Billogram, provider of a payments platform specifically for recurring billing, raises $45M

Payments made a huge shift to digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic — purchasing moved online for many consumers and businesses; and a large proportion of those continuing to buy and sell in-person went cash-free. Today a startup that has been focusing on one specific aspect of payments — recurring billing — is announcing a round of funding to capitalize on that growth with expansion of its own. Billogram, which has built a platform for third parties to build and handle any kind of recurring payments (not one-off purchases), has closed a round of $45 million.

The funding is coming from a single investor, Partech, and will be used to help the Stockholm-based startup expand from its current base in Sweden to six more markets, Jonas Suijkerbuijk, Billogram’s CEO and founder, said in an interview, to cover more of Germany (where it’s already active now), Norway, Finland, Ireland, France, Spain, and Italy.

The company got its start working with SMBs in 2011 but pivoted some years later to working with larger enterprises, which make up the majority of its business today. Suijkerbuijk said that in 2020, signed deals went up by 300%, and the first half of 2021 grew 50% more on top of that. Its users include utilities like Skanska Energi and broadband company Ownit, and others like remote healthcare company Kry, businesses that take invoice and take monthly payments from their customers.

While there has been a lot of attention around how companies like Apple and Google are handling subscriptions and payments in apps, what Billogram focuses on is a different beast, and much more complex: it’s more integrated into the business providing services, and it may involve different services, and the fees can vary over every billing period. It’s for this reason that, in fact, even big companies in the realm of digital payments, like Stripe, which might even already have products that can help manage subscriptions on their platforms, partner with companies like Billogram to build the experiences to manage their more involved kinds of payment services.

I should point out here that Suijkerbuijk told me that Stripe recently became a partner of Billograms, which is very interesting… but he also added that a number of the big payments companies have talked to Billogram. He also confirmed that currently Stripe is not an investor in the company. “We have a very good relationship,” he said.

It’s not surprising to see Stripe and others wanting to more in the area of more complex, recurring billing services. Researchers estimate that the market size (revenues and services) for subscription and recurring billing will be close to $6 billion this year, with that number ballooning to well over $10 billion by 2025. And indeed, the effort to make a payment or any kind of transaction will continue to be a point of friction in the world of commerce, so any kinds of systems that bring technology to bear to make that easier and something that consumers or businesses will do without thinking about it, will be valuable, and will likely grow in dominance. (It’s why the more basic subscription services, such as Prime membership or a Netflix subscription, or a cloud storage account, are such winners.)

Within that very big pie, Suijkerbuijk noted that rather than the Apples and Googles of the world, the kinds of businesses that Billogram currently competes against are those that are addressing the same thornier end of the payments spectrum that Billogram is. These include a wide swathe of incumbent companies that do a lot of their business in areas like debt collection, and other specialists like Scaleworks-backed Chargify — which itself got a big investment injection earlier this year from Battery Ventures, which put $150 million into both it and another billing provider, SaaSOptics, in April.

The former group of competitors are not currently a threat to Billogram, he added.

“Debt collecting agencies are big on invoicing, but no one — not their customers, nor their customers’ customers — loves them, so they are great competitors to have,” Suijkerbuijk joked.

This also means that Billogram is not likely to move into debt collection itself as it continues to expand. Instead, he said, the focus will be on building out more tools to make the invoicing and payments experience better and less painful to customers. That will likely include more moves into customer service and generally improving the overall billing experience — something we have seen become a bigger area also during the pandemic, as companies realized that they needed to address non-payments in a different way from how their used to, given world events and the impact they were having on individuals.

“We are excited to partner with Jonas and the team at Billogram.” says Omri Benayoun, General Partner at Partech, in a statement. “Having spotted a gap in the market, they have quietly built the most advanced platform for large B2C enterprises looking to integrate billing, payment, and collection in one single solution. In our discussion with leading utilities, telecom, e-health, and all other clients across Europe, we realized how valuable Billogram was for them in order to engage with their end-users through a top-notch billing and payment experience. The outstanding commercial traction demonstrated by Billogram has further cemented our conviction, and we can’t wait to support the team in bringing their solution to many more customers in Europe and beyond!”

#apple, #battery-ventures, #billing, #billogram, #broadband, #business-software, #ceo, #e-health, #economy, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #finland, #france, #funding, #general-partner, #germany, #google, #ireland, #italy, #kry, #merchant-services, #money, #netflix, #norway, #online-payments, #partner, #spain, #stockholm, #stripe, #sweden, #web-applications

What minority founders must consider before entering the venture-backed startup ecosystem

Funding for Black entrepreneurs in the U.S. hit nearly $1.8 billion in the first half of 2021 — a fourfold increase from the previous year. But most venture-backed startups are “still overwhelmingly white, male, Ivy-League-educated and based in Silicon Valley,” according to a study conducted by RateMyInvestor and Diversity VC.

With venture investors committing to funding Black and minority founders, alongside the growing availability of government-backed proposals, such as New Jersey allocating $10 million to a seed fund for Black and Latinx startups, can we expect to see fundamental change? Or will we have to repeat the same conversations about representation failings within VC funds?

Crunchbase examined the access to capital in the venture-backed startup ecosystem and proved that many industry leaders still worry that nothing will drastically shift. As a Black fintech founder, I believe that venture investors are making safe bets and investing in late-stage founders instead of early or even pre-seed stages.

But what about those minority founders who don’t have family, friends or connections to lean on for the first $250,000? Venture funding does remain elusive, but here are some tricks for startup founders to hack the system.

Realize you are up against an outdated system

Getting your foot in the door with new venture capitalist partners is challenging, and it is often easy for minority founders to be naive at first. I thought that reading TechCrunch and analyzing other VC deals I saw in the news would help me land multiple responses and speak the language of those who managed to score million-dollar deals for their startups. However, I didn’t receive a single response while other founders received VC investment for basic ideas.

This is something I had to learn the hard way: What you hear in the media or read on a company blog post often simplifies the process, and sometimes fails to cover the trajectory that minority founders, in particular, must follow to secure funding.

I experienced hundreds of rejections before raising $2 million to start a mobile payment platform, Bleu, using beacon technology to drive simple and secure payments. It is a huge mountain to climb and a full-time job to continuously pitch your vision and yourself to reach the first meeting with a VC fund — and that’s still miles away from a funding discussion.

These discussions then bring further biases to the surface. If you sat in the conference rooms or on those Zoom calls and heard the types of deals proposed to minority founders, you’d see how offensive they can be. Often, these founders are offered all the money they have requested — but don’t be fooled. It is usually not given all at once due to what I consider to be a lack of trust. Essentially, interval funding equates to being babysat.

Therefore, as a minority founder, you have to realize that it will be a long ride, and you will face rejections because you are at a disadvantage before even opening your mouth to pitch your idea. It is all possible, but patience is key.

Think of the worst-case scenario

Once I figured out how complicated the funding process was, my coping mechanism was to figure out how to capitalize on the business ideas I already had in place in case I never received any VC funding.

Think: How could you make money without an institutional investor, friends, family or internal networks? You’ll be surprised by your entrepreneurial thirst for success when you’ve experienced 100 rejections. This is why minority businesses caught in these testing situations can quickly gain the upper hand, whether through ancillary and side businesses or crowdfunding over GoFundMe and Kickstarter.

Although generally considered non-essential, ancillary companies do provide a regular flow of income and services to assist your core business idea. Most importantly, a recurring revenue stream outside your core business demonstrates to investors that you can create valuable products and acquire loyal customers.

Make sure to find a niche market and carry out surveys with potential clients to find out what specific needs they have. Then, build a product with their feedback in mind and launch it to beta clients. When you publicly release the product, find resellers to keep internal headcount low and generate recurring revenue.

Don’t take ancillaries lightly, though; they are not just a side business. There can be payment issues if you get hooked on them for revenue, distractions from clients or partners wanting custom requests, and supply chain problems.

In my case, I built a point-of-sale (POS) software platform to sell to merchants, which gave me a different revenue stream that could integrate with Bleu’s payment technology. These ancillary businesses can help fund your core business until you manage to plan how to launch fully or source further funding.

In 2019, The New York Times published an article headlined “More Start-Ups Have an Unfamiliar Message for Venture Capitalists: Get Lost.” It highlights how more and more entrepreneurs shunned by the VC funding route are turning to alternatives and forming counter-movements. There are always alternatives to look at if the fundraising process is proving to be too arduous.

Make serious headway with accelerators

Accelerators allow ventures to define their products or services, quickly build networks and, most importantly, sit at tables they wouldn’t be able to on their own. Applying to accelerators as a minority founder was the real turning point for me because I met a crucial investor who allowed us to build credibility and open up to new networks, investors and clients.

I would suggest looking out for accelerators explicitly searching for minority founders by using platforms such as F6S. They match you with accelerators and early growth programs committed to innovation in various global industries, like financial technology. That’s how I found the VC FinTech Accelerator in 2016, where one-third of founders were from minority backgrounds.

Then, Bleu earned a spot in the 2020 class of the IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator dedicated to supporting innovative startups in fintech and health tech industries. These types of accelerators offer startups workshops, technical and business mentorship, and access to a network of partners, customers and stakeholders.

You can impress accelerators by creating a pitch deck and a company video less than two minutes long that shows your founder and the product, and engaging with the fintech community to spread the news.

The other alternative to accelerators is government funds, but they have had little success investing in startups for myriad reasons. It tends to be a more hands-off approach as government funds are not under significant pressure from limited partners (LPs, either institutional or individual investors) to perform.

What you need as a minority founder is an investor who is an active partner but, with government-backed funds, there is less demand to return the capital. We have to ask ourselves whether governments are really searching for the best minority-owned startups to help them get sufficient returns.

Tap into foreign markets

There are many unconscious social stigmas, stereotypes and unseen biases that exist in the U.S. And you’ll find those cultural dynamics are radically different in other countries that don’t have the same history of discrimination, especially when looking at a team or assessing founders.

