TrueLayer nabs $130M at a $1B+ valuation as open banking rises as a viable option to card networks

Open banking — a disruptive technology that seeks to bypass the dominance of card networks and other traditional financial rails by letting banks open their systems directly to developers (and new services) by way of APIs — continues to gain ground in the world of financial services. As a mark of that traction, a startup playing a central role in open banking applications is announcing a big round of funding with a milestone valuation.

TrueLayer, which provides technology for developers to enable a range of open-banking-based services has raised $130 million in a funding round that values the London-based startup at over $1 billion.

Tiger Global Management is leading the round, and notably, payments juggernaut Stripe is also participating.

Open Banking is a relatively new area in the world of fintech — the UK was an early adopter in 2018, Europe then signed on, and it looks like we are now seeing more movements that the U.S. may soon also join the party — and TrueLayer is considered a pioneer in the space.

The vast majority of transactions in the world today are still made using card rails or more antiquated banking infrastructure, but the opportunity with open banking is to build a completely new infrastructure that works more efficiently, and might come with less (or no) fees for those using it, with the perennial API promise: all by way of few lines of code.

“We had a vision that finance should be opened up, and we are actively woking to remove the frictions that exist between intermediaries,” said CEO Francesco Simoneschi, who co-founded the company with Luca Martinetti (who is now the CTO), in an interview. “We want a financial system that works for everyone, but that hasn’t been the case up to now. The opportunity emerged five years ago, when open banking came into law in the UK and then elsewhere, to go after the most impressive oligopoly: the card networks and everything that revolves around them. Now, we can easily say that open banking is becoming a viable alternative to that.”

It seems that the world of finance and commerce is slowly catching on, and so the funding is coming on the heels of some strong growth for the company.

Services that TrueLayer currently include payments, payouts, user account information and user verification; while end users range from neobanks, crypto startups, and wealth management apps through to e-commerce companies, marketplaces and gaming platforms.

And the startup says it now has “millions” of consumers making open banking transactions enabled by TrueLayer’s technology, and some 10,000 developers are building services based on open banking standards. TrueLayer so far this year has doubled its customer base, picking up some key customers like Cazoo to enable open-banking based payments for cars; and it has processed “billions” of dollars in payments, with payment volume growing 400%, and payment up 800%.

The plan is to use the funding to invest in building out that business further — specifically to extend its payments network to more regions (and more banks getting integrated into that network), as well as to bring on more customers using open banking services for more regular, recurring transactions.

“The shift to alternative payment methods is accelerating with the global growth of online commerce, and we believe TrueLayer will play a central role in making these payment methods more accessible,” said Alex Cook, partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Francesco, Luca and the TrueLayer team as they help customers increase conversion and continue to grow the network.”

Notably, Stripe is not a strategic investor in TrueLayer at the moment, just a financial one. That is to say, it has yet to integrate open banking into its own payments infrastructure.

But you can imagine how it would be interested in it as part of the bigger mix of options for its customers, and potentially also to build its own standalone financial rails that well and truly compete with those provided by the card networks (which are such a close part of what Stripe does that its earliest web design was based on the physical card, and even its name is a reference to the stripe on the back of them.

There are other providers of open banking connectivity in the market today — Plaid out of the U.S. is one notable name — but Simoneschi believes that Stripe and TrueLayer on the same page as companies.

“We share a profound belief that progress comes through the eyes of developers so it’s about delivering the tools they need to use,” he he said. “We are in a very complementary space.”

#api, #bank, #banking, #ceo, #cto, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #london, #mobile-payments, #money, #online-banking, #online-commerce, #online-payments, #open-banking, #partner, #payment, #payments-infrastructure, #payments-network, #stripe, #tiger-global-management, #truelayer, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #web-applications

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.

#algolia, #artificial-intelligence, #better-com, #board-member, #bonobos, #carl-sparks, #ceo, #co-founder, #constructor, #cto, #david-fraga, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #founder, #funding, #google, #google-search, #invision, #jason-finger, #kevin-weil, #marketing, #merchandising, #online-shopping, #partner, #president, #retail, #seamless, #sephora, #shopping, #silversmith-capital-partners, #social-media, #sprout-social, #technology-development, #travelocity, #yext, #zonos

Rezilion raises $30M help security operations teams with tools to automate their busywork

Security operations teams face a daunting task these days, fending off malicious hackers and their increasingly sophisticated approaches to cracking into networks. That also represents a gap in the market: building tools to help those security teams do their jobs. Today, an Israeli startup called Rezilion that is doing just that — building automation tools for DevSecOps, the area of IT that addresses the needs of security teams and the technical work that they need to do in their jobs — is announcing $30 million in funding.

Guggenheim Investments is leading the round with JVP and Kindred Capital also contributing. Rezilion said that unnamed executives from Google, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, IBM, Cisco, PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Nasdaq, eBay, Symantec, RedHat, RSA and Tenable are also in the round. Previously, the company had raised $8 million.

Rezilion’s funding is coming on the back of strong initial growth for the startup in its first two years of operations.

Its customer base is made up of some of the world’s biggest companies, including two of the “Fortune 10” (the top 10 of the Fortune 500). CEO Liran Tancman, who co-founded Rezilion with CTO Shlomi Boutnaru, said that one of those two is one of the world’s biggest software companies, and the other is a major connected device vendor, but he declined to say which. (For the record, the top 10 includes Amazon, Apple, Alphabet/Google, Walmart and CVS.)

Tancman and Boutnaru had previously co-founded another security startup, CyActive, which was acquired by PayPal in 2015; the pair worked there together until leaving to start Rezilion.

There are a lot of tools out in the market now to help automate different aspects of developer and security operations. Rezilion focuses on a specific part of DevSecOps: large businesses have over the years put in place a lot of processes that they need to follow to try to triage and make the most thorough efforts possible to detect security threats. Today, that might involve inspecting every single suspicious piece of activity to determine what the implications might be.

The problem is that with the volume of information coming in, taking the time to inspect and understand each piece of suspicious activity can put enormous strain on an organization: it’s time-consuming, and as it turns out, not the best use of that time because of the signal to noise ratio involved. Typically, each vulnerability can take 6-9 hours to properly investigate, Tancman said. “But usually about 70-80% of them are not exploitable,” meaning they may be bad for some, but not for this particular organization and the code it’s using today. That represents a very inefficient use of the security team’s time and energy.

“Eight of out ten patches tend to be a waste of time,” Tancman said of the approach that is typically made today. He believes that as its AI continues to grow and its knowledge and solution becomes more sophisticated, “it might soon be 9 out of 10.”

Rezilion has built a taxonomy and an AI-based system that essentially does that inspection work as a human would do: it spots any new, or suspicious, code, figures out what it is trying to do, and runs it against a company’s existing code and systems to see how and if it might actually be a threat to it or create further problems down the line. If it’s all good, it essentially whitelists the code. If not, it flags it to the team.

The stickiness of the product has come out of how Tancman and Boutnaru understand large enterprises, especially those heavy with technology stacks, operate these days in what has become a very challenging environment for cybersecurity teams.

“They are using us to accelerate their delivery processes while staying safe,” Tancman said. “They have strict compliance departments and have to adhere to certain standards,” in terms of the protocols they take around security work, he added. “They want to leverage DevOps to release that.”

He said Rezilion has generally won over customers in large part for simply understanding that culture and process and helping them work better within that: “Companies become users of our product because we showed them that, at a fraction of the effort, they can be more secure.” This has special resonance in the world of tech, although financial services, and other verticals that essentially leverage technology as a significant foundation for how they operate, are also among the startup’s user base.

Down the line, Rezilion plans to add remediation and mitigation into the mix to further extend what it can do with its automation tools, which is part of where the funding will be going, too, Boutnaru said. But he doesn’t believe it will ever replace the human in the equation altogether.

“It will just focus them on the places where you need more human thinking,” he said. “We’re just removing the need for tedious work.”

In that grand tradition of enterprise automation, then, it will be interesting to watch which other automation-centric platforms might make a move into security alongside the other automation they are building. For now, Rezilion is forging out an interesting enough area for itself to get investors interested.

“Rezilion’s product suite is a game changer for security teams,” said Rusty Parks, senior MD of Guggenheim Investments, in a statement. “It creates a win-win, allowing companies to speed innovative products and features to market while enhancing their security posture. We believe Rezilion has created a truly compelling value proposition for security teams, one that greatly increases return on time while thoroughly protecting one’s core infrastructure.”

#agile-software-development, #alphabet, #amazon, #apple, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #ceo, #cisco, #computer-security, #crowdstrike, #cto, #cyactive, #devops, #ebay, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #financial-services, #funding, #google, #ibm, #jp-morgan-chase, #kindred-capital, #maryland, #microsoft, #paypal, #security, #software, #software-development, #startup-company, #symantec, #technology

AI-driven voice assistant PolyAI raises $14M round led by Khosla Ventures

“Conversational AI” startup PolyAI, based out of London, has raised $14 million in a funding round led by Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures, with participation from existing investors (Point72 Ventures, Amadeus Capital, Sands Capital Ventures, Passion Capital and Entrepreneur First). This follows their $12m Series A, and will provide resources for further US expansion beyond its existing US team. The startup has now raised $28m to date.

PolyAI builds and deploys voice assistants for automating customer services, which, claims the startup, sound like real humans. This helps companies get an infinite and cheaper supply of their best human voice operators, which reduces customer waiting times, and increases customer satisfaction and retention, says the company.

Co-founder Dr Nikola Mrkšić said: “The technical term for our technology is ‘multi-turn conversational AI’, but all the caller has to do is talk to it, like they would to a human. Compared to existing call centers, our assistants can boost customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores by up to 40% and reduce handling times by up to five minutes.”

“We build these systems very quickly (relative to the competition) — we get experiences like these up and running in 2-4 weeks thanks to our transformer-based language understanding models and the underlying dialog management platform,” he added.

