Belvo, LatAm’s answer to Plaid, raises $43M to scale its API for financial services

Belvo, a Latin American startup which has built an open finance API platform, announced today it has raised $43 million in a Series A round of funding.

A mix of Silicon Valley and Latin American-based VC firms and angels participated in the financing including Future Positive, Kibo Ventures, FJ Labs, Kaszek, MAYA Capital, Venture Friends, Rappi co-founder and president Sebastián Mejía (Rappi), Harsh Sinha, CTO of Wise (formerly Transferwise) and Nubank CEO and founder David Vélez.

Citing Crunchbase data, Belvo believes the round represents the largest series A ever raised by a Latin American fintech. In May 2020, Belvo raised a $10 million seed round co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek.

Belvo aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.

The startup’s goal with its developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data is to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.

As TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm explained in this piece last year, Belvo might be considered similar to U.S.-based Plaid, but more attuned to the Latin American market so it can take in a more diverse set of data to better meet the needs of the various markets it serves. 

So while Belvo’s goals are “similar to the overarching goal[s] of Plaid,” co-founder and co-CEO Pablo Viguera told TechCrunch that Belvo is not merely building a banking API business hoping to connect apps to financial accounts. Instead, Belvo wants to build a finance API, which takes in more information than is normally collected by such systems. Latin America is massively underbanked and unbanked so the more data from more sources, the better.

“In essence, we’re pushing for similar outcomes [as Plaid] in terms of when you think about open banking or open finance,” Viguera said. “We’re working to democratize access to financial data and empower end users to port that data, and share that data with whoever they want.”

The company operates under the premise that just because a significant number of the region’s population is underbanked doesn’t mean that they aren’t still financially active. Belvo’s goal is to link all sorts of accounts together. For example, Viguera told TechCrunch that some gig-economy companies in Latin America are issuing their own cards that allow workers to cash out at small local shops. In time, all those transactions are data that could be linked up using Belvo, casting a far wider net than what we’re used to domestically.

The company’s work to connect banks and non-banks together is key to the company’s goal of allowing “any fintech or any developer to access and interpret user financial data,” according to Viguera.

Viguera and co-CEO Oriol Tintoré founded in May of 2019, and was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch. Since launching its platform last year, the company says it has built a customer base of over 60 companies across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, handling millions of monthly API calls. 

This is important because as Alex noted last year, similar to other players in the API-space, Belvo charges for each API call that its customers use (in this sense, it has a model similar to Twilio’s). 

Image Credits: Co-founders and co-CEOs Oriol Tintore and Pablo Viguera / Belvo

Also, over the past year, Belvo says it expanded its API coverage to over 40 financial institutions, which gives companies the ability to connect to over 90% of personal and business bank accounts in LatAm, as well as to tax authorities (such as the SAT in Mexico) and gig economy platforms.

“Essentially we take unstructured financial data , which an individual might have outside of a bank such as integrations we have with gig economy platforms such as Uber and Rappi. We can take a driver’s information from their Uber app, which is kind of built like a bank app and turn it into meaningful bank-like info which third parties can leverage to make assessments as if it’s data coming from a bank,” Viguera explained.

The startup plans to use its new capital to scale its product offering, continue expanding its geographic footprint and double its current headcount of 70. Specifically, Belvo plans to hire more than 50 engineers in Mexico and Brazil by year’s end. It currently has offices in Mexico City, São Paulo, and Barcelona. The company also aims to  launch its bank-to-bank payment initiation offering in Mexico and Brazil.

Belvo currently operates in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. 

But it’s seeing “a lot of opportunity” in other markets in Latin America, especially in Chile, Peru and Argentina, Viguera told TechCrunch. “In due course, we will look to pursue expansion there.” 

Fred Blackford, founding partner of Future Positive, believes Belvo represents a “truly transformational opportunity for the region’s financial sector.”

Nicolás Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, noted that demand for financial services in Latin America is growing at an exponential rate .

“Belvo is developing the infrastructure that will enable both the larger institutions and the emerging generation of younger players to successfully deploy their solutions,” he said. “ Oriol, Pablo, and the Belvo team have been leading the development of a sophisticated platform that resolves very complex technical challenges, and the company’s exponential growth reflects how it is delivering a product that fits perfectly with the requirements of the market.” 

#alex-wilhelm, #api, #argentina, #bank, #banking, #barcelona, #belvo, #brazil, #ceo, #chile, #co-ceo, #colombia, #cto, #david-velez, #driver, #editor, #finance, #financial-services, #fj-labs, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #kaszek, #kibo-ventures, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #nubank, #online-food-ordering, #open-banking, #open-finance, #peru, #rappi, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #twilio, #uber, #vc, #venture-capital, #wise, #y-combinator

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Orbiit raises Seed funding to automate the interactions within an online community

Orbiit, a startup that automates the interactions within an online community, has raised a $2.7 million round led by Bread and Butter Ventures with participation from new investors High Alpha Capital, LAUNCHub Ventures and Company Ventures. Existing investors Founders Fund, which led Orbiit’s $1M pre-seed round, Acceleprise and other angels also participated. The capital will be used to build out the Orbiit product and engineering team.

Orbiit says its platform handles the communications, matching, scheduling, feedback collection, and analytics for people connecting with each other in an online community. The idea is that the communities therefore learn and network better, engage more, and share more knowledge.

CEO and Co-Founder Bilyana Freye said: “Tailored 1:1 connections allow members to discuss difficult topics, be vulnerable and share learnings with one another. Those 1:1 connections are the hardest to execute, but when you start investing in them, with the help of Orbiit, you see engagement feeding into all other initiatives and a vibrant, active community that truly delivers on the promise to its members.”

Bread and Butter Ventures Managing Partner Mary Grove added: “This age-old question of how to leverage technology at scale to drive meaningful connections across communities both internal to an organization and across the globe is a problem we’ve been actively seeking a solution to for a decade. Orbiit brings the perfect blend of tech-enabled software with human curation to create strong connections and provide insights back to community managers.”

The platform is being used by startup communities at True Ventures, GGV, and Lerer Hippeau; private networking groups such as Dreamers & Doers; and customer communities, like the CFO community run by fintech leader Spendesk.

Founders Fund Principal Delian Asparouhov said: “We see Orbiit as a key platform for peer learning within companies and communities, unlocking untapped knowledge through curated matchmaking.”

LAUNCHub Ventures participated in the round, following the recent first close of its new $70 million fund.

#cfo, #delian-asparouhov, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #founders-fund, #ggv, #high-alpha-capital, #launchub-ventures, #lerer-hippeau, #managing-partner, #mary-grove, #online-community, #private-equity, #spendesk, #startup-company, #tc, #true-ventures

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Workrise, once known as RigUp, raises $300M at a $2.9B valuation

Workrise, which has built a workforce management platform for the skilled trades, announced today that it has raised $300 million in a Series E round led by UK-based Baillie Gifford that values the company at $2.9 billion.

New investor Franklin Templeton joined existing backers including Founders Fund, Bedrock Capital, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), Moore Strategic Ventures, 137 Ventures and Brookfield Growth Partners in putting money in the round. WIth this latest financing, Workrise has now raised over $750 million.

You may know Austin-based Workrise better as its former name, RigUp. The company changed its name earlier this year to reflect a new emphasis on industries other than just oil and gas after the industry took a beating in recent years.

In 2020, Workrise laid off one-quarter of its corporate employees as the industry took an even bigger hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. It currently has over 600 employees in 25 offices.

Despite the rocky start to the year, Workrise apparently ended up rebounding. Its gross revenue has tripled since 2018, going from just under $300 million to about $900 million to close out 2020.

Workrise was founded in 2014 as a marketplace for on-demand services and skilled labor in the energy industry. In October 2019, it raised a $300 million Series D round led by Andreessen Horowitz(a16z) that valued the company at $1.9 billion.

Since then, Workrise has broadened its reach to include wind, solar, commercial construction and defense industries. In a nutshell, it connects skilled laborers with infrastructure and energy companies looking to staff and manage projects efficiently. Workrise’s online platform matches workers with over 500 companies in its network, manages payroll and benefits and provides access to training.

The company plans to use its new capital to continue to expand into new markets.

“The shift to clean energy and a redoubling of investment in infrastructure are opening up jobs that are desperately in need of filling,” said Workrise co-founder and CEO (and former energy investor) Xuan Yong in a statement. “Our platform makes it easier for skilled workers to find work and for companies to hire in-demand workers.”

Dave Bujnowski, investment manager at Baillie Gifford, points out that Workrise’s online management platform is “disrupting a sector that’s so far been slow to adopt new technologies.”

Workrise now serves more than 70 metro areas in the U.S., including Atlanta, where the company is matching trade workers with commercial construction companies, and in Broomfield, CO where the company trains and matches workers to jobs across the U.S. wind industry. 

The company also offers trade workers access to training that equips them for energy and infrastructure jobs that are on the rise. Last year, Workrise placed more than 4,500 workers, or nearly a third of all its workers placed in 2020, in renewable-energy jobs. 

Specifically, the company says in total, it placed 8,000 unique workers in jobs in 2019 with 13% in renewables. That number jumped to 15,000 in 2020.

#andreessen-horowitz, #atlanta, #austin, #baillie-gifford, #bedrock-capital, #clean-energy, #energy, #energy-industry, #finance, #founders-fund, #franklin-templeton, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hiring, #merchant-services, #moore-strategic-ventures, #oil-and-gas, #on-demand-services, #recent-funding, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital

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Settle raises $15M from Kleiner Perkins to give e-commerce companies more working capital

Alek Koenig spent four years at Affirm, where he was head of credit.

There he saw firsthand just how powerful the alternative lending model could be. Koenig realized that it wasn’t just consumers who could benefit from the model, but businesses too.

So in November 2019, he founded Settle as a way to give e-commerce and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies access to non-dilutive capital. (Not every company wants to raise venture money). By June 2020, the startup had launched its platform, which is designed to help these businesses manage their cash flow. Over time, he recruited a previous co-worker, Shane Morian, to serve as Settle’s CTO.

And today, the company is announcing that it has raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Kleiner Perkins. This follows a previously unannounced $6 million seed raise led by Founders Fund in November 2020. Other investors in the company include SciFi (Affirm founder Max Levchin’s VC firm), Caffeinated Capital, WorkLife Ventures, Background Capital and AngelList Venture CEO Avlok Kohli.

With the pandemic leading to a massive shift toward digital and online shopping, ecommerce and CPG businesses found themselves with the challenge of keeping up with demand while trying to manage their cash flow. The main problem was the lag between accounts receivables and accounts payables.

“These companies suffer from the problem where there are these huge cash flow gaps from buying inventory, waiting to receive it and then turning it into revenue,” Koenig explains. “It takes quite a bit of time for these customers to actually get revenue from all those inventory purchases they need to make. What we do is make it really easy for companies to pay their vendors with extended payment terms.”

