Post-pandemic shifts means Patch will take co-working to UK small towns and suburbs

It would be fair to say the pandemic has had enormous effects on the world of work, but it has come at a time when other factors were already ongoing. The decline of main-street shopping due to e-commerce has only been hastened. The shift to remote working has sky-rocketed. And people no longer want to commute 8am-6pm anymore. But we’ve also found that working from home isn’t all its cracked up to be. Plus, they don’t see the point of commuting into a big city, only to have to co-work in something like a WeWork, when they could just as easily have gone to something local. The problem is, there is rarely a local co-working space, especially in the suburbs or smaller towns.

If, instead, you could bring work nearer to home (rather than working from home) then, the theory goes, you’d get a more balanced lifestyle, but also get that separation between work and home so many people, especially families, still desire.

Now, a new UK startup has come top with a ‘decentralized workspace’ idea which it plans to roll out across the UK.

Patch will take empty local high street shops and turn them into “collaborative cultural spaces” with its ‘Work Near Home’ proposition aimed at traditional commuters. There are an estimated 6 million knowledge work commuters in the UK, and Patch will run on monthly subscriptions from these kinds of members.

It’s now raised a $1.1M Seed funding round from a number of leading UK angel investors including Robin Klein (cofounder of LocalGlobe), Matt Clifford (Cofounder of Entrepreneur First), alongside Charlie Songhurst, Simon Murdoch (Episode 1), Wendy Becker (former CEO Jack Wills and NED at Great Portland Estates), Camilla Dolan (founding partner of sustainable investor Eka Ventures), Zoe Jervier (talent Director for US investment firm Sequoia), and Will Neale (founder of Grabyo and early-stage investor).

Patch says its ‘Work Near Home’ idea is geared to the Post-Covid ‘hybrid working’ movement and it plans to create public venues, “with a focus of entrepreneurship, technology, and cultural programming.”

Each Patch location will offer a range of private offices, co-working studios, “accessible low-cost options” and free scholarship places.

Patch’s first site will open in Chelmsford, Essex in early November, and the startup says several more sites are planned for 2022. It says it has received requests from people in Chester, St Albans, Wycombe, Shrewsbury, Yeovil, Bury, and Kingston upon Thames.

Patch’s founder Freddie Fforde said: “Where we work and where we live have traditionally be seen as distinct environments. This has led to the hollowing out of many high streets during the working week, and equally redundant office districts. We think that technology fundamentally changes this, allowing people to work near home and creating a new mixed environment of professional, civic, and cultural exchange.”

Fforde is a former Entrepreneur First founder and employee who has held various roles in early-stage tech companies in London and San Francisco. The head of product will be Paloma Strelitz, formerly cofounder of Assemble, a design studio that won the 2015 Turner Prize.

Commenting, Matt Clifford, Entrepreneur First and Code First Girls, said: “Technology has always changed the way we organize and work together. Patch will unlock opportunities for talented people based on who they are, unconstrained by where they live. We want to be a country where high-skilled jobs are available everywhere and Patch is a key part of that puzzle.”

Targeting towns and smaller cities, in residential areas, not the major city centres, Patch says it will look for under-utilised landmark buildings in the center of towns. In Chelmsford, their first space will be a Victorian brewery, for instance.

Grays Yard

Grays Yard

Chelmsford Councillor Simon Goldman, Deputy Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Small Business and representative for the BID board, said: “The introduction of a new co-working space in Gray’s Yard is a really positive scheme for the city. Providing local options for residents to work from will help them to have less of a commute which will hopefully allow a better work/life balance. Working closer to home brings many benefits for both individuals and their families, but also for the environment and the local economy.”

Patch says it will also operate a model of ‘giving back’, with 20% of peak event space hours donated to local and national providers of community services “that support the common good”. Early national partners include tech skills providers Code First Girls, and with Coder Dojo, a Raspberry Pi Foundation initiative.

#ceo, #cofounder, #commuting, #coworking, #e-commerce, #eka-ventures, #entrepreneur, #europe, #founder, #grabyo, #kingston, #localglobe, #london, #matt-clifford, #partner, #patch, #raspberry-pi-foundation, #robin-klein, #san-francisco, #sequoia, #simon-murdoch, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wework

Constructor finds $55M for tech that powers search and discovery for e-commerce businesses

One of the biggest problems in the world of e-commerce is the predicament of shopping cart abandonment: when shoppers aren’t getting to what they want fast enough — whether it’s finding the right item, or paying for it in a quick and easy way — they bounce. That singular problem is driving a wave of technology development to make the experience ever more seamless, and today one of the companies closely involved in that space is announcing some funding on the back of healthy growth.

Constructor, which has built technology that powers search and product discovery tools for e-commerce businesses, has picked up $55 million in a Series A round of funding. Constructor says that it powers “billions” of queries every month, with revenues growing 233% in the last year. Customers it works with include Sephora, Walmart’s Bonobos, Backcountry and many other big names.

The round is being led by Silversmith Capital Partners — which coincidentally, just today, led another round for an e-commerce startup, Zonos.

It is joined by a long list of notable individual investors. They include David Fraga, former president of InVision; Kevin Weil, former head of product at Twitter and Instagram; Jason Finger, founder of Seamless; Carl Sparks, ex-CEO of Travelocity; Robyn Peterson, CTO at CNN; Dave Heath, founder of Bombas; Ryan Barretto, president at Sprout Social; Melody Hildebrandt, EVP engineering and CISO at FOX; Zander Rafael, co-founder of Better.com; and Seth Shaw, CRO at Airtable. Cap Table Coalition — a firm that helps underrepresented-background investors back up-and-coming startups — was also involved. Fraga is joining Constructor’s board with this round.

The last year and a half has been a bumper one for the world of e-commerce — with more traffic, transactions and retailers moving online in the wake of social distancing measures impacting in-person, physical shopping. But that has also exposed a lot of the cracks in how e-commerce works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be).

One of the more dysfunctional areas is search and discovery. As most of us have unfortunately learned first-hand, when we search for things in the search window of an online store, it’s almost always the case that the results don’t have what we want.

When we browse as we might in a physical store, because we are not sure of what we want, all too often we are not prompted with pictures of things we might actually like to buy. They may be there — we typically visit sites because we either already know them, or have seen something we like elsewhere — but nevertheless, finding what we might actually like to buy can take a lot of time, and in many cases may never happen at all.

Eli Finkelshteyn, Constructor’s CEO and founder, says that one of the issues is that search and discovery are often built as static experiences: they are designed to meet a one-size-fits-all model where site architects have effectively guessed at what a shopper might want, and built for that. This is one area that Constructor has rethought, specifically by making search and discovery more dynamic and responsive to what’s happened before you ever visit a site.

“One of the things wrong with product discovery was that prescriptively sites show you what they think is valuable to you,” he said. “We think the process should be descriptive.”

As an example, he talked about Cheetos. Sometimes people who might want to buy these start out by navigating to the potato chip category. In many static searches, those results might not include Cheetos. Some people might abandon their search altogether (bounce), but some might navigate away from that and search specifically for Cheetos and add them to their carts. In a descriptive and more dynamic environment, Finkelshteyn believes that these two flows should subsequently inform all future chip searches.

“We take into account as much data as we can learn from, and that list is always growing,” he said. “The goal is anything we can learn from should become part of the user experience.”

Google is the current, undisputed leader in the world of search, and it too uses a lot of dynamic, AI-based tools to learn and tweak how it searches and what results it produces.

Interestingly it hasn’t extended as much of this to third parties as you might think. The company wound down its own site search product in 1997 and now if you look for this you are redirected to the company’s enterprise search suite.

There are however others that have also stepped into that void to provide services that compete with Constructor, including the likes of Algolia, Yext, Elasticsearch and more. Finkelshteyn believes that among all of these, none have managed yet to provide a service like Constructor’s that learns and adjusts its results constantly based on search and browsing activity.

This is one reason the company has stood out with its customers, and with investors.

“Constructor has built a search and discovery platform that is truly making a difference for enterprise retailers. They are providing customers with comprehensive and optimized search and discovery that is unmatched in the market,” said Sri Rao, Constructor board member and general partner at Silversmith Capital Partners, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with the Constructor team as they continue to revolutionize search and discovery capabilities for retailers across all platforms.”

Looking forward, there will be some interesting opportunities ahead for Constructor to take its search and discovery tools to new frontiers. These could include ways to bring in and account for shoppers on third-party platforms — currently Constructor does not power experiences on, say, social media, so that is one potential area to explore — as well as more offline experiences, critical as retailers and shoppers take on more blended approaches that might start online and finish in stores, or proceed the other way around, or find users walking around with their phones to shop even as they are in physical stores.

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

Iceland’s Crowberry Capital launches $90M Seed and Early-stage fund aimed at Nordics

Crowberry Capital, operating in Reykjavik and Copenhagen, has launched Crowberry II: a $90 million seed and early-stage fund aimed at startups in the Nordic region. A second close – bringing in an additional $40 million – is planned for July 2022.

The EIF (European Investment Fund) is the lead LP on the fund, after putting in €20 million from the EU’s “InnovFin Equity” program. This is InnovFin Equity’s first VC fund in Iceland.

Other investors include Icelandic Pension funds, several family offices, and angels including David Helgason, founder of Unity Technologies.

Crowberry II, which claims to be the largest VC fund operating out of Iceland, is headed up by three women founders, Hekla Arnardottir, Helga Valfells, and Jenny Ruth Hrafnsdottir.

The Crowberry I fund (a $40m fund launched in 2017), invested in startups in the areas of Gaming, SaaS, Healthtech, and Fintech.

Hekla Arnardottir said: “An incorrect assumption is that because we are women, we are only interested in supporting female founders. As our investment record shows, we support companies because they are game changers, irrespective of the gender of their senior team members. However, we also benefit, as an all-female team, from a circumspection which means that we can see potential in businesses and sectors which are typically overlooked by others in our space.”

She added: “Inclusivity is good for business, and through being open and approachable, your deal-flow multiplies in parallel to your talent pool, and businesses are built with a broader potential user base. It’s crazy that in 2020, female-led startups received just 2.3% of VC Funding, yet Crowberry considers this to be an opportunity: where the Nordics lead in gender equality on a societal level, we want to show that the region can also show the way in terms of inventive venture support.”

