Business, now more than ever before, is going digital, and today a startup that’s building a vertically integrated solution to meet business banking needs is announcing a big round of funding to tap into the opportunity. Airwallex — which provides business banking services both directly to businesses themselves, as well as via a set of APIs that power other companies’ fintech products — has raised $200 million, a Series E round of funding that values the Australian startup at $4 billion.
Lone Pine Capital is leading the round, with new backers G Squared and Vetamer Capital Management, and previous backers 1835i Ventures (formerly ANZi), DST Global, Salesforce Ventures and Sequoia Capital China, also participating.
The funding brings the total raised by Airwallex — which has head offices in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia — to date to $700 million, including a $100 million injection that closed out its Series D just six months ago.
Airwallex will be using the funding both to continue investing in its product and technology, as well as to continue its geographical expansion and to focus on some larger business targets. The company has started to make some headway into Europe and the UK and that will be one big focus, along with the U.S.
The quick succession of funding, and that rising valuation, underscore Airwallex’s traction to date around what CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang describes as a vertically integrated strategy.
That involves two parts. First, Airwallex has built all the infrastructure for the business banking services that it provides directly to businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprise customers. Second, it has packaged up that infrastructure into a set of APIs that a variety of other companies use to provide financial services directly to their customers without needing to build those services themselves — the so-called “embedded finance” approach.
“We want to own the whole ecosystem,” Zhang said to me. “We want to be like the Apple of business finance.”
That seems to be working out so far for Airwallex. Revenues were up almost 150% for the first half of 2021 compared to a year before, with the company processing more than US$20 billion for a global client portfolio that has quadrupled in size. In addition to tens of thousands of SMEs, it also, via APIs, powers financial services for other companies like GOAT, Papaya Global and Stake.
Airwallex got its start like many of the strongest startups do: it was built to solve a problem that the founders encountered themselves. In the case of Airwallex, Zhang tells me he had actually been working on a previous start-up idea. He wanted to build the “Blue Bottle Coffee” of Asia out of Hong Kong, and it involved buying and importing a lot of different materials, packaging and of course coffee from all around the world.
“We found that making payments as a small business was slow and expensive,” he said, since it involved banks in different countries and different banking systems, manual efforts to transfer money between them and many days to clear the payments. “But that was also my background — payments and trading — and so I decided that it was a much more fascinating problem for me to work on and resolve.”
Eventually one of his co-founders in the coffee effort came along, with the four co-founders of Airwallex ultimately including Zhang, along with Xijing Dai, Lucy Liu and Max Li.
It was 2014, and Airwallex got attention from VCs early on in part for being in the right place at the right time. A wave of startups building financial services for SMBs were definitely gaining ground in North America and Europe, filling a long-neglected hole in the technology universe, but there was almost nothing of the sort in the Asia Pacific region, and in those earlier days solutions were highly regionalized.
From there it was a no-brainer that starting with cross-border payments, the first thing Airwallex tackled, would soon grow into a wider suite of banking services involving payments and other cross-border banking services.
“In last 6 years, we’ve built more than 50 bank integrations and now offer payments 95 countries payments through a partner network,” he added, with 43 of those offering real-time transactions. From that, it moved on the bank accounts and “other primitive stuff” with card issuance and more, he said, eventually building an end-to-end payment stack.
Airwallex has tens of thousands of customers using its financial services directly, and they make up about 40% of its revenues today. The rest is the interesting turn the company decided to take to expand its business.
Airwallex had built all of its technology from the ground up itself, and it found that — given the wave of new companies looking for more ways to engage customers and become their one-stop shop — there was an opportunity to package that tech up in a set of APIs and sell that on to a different set of customers, those who also provided services for small businesses. That part of the business now accounts for 60% of Airwallex’s business, Zhang said, and is growing faster in terms of revenues. (The SMB business is growing faster in terms of customers, he said.)
A lot of embedded finance startups that base their business around building tech to power other businesses tend to stay arm’s length from offering financial services directly to consumers. The explanation I have heard is that they do not wish to compete against their customers. Zhang said that Airwallex takes a different approach, by being selective about the customers they partner with, so that the financial services they offer would never be the kind that would not be in direct competition. The GOAT marketplace for sneakers, or Papaya Global’s HR platform are classic examples of this.
However, as Airwallex continues to grow, you can’t help but wonder whether one of those partners might like to gobble up all of Airwallex and take on some of that service provision role itself. In that context, it’s very interesting to see Salesforce Ventures returning to invest even more in the company in this round, given how widely the company has expanded from its early roots in software for salespeople into a massive platform providing a huge range of cloud services to help people run their businesses.
For now, it’s been the combination of its unique roots in Asia Pacific, plus its vertical approach of building its tech from the ground up, plus its retail acumen that has impressed investors and may well see Airwallex stay independent and grow for some time to come.
“Airwallex has a clear competitive advantage in the digital payments market,” said David Craver, MD at Lone Pine Capital, in a statement. “Its unique Asia-Pacific roots, coupled with its innovative infrastructure, products and services, speak volumes about the business’ global growth opportunities and its impressive expansion in the competitive payment providers space. We are excited to invest in Airwallex at this dynamic time, and look forward to helping drive the company’s expansion and success worldwide.”
Last year at this time, SpotOn was on the brink of announcing a $60 million Series C funding round at a $625 million valuation.
Fast forward to almost exactly one year later, and a lot has changed for the payments and software startup.
Today, SpotOn said it has closed on $300 million in Series E financing that values the company at $3.15 billion — more than 5x of its valuation at the time of its Series C round, and significantly higher than its $1.875 billion valuation in May (yes, just three and a half months ago) when it raised $125 million in a Series D funding event.
Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led both the Series D and E rounds for the company, which says it has seen 100% growth year over year and a tripling in revenue over the past 18 months. Existing investors DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group, FranklinTempleton and Mubadala Investment Company too doubled down on their investments in SpotOn, joining new backers Wellington Management and CoatueManagement. Advisors Douglas Merritt, CEO of Splunk, and Mike Scarpelli, CFO of Snowflake, also made individualinvestments as angels. With the new capital, SpotOn has raised $628 million since its inception.
The latest investment is being used to finance the acquisition of another company in the space — Appetize, a digital and mobile commerce payments platform for enterprises such as sports and entertainment venues, theme parks and zoos. SpotOn is paying $415 million in cash and stock for the Los Angeles-based company.
Since its 2017 inception, SpotOn has been focused on providing software and payments technology to SMBs with an emphasis on restaurants and retail businesses. The acquisition of Appetize extends SpotOn’s reach to the enterprise space in a major way. Appetize will go to market as SpotOn and will work to grow its client base, which already includes an impressive list of companies and organizations including Live Nation, LSU, Dodger Stadium and Urban Air.
In fact, Appetize currently covers 65% of all major league sports stadiums, specializing in contactless payments, mobile ordering and menu management. So for example, when you’re ordering food at a game or concert, Appetize’s technology makes it easier to pay in a variety of contactless ways through point of sale (POS) devices, self-service kiosks, handheld devices, online ordering, mobile web and API integrations.
Image Credits: SpotOn
SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.
The combined company will have 1,600 employees — 1,300 from SpotOn and 300 from Appetize. SpotOn will now have over 500 employees on its product and technology team, according to co-founder and co-CEO Zach Hyman. It will also have clients in the tens of thousands, a number that SpotOn says is growing by “thousands more every month.”
The acquisition is not the first for SpotOn, which also acquired SeatNinja earlier this year.
But in Appetize it saw a company that was complementary both in its go-to-market and tech stacks, and a “natural fit.”
SMEs are going to benefit from the scalable tech that can go with them, including things like kiosks and offline modes, and for the enterprise clients of Appetize, they’re going to be able to leverage products like sophisticated loyalty programs and extended marketing capabilities,” Hyman told TechCrunch.
SpotOn was not necessarily planning to raise another round so soon, Hyman added, but the opportunity came up to acquire Appetize.
“We spent a lot of time together, and it was too compelling to pass up,” he told TechCrunch.
For its part, Appetize — which has raised over $77 million over its lifetime, according to Crunchbase — too saw the combination as a logical one.
“It was important to us to retain a stake in the business. We were not looking to cash out,” said Appetize CEO Max Roper. “We are deeply invested in growing the business together. It’s a big win for our team and our clients over the long term. This is a rocketship that we are excited to be on.”
No doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic only emphasized the need for more digital offerings from small businesses to enterprises alike.
“There has been a high demand for our services and now as businesses are faced with a Covid resurgence, no one is closing down,” Hyman said. “So they see a responsibility to install the necessary technology to properly run their business.”
One of the moves SpotOn has made, for example, is launching a vaccination alert system in its reservation management software platform to make it easier for consumers to confirm they are vaccinated for cities and states that have those requirements.
Clearly, a16z General Partner David George too was bullish on the idea of a combined company.
He told TechCrunch that the two companies fit together “extremely nicely.”
“It felt like a no-brainer for us to want to lead the round, and continue to support them,” George said.
Since first investing in SpotOn in May, the startup’s growth has “exceeded” a16z’s expectations, he added.
“When companies are growing as fast as it is organically, they don’t need to rely on acquisitions to fuel growth,” he said. “But the strategic rationale here is so strong, that the acquisition will only turbocharge what is already high growth.”
While the Series E capital is primarily funding the acquisition, SpotOn continues to double down on its product and technology.
“This is our time to shine and invest in the future with forward thinking technology,” Hyman told TechCrunch. “We’re thinking about things like how are consumers going to be ordering their beer at a Dodgers game in three years? Are they going to be standing in line for 25 minutes or are they going to be interacting and buying merchandise in other unique ways? Those are the things we’re looking to solve for.”
Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.