In a statement, Vinod Khosla said: “PolyAI is one of the first AI companies using the newest generation of large pre-trained deep learning models (akin to BERT and GPT-3) in a real-world enterprise product. This means they can deploy automated AI agents in as little as two weeks, where incumbent providers of voice assistants would take up to six months to deploy an older version of this technology.”

A spinout from the University of Cambridge, PolyAI says it is is effectively ’pushing at an open door’ as the pandemic has led to staffing shortages in call centers, driving more companies to deploy smart voice assistants, which appear not to have been replaced chatbots at all, as consumer generally prefer to speak than type.

“We were expecting the system to handle 40% of calls, but at launch it handled 80%, and within two weeks it was up to 87%,” said Brian Jeppesen of Landry’s Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos. “Callers think the AI agent is human”, Jeppesen continued, “which is great because the voice assistant never has a bad day, and is on 24/7. I wish I could hire more agents like that!”

Competitors include Nuance (recently acquired by Microsoft), IPSoft, Interactions, SmartAction, and Replicant. But PolyAI says its voice assistant can be turned live more quickly, in more languages, and charges on a per-minute basis.

Founded by Nikola Mrkšić (CEO), Tsung-Hsien Wen (CTO), Pei-Hao Su (Engineering Director), the three met while doing PhDs with Professor Steve Young, a leader in spoken dialog systems who pioneered many technologies that underpin voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa.

Recent PolyAI clients include Landry’s Entertainment, Greene King, Starling Bank, and Viasat. 

#alexa, #artificial-intelligence, #cambridge, #ceo, #chatbots, #co-founder, #computing, #cto, #customer-satisfaction, #entrepreneur, #europe, #google, #instant-messaging, #interactions, #khosla-ventures, #leader, #london, #microsoft, #nikola, #nuance, #passion-capital, #point72-ventures, #polyai, #replicant, #sands-capital-ventures, #software, #starling-bank, #tc, #united-states, #university-of-cambridge, #user-interfaces, #viasat, #vinod-khosla, #virtual-assistant, #voice-assistant

Offchain Labs raises $120 million to hide Ethereum’s shortcomings with its Arbitrum product

As the broader crypto world enjoys a late summer surge in enthusiasm, more and more blockchain developers who have taken the plunge are bumping into the blaring scaling issues faced by decentralized apps on the Ethereum blockchain. The popular network has seen its popularity explode in the past year but its transaction volume has stayed frustratingly stable as the network continues to operate near its limits, leading to slower transaction speeds and hefty fees on the crowded chain.

Ethereum’s core developers have been planning out significant upgrades to the blockchain to rectify these issues, but even in the crypto world’s early stages, transitioning the network is a daunting, lengthy task. That’s why developers are looking to so-called Layer 2 rollup scaling solutions, which sit on top of the Ethereum network and handle transactions separately in a cheaper, faster way, while still recording the transactions to the Ethereum blockchain, albeit in batches.

The Layer 2 landscape is early, but crucial to the continued scalability of Ethereum. As a result, there’s been quite a bit of passionate chatter among blockchain developers regarding the early players in the space. Offchain Labs has been developing one particularly hyped rollup network called Arbitrum One, which has built up notable support and momentum since it beta-launched to developers in May, with about 350 teams signing up for access, the company says.

They’ve attracted some high-profile partnerships including Uniswap and Chainlink who have promised early support for the solution. The company has also quickly piqued investor interest. The startup tells TechCrunch it raised a $20 million Series A in April of this year, quickly followed up by a $100 million Series B led by Lightspeed Venture Partners which closed this month and valued the company at $1.2 billion. Other new investors include Polychain Capital, Ribbit Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Pantera Capital, Alameda Research and Mark Cuban.

Offchain Labs co-founders Felton, Goldfeder and Kalodner

It’s been a fairly lengthy ride for the Arbitrum technology to public access. The tech was first developed at Princeton — you can find a YouTube video where the tech is first discussed in earnest back in early 2015.  Longtime Professor Ed Felton and his co-founders CEO Steven Goldfeder and CTO Harry Kalodner detailed a deeper underlying vision in a 2018 research paper before licensing the tech from Princeton and building out the company. Felton previously served as the deputy U.S. chief technology officer in the Obama White House, and — alongside Goldfeder — authored a top textbook on cryptocurrencies.

After a lengthy period under wraps and a few months of limited access, the startup is ready to launch the Arbitrum One mainnet publicly, they tell TechCrunch.

This team’s scaling solution has few direct competitors — a16z-backed Optimism is its most notable rival — but Arbitrum’s biggest advantage is likely the smooth compatibility it boasts with decentralized applications designed to run on Ethereum, compared with competitors that may require more heavy-lifting on the developer’s part to be full compatibility with their rollup solution. That selling point could be a big one as Arbitrum looks to court support across the Ethereum network and crypto exchanges for its product, though most Ethereum developers are well aware of what’s at stake broadly.

“There’s just so much more demand than there is supply on Ethereum,” Goldfeder tells TechCrunch. “Rollups give you the security derived from Ethereum but a much better experience in terms of costs.”

#arbitrum, #articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #cardano, #chief-technology-officer, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cto, #decentralization, #ethereum, #joseph-lubin, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #offchain-labs, #pantera-capital, #polychain-capital, #redpoint-ventures, #ribbit-capital, #tc, #technology, #uniswap, #united-states, #white-house

Contact, a platform for creatives backed by Maisie Williams, raises $1.9M Seed led by Founders Fund

With the pandemic digitizing every aspect of our lives, the Creator Economy has taken off like never before, with some estimates saying it’s now a $100Bn+ market. And yet, managing your professional life as a model, actor, writer or designer remains a mish-mash of emails, manual booking processes, and dreaded PDFs. Creatives face late payments, often opaque industry practices, even as top talent agencies have collectively achieved a valuation of $20Bn in value. But while modeling talent can be charged as much as a 20-40% commission fee, social media has been gradually displacing traditional agencies by reducing the barriers to entry and making talent more accessible. However, as everyone knows, social media is nowhere near a place anyone can manage their career.

Late last year the Contact platform launched, initially offering models a way to take bookings and manage some aspects of their work. It’s now looking to address the wider problems referred to above, with a new round of funding involving some key players in the creative industries.

It’s backed and supported by Maisie Williams, best known for her work on Game of Thrones, who has become Creative Strategist and Advisor to the startup after becoming a passionate advocate for better conditions for creatives in the industry.

Contact has now raised a $1.9 million (£1.4 million) Seed round of funding led by Founders Fund. Also participating is LAUNCH (the fund led by investors Jason Calacanis), Sweet Capital (via Pippa Lamb), Rogue VC (via Alice Lloyd George) and Angel investors Simon Beckerman (co-founder of Depop), Eric Wahlforss (co-founder of SoundCloud and now Dance), Abe Burns and Joe White.

Although Contact’s initial incarnation is addressing the modeling world, its vision is far bigger. Contact co-founder and CEO Reuben Selby — a fashion designer who was formerly of William’s founding team, when she started her career — has worked with Nike, Thom Browne, and JW Anderson. He says the platform aims to become a scalable back-end solution across the $104.2 Billion Creator Economy, “democratizing” access to the world’s best creative talent.

Reuben Selby

Reuben Selby

Selby, who recently spoke about being a founder with autism is also the founder and creative director of his own label Reuben Selby, and co-founder of Cortex a creative agency and community. Selby is joined by CTO Josh McMillan previously of Deliveroo, Daisie, the Government Digital Service, and among others.

While its competitors might, broadly speaking, include Patreon, Creatively, and The Dots, it’s fair to say that Contact’s vision to bring many aspects of these platforms under one roof could be described as ambitious, it is also tantalising.

In a radical move for what is an industry dominated by agencies, individuals and businesses can discover and book creators and creative services directly, without going through an agency.

Contact initially launched its platform in October 2020 with the ability to discover and book fashion models, but post-fundraising plans to roll out other creative verticals such as photographers, stylists, videographers, and more.

Selby says the idea for Contact has been informed by his own personal experiences trying to break into the creative industry as a model, photographer, and creative director. After finding scant methods for secure and safe ways to get paid – while booking companies lacked basic technological tools – he realized that ‘middle-men’ and agencies were there main ones that benefitted, taking cuts on both sides and often still delivering a sub-par-product.

So how does Contact work?

When a Creator joins, they are able to showcase their portfolio across different creative services and take direct bookings.

A business can then browse and discover talent using filters, shortlist creative talent, providing details about the job, and book creators directly. Creatives can accept or reject jobs via the web platform or, soon, via a smartphone app. Once the job has been completed, the talent gets paid out via Contact.

Since soft-launching within the modeling vertical, Contact says it has onboarded almost 600 creatives and over 1,400 clients including Depop, Farfetch, Nike, Vivienne Westwood, and Vogue. Users of the platform have increased 100% YoY, says the startup.

Selby says Contact intends to remain in the background and allow the talent to brand itself independently across different verticals. Crucially, Contact does not take money from creators, only booking companies, from which it will levy a 20% fee on transactions.

Commenting, Trae Stephens, Partner at Founders Fund, said: “We are always excited when we find founders who seem to have been born to build a specific company. Reuben definitely seems like one of those founders. We are really excited to watch the company scale and expand into new creative verticals.”

Pippa Lamb, Partner at Sweet Capital, added: “The team at Contact have been pushing frontiers in the creator economy long before ‘the creator economy’ became a buzzword. Contact possesses a rare combination of world-class technical talent with the raw innovation of today’s most creative minds. We are excited about this next chapter.”

Williams, best known for playing Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, is no stranger to working on startups. She previously contributed to the Daisie platform, which continues to connect creators with one another to work on each others’ projects, helping creators find collaborators for their art.

But clearly her desire to disrupt the creative world largely controlled by ‘middle men’ was not sated by the experience.

Speaking to me in an exclusive interview, Williams and Selby outlined their vision:

Selby said the existing marketplace for models is just the start: “The vision has always been about creatives, and getting creatives paid for their work. We basically started out in one vertical, the modeling industry… and we’re in the process of rolling out new verticals so bringing on photographers, makeup artists, stylists, etc. But that’s a very very small part of the overall vision.”