Crowberry’s previous fund (Crowberry I) featured 15 companies, of which 33% had female CEOs.

#articles, #copenhagen, #crowberry-capital, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-investment-fund, #european-union, #flo, #founder, #healthtech, #iceland, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #unity-technologies

‘Thin file’ loans startup Koyo closes $50M Series A led by Force Over Mass

Koyo, a fintech startup using open banking to offer loans to people with poor credit histories, has closed a Series A funding round of $50m in debt and equity led by Force Over Mass, with participation from existing investors Forward Partners, Frontline Ventures and Seedcamp. New investors in Koyo include Force Over Mass, Matt Robinson (founder of GoCardless, founder of Nested), and angel investors from the banking and lending sectors.  It last raised $4.9 million in 2019. With many sectors of the population having racked up debts during the pandemic, Koyo is likely to benefit from this underclass of consumer, normally rejected by the main loans companies.

The startup says it uses Open Banking data (bank transactions), rather than credit agency scores to underwrite risk for lending to consumers. In other words, it looks at how customers spend their money on a day-to-day basis, rather than what a credit agency says about them. The idea is to offer attractive rates and cheaper borrowing to a usually underserved market, usually known as ‘thin file’ customers (short or no credit history) or ‘near prime’ customers. The near-prime market equates to c13-15m people in the UK.

Thomas Olszewski, Koyo’s founder and a former VC with Frontline Ventures in London and Cavalry Ventures in Berlin, said in a statement: “Koyo launched at the start of the global pandemic and has proven that innovative use of open banking data results in better risk decisioning and ultimately has enabled us to grow the business during one of the toughest economic times the UK has faced. I’m proud to have continued to give many people in the UK access to competitively priced credit, during a time where most traditional lenders were quick to scale back their lending.”

Filip Coen, Force Over Mass partner, said, “We invest in companies that combine transformational technology with strong business models, and Koyo indexed strongly in both of those departments. Koyo has built a first-class foundation over the last 18 months of operation, and we’re excited to be part of its future”.

#bank, #banking, #berlin, #cavalry-ventures, #economy, #europe, #fintech-startup, #forward-partners, #founder, #frontline-ventures, #gocardless, #koyo, #london, #massachusetts, #matt-robinson, #nested, #open-banking, #seedcamp, #tc, #united-kingdom

How one founder turned painful personal experience into the solution for a huge gap in healthcare

A lot of startup founders think there’s a dire need for their product in the market, but Liya Shuster-Bier knew for sure that there was one, because she’d required it herself prior to building it — yet nothing like it existed. Liya’s company Alula provides a new kind of shopping platform, organized based on treatment types, and includes both registry and care calendar features for helping a whole network of caregivers rally around someone’s cancer diagnosis.

On this week’s episode of Found, we talk about Liya’s entrepreneurial journey, as well as the challenges of managing a cancer diagnosis, even after remission, and how that provided her with the inspiration not just for what Alula does, but also for how the company functions. She provides us tremendous insight about what it means to be a leader, and how you can build a company that has mutual respect and concern for our shared humanity as a core value that’s also a commercial success.

We loved our time chatting with Liya, and we hope you love yours listening to the episode. And of course, we’d love if you can subscribe to Found in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Google Podcasts or in your podcast app of choice. Please leave us a review and let us know what you think, or send us direct feedback either on Twitter or via email at found@techcrunch.com, or leave us a voicemail at (510) 936-1618. And please join us again next week for our next featured founder.

#found, #founder, #health, #startup, #tc

Link-in-bio monetization platform Snipfeed raises a $5.5M seed round

The link-in-bio business is heating up as more mobile website builders compete for a coveted slice of real estate on a creator’s TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter. Linktree leads the space, securing a recent $45 million Series B raise to build out e-commerce features, but Beacons boasts competitive creator monetization tools with just a $6 million seed round in May. Now, Snipfeed enters the ring with its own $5.5 million seed round, including investments from CRV, Abstract Ventures, Crossbeam (Ali Hamed), id8, Michael Ovitz (founder of CAA), Michael Bosstick, Diaspora Ventures, and others.

Linktree has been around since 2016 and has more funding than its up-and-coming competitors. But for creators seeking to monetize their following, these newer platforms may be more attractive to some creators, since they already have built-in tools to help them monetize their followings. Linktree currently supports tipping on the platform for users subscribed to its $6 Linktree Pro platform, but Snipfeed offers a wider range of monetization options; some creators are making over $20,000 per month on the platform, according to CEO and co-founder Rédouane Ramdani.

Snipfeed started as a content discovery platform with 44,000 weekly active users — but when Snipfeed added a creator monetization tool to its platform, it became its most popular feature. So, in February 2020, with little to no funding left, the company completely pivoted to its current link-in-bio business. Since then, Snipfeed has amassed 50,000 registered users, with the user base growing 500% in the last six months (Linktree, for comparison, has over 12 million users).

Based in Paris and Los Angeles, Snipfeed’s 15-person staff is particularly interested in the “long tail” of creators, which it says encompasses over 46 million people.

“Content creator doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be the next Addison Rae or a TikTok star,” explained Ramdani. “It means that you might be a doctor or lawyer, and on top of that, you’re going to have a TikTok where you explain how to file your taxes and that kind of stuff. They have this expertise, and they’re wondering, ‘How can I turn that into a side-hustle?’”

Image Credits: Snipfeed

In addition to a standard tipping tool, Snipfeed allows users to sell digital goods, like on-demand video, ebooks, access to livestreams, and one-on-one consultations. But Snipfeed’s biggest differentiator is its Cameo-like system for selling personalized content. For example, TikToker maylikethemonthh uses Snipfeed to sell asynchronous, video-recorded tarot readings. While asking a single, personalized astrology question costs $5, a more in-depth reading can cost up to $20 or $40.

Snipfeed is free to set up, but if you make sales, the company takes 15% — this percentage is inclusive of any transaction fees. Through Snipfeed’s referral program, creators can make 5% of sales from anyone they onboard to the platform (this comes out of Snipfeed’s commission).

“We decided to go with this model because we really want to have a relationship where we help the creators really make money. We only make money if they make money,” Ramdani said.

If a creator or celebrity were to sell personalized videos on Cameo, they’d lose 25% to the platform. Meanwhile, Beacons takes 9% of sales from its free version, and 5% from its $10 per month version, which offers more customization, integrations, analytics.

Image Credits: Snipfeed

Still, depending on the type of creator, the features that each link-in-bio startup offers might matter more than the cost. Beacons allows users to share a shopping-enabled TikTok feed, which could be huge a money-maker for creators that often share product recommendations with affiliate links, which give them a commission from sales. Ramdani said that astrologers have been particularly successful on Snipfeed, since fans can book a variety of asynchronous services at a wide range of prices. But these features could benefit any creator who can profit from answering followers’ specific questions — a chef could offer recipe ideas based on what’s in a fan’s fridge, or a life coach could make a personalized video if a follower requests advice.

With its $5.5 million in seed funding, Snipfeed plans to build out its e-commerce tools so that creators can sell physical products on their link-in-bio (Beacons and Linktree are also working on this with their recent funding rounds — but Beacons’ and Snipfeed’s seed rounds are small compared to Linktree’s Series B). The company also wants to develop educational content to show its users how to best monetize their platform — if Snipfeed can help its creators make money, then it’ll make more money too.

#abstract-ventures, #ali-hamed, #apps, #beacons, #caa, #crossbeam, #founder, #instagram, #lawyer, #link-in-bio, #linktree, #los-angeles, #michael-ovitz, #monetization, #paris, #real-estate, #social-media, #software, #tiktok, #video-hosting, #website, #world-wide-web

Early-stage founders: Beat the clock & buy a $79 Founder pass to TC Disrupt 2021

If you’re an early-stage founder, you’d be wise to make TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 (September 21-23) your must-attend virtual destination. It’s the OG of tech startup conferences, draws more than 10,000 attendees from around the world and features some of the most gifted, visionary minds and makers across the entire tech spectrum.

Cash-strapped founders in the early innings of their startup love to save money, and we get it in a big way. That’s why our Founder pass is the perfect choice for you. Right now, you can buy a Founder Pass for $79 but the clock is ticking on this early bird deal. It flies away — and prices go up — on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).

The price might be small, but a Founder pass provides full access to Disrupt programming — more than 100 hours of live content and three months of video-on-demand access. You’ll connect and network with thousands of Disrupt attendees, strike up ad hoc conversations in the virtual platform’s chat feature and use CrunchMatch to set up private 1:1 meetings with potential customers, investors or employees.

Watch the Startup Battlefield, explore hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley expo area and take full strategic advantage of the free, three-month Extra Crunch membership that comes with your Founder pass.

Of course, we think attending Disrupt is a no-brainer, but check out what these early-stage founders told us about their Disrupt experiences.

“Disrupt is laser-focused on startups. I’m just starting my own company and attending Disrupt was an incredible opportunity to connect with companies and learn from the best people in the industry.” — Anirudh Murali, co-founder and CEO, Economize.

“My top three benefits of going to Disrupt were introducing my product to people who would not have seen it otherwise; networking with investors, mentors, advisors and potential customers and, finally, talking to other entrepreneurs and founders and learning what it took to get their companies off the ground.” — Felicia Jackson, inventor and founder of CPRWrap.

“Disrupt gave our company and technology invaluable exposure to potential customers and partners that we would not have met otherwise. A company that does 15 billion in annual sales thinks our tech is a fit for their ecosystem, and we’re excited to continue building that relationship.” — Joel Neidig, founder of SIMBA Chain.

Take a few minutes and peruse the Disrupt 2021 agenda. Don’t miss out on Startup Battlefield or any of the pitch feedback sessions — they’re great opportunities to learn what investors look for in a pitch. The pitch(deck) you improve could be your own.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 takes place on September 21-23, but time is running out for you to buy a Founder Pass for only $79. Prices go up when the early-bird deal expires on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#advisors, #business, #entrepreneurship, #founder, #joel-neidig, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021

Early bird savings on passes to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 end this week

Tick tock, early-stage startup fans: If you plan to attend TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 (September 21-23), time is running out to score a pass to the world’s leading conference dedicated to tech startups — for less than $100. The early bird sale ends this week, so buy your pass here before the deal expires on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).