The enforcement of China’s new gaming regulations is unfolding like a cat-and-mouse game, with the country’s internet giants and young players constantly trying to outsmart each other. Following Didi’s app ban, smaller ride-hailing apps are availing themselves of the potential market vacuum.
Tencent and young gamers
The Chinese saying “Where there is a policy, there is a countermeasure” nicely encapsulates what is happening in the country’s tightening regulatory environment for video games. This month, China enacted the strictest rules to date on playtime among underage users. Players under the age of 18 were startled, scrambling to find methods to overcome the three-hour-per-week quota.
Within days, gaming behemoth Tencent has acted to root out these workarounds. It sued or issued statements to over 20 online services selling or trading adult accounts to underage players, the company’s gaming department said in a notice on Weibo this week.
Children were renting these accounts to play games for two hours at a few dollars without having to go through the usual age verification checks. Such services “are a serious threat to the real-name gaming system and underage protection mechanism,” Tencent said, calling for an end to these practices.
China has mainly been targeting games that are addiction-inducing or deemed “physically and mentally harmful” to minors. But what about games that are “good” for kids?
When Tencent and Roblox set up a joint venture in China in 2019, the speculation was that the creator-focused gaming platform would give Tencent a leg up in making educational games to inspire creativity or something that would help it align better with Beijing’s call for using tech to do more social good. As we wrote earlier:
Roblox’s marketing focus on encouraging “creativity” could sit well with Beijing’s call for tech companies to “do good,” an order Tencent has answered. Roblox’s Chinese website suggests it’s touting part of its business as a learning and STEM tool and shows it’s seeking collaborations with local schools and educators.
If Roblox can inspire young Chinese to design globally popular games, the Chinese authorities may start regarding it as a conduit for exporting Chinese culture and soft power. The gaming industry is well aware that aligning with Beijing’s interests is necessary for gaining support from the top. Indeed, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an organ for non-political spheres like the business community to “put forward proposals on major political and social issues,” said in June that video games are “an effective channel for China’s cultural exports.”
The case of Roblox will be interesting to watch for reading Beijing’s evolving attitude toward games for educational and export purposes.
Didi has had many rivals over the years, but none has managed to threaten its dominance in China’s ride-hailing industry. But recently, some of its rivals are seeing a new opportunity after regulators banned new downloads of Didi’s app, citing cybersecurity concerns. Cao Cao Mobility appears to be one.
Cao Cao, a premium ride-hailing service under Chinese automaker Geely, announced this week a $589 million Series B raise. The round should give Cao Cao ammunition for subsidizing drivers and passengers. But amid the government’s spade of anti-competition crackdowns, internet platforms these days are probably less aggressive than Didi in its capital-infused growth phase around 2015.
The app ban seems to have had a limited effect on Didi so far. The app even saw a 13% increase in orders in July, according to the Ministry of Transport. While people who get new phones will not be able to download Didi, they still are able to access its mini app run on WeChat, which is ubiquitous in China and has a sprawling ecosystem of third-party apps. It’s unclear how many active users Didi has lost, but its rivals will no doubt have to shell out great incentives to lure the giant’s drivers and customers away.
DTC fast fashion
Venture capitalists are pouring money into China’s direct-to-consumer brands in the hope that the country’s supply chain advantage coupled with its pool of savvy marketers will win over Western consumers. July saw PatPat, a baby clothing brand, raise a sizable$510 million raise. This month, news came that up-and-coming DTC brand Cider, which makes Gen Z fast fashion in China and sells them in the U.S., has secured a $130 million Series B round at a valuation of over $1 billion. The news was first reported by Chinese tech news site 36Kr and we’ve independently confirmed it.
DST Global led Cider’s new round, with participation also from the startup’s existing A16Z, an existing investor and Greenoaks Capital. Investors are clearly encouraged by Shein’s momentum around the world — its new download volume has surpassed that of Amazon in dozens of countries and is often compared side by side with industry behemoth Zara. Unlike a pure internet firm, export-oriented e-commerce has a notoriously long and complex value chain, from design, production, marketing and shipment to after-sales service. Shein’s story might have inspired many followers, but it won’t be easily replicated.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.
(Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Creator platform OnlyFans is getting out of the porn business. The company announced this week it will begin to prohibit any “sexually explicit” content starting on October 1, 2021 — a decision it claimed would ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform. The news angered a number of impacted creators who weren’t notified ahead of time and who’ve come to rely on OnlyFans as their main source of income.
However, word is that OnlyFans was struggling to find outside investors, despite its sizable user base, due to the adult content it hosts. Some VC firms are prohibited from investing in adult content businesses, while others may be concerned over other matters — like how NSFW content could have limited interest from advertisers and brand partners. They may have also worried about OnlyFans’ ability to successfully restrict minors from using the app, in light of what appears to be soon-to-comeincreasedregulations for online businesses. Plus, porn companies face a number of other issues, too. They have to continually ensure they’re not hosting illegal content like child sex abuse material, revenge porn or content from sex trafficking victims — the latter which has led to lawsuits at other large porn companies.
The news followed a big marketing push for OnlyFans’ porn-free (SFW) app, OFTV, which circulated alongside reports that the company was looking to raise funds at a $1 billion+ valuation. OnlyFans may not have technically needed the funding to operate its current business — it handled more than $2 billion in sales in 2020 and keeps 20%. Rather, the company may have seen there’s more opportunity to cater to the “SFW” creator community, now that it has big names like Bella Thorne, Cardi B, Tyga, Tyler Posey, Blac Chyna, Bhad Bhabie and others on board.
U.S. lawmakers demand info on TikTok’s plans for biometric data collection
The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max. Image Credits: Nur Photo/Getty Images
Earlier this month, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, which said they were “alarmed” by the change, and demanded to know what information TikTok will be collecting and what it plans to do with the data. This wouldn’t be the first time TikTok got in trouble for excessive data collection. Earlier this year, the company paid out $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed TikTok had unlawfully collected users’ biometric data and shared it with third parties.
Image Credits: Apple
Apple told developers that some of the features it announced as coming in iOS 15 won’t be available at launch. This includes one of the highlights of the new OS, SharePlay, a feature that lets people share music, videos and their screen over FaceTime calls. Other features that will come in later releases include Wallet’s support for ID cards, the App Privacy report and others that have yet to make it to beta releases.
Apple walked back its controversial Safari changes with the iOS 15 beta 6 update. Apple’s original redesign had shown the address bar at the bottom of the screen, floating atop the page’s content. Now the tab bar will appear below the page’s content, offering access to its usual set of buttons as when it was at the top. Users can also turn off the bottom tab bar now and revert to the old, Single Tab option that puts the address bar back at the top as before.
In response to criticism over its new CSAM detection technology, Apple said the version of NeuralHash that was reverse-engineered by a developer, Asuhariet Ygvar, was a generic version, and not the complete version that will roll out later this year.
The Verge dug through over 800 documents from the Apple-Epic trial to find the best emails,which included dirt on a number of other companies like Netflix, Hulu, Sony, Google, Nintendo, Valve, Microsoft, Amazon and more. These offered details on things like Netflix’s secret arrangement to pay only 15% of revenue, how Microsoft also quietly offers a way for some companies to bypass its full cut, how Apple initially saw the Amazon Appstore as a threat and more.
A beta version of the Android Accessibility Suite app (12.0.0) which rolled out with the fourth Android beta release added something called “Camera Switches” to Switch Access, a toolset that lets you interact with your device without using the touchscreen. Camera Switches allows users to navigate their phone and use its features by making face gestures, like a smile, open mouth, raised eyebrows and more.
Google announced its Pixel 5a with 5G, the latest A-series Pixel phone, will arrive on August 27, offering IP67 water resistance, long-lasting Adaptive Battery, Pixel’s dual-camera system and more, for $449. The phone makes Google’s default Android experience available at a lower price point than the soon to arrive Pixel 6.
An unredacted complaint from the Apple-Epic trial revealed that Google had quietly paid developers hundreds of millions of dollars via a program known as “Project Hug,” (later “Apps and Games Velocity Program”) to keep their games on the Play Store. Epic alleges Google launched the program to keep developers from following its lead by moving their games outside the store.
Snap on Thursday announced it hired its first VP of Platform Partnerships to lead AR, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis (“KP”). The new exec will lead Snap’s efforts to onboard partners, including individual AR creators building via Lens Studio as well as large companies that incorporate Snapchat’s camera and AR technology (Camera Kit) into their apps. KP will join in September, and report to Ben Schwerin, SVP of Content and Partnerships.
Crypto exchange Coinbase will enter the Japanese market through a new partnership with Japanese financial giant Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). The company said it plans to launch other localized versions of its existing global services in the future.
Image Credits: Facebook
Facebook launched a “test” of Facebook Reels in the U.S. on iOS and Android. The new feature brings the Reels experience to Facebook, allowing users to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. Instagram Reels creators can also now opt in to have their Reels featured on users’ News Feed. The company is heavily investing its its battle with TikTok, even pledging that some portion of its $1 billion creator fund will go toward Facebook Reels.
Twitter’s redesign of its website and app was met with a lot of backlash from users and accessibility experts alike. The company choices add more visual contrast between various elements and may have helped those with low vision. But for others, the contrast is causing strain and headaches. Experts believe accessibility isn’t a one-size fits all situation, and Twitter should have introduced tools that allowed people to adjust their settings to their own needs.
Twitter also tapped crypto developer Jay Graber to head the company’s “bluesky” project, which aims to create a decentralized social media protocol on which a number of networks, including Twitter, will eventually operate. The project will operate independently from Twitter, but is funded by Twitter and run by Twitter employees. Elsewhere, Twitter rolled out a new option that would allow users to report misinformation.
