#DealMonitor – Stenon sammelt 20 Millionen ein – eCapital investiert in Tenzir – Serpentine Ventures setzt auf Properti


Im #DealMonitor für den 21. Dezember werfen wir einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.

INVESTMENTS

Stenon
+++ Founders Fund, The Production Board und Altinvestoren wie Cherry Ventures und Atlantic Labs investieren 20 Millionen US-Dollar in Stenon – siehe TechCrunchDas Unternehmen aus Potsdam, das 2018 von Niels Grabbert und Dominic Roth geführt wird, kümmert sich mit Hilfe von Sensor-Technologie um laborunabhängige Bodenanalyse. Mit dem sogenannten FarmLab, einer Art mobilem Labor für Bodenanalysen, müssen Landwirte ihre Proben nicht mehr in ein Labor schicken, sondern können diese direkt vor Ort analysieren.

Tenzir
+++ Cyber Security-Investor eCapital investiert 2,5 Millionen Euro in Tenzir. Das Startup aus Hamburg, das 2017 von Matthias Vallentin und Dominik Charousset gegründet wurde, setzt auf eine “datengesteuerte Security Operations Plattform”. Tenzir ermöglicht seinen Nutzer:innen durch einen Big-Data-Ansatz “ein effizientes Identifizieren, Analysieren und Neutralisieren von Cyber-Attacken”.

Properti
+++ Der Schweizer Geldgeber Serpentine Ventures und “namhafte Business Angels” investieren 1,25 Millionen Schweizer Franken in Properti. Das PropTech aus Zürich, das 2019 von den Brüdern Levent Künzi und Adrian Künzi  gegründet wurde, stellt Maklern “alle Werkzeuge, die sie für ein erfolgreiches Geschäft benötigen, an einem Ort bereit”. 85 Mitarbeiter:innen arbeiten derzeit für das Unternehmen.

Kidling
+++ Business Angels wie Florian Sieber, Chef der Simba Dickie Group, investieren 1 Millionen Euro in Kidling. Das Berliner Startup, das 2020 Eva Mencner und Adam M. Skafi gegründet wurde, entwickelt eine “All-In-One-Lösung” für Kitas. “Dabei geht es nicht nur darum, einzelne Kita-Prozesse zu digitalisieren, sondern vielmehr die Menschen und ihre wertvolle pädagogische Arbeit hinter all diesen Prozessen in den Fokus zu nehmen und das System, in dem sie arbeiten, nachhaltig zu entlasten”, teilt das Unternehmen mit.

ValueWorks
+++ Business Angels wie hotel.de-Gründer Heinz Raufer investieren 700.000 Euro in ValueWorks. Das Startup aus Karlsruhe, das 2020 von Wolfgang Faisst und Sebastian Walther gegründet wurde, beschreibt sich selbst als “intelligentes Betriebssystem für alle Managementaufgaben”. Das ValueWorks-Team verspricht dabei “Planung, Reporting und OKR aus einer Hand”.

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

finhome
+++ Der Open Banking-Anbieter Banksapi übernimmt finhome. “Durch die Übernahme wird das von der Banksapi angebotene Produktleistungsspektrum signifikant in der Tiefe ausgebaut, da zukünftig Open Banking Usecases optional direkt mit hochmodernen Frontends ausgeliefert werden können”, teilen die Unternehmen, die beide zu Finconomy gehören, mit. finhome positioniert sich als “B2B-Anbieter zur Bereitstellung eines digitalen Finanz-Ökosystems”.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): azrael74

#agtech, #aktuell, #atlantic-labs, #banksapi, #cherry-ventures, #cyber-security, #finconomy, #finhome, #fintech, #founders-fund, #karlsruhe, #kidling, #properti, #proptech, #serpentine-ventures, #stenon, #tenzir, #the-production-board, #valueworks, #venture-capital, #zurich

9am.health launches with $3.7M to tackle virtual diabetes care

Founders like to create companies around what they know, and Frank Westermann and Anton Kittelberger know diabetes.

They met and bonded over both having type 1 diabetes — Westermann was diagnosed over 25 years ago — and started the MySugr app for diabetes self-management in 2012 (they won a TC pitch-off back in 2011). Four years later, Westermann moved to the U.S. from Austria to introduce MySugr stateside before the company was acquired by Roche for $100 million in 2017.

The pair moved on to their next journey, also in diabetes, starting 9am.health in April, a virtual diabetes clinic designed to provide people living with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes access to personalized care and affordable medications from their homes. 9am.health’s clinic was launched in August.

Today, the San Diego-based company announced a $3.7 million seed round from Founders Fund, Define Ventures, Speedinvest and iSeed Ventures to target the 1 in 3 people living with diabetes in the United States, Westermann told TechCrunch.

“We understand the day-to-day challenges that people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes have,” he added. “Access to care is the real issue, and rather than have patients wait weeks to get an appointment, we send a kit with tests to your home, and you send it back to us.”

9am.health kicked off in Texas and California, and is now available in 33 states. It is finding patients through digital outreach, community work and hospitals.

Even with insurance, the average person living with diabetes spends about $16,750 per year on medical expenses and has approximately 2.3 times higher the costs than if they didn’t have the disease. Instead, patients can subscribe to 9am.health for $40 per month; that includes online prescription shipping, unlimited personal medical care, medications to manage diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia and at-home lab tests.

Westermann sees other companies working in the diabetes space, but says 9am.health is unique in providing “a digital front door for entire diabetes care,” while others focus on specific pain points. By taking that whole approach, he sees opportunity in going beyond diabetes to the general chronic disease realm as many living with diabetes — 98% of Americans in fact — also have other comorbidities like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health issues, he added.

The new funding will enable the company to grow its team and carve out some of the digital diabetes market share that was valued at $13 billion in 2020 and is forecasted to grow annually by 18.8% through 2027. 9am.health will also invest in advancing its virtual screening ability and expand the types of medication it can offer.

9am.health diabetes kit

“We want to tear down the barriers and make care as easy as possible and managing diabetes part of life,” Westermann said. “When you live with chronic illness, it is an everyday thing, and sometimes you feel good, and others days you don’t. That’s why we named the company 9am.health because you can wake up at 9 a.m. and start your diabetes journey all over again.”

Lynne Chou O’Keefe, founder and managing partner at Define Ventures, says the future of healthcare is going to be more consumer-focused and will be wrapped around the patient’s care journey. She considers 9am.health to be leading this type of care with a platform that bundles education, community, coaching and care that is direct-to-consumer.

Chou O’Keefe has been investing in healthcare her entire VC career, and sat on the board of Livongo for four years. Through that experience she learned how patients struggle with their care decisions, and finds 9am.health’s founders to have a similar deep expertise and understanding in diabetes, especially with the success they had with MySugr.