And if you’re part of the tech startup ecosystem — or aspire to be — why the heck wouldn’t you dive headlong into three days dedicated to the art and science required to build and scale successful startups? Just listen to what three past attendees said about their Disrupt experience.

Disrupt is a great sweet spot, and highly valuable, for anyone in the idea stage all the way through to having raised some angel money. Soak up the pitch deck teardowns and the VC presentations. They’re telling you what they’re looking for, what motivates them, what pushes them to contact you for a meeting. And that’s exactly what every startup raising capital needs to know. — Michael McCarthy, CEO, Repositax.

“TechCrunch has created a great venue that brings together all the different people within the startup ecosystem. It’s a place where new startups can present, attendees can learn from top industry experts and who knows? One day they might be the person speaking on the Disrupt stage. It’s a great event overall.” — JC Bodson, founder and CEO of Arbitrage Technologies

“The connections I made at Disrupt offer long-term benefits. Investors willing to put forth capital, engineers offering tech expertise and manufacturers to help me streamline. Fostering these relationships will help me grow my company and my bottom line.” — Felicia Jackson, inventor and founder of CPRWrap.

Disrupt is the place to be to learn, connect, collaborate and keep tabs on rapidly changing trends. Here’s just one example of the timely topics and world-class experts we have on tap. Don’t forget to check out the agenda.

Saving the World: COVID-19 changed everything. It not only threatened our individual health and wellbeing, but it also shook industries and economies across the globe. The same could be said about the COVID-19 vaccines. Hear from BioNTech Cofounder and CEO, Ugur Sahin on the process of rapidly developing the world’s most sought-after vaccine, alongside Pfizer, and the long-term potential of mRNA-based therapies. Sahin will be joined by Ursheet Parikh of Mayfield Fund to discuss what’s next for startups in this rapidly evolving industry.

Pro Tip: We’ll add new speakers, events and discounts in the run up to Disrupt — sign up for updates so you don’t miss out.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 takes place September 21-23, but the time to snag serious savings ends this week. Buy your early bird pass here before the deal expires on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#biontech, #business, #ceo, #companies, #cprwrap, #economy, #felicia-jackson, #founder, #mayfield-fund, #pfizer, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021, #ugur-sahin, #ursheet-parikh, #verizon-media

Untitled Ventures joins the scramble for Russian & Eastern European startups with a $118M warchest

Sorry Mr. Putin, but there’s a race on for Russian and Eastern European founders. And right now, those awful capitalists in the corrupt West are starting to out-gun the opposition! But seriously… only the other day a $100 million fund aimed at Russian speaking entrepreneurs appeared, and others are proliferating.

Now, London-based Untitled Ventures plans to join their fray with a €100 million / $118M for its second fund to invest in “ambitious deep tech startups with eastern European founders.”

Untitled says it is aiming at entrepreneurs who are looking to relocate their business or have already HQ’ed in Western Europe and the USA. That’s alongside all the other existing Western VCs who are – in my experience – always ready and willing to listen to Russian and Eastern European founders, who are often known for their technical prowess.

Untitled is going to be aiming at B2B, AI, agritech, medtech, robotics, and data management startups with proven traction emerging from the Baltics, CEE, and CIS, or those already established in Western Europe

LPs in the fund include Vladimir Vedeenev, a founder of Global Network Management>. Untitled also claims to have Google, Telegram Messenger, Facebook, Twitch, DigitalOcean, IP-Only, CenturyLinks, Vodafone and TelecomItaly as partners.

Oskar Stachowiak, Untitled Ventures Managing Partner, said: “With over 10 unicorns, €1Bn venture funding in 2020 alone, and success stories like Veeam, Semrush, and Wrike, startups emerging from the fast-growing regions are the best choice to focus on early-stage investment for us. Thanks to the strong STEM focus in the education system and about one million high-skilled developers, we have an ample opportunity to find and support the rising stars in the region.”

Konstantin Siniushin, the Untitled Ventures MP said: “We believe in economic efficiency and at the same time we fulfill a social mission of bringing technological projects with a large scientific component from the economically unstable countries of the former USSR, such as, first of all, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but not only in terms of bringing sales to the world market and not only helping them to HQ in Europe so they can get next rounds of investments.”

He added: “We have a great experience accumulated earlier in the first portfolio of the first fund, not just structuring business in such European countries as, for example, Luxembourg, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Cyprus and Latvia, but also physically relocating startup teams so that they are perceived already as fully resident in Europe and globally.”

To be fair, it is still harder than it needs to be to create large startups from Eastern Europe, mainly because there is often very little local capital. However, that is changing, with the launch recently of CEE funds such as Vitosha Venture Partners and Launchub Ventures, and the breakout hit from Romania that was UIPath.

The Untitled Ventures team:
• Konstantin Siniushin, a serial tech entrepreneur
• Oskar Stachowiak, experienced fund manager
• Mary Glazkova, PR & Comms veteran
• Anton Antich, early stage investor and an ex VP of Veeam, a Swiss cloud data management company
acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $5bln
• Yulia Druzhnikova, experienced in taking tech companies international
• Mark Cowley, who has worked on private and listed investments within CEE/Russia for over 20 years

Untitled Ventures portfolio highlights – Fund I
Sizolution: AI-driven size prediction engine, based in Germany
Pure app – spontaneous and impersonal dating app, based in Portugal
Fixar Global –  efficient drones for commercial use-cases, based in Latvia,
E-contenta – based in Poland
SuitApp – AI based mix-and-match suggestions for fashion retail, based in Singapore
• Sarafan.tech, AI-driven recognition, based in the USA
Hello, baby – parental assistant, based in the USA
Voximplant – voice, video and messaging cloud communication platform, based in the USA (exited)

#artificial-intelligence, #baltics, #belarus, #corporate-finance, #cyprus, #eastern-europe, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #facebook, #finance, #founder, #germany, #google, #insight-venture-partners, #latvia, #launchub-ventures, #london, #luxembourg, #managing-partner, #money, #poland, #portugal, #private-equity, #putin, #republicans, #russia, #singapore, #startup-company, #tc, #ukraine, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #veeam, #venture-capital, #vitosha-venture-partners, #vodafone, #vp, #wrike

Pink Floyd drummer invests in Disciple Media, a platform aimed at the creator economy

Much has been made of the rise of the “creator economy” in the last year. With the Pandemic biting, millions flooded online, looking for a way to make money or promote themselves. The podcasting world has exploded, and with it platforms like Patreon, Clubhouse, and many others. But the thorny problem remains: Do you really own your audience as a creator, or does the platform own you? Companies like Mighty Networks, Circle and Tribe have tried to address this, giving creators greater control than social networks do over their audiences. Now another joins the fray.

Disciple Media bills itself as a SaaS platform to enable online creators to build community-led businesses. It’s now raised $6 million in funding in what it calls a ‘large Angel round’. It already claims to have garnered 2 million members and 500 communities since launching in 2018. Investors include Nick Mason (drummer in Pink Floyd), Sir Peter Michael (CEO of Cray Computers, founder of classic FM, Quantel and Cosworth Engineering), Rob Pierre (founder and CEO of Jellyfish), and Keith Morris (ex. chairman Sabre Insurance). It’s also announced a new Chairman, Eirik Svendsen, a expert in online marketplaces, SaaS and the publishing and media industry.

On its communities so far it has American country star and American Idol judge Luke Bryan, Gor Tex, and Body by Ciara. The platform is also available on iOS and Android and comes with community management tools, a CRM, and monetization options. The company claims its creators are now “earning millions in revenue each year.”

Benji Vaughan, Founder and CEO said: “The scale and rapid growth of the creator economy is extraordinary, and today that growth is being driven by entrepreneurial creators looking to build independent businesses outside of Youtube and the social networks.”

Vaughan, a Techno DJ and artist-turned-entrepreneur, says he came up with the idea after building similar communities for clients. He says the data created on Disciple communities is owned entirely by the host who built the network, “removing third-party risk and allowing insights to be actioned immediately”.

He told me: “We are moving from a position of effectively having ‘gig economy workers for social networks’ to owners of businesses who use social networks for their needs, not the other way around. Therefore, these people are starting to leave social networks to build their businesses and using social networks as marketing channels, as the rest of the world does. Once that migration happens where they move away from social networks as their prime platform, they need a hub where their data is going to get pulled together, they have an audience, which we see as a community that connects with itself as much as they do with the host.”

He thinks the equivalent of Salesforce or HubSpot in the creative economy is going to be a community platform: “That’s where they’re going to aggregate all the information about their valuable audience or community engagement. So, we are looking to, over time, to build out something very akin to what HubSpot sites they have for tech companies or SaaS businesses: a complete package, a complete platform to manage your engagement with your users, grow your user base and then convert that into revenue.”

Rob Pierre, founder and CEO Jellyfish said: “Creating and engaging with your community digitally has never been more important. Disciple allows you to do both of those things with a fully functional, feature-rich platform which requires very little upfront capital expenditure. It also provides numerous options to monetize your community.”

#american-idol, #android, #ceo, #chairman, #cloud-applications, #computing, #crm, #europe, #founder, #hubspot, #jellyfish, #marketing, #mighty-networks, #online-creators, #online-marketplaces, #patreon, #pink-floyd, #sabre, #salesforce, #search-engine-optimization, #social-networks, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tribe, #united-states, #youtube

Employee mental health platform Oliva raises $2.2M pre-seed round led by Moonfire Ventures

Just as many other employee services have gone digital, so too is mental health. In the consumer space there are growing startups like Equoo, but the race is now on for the employee.

And since telemedicine has gone digital and video-based, so too is mental health provision. A number of companies are already playing in this space, including Spill Chat, On Mind, Lyra Health, Modern Health, Ginger and TalkSpace For Business.

Oliva’s take on this is not to create a marketplace or pre-recorded videos, but to put trained professionals in front of employees to talk directly to them. And there is even science to back it up. Indeed, some research suggests Psychotherapy via the internet is as good if not better than face-to-face consultations.

Oliva’s on-demand, professional-led mental healthcare for employees and managers has now attracted investment to the tune of a $2.2m pre-seed investment round, led by Moonfire Ventures, the new seed-stage VC firm from Atomico co-founder Mattias Ljungman.