The pro-Trump Twitter alternative Gettr’s lack of moderation has allowed users to share child exploitation images, according to research from the Stanford Internet Observatory’s Cyber Policy Center.
Pinterest rolled out a new set of more inclusive search filters that allow people to find styles for different types of hair textures — like coily, curly, wavy, straight, as well as shaved or bald and protective styles.
Photoshop for iPad gained new image correction tools, including the Healing Brush and Magic Wand, and added support for connecting an iPad to external monitors via HDMI or USB-C. The company also launched a Photoshop Beta program on the desktop.
WhatsApp is being adopted by the Taliban to spread its message across Afghanistan, despite being on Facebook’s list of banned organizations. The company says it’s proactively removing Taliban content — but that may be difficult to do since WhatsApp’s E2E encryption means it can’t read people’s texts. This week, Facebook shut down a Taliban helpline in Kabul, which allowed civilians to report violence and looting, but some critics said this wasn’t actually helping local Afghans, as the group was now in effect governing the region.
WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that will show a large preview when sharing links, which some suspect may launch around the time when the app adds the ability to have the same account running on multiple devices.
Streaming & Entertainment
Netflix announced it’s adding spatial audio support on iPhone and iPad on iOS 14, joining other streamers like HBO Max, Disney+ and Peacock that have already pledged to support the new technology. The feature will be available to toggle on and off in the Control Center, when it arrives.
Blockchain-powered streaming music service Audius partnered with TikTok to allow artists to upload their songs using TikTok’s new SoundKit in just one click.
YouTube’s mobile app added new functionality that allows users to browse a video’s chapters, and jump into the chapter they want directly from the search page.
Spotify’s Anchor app now allows users in global markets to record “Music + Talk” podcasts, where users can combine spoken word recordings with any track from Spotify’s library of 70 million songs for a radio DJ-like experience.
Podcasters are complaining that Apple’s revamped Podcasts platform is not working well,reports The Verge. Podcasts Connect has been buggy, and sports a confusing interface that has led to serious user errors (like entire shows being archived). And listeners have complained about syncing problems and podcasts they already heard flooding their libraries.
Tinder announced a new feature that will allow users to voluntarily verify their identity on the platform, which will allow the company to cross-reference sex offender registry data. Previously, Tinder would only check this database when a user signed up for a paid subscription with a credit card.
Pokémon Unite will come to iOS and Android on September 22, The Pokémon Company announced during a livestream this week. The strategic battle game first launched on Nintendo Switch in late July.
Developer Konami announced a new game, Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, which will come exclusively to Apple Arcade. The game is described as a “full-fledged side-scrolling action game,” featuring a roster of iconic characters from the classic game series. The company last year released another version of Castelvania on the App Store and Google Play.
Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle has now surpassed $3 billion in player spending since its 2015 debut,reported Sensor Tower. The game from Bandai Namco took 20 months to reach the figure after hitting the $2 billion milestone in 2019. The new landmark sees the game joining other top-grossers, including Clash Royale, Lineage M and others.
Sensor Tower’s mobile gaming advertising report revealed data on top ad networks in the mobile gaming market, and their market share. It also found puzzle games were among the top advertisers on gaming-focused networks like Chartboost, Unity, IronSource and Vungle. On less game-focused networks, mid-core games were top titles, like Call of Duty: Mobile and Top War.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Health & Fitness
Apple is reportedly scaling back HealthHabit, an internal app for Apple employees that allowed them to track fitness goals, talk to clinicians and coaches at AC Wellness (a doctors’ group Apple works with) and manage hypertension. According to Insider, 50 employees had been tasked to work on the project.
Samsung launched a new product for Galaxy smartphones in partnership with healthcare nonprofit The Commons Project, that allows U.S. users to save a verifiable copy of their vaccination card in the Samsung Pay digital wallet.
China cited 43 apps, including Tencent’s WeChat and an e-reader from Alibaba, for illegally transferring user data. The regulator said the apps had transferred users location data and contact list and harassed them with pop-up windows. The apps have until August 25 to make changes before being punished.
Security & Privacy
A VICE report reveals a fascinating story about a jailbreaking community member who had served as a double agent by spying for Apple’s security team. Andrey Shumeyko, whose online handles included JVHResearch and YRH04E, would advertise leaked apps, manuals and stolen devices on Twitter and Discord. He would then tell Apple things like which Apple employees were leaking confidential info, which reporters would talk to leakers, who sold stolen iPhone prototypes and more. Shumeyko decided to share his story because he felt Apple took advantage of him and didn’t compensate him for the work.
Gaming platform Roblox acquired a Discord rival, Guilded, which allows users to have text and voice conversations, organize communities around events and calendars and more. Deal terms were not disclosed. Guilded raised $10.2 million in venture funding. Roblox’s stock fell by 7% after the company reported earnings this week, after failing to meet Wall Street expectations.
Travel app Hopper raised $175 million in a Series G round of funding led by GPI Capital, valuing the business at over $3.5 billion. The company raised a similar amount just last year, but is now benefiting from renewed growth in travel following COVID-19 vaccinations and lifting restrictions.
Indian quiz app maker Zupee raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding led by Silicon Valley-based WestCap Group and Tomales Bay Capital. The round values the company at $500 million, up 5x from last year.
Danggeun Market, the publisher of South Korea’s hyperlocal community app Karrot, raised $162 million in a Series D round of funding led by DST Global. The round values the business at $2.7 billion and will be used to help the company launch its own payments platform, Karrot Pay.
Bangalore-based fintech app Smallcase raised $40 million in Series C funding round led by Faering Capital and Premji Invest, with participation from existing investors, as well as Amazon. The Robinhood-like app has over 3 million users who are transacting about $2.5 billion per year.
Social listening app Earbuds raised $3 million in Series A funding led by Ecliptic Capital. Founded by NFL star Jason Fox, the app lets anyone share their favorite playlists, livestream music like a DJ or comment on others’ music picks.
U.S. neobank app One raised $40 million in Series B funding led by Progressive Investment Company (the insurance giant’s investment arm), bringing its total raise to date to $66 million. The app offers all-in-one banking services and budgeting tools aimed at middle-income households who manage their finances on a weekly basis.
Indian travel booking app ixigo is looking to raise Rs 1,600 crore in its initial public offering, The Economic Times reported this week.
Trading app Robinhood disappointed in its first quarterly earnings as a publicly traded company, when it posted a net loss of $502 million, or $2.16 per share, larger than Wall Street forecasts. This overshadowed its beat on revenue ($565 million versus $521.8 million expected) and its more than doubling of MAUs to 21.3 million in Q2. Also of note, the company said dogecoin made up 62% of its crypto revenue in Q2.
Image Credits: Polycam
3D scanning software maker Polycam launched a new 3D capture tool, Photo Mode, that allows iPhone and iPad users to capture professional-quality 3D models with just an iPhone. While the app’s scanner before had required the use of the lidar sensor built into newer devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models, the new Photo Mode feature uses just an iPhone’s camera. The resulting 3D assets are ready to use in a variety of applications, including 3D art, gaming, AR/VR and e-commerce. Data export is available in over a dozen file formats, including .obj, .gtlf, .usdz and others. The app is a free download on the App Store, with in-app purchases available.
Jiobit, the tracking dongle acquired by family safety and communication app Life360, this week partnered with emergency response service Noonlight to offer Jiobit Protect, a premium add-on that offers Jiobit users access to an SOS Mode and Alert Button that work with the Jiobit mobile app. SOS Mode can be triggered by a child’s caregiver when they detect — through notifications from the Jiobit app — that a loved one may be in danger. They can then reach Noonlight’s dispatcher who can facilitate a call to 911 and provide the exact location of the person wearing the Jiobit device, as well as share other details, like allergies or special needs, for example.
When your app redesign goes wrong…
Image Credits: Twitter.com
Prominent App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou shut down his FlickType iOS app this week after too many frustrations with App Review. He cited rejections that incorrectly argued that his app required more access than it did — something he had successfully appealed and overturned years ago. Attempted follow-ups with Apple were ignored, he said.
Chilean startupXepelin, which has created a financial services platform for SMEs in Latin America, has secured $30 million in equity and $200 million in credit facilities.
LatAm venture fund Kaszek Ventures led the equity portion of the financing, which also included participation from partners of DST Global and a slew of other firms and founders/angel investors. LatAm- and U.S.-based asset managers and hedge funds — including Chilean pension funds — provided the credit facilities. In total over its lifetime, Xepelin has raised over $36 million in equity and $250 million in asset-backed facilities.
Also participating in the round were Picus Capital; Kayak Ventures; Cathay Innovation; MSA Capital; Amarena; FJ Labs; Gilgamesh and Kavak founder and CEO Carlos Garcia; Jackie Reses, executive chairman of Square Financial Services; Justo founder and CEO Ricardo Weder; Tiger Global Management Partner John Curtius; GGV’s Hans Tung; and Gerry Giacoman, founder and CEO of Clara, among others.
Nicolás de Camino and Sebastian Kreis founded Xepelin in mid-2019 with the mission of changing the fact that “only 5% of companies in all LatAm countries have access to recurring financial services.”
“We want all SMEs in LatAm to have access to financial services and capital in a fair and efficient way,” the pair said.
Xepelin is built on a SaaS model designed to give SMEs a way to organize their financial information in real time. Embedded in its software is a way for companies to apply for short-term working capital loans “with just three clicks, and receive the capital in a matter of hours,” the company claimed.
It has developed an AI-driven underwriting engine, which the execs said gives it the ability to make real-time loan approval decisions.
“Any company in LatAm can onboard in just a few minutes and immediately access a free software that helps them organize their information in real time, including cash flow, revenue, sales, tax, bureau info — sort of a free CFO SaaS,” de Camino said. “The circle is virtuous: SMEs use Xepelin to improve their financial habits, obtain more efficient financing, pay their obligations, and collaborate effectively with clients and suppliers, generating relevant impacts in their industries.”
