HMBradley raises $18.25 million planting a flag as LA’s entrant into the challenger bank business

With $90 million in deposits and $18.25 million in new financing, HMBradley is making moves as the Los Angeles-based entrant into the challenger bank competition.

LA is home to a growing community of financial services startups and HMBradley is quickly taking its place among the leaders with a novel twist on the banking business.

Unlike most banking startups that woo customers with easy credit and savvy online user interfaces, HMBradley is pitching a better savings account.

The company offers up to 3% interest on its savings accounts, much higher than most banks these days, and it’s that pitch that has won over consumers and investors alike, according to the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Zach Bruhnke.

With climbing numbers on the back of limited marketing, Bruhnke said raising the company’s latest round of financing was a breeze. 

“They knew after the first call that they wanted to do it,” Brunke said of the negotiations with the venture capital firm Acrew, a venture firm whose previous exposure to fintech companies included backing the challenger bank phenomenon which is Chime . “It was a very different kind of fundraise for us. Our seed round was a terrible, treacherous 16-month fundraise,” Brunke said.

For Acrew’s part, the company actually had to call Chime’s founder to ensure that the company was okay with the venture firm backing another entrant into the banking business. Once the approval was granted, Brunke said the deal was smooth sailing.

Acrew, Chime, and HMBradley’s founders see enough daylight between the two business models that investing in one wouldn’t be a conflict of interest with the other. And there’s plenty of space for new entrants in the banking business, Bruhnke said. “It’s a very, very large industry as a whole,” he said.

As the company grows its deposits, Bruhnke said there will be several ways it can leverage its capital. That includes commercial lending on the back end of HMBradley’s deposits and other financial services offerings to grow its base.

For now, it’s been wooing consumers with one click credit applications and the high interest rates it offers to its various tiers of savers.

“When customers hit that 3% tier they get really excited,” Bruhnke said. “If you’re saving money and you’re not saving to HMBradley then you’re losing money.”

The money that HMBradley raised will be used to continue rolling out its new credit product and hiring staff. It already poached the former director of engineering at Capital One, Ben Coffman, and fintech thought leader Saira Rahman, the company said. 

In October, the company said, deposits doubled month-over-month and transaction volume has grown to over $110 million since it launched in April. 

Since launching the company’s cash back credit card in July, HMBradley has been able to pitch customers on 3% cash back for its highest tier of savers — giving them the option to earn 3.5% on their deposits.

The deposit and lending capabilities the company offers are possible because of its partnership with the California-based Hatch Bank, the company said.

#bank, #banking, #california, #chime, #economy, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #hmbradley, #ing-group, #los-angeles, #money, #tc, #venture-capital

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LA-based Boulevard raises $27 million for its spa management software

Boulevard, a spa management and payment platform, has raised $27 million in a new round of funding despite a business slowdown caused by the COVID0-19 pandemic.

Founded four years ago by Matt Danna and Sean Stavropoulos, Boulevard was inspired by Stavropoulos’ inability to book a haircut and Danna’s hunch that the inability of salons and spas to cater to customers like the busy programmer could be indicative of a bigger problem.

The two spent months pounding the pavement in Los Angeles pretending to be college students doing research on the industry. They spoke with salon owners in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and other trendy neighborhoods trying to get a sense of where software and services were falling short.

Through those months of interviews the two developed the booking management and payment platform that would become Boulevard. The inspiration was one part Shopify and one part ServiceTitan, Danna said.

The idea was that the Boulevard could build a pretty large business catering to the needs of a niche industry that hadn’t traditionally been exposed to a purpose-built toolkit for its vertical.

Investors including Index Ventures, Toba Capital, VMG Partners, Bonfire Ventures, Ludlow Ventures and BoxGroup agreed.

That could be because of the size of the industry. There’s over $250 billion spent per year across roughly 3 million businesses in the salon and spa category, according to data provided by the company. By comparison, fitness attracts roughly $34 billion in annual spending from 150,000 businesses.

“With limited access to the professionals that help us look and feel our best, I think the world has realized something that our team has always recognized: salons and spas are more than a luxury, they are essential to our well-being,” said Danna, in a statement. “We are humbled that so many businesses are placing their trust in us during such a turbulent time. This new capital will help accelerate our mission and deliver value to salons and spas that they never imagined was possible from technology.”

According to data provided by the company, Boulevard is definitely giving businesses a boost. On average, businesses increase bookings by 16%, retail revenue jumps by 18%, and gratuity paid out to stylists jumps by 24% for businesses that use Boulevard, the company said. It also reduces no-shows and cancellations, and halves time spent on the phone.  

“Boulevard is revitalizing the salon and spa industry, as evidenced by the company’s sustained 300-400% revenue growth over the last three years,” said Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, whose firm led the company’s Series A round and has doubled down with the new capital infusion. 

Customers using the company’s software include: Chris McMillan the Salon, Heyday, MèCHE Salon, Paintbox, Sassoon Salon, SEV Laser, Spoke & Weal, and TONI&GUY.

Boulevard now has 90 employees and will look to increase that number as it continues to expand across the country.

Investors have taken a run at the spa market in the past, with company’s like MindBody valued at over $1 billion for its software services. Indeed, that company was taken private two years ago in a $1.9 billion transaction by Vista Equity Partners.

As Boulevard expands, the company may look to get deeper into financial services for the salons and spas that it’s already working with. Given the company’s window into these businesses’ financing, it’s not impossible to image a new line of business providing small business loans to these companies.

It’s something that the founders would likely not rule out. And it’s a way to provide more tools to entrepreneurs that often fall outside of the traditional sweet spot for banks and other lenders, Danna said.

 

#articles, #bonfire-ventures, #boulevard, #boxgroup, #business, #business-software, #economy, #financial-services, #laser, #los-angeles, #ludlow-ventures, #mindbody, #shopify, #small-business, #tc, #toba-capital, #vista-equity-partners

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Construction rental startup YardLink raises funding from Speedinvest Networks

YardLink allows construction companies to obtain critical equipment faster than traditional equipment rental companies. It’s now raised a £1.7m seed round, bringing the total it’s raised to date to £2.4m. The round was led by Speedinvest Network Effects, with participation from FJ Labs.

Construction sites often have to hire equipment, but the centralized nature of the traditional hire market means suppliers can be slow to deliver, leading to downtime on-site, and delayed projects. Traditional suppliers include HSS Hire, Travis Perkins, Speedy Hire, Sunbelt Rentals. But YardLink aims to speed this process up with a digital-first, marketplace approach. It has a network of 100 suppliers with over 1,400 equipment depots across the UK.

The construction industry faces new guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as having to provide portable site cabins and accommodation for its workforce. This, coupled with tight availability in the market and more demand for renting equipment, rather than buying it.

The global market for construction equipment rental is around $70bn.

The team consists of Neeral Shah (Founder and CEO), Matt Bloor (CCO) and Daniel Morris (CTO) .

#ceo, #cto, #economy, #europe, #fj-labs, #money, #renting, #tc, #united-kingdom

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Calling Dublin VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Dublin will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

We’d like to know how Ireland’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here. Obviously, most VCs are in Dublin, but we don’t want to miss out on those based elsewhere.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

https://techcrunch.com/extra-crunch/investor-surveys/

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Dublin, but would like to take part? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.

The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

#corporate-finance, #dublin, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-union, #finance, #ireland, #london, #money, #private-equity, #startup-company, #survey, #tc, #venture-capital

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Venture firm M13 names former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner

The Los Angeles and New York-based venture firm M13 has managed to nab former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner and the head of its internal venture studio, Launchpad.

Designed to be a collaborative startup company incubator alongside corporate partners, Launchpad focuses on developing new consumer tech businesses focused on M13’s main investment areas: health, food, transportation, and housing.

For Barber, the new position is the latest step in a professional career spent working both inside and outside of the tech industry.

Barber got her first taste of the startup world when she was poached from McKinsey to join one of the several online pet supply stores that cropped up in 1999. From her position as the vice president of product at Petstore.com, Barber got her taste of the startup world… and left it to become a talent manager and the co-founder of the National Air Guitar championships (no word if she managed air guitar talent).

Prior to launching the Techstars LA incubator program, Barber founded ScribblePress, a retail and digital publishing app, which was sold to Fingerprint Digital.

Anna Barber, partner, M13. Image Credit: Raif Strathmann

At M13, Barber will be working to recruit entrepreneurs to work collaboratively on developing startup consumer businesses that align with the strategic interests of M13’s corporate partners, like Procter & Gamble.

We will be bringing in founders in residence who will come in without an idea,” Barber said of the program. “We’re starting with a blank sheet of paper and building teams in partnership with entrepreneurs and in partnership with corporate partners who will bring their perspective and their IP. “

The EIRs will receive a small stipend and equity in the business, Barber said.

The starting gun for M13’s Launchpad  program was in 2019 and the program currently has managed to spin up three startups. There’s Rae, an developer of affordable women’s wellness products; and the beauty tech company OPTE; Kindra menopause products; and Bodewell for sensitive skin care, which were all developed alongside Procter & Gamble Ventures.

M13, for its part, is developing a strong team of women partners who are investing at the firm. Barber will join Lizzie Francis and Christine Choi on the investment team, something that Barber said was especially exciting.

“There is no better place for M13’s Launchpad than Los Angeles and no better person to lead it than Anna. M13 is home to a creative, diverse community of entrepreneurs and operators who want to make the world better by applying innovation in everything from media to biotech, prop tech to food,” said M13 co-founder Carter Reum. “We are excited for Anna to continue to lead LA’s center of entrepreneurs, mentors and investors with a rigorous Launchpad program and more exceptional partners and cohorts.”