“The last place you should receive healthcare is in the doctor’s office, while the first place should be wherever you are,” she added. “This is a very different way than what the healthcare system is today. We feel that people want to manage their diabetes, but then go on and live their lives.”

 

#9am-health, #anton-kittelberger, #apps, #chronic-disease, #define-ventures, #diabetes, #ecommerce, #founders-fund, #frank-westermann, #funding, #health, #healthcare, #high-blood-pressure, #hypertension, #iseed-ventures, #lynne-chou-okeefe, #medicine, #my-sugr, #prediabetes, #recent-funding, #roche, #speedinvest, #startups, #tc

New Zealand startup HeartLab raises $2.45M to bring heart scanning software to the US

New Zealand-based medtech startup HeartLab has raised $2.45 million in seed funding that it says will help the company expand its AI-powered heart scanning and reporting platform to cardiologists in the United States by early next year.

HeartLab provides an end-to-end solution for echocardiograms, the ultrasound tests that doctors use to examine a patient’s heart structure and function. Not only does the software help sort and analyze ultrasound images to help doctors diagnose cardiovascular disease, but it also streamlines the workflow by generating patient reports for doctors that can then be added to a patient’s health record.

Will Hewitt, 21, started HeartLab when he was 18 years old studying applied mathematics and statistics at the University of Auckland and working as a researcher at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute. The idea for the startup came to him as he listened to cardiologist, and now co-founder, Patrick Gladding explain how time-consuming and potentially inaccurate it is for doctors to have to review multiple scans manually everyday.

“You’ve got a really repetitive manual task done by a highly trained professional,” Hewitt told TechCrunch. “To start with, we just decided to train the AI to do one really small part of the doctor’s job, which was to look at these scans and generate a couple of different measurements that normally the doctor would have to do themselves,” said Hewitt.

In order to replicate the tedious process that doctors were doing, HeartLab built its own in-house labeling tool with sonographers that includes step-by-step guides and prompts to collect data on a range of different measurements. Hewitt said this initiative was one of the most valuable efforts of engineering the company has invested in to date because it has lead to cross validation, which is used to test the ability of the machine learning model to predict new data, as well as flag problems like selection bias and overfitting.

Once HeartLab was able to successfully replicate the scanning process, the company worked to expand its services in a way that would relieve doctors of further admin minutiae so they could spend more time actually treating their patients. Usually, doctors use a software tool that analyzes the images, another that visualizes patterns and another that actually writes up the report, says Hewitt. HeartLab’s platform, called Pulse, can now condense those processes into one software.

Cardiologists and sonographers at four different sites in New Zealand are trialing HeartLab’s tech now, which is also awaiting regulatory approval from the U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration. HeartLab anticipates FDA approval of Pulse by the first quarter of 2022, which is when the startup can begin selling the SaaS product.

“To begin with we want to talk to small and medium clinics over in the U.S.,” said Hewitt. “We’ve actually found that our products are most popular at those clinics because it replaces more software than at a larger clinic. At a larger clinic some of these bits of software they’ve already had to purchase, versus a smaller clinic, it’s stuff that they couldn’t access anyway. So when we get to the states, we want to start shipping mostly to those sorts of users while we work out how to best pitch our value proposition to the larger clinics.”

Hewitt says the funds from this round will also help the startup hire 10 more staff members to join the existing 13-member team based in Auckland. Having more tech talent on board will help HeartLab advance its product offering. At the moment, Pulse is at the point where it sees so many scans and takes so many measurements that it can get through the process quicker than a doctor could on their own and actually pick out patterns that a doctor wouldn’t see, according to Hewitt. The next step, which a good chunk of the seed funding is going toward, is how to be diagnostic about disease rather than just being able to indicate it.

“How do we actually provide something that normally doctors would have to order another scan for?” said Hewitt. “One of the key ideas with AI is you can create mappings from low-resolution images like ultrasounds. How can we try to learn a pattern from an ultrasound that’s similar to what you might see from an MRI, for example?”

If HeartLab can figure out how to glean advanced information from an echocardiogram instead of an MRI, it would be able to save hospitals, clinics and patients a lot of money. Each cardiac MRI can cost about $1,000 to $5,000, which is about five times the price of an echocardiogram.

“I’d say the biggest challenge for us is, how can we transform from a company that at the moment can deliver products to a few local clinics successfully to actually building a product that scales and delivers a really good experience to lots of users and different hospitals?” said Hewitt.

Advancements in early diagnostics and imaging tech like HeartLabs’ is causing an increased demand for such tools. As a result, the global AI-enabled medical imaging solutions market is expected to reach $4.7 billion by 2027. By extending its reach to the U.S., where heart disease is the leading cause of death, HeartLab is poised to take a big piece of that pie.

In total, HeartLab has publicly raised about $3.2 million in funding, which includes a pre-seed last October of about $800,000 led by Icehouse Ventures with support from Founders Fund, the San Francisco-based VC firm that led the round announced on Thursday. Icehouse Ventures also contributed to the oversubscribed seed round, along with another New Zealand firm Outset Ventures and private investor and CEO of design platform Figma, Dylan Field.

“The use of AI in medicine is reducing pressures on health systems and ultimately saving lives,” said Founders Fund partner Scott Nolan, who has led investment rounds for three other New Zealand startups, in a statement. “The HeartLab team has built a really compelling AI-powered platform that doctors love to use.”

#artificial-intelligence, #biotech, #founders-fund, #health, #healthtech, #heartlab, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #tc

Sequoia Heritage, Stripe and others invest $200M in African fintech Wave at $1.7B valuation

Francophone Africa has its first unicorn, and if you’ve been following tech on the continent, you will be very unsurprised to hear that it’s coming from the world of fintech.

Wave, a U.S. and Senegal-based mobile money provider, has raised $200 million in Series A round of funding. The investment is the largest-ever Series A round for the region, and it values Wave at $1.7 billion.

Four big-name backers jointly led the round — Sequoia Heritage, a private investment fund and a subsidiary of Sequoia; Founders Fund; payments upstart Stripe; and Ribbit Capital. Others in the round include existing investor Partech Africa and Sam Altman, the former CEO of Y Combinator and current CEO of OpenAI.

The mobile money market in sub-Saharan Africa is growing exponentially. This past year, up to $500 billion has moved through the accounts of 300 million active mobile money users in the region. But despite being one of the largest alternative financial infrastructures known globally, this represents only a fraction of the overall market. 

The International Monetary Fund says that as of 2017, only 43% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa were “banked” by way of a traditional bank or mobile money account. When it comes to growing that proportion, however, mobile money — based on simpler technology and with an easier onboarding process — wins out, and it is set to capture more market share faster than traditional banking in the region. And this has investors, especially foreign ones, excited and looking to get on board.

