Nelo raises $3M to grow ‘buy now, pay later’ in Mexico

Buy now, pay later is a way of paying for purchases via installment loans that generally have no interest. The concept has grown in popularity in recent years, especially in markets such as the United States, Europe and Australia. Numerous players abound, all fighting for market share — from Affirm to Klarna to Afterpay, among others.

But notably, none of these bigger players have yet to penetrate another very large market — Latin America. Enter Nelo, a startup founded by former Uber international growth team leads, which is building buy now, pay later in Mexico. The company is already live with more than 45 merchants and over 150,000 users.

San Francisco-based fintech-focused VC firm Homebrew led its recent seed round of $3 million, which also included participation from Susa Ventures, Crossbeam, Rogue Capital, Unpopular Ventures and others. With the latest capital infusion, Nelo has raised a total of $5.6 million since its 2019 inception.

Nelo is not the only player in the Mexican market. A number of others, including Alchemy and Addi, have recently outlined plans for buy now, pay later offerings in the region. But where Nelo has an advantage, believes CEO Kyle Miller, is its established relationships with about 45 merchants.

“What I’m excited about is the relationship with the merchants,” Miller told TechCrunch. “If we find a large global one and increase conversion for them, that is our defensibility [against competitors]. What’s important here is signing on merchants, since they usually only have one offering in their checkout.”

He and co-founder Stephen Hebson used to work for Uber’s international growth team, growing financial services products in India, Mexico, China and Brazil.

“We got to see a cross market where countries were accelerating and where others weren’t,” Miller recalls. “For example, China was a leader in mobile payments and digital finance in India was completely transformed.”

Nelo co-founders Stephen Hebson and Kyle Miller; Image courtesy of Nelo

But in markets like Mexico, the percentage of cash payments for trips was very high. And to Miller and Hebson, this spelled opportunity.

Nelo launched its first product in Mexico in January 2020, similar to a debit card offering from a neobank. In the middle of the year, the company launched credit installment loans.

“It became immediately clear that it was going to be our most popular feature,” Miller said. “By the end of the year, it was the vast majority of our business and something that our users were telling their friends about. We were solving a real pain point.”

Indeed, cash remains the dominant method of payment in Mexico, with an estimated 86% of all payments being in the form of cash. According to eMarketer, the region was the fastest-growing e-commerce market in the world in 2020, with 37% year over year growth.

“Access to credit is something we take for granted in the U.S.,” Miller said. “By the end of the year, we realized this was the future of business, and we decided to focus just on credit.”

In March, Nelo launched its first product via an Android app and will be launching a web app soon.

Customers can use its offering like a credit card, connecting directly with merchants such as Netflix and Spotify. Many users are paying for things like utility bills and cell phone bills, turning them from prepaid to postpay.

With its current product, the company has lent about $2 million, and is seeing growth of about 20% month over month.

“We’re seeing massive demand for this new product in the way of organic signups,” Miller said, “for all the reasons Buy Now, Pay Later has been successful in markets like the U.S., Europe and Australia.”

Paying for installments is already common in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, so the concept is not foreign to residents in the region.

“We expected this is soon going to be a competitive market, so we’re hiring data scientists and engineers to continue improving our product, and grow,” Miller said.

Nelo has about 14 employees with an engineering team in New York.

Homebrew Partner Satya Patel says he’s excited about Nelo because he believes the startup “solves a serious problem related to the lack of credit for Mexican consumers.”

“Credit card penetration is less than 10% in Mexico and other forms of credit are effectively non-existent,” he wrote via email. “Nelo makes it possible for Mexicans to easily and inexpensively increase their purchasing power at the point of sale. And importantly, Nelo is delivering this solution online, supporting growing interest in e-commerce, and also offline, where consumers regularly shop today.”

Patel adds that what Nelo is building is valuable because he is not aware of any reliable, comprehensive consumer credit rating data set in Mexico.

“They are building underwriting models based on proprietary data and growing the merchant network at an incredible rate,” he said. “This buy now, pay later opportunity is untapped in Mexico but requires a very different approach than what has been successful in other markets.”

The Nelo team, according to Patel, understands the nuances of the market and “is executing at an exceptional pace.”

#bnpl, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #homebrew, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #nelo, #payments, #recent-funding, #satya-patel, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital

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Altman brothers lead B2B payment startup Routable’s $30M Series B

We all know the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption in a number of areas, particularly in the financial services space. Within financial services, there are few spaces hotter than B2B payments.

With a $120 trillion market size, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of fintechs focused on digitizing payments have been attracting investor interest. The latest is Routable, which has nabbed $30 million in a Series B raise that included participation from a slew of high-profile angel investors.

Unlike most raises, Routable didn’t raise the capital from a bunch of VC firms. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI and former president of Y Combinator, and Jack Altman, CEO of Lattice, led the round. (The pair are brothers, in case you didn’t know.)

SoftBank-backed unicorn Flexport also participated, along with a number of angel investors, including Instacart co-founder Max Mullen, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff (who also started TIME Ventures),  DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, early Stripe employee turned angel Lachy Groom and Behance founder Scott Belsky.

The Series B comes just over eight months after Routable came out of stealth with a $12 million Series A.

CEO Omri Mor and CTO Tom Harel founded Routable in 2017 after previously working at marketplaces and recognizing the need for better internal tools for scaling business payments. They went through a Y Combinator batch and embarked on a process of interviewing hundreds of CFOs and finance leaders.

The pair found that the majority of the business payment tools that were out there were built for large companies with a low volume of business payments. 

After running enough customer development we identified a huge scramble to solve high-volume business payments, and that’s what we double down on,” Mor told TechCrunch. 

Routable’s mission is simple: to automate bill payment and invoicing processes (also known as accounts payables and accounts receivables), so that businesses can focus on scaling their core product offerings without worrying about payments.

“A business payment is more like moving a bill through Congress, where a consumer payment is more like a tweet,” Mor said. “We automate every step from purchase order to reconciliation and by extending an API, companies don’t have to build their own inner integration. We handle it, while helping them move their money faster.”

Since its August 2020 raise, Routable has seen its revenue grow by 380%, according to Mor. And last month alone, the company tripled its amount of new customers compared to the month prior. Customers include Snackpass, Ticketmaster and Re-Max, among others.

“We’ve been beating every quarter expectation for the past 18 months,” he told TechCrunch.

The company started out focused on the startup and SMB customer, but based on demand and feedback, is expanding into the enterprise space as well.

It has established integrations with QuickBooks, NetSuite and Xero and is looking to invest moving forward in integrating with Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics Workday and SAP. 

“A lot of our investment moving forward is to be able to bring that same level of automation and ease of use that we do for SMB and mid-market customers to the enterprise world,” Mor told TechCrunch.

Lead investor Sam Altman is in favor of that approach, noting that the recent booms in the gig and creator economies are leading to a big spike in the volume of both payments and payees.

“With the addition of enterprise capabilities, we think this can lead to an enormous business,” he said. 

The round brings Routable’s total raised to $46 million. The company has headquarters in San Francisco and Seattle with primarily a remote team. 

Sam Altman also told me that he was drawn to Routable after having experienced the pain of high-volume business payments himself and working with many startup founders who had experienced the same problem.

He was also impressed with the company’s engineering-forward approach.

“They can offer the best service by being embedded in a company’s flow of funds instead of the usual approach of just being an interface for moving money,” Altman said. 

With regard to the other investors, Mor said the decision to partner with founders of a number of prominent tech companies was intentional so that Routable could benefit from their “deep enterprise and high-growth experience.”

As mentioned above, the B2B payments space is white-hot. Earlier this year, Melio, which provides a platform for SMBs to pay other companies electronically using bank transfers, debit cards or credit — along with the option of cutting paper checks for recipients if that is what the recipients request — closed on $110 million in funding at a $1.3 billion valuation.

#aaron-levie, #airbnb, #altman, #b2b, #behance, #doordash, #finance, #financial-services, #flexport, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gokul-rajaram, #instacart, #jack-altman, #joe-gebbia, #lachy-groom, #lattice, #marc-benioff, #netsuite, #open-ai, #oracle, #payments, #president, #recent-funding, #routable, #salesforce, #sam-altman, #san-francisco, #scott-belsky, #seattle, #startups, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

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Philippines ‘buy now, pay later’ startup Plentina raises $2.2M seed round

Plentina co-founders Kevin Gabayan and Earl Valencia

Plentina co-founders Kevin Gabayan and Earl Valencia

E-wallets are rapidly gaining popularity in the Philippines, overtaking credit cards, which have a penetration rate of under 10%. Fintech startup Plentina is leveraging that trend with buy now, pay later (BNPL) installment loans that can be used and repaid through e-wallets.

The company announced today it has closed a $2.2 million seed round, co-led by former Tableau executive and ClearGraph chief executive officer Andrew Vigneault, Unpopular Ventures and DV Collective. Other participants included JG Digital Equity Ventures (JGDEV), Amino Capital, Canaan Partners Scout Fund and Ignite Impact Fund.

Its last funding was $750,000 pre-seed round raised last year from investors including Techstars, Emergent Ventures and the 500 Startups Vietnam Fund. Plentina also participated in the Techstars Western Union and Stanford’s StartX accelerator programs.

Plentina launched in the Philippines in October 2020 and has been downloaded more than 30,000 times. Its merchant partners include 7-Eleven Philippines and Smart Communications, a telecom provider with more than 70 million prepaid subscribers.  The company will use its seed round to onboard more merchant partners in the Philippines before expanding in Southeast Asia and other regions.

Plentina uses machine learning models to gauge the creditworthiness of loan applicants, drawing on founders Kevin Gabayan and Earl Valencia’s data science backgrounds. Gabayan was data science lead at Bump Technologies and then spent five years working at Google after it acquired the startup. Valencia’s experience includes serving as managing director of digital transformation at Charles Schwab.

“We’re making BNPL work in emerging markets where few have credit scores and merchants can’t easily integrate technology,” Valencia, Plentina’s chief business officer, told TechCrunch. In addition to alternative credit scoring, the startup also focuses on making installment payment work with merchants’ legacy workflows, he said.