The UK and Spain-based startup has also attracted angel investment from tech executives from Amazon, Booking.com, DogBuddy, Typeform, Hotjar, TravelPerk, and more.

Oliva is founded by Javier Suarez, who previously co-founded TravelPerk, and Sançar Sahin, who previously led marketing teams at Hotjar and Typeform, so both are well blooded in startups.

Suarez says he was inspired to create a mental health startup after the rigors of TravelPerk: “Employees are a company’s greatest asset – the better they feel, the better your company performs. But organizations are not set up to support their employees’ mental health in and outside of the workplace, which creates a massive problem for teammates, managers, and the organization as a whole. We’ve launched Oliva to give employees access to comprehensive online mental healthcare and to help organizations overcome the related challenges—from attracting & retaining talent and training managers to supporting remote workers.”

Privacy is addressed via the use of a secure and encrypted personal portal, where employees can chat with a care provider who matches them with a professional. They get 1-to-1 video therapy sessions from a range of mental health professionals, and can also track their progress. 

The team has also attracted Dr. Sarah Bateup, who has spent over two decades teaching and training mental healthcare professionals, who is now Chief Clinical Officer.

She said: “Oliva improves the way mental healthcare is accessed, supported, and paid for, while also adding more ongoing oversight and accountability to the process. Our ambition is for Oliva to be viewed as a badge of quality and set a new standard for workplace mental healthcare.”

Mattias Ljungman, Founder at Moonfire Ventures, added: “Mental health has been an overlooked area of care and wellbeing, especially in the workplace. Oliva’s founders are the only team we’ve seen taking a holistic, impact-driven approach to supporting mental health. While employer-funded mental health is becoming a well-established model in the US, Oliva is the first to bring a truly comprehensive approach to UK and European businesses.”

Oliva platform is integrated with Slack, providing employees with mental health drop-in sessions, therapy courses, and dedicated training and support for managers.

#amazon, #atomico, #booking-com, #co-founder, #disability, #europe, #founder, #health, #mattias-ljungman, #mental-health, #moonfire-ventures, #talkspace, #tc, #telemedicine, #travelperk, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Real estate platform Casafari raises $15M to allow PE to buy single-family homes at scale

Just a Spotify used VC and PE backing to acquire the assets of the music industry so that we must now all rent our music via subscription, rather than own it for life, so a PropTech startup plans to follow a similar strategy for single-family homes.

Casafari, a real estate data platform in Europe based out of Lisbon, Portugal, has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Prudence Holdings in New York. But, crucially, it has also secured a $120 million “mandate” from Geneva-based private equity investors Stoneweg, among other PE players, in order to buy-to-let residential and commercial real estate. The startup already has operations in Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy.

Other investors include Armilar Venture Partners (the Portuguese VC behind unicorns Outsystems and Feedzai), HJM Holdings, 1Sharpe (founders of Roofstock), and FJ Labs (Fabrice Grinda, founder of OLX Group), as well as existing investor Lakestar.

Founded by Mila Suharev, Nils Henning, and Mitya Moskalchuk in 2018, Casafari is taking advantage of Europe’s often chaotic real estate data to achieve its goals, due to the lack of a unified Multiple Listings Service (“MLS”).

Casafari plans to aggregate, verify and distribute this data via its platform, hunting down single-family homes as an asset class for institutional investors.

According to Nils Henning, CEO, “CASAFARI has built a unique ecosystem, which connects brokers, developers, asset managers, and investors and enables sourcing, valuation, underwriting and deal collaboration on single units in all asset classes. We are very excited to represent important institutional clients like Stoneweg and others, in deploying their capital into fragmented acquisitions at scale, bringing more liquidity to the market and generating more transactions to the broker clients of our platform.”

Private investors are already using the platform. Since launching in 2018, Casafari has been used by Sotheby’s International Realty, Coldwell Banker, RE/MAX franchises, Savills, Fine & Country, Engel & Voelkers, Keller Williams, and important institutional investors and developers like Stoneweg, Kronos, Vanguard, and Vic Properties.

Mila Suharev, Casafari’s Co-CEO and CPO said: ”There are currently around 70 billion euros in dry powder in Europe that could be allocated in acquiring residential property in a buy to let strategy, and basically there’s no offer available. The property will be collected in portfolios, consisting of single units that pension funds, private equity real estate funds, want to build in Europe as they do in the US.”

What Casafari’s is doing is largely following the playbook of what Roofstock in the US did: an online marketplace for investing in leased single-family rental homes. Roofstock has raised $132.3 million to date.

#armilar-venture-partners, #broker, #ceo, #co-ceo, #coldwell-banker, #economy, #europe, #fabrice-grinda, #finance, #fj-labs, #founder, #france, #geneva, #investment, #italy, #kronos, #lakestar, #lisbon, #money, #new-york, #olx-group, #online-marketplace, #portugal, #private-equity, #property-technology, #prudence-holdings, #roofstock, #sothebys, #spain, #spotify, #stoneweg, #tc, #technology, #united-states

Women’s social network Peanut launches microfund StartHER to invest in pre-seed stage startups

Peanut, the maker of a social networking app for women, is entering into the investing space with today’s launch of a microfund called StartHER. As the name implies, the new fund will focus on investing in women as well as other historically excluded founders “of all ages, life stages, ethnicities and sexual orientations,” the company says. In particular, StartHER aims tackle the difficulties specific groups have in raising their first capital — something typically referred to as the “friends and family round.”

Peanut argues there’s inherent bias in assuming that every startup founder has access to what are, essentially, wealthy friends or family who can spare a little startup capital. These rounds often range in size from $10,000 to as large as $150,000 or more, and can make a difference when it comes to getting a new company off the ground.

“The assumption that founders should have networks able to invest in their businesses creates an unfair starting line for most groups. If we don’t remove barriers to that initial funding by providing access to capital, how can we ever hope to see a changing founder profile further through the fundraising funnel?” says Peanut CEO Michelle Kennedy, in a statement about the fund’s launch. “Peanut’s StartHER fund opens the door to founders looking for that early funding. It’s our opportunity to finally level the playing field. We want to be the family these founders can turn to, opening the door to our professional networks too.”

The lack of access to funds for female founders may have gotten worse during the pandemic, as Crunchbase data indicates female-founded startups globally saw a 27% decrease in funding in 2020 as compared to 2019. The pandemic shut down access to in-person networking opportunities and disproportionately impacted the family caretakers, who tend to be women, as schools, daycares and other childcare assistance businesses closed their doors. These changes may have contributed to the decline, though it’s hard to pinpoint.

But even outside the pandemic’s impacts, women are underrepresented in venture investing — including on the firm’s side. Only 13% of decision-makers at VC firms are women, which can influence what startups receive funding.

“It’s no secret that the venture capital industry is dominated by those with privilege and lucrative connections. As a member of the Female Founders Fund, I’m excited to be a part of StartHER’s investment committee to help these entrepreneurs, who have not been adequately recognized, grow their networks in the venture capital community,” said Anu Duggal, Founding Partner of Female Founders Fund, who joined SheHER’s investment committee.

StartHER says it’s looking to step in to fill that gap by offering small investments to early stage, pre-seed businesses focused on making a positive impact on society, healthcare, or the environment. According to its online application, StartHER will write checks of between $25,000 and $50,000 — likely one of the first checks a new startup may receive. The overall fund is $300,000 in size, and will make 3-4 investments in 2021.  Peanut will not take an equity stake in the companies it invests in.

“Moving forward, we’ll be considering other factors such as deal flow to help inform how we invest and the companies we choose to invest in,” explains Kennedy. :We’re heavily focused on making the right investments that will have the most impact versus simply making returns. For StartHER, our goal is not to make X number of investments for X returns, but to diversify the VC funnel by serving as an entry point to capital for underrepresented founders,” she says.

Along with Duggal and Kennedy, the investment committee for the fund includes femtech journalist and angel investor Bérénice Magistretti; Chief Business Officer at Conde Nast Britain, Vanessa Kingori MBE; Founder of Shiffon Co. and Startup Girl Foundation, Shilpa Yarlagadda, and Author, Columnist and Brand Strategist, Elizabeth Uviebinene.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, and the committee meets every six months to consider the fund’s applications. Beyond the investment, startups who receive SheHER funds will also be given access and office hours to the networks of the committee members, the website says.

#anu-duggal, #entrepreneurship, #female-founders-fund, #femtech, #finance, #founder, #funding, #investing, #michelle-kennedy, #microfund, #startup-company, #startups, #vc, #venture-capital

Atomic-backed Jumpcut uses data to advance diversity in film

Jumpcut founder Kartik Hosanagar is a professor at the Wharton School, but about ten years ago, he spent his summer in an unlikely way: he wrote a screenplay. Set in India, his script garnered some interest from producers, but no one took the plunge to fund a film by a first-time Indian director.

Now, films featuring diverse casts are gaining traction – this year, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color, and only the second woman ever, to win the Academy Award for Best Director. At the previous ceremony, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Still, according to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, Hollywood leaves $10 billion on the table each year due to the industry’s lack of diversity.

“How do you make a bet on underrepresented voices or underrepresented stories?” asked Hosanagar. “While there’s awareness, there’s no action, because nobody knows how to do it. So that’s what got me into Jumpcut. It’s this rare company where 20 years of my work on data science and entrepreneurship meets with who I am outside of my work.”

At Wharton, Hosanagar is the Faculty Lead for the AI for Business program. He was a founder of Yodle, which was acquired by web.com for $340 million in 2016. But for this next venture, he wanted to tackle Hollywood’s homogeneity hands-on by using his experience with data science to de-risk media projects from underrepresented creators.

“The vision is to create a more inclusive era of global content creation,” he said to TechCrunch.

Hosanagar started working on Jumpcut in 2019, but today, the Atomic-backed company launches out of stealth as the first data science-driven studio working to elevate underrepresented voices in film. Already the studio has 12 TV and film projects in the works with partners like 36-time Academy Award nominee Lawrence Bender (“Pulp Fiction,” “Good Will Hunting”), Emmy Award-winning producer Shelby Stone (“Bessie,” “The Chi”), and showrunner Scott Rosenbaum (“Chuck,” “The Shield”).