I also noticed that, as well as reduced bias, investors out of Southeast Asia, Nordic countries and Australia seemed far more likely to take risks on new contactless payment technology as cash use decreased across their regions. Take Klarna and Afterpay as examples of fintech success stories.

First, I engaged in market research and pored over annual reports to decide whether I should look abroad for funding, instead of applying to funds closer to home. I looked at Nielsen reports, payment publications, PaymentSource and numerous government documents or white papers to figure out the cash usage globally.

My investigations revealed that fintech in Australia was far ahead of the curve, with four-fifths of the population using contactless payments. The financial services sector is also the largest contributor to the national economy, contributing around $140 billion to GDP a year. Therefore, I spoke to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the U.S., and they recommended some regulatory payment groups.

I immediately flew to Australia to meet with the banking community, and I was able to find an Australian investor by word of mouth who was surrounded by the demand for mobile payment solutions.

In contrast, an investor in the U.S. still using cash and card had no interest in what I had to say. This highlights the importance of market research and seeking out investors rather than waiting for them to come to you. There is no science to it; leverage your network and reach out to people over LinkedIn, too.

The need to diversify the VC industry internally

VC funding needs to become more inclusive for women and minority groups by tackling the pipeline problem and addressing the level of diversity within VC funds. All of the networks that VCs reach out to first tend to come from university programs at Stanford, MIT and Harvard. These more privileged and wealthy students are able to easily leverage the traditional and outdated networks built to benefit them.

The number of venture dollars flowing to Black and Latinx founders is dismally low partly due to this knowledge gap; many female and minority founders don’t even know that VC funding is an option for them. Therefore, if you do receive seed funding, spread the news about it within your networks to help others.

Inclusion starts at the educational level but, when the percentage of Black and minority students at these elite colleges are still low, you can see why minority representation is needed in the VC ranks. Even if representation rises by a percent, that would be a significant change.

There are increasing numbers of VC funds announcing initiatives and interest in investing in minority businesses, and I would recommend looking at these in-depth. But what about the demographics of the VC firms? How many ethnicities are present in the executive ranks?

To change the venture-backed startup ecosystem, we need to start at the top and diversify those signing the checks. Looking toward the future, it is Black-led funds, like Sequoia, or others that focus on diversity, like Women’s Venture Fund, BackStage Capital and Elevate Capital Inclusive Fund, that are lighting the way to solutions that will reflect the diversity of the U.S.

It’s up to the investor community at large to be intentional about building relationships with, and ultimately providing funding to, more women and minority-led startups.

Despite the barriers and hurdles minority founders face when searching for VC funding, more and more avenues for acquiring funding are appearing as the disparities are brought to the media’s attention.

As the outdated system adjusts, the key is to continue preparing yourself for rejections and searching for appropriate accelerators to build vital networks. Then, if you aren’t having any luck, consider what you could do with your business idea without the VC funding or turn to foreign markets, which may have a different setup and varied opportunities.

#column, #diversity, #entrepreneurship, #financial-technology, #funding, #opinion, #private-equity, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Nuula raises $120M to build out a financial services ‘superapp’ aimed at SMBs

A Canadian startup called Nuula that is aiming to build a superapp to provide a range of financial services to small and medium businesses has closed $120 million of funding, money that it will use to fuel the launch of its app and first product, a line of credit for its users.

The money is coming in the form of $20 million in equity from Edison Partners, and a $100 million credit facility from funds managed by the Credit Group of Ares Management Corporation.

The Nuula app has been in a limited beta since June of this year. The plan is to open it up to general availability soon, while also gradually bringing in more services, some built directly by Nuula itself and but many others following an embedded finance strategy: business banking, for example, will be a service provided by a third party and integrated closely into the Nuula app to be launched early in 2022; and alongside that, the startup will also be making liberal use of APIs to bring in other white-label services such as B2B and customer-focused payment services, starting first in the U.S. and then expanding to Canada and the U.K. before further countries across Europe.

Current products include cash flow forecasting, personal and business credit score monitoring, and customer sentiment tracking; and monitoring of other critical metrics including financial, payments and eCommerce data are all on the roadmap.

“We’re building tools to work in a complementary fashion in the app,” CEO Mark Ruddock said in an interview. “Today, businesses can project if they are likely to run out of money, and monitor their credit scores. We keep an eye on customers and what they are saying in real time. We think it’s necessary to surface for SMBs the metrics that they might have needed to get from multiple apps, all in one place.”

Nuula was originally a side-project at BFS, a company that focused on small business lending, where the company started to look at the idea of how to better leverage data to build out a wider set of services addressing the same segment of the market. BFS grew to be a substantial business in its own right (and it had raised its own money to that end, to the tune of $184 million from Edison and Honeywell).  Over time, it became apparent to management that the data aspect, and this concept of a super app, would be key to how to grow the business, and so it pivoted and rebranded earlier this year, launching the beta of the app after that.

Nuula’s ambitions fall within a bigger trend in the market. Small and medium enterprises have shaped up to be a huge business opportunity in the world of fintech in the last several years. Long ignored in favor of building solutions either for the giant consumer market, or the lucrative large enterprise sector, SMBs have proven that they want and are willing to invest in better and newer technology to run their businesses, and that’s leading to a rush of startups and bigger tech companies bringing services to the market to cater to that.

Super apps are also a big area of interest in the world of fintech, although up to now a lot of what we’ve heard about in that area has been aimed at consumers — just the kind of innovation rut that Nuula is trying to get moving.

“Despite the growth in services addressing the SMB sector, overall it still lacks innovation compared to consumer or enterprise services,” Ruddock said. “We thought there was some opportunity to bring new thinking to the space. We see this as the app that SMBs will want to use everyday, because we’ll provide useful tools, insights and capital to power their businesses.”

Nuula’s priority to build the data services that connect all of this together is very much in keeping with how a lot of neobanks are also developing services and investing in what they see as their unique selling point. The theory goes like this: banking services are, at the end of the day, the same everywhere you go, and therefore commoditized, and so the more unique value-added for companies will come from innovating with more interesting algorithms and other data-based insights and analytics to give more power to their users to make the best use of what they have at their disposal.

It will not be alone in addressing that market. Others building fintech for SMBs include Selina, ANNA, Amex’s Kabbage (an early mover in using big data to help loan money to SMBs and build other financial services for them), Novo, Atom Bank, Xepelin, and Liberis, biggies like Stripe, Square and PayPal, and many others.

The credit product that Nuula has built so far is a taster of how it hopes to be a useful tool for SMBs, not just another place to get money or manage it. It’s not a direct loaning service, but rather something that is closely linked to monitoring a customers’ incomings and outgoings and only prompts a credit line (which directly links into the users’ account, wherever it is) when it appears that it might be needed.

“Innovations in financial technology have largely democratized who can become the next big player in small business finance,” added Gary Golding, General Partner, Edison Partners. “By combining critical financial performance tools and insights into a single interface, Nuula represents a new class of financial services technology for small business, and we are excited by the potential of the firm.”

“We are excited to be working with Nuula as they build a unique financial services resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Jeffrey Kramer, Partner and Head of ABS in the Alternative Credit strategy of the Ares Credit Group, in a statement. “The evolution of financial technology continues to open opportunities for innovation and the emergence of new industry participants. We look forward to seeing Nuula’s experienced team of technologists, data scientists and financial service veterans bring a new generation of small business financial services solutions to market.”

#articles, #atom-bank, #banking, #business, #canada, #ceo, #economy, #edison-partners, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #general-partner, #head, #honeywell, #innovation, #kabbage, #nuula, #paypal, #smb, #sme, #stripe, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Fintech is transforming the world’s oldest asset class: Farmland

Farmland as an asset class has proven itself to be a stable investment decade after decade. Farmland’s negative correlation with the Dow Jones Industrial Average sits at an eye-popping -43% for a three-year hold period, making it an excellent hedge against market volatility.

The asset has also been a steady appreciator since 1987, when institutional investors began incorporating farmland into their portfolios. Equally, investments into sustainably managed farmland have the potential to transform agriculture from one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions to one of the largest carbon sinks.

While farmland investments can provide passive income and a hedge during just about any economic condition, direct investments into the asset have been largely inaccessible to date.

However, while farmland is among the oldest investment classes around, the average investor hasn’t had access to farmland the way that billionaires and institutional investors have.

Revolutions in fintech and a host of startups are changing this.

Why farmland?

COVID-19 affected the world in ways we couldn’t have predicted, and the markets were no exception. The S&P 500 plummeted in mid-March and shed 34% of its pre-COVID peak value. But unlike past crises, the index rebounded just a month later.

This doesn’t mean that financial markets have fully recovered, however. We’ve seen plenty of volatility since, both in the form of rallies and losses. This has caused many investors to move some of their portfolio out of equities.

This is where farmland entered the discussion.

A historically stable asset class

Wild stock market fluctuations existed well before COVID-19. The latest era of volatility began in 2018 and continued even as the economy grew prior to the pandemic. Given the unpredictability of the equities market, investors need to counterbalance what’s in store for stocks and funds.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #finance, #financial-technology, #food-supply, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #investment, #startups

UK’s Marshmallow raises $85M on a $1.25B valuation for its more inclusive, big-data take on car insurance

Marshmallow — a U.K.-based car insurance provider that has made a name for itself in the market by providing a new approach to car insurance aimed at using a wider set of data points and clever algorithms to net a more diverse set of customers and provide more competitive rates — is announcing a milestone today in its life as a startup, as well as in the bigger U.K. tech world.

The London company — co-founded by identical twins Oliver and Alexander Kent-Braham and David Goaté — has raised $85 million in a new round of funding. The Series B valuation is significant on two counts: it catapults Marshmallow to a “unicorn” valuation above $1 billion — specifically, $1.25 billion; and Marshmallow itself becomes one of a very small group of U.K. startups founded by Black people — Oliver and Alexander — to reach that figure.

(To be clear, Marshmallow describes itself as “the first UK unicorn to be founded by individuals that are Black or have Black heritage”, although I can think of at least one that preceded it: WorldRemit, which last month rebranded to Zepz, is currently valued at $5 billion; co-founder and chairman Ismail Ahmed has been described as the most influential Black Briton.)