#articles, #business, #business-incubators, #business-models, #co-founder, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #food, #head, #launchpad, #los-angeles, #m13, #mckinsey, #mentorships, #new-york, #procter-gamble, #rae, #startup-company, #tc, #techstars

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What I wish I’d known about venture capital when I was a founder

When you’re running your own venture — especially if it’s your first — it’s unlikely you will find the time to deep dive into how venture capital firms work. Fundraising is distracting for founders and can even hurt their company in the early days. But if you only start learning about VCs when you’re already down the fundraising path, you’ll already be too late.

Founders tend to make a series of classic mistakes when raising funding. Error number one (and two) is to raise the wrong amount of money and to do it at the wrong time. This double whammy results in founders being very diluted too early or not raising enough money to reach the next funding stage.

They can also put all their eggs in one basket too early. I made that mistake. I had signed a term-sheet (a nonbinding agreement) for a €2.5 million Series A round, passed the due diligence process, and the investment committee had approved the deal. But at the very last minute, a claim from one of the angels on my cap table made the prospect investor change his mind. In a Point Nine Capital survey, founders said that the two most stressful elements of raising venture capital are not knowing where in the fundraising process they are and not understanding why VCs have rejected their proposal.

On the other hand, if you know what VCs all about, you’ll be geared up for the ride, know the kind of investor personality you’re aiming for, and crucially — you’ll optimize the value of your equity in the long run. Founders who manage to raise more VC funds end up having a greater value stake in their company when the time comes to IPO, according to statistical research. The learning curve is steep; you’re not just studying VC as an industry, but the individual investors themselves. So, I’ve decided to share the main lessons about VC that I wish I’d known when I was a startup founder chasing venture capital.

1. It’s not about raising, it’s about raising the right amount at the right time

Startups are all about reaching two milestones: (a) product/market fit and (b) a profitable, repeatable and scalable growth model. Once those two corners are turned, the risk of a startup decreases enormously, which is normally reflected in the valuation. As an early-stage founder, if you want to protect your ownership, make sure you’re raising small amounts of money while your valuations are low.

Save your cash until you de-risk your early-stage startup. Then, raise aggressively when you finally have hard evidence that you have a strong product/market fit and a clear growth model. Be sure you understand when your company reaches that stage and becomes a scaleup. You don’t want to be a founder that has successfully raised a Series A round but has very little ownership and a very long road ahead.

Sometimes, the timing is out of your hands. The price of equity in startups is governed by the supply and demand of capital. Investors themselves have to raise money from another type of investor called Limited Partners (LPs), who may hold stakes in a variety of assets. If LPs have a strong interest in VC assets, there is more supply of capital and the price of startup equity will rise. But the opposite is also true. If you take a look at the last two recessions in the United States (2000 and 2008), you will see that the stock market crash coincided with corrections to valuations in the VC market.

So, be strategic and raise when “the market” has a strong appetite for your equity; otherwise, stretch your runway and wait for the right time. Right now, it’s common to see startups postponing their next raise to 2021, looking for stronger winds.

2. Location: Tell me where you are and I’ll tell you how much you’ll raise

I see two conditions for startups to raise a large round: (a) a large market that can justify a sizable exit, and (b) a large VC fund (small funds don’t need super sizable exits to be successful).

Assuming the first condition is met, where can we find those large VC funds? Typically, they’ll be in locations close to large markets, with a track record of sizable exits.

#column, #corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #private-equity, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #venture-debt

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Startup fundraising is the most tangible gender gap. How can we overcome it?

Year-in, year-out, the gender gap in venture capital investment continues to be a problem women founders face. While the gender gap in other areas (such as the number of women entering tech in general) may be on the right path, this disparity in funding seems to be stagnant. There has been little movement in the amount of VC dollars going to women-founded companies since 2012.

In fintech, the problem is especially prominent: Women-founded fintechs have raised a meager 1% of total fintech investment in the last 10 years. This should come as no surprise, given that fintech combines two sectors traditionally dominated by men: finance and technology. Though by no means does this mean that women aren’t doing incredible work in the field and it’s only right that women founders receive their fair share of VC investment.

In the short term, women founders can take action to boost their chances at VC success in the current investment climate, including leveraging their community and support network and building the necessary self-belief to thrive. In the long term, there needs to be foundational change to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. VC funds must look at ways they can bring in more women decision-makers, all the way up to the top.

Let’s dive into the state of gender bias in VC investing as it stands, and what founders, stakeholders and funds themselves can do to close the gap.

Venture capital is far from a level playing field

In 2019, less than 3% of all VC investment went to women-led companies, and only one-fifth of U.S. VC went to startups with at least one woman on the founder team. The average deal size for female-founded or female co-founded companies is less than half that of only male-founded startups. This is especially concerning when you consider that women make up a much bigger portion of the founder community than proportionately receive investment (around 28% of founders are women). Add in the intersection of race and ethnicity, and the figures become bleaker: Black women founders received 0.6% of the funding raised since 2009, while Latinx female founders saw only 0.4% of total investment dollars.

The statistics paint a stark picture, but it’s a disparity that I’ve faced on a personal level too. I have been faced with VC investors who ask my co-founder — in front of me — why I was doing the talking instead of him. On another occasion, a potential investor asked my co-founder who he was getting into business with, because “he needed to know who he’d be going to the bar with when the day was up.”

This demonstrates a clear expectation on the part of VC investors to have a male counterpart within the founding team of their portfolio companies, and that they often — whether subconsciously or consciously — value men’s input over that of the women on the leadership team.

So, if you’re a female founder faced with the prospect of pitching to VCs — what steps can you take to set yourself up for success?

Get funded, as a woman

Women founders looking to receive VC investment can take a number of steps to increase their chances in this seemingly hostile environment. My first piece of advice is to leverage your own community and support network, especially any mentors and role models you may have, to introduce you to potential investors. Contacts that know and trust your business may be willing to help — any potential VC is much more likely to pay you attention if you come as a personal recommendation.

If you feel like you’re lacking in a strong support network, you can seek out female-founder and startup groups and start to build your community. For example, The Next Women is a global network of women leaders from progress-driven companies, while Women Tech Founders is a grassroots organization on a mission to connect and support women in technology.

Confidence is key when it comes to fundraising. It’s essential to make sure your sales, pitch and negotiation skills are on point. If you feel like you need some extra training in this area, seek out workshops or mentorship opportunities to make sure you have these skills down before you pitch for funding.

When talking with top male VCs and executives, there may be moments where you feel like they’re responding to you differently because of your gender. In these moments, channeling your self-belief and inner strength is vital: The only way that they’re going to see you as a promising, credible founder is if you believe you are one too.

At the end of the day, women founders must also realize that we are the first generation of our gender playing the VC game — and there’s something exciting about that, no matter how challenging it may be. Even when faced with unconscious bias, it’s vital to remember that the process is a learning curve, and those that come after us won’t succeed if we simply hand the task over to our male co-founder(s).

More women in VC means more funding for female founders

While there are actions that women can take on an individual level, barriers cannot be overcome without change within the VC firms themselves. One of the biggest reasons why women receive less VC investment than men is that so few of them make up decision-makers in VC funds.

A study by Harvard Business Review concluded that investors often make investment decisions based on gender and ask women founders different questions than their male counterparts. There are countless stories of women not being taken seriously by male investors, and subsequently not being seen as a worthwhile investment opportunity. As a result of this disparity in VC leadership teams, women-focused funds are emerging as a way to bridge the funding gender gap. It’s also worth noting that women VCs are not only more likely to invest in women-founded companies, but also those founded by Black entrepreneurs. In addition to embracing women and minority-focused investors, the VC community as a whole should ensure they’re bringing in more women leaders into top positions.

Gender equality in VC makes more business sense

From day one, the Prometeo team has made concerted efforts to have both men and women in decision-maker roles. Having women in the founding team and in leadership positions has been crucial in not only helping to fight the unconscious bias that might take place, but also in creating a more dynamic work environment, where diversity of thought powers better business decisions.

Striving for gender equality, both within the walls of VC funds and in the founder community, is also better for businesses’ bottom line. In fact, a study by Boston Consulting Group found that women-founded startups generate 78% for every dollar invested, compared to 31% from men-founded companies.

Here in Latin America, women founders receive a higher proportion of VC investment than anywhere else in the world, so it’s no surprise that women are leading the region’s fintech revolution. Having more women in leadership positions is ultimately a better bet for business.

Closing the gender gap in VC funding is no simple task, but it’s one that must be undertaken. With the help of internal VC reform and external initiatives like community building, training opportunities and women-focused support networks, we can work toward finally making the VC game more equitable for all.

#articles, #co-founder, #column, #corporate-finance, #diversity, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #female-entrepreneurs, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #gender-equality, #harvard, #latin-america, #private-equity, #sexism, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #the-next-women, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #women-in-venture-capital, #women-tech-founders

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MSCHF’s Push Party raises an unconventional seed round at a $200 million valuation

As part of its latest stunt, MSCHF, a venture-backed creative studio that’s smarter and more audacious than most, is poking a little fun at the venture industry itself and perhaps publications like TechCrunch too. The startup has spun out a rather simplistic app into a separate company and raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from a very real venture capital firm at an eye-popping $200 million valuation.

For the time being, the actual completion of the legal paperwork to cement this valuation seems like a more complex hurdle than the technical challenges of building the app itself. Push Party is by all means a Gen-Z Yo, it does one thing and one thing only, allows people to push a button which sends a push notification to every user of the app. There are no friends, no groups, no influencers. It’s a big button that fires off an awful lot of notifications.

Image via MSCHF

Like everything else MSCHF does, the app is designed with virality in mind. The startup’s last application they shipped, “Finger on the App” launched a huge online contest that ended after multiple winners who spent several days with their finger sitting on their phone screen. The fun with this rollout is that there’s no telling who pushed the button especially when users can set their own user names and unsurprisingly seem keen to pick celebrity names.

