Jetty raises $23M to help give renters more payment flexibility

Jetty, a fintech company which aims to give renters flexibility when paying rent, has raised $23 million in a funding round co-led by Citi and Flourish Ventures.

The financing brings Jetty’s total raised since its 2016 inception to $78 million. Other investors participating in the latest growth round include Credit Ease and K5. Previous backers include Farmers Insurance Group, Khosla and Ribbit Capital, among others.

The 100-person New York City-based startup has come up with a way to help renters make rent on time with an offering that resembles the ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) model that is increasingly used by consumers at the point of sale, online and in person. 

In a nutshell, renters can pay their rent when it’s due and then have up until the 24th of the month to pay the money back to Jetty  — either in a lump sum or via installments. They don’t pay interest charges or late fees, but rather a monthly subscription fee ranging from $15 to $25, depending on the renter’s risk profile. If the renter fails to pay back the money during the agreed upon time, they will not be able to borrow more for the following month.

The monthly fee is “far lower” than any potential late fee if the rent is not paid on time, said co-founder and CEO Mike Rudoy.

“Around 50% of the average renter’s paycheck is going to rent. So this is the largest expense of any renter, on a given month,” he said. “And so you would expect that there would be some type of financial services product that would give them the flexibility that they need to come up with the money on time in such a way that they weren’t penalized.”

The offering is more of a cousin to traditional BNPL, he said, than actual BNPL.

“We will pay the rent on behalf of the renter in full on the first of the month, giving property managers the money they need when they need it,” Rudoy explained. “Renters get 24 days to pay it back on a schedule that suits their needs.”

To launch Jetty Rent, the company partnered with Cortland, a large real estate investment, development and management company, to roll out the offering in beta to residents across a portfolio of properties.

Now, the startup is launching the offering to the public. Jetty Rent is the newest product on the startup’s platform, which also offers “low cost” renters insurance as well as security deposit replacement.

“The mission of the company is to make renting more affordable and flexible,” Rudoy said. “And we are a financial services platform whereby every product that we have launched is meant to both provide value to both property managers as well as renters.”

With the move, Jetty is evolving from being an insurtech to also a lender, said Rudoy. The company is providing the loans through Cross River Bank.

“We are working to bring some additional credit and lending prowess to the business given the fact it has historically been considered an insurtech company,” he told TechCrunch.

The fact that the company offers all three products to property managers gives it a competitive edge, according to Rudoy.

“This makes us different from other financial services companies attacking the same space and problem set,” he told TechCrunch. “We’re the only one that has both a security deposit alternative and flexible rent product under the same roof. It makes the choice to work with us much easier if you’re a property manager, from an integration and onboarding perspective. It means fewer different brands in front of renters as well.”

The renters pay for all the products and the property managers are partners in the distribution of the products.

Currently, the company has agreements with property owners and managers that operate more than 2.2 million rental units across the country. Since starting to build its property partner network in 2017, Jetty has seen 193% average year over growth in contracted units, according to co-founder Alex Vlasto. Besides Cortland, it also works with AMLI Residential, for example.

Emmalyn Shaw, managing partner of Flourish Ventures, notes that over 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

“Stable housing is a critical component in helping them achieve financial security,” she said.

Jetty, Shaw added, is the only company “that extends beyond a single solution to embed a rich and differentiated set of financial offerings” including rental insurance, security deposit alternatives and now rent flexibility. 

“Through its unique consumer insights, differentiated pricing, increased consumer loyalty, Jetty has achieved a significant competitive advantage,” she wrote via email. “Moreover, their consumer reach through top property management entities like Cortland is unparalleled.”

As of late, other startups that have come up with new technology to make the lives of renters easier have also raised money. Sugar, a startup that aims to turn apartment buildings into “interactive communities,” recently closed on $2.5 million in seed funding.  And, RentCheck, a startup that has built out an automated property inspection platform, recently raised $2.6 million in seed money.

#citi, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #jetty, #new-york-city, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital

Mortgage is suddenly sexy as SoftBank pumps $500M in Better.com at $6B valuation

Digital mortgage lender Better.com has raised a $500 million round from Japanese investment conglomerate SoftBank that values the company at $6 billion.

The financing is notable for a few reasons. For one, that new $6 billion valuation,  is up 50% from the $4 billion it was valued at last November when it raised $200 million in Series D financing. It’s also up tenfold from its $600 million valuation at the time of its Series C raise in August 2019.

Secondly, it’s further proof that mortgage – a traditionally “unsexy” industry that has long been in need of disruption – is officially hot. For all its controversy, when SoftBank invests, people pay attention.