Settle does this by automatically syncing to a business’ accounting software and combining that with working capital products it’s developed.

Put simply, Settle will pay a vendor, and then brands can pay Settle back when they turn that COGS (cost of goods sold) into revenue. The startup says it also saves brands money on expensive wire fees.

Image Credits: Settle

“Businesses really value getting cash sooner, so they can use it in their operations,” Koenig said. “We’ve worked to reimagine the CFO suite for brands, starting with integrated financing and bill pay solutions.”

The concept of non-dilutive capital is not a new one with other startups tackling the space in different ways. For example, Pipe aims to give SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts.

Settle is focused on the e-commerce vertical, and building a unique product for that category, Koenig says, rather than trying to build a product aimed for several different industries.

“We don’t want to be a mediocre product for everybody,” he told TechCrunch. “But rather a phenomenal product for this vertical.”

Since its launch last June, Settle has seen its business jump by 1000% although it’s important to note that’s from a small base. Settle is currently working with over 300 brands including baby stroller retailer Lalo, Spiceology and men’s skincare brand Disco. So far, all of its growth has been organic.

“Last year when the pandemic hit, offline retail shut down and ecommerce got a big boost. But that meant that a lot of these companies were running out of orders and were out of stock on many items, so they were just kind of leaving money on the table,” Koenig said. “Once they started using us, they were able to buy more inventory, so we actually help them make more profit, and not just create more sales.”

His reasoning for that last statement is that by giving these businesses the ability to purchase items in bulk, they could get cheaper price per unit costs as well as cheaper shipping costs.

The company is planning to use its new capital in part to grow its team of 20, as well as raise more debt so that it can continue lending money to businesses.

Kleiner Perkins’ Monica Desai Weiss said her firm believes that Koenig and CTO Morian’s expertise in underwriting, capital markets and e-commerce give the pair “a rare skill set that’s unique to their market.”

She’s also drawn to the company’s embedded approach.

“Whereas most lending businesses are fairly transactional and opportunistic, Settle becomes deeply embedded in the way their merchants forecast and grow,” she told TechCrunch. “That approach has demonstrated inherent virality and their timing is perfect — the past year has changed consumer behaviors permanently and also produced massive opportunities for global entrepreneurship via ecommerce. In that way, we see the umbrella of e-commerce expanding massively in the coming years, and we believe Settle will be key to enabling that shift.”

#avlok-kohli, #background-capital, #business, #caffeinated-capital, #ceo, #cfo, #corporate-finance, #cto, #e-commerce, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #fintech, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #head, #inventory, #kleiner-perkins, #online-lending, #payments, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #settle, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #venture-capital, #worklife-ventures

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Internal rates of return in emerging US tech hubs are starting to overtake Silicon Valley

Tech innovation is becoming more widely distributed across the United States.

Among the five startups launched in 2020 that raised the most financing, four were based outside the Bay Area. Prominent VCs like Keith Rabois of Founders Fund, David Blumberg of Blumberg Capital, and Joe Lonsdale of 8VC have moved out of the Bay Area to new emerging tech hubs, which AngelList defines as Austin, Texas; Seattle; Denver; Portland, Oregon; Brooklyn, New York; Nashville, Tennessee; Pittsburgh; and Miami.

The number of syndicated deals on AngelList in emerging markets has increased 144% over the last five years.

The number of startups in these emerging markets is growing fast, according to AngelList data, and increasingly getting a bigger piece of the VC pie.

AngelList compared the performance of startups based in emerging tech hubs to startups in Silicon Valley by internal rate of return (IRR), which measures the rate of growth these investments have generated. AngelList defines “Silicon Valley” as San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Oakland, San Mateo, Berkeley, Redwood City, Menlo Park, San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Burlingame and San Carlos.

According to AngelList’s data, startups in emerging tech hubs have an aggregate IRR of 19.4% per year on syndicated deals on AngelList. Syndicated deals on AngelList in Silicon Valley have an aggregate IRR of 17.5% per year.

Total value to paid-in (TVPI), which is the return multiple net of fees, is also slightly higher for AngelList deals in emerging tech hubs (1.67x) than Silicon Valley (1.60x). This means for every $1 invested into startups based in emerging tech hubs, the investor’s portfolio is now valued at $1.67, compared to $1.60 for Silicon Valley startups.

This data is based on a sample of nearly 2,500 syndicated deals on AngelList dating back to 2013, with returns current as of January 1, 2021.

Investors we spoke with offered a variety of reasons for the rise of these emerging tech hubs, including cheaper taxes outside the Bay Area, lower cost of living and a wider distribution of talent brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

#angel-investor, #angellist, #column, #ec-column, #entrepreneurship, #founders-fund, #private-equity, #san-francisco, #startup-company, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

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Crusoe Energy is tackling energy use for cryptocurrencies and data centers and greenhouse gas emissions

The two founders of Crusoe Energy think they may have a solution to two of the largest problems facing the planet today — the increasing energy footprint of the tech industry and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the natural gas industry.

Crusoe, which uses excess natural gas from energy operations to power data centers and cryptocurrency mining operations, has just raised $128 million in new financing from some of the top names in the venture capital industry to build out its operations — and the timing couldn’t be better.

Methane emissions are emerging as a new area of focus for researchers and policymakers focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping global warming within the 1.5 degree targets set under the Paris Agreement. And those emissions are just what Crusoe Energy is capturing to power its data centers and bitcoin mining operations.

The reason why addressing methane emissions is so critical in the short term is because these greenhouse gases trap more heat than their carbon dioxide counterparts and also dissipate more quickly. So dramatic reductions in methane emissions can do more in the short term to alleviate the global warming pressures that human industry is putting on the environment.

And the biggest source of methane emissions is the oil and gas industry. In the U.S. alone roughly 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas is flared daily, said Chase Lochmiller, a co-founder of Crusoe Energy. About two thirds of that is flared in Texas with another 500 million cubic feet flared in North Dakota, where Crusoe has focused its operations to date.

For Lochmiller, a former quant trader at some of the top American financial services institutions, and Cully Cavmess, a third generation oil and gas scion, the ability to capture natural gas and harness it for computing operations is a natural combination of the two men’s interests in financial engineering and environmental preservation.

NEW TOWN, ND – AUGUST 13: View of three oil wells and flaring of natural gas on The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation near New Town, ND on August 13, 2014. About 100 million dollars worth of natural gas burns off per month because a pipeline system isn’t in place yet to capture and safely transport it . The Three Affiliated Tribes on Fort Berthold represent Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations. It’s also at the epicenter of the fracking and oil boom that has brought oil royalties to a large number of native americans living there. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The two Denver natives met in prep-school and remained friends. When Lochmiller left for MIT and Cavness headed off to Middlebury they didn’t know that they’d eventually be launching a business together. But through Lochmiller’s exposure to large scale computing and the financial services industry, and Cavness assumption of the family business they came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way to address the massive waste associated with natural gas.

Conversation around Crusoe Energy began in 2018 when Lochmiller and Cavness went climbing in the Rockies to talk about Lochmiller’s trip to Mt. Everest.

When the two men started building their business, the initial focus was on finding an environmentally friendly way to deal with the energy footprint of bitcoin mining operations. It was this pitch that brought the company to the attention of investors at Polychain, the investment firm started by Olaf Carlson-Wee (and Lochmiller’s former employer), and investors like Bain Capital Ventures and new investor Valor Equity Partners.

(This was also the pitch that Lochmiller made to me to cover the company’s seed round. At the time I was skeptical of the company’s premise and was worried that the business would just be another way to prolong the use of hydrocarbons while propping up a cryptocurrency that had limited actual utility beyond a speculative hedge against governmental collapse. I was wrong on at least one of those assessments.)

“Regarding questions about sustainability, Crusoe has a clear standard of only pursuing projects that are net reducers of emissions. Generally the wells that Crusoe works with are already flaring and would continue to do so in the absence of Crusoe’s solution. The company has turned down numerous projects where they would be a buyer of low cost gas from a traditional pipeline because they explicitly do not want to be net adders of demand and emissions,” wrote a spokesman for Valor Equity in an email. “In addition, mining is increasingly moving to renewables and Crusoe’s approach to stranded energy can enable better economics for stranded or marginalized renewables, ultimately bringing more renewables into the mix. Mining can provide an interruptible base load demand that can be cut back when grid demand increases, so overall the effect to incentivize the addition of more renewable energy sources to the grid.”

Other investors have since piled on including: Lowercarbon Capital, DRW Ventures, Founders Fund, Coinbase Ventures, KCK Group, Upper90, Winklevoss Capital, Zigg Capital and Tesla co-founder JB Straubel.

The company now operate 40 modular data centers powered by otherwise wasted and flared natural gas throughout North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Next year that number should expand to 100 units as Crusoe enters new markets such as Texas and New Mexico. Since launching in 2018, Crusoe has emerged as a scalable solution to reduce flaring through energy intensive computing such as bitcoin mining, graphical rendering, artificial intelligence model training and even protein folding simulations for COVID-19 therapeutic research.

Crusoe boasts 99.9% combustion efficiency for its methane, and is also bringing additional benefits in the form of new networking buildout at its data center and mining sites. Eventually, this networking capacity could lead to increased connectivity for rural communities surrounding the Crusoe sites.

Currently, 80% of the company’s operations are being used for bitcoin mining, but there’s increasing demand for use in data center operations and some universities, including Lochmiller’s alma mater of MIT are looking at the company’s offerings for their own computing needs.

“That’s very much in an incubated phase right now,” said Lochmiller. “A private alpha where we have a few test customers… we’ll make that available for public use later this year.”

Crusoe Energy Systems should have the lowest data center operating costs in the world, according to Lochmiller and while the company will spend money to support the infrastructure buildout necessary to get the data to customers, those costs are negligible when compared to energy consumption, Lochmiller said.

The same holds true for bitcoin mining, where the company can offer an alternative to coal powered mining operations in China and the construction of new renewable capacity that wouldn’t be used to service the grid. As cryptocurrencies look for a way to blunt criticism about the energy usage involved in their creation and distribution, Crusoe becomes an elegant solution.

Institutional and regulatory tailwinds are also propelling the company forward. Recently New Mexico passed new laws limiting flaring and venting to no more than 2 percent of an operator’s production by April of next year and North Dakota is pushing for incentives to support on-site flare capture systems while Wyoming signed a law creating incentives for flare gas reduction applied to bitcoin mining. The world’s largest financial services firms are also taking a stand against flare gas with BlackRock calling for an end to routine flaring by 2025.

“Where we view our power consumption, we draw a very clear line in our project evaluation stage where we’re reducing emissions for an oil and gas projects,” Lochmiller said. 