He said the focus now is “on the distribution of work, how that relationship works with that audience, how they can monetize it. So it’s basically giving them a toolkit to monetize their creativity rather than just the physical constraints. That’s what we’re exploring right now. We have this marketplace but we see that as being a very small part, but the larger piece.”

He said the marketplace model can connect brands directly to creators or creatives, but, he said, brands continue to have a great deal of power: “The creators are just sitting there waiting for somebody to give them something. So we’re now working out how they can just distribute by their own work and monetize it in their own ways, with the back end of how all of the logistics work, and the operational side handled by the product that we’ve built, handling the payments and the licensing and insurance.”

Despite being a major Hollywood star, Williams told me the creative and entertainment industry she’s familiar with and works in remains stuck in an old world of emails and links, rather than the kinds of platforms the tech industry is used to building and using: “Being someone who has been represented by talent agencies for my career, that whole interaction online is emails. At no point are any of the assets digitised. There’s no ‘vault’ where all of my scripts go. There’s no place where I can upload all of my audition tapes. It’s always just a link in an email. There’s not really an industry standard. From an agency perspective, none of the work that they is very streamlined or directional.”

She says that need to change: “There’s a casting process and at the moment, and it’s a hugely dated way of doing things between the casting directors and the actors, the writers etc. We want to build a very streamlined process.”

Speaking about the investors he’s assembled to back Contact, Selby said the team chose Founders Fund to be their lead investor because of their approach: “The way that they work with founders… I found that personally very empowering. [They] give you a lot of freedom and space to think creatively. So there was a clear alignment.”

Talking about the other Angel investors in the round he said: “People like Eric and Simon are majorly connected in fashion and music culture in general.”

Speaking about how the entertainment industry might react to Contact, Williams said: “Actors have many other things that they do. Being able to have a platform that they can monetize all those other things is really important, especially because, as an actor you spend a lot of time unemployed.” But said the system is constructed in such as a way that “you’re only valuable as the auditions your agent puts you up for. It’s not very inspiring or rewarding. So a lot of actors make their own shows on streaming platforms or create their own documentaries or sell their work in other ways.”

She said Contact wants to be able to facilitate that through the platform, and for creatives to have more independence: “The film industry and the music industry is full of incredibly talented people who are multi-talented across many different industries. But they are still, kind of held by representatives and agencies and record labels or managers who have a lot of power in, sort of, keeping them ‘small’. Being able to introduce something which can offer so many other tools, I think, is really important.”

It’s clear that the vision Selby, his co-founders, and Williams have, is very big. The question is, will they be able to pull it off?

It has to be said, however, that the combination of a passionate Gen-Z-influential team (with added star power), a full-blown technology platform, heavyweight US investors, and Angels pulled from creative industries certainly points to the potential for success.

#abe-burns, #co-founder, #cortex, #cto, #deliveroo, #depop, #designer, #digital-media, #eric-wahlforss, #europe, #farfetch, #fashion-designer, #finance, #founders-fund, #jason-calacanis, #joe-white, #maisie-williams, #nike, #partner, #smartphone, #social-media, #soundcloud, #tc, #technology, #thom-browne, #united-states

CRANQ launches to save developers time when adding text code

When adding text code from a 3rd party source into a platform, the process is an unavoidable and time-consuming chore. Developers currently spend a large part of their day reviewing things like “NPM” packages, and such. There are developer libraries and text code platforms like JetBrains and Visual Studio, but these don’t entirely solve the problem. A UK startup thinks it might have the answer.

CRANQ is a Low-Code IDE (integrated dev environment, like Visual Studio) which provides component authoring, with, it says, a lot of re-usability. Its focus on standardized datatypes and ports means that intent can be easily checked, says the company. It’s now raised a Pre-Seed £1m funding from Venrex and Profounders.

Developers build their code in the IDE visually, using a drag-and-drop interface. So far it’s been used to built a version of the Educai.io back-end, and Alpha trials will begin this summer.

The cofounders are Toby Rowland and Dan Stocker. Rowland, CEO, is a serial entrepreneur, best-known for co-founding King.com in 2003. His most recent digital startup – Mangahigh.com – was acquired by Westermann Publishing in 2018, and subsequently, Rowland launched RyzeHydrogen.comfor the hydrogen-for-transport market. Stocker, CTO, is an experienced developer, software architect, and inventor. Among other projects, Dan conceived and created Giant, a React competitor, in 2012.

CRANQ’s initial focus on testing will also bring it into competition with Postman.com. The Workflow space (Zapier, N8N etc.) also overlaps with CRANQ.

But CRANQ is addressing a sizeable market. The microservices market is estimated to be worth $32bn in 2023, growing at 16% you, according to some estimates.

#alpha, #ceo, #companies, #computing, #cto, #europe, #jetbrains, #serial-entrepreneur, #software, #tc, #toby-rowland, #united-kingdom, #visual-studio, #zapier

Finite State lands $30M Series B to help uncover security flaws in device firmware

Columbus, Ohio-based Finite State, a startup that provides supply chain security for connected devices and critical infrastructure, has raised $30M in Series B funding. 

The funding lands amid increased focus on the less-secure elements in an organizations’ supply chain, such as Internet of Things devices and embedded systems. The problem, Finite State says, is largely fueled by device firmware, the foundational software that often includes components sourced from third-party vendors or open-source software. This means if a security flaw is baked into the finished product, it’s often without the device manufacturers’ knowledge. 

“Cyber attackers see firmware as a weak link to gain unauthorized access to critical systems and infrastructure,” Matt Wyckhouse, CEO of Finite State, tells TechCrunch. “The number of known cyberattacks targeting firmware has quintupled in just the last four years.”

The Finite State platform brings visibility to the supply chains that create connected devices and embedded systems. After unpacking and analyzing every file and configuration in a firmware build, the platform generates a complete bill of materials for software components, identifies known and possible zero-day vulnerabilities, shows a contextual risk score, and provides actionable insights that product teams can use to secure their software.

“By looking at every piece of their supply chain and every detail of their firmware — something no other product on the market offers — we enable manufacturers to ship more secure products, so that users can trust their connected devices more,” Wyckhouse says.

The company’s latest funding round was led by Energize Ventures, with participation from Schneider Electric Ventures and Merlin Ventures, and comes a year after Finite State raised a $12.5 million Series A round. It brings the total amount of funds raised by the firm to just shy of $50 million. 

The startup says it plans to use the funds to scale to meet the demands of the market. It plans to increase its headcount too; Finite State currently has 50 employees, a figure that’s expected to grow to more than 80 by the end of 2021.  

“We also want to use this fundraising round to help us get out the message: firmware isn’t safe unless it’s safe by design,” Wyckhouse added. “It’s not enough to analyze the code your engineers built when other parts of your supply chain could expose you to major security issues.”

Finite State was founded in 2017 by Matt Wyckhouse, founder and former CTO of Battelle’s Cyber Business Unit. The company showcased its capabilities in June 2019, when its widely-cited Huawei Supply Chain Assessment revealed numerous backdoors and major security vulnerabilities in the Chinese technology company’s networking devices that could be used in 5G networks. 

Read more:

#articles, #battelle, #ceo, #columbus, #computer-security, #computing, #cto, #cyberwarfare, #energize-ventures, #firmware, #funding, #hardware, #huawei, #internet-of-things, #open-source-software, #security, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #technology

Acrew Capital, Jeff Bezos back Colombia-based proptech La Haus’ $100M debt, equity round

La Haus, which has developed an online real estate marketplace operating in Mexico and Colombia, has secured $100 million in additional funding, including $50 million in equity and $50 million in debt financing.

The new capital was obtained as an extension to the company’s Series B, the first tranche of which closed in January. With the latest infusion, Medellin, Colombia-based La Haus has now secured $135 million total for the round and over $158 million in funding since its 2017 inception.

San Francisco Bay Area venture firms Acrew Capital and Renegade Partners co-led the round, which also included participation from Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions, Endeavor Catalyst, Moore Strategic Ventures, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Rappi’s Simon Borrero, Maluma, and Gabriel Gilinski. Existing backers who put money in this round include Greenspring Associates, Kaszek, NFX, Spencer Rascoff’s 75 & Sunny Ventures, Hadi Partovi and NuBank’s David Velez. 

Jerónimo Uribe (CEO), Rodrigo Sánchez-Ríos (president), Tomás Uribe (chief growth officer) and Santiago Garcia (CTO) founded the company after Jerónimo and Tomas met Sánchez-Ríos at Stanford University. Prior to La Haus they started and ran Jaguar Capital, a Colombian real estate development company with over $350 million of completed retail and residential projects. 

The company declined to reveal at what valuation the extension was raised, with Sánchez-Ríos saying only that it was “a significant increase” from January.

The Series B extension follows impressive growth for the startup, which saw the number of transactions conducted on its Mexico portal climb by nearly 10x in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the 2020 second quarter. With over 500 homes selling on its platform (via lahaus.com and lahaus.mx) the company is “the market leader in selling new housing in Spanish-speaking Latam by an order of magnitude,” its execs claim.  La Haus expects to have facilitated more than $1 billion in annualized gross sales by the end of the year. 

The startup was founded with the mission of making it easier for people to buy homes and helping “solve LatAm’s extreme housing inequality.” Its end goal is to accelerate access to new housing by both generating and curating supply and demand and then matching it with its technology, noted Sánchez-Ríos. 

“In the last six months, our chief product officer has built a product that allows this to happen 100% digitally,” he said. “Before it would take a lot of time, people involved and visits. We want to provide people looking for a home a similar experience as to people looking for their next flight at delta.com.”

It has done that by embedding its software to developers’ new projects so that it can bring that digital experience to its users. 

“They are able to view the projects on our sites, we match them and then they can see in real time which units of a particular tower are available, and then select, sign and pay for everything digitally,” Sánchez-Río said.

Image credit: La Haus

The need for new housing in the region and other emerging markets in general is acute, they believe. And the pace of building new homes is slow because small and mid-sized developers – who are responsible for building the majority of new homes in Latin America – are cash constrained. At the same time, mortgages are mostly not affordable for consumers, with banks extending only a fraction of the credit to individuals compared to the U.S., and often at far worse terms. 