Regardless of whether Marshmallow is the first or one of the first, given the dearth of diversity in the UK technology industry, in particular in the upper ranks of it, it’s a notable detail worth pointing out, even as I hope that one day it will be less of a rarity.

Meanwhile, Marshmallow’s novel, big-data approach and successful traction in the market speak for themselves. When we covered the company’s most recent funding round before this — a $30 million raise in November 2020 — the startup was valued at $310 million. Now less than a year later, Marshmallow’s valuation has nearly quadrupled, and it has passed 100,000 policies sold in its home country, growing 100% over the last six months.

The plan now, Oliver told me in an interview, will be to deepen its relationships with customers, in part by providing more engagement to make them better drivers, but also potentially selling more services to them, too.

In this, the startup will be tapping into a new approach that other insurtech startups are taking as they rethink traditional insurance models, much like YuLife is positioning its life insurance products within a bigger wellness and personal improvement business. Currently, the average age of Marshmallow’s customers is 20 to 40, Oliver said — and there are thoughts of potentially new products aimed at even younger users. That means there is long-term value in improving loyalty and keeping those customers for many years to come.

Alongside that, Marshmallow will also use the funding to inch closer to its plan to expand to markets outside of the UK — a strategy that has been in the works for a while. Marshmallow talked up international expansion in its last round but has yet to announce which markets it will seek to tackle first.

Insurance — and in particular insurance startups — are often thought of together with fintech startups, not least because the two industries have a lot in common: they both operate in areas of assessing and mitigating risk and fraud; they are in many cases discretionary investments on the part of the customers; they are both highly regulated and require watertight data protection for their users.

Perhaps because so much of the hard work is the same for both, it’s not uncommon to see services built to serve both sectors (FintechOS and Shift Technology being two examples), for fintech companies to dabble in insurance services, and so on.

But in reality, insurance — and specifically car insurance — has seen a massive impact from Covid-19 unique to that industry. Separate reports from EY and the Association of British Insurers noted that 2020 actually saw a lift for many car insurance companies: lockdowns meant that fewer people were driving, and therefore fewer were getting into accidents and making less claims.

2021, however, has been a different story: new pricing rules being put into place will likely see a number of providers tip into the red for the year. And the Chartered Insurance Institute points out that will also be worth watching to see how the low use of cars in one year will impact use going forward: some car owners, especially in urban areas where keeping a car is expensive, will inevitably start to question whether they need to own and insure a car at all.

All of this, ironically, actually plays into the hand of a company like Marshmallow, which is providing a more flexible approach to customers who might otherwise be rejected by more traditional companies, or might be priced out of offerings from them. Interestingly, while neobanks have definitely spurred more traditional institutions to try to update their products to compete, the same hasn’t really happened in insurance — not yet, at least.

“We started with the idea of the power of data and using a wider range of resources [than incumbents], and using that in our pricing led us to be able to offer better rates to more people,” Oliver said, but that hasn’t led to Marshmallow seeing sharper competition from older incumbents. “They are big companies and stuck in their ways. These companies have been around for decades, some for centuries. Change is not happening quickly.”

That leaves a big opportunity for companies like Marshmallow and other newer players like Lemonade, Hippo and Jerry (not an insurance startup per se but also dabbling in the space), and a big opening for investors to back new ideas in an industry estimated to be worth $5 trillion.

“The traction the team has achieved demonstrates the demand for a new kind of insurance provider, one that focuses more on consumer experience and uses the latest technology and data to give fair prices,” said Eileen Burbidge, a partner at Passion Capital, in a statement. “We’ve been proud to support the team’s ambitions since the start, and now look forward to its next chapter in Europe as it continues its mission to change the industry for the better.”

#articles, #automotive, #car-insurance, #eileen-burbidge, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #hippo, #insurance, #ismail-ahmed, #jerry, #life-insurance, #london, #marshmallow, #money, #oliver, #private-equity, #shift-technology, #startup-company, #tc, #unicorn, #united-kingdom, #worldremit

All the reasons why you should launch a credit or debit card

Over the previous two or three years we’ve seen an explosion of new debit and credit card products come to market from consumer and B2B fintech startups, as well as companies that we might not traditionally think of as players in the financial services industry.

On the consumer side, that means companies like Venmo or PayPal offering debit cards as a new way for users to spend funds in their accounts. In the B2B space, the availability of corporate card issuing by startups like Brex and Ramp has ushered in new expense and spend management options. And then there is the growth of branded credit and debit cards among brands and sports teams.

But if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users.

To learn more about launching a card product, TechCrunch spoke with executives from Marqeta, Expensify, Synctera and Cardless about the pros and cons of launching a card product. So without further ado, here are all the reasons you should think about doing so, and one big reason why you might not want to.

Because it’s (relatively) easy

Probably the biggest reason we’ve seen so many new fintech and non-fintech companies rush to offer debit and credit cards to customers is simply that it’s easier than ever for them to do so. The launch and success of businesses like Marqeta has made card issuance by API developer friendly, which lowered the barrier to entry significantly over the last half-decade.

“The reason why this is happening is because the ‘fintech 1.0 infrastructure’ has succeeded,” Salman Syed, Marqeta’s SVP and GM of North America, said. “When you’ve got companies like [ours] out there, it’s just gotten a lot easier to be able to put a card product out.”

While noting that there have been good options for card issuance and payment processing for at least the last five or six years, Expensify Chief Operating Officer Anu Muralidharan said that a proliferation of technical resources for other pieces of fintech infrastructure has made the process of greenlighting a card offering much easier over the years.

#banking, #business-intelligence, #cardless, #credit-card, #debit-cards, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #expensify, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-infrastructure, #fintech-startup, #marqeta, #mastercard, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #payment-processing, #payment-processor, #payments, #startups, #synctera, #tc

Israel’s maturing fintech ecosystem may soon create global disruptors

“Even with its vast local talent, it seems Israel still has many hurdles to overcome in order to become a global fintech hub. [ … ] Having that said, I don’t believe any of these obstacles will prevent Israel from generating disruptive global fintech startups that will become game-changing businesses.”

I wrote that back in 2018, when I was determined to answer whether Israel had the potential to become a global fintech hub. Suffice to say, this prediction from three years ago has become a reality.

In 2019, Israeli fintech startups raised over $1.8 billion; in 2020, they were said to have raised $1.48 billion despite the pandemic. Just in the first quarter of 2021, Israeli fintech startups raised $1.1 billion, according to IVC Research Center and Meitar Law Offices.

It’s then no surprise that Israel now boasts over a dozen fintech unicorns in sectors such as payments, insurtech, lending, banking and more, some of which reached the desired status just in the beginning of 2021 —  like Melio and Papaya Global, which raised $110 million and $100 million, respectively.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to invest (both as a venture capitalist and personally) in successful early-stage fintech companies in the U.S., Israel and emerging markets  —  Alloy, Eave, MoneyLion, Migo, Unit, AcroCharge and more.

The major shifts and growth of fintech globally over these years has been largely due to advanced AI-based technologies, heightened regulatory scrutiny, a more innovative and adaptive approach among financial institutions to build partnerships with fintechs, and, of course, the COVID pandemic, which forced consumers to transact digitally.

The pandemic pushed fintechs to become essential for business survival, acting as the main contributor of the rapid migration to digital payments.

So what is it about Israeli-founded fintech startups that stand out from their scaling neighbors across the pond? Israeli founders first and foremost have brought to the table a distinct perspective and understanding of where the gaps exist within their respective focus industries —  whether it was Hippo and Lemonade in the world of property and casualty insurance, Rapyd and Melio in the world of business-to-business payments, or Earnix and Personetics in the world of banking data and analytics.

This is even more compelling given that many of these Israeli founders did not grow within financial services, but rather recognized those gaps, built their know-how around the industry (in some cases by hiring or partnering with industry experts and advisers during their ideation phase, strengthening their knowledge and validation), then sought to build more innovative and customer-focused solutions than most financial institutions can offer.

Having this in mind, it is becoming clearer that the Israeli fintech industry has slowly transitioned into a mature ecosystem with a combination of local talent, which now has expertise from a multitude of local fintechs that have scaled to success; a more global network of banking and insurance partners that have recognized the Israeli fintech disruptors; and the smart fintech -focused venture capital to go along with it. It’s a combination that will continue to set up Israeli fintech founders for success.

In addition, a major contributor to the fintech industry comes from the technological side. It is never enough to reach unicorn status with just the tech on the back end.

What most likely differentiates Israeli fintech from other ecosystems is the strong technological barriers and infrastructure built from the ground up, which then, of course, leads to the ability to be more customized, compliant, secured, etc. If I had to bet on where I believe Israeli fintech startups could become market leaders, I’d go with the following.

Voice-based transactions

Voice technologies have come a long way over the years; where once you knew you were talking to a robot, now financial institutions and applications offer a fully automated experience that sounds and feels just like a company employee.

Israel has shown growing success in the world of voice tech, with companies like Gong.io providing insights for remote sales teams; Bonobo (acquired by Salesforce) offering insights from customer support calls, texts and other interactions; and Voca.ai (acquired by Snapchat) offering an automated support agent to replace the huge costs of maintaining call centers.

#artificial-intelligence, #banking, #column, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #israel, #machine-learning, #natural-language-processing, #open-banking, #tc

Why fintechs are buying up legacy financial services companies

Oh, how the tables have turned.

It used to be that if you were a fintech startup or, for lack of a better term, a digitally native financial services business, you might be eyeing an acquisition from an incumbent in the industry.

It used to be that if you were a fintech startup or, for lack of a better term, a digitally native financial services business, you might be eyeing an acquisition from an incumbent in the industry.

But lately, fintech upstarts are the ones doing the acquiring. Over just the last year or so, we’ve seen:

So what’s going on here? Why are fintechs now acquiring legacy financial services businesses, instead of the other way around?