The COVID-19 pandemic and historically-low mortgage rates fueled acceleration in the online lending space in a way that no one could have anticipated. That, combined with the general fervour in venture funding, means it’s not a big surprise that Better.com has raised $700 million in just a matter of months.

The investment brings Better.com’s total funding raised to over $900 million since its 2014 inception. Other backers include Goldman Sachs, Kleiner Perkins, American Express, Activant Capital and Citi, among others.

According to the Wall Street Journal, SoftBank is buying shares from Better’s existing investors, and agreed to give all of its voting rights to CEO and founder Vishal Garg “in a sign of its eagerness” to invest in the company. 

During a one-on-one interview at Lendit Fintech’s USA 2020 virtual event in October, Garg had told me that an IPO was definitely in the works.

“We’ll do it when it’s right,” he said. “One of the core tenets of American capitalism is the ability for your customers to buy your stock.”

At that time, he had also told me that before the pandemic, Better was processing about $1.2 billion a month in loans. But as of October 2020, it was funding over $2.5 billion per month, and had gone from 1,500 staffers to about 4,000 worldwide. 

“When the pandemic started we were doing less than sort of like $50 million a month of revenue,” he said. “We’re two-and-a half times that now.”

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Google Pay gets a major redesign with a new emphasis on personal finance

Google is launching a major redesign of its Google Pay app on both Android and iOS today. Like similar phone-based contactless payment services, Google Pay — or Android Pay as it was known then — started out as a basic replacement for your credit card. Over time, the company added a few more features on top of that but the overall focus never really changed. After about five years in the market, Google Pay now has about 150 million users in 30 countries. With today’s update and redesign, Google is keeping all the core features intact but also taking the service in a new direction with a strong emphasis on helping you manage your personal finances (and maybe get a deal here and there as well).

Google is also partnering with 11 banks to launch a new kind of bank account in 2021. Called Plex, these mobile-first bank accounts will have no monthly fees, overdraft charges or minimum balances. The banks will own the accounts but the Google Pay app will be the main conduit for managing these accounts. The launch partners for this are Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union.

Image Credits: Google

“What we’re doing in this new Google Pay app, think of it is combining three things into one,” Google director of product management Josh Woodward said as he walked me through a demo of the new app. “The three things are three tabs in the app. One is the ability to pay friends and businesses really fast. The second is to explore offers and rewards, so you can save money at shops. And the third is getting insights about your spending so you can stay on top of your money.”

Paying friends and businesses was obviously always at the core of Google Pay — but the emphasis here has shifted a bit. “You’ll notice that everything in the product is built around your relationships,” Caesar Sengupta, Google’s lead for Payments and Next Billion Users, told me. “It’s not about long lists of transactions or weird numbers. All your engagements pivot around people, groups, and businesses.”

It’s maybe no surprise then that the feature that’s now front and center in the app is P2P payments. You can also still pay and request money through the app as usual, but as part of this overhaul, Google is now making it easier to split restaurant bills with friends, for example, or your rent and utilities with your roommates — and to see who already paid and who is still delinquent. Woodward tells me that Google built this feature after its user research showed that splitting bills remains a major pain point for its users.

In this same view, you can also find a list of companies you have recently transacted with — either by using the Google Pay tap-and-pay feature or because you’ve linked your credit card or bank account with the service. From there, you can see all of your recent transactions with those companies.

Image Credits: Google

Maybe the most important new feature Google is enabling with this update is indeed the ability to connect your bank accounts and credit cards to Google Pay so that it can pull in information about your spending. It’s basically Mint-light inside the Google Pay app. This is what enables the company to offer a lot of the other new features in the app. Google says it is working with “a few different aggregators” to enable this feature, though it didn’t go into details about who its partners are. It’s worth stressing that this, like all of the new features here, is off by default and opt-in.

Image Credits: Google

The basic idea here is similar to that of other personal finance aggregators. At its most basic, it lets you see how much money you spent and how much you still have. But Google is also using its smarts to show you some interesting insights into your spending habits. On Monday, it’ll show you how much you spent on the weekend, for example.

“Think of these almost as like stories in a way,” Woodward said. “You can swipe through them so you can see your large transactions. You can see how much you spent this week compared to a typical week. You can look at how much money you’ve sent to friends and which friends and where you’ve spent money in the month of November, for example.”

This also then enables you to easily search for a given transaction using Google’s search capabilities. Since this is Google, that search should work pretty well and in a demo, the team showed me how a search for ‘Turkish’ brought up a transaction at a kebab restaurant, for example, even though it didn’t have ‘Turkish’ in its name. If you regularly take photos of your receipts, you can also now search through these from Google Pay and drill down to specific things you bought — as well as receipts and bills you receive in your Gmail inbox.