What La Haus is planning to do with its new capital – particularly the debt portion – is go beyond selling homes via its marketplace to helping extend financing to both developers and potential buyers.It plans to take the proprietary data it has been able to glean from the thousands of real estate transactions conducted on it platform to extend capital to developers and consumers “more quickly, with much lower risk and at better terms.”

Already, what the startup has accomplished is notable. Being able to purchase a home 100% digitally is not that easy even in the U.S. Pulling that off in Latin America – which has historically trailed behind in digital adoption – is no easy feat. By year’s end, La Haus intends to be in every major metropolitan area in Mexico and Colombia. 

Its ultimate goal is to be able to help new, sustainable homes “to be built faster, alleviating the inequality caused by lack of access to inventory.”

To Acrew Capital’s Lauren Kolodny, La Haus is building a solution specific to the issues of Latin America’s housing market, rather than importing business models – such as iBuying – from the U.S.

“For many people in the United States home equity is their largest asset. In Latin America, however, consumers have been challenged with an impenetrable real estate market stacked against consumers,” she wrote via email. “La Haus is removing barriers to home ownership that stifles millions of people from achieving financial security. Specifically, Latin America has no centralized MLS, very costly interest rates, no transactional transparency, and few online informational tools.”

La Haus, Kolodny added, is breaking down these barriers by consolidating listings online, offering pricing transparency and educating consumers about their financing options.

Acrew first invested in the startup in its $10 million Series A and has been impressed with its growth over time.

“They have a unique focus on new housing — a massive industry worldwide, but especially in emerging markets where new housing is so necessary,” Kolodny said. “The management team…knows real estate in Latin America better than anyone we’ve met.”

For its part, the La Haus team is excited to put its new capital to work. As Sánchez-Río put it, “$50 million goes a lot further in Mexico and Colombia than in the U.S.”

“We are going to be very aggressive in Mexico and Colombia, and plan to go from four to at least 12 markets by the end of the year,” Jeronimo told TechCrunch. “We’re also excited to roll out our financing solution to developers and buyers.”

#acrew-capital, #bezos-expeditions, #colombia, #cto, #david-velez, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenspring-associates, #hadi-partovi, #jeff-bezos, #la-haus, #latin-america, #lauren-kolodny, #marc-benioff, #medellin, #mexico, #moore-strategic-ventures, #nubank, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #renegade-partners, #retail, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #time-ventures, #venture-capital

DNSFilter secures $30M Series A to step up fight against DNS-based threats

DNSFilter, an artificial intelligence startup that provides DNS protection to enterprises, has secured $30 million in Series A funding from Insight Partners.

DNSFilter, as its name suggests, offers DNS-based web content filtering and threat protection. Unlike the majority of its competitors, which includes the likes of Palo Alto Networks and Webroot, the startup uses proprietary AI technology to continuously scan billions of domains daily, identifying anomalies and potential vectors for malware, ransomware, phishing, and fraud. 

“Most of our competitors either rent or lease a database from some third party,” Ken Carnesi, co-founder and CEO of DNSFilter tells TechCrunch. “We do that in-house, and it’s through artificial intelligence that’s scanning these pages in real-time.” 

The company, which counts the likes of Lenovo, Newegg, and Nvidia among its 14,000 customers, claims this industry-first technology catches threats an average of five days before competitors and is capable of identifying 76% of domain-based threats. By the end of 2021, DNSFilter says it will block more than 1.1 million threats daily.

DNSFilter has seen rapid growth over the past 12 months as a result of the mass shift to remote working and the increase in cyber threats and ransomware attacks that followed. The startup saw eightfold growth in customer activity, doubled its global headcount to just over 50 employees, and partnered with Canadian software house N-Able to push into the lucrative channel market.  

“DNSFilter’s rapid growth and efficient customer acquisition are a testament to the benefits and ease of use compared to incumbents,” Thomas Krane, principal at Insight Partners, who has been appointed as a director on DNSFilter’s board. “The traditional model of top-down, hardware-centric network security is disappearing in favor of solutions that readily plug in at the device level and can cater to highly distributed workforces”

Prior to this latest funding round, which was also backed by Arthur Ventures (the lead investor in DNSFilter’s seed round), CrowdStrike co-founder and former chief technology officer  Dmitri Alperovitch also joined DNSFilter’s board of directors. 

Carnesi said the addition of Alperovitch to the board will help the company get its technology into the hands of enterprise customers. “He’s helping us to shape the product to be a good fit for enterprise organizations, which is something that we’re doing as part of this round — shifting focus to be primarily mid-market and enterprise,” he said.

The company also recently added former CrowdStrike vice president Jen Ayers as its chief operating officer. “She used to manage their entire managed threat hunting team, so she’s definitely coming on for the security side of things as we build out our domain intelligence team further,” Carnesi said.

With its newly-raised funds, DNSFilter will further expand its headcount, with plans to add more than 80 new employees globally over the next 12 months.

“There’s a lot more that we can do for security via DNS, and we haven’t really started on that yet,” Carnesi said. “We plan to do things that people won’t believe were possible via DNS.”

The company, which acquired Web Shrinker in 2018, also expects there to be more acquisitions on the cards going forward. “There are some potential companies that we’d be looking to acquire to speed up our advancement in certain areas,” Carnesi said.

#arthur-ventures, #artificial-intelligence, #co-founder, #computing, #coo, #crowdstrike, #cto, #cyberwarfare, #director, #dns, #funding, #information-technology, #insight-partners, #lenovo, #newegg, #nvidia, #palo-alto-networks, #ransomware, #security, #startup-company, #techcrunch, #vp, #webroot

Ring’s latest security updates are good, but still opt-in

Ring, the video doorbell maker dubbed the “largest civilian surveillance network the U.S. has ever seen,” is rolling out new but long overdue security and privacy features.

The Amazon-owned company’s reputation was bruised after a spate of account breaches in late 2019, in which hackers broke into Ring user accounts and harassed children in their own homes. Then, taking advantage of Ring’s weak security practices, hackers had developed bespoke software to brute-force the passwords on Ring accounts, which at this point were only protected by the user’s password. All the while, there were several caches of Ring user passwords floating around the dark web. Ring initially blamed its users for using weak passwords (like “password” and “12345678,” which Ring allowed users to set as passwords), but a couple of months later the company acknowledged its failings by rolling out mandatory two-factor authentication by text message. It was a good start, aimed at making it more difficult — albeit only slightly — to curb the bulk of automated account hijacks.

But now Ring is going a step further by rolling out app-based two-factor authentication, which many companies already offer (and have for some time) as it provides the far more secure delivery of two-factor codes using an encrypted connection, compared to text messages, which are susceptible to interception.

Ring is also enabling CAPTCHA in its apps to add another hurdle aimed at making automated login attempts more difficult by prompting users to prove they aren’t a robot.

Also announced is the launch of video end-to-end encryption, which Ring first rolled out earlier this year as a technical preview. One of Ring’s most flaunted (though highly controversial) features is allowing users to share video footage directly with more than 1,800 local police departments that are partnered with Ring. That said, police with a search warrant can always just demand the footage from Ring instead. Video end-to-end encryption will mean that any video captured from a Ring device can only be accessed by the account owner — and not Ring, or any of its law enforcement partners.

Ring’s CTO Josh Roth said in a blog post that Ring believes that “our customers should control who sees their videos.” If that were true, Ring would have switched on end-to-end encryption to all users, giving every account owner privacy by default. But that would interfere with the company’s efforts to expand its police partnerships, which in turn help to get Ring devices into the hands of local residents.

Compared to past security updates, which didn’t go nearly far enough, Ring’s new features make meaningful changes that give users the choice to make their accounts more secure and their data private. But the keyword there is “choice,” since users will have to opt-in to the new features. That isn’t unusual in itself; companies seldom force security changes on users fearing that it would add friction to the user experience, though recovering from an account hack because of poor security controls is undoubtedly worse.

Switching to app-based two-factor authentication is easy, just go to Ring’s account settings and switch from codes sent by text message to codes delivered by an authenticator app. We have a whole explainer on why it’s important, why you should use an app, and which apps you might want to use.

But the biggest change Ring users can make is to switch on end-to-end encryption on their accounts by going through the advanced settings of Ring’s control center. Switching on end-to-end encryption won’t limit what you can do with your account or stop you from sharing video footage with friends, family, or the police, but it will give you peace of mind knowing that you will have control of your data and what you do with it, and not Ring.

#access-control, #amazon, #apps, #computer-security, #cryptography, #cto, #dark-web, #encryption, #multi-factor-authentication, #password, #privacy, #ring, #security, #united-states

Vaayu’s carbon tracking for retailers raises raises $1.6m, claims it could cut CO2 in half by 2030

Carbon tracking is very much the new hot thing in tech, and we’ve previously covered more generalist startups doing this at scale for companies, such as Plan A Earth out of Berlin.

But there’s clearly an opportunity to get deep into a vertical sector and tailor solutions to it.

That’s the plan of Vaayu, a carbon tracking platform aimed specifically at retailers. It has now raised $1.57 million in pre-seed funding in a funding round led by CapitalT. Several Angels also took part, including Atomico’s Angel Program, Planet Positive LP, Saarbrücker 21, Expedite Ventures, and NP-Hard Ventures.

Carbon tracking for the retail fashion industry, in particular, is urgently needed. Unfortunately, the fashion industry remains responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, which ads up to more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
 
Vaayu says it integrates with various point-of-sale systems, such as Shopify and Webflow. It then pulls in data on logistics, operations, and packaging to monitor, measure, and reduce their carbon emissions. Normally, retailers calculate emissions once a year, which is obviously far less accurate.

Vaayu was founded in 2020 by Namrata Sandhu (CEO) former Head of Sustainability at fashion retailer Zalando, as well as Anita Daminov (CPO) and Luca Schmid (CTO). Vaayu currently has 25 global brand customers, including Missoma, Armed Angels, and Organic Basics. 
 