So for, Plentina has generated 10 million credit scores from alternative data sources, including mobile data obtained with user permission and retail loyalty programs, and will continue to develop its models as its merchant partnerships and customer base grows. Customers who build good credit scores with Plentina can increase their credit limits and unlock more offers.

Loans have a flat 5% service fee, with no interest. 7-Eleven and Smart Communications both offer 14 day loans, and Plentina will introduce more dynamic loan terms in the future, Valencia said. Loans can be used to purchase goods at all of 7-Eleven’s 3000 stores in the Philippines and prepaid mobile airtime with Smart Communications.

Other installment loan services in the Philippines include BillEase, Tendopay and Cashalo. Valencia said Plentina “aim[s] to be a customer’s financial service partner throughout their lifetime. We’re starting by offering closed-loop store credit for essentials purchases for consumers to easily establish their financial identity. As a customer’s financial wellness matures, we can graduate them into additional financial services.”

In a press statement about his investment, Vigneault said, “I’ve worked with many early stage fintech companies over the years. However, I’ve come across few founders who are as impressive as Kevin and Earl and have been able to achieve such levels of success with customers, channel partners, and product at such an early stage.”

#asia, #bnpl, #buy-now-pay-later, #financial-services, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #philippines, #plentina, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Triller owner gets a new CEO with acquisition of Amplify.AI; also acquires live streaming service FITE TV

Would be TikTok competitor Triller, operated by parent company TrillerNet, is gaining a new CEO, the company announced today. The short-form video app said it’s acquiring an A.I.-based customer engagement platform, Amplify.AI, whose co-founder Mahi de Silva will now become TrillerNet’s CEO. Existing CEO Mike Lu will transition to President of TrillerNet and will focus on investor relations. The company separately announced the acquisition of FITE TV, a live event and pay-per-view combat sports streaming platform.

New CEO Mahi de Silva had been closely involved with Triller before today. The company’s press release today says he’s been serving as non-executive chairman since 2016, but his LinkedIn notes the year was 2019 (which would be following Triller’s 2019 funding by Proxima Media, when the press release at the time noted he was assuming the role of “chairman.”)  These are both wrong, the company discovered when we reached out for clarity. The correct year is 2018.

Ahead of the acquisition, de Silva had been serving as CEO and co-founder to Amplify.AI since 2017, and before that was CEO of Opera Mediaworks, the marketing and advertising arm of Opera Software, and co-founder and CEO of Botworx.

Amplify.AI, which works with brands in CPG, financial services, automotive, telecom, politics, and digital media, among others, will continue to operate as a subsidiary of TrillerNet following the deal. Other team members include former RSA and Verisign executive Ram Moskowitz who helped design and develop the digital certificates for SSL and code signing; and Amplify.ai co-founder and CTO Manoj Malhotra, a pioneer in B2C SMS messaging, the company notes.

TrillerNet also today announced it’s acquiring another strategic property to help shift its business further into the direction of live events: FITE TV. This deal gives Triller more of a foothold in the live events and pay-per-view streaming market, it says. As a result, FITE, which touts 10 million users, will become the exclusive digital distributor of all Triller Fight Club boxing events going forward.

“Acquiring FITE is part of the larger Triller strategy to bring together content, creators and commerce for the first time and the only place where they truly interact,” said Triller’s Ryan Kavanaugh, the former head of movie studio Relativity Media (and controversial figure) whose Proxima Media became Triller’s majority investor in 2019. “We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars and believe we have created a better more efficient e-commerce content platform,” he added.

The acquisition follows several others TrillerNet has made to expand into live events, now that becoming a TikTok replacement in the U.S. is no longer a viable option, as the Trump ban was put on hold by the Biden administration. Triller also in March acquired live music streaming platform Verzuz, founded by Swizz Beats and Timbaland. And it operates Triller Flight Club in partnership with Snoop Dogg, as well as a streaming platform Triller TV.

While specific deal terms were not revealed, Triller told TechCrunch it’s spent $250 million in the aggregate on its acquisitions, including Halogen, Mashtraxx, Verzuz, FITE and Amplify today.

#amplify, #apps, #biden-administration, #ceo, #chairman, #co-founder, #computing, #digital-media, #executive, #financial-services, #fundings-exits, #internet-culture, #mike-lu, #opera-mediaworks, #opera-software, #president, #sms, #snoop, #software, #ssl, #tiktok, #triller, #trump, #united-states, #verisign, #video-hosting

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Austin’s newest unicorn: The Zebra raises $150M after doubling revenue in 2020

The Zebra, an Austin-based company that operates an insurance comparison site, has raised $150 million in a Series D round that propels it into unicorn territory.

Both the round size and valuation are a substantial bump from the $38.5 million Series C that Austin-based The Zebra raised in February of 2020. (The company would not disclose its valuation at that time, saying now only that its new valuation of over $1 billion is a “nice step up.”)

The Zebra also would not disclose the name of the firm that led its Series D round, but sources familiar with the deal said it was London-based Hedosophia. Existing backers Weatherford Capital and Accel also participated in the funding event.

The round size also is bigger than all of The Zebra’s prior rounds combined, bringing the company’s total raised to $261.5 million since its 2012 inception. Previous backers also include Silverton Partners, Ballast Point Ventures, Daher Capital, Floodgate Fund, The Zebra CEO Keith Melnick, KDT and others. 

According to Melnick, the round was all primary, and included no debt or secondary.

The Zebra started out as a site for people looking for auto insurance via its real-time quote comparison tool. The company partners with the top 10 auto insurance carriers in the U.S. Over time, it’s also “naturally” evolved to offer homeowners insurance with the goal of eventually branching out into renters and life insurance. It recently launched a dedicated home and auto bundled product, although much of its recent growth still revolves around its core auto offering, according to Melnick.

Like many other financial services companies, The Zebra has benefited from the big consumer shift to digital services since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And we know this because the company is one of the few that are refreshingly open about their financials. The Zebra doubled its net revenue in 2020 to $79 million compared to $37 million in 2019, according to Melnick, who is former president of travel metasearch engine Kayak. March marked the company’s highest-performing month ever, he said, with revenue totaling $12.5 million — putting the company on track to achieve an annual run rate of $150 million this year. For some context, that’s up from $8 million in September of 2020 and $6 million in May of 2020.

Also, its revenue per applicant has grown at a clip of 100% year over year, according to Melnick. And The Zebra has increased its headcount to over 325, compared to about 200 in early 2020.

“We’ve definitely improved our relationships with carriers and seen more carrier participation as they continue to embrace our model,” Melnick said. “And we’ve leaned more into brand marketing efforts.”

The Zebra CEO Keith Melnick. Image courtesy of The Zebra

The company was even profitable for a couple of months last year, somewhat “unintentionally,” according to Melnick.

“We’re not highly unprofitable or burning through money like crazy,” he told TechCrunch. “This new raise wasn’t to fund operations. It’s more about accelerating growth and some of our product plans. We’re pulling forward things that were planned for later in time. We still had a nice chunk of money sitting on our balance sheet.”

The company also plans to use its new capital to do more hiring and focus strongly on continuing to build The Zebra’s brand, according to Melnick. Some of the things the company is planning include a national advertising campaign and adding tools and information so it can serve as an “insurance advisor,” and not just a site that refers people to carriers. It’s also planning to create more “personalized experiences and results” via machine learning.

“We are accelerating our efforts to make The Zebra a household name,” Melnick said. “And we want a deeper connection with our users.” It also aims to be there for a consumer through their lifecycle — as they move from being renters to homeowners, for example.

And while an IPO is not out of the question, he emphasizes that it’s not the company’s main objective at this time.

“I definitely try not to get locked on to a particular exit strategy. I just want to make sure we continue to build the best company we can. And then, I think the exit will make itself apparent,” Melnick said. “I’m not blind and am very aware that public market valuations are strong right now and that may be the right decision for us, but for now, that’s not the ultimate goal for me.”

To the CEO, there’s still plenty of runway.

“This is a big milestone, but I do feel like for us that this is just the beginning,” he said. “We’ve just scratched the surface of it.”

Early investor Mark Cuban believes the company is at an inflection point.

” ‘Startup’ isn’t the right word anymore,” he said in a written statement. “The Zebra is a full fledged tech company that is taking on – and solving – some of the biggest challenges in the $638B insurance industry.”

Accel Partner John Locke said the firm has tripled down on its investment in The Zebra because of its confidence in not only what the company is doing but also its potential.

“In an increasingly noisy insurance landscape that includes insurtechs and traditional carriers, giving consumers the ability to compare everything in one place is is more and more valuable,” he told TechCrunch. “I think The Zebra has really seized the mantle of becoming the go-to site for people to compare insurance and then that’s showing up in the numbers, referral traffic and fundraise interest.”

#accel, #animals, #austin, #auto-insurance, #ballast-point-ventures, #connect, #finance, #financial-services, #floodgate-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hedosophia, #insurance, #insurtech, #john-locke, #life-insurance, #machine-learning, #mark-cuban, #model, #recent-funding, #silverton-partners, #startups, #the-zebra, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #venture-capital, #zebra

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Acorns’ new fintech target is debt management with acquisition of Pillar

Popular saving and investing app Acorns has acquired Pillar, an AI-powered startup built to help manage student loan debt, in its second acquisition of 2021.

New York-based Pillar helps consumers optimize their debt payments by focusing first on student loans. It launched in May 2019 with $5.5 million in seed funding led by Kleiner Perkins. The companies declined to reveal the financial terms of the deal, only noting that within six months of launching, Pillar managed over $500 million worth of student loan debt of more than 15,000 borrowers. 

Michael Bloch dropped out of Stanford Business School and co-founded Pillar after he and his wife had amassed more than $500,000 of student loan debt after she graduated from law school. Prior to that, he had led the Strategy & Operations division for DoorDash, growing it to $100 million in revenue. The problem Pillar has aimed to tackle is massive. Student loan debt is the second-largest type of consumer debt in the U.S., with 45 million borrowers collectively owing nearly $1.7 trillion in student loans.

Notably, Acorns was apparently one of several companies that had courted Pillar.

“We were in a pretty lucky position to have a lot of interest from many of the top fintech companies that are out there,” Bloch told TechCrunch. “We had multiple offers on the table and Acorns was really our top choice just given how the business has been doing and the team, the culture and the mission.”