(Neobanking, based on mobile technology too, falls somewhere in the middle of the two).

From Sendwave to Wave

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of Wave, the reason might be because you don’t know it’s a spinoff from Africa-focused remittance provider Sendwave.

Drew Durbin and Lincoln Quirk founded Sendwave in 2014 to offer little or no fee remittances from North America and Europe to select African and Asian countries. The YC-backed company became a WorldRemit subsidiary last year when the global fintech paid up to $500 million in cash and stock for Sendwave.

Wave

L-R: Drew Durbin and Lincoln Quirk

But before that, the team stealthily worked on a mobile money product described as having no account fees and “instantly available and accepted everywhere.”

In 2018, the product was piloted as Wave in Senegal but it was still within the Sendwave ecosystem. When WorldRemit acquired Sendwave, Durbin and his team turned their focus to Wave.

“We saw an opportunity to make a bigger impact by trying to build a better, much more affordable mobile money service than the telcos are building throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa,” Durbin told TechCrunch in an interview. “We didn’t see any companies besides the telcos trying to solve that problem.”

Going up against incumbents

Telecom operators and banks have been the early entrants in the mobile money space, not least because they control much of the infrastructure in the process, from having mobile subscribers using handsets on their networks through to building the financial services to manage money and payments at the back end, and everything in between. 

Third-party providers, mostly fintechs, have tried to capture some market share from these incumbents. Wave, however, wants to disrupt it.

Durbin tells TechCrunch that unlike M-Pesa, the mobile payment provider led by Safaricom, and other products of telecom operators like Orange and Tigo, Wave is building a mobile money service that is “radically affordable.”

The Dakar-based platform is akin to PayPal (with mobile money accounts, not bank accounts) runs an agent network that uses their cash on hand to service Wave users. According to the company, users can make free deposits and withdrawals and charge a 1% fee whenever they send money.

Durbin says this is 70% cheaper than telecom-led mobile money and whenever there is a transfer problem, refunds are made instantly, unlike with incumbents where users might need to wait for some days.   

Wave’s technology also differs from telecom-led mobile money. Whereas the incumbents mostly focus on USSD (although there are provisions to use applications), Wave is solely app-based. For users without a smartphone, Wave also provides a free QR-card to transact with an agent.

By building its own infrastructure full-stack — agent network, agent and consumer applications, QR cards, business collections, and disbursements — Wave has been able to fuel its growth to several million monthly active users and billions of dollars in annual volume.

Wave

Image Credits: Wave

The two-year-old startup claims to be the largest mobile money player in Senegal and that over half of the country’s adults are active users. That pegs the number of users between 4 million and 5 million, and Wave wants to replicate this growth in Ivory Coast, the second market it officially expanded to last year.

This sort of growth pressure on telecom operators. That has indeed been the case for the leading telecom operator in both regions, Orange. In June, the telecom operator stopped users in Senegal from purchasing Orange airtime via Wave’s mobile application.

Per this report, Wave argued that Orange was applying anti-competitive tactics by restricting it from selling directly or via an approved wholesaler. Orange said it had made proposals “in line with those offered to its other providers” and that Wave wanted special treatment.

To reach a fair decision, both parties are working with the regulatory body in charge, Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications and Posts (RATP). And if the regulator isn’t capable of settling the issue, BCEAO, the regional bank of Francophone countries, is the next in line to resolve the dispute.

According to Wave’s CEO, the bank’s regulatory approach is one reason why Wave has been able to take on the telecom operators in the first place. But among all the West African countries where mobile money is prevalent, why start with Senegal, an emerging market?

“Senegal is a big enough market that we would have to work really hard to potentially win the market. But also a small enough market that if we were doing well, we could win the market quicker than if we were in a giant country. And so that combination of those two things made it seem like a good place to start,” Durbin remarked.

Following this fundraise, Wave will deepen its presence in Senegal and Ivory Coast and grow its already 800-strong team across product, engineering, and business. In addition, Wave will expand into other markets it feels are regulatory-friendly like Uganda.

I think there’s a pretty broad array of countries that have strong central banks and clear regulations are open to new players, or even want new players to come in and try to compete with the telcos. And so we have a lot of licenses that are in progress, and we’ll try to prioritize the countries where we’re able to get started sooner over the ones that it takes longer.”

A unicorn after two rounds

While some reports say Wave had raised $13.8 million prior to this, Durbin declined to comment on the figure when asked. However, he did mention that Partech, the French outfit with an African fund, invested in a seed round alongside other investors like Founders Fund and Stripe.

In addition to Sequoia and Sam Altman, the same crop of investors also participated in this monster Series A round.

In a market that has typically lacked innovation, Partech general partner Tidjane Deme says the investment will help Wave improve its service.

“Since 2018, we’ve supported Wave because we were convinced mobile money is still an unsolved problem in Africa,” he said in a statement. “Wave has great product design, stellar execution, and a strong financial trajectory. We are proud to see it become the first unicorn from Senegal.”

In May, Sequoia Capital invested in Egyptian fintech Telda, its first big deal on the continent. The Wave investment, meanwhile, is coming via subsidiary Sequoia Heritage and is the latter’s first investment in an Africa-focused startup. 

In a call with TechCrunch, Altman said that Wave ticked the boxes he considers before an investment — strong founders, an important problem in a large market, working product, and traction.

“I’ve known these founders for a long time, and I think they’re like off the charts good. I’ve been super impressed with their ability to figure out what users want and how to grow,” he said. “I think the company is solving the most important problem around money transfer in Africa and fixing the inefficient agent networks.”

The largest venture rounds for any venture in Africa remain OPay’s recent $400 million fundraise and Jumia’s equivalent in 2016. Both were Series C rounds. The next biggest rounds include Interswitch’s $200 million investment from Visa and Flutterwave’s $170 million Series C.

All these companies attained unicorn status following their respective rounds. The same goes for Wave but more spectacularly, considering the company bagged it in a Series A round, it’s transcending the region and is one of the largest A-rounds globally this year.

Wave joins OPay and Flutterwave as the newly minted unicorns in Africa this year — that is, startups valued above $1 billion — and the fourth African unicorn after Interswitch. Other billion-dollar companies include publicly traded Jumia and Egyptian fintech Fawry.

Funding rounds in Africa keep getting bigger and the continent has reached an inflection point. However, some skeptics have questioned the valuations of previous unicorns; Wave wouldn’t be an exception.

The argument would be around why Wave commands such a high valuation when for instance, two prominent telecom operators, Airtel and MTN, are looking to list their mobile money businesses between $2 to $6 billion despite being in the operations for several years across multiple African countries.

Yet like any investor optimistic about a portfolio company, Altman doesn’t believe Wave is overvalued. In fact, he thinks the company is undervalued.