Commenting on the fundraise, Namrata Sandhu, CEO, Vaayu, said: “We have only nine short years left to achieve the UN’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and as the third-largest contributor to global emissions, retailers need to take action – and fast. Vaayu is here to help retailers measure, monitor, and reduce their carbon footprint at scale across the entire supply chain – something that I know from my own experience can be complex and expensive. 
 
Speaking to me over a call, Sandhu told me: “Putting the focus on retail basically allows us to automate the calculation, which means in three clicks you can get your carbon footprint right away. That then allows us to really accurate data, and with that, we can basically do reductions specific to the business but using software, rather than any kind of manual intervention or a kind of ‘intermediate’ state where you need to put together an Excel sheet. Because we focus on retail we can automate the entire process and also automate the reductions.”

“We are delighted to be backed by female-led CapitalT who understood us and our vision right from the start. We look forward to developing Vaayu further in the coming months so we can reach as many retailers as possible and help put the brakes on the impending climate crisis,” she added.

Janneke Niessen, founding partner, CapitalT commented: “We are very excited to join Vaayu on their mission to reduce carbon emission for retailers worldwide. The Vaayu product is very scalable and its quick and easy implementation allows for fast adoption. We are confident that with this experienced team, Vaayu will soon be one of the fastest-growing climate tech companies in Europe and the world.”

#berlin, #carbon-footprint, #ceo, #cto, #europe, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #retail, #shopify, #tc, #united-nations, #webflow, #zalando

Single.Earth to link carbon credits to crypto token market, raises $7.9M from EQT Ventures

Here’s the theory: Instead of linking carbon and biodiversity credits to the sale of raw materials such as forests, which cause CO2, what if you linked them to crypto tokens, and thus kept these CO2-producing materials in the ground?

That’s the theory behind Single.Earth, which has now raised a $7.9 million seed funding round led by Swedish VC EQT Ventures to, in its own words, ‘tokenize nature’. Also participating in the round was existing investor Icebreaker, and Ragnar Sass and Martin Henk, founders of Pipedrive. The funding will be used to launch its marketplace for nature-backed MERIT tokens.

Single.Earth says its ‘nature-backed’ financial system will use using MERIT tokens. And given the market for carbon credits is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion by 2030 and crypto surpassed a $2 trillion market cap in 2021, their plan might just work.

It plans to build a ‘digital twin’ of nature that reveals how much any area of ecological significance in the world absorbs CO2 and retains biodiversity. Using environmental data such as satellite imagery, it aims to build global carbon models on which to base its token marketplace, generating profits through carbon compensations, ‘mining’ a new MERIT token for every 100 kg of CO2 sequestered in a specific forest or biodiverse area.

The MERIT tokens are then used to trade, compensate for a CO2 footprint, or contribute to climate goals (as the token is ‘used up’ and cannot be traded anymore). Companies, organisations, and eventually individuals will be able purchase these tokens and own fractional amounts of natural resources, rewarded with carbon and biodiversity offsets. The company says the market for carbon credits is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion by 2030.

Because of the traceability of blockchain and its link to a tradable token, payment to landowners would be immediate.

Single.Earth was co-founded in 2019 by CEO Merit Valdsalu and CTO Andrus Aaslaid. Valdsalu said: “Nature conservation is scalable, accessible, and makes sense financially; what’s more, it’s vital to engineer a systematic change.”

Sandra Malmberg, Venture Lead at EQT Ventures, added: “Oil was the new gold, data the new oil; now, nature is now the most precious and valuable resource of all. A company having a hectare of forest saved as a key metric to scale is a company we are thrilled to back. Disrupting the economy and financial markets with a new tradable and liquid asset class that has a positive impact on the environment is an irresistible investment.”

#articles, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cto, #eqt-ventures, #europe, #martin-henk, #mining, #oil, #pipedrive, #satellite-imagery, #tc

Kikoff raises $30M for its hybrid consumer-credit and financial-literacy service

Kikoff, a personal finance platform aimed at helping consumers build credit, announced today that it has raised $30 million in a Series B round.

The capital is in addition to the $12.5 million the startup raised across previously unannounced seed and Series A rounds, which were both led by Lightspeed Venture partners.

Portage Ventures led Kickoff’s Series B, which included participation from Lightspeed, GGV, Coatue and Core Innovation Capital. Previous backers of the company include NBA star Steph Curry, Wex CEO Melissa Smith and Teresa Ressel, former CFO of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

CEO Cynthia Chen and CTO Christophe Chong co-founded the San Francisco-based company in late 2019 with the goal of helping consumers without a credit history establish one, and helping those with credit histories to continue building credit. The pair came from “low to moderate income” families, Chen said, and say they want to help others who also come from similar economic backgrounds. Chen grew up in Beijing before coming to the U.S. for college on a scholarship and says she was struck by the experience of her parents having to borrow money from family and friends in order to purchase a TV.

While the company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, Chen did say that Kikoff has “hundreds of thousands” of customers after being out of beta for half a year.

Kikoff’s product, the “Kikoff Credit Account,” is the first of a planned suite of offerings all aimed at improving consumers’ financial health.

“There are many Americans who don’t come from affluent families and have tons of student loan debt,” Chen said. “For them and so many others, we wanted to create a better way to build good credit than existing offers in the market.” While anyone can use its platform, Chen says the vast majority of its customers are millennials and GenZers as they are most in need of a way to build credit.

Image Credits: Kikoff

With Kikoff, the pair aim to give people not only a way to build a credit history, but also a way to increase consumer financial literacy. Rather than provide a debit or credit card that can be used anywhere, Kikoff restricts the use of its line of credit to an online store it’s created. Users can purchase things like e-books covering a variety of finance-related topics such as how to plan and budget, or profit from trading bitcoin. It also has a selection of courses that it has purchased resell rights for, covering topics such as personal finance education, or how to set up an e-commerce store or even how to learn Python programming skills.

“When a consumer purchases something from our store, [that] item is going to help that person improve his or her financial habits or help him or her make money by making smarter investments, or setting up their small business or learning skills,” Chen told TechCrunch.

The company also does not charge any interest on its credit line or fees for the financing.

“There’s no cost of borrowing money,” she said. Instead, Kikoff collects revenue by taking the margin between the wholesale price for the items it sells in its store and the retail price that customers pay.

To sign up, customers first apply for a $500 revolving line of credit that can be used for purchases at Kikoff’s online store. The company touts that within months, its customers “can become eligible for better interest rates, competitive credit cards and home mortgages,” among other things within a relatively short period of about 45 days. 

Kikoff has intentionally worked to help its customers build credit in what Chen describes as “a very financially responsible way.”

“That’s why they are able to only use the product within our proprietary online store, and we have a number of affordable items in the store for them to purchase,” she told TechCrunch. “So it is relatively easy for them to not overspend or make any kind of impulse purchase that they later cannot really afford to pay.”

Lightspeed Partner Ansaf Kareem said he could empathize with the experiences of Chen and Chong in having to create and build credit for the first time, “especially as immigrants and first-generation Americans.”

A credit score holds the keys to your financial future, yet so many Americans struggle with creating and building credit,” he said. “Adjacent products may let you check your credit score, but do not provide tools or guidance to improve it without charging fees or asking for a large up-front cash commitment,” he added. “Kikoff built a product that provides real value through a simple, no fee structure to initiate and build credit. And they are just getting started.”

Kikoff’s executive team certainly has an impressive background in fintech. Chen previously served as Figure’s Chief Risk Officer and she held senior executive roles at Capital One and OnDeck. Chong was former head of growth at Lime and led growth teams at Facebook and Square. Andrew Brix, Kikoff’s head of product was employee No. 15 at Credit Karma and served as its director of product management. He also was a senior product manager at E-Trade. Patrick Glover, head of marketing, worked at both Plaid and Square and Vinni Bala, head of operations, is former CMO and Chief Credit Officer at Deserve.

Other companies with similar goals that have raised venture funding as of late include Tomo Credit and Welcome Tech, among others.

#ceo, #cfo, #core-innovation-capital, #credit, #credit-history, #cto, #economy, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #money, #personal-finance, #personal-finance-education, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #steph-curry, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

Edge Delta raises $15M Series A to take on Splunk

Seattle-based Edge Delta, a startup that is building a modern distributed monitoring stack that is competing directly with industry heavyweights like Splunk, New Relic and Datadog, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Menlo Ventures and Tim Tully, the former CTO of Splunk. Previous investors MaC Venture Capital and Amity Ventures also participated in this round, which brings the company’s total funding to date to $18 million.

“Our thesis is that there’s no way that enterprises today can continue to analyze all their data in real time,” said Edge Delta co-founder and CEO Ozan Unlu, who has worked in the observability space for about 15 years already (including at Microsoft and Sumo Logic). “The way that it was traditionally done with these primitive, centralized models — there’s just too much data. It worked 10 years ago, but gigabytes turned into terabytes and now terabytes are turning into petabytes. That whole model is breaking down.”

Image Credits: Edge Delta

He acknowledges that traditional big data warehousing works quite well for business intelligence and analytics use cases. But that’s not real-time and also involves moving a lot of data from where it’s generated to a centralized warehouse. The promise of Edge Delta is that it can offer all of the capabilities of this centralized model by allowing enterprises to start to analyze their logs, metrics, traces and other telemetry right at the source. This, in turn, also allows them to get visibility into all of the data that’s generated there, instead of many of today’s systems, which only provide insights into a small slice of this information.

While competing services tend to have agents that run on a customer’s machine, but typically only compress the data, encrypt it and then send it on to its final destination, Edge Delta’s agent starts analyzing the data right at the local level. With that, if you want to, for example, graph error rates from your Kubernetes cluster, you wouldn’t have to gather all of this data and send it off to your data warehouse where it has to be indexed before it can be analyzed and graphed.

With Edge Delta, you could instead have every single node draw its own graph, which Edge Delta can then combine later on. With this, Edge Delta argues, its agent is able to offer significant performance benefits, often by orders of magnitude. This also allows businesses to run their machine learning models at the edge, as well.