If the app Push Party takes some heavy inspiration from Yo, it’s also taking a page from what helped make it famous, namely a quizzically high early valuation for a product that did almost nothing. Back in simpler times, 2014, Yo raised $1.5 million on $10 million. But fast forward to 2020 and earning a $10 million valuation for a half-baked conceptual take doesn’t mean quite as much, it’s been normalized to a degree. As a result, MSCHF upped the ante and banked a $200 million valuation for Push Party in this raise.

It used to be that a $200 million valuation was a sign of late-stage traction rather than early-stage hype, but high valuations have grown increasingly common for investors racing to win the most competitive deals. Earlier this summer, audio startup Clubhouse raised eyebrows when it banked a $100 million early valuation, and just a few months ago, Roam, a note-taking app with a cult following raised a seed round on $200 million.

Push Party’s round was financed by Founders Fund with Principal Trae Stephens driving the deal. If you’re puzzled how the MSCHF team bagged a real investor from a real firm for a dubiously real project, the mystery fades when you find Stephens is unsurprisingly a backer of MSCHF itself. Stephens is by all means, in on the joke.

In a tongue-in-cheek press release, Stephens notes that, “We were a bit concerned by the valuation at first, but I told my people to run toward gunfire for anything less than $250 million.”

Is any of this real? Well, MSCHF insists that they went through all of the legal steps of incorporating Push Party and raising this round. How much the startup actually raised is perhaps more suspect, it’s unclear whether this was a $10 million investment or $1 million or $10,000, the team wasn’t too keen to go into details there, though I did ask someone from MSCHF whether the round was more than $100, and they confirmed that it was definitely more than $100.

Though the company refused to dissect what exactly it’s trying to communicate here, I think a good part of it is just poking at the idea that in today’s climate of ridiculous valuations there’s a tendency for some fairly nebulous numbers to signal value or innovation where this isn’t quite as much. And that often times a high valuation from a prestigious firm is a vote of confidence that drives Silicon Valley watchers to drive downloads while other investors toss in checks, engineers send in job applications and, yes, journalists write stories.

#economy, #finance, #founders-fund, #money, #private-equity, #tc, #valuation, #venture-capital, #yo

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Funded by Connect Ventures, Purple Dot plans to take on Klarna-style purchase debt

In recent times startups have appeared offering credit at an e-commerce basket checkout so that a customer can buy a product without needing to pay right away. Klarna or Clearpay are the two most notable in this field. But what if you flipped the model around so that consumers could buy the item at a lower price later on, and the retailer could reduce waste? This is the model of Purple Dot, which bills itself as a ‘worth-the-wait’ payment option for fashion brands.

It’s now raised a seed round of £1.35 million, led by Connect Ventures, with support from AI Seed, Moxxie Ventures, Andy Chung and Philipp Moehring from AngelList, Alex Roetter former SVP of Engineering at Twitter and the family office of Paul Forster, co-founder of Indeed.com.

Founded in August 2019 by senior Skyscanner employees Madeline Parra (CEO) and John Talbott (CTO), Purple Dot allows consumers to request a ‘worth-the-wait’ lower price. The advantage for retailers is that they can then decide whether or not to release a fashion product mid-season at a slightly reduced rate in order to secure the sale.

“Unlike Klarna, we don’t encourage consumers to buy stuff they can’t afford.”

The customers still pays upfront and then waits to have the item confirmed, receiving a full refund if not. The Purple Dot payment method sits alongside ‘buy now, pay later’ finance options.

This ‘worth-the-wait’ price does not usually fall below a 10-20% reduction from the recommended retail price, thus reducing losses from end-of-season discounting, where discounts are much deeper. The advantage for the consumer is that they don’t then rack up debt on their purchases.

The startup says it’s already in talks with a number of major UK and US high street brands but has already secured menswear retailer Spoke, which will also use the tech for ‘pre-ordering’. This means they can test out new styles, designs and fabrics in a limited manner, thus reducing waste (and therefore carbon emissions) when they commit to a new line of clothing.

Madeline Parra, CEO of Purple Dot, commented: “When shopping online today, customers can either pay the retail price or walk away. When they do walk away, the item goes through the discounting process, becomes unprofitable for the merchant and is resigned to landfill. This binary system isn’t working for anyone – the customer loses out on the item, because it may go out of stock in their size before they attempt to purchase it again, and the merchant loses the sale. Purple Dot tackles this problem head-on by providing a new way to shop, taking on unsustainable, unrelenting consumerism, poor pricing tactics and profit-crunching sales at the same time.”

Speaking to TechCrunch she also added that “Unlike Klarna, we don’t encourage consumers to buy stuff they can’t afford.”

Pietro Bezza, General Partner at Connect Ventures, commented:  “Purple Dot’s innovative proposition benefits retailers by creating a solution to their inventory problems. End of season ‘panic sales’ have long caused financial uncertainty for retailers and a negative impact on the environment in equal measure.”

#alex-roetter, #angellist, #articles, #business, #ceo, #co-founder, #connect-ventures, #cto, #economy, #europe, #general-partner, #klarna, #major, #moxxie-ventures, #online-shopping, #pietro-bezza, #spoke, #startup-company, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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WeWork employees used an alarmingly insecure printer password

A shared user account used by WeWork employees to access printer settings and customer print jobs had an incredibly simple password — so simple that a customer guessed it.

Jake Elsley, who works at a WeWork in London, said he found the user account after a WeWork employee at his location mistakenly left the account logged in.

WeWork customers like Elsley normally have an assigned seven-digit username and a four-digit passcode used for printing documents at WeWork locations. But the username for the account used by WeWork employees was just four-digits: “9999”. Elsley told TechCrunch that he guessed the password because it was the same as the username. (“9999” is ranked as one of the most common passwords in use today, making it highly insecure.)

Read more on Extra Crunch

The “9999” account is used by and shared among WeWork community managers, who oversee day-to-day operations at each location, to print documents for visitors who don’t have accounts to print on their own. The account cannot be used to access print jobs sent to other customer accounts.

Elsley said that the “9999” account could not see the contents of documents beyond file names, but that logging in to the WeWork printing web portal could allow him to release other people’s pending print jobs sent to the “9999” account to any other WeWork printer on the network.

The printing web portal can only be accessed on WeWork’s Wi-Fi networks, said Elsley, but that includes the free guest Wi-Fi network which doesn’t have a password, and WeWork’s main Wi-Fi network, which still uses a password that has been widely circulated on the internet.

Elsley reached out to TechCrunch to ask us to alert the company to the insecure password.

“WeWork is committed to protecting the privacy and security of our members and employees,” said WeWork spokesperson Colin Hart. “We immediately initiated an investigation into this potential issue and took steps to address any concerns. We are also nearing the end of a multi-month process of upgrading all of our printing capabilities to a best in class security and experience solution. We expect this process to be completed in the coming weeks.”

WeWork confirmed that it had since changed the password on the “9999” user account.

#articles, #economy, #identity-management, #london, #security, #spokesperson, #startups, #web-portal, #wework, #wi-fi

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MachEye raises $4.6M for its business intelligence platform

We’ve seen our fair share of business intelligence (BI) platforms that aim to make data analysis accessible to everybody in a company. Most of them are still fairly complicated, no matter what their marketing copy says. MachEye, which is launching its AI-powered BI platform today, is offering a new twist on this genre. In addition to its official launch, the company also today announced a previously unreported $4.6 seed funding round led by Canaan Partners with participation from WestWave Capital.

MachEye is not just what its founder and CEO Ramesh Panuganty calls a “low-prep, no-prep” BI platform, but it uses natural language processing to allow anybody to query data using natural language — and it can then automatically generate interactive data stories on the fly that put the answer into context. That’s quite a different approach from its more dashboard-centric competition.

“I have seen the business intelligence problems in the past,” Panuganty said. “And I saw that Traditional BI, even though it has existed for 30 or 40 years, had this paradigm of ‘what you ask is what you get.’ So the business user asks for something, either in an email, on the phone or in person, and then he gets an answer to that question back. That essentially has these challenges of being dependent on the experts and there is a time that is lost to get the answers — and then there’s a lack of exploratory capabilities for the business user. and the bigger problem is that they don’t know what they don’t know.”

Panuganty’s background includes time at Sun Microsystems and Bell Labs, working on their operating systems before becoming an entrepreneur. He build three companies over the last 12 years or so. The first was a cloud management platform, Cloud365, which was acquired by Cognizant. The second was analytics company Drastin, which got acquired by Splunk in 2017, and the third was the AI-driven educational platform SelectQ, which Thinker acquired this April. He also holds 15 patents related to machine learning, analytics and natural language processing.

Given that track record, it’s probably no surprise why VCs wanted to invest in his new startup, too. Panuganty tells me that when he met with Canaan Partners, he wasn’t really looking for an investment. He had already talked to the team while building SelectQ, but Canaan never got to make an investment because the company got acquired before it needed to raise more funding. But after an informal meeting that ended up lasting most of the day, he received an offer the next morning.

Image Credits: MachEye

MachEye’s approach is definitely unique. “Generating audio-visuals on enterprise data, we are probably the only company that does it,” Panuganty said. But it’s important to note that it also offers all of the usual trappings of a BI service. If you really want dashboards, you can build those, and developers can use the company’s APIs to use their data elsewhere, too. The service can pull in data from most of the standard databases and data warehousing services, including AWS Redshift, Azure Synapse, Google BigQuery, Snowflake and Oracle. The company promises that it only takes 30 minutes from connecting a data source to being able to ask questions about that data.