The fintech currently has over 4,000 clients in Chile and Mexico, which currently has a growth rate “four times faster” than when Xepelin started in Chile. Over the past 22 months, it has loaned more than $400 million to SMBs in the two countries. It currently has a portfolio of active loans for $120 million and an asset-backed facility for more than $250 million.
Overall, the company has been seeing a growth rate of 30% per month, the founders said. It has 110 employees, up from 20 a year ago.
Xepelin has more than 60 partnerships (a number that it said is growing each week) with midmarket corporate companies, allowing for their suppliers to onboard to its platform for free and gain access to accounts payable, revenue-based financing. The company also sells its portfolio of non-recourse loans to financial partners, which it says mitigates credit risk exposure and enhances its platform and data play.
“When we talk about creating the largest digital bank for SMEs in LatAm, we are not saying that our goal is to create a bank; perhaps we will never ask for the license to have one, and to be honest, everything we do, we do it differently from the banks, something like a non-bank, a concept used today to exemplify focus,” the founders said.
Both de Camino and Kreis said they share a passion for making financial services more accessible to SMEs all across Latin America and have backgrounds rooted deep in different areas of finance.
“Our goal is to scale a platform that can solve the true pains of all SMEs in LatAm, all in one place that also connects them with their entire ecosystem, and above all, democratized in such a way that everyone can access it,” Kreis said, “regardless of whether you are a company that sells billions of dollars or just a thousand dollars, getting the same service and conditions.”
For now, the company is nearly exclusively focused on the B2B space, but in the future, it believes several of its services “will be very useful for all SMEs and companies in LatAm.”
“Xepelin has developed technology and data science engines to deliver financing to SMBs in Latin America in a seamless way,” Nicolas Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner at Kaszek Ventures, said in a statement. “The team has deep experience in the sector and has proven a perfect fit of their user-friendly product with the needs of the market.”
Chile was home to another large funding earlier this week. NotCo, a food technology company making plant-based milk and meat replacements, closed on a $235 million Series D round that gives it a $1.5 billion valuation.
Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.
Despite the geopolitical headwinds for foreign tech firms to enter China, many companies, especially those that find a dependable partner, are still forging ahead. For this week’s roundup, I’m including a conversation I had with Prophesee, a French vision technology startup, which recently got funding from Kai-Fu Lee and Xiaomi, along with the usual news digest.
Spotting opportunities in China
Like many companies working on futuristic, cutting-edge tech in Europe, Prophesee was a spinout from university research labs. Previously, I covered two such companies from Sweden: Imint, which improves smartphone video production through deep learning, and Dirac, an expert in sound optimization.
The three companies have two things in common: They are all in niche fields, and they have all found eager customers in China.
For Prophesee, they are production lines, automakers and smartphone companies in China looking for breakthroughs in perception technology, which will in turn improve how their robots respond to the environment. So it’s unsurprising that Xiaomi and Chinese chip-focused investment firm Inno-Chip backed Prophesee in its latest funding round, which was led by Sinovation Venture.
The funding size was undisclosed but TechCrunch learned it was in the range of “tens of million USD.” It was also the first investment that Kai-Fu Lee has made through Sinovation in Europe. As Prophesee CEO Luca Verre recalled:
I met Dr. Kai-Fu Lee three years ago during the World Economic Forum … and when I pitched to him about Prophesee, he got very intrigued. And then over the past three years, actually, we kept in touch and last year, given the growing traction we were having in China, particularly in the mobile and IoT industry, he decided to jump in. He said okay, it is now the right timing Prophesee becomes big.
The Paris-based company wasn’t actively seeking funding, but it believed having Chinese strategic investors could help it gain greater access to the complex market.
Rather than sending information collected by sensors and cameras to computing platforms, Prophesee fits that process inside a chip (fabricated by Sony) that mimics the human eyes, a technology that is built upon neuromorphic engineering.
The old method snaps a collection of fixed images so when information grows in volume, a tremendous amount of computing power is needed. In contrast, Prophesee’s sensors, which it describes as “event-based,” only pick up changes in the environment just as the photoreceptors in our eyes and can process information continuously and quickly.
Europe has been pioneering neuromorphic computing, but in recent years, Verre saw a surge in research coming from Chinese universities and tech firms, which reaffirmed his confidence in the market’s appetite.
We see Chinese OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), particularly Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo pushing the standard of quality of image quality to very, very high … They are very eager to adopt new technology to further differentiate in a way which is faster and more aggressive than Apple. Apple is a company with an attitude which to me looks more similar to Huawei. So maybe for some technology, it takes more time to see the technology mature and adopt, which is right very often but later. So I’m sure that Apple will come at certain point with some products integrating event-based technology. In fact, we see them moving. We see them filing patents in the space. I’m sure that will come, but maybe not the first.
Though China is striving for technological independence, Verre believed Prophesee’s addressable market is large enough — $20 billion by his estimate. Nonetheless, he admitted he’d be “naive to believe Prophesee will be the only one to capture” this opportunity.
WeRide bought a truck company
One of China’s most valuable robotaxi startups has just acquired an autonomous trucking company called MoonX. The size of the deal is undisclosed, but we know that MoonX raised “tens of millions RMB” 15 months ago in a Series A round.
While WeRide is focused on Level 4 self-driving technology, it is also finding new monetization avenues before its robotaxis can chauffeur people at scale. It’s done so by developing minibusses, and the MoonX acqui-hire, which brings the company’s founder and over 50 engineers to WeRide, will likely help diversify its revenue pool.
WeRide and MoonX have deep-rooted relationships. Their respective founders, Tony Han and Yang Qingxiong, worked side by side at Jingchi, which was later rebranded to WeRide. Han co-founded Jingchi and took the helm as CEO in March 2018 while Yang was assigned vice president of engineering. But Yang soon quit and started MoonX.
Han, a Baidu veteran, gave Yang a warm homecoming and put him in charge of the firm’s research institute and its new office in Shenzhen, home to MoonX. WeRide’s sprawling headquarters is just about an hour’s drive away in the adjacent city of Guangzhou.
AI surveillance giant Cloudwalk nears IPO
Cloudwalk belongs to a cohort of Chinese unicorns that flourished through the second half of the 2010s by selling computer vision technology to government agencies across China. Together, Cloudwalk and its rivals SenseTime, Megvii and Yitu were dubbed the “four AI dragons” for their fast ascending valuations and handsome funding rounds.
Of course, the term “AI dragon” is now a misnomer as AI application becomes so pervasive across industries. Investors soon realized these upstarts need to diversify revenue streams beyond smart city contracts, and they’ve been waiting anxiously for exits. Finally, here comes Cloudwalk, which will likely be the first in its cohort to go public.
Cloudwalk’s application to raise 3.75 billion yuan ($580 million) from an IPO on the Shanghai STAR board was approved this week, though it can still be months before it starts trading. The firm’s financials don’t look particularly rosy for investors, with net loss amounting to 720 million yuan in 2020.
Also in the news
Speaking of the torrent of news in autonomous driving, vehicle vision provider CalmCar said this week that it has raised $150 millionin a Series C round. Founded by several overseas Chinese returnees in 2016, CalmCar uses deep learning to develop ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) used in automotive, industrial and surveillance scenarios. German auto parts maker ZF led the round.
Baby clothes direct-to-consumer brand PatPat said it has raised $510 million from Series C and D rounds. The D2C ecosystem leveraging China’s robust supply chains is increasingly gaining interest from venture capitalists. Brands like Shein, PatPat, Cider and Outer have all secured fundings from established VCs. Founded by three Carnegie Mellon grads, PatPat counts IDG Capital, General Atlantic, DST Global, GGV Capital, SIG China and Sequoia China among its investors.
Rappi, a Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has raised “over” $500 million at a $5.25 billion valuation in a Series G round led by T. Rowe Price, the company announced late Friday.
Baillie Gifford, Third Point, Octahedron, GIC SoftBank, DST Global, Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital and others also participated in the round.
The new financing brings Rappi’s total raised since its 2015 inception to over $2 billion, according to Crunchbase. Today, the country has operations in 9 countries and more than 250 cities across Latin America. Its last raise was a $300 million a Series F funding round in September of 2020.
According to the Latin American Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (LAVCA), Rappi focused on delivering beverages and first, and has since expanded into meals, groceries, tech goods and medicine. The company also offers a cash withdrawal feature, allowing users to pay with credit cards and then receive cash from one of Rappi’s delivery agents. Today, the company says its app allows consumers to “order nearly any good or service.”
In addition to traditional delivery, it says “users can get products delivered in less than 10 minutes, can access financial services, as well as ‘whims,” and “favors.’ Whims allow users to order anything available in their coverage area. Favors offer an array of custom services, such as running an errand, going to the hardware store or picking out and delivering a gift. The two products allow users to connect directly with a courier.
Simón Borrero, Sebastian Mejia, and Felipe Villamarin launched the company in 2015, graduating from Y Combinator the following year. A16z’s initial investment in July 2016 was the Silicon Valley firm’s first investment in Latin America, according to LAVCA.
To compete with the myriad venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, iFly.vc has a unique vantage point.
Its founder Han Shen has straddled the United States and China for several decades. He was the first hire on the investment team of Formation 8, the VC firm co-founded by Palantir’s Joe Lonsdale. After iFly.vc backed Weee! in a Series A round in 2018, Shen arranged for the grocery startup to meet with China’s produce delivery leaders — two of which recently went public in the U.S. — to learn what was applicable to the American market.
