno’s appointment the Tesla board now has 10 members, including Oracle founder, chairman and CTO Larry Ellison and Walgreens executive Kathleen Wilson-Thompson. Mizuno will also sit on the board’s audit committee.

Hiro has a long career in finance and investment that included a stint as executive managing director and chief investment officer of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), the largest in the world with about $1.5 trillion in assets under management. Hiro left his position in late March.

During his time at GPIF, Hiro promoted environmental, social and governance practices. He was also known for challenging short selling — a practice that has plagued Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk . During his tenure, the GPIF suspended stock lending, which caught many by surprise. Hiro’s opposition to short selling is at odds with some market purists who believe the investment strategy — which speculates on the decline in a stock — actually provides greater price transparency. Hiro has said in previous interviews with media outlets like the Financial Times that it conflicts with his long-term perspective.

Hiro is on a number of government advisory boards, including the board of the PRI, the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council and the Japanese government’s strategic fund integrated advisory board.

He also challenged many established market practices, including short-selling, to promote long-term value creation by corporations.

As a director, Mizuno will get an initial award of an option to purchase 2,778 shares of Tesla’s common stock, vesting and exercisable on June 18, 2020. For serving on the audit committee, he will get an initial award of an option to purchase 4,000 shares of Tesla’s common stock, vesting in 12 equal monthly tranches assuming continued service on each vesting date, according to a regulator filing Thursday.

Tesla’s board had sat unchanged for years until late 2018 when Ellison and Wilson-Thompson joined the board as independent directors as part of a settlement with U.S. securities regulators over CEO Elon Musk’s infamous tweets about taking the company private. Under the settlement, Tesla agreed to add two independent directors and Musk would step down as chairman for three years. Robyn Denholm, the former chief operations officer of Telstra Corporation Limited, a telecommunications company, was named chairman in November 2018.

In April 2019, the company said it would cut its board down by more than one-third, to seven directors, by 2020, a move that included the loss of some of Musk’s  early advisers and allies.

Longtime board members Brad Buss and Linda Johnson Rice, who joined two years ago as an independent director, did not seek re-election in 2019 and their terms expired at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in June. The board said in the proxy filing at the time that it didn’t plan to fill their seats.

Antonio Gracias,  whose term ends in 2020, and venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson will leave the board in 2020, according to a regulatory filing last year.

#antonio-gracias, #articles, #automotive, #board-member, #board-of-directors, #ceo, #chairman, #corporate-governance, #director, #elon-musk, #finance, #hiro, #hyperloop, #japan, #kathleen-wilson-thompson, #larry-ellison, #officer, #oracle, #robyn-denholm, #steve-jurvetson, #tc, #telecommunications, #tesla, #the-boring-company, #the-financial-times, #thompson, #united-states, #vesting, #walgreens

The Station: Starship expands, AutoX opens up shop, and a big moment for ebikes

Hi and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch .

What you’re reading now is a shorter version of the newsletter, which is emailed every weekend. If you want to subscribe, go here and click The Station.

The transportation industry has seen an influx of “disruptors” in the past 15 years, including car sharing and ride-hailing apps and later shared ebikes and scooters. Now autonomous vehicle technology developers and flying car startups are working for that title.

COVID-19 could turn out out to be the transportation disruptor of this new decade. Yes, yes I know — it’s still early days. However, COVID-19 is already changing how we get around. Public transit has taken a hit and shared scooters have been pulled off streets. Meanwhile, ebike sales are booming and some cities are experimenting with how to provide transportation (and even space) that we need to move around without spreading the disease.

Shall we explore further? Read on. Before we dig in, here’s one more friendly reminder to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Electric bikes are having a moment. While shared micromobility companies have pulled scooters and bikes off streets, there is evidence that private sales are growing. Meanwhile, cities are taking action to make this means of transportation more available.

Here are three examples:

  • New York’s tentative budget agreement reached April 1 includes a provision that would legalize throttle-based bikes and scooters.
  • Lectric eBikes, an Arizona-based startup that launched in May 2019, told TechCrunch it has seen a spike in sales since mid-March. The company was selling an average of 25 bikes a day before COVID-19. By mid-March sales jumped to about 48 bikes a day. The following week, the company averaged daily sales of 55 ebikes. Lectric sold 175 bikes the week of March 7th. A month later, weekly sales hit 440.
  • Portland is trying to make its shared bike system known as Biketown more accessible and a helluva a lot cheaper. The city has reduced pay-as-you-go plans to a $0.10 one-time sign up fee and then $0.01 a minute. Yes, 1 cent a minute.

Autonomous delivery

the station autonomous vehicles1

COVID-19 has put a new focus on autonomous vehicle delivery. There aren’t fleets of delivery bots at the ready, but progress is being made.

Starship Technologies launched this month a robot food delivery service in Tempe, Ariz., as part of its expansion plans following a $40 million funding round announced last August.

Starship Technologies, which was launched in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, has been ramping up commercial services in the past year, including a plan to expand to 100 universities by late summer 2021. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing traditional restaurants to close and placing more pressure on gig economy workers, Starship Technologies has an opportunity to accelerate that growth. The company recently launched in Washington D.C, Irvine, Calif., and says it plans to roll out to more cities in the coming weeks.