Interestingly, MachEye’s pricing plan is per seat and doesn’t limit how much data you can query. There’s a free plan, but without the natural search and query capabilities, an $18/month/user plan that adds those capabilities and additional search features, but it takes the enterprise plan to get the audio narrations and other advanced features. The team is able to use this pricing model because it is able to quickly spin up the container infrastructure to answer a query and then immediately shut it down again — all within about two minutes.

#artificial-intelligence, #bi, #business-intelligence, #canaan-partners, #economy, #enterprise, #information-management, #macheye, #nlp, #recent-funding, #startups

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Leading a $15 million round, Prosus Ventures makes the challenger bank Klar its first bet in Mexico

Klar, a new online bank based in Mexico City, has become the first big bet that Prosus Ventures (the firm formerly known as Naspers Ventures) is taking in Latin America outside of Brazil.

Founded by Stefan Moller, a former consultant at Bain & Co. who advised large banks, Klar blends Moller’s work experience in Mexico with his connections to the German banking world and the tech team at Berlin -based n26, to create a challenger bank offering deposit and credit services for Mexican customers.

The Mexican market is woefully underserved when it comes to the finance industry, according to Moller. Only 10% of Mexican adults have a credit card, something Moller said is the cheapest consumer lending instrument around.

That’s why Klar launched last year with both credit and debit services. The company has 200,000 banking customers and roughly 27,000 of those customers have taken out loans through the bank. A typical loan is roughly $110, according to Moller, and each loan comes with a 68% annual percentage rate. 

If that sounds usurious, that’s because it is — at least by U.S. standards. In the U.S. a typical credit card will run somewhere between 16% and 24%, according to data from WalletHub. In Mexico, Moller said the typical interest rate is 70% (no wonder only 10% of adults have credit cards).

Still, the opportunity to expand credit and debit services made sense to Prosus, which led the company’s Series A round alongside investors including the International Finance Corporation and former investors Quona capital, who led Klar´s SEED round, Mouro Capital (formerly Santander Innoventures) and aCrew.

Banafsheh Fathieh, the Prosus Ventures principal who led the investment for the firm, said that the commitment to Klar will likely be the first of many investments that her firm makes in the region — both in fintech and likely in Mexico’s tech ecosystem more broadly.

Prosus is famous for making early bets on emerging technology companies in developing markets. Perhaps most famously the firm’s parent company was an early investor in Tencent — a multi-million dollar bet that has generated billions in returns.

Before this investment, Prosus had confined its work in the Latin American region to investments in Brazilian technology companies like Creditas and Movile .

“Prosus Ventures partners with entrepreneurs that are solving big societal problems with technology, in a uniquely local way. We invest in sectors of the economy where technology can lead to meaningful change in the lives of consumers. Klar has identified a massive need in the Mexican financial market and brings a unique solution through their credit and debit offering,” said Banafsheh Fathieh from Prosus Ventures, in a statement. “In less than a year, the team has shown an ability to build a world-class digital bank for the masses, one focused on financial access and inclusion. We are very excited to partner with them on that mission.”

#bank, #banking, #berlin, #brazil, #credit-card, #creditas, #economy, #financial-technology, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #mouro-capital, #movile, #n26, #naspers, #naspers-ventures, #online-bank, #prosus, #prosus-ventures, #tc, #technology, #tencent, #united-states

0

Google Cloud launches Lending DocAI, its first dedicated mortgage industry tool

Google Cloud today announced the launch of Lending DocAI, its first dedicated service for the mortgage industry. The tool, which is now in preview, is meant to help mortgage companies speed up the process of evaluating a borrower’s income and asset documents, using specialized machine learning models to automate routine document reviews.

Some of this may sound familiar, because, with Document AI, Google Cloud already offers a more general tool for performing OCR over complex documents and then extracting data from those. Lending DocAI is essentially the first vertically specialized Google Cloud service to use this technology.

“Our goal is to give you the right tools to help borrowers and lenders have a better experience and to close mortgage loans in shorter time frames, benefiting all parties involved,” writes Google product manager Sudheera Vanguri. “With Lending DocAI, you will reduce mortgage processing time and costs, streamline data capture, and support regulatory and compliance requirements.”

Google argues that its tool will have speed up the mortgage workflow process and improve the experience for borrowers, too. If you’ve ever gone through the mortgage process, you know how much time it takes to compile all of the necessary documents and how much lag there is before your bank or mortgage broker tells you that everything is in order (or not).

In addition, Google Cloud also argues that this technology can help “reduce risk and enhance compliance posture by leveraging a technology stack (e.g. data access controls and transparency, data residency, customer managed encryption keys) that reduces the risk of implementing an AI strategy.”

In many ways, this new product is a good example for Google Cloud’s current strategy under the leadership of its CEO Thomas Kurian. While it continues to develop a plethora of general services for developers at every level, it now also bundles these together to sell as complete solutions to enterprises in various verticals. That’s where Google Cloud believes it can generate the most benefit for these companies — and hence generate the most revenue. With industry solutions for retailers, telcos, gaming companies and more — and industry partners to help them get up to speed — Kurian and his team believe that they can offer solutions while its competitors focus on offering tools. So far, that strategy seems to be working out alright, with Google Cloud’s revenue growing over 43 percent in the last quarter.

#artificial-intelligence, #cloud, #developer, #economy, #finance, #google, #loans, #machine-learning, #mortgage, #ocr

0

Crypto-driven marketplace Zora raises $2M to build a sustainable creator economy

Dee Goens and Jacob Horne have both the exact and precisely opposite background that you’d expect to see from two people building a way for creators to build a sustainable economy for their followers to participate in. Coinbase, crypto hack projects at university, KPMG, Merill Lynch. But where’s the art?

“Believe it or not, I used to have dreams of being a rapper,” laughs Goens. “There’s a Soundcloud out there somewhere. With that passion you explore the inner workings of the music industry. I would excitedly ask industry friends about the advance and 360 deal models only to realize they were completely broken.”

And, while many may be well intentioned, these deal structures of exploit artistry. In many cases taking the majority of an artist’s ownership. I grew curious why artists were unable to resource themselves from their community in an impactful way — but instead, were forced to seek out potentially predatory relationships. To me, this was bullshit.”

Horne says that he’d always wanted to create a fashion brand. 

“I always thought a fashion brand would be something I’d do after crypto,” he tells me. “I love crypto but it felt overly focused on just finance and felt like it was missing something. When I started to play with the idea of combining these two passions and starting Saint Fame.”

While at Coinbase, Horne hacked on Saint Fame, a side project that leveraged some of the ideas on display in Zora. It was a marketplace that allowed people to sell and trade items with cryptocurrency, buying intermediate variable-value tokens redeemable for future goods. 

“I realized that culture itself was shaped and built upon an old financial system that is systemically skewed against artists and communities,” says Horne. “The operating system of ownership was built in the 1600s with the Dutch East India Trading Company and early Nation States. Like what the fuck is up with that?” 

We have the internet now, we can literally create and share information to billions of people all at once, and the ownership system is the same as when people had to get on a boat for 6 months to send a letter. It’s time for an upgrade. Any community on the internet should be able to come together, with capital, and work towards any shared vision. That starts with empowering creators and artists to create and own the culture they’re creating. In the long term this moves to internet communities taking on societal endeavours.”

The answer that they’re working on is called Zora. It’s a marketplace with two main components but one philosophy: sustainable economics for creators. 

All too often creators are involved in reaping the rewards for their work only once, but the secondary economy continues to generate value out of their reach. Think of an artist, as an example, that creates a piece and sells it for market value. That’s great, but thereafter, every ounce of work that the artist puts into future work, into building a name and a brand and a community for themselves puts additional value into that piece. The artist never sees a dime from that, relying instead on the value of future releases to pay dividends on the work. 

That’s basically the way it has always worked. I have a little background in this as I used to exhibit and was involved in running a gallery and my father is a fine artist. If he sells a painting today for $300, gets a lot better, more popular and more valued over time, the owner of that painting may re-sell it for hundreds or thousands more. He will never see a dime of that. And god forbid that an artist like him gets too locked into the gallery system which slices off enormous chunks of the value of a piece for a square of wall space and the marketing cachet of a curator or storefront. 

The same story can be told across the recording industry, fashion, sports and even social media. Lots of middle-people and lots of vigs to pay. And, unsurprisingly, the same creators of color that drive so much of The Culture are the biggest losers hands down. 

The primary Zora product is a market that allows creators or artists to launch products and then continue to participate in their second market value. 

Here’s how the Zora team explains it:

On Zora, creators have the ability to set two prices: start price and max price. As community members buy and sell a token, it moves the price up or down. This makes the price dynamic as it opens price discovery on the items by the market. When people buy the token it moves the price closer to its maximum. When they sell, it moves closer to its minimum. 

For an excited community like Jeff [Staple’s], this new dynamic price can cause a quick increase in the value of his sneakers. As a creator, they capture the value from selling on a price curve as well as getting a take on trading fees from the market which they now own. What used to trade on StockX is now about to trade on a creator owned market.

There have been some early successes. Designer and marketer Jeff Staple launched a run of 30 Coca-Cola x Staple SB Dunk customs by Reverseland and their value is trending up around 234% since release. A Benji Taylor x Kevin Doan vinyl figure is up 210%

I have seen some other stabs at this. When he was still at StockX, founder Josh Luber launched their Intial Product Offerings, a Blind Dutch Auction system that allowed the market to set a price for an item, with some of the cut of pricing above market going back to the manufacturer or brand making the offering. The focus there was brands vs. individual creators (though they did launch with a Ben Baller slide). Allowing brands to tap into second market value for limited goods is a lot less of a revolution play, but the thesis is similar. I thought that was a good idea then, and I like it even better when it’s being used to democratize rather than maximize returns. 