The deal marks the second acquisition this year and third overall for Acorns, which says it notched its strongest quarter in its history the first three months of this year. In March, Acorns also acquired Harvest, a fintech that helped customers reduce more than $4 million in debt in 2020.

The Pillar and Harvest teams will help Acorns accelerate its product roadmap of helping customers pay down debt, “an essential part of the financial wellness system,” said CEO and founder Noah Kerner.

Over time, Pillar will become part of one of Acorns’ monthly subscription tiers. 

“The IP and technology that the Pillar team created in debt management is really interesting to us when we think about how we scale our Smart Deposit feature,” Kerner said.

With Smart Deposit, when a customer’s paycheck hits the Acorns bank account, the app automatically allocates a percentage of that paycheck into an individual’s different investment accounts. 

“From a behavioral perspective, the best way to get somebody to save and invest is to enable them to set aside a piece of their paycheck as soon as it hits the account so that they don’t spend it. That feature has been really well adopted by our direct deposit customers,” Kerner said. “And so Michael and his team are coming in to manage that feature, and also our bank accounts product. I think their past experience is going to be really useful for us to take what we have and help the team catalyze it further.”

With its latest acquisition, Irvine, California-based Acorns now has more than 350 employees. In 2017, the company acquired Vault, now called “Acorns Later.” As a result of that acquisition, the company has seen its number of retirement accounts grow to 1.2 million from 500.

As mentioned above, Acorns has had a good year so far. In the first six weeks of 2021, the company added nearly 600,000 new accounts, reaching a total of more than 9 million users having saved and invested a total of $7.5 billion.

“The first quarter was our biggest growth quarter on record,” Kerner told TechCrunch. “In particular we crossed the $4.3 billion in dollars in assets under management, which is a really exciting milestone when you think about the fact that these are customers that are saving small amounts of money in the relative scheme of money invested typically.”

#acorns, #artificial-intelligence, #bank, #debt, #exit, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fundings-exits, #kleiner-perkins, #loans, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #new-york, #pillar, #startups, #student-debt, #student-loan

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Embedded procurement will make every company its own marketplace

In 2019, my colleague Matt Harris coined the term “embedded fintech” to describe how virtually all software-driven companies will soon embed financial services into their applications, from sending and receiving payments to enabling lending, insurance and banking services, an idea that quickly spread within the fintech community.

Vertical apps such as Toast for restaurants, Squire for barbershops and Shopmonkey for car repair shops will deliver financial services to businesses in the future rather than traditional, stodgy financial institutions.

Embedded procurement is the natural evolution of embedded fintech.

The embedded fintech movement has just begun, but there is already a sister concept percolating: embedded procurement. In this next wave, businesses will buy things they need through vertical B2B apps, rather than through sales reps, distributors or an individual merchant’s website.

If you own a coffee shop, wouldn’t it be convenient to schedule recurring orders for beans and milk from the same software portal where you process payments, manage accounting and handle payroll? The companies that figured out how to monetize financial services via embedded fintech are well positioned to monetize through procurement, too.

Embedded procurement is the natural evolution of embedded fintech. The salon software company Fresha is a typical embedded fintech story. Fresha’s platform is an online and mobile platform specially designed for spas and salons, encompassing appointment scheduling, reporting and analytics, marketing promotions, and point-of-sale capabilities. The software is free for salons; Fresha monetizes through payment processing.

In the future, Fresha will undoubtedly turn to embedded procurement, becoming a logical place for business owners to order and manage inventory like shampoo, scissors, brushes and other supplies. In turn, Fresha can aggregate demand from thousands of spas to place orders with its suppliers, leveraging its scale to negotiate more favorable pricing on behalf of its customers. Borrowing a concept from the healthcare world, vertical software companies will become group purchasing organizations in every sector.

#business-management, #column, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ec-fintech, #ec-market-map, #ecommerce, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #payments, #procurement

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Atlanta’s early stage investment renaissance continues with Overline’s $27 million fund close

Michael Cohn became a celebrity in the Atlanta startup ecosystem when the company he co-founded was sold to Accenture in a deal valued somewhere between $350 million and $400 million nearly six years ago.

That same year, Sean O’Brien also made waves in the community when he helped shepherd the sale of the  collaboration software vendor, PGi, to a private equity firm for $1.5 billion.

The two men are now looking to become fixtures in the city’s burgeoning new tech community with the close of their seed-stage venture capital firm’s first fund, a $27.4 million investment vehicle.

Overline’s first fund has already made commitments to companies that are expanding the parameters of what’s investible in the Southeast broadly and Atlanta’s startup scene locally.

These are companies like Grubbly Farms, which sells insect-based chicken feed for backyard farmers, or Kayhan Space, which is aiming to be the air traffic control service for the space industry. Others, like Padsplit, an Atlanta-based flexible housing marketplace, are tackling America’s low income housing crisis. 

“Our business model is very different from that of a traditional software startup, and the Overline team’s unique strengths and operator mindset have been invaluable in helping us grow the company,” said Sean Warner, CEO and co-founder of Grubbly Farms. 

That’s on top of investments into companies building on Atlanta’s natural strengths as a financial services, payments and business software powerhouse.

For all of the activity in Atlanta these days, the city and the broader southeastern region is still massively underfunded, according to O’brien and Cohn. The region only received less than 10 percent of all the institutional venture investments that were committed in 2020. Indeed, only seven percent of Atlanta founders raise money locally when they’re first starting out, an Overline survey suggested.

“The data reflects what we have seen throughout our careers building, growing, and investing in startups. There is no shortage of phenomenal founders and businesses coming out of Atlanta and the Southeast, but they often struggle to find institutional capital at their earliest stages,” said O’Brien, in a statement. “Overline will lead as the first institutional check for these companies and be a true partner to the Founders throughout their lifecycle—supporting them on the strategic and operational business initiatives and decisions that are critical to a company’s success.” 

The limited partners in Overline’s first fund also reflects the firm’s emphasis on regional roots. The privately held email marketing behemoth Mailchimp anchored the fund, which also included partners like Cox Enterprises, Social Leverage,

Overline is supported by a bench of impressive partners that reflects the firm’s roots in the Southeast. Anchored by marketing platform, Mailchimp, additional partners include Cox Enterprises, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Social Leverage, Wilmington, Del.-based Hallett Capital, and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings, along with Techstars co-founder David Cohen. 

“At Mailchimp, we love our hometown of Atlanta, and are proud of the robust startup ecosystem that’s growing in our city. The Overline founding team’s vision of deploying smart, local capital into startups in Atlanta and the Southeast aligns with our goals of promoting and advancing local innovation,” said Rick Lynch, CFO, Mailchimp, in a statement.

The firm expects to make investments of between $250,000 to $1.5 million into seed stage companies and has already backed 11 companies including, Relay Payments, a logistics fintech company that has raised over $40 million from top-tier investors. 

“When we set out to build Atlanta Tech Village almost a decade ago, one of our primary goals was to help Atlanta develop into a top 10 startup city, where all entrepreneurs would thrive. We’re making tremendous strides as a community, as evidenced by the number of newly minted unicorns,” said serial entrepreneur and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings. “I believe in Overline’s thesis that value-add institutional early-stage capital is critical to the ecosystem’s continued development. Since the early days, Michael and Sean have been an active presence in our community in a way that goes far beyond being a source of capital—as mentors, advisors, and champions of Atlanta founders. I am proud to be one of their first investors.”

#accenture, #advisors, #america, #arizona, #atlanta, #cfo, #co-founder, #collaboration-software, #corporate-finance, #cox-enterprises, #david-cohen, #delaware, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #financial-services, #mailchimp, #money, #private-equity, #serial-entrepreneur, #social-leverage, #startup-company, #tc, #techstars, #venture-capital

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Big banks rush to back Greenwood, Killer Mike’s Atlanta-based digital bank for underrepresented customers

Before even taking its first deposit, Greenwood, the digital banking service targeting Black and Latino individuals and business owners, has raised $40 million — only a few months after its launch.

Coming in to finance the new challenger bank are six of the seven largest U.S. Banks and the payment technology developers Mastercard and Visa.

That’s right, Bank of America, PNC, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Truist, are backing a bank co-founded by a man who declared, “I’m with the revolutionary. I’m with the radical policy,” when stumping for then Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Joining the financial services giants in the round are FIS, a behind-the-scenes financial services tech developer; along with the venture capital firms TTV Capital, SoftBank Group’s SB Opportunity Fund, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Sports investors Quality Control and All-Pro NFL running back Alvin Kamara also came in to finance the latest round.

Atlanta-based Greenwood was launched last October by a group that included former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and Bounce TV founder, Ryan Glover.

“The net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family and eight times greater than that of a Latino family. This wealth gap is a curable injustice that requires collaboration,” said \ Glover, Chairman and Co-founder of Greenwood, in a statement. “The backing of six of the top seven banks and the two largest payment technology companies is a testament to the contemporary influence of the Black and Latino community. We now are even better positioned to deliver the world-class services our customers deserve.”

Named after the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., which was known as the Black Wall Street before it was destroyed in a 1921 massacre, the digital bank promises to donate the equivalent of five free meals to an organization addressing food insecurity for every person who signs up to the bank. And every time a customer uses a Greenwood debit card, the bank will make a donation to either the United Negro College FundGoodr (an organization that addresses food insecurity) or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In addition, each month the bank will provide a $10,000 grant to a Black or Latinx small business owner that uses the company’s financial services.

“Truist Ventures is helping to inspire and build better lives and communities by leading the Series A funding round for Greenwood’s innovative approach to building greater trust in banking within Black and Latino communities,” said Truist Chief Digital and Client Experience Officer Dontá L. Wilson who oversees Truist Ventures, in a statement. “In addition to the opportunity to work with and learn from this distinguished group of founders, our investment in Greenwood is reflective of our purpose and commitment to advancing economic empowerment of minority and underserved communities.”

So far, 500,000 people have signed up for the wait list to bank with Greenwood.

#andrew-young, #atlanta, #bank, #bank-of-america, #banking, #bernie-sanders, #challenger-bank, #companies, #finance, #financial-services, #fis, #greenwood, #jpmorgan-chase, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mastercard, #mayor, #national-football-league, #nfl, #oklahoma, #softbank-group, #tc, #tulsa, #united-states, #venture-capital-firms, #visa, #wells-fargo

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Notarize raises $130M, tripling valuation on the back of 600% YoY revenue growth

When the world shifted toward virtual one year ago, one service in particular saw heated demand: digital notary services.