#air-pollution, #alpha, #artificial-intelligence, #bain-capital-ventures, #bitcoin, #bitcoin-mining, #blackrock, #china, #co-founder, #coinbase-ventures, #colorado, #computing, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #denver, #energy, #energy-consumption, #energy-efficiency, #everest, #founders-fund, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #jb-straubel, #lowercarbon-capital, #methane, #mining, #mit, #montana, #natural-gas, #new-mexico, #north-dakota, #tc, #tesla, #texas, #trader, #united-states, #upper90, #valor-equity-partners, #winklevoss-capital, #world-bank, #wyoming

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Hadrian is building the factories of the future for rocket ships and advanced manufacturing

If the eight person team behind the new startup Hadrian has their way, they’ll have transformed the manufacturing industry within the next decade.

At least, that’s the goal for the new San Francisco-based startup, founded only last year, which has set its sights on building out a new model for advanced manufacturing to enable the satellite, space ship, and advanced energy technology companies to build the future they envision better and faster.

We view our job as to provide the world’s most efficient space and defense component factory,” said Hadrian founder, Chris Power.

Initially, the company is building factories to make the parts that go on rocket ships, according to Power, but the business has implications for any company that needs bespoke components to make their equipment.

“Let me tell you how bad it is at the moment and what’s going to happen over the next 20 years. Right now everyone in space and defense, [including] SpaceX and Lockheed Martin, outsources their parts and manufacturing to small factories across the country. They’re super expensive, they’re unreliable and they’re completely invisible to the customers,” said Power. “This causes big problems with space and defense manufacturers in the design phase, because the lead time is so long and the iteration time is super long. Imagine running software and being able to iterate on your product once every 20 days? If you can imagine a Gantt chart of how to build a rocket, about 60% of that is buffer time… A lot of the delays in launches and stuff like that happen because parts got delivered three months ago. It’d be like running a McDonalds and realizing that your fries and burger providers could not tell you when the food would arrive.”

It’s hard to overstate the strategic importance of the parts suppliers to the operations of aerospace, defense, and advanced machining companies. As no less an authority on manufacturing than Elon Musk noted in a tweet, “The factory is the product.” It’s also hard to overstate the geopolitical importance of re-establishing the U.S. as a center of manufacturing excellence, according to Hadrian’s investors Lux Capital, Founders Fund, and Construct Capital. Which is one reason why they’re investing $9.5 million into the very early stage business.

“America made massive strategic mistakes in the early 90s which have left our national manufacturing ecosystem completely dilapidated,” said Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov. “The only way to get out of this disaster is to re-invent the most basic input into our aerospace and defense supply chains, machining metal parts quickly and with high tolerance. Right now, America’s most innovative company, SpaceX, relies on a network of near-retired machinists to produce space-worthy metal parts, and no one in technology is. focused on solving this.”

 

Power got to understand the problem at his previous company, Ento, which sold workforce management software to blue collar customers. It was there he realized the issue of. the aging workforce and the need for manufacturers to upgrade almost every aspect of their own technology stack. “I realized that the right way to bring technology to the industrial space is not to sell software to these companies, it’s to build an industrial business from scratch with software.”

Initially, Hadrian is focusing all of its efforts on the space industry, where the component manufacturing problem is especially acute, but the manufacturing capabilities the company is building out have broad relevance across any industry that requires highly engineered components.

“The demand for manufacturing from both the large SpaceX and Blue Origin all the way to this growing long tail of companies from Anduril to Relativity to Varda,” said Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe. “Most of these guys are using mom and pop machine shops… [and] those shops are horribly inefficient. They’re not consistent, and they’re not reliable. Between the software automation, the hardware, you can cut down on inefficiency every step of the process… I like to think of value creation as waste reduction… so mundane things like quoting, scheduling, bidding, and planning all the way to the programming of the manufacturing… every one of those things takes hours to tens of hours to days and weeks, so if you can do that in minutes, it’s just a no-brainer. [Hadrian] will be the cutting edge choice for all of the new and explicitly dedicated and focused aerospace and defense companies.”

Power envisions a network of manufacturing facilities that can initially cover roughly 65% of all space and defense components, and will eventually take that number up to 95% of components. Already several of the biggest launch vehicle and satellite manufacturers are in talks with the company to produce hundreds of units for them, Power said. Some of those companies just happen to be in the Construct, Lux, and Founders Fund portfolio.

And the company’s founder sees this as a new way to revitalize American manufacturing jobs as well. “Manufacturing jobs in space and defense can easily be as high paying as a software engineering job at Google,” he said. In an ideal world, Hadrian would like to offer an onramp to high paying manufacturing careers in the 21st century in the same way that automakers provided good union jobs in the twentieth.

“We haven’t built any of this. If you look at the sheer number of people that we need to train and hire on our new technology and new systems, that people problem and that training problem is part of growing our business.”

A render of Axiom’s future commercial space station design.

#aerospace, #america, #blue-origin, #co-founder, #construct-capital, #elon-musk, #entrepreneurship, #factory, #food, #founders-fund, #google, #josh-wolfe, #lockheed-martin, #lux-capital, #manufacturing, #mcdonalds, #san-francisco, #software-automation, #spacex, #startup-company, #tc, #united-states

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Mexican unicorn Kavak raises a $485M Series D at a $4B valuation.

Kavak, the Mexican startup that’s disrupted the used car market in Mexico and Argentina, today announced its Series D of $485 million, which now values the company at $4 billion. This round more than triples their previous valuation of $1.15 billion, which established them as a unicorn just a couple of months ago in October of 2020. Kavak is now one of the top five highest-valued startups in Latin America.

The round was led by D1 Capital Partners, Founders Fund, Ribbit, and BOND, and brings Kavak’s total capital raised to date to more than $900 million. Kavak recently soft-launched in Brazil, and this new round of funding will be used to build out the Brazilian market and beyond, said Carlos García Ottati, Kavak’s CEO and Co-Founder. The company plans to do a full launch in Brazil in the next 60 days, García said, and we can expect to see Kavak in markets outside Latin America in the next 24 months, he added.

“We were built to solve emerging market problems,” García said.

Kavak, which was founded in 2016, is an online marketplace that aims to bring transparency, security, and access to financing to the used car market. The company also offers its own financing through its fintech arm, Kavak Capital, and counts more than 2,500 employees and 20 logistics and reconditioning hubs in Mexico and Argentina.

“In Latin America, 90% of the [used car] transactions are informal, which leads to a 40% fraud rate,” said García, who experienced these challenges first-hand when he moved to Mexico from Colombia a couple of years ago and bought a used car. 

“My budget allowed me to buy a used car, but there was no infrastructure around it. It took me 6 months to buy the car, and then the car had legal and mechanical issues and I lost most of my money,” he said. Kavak buys cars from individuals, refurbishes them, and offers warranties to buyers.

“Instead of buying a new car, they can buy a better car that still has all the warranties. It’s a really aspirational process,” said García. The company, which really amounts to four companies in one given its areas of focus, was built to be comprehensive by design in order to meet the various gaps in the market, García said.

“When you’re building a business here [Latin America], you need to build several businesses because so many things are broken,” he said. That’s why the financing option, for example, has been a key to their success, according to García.

Financing has traditionally been hard to come by in Brazil, and as García said, the used car market lacks infrastructure there, too. That being said, Brazil is Latin America’s fintech hub, and the space has been made leaps and bounds over the last 7-10 years with companies such as Nubank, PagSeguro, Creditas, PicPay, and others leading the way. As a result, credit cards and loans are more widely available today in the region, offering competition for Kavak Capital. While Kavak has localized some of its product for the Brazilian market — namely building out a Portuguese language version of the app and website — García said the markets are very similar.

“In Brazil, you still have the same problems that you have in Mexico, but Brazil is a little more developed, especially in fintech, which is light years ahead of Mexico,” he said.

With the Brazilian product heading to the races, García said they already have plans for other regions, though he declined to name them.

“80% of people in emerging markets don’t have access to a car,” García said of the global market size. “We want to go into big markets where customers are facing similar problems and where Kavak can really change their lives,” he added.

#apps, #argentina, #articles, #automotive, #brazil, #colombia, #creditas, #d1-capital-partners, #ecommerce, #finance, #financial-technology, #financing, #founders-fund, #funding, #latin-america, #logistics, #mexico, #nubank, #online-lending, #online-marketplace, #pagseguro, #recent-funding, #series-d, #startups, #transportation, #unicorn, #used-cars

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NFT marketplace OpenSea raises $23 million from a16z

OpenSea has been one of a handful of NFT marketplaces to explode in popularity in recent weeks as collectors wade into the trading of non-fungible tokens on the blockchain. While new startups have been popping up everyday, platforms that launched in crypto’s earlier times are receiving rampant attention from investors who see this wave of excitement for cryptocurrencies and tokens as much different than the ones that preceded it.

Today, the startup announced that it’s closed a $23 million round of funding led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from a laundry list of angels and firms including Naval Ravikant, Mark Cuban, Alexis Ohanian, Dylan Field and Linda Xie.

OpenSea launched back in 2017, announcing a $2 million round a few months later from Founders Fund and a few crypto-centric firms. At the time CryptoKitties mania was most of what Ethereum had to offer and early NFT projects were being slowly embraced by a community that was enthusiastic but more curious than anything.

Fast forward to 2021 and NFTs are certainly having a moment, and while the specific shades of that moment may be heavily focused on high-dollar artwork sales from traditional auction houses or NFT memes being tweeted out by Elon Musk, proponents see a future for the tokens that upends the economics of content creation and influence on the internet. The enthusiasm accompanies a months-long rally in the value of cryptocurrencies themselves which have taken Ethereum and Bitcoin to multiples of previous-all-time-highs.

The market for digital goods expanding widely may depend heavily on further adoption among gaming giants and larger media organizations, but early-on there’s hope that digital-first creators can use these marketplace to connect more directly with fans and begin to bypass the massive platforms they depend on now.

There are still some early hiccups as the tech develops. While Ethereum has committed to moving from its energy-intensive proof-of-work standard to a more efficient proof-of-stake one eventually, the existing structure has been far from efficient, which has opened many of the early NFT artists to criticism surrounding climate change concerns and whether the stakeholders in crypto tokens should be prioritizing environmental worries over the specific challenges of certain proofs. In February, OpenSea announced support for more efficient Tezos-based NFTs.

A more nebulous challenge for marketplaces like OpenSea may be cutting through the noise of speculation and providing a marketplace for more users that are actually buying to own, an especially difficult proposition given the breakneck pace of growth for the digital currencies being used to purchase the digital goods themselves.

#alexis-ohanian, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #blockchains, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptokitties, #decentralization, #distributed-computing, #dylan-field, #elon-musk, #ethereum, #founders-fund, #mark-cuban, #naval-ravikant, #tezos

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Forward Health raises $225M from investors including The Weeknd as it looks to expand nationwide

Primary care startup Forward Health is looking to expand its tech-powered, personalized healthcare model across the U.S., and will use a new $225 million Series D raise to help make it happen. The new capital comes from Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, SoftBank, Mark Benioff – and recording artist The Weeknd – among others. I spoke to Forward Health co-founder and CEO Adrian Aoun about his company’s plans for this fresh capital, and we also chatted briefly about how The Weeknd got involved.