Jumpcut models itself after Y-Combinator in its approach, pairing emerging talent with buyers and producers. First, Jumpcut uses an algorithm to scan hundreds of thousands of videos from platforms like YouTube, Reddit, and Wattpad to find promising talent. The algorithm narrows down the extensive field to locate creators who are consistently finding new audiences and increasing their engagement. Then, the Jumpcut team – including advisors and veterans from Netflix, Buzzfeed, CBS, Sony, and WarnerMedia – identifies who to connect with.

In one example of the algorithm’s success, Hosanagar pointed to Anna Hopkins, an actress who has appeared on shows like “The Expanse” and “Shadowhunters.” Though Hopkins has found some success in front of the camera, she also wants to write.

“We discovered some of her short films, and the algorithm identified it because people had strong emotional reactions in the comments, like, ‘heartwarming but in a positive way,’ or ‘give me a tissue,’” Hosanagar explained. Since Hopkins isn’t publicly known as a writer, she assumed that Jumpcut found her through a television network she had pitched a script to, but that wasn’t the case. “We said, ‘no, our algorithms found you.’”

Once a creator is identified by Jumpcut, they can A/B test their ideas with audiences of over 100,000 potential viewers, which helps the company prove to funders through data science that these ideas can sell.

“The idea there is that we don’t wait for creators to get discovered by the traditional Hollywood agencies, because that requires the creators to have access to the top agents, and that again brings you back to the old boys club,” Hosanagar said. “We’re automating a lot of that process and discovering these people who are creating great stories that are resonating with audiences, not waiting for some Hollywood agency to discover them.”

Once the creators have an idea that tests well with a wide audience, they’re invited to Jumpcut Collective, an incubator program that helps artists develop an idea from a concept to a pitch in 6 weeks. Then, Jumpcut helps match projects with producing partners and buyers.

So far, Jumpcut has hosted three incubator programs. Out of the twelve Jumpcut projects currently underway, Hosanagar says that nine or ten of them came out of the incubator. One project, for example, is now being developed in partnership with Disney’s Asia Pacific Division.

Jumpcut isn’t disclosing the amount raised in this round of seed funding, but confirms that Atomic is the only investor in their seed round.

Hosanagar is joined on the project by Dilip Rajan, his former student and a former product manager at BuzzFeed, and Winnie Kemp, a former SVP of Originals at Super Deluxe and CBS. There, she developed and executive produced “Chambers,” the first show with a Native American lead, and “This Close,” the first show with deaf creators and cast. Most of their funding will go toward payroll, which includes engineers, data scientists, and product managers on the product side of the company, as well as development executives on the creative side, who run the incubator.

#actress, #advisors, #artificial-intelligence, #atomic, #buzzfeed, #chuck, #director, #disney, #executive, #founder, #funding, #hollywood, #india, #jumpcut, #media, #netflix, #producer, #product-manager, #sony, #startups, #svp, #tc, #warnermedia, #wattpad, #writer, #youtube

Tezlab CEO Ben Schippers to discuss the Tesla effect and the next wave of EV startups at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

As Tesla sales have risen, interest in the company has exploded, prompting investment and interest in the automotive industry, as well as the startup world.

Tezlab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, is just one example of the numerous startups that have sprung up in the past few years as electric vehicles have started to make the tiniest of dents in global sales. Now, as Ford, GM, Volvo, Hyundai along with newcomers Rivian, Fisker and others launch electric vehicles into the marketplace, more startups are sure to follow.

Ben Schippers, the co-founder and CEO of Tezlab, is one of two early-stage founders who will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about their startups and the opportunities cropping up in this emerging age of EVs. The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.

HFC’s engineers, including Schippers, who also co-founded HFC, were attracted to Tesla  because of its techcentric approach and one important detail: the Tesla API endpoints are accessible to outsiders. The Tesla API is technically private. But it exists allowing the Tesla’s app to communicate with the cars to do things like read battery charge status and lock doors. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

Schippers’ experience extends beyond scaling up Tezlab. Schippers consults and works with companies focused on technology and human interaction, with a sub-focus in EV.

The list of speakers at our 2021 event is growing by the day and includes Motional’s president and CEO Karl Iagnemma and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, who will discuss the past, present and future of AVs. On the electric front is Mate Rimac, the founder of Rimac Automobili, who will talk about scaling his startup from a one-man enterprise in a garage to more than 1,000 people and contracts with major automakers.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel Li, Huan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Other guests include, GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

And we may even have one more surprise — a classic TechCrunch stealth company reveal to close the show.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at our virtual door.

#alexandr-wang, #amazon, #api, #articles, #aurora, #automation, #autotech-ventures, #autox, #av, #ben-schippers, #ceo, #china, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #coo, #facebook, #fitbit, #founder, #happyfuncorp, #hyundai, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #major, #mate-rimac, #momenta, #motional, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #rimac-automobili, #rivian, #robotaxi, #robotics, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #startup-company, #tc, #technology, #tesla, #tezlab, #urban-innovation-fund, #volvo, #weride, #zoox

Synctera raises $33M Series A to pair fintechs with banks

Synctera, which aims to serve as a matchmaker for community banks and fintechs, has raised $33 million in a Series A round of funding led by Fin VC.

The raise comes just under six months after the fintech raised $12.4 million in a seed round of funding.

New investors Mastercard and Gaingels also participated in the latest round, which included follow-on investments from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Diagram Ventures, SciFi Ventures and Scribble Ventures. Several angel investors put money in the Series A including Omri Dahan, Marqeta’s Chief Revenue Officer, Feedzai Chairman and CEO Nuno Sebastiao and Greenlight co-founder and CEO Tim Sheehan. 

Alongside the Series A, Synctera is also announcing its commitment to the new Cap Table Coalition – which includes funding from Gaingels, Neythri Futures Fund, Plexo Capital and over 20 angels – alongside other startups by allocating 10% of all funding rounds to “traditionally marginalized,” or underrepresented, investors via an SPV. (Fellow fintech Finix led the initiative earlier this year before forming this coalition but more on that later).

“This has exposed us to find great folks who we otherwise might not have known,” said Synctera’s co-founder and CEO Peter Hazlehurst. “That’s why we pledge to reserve 10% of this round and all future rounds to diverse investors.”

In a nutshell, San Francisco-based Synctera has developed a platform designed to help facilitate partnership banking. It was founded on the premise that some community banks and credit unions are actually turning down deals with young fintechs because the relationships can be too complicated or time-consuming to manage. Synctera’s goal is to connect community banks and fintechs to streamline the process with its “Banking-as-a-Service” (BaaS) platform.

TechCrunch recently caught up with Hazlehurst, who most recently served as former head of Uber Money and previously also led development of Google Wallet and products related to its payments system.

Put simply, Synctera wants to make it easier for community banks and fintechs to partner with each other. It examines banks’ needs and then sets them up with a fintech that is best suited to meet those needs. It claims to “do the work for both parties,” managing the partnership from its back-end platform, while dealing with issues like regulatory compliance, which can be a deterrent for some companies. The process of managing, reconciling and billing banks can result in “a lot of operational overhead and complexity,” according to the company.

The company says it’s built a “diverse” marketplace of banks and fintech companies so that it can apply a “personalized touch to each match” and make sure that the parties “align on geography, brand ethos, and desired business goals.”

So far, Synctera has signed three banks with plans to sign on three more this month. The startup has already paired Coastal Community Bank – a local bank serving the greater Puget Sound community – with One, a new digital banking platform, and Ellevest, a new fintech. 

By using Synctera’s platform, the company claims, banks can more freely allow their fintech counterparts to offer FDIC-insured mobile checking, debit cards, savings accounts or innovations in payments to their prospective customers, the company claims. They can also make more money doing so, Hazlehurst said, by bringing in more revenue beyond interchange fees.

“Like most small businesses, community banks have been hit hard by COVID-19,” he added. “We hope to further diversify community banks’ revenue streams.”

Banks can also more easily manage multiple relationships with various fintechs as the companies agree to adopt Synctera’s tech stack, the company claims.

“We build a single dashboard for a bank, so there’s a consolidated position across all fintechs,” Hazlehurst told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “It’s all about visibility for the bank.”

Currently Synctera has about 50 employees, including about two dozen engineers, most of whom are located in Canada, Hazlehurst said. The company plans to ramp up to 160 employees by year’s end with a focus on engineering, sales, marketing and customer success staff.

Looking ahead, Hazlehurst predicts that the fourth quarter will be “all about support for small business fintechs.”

“We want to create a neobank for gig economy workers, and want to add lending as a service,” he said. “But our next big phase is to onboard a lot of fintechs, and learn from them.”

Logan Allin, managing general partner and founder at Fin VC, believes that Banking-as-a-Service in general will transform legacy national and regional banks, credit unions, fintecs, corporate tech and retailers alike “as these players either seek to vertically integrate financial services or accelerate their digitization process.”

Synctera, he adds, has taken an approach with its tech stack that allows for integration with legacy community banks and their respective cores. This, Allin believes, will help ensure a “cloud native and scalable model” and made it an attractive investment. (Fin VC has also backed the likes of other fintechs such as Pipe and SoFi).

“Synctera’s peers are simply abstracting bank cores and serving as ‘API wrappers’ in a kludgy short-term approach and having come from the legacy bank and modern fintech worlds, we recognized that these players had not built sufficiently strong bridges across the ecosystem,” Allin told TechCrunch.

For his part, Finix Founder Richie Serna is thrilled that other startups are following his lead in the pledge to make their cap tables more diverse.

“After Finix announced our special purpose vehicle for Black and Latinx investors, the response was overwhelmingly positive,” he told TechCrunch. “Startups in every sector and at every stage have asked us how to recreate our SPV. In response, we started the Cap Table Coalition to make it as easy as possible for more high-growth startups, like Synctera, to take control over their cap tables,” said Richie Serna, CEO and co-founder of Finix. “We see this as an inflection point that will completely upend how the VC world functions.”

Meanwhile, Synctera is not the only player trying to help banks and fintechs forge partnerships. Last week, TechCrunch reported on Visa said it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect program, which is designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

#api, #articles, #bank, #banking-as-a-service, #canada, #diversity, #economy, #fdic, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finix, #fintech, #founder, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #greenlight, #head, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #marqeta, #mastercard, #peter-hazlehurst, #player, #plexo-capital, #recent-funding, #richie-serna, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #uber, #venture-capital

Meet Justos, the new Brazilian insurtech that just got backing from the CEOs of 7 unicorns

Here in the U.S. the concept of using driver’s data to decide the cost of auto insurance premiums is not a new one.