The ability to get a document notarized without leaving one’s home suddenly became more of a necessity than a luxury. Pat Kinsel, founder and CEO of Boston-based Notarize, worked to get appropriate legislation passed across the country to make it possible for more people in more states to use remote online notarization (RON) services. 

That hard work has paid off. Today, Notarize has announced $130 million in Series D funding led by fintech-focused VC firm Canapi Ventures after experiencing 600% year over year revenue growth. The round values Notarize at $760 million, which is triple its valuation at the time of its $35 million Series C in March of 2020. This latest round is larger than the sum of all of the company’s previous rounds to date, and brings Notarize’s total raised to $213 million since its 2015 inception.

A slew of other investors participated in the round, including Alphabet’s independent growth fund CapitalG, Citi Ventures, Wells Fargo, True Bridge Capital Partners and existing backers Camber Creek, Ludlow Ventures, NAR’s Second Century Ventures, and Fifth Wall Ventures.

Notarize insists that it “isn’t just a notary company.” Rather, Canapi Ventures Partner Neil Underwood described it as the ‘last mile’ of businesses (such as iBuyers, for example). 

The company has also evolved to “also bring trust and identity verification” into those businesses’ processes.

Over the past year, Notarize has seen a massive increase in transactions and inked new partnerships with companies such as Adobe, Dropbox, Stripe and Zillow Group, among others. It’s seen big spikes in demand from the real estate, financial services, retail and automotive sectors.

“In 2020, the world rushed to digitize. Online commerce ballooned, and businesses in almost every industry needed to transition to digital basically overnight so they could continue uninterrupted,” Kinsel said. “Notarize was there to help them safely close these deals with trust and convenience.”  

The company plans to use its new capital to expand its platform and product and scale “to serve enterprises of all sizes.” It also plans to double down on hiring in the next year.

“Notarize is disrupting outdated business models and technologies, and there’s massive potential, particularly in the financial services space, as more companies will need to offer secure digital alternatives to in-person transactions,” Canapi’s Underwood said.

Notarize’s success comes after a difficult 2019, when the company saw “critical financing” fall through and had to lay off staff, according to Kinsel. Talk about a turnaround story.

#boston, #camber-creek, #canapi-ventures, #capitalg, #ceo, #citi-ventures, #dropbox, #fifth-wall, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #law, #ludlow-ventures, #notarize, #online-commerce, #pat-kinsel, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #stripe, #venture-capital, #wells-fargo, #zillow

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Pie Insurance raises $118M for data-driven workers’ comp coverage

Pie Insurance, a startup offering workers’ compensation insurance to small businesses, announced this morning that it has closed on $118 million in a Series C round of funding.

Allianz X — investment arm of German financial services giant Allianz — and Acrew Capital co-led the round, which brings the Washington, D.C.-based startup’s total equity funding raised to over $300 million since its 2017 inception. Pie declined to disclose the valuation at which its latest round was raised, other than to say it was “a significant increase.”

Return backers Greycroft, SVB Capital, SiriusPoint, Elefund and Moxley Holdings also participated in the Series C financing.

The startup, which uses data and analytics in its effort to offer SMBs a way to get insurance digitally and more affordably, has seen its revenues climb by 150% since it raised $127 million in a Series B extension last May. Its headcount too has risen — to 260 from 140 last year.

Pie began selling its insurance policies in March 2018. The company declined to give recent hard revenue numbers, saying it only has grown its gross written premium to over $100 million and partnered with over 1,000 agencies nationwide. Last year, execs told me that in the first quarter of 2020, the company had written nearly $19 million in premiums, up 150% from just under $7.5 million during the same period in 2019.

Like many other companies over the past year, Pie Insurance — with its internet-driven, cloud-based platform — has benefited from the increasing further adoption of digital technologies. 

“We are riding that wave,” said Pie Insurance co-founder and CEO John Swigart. “We believe small businesses deserve better than they have historically gotten. And we think that technology can be the means by which that better experience, that more efficient process, and fundamentally, that lower price can be delivered to them.”

Pie’s customer base includes a range of small businesses including trades, contractors, landscapers, janitors, auto shops and restaurants. Pie sells its insurance directly through its website and also mostly through thousands of independent insurance agents.

Workers’ compensation insurance is the only commercial insurance mandated for every company in the United States, points out Lauren Kolodny, founding partner at Acrew Capital.

“Historically, it’s been extremely cumbersome to qualify, onboard and manage workers’ comp insurance — particularly for America’s small businesses which haven’t been prioritized by larger carriers,” she wrote via email. 

Pie, Koldony said, is able to offer underwriting decisions “almost instantly,” digitally and more affordably than legacy insurance carriers.

“I have seen very few insurtech teams that come close,” she added.

Dr. Nazim Cetin, CEO of Allianz X, told TechCrunch via email that his firm believes Pie is operating in an “attractive and growing market that is ripe for digital disruption.”

The company, he said, leverages “excellent,” proprietary data and advanced analytics to be able to provide tailored underwriting and automation. 

“We see some great collaboration opportunities with Allianz companies too,” he added.

Looking ahead, the company plans to use its new capital to invest further in technology and automation, as well as to grow its core workers’ comp insurance business and “lay the groundwork for new business offerings in 2021 and beyond.”

#acrew-capital, #allianz, #allianz-x, #america, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #insurance, #insurance-policies, #insurtech, #lauren-kolodny, #pie-insurance, #recent-funding, #startups, #svb-capital, #underwriting, #united-states, #venture-capital, #washington-d-c

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Nigerian fintech of the unbanked Bankly raises $2M led by Vault and Flutterwave

Nigeria remains a largely cash-dominated country. There are over 100 million adult Nigerians, of which more than half have little or no access to financial services

Today, Bankly, a Nigerian fintech startup digitizing cash for the unbanked, announced that it has closed a $2 million seed round. Founded by Tomilola Adejana and Fredrick Adams in 2018, Bankly is digitizing the informal thrift collections system known with different names such as esusu or ajo in Nigeria.

In the absence of a banking system nearby or a disregard for one, the unbanked resort to these traditional systems because they work completely offline. The system allows them to collate and save cash with a thrift collector responsible for disbursing funds when due.

However, there are issues around this system. First is the security issues that arise when the thrift collector goes missing with the money or is feared dead, leaving no clue where the savings are kept. There’s also limited access where members cannot consistently save if absent from a particular location. The third is the lack of customer data since most don’t have an online banking presence.

What Bankly has done is to digitize their whole process of collating money and allow these unbanked people to save their money using online and offline methods.

Over the past 18 months, the company has been building out its distribution and agent network. Here, customers can deposit and withdraw cash with a Bankly agent anytime. This solves the issue of access as there are thousands of agents in these cash-dependent communities.

When the information of this new set of customers is collected and saved on its platform, Bankly starts to build engaging communities where these people can collectively save their income with the agents. Slowly, an online banking presence is built for them.

With most of their money in a bank and little or no cash to buy airtime or make payments, they would frequently opt to access these services via their mobile phones.

Image Credits: Bankly

Onboarding these new set of customers means they get to save and transact more over time. This opens up access to credit and with more value created, there’s a new set of banked people, which leads to financial inclusion in the long run. With its insights into customer behaviour and transactions, Bankly also provides “data-as-a-service” to other service providers to offer tailored products and services to Nigeria’s informal sector

“The first phase is building agent networks which is good but that’s not the goal,” CEO Adejana said to TechCrunch. Just in the same way mobile inclusion happened, you need to then focus on acquiring customers who, after transferring cash to their mobile accounts, use it to buy airtime or make payments. We call that the three-phase process. The distribution first, then focusing on the consumer, after that full digitization. This is how we reach financial inclusion.”

Bankly operates like a traditional bank but with fewer assets, revenue, customers and operational costs. But because it doesn’t spend a lot in acquiring customers and building physical presences, it can pass on those cost savings to customers as interests and still make decent margins.

Agents on the platform also take commissions for any transaction a customer makes through them. This time last year, they were a little over 2,000 of them across the country. Now, Bankly has grown this number to 15,000 agents in just over a year.

The company still plans to add more agents with the new investment received. To increase its 35,000 customer base in cash-dependent communities, Bankly will also provide direct-to-consumer products in the coming months.

L-R: Fredrick Adams (CPO) and Tomilola Adejana (CEO)

In Bankly’s three years of operation, Adejana cites finding the right partners, talent, and most importantly, the right investors as challenges that the company has faced. Due to the nature of Bankly’s business, Adejana didn’t accept some of the investment offered to the company and only let in investors who aligned with the company’s plans for the unbanked.

“We’ve had to be patient to make sure that we were talking to people who deeply understand the problem and are passionate about solving it and are not about getting returns as soon as possible,” she said.

The co-lead investors include Vault, the holding company of VANSO, a fintech that was sold to Interswitch in 2016, and African payments company Flutterwave. While both companies have pioneered the technology the banked enjoy by building payment rails, they’ve done little to move the needle for the unbanked. With Bankly, there’s a chance to do so.

“Given our over twenty years experience in Nigeria’s fintech industry and previous exits, we strongly believe that Bankly understands the nuanced needs of this market — not to mention the team, strategy, and technology — to succeed in bringing affordable financial services to the unbanked. We are delighted to participate in this financing round as Bankly moves into its next growth stage,” Idris Alubankudi Saliu, partner at Vault said.

For Flutterwave, this marks its first disclosed investment into another company. When it raised a $170 million Series C last month, CEO Olugbenga Agboola mentioned to TechCrunch that Flutterwave might explore some partnerships with smaller companies and potential acquisitions in the coming years. So while the investment comes as a surprise, it’s not rare to see startups invest in other startups, particularly in the ones they hope to acquire in the future—case in point, Stripe and Paystack.

Other investors who took part in the round include Plug and Play Ventures, Rising Tide Africa and Chrysalis Capital.

Bankly aims to grow its customer base to 2 million unbanked Nigerians over the next three years. The goal is to support the Central Bank of Nigeria’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy of increasing the number of banked Nigerians from 60% to 80% by 2020. A year on, that strategy is yet to be actualized. But Adejana says Bankly is working with these regulators towards a more realistic target of 2025.