Forward, which currently operates clinics in select U.S. markets including LA, New York, Chicago, SF and Washington, D.C., has a number of distinguishing features, but most notable are likely its tech-first approach that includes a full biometric assessment upon first visit, and its business model, which eschews insurance providers altogether and instead works based on a single flat membership fee.

Aoun and his co-founders created Forward Health with the idea of building a healthcare business that’s aligned with its customers in terms of incentives, which is why they sidestepped insurance altogether. That’s led to a focus on customer service and long-term patient relationships and outcomes, which Aoun says are stronger because they’re not bound by an individual’s relationship with their employer, for instance, which is often the case when an employer foots the bill for healthcare via company-provided insurance.

“The average person in the Bay Area is with their employer for about two and a quarter years,” Aoun told me. “So your employer is kind of sitting there thinking, if you get the flu, you’re missing three days of work – I’m out some money.” That means they’ll do things like institute programs to remind employees constantly to get their annual flu vaccine, and do other things to make that happen like provide on-premise shots. But Aoun says they’re optimizing for short-term outcomes, not long-term health – because that’s where their incentives tell them to optimize.

Image Credits: Forward Health

But when long-term healthcare programs, like lifestyle shifts that can lessen the potential of truly dangerous outcomes like heart disease and cancer, come into play, an employer who expects you to stick around for a few years at most is far less incentivized to want to fund that. Forward Health, which aims to attract subscribers and, for lack of a better term, minimize churn, actually is incentivized to make those long-term outcomes positive for everyone who comes through the door.

That’s part of why one focus with this new funding is to debut new doctor-led programs tailored to treating conditions that individual patients might be predisposed to – like heart health, if heart disease runs in your family, or specific types of cancer, if there’s a history of that, for instance.

“We’ve got our [in-clinic] body scanners, our blood tests, our gene sequencing – we basically collect on the order of about 500 biometric data points,” Aoun said. “The idea is you and your doctor then figure out which which kind of programs make sense for you based upon those.”

For example, Aoun says he’s actually at fairly high risk for developing heart disease, so there’s a Forward program that includes doing a heart risk analysis, blood tests, and regular at-home monitoring of key risk factors like blood pressure and weight. Another program for cancer prevention includes measures designed to help lessen the risk of contracting the top five cancers in terms of prevalence — so Forward created a dermatoscope for that, which is essentially a skin scanner to map out an individual’s moles and skin features and alert them of any changes.

This builds on work that Forward began at the outset of COVID-19 — its ‘Forward at Home’ program, which includes sending patients home with specialized sensors for remote care. Another specialized program tailored to COVID-19 actually offers monitoring specific to the disease in order to track a patient’s progress safely.

“We’re now launching programs for all the top diseases to help you get ahead of them,” Aoun said. “And whatever kind of programs you’re using, you walk away with plans that are tailored to you, again, to counsel you not only on the potential risks for the things like the cancer and heart disease, but also to be proactive, with guidance from diet, to exercise, to stress, and to sleep, etc.”

The programs are supported by Forward’s 24/7 worldwide care support team, which subscribers can access via their mobile app. It’s also complemented by the check-ins with your physician via the ‘Forward at Home’ in-home virtual visits.

Image Credits: Forward Health

While Forward is already rolling these out, it has plans to continue to develop new ones, and it’s also monitoring results in order to understand how they’re working for users, and will be sharing that data once it has collected a significant sample. I asked Aoun how Forward can scale this kind of personalized care – especially now that the startup plans to open additional locations in other parts of the country.

Basically, Aoun said that Forward approached it as an engineering problem. He argues that most solutions in healthcare see the fundamental issue as a labor problem — but trying to scale that, with the salaries that medical professionals command, and the limited availability of skilled talent, makes no sense. Especially because consumers are naturally looking for improvements in their standard of care over time, in the same way they expect improvements in the products they buy or services they use.

Rather than relying on a chain of increasingly specific medical professionals to address individual health risks and needs, Aoun said Forward identified that there’s a massive amount of overlap in preventative care courses of action. The Forward team focused on breaking the fundamental elements down into what equate roughly to reusable Lego blocks, which can be recombined with relative speed and repeatability to produce a program that’s nonetheless tailored to an individual’s needs.

Combined with Forward Health’s longitudinal approach to care, these programs and their recombinant nature should prove a good dataset from which to assess how a direct, client-focused primary care model affects overall health.

And, because I promised, I’ll leave you with how Aoun says The Weeknd got involved in the Series D.

“He literally just walked by one of our locations, and walked in and was like, ‘This is awesome,’ and then asked a friend, who asked a friend, who asked a friend to get connected,” he told me.

#adrian-aoun, #artist, #cancer, #chicago, #disease, #flu, #forward, #forward-health, #founders-fund, #health, #healthcare, #khosla-ventures, #louisiana, #new-york, #physician, #recent-funding, #softbank, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #washington-d-c

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Eco raises $26M in a16z-led round to scale its digital cryptocurrency platform

‍Eco, which has built out a digital global cryptocurrency platform, announced Friday that it has raised $26 million in a funding round led by a16z Crypto.

Founded in 2018, the SF-based startup’s platform is designed to be used as a payment tool around the world for daily-use transactions. The company emphasizes that it’s “not a bank, checking account, or credit card.”

“We’re building something better than all of those combined,” it said in a blog post. The company’s mission has also been described as an effort to use cryptocurrency as a way “to marry savings and spending,” according to this CoinList article.

Eco users can earn up to 5% annually on their deposits and get 5% cashback on when transacting with merchants such as Amazon, Uber, and others. Next up: the company says it will give its users the ability to pay bills, pay friends and more “all from the same, single wallet.” That same wallet, it says, rewards people every time they spend or save.

After a “successful” alpha test with millions of dollars deposited, the company’s Eco App is now available to the public.

A slew of other VC firms participated in Eco’s latest financing, including Founders Fund, Activant Capital, Slow Ventures, Coinbase Ventures, Tribe Capital, Valor Capital Group, and more than one hundred other funds and angels.  Expa and Pantera Capital co-led the company’s $8.5 million funding round.

CoinList co-founder Andy Bromberg stepped down from his role last fall to head up Eco. The startup was originally called Beam before rebranding to Eco “thanks to involvement by founding advisor, Garrett Camp, who held the Eco brand,” according to Coindesk. Camp is an Uber co-founder and Expa is his venture fund.

For a16z Crypto, leading the round is in line with its mission.

In a blog post co-written by Katie Haun and Arianna Simpson, the firm outlined why it’s pumped about Eco and its plans.

“One of the challenges in any new industry — crypto being no exception — is building things that are not just cool for the sake of cool, but that manage to reach and delight a broad set of users,” they wrote. “Technology is at its best when it’s improving the lives of people in tangible, concrete ways…At a16z Crypto, we are constantly on the lookout for paths to get cryptocurrency into the hands of the next billion people. How do we think that will happen? By helping them achieve what they already want to do: spend, save, and make money — and by focusing users on tangible benefits, not on the underlying technology.”

Eco is not the only crypto platform offering rewards to users. Lolli gives users free bitcoin or cash when they shop at over 1,000 top stores.

#a16z-crypto, #activant-capital, #andreessen-horowitz, #bitcoin, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #coinlist, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #eco, #finance, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #garrett-camp, #katie-haun, #pantera-capital, #payments, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #startups, #tc, #uber, #valor-capital-group

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From food delivery to housing: Former Favor founders raise millions for Sunroom Rentals

Real estate tech startup Sunroom Rentals, which leases units on behalf of property managers and apartment owners, has raised $11 million in a Series A round of funding led by Gigafund.

Ben Doherty and Zachary Maurais, former founders of the delivery app Favor, launched Sunroom in May 2018 with the mission of “boosting the profitability” of mid-size property managers and apartment owners by giving them a way to outsource their leasing operations.

The pair sold Favor to Texas grocer H-E-B in 2018 and soon after shifted their focus on building out Sunroom. The Austin-based company has developed an app that it says gives renters a way to tour, apply for and lease a unit “entirely online.” COVID-19 has led to more renters wanting virtual ways to explore and secure rental units. Mobile-first, Maurais noted, is particularly appealing to millennials and Gen Zers.

“Personally, we love to create products that fulfill consumer’s most basic needs,” said Maurais, the company’s president. “With food under our belt, we decided to focus on housing.”

While one might wonder what the parallels between food delivery and housing might be beyond fulfilling consumers’ needs, CEO Doherty said the rental market in 2021 looks a lot like the food delivery market in 2013.

“In 2013, Grubhub had successfully put many restaurant menus online, but most of the transactions and delivery process was still offline,” he told TechCrunch. “We’re in a similar position with the rental market, as the majority of rental listings are online, but touring, applying or leasing units is still done offline.”

Since its launch, Sunroom Rentals has signed more than 2,000 leases and had over 100,000 renters sign up for its services in fast-growing Austin, where it focused its initial efforts.

“According to the U.S. Census, that represents roughly 10% of renters in the greater Austin metro,” Maurais said. “Instead of going shallow and wide nationally, we decided to go deep in markets, in an effort to gain network effects, which was a strategy that worked well for us at Favor.”

Sunroom Rentals claims that it’s leasing units five days faster than the market average. This benefits property managers, Doherty said, because they can grow quicker “while improving leasing performance.”

Looking ahead, the company will use the funding to expand across Texas, including in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. It will also invest in its partner portal, which aims to give owners and property managers a way to view real-time data on leasing performance.

Sunroom Rentals currently has 18 employees with the goal of more than doubling its headcount this year. It’s in particular looking to hire across its engineering, product and sales departments.

As mentioned above, Gigafund led the Series A financing, which included participation from NextGen Venture Partners, Calpoly Ventures and a slew of angel investors, including Gokul Rajaram (Google & Square) and Homeward’s Tim Heyl, among others. Existing backers include Founders Fund Seed, Draper Associates, Boost VC and Capital Factory (among many others). The round marked Sunroom’s first “priced” round, meaning the first time it’s given up stock.

Jonathan Basset, managing partner at NextGen Venture Partners, believes Sunroom was essentially in the right place at the right time and “on trend with touchless leasing even before COVID hit.”

“I watched them build a profitable consumer marketplace in a competitive market with Favor and was impressed with them as operators,” he said. “These businesses have a surprising amount of similarities and I’m confident they can rise to the challenge.

Last week, TechCrunch reported on the raise of another startup operating in this increasingly crowded space. Seattle-based Knock — a company that has developed tools to give property management companies a competitive edge — raised $20 million in a growth funding round led by Fifth Wall Ventures.

Knock’s goal is to provide CRM tools to modernize front office operations for these companies so they can do things like offer virtual tours and communicate with renters via text, email or social media from “a single conversation screen.” For renters, it offers an easier way to communicate and engage with landlords.