#banking, #ec-fintech, #figure-technologies, #fin-vc, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-startup, #golden-pacific-bancorp, #jiko, #lendingclub, #logan-allin, #ma, #money, #radius-bank, #sofi, #startups, #tc

Former Twitter and DreamWorks exec joins Acorns as CFO ahead of the fintech’s public debut

As fintech Acorns plans to go public later this year, it has named former Twitter and DreamWorks animation exec Rich Sullivan to serve as its new chief financial officer.

Irvine, California-based Acorns announced in May its intent to go public by merging with publicly traded special purpose acquisition company Pioneer Merger Corp. The SPAC values the fintech company at $2.2 billion. 

Sullivan joins Acorns from Twitter, where he led corporate finance and FP&A. Prior to Twitter, he held executive positions at STX Entertainment and DreamWorks Animation, where he served as the company’s Deputy CFO. Sullivan has also held various roles at AT&T.

Image Credits: Rich Sullivan / Acorns

Acorns CEO Noah Kerner told TechCrunch that he was drawn to the executive’s experience in subscriptions, family and in “high-growth” technology as he thought about the consumer fintech’s long-term roadmap.

“Those are obviously all really relevant to what we’re doing at Acorns,” he said. 

Since its 2012 inception, the company has evolved its offering to also include investment services, debt management and a product aimed at children, Acorns Kids. It has more than 4 million subscribers that have invested nearly $10 billion through its app. The company touts nearly 99% monthly retention, and has the ambitious goal of reaching 10 million subscribers by 2025, according to Kerner. This year, he is projecting 60% to 70% CAGR growth.

For his part, Sullivan believes that his experience of more than two decades of working for several public companies in various roles will be valuable to Acorns in the process of going public.  

He told TechCrunch he was drawn to the company’s “mission-driven approach to put responsible tools of wealth in everyone’s hands by making investing easy and accessible to a large portion of the market that basically is underserved from the financial services industry, at least in the traditional sense.”

“I think it’s uniquely positioned as a high-growth business and also an interesting space that sits at the cross-section of fintech services and social responsibility,” Sullivan added. “As an industry leader with over 4 million subscribers with a really large addressable market, I think Acorns has an opportunity to be one of the most impactful companies in the space.” 

Along that vein, Acorns launched ESG portfolios, also known as sustainable portfolios, that are powered by Blackrock shares. (ESG stands for Environmental, Social, & Governance). Kerner said the move was in part driven by customer demand.

“The strategy there is really to allow our customers to not just invest in themselves, but also in a better planet,” he said. 

The role is not a newly created one for the popular saving and investing app. Jasmine Lee has served a dual role as chief operating officer and CFO, and helped prep Acorns for the public market. She will now focus on executing Acorn’s strategic plan and overseeing the day to day operations as COO, the company said.

#acorns, #apps, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #investing, #noah-kerner, #personnel, #pioneer-merger-corp, #rich-sullivan, #spac, #tc, #twitter

Wannabe ‘social bank’ Kroo swerves VCs to raise a $24.5M Series A from HNWs

Launched in February 2018, Kroo, the London-based consumer-facing fintech raised some seed funding last year for its prepaid card service which claims to offer more ‘social features’ in its drive towards offering full-blown banking services. Kroo’s pitch is that it removes friction from financial interactions with friends and family, and throws in some environmental initiatives as well, such as tree planting.

It’s now raised $24.5 million (£17.7 million) in a Series A funding round led by Rudy Karsan, a high-net-worth tech entrepreneur and founder of Karlani Capital. Kroo will use the funding in its drive towards a full banking license in early 2022.

The fund-raising is fairly unusual for a fintech startup that aspires to become a bank, given the lack of an institutional investor. However, this will give it a lot more freedom as it heads towards bank status next year.

Kroo currently offers a prepaid debit card plus an app to track personal and social finances, such as the ability to create payment groups with friends, track spending, and split and pay bills, removing the usual awkwardness around such things.

The company has also pledged to donate a percentage of profits to social causes, and launched a tree-planting referral scheme, so that every time a customer refers a friend, Kroo plants 20 trees.

Kroo CEO Andrea de Gottardo

Kroo CEO Andrea de Gottardo

CEO Andrea de Gottardo (pictured), who joined Kroo as Chief Risk Officer in 2018, said: “We want to build the world’s greatest social bank: a bank dedicated to its customers and to the world we live in. We’re going to do more than just work with Kroo customers to improve their relationship with money and provide them with access to fair loans. We’re going to offer them ways to actively take part in making our world a better place, like carbon offsetting and a tree-planting referral program.”

Karsan said: “The reason I’m excited about Kroo is that it has a concrete opportunity to dramatically change the way people feel about their bank, for good. Kroo has an exceptionally talented management team and a nimble tech stack that will enable the continuous delivery of banking features customers really care about.”

Speaking to me over a call, de Gottardo added: “We have raised, including the series A, over £30 million through high net worth individuals and syndicated investors. So we still haven’t done an institutional round. That was a choice.”

He elaborated: “We’re lucky enough to have Rudy Karsan, a high net worth, and an extremely supportive pool of investors that keep following on in the rounds. It was our intention get up to a Series A without any institutions, and to be free of the pressure from VC. It’s now highly likely we will go institutional for a Series B round.”

#bank, #banking, #ceo, #economy, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-startup, #ing-group, #london, #money, #tc

The next generation of global payments: Afterpay + Square

Sunday was a big day in fintech: Afterpay has agreed to merge with Square. This agreement sets two of the most admired financial technology companies in recent history on a path to becoming one.

Afterpay and Square have the potential to build one of the world’s most important payments networks. Square has built a very significant merchant payment network, and, via Cash App, a thriving high-growth consumer payment service. However, these two lines of business have historically not been integrated. Together, Square and Afterpay will be able to weave all of these services together into a single integrated experience.

Afterpay and Cash App each have double-digit millions of consumers, and Square’s seller ecosystem and Afterpay’s merchant network both record double-digit billions of payment volume per year. From the offline register and the online checkout flow to sending money in just a few taps, Square and Afterpay will tell a complete story of next-generation economic empowerment.

As Afterpay’s only institutional venture investor, I wanted to share some perspective on how we got here and what this merger means for the future of consumer finance and the payments industry.

Afterpay and Square have the potential to build one of the world’s most important payments networks.

Critical innovations in fintech

Every five to 10 years, the global payments industry undergoes a critical innovation cycle that determines the winners and losers for the next several decades. The last major transition was the shift to NFC-based mobile payments, which I wrote about in 2015. The major mobile OS vendors (Apple and Google) cemented their position in the global payments stack by deftly bridging the needs of the networks (Visa, Mastercard, etc.) and consumers by way of the mobile devices in their pockets.

Afterpay sparked the latest critical innovation cycle. Conceived in a living room in Sydney by a millennial, Nick Molnar, for millennials, Afterpay had a key insight: Millennials don’t like credit.

Millennials came of age during the global mortgage crisis of 2008. As young adults, they watched their friends and family lose their homes by overextending on mortgage debt, bolstering their already lower trust for banks. They also have record levels of student debt. Therefore, it’s no surprise that millennials (and Gen Z right behind them) strongly prefer debit cards over credit cards.

But it’s one thing to recognize the paradigm shift and quite another to do something about it. Nick Molnar and Anthony Eisen did something, ultimately building one of the fastest-growing payments startups in history on their core product: Buy now, pay later … and never any interest.

Afterpay’s product is simple. If you have $100 in your cart and choose to pay with Afterpay, it will charge your bank card (typically a debit card) $25 every two weeks in four installments. No interest, no revolving debt and no fees with on-time payments. For the millennial consumer, this meant they could get the primary benefit of a credit card (the ability to pay later) with their debit card, without the need to worry about all the bad things that come with credit cards — high interest rates and revolving debt.

All upside, no downside. Who could resist? For the early merchants, virtually all of whom relied on millennials as their key growth segment, they got a fair trade: Pay a small fee above payment processing to Afterpay, get significantly higher average order values and conversions to purchase. It was a win-win proposition and, with lots of execution, a new payment network was born.

The rise of Afterpay

Image Credits: Matrix Partners

Imitation is the greatest form of flattery

Afterpay went somewhat unnoticed outside Australia in 2016 and 2017, but once it came to the U.S. in 2018 and built a business there that broke $100 million net revenues in only its second year, it got attention.

Klarna, which had struggled with product-market fit in the U.S., pivoted their business to emulate Afterpay. And Affirm, which had always been about traditional credit — generating a significant portion of their revenue from consumer interest — also noticed and introduced their own BNPL offering. Then came PayPal with “Pay in 4,” and just a few weeks ago, there has been news that Apple is expected to enter the space.

Afterpay created a global phenomenon that has now become a category embraced by mainstream players across the industry — a category that is on track to take a meaningful share of global retail payments over the next 10 years.

Afterpay stands apart. It has always been the BNPL leader by virtually every measure, and it has done it by staying true to their customers’ needs. The company is great at understanding the millennial and Gen Z consumer. It’s evident in the voice, tone and lifestyle brand you experience as an Afterpay user, and in the merchant network it continues to build strategically. It’s also evident in the simple fact that it doesn’t try to cross-sell users revolving debt products.

Most importantly, it’s evident in the usage metrics relative to competition. This is a product that people love, use and have come to rely on, all with better, fairer terms than were ever available to them than with traditional consumer credit.

Consumer loyalty and frequency drives powerful network effect, securing the lifetime value of a consumer

Image Credits: Afterpay H1 FY21 results presentation

Square + Afterpay: The perfect fit

I’ve been building payment companies for over 15 years now, initially in the early days of PayPal and more recently as a venture investor at Matrix Partners. I’ve never seen a combination that has such potential to deliver extraordinary value to consumers and merchants. Even more so than eBay + PayPal.

Beyond the clear product and network complementarity, what’s most exciting to me and my partners is the alignment of values and culture. Square and Afterpay share a vision of a future with more opportunity and fewer economic hurdles for all. As they build toward that future together, I’m confident that this combination is a winner. Square and Afterpay together will become the world’s next generation payment provider.