“We’re thrilled to have closed this milestone fundraise and to have such seasoned fintech investors who understand the market join us on this journey to bank Nigeria’s unbanked. Now we have built the agent network and are poised to serve customers directly via offline and online channels. Partnerships, collaboration, and a deep understanding of the needs of the unbanked will be vital to our success,” said Adejana.

Before Bankly, the CEO worked as an investment banker but it was during her masters’ program in Sydney she got into the world of fintech. After returning to Nigeria, Adejana worked on a product that offered loans to small businesses, then later joined Accion Venture Lab, a program focused on products that foster financial inclusivity. It was there Bankly started.

The product has caught on well. And while there are lots of fintech products in the Nigerian market claiming to reach the unbanked, Bankly remains one of the very few that can boldly stake a claim to that.

To truly attain financial inclusion in Nigeria, Adejana believes the onus lies with the fintechs to have long-term views just as the telcos and fast-moving customer goods did in the past. This increases the pie of customers fintechs can serve instead of taking a slice of an existing one. “For financial services to reach the last mile, it has to be distributed the same way fast-moving consumer goods are distributed,” she added

#finance, #financial-inclusion, #financial-services, #flutterwave, #funding, #payments, #startups, #tc, #unbanked, #vault

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Nuvemshop, LatAm’s answer to Shopify, raises $90M in Accel-led Series D

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to people everywhere shopping more online and Latin America is no exception.

São Paulo-based Nuvemshop has developed an e-commerce platform that aims to allow SMBs and merchants to connect more directly with their consumers. With more people in Latin America getting used to making purchases digitally, the company has experienced a major surge in business over the past year.

Demand for Nuvemshop’s offering was already heating up prior to the pandemic. But over the past 12 months, that demand has skyrocketed as more merchants have been seeking greater control over their brands.

Rather than selling their goods on existing marketplaces (such as Mercado Libre, the Brazilian equivalent of Amazon), many merchants and entrepreneurs are opting to start and grow their own online businesses, according to Nuvemshop co-founder and CEO Santiago Sosa.

“Most merchants have entered the internet by selling on marketplaces but we are hearing from newer generations of merchants and SMBs that they don’t want to be intermediated anymore,” he said. “They want to connect more directly with consumers and convey their own brand, image and voice.”

The proof is in the numbers.

Nuvemshop has seen the number of merchants on its platform surge to nearly 80,000 across Brazil, Argentina and Mexico compared to 20,000 at the start of 2020. These businesses range from direct-to-consumer (DTC) upstarts to larger brands such as PlayMobil, Billabong and Luigi Bosca. Virtually every KPI tripled in the company in 2020 as the world saw a massive transition to online, and Nuvemshop’s platform was home to 14 million transactions last year, according to Sosa.

“With us, businesses can find a more comprehensive ecosystem around payments, logistics, shipping and catalogue/inventory management,” he said.

Nuvemshop’s rapid growth caught the attention of Silicon Valley-based Accel. Having just raised $30 million in a Series C round in October and achieving profitability in 2020, the Nuvemshop team was not looking for more capital.

But Ethan Choi, a partner at Accel, said his firm saw in Nuvemshop the potential to be the market leader, or the “de facto” e-commerce platform, in Latin America.

“Accel has been investing in e-commerce for a very long time. It’s a very important area for us,” Choi said. “We saw what they were building and all their potential. So we pre-emptively asked them to let us invest.”

Today, Nuvemshop is announcing that it has closed on a $90 million Series D funding led by Accel. ThornTree Capital and returning backers Kaszek, Qualcomm Ventures and others also put money in the round, which brings Nuvemshop’s total funding raised since its 2011 inception to nearly $130 million. The company declined to reveal at what valuation this latest round was raised but it is notable that its Series D is triple the size of its Series C, raised just over six months prior. Sosa said only that there was a “substantial increase” in valuation since its Series C.

Nuvemshop is banking on the fact that the density of SMBs in Latin America is higher in most Latin American countries compared to the U.S. On top of that, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.

“In Brazil, it grew 40% last year but is still underpenetrated, representing less than 10% of retail sales. In Latin America as a whole, penetration is somewhere between 5 and 10%,” Sosa said.

Nuvemshop co-founder and CEO Santiago Sosa;
Image courtesy of Nuvemshop

Last year, the company transitioned from a closed product to a platform that is open to everyone from third parties, developers, agencies and other SaaS vendors. Through Nuvemshop’s APIs, all those third parties can connect their apps into Nuvemshop’s platform.

“Our platform becomes much more powerful, vendors are generating more revenue and merchants have more options,” Sosa told TechCrunch. “So everyone wins.” Currently, Nuvemshop has about 150 applications publishing on its ecosystem, which he projects will more than triple over the next 12 to 18 months.

As for comparisons to Shopify, Sosa said the company doesn’t necessarily make them but believes they are “fair.”

To Choi, there are many similarities.

“We saw Amazon get to really big scale in the U.S.. Merchants also found tools to build their own presence. This birthed Shopify, which today is worth $160 billion. Both companies saw their market caps quadruple during the pandemic,” he said. “Now we’re seeing the same dynamics in LatAm…Our bet here is that this company and business has all the same dynamics and the same really powerful tailwinds.”

For Accel partner Andrew Braccia, Nuvemshop has a clear first mover advantage.

Over the past decade, direct-to-consumer has become one of the most important drivers of entrepreneurship globally,” he said. “Latin America is no exception to this trend, and we believe that Nuvemshop has the level of sophistication and ability to understand all that change and fuel the continued transformation of commerce from offline to online.”

Looking ahead, Sosa expects Nuvemshop will use its new capital to significantly invest in: continuing to open its APIs; payments processing and financial services; “everything related to logistics and logistics management” and attracting smaller merchants. It also plans to expand into other markets such as Colombia, Chile and Peru over the next 18-24 months. Nuvemshop currently operates in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

“While the countries share the same secular trends and product experience, they have very different market dynamics,” Sosa said. “This requires an on the ground local knowledge to make it all work. Separate markets require distinct knowledge. That makes this a more complicated opportunity, but one that enables a long-term competitive advantage.”

#accel, #amazon, #andrew-braccia, #argentina, #brazil, #chile, #colombia, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #investment, #latin-america, #market-leader, #mercado-libre, #mexico, #nuvemshop, #payments-processing, #peru, #publishing, #qualcomm-ventures, #recent-funding, #saas, #sao-paulo, #series-c, #silicon-valley, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

0

Fraud prevention platform Seon raises a $12M Series A round led by Creandum

Seon, which lets online businesses fight online fraud like fake accounts has raised a $12 million Series A round led by Creandum, with participation from PortfoLion, part of OTP Bank. The funding appears to be one of Hungary’s larger series A rounds to date.
 
Seon is a fraud-detection startup that establishes a customers’ ‘digital footprint’ in order to weed out false accounts and thus prevent fraudulent transactions. Clients include Patreon, AirFrance, Rivalry and Ladbrokes Launched in 2017, the company claims to bave been profitable since the end of 2019, after experiencing growth through working with neobanks, esports, gaming, Forex, and crypto trading throughout the rapid digitization brought on by the pandemic.

SEON’s CEO and Founder, Tamas Kadar, said in a statement: “We’re extremely pleased to have completed our latest funding round, led by Creandum, joining its exciting tech portfolio. We feel we have found a like-minded investor to work closely with to pursue the significant global opportunity for our business as we continue to democratize fraud fighting.”
 
Simon Schmincke, general partner at Creandum, said: “At Creandum, we believe cybercrime will be one of the most serious threats of the 21st century. With SEON, we’ve found an anti-fraud solution that’s effective, affordable, flexible, intuitive, and clearly proves its ROI.”
 
Gábor Pozsonyi, partner at PortfoLion Capital Partners, added: “Seon is a fundamentally useful brand: it offers a solution to one of the greatest challenges of digitalization, not only saving hundreds of millions of euros for its partners but making the internet a safer place.”

SEON are seen as competing with Emailage, Iovation, Threatmetrix. However, SEON’s thesis is that social media is a great proxy of a legitimate user vs bot/fake fraudster, so it looks heavily at social accounts to weed out fraudsters.

As part of the funding round, Seon has brought on board the following investors as shareholders: N26 founders, Maximilian Tayenthal and Valentin Stalf; SumUp founders Stefan Jeschonnek and Jan Deepen; Tide CEO Laurence Krieger; Revolut ex-CFO Peter O’Higgins; iZettle ex-chief Product Officer Leo Nilsson; Onfido cofounder Eamon Jubawy, and ComplyAdvantage founder Charlie Delingpole.

#ceo, #cfo, #charlie-delingpole, #cofounder, #europe, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #general-partner, #hungary, #izettle, #laurence-krieger, #mobile-payments, #n26, #onfido, #online-fraud, #online-payments, #partner, #patreon, #portfolion, #revolut, #social-media, #tc, #threatmetrix, #tide

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

Trading platform eToro to go public via SPAC merger in $10B deal

Multi-asset investing and trading platform and Robinhood competitor eToro announced Tuesday it will go public via a merger with SPAC FinTech Acquisition Corp. V in a massive $10.4 billion deal.

Once the transaction closes sometime in the third quarter, the combined company will operate as eToro Group Ltd. and is expected to be listed on the Nasdaq exchange.

The 14-year-old Israeli company was founded on a “vision of opening up capital markets.” It launched its platform in the U.S. just over two years ago and has seen rapid growth as of late. Last year, eToro said it added over 5 million new registered users and generated gross revenues of $605 million, representing 147% year over year growth. In January alone, the company added over 1.2 million new registered users and executed more than 75 million trades on its platform. That compares to 2019 when monthly registrations averaged 192,000 and 2020, when they grew to 440,000.

eToro said its platform is capitalizing on a number of secular trends such as the rise of digital wealth platforms, growing retail participation and mainstream crypto adoption. The company no doubt benefitted from the recent rise in retail investment interest, and in consumer investment apps and services specifically, which resulted from the so-called ‘meme stock’ activity that began with Redditors trading GameStop stock in order to frustrate institutional short-sellers.