Maurais said the two differ in that Knock is a CRM built for leasing agents with a SAAS model where as Sunroom is a marketplace, where renters match, tour and apply with partnered properties.

“Sunroom also provides a suite of leasing & analytics software to its partners and generates both transactional and subscription revenues,” he added.

#austin, #favor, #founders-fund, #funding, #gigafund, #nextgen-venture-partners, #property-management, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #renting, #startups, #sunroom-rentals, #texas, #venture-capital

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SESO Labor is providing a way for migrant farmworkers to get legally protected work status in the U.S.

As the Biden Administration works to bring legislation to Congress to address the endemic problem of immigration reform in America, on the other side of the nation a small California startup called SESO Labor has raised $4.5 million to ensure that farms can have access to legal migrant labor.

SESO’s founder Mike Guirguis raised the round over the summer from investors including Founders Fund and NFX. Pete Flint, a founder of Trulia joined the company’s board. The company has 12 farms it’s working with and negotiating contracts with another 46.

Working within the existing regulatory framework that has existed since 1986, SESO has created a service that streamlines and manages the process of getting H-2A visas, which allow migrant agricultural workers to reside temporarily in the U.S. with legal protections.

At this point, SESO is automating the visa process, getting the paperwork in place for workers and smoothing the application process. The company charges about $1,000 per application, but eventually as it begins offering more services to workers themselves, Guirguis envisions several robust lines of revenue. Eventually, the company would like to offer integrated services for both farm owners and farm workers, Guirguis said.

SESO is currently expecting to bring in 1,000 workers over the course of 2021 and the company is, as of now, pre-revenue. The largest industry player handling worker visas today currently brings in 6,000 workers per year, so the competition, for SESO, is market share, Guirguis said.

America’s complicated history of immigration and agricultural labor

The H-2A program was set up to allow agricultural employers who anticipate shortages of domestic workers to bring in non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to work on farms temporarily or seasonally. The workers are covered by U.S. wage laws, workers’ compensation and other standards, including access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

Employers who use the the visa program to hire workers are required to pay inbound and outbound transportation, provide free or rental housing, and provide meals for workers (they’re allowed to deduct the costs from salaries).

H-2 visas were first created in 1952 as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which reinforced the national origins quota system that restricted immigration primarily to Northern Europe, but opened America’s borders to Asian immigrants for the first time since immigration laws were first codified in 1924. While immigration regulations were further opened in the sixties, the last major immigration reform package in 1986 served to restrict immigration and made it illegal for businesses to hire undocumented workers. It also created the H-2A visas as a way for farms to hire migrant workers without incurring the penalties associated with using illegal labor.

For some migrant workers, the H-2A visa represents a golden ticket, according to Guirguis, an honors graduate of Stanford who wrote his graduate thesis on labor policy.

“We are providing a staffing solution for farms and agribusiness and we want to be Gusto for agriculture and upsell farms on a comprehensive human resources solution,” says Guirguis of the company’s ultimate mission, referencing payroll provider Gusto.

As Guirguis notes, most workers in agriculture are undocumented. “These are people who have been taken advantage of [and] the H-2A is a visa to bring workers in legally. We’re able to help employers maintain workforce [and] we’re building software to help farmers maintain the farms.”

Opening borders even as they remain closed

Farms need the help, if the latest numbers on labor shortages are believable, but it’s not necessarily a lack of H-2A visas that’s to blame, according to an article in Reuters.

In fact, the number of H-2A visas granted for agriculture equipment operators rose to 10,798 from October through March, according to the Reuters report. That’s up 49% from a year ago, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor cited by Reuters.

Instead of an inability to acquire the H-2A visa, it was an inability to travel to the U.S. that’s been causing problems. Tighter border controls, the persistent global pandemic and travel restrictions that were imposed to combat it have all played a role in keeping migrant workers in their home countries.

Still, Guirguis believes that with the right tools, more farms would be willing to use the H-2A visa, cutting down on illegal immigration and boosting the available labor pool for the tough farm jobs that American workers don’t seem to want.

Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images.

David Misener, the owner of an Oklahoma-based harvesting company called Green Acres Enterprises, is one employer who has struggled to find suitable replacements for the migrant workers he typically hires.

“They could not fathom doing it and making it work,” Misener told Retuers, speaking about the American workers he’d tried to hire.

“With H-2A, migrant workers make 10 times more than they would get paid at home,” said Guirguis. “They’re taking home the equivalent of $40 an hour. The H-2A is coveted.”

Guirguis thinks that with the right incentives and an easier onramp for farmers to manage the application and approval process, the number of employers that use H-2A visas could grow to be 30% to 50% of the farm workforce in the country. That means growing the number of potential jobs from 300,000 to 1.5 million for migrants who would be under many of the same legal protections that citizens enjoy, while they’re working on the visa.

Protecting agricultural workers through better paperwork

Interest in the farm labor nexus and issues surrounding it came to the first-time founder through Guirguis’ experience helping his cousin start her own farm. Spending several weekends a month helping her grow the farm with her husband, Guirguis heard his stories about coming to the U.S. as an undocumented worker.

Employers using the program avoid the liability associated with being caught employing illegal labor, something that crackdowns under the Trump Administration made more common.

Still, it’s hard to deny the program’s roots in the darker past of America’s immigration policy. And some immigration advocates argue that the H-2A system suffers from the same kinds of structural problems that plague the corollary H-1B visas for tech workers.

“The H-2A visa is a short-term temporary visa program that employers use to import workers into the agricultural fields … It’s part of a very antiquated immigration system that needs to change. The 11.5 million people who are here need to be given citizenship,” said Saket Soni, the founder of an organization called Resilience Force, which advocates for immigrant labor. “And then workers who come from other countries, if we need them, they have to be able to stay … H-2A workers don’t have a pathway to citizenship. Workers come to us afraid of blowing the whistle on labor issues. As much as the H-2A is a welcome gift for a worker it can also be abused.” 

Soni said the precarity of a worker’s situation — and their dependence on a single employer for their ability to remain in the country legally — means they are less likely to speak up about problems at work, since there’s nowhere for them to go if they are fired.

“We are big proponents that if you need people’s labor you have to welcome them as human beings,” Soni said. “Where there’s a labor shortage as people come, they should be allowed to stay … H-2A is an example of an outdated immigration tool.”

Guirguis clearly disagrees and said a platform like SESO’s will ultimately create more conveniences and better services for the workers who come in on these visas.

“We’re trying to put more money in the hands of these workers at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re going to be setting up remittance and banking services. Everything we do should be mutually beneficial for the employer and the worker who is trying to get into this program and know that they’re not getting taken advantage of.”

#america, #banking, #biden-administration, #california, #congress, #founder, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #healthcare, #immigration, #labor, #nfx, #oklahoma, #pete-flint, #stanford, #startups, #tc, #trulia, #trump-administration, #u-s-department-of-labor, #united-states

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Hoxton Farms raises £2.7M seed to produce animal fat without animals

Hoxton Farms, a U.K. startup that wants to produce animal fat without using animals, has raised £2.7 million in seed funding.

The round is led by Founders Fund, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm founded by Peter Thiel. Also participating is Backed, Presight Capital, CPT Capital and Sustainable Food Ventures.

Still at the R&D stage, Hoxton Farms says it will use the funding to grow its interdisciplinary science team in a new purpose-built lab in London’s Old Street. “[We] will be working towards a scalable prototype of our cultivated fat over the next year to 18 months,” co-founder and mathematician Ed Steele tells me.

He started the company with longtime school friend Dr Max Jamilly, who has two degrees in biotechnology and a PhD in synthetic biology (the pair met at pre-school). “I spent my PhD using a genome editing technology called CRISPR to discover better treatments for children’s leukaemia,” says Jamilly. “Along the way, I learnt how to grow complex cells at scale — a fundamental part of the scientific challenge that we face at Hoxton Farms”.

Like other companies in the meat alternative space, the startup is founded on the premise that the traditional meat industry is unsustainable. This is seeing demand for meat alternatives soaring, but, argues Steele, these products still aren’t good enough. “They don’t taste right and they aren’t healthy. They are missing the key ingredient: fat,” he says. And, of course, it’s fat that gives meat most of its flavour.

However, meat alternatives typically use plant oils as a fat replacement, which has a number of drawbacks. Some oils are bad for the environment, such as coconut and palm oil, and most lack flavour.

“At Hoxton Farms, we grow real animal fat without the animals,” explains Steele. “Starting from just a few cells, we grow purified animal fat in bioreactors to produce cultivated fat, a cruelty-free and sustainable ingredient that will finally unlock meat alternatives that look, cook and taste like the real thing”.

Furthermore, he says that current techniques for culturing animal cells are too expensive. Hoxton Farms is using mathematical and computational modelling to “massively reduce the cost of cell culture,” which the company believes will result in a production process “that is cost-effective at scale”.

“We’re combining the latest techniques from computational biology and tissue engineering to do science that wasn’t possible a few years ago,” says Steele. “What sets us apart is the fundamental philosophy that the only way to grow cells cost-effectively at scale is to combine the power of mathematical modelling with synthetic biology”.

It’s envisioned that his computational approach will not only help it compete with other companies working on the same problem — competitors include Mission Barns in the U.S. and Peace of Meat in Belgium/Israel — but also enable it to customise fats for different manufacturers. This could include fine tuning the taste profile, physical properties (melting temperature, density, etc.) and nutritional profile (saturated/unsaturated fatty acid ratio etc.).

Meanwhile, Hoxton Farms’ early customers will be plant-based meat companies who seek a more sustainable and flavoursome alternative to plant oils. Much further into the future, the startup will target cultivated meat companies that grow muscle cells but still need a source of fat, and other industries, such as bakery, confectionery and cosmetics.

#biotech, #europe, #founders-fund, #fundings-exits, #hoxton-farms, #meat-alternatives, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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Literati raises $40M for its book club platform

Literati has raised a $40 million Series B to pursue an unusual startup opportunity — namely, book clubs.

Founder and CEO Jessica Ewing (a former product manager at Google) explained that the Austin-based company started out with book clubs for kids, before launching its Luminary brand for adult book clubs last year. And the Luminary clubs live up to the name — they’re curated by notable figures such as activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, NBA star Stephen Curry, entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, journalist Susan Orlean and the Joseph Campbell Foudnation.

When you sign up for a Literati book club, you receive a print edition of each month’s selection with a note from the curator. You also get access to the Literati app, where you can discuss the book with other readers, and where curators host author conversations. For example, Curry is leading a book club focused on nonfiction about people who “transcend expectations” (he invested in Literati as well), while Yousafzai chooses books by women “with bold ideas from around the world.”

Ewing told me that she’s trying to build the first “new, innovative bookseller” since Amazon launched 25 years ago. And she’s doing that by focusing on curation.