Side note: I love that this team is messing around with interesting ideas like dogfooding their own marketplace with the value of being in their own TestFlight group. I’m sort of like, is that allowed, but at the same time it’s dope and I’ve never seen anything like it. 

Zora was founded in May of 2020 (right in the middle of this current panny-palooza). The team is Goens (Creators and Community), Horne (Product), Slava Kim (Design), Dai Hovey (Engineering), Ethan Daya (Engineering) and Tyson Batistella (Engineering). 

Zora has raised a $2M seed round led by Kindred Ventures with participation from Trevor McFedries of Brud, Alice Lloyd George, Jeff Staple, Coinbase Ventures and others.

Tokenized community

But this idea that physical goods or even digitally packaged works have to exist as finite containers of value is not a given either. Goens and Horne are pushing to challenge that too with the first big new product for Zora: community tokens. Built on Ethereum, the $RAC token is the first of its kind from Zora. André Allen Anjos, stage name RAC, is a Portuguese- American musician and producer who makes remixes that stream on the web, original music and has had commercial work featured in major brand ads. 

Though he is popular and has a following in the tens of thousands, RAC is not a social media superpower. The token distribution and subsequent activity in trades and sales is purely driven by the buy-in that his fans feel. This is a key learning for a lot of players in this new economy: raw numbers are the social media equivalent of a billboard that people drive by. It may get you eyeballs, but it doesn’t guarantee action. The modern creator is living in a house with their fans, offering them access and interacting via Discord and Snap and comments. 

But those houses are all other people’s houses, which leads into the reason that Zora is launching a token.

The token drop serves multiple purposes. 

  • It unites fans across multiple silos. Whether they’re on Intsa, Tiktok, Spotify or Snapchat, they can all earn tokens. That token serves as a unifying community unit of value that they all understand and pivot around. It’s a way to own a finite binary “atom” of an artist’s digital being.
  • It creates a pool of value that an artist can own and distribute themselves. Currently you cannot buy $RAC directly. You can only earn it. Some of that is retroactive for loyal supporters. If, for instance, you followed RAC on Bandcamp dating back to 2009, you’ll get some of a pool of 25,000 RAC. Bought a bit of RAC merch? You get some credit in tokens too. Future RAC distributions will be given to Patron supporters, merch purchasers etc.
  • The value stays in the artists universe, rather than being spun out into currency. It serves as a way for the artist to incentivize, reward and energize their followers. RAC fans who buy his mixtape get tokens, and they can redeem them for purchases of further merch. 
  • It allows more flexibility for creators whose work doesn’t fall so neatly into package-able categories. Performance art, activism, bite-sized entertainment. These are not easy to ‘drop’ for money. But if you have a circulating token that grows in value as you grow your audience, there is definitely something there. 

The future of Zora most immediately involves spinning up a self-service version of the marketplace, allowing creators and entrepreneurs to launch their products without a direct partnership and onboarding. There are many, many uncertainties here and the team has a lot of challenges ahead on the traction and messaging front. But as mentioned, some early releases have shown promise, and the philosophy is sound and much needed. As the creator universe/passion economy/what you call it depends on how old you are/fandom merchant wave rises there is definitely an opportunity to rethink how the value of their contributions are assigned and whether there is a way to turn the long-term labor of building a community into long-term value. 

The last traded price of RAC’s tape, BOY, by the way? $3,713, up 18,465%. 

#articles, #artist, #brand, #coca-cola, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #curator, #designer, #economy, #finance, #financial-technology, #kindred-ventures, #kpmg, #operating-system, #snapchat, #social-media, #spotify, #tc

0

If data is labor, can collective bargaining limit big tech?

There are plenty of reasons to doubt that the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust report will mark a turning point in the digital economy. In the end, it lacked true bipartisan support. Yet we can still marvel at the extent of left-right agreement over its central finding: The big tech companies wield troublingly great power over American society.

The bigger worry is whether the solutions on the table cut to the heart of the problem. One wonders whether empowered antitrust agencies can solve the problem before them — and whether they can keep the public behind them. For the proposition that many Facebooks would be better than one simply doesn’t resonate.

There are good reasons why not. Despite all their harms, we know that whatever benefits these platforms provide are largely a result of their titanic scale. We are as uneasy with the platforms’ exercises of their vast power over suppliers and users, as we are with their forbearance; yet it is precisely because of their enormous scale that we use their services. So if regulators broke up the networks, consumers would simply flock toward whatever platforms had the most scale, pushing the industry toward reconsolidation.

Does this mean that the platforms do not have too much power, that they are not harming society? No. It simply means they are infrastructure. In other words, we don’t need these technology platforms to be more fragmented, we need them to belong to us. We need democratic, rather than strictly market processes, to determine how they wield their power.

When you notice that an institution is infrastructure, the usual reaction is to suggest nationalization or regulation. But today, we have good reasons to suspect our political system is not up to this task. Even if an ideal government could competently tackle a problem as complex as managing the 21st century’s digital infrastructure, ours probably cannot.

This appears to leave us in a lose-lose situation and explains the current mood of resignation. But there is another option that we seem to have forgotten about. Labor organization has long afforded control to a broad array of otherwise-powerless stakeholders over the operation of powerful business enterprises. Why is this not on the table?

A growing army of academics, technologists, and commentators are warming to the proposition that “data is labor.” In short, this is the idea that the vast data streams we all produce through our contact with the digital world are a legitimate sort of work-product — over which we ought to have much more meaningful rights than the laws now afford. Collective bargaining plays a central role in this picture. Because the reason that the markets are now failing (to the benefit of the Silicon Valley giants) is that we are all trying to negotiate only for ourselves, when in fact the very nature of data is that it always touches and implicates the interests of many people.

This may seem like a complicated or intractable problem, but leading thinkers are already working on legal and technical solutions.

So in some sense, the scale of the tech giants may indeed not be such a bad thing — the problem, instead, is the power that scale gives them. But what if Facebook had to do business with large coalitions representing ordinary peoples’ data interests — presumably paying large sums, or admitting these representatives into its governance — in order to get the right to exploit its users’ data? That would put power back where it belongs, without undermining the inherent benefits of large platforms. It just might be a future we can believe in.

So what is the way forward? The answer to this question is enabling collective bargaining through data unions. Data unions would become the necessary counterpart to big tech’s information acquiring transitions. By requiring the big tech companies to deal with data unions authorized to negotiate on behalf of their memberships, both of the problems that have allowed these giant tech companies to amass the power to corrupt society are solved.

Labor unions did not gain true traction until the passage of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. Perhaps, rather than burning our political capital on breaking up the tech giants through a slow and potentially Sisyphean process, we should focus on creating a 21st century version of this groundbreaking legislation — legislation to protect the data rights of all citizens and provide a responsible legal framework for data unions to represent public interests from the bottom up.

#collective-bargaining, #column, #digital-economy, #economy, #facebook, #labor, #opinion, #policy, #privacy, #social, #tc

0

Calling Amsterdam VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Amsterdam will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

We’d like to know how Amsterdam’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

https://techcrunch.com/extra-crunch/investor-surveys/

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Amsterdam, but would like to take part? Or you are in another part of the country? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.

The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

#amsterdam, #corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-union, #finance, #london, #money, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Strike Graph raises $3.9M to help automate security audits

Compliance automation isn’t exactly the most exciting topic, but security audits are big business and companies that aim to get a SOC 2, ISO 207001 or FedRamp certification can often spend six figures to get through the process with the help of an auditing service. Seattle-based Strike Graph, which is launching today and announcing a $3.9 million seed funding round, wants to automate as much of this process as possible.

The company’s funding round was led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Amplify.LA, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Green D Ventures.

Strike Graph co-founder and CEO Justin Beals tells me that the idea for the company came to him during his time as CTO at machine learning startup Koru (which had a bit of an odd exit last year). To get enterprise adoption for that service, the company had to get a SOC 2 security certification. “It was a real challenge, especially for a small company. In talking to my colleagues, I just recognized how much of a challenge it was across the board. And so when it was time for the next startup, I was just really curious,” he told me.

Image Credits: Strike Graph

Together with his co-founder Brian Bero, he incubated the idea at Madrona Venture Labs, where he spent some time as Entrepreneur in Residence after  Koru.

Beals argues that today’s process tends to be slow, inefficient and expensive. The idea behind Strike Graph, unsurprisingly, is to remove as many of these inefficiencies as is currently possible. The company itself, it is worth noting, doesn’t provide the actual audit service. Businesses will still need to hire an auditing service for that. But Beals also argues that the bulk of what companies are paying for today is pre-audit preparation.

“We do all that preparation work and preparing you and then, after your first audit, you have to go and renew every year. So there’s an important maintenance of that information.”

Image Credits: Strike Graph

When customers come to Strike Graph, they fill out a risk assessment. The company takes that and can then provide them with controls for how to improve their security posture — both to pass the audit and to secure their data. Beals also noted that soon, Strike Graph will be able to help businesses automate the collection of evidence for the audit (say your encryption settings) and can pull that in regularly. Certifications like SOC 2, after all, require companies to have ongoing security practices in place and get re-audited every 12 months. Automated evidence collection will launch in early 2021, once the team has built out the first set of its integrations to collect that data.

That’s also where the company, which mostly targets mid-size businesses, plans to spend a lot of its new funding. In addition, the company plans to focus on its marketing efforts, mostly around content marketing and educating its potential customers.

“Every company, big or small, that sells a software solution must address a broad set of compliance requirements in regards to security and privacy.  Obtaining the certifications can be a burdensome, opaque and expensive process.  Strike Graph is applying intelligent technology to this problem – they help the company identify the appropriate risks, enable the audit to run smoothly, and then automate the compliance and testing going forward,” said Hope Cochran, Managing Director at Madrona Venture Group. “These audits were a necessary pain when I was a CFO, and Strike Graph’s elegant solution brings together teams across the company to move the business forward faster.”