“The opportunity in front of the company is massive. But plenty of times, I’ve gotten it wrong, so you never know. However, I have been fortunate to make a number of great investments and I feel Wave has as good of a shot as you can ask for,” he said. “Africa is going to be the fastest growing and most important market over the next coming decades for many companies. I think people are realizing how big the market opportunity is and how much value is going to be created and we’ll see a lot more things like this happen.”

#africa, #finance, #financial-services, #founders-fund, #funding, #m-pesa, #mobile-money, #online-payments, #orange, #payments, #startups, #tc, #wave

Olsam raises $165M to buy up and scale consumer and B2B Amazon Marketplace sellers

On the heels of Heroes announcing a $200 million raise earlier today, to double down on buying and scaling third-party Amazon Marketplace sellers, another startup out of London aiming to do the same is announcing some significant funding of its own. Olsam, a roll-up play that is buying up both consumer and B2B merchants selling on Amazon by way of Amazon’s FBA fulfillment program, has closed $165 million — a combination of equity and debt that it will be using to fuel its M&A strategy, as well as continue building out its tech platform and to hire more talent.

Apeiron Investment Group — an investment firm started by German entrepreneur Christian Angermayer — led the Series A equity round, with Elevat3 Capital (another Angermayer firm that has a strategic partnership with Founders Fund and Peter Thiel) also participating. North Wall Capital was behind the debt portion of the deal. We have asked and Olsam is only disclosing the full amount raised, not the amount that was raised in equity versus debt. Valuation is also not being disclosed.

Being an Amazon roll-up startup from London that happens to be announcing a fundraise today is not the only thing that Olsam has in common with Heroes. Like Heroes, Olsam is also founded by brothers.

Sam Horbye previously spent years working at Amazon, including building and managing the company’s Business Marketplace (the B2B version of the consumer Marketplace); while co-founder Ollie Horbye had years of experience in strategic consulting and financial services.

Between them, they had also built and sold previous marketplace businesses, and they believe that this collective experience gives Olsam — a portmanteau of their names, “Ollie” and “Sam” — a leg up when it comes to building relationships with merchants; identifying quality products (versus the vast seas of search results that often feel like they are selling the same inexpensive junk as each other); and understanding merchants’ challenges and opportunities, and building relationships with Amazon and understanding how the merchant ecosystem fits into the e-commerce giant’s wider strategy.

Olsam is also taking a slightly different approach when it comes to target companies, by focusing not just on the usual consumer play, but also on merchants selling to businesses. B2B selling is currently one of the fastest-growing segments in Amazon’s Marketplace, and it is also one of the more overlooked by consumers.”It’s flying under the radar,” Ollie said.

“The B2B opportunity is very exciting,” Sam added. “A growing number of merchants are selling office supplies or more random products to the B2B customer.”

Estimates vary when it comes to how many merchants there are selling on Amazon’s Marketplace globally, ranging anywhere from 6 million to nearly 10 million. Altogether those merchants generated $300 million in sales (gross merchandise value), and its growing by 50% each year at the moment.

And consolidating sellers — in order to achieve better economies of scale around supply chains, marketing tools and analytics, and more — is also big business. Olsam estimates that some $7 billion has been spent cumulatively on acquiring these businesses, and there are more out there: Olsam estimates that there are some 3,000 businesses in the UK alone making more than $1 million each in sales on Amazon’s platform.

(And to be clear, there are a number of other roll-up startups beyond Heroes also eyeing up that opportunity. Raising hundreds of millions of dollars in aggregate,  others have made moves this year include Suma Brands ($150 million); Elevate Brands ($250 million); Perch ($775 million); factory14 ($200 million); Thrasio (currently probably the biggest of them all in terms of reach and money raised and ambitions), HeydayThe Razor GroupBrandedSellerXBerlin Brands Group (X2), Benitago, Latin America’s Valoreo and Rainforest and Una Brands out of Asia.)

“The senior team behind Olsam is what makes this business truly unique,” said Angermayer in a statement. “Having all been successful in building and selling their own brands within the market and having worked for Amazon in their marketplace team – their understanding of this space is exceptional.”

#amazon, #amazon-marketplace, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #berlin-brands-group, #business, #christian-angermayer, #co-founder, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #entrepreneur, #financial-services, #founders-fund, #funding, #latin-america, #london, #marketing, #peter-thiel, #retailers, #sales, #united-kingdom

Founders Fund backs Royal, a music marketplace planning to sell song rights as NFTs

Founders Fund and Paradigm are leading an investment in a platform that’s aiming to wed music rights with NFTs, allowing user to buy shares of songs through the company’s marketplace, earning royalties as the music they’ve invested in gains popularity.

The venture, called Royal, is led by Justin Blau, an EDM artist who performs under the name 3LAU, and JD Ross, a co-founder of home-buying startup Opendoor. Blau has been one of the more active and visible figures in the NFT community, launching a number of upstart efforts aimed at exploring how musicians can monetize their work through crypto markets. Blau says that as Covid cut off his ability to tour, he dug into NFTs full-time, aiming to find a way to flip the power dynamics on “platforms that were extracting all the value from creators.

Back in March, weeks before many would first hear about NFTs following the $69 million Beeple sale at Christies, Blau set his own record, selling a batch of custom songs and custom artwork for a collective $11.7 million worth of cryptocurrency.

Royal’s investment announcement comes just as a broader bull run for the NFT market seems to reach a fever pitch with investors dumping hundreds of million of dollars worth of cryptocurrencies into community NFT projects like CryptoPunks and Bored Apes. While visual artists interested in putting their digital works on the blockchain have seen a number of platforms spring up and mature in recent months to simplify the process of monetizing their art, there have been fewer efforts focused on musicians.

Paradigm and Founders Fund are leading a $16 million seed round in Royal, with participation from Atomic — where Ross was recently a General Partner. Ross’s fellow Opendoor co-founder Keith Rabois led the deal for Founders Fund.

The company isn’t sharing an awful lot about their launch or product plans, including when the platform will actually begin selling fractionalized assets, but it seems pretty clear the company will be heavily leveraging Blau’s music and position inside the music industry to bring early fans/investors to the platform. Users can sign-up for early access on the site currently.

As NFT startups chase more complex ownership splits that aim to help creators share their success with fans, there’s plenty of speculation taking off around how regulators will eventually treat them. While the ICO boom of 2017 led to plenty of founders receiving SEC letters alleging securities fraud, entrepreneurs in this wave seem to be working a little harder to avoid that outcome. Blau says that the startup’s team is working closely with legal counsel to ensure the startup is staying fully compliant.

The company’s bigger challenge may be ensuring that democratizing access to buying up music rights actually benefits the fans of those artists or creates new fans for them, given the wide landscape of crypto speculators looking to diversify. That said, Blau notes there’s plenty of room for improvement among the current ownership spread of music royalties, largely spread among labels, private equity groups and hedge funds.