“There’s too much choice, too many lists, it’s completely overwhelming for most people,” she said. And she argued that it helps to enlist celebrities and other big names to do the curation: “Books are aspirational. No one aspires to play more video games, people aspire to read more … People want their books to be recommended by someone a little bit smarter than they are.”

Stephen Curry book club

Image Credits: Literati

Ewing’s hope for Literati is to create “the next great literary social network,” bridging the gap between celebrity-driven lists like Oprah’s Book Club and Reese’s Book Club and what she described as “the wine-and-cheese, super intimate model.”

I would love to see in-person meetups once we’re out of the COVID environment,” she added. “But I also think there’s everything in between. We’re enabling threaded discussions [in the app] right now, and it’s cool to have asynchronous conversations about the books.”

And on the children’s book side, Literati is also working building personalization tools designed to recommend the best books for each child.

“To me, this is one of the most exciting applications: How do we make this generation of kids love reading by pairing them with the right books?” Ewing said.

Literati previously raised $12 million in funding from Shasta Ventures and others, according to Crunchbase. The new round was led by Aydin Senkut of Felicis Ventures, with participation from Dick Costolo and Adam Bain of 01 Advisors, Founders Fund, General Catalyst, Shasta, Silverton Partners, Springdale Ventures and — as previously mentioned — Stephen Curry.

“I wanted to start my own book club with Literati, because their mission to better the world through reading naturally aligns with my values as an entrepreneur and father,” Curry said in a statement. “I was a fan before I was an investor, and am so proud to be a part of a company that works to better the lives of others, one book at a time.”

#adam-bain, #aydin-senkut, #dick-costolo, #felicis-ventures, #founders-fund, #general-catalyst, #literati, #malala-yousafzai, #richard-branson, #shasta-ventures, #silverton-partners, #stephen-curry, #tc

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Wish (and Airbnb, and Palantir) investor Justin Fishner-Wolfson doesn’t care about first-day pops

It’s probably no wonder that when Founders Fund was still a very young venture firm 13 years ago, it brought aboard as its first principal Justin Fishner-Wolfson. Having nabbed two computer science degrees from Stanford and spent two years as CEO of an organization that provides asset management services to the school’s student organizations, Fishner-Wolfson wasn’t shy about voicing his opinions at the venture fund. In fact, he says Founders Fund made a much bigger bet on SpaceX than it originally planned because he pushed for it.

He stayed three years before spying what he thought was an even better opportunity, owing to friends who worked at Facebook before the company’s 2012 IPO. They were beginning to look for ways to liquidate their shares, and while they had options, to his mind, they weren’t great. More, Fishner-Wolfson says he foresaw more companies like Facebook staying private longer. He said goodbye to Founders Fund and formed 137 Ventures to acquire secondary shares from founders, investors, and employees.

That was 10 years ago, and the firm seems to be doing just fine for itself. Last year, it closed its fourth fund with $210 million in capital commitments, bringing its assets under management to more than $1 billion. Its approach of focusing on roughly 10 to 12 companies per fund appears to be paying off, too. Since late September, it has seen three of its portfolio companies — Palantir, Airbnb, and Wish — hit the public market.

We talked at length with Fishner-Wolfson this week to learn more about how 137 Ventures works, from how it screens companies, to the impact it has seen from companies that are giving their employees longer windows in which to keep their vested stock options. (“It has certainly stopped the desperate calls from people who have huge amounts of equity that’s about to expire, which, I’m totally happy to not get those phone calls, because I feel terrible for people who are in that sort of situation,” he said.) We also talked about that early deal in SpaceX, which also appears in 137 Ventures’s portfolio.

You can listen to that longer conversation here. In the meantime, we’re pulling out part of our conversation that centered on Wish, the discount e-commerce company whose IPO this week has been called a dud.

TC: Two of your portfolio companies have done very well as they’ve entered the public market — Palantir and Airbnb. Wish was a different story, dropping in its debut. What do you make of its IPO? Do you think investors misunderstand this company?

JFW: I think it takes the investment community a long time to understand any newly public company. At the end of the day, the IPO is just one day, right? What really matters is how companies perform over the next 10 or 20 years.

I would look at Microsoft or Amazon or more recently, Facebook, whose [share price] dropped 50% in the week or two following its offering and Facebook has gone on to be an incredible business. I have no idea what the market is going to do tomorrow [or] the day after. But over a decade, if you can really build a great sustainable business that compounds, it all comes out in the wash.

Wish has done an incredible job of scaling the business. I think [cofounder and CEO] Peter [Szulczewski] is one of the best operators I’ve met in this industry. And they’ve done a lot of innovative things in terms of mobile. There’s a lot more discovery on the Wish platform. The whole in-store pickup has been really innovative; they’re helping consumers get products quickly in an asset-light kind of way where you don’t need to buy millions and millions of square feet of warehouses.

TC: You’re talking about these partnerships that Wish starting striking with mom-and-pop shops in the U.S. and Europe, where those who have extra storage space will now take receipt of Wish goods, which in turn gives them a little bit more foot traffic when people come in to pick up their items. That’s a big shift from how Wish used to operate, which was by shipping things very cheaply from China through a USPS deal whose economics have since changed. Is that right?

JFW: Right. They’re helping small and medium-size businesses drive foot traffic, which was always valuable but in the current environment, going to become even more important to these sorts of businesses. They’re [also] helping those businesses leverage the data they have across their entire platform because Wish understands what consumers in that geography are looking for, and they can help those businesses merchandise better. And then, because they’re shipping product to one location, they’re aggregating orders from a whole bunch of people who don’t know each other, and that reduces logistics and shipping time and costs. So they send that stuff in, and it’s easier for the consumer to walk or drive five to 15 minutes, and go pick it up. That allows Wish to focus on the value-conscious consumer who is willing to trade a little bit of time for a much better price on things.

TC: Wish is known as a place to get tchotchkes from China. Now that it’s trying to sell more mainstream goods, how does it go about changing the perception that it has in the marketplace?

JFW: I’m not sure they need to do a whole lot to change that perception, because I still think they haven’t penetrated the market as a whole. There are lots of people who don’t even know about them quite frankly. And as [I’ve] watched the marketplace evolve, you’ve just seen more and more merchants, and more and more data back from customers about both the merchants and the quality of the merchandise, and all those things feed back into this very powerful system, where they can leverage the data to improve product quality and make sure that they’re selling what people want.

TC: Do you think uneven quality explains the company’s uneven revenue? It grew something like 57% in 2018, then 10% in 2019, and picked up again in the first nine months of this year. Why do you think it’s been topsy turvy?

JFW: All businesses go through these cycles of growth, and then focusing on efficiency. If you just focus on growth, you tend to grow, and then break things, and then do things in relatively inefficient ways. And then ultimately, you need to turn around and focus on how you drive operational efficiencies. So I think the cycles that you’re describing, if you look at the underlying metrics, you [see] improvement in operating efficiency.

TC: Wish’s shares did not “pop.” On the other hand, former Snap executive Imran Khan told CNBC on Tuesday that the recent post IPO stock pops, including those of Airbnb and Doordash, represent an “epic level of incompetency” from the bankers who underwrote the stocks. Do you believe it was incompetency on the part of the bankers or just market volatility that caused those stocks to pop as high as they did?

JFW: I think no one actually knows the answer to that question. I think it makes for a good sound bite. At the end of the day, I don’t think the price on the first day is a meaningful indicator of anything.

TC: Are the feverish embrace of these companies driving prices up in the secondary market? What are you seeing?

It really does matter what the public prices are [because] that ultimately trickles into the private markets and also vice versa. At some point, things can’t have massive differences in value between their private market valuations and their public market valuations. So you definitely see multiples shift as the market shifts. But these things are often averages. People focus on one company or one example of these things without necessarily looking at all the companies because that would be quite difficult.

But there are always examples of things that are overpriced. There are also examples of things that are under priced. As an investor, you want to try to invest more of your money in the good companies that are on the lower end of that spectrum, certainly. But the focus is always on good companies. If you can find companies that are going to compound over long periods of time, as long as you’re not too crazy on multiples or valuations, you end up being in a good spot.

TC: Who are you tracking right now? What’s an investment that’s not up on your website yet?

JFW: Snapdocs [a company that helps real estate professionals to digitally manage the mortgage process and other paperwork and which just closed on $60 million in funding in October].

Aaron [King], who is the founder and CEO of the company, has done really a fantastic job of building a product that that people are willing to adopt, and this is the right moment in time for that growth to really accelerate. They’ve been having a good year.

Pictured above: The 137 Ventures’ team, with Wolfson center (in glasses).

#137-ventures, #airbnb, #founders-fund, #lattice, #palantir, #secondaries, #snapdocs, #spacex, #tc, #venture-capital, #wish

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Magdrive secures Seed funding for new propulsion system which could take us to the stars

A startup with a new type of spacecraft propulsion system could make the interplanetary travel seen in Star Trek a reality. Magdrive has just closed a £1.4M seed round led by Founders Fund, an early investor in SpaceX, backed by Luminous Ventures, 7percent Ventures, and Entrepreneur First.

Magdrive is developing a next generation of spacecraft propulsion for small satellites. The startup says its engine’s thrust and efficiency are a “generational leap” ahead of any other electrical thrusters, opening up the space industry to completely new types of missions that were not possible before, without resorting to much larger, expensive and heavier chemical thrusters. It says its engine would make fast and affordable interplanetary space travel possible, as well as operations in Very Low Earth orbit. The engine would also make orbital manufacturing far more possible than previously.

Existing electrical solutions are very efficient but have very low thrust. Chemical thrusters have high thrust but lack efficiency and are hazardous and expensive to handle. Magdrive says its engine can deliver both high thrust and high efficiency in one system.

Magdrive prototype render

Magdrive prototype render

If it works, the Magdrive engine could make spacecraft go faster for longer. This could open up the industry to new space missions, such as a satellite (or X-wing fighter?) that can make multiple, fast maneuvers, without worrying about conserving fuel. In order to do this right now, satellites require a chemical thruster, which requires a significant payload in fuel for launch. A 200kg satellite would require 50kg of hydrazine fuel, which would cost £1,350,000 in launch mass alone.

Co-founder (and Star Trek fan) Dr Thomas Clayson did a PhD in plasma physics, working on advanced electromagnetic fields. He realized this could be a cornerstone for developing a plasma thruster that could achieve the accelerations required for interplanetary space travel. After meeting Mark Stokes, a mechanical engineer at Imperial College London with similar dreams of space travel, they decided to build a small scale thruster for satellites.

But Magdrive is not alone. Other companies are developing so-called ‘Hall Effect Thrusters’, which is a technology that has existed since the 1960’s. Much of the development is towards miniaturization and mass reduction, but thrust and efficiency remain the same. These companies include Busek, Exotrail, Apollo Fusion, Enpusion, Nanoavionics. Meanwhile, large international companies with huge technology portfolios are working on improving chemical propulsion and making it non-toxic to handle, such as Aerojet Rocketdyne and Moog ISP.