But in markets like Brazil, the idea is still considered relatively novel. A new startup called Justos claims it will be the first Brazilian insurer to use drivers’ data to reward those who drive safely by offering “fairer” prices.

And now Justos has raised about $2.8 million in a seed round led by Kaszek, one of the largest and most active VC firms in Latin America. Big Bets also participated in the round along with the CEOs of seven unicorns including Assaf Wand, CEO and co-founder of Hippo Insurance; David Velez, founder and CEO of Nubank; Carlos Garcia, founder and CEO Kavak; Sergio Furio, founder and CEO of Creditas; Patrick Sigris, founder of iFood and Fritz Lanman, CEO of ClassPass. Senior executives from Robinhood, Stripe, Wise, Carta and Capital One also put money in the round.

Serial entrepreneurs Dhaval Chadha, Jorge Soto Moreno and Antonio Molins co-founded Justos, having most recently worked at various Silicon Valley-based companies including ClassPass, Netflix and Airbnb.

“While we have been friends for a while, it was a coincidence that all three of us were thinking about building something new in Latin America,” Chadha said. “We spent two months studying possible paths, talking to people and investors in the United States, Brazil and Mexico, until we came up with the idea of creating an insurance company that can modernize the sector, starting with auto insurance.”

Ultimately, the trio decided that the auto insurance market would be an ideal sector considering that in Brazil, an estimated more than 70% of cars are not insured. 

The process to get insurance in the country, by any accounts, is a slow one. It takes up to 72 hours to receive initial coverage and two weeks to receive the final insurance policy. Insurers also take their time in resolving claims related to car damages and loss due to accidents, the entrepreneurs say. They also charge that pricing is often not fair or transparent.

Justos aims to improve the whole auto insurance process in Brazil by measuring the way people drive to help price their insurance policies. Similar to Root here in the U.S., Justos intends to collect users’ data through their mobile phones so that it can “more accurately and assertively price different types of risk.” This way, the startup claims it can offer plans  that are up to 30% cheaper than traditional plans, and grant discounts each month, according to the driving patterns of the previous month of each customer. 

“We measure how safely people drive using the sensors on their cell phones,” Chadha said. “This allows us to offer cheaper insurance to users who drive well, thereby reducing biases that are inherent in the pricing models used by traditional insurance companies.”

Justos also plans to use artificial intelligence and computerized vision to analyze and process claims more quickly and machine learning for image analysis and to create bots that help accelerate claims processing. 

“We are building a design driven, mobile first and customer experience that aims to revolutionize insurance in Brazil, similar to what Nubank did with banking,” Chadha told TechCrunch. “We will be eliminating any hidden fees, a lot of the small text and insurance specific jargon that is very confusing for customers.”

Justos will offer its product directly to its customers as well as through distribution channels like banks and brokers.

“By going direct to consumer, we are able to acquire users cheaper than our competitors and give back the savings to our users in the form of cheaper prices,” Chadha said.

Customers will be able to buy insurance through Justos’ app, website, or even WhatsApp. For now, the company is only adding potential customers to a waitlist but plans to begin selling policies later this year..

During the pandemic, the auto insurance sector in Brazil declined by 1%, according to Chadha, who believes that indicates “there is latent demand rearing to go once things open up again.”

Justos has a social good component as well. Justos intends to cap its profits and give any leftover revenue back to nonprofit organizations.

The company also has an ambitious goal: to help make insurance become universally accessible around the world and the roads safer in general.

“People will face everyday risks with a greater sense of safety and adventure. Road accidents will reduce drastically as a result of incentives for safer driving, and the streets will be safer,” Chadha said. “People, rather than profits, will become the focus of the insurance industry.”

Justos plans to use its new capital to set up operations, such as forming partnerships with reinsurers and an insurance company for fronting, since it is starting as an MGA (managing general agent).

It’s also working on building out its products such as apps, its back end and internal operations tools as well as designing all its processes for underwriting, claims and finance. Justos’ data science team is also building out its own pricing model. 

The startup will be focused on Brazil, with plans to eventually expand within Latin America, then Iberia and Asia.

Kaszek’s Andy Young said his firm was impressed by the team’s previous experience and passion for what they’re building.

“It’s a huge space, ripe for innovation and this is the type of team that can take it to the next level,” Young told TechCrunch. “The team has taken an approach to building an insurance platform that blends being consumer centric and data driven to produce something that is not only cheaper and rewards safety but as the brand implies in Portuguese, is fairer.”

#airbnb, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #assaf-wand, #auto-insurance, #banking, #brazil, #cell-phones, #ceo, #classpass, #creditas, #david-velez, #driver, #finance, #founder, #fritz-lanman, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hippo-insurance, #ifood, #insurance, #insurance-policies, #insurtech, #kaszek, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #mexico, #mobile-phones, #netflix, #nubank, #recent-funding, #silicon-valley, #startup, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital

Blockchain startup Propy plans first-ever auction of a real apartment as a collectible NFT

We previously wrote about Propy using blockchain technology to smooth real-world real estate sales by introducing the concept of smart contracts. Propy was the first blockchain startup to make that work. Now the company is pushing the boundaries again, by auctioning a real apartment as an NFT. Although one might want to brush this aside as a stunt, the event is designed to make the point that it could well be done legally. And, by golly, they are going to try.

The auction will be of the NFT attached to a modern, brand new, one-bedroom apartment in Kiev, Ukraine, that Propy previously made history with by making it the first-ever level blockchain-based real estate sale.

The NFT created by Propy will, it says, transfers real ownership of the property. Just in case you haven;t been paying attention, NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, are cryptographic ‘tokens’ that represent a unique asset — such as a piece of art, music, or other collectibles — and certify ownership digitally. NFTs have set the crypto-world alight with their potential to be applied to just about anything, including a work of art by Banksy which was then burnt.

Once someone has won the NFT of the apartment at auction, the NFT will include access to the ownership transfer paperwork; a digital artwork NFT by a popular Kiev graffiti artist, Chizz (a physical painting of the digital artwork is painted on a wall of the apartment)’ and the apartment pictures. But obviously, the apartment is the main asset here. 


The auction itself will happen over a 24hr period with the initial listing starting at $20,000. Details for the NFT sale are available here and will be updated with any new information as the auction proceeds.

The apartment in question is currently owned by Michael Arrington, founder of this very news site, and now a Crypto investor with Arrington XRP Capital.

Investors in Propy – which says it has so far processed $1bn worth of transactions via its platform – include Arrington himself and Tim Draper, former founder of DFJ.

Natalia Karayaneva, CEO of Propy said: “This NFT will go down in history. For Propy it is a major milestone in leveraging the promise of blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens (NFT) to achieve ‘self-driving’ real estate transactions and real estate participation in the decentralized finance economy.”

Here’s how this is all going to work: Arrington has signed legal papers designed by Propy’s lawyers for the NFT to transfer ownership to a future buyer. Propy then conducts the NFT auction and receives payment in cryptocurrency. The winner in the auction becomes the owner within a minute, after filling out KYC details.

The Kiev property is owned by a USA-based entity, and when the auction completes, the new owner of the NFT becomes the owner of the entity and thus the property itself. This process is repeated every time the NFT attached to the property is resold. 

In an interview with me, Karayaneva said: “We were brainstorming and this appeared to be a natural development of our white paper of 2017. And in fact, many things we transact, real estate, via property, we are actually already kind of doing NF T’s, but with our unique smart contracts. But now the NFT concept provides a different approach, where a property can be transferred between two wallets, peer to peer.”

“Thus we do not need to change the name of the owner in the land registry. And this applies to many countries, as well as the United States. This model will work for the United States, and overall, there is this notion of buying real estate via LLC in the United States to preserve the privacy of the owner.”

Over the same call, Arrington added: “Coming at this from a crypto angle, we’ve seen what happens how DeFi gets plugged into credit markets. If I have an NFT or any DeFI asset I can then borrow against it, without a middleman. Right now, if I have a real piece of real estate, there is no way for me to borrow against it, without a middleman, because I have to go through a bank and get a mortgage or whatever. And it’s also the friction all of the costs in terms of speed and how long it takes.”

“If we can find a way to plug real estate and other real-world assets into DeFi, I think that the amount of credit that can be created around that is in the trillions, eventually. And so I think that has to happen. The questions around this are legal and regulatory… The legal stuff around this is tough, and so Propy has done a lot of work with that. But if they do, I think that the idea of an NFT representation of a real-world asset purely from the point of view of ease of trade and ease of access to credit markets is a big idea.”

#arrington-xrp-capital, #articles, #auction, #bank, #blockchains, #ceo, #crypto-art, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #dfj, #ethereum, #europe, #founder, #michael-arrington, #peer-to-peer, #propy, #real-estate, #smart-contract, #tc, #tim-draper, #ukraine, #united-states

Echelon exposed riders’ account data, thanks to a leaky API

Image Credits: Echelon (stock image)

Peloton wasn’t the only at-home workout giant exposing private account data. Rival exercise giant Echelon also had a leaky API that let virtually anyone access riders’ account information.

Fitness technology company Echelon, like Peloton, offers a range of workout hardware — bikes, rowers, and a treadmill — as a cheaper alternative for members to exercise at home. Its app also lets members join virtual classes without the need for workout equipment.

But Jan Masters, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners, found that Echelon’s API allowed him to access the account data — including name, city, age, sex, phone number, weight, birthday, and workout statistics and history — of any other member in a live or pre-recorded class. The API also disclosed some information about members’ workout equipment, such as its serial number.

Masters, if you recall, found a similar bug with Peloton’s API, which let him make unauthenticated requests and pull private user account data directly from Peloton’s servers without the server ever checking to make sure he (or anyone else) was allowed to request it.

Echelon’s API allows its members’ devices and apps to talk with Echelon’s servers over the internet. The API was supposed to check if the member’s device was authorized to pull user data by checking for an authorization token. But Masters said the token wasn’t needed to request data.