Weee! has since become the go-to grocery app for America’s Asian communities and raised hundreds of millions of dollars from Lightspeed Venture Partners, DST Global, Blackstone, Tiger Global and other major institutions. IFly.vc is still Weee!’s second-largest shareholder, and its first fund recorded a 10x rate of return, Shen told TechCrunch during an interview.
On the back of its cross-continental experiences and portfolio performance, iFly.vc recently closed its second fund with over $46 million, boosting the firm’s assets under management to more than $95 million.
The limited partners in Fund II include family offices across the U.S. and Asia as well as high-profile entrepreneurs such as Zhang Tao, founder of China’s Yelp counterpart Dianping, Free Wu, a founding member of Tencent who now manages Welight Capital, Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of Palantir, and Aayush Phumbhra, co-founder of Chegg.
IFly.vc made another big move during the pandemic, relocating its office from San Francisco to Austin, joining a wave of Californians fleeing the expensive area.
When it comes to investment focus, Shen said he tries to seek out the underdogs in North America’s trillion-dollar consumer market.
“On the one hand, enterprise services are growing very quickly. But on the other hand, the rise of enterprise software is helping consumer tech to grow even more quickly and easily. The consumer market is very diverse and serves an array of minority groups, so there is always a new opportunity.”
With this premise in mind, iFly.vc recently invested in Cheese Financial‘s seed round, a digital bank that started out by serving the underbanked Asian American populations.
IFly.vc prefers backing startups early on and seeing them through by providing hands-on, post-investment support. Rather than spray and pray, iFly.vc has invested in just about a dozen companies five years after its founding.
Shen’s background of growing up in China and working in Silicon Valley, where he eventually became a partner at Formation 8, led him to appreciate entrepreneurs with a similarly international background because they can learn from mistakes and successes on both sides. They also know how to leverage the different fields of talent across the world.
Cheese Financial, for instance, is setting up an engineering force in the founder’s hometown, Shenzhen, to take advantage of the Chinese city’s large pool of engineers at costs much lower than those of Silicon Valley.
It’s not just about hiring cheaper programmers, though. As Shen puts it: “In the past, American companies were simply outsourcing technical tasks to China. Now Chinese engineers actually have valuable lessons to bring to American companies because many have worked at large, successful Chinese tech companies themselves.”
There are so many startups pledging to reinvent the mortgage process that it’s hard to keep up. But for anyone who has had to go through the process of applying for one, it’s clear that there’s plenty of room for improvement.
The latest startup to raise venture money with the goal of making the process “smarter and faster” is one that was founded by a pair of executives that spent years at real estate giant Zillow. Tomo is very early stage — so early stage that it is only launching operations in conjunction with announcing it has just raised $70 million in seed funding. That’s a massive seed round by any standards (the third-largest in the U.S., according to Crunchbase), but especially for the real estate tech space (perhaps the largest ever).
Ribbit Capital led the financing, which also included participation from DST Global, NFX and Zigg Capital.
Former Zillow executives Greg Schwartz and Carey Armstrong founded Stamford, CT-based Tomo in the fall of 2020 to take on big banks when it comes to providing mortgages to consumers. CEO Schwartz first joined Zillow in 2007, where he says he “built the sales and revenue operations from the ground up.” Armstrong, who serves as Tomo’s chief revenue officer, previously led business strategy, product strategy and core operations for Zillow’s $1 billion buyer services business.
Launching today in Seattle, Dallas and Houston, Tomo says it will do things like issue fully underwritten pre-approvals “within hours, not days” and guarantee on-time closing. This is particularly important in competitive markets with multiple buyers making offers on homes.
It plans to use data to get homebuyers to closing in as little as 21 days, which they say is less than half of the industry average of 47 days. And, on top of all that, it claims it will offer “the lowest rates in the industry” with “customer-obsessed service.”
The company claims that besides having founders that have years of experience at a company with a reach like Zillow’s, they also aim to be different from other competitors in the space in that they are strictly focused on the buyer. For example, it won’t do any refinancing for existing homeowners but focus strictly on helping buyers secure new mortgage loans.
“The big banks have never made more money, yet an experience with their mortgage business has never been worse,” Schwartz told TechCrunch. “And it’s because the incumbents have no reason to fundamentally change.”
While it’s early days yet, only time will tell if Tomo can live up to its lofty goals. No doubt it has plenty of competition. In the past week alone, we’ve reported on two other digital mortgage startups raising significant funding rounds, including Lower and Accept.
Tomo’s investors are clearly confident about its potential.
Ribbit Capital’s Nick Huber said his firm had been connected to Schwartz and Armstrong prior to their even starting Tomo.
“When we learned that the two of them were working together, we immediately knew that we had to be a part of the journey,” he said. “We gained the conviction to lead the seed round as the team shared more of their vision for the future of home buying, which is a broken experience that they deeply understand and have the insight and relationships to fix.”
NFX founder and general partner Pete Flint has known Schwartz and Armstrong under a different capacity. They were once rivals. Flint co-founded another online real estate giant, Trulia and was its CEO and chairman from its 2005 inception until it was acquired by Zillow for $2.5 billion in 2015.
“We were initially competitors and then deep collaborators after the Trulia/Zillow merger,” Flint said. Once the pair formed Tomo, Flint says NFX “had not seen a team that was so experienced and thoughtful about the entire real estate experience that was going after the mortgage and home buying opportunity.”
In fact, the investment represents NFX’s largest initial investment to date.
“They are rethinking the entire software stack and building a modern fintech company, free of legacy constraints,” he added.
Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 22. Juni werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.
+++ DST Global, SoftBank, Tencent und Dragoneer sowie Altinvestoren wie Coatue, Left Lane Capital und DN Capital investieren 205 Millionen Euro in GoStudent. Das EdTech wird dabei mit 1,4 Milliarden Euro bewertet und steigt somit zum Unicorn auf. “Mit der neuen Finanzierung beläuft sich die Gesamtinvestition von GoStudent auf über 291 Millionen Euro”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. Erst im März dieses Jahres sammelte GoStudent 70 Millionen Euro ein. Das Wiener Startup, das sich als E-Learning-Dienst positioniert und auf kostenpflichtige Einzelkurse setzt, wurde 2017 von Gregor Müller, Felix Ohswald und seinem Bruder Moritz Ohswald gegründet. “Das Investment wird genutzt, um die globale Expansion weiter voranzutreiben”, schreibt das Unternehmen. Über 500 Mitarbeiter:innen wirken bereits für das junge Unternehmen. Mehr über GoStudent
+++ Xploration Capital, Fasanara Capital und Tomahawk, also Cédric Waldburger, investieren 25 Millionen Euro in Myos – siehe FinanceFWD. Das Startup, das 2018 von Nikolaus Hilgenfeldt ins Leben gerufen wurde, versorgt Händler mit Betriebsmitteln (Working Capital). Das Unternehmen nutzt dabei “die Transparenz und Datenverfügbarkeit auf E-Commerce-Plattformen, um das Kreditrisiko auf Basis des Umsatzpotenzials von Handelsprodukten zu bewerten”. Die Deutsche Handelsbank, Mountain Partners, BTH, Avala Capital, die raisin-Gründer, Tim Marbach und Gerald Schönbucher investierten 2019 bereits 10 Millionen Euro in Myos.
+++ New Wave, Speedinvest, Calm/Storm Ventures, Tiny.VC und einige Angel-Investoren investieren 2,5 Millionen Euro in Airbank. Das Berliner Startup, das 2021 von Christopher Zemina, zuletzt Principal bei Speedinvest, und Patrick de Castro Neuhaus gegründet wurde, kann man als eine Art CFO-Cockpit bezeichnen. In der Selbstbeschreibung heißt es: “Cashflow Management Lösung für Startups und KMUs, die alle Geschäftskonten und Finanzdaten an einem Ort vereint, reibungslose Liquiditätskontrolle und -planung ermöglicht und den Zahlungsverkehr vereinfacht”. Über den Einstieg von Speedinvest hatten wir bereits Anfang April im Insider-Podcast berichtet.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
+++ Der chinesische Internetriese Tencent übernimmt die Mehrheit am Berliner Gamesstudio Yager – siehe GamesWirtschaft. Yager, das 1999 von Timo Ullmann, Uwe Bennecke, Roman Golka, Philipp Schellbach und Mathias Wiese gegründet wurde, ist insbesondere für den Antikriegs-Ego-Shooter “Spec Ops: The Line” und das Weltraum-Action-Spiel “Dreadnought” bekannt. Tencent stieg bereits 2020 bei Yager und hielt zuletzt 25 % am Unternehmen. 140 Mitarbeiter:innen arbeiten derzeit für Yager.
+++ Der dänische GreenMobility übernimmt das Stuttgarter Startup Twist. “Damit wird das Unternehmen aus Kopenhagen erstmals auf dem deutschen Markt aktiv”, heißt es in der Presseaussendung. Twist bietet seit 2020 elektrisches Car- und Roller-Sharing für kleinere Städte und Gemeinden an. Die Jungfirma wurde von EnBW und dem Company Builder Bridgemaker angeschoben.
Achtung! Wir freuen uns über Tipps, Infos und Hinweise, was wir in unserem #DealMonitor alles so aufgreifen sollten. Schreibt uns eure Vorschläge entweder ganz klassisch per E-Mail oder nutzt unsere “Stille Post“, unseren Briefkasten für Insider-Infos.
Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.
A young Indian startup that is betting that earned wage access solutions will take off in the South Asian nation said on Wednesday it has closed a new round from high-profile investors.
Bangalore-based Refyne said on Wednesday that it has raised $16 million in Series A from partners of DST Global and RTP Global. The startup also disclosed that it raised a $4.1 million seed round in December from Jigsaw VC and QED Investors and XYZ Capital, all of whom also participated in the new round.
TechCrunch reported last month that Refyne was in talks with RTP Global to raise money.