They plan to scale up our technology to power larger manned spacecraft (once in orbit) to long-distance destinations such as the Moon and Mars. Our system would present a much more affordable than a chemical or nuclear solution, due to the huge reduction in fuel costs, and because it is reusable.

Andrew J Scott, Founding Partner, 7percent Ventures: “At 7percent we seek founding teams with ‘moonshot’ ambitions. With Magdrive this is not just a metaphor: their revolutionary plasma thruster will soon be powering satellites, but in the future could take us to deep space. While the UK’s expertise in constructing satellites is world-renowned, there has been far less focus on propulsion. In fact, Great Britain is the only country to have successfully developed and then, in the 1970’s abandoned, an indigenous satellite launch capability, which undoubtedly curbed the UK’s space sector. So we’re excited to be backing Magdrive, one of a new generation of British space startups, which has the vision and ambition to become a world-beating company in this burgeoning sector.”

The satellite industry is worth $5 Billion in 2020, predicted to grow to USD$30Billion by 2030, due to the rise in mega-constellations. Some 5,000 satellites are due to be launched in the next two years and 75% of all the companies launching these satellites have already flown something in space.

Magdrive is at the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre in Harwell, Oxford.

#aerojet-rocketdyne, #apollo-fusion, #busek, #co-founder, #emerging-technologies, #entrepreneur, #europe, #founders-fund, #imperial-college-london, #ion-engines, #isp, #luminous-ventures, #moog, #outer-space, #oxford, #space-travel, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-kingdom

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LeafLink raises $40m from Founders Fund, others to cultivate its cannabis wholesale market

LeafLink is today announcing it raised a $40 million Series C financing round, led by Founders Fund with participation from Thrive Capital, Nosara Capital, and Lerer Hippeau. This round of financing brings the total amount raised by the company to over $90 million.

This financing round is Founder Fund’s largest technology investment in the cannabis space.

Since its founding in 2015 LeafLink has become a significant player in legal cannabis. With a 130 employees and operating in 27 markets, the company says it has 32% of the U.S. wholesale cannabis market, resulting in an annualized gross merchandise value of over $3 billion. LeafLink sees the Series C in helping grow the business through new processes and services.

“This fundraising round is monumental for a technology company like LeafLink as we continue to define a space that shows no signs of slowing down,” said Ryan G. Smith, Co-founder, and CEO of LeafLink, said in a released statement. “We’re honored to partner with Founders Fund as we scale our marketplace technology across the growing cannabis industry. Our eyes are set on bringing efficiency and innovation to the supply chain, and we’re excited for cannabis to serve as a model for more legacy industries in the future.”

Right now, LeafLink serves as a critical service for the cannabis market by connecting retailers with suppliers and providing supply chain liquidity through its e-commerce marketplace. With the additional $40m, the company expects to expand its offering with new brands and retailers and expand into the new markets opened up by the 2020 election.

“The U.S. appears to be on a path to full federal legalization over the next few years,” said Founders Fund partner Napoleon Ta. “We believe we’ll start to see some massive success stories in the cannabis space as regulations change and that LeafLink will be one of the winners.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, Ta says LeafLink is a tech-enabled wholesale marketplace connecting thousands of wholesalers and retail buyers. He sees the investment as a great opportunity to work with a company he and Founders Fund see has the potential to bring an entire industry onto one platform.

“We invested in LeafLink because the team is merging best practices from e-commerce marketplaces with B2B technology to streamline an entire industry’s supply chain and operations,” said Ta. “We’re excited to make our largest investment in the cannabis space to date in LeafLink.”

#cannabis, #founders-fund, #leaflink, #tc

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Space manufacturing startup Varda, incubated at Founders Fund, emerges with $9 million in funding

From a young age, Will Bruey, the co-founder and chief executive of Varda Space Industries, was fascinated with space and running his own business.

So when the former SpaceX engineer was tapped by Delian Asparouhov and Trae Stephens of Founders Fund to work on Varda he didn’t think twice.

Bruey spent six years at SpaceX. First working on the Falcon and Dragon video systems and then the bulk of the systems actuators and controllers used in the avionics for the crewed Dragon capsule (which recently docked at the International Space Station). `

According to Asparouhov, that background, and the time that Bruey spent running his own angel syndicate and working at Bank of America getting a grounding in finance and startups, made him an ideal candidate to run the next startup to be spun out of Founders Fund .

Like other Founders Fund companies, Palantir and Anduril, Varda takes its name from the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. Named for the Elf queen who created constellations, the company has set itself no less lofty a task than bringing manufacturing to space.

News of the funding was first reported by Axios.

While companies like Space Tango and Made In Space already are attempting to make a viable business out of space manufacturing, they focus on small scale pilots and experimental projects. Varda separates itself by its loftier ambition — to manufacture commercially viable products at scale in space.

To be economically viable, these products have to be very very high value, and according to the IEEE there are already some goods that fit the bill. Things like carbon nanotubes and fiber optic cables, organs, and novel materials are all potential targets for a space manufacturing company, because they can conceivably justify the high cost of material transportation.

Image Credit: Getty Images/AbelCreativeStudio

“Manufacturing is the next step for commercialization in space,” said Bruey. “The primary driver that makes us economical is success in the launch business.”

With now-established companies like SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Blue Origin, and upstarts like Relativity Space, Spinlaunch, and the newly launched Aevum Space all driving down the cost of launching objects into space, the next wave of commercialization is coming.

Varda’s backers, which put $9 million into the company, were led by Founders Fund and Lux Capital . Additional participation came from Fifty Years, Also Capital, Raymond Tonsing, Justin Mateen, and Naval Ravikant.

These investors are all placing a bet that the biggest returns could be in manufacturing. As a result of their investments, Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens and Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe are both taking seats on the company’s board.

“The first things we will manufacture are things with high dollar per-unit-mass value,” said Bruey. “As we establish our manufacturing platform that will ramp into the longer term vision of offloading manufacturing for all space operations.”

There are two categories of space manufacturing in the industry to come, according to Bruey and Asparouhov and those are additive manufacturing for making products to be used in space, and manufacturing in space for terrestrial applications. It’s the second of these that Varda focuses on. “Nothing we will be doing will be 3D printing,” said Asparouhov. “We will be focused on making things in space that we can bring back to earth.

The company may not be working on 3D printing, but its manufacturing facilities won’t look like anything on Earth. Initially, they’ll be unmanned, according to a blog post published by Fifty Years. Then they’ll manufacture things in space that benefit from low gravity. Finally, the company intends to build the first inrastructure that can harvest source materials for new products in-space via asteroid mining.

“Varda can make manufacturing sustainable by eliminating the need to destructively extract earth’s resources, help cure chronic diseases, deepen our understanding of biology, help connect more people to the Internet, and usher in higher-throughput and lower energy methods of computation,” Fifty Years co-founder Seth Bannon wrote in a direct message. “Bringing human industry into the stars — this is entrepreneurship at its boldest! Varda is the sort of big swing ambition venture capital was invented for.”

 

#3d-printing, #additive-manufacturing, #anduril, #asteroid-mining, #bank-of-america, #blue-origin, #california, #delian-asparouhov, #driver, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #fiber-optic, #finance, #founders-fund, #hyperloop, #industrial-design, #international-space-station, #justin-mateen, #lux-capital, #manufacturing, #palantir, #private-spaceflight, #relativity-space, #rocket-lab, #seth-bannon, #space-tango, #spacex, #tc

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If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right

The only thing more rare than a unicorn is an exited unicorn.

At TechCrunch, we cover a lot of startup financings, but we rarely get the opportunity to cover exits. This week was an exception though, as it was exitpalooza as Affirm, Roblox, Airbnb, and Wish all filed to go public. With DoorDash’s IPO filing last week, this is upwards of $100 billion in potential float heading to the public markets as we make our way to the end of a tumultuous 2020.

All those exits raise a simple question – who made the money? Which VCs got in early on some of the biggest startups of the decade? Who is going to be buying a new yacht for the family for the holidays (or, like, a fancy yurt for when Burning Man restarts)? The good news is that the wealth is being spread around at least a couple of VC firms, although there are definitely a handful of partners who are looking at a very, very nice check in the mail compared to others.

So let’s dive in.

I’ve covered DoorDash’s and Airbnb’s investor returns in-depth, so if you want to know more about those individual returns, feel free to check those analyses out. But let’s take a more panoramic perspective of the returns of these five companies as a whole.
First, let’s take a look at the founders. These are among the very best startups ever built, and therefore, unsurprisingly, the founders all did pretty well for themselves. But there are pretty wide variations that are interesting to note.

First, Airbnb — by far — has the best return profile for its founders. Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk, and Joe Gebbia together own nearly 42% of their company at IPO, and that’s after raising billions in venture capital. The reason for their success is simple: Airbnb may have had some tough early innings when it was just getting started, but once it did, its valuation just skyrocketed. That helped to limit dilution in its earlier growth rounds, and ultimately protected their ownership in the company.

David Baszucki of Roblox and Peter Szulczewski of Wish both did well: they own 12% and about 19% of their companies, respectively. Szulczewski’s co-founder Sheng “Danny” Zhang, who is Wish’s CTO, owns 4.9%. Eric Cassel, the co-founder of Roblox, did not disclose ownership in the company’s S-1 filing, indicating that he doesn’t own greater than 5% (the SEC’s reporting threshold).

DoorDash’s founders own a bit less of their company, mostly owing to the money-gobbling nature of that business and the sheer number of co-founders of the company. CEO Tony Xu owns 5.2% while his two co-founders Andy Fang and Stanley Tang each have 4.7%. A fourth co-founder Evan Moore didn’t disclose his share totals in the company’s filing.

Finally, we have Affirm . Affirm didn’t provide total share counts for the company, so it’s hard right now to get a full ownership picture. It’s also particularly hard because Max Levchin, who founded Affirm, was a well-known, multi-time entrepreneur who had a unique shareholder structure from the beginning (many of the venture firms on the cap table actually have equal proportions of common and preferred shares). Levchin has more shares all together than any of his individual VC investors — 27.5 million shares, compared to the second largest investor, Jasmine Ventures (a unit of Singapore’s GIC) at 22 million shares.

#affirm, #airbnb, #altos-ventures, #brian-chesky, #doordash, #entrepreneurship, #founders-fund, #roblox, #softbank-vision-fund, #startups, #venture-capital

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

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

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

Image via MSCHF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lots of happy people as Palantir and Asana spike on first day of trading

The markets are closed and the verdicts are in: investors liked what they saw in Palantir and Asana .

The two companies, which debuted this morning in dual (and duel) direct listings, continued to prove that enterprise tech companies without the brand recognition of Spotify (which conducted its own direct listing back in 2018) can make direct listings work. So far, the evidence is decent that the mechanism isn’t throwing off investors.