“A true fan might want to own something way earlier than a speculator would even get wind of it,”Blau says. “Democratizing access to asset classes is a huge part of crypto’s future.”

#blockchain, #business, #co-founder, #companies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptopunks, #founders-fund, #keith-rabois, #musicians, #opendoor, #paradigm, #startup-company, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

Playbook, which aims to be the ‘Dropbox for designers,’ raises $4M in round led by Founders Fund

When Jessica Ko was head of design at Google and then Opendoor, she realized that her teams spent about 90% of their time digging around Dropbox looking for assets.

In many cases, they’d find older versions. Or they couldn’t find what they were looking for. Or even worse, they’d accidentally pick the wrong asset.

“It was such a chaotic process,” Ko recalls. “Anyone could go in and alter things and change folder structures around. It was a total mess, and just continued like that because there was no alternative.”

As Opendoor grew in size, the problem became an even bigger one, she said. 

“Designers were quitting because it was giving them so much anxiety,” Ko recalls. “Dropbox hadn’t solved it yet. Google Drive was not a good alternative either. Designers deal with files the most, and we’re exchanging files constantly.

Besides the frustration and stress the problem of file storage and sharing caused, not being able to locate the correct assets also led to errors, which in turn led to lots of money lost, according to Ko.

“We spent a lot of money on photo shoots because we couldn’t find new things, or people would have to recreate designs,” she said. 

On top of that, she said, designers weren’t the only ones who needed to access the assets. Finance teams were constantly needing them for things like creating pitch decks.

So in 2018, Ko left Opendoor to set about solving the problem she was tired of dealing with by creating file storage for modern design workflows and processes. Or put more simply, she wanted to build a new kind of cloud storage that would serve as an alternative to Dropbox and Google Drive “built by, and for, creatives.”

In early 2020, Ko (CEO) teamed up with Alex Zirbel (CTO) to launch San Francisco-based Playbook, which she describes as the “Dropbox for designers,” to tackle the challenge. And today, the startup has emerged from stealth and announced it has raised $4 million in a seed funding round led by Founders Fund at a $20 million post-money valuation.

Other investors in the round include Abstract, Inovia, Maple, Basis Set, Backend, Wilson Sonsini and a number of angels, including Opendoor co-founder and CEO Eric Wu, Gusto co-founder Eddie Kim and SV Angel’s Beth Turner.

The first thing Playbook set out to do was attempt to reinvent the way folders exist for assets, with subfolders underneath. And then, the company set about trying to change the way people share files. 

“Since so much is done over email and Slack these days, version control becomes even more difficult,” Ko told TechCrunch. So Playbook, she said, has built a storage system that can be accessed by all parties as opposed to just sending files via different channels.

“For years, these assets have been dropped into what feels like a file cabinet,” Ko said. “But these days, sharing assets is much more collaborative and there’s different kinds of parties involved such as freelancers and contractors. So who is managing these files, and controlling the versions has become very complex.”

Playbook offers 4TB of free storage, which Ko says is 266 times the free version of Google Storage and 2,000 times that of Dropbox. The hope is that this encourages users to use its platform as an all-around creative hub without worrying about running out of storage space. It also automatically scans, organizes and tags files and has worked to make it easier to browse files and folders visually.

Image Credits: Playbook

In March, Playbook opened a beta version of its product to the design community and got about 1,000 users in two months. People continued to sign up and the company at one point had to close the beta so that it could manage all the new users.

Today, it has about 10,000 users signed up in beta. Early users include individual freelancers to design teams at companies like Fast, Folx and Literati.

The seven-person company wants to focus on getting the product “right” before attempting to monetize and launch to enterprises (which will likely happen next year), Ko said.

For now, Playbook is focused on the needs of freelancers. The company believes that the exponential growth of freelancers post-pandemic means “cloud storage needs to be smarter.”

“We want to first solve that use case, and unlock the problem from the bottom up,” Ko told TechCrunch. 

Also, another strategy behind that initial focus is that freelancers can also introduce Playbook to the companies and enterprises they work for, so the marketing then becomes built into the product.

“They can transfer assets and files through Playbook to their clients, who tend to adopt,” she said.

Today, Playbook is helping manage over 2 million assets and says it has “hundreds of waitlist sign-ups” every month.

Looking ahead, Zirbel said the startup wants to branch out into image scanning, similarity, content detection, previewing and long-term cloud storage and tons of integrations.

“There are lots of interesting technology challenges when you focus on the creative side of cloud storage,” he said.

Founders Fund’s John Luttig said when the firm first met Ko and Zirbel last year, it was “clear that they had a depth of understanding and thoughtfulness around file management” that his firm hadn’t seen before. Plus, in his view, there has been very little innovation in cloud storage since Dropbox launched in 2007. 

“The product leverages modern design, collaboration principles, and artificial intelligence to make file management much faster and easier,” he wrote via email. “Given their design-centric backgrounds, they’re extremely well-positioned to rethink the user experience for file systems from the ground up.”

Playbook, he said, is able to leverage recent advancements in computer vision and design “to build a far better product to manage and share files.”

#designers, #dropbox, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jessica-ko, #john-luttig, #opendoor, #playbook, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #storage, #venture-capital

Last-mile robotic delivery firm Coco raises $36M

Los Angeles delivery robot startup Coco this week has announced $36 million in funding. The Series A was led by Sam Altman, Silicon Valley Bank and Founders Fund, with participation from Sam Nazarian, Ellen Chen and Mario Del Pero. It brings the company’s total funding up to around $43 million.

“I strongly believe the delivery service industry in its current state is massively under-serving merchants. We have an enormous opportunity to create a better experience for hundreds of thousands of merchants and their customers, today,” co0founder and CEO Zach Rash said in a release. “This is not a research program experimenting with technology to be productized at some unknown point in the future.”

Image Credits: Coco

The UCLA spinout, formerly known as Cyan Robotics, is operating in a crowded field that includes names like Starship, Nuro and UC Berkeley alum Kiwibot. Rather than pushing for full autonomy, Coco’s solution utilizes remote drivers (which are a more popular solution than many companies care to admit).

Coco is still young, having launched in February 2020. The company currently has a headcount of 120, with plans to “grow to over 1,000” by end of year, as the pandemic continues to fuel additional interest in robotic deliveries. The new funding will also go toward hardware and additional city launches.

Coco says it has been able to operate with a 97% on-time rate, while reducing delivery times for its clients by around 30%. The company lacks a massive partner like Nuro’s work with Domino’s, though California-based Umami Burger is probably the largest on a list of 18 restaurant partners currently listed on Coco’s site.