#afterpay, #column, #consumer-finance, #credit-cards, #cryptocurrencies, #debit-card, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech, #klarna, #ma, #matrix-partners, #mobile-payments, #opinion, #payment-processing, #payments, #square, #startups, #tc

Element Ventures pulls in $130M to double-down on the FinTech enterprise trend

With the rise of Open Banking, Psd2 Regulation, InsurTech, and the whole, general Fintech boom, tech investors have realized that there is an increasing place for dedicated funds which double down on this ongoing movement. When you look at the rise of banking-as-a-service offerings, payments platforms, insurtech, asset management, and infrastructure providers, you realize that there is a pretty huge revolution going on.

European fintech companies have raised $12.3bn in 2021 according to Dealroom, but the market is still wide-open for a great deal more funding for B2B fintech startups.

So it’s little surprise that B2B fintech-focused Element Ventures, has announced a $130 million fund to double-down on this new FinTech enterprise trend.

Founded by financial services veterans Steve Gibson and Michael McFadgen, and joined by Spencer Lake (HSBC’s former Vice Chairman of Global Banking and Markets) Element is backed by finance-oriented LPs and some 30 founders and executives from the sector.

Element says it will focus on what it calls a “high conviction investment strategy,” which will mean investing in only around 15 companies a year, but, it says, providing a “high level of support” to its portfolio.

So far it has backed B2B fintech firms across the UK and Europe including Hepster (total raised $10M), the embedded insurance platform out of Germany which I recently reported on; Billhop (total raised $6.7M), the B2B payment network out of Sweden; Coincover (total raised $11.6M), a cryptocurrency recovery service out of the UK; and Minna (total raised $25M), the subscription management platform out of Sweden.

Speaking to me over a call McFadgen, Partner at Element Ventures, said: “Steven and I have been investing in B2B FinTech together for quite a long time. In 2018 we had the opportunity to start element and Spencer came on boar in 2019. So Element as an independent venture firm is really a continuation of a strategy we’ve been involved in for a long time.”

Gibson added: “We are quite convinced by the European movement and the breakthrough these Fintech and insure tech firms in Europe are having. Insurance has been a desert for innovation and that is changing. And you can see that we’re sort of trying to build a network around companies that have those breakthrough moments and provide not just capital but all the other things we think are part of the story. Building the company from A to C and D is the area that we try and roll our sleeves up and help these firms.”

Element says it will also be investing in the US and Asia. 

#asia, #asset-management, #banking, #economy, #element-ventures, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #germany, #hsbc, #money, #partner, #payment-network, #sweden, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vice-chairman

Ivorian fintech Julaya raises $2M to digitize business payments in Francophone Africa

There are over 1 billion mobile money accounts globally. Africa leads the way in transaction value and volume thanks to M-Pesa, largely used in East Africa. Other regions across the continent are also growing fast.

In 2019, West Africa reported the most live mobile money services in any region, with 56 million active accounts. In Ivory Coast, one of Francophone Africa’s largest mobile money markets, 75% of the population own a mobile money account, compared to 20% who own bank accounts. The difference is staggering and clearly shows the region’s huge appetite for the service.

While telecom operators have largely dominated mobile money services across most of sub-Saharan Africa, a few startups are trying to change the mobile money experience for customers. Ivory Coast-based fintech startup Julaya is one such company, and today, it announced a $2 million pre-Series A funding to expand its products across West Africa.

Julaya was founded in 2018 by Mathias Léopoldie and Charles Talbot. Before launching Julaya, they worked at French payment fintech LemonWay on their service in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Léopoldie told TechCrunch that the experience introduced them to how mobile money worked across Francophone Africa. LemonWay acts as a payment solution for marketplaces. So, while working on expanding the fintech’s service in both countries, the pair noticed the massive potential businesses had to reach the unbanked via the large consumer penetration of telecom operators.

Julaya was launched to digitize trade payments but started in the Ivory Coast instead of Mali and Burkina Faso. The platform enables companies to streamline their accounting and improve their operational efficiency by digitizing payments to workers and suppliers instead of relying on cash.

The company helps African businesses and institutions disburse payments to mobile money and mobile banking wallets. It achieves this by working with telecom operators and other fintech startups in the region.

“Mobile money is coming to a mature stage where business and public institution use-cases provide new growth opportunities for the sector. The pandemic has opened up minds about the urge to digitize payments. Fintech competition in West Africa is making digital finance more affordable for consumers, and technical integrations with telecom operators are becoming more reliable,” Talbot said in a statement. 

Yet, these partnerships haven’t come without their own share of challenges. For one, payments technology in Francophone Africa remains quite fragmented, and APIs from telecoms are still burgeoning and somewhat unreliable.

Léopoldie added that challenges come from distribution channels, making it difficult for the company to sell en masse at a cheap cost, as well as from the untrustworthiness of businesses toward digitized payments.  

“In Ivory Coast, a wire transfer takes between one to three days, and you always have to check with your bank branch as a customer. … Businesses do not trust digital experiences as they often have shortcomings, and educating the market bears a high cost on acquisition. Then, talents that have a startup mindset are still difficult to find,” Léopoldie said of some of the challenges facing the three-year-old startup.

Despite this, the startup, which has an R&D and technical team in France, has bagged customers from SMBs and large corporates to government institutions. The company says it’s currently processing over $1.5 million monthly for 50 of these customers, including Jumia, SODECI, Ministry of Education, Ivory Coast and the World Bank.

Julaya closed a pre-seed investment of $250,000 in 2018 and a seed investment of $550,000 a year later, all from angel investors. But the company has introduced VC firms in its pre-Series A round. They include corporate venture capital firms Orange Ventures and MFS Africa Frontiers; VC firms Saviu Ventures, Launch Africa and 50 Partners Capital; and some angel investors in Africa and Europe. Julaya will use the investment to broaden its market share in Ivory Coast and launch digital payment products and expand across West Africa.  

More than 20 million people use Orange as a mobile money service across 15 African countries. The telecom operator also recently launched a mobile banking platform in Ivory Coast and has surpassed 500,000 users. Thus, what’s the rationale behind this strategic investment, which marks its third check in an African fintech startup after South Africa’s Yoco and Senegal’s SudPay?

“Fintech’s environment in Africa is distinguished by its competitiveness and strong dynamism. Orange Group, through its technology investment fund, intends to participate in this boom by supporting fintechs such as Julaya. The goal is to target local technology champions at the service of the transition to a more digital and responsible world,” said Habib Bamba, the director of Transformation, digital and media at Orange Ivory Coast.

Orange, other telecom operators, fintechs and banks remain big competitors to Julaya. So how does it plan to stay on top of people’s minds across the region? Léopoldie thinks that focusing on the best user experience might do the trick.

“This sounds like an overheard statement, but we understand that what the customer values most is reliable customer support and a predictable and smooth online experience, for instance, a reliable platform with very little downtime,” he said. “Even if you only have a 90% success rate on your transactions, as long as you give this information in a transparent communication to the customer, they will trust you.”

#africa, #east-africa, #finance, #financial-technology, #mobile-banking, #mobile-money, #mobile-payments, #orange-ventures, #south-africa, #tc, #west-africa

Crypto infra startup Fireblocks raises $310M, triples valuation to $2.2B

Fireblocks, an infrastructure provider for digital assets, has raised $310 million in a Series D round of funding that tripled the company’s valuation to $2.2 billion in just over five months.

Sequoia Capital, Stripes and Spark Capital co-led Fireblocks’ latest round, which also included participation from Coatue, DRW VC  and SCB 10X – the venture arm of Thailand’s oldest bank – and Siam Commercial Bank. The latter is the third global bank to invest in Fireblocks in addition to the Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon and SVB Capital. 

In February, the New York-based startup raised $133 million in a Series C round at a $700 million valuation. The latest financing brings Fireblocks’ total raised since its 2018 inception to $489 million. And as for Fireblocks’ valuation boost, the growth correlates with its increase in customers and ARR this year, according to CEO and co-founder Michael Shaulov. 

Since January, Fireblocks has seen its customer base increase to about 500 compared to 150 in January. Its ARR (annual recurring revenue) is also up – by 350% so far in 2021 compared to 2020. Last year, ARR rose by 450% compared to 2019.

“We expect to end the year up 500%,” Shaulov said. “We’ve already adjusted our revenue predictions for 2021 three times.”

Put simply, Fireblocks aims to offer financial institutions an all-in-one platform to run a digital asset business, providing them with infrastructure to store, transfer and issue digital assets. In particular, Fireblocks provides custody to institutional investors and has secured the transfer of over $1 trillion in digital assets over time. 

Fireblocks launched out of stealth mode in June of 2019 and has since opened offices in the United Kingdom, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, France and the DACH region. Today, it has over 500 financial institutions as customers – a mix of businesses that already support crypto and digital assets and those that are considering entering the space. Customers include global banks, crypto-native exchanges, lending desks, hedge funds, OTC desks as well as companies such as Revolut, BlockFi, Celsius, PrimeTrust, Galaxy Digital, Genesis Trading, crypto.com and eToro among others. 

Of those 500 institutions, Fireblocks is working with 70 banks that are looking to join the cryptocurrency space, and start platforming their infrastructure, according to Shaulov. Siam Commercial bank, for example, is using the company’s infrastructure to transform into a blockchain-based bank.

“Our platform creates highly secure wallets for cryptocurrencies and digital assets, where institutions can store their funds or their customer funds, and also get security insurance,” he said.

Fireblocks’ issuance and tokenization platform allows for the creation of asset-backed tokens.

“We handle all the security or compliance, all the policies and workflows,” Shaulov said. “Basically all the complicated stuff you need to do as a business when you want to start working with this new technology. So it’s a bit like ‘Shopify for crypto.’ ”

Sequoia Partner Ravi Gupta is naturally bullish on the company, describing Fireblocks as “the leading back-end infrastructure for crypto products.”

“The team has the potential to build a large, enduring business serving crypto-native companies, consumer fintech companies, and traditional financial institutions alike,” he told TechCrunch. “Their growth has been tremendous, and the quality of their product and customer sentiment are remarkable.”