The platform, which spans “social” stock trading and cryptocurrency exchange, in November 2019 acquired Delta, the crypto portfolio tracker app. eToro claims to be one of the first regulated platforms to offer cryptoassets. Its platform is regulated in the U.K., Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Gibraltar.

The transaction includes commitments for a $650 million common share private placement from leading investors including ION Investment Group, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Third Point LLC, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC and Wellington Management. The overall $10.4 billion implied equity value of the merger arrangement includes an implied enterprise value for eToro of $9.6 billion.

eToro currently has over 20 million registered users across 100 countries, and its social community is rapidly expanding due to the growth of its total addressable market, supported in part by secular trends such as the growth of digital wealth platforms and the rise in retail participation.

It expects to receivedapproval from FINRA for a broker dealer license, with plans to launch stocks in the U.S. in the second half of 2021. In a written statement, FinTech V chairman Betsy Cohen said that its sponsor platform Fintech Masala seeks out companies “with outsized growth, effective controls and excellent management teams.”

“eToro meets all three of these criteria,” she added. “In the last few years, eToro has solidified its position as the leading online social trading platform outside the U.S., outlined its plans for the U.S. market, and diversified its income streams. It is now at an inflection point of growth, and we believe eToro is exceptionally positioned to capitalize on this opportunity.”

#australia, #betsy-cohen, #broker, #cryptocurrency, #cryptocurrency-exchange, #etoro, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finra, #fintech, #gamestop, #ing-group, #money, #robinhood, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #spac, #tc, #third-point-llc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wellington-management

0

Genesis raises $45M to expand its fintech-focussed low-code platform to more verticals

Low-code and no-code tools have been a huge hit with enterprises keen to give their operations more of a tech boost, but often lack the resources to handle more complex integrations. Today, one of the startups that has been building low-code finance tools is announcing funding to tap into that trend and expand its business.

Genesis — which has to date primarily worked with financial services companies, giving non-technical employees the tools to create ways to monitor and manage real-time risk, high-frequency trades and other activities — has picked up $45 million. It plans to use to bring the tools it has already built to a wider set of verticals that have some of the same needs to manage risk, compliance, and other factors as finance — healthcare and manufacturing are two examples — as well as to continue building more into the stack. 

This Series B includes a mix of financial investors along with strategic backers that speak to who already integrates with Genesis’ tools on their own platforms.

Led by Accel, it also includes participation from new backers GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Salesforce Ventures, in addition to existing investors Citi, Illuminate Financial and Tribeca Venture Partners, who also invested in this round. To give you an idea of who it works with, Citi, along with ING, London Clearing House, and XP Investments, are some of Genesis customers.

Originally conceived in 2012 in Brazil by a pair of British co-founders — Stephen Murphy (CEO) and James Harrison (CTO), who cut their teeth in the world of investment banking — Genesis had raised less than $5 million before this round, mostly bootstrapping its business and leaning on Murphy and Harrison’s existing relationships in the world of finance to grow its customer base.

Today, Murphy lives in and leads the business from Miami — where he moved from New York just as the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to gain steam last year — while James Harrison (CTO) leads part of the team based out of the UK.

As you might imagine with so little funding before now for a company going on nine years old, Genesis was doing fine financially before this Series B, so the plan is to use the funding specifically to grow faster than it could have on its own steam. The startup is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

“We were not really fixated on valuation,” said Murphy in an interview, who said the funding came about after a number of VCs had approached the startup. “The most important thing is the future opportunity and where we could take the company with additional funding… this will help us hyper scale up.” He did note that the term sheets contained “some amazing numbers and multiples,” given the current interest in no-code and low-code technology.

Indeed, the vogue for no-code and low-code tech — other well-funded names in the crowded space include startups like Zapier, Airtable, Rows, Gyana, Bryter, Ushur, Creatio, and EasySend, as well as significant launches from Google and Microsoft and other bigger players — is coming out of two trends colliding.

On one side, we’ve well and truly entered an era in enterprise technology — with the same trend playing out in consumer tech, too — where smart developers are taking sophisticated and complex services and putting “wrappers” around them by way of APIs and simpler (low- or no-code) interfaces, so that those sophisticated tools can in turn be integrated and implemented in more places. This saves needing to build or integrate that complexity from scratch and expands access to the processes within those wrappers.

On the other side, the thirst for tech knowledge has become well and truly mainstream and as a result getting far more democratized. Working in a variety of applications, using different digital tools and devices, and seeing the fruits of tech pay off are all second nature to today’s working world — whether or not you are a technologist. So it’s no surprise to see more proactive, non-technical people looking for more ways to get their hands on these tools themselves.

“You now have a whole citizen developer world, for example business analysts who understand the solution you want but might not know how to get there,” Murphy said. “We play to seasoned developers first but the investment will help us put more low code and no code tools into place to widen the tools out to them.”

Starting out in finance made sense not just because that was where the two founders had previously worked, but also because of the history of how different software tools were already being used. Specifically, he noted that the ubiquity of microservices — which themselves are collections of services as apps — laid the groundwork for more low-code. “We saw that if we could build a low-code entry point to microservices, that would be powerful.”

On top of that, investment banks, he said, have a history of wanting to build things themselves to tailor to their specific needs. “Buying off the shelf means you are at the mercy of the vendor,” he said. These factors made financial services companies very receptive to what Genesis was offering.

While a lot of the no/low-code players are coming at the concept with specific verticals in mind — no surprise, since different verticals have very specific use cases and needs — so what’s interesting with Genesis is how the company is leveraging what it already knows about finance, and then looking at other industries that have similar demands, structures and rules.

Murphy said that Genesis will stay “very focused on financial markets for 2021” but that it’s identified a number of other verticals similar to it, and is actually already seeing some inbound interest from them.

“A number of people have already approached us from the world of healthcare,” he said, pointing out that these organizations, like financial services, face challenges around how to audit data and regulations around performing transactions. Manufacturing, meanwhile, has some parallels around the area of complex event processing similar to equity algorithmic trading, he said. (In short, this relates to how external events might trigger more transactions, not unlike how external factors affect manufacturing operations.)

The trend is one that analysts forecast will only grow in the coming years: Gartner, for example, says that by 2024, low-code platforms will account for no less than 65% of all app development activity.

“Low-code promises business users the autonomy to make their own technology usage and purchase decisions while enabling them to actually build their own applications without having to rely on IT,” said Andrei Brasoveanu, a partner at Accel, said n a statement. “By bringing one of the most transformative innovations in software development to financial services, Steve and the Genesis team are taking on a huge market of legacy vendors – and winning too – while delivering on the promise of low-code. The confidence they’ve gained from serving such large institutions is proof that there’s a real and urgent need for a purpose-built low-code solution for financial markets. We’re excited to partner with Genesis and support them in delivering this across the world.” Brasoveanu is joining the startup’s board with this round.

#enterprise, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #genesis, #low-code, #no-code

0

Zeller, a fintech founded by Square alumni, raises $25M AUD Series A led by Lee Fixel’s Addition

A photo of Dominic Yap, chief operating officer and co-founder, and Ben Pfisterer, chief executive officer and co-founder of Zeller

Dominic Yap, chief operating officer and co-founder, and Ben Pfisterer, chief executive officer and co-founder of Zeller

Zeller, a payment and financial services startup founded by former Square executives, quietly raised a $25 million AUD (about $19.4 million USD) Series A last year, it announced today. The funding was led by Addition, the investment firm founded by former Tiger Global partner Lee Fixel, and included participation from returning investors Square Peg and Apex Capital. The Melbourne-based company said this is one of Australia’s largest pre-launch Series A rounds ever.

The startup previously raised a $6.3 million AUD (USD $4.9 million) seed round in June 2020. Zeller was was founded last year by Ben Pfisterer, Square’s former Asia Pacific and Australia head, and Dominic Yap, its strategy and growth lead. It has made 38 new hires over the past six months, growing its team to 50 people.

The funding will be used to grow Zeller’s product development and engineering capabilities, marketing and sales, and customer support teams as it prepares for its launch. A date hasn’t been set yet, but chief executive officer Pfisterer told TechCrunch it is “imminent.”

Zeller will offer a fully-integrated payments and financial services solution designed for small- to medium-sized businesses that currently rely on multiple providers for their payment terminals, point of sale systems, e-commerce payments, transaction accounts and credit cards. Zeller’s software is combined with a payment terminal, transaction account and business Mastercard, and intended to make it easier for businesses to accept and send payments, access funds and manage their finances. Zeller will have no lock-in contracts and one low fee for card payments.

“We don’t underestimate the challenges that come with scaling a new brand in an area dominated by entrenched banking incumbents, yet the opportunity is incredibly exciting,” said Pfisterer. “The industry experience our team has built up over the years means that we are well aware of the pain points business owners face when getting set up with a new banking or financial services provider.”

He added that despite the growth of e-commerce, about two-thirds of transactions are still processed in person. Zeller’s “sweet spot” is currently businesses that process up to $10 million AUD annually, mostly in face-to-face transactions.

“They may be sole traders or employ a team, may operate across one or multiple locations and come from a variety of verticals including retail, hospitality, fixed or mobile services, events, trades and many more,” said Pfisterer. He estimated that Zeller’s market opportunity in Australia includes just under 1.5 million merchants, and it is also designed to be scalable into other markets.

Other payment and financial services companies in Australia include Square, eWAY, PayPal, Ayden and Stripe.

Pfisterer said eWAY, Stripe and Adyen tend to focus on e-commerce payment processing, “yet this is just one element of what business owners need to manage their cash flow.” Most still need to accept in-person payments, which means going to a traditional bank for a merchant terminal and account. On the other hand, PayPal and Square focus mainly on micro-merchants. “The growing pains kick in when a business starts to expand and demands a wider variety of services.”

Zeller already has plans to introduce new payment and financial services products, and integrations with tools like point-of-sale and accounting software, to scale up with businesses as they grow, he added.

#australia, #financial-services, #fintech, #payments, #smes, #tc

0

BlockFi lands a $350M Series D at a $3B valuation for its fast-growing crypto-lending platform

If there were any doubt about a cryptocurrency boom, we need look no further than at the explosion of growth of certain companies in the space.