Refyne works with employers to let their workers access their earned salaries in real-time. For instance, an employee could see how much they have earned in a week and withdraw a fraction of it anytime they wish.
The idea, explained Chitresh Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of Refyne, is that many individuals in India run out of cash before their next payday and then some end up taking loans on not so favorable terms to make ends meet. “An employee should have the option to access their own earnings at any time,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.
It’s a concept that has taken off in several markets — with many major employers such as Uber and McDonald’s offering this flexibility to their workforce — but is yet to be tested in India, where on paper, earned wage access idea should work as a significant portion of the working force remains on a shaky financial footing. Earlier on Monday, Indonesian startup Wagely announced a $5.5 million fundraise to test this idea in the Southeast Asian market.
Sharma, a third-time founder who returned to India to start Refyne, said the startup’s plug-and-play software is aimed at employers of all size, and the platform can prove beneficial to blue-collar as well as white-collar workers.
“The need for financial inclusion is more important today than ever before. As the first company in India to provide earned wage access, Refyne can revolutionise the way millions of workers manage their money. By providing a real, affordable alternative to payday loans, Refyne will not only improve a person’s financial health, but it will add control for the consumer and dramatically reduce the stress on those who worry about meeting their financial obligations,” said QED Investors Managing Partner and Co-Founder Nigel Morris, in a statement. This is QED’s first investment in India.
Over 100 companies in India are already using Refyne’s platform, serving over 300,000 employees. Some of the clients include Rebel Foods, Cafe Coffee Day, Hira Group, and Chai Point.
Wayflyer, a revenue-based financing platform for e-commerce merchants, has raised $76 million in a Series A funding round led by Left Lane Capital.
“Partners” of DST Global, QED Investors, Speedinvestand Zinal Growth — the family office of Guillaume Pousaz (founder ofCheckout.com) — also put money in the round. The raise comes just after Wayflyer raised $100 million in debt funding to support its cash advance product, and 14 months after the Dublin, Ireland-based startup launched its first product.
With an e-commerce boom fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayflyer is the latest in a group of startups focused on the space that has attracted investor interest as of late. The company aims to help e-commerce merchants “unlock growth” by giving them access to working capital (from $10,000 up to $20 million) so they can improve cash flow and drive sales. For example, more cash can help these merchants do things like buy more inventory in bulk so they can meet customer demand and save money.
In a nutshell, Wayflyer uses analytics and sends merchants cash to make inventory purchases or investments in their business. Those merchants then repay Wayflyer using a percentage of their revenue until the money is paid back (plus a fee charged for the cash advance). So essentially, the merchants are using their revenue to get financing, hence the term revenue-based financing. The advantage, Wayflyer says, is that companies make repayments as a percentage of their sales. So if they have a slow month, they will pay back less. So, there’s more flexibility involved than with other mechanisms such as traditional bank loans.
Co-founder Aidan Corbett believes that in a crowded space, Wayflyer’s use of big data gives it an edge over competitors.
Corbett and former VC Jack Pierse spun Wayflyer out of a marketing analytics company that Corbett had also started, called Conjura, in September 2019.
“Jack came to me and said, ‘You should stop using our marketing analytics engine to do these big enterprise SaaS solutions, and instead use them to underwrite e-commerce businesses for short-term finance,’ ” Corbett recalls.
And so he did.
“We just had our heads down and started repurposing the platform for it to be an underwriting platform,” Corbett said. It launched in April 2020, doing about $600,000 in advances at the time. In March of 2021, Wayflyer did about $36 million in advances.
“So, it’s been a pretty aggressive kind of growth,” Corbett said.
Over the past six months alone, the company has seen its business grow 290% as it has deployed over $150 million of funding across 10 markets with a focus on the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia. About 75% of its customers are U.S. based.
Wayflyer plans to use its new capital toward product development and global expansion with the goal of entering “multiple” new markets in the coming months. The company recently opened a sales office in Atlanta, and also has locations in the U.K., the Netherlands and Spain.
To Corbett, the company’s offering is more compelling than buy now, pay later solutions for consumers for example, in that it is funding the merchant directly and able to add services on top of that.
“There’s a lot more opportunity for companies like ourselves to differentiate because essentially, we focus on the merchants. And when we underwrite the merchant by getting data from the merchant, there’s a lot of additional services that you can put in on top,” Corbett explained. “Whereas with buy now, pay later, you get information on the consumer, and there’s not as much room to add additional services on top.”
For example, if a business requests an advance and either is not approved for one, or doesn’t choose to take it, Wayflyer’s analytics platform is free to anybody who signs up to help them optimize their marketing spend.
“This is a critical driver of value for e-commerce businesses. If you can’t acquire customers at a reasonable price, you’re not going to be around very long. And a lot of early-stage e-commerce businesses struggle with that,” Corbett said.
It also can pair up a merchant with a marketing analytics “specialist” to analyze its marketing performance or an inventory “specialist” to look at the current terms and price a business is getting from a supplier.
“Our focus from the very beginning is really supporting the merchants, not just providing them with working capital,” Corbett said.
Another way the company claims to be different is in how it deploys funds. As mentioned above, merchants can pay the money back at varied terms, depending on how sales are going. The company makes money by charging a principal on advances, and then a “remittance rate” on revenues until the total amount is paid back.
“We tend to be more flexible than competition in this way,” Corbett said. “Also, some competitors will pay invoices on merchants’ behalf or give them a pre-charged card to use on advertising spend,” Corbett said. “We always give cash into a merchant’s account.”
Wayflyer recently inked an agreement with Adobe Commerce, a partnership it said would provide a new channel to further amplify its growth with the goal of funding 8,000 e-commerce businesses in the first year of the partnership.
For his part, Left Lane Capital Partner Dan Ahrens said that his firm was impressed by Wayflyer’s “nuanced understanding of what will drive value for their clients.”
“The team’s focus, specialization, and deep analytical expertise within the e-commerce market also drives superior underwriting,” he told TechCrunch. “Their explosive growth has not come about by taking on undue risk. We are big believers that their underwriting will only improve with scale, and that Wayflyer will be able to compound its competitive advantages over time.”
As mentioned, this is an increasingly crowded space. Earlier this month, Settle announced it had raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Kleiner Perkins to give e-commerce and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies access to non-dilutive capital.
Certain industries were hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others, especially in its early days.
Small businesses, including retailers and restaurants, were negatively impacted by lockdowns and the resulting closures. They had to adapt quickly to survive. If they didn’t use much technology before, they were suddenly being forced to, as so many things shifted to digital last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For companies like SpotOn, it was a pivotal moment.
The startup, which provides software and payments for restaurants and SMBs, had to step up to help the businesses it serves. Not only for their sake, but its own.
“We really took a hard look at what was happening to our clients. And we realized we needed to pivot, just to be able to support them,” co-CEO and co-founder Matt Hyman recalls. “We had to make a decision because our revenues also were taking a big hit, just like our clients were. Rather than lay off staff or require salary deductions, we stayed true to our core values and just kept plugging away.”
All that “plugging away” has paid off. Today, SpotOn announced it has achieved unicorn status with a $125 million Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).
Existing backers DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group and Franklin Templeton also participated in the financing, in addition to new investor Mubadala Investment Company.
Notably, the round triples the company’s valuation to $1.875 billion compared to its $625 million valuation at the time of its Series C raise last September. It also marks San Francisco-based SpotOn’s third funding event since March 2020, and brings the startup’s total funding to $328 million since its 2017 inception.
Its efforts have also led to impressive growth for the company, which has seen its revenue triple since February 2020, according to Hyman.
Put simply, SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale (POS) software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in-between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.
When the pandemic hit, SpotOn ramped up and rolled out 400 “new product innovations,” Hyman said. It also did things like waive $1.5 million in fees (it’s a SaaS business, so for several months it waived its monthly fee, for example, for its integrated restaurant management system). It also acquired a company, SeatNinja, so that it could expand its offering.
“Because a lot of these businesses had to go digital literally overnight, we built a free website for them all,” Hyman said. SpotOn also did things like offer commission-free online ordering for restaurants and helped retail merchants update their websites for e-commerce. “Obviously these businesses were resilient,” Hyman said. “But such efforts also created a lot of loyalty.”
Today, more than 30,000 businesses use SpotOn’s platform, according to Hyman, with nearly 8,000 of those signing on this year. The company expects that number to triple by year’s end.
Currently, its customers are split about 60% retail and 40% restaurants, but the restaurant side of its business is growing rapidly, according to Hyman.
The reason for that, the company believes, is while restaurants initially rushed to add online ordering for delivery or curbside pickup, they soon realized they “wanted a more affordable and more integrated solution.”
Image Credits: SpotOn co-founders Zach Hyman, Doron Friedman and Matt Hyman / SpotOn
What makes SpotOn so appealing to its customers, Hyman said, is the fact that it offers an integrated platform so that businesses that use it can save “thousands of dollars” in payments and software fees to multiple, “à la carte” vendors. But it also can integrate with other platforms if needed.
In addition to growing its customer base and revenue, SpotOn has also boosted its headcount to about 1,250 employees (from 850 in March of 2020). Those employees are spread across its offices in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Mexico City, Mexico and Krakow, Poland.
SpotOn is not currently profitable, which Hyman says is “by choice.”
“We could be cash flow positive technically whenever we choose to be. Right now we’re just so focused on product innovation and talent to exceed the needs of our clients,” he said. “We chose the capital plan so that we could really just double down on what’s working so well.”
The new capital will go toward further accelerating product development and expanding its market presence.
“We’re doubling down on our single integrated restaurant management system,” Hyman said.
The raise marks the first time that a16z has put money in the startup, although General Partner David George told TechCrunch he was familiar with co-founders Matt Hyman and Zach Hyman through mutual friends.