Masters also found another bug that allowed members to pull data on any other member because of weak access controls on the API. Masters said this bug made it easy to enumerate user account IDs and scrape account data from Echelon’s servers. Facebook, LinkedIn, Peloton and Clubhouse have all fallen victim to scraping attacks that abuse access to APIs to pull in data about users on their platforms.

Ken Munro, founder of Pen Test Partners, disclosed the vulnerabilities to Echelon on January 20 in a Twitter direct message, since the company doesn’t have a public-facing vulnerability disclosure process (which it says is now “under review”). But the researchers did not hear back during the 90 days after the report was submitted, the standard amount of time security researchers give companies to fix flaws before their details are made public.

TechCrunch asked Echelon for comment, and was told that the security flaws identified by Masters — which he wrote up in a blog post — were fixed in January.

“We hired an outside service to perform a penetration test of systems and identify vulnerabilities. We have taken appropriate actions to correct these, most of which were implemented by January 21, 2021. However, Echelon’s position is that the User ID is not PII [personally identifiable information,” said Chris Martin, Echelon’s chief information security officer, in an email.

Echelon did not name the outside security company but said while the company said it keeps detailed logs, it did not say if it had found any evidence of malicious exploitation.

But Munro disputed the company’s claim of when it fixed the vulnerabilities, and provided TechCrunch with evidence that one of the vulnerabilities was not fixed until at least mid-April, and another vulnerability could still be exploited as recently as this week.

When asked for clarity, Echelon did not address the discrepancies. “[The security flaws] have been remediated,” Martin reiterated.

Echelon also confirmed it fixed a bug that allowed users under the age of 13 to sign up. Many companies block access to children under the age of 13 to avoid complying with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, a U.S. law that puts strict rules on what data companies can collect on children. TechCrunch was able to create an Echelon account this week with an age less than 13, despite the page saying: “Minimum age of use is 13 years old.”

#api, #chief-information-security-officer, #computer-security, #computing, #cyberwarfare, #echelon, #facebook, #founder, #health, #peloton, #pen-test-partners, #security, #software, #software-testing, #technology, #united-states, #vulnerability

France’s SOS Accessoire raises £12M to help people repair their home appliances themselves

SOS Accessoire, a French startup that helps people diagnose and repair their home appliances, has raised €10M/$12M in a funding round led by ETF Partners. The round was joined by Quadia, Starquest, and Seed for Good.

There is now a growing home repair market, powered by startups like this, which allow people to save money, but also reduce waste, and ultimately help the environment.

Around 80% of home appliances get replaced instead of repaired, creating an enormous environmental problem. At the same time, says SOS Accessoire, the spare parts market is worth €4.1bn in the European Union alone. So why not tap into that consumer desire? Why indeed not.

However, sourcing spare parts is not easy, there are hundreds of suppliers, and instructions are aimed at professionals, not amateur repairers.

SOS Accessoire provides tools to diagnose home appliance problems, access spare parts, and provides video tutorials for the repair process.

The company says it estimates it has now saved half a million appliances in 2020, equivalent to 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, or the annual equivalent of CO2 emissions from 4,375 French people a year.

Olivier de Montlivault, the founder of SOS Accessoire, said: “We have a huge opportunity to help reduce household appliance waste and, in doing so, disrupt the perceived thinking that once something is broken, it must be replaced.”

Its direct competitors are other digital players focusing on the retail customer such as Spareka and Adepem. But SOS Accessoire says its competitive advantages include its size, availability of spare parts and catalog/database.

Remy de Tonnac, a partner at ETF Partners, said: “We’re seeing an increasingly conscious consumer wanting to maintain their appliances, rather than just throw them away. SOS Accessoire is ideally placed to meet that need, with a management team that has a deep understanding of the market and the business model to not only dominate this niche within the e-commerce sector but disrupt the broader market itself.”

#europe, #european-union, #founder, #partner, #tc

‘Pure’ nutritional supplements startup Feel closes $6.2M investment, led by Fuel Ventures

Earlier this year we covered the launch of Heights, a new supplements startup in an increasingly hot category. Feel, is a year-old UK startup with another twist on this world: pure nutritional supplements. It’s now closed a $6.2 million investment, led by Fuel Ventures, with participation from TMT Investments, Sova VC, Richard Longhurst (founder of LoveHoney.com) and Igor Ryabenkiy (founder and GP of Altair Capital).

Feel founder Boris Hodakel says he spun his startup up after looking at the UK’s big health and retail brands including Graze, Tesco, Bulk Powders and Simba Sleep.

In many ways Feel is very akin to Graze. The supplements arrive in a post-box-friendly box and is available in a range of subscription packages. This is basically ‘Graze nuts, but for supplements.’

Feel has a direct-to-consumer subscription model, and is claiming a 60x growth in its first year and 21,000 active subscriptions.

Hodakel’s contention is that while Feel provides higher grade supplements to consumers which cost more to produce, it manages to keep costs down for consumers via direct-to-consumer model.

Hodakel, founder and CEO of Feel said: “Not all vitamins are created equal and the majority you find on retail shelves have a dirty formula that is difficult to absorb by the body, missing natural elements. We’re the cleanest alternative in the market – backed up by science –  and continually invest in making our formulas as effective as possible while still affordable.”

He says he started Feel because, having a skin problem, supplements were part of his health routine, but “the aha moment” happened he realized how many fillers were in normal supplements. “All our formulas are researched and formulated in-house, and we keep updating them, like our flagship multivitamin in just two years is already in its 3rd version,” he said.

Mark Pearson, managing partner at Fuel Ventures added: “The growth and the expansion of Feel’s product line present a really exciting time for Feel and we are supporting them in becoming a significant disruptor to the health supplement market.” 

Alexander Chikunov, Partner at Sova VC added, “Feel is in the process of disrupting consumer habits around vitamin intake, and changing a marketplace worth $144bn by providing its customers with top-quality products, combined with flawless and friendly service.”

#altair-capital, #ceo, #europe, #founder, #fuel-ventures, #managing-partner, #mark-pearson, #startup-company, #tc, #tesco, #tmt-investments, #united-kingdom, #vitamins

How one founder build a startup around compassion and care facilitated by AI

In the second episode of our new podcast Found, our guest is Brie Code. Code is the founder and CEO of TRU LUV, a startup based out of Toronto that has its roots in the game industry, but that is taking a radically different approach to designing interactive experiences based on a historically-overlooked motivating paradigm called ‘tend-and-befriend,’ an alternative to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response aimed at by most AAA game studios.

Code’s startup developed #SelfCare, a mobile app that encourages users to explore a variety of interactive experiences that are meant to do more than simply encourage them to engage in competitive behavior either with other players, or with computer-controlled antagonists. The motivation for creating this kind of thing for Code came from recognizing its absence in the existing market, and identifying a huge demand gap that just wasn’t being addressed. Building on her expertise in the game industry engineering interactions for non-player characters (NPCs) and her exploration of academic research on the subject of ‘tend-and-befriend,’ Code set up to build a venture-scalable business to define a new category of entertainment.

TRU LUV’s first touchpoint with users may be its app, but the startup has big ambitions that extend all the way to a larger mission of “healing our relationship with technology.” Chatting with the founder behind that pursuit reveals how deeply that mission runs both with her, and her startup.

We hope you get as much out of this deep and engrossing discussion as we did, and don’t forget to subscribe in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your podcast app of choice. We always love to get your feedback, too so please reach out via Twitter or email, and check back next week for our next episode.

#found, #founder, #startups, #tc

The Chainsmokers, Alexis Ohanian, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Mark Cuban, Marshmello, and Snoop Dogg back Pearpop

Pearpop, the marketplace for social collaborations between the teeming hordes of musicians, craftspeople, chefs, clowns, diarists, dancers, artists, actors, acrobats, aspiring celebrities and actual celebrities, has raised $16 million in funding that includes what seems like half of Hollywood, along with Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six venture firm and Bessemer Venture Partners.

The funding was actually split between a $6 million seed funding round co-led by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures and Slow Ventures, with participation from Atelier Ventures and Chapter One Ventures and a $10 million additional investment led by Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six with participation from Bessemer.

TechCrunch first covered pearpop last year and there’s no denying that the startup is on to something. It basically takes Cameo’s celebrity marketplace for private shout-outs and makes it public. Allowing social media personalities to boost their followers by paying more popular personalities to shout out, duet, or comment on their posts.

“I’ve invested in pearpop because it’s been on my mind for a while that the creator economy has resulted in a lot of not equitable outcomes for creators. Where i talked about the missing middle class of the creator economy,” said Li Jin, the founder of Atelier Ventures and author of a critical piece on creator economics, “The creator economy needs a middle class“. 

“When I saw pearpop I felt like there was a really big potential for pearpop to be the one of the creators of the creative middle class. They’ve introduced this mechanism by which larger creators can help smaller creators and everyone has something of value to offer something to everyone else in the ecosystem.”

Jin discovered pearpop through the TechCrunch piece, she said. “You wrote that article and then i reached out to the team,” said Jin.

The idea was so appealing, it brought in a slew of musicians, athletes, actors and entertainers, including: Abel Makkonen (The Weeknd), Amy Schumer, The Chainsmokers, Diddy, Gary Vaynerchuk, Griffin Johnson, Josh Richards, Kevin Durant (Thirty 5 Ventures), Kevin Hart (HartBeat Ventures), Mark Cuban, Marshmello, Moe Shalizi, Michael Gruen (Animal Capital), MrBeast (Night Media Ventures), Rich Miner (Android co-founder) and Snoop Dogg.

“Pearpop has the potential to benefit all social media platforms by delivering new users and engagement, while simultaneously leveling the playing field of opportunity for creators,” said Alexis Ohanian, Founder, Seven Seven Six, in a statement. “The company has created a revolutionary new marketplace model that is set to completely reimagine how we think of social media monetization. As both a social media founder and an investor, I’m excited for what’s to come with pearpop.”

Already Heidi Klum, Loren Gray, Snoop Dogg, and Tony Hawk have gotten paid to appear in social media posts from aspiring auteurs on the social media platform TikTok.

Using the platform is relatively simple. A social media user (for now, that means just TikTok) sends a post that exists on their social feed and requests that another social media user interacts with it in some way — either commenting, posting a video in response, or adding a sound. If the request seems okay, or “on brand”, then the person who accepts the request performs the prescribed action.