#amplify, #audit, #auditing, #business, #cfo, #co-founder, #cto, #economy, #encryption, #enterprise, #entrepreneur, #finance, #hope-cochran, #koru, #machine-learning, #madrona-venture-group, #recent-funding, #seattle, #seed-fund, #startup-company, #startups, #tc

0

The Spectrum Equity-backed video education platform Kajabi has already hit $60 million in ARR

Kajabi may not be an American household name, but users of the web hosting and video tech platform are now being seen in a lot of American households.

The company, initially bootstrapped and profitable since its launch, raised a minority investment from Spectrum Equity Partners last November, but that was merely icing on the cake for a business that had seen its user adoption surge.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed that adoption even higher as work-from-home gigs yield to work-from-home side hustles and anyone and everyone decides to get in on on the online education and training action, the company said.

In the past year alone, the company has seen its run rate cross $60 million in August and the company hit over $1 billion in recorded transactions milestone in March, according to chief marketing officer Orlando Baeza, who previously served as a marketing executive at Buzzfeed and Paramount Pictures .

Last November, the company took a minority equity investment from Spectrum Equity Partners, the first outside capital the company raised since its inception a bit over a decade ago.

Founded by a former commodities trader, Kenny Rueter, Kajabi is like Thinkific or Patreon primarily for online learning and video-based entrepreneurs.

“It’s not just a way  to sell your content,” said Kajabi President, Jonathan Cronstedt. “It does do your webpage, blog, email marketing, marketing automation, digital delivery. It does the  webinar aspect and the marketing you’d need to build up a list of prospects… It’s a platform from start to finish for an online business.”

If the best way to make money during a gold rush is to sell picks and shovels, then think of Kajabi as the pick and shovel purveyor for the self-help, startup guide, guru advice set.

The company touts its enabling of self-help legends like Brendon Burchard, Danielle Leslie, and Amy Porterfield, and, most recently, Sophia Amoruso, who joined the platform in August.

“We want  to empower entrepreneurs, experts and influencers  who are serious about their business to have success  online,” said Cronstedt in a November interview when the company took its minority investment from Spectrum Equity. 

The company’s toolkit basically serves as an integration of the various bundle of software a business would need to get itself off the ground. Instead of integrating Shopify, Wix, and other platforms to create a full stack of tools, Kajabi does it for a business.

“There’s endless ways you can use duct tape and bailing wire to get all of these solutions together,” said Cronstedt. “[Businesses are] not going to have the chance to get it out there  because they’re too busy trying to be a platform integrator… they never get into creating anything.”

With over 100 employees, the company sees itself on a pandemic-driven trajectory that should set the company up for massive growth.

Indeed, online learning is now a $220 billion global market, and the self-help market alone is $11 billion (people need a lot of help). The company also cites statistics that put the number of Americans pursuing a “side hustle” at roughly 35% with an estimated 40 million “solopreneurs” in the U.S. workforce.

“Since inception, we have helped 41 million users access great educational content and our customers have generated over 1 billion in sales,” said Rueter, in a November statement. “We feel fortunate to partner with incredible entrepreneurs who are sharing their expertise with the world and are excited to help so many more.”

#articles, #business, #buzzfeed, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #online, #online-education, #online-learning, #paramount-pictures, #president, #shopify, #sophia-amoruso, #tc, #trader, #united-states

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Businesses reducing trash and plastic consumption are beginning to look like treasure to some VCs

Zuleyka Strasner didn’t set out to become an advocate for zero-waste consumption.

The former manager of partner operations at Felicis Ventures had initially pursued a career in politics in the UK before a move to San Francisco with her husband. It was on their honeymoon on a small island in the Caribbean that Strasner says she first saw the ways in which plastic use destroyed the environment.

That experience turned the onetime political operative into a zero-waste crusader — a transformation that culminated in the creation of Zero Grocery, a subscription-based grocery delivery service that sells all of its goods in zero-waste packaging.

Strasner returned from Corn Island with a purpose to reduce her plastic use and found inspiration in the social media posts and work of women like Anamarie Shreves, the founder of Fort NegritaLauren Singer, who became known for her TedX Teen talk on living waste free and launched Package Free; and Bea Johnson, who became a social media celebrity for her work reducing consumption and living waste-free.

Following in the zero-waste footsteps of others eventually led Strasner from her home in Redwood City, Calif. to San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery, a food co-op dedicated to sustainable business practices. That 45 minute drive and hour spent in a store juggling jars, bottles, and shakers to perform basic shopping tasks convinced Strasner that there had to be a better way to shop zero-waste — especially for busy parents, professionals, and singles.

So she built one.

“I may have had no team and no money, but I had data. I spent 6 months alpha testing the early version of Zero. I was working from my apartment (cue cliché) getting real sign-ups, servicing real customers and doing a lot of growth hacking,” Strasner wrote in a post on Medium about the company’s early fundraising efforts. “It was really janky, but going between research reports, market data and the data I was collecting from real-people, I had something tangible to put under investors noses to back up how Zero looks at scale.”

Living through COVID-19 is a literal trash heap 

Strasner’s push to create alternatives to single-use plastic in grocery delivery comes as the use of single use plastics skyrockets and grocery delivery services surge — putting her new company in the enviable position of solving an obvious problem that’s becoming more apparent to everyone.

An August study from the investment bank Jefferies on single-use plastic identified the surge in plastic use and laid the blame at the feet of the pandemic.

“Bans and taxes have been rolled back, physical and chemical recycling activity has decreased, and virus concerns may have reduced consumers’ desire to minimize consumption of single-use plastics,” said the report, entitled “Drowning in Plastics,” which was quoted in Fortune.

While much of the use in home delivery and consumer goods has been offset by reductions in the use of plastics in manufacturing as industries slowed down production, the reopening of international economies means that there’s the potential for renewed industrial use even as consumers renew their love affair with plastic.

Companies like Strasner’s present a way forward for consumers willing to pay a premium for the waste reduction — and she’s not alone.

Changing the supply chain for food and consumer packaged goods 

Lauren Singer was already two years into operating her (profitable and cash-flow positive since “day one”) Brooklyn-based and e-commerce stores when she raised $4.5 million for her plastic free and zero-waste wares last September.

The image of the years worth of waste she claimed to be able to fit into a single jar had made her a viral sensation on Instagram and she’d managed to turn that post, and her celebrity, into a business. She wasn’t alone. Bea Johnson, another star of the zero-waste movement wrote the book on going zero waste and has turned that into a business of her own.

At Package Free, products range from a line of plastic-free and zero-waste lifestyle products like bamboo toothbrushes and mason jars, to natural tooth powder alongside natural pacifiers, and a dog shampoo bar. The company’s packaging is composed of 100% up-cycled post-consumer box with paper wrapping and paper tape, according to the company.

Meanwhile, another New York-based startup, Fresh Bowl, raised $2.1 million in January to bring zero-waste packaging and circular economic principles to the bowl business. The company, founded by Zach Lawless, Chloe Vichot and Paul Christophe, uses vending machines around New York that could hold roughly 220 prepared meals with a five-day shelf-life. Those meals were distributed in reusable containers that customers could return for a refund of a deposit.

Before the pandemic hit in the early months of the company’s financing each of its machines were on track to bring in $75,000 in revenue — and roughly 85% of the company’s containers were being returned for re-use according to a January interview with chief executive officer Zach Lawless.

Roughly 40% of landfilled material is food or food packaging, Lawless said. “For consumers it’s hard to make that trade-off between convenience and sustainability,” he said. Companies like Fresh Bowl and Strasner’s Zero Grocery are each trying to make that tradeoff a little easier.

Designing a zero-waste delivery service

Zero Grocery currently counts around 850 unique items in stock and expects to be over 1,000 items at the end of the year — and all delivered in reusable or compostable packaging, according to Strasner.

“Our aim is to not create anything that would go into the landfill and really limit what would need to be recycled. For the products that are single use… they are banded toilet rolls and they’re wrapped in a single sheet of paper. It’s all compostable,” said Strasner. 

Zero Grocery’s current operations are confined to the Bay Area, but the company has seen its growth triple when the pandemic hit in March and then grow twenty times over the ensuing months, according to Strasner. And unlike companies like Singer’s and Lawless’, Strasner didn’t have the luxury of reaching out to a handful of investors for a small cap table.

“I have continuously raised throughout this period to get to this moment in time. Initially i believed that we would have a more typical round structure, maybe myself misunderstanding that I’m an atypical founder,” Strasner said. As a Black, trans, woman, the path to “yes” from investors involved over 250 pitches and an undue amount of “no’s”. 

An early champion was Charles Hudson, the founder of Precursor Ventures, who helped lead a seed round for the company back in 2019. Hudson’s investment allowed the company to launch its first service, an exclusive, á la carte, home delivery service. It was basically Strasner wheeling a cart brimming with produce, grains and compostable items into customers’ homes and filling their own jars.

Zero Grocery chief executive Zuleyka Strasner on an early delivery run for her company. Image Credit: Zero Grocery

Ultimately untenable, the first service gave Strasner a view into the ways in which grocery delivery worked, and allowed her to create the second version of the service.

That was more like a latter day milkman service, where the company would deliver next-day, door-to-door delivery of over 100 zero-waste products. These were pre-packaged goods that the company just dropped off and then had customers return (a similar thesis to Fresh Bowl’s retail strategy).

That was around November 2019, when the company launched publicly across the Bay Area with our new offering. The initial traction allowed Strasner to raise another $500,000 from existing investors and new firms like Chingona Ventures and Cleo Capital.