Image Credits: Edge Delta

“What I saw before I was leaving Splunk was that people were sort of being choosy about where they put workloads for a variety of reasons, including cost control,” said Menlo Ventures’ Tim Tully, who joined the firm only a couple of months ago. “So this idea that you can move some of the compute down to the edge and lower latency and do machine learning at the edge in a distributed way was incredibly fascinating to me.”

Edge Delta is able to offer a significantly cheaper service, in large part because it doesn’t have to run a lot of compute and manage huge storage pools itself since a lot of that is handled at the edge. And while the customers obviously still incur some overhead to provision this compute power, it’s still significantly less than what they would be paying for a comparable service. The company argues that it typically sees about a 90 percent improvement in total cost of ownership compared to traditional centralized services.

Image Credits: Edge Delta

Edge Delta charges based on volume and it is not shy to compare its prices with Splunk’s and does so right on its pricing calculator. Indeed, in talking to Tully and Unlu, Splunk was clearly on everybody’s mind.

“There’s kind of this concept of unbundling of Splunk,” Unlu said. “You have Snowflake and the data warehouse solutions coming in from one side, and they’re saying, ‘hey, if you don’t care about real time, go use us.’ And then we’re the other half of the equation, which is: actually there’s a lot of real-time operational use cases and this model is actually better for those massive stream processing datasets that you required to analyze in real time.”

But despite this competition, Edge Delta can still integrate with Splunk and similar services. Users can still take their data, ingest it through Edge Delta and then pass it on to the likes of Sumo Logic, Splunk, AWS’s S3 and other solutions.

Image Credits: Edge Delta

“If you follow the trajectory of Splunk, we had this whole idea of building this business around IoT and Splunk at the Edge — and we never really quite got there,” Tully said. “I think what we’re winding up seeing collectively is the edge actually means something a little bit different. […] The advances in distributed computing and sophistication of hardware at the edge allows these types of problems to be solved at a lower cost and lower latency.”

The Edge Delta team plans to use the new funding to expand its team and support all of the new customers that have shown interest in the product. For that, it is building out its go-to-market and marketing teams, as well as its customer success and support teams.

 

#aws, #big-data, #business-intelligence, #cloud, #computing, #cto, #data-security, #data-warehouse, #datadog, #enterprise, #information-technology, #mac-venture-capital, #machine-learning, #menlo-ventures, #microsoft, #new-relic, #real-time, #recent-funding, #seattle, #splunk, #startups, #sumo-logic, #system-administration, #tc, #technology

Kaszek Ventures leads a $15 million round in Chilean asset management startup, Fintual

Like other financial sectors in Latin America, the retail investing space is getting a facelift by local tech startups that are cashing in on the untapped potential for democratizing asset management in the region. One of those startups is Chilean-based Fintual, which today announced a $15 million round led by Kaszek Ventures, the largest fund in Latin America.

Fintual is an automated passive investment platform that allows the average person in Chile or Mexico to invest in mutual funds containing ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds), investment vehicles that aren’t as well known, or as readily accessible in Latin America.

“The idea that got to me was that we were allowing people to invest in the long term, we enable them to invest in instruments they didn’t have access to before,” said Pedro Pineda, co-founder and CEO of Fintual.

Before starting Fintual in 2018 with his three co-founders, Pineda was an astronomer and an entrepreneur, who built and sold a Groupon copycat company in Chile called “Queremos Descuentos” (We Want Discounts) for just over $1 million when he was 28. 

After the exit, he admits he was a bit lost in life. 

“One day I decided that I wanted to do only the things that I wanted to do and with the people I wanted to do it with,” he said.

He traveled for a couple of years, and learned to code, among other things, until Omar Larré, Fintual’s current CIO, presented him with the idea for the business. 

Larré had been a portfolio manager at Banco Itau, Brazil’s biggest bank by total assets, and he saw the gap in the market: investing was not set up for the average person. The annual fees were too high, the minimum amount required to invest was too high, and there was a penalty when you removed your money. Additionally, the transaction takes a certain amount of financial know-how that most people don’t possess.

For Pineda, disrupting the financial sector also seemed like a lot of fun, he thought.

“I liked the idea of challenging the financial banks, and you can’t do that without technology. We have this super tool that my parents didn’t have, and you can disrupt an entire industry,” Pineda told TechCrunch.

While traditional mutual funds in Chile and Mexico charge up to 6.45% and 5% annually, Fintual charges 1% annually of assets managed. Additionally, Fintual doesn’t require a minimum investment nor a minimum amount of time invested, and users can take their money out any time with no penalties. 

“It’s different than the U.S.; we invest way less than you do; by a factor of 10 maybe,” Pineda said, comparing the investment rate in Chile.

In 2018, the company was accepted into Y Combinator and became the first Chilean startup to go through the prestigious accelerator. It has been growing exponentially ever since and today it serves 57,000 clients in Chile and Mexico.

Below is a table that shows their growth including money managed and percent growth each year since launch.

Assets Under Management (USD)* Annual Growth
May 2018              1.2 M
May 2019              12.9 M 1075%
May 2020               87.6 M 679%
May 2021               480.7 m 548%

    *Each figure corresponds to the end of each month.

The current raise will be used to grow the company’s operations in Mexico, expand to other countries — namely Colombia and Peru — and grow its tech team. 

In addition to Kaszek, other investors to date include YC, ALLVP, and angel investors such as Plaid’s CTO, Jean-Denis Greze, and Cornershop’s founder Oskar Hjertonsson. To date, the company has raised about $15.2 million.

Fintual’s impressive growth speaks for itself, but Kaszek’s co-founder and managing partner, Nicolas Szekasy, said the fund has been following Fintual since its early days, and he was impressed with the niche market the team identified and even more impressed with the user experience the company had developed which has, in turn, fueled its growth.

#apps, #asset-management, #bank, #chile, #colombia, #cto, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #groupon, #investment, #investment-fund, #kaszek-ventures, #latin-america, #mexico, #mutual-funds, #peru, #plaid, #startup-company, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

Accept.inc secures $90M in debt and equity to scale its digital mortgage lending platform

A lot of startups were built to help people make all-cash offers on homes with the purpose of gaining an edge against other buyers, especially in ultra-competitive markets. 

Accepti.inc is a Denver-based company that is attempting to create a new category in real estate technology. To help scale its digital mortgage lending platform, the company announced today that it has secured $90 million in debt and equity – with $78 million in debt and $12 million in equity. Signal Fire led the equity portion of its financing, which also included participation from existing seed investors Y Combinator and DN Capital.

Accept.inc describes itself as an iLender, or a “technology-enabled lender” that gives people a way to submit all-cash offers on a home upon qualifying for a mortgage.

Using its platform, a buyer gets qualified first and then can start looking for homes that fall at or under the amount he or she is approved for. They can purchase a more expensive home, but any amount above what they are approved for would have to come out of pocket. Historically, most buyers don’t know that they will have to pay out of pocket until they’ve made an offer on a specific home and an appraisal comes under the amount of the price they are paying for a home. In those cases, the buyer has to cough up the difference out of pocket. With Accept.inc., its execs tout, buyers know upfront how much they are approved for and can spend on a new home “so there are no surprises later.”

SignalFire Founding Partner and CTO Ilya Kirnos describes Accept.inc as “the first and only iLender.”

He points out that since it is a lender, Accept.inc doesn’t make its money by charging buyers fees like some others in the all-cash offer space.

“Unlike ‘iBuyers’ or ‘alternative iBuyers,’ Accept.inc fronts the cash to buy a house and then makes money off mortgage origination and title, meaning sellers, homebuyers and their agents pay no additional cost for the service,” he told TechCrunch.

IBuyers instead buy homes from sellers who signed up online, make a profit by often fixing up and selling those homes and then helping people purchase a different home with all cash. They also make money by charging transaction fees. A slew of companies operate in the space including established players such as Opendoor and Zillow and newer players such as Homelight.

Image credit: Accept.inc. Left to right: Co-founders Adam Pollack, Nick Friedman and Ian Perrex.

Since its 2016 inception, Accept.inc says it has helped thousands of buyers, agents and sellers close on “hundreds of millions of dollars” in homes. The company saw ”14x” growth in 2020 and from June 2020 to June 2021, it achieved “10x” growth in terms of the size of its team and number of transactions and revenue, according to CEO and co-founder Adam Pollack. Accept.inc wants to use its new capital to build on that momentum and meet demand.

Pollack and Nick Friedman met while in college and started building Accept.inc with the goal of “turning every offer into a cash offer.” The pair essentially “failed for two years,” half-jokes Pollack.

“We basically became an encyclopedia of 1,000 ways the idea of helping people make all-cash offers wouldn’t work,” he said.

The team went through Y Combinator in the winter of 2019 and that’s when they created the iLender concept. In the iLender model, the company uses its cash to buy a house for buyers. Once the loan with Accept.inc is ready to close, the company sells back the house to the buyer “at no additional cost or fees.”

“Basically what we learned through those two years is that you have to vertically integrate all of your core competencies, and you can’t rely on third parties to own or manage your special sauce for you,” Pollack told TechCrunch. “We also realized that if you’re going to build a cash offer for anyone who could afford a mortgage, you’ve got to make it a full bona fide cash offer that closes in three days as opposed to a better version of what existed. And you have to own that, and take the risk that comes with it and be comfortable with that.”

The benefits of their model, the pair say, is that buyers get to be cash buyers, sellers can close in as little as 32 hours, and agents “get a guaranteed commission check.” 

“Our mission is that everyone should have an equal chance at homeownership,” Friedman said. “We not only want to level the playing field, we want to create a new standard.”

Buyers using Accept.inc win 6-7 times more frequently, the company claims. With its new capital, It also plans to double its team of 90 and enter new markets outside of its home base of Denver.

SignalFire Partner Chris Scoggins believes that Accept.inc is different from other lenders in that its focus is on “winning the home, not just servicing the loan, with a business model that’s 10x more capital-efficient than other players in the market.