“We are currently operating in Santa Monica and in five different L.A neighborhoods,” the company tells TechCrunch.  “Later this year we are expanding into a number of other major U.S. cities. We have partnered with national restaurant brands like SBE (Umami Burger) and are actively scaling across many locations, and we are serving a wide range of family operated restaurants like Bangkok West Thai in Santa Monica and San Pedro Brewing Company in Los Angeles. We are out of the pilot phase and are launching with dozens of new merchants every day.”

#coco, #cyan-robotics, #delivery, #delivery-robot, #founders-fund, #recent-funding, #robot, #robotics, #sam-altman, #silicon-valley-bank, #startups

Ramp raises $300M at a $3.9B valuation, makes its first acquisition

Less than five months after raising $115 million, spend management startup Ramp announced today it has raised $300 million in a Series C round of funding that values the company at $3.9 billion.

That’s more than double the $1.6 billion that New York-based Ramp was valued at in April at the time of its Series B.

Founders Fund led the latest round, which brings the fintech’s total equity and debt raised to date to over $625 million since its March 2019 inception. Redpoint Ventures, Thrive Capital, D1 Capital Partners, Spark Capital, Coatue Management, Iconiq, Altimeter, Stripe, Lux Capital, A* Partners, Definition Capital and other existing backers participated in the financing. Founders Fund also led Ramp’s $15 million Series A in February 2020.

It’s been a good year for Ramp, which first launched its corporate card in August of 2019. Since the beginning of 2021, the company says it has seen its number of cardholders on its platform increase by 5x, with more than 2,000 businesses currently using Ramp as their “primary spend management solution.” The transaction volume on its corporate cards has tripled since April, when its last raise was announced. And, impressively, Ramp has seen its transaction volume increase year over year by 1,000%, according to CEO and co-founder Eric Glyman. Given the company’s business model (it makes money mostly off interchange fees), Ramp also saw its revenue increase by the same amount during that time frame.

A wide range of customers use Ramp from startups/unicorns such as Ro, DoNotPay, Better, ClickUp and Applied Intuition to established businesses like Bristol Hospice, Walther Farms, Douglas Elliman and Planned Parenthood. 

“The pace of growth in the business has been a lot faster than people expected and so that’s a big part of what’s underpinning this new investment and valuation,” Glyman told TechCrunch. “Even in August, we’re experiencing what is shaping up to be the fastest percentage growth all year, if not ever.”  

Indeed, such big growth numbers are more commonly seen in the very early stages of a company, and tend to lessen over time as a company matures. 

Says Founders Fund’s Keith Rabois: “As the company has grown, I’ve continued to invest heavily because it’s rare to find a business with a growth rate that is actually increasing as it gets larger. Typically growth slows as a company scales, but demand for Ramp’s product is only accelerating as the team builds awareness and strengthens their product offering.”

Ramp also today announced its acquisition of Buyer, a “negotiation-as-a-service” platform that claims to save its clients an average of 27.3% on big-ticket purchases, such as annual software contracts. 

With the addition of the 10-person Buyer team, Glyman said Ramp will be able to offer its customers a “customized and proactive approach” to savings on large purchases.

“There are more B2B growth SaaS companies than ever before, and they’re better at charging than they’ve ever been,” he noted. “Buyer is viewed as the leader of a generation of startups that are trying to flip the tables and actually help customers negotiate rates down. Very large companies might have procurement departments to negotiate rates, but for those who don’t, Buyer is very skilled at identifying what new contracts are coming up and negotiating them down.”

It has saved its customers about 27% on SaaS contracts. 

“We’re looking forward to adding those figures to the savings we’ve helped businesses incorporate,” Glyman said.

The buy follows a partnership that was forged earlier this year before Ramp realized that it could “be even stronger by having them fully as a part of the Ramp team, and and really build out even further.”

Over time, Ramp  intends to expand its product offering as a result of the acquisition. By combining Buyer’s team with benchmarking spend data from millions of transactions on its platform, Ramp says it wants to help its customers negotiate the best rate on “anything that can be purchased with a card, from travel to software — with the goal of shifting purchasing power back into the hands of buyers.”

Image Credits: Ramp

Other ways Ramp helps its customers save include offering 1.5% cash back “on everything,” helping them identify ways to spend less, such as identifying and canceling duplicitous subscriptions and identifying redundancies in licenses. It also shows companies when better pricing is available. One example of this is letting them know they can save 20% by switching to an annual rate, as opposed to monthly. It also has helped customers save by getting rid of software like Concur, Expensify or Bill.com by helping them manage their expenses. Ramp claims that its customers on average save 3.3% annually by switching their corporate card spending to Ramp.

Earlier this year, the company added merchant blocking to its corporate credit card, which Glyman says has probably become one of the company’s most used features since adoption.

Looking ahead, the company plans to use its new capital to speed up the development of its finance automation platform. It’s also going to naturally continue to hire, adding to its nearly 150-person team. For context, Ramp started the year with 65, people and employed about 100 at the time of its April raise.

“Hiring is going to be the biggest use of our capital,” Glyman told TechCrunch. 

The startup is also going to invest heavily in product development, including expansion into broader B2B payments, and marketing and awareness. It’s also going to look for more acquisition targets.

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

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

No doubt the spend management space is heating up. Last week, Brex announced it was acquiring one-year-old Weav for $50 million in its first significant acquisition. Founded in 2017, San Francisco-based Brex earlier this year was valued at $7.4 billion after raising a $425 million Series D led by Tiger Global. It is more focused on earlier-stage startups, whereas Ramp tends to serve larger, more established companies.

#eric-glyman, #expense-management, #finance, #fintech, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #keith-rabois, #ma, #ramp, #recent-funding, #spend-management, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital

Contact, a platform for creatives backed by Maisie Williams, raises $1.9M Seed led by Founders Fund

With the pandemic digitizing every aspect of our lives, the Creator Economy has taken off like never before, with some estimates saying it’s now a $100Bn+ market. And yet, managing your professional life as a model, actor, writer or designer remains a mish-mash of emails, manual booking processes, and dreaded PDFs. Creatives face late payments, often opaque industry practices, even as top talent agencies have collectively achieved a valuation of $20Bn in value. But while modeling talent can be charged as much as a 20-40% commission fee, social media has been gradually displacing traditional agencies by reducing the barriers to entry and making talent more accessible. However, as everyone knows, social media is nowhere near a place anyone can manage their career.

Late last year the Contact platform launched, initially offering models a way to take bookings and manage some aspects of their work. It’s now looking to address the wider problems referred to above, with a new round of funding involving some key players in the creative industries.

It’s backed and supported by Maisie Williams, best known for her work on Game of Thrones, who has become Creative Strategist and Advisor to the startup after becoming a passionate advocate for better conditions for creatives in the industry.