Image Credits: Left to right: Fireblocks co-founders Idan Ofrat, Michael Shaulov and Pavel Berengoltz / Fireblocks

Fireblocks has also started to see businesses outside of what would be identified as fintech or finance show interest in its platform such as e-commerce websites that are looking to create NFTs on the back of their merchandise. 

The Fireblocks platform, Shaulov said, helps spread the expansion of digital asset use cases beyond bitcoin into payments, gaming, NFTs, digital securities and “ultimately allows any business to become a digital asset business.”

What that means is that Fireblocks’ technology can be white labeled for crypto custody offerings, “so that new and established financial institutions can implement direct custody on their own without having to rely on third parties,” the company says.

Shaulov emphasizes Fireblocks’ commitment to staying an independent company after a wave of consolidation in the space. Earlier this year, PayPal announced its plans to acquire Curv, a cryptocurrency startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Then in early May, bitcoin-focused Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd. said it agreed to buy BitGo Inc. for $1.2 billion in cash and stock in the first $1 billion deal in the cryptocurrency industry.

“Consolidation can be painful for clients,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s Important for us that we stay independent and that’s part of the purpose of this round.

The company will also use the funds to increase its engineering and customer success operations, and expand geographically, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.  

“Fireblocks provides the most secure and flexible platform for a wide range of customer needs,” said Sequoia’s Gupta. “It uses world-class multi-party computation technology to secure digital assets in storage and in transit, and has the most flexible platform with controls for product teams to be able to build on and manage Fireblocks effectively.”

#articles, #asia-pacific, #bank, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #blockfi, #celsius, #coatue, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #curv, #decentralization, #digital-currencies, #etoro, #finance, #financial-technology, #fireblocks, #france, #funding, #fundings-exits, #galaxy-digital, #israel, #money, #new-york, #paypal, #ravi-gupta, #recent-funding, #revolut, #saas, #sequoia, #sequoia-capital, #shopify, #singapore, #spark-capital, #startups, #stripes, #svb-capital, #tel-aviv, #thailand, #united-kingdom, #venture-capital

Sila banks $13M to offer single API for developing financial products, services

Sila announced Monday it raised $13 million in Series A funding for its banking and payment platform that gives software teams tools to build the next generation of financial products and services.

Revolution Ventures led the round and was joined by existing investors Madrona Venture Group, Oregon Venture Fund and Mucker Capital, as well as Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus. The funding brings the total investment to date for Portland, Oregon-based Sila to $20 million.

The company was founded in 2018 by Shamir Karkal, Angela Angelovska, Isaac Hines and Alex Lipton to simplify digital payments and storage in a regulatory compliant way and build on blockchain technology. CEO Karkal has a long history in the fintech space, co-founding Simple, an app unifying various accounts into one accessible bank card, in 2009. It was acquired by BBVA in 2014 for $117 million and shuttered earlier this year.

Karkal told TechCrunch that the idea for Sila was born out of frustration while starting another bank. He saw a need for financial application development, but was hindered by a banking system “still stuck in the 20th century.” He thought consumers expected a different level of service, which is why many flock to fintechs.

However, whenever a business tried to connect existing banking systems, fintechs and cryptocurrency innovators, as it built and scale, would always run into technology and compliance issues, Karkal said.

“The problem with working with banks, is that you have to figure out how to integrate with their mainframe,” he added. “In the process, you end up having to also be compliance experts just to be able to do it.”

Whereas it took Karkal three years to get bank processes set up for other companies, it took Sila 18 months. Its banking APIs enable developers to create their own digital wallets, replacing the need to integrate with legacy financial institutions. Sila also has partnerships with fintech platforms, including Plaid, Alloy, Lithic and Arcus to move money, and is backed by Evolve Bank and Trust.

Sila can now get customers up-and-running in six to eight weeks. And unlike competitors that focus almost exclusively on e-commerce, most of Sila’s customers are doing regulated payments within the fintech, insurtech, commercial real estate and cryptocurrency spaces that tend to be more complex from a compliance basis, Karkal said.

Since the company launched its platform, business was building steadily, and took off in the second half of 2020. The company raised a $7.7 million seed round earlier in the year. In the last 12 months, Sila grew its revenue 10 times and customers’ end users grew over 500% in the last seven months.

Sila will use the new funding to increase headcount, target additional partners and expand product features, including its Ethereum MainNet stablecoin issuance and interoperability between FedWire and the Nacha Automated Clearing House network.

“There is a massive wave of fintechs emerging in the U.S., and we have barely scratched the surface,” Karkal said. “Places like India, Africa and Latin America could accelerate at the same time because they are mainly starting from zero. We are here to ‘arm the rebels’ and help those innovators build applications to give all end users a much better financial experience.”

As part of the investment, Clara Sieg, partner at Revolution Ventures, is joining the company’s board. She told TechCrunch she met the company’s co-founders through the Portland ecosystem.

Revolution tends to look at fintech startups from a consumer angle. Recognizing that the problem with building infrastructure meant dealing with banks, the firm set out how to find a company building the pipes to solve it, she said.

In the landscape of fintech, she considers Dwolla to be a competitor to Sila. Last week, the company raised $21 million to continue developing its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments, specifically with a focus on ACH. However, it comes down to actually signing up customers, and that competitive landscape is pretty thin, Sieg added.

“Sila is building an easy way for people to program money and taking a regulatory eye to things,” Sieg said. “When Shamir was building Simple, he could see how challenging it was for incumbents to provide the tools developers need to embed financial services, and this is why we have confidence in his ability to win.”

 

#api, #bbva, #clara-sieg, #cryptocurrencies, #developer, #e-commerce, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #madrona-venture-group, #mucker-capital, #oregon-venture-fund, #payments, #plaid, #recent-funding, #revolution-ventures, #saas, #sharmir-karkal, #sila, #startups, #taavet-hinrikus, #tc, #venture-capital

i80 Group has quietly committed $1B in credit to the fintech and proptech worlds

Not every startup wants to raise venture capital. And then there are those that do want to raise VC money but don’t want to use it for specific things.

In recent years, a number of firms have emerged looking to meet the credit needs of such venture-backed and growth startups: i80 Group is one of those firms.

Former Goldman Sachs investment banker Marc Helwani founded i80 in 2016 after investing in early-stage New York-based fintechs in 2014-2015 via his VC fund, Avenue A Ventures.

“It became very clear to me that fintech was going to explode,” he recalls. “At that time, it was still relatively new. And every time I spoke to a company, they would tell me, ‘We know how to raise VC, but what about the credit?’ I just saw this white space.”

For example, proptechs that buy homes on behalf of buyers don’t want to use venture money. Fintechs that want to make loans to consumers don’t want to use equity to do it. Instead, in those cases, credit might be more desirable.

Enter i80. The firm offers credit exclusively, and over the years has quietly committed more than $1 billion to over 15 companies –including real estate marketplace Properly, finance app MoneyLion and SaaS financing company Capchase — that have all raised a significant amount of venture capital but are looking for credit “to help them scale very efficiently and in a non-dilutive manner so they can retain more ownership of their companies,” Helwani said. 

Its $1 billion milestone follows fund commitments nearing $500 million from an unnamed “leading global asset manager” as well as other institutional and retail investors.

Image Credits: Founder and Chief Investment Officer Marc Helwani / i80 Group

I80 — which derives its name from the highway that connects New York and San Francisco — is mainly focused on the fintech and proptech sectors. 

“They are the two centers for the venture ecosystem,” Helwani said. “And we’re trying to be a bridge between those two cities.” I80 has offices in both locations and will soon be opening one in Montreal.

The firm works in conjunction with VC firms such as a16z (more formally known as Andreessen Horowitz); Affirm and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin’s SciFi; Khosla Ventures; Union Square Ventures; and QED.

“In a perfect world, venture capital would be called venture equity,” Helwani said. “VCs’ capital is critical for companies to hire and get office space. But when it comes time to do what the actual business is, such as provide loans or buy homes, capital like ours is very accretive without VCs and management losing ownership in the business. In these cases, using both credit and equity makes a lot of sense.”

Helwani is reluctant to call what i80 offers venture “debt.” He says that has a very specific connotation and is what Silicon Valley Bank and others like it do in providing debt as a percentage of a previous equity round. Instead, according to Helwani, i80’s approach is to minimize fees. The vast majority of its deals are “interest-rate related.”

“With mortgages, for example, we never think about the fees upfront, and focus more on the interest rate,” Helwan said. “We believe the more transparent we are, the more companies will want to work with us.”

I80 conducts quarterly calls with VCs and for now, that’s how it typically sources most of its deal flow. It also gets referrals. Helwani believes that i80 stands out from other firms also offering credit in that it’s “not trying to be credit investors in VC clothing.”

He also thinks that the fact that the i80 team is made of operators, as well as investors, is a contributing factor.

The firm is set to close another half a dozen deals in the next 60 to 90 days, and then plans to set its sights on raising more capital.

“We want to fill this void, and help companies raise money in their subsequent rounds at higher valuations,” Helwani said.

#andreesen-horowitz, #capchase, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #goldman-sachs, #i80-group, #khosla-ventures, #max-levchin, #montreal, #new-york, #qed, #san-francisco, #startup-company, #startups, #union-square-ventures, #venture-capital

With open banking on the horizon, the fintech-SME love story is just beginning

The fintech sector has been hugely successful (and hugely profitable) for much of the last decade, and even more so during the pandemic. But it might come as a surprise to learn that many in the industry believe that the story is just beginning and the sector is poised to achieve much more, with fintech’s next decade expected to be radically different from the last 10 years.

Long before the pandemic, the way in which banks were regulated was changing. Initiatives like Open Banking and the Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) were being proposed as a way to promote competition in the banking industry — allowing smaller challenger firms to break into a market that has long been dominated by corporate titans.

Now that these initiatives are in place, however, we’re seeing that their effect goes way beyond opening up a gap for challenger banks. Since open banking requires that banks make valuable data available via APIs, it is leading to a revolution in the way that small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) are funded — one in which data, and not hard capital, is the most important factor driving fintech success.