The team is driven…to level the playing field for homebuyers who today lose out against all-cash offers from home-flippers and wealthy individuals,” he added. “We see an enormous opportunity for Accept.inc to become the backbone of the future of mortgage lending.”

 

#colorado, #cto, #denver, #dn-capital, #economy, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ilya-kirnos, #loans, #money, #real-estate, #real-estate-technology, #recent-funding, #signalfire, #startup, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

Your boss might tell you the office is more secure, but it isn’t

For the past 18 months, employees have enjoyed increased flexibility, and ultimately a better work-life balance, as a result of the mass shift to remote working necessitated by the pandemic. Most don’t want this arrangement, which brought an end to extensive commutes and superfluous meetings, to end: Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work report shows over 97% of employees would like to continue working remotely at least some of the time.

Companies, including some of the biggest names in tech, appear to have a different outlook and are beginning to demand that staff start to return to the workplace.

While most of the reasoning around this shift back to the office centers around the need for collaboration and socialization, another reason your employer might say is that the office is more secure. After all, we’ve seen an unprecedented rise in cybersecurity threats during the pandemic, from phishing attacks using Covid as bait to ransomware attacks that have crippled entire organizations.

Tessian research shared with TechCrunch shows that while none of the attacks have been linked to staff working remotely, 56% of IT leaders believe their employees have picked up bad cybersecurity behaviors since working from home. Similarly, 70% of IT leaders believe staff will be more likely to follow company security policies around data protection and data privacy while working in the office.

“Despite the fact that this was an emerging issue prior to the pandemic I do believe many organizations will use security as an excuse to get people back into the office, and in doing so actually ignore the cyber risks they are already exposed to,” Matthew Gribben, a cybersecurity expert, and former GCHQ consultant, told TechCrunch.

“As we’ve just seen with the Colonial Pipeline attack, all it takes is one user account without MFA enabled to bring down your business, regardless of where the user is sat.”

Will Emmerson, CIO at Claromentis, has already witnessed some companies using cybersecurity as a ploy to accelerate the shift to in-person working. “Some organizations are already using cybersecurity as an excuse to get team members to get back into the office,” he says. “Often it’s large firms with legacy infrastructure that relies on a secure perimeter and that haven’t adopted a cloud-first approach.”

“All it takes is one user account without MFA enabled to bring down your business, regardless of where the user is sat.”
Matthew Gribben, former GCHQ consultant

The bigger companies can try to argue for a return to the traditional 9-to-5, but we’ve already seen a bunch of smaller startups embrace remote working as a permanent arrangement. Rather, it will be larger and more risk-averse companies, says Craig Hattersley, CTO of cybersecurity startup SOC.OC, a BAE Systems spin-off, tells TechCrunch, who “begrudgingly let their staff work at home throughout the pandemic, so will seize any opportunity to reverse their new policies.”

“Although I agree that some companies will use the increase of cybersecurity threats to demand their employees go back to the office, I think the size and type of organization will determine their approach,” he says. “A lack of direct visibility of individuals by senior management could lead to a fear that staff are not fully managed.”

While some organizations will use cybersecurity as an excuse to get employees back into the workplace, many believe the traditional office is no longer the most secure option. After all, not only have businesses overhauled cybersecurity measures to cater to dispersed workforces over the past year, but we’ve already seen hackers start to refocus their attention on those returning to the post-COVID office.

“There is no guarantee that where a person is physically located will change the trajectory of increasingly complex cybersecurity attacks, or that employees will show a reduction in mistakes because they are sitting within the walls of an office building,” says Dr. Margaret Cunningham, principal research scientist at Forcepoint.

Some businesses will attempt to get all staff back into the workplace, but this is simply no longer viable: as a result of 18 months of home-working, many employees have moved away from their employer, while others, having found themselves more productive and less distracted, will push back against five days of commutes every week. In fact, a recent study shows that almost 40% of U.S. workers would consider quitting if their bosses made them return to the office full time.

That means most employers will have to, whether they like it or not, embrace a hybrid approach going forward, whereby employees work from the office three days a week and spend two days at home, or vice versa.

This, in itself, makes the cybersecurity argument far less viable. Sam Curry, chief security officer at Cybereason, tells TechCrunch: “The new hybrid phase getting underway is unlike the other risks companies encountered.

“We went from working in the office to working from home and now it will be work-from-anywhere. Assume that all networks are compromised and take a least-trust perspective, constantly reducing inherent trust and incrementally improving. To paraphrase Voltaire, perfection is the enemy of good.”

#articles, #bae-systems, #cio, #computer-security, #cto, #cyberattack, #cybercrime, #cybereason, #cybersecurity-startup, #cyberwarfare, #data-security, #gchq, #malware, #security, #soc, #telecommuting, #united-states

Commit raises $6M seed round to match senior engineers to startups they want to work for

Commit, a Vancouver, Canada-based startup that has a unique approach to matching up engineers looking for a new job to early-stage startups that want to hire them, today announced that it has raised a $6 million seed round. Accomplice led the round, with participation from Kensington Capital Partners, Inovia and Garage Capital. 

The company, which focuses on working with remote-first startups, launched in 2019, with co-founders Greg Gunn (CEO) and Beier Cai (CTO), who met as early employees at Hootsuite, bootstrapping the company while they worked out the details of how they wanted Commit to work.

“I was an EIR [at Inovia Capital] and I just saw all these amazing founders that were coming in with world-changing ideas. They raised money, but their biggest challenge was getting an engineer to join them,” Gunn explained.

Beier Cai, Co-founder & CTO, Greg Gunn, Co-founder & CEO, , Tiffany Jung, VP, Strategy & Ops Image Credits: Commit

In his experience, founders typically look for senior full-stack tech leads to join their company, but it’s exactly those senior engineers that are often already in very comfortable roles at larger companies and taking a bet on an early-stage startup — or even a succession of early-stage startups — is often not the most pragmatic choice for them.

After talking to dozens of engineers, the founders found that many didn’t want to lose the support network they had built inside their current company, both from fellow engineers but also the kind of institutional support you get through formal and informal mentorship and personal development opportunities that most large tech companies offer. In addition, as Gunn noted, “hiring at early-stage startups sucks.” Senior engineers don’t want to have to go through a bunch of technical interviews anymore that test their whiteboarding skills but say very little about their actual capabilities as an engineer.

So the team decided to figure out ways to remove these barriers. Like a VC firm, it vets the startups and startup founders it works with, so the engineers that come to Commit know that these are serious companies with at least some prospect of raising funding and allowing their engineers to shape their trajectory and grow into what is potentially an early leadership role.

Meanwhile, it vets the engineers by giving them a technical interview so they can get started without having to do another one for every interview with the companies that partner with Commit. As Gunn noted, so far, the average engineer Commit has worked with only met 1.6 vetted founders before they started a pilot project together.

To mitigate some of the fiscal risks of leaving a large tech company, Commit actually pays the engineers it works with a salary until they find a job. Currently, around 90% of the engineers that start pilot projects with their prospective employees end up in full-time employment.

Image Credits: Commit

In addition to matching up founders and engineers, it also offers its community members access to an active remote-first community of fellow engineers for peer support and career advice, as well as coaching and other transition services.

In the backend, Commit uses a lot of data to match founders and engineers, but Gunn noted that while the team is very selective and has a tight profile for the people it partners with, it is committed to building a diverse pool of founders and engineers. “The thing we’re combating is the fact that these opportunities have been unevenly distributed,” he said. “Even within the Valley […] you have to be from a socio-economic class to even have access to those opportunities. For us, our whole business model is live where you want to live, but then get access to whatever opportunities you have.” Later this year, Commit plans to launch a project that specifically focuses on hiring diversity.

Commit’s startup partners currently include Patch, Plastiq, Dapper Labs, Relay, Certn, Procurify, Scope Security, Praisidio, Planworth, Georgian Partners and Lo3 Energy. The team started out slowly, working with fewer than 100 engineers so far, but hopes to expand its community to 10,000 engineers within the next 12 months. Starting today, engineers who want to join the program can now get on Commit’s waitlist.

#bootstrapping, #canada, #ceo, #commit, #cto, #economy, #engineer, #finance, #garage-capital, #georgian-partners, #hootsuite, #inovia-capital, #kensington-capital-partners, #money, #seed-money, #startup-company, #tc, #vancouver

Fintech all-star Nubank raises a $750M mega round

In 2013, Colombian businessman David Velez decided to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. He didn’t speak Portuguese, nor was he an engineer or a banker, but he did have the conviction that the system was broken and that he could fix it. And as a former Sequoia VC, he also had access to capital.

His gut instinct and market analysis were right. Today, Nubank announced a $750 million extension to its Series G (which rang in at $400 million this past January), bringing the round to a total of $1.15 billion and their valuation to $30 billion — $5 billion more than when we covered them in January.

The extension funding was led by Berkshire Hathaway, which put in $500 million, and a number of other investors.

Velez and his team decided now was a good time to raise again, because, “We saw a great opportunity in terms of growth rate and we’re very tiny when compared to the incumbents,” he told TechCrunch.”

Nubank is the biggest digital bank in the world by number of customers: 40 million. The company started as a tech company in Brazil that offered only a fee-free credit card with a line of credit of R$50 (about USD$10). 

It now offers a variety of financial products, including a digital bank account, a debit card, insurance, P2P payment via Pix (the Brazilian equivalent of Zelle), loans, rewards, life insurance and an account and credit card for small business owners. 

Nubank serves unbanked or underserviced citizens in Brazil — about 30% of the population — and this approach can be extremely profitable because there are many more clients available.

The banking system in Brazil is one of the few bureaucracies in the country that is actually quite skillful, but the customer service remains unbearable, and banks charge exorbitant fees for any little transaction. 

Traditionally, the banking industry has been dominated by five major traditional banks: Itaú Unibanco, Banco do Brasil, Bradesco, Santander and Caixa Economica Federal. 

While Brazil remains Nubank’s primary market, the company also offers services in Colombia and Mexico (services launched in Mexico in 2018). The company still only offers the credit card in both countries.