Also new inside of Google Pay is the ability to see and virtually clip coupons that are then linked to your credit card, so you don’t need to do anything else beyond using that linked credit card to get extra cashback on a given transaction, for example. If you opt in, these offers can also be personalized.

Image Credits: Google

The team also worked with the Google Lens team to now let you scan products and QR codes to look for potential discounts.

As for the core payments function, Google is also enabling a new capability that will let you use contactless payments at 30,000 gas stations now (often with a discount). The partners for this are Shell, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, 76 and Conoco.

In addition, you’ll also soon be able to pay for parking in over 400 cities inside the app. Not every city is Portland, after all, and has a Parking Kitty. The first cities to get this feature are Austin, Boston, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., with others to follow soon.

It’s one thing to let Google handle your credit card transaction but it’s another to give it all of this — often highly personal — data. As the team emphasized throughout my conversation with them, Google Pay will not sell your data to third parties or even the rest of Google for ad targeting, for example. All of the personalized features are also off by default and the team is doing something new here by letting you turn them on for a three-month trial period. After those three months, you can then decide to keep them on or off.

In the end, whether you want to use the optional features and have Google store all of this data is probably a personal choice and not everybody will be comfortable with it. The rest of the core Google Pay features aren’t changing, after all, so you can still make your NFC payments at the supermarket with your phone just like before.

#android, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #austin, #bank, #boston, #citi, #computing, #exxonmobil, #google, #google-pay, #minneapolis, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #p2p, #portland, #product-management, #shell, #tc, #up, #washington, #washington-d-c

Water quality and distribution monitoring software Ketos raises $18 million

Water quality and logistics monitoring software Ketos has raised $15 million from a group of investors to take advantage of the growing demand for better water management tools and technologies.

The potential for more stringent regulatory oversight of industrial water use and wastewater management from local, state and federal government coupled with increasing consumer and investor demands for better corporate environmental stewardship is driving an unprecedented adoption of technology and services aimed at increasing conservation and reducing waste across industries.

Water monitoring can also provide relevant information to public officials about the potential for disease outbreaks and other health related issues in a population.

Recently, monitoring wastewater streams have been used to detect outbreaks of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The renewed attention on water is one reason why an investment arm of the banking giant Citi joined lead investor Motley Fool Ventures and Illuminated Funds Group to come as new investors into Ketos. They joined existing backers like Ajax Strategies, Better Ventures, Broadway Angels, Plum Valley Ventures, and Rethink Impact.

Silicon Valley Bank provided the company with $3 million in debt financing.

The company said it would use the funding to develop new capabilities for its combined hardware and software service that provides information into water quality and the existence of potential damage to water pipes for distribution and disposal of water.

“Creating one of the largest centralized data lakes of water quality insights — with information on heavy-metal toxins, coupled with location-based mapping and potential contamination sources — the potential for what machine learning and artificial intelligence can achieve is limitless,” said Meena Sankaran, the company’s founder and chief executive.

One other selling point is the company’s use of machine learning to predict where problems with water systems might arise — avoiding the need for more costly investments into infrastructure.

“KETOS is truly disrupting the water intelligence industry with the data it captures autonomously (remotely controlled) and makes available to its customers for forecasting water management issues, which is even more top of mind as the world battles COVID,” said Ollen Douglass, Managing Director of Motley Fool Ventures, in a statement. “For the first time, it is possible to use predictive modeling and much needed mission-critical insights with $0 capital infrastructure investments, to build, take action and make informed decisions about a water network.”

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #banking, #better-ventures, #citi, #environmental-science, #impact, #infrastructure, #machine-learning, #silicon-valley-bank, #tc, #water

VidMob rethinks video production in the pandemic era

VidMob, which started out as a marketplace connecting marketers and video editors, now bills itself as a “creative technology platform.” Now there’s a “creator network” that’s part of a broader suite of tools for managing video production and turning those videos into online ads.

And the company has continued to evolve during the COVID-19 pandemic. Founder and CEO Alex Collmer told me that how customers use the platform has changed substantially in recent months. For example, he said that one of the platform’s “best skills” involved taking existing footage — including footage shot for TV commercials — and other creative assets and turning them into social media ads. But of course, “Over the last few months, all physical shoots were canceled.”

So Collmer said that rather than simply treating VidMob as a social media advertising tool, brands are increasingly turning to the startup for a way to manage remote video production. The result is that the company saw 100% year-over-year “logo growth” (a.k.a. new customers) in the first quarter, and then grew another 50% in Q2.