Contact has now raised a $1.9 million (£1.4 million) Seed round of funding led by Founders Fund. Also participating is LAUNCH (the fund led by investors Jason Calacanis), Sweet Capital (via Pippa Lamb), Rogue VC (via Alice Lloyd George) and Angel investors Simon Beckerman (co-founder of Depop), Eric Wahlforss (co-founder of SoundCloud and now Dance), Abe Burns and Joe White.

Although Contact’s initial incarnation is addressing the modeling world, its vision is far bigger. Contact co-founder and CEO Reuben Selby — a fashion designer who was formerly of William’s founding team, when she started her career — has worked with Nike, Thom Browne, and JW Anderson. He says the platform aims to become a scalable back-end solution across the $104.2 Billion Creator Economy, “democratizing” access to the world’s best creative talent.

Reuben Selby

Reuben Selby

Selby, who recently spoke about being a founder with autism is also the founder and creative director of his own label Reuben Selby, and co-founder of Cortex a creative agency and community. Selby is joined by CTO Josh McMillan previously of Deliveroo, Daisie, the Government Digital Service, and among others.

While its competitors might, broadly speaking, include Patreon, Creatively, and The Dots, it’s fair to say that Contact’s vision to bring many aspects of these platforms under one roof could be described as ambitious, it is also tantalising.

In a radical move for what is an industry dominated by agencies, individuals and businesses can discover and book creators and creative services directly, without going through an agency.

Contact initially launched its platform in October 2020 with the ability to discover and book fashion models, but post-fundraising plans to roll out other creative verticals such as photographers, stylists, videographers, and more.

Selby says the idea for Contact has been informed by his own personal experiences trying to break into the creative industry as a model, photographer, and creative director. After finding scant methods for secure and safe ways to get paid – while booking companies lacked basic technological tools – he realized that ‘middle-men’ and agencies were there main ones that benefitted, taking cuts on both sides and often still delivering a sub-par-product.

So how does Contact work?

When a Creator joins, they are able to showcase their portfolio across different creative services and take direct bookings.

A business can then browse and discover talent using filters, shortlist creative talent, providing details about the job, and book creators directly. Creatives can accept or reject jobs via the web platform or, soon, via a smartphone app. Once the job has been completed, the talent gets paid out via Contact.

Since soft-launching within the modeling vertical, Contact says it has onboarded almost 600 creatives and over 1,400 clients including Depop, Farfetch, Nike, Vivienne Westwood, and Vogue. Users of the platform have increased 100% YoY, says the startup.

Selby says Contact intends to remain in the background and allow the talent to brand itself independently across different verticals. Crucially, Contact does not take money from creators, only booking companies, from which it will levy a 20% fee on transactions.

Commenting, Trae Stephens, Partner at Founders Fund, said: “We are always excited when we find founders who seem to have been born to build a specific company. Reuben definitely seems like one of those founders. We are really excited to watch the company scale and expand into new creative verticals.”

Pippa Lamb, Partner at Sweet Capital, added: “The team at Contact have been pushing frontiers in the creator economy long before ‘the creator economy’ became a buzzword. Contact possesses a rare combination of world-class technical talent with the raw innovation of today’s most creative minds. We are excited about this next chapter.”

Williams, best known for playing Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, is no stranger to working on startups. She previously contributed to the Daisie platform, which continues to connect creators with one another to work on each others’ projects, helping creators find collaborators for their art.

But clearly her desire to disrupt the creative world largely controlled by ‘middle men’ was not sated by the experience.

Speaking to me in an exclusive interview, Williams and Selby outlined their vision:

Selby said the existing marketplace for models is just the start: “The vision has always been about creatives, and getting creatives paid for their work. We basically started out in one vertical, the modeling industry… and we’re in the process of rolling out new verticals so bringing on photographers, makeup artists, stylists, etc. But that’s a very very small part of the overall vision.”

He said the focus now is “on the distribution of work, how that relationship works with that audience, how they can monetize it. So it’s basically giving them a toolkit to monetize their creativity rather than just the physical constraints. That’s what we’re exploring right now. We have this marketplace but we see that as being a very small part, but the larger piece.”

He said the marketplace model can connect brands directly to creators or creatives, but, he said, brands continue to have a great deal of power: “The creators are just sitting there waiting for somebody to give them something. So we’re now working out how they can just distribute by their own work and monetize it in their own ways, with the back end of how all of the logistics work, and the operational side handled by the product that we’ve built, handling the payments and the licensing and insurance.”

Despite being a major Hollywood star, Williams told me the creative and entertainment industry she’s familiar with and works in remains stuck in an old world of emails and links, rather than the kinds of platforms the tech industry is used to building and using: “Being someone who has been represented by talent agencies for my career, that whole interaction online is emails. At no point are any of the assets digitised. There’s no ‘vault’ where all of my scripts go. There’s no place where I can upload all of my audition tapes. It’s always just a link in an email. There’s not really an industry standard. From an agency perspective, none of the work that they is very streamlined or directional.”

She says that need to change: “There’s a casting process and at the moment, and it’s a hugely dated way of doing things between the casting directors and the actors, the writers etc. We want to build a very streamlined process.”

Speaking about the investors he’s assembled to back Contact, Selby said the team chose Founders Fund to be their lead investor because of their approach: “The way that they work with founders… I found that personally very empowering. [They] give you a lot of freedom and space to think creatively. So there was a clear alignment.”

Talking about the other Angel investors in the round he said: “People like Eric and Simon are majorly connected in fashion and music culture in general.”

Speaking about how the entertainment industry might react to Contact, Williams said: “Actors have many other things that they do. Being able to have a platform that they can monetize all those other things is really important, especially because, as an actor you spend a lot of time unemployed.” But said the system is constructed in such as a way that “you’re only valuable as the auditions your agent puts you up for. It’s not very inspiring or rewarding. So a lot of actors make their own shows on streaming platforms or create their own documentaries or sell their work in other ways.”

She said Contact wants to be able to facilitate that through the platform, and for creatives to have more independence: “The film industry and the music industry is full of incredibly talented people who are multi-talented across many different industries. But they are still, kind of held by representatives and agencies and record labels or managers who have a lot of power in, sort of, keeping them ‘small’. Being able to introduce something which can offer so many other tools, I think, is really important.”

It’s clear that the vision Selby, his co-founders, and Williams have, is very big. The question is, will they be able to pull it off?

It has to be said, however, that the combination of a passionate Gen-Z-influential team (with added star power), a full-blown technology platform, heavyweight US investors, and Angels pulled from creative industries certainly points to the potential for success.