“The momentum we’re seeing in Mexico is terrific. Our Mexican credit card net promoter score (NPS) is 93, which is the highest we’ve had in Nubank history. In Brazil the highest we’ve had was 88,” Velez said.

The company has been on a hiring spree in the last few months, and brought on two heavyweight executives. Matt Swann replaced Ed Wible (the original CTO and co-founder). Wible continues to be an important player in the company, but more in a software developer capacity. Swann previously served as CTO at Bookings.com and StubHub, and as CIO of the Global Consumer Bank at Citi, so he brings years of experience of scaling tech businesses, which is what Nubank is focused on now, though Velez wouldn’t confirm which countries are next.

The other major hire, Arturo Nunez, fills the new role of chief marketing officer. Nunez was head of marketing for Apple Latin America, amongst other roles with Nike and the NBA. 

It may sound a little odd for a tech company not to have had a head of marketing, but Nubank takes pride in having a $0 cost of acquisition (CAC). Instead of spending money on marketing, they spend it on customer service and then rely on word of mouth to get the word out.

Since we last spoke with Velez in January regarding the $400 million Series G, the company went from having 34 million customers to now having 40 million in a span of roughly 6 months. The funds will be used to grow the business, including hiring more people.

“We’ve seen the entire market go digital, especially people who never thought they would,” Velez said. “There is really now an avalanche of all backgrounds [of people] who are getting into digital banking.”

#banking, #berkshire-hathaway, #bradesco, #brazil, #colombia, #credit-cards, #cto, #david-velez, #digital-banking, #engineer, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #itau-unibanco, #life-insurance, #mexico, #nubank, #p2p, #santander, #tc

The hidden benefits of adding a CTO to your board

The pandemic forced companies around the world to adjust to a “new normal,” which caused many leaders to pivot their business strategies and adopt new technologies to continue operations. In a time of chaos and change, there is no senior leader that can navigate this sort of change better than a CTO.

Not only do CTOs understand the ever-changing tech landscape, they also provide invaluable insights to help organizations go beyond traditional IT conversations and leverage technology to successfully scale businesses.

Boards are facing pressure to be strategic and thoughtful on how to evolve in the rapidly iterating world of technology, and a CTO is uniquely positioned to address specific challenges.

There are now more reasons than ever to consider adding a CTO to your board. As a CTO myself, I know how important and impactful it can be to have technical-minded leaders on a company’s board of directors. At a time when companies are accelerating their digital transformation, it’s critical to have diverse technical perspectives and people from varying backgrounds, as transformations are a mix of people, process and technology.

Drawing on my experience on Lightbend’s board of directors, here are five hidden benefits of making space at the table for a CTO.

A unique mind (and skill) set

Currently, most boards of directors are composed of former CEOs, CFOs and investors. While such executives bring vast experience, they have very specific expertise, and that frequently does not include technical proficiency. In order for a company to be successful, your board needs to have people with different backgrounds and expertise.

Inviting different perspectives forces companies out of the groupthink mentality and find new, creative solutions to their problems. Diverse perspectives aren’t just about the title –– racial ethnicity and gender diversity are clearly a play here as well.

Deep understanding of tech

For a product-led company, having a CTO who has been close to product development and innovation can bring deep insights and understanding to the boardroom. Boards are facing pressure to be strategic and thoughtful on how to evolve in the rapidly iterating world of technology, and a CTO is uniquely positioned to address specific challenges.

#agile-software-development, #board-of-directors, #business, #chief-technology-officer, #column, #corporate-governance, #cto, #ec-column, #hiring, #lightbend, #puppet, #software-engineering, #startups

5 Reasons you need to attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Get ready to spend a full day rubbing virtual elbows with the global mobility community’s best and brightest minds and makers. TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place June 9, and we’ve packed the agenda with experts, interviews, demos, panel discussions, breakout sessions and a metric ton of opportunity.

Pro tip: It’s not too late to book a ticket. Grab yours here and save with groups of 4+.

If you’re still on the fence, here are five excellent reasons you should attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2020.

Leading Voices
TC Sessions: Mobility represents a broad range of companies and topics within the mobility space.

Want to know what’s happening in self-driving delivery? We’ve got Ahti Heinla (CTO @ Starship), Apeksha Kumavat (Co-Founder @ Gatik), & Amy Jones Satrom (Head of Ops. @ Nuro).

Want to get the low-down on Commuter Cars? We’re talking with Jesse Levinson (Co-Founder & CTO @ Zoox).

Want to see what’s in the future for passenger aircraft? Then you’ll definitely want to watch the session with JoeBen Bevirt (Founder @ Joby Aviation) and Reid Hoffman (Co-Director @ Reinvent Technology Partners)

Check out the full agenda here.

Trendspotting

Mobility is a fast-moving target, and success depends on a company’s or individual’s ability to spot possibilities before they become mainstream. At TC Sessions: Mobility you’ll meet with exhibitors, founders, and leaders to figure out what’s coming next.  Here’s what our attendees are saying:

“Attending TC Sessions: Mobility helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.”
— Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.

1 on 1 Global Networking

At TC Sessions: Mobility you can take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free, AI-powered networking platform (think speed dating for techies) makes connecting with like-minded attendees quick and painless — no matter where they’re located. A virtual conference means global participation, and you might just find your next customer, partner, investor or engineer living on a different continent. It takes only one connection to move your business forward.

Early Stage Expo & Pitch

30 early-stage startups will showcase their mobility tech in our virtual expo. Peruse the exhibitors, peek at their pitch decks, schedule a demo, start a conversation and see where it leads. During the show, you can also check out the pitch sessions where startups will present their company to a panel of TechCrunch editors.

TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 is sure to be a blast and a great opportunity for you to expand your knowledge and network within the mobility industry. Book your tickets today as prices go up at the door. 

#artificial-intelligence, #co-founder, #cto, #engineer, #forward, #head, #jeff-johnson, #jesse-levinson, #nuro, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #self-driving-car, #tc, #zoox

Belvo, LatAm’s answer to Plaid, raises $43M to scale its API for financial services

Belvo, a Latin American startup which has built an open finance API platform, announced today it has raised $43 million in a Series A round of funding.

A mix of Silicon Valley and Latin American-based VC firms and angels participated in the financing including Future Positive, Kibo Ventures, FJ Labs, Kaszek, MAYA Capital, Venture Friends, Rappi co-founder and president Sebastián Mejía (Rappi), Harsh Sinha, CTO of Wise (formerly Transferwise) and Nubank CEO and founder David Vélez.

Citing Crunchbase data, Belvo believes the round represents the largest series A ever raised by a Latin American fintech. In May 2020, Belvo raised a $10 million seed round co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek.

Belvo aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.

The startup’s goal with its developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data is to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.

As TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm explained in this piece last year, Belvo might be considered similar to U.S.-based Plaid, but more attuned to the Latin American market so it can take in a more diverse set of data to better meet the needs of the various markets it serves. 

So while Belvo’s goals are “similar to the overarching goal[s] of Plaid,” co-founder and co-CEO Pablo Viguera told TechCrunch that Belvo is not merely building a banking API business hoping to connect apps to financial accounts. Instead, Belvo wants to build a finance API, which takes in more information than is normally collected by such systems. Latin America is massively underbanked and unbanked so the more data from more sources, the better.

“In essence, we’re pushing for similar outcomes [as Plaid] in terms of when you think about open banking or open finance,” Viguera said. “We’re working to democratize access to financial data and empower end users to port that data, and share that data with whoever they want.”

The company operates under the premise that just because a significant number of the region’s population is underbanked doesn’t mean that they aren’t still financially active. Belvo’s goal is to link all sorts of accounts together. For example, Viguera told TechCrunch that some gig-economy companies in Latin America are issuing their own cards that allow workers to cash out at small local shops. In time, all those transactions are data that could be linked up using Belvo, casting a far wider net than what we’re used to domestically.

The company’s work to connect banks and non-banks together is key to the company’s goal of allowing “any fintech or any developer to access and interpret user financial data,” according to Viguera.

Viguera and co-CEO Oriol Tintoré founded in May of 2019, and was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch. Since launching its platform last year, the company says it has built a customer base of over 60 companies across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, handling millions of monthly API calls. 

This is important because as Alex noted last year, similar to other players in the API-space, Belvo charges for each API call that its customers use (in this sense, it has a model similar to Twilio’s). 

Image Credits: Co-founders and co-CEOs Oriol Tintore and Pablo Viguera / Belvo

Also, over the past year, Belvo says it expanded its API coverage to over 40 financial institutions, which gives companies the ability to connect to over 90% of personal and business bank accounts in LatAm, as well as to tax authorities (such as the SAT in Mexico) and gig economy platforms.

“Essentially we take unstructured financial data , which an individual might have outside of a bank such as integrations we have with gig economy platforms such as Uber and Rappi. We can take a driver’s information from their Uber app, which is kind of built like a bank app and turn it into meaningful bank-like info which third parties can leverage to make assessments as if it’s data coming from a bank,” Viguera explained.

The startup plans to use its new capital to scale its product offering, continue expanding its geographic footprint and double its current headcount of 70. Specifically, Belvo plans to hire more than 50 engineers in Mexico and Brazil by year’s end. It currently has offices in Mexico City, São Paulo, and Barcelona. The company also aims to  launch its bank-to-bank payment initiation offering in Mexico and Brazil.

Belvo currently operates in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. 

But it’s seeing “a lot of opportunity” in other markets in Latin America, especially in Chile, Peru and Argentina, Viguera told TechCrunch. “In due course, we will look to pursue expansion there.” 

Fred Blackford, founding partner of Future Positive, believes Belvo represents a “truly transformational opportunity for the region’s financial sector.”

Nicolás Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, noted that demand for financial services in Latin America is growing at an exponential rate .

“Belvo is developing the infrastructure that will enable both the larger institutions and the emerging generation of younger players to successfully deploy their solutions,” he said. “ Oriol, Pablo, and the Belvo team have been leading the development of a sophisticated platform that resolves very complex technical challenges, and the company’s exponential growth reflects how it is delivering a product that fits perfectly with the requirements of the market.” 

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