“At that point we had sixty members on the platform and had done four figures of revenue of that month,” Strasner said.

Then COVID-19 hit the Bay Area and sales started soaring. To meet the needs of a strained supply chain — since the company doesn’t use any third-party services for delivery and involves a heavy bit of sanitization of containers so they can be re-used — Zero Grocery raised another $700,00 from Incite.org, Gaingels, Arlan Hamilton and MaC Ventures.

As Strasner wrote in a Medium post:

When COVID-19 hit the US, our team was among the first companies to go into lockdown. By late February, only essential personnel were on the warehouse floor for order preparation and delivery in head-to-toe PPE. Soon after that, the Bay Area went into full shelter-in-place.

Much like other companies in the grocery delivery space, our demand skyrocketed. To keep up, we grew our team in half the time we anticipated and launched features that were half-baked. Customer experience is tantamount, and our underdog team fought tooth-and-nail to preserve that despite long hours, little sleep, and no time for planning. We abandoned our notions of roles and split up the responsibilities of customer service, order packing, feature development, and more.

Strasner’s experiences as an immigrant, Black, trans founder mean that she thinks about sustainability not just in environmental terms, but also social sustainability. That’s why she works with the staffing service R3 Score to provide opportunities for people who had criminal records. The service provides a risk analysis for employers of job applicants who have a criminal record, to give employers a better sense of their viability as an employee.,

As she told Fast Company, “This is a highly capable, untapped labor force who is ready to work and is actively looking for opportunities… This is not merely a COVID stopgap measure for us; it’s something we’re incorporating into our business for the long-term.”

More money, fewer problems? 

Zero Grocery now counts many thousands of customers on its service and has just raised another $3 million, led by the investment firm 1984, to grow the business. The company charges $25 for a membership that includes free deliveries and collects empty containers. Non-members pay a $7.99 delivery free for groceries priced competitively with Whole Foods and other higher end grocery options.

Right now, Zero Grocery occupies the as the only fully zero-waste online grocery store in the U.S., and its numbers are growing quickly.

But that kind of success can breed competition, and there are certainly no shortage of would-be competitors waiting in the wings.

Already some of the largest consumer packaged goods companies in the U.S. have rolled out a version of zero-waste delivery services for their products. These are companies like Procter & Gamble and Froneri, the owner of ice cream brand Haagen Dazs (and others). In April, their reusable, no-waste delivery service Loop launched nationwide to provide customers across the country with recyclable and reusable packaged containers.

The commercialization of new kinds of packaging technologies from companies like NotPla, Varden, and Vericool mean that compostable material packaging could become a wider solution to the waste dilemma.

Still, these solutions to packaging waste come with their own issues, like the sustainability of the supply chain used to make them and the carbon footprint of the manufacturing processes. In instances like these reducing the need to manufacture new material is likely the most sustainable option.

And, in many cases, companies like Zero Grocer help their vendors do a lot of the work to reduce the footprint of their own supply chains.

“A lot of work is to enable them to exist within a plastic free supply chain using our technology,” said Strasner of the work she’d done with vendors. 

“I started Zero to make zero-waste grocery shopping effortless and empower people to protect the planet while shopping conveniently,” she said. That’s a notion everyone can treasure. 

#arlan-hamilton, #charles-hudson, #cleo-capital, #economy, #felicis-ventures, #food, #grocery-store, #haagen-dazs, #lauren-singer, #mac-ventures, #precursor-ventures, #procter-gamble, #tc, #varden, #vericool, #whole-foods

0

Calling VCs in Rome and Milan: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Rome and Milan will capture how the cities are faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

We’d like to know how the startup scenes are evolving in the cities, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Rome and Milan, but would like to take part? Or you are in another part of the country? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we will be putting a call out to your city next anyway!

The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

#corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-union, #finance, #london, #milan, #money, #private-equity, #rome, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Calling Helsinki VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Helsinki will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

We’d like to know how Helsinki’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Helsinki, but would like to take part? European VC investors can STILL fill out the survey, as we will be putting a call out to your city next anyway!

The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

#articles, #business, #corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-union, #helsinki, #london, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek pledges $1Bn of his wealth to back deeptech startups from Europe

At an online event today, Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, said he would invest 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) of his personal fortune in deeptech “moonshot projects”, spread across the next 10 years.

Ek indicated that he was referring to machine learning, biotechnology, materials sciences and energy as the sectors he’d like to invest in.

“I want to do my part; we all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital,” Ek said, adding he wanted to achieve a “new European dream”.

“I get really frustrated when I see European entrepreneurs giving up on their amazing visions selling early on to non-European companies, or when some of the most promising tech talent in Europe leaves because they don’t feel valued here,” Ek said. “We need more super companies that raise the bar and can act as an inspiration.”

According to Forbes, Ek is worth $3.6 billion, which would suggest he’s putting aside roughly a third of his own wealth for the investments.

And it would appear his personal cash will be deployed with the help of a close confidant of Ek’s. He retweeted a post by Shakhil Khan, one of the first investors in Spotify, who said “it’s time to come out of retirement then.”

During a fireside chat held by the Slush conference, he said: “We all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital. And that is why I’m sharing today that I will devote €1bn of my personal resources to enable the ecosystem of builders.” He said he would do this by “funding so-called moonshots focusing on the deep technology necessary to make a significant positive dent, and work with scientists, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to do so.”

He expressed his desire to level-up Europe against the US I terms of tech unicorns: “Europe needs more super companies, both for the ecosystem to develop and thrive. But I think more importantly if we’re going to have any chance to tackle the infinitely complex problems that our societies are dealing with at the moment, we need different stakeholders, including companies, governments, academic institutions, non-profits and investors of all kinds to work together.”

He also expressed his frustration at seeing “European entrepreneurs, giving up on their amazing visions by selling very early in the process… We need more super companies to raise the bar and can act as an inspiration… There’s lots and lots of really exciting areas where there are tons of scientists and entrepreneurs right now around Europe.”

Ek said he will work with scientists, investors, and governments to deploy his funds. A $1.2 billion fund would see him competing with other large European VCs such as Atomico, Balderton Capital, Accel, Index Ventures and Northzone.

Ek has been previously known for his interest in deeptech. He has invested in €16m in Swedish telemedicine startup Kry. He’s also put €3m into HJN Sverige, an artificial intelligence company in the health tech arena.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #balderton-capital, #biotechnology, #business, #daniel-ek, #economy, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #forbes, #founder, #kry, #machine-learning, #northzone, #private-equity, #spotify, #startup-company, #tc, #telemedicine, #united-states

0

Atlanta gets a billion dollar startup business as Greenlight’s family-focused fintech nabs $215 million

Greenlight Financial Technology, the fintech company that pitches parents on kid-friendly bank accounts, has raised $215 million in a new round of funding.

The round gives the Atlanta-based startup a $1.2 billion valuation thanks to backing from Canapi Ventures, TTV  Capital, BOND, DST Global, Goodwater Capital and Fin VC.

It’s a huge win for the Canadian-based venture investor Relay Ventures .

Since it launched its debit cards for kids in 2017, the company has managed to set up accounts for more than 2 million parents and children, who have saved more than $50 million through the app.

“Greenlight’s rapid growth is a testament to the value they bring to millions of parents and kids every day. My wife and I trust Greenlight to give us the modern tools to teach our children how to manage money,” said Gardiner Garrard, Founding Partner at TTV Capital, in a statement. “TTV Capital is thrilled to provide continued investment to help the company empower more parents.”

The company pitches itself as more than just a debit card, with apps that give parents the ability to deposit money in accounts and pay for allowance, manage chores and set flexible controls on how much kids can spend.

It’s a potentially massive business that can lock in a whole generation to a financial services platform, which is likely one reason why a whole slew of companies have launched with a similar thesis. There’s Kard, Step, and Current which are pitching similar businesses in the U.S. and Mozper recently launched from Y Combinator to bring the model to Latin America.

“Greenlight’s smart debit card is transforming the way parents teach their kids about responsible money management and financial literacy,” said Noah Knauf, general partner at BOND. “Having achieved phenomenal growth year-over-year, this is a company on the fast-track to becoming a household name. We look forward to working alongside the Greenlight team to support their continued growth.”

#atlanta, #bank, #business, #debit-cards, #dst-global, #economy, #financial-services, #goodwater-capital, #kard, #latin-america, #noah-knauf, #partner, #relay-ventures, #tc, #united-states, #y-combinator

0

Leonardo DiCaprio takes a stake in Struck Capital to fund the future of LA’s tech ecosystem

Leonardo DiCaprio is making a significant commitment to the Los Angeles-based investment firm, Struck Capital, as part of the actor’s commitment to building LA into a tech development powerhouse.

It’s part of what Struck Capital founder Adam Struck called a vision of making Los Angeles “a leading hub for innovation to save the world.”

Struck Capital, which is currently investing out of a $55 million second fund, would not disclose the size of DiCaprio’s stake, but said that the investment is significant.

“Los Angeles has a creative and innovative spirit like nowhere else, and I’m excited to be investing in the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders in my hometown,” said DiCaprio, in a statement.

DiCaprio has already made a number of investments in startup companies that have done very well for the Academy Award-winning actor. Two investments, the mattress retailer Casper and the meat alternative manufacturer, Beyond Meat, are now both publicly traded companies. In fact, Beyond Meat was one of the best performing public offerings of the last year.

And the two investments highlight themes of consumer innovation and sustainability that are a through-line across the startup commitments DiCaprio has made public, according to CrunchBase. Other investments include the lab grown diamond manufacturer, Diamond Foundry; the tea company promoting sustainable rainforest preservation, Runa Tea; recycling technology developer, Rubicon; the sustainable meal prep company, Love The Wild; and Magnus, an app that bills itself as a Shazam for art. DiCaprio is also investor in the Los Angeles-based ethically and sustainably focused financial services firm, Aspiration.