George estimates that about 80% of restaurants and SMBs use legacy solutions “that are clunky and outdated, and not very customer friendly.” The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more of these businesses seeking digital options.
“We think we’re in the very early days in the transition [to digital], and the opportunity is massive,” he told TechCrunch. “We believe we’re at the tipping point of a big tech replacement cycle for restaurant and small business software, and at the very early stages of this transition to modern cloud-native solutions.”
George was also effusive in his praise for how SpotOn has executed over the past 14 months.
“There are companies that build great products, and companies that can build great sales teams. And there are companies that offer really great customer service,” he said. “It’s rare that you find two of those and extremely rare to find all three of those as we have in SpotOn.”
This morning Clara announced that it closed a new, $30 million funding round and secured a $50 million revolving debt facility.
The startup, which provides corporate cards to Mexican companies, raised funds earlier this year when it was busy launching its product. Since then, growth has proven rapid for the Mexico City-based company.
TechCrunch learned that the company is valued around $130 million after this latest investment, according to sources familiar with its latest fundraising. The round added DST and monashees to Clara’s cap table; prior investor General Catalyst also contributed funds to the deal.
We spoke with Gerry Giacomán Colyer, a co-founder at the startup and its CEO, about why Clara raised more capital so quickly after it last closed a financing round. The short gist is that the company’s growth, and market, allowed it to raise easily. And that the startup has pretty big plans, so having more capital with which to hire is welcome.
Per Giacomán Colyer, since he last spoke to this publication the transaction volume (GTV) that Clara supports has grown by 100x. His company is managing 2x week-over-week growth at times, which is super rapid. That’s precisely the sort of usage growth that venture capitalists covet; and as Clara makes revenue from interchange fees that stem from transaction volume, the startup is likely seeing its revenue advance at roughly the same rate as its GTV.
That Clara was able to raise more capital is unsurprising. Not only is it growing quickly in its home market with designs on Brazil in the future, a U.S.-based player in the same space recently sold for north of $2 billion. Divvy’s sale was likely a shot in the arm for not only Clara, but also Brex and Ramp, two other well-known players in the larger corporate spend world.
Clara’s success in Mexico makes it likely that related startups also targeting markets that lack a modern corporate spend solution will see strong venture capital interest; I would not be surprised if we heard from a number of other companies attacking geographies with favorable interchange economics with a similar model, as it has proven to be so lucrative.
TechCrunch asked Giacomán Colyer about who his company is targeting in terms of customers; Brex famously got its start working with high-growth startups before moving to work with a broader array of companies. Clara is working with startups in the Mexican market, the company said, but also with larger firms as well. Its CEO said that its underwriting model is set up to support more traditional cash-flow modeling.
So far Clara has largely attracted customers via word-of-mouth, and is working to bolster its referral system. But now that it has lots more capital, it will be interesting to see if the startup builds out a more aggressive go-to-market motion.
And more than just equity capital, the debt that Clara also secured as part of its recent funding round will help it underwrite customers without having to work off of its own balance sheet. Giacomán Colyer said that even after the capital costs associated with the facility, Clara’s economics are still good. Interchange is a flexible beast, it seems.
To that end, TechCrunch asked Giacomán Colyer if his company intends to charge for software in time, or merely eat off of interchange. In the United States, Brex is now in camp one, along with Airbase, while Ramp is sticking to camp two. Divvy proved that you can get to nine-figures in top line without charging for software, though having some ARR in the mix along with interchange incomes could provide a margin-boost to interchange top line. Regardless, Clara appears happy to keep to interchange for the time being.
Let’s see how quickly Clara can keep scaling. We’ll check back with the company in a few months.
Commission-free trading app Stake, which is available in UK, Brazil and New Zealand, has raised $30 million from Tiger Global and partners of London-based DST Global to expand into Europe.
Matt Leibowitz, Founder and CEO, Stake said: “We’re really excited to get to this point but it’s just the start. We set out to change the game for retail investors and were self-funded for the first four years of our journey. We’ve proven the model and now have the chance to expand our product and bring our zero-brokerage service to more retail investors.”
Since launching in the UK in early 2020, Stake claims to have grown its total customer base more than six times over, with 25% month-on-month customer growth on average and hitting over 330,000 customers globally.
It was the first to offer commission-free access to the US market in Australia, offering retail investors access to over 4,400 US stocks & ETFs without a brokerage fee.
In the UK it competes with eToro, Libertex, Fineco, Plus500 and IG, among others.
Two-year-old CRED has become the youngest Indian startup to be valued at $2 billion or higher.
Bangalore-based CRED said on Tuesday it has raised $215 million in a new funding round — a Series D — that valued the Indian startup at $2.2 billion (post-money), up from about $800 million valuation in $81 million Series C round in January this year.
New investor Falcon Edge Capital and existing investor Coatue Management led the new round. Insight Partners and existing investors DST Global, RTP Global, Tiger Global, Greenoaks Capital, Dragoneer Investment Group, and Sofina also participated in the new round, which brings CRED’s total to-date raise to about $443 million.
TechCrunch reported last month that CRED was in advanced stages of talks to raise about $200 million at a valuation of around $2 billion.
CRED operates an app that rewards customers for paying their credit card bills on time and gives them access to a range of additional services such as credit and a premium catalog of products from high-end brands.
An individual needs to have a credit score of at least 750 to be able to sign up for CRED. By keeping such a high bar, the startup says it is ensuring that people are incentivized to improve their financial behavior. (More on this later.)
CRED today serves more than 6 million customers, or about 22% of all credit card holders — and 35% of all premium credit card holders — in the world’s second largest internet market.
Kunal Shah, founder and chief executive of CRED, told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup intends to become the platform for affluent customers in India and also not limit its offerings to financial services.
He said the startup’s e-commerce service, for instance, has been growing fast. He attributed the early success to customers enjoying the curation of items on CRED and merchants finding the platform appealing as ticket size of each transaction on CRED is higher.
The startup plans to deploy the fresh funds to scale several of its revenue channels and engage in more experimentations, he said.
When asked whether CRED would like to serve all credit card users in India some day, Shah said the selection criteria limits the startup from doing so, but he said he was optimistic that more users will improve their scores in the future.
The startup, unlike most others in India, doesn’t focus on the usual TAM (addressable market) — hundreds of millions of users of the world’s second-most populated nation — and instead caters to some of the most premium audiences.
Consumer segmentation and addressable market for fintech firms in India (BofA Research)
“India has 57 million credit cards (vs 830 million debit cards) [that] largely serves the high-end market. The credit card industry is largely concentrated with the top 4 banks (HDFC, SBI, ICICI and Axis) controlling about 70% of the total market. This space is extremely profitable for these banks – as evident from the SBI Cards IPO,” analysts at Bank of America wrote in a recent report to clients.
“Very few starts-ups like CRED are focusing on this high-end base and [have] taken a platform-based approach (acquire customers now and look for monetization later). Credit card in India remains an aspirational product. The under penetration would likely ensure continued strong growth in coming years. Overtime, the form-factor may evolve (i.e. move from plastic card to virtual card), but the inherent demand for credit is expected to grow,” they added.
CRED has become one of the most talked about startups in India, in part because of the pace at which it has raised money of late, its growing valuation, and the fact that it only caters to select customers.
Some users have also said that CRED no longer offers them the perks it used a year ago.
Shah said CRED is addressing those concerns. A recent feature, which allows customers to use CRED points at over a thousand merchants, for instance, has made the reward more appealing, he said, adding that the startup is slowly incorporating that into its own e-commerce store as well.
“What will soon happen is that customers will realize that these points are asset and not a liability. They will start to see benefits of the points in more places,” he said, adding that the pandemic derailed some of the things CRED had planned for in the real world.
The startup, which bought back shares worth $1.2 million from employees in January this year, told them in an email today that it will soon be buying back stocks worth $5 million. “As the funding helps CRED invest in its future, hopefully the buyback will help some of you do that too,” the email said.
Bangalore’s fintech startup ecosystem is inching closer to delivering a new unicorn: CRED.
Two-year-old CRED is in advanced stages of talks to raise about $200 million at about $2 billion valuation, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The new funding round, like this January’s Series C, will be largely financed by existing investors, the sources said, requesting anonymity as talks are private. The round is expected to close within a month, one of them said.
CRED, founded by Kunal Shah, has become one of the most talked-about startups in India, in part because of the pace at which its valuation has soared.
Backed by high-profile investors including DST Global, Sequoia Capital India, Tiger Global, Ribbit Capital, and General Catalyst, CRED was valued at $806 million when it closed its Series C round in January this year and $450 million in August 2019. (TechCrunch also scooped the Series C round of CRED.)
I think @CRED_club has probably scaled faster than any Indian startup I know. In two years they have created a category so strong that everyone has an opinion on it.
If the new deal goes through, CRED will be the fastest startup in the world’s second largest internet market to attain a $2 billion valuation. Prior to the upcoming Series D round, CRED had raised about $228 million.
Reached by TechCrunch early last week, CRED declined to comment. Sequoia Capital India didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The startup, unlike most others in India, doesn’t focus on the usual TAM of India — hundreds of millions of users of the world’s second most populated nation — and instead caters to some of the most premium audiences.
“India has 57 million credit cards (vs 830 million debit cards) [that] largely serves the high-end market. The credit card industry is largely concentrated with the top 4 banks (HDFC, SBI, ICICI and Axis) controlling about 70% of the total market. This space is extremely profitable for these banks – as evident from the SBI Cards IPO,” analysts at Bank of America wrote in a recent report to clients.
“Very few starts-ups like CRED are focusing on this high-end base and [have] taken a platform-based approach (acquire customers now and look for monetization later). Credit card in India remains an aspirational product. The under penetration would likely ensure continued strong growth in coming years. Overtime, the form-factor may evolve (i.e. move from plastic card to virtual card), but the inherent demand for credit is expected to grow,” they added.