Open banking and data freedom

In order to understand the changes that are sweeping fintech and reconfiguring the way that the industry works with small businesses, it’s important to understand open banking. This is a concept that has really taken hold among governmental and supranational banking regulators over the past decade, and we are now beginning to see its impact across the banking sector.

Allowing third parties access to the data held at banks will allow the true financial position of SMEs to be assessed, many for the first time.

At its most fundamental level, open banking refers to the process of using APIs to open up consumers’ financial data to third parties. This allows these third parties to design, build and distribute their own financial products. The utility (and, ultimately, the profitability) of these products doesn’t rely on them holding huge amounts of capital — rather, it is the data they harvest and contain that endows them with value.

Open-banking models raise a number of challenges. One is that the banking industry will need to develop much more rigorous systems to continually seek consumer consent for data to be shared in this way. Though the early years of fintech have taught us that consumers are pretty relaxed when it comes to giving up their data — with some studies indicating that almost 60% of Americans choose fintech over privacy — the type and volume shared through open-banking frameworks is much more extensive than the products we have seen up until now.

Despite these concerns, the push toward open banking is progressing around the world. In Europe, the PSD2 (the Payment Services Directive) requires large banks to share financial information with third parties, and in Asia services like Alipay and WeChat in China, and Tez and PayTM in India are already altering the financial services market. The extra capabilities available through these services are already leading to calls for the U.S. banking system to embrace open banking to the same degree.

Serving SMEs

If the U.S. banking industry can be convinced of the utility of open banking, or if it is forced to do so via legislation, several groups are likely to benefit:

  • Consumers will be offered novel banking and investment products based on far more detailed data analysis than exists at present.
  • The fintech companies who design and build these products will also see the use of their products increase, and their profit margins alongside this.
  • Arguably, even banks will benefit, because even in the most open models it is banks who still act as the gatekeepers, deciding which third parties have access to consumer data, and what they need to do to access.

By far the biggest beneficiary of open banking, however, will be SMEs. This is not necessarily because open-banking frameworks offer specific new functionality that will be useful to small and medium-sized businesses. Instead, it is a reflection of the fact that SMEs have historically been so poorly served by traditional banks.

SMEs are underserved in a number of ways. Traditional banks have an extremely limited ability to view the aggregate financial position of an SME that holds capital across multiple institutions and in multiple instruments, which makes securing finance very difficult.

In addition, SMEs often have to deal with dated and time-consuming manual interfaces to upload data to their bank. And (perhaps worst of all) the B2B payment systems in use at most banks provide very limited feedback to the businesses that use them — a lack of information that can cost businesses dearly.

New capabilities

Given these deficiencies, it’s not surprising that fintech startups are keen to lend to small businesses, and that SMEs are actively looking for novel banking products and services. There have, of course, already been some success stories in this space, and the kinds of banking systems available to SMEs today (especially in Europe) are leagues ahead of the services available even 10 years ago.

However, open banking promises to accelerate this transformation and dramatically improve the financial services available to the average SME. It will do this in several ways. Allowing third parties access to the data held at banks will allow the true financial position of SMEs to be assessed, many for the first time.

Via APIs, fintech companies will be able to access information on different types of accounts, insurance, card accounts and leases, and consolidate data from multiple countries into one overall picture.

This, in turn, will have major effects on the way that credit-worthiness is assessed for SMEs. At the moment, there is a funding gap facing many SMEs, largely because banks have been hesitant to move away from the “balance sheet” model of assessing credit risk. By using real-time analytics on an SME’s current business activities, banks will be able to more accurately assess this risk and lend to more businesses.

In fact, this is already happening in countries where open banking is well advanced – in the U.K., Lloyds’ Business ToolBox offers unlimited credit checks on companies and directors in addition to account transaction data.

Open banking will also allow peer comparison analytics far ahead of what we have seen until now. APIs can be used to provide SMEs real-time feedback on how they are performing within their market sector. Again, this ability is already available in the U.K., with Barclays’ SmartBusiness Dashboard offering marketing effectiveness tools as part of a customizable business dashboard.

These capabilities will be so useful to SMEs that they are likely to drive the popularity of any fintech product that offers them. For SMEs, this value will lie mainly in intelligent data-analytics-based insights, recommendations and automatic prompts that can be built on top of account aggregation.

Then, additional insights generated from these same monitoring tools could enable banks and alternative lenders to be more proactive with their lending — offering preapproved lines of credit, in a timely manner, to SMEs that would have previously found it difficult to access funding.

The bottom line

Crucially for the fintech sector, it’s almost a certainty that SMEs will be willing to pay fees for data-analytics-based value-added services that help them grow. This is why some startups in this space are already attracting huge levels of funding, and why open banking is at the heart of the relationship between tech and the economy.

So if fintech has had a good year, this is likely to be just the start of the story. Backed by open-banking initiatives, the sector is now at the forefront of a banking revolution that will finally give SMEs the level of service they deserve and unleash their true potential across the economy at large.

#alipay, #asia, #banking, #china, #column, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech, #india, #online-lending, #open-banking, #opinion, #payment-services-directive, #payments, #paytm, #startups

Ramp adds merchant ‘blocking’ to corporate credit card

Ask any employee and they’ll tell you one of their least favorite things to do is file expenses. And for companies, the process of managing corporate spend is one of their biggest challenges.

Corporate credit cards help ease that pain, so it’s no surprise that the competition between startups in the space is heating up by the day. 

One of the fastest growing players in the space is Ramp, a fintech company that earlier this year secured a $150 million debt facility with Goldman Sachs after having raised a $30 million Series B in late December 2020.

Today, the New York-based company is announcing a new feature that it says will give its corporate customers greater control and flexibility over the way their cards are used. Specifically, Ramp said it now offers its customers the option to approve or block merchants on the cards they offer to their employees.

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Ramp co-founder and CEO Eric Glyman said the move was in response to customer demand.

“This was one of our most requested features, especially from companies with over 100 employees,” he told TechCrunch. “They said, ‘I can block a spam call. It’s crazy I can’t do this with my credit card.’ ”

Image Credits: Ramp

With the new feature, Ramp says companies “have complete control” over how their employees use their corporate cards, down to the vendor level. It allows companies to outline specifically who employees can spend with, which vendors can be charged on what card and how much they can charge. 

So, why is this a big deal? Glyman said this means that merchant-specific cards greatly reduce the risk from stolen or compromised cards. It also helps keep employees from inflating expenses or filing false reimbursement claims.

“This gives security and control back to finance teams in a way that was never before possible,” he said.

It also helps companies in their quest to save money by using corporate credit cards in the first place, Glyman added.

“For example, they can restrict spending to businesses or companies that they have discounts or preferential pricing with,” he said. “It’s another layer of enforcement for finance teams.”

The process was not an easy one since understanding and clustering unique identifiers to be able to identify merchants was “technically complex,” according to Glyman.

For its part, Ramp counts “thousands” of businesses as customers, with well into the tens of thousands individuals using its cards.

“We’re powering into 9 figures monthly and over $1 billion in spend,” Glyman said.

The company must be doing something right.

Since raising the credit line earlier this year, Ramp has seen continued growth, more than doubling volume over the past three months.

While Glyman declined to reveal specific revenue figures, he said Ramp grew by over 6,000% in 2020, compared to the year prior and has grown over 1,000 over the past 12 months. Customers are typically fast-growing startups as well as small businesses. Some of its more well-known startup customers include Ro, Sleep Eight, ClickUp, Marqeta, Candid, Better, Truebill and Nuggs.

While Ramp makes money mostly by interchange fees, Glyman said the two-year-old startup thinks of itself as a SaaS operator.

“Our long-term strategy to develop great software,” he said.

#articles, #business-models, #credit-cards, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #eric-glyman, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #goldman-sachs, #marqeta, #money, #new-york, #payments, #ramp, #small-business, #smart-card, #startup, #startup-company, #tc

After selling Bread last year for over $500M, this founder just raised millions for his new fintech startup

When Daniel Simon sold Bread, a consumer purchase finance and payments startup he’d co-founded, to Alliance Data Systems for over $500 million late last year, he quickly set his sights on building another startup.

During the pandemic, Simon says he observed how much strain was placed on what he described as ‘real-world’ businesses and their employees — such as truck drivers, plumbers, HVAC installers and last-mile delivery people — “and how little the last decade of innovation in fintech has done to meet the needs of the vast and vital fleets segment.”

So he teamed up with former Bread COO (and former Lyft exec) Andrew Woolf to found Coast, a company that is aiming to meet those needs with the mission of becoming “the financial platform for the future of transportation.”

And today, the New York-based company is announcing it has raised $6 million in an “oversubscribed” seed round of funding led by Better Tomorrow Ventures. Avid Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, BoxGroup, Colle, Foundation Capital, Greycroft, and Max Levchin’s SciFi VC — as well as more than a dozen angels including founders of Plaid, Flexport, Marqeta, Bread, Albert, Addi, Lithic, and other fintech and logistics startups — also put money in the round.

Coast co-founders Daniel Simon and Andrew Woolf

Businesses that operate fleets need to enable their drivers to pay for vehicle-related expenses when they’re on the road, such as maintenance, roadside assistance and gas.

But once a fleet reaches a size of more than just a few vehicles, traditional small business credit cards are no longer sufficient because they lack the line-item level security, visibility, and controls necessary with a mobile workforce, according to Simon. 

“Fleet owners need transactions to be authorized, for instance, for buying gas for the company van, not the personal car, and for filling up at the pump, not making other purchases in the gas station convenience store,” he said.

Historically, fleets have turned to specialized fleet and fuel credit cards which provide controls like restricting purchases to only fuel products of a particular grade or tracking expenses on a per-vehicle basis. But Simon argues that the companies that sell such cards were founded decades ago with very little innovation since.

Coast’s goal is to use technology to provide fleet business owners and their employees payments products that are intuitive and easy to use.

“They need their employee and vehicle payments integrated into the rest of their operations, and they need fair and transparent financial products that are simple to understand,” Simon said. Bottom line, he wants to bring the “same sort of ease of use and transparency that Bread brought to e-commerce consumers and retailers to a category of business and employee that is often overlooked in tech.”