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Asana closed its first trading day at $28.80 a share — a gain of 37% against its reference price of $21 a share. The company’s first trade was at $27. Meanwhile, Palantir closed the day at $9.73, a gain of 34% against its reference price of $7.25. Its first trade was at $10. Asana is valued at about $4.3 billion at close, while Palantir reached $24.8 billion, based on its fully diluted share count, including recent securities sold.

As an aside, my Equity co-host Natasha Mascarenhas and I did an “Equity Shot” talking more about these early numbers. Tune in if you want to hear our discussion and analysis:

That done, with big bold numbers on the board, there were a number of winners.

First and foremost, Founders Fund, which is the only major investor shared between the two companies, has a lot of capital incoming. The firm owns 5.8% of Asana and approximately 6.6% of Palantir, netting it somewhere around $1.8 billion given today’s valuations (that’s definitely back-of-the-envelope math mind you).

Meanwhile, Benchmark owns 9.3% of Asana, and a number of other investors including Japanese insurer SOMPO, Disruptive Technology Solutions, UBS, and 8VC own significant stakes in Palantir.

The other winners are the founders of these companies. Dustin Moskovitz retains a 36% stake in Asana, while his cofounder Justin Rosenstein holds a 16.1% stake. Over at Palantir, the trio of founders of Alex Karp, Stephen Cohen, and Peter Thiel now have liquid billions at their collective disposal.

Asana founders Justin Rosenstein and Dustin Moskovitz. Photo via Asana

Of course, employees will be happy to get liquidity as well. Asana does not have a lockup period, and so its employees and insiders are free to trade. Palantir coupled a direct listing with a lockup, and so only about 28% of the company’s shares are eligible for sale today. The remainder will be authorized to be sold over the next year.

In an interview with Moskovitz shortly after the markets closed today, he said that “it’s been an exciting morning, but ultimately it’s just one step in a much longer journey towards fulfilling our mission” (you can read more of our interview with Moskovitz on Extra Crunch).

While it’s just one trading day, it was a positive one for both companies, and that provides even more evidence that the classic IPO now has stiff competition from direct listings and other alternative methods like SPACs.

#alex-karp, #asana, #benchmark, #dustin-moskovitz, #founders-fund, #fundings-exits, #justin-rosenstein, #palantir-technologies, #peter-thiel, #stephen-cohen

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Postmates cuts losses in Q2 as it heads towards tie-up with Uber

Popular food delivery service Postmates is in the process of merging with Uber in a blockbuster $2.65 billion deal that would see it join forces with its food delivery competitor, Uber Eats. The deal remains under antitrust scrutiny, and has not yet been approved for closing. The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2021.

However, a new SEC filing posted after hours this Friday gives us a glimpse into how Postmates is faring in the new world of global pandemics and sit-in dining closures across the United States.

Postmates posted a loss of just $32.2 million in Q2, compared to a loss of $73 million in Q1, nearly cutting its cash burning in half. That compares to Uber Eats’ results, which showed a loss of $286 million in the first quarter of 2020 and a loss of $232 million in the second quarter — an improvement of roughly 20%, according to Uber’s most recent financial reports.

Altogether, Postmates lost $105.2 million in the first half of 2020, compared to a loss of $239 million in the same period of 2019.

Uber through its filing today also disclosed the cap table for Postmates in full detail for the first time. On a fully-diluted basis, the largest shareholder in Postmates is Tiger Global, which owns 27.2% of the company. Following up is Founders Fund with 11.4%, Spark Capital with 6.9%, and GPI capital with 5.3%. At Uber’s $2.65 billion all-stock deal, that nets Tiger Global roughly $720 million and Founders Fund roughly $302 million, not including some stock preferences and dividends that certain owners of the company hold.

While Postmates and Uber continue to go through the antitrust review process at the federal level, the companies also face legal pressure in their own backyards. Uber noted in its filing today that it and Postmates face headwinds due to California’s AB5 bill, which is designed to give additional employment protections to freelance workers. However, the company notes that such litigation “may not, in and of itself, give rise to a right of either party to terminate the transaction.”

#founders-fund, #ma, #mobile, #postmates, #spark-capital, #tiger-global, #uber

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As it heads for IPO, Palantir hires a chief accountant and gets approval from NYSE to trade

After 17 years, Palantir is getting closer and closer to its public debut later this month. We’ve been covering different facets of the company’s direct listing process including concerns about its governance and how insiders are accelerating the sale of their shares as the public markets date looms closer.

Now, we have several major updates from the company, courtesy of a third amended filing of the company’s S-1 to the SEC this afternoon.

The first news is that Palantir finally has a chief accountant. Jeffrey Buckley, who was formerly Chief Accounting Officer at gaming giant Zynga, will join the company later this week in an equivalent position to handle the company’s books and ensure that its processes are in order.

Concerns about Palantir’s audit quality have been percolating since the company’s board of directors has only recently put together the governance committee required to manage the company’s records. As we noted a few weeks ago, Palantir has admitted in its recent SEC filings that it won’t have an independent board audit committee until well after it publicly trades.

When it comes to insiders and their intentions to buy and sell, it’s becoming clear that more and more of them are heading toward the exit. In its filing this afternoon, Founders Fund has increased its targeted number of shares for registration by roughly 8%, or roughy 2 million shares in the company.

Furthermore, the company has clarified a couple of components of its unique governance.

First, the company’s three founders, Alex Karp, Stephen Cohen, and Peter Thiel, will not be allowed to hedge their stakes in the company given their active employment with Palantir. Buried in a section on the voting rights of the company’s founders, Palantir added a phrase “… however, the Company has implemented a policy that will limit or prohibit hedging by directors, officers and employees of the Company…” That policy has previously existed, but the company’s latest filing makes it clear that the policy applies to the founders as well. If one of the three were to leave though, they theoretically could hedge their position, barring any contract signed upon their departure.

Second, Palantir has a three-class convoluted governance structure that includes a special “Class F” share that will give founders Karp, Cohen, and Thiel almost unilateral voting control over the company in perpetuity. Such an arrangement is unique — most tech companies going public today have two classes of shares, one class that holds one vote per share, and one class that holds ten votes per share. Palantir’s Class F shares have a variable number of votes that always give the three founders 49.999999% voting power in the company.

In its amended filing this afternoon, Palantir clarified that some of Thiel’s shares will be considered “Designated Founders’ Excluded Shares,” which will not be considered Class F shares. That will allow Thiel to vote those shares separately, increasing his overall voting power in Palantir.

Minutia perhaps, but critical to a company that has been in the limelight so much over the past decade and is a constant lightning rod for commentary from the commentariat. The NYSE has approved Palantir’s prospectus, which means further changes to its documents outside of pricing are not likely to be forthcoming. The company is still expected to start trading its direct listing around September 23.

#alex-karp, #finance, #founders-fund, #fundings-exits, #palantir, #peter-thiel

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What will a Wish IPO look like? Seems we’ll find out sooner than later

Wish, the San Francisco-based, 750-person e-commerce app that sells deeply discounted goods that you definitely don’t need but might buy anyway when priced so low — think pool floaties, guinea pig harnesses, Apple Watch knockoffs — said yesterday that it has submitted a draft registration to the SEC for an IPO.

Because it filed confidentially, we can’t get a look at its financials just yet; we only know that its investors, who’ve provided the company with $1.6 billion across the years, think the company was worth $11.2 billion as of last summer, when it closed its most recent financing (a $300 million Series H round). Meanwhile, Wish itself says it has more than 70 million active users across more than 100 countries and 40 languages.

The big question, of course, is whether the now 10-year-old company can maintain or even accelerate its momentum. It’s not a no-brainer. On the one hand, it’s a victim of the increasingly chilly relations between the U.S. and China, from where the bulk of Wish’s goods come. Then again, Wish has been beefing up its business elsewhere in the world partly as a result of the countries’ shifting stance toward one another. For example, it told Recode last year that it’s increasingly looking to Latin American markets — Mexico, Argentina, Chile — for growth, and that it’s planning a bigger push into Africa, where it’s already available in South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria, among other countries.

But let’s back up a minute first. If you don’t know, Wish was cofounded by CEO Peter Szulscewski, a computer scientist by training, who previously spent 6.5 years at Google before cofounding a company call ContextLogic, from which Wish evolved. The idea was to build a next-generation, mobile ad network to compete with Google’s AdSense network, but Szulscewski and his cofounder, Danny Zhang, realized they were “pretty bad at business development,” as he once said at an event hosted by this editor, so eventually they pivoted to Wish.

Wish began as an app that asked people to create wish lists, then the company approached merchants, letting them know a certain number of customers wanted, say, a certain type of table. It was smart to recognize that showing the right recommendations to shoppers would become critical to its users, though it didn’t necessarily foresee the types of merchants it would ultimately work with, most of them in China, Indonesia and elsewhere in East Asia and Southeast Asia who are focused on value-conscious customers and who, at the time, didn’t have other ways to sell to or communicate with customers elsewhere in the world (so didn’t mind paying Wish a 15% take to handle this for them).

Wish also quickly focused around lightweight items that it could ship cheaply from China, if slowly, using something called ePacket. It’s a shipping option agreement that established nine years ago with the cooperation of the US Postal Service and Hong Kong Post (and later made available to 40 countries altogether) that enables products coming from China and Hong Kong to be sent cheaply as long as they meet certain criteria — they don’t weigh too much, they aren’t worth too much, they adhere to certain minimum and maximums regarding their size, and so forth.

The mix has proved powerful for Wish, despite growing competition from China-based outfits like AliExpress that offer many of the same goods to the same customers around the world. (Wish has also competed, always, with Walmart and Amazon.)

The company has also soldiered on despite apparent struggles to keep customers coming over time, too. Because it doesn’t sell essential items but rather a grab bag of different items, people tend to cycle out of the app after a few months of their first visit, as The Information once reported.

A bigger issue now is that, as of two months ago, a new USPS pricing structure went into effect that raises rates on international shipments. It also requires foreign recipient countries to ratify new rates under ePacket (whose recipient countries, by the way, have been downsized from 40 to 12). That means that companies like Wish either pay more to ship their goods — forcing its vendors to charge more — or they move to commercial networks.

Of course, a third option — and one that may position Wish well for the future — would be for Wish to invest in more local warehousing in the U.S, Europe and others of its growing markets, which it told Recode that it is doing, along with seeking out more local vendors near its biggest markets.

Given shifts in the way that commercial real estate is being used — with retail-to-industrial property conversions accelerating, driven by the growth of e-commerce  — it’s probably as good a time as any for Wish to be making these moves. Whether they are enough to sustain and grow the company is something that only time will tell.

Again, we’ll collectively know much more when we can get a look at that filing. It should make for interesting reading.

Wish’s private investors include General Atlantic, GGV Capital, Founders Fund, Formation 8, Temasek Holdings and DST Global, among others.

#dst-global, #ecommerce, #formation-8, #founders-fund, #general-atlantic, #ggv, #ipo, #startups, #tc, #temasek, #venture-capital, #wish

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