One such company is BlockFi, which today announced it has closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that values it at $3 billion. While this news in and of itself is certainly attention-getting, it’s even more impressive when you consider the startup just raised a $50 million Series C last August at a $450 million valuation. The latest financing brings its total equity raised since inception to about $450 million, with the company raising $100 million across its seed and Series C rounds.

Zac Prince — who comes from a background in consumer lending —  founded BlockFi with Flori Marquez in 2017. The Jersey City, New Jersey-based startup raised $1.6 million in a seed round of funding that closed in 2018 and was led by ConsenSys Ventures and included participation from SoFi.  

Prince describes BlockFi as a financial services company for crypto market investors that offers a retail and institutional-facing suite of products. On the retail side of its platform, people can use its mobile app to earn a yield on their crypto holdings (6% on Bitcoin, 8.6% on stablecoins), buy and sell crypto and get low-cost loans secured by the value of their crypto portfolio “so they can get liquidity without selling,” he said. Specifically, clients can buy and sell digital assets (from Bitcoin, Ethereum and Link to Litecoin, PaxG and multiple stablecoins) directly on BlockFi.

The startup is also a lender and provider of trade execution services to institutions participating in digital asset markets. 

It’s a model that seems to be working in a big way. Since the end of 2019, BlockFi has seen its client base grow from 10,000 to more than 225,000. Today, BlockFi has 265,000 funded retail clients and over 200 institutional clients.

And it’s lent over $10 billion to its retail, corporate and institutional clients.

Over the past year, BlockFi has also accomplished the following:

  • Increased the number of assets on its platform to $15 billion, compared to $1 billion last March — with a 0% loss rate across its lending portfolio since inception.
  • Bumped its monthly revenue to over $50 million, up from $1.5 million a year prior.
  • Boosted its headcount to about 530 people, compared to 100 last March.

“In less than six months since we completed our Series C, Bitcoin and other digital assets have assumed a central role in many investors’ portfolios and in broader financial markets,” Prince said. “Our conviction that digital assets are the future of finance has been vindicated by our client base, which grew 10 times year over year in 2020 and has more than doubled since the end of 2020.”

New investor Bain Capital Ventures, partners of DST Global, Pomp Investments and Tiger Global co-led the Series D, which included participation from a slew of other firms including existing backer Valar Ventures, Breyer Capital, Susquehanna Government Products, Jump Capital and Paradigm, among many others. BlockFi employees who have been employed for more than one year have the opportunity to receive liquidity on a portion of their equity via a secondary tender offer as part of the financing round.  

BlockFi believes that investor enthusiasm for the Series D round reflects both the company’s strong business growth, as well as “broader conviction in cryptocurrencies as an asset class.” 

“Individual investors, institutional asset managers and corporate treasury departments are all exploring avenues to invest in cryptocurrencies,” the company said.

“Our goal for BlockFi has always been for it to facilitate cryptocurrencies going mainstream – and each day provides more evidence that is exactly what is occurring,” said Marquez, who serves as the company’s SVP of operations.

Bain Capital Ventures Partner Stefan Cohen agrees. He believes there are currently limited banking services available for crypto holders, which puts BlockFi in an opportune position.

“Bitcoin has already eclipsed $1 trillion in market cap and is likely headed higher to fulfill its store of value promise. As wealth accumulates to BTC holders, most will look for ways to earn yield or borrow against their holdings for more traditional asset purchases such as homes, cars and education,” he wrote via email. “BlockFi stands alone as the leader in bringing simple, secure, everyday financial services to cryptocurrency holders.”

The startup’s exponential growth over the past year proves “there was clearly a huge need for BlockFi’s services,” Cohen said.

“Their vision was to build an easy-to-use, trusted platform to bring cryptocurrency to the mainstream, and they’ve truly succeeded,” he added.

Meanwhile, Cohen said Bain Capital has had a long-term thesis on Bitcoin becoming a store of value and has actively invested in “picks-and-shovels businesses” that enable what is now a $1 trillion-plus market. 

“Trusted financial services are a critical pillar of the space, and we view it as a highly strategic component of the market,” he added.

Looking ahead, the startup has plans to launch in the second quarter a Bitcoin Rewards Credit Card, which will give BlockFi clients the ability to earn Bitcoin cash back on every transaction. It plans to use the new capital to continue growing its product suite, expand into new global markets and for strategic acquisitions. The company also plans to double its headcount by year’s end, according to Prince.

BlockFi already has a global presence and retail clients in over 100 countries. Last year, it opened institutional client service offices in London and Singapore.  This year, the startup is looking to add regional support in Europe, APAC and LatAm for its retail clients. 

Over the past week, BlockFi was making headlines for other reasons. The company was the victim of an “unusual assault” on March 7 when an attacker spammed the platform with fake sign-ups and abusive language.

To that end, the company acknowledges that it became aware that an unauthorized third party began attempting bulk sign-ups on its platform on March 7.

“We do not know the origin of the email addresses used for these ‘sign-ups’  but they did not come from us and they were not the emails of BlockFi clients,” the company told TechCrunch. “In general, we would characterize the event as vulgar spam’ and the total number of valid emails affected was less than 1,000.”

The company maintains that no data from BlockFi was accessed and its data was not compromised.  

“Our clients’ funds and data were safeguarded throughout the incident,” the company added. “Since then, our engineering and security teams have taken steps to prevent events like this from happening in the future. In addition, we reached out directly to all of the valid email recipients to apologize for the incident.”

#bain-capital-ventures, #bitcoin, #blockfi, #breyer-capital, #consensys, #consensys-ventures, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #currency, #digital-currencies, #dst-global, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jump-capital, #new-jersey, #paradigm, #recent-funding, #stablecoin, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global, #valar-ventures, #venture-capital

0

Cheese raises $3.6M for its digital bank aimed at the Asian-American community

Many things have accelerated in the world of fintech over the past year, not the least of which is the trend of digital banks aimed at specific communities in the U.S.

In the past few months alone, a number of neobanks targeting the Black and Latinx communities have emerged. Most recently, we covered the $5 million raise of one such bank — First Boulevard.

Today, Cheese announced the launch of its digital banking platform that is aimed at primarily serving the Asian-American community. Co-founder and CEO Ken Lian came to the United States from China in 2008 to attend college. In the years after his move, Lian said he paid thousands of dollars in bank fees and got rejected “multiple times” for basic bank accounts, despite having a FICO score over 800.

Those experiences led him to come up with the concept behind Cheese, which he said will offer its banking services via a multi-language platform. The one-year-old startup also has a social component, giving customers a way to support Asian-American businesses and organizations. Lian is no stranger to the world of entrepreneurship, having also founded Moolah Science, a startup that helped consumers find out if online stores owed them a refund that got acquired by a Fortune 500 company in 2019.

Lian founded Cheese along with Zhen Wang and Qingyi Li under the premise that Asian-Americans are often subject to discrimination and “an unequal playing field” in America despite being among the most educated in the country.

“We understand Asian users much better than anybody else because we are the user,” Lian told TechCrunch. “[Traditional] banking didn’t understand me or my culture or my lifestyle or what matters to me. Our needs are different.”

“A lot of challenger banks also never focused on Asian communities and immigrants,” he added. “We want to provide a great product to welcome these people to the U.S. and make it easy for them to bank.”

Over the past year, Cheese has raised a total of $3.6 million in funding from investors such as iFly.vc; Amplify; Adam Nash, former CEO of Wealthfront; Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff and VC firms Wedbush Ventures, Idealab and Operate Venture Studio. The startup has also partnered with actor Jimmy Wong, an advocate for Asian rights. He will serve as Cheese’s chief community ambassador.

Cheese’s platform provides a debit Mastercard (issued by Coastal Community Bank), which is available to those with no credit history. (If this sounds familiar, it’s a similar offering as that of TomoCredit, a startup that recently raised $7 million to scale its debit card product for those with little or no credit history.)

Cheese cardholders can use the virtual cards instantly through their mobile wallets, the company said. Other features include offering advance pay up to two days early with direct deposit, a 3% deposit bonus for referring friends, 0.3% annual percentage yield (APY) and up to 10% cash back on purchases at more than10,000 merchants. 

Image Credits: Cheese

Han Shen, founding partner of iFly, believes Cheese can help the underbanked community in the United States.

They don’t necessarily get the same kind of service or product for their banking needs and they face all kinds of pain points,” he wrote. “Cheese has a list of products they want to develop for that type of customer…We know there is a product market fit based on our research and we know this is a strong team.”

The investment marks iFly’s first in the consumer fintech space in which it acted as a lead investor.

We were already determined to invest on the mission side. They wanted to make things easier and better for the underbanked, including immigrants,” Shen continued. “People deserve a better service. In Cheese’s case, the question is not whether or not to provide it, the question is about how to do it right to address their pain points.”

In conjunction with its launch, Cheese has pledged $100,000 to the Cheese Giveback Fund, 100% of which will be donated to nonprofits and community service programs in support of Asian neighborhoods and businesses impacted by violence and economic hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

#adam-nash, #america, #amplify, #bank, #banking, #cheese, #china, #digital-banks, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #funding, #fundings-exits, #idealab, #mastercard, #payments, #recent-funding, #spencer-rascoff, #startups, #tc, #united-states

0

Flourish, a startup that aims to help banks engage and retain customers, raises $1.5M

It’s not uncommon these days to hear of U.S.-based investors backing Latin American startups.

But it’s not every day that we hear of Latin American VCs investing in U.S.-based startups.

Berkeley-based fintech Flourish has raised $1.5 million in a funding round led by Brazilian venture capital firm Canary. Founded by Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, the startup offers an “engagement and financial wellness” solution for banks, fintechs and credit unions with the goal of helping them engage and retain clients.

Also participating in the round were Xochi Ventures, First Check Ventures, Magma Capital and GV Angels as well as strategic angels including Rodrigo Xavier (former Bank of America CEO in Brazil), Beth Stelluto (formerly of Schwab),  Gustavo Lasala (president and CEO of The People Fund) and Brian Requarth (Founder of Viva Real). 

With clients in the U.S., Bolivia and Brazil, Flourish has developed a solution that features three main modules: 

  • A rewards engine designed to incentivize users to save or invest money
  • An intelligent and automated micro-savings feature where users can create personalized rules (such as transferring $15 into a rainy day fund every time their favorite sports team wins)
  • A financial knowledge module, where personal financial transactions and spending patterns are turned into a question and answer game. 