Coast’s first product, which is set to launch later this year, is a commercial fuel charge card. Drivers will be able use a physical Coast card they keep in their wallet or a shared Coast card in the vehicle, and when they swipe it at a pump at any merchant that takes Visa, Simon says Coast will conduct a “rapid review of a complex set of rules to enforce the fleet business’s policies and flag potentially fraudulent transactions.”

“No need for entering data prompted by the pump – the driver fills up and is on their way,” he said.

Fleet owners and managers can use Coast’s web portal to assign drivers and vehicles, set policies and rules about who can purchase what, how much, how often, and when. They can also get reporting and alerts on their expense policies and potential abuse. At the end of the month, they will be able pay their Coast balance in full.

Down the line, the company plans to add integrations into major accounting platforms as well as into telematics platforms that provide real-time data on vehicle status and location “so it can provide actionable spending insights back to fleet managers.” Over time, Coast also plans to expand into more categories of fleet businesses’ spending as it seeks to become more of a holistic platform for the industry.

Sheel Mohnot of Better Tomorrow Ventures, who took a seat on Coast’s board as part of the financing, says his firm was impressed by both the size of the opportunity and the team at Coast that’s tackling it. 

“The space is one of those massive unsexy categories with huge incumbents that most people have never heard of but customers — who are forced to use them — universally despise. It’s the perfect recipe for a startup to come in and disrupt it with a much better experience,” Mohnot told TechCrunch via e-mail. “Similar to what Ramp or Brex do for startups, Coast does for fleet operators – it helps them control their spending so they can focus on growing their business.”

#articles, #avid-ventures, #bessemer-venture-partners, #better-tomorrow-ventures, #boxgroup, #bread, #coast, #credit-card, #daniel-simon, #driver, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #foundation-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lithic, #lyft, #marqeta, #money, #new-york, #payments, #plaid, #recent-funding, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #web-portal

White label fintech platform Toqio secures $9.4M Seed led by Seaya and Speedinvest

The upside of the Open Banking regulations which have swept jurisdictions like the UK and the EU is that many more challenger banks have appeared. The headache for either incumbent banks or for upstart startups is the very proliferation of these new banks and financial tech products. But as we know, in gold rushes, the people selling the picks and shovels usually win. Thus, startups have turned their attention, not to launching full-stack banks, but to full-stack platforms that other people can launch their fintech startups and products upon.

The latest to join this brigade is Toqio, a fintech platform with a white label digital finance SaaS that allows anyone to launch a new fintech product.

The London-based startup has now secured an €8M / $9.4M seed round of funding led by Seaya Ventures and Speedinvest, with SIX FinTech Ventures participating.

Founded in 2019 by Eduardo Martínez and Michael Galvin, the teams behind Toqio previously built a small business SaaS startup, Geniac, which was acquired by Grant Thornton.

Eduardo Martínez, co-Founder and CEO, of Toqio, said: “Businesses and banks are looking to innovate in the FinTech sector, but to date, they have had to create and maintain complex software solutions to do this. This has also kept smaller niche businesses out of the market. We don’t want FinTech to end up like banking just with a new set of big incumbents trying to take control of financial services. We want to level the playing field.”

Toqio says its customers get access to pre-built products to create applications that can go to market quickly. Products include digital banking, card, and financing solutions, and a marketplace, aimed at financial institutions, FinTech startups, banks, and corporate brands.

Headquartered in London and Madrid, Toqio says it already has customers across Europe, including new Spanish bank Crealsa, business banking service Wamo in Malta, and alternative business lender Just Cash Flow in the UK.

Aristotelis Xenofontos, Principal at Seaya Ventures, said: ”We have spent many years following the Embedded Finance space and finally found the missing piece, a seamless enabler that glues everything together. Toqio is a truly end-to-end platform that provides a complete plug-and-play bank and allows any organization to offer a full suite of digital financial services in a rapid, painless, future-proof, and low-cost way.”

Stefan Klestil, General Partner at Speedinvest, added: “We’ve seen the rise of neo-banks, the change of regulations across multiple markets, and now we’re starting to see traditional businesses and big brands looking to embed financial products within their existing offerings. Financial services are going to change and expand at an unprecedented rate, and Toqio will be instrumental in enabling it.”

#articles, #bank, #banking, #digital-banking, #europe, #european-union, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #general-partner, #geniac, #london, #madrid, #malta, #money, #open-banking, #seaya-ventures, #speedinvest, #tc, #united-kingdom

Mythical Games raises $75M to build an NFT game engine

Even as NFT sales dip below their most speculative highs, startups aiming to tap into their potential are still scoring big funding rounds from investors who believe there’s much more to crypto collectibles than the past few months of hype.

Mythical Games, an NFT games startup based out of Los Angeles, has banked a $75 million raise from new and existing investors betting on the startup’s aim to expand the ambitions of their first title and locate a substantial platform opportunity amid helping developers build blockchain-based gaming experiences.

The round was led by WestCap. Existing investors were joined by 01 Advisors, Bilibili, Gary Vaynerchuk, the Glazer family, Moore Capital, and Redbird Capital in the Series B funding. The startup has raised a whopping $120 million to date.

The company has been building a title called Blankos Block Party that seems to be Fall Guys meets Roblox meets Funko Pop. The PC game capitalizes on a number of big social gaming trends around user-created content, while adding in a marketplace where users can buy avatar figures and accessories crafted by a variety of artists and designers that Mythical has partnered with. Users can buy or sell the limited run or open edition items through their marketplace. Unlike some other NFT platforms, the goods live on a private blockchain so they can’t be re-sold on public marketplace platforms like OpenSea.

Mythical Games is part of a growing movement to bring blockchain-based game mechanics mainstream while leaving behind elements of crypto platforms that are seen as less ready for primetime. Users can purchase avatars on the platform with cryptocurrency through BitPay but they can also pay with a credit card. Users don’t need to walk through the mechanics of setting up a wallet or writing down a seed phrase either.

While the company has big hopes for Blankos as it onboards more users, the bigger investor opportunity is likely in the game engine that the team is building. The startup’s “Mythical Economic Engine” is being designed to help budding game builders create NFT-based marketplaces that won’t get them in any regulatory trouble, marrying compliance across geographies and tools that help creators comply with anti-money laundering laws and know-your-customer frameworks.

“With any new market like [NFTs], it goes through all these different cycles,” Mythical Games CEO John Linden tells TechCrunch. “We think this will actually change gaming for the long haul. The more we talk to game studios, we’re finding more and more potential use cases.”

#advisors, #articles, #bilibili, #bitpay, #blockchain, #ceo, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #financial-technology, #funko, #gary-vaynerchuk, #los-angeles, #roblox, #tc, #technology, #westcap

Tiger Global leads $30M investment into Briq, a fintech for the construction industry

Briq, which has developed a fintech platform used by the construction industry,  has raised $30 million dollars in a Series B funding round led by Tiger Global Management.

The financing is among the largest Series B fundraises by a construction software startup, according to the company, and brings Briq’s total raised to $43 million since its January 2018 inception. Existing backers Eniac Ventures and Blackhorn Ventures also participated in the round.

Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy is a former executive at construction tech giant Procore (which recently went public and has a market cap of $10.4 billion) Canadian software giant CMIC. Wall Street veteran Ron Goldshmidt is co-founder and COO.

Briq describes its offering as a financial planning and workflow automation platform that “drastically reduces” the time to run critical financial processes, while increasing the accuracy of forecasts and financial plans.

Briq has developed a toolbox of proprietary technology that it says allows it to extract and manipulate financial data without the use of APIs. It also has developed construction-specific data models that allows it to build out projections and create models of how much a project might cost, and how much could conceivably be made. Currently, Briq manages or forecasts about $30 billion in construction volume.

Specifically, Briq has two main offerings: Briq’s Corporate Performance Management (CPM) platform, which models financial outcomes at the project and corporate level and BriqCash, a construction-specific banking platform for managing invoices and payments. 

Put simply, Briq aims to allow contractors “to go from plan to pay” in one platform with the goal of solving the age-old problem of construction projects (very often) going over budget. Its longer-term, ambitious mission is to “manage 80% of the money workflows in construction within 10 years.”

The company’s strategy, so far, seems to be working.

From January 2020 to today, ARR has climbed by 200%, according to Hamdy. Briq currently has about 100 employees, compared to 35 a year ago.

Briq has 150 customers, and serves general and specialty contractors from $10 million to $1 billion in revenue.  They include Cafco Construction Management, WestCor Companies and Choate Construction and Harper Construction. The company is currently focused on contractors in North America but does have long-term plans to address larger international markets, Hamdy told TechCrunch.  

Some context

Hamdy came up with the idea for Santa Barbara, California-based Briq after realizing the vast amount of inefficiencies on the financial side of the construction industry. His goal was to do for construction financials what Procore did to document management, and PlanGrid to construction drawing. He started Briq with his own cash, amassed through secondary sales as Procore climbed the ranks of startups to become a construction industry unicorn.

Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy

“I wanted to figure out how to bring the best of fintech into a construction industry that really guesses every month what the financial outcomes are for projects,” Hamdy told me at the time of the company’s last raise – a $10 million Series A led by Blackhorn Ventures announced in May of 2020. “Getting a handle on financial outcomes is really hard. The vast majority of the time, the forecasted cost to completion is plain wrong. By a lot.”

In fact, according to McKinsey, an astounding 80 percent of projects run over budget, resulting in significant waste and profit loss.

So at the end of a project, contractors often find themselves having doled out more money and resources than originally planned. This can lead to negative cash flow and profit loss. Briq’s platform aims to help contractors identify outliers, and which projects are more at risk.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Briq has proven to be “extremely valuable” to contractors, Hamdy said.

“In an industry where margins are so thin, we have given contractors the ability to truly understand where they stand on cash, profit and labor,” he added.

#articles, #blackhorn-ventures, #briq, #california, #construction, #construction-software, #construction-tech, #economy, #eniac-ventures, #executive, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #mckinsey, #north-america, #plangrid, #procore, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #tiger-global-management, #venture-capital