Pearpop takes a 25% cut of all transactions with the social media user who’s performing the task getting the other 75%.

The company wouldn’t comment on revenue numbers, except to say that it’s on track to bring in seven figures this year.

Users on the platform set their prices and determine which kinds of services they’re willing to provide to boost the social media posts of their contractors.

Prices range anywhere from $5 to $10,000 depending on the size of a user’s following and the type of request that’s being made. Right now, the most requested personality on the marketplace is the TikTok star, Anna Banana.

These kinds of transactions do have impacts. The company said that personalities on the platform were able to increase their follower count with the service. For instance, Leah Svoboda went from 20K to 141K followers, after a pearpop duet with Anna Shumate.

If this all makes you feel like you’ve tripped and fallen through a Black Mirror into a dystopian hellscape where everything and every interaction is a commodity to be mined for money, well… that’s life.

“What I appreciate most about pearpop is the control it gives me as a creator,” said Anna Shumate, TikTok influencer @annabananaxdddd. “The platform allows me to post what I want and when I want. My followers still love my content because it’s authentic and true to me, which is what sets pearpop apart from all of the other opportunities on social media.”

Talent agencies, too, see the draw. Early adopters include Talent X, Get Engaged, and Next Step Talent and The Fuel Injector, which has added its entire roster of talent to pearpop, which includes Kody Antle, Brooke Monk and Harry Raftus, the company said.

“The initial concept came out of an obvious gap within the space: no marketplace existed for creators of all sizes to monetize through simple, authentic collaborations that are mutually beneficial,” said Cole Mason, co-founder & CEO, pearpop.  “It soon became clear that this was a product that people had been waiting for, as thousands of people rely on our platform today to gain full control of their social capital for the first time starting with TikTok.”

#alexis-ohanian, #amy-schumer, #android, #anna-shumate, #ashton-kutcher, #atelier-ventures, #author, #bessemer-venture-partners, #bytedance, #cole-mason, #founder, #gary-vaynerchuk, #instagram, #kevin-durant, #kevin-hart, #li-jin, #mark-cuban, #pearpop, #slow-ventures, #snoop-dogg, #social-media, #social-media-monetization, #social-media-platforms, #software, #tc, #techcrunch, #tiktok, #tony-hawk, #video-hosting

China’s Xpeng in the race to automate EVs with lidar

Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.

Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.

“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”

Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.

The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.

“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.

By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.

“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”

The lidar camp

Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.

“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.

“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.

The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.

Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.

Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.

In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.

Supply challenges

While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.

Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.

Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”

Taking on robotaxis

Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.

“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.

“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.

“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”

Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.

“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”

5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.

#alibaba, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #baic, #bosch, #cars, #china, #cloud-computing, #driver, #electric-car, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #founder, #huawei, #lasers, #li-auto, #lidar, #livox, #machine-learning, #nio, #norway, #nvidia, #qualcomm, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #semiconductor, #shenzhen, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-government, #united-states, #wu, #xavier, #xiaopeng, #xpeng

ConsenSys raises $65M from JP Morgan, Mastercard, UBS to build infrastructure for DeFi

ConsenSys, a key player in crypto and a major proponent of the Ethereum blockchain, has raised a $65 million funding round from J.P. Morgan, Mastercard, and UBS AG, as well as major blockchain companies Protocol Labs, the Maker Foundation, Fenbushi, The LAO and Alameda Research. Additional investors include CMT Digital and the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund. As well as fiat, several funds invested with Ethereum-based stablecoins, DAI and USDC, as consideration.

Sources told TechCrunch that this is an unpriced round because of the valuation risk, and the funding instrument is “full”, so the round is being closed now.

The fundraise looks like a highly strategic one, based around the idea that traditional institutions will need visibility into the increasingly influential world of ‘decentralized finance’ (DeFi) and the Web3 applications being developed on the Ethereum blockchain.

In a statement on the fundraise, ConsenSys said it has been through a “period of strategic evolution and growth”, but most outside observers would agree that this is that’s something of an understatement.

After a period of quite a lot of ‘creative disruption’ to put it mildly (at one point a couple of years ago, ConsenSys seemed to have everything from a VC fund, to an accelerator, to multiple startups under its wing), the company has restructured to form two main arms: ConsenSys, the core software business; and ConsenSys Mesh, the investment arm, incubator, and portfolio. It also acquired the Quorum product from J.P. Morgan which has given it a deeper bench into the enterprise blockchain ecosystem. This means it now has a very key product suite for the Etherum platform, including products such as Codefi, Diligence, Infura, MetaMask, Truffle, and Quorum.

This suite allows it to serve both public and private permissioned blockchain networks. It can also support Layer 2 Ethereum networks, as well as facilitate access to adjacent protocols like IPFS, Filecoin, and others. ConsenSys is also a major contributor to the Ethereum 2.0 project, for obvious reasons.

Commenting on the fundraise, Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder, Ethreum said in a statement: “When we set out to raise a round, it was important to us to patiently construct a diverse cap table, consistent with our belief that similar to how the web developed, the whole economy would join the revolutionaries on a next-generation protocol. ConsenSys’ software stack represents access to a new automated objective trust foundation enabled by decentralized protocols like Ethereum. We are proud to partner with preeminent financial firms alongside leading crypto companies to further converge the centralized and decentralized financial domains at this particularly exciting time of growth for ConsenSys and the entire industry.”

With financial institutions able to see, ‘in public’ DeFi happening on Ethereuem, because of the public chain, they can see how much of the financial system is gradually starting to merge with the blockchain world. So it’s becoming clearer what attracts these major institutions.

Mike Dargan, Head of Group Technology at UBS said: “Our investment in ConsenSys adds proven expertise in distributed ledger technology to our UBS Next portfolio.”

For MasterCard this appears to be not just a pure investment – Consensys has been working with it on a private permissioned network.

Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president of digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships at Mastercard said: “Enterprise Ethereum is a key infrastructure on which we and our partners are building payment and non-payment applications to power the future of commerce… Our investment and partnership with ConsenSys helps us bring secure and performant Enterprise Ethereum capabilities to our customers.”

Colleen Sullivan, Co-Founder and CEO of CMT Digital said: “ConsenSys is the pioneer in bridging the gaps across traditional finance, centralized crypto, and DeFi, and more broadly, between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. We are proud to participate in this funding round as the ConsenSys team continues to pave the way for global users  — retail and institutional — to easily access the crypto ecosystem.”

TechCrunch understands that the fundraise was started around the time of the Quorum acquisition, last June. The $65 million round is in majority fiat currency as opposed to cryptocurrency and is an adjunct to the round done with JP Morgan last summer.

The presence of significant crypto players such as Maker Protocol Labs shows the significance of the fund-raise, beyond the simple transaction. The announcement also comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO, which makes for interesting timing.

ConsenSys’ products have become highly significant in the world where developers, enterprises, and consumers meet blockchain and crypto. In its statement, the company claims MetaMask now has over three million monthly active users across mobile and desktop, a 3x increase in the last five or six months, it says. This is roughly the same amount of monthly active customers as Coinbase.

The ConsenSys announcement comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO. While Coinbase is acting as an exchange to turn fiat into crypto and vice versa, it has also been getting into DeFi of late. Where there are also resemblances with ConsenSys, is that Coinbase, with 3 million users, is used as a wallet, and MetMask, which also has 3 million users, can also be used as a wallet. The comparison ends there, but it’s certainly interesting, given Coinbase’s $100 billion valuation.

As Jeremy Millar, Chief Development Officer, told me: “Coinbase has pioneered an exchange, in one of the world’s most regulated financial markets, the US. And it has helped drive significant interest in the space. We enjoy a very positive relationship with Coinbase, trying to further enable the ecosystem and adoption of the technology.”

The background to this raise is that a lot of early-stage blockchain and crypto companies have been raising a lot of money recently, but much of this has been through crypto investment firms. Only a handful of Silicon Valley VCs are backing blockchain, such as Andreessen Horowitz.

What’s interesting about this announcement is that these incumbent financial giants are not only taking an interest, but working alongside ConsenSys to both invest and build products on Ethereum.

It’s ConsenSys’ view that every payment service provider, banks will need this financial infrastructure in the future, especially for DeFI.

Given there is roughly $43 billion collateralized in DeFi, it’s increasingly the case that major investors are involved, and there are increasingly higher returns than traditional yield and bond or bond yields.

The moves by Central Banks into digital currencies is also forcing companies and governments to realize digital currency, and the ‘blockchain rails’ on which it runs, is here to stay. This is what is suggested by the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund’s (a Shenzhen / Hong Kong joint partnership) decision to get involved.

Another aspect of this story is that ConsenSys is sitting on some extremely powerful products. Consensys has six products that serve three different types of people.

Service developers who are building on Ethereum are using Truffle to develop smart contracts. Users joining the NFT hype are using MetaMask underneath it all.

The MetaMask wallet allows users to swap one token for another. This has proved quite lucrative for ConsenSys, which says it has resulted in $1.8 billion in volume in decentralized exchange use. ConsenSys takes a 0.875 percent cut on every swap that it serves.

And institutions are using Consensys’ products. The company says more than 150,000 developers use Infura’s APIs, and 4.5 million developers create and deploy smart contracts using Truffle, while its Protocols group — developer of Hyperledger Besu and ConsenSys Quorum — are building Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) for six central banks, says Consensys.

Consensys is also making hay with the NFT boom. Developers are using Consensys products for the nodes and infrastructure on Ethereum which stores the NFT files.

Consensys is also riding two waves. One is the developer eave and the other is the financial system wave.

As a spokesperson said: “Where the interest in money and invention started happening was on public networks like Ethereum. So we really believe that these are converging and they will continue to, and every one of our products offers public main net compatibility because we think this is the future.”

Millar added: “If we want to help the world adopt the technology we need to meet it at its adoption point, which for many large enterprises means inside the firewall first. But similarly, we think, just like the public Internet, the real value – the disruptive value – changes the ability to do this on a broader permissionless basis, especially when you have sufficient privacy and authentication available.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #blockchains, #co-founder, #coinbase, #consensys, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #firewall, #founder, #joseph-lubin, #jp-morgan, #mastercard, #player, #protocol-labs, #quorum, #shenzhen, #smart-contract, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #technology, #united-states