Consumer segmentation and addressable market for fintech firms in India (BofA Research)
CRED says it is trying to help customers improve their financial behavior. An individual needs a credit score of at least 750 to join CRED. In a recent newsletter to customers, CRED said the median credit score of its customers was 830 and at “any given point in time” more than 375,000 individuals are on the app’s waiting list, many of whom have demonstrably improved their score to join CRED.
“It’s easy to be responsible when you’re empowered. 80% CRED Protect members got visibility on extra interest charges and avoided late payment fees by tracking their dues on CRED. Ignorance is not always bliss. CRED members detected additional charges worth over ₹145 Crores [$20.1 million] on their statements. CRED members avoided over ₹43.5 Crores [$6 million] worth of late payment fees,” it wrote in the newsletter.
“With the help of regular bill payment reminders, and a seamless credit card management experience; 160,000 CRED members improved their credit scores last month. CRED members know it pays to be good as they earned cash-back worth ₹12 Crores [$1.65 million] by paying their bills on time. There’s always something to look forward to on CRED. Our members got access to over 750 new rewards and products.”
The startup makes money by cross-selling financing products — for which it has a revenue-sharing arrangement with banks and other financial institutions — and levies a similar cut from merchants who are on the platform, Shah, who is also one of the most prolific angel investors in India, told TechCrunch in an interview in January this year.
If there were any doubt about a cryptocurrency boom, we need look no further than at the explosion of growth of certain companies in the space.
One such company is BlockFi, which today announced it has closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that values it at $3 billion. While this news in and of itself is certainly attention-getting, it’s even more impressive when you consider the startup just raised a $50 million Series C last August at a $450 million valuation. The latest financing brings its total equity raised since inception to about $450 million, with the company raising $100 million across its seed and Series C rounds.
Zac Prince — who comes from a background in consumer lending — founded BlockFi with Flori Marquez in 2017. The Jersey City, New Jersey-based startup raised $1.6 million in a seed round of funding that closed in 2018 and was led by ConsenSys Ventures and included participation from SoFi.
Prince describes BlockFi as a financial services company for crypto market investors that offers a retail and institutional-facing suite of products. On the retail side of its platform, people can use its mobile app to earn a yield on their crypto holdings (6% on Bitcoin, 8.6% on stablecoins), buy and sell crypto and get low-cost loans secured by the value of their crypto portfolio “so they can get liquidity without selling,” he said. Specifically, clients can buy and sell digital assets (from Bitcoin, Ethereum and Link to Litecoin, PaxG and multiple stablecoins) directly on BlockFi.
The startup is also a lender and provider of trade execution services to institutions participating in digital asset markets.
It’s a model that seems to be working in a big way. Since the end of 2019, BlockFi has seen its client base grow from 10,000 to more than 225,000. Today, BlockFi has 265,000 funded retail clients and over 200 institutional clients.
And it’s lent over $10 billion to its retail, corporate and institutional clients.
Over the past year, BlockFi has also accomplished the following:
Increased the number of assets on its platform to $15 billion, compared to $1 billion last March — with a 0% loss rate across its lending portfolio since inception.
Bumped its monthly revenue to over $50 million, up from $1.5 million a year prior.
Boosted its headcount to about 530 people, compared to 100 last March.
“In less than six months since we completed our Series C, Bitcoin and other digital assets have assumed a central role in many investors’ portfolios and in broader financial markets,” Prince said. “Our conviction that digital assets are the future of finance has been vindicated by our client base, which grew 10 times year over year in 2020 and has more than doubled since the end of 2020.”
New investor Bain Capital Ventures, partners of DST Global, Pomp Investments and Tiger Global co-led the Series D, which included participation from a slew of other firms including existing backer Valar Ventures, Breyer Capital, Susquehanna Government Products, Jump Capital and Paradigm, among many others. BlockFi employees who have been employed for more than one year have the opportunity to receive liquidity on a portion of their equity via a secondary tender offer as part of the financing round.
BlockFi believes that investor enthusiasm for the Series D round reflects both the company’s strong business growth, as well as “broader conviction in cryptocurrencies as an asset class.”
“Individual investors, institutional asset managers and corporate treasury departments are all exploring avenues to invest in cryptocurrencies,” the company said.
“Our goal for BlockFi has always been for it to facilitate cryptocurrencies going mainstream – and each day provides more evidence that is exactly what is occurring,” said Marquez, who serves as the company’s SVP of operations.
Bain Capital Ventures Partner Stefan Cohen agrees. He believes there are currently limited banking services available for crypto holders, which puts BlockFi in an opportune position.
“Bitcoin has already eclipsed $1 trillion in market cap and is likely headed higher to fulfill its store of value promise. As wealth accumulates to BTC holders, most will look for ways to earn yield or borrow against their holdings for more traditional asset purchases such as homes, cars and education,” he wrote via email. “BlockFi stands alone as the leader in bringing simple, secure, everydayfinancial services to cryptocurrency holders.”
The startup’s exponential growth over the past year proves “there was clearly a huge need for BlockFi’s services,” Cohen said.
“Their vision was to build an easy-to-use, trusted platform to bring cryptocurrency to the mainstream, and they’ve truly succeeded,” he added.
Meanwhile, Cohen said Bain Capital has had a long-term thesis on Bitcoin becoming a store of value and has actively invested in “picks-and-shovels businesses” that enable what is now a $1 trillion-plus market.
“Trusted financial services are a critical pillar of the space, and we view it as a highly strategic component of the market,” he added.
Looking ahead, the startup has plans to launch in the second quarter a Bitcoin Rewards Credit Card, which will give BlockFi clients the ability to earn Bitcoin cash back on every transaction. It plans to use the new capital to continue growing its product suite, expand into new global markets and for strategic acquisitions. The company also plans to double its headcount by year’s end, according to Prince.
BlockFi already has a global presence and retail clients in over 100 countries. Last year, it opened institutional client service offices in London and Singapore. This year, the startup is looking to add regional support in Europe, APAC and LatAm for its retail clients.
Over the past week, BlockFi was making headlines for other reasons. The company was the victim of an “unusual assault” on March 7 when an attacker spammed the platform with fake sign-ups and abusive language.
To that end, the company acknowledges that it became aware that an unauthorized third party began attempting bulk sign-ups on its platform on March 7.
“We do not know the origin of the email addresses used for these ‘sign-ups’ but they did not come from us and they were not the emails of BlockFi clients,” the company told TechCrunch. “In general, we would characterize the event as vulgar spam’ and the total number of valid emails affected was less than 1,000.”
The company maintains that no data from BlockFi was accessed and its data was not compromised.
“Our clients’ funds and data were safeguarded throughout the incident,” the company added. “Since then, our engineering and security teams have taken steps to prevent events like this from happening in the future. In addition, we reached out directly to all of the valid email recipients to apologize for the incident.”
Zego, the insurtech that got its start by offering flexible motorbike insurance for gig economy workers but has since expanded with a range of tech-enabled commercial motor insurance products, has raised $150 million.
Leading the London-based company’s C round — giving it a $1.1 billion valuation and a unicorn status — is DST Global. Other new backers include General Catalyst, whose founder and MD, Joel Cutler, joins Zego’s board.
Notably, I’m told all existing investors followed on, including Wise’s Taavet Hinrikus, who is also on the Zego board, and Target Global, Balderton Capital and Latitude. Zego has now raised more than $200 million since launching in 2016.
The insurance company says it will use the funding to “rapidly expand across Europe and beyond”. It will also double its workforce, which currently stands at 265 employees, to over 500 employees by the end of 2021, and continue to invest in technology. Late last year, Zeho acquired telematics company Drivit.
Zego offers commercial motor insurance for businesses, from self-employed drivers and riders to fleets of vehicles, spanning pay-as-you-go insurance to annual policies. It combines tech with multiple data sources to offer insurance products that it claims save time and are more cost-effective. It earned its own insurance license in 2019, enabling it to build and sell its own policies, in addition to working alongside other insurers.
Technical/data integrations include those with companies in the ride-hailing space, such as Uber, Ola and Bolt, and in the delivery space, such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat. More recently, Zego has become a key partner in the U.K.’s burgeoning e-scooter rental market, partnering with companies like Tier, Voi and Dott.
Next up, the insurtech is betting big on offering insurance for fleets. “Over the past couple of years, Zego’s focus on powering opportunities for businesses has expanded to include not just self-employed drivers and riders, but also entire fleets of vehicles,” Sten Saar, CEO and co-founder of Zego, tells me, noting that 80% of new vehicles are now sold to commercial customers.
“This has been both a natural progression for the company, with the only real difference being distribution, as well as a focused effort, as Zego aims to capitalise on an ever-growing market currently underserved by the insurance sector”.
To date, Zego has provided more than 17 million insurance policies and covered more than 200,000 vehicles in five countries.
“While most traditional insurers price their insurance products based purely on factors such as age and vehicle type, and while others may use telematics-based driver behaviour data too, Zego is able to price policies based not only on traditional factors, but also driver behaviour data and working habits data,” adds Saar.
“In fact, overall, the information Zego can collect amounts to five times more data per vehicle than competitors, or 50 data points per second. This means that we have a much more comprehensive understanding of risk than competitors, enabling us to provide best-value insurance coverage, from policies ranging from one hour to one year”.
Cue statement from Tom Stafford, managing partner of DST Global: “The shift to digital is occurring across multiple industry categories and is increasingly occurring in the insurance industry. We are excited to partner with Sten and the team at Zego as they leverage internet, technology, telematics and data-driven decisions to provide the best insurance products at the best pricing for their customers.”