“What we have seen here is the acceleration of the digital transformation of the enterprise,” he said. “Pretty much every client we have, every marketer we talk to is looking very seriously at how to move all their creative operations onto some sort of unifying software platform, so that they feel safe in the event that they continue to have to work in a remote environment, and to be more efficient with existing media.”

One of those gin brand Monkey 47, whose brand lead Jennifer Schwartz said in a statement, “We have worked multiple times with VidMob as they quickly and efficiently help a lean and nimble brand like ours get out our message to millions of consumers.”

Another client is Citi, whose Chief Brand Officer Carla Hassan told me her team has been working with VidMob since last year. She said that as as a result of the pandemic, like many marketers, “We were required to really be flexible and adjust and scale programs quickly.”

For example, in response to the #InItTogether hashtag, Citi used VidMob to create a series of inspirational videos showcasing the work of its employees — such as Mihir in the video above, who was 3D printing protective equipment for his communities.

“As we thought about how we told the stories, we realized that your colleagues are some of the most important heroes that you have,” Hassan said.

According to Citi, the videos have been viewed nearly 250,000 times since the campaign launched in early May, with 80% of that viewing on LinkedIn.

And although dealing with the initial pandemic and shutdown was difficult enough, the news keeps coming, with protests for racial justice, a COVID-19 resurgence, resulting closures and more.

“We’re going to be in a period of uncertainty for a while, but to be honest, I see that as an opportunity,” Hassan said. “Brands who understand what their consumers want, brands who are tuned into the cultural zeitgeist, brands [who] pivot quickly to create content that is relevant and engaging and drive business KPIs … that will be what wins in the future.”

Similarly, Collmer said that in a period of uncertainty, brands need to respond more quickly, rather than simply falling silent: “Shutting up and going away is not a great way to position yourself.”

Update: This post has been updated to correctly identify the executive at Citi and to include a quote from Monkey 47.

#advertising-tech, #citi, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #media, #startups, #vidmob

GM is working on a hands-off advanced driving system for city streets

GM has a “big team” working on an advanced version of its hands-free driving assistance system, Super Cruise, that will expand its capability beyond highways and apply it to city streets, the automaker’s vice president of global product development Doug Parks said Tuesday.

GM is also continuing to improve its existing Super Cruise product, Parks said during a webcasted interview at Citi’s 2020 Car of the Future Symposium.

“As we continue to ratchet up Super Cruise, we continue to add capability and not just highway roads,” Parks said, adding that a separate team is working on the hands-free city driving product known internally as “Ultra Cruise.”

“We’re trying to take that same capability off the highway,” he said. “Ultra cruise would be all of the Super Cruise plus the neighborhoods, city streets and subdivisions. So Ultra Cruise’s domain would be  essentially all driving, all the time.”

Parks was quick to add that this would not be autonomous driving. Advanced driving assistance systems have become more capable, but they still require a human driver to take control and to be paying attention.

“What we’re not saying is that Ultra Cruise will be fully autonomous 100% of the time, although that could be one of the end games,” Parks said.

Parks didn’t provide a timeline for when Ultra Cruise might be available. A GM spokesperson said in a statement after his interview that the company continues to expand its hands-free driver assistance system technology across its vehicle portfolio and has “teams looking at how we can expand the capabilities to more scenarios.”

GM said it “does not have a name or anything specific to announce today, but stay tuned.”

This new Ultra Cruise feature would put it in competition with Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driving system, which is largely viewed as the most capable on the market today. Tesla’s “full self-driving” package, a more capable version of Autopilot, can now identify stop signs and traffic lights and automatically slows the car to a stop on approach. This feature is still considered to be in beta.

GM’s Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS,  cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

GM has taken a slower approach to Super Cruise compared to Tesla’s method of rolling out software updates that gives early access to some owners to test the improved features. When GM launched Super Cruise in 2017, it was only available in one Cadillac model — the full-size CT6 sedan — and restricted to divided highways. That began to change in 2019 when GM announced plans to expand where Super Cruise would be available.

GM’s new digital vehicle platform, which provides more electrical bandwidth and data processing power, enabled engineers to add to Super Cruise’s capabilities. In January, GM added a feature to Super Cruise that automated lane changes for drivers of certain Cadillac models, including the upcoming 2021 Escalade.

This enhanced version of Super Cruise includes better steering and speed control. The improved version will be introduced starting with the 2021 Cadillac CT4 and CT5 sedans, followed by the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade. The vehicles are expected to become available in the second half of 2020.

#automotive, #cadillac, #cars, #citi, #general-motors, #gm, #gps, #sedans, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tesla