“He sees this as a way to support LA,” said Struck of DiCaprio’s commitment.

In addition to his commitment to the fund, DiCaprio will be making co-investments alongside the Struck Capital team. In fact, the actor has already investment in Raptor Maps, a company that uses drones to analyze the productivity and operations of solar farms.

“He chose us because he already appreciates our mandate,” said Struck. And while the firm may not be an impact investment fund by design, Struck said the company’s deals focus on financial inclusion, sustainability, and technological innovation as first principals. 

“I think, fundamentally, if a business is mission driven, they’re most likely going to acquire higher enterprise values and retain more talent,” Struck said.

Struck is now the fourth largest dedicated seed fund in Los Angeles, and has nearly $150 million in assets under management. Its portfolio companies include: Sendoso, ScratchPay, Mythical Games, and Brainbase and has backed and exited a number of later stage companies like Mojo Vision, Postmates, Nutanix, Latch, Grab, and Wunder Mobility.

“Alongside the team at Struck Capital we’re creating a community, where the next generation of LA’s leaders can grow their business, learn from one another, achieve their visions, and improve our world,” DiCaprio said in a statement.

#actors, #aspiration, #beyond-meat, #brainbase, #casper, #diamond-foundry, #economy, #finance, #impact-investing, #leonardo-dicaprio, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #mojo-vision, #nutanix, #postmates, #raptor-maps, #sendoso, #shazam, #struck-capital, #tc, #venture-capital, #wunder-mobility

0

Microsoft brings new robotic process automation features to its Power Platform

Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired Softomotive, a player in the low-code robotic process automation space with a focus on Windows. Today, at its Ignite conference, the company is launching Power Automate Desktop, a new application based on Softomotive’s technology that lets anyone automate desktop workflows without needing to program.

“The big idea of Power Platform is that we want to go make it so development is accessible to everybody,” Charles Lamanna, Microsoft’s corporate VP for its low-code platform, told me. “And development includes understanding and reporting on your data with Power BI, building web and mobile applications with Power Apps, automating your tasks — whether it’s through robotic process automation or workflow automation — with Power Automate, or building chatbots and chat-based experiences with Power Virtual Agent.”

Power Automate already allowed users to connect web-based applications, similar to Zapier and IFTTT, but the company also launched a browser extension earlier late last year to help users connect native system components to Power Automate. Now, with the integration of the Softomotive technology and the launch of this new low-code Windows application, it’s taking this integration into the native Windows user interface one step further.

“Everything still runs in the cloud and still connects to the cloud, but you now have a rich desktop application to author and record your UI automations,” Lamanna explained. He likened it to an ‘ultimate connector,’ noting that the “ultimate API is just the UI.”

He also stressed that the new app feels like any other modern Office app like Outlook (which is getting a new Mac version today, by the way) or Word. And like the modern versions of those apps, Power Automate Desktop derives a lot of its power from being connected to the cloud.

It’s also worth noting that Power Automate isn’t just a platform for automating simple two- or three-step processes (like sending you a text message when your boss emails you), but also for multistep, business-critical workflows. T-Mobile, for example, is using the platform to automate some of the integration processes between its systems and Sprint.

Lamanna noted that for some large enterprises, adopting these kinds of low-code services necessitates a bit of a culture shift. IT still needs to have some insights into how these tools are used, after all, to ensure that data is kept safe, for example.

Another new feature the company announced today is an integration between the Power Platform and GitHub, which is now in public preview. The idea here is to give developers the ability to create their own software lifecycle workflows. “One of the core ideas of Power Platform is that it’s low code,” Lamanna said. “So it’s built first for business users, business analysts, not the classical developers. But pro devs are welcome. The saying I have is: we’re throwing a party for business users, but pro devs are also invited to the party.” But to get them onto the platform, the team wants to meet them where they are and let them use the tools they already use — and that’s GitHub (and Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code).

#articles, #author, #automation, #business, #business-process-automation, #business-process-management, #business-software, #economy, #ifttt, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #player, #softomotive, #tc, #windows, #zapier

0

Caroline Brochado and Sophia Bendz on the boom in Europe’s early- and growth-stage startups

As part of Disrupt 2020 we wanted to look at the contrasting positions of both early and later-stage investing in Europe. Who better to unpack this subject than two highly experienced operators in these fields?

After a career at Spotify and then as a VC at Atomico, Sophia Bendz has rapidly gained a reputation in Europe as a keen early-stage investor. She recently left Atomico to pursue her early and seed-stage passion with Cherry Ventures. Bendz is a prolific angel investor, with a total of over 44 deals in the last 9 years. Her angel investments include as AidenAI, Tictail, Joints Academy, Omnius, LifeX, Eastnine, Manual, Headvig, Simple Feast, and Sana Labs. She is known for being a champion of the femtech space, and her angel investments in that space include Clue, Grace Health, Daye, O School, and Boost Thyroid.

Carolina Brochado, the former Atomico partner and most recently a partner at SoftBank Vision Fund’s London office, recently joined EQT Ventures to help launch EQT’s Growth fund, which is positioned between Ventures and Private Equity. Brochado led investments in a number of promising companies at Atomico,  including logistics company OnTruck, health tech company Hinge Health and restaurant supply chain app Rekki.

After establishing that these two knew each other while at Atomico, I asked Bendz why she headed back into the seed stage arena.

“I’m a trained marketeer and storyteller by heart… What makes me excited is new markets opportunities, people, culture, teams. So with that, in combination with my angel investing, I think I’m better suited to be in the earlier stages of investing. When I was investing before joining Atomico, I said to myself, I want to learn from the best, I want to see how it’s done how you structure the process and how you think about the bigger investments.”

Brochado says the European ‘cat is out of the bag’ as it were:

When I first moved to Europe in 2012 and first joined Atomico, after having been at a very small startup, there was still a massive gap in funding and Europe versus the US. I think you know the European secret is no longer a secret, and you have incredible funds being started at that early stage seed and series A, and because I was here in 2012, I’ve seen the amazing pipeline of growth companies that are coming up the curve, how the momentum of those companies is accelerating and how the market cap of those businesses are growing. And so I just became super excited about helping those businesses scale… I just you now felt like bridging that gap in between ass really exciting and.

One of the perennial topics that come up time and time again is whether or not founders should go with VC partners who have previously been operators, versus those with a finance background.

“Looking back, my years at Spotify, we had great investors, but there were not many of them that had the experience of scaling a big company,” Bendz said. “So, I’m happy to give [a startup] more than just the check in a way that I would have wished I had a sounding board when I was 25 and tackling that challenge at Spotify.”

Brochado concurred: “Having operators in the room is just is an incredible gift I think to a fund and at certain levels, having people that understand you know different forms of financing and different structures can also be incredibly helpful to founders who may not necessarily have that background. So I think that the funds that do it best have that diversity.”

Bendz is passionate about investing in female founders and femtech: “It’s such a massive business opportunity that is completely untapped. We’ve seen it many times when you have a female investment partner [that] the pipeline opens up and you get more deal flow from female founders…. So I think we have a lot of work to do. I think it’s definitely improved a lot in the last couple of years but not enough… That is one of the drivers for why I put my money where my mouth is and invest in lifting the founders, but also because there are incredibly interesting business opportunities… There are so many opportunities and products or services that we will see being developed. When we have a more equal society, and more women, both building their own companies, coding and also investing… I can’t wait to see what that world will look like.”

Brochado’s view is that “even beyond founders… the best managers today are putting a lot of focus on this and I think what’s exciting is, I think we’re past the point where you have to explain to people why diversity matters.”

Is there a post-Series A chasm?

Bendz thinks: “We have more big funds in Europe [now]. We have a really solid ground here in Europe of a, b and c investors.”

Brochado said: “it’s definitely getting better. You don’t hear as many founders say that to do my Series B or my Series C I have to move to the Valley as you used to. But there’s a lot of room still for growth investors in Europe. I think Series B is the hardest round actually because, at seed or series A, you can raise on very early traction or the quality of the management team. At Series B the price goes up but the risk doesn’t necessarily go down as much. And so I think that’s where you really need investors who are sector or thematic focused, who can come with conviction and also some knowledge around the company to really propel that company forward.”

Did they both see European entrepreneurs still making silly mistakes, or has the ecosystem mastered?

Brochado thinks ten years ago was it was hard for European founders as a lot of the talent to scale companies was still in the US. “What you’ve seen is a lot of big companies grow up in Europe, a lot of people come back from the US, and so I think that pool of talent now is larger, which is very helpful. I don’t think it’s yet at the scale of where the US is. But it gives us, you know as investors, a great window of opportunity to help get some of that talent for our portfolio companies.”

The impact of COVID-19

Bendz thinks we will “see a much slower Spring, but… I think it has been overall a good exercise for some companies, and I have not seen a slower deal flow. I’ve actually done more Angel deals this Spring than I normally do… Some businesses have definitely accelerated their whole business concept because of COVID. Investments are being made even though we haven’t met the founders. We’re able to do everything remotely so I think the system is kind of adjusting.”

Brocado’s view is that at the growth stage “there’s been a flight to quality. So actually, the really great companies or the companies that are seeing great tailwinds or companies that will still be category-leading once [have] seen a lot of interest. It’s been a very busy summer, which usually it isn’t usually, particularly at the growth stage… I think a lot of money is still in the system, and has flown into technology. And so if you look at how tech in the public markets has performed it’s performed extremely well. And that includes European public companies and within tech.”

Watch the full panel below.

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