Nuro’s next milestone

Meanwhile, Nuro has been granted permission to begin driverless testing on California’s public roads. Nuro’s low-speed R2 vehicle isn’t designed for people, only packages.

And it’s well positioned to actually scale commercially in California. Under state law, AV companies can get a separate permit that allows them to operate a ride-hailing service. But they can’t charge a fee.

Nuro can’t charge a delivery fee either. However, it can generate revenue by working with local retailers to launch a commercial delivery business using the autonomous vehicles.

Other autonomous vehicle news

AutoX has opened an 80,000 square-foot Shanghai Robotaxi Operations Center, following a 2019 agreement with municipal authorities to deploy 100 autonomous vehicles in the Jiading District. The vehicles in the fleet were assembled at a factory about 93 miles outside of Shanghai.

AutoX, which is developing a full self-driving stack, has operations in California and China. It has been particularly active in China. The company has been operating a fleet of robotaxis in Shenzhen through a pilot program launched in 2019 with BYD. Earlier this year, it partnered with Fiat Chrysler to roll out a fleet of robotaxis for China and other countries in Asia.

The Shanghai operations center marks an escalation of AutoX’s ambitions. The company plans to unveil a ride-hailing app that will let users in Shanghai request ride from one of vehicles at the new operations center.

Trend Watch

Trend watch is meant to be a bookmark that we can look back on in a few weeks, months or even years and see if it actually caught on.

I’ll mention two this week.

Nauto is an automotive tech startup that combines cameras, motion sensors, GPS and AI algorithms to understand and improve driver behavior. The company’s platform is used in commercial fleets and some fresh data shows an uptick in last-mile driving and more distracted driving.

Nauto’s distribution and last-mile fleets averaged 41 miles driven every active driving hour in March, a 46% increase from the same month last year.

Meanwhile, distracted driving incidents increased. Nauto said that its distribution and last-mile fleets averaged 1.54 distraction events every active driving hour in March compared to 0.98 events per hour in the same month last year.

Now onto cities. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf launched Saturday the Oakland Slow Streets initiative to help folks maintain physical distancing. The city has shut down down 74 miles of streets to through traffic to give people space to recreate.

Streets are open to local traffic only and residents are able to drive home. Fire, police, deliveries and other essential services won’t impacted by street closures either.

Other cities are experimenting with similar efforts. While streets will likely open back up after the pandemic passes, this could change how people, including planners, business owners and city officials view how we should use streets.

From you

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared comments from readers about how COVID-19 has affected their business or how they use transportation. This week, I thought I’d share some advice from Laurie Yoler, a new partner at Playground Global, board member of Zoox and adviser to multiple companies. She was an early adviser and former board member at Tesla .

Here’s what she shared.

This is a time of deep reflection. Instead of viewing ‘social distancing’ as a prison, we can focus on the people we care about and reflect on our work and what gives us joy. Look at this time as an opportunity to be compassionate with yourself and the people around you, and pursue your curiosity. That doesn’t mean forcing yourself to complete a list of tasks with urgency and focus, but rather using this time for gentle creative exploration.

If your business needs to rethink its plans or is facing a substantial slowdown, as so many are, remember you can only be effective by focusing on one thing at a time. I have five “F’s” I run through with entrepreneurs I advise. Friends and family first, then physical facilities, in order to ensure business continuity. After that, you can move to finances, cutting costs and creatively thinking about your business model in order to give your company the best chance of survival. Next, it’s about planning for the future. Scenario planning is essential for all critical areas of your business. Ask yourself, “can I use this crisis to make the company stronger?” Lastly, we turn to faith in the world’s scientists and innovators to see us through this difficult time.

Remember, even amid the devastation around us, there is still space for optimism. This could be a catalyst for the sweeping innovation in healthcare and education that we so desperately need. Use this time of stillness to restore yourself. Watch inspirational TED talks, exercise, meditate, and check in with friends and colleagues often.”

— Laurie Yoler

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Lockheed Martin CEO Marilyn Hewson to be succeeded by board member James Taiclet

Lockheed Martin has announced a major shift in its corporate leadership: CEO Marilyn Hewson, who has been in the role since 2013, will be replaced by board member and American Tower President and CEO James Taiclet. Hewson will become executive chairman of the board, and both shifts will be effective as of June 15.

Hewson’s time as chief executive of the U.S. sense company has been punctuated by some key highlights, including development and delivery of the Lockheed-built Orion spacecraft, which will support NASA’s Artemis program through its missions leading up to and including delivering humans back to the surface of the Moon.

Taiclet, prior to his time at communications infrastructure company American Tower, was president of Honeywell Aerospace Services, as well as VP of Engine Services at United Technologies Corporation.

In other leadership changes at Lockheed, EVP Frank A. St John is elevated to COO, a new role in the company’s executive branch that will oversee all four business area executive Vice Presidents, including Aeronautics, Rotary and Mission Systems, Space and Missiles, and Fire Control.

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