In the U.S., Flourish began by testing end-user mechanics with organizations such as CommonWealth and OpportunityFund. In 2019, it released a B2C version of the Flourish app (called the Flourish Savings App)  as a pilot for its banking platform, which can integrate with banks through a SDK or an API.  It is also now licensing its engagement technology to banks, retailers and fintechs across the Americas. Flourish has piloted or licensed its solution to US-based credit unions, Sicoob (Brazil’s largest credit union) and BancoSol in Bolivia. 

The startup makes money through a partnership model that focuses on user activation and engagement. 

Both immigrants, Moura and Eting met while in the MBA program at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Moura emigrated to the U.S. from Brazil as a teen while Eting is the daughter of a Filiponio father and mother of Mexican descent.

The pair bonded on their joint mission of building a business that empowered people to create positive money habits and understand their finances.

Currently, the 11- person team works out of the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. It plans to use its new capital to increase its number of customers in LatAm, do more hiring and develop new functionalities for the Flourish platform. 

In particular, it plans to next focus on the Brazilian market, and will scale in a few select countries in the Americas. 

“There are three things that make Latin America, and more specifically Brazil, attractive to us at this moment,” Moura said. “Currently, the B2B financial technology market is still in its nascency. This combined with open banking regulation and the need for more responsible products provides Flourish a unique opportunity in Brazil.”

#bank, #banking, #bolivia, #brazil, #canary, #finance, #financial-services, #flourish, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latin-america, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #uc-berkeley, #united-states, #venture-capital

0

Income verification is white-hot right now, and Plaid wants in

Fresh off the termination of its planned merger with Visa, Plaid announced Thursday a new income verification product, which it said is aimed at “improving the lending lifecycle” with payroll data.

Dubbed simply Income, the new product — which is currently in beta — is designed to make it easier for people to verify their income in order to do things like secure loans, qualify for mortgages, rent apartments and lease cars, among other things.

Plaid Income gives lenders — both at fintech companies and financial institutions — verified and permissioned data on the income, employment status and tax liabilities of individual users.

The San Francisco-based company says it has been developing its Payroll product suite for more than a year. Last month, Plaid launched its other product in that suite, Deposit Switch, which is designed to allow people to “quickly” switch their direct deposits to a new or existing bank account by linking their payroll account via Plaid.

Notably, Plaid opted to build out its own income verification offering rather than partner with another fintech.

A spokesperson told TechCrunch via email that the company is “always” looking to provide people with the most holistic view of their financial lives. 

“Over the past few years, we’ve added support for several additional different types of consumer-permissioned data, including liabilities, investments, mortgage data and more,” the spokesperson added. “It’s become clearer that payroll data has huge potential value for enabling new or more streamlined services that help people better manage their financial lives, and we knew we wanted to bring that to market ourselves.”

Historically, the process of providing information so that lenders can verify employment status, income and ability to pay can place a heavy burden on applicants.

“They often need to retrieve and then share multiple documents or PDFs, which then a lender must process and review,” Plaid points out. With Income, the process is streamlined, the fintech infrastructure provider claims.

Using Plaid Link, applicants have the choice to share their payroll information using one of two methods:

  • Authenticating using their employer or payroll provider account 
  • Uploading payroll documents including paystubs, W2s and supported types of 1099s 

To provide a more “familiar and secure” experience for applicants, Plaid is developing credential-less authentication capabilities. This means that, say, an applicant for a credit card could supply key identifying information to the lender that Plaid would then use to locate his or her income information. Or maybe another bit of explanation of why this matt Also, an applicant will have the chance to review the information they are sharing and opt out of sharing it at any time.

Image Credits: Plaid

Kate Adamson, product lead at Plaid, said the company views access to payroll data as the next area of opportunity in financial services.

“The past decade of fintech innovation has shown that people can make better financial decisions more easily with better access to and control of their own financial data,” she told TechCrunch.

The income verification space is an increasingly crowded one. Last June, TechCrunch wrote about Pinwheel, an API layer for payroll data that handles everything from income and employee verification to easily switching and managing direct deposit. The company officially came out of stealth last year, announcing that it had raised a $7 million seed round from Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital and Greg Bettinelli at Upfront Ventures.

There’s also Argyle, which is building a “gateway to access employment records.” In October, that startup announced a $20 million Series A funding round led by Bain Capital Ventures. Ironically, Argyle’s name was inspired by Plaid, according to Argyle CEO and co-founder Shmulik Fishman. At the time, he told me that the company intentionally named Argyle after a pattern.

“I’m a huge fan of Plaid, and make no secret about it,” Fishman had said. “Plus, there’s a number of other successful companies such as Stripe and Checkr named after patterns. We went through a list of patterns and polka dots didn’t sound very good. So we settled on Argyle. And ultimately, we want to be the Plaid for employment records.”

#finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #payroll, #plaid, #san-francisco, #tc

0

First Boulevard raises $5M for its digital bank aimed at Black America

The murder of George Floyd last May ignited many things in the United States last year — one of which that was perhaps unexpected: a rise in the number of digital banks targeting the Black community.

Some members of the Black community took their belief that big banks are not meeting their needs and turned them into startup concepts.

One of those startups, First Boulevard (formerly called Theme), has just raised $5 million in seed funding from Barclays, Anthemis and a group of angel investors such as actress Gabrielle Union, Union Square Ventures John Buttrick and AutoZone CFO Jamere Jackson.

For co-founder and CEO Donald Hawkins, the genesis for the Overland, Kansas-bank came after Floyd’s murder, when he and friend Asya Bradley were talking about what they felt Black America “really needed to get out of a vicious cycle” of dealing with the same issues with no real solutions in sight.

CEO Donald Hawkins

COO Asya Bradley

“After viewing yet another tragedy engulf the Black community, and the all-too-familiar protests against persisting issues,” Hawkins said. “it was beyond clear to me that the solutions Black America needs must be financially-focused and developed within our community.”

The pair both had fintech experience. Hawkins had founded Griffin Technologies, a company focused on providing real-time, contextual intelligence to community banks and credit unions. And Bradley most recently was a founding team member and head of revenue at Synapse, a platform that built banking-as-a-service APIs to help bank the unbanked of America by connecting fintech platforms to banking institutions.

They discovered that there were only about 19 Black banks in the U.S., collectively holding about $5 billion in assets.

“And their technology was really behind the times,” Hawkins said. “We also took a hard look at some of the existing digital banks to really see who was really going about it  in the same way that we felt like America needed, and it was pretty clear at that point, that no one was really attacking the issue of helping Black America build some level of financial stability through the form of wealth-building play.”

The pair formed First Boulevard last August under the premise that Black Americans are “massively underserved consumers” of financial products and services despite having a collective spending power of $1.4 trillion annually. The startup’s mission is to empower Black Americans “ to take control of their finances, build wealth and reinvest in the Black economy” via a digitally-native platform.

Part of its goal with the new capital involves building out a Black business marketplace, which will give its members Cash Back for Buying Black™. It also plans to use the money to expand its team, increase its customer base and grow its platform to offer fee-free debit cards, financial education and on developing technology to help members automate their saving and wealth building goals.

History has proven that oppressed communities can succeed when their finances are centralized, and when it comes to financial services for the Black community, a centralizing force is long overdue,” Hawkins said.

The bank’s Cash Back for Buying Black™ program helps members earn up to 15% cashback when they spend money at black-owned businesses. 

“I believe the most recent stat but that also was that 41% of black owned businesses have closed since COVID-19 started,” Hawkins said. “We want to support them as much as we can.”

First Boulevard also is focused on passively building wealth for its communities.

“Black America as a whole has been blocked from learning how money works. We want to connect our members to wealth-building assets such as micro investments like money market accounts, high yield savings and cryptocurrency — things that Black America has largely been blocked from,” Hawkins said.

Bradley, who serves as First Boulevard’s COO, believes the current financial industry was not built to serve the needs of melanated people. Its goal is to take their understanding of the unique needs of the Black community to provide things such as early access to wages, round up savings features, targeted financial education and budgeting tools.

The pair aims to have a “fully inclusive” team that represents the community it’s trying to serve. Currently, its 20-person staff is 60% black, and 85% BIPOC. Two-thirds of its leadership team are women and 100% is BIPOC.

“We are very proud of that considering that in the fintech space, those are not normal numbers from a leadership perspective,” Bradley said.

For Katie Palencsar, an investor at the Female Innovators Lab by Barclays and Anthemis, said that her firm has always recognized “that access to financial services has long remained a challenge despite the digital evolution.”

“This is especially true for Black Americans who often reside in financial deserts and struggle to find platforms that truly look to serve them,” she said. “First Boulevard deeply understands the challenge.”

Palencsar believes that First Boulevard’s mission of helping Black Americans not just bank, but actually build wealth, is unique in the market.

First Boulevard sees the wealth gap that continues to grow within the U.S. and wants to build a digital banking platform that addresses the systemic and structural challenges that face this population while enabling Black Americans and allies to invest in the community,” she said.

The company also recently announced a partnership with Visa, under which First Boulevard will be first to pilot Visa’s new suite of crypto APIs. First Boulevard will also launch a First Boulevard Visa Debit card.

First Boulevard is one of several digital banks geared toward Black Americans that have emerged in recent months. Paybby, a digital bank for the black and brown communities, recently acquired Wicket, a neobank that uses AI and biometric technology to create a personalized experience for users. Hassan Miah, the CEO and founder of Paybby, said the bank’s goal is to be “the leading smart, digital bank for the Black and Brown communities.”

Paybby, which started by offering a bank account and a way to expedite PPP loans, will soon be adding a cryptocurrency savings account for the Black and Brown communities.   

“Black buying power is projected to grow to $1.8 trillion by 2024,” Miah said. “Brown buying power is over $2 trillion. Paybby wants to take a good portion of this multi-trillion dollar market and give it back to these communities.”

Last October, Greenwood raised $3 million in seed funding from private investors to build what it describes as “the first digital banking platform for Black and Latinx people and business owners.”

At the time, co-founder Ryan Glover, founder of Bounce TV network, said it was “no secret that traditional banks have failed the Black and Latinx community.”

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