#abe-burns, #co-founder, #cortex, #cto, #deliveroo, #depop, #designer, #digital-media, #eric-wahlforss, #europe, #farfetch, #fashion-designer, #finance, #founders-fund, #jason-calacanis, #joe-white, #maisie-williams, #nike, #partner, #smartphone, #social-media, #soundcloud, #tc, #technology, #thom-browne, #united-states

Space manufacturing startup Varda inks deal with Rocket Lab for three spacecraft

Orbital manufacturing startup Varda Space Industries is moving fast. Only a few weeks after announcing a $42 million Series A, Varda has signed a deal with launch company Rocket Lab for three Photon spacecraft to support the startup’s initial missions.

The first spacecraft will be delivered in the first quarter of 2023, with the second to follow later that year and the third in 2024. It’s an aggressive schedule for the eight-month-old Varda and would mark the company’s first three manufacturing missions to space. The contract includes an option for Varda to purchase a fourth Photon.

Partnering with a more established company makes sense – especially considering the Photon’s bona fides, which includes a NASA-funded mission to the moon at the end of the year. Rocket Lab was also awarded a subcontract a subcontract by the University of California Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory to design two Photon spacecraft for a 1-year mission to Mars.

Varda, which was founded by SpaceX veteran Will Bruey and Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov, is banking big on a manufacturing condition that you can only find in space: microgravity. They think that the potential market for bioprinted organs, specialized semiconductors, fiber-optic cables or pharmaceuticals – products that you can’t make in Earthbound-conditions – is high enough to make the costs of building a spacecraft and launching to space more than worth it.

Under this most recent deal, each Photon will be outfitted with two Varda-made modules: the first will be a microgravity manufacturing module, where the space production will actually take place, and the second will be a reentry capsule designed to bring those finished products back to Earth. Asparouhov told TechCrunch that their designing the reentry modules to bring back “on the order of 40-60 kilograms of materials” for the first couple of missions, with the aim of quickly scaling up for subsequent launches.

Varda says this approach is low-risk and incremental. “That’s why we’re seeing so much interest from the investment community, [the Department of Defense], NASA, et cetera, it’s this very pragmatic, one-step-at-a-time approach,” Asparouhov said. “We’ll prove this first space factory. And yes, as we start to scale it allows us to send a larger space factory and then eventually, yes, we might have something the size of the [International Space Station], 10 times the size of the ISS. But that’s not what we’re starting with. We’re starting with a very small, near-term pragmatic approach.”

Each mission will last roughly three months from launch to landing, Rocket Lab said in a statement.

#aerospace, #commercial-spaceflight, #delian-asparouhov, #founders-fund, #rocket-lab, #space, #space-manufacturing, #spaceflight, #varda-space-industries

Varda Space Industries closes $42M Series A for off-planet manufacturing

Varda Space Industries has raised a $42 million Series A to bring to manufacturing a key capability that can only be found off-world: microgravity.

The eight-month-old startup is looking to establish its first manufacturing facility in space as early as 2023, and by doing so, bring back to Earth advanced products that can only be made under sustained periods of zero gravity.

The round was led by Khosla Ventures and Caffeinated Capital, with participation from existing investors Lux Capital, General Catalyst and Founders Fund. It pushes the company’s total raise thus far to over $50 million, including a $9 million seed round last December.

Varda’s idea is different than that of Jeff Bezos, who said after his own trip to space earlier this month that he wants to “move all heavy industry and all polluting industry off Earth.” The company’s co-founders, SpaceX veteran Will Bruey and Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov, aren’t imagining cement mixers and steel plants in orbit. Instead, they want to open up manufacturing processes that aren’t possible on Earth, in order to make bioprinted organs, fiber-optic cables or pharmaceuticals — products that require fundamentally different conditions than what’s available on-planet.

Building the space factory of the future

The value of microgravity manufacturing, Bruey and Asparouhov say, can be found with the International Space Station, essentially a scientific outpost. A steady stream of research has emerged from the ISS over the last few decades showing that novel materials and products are possible in space. But until now, getting, staying in and returning from orbit has been too costly to consider scaling these findings.

“In a way, a lot of our R&D has already been done for us in the public sector, and we’re essentially a ramp toward commercialization for that research that’s already been proven out,” Bruey told TechCrunch.

Right now, the company is building a three-module spacecraft comprised of an off-the-shelf satellite platform, a center platform where the microgravity manufacturing will take place, and a reentry vehicle to bring the materials back to Earth. For the first 10 or so launches, Bruey said Varda would build the products itself. Once the company has established that its process is reliable and cheap, he added that in the long term the goal is to become a contract manufacturing platform for other companies wanting to build products in space.

Asparouhov likened it to the iPhone and the App Store: “The iPhone didn’t come out with the App Store. Apple developed the first 10 or 11 apps to share the value of that. So we’re developing those first few apps ourselves to show the value in this commercial capability that we’re bringing to market, but over time, we will start to release an app store.”

One key part of Varda’s plan is to make all of the manufacturing automated. By keeping humans out of the picture (at least for now), the company is able to reduce critical overhead by skipping human-rated spacecraft development (and the associated safety concerns with crewed launches).

Varda invited regulators and the DoD to a preliminary design review. Image Credits: Varda Space Industries (opens in a new window)

“I think that what investors, NASA and the [Department of Defense], really see as exciting about our approach is that in comparison to everyone else that’s ever discussed ‘space manufacturing,’ we’re by far the most near-term, pragmatic, commercially viable approach, launching and producing materials less than 18 months from now, as opposed to plans that are typically five years, 10 years, decades away from being viable,” Asparouhov said.

He added that one way to think about space manufacturing is that there is a certain dollar per unit-mass that Varda will need to spend to get things up to microgravity, and a dollar per unit-mass of value from manufacturing in microgravity. The key to profitability is finding the products that maximizes the difference between these two equations. Novel pharmaceuticals, for example, could yield massive profits if the innovation gains from zero gravity are correspondingly high.

The company is imagining “multiple missions” in 2023, Bruey said, and then moving to once per quarter and even imagining multiple reentry capsules returning with products per day. The Varda co-founders are convinced that the scale of demand for novel space-made products is potentially high enough to meet this kind of launch and reentry schedule.

Compared to a burgeoning industry like space tourism, Bruey said the space manufacturing has the potential to positively affect a much higher portion of humanity.

“It will touch many different parts of humanity’s experience out here on Earth, with significant improvements in quality of life,” he said.

#aerospace, #delian-asparouhov, #founders-fund, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex

Khosla Ventures leads Even’s $5M seed to give India the kind of healthcare their insurance doesn’t

The global pandemic highlighted inefficiencies and inconsistencies in healthcare systems around the world. Even co-founders Mayank Banerjee, Matilde Giglio and Alessandro Ialongo say nowhere is this more evident than in India, especially after the COVID death toll reached 4 million this week.

The Bangalore-based company received a fresh cash infusion of $5 million in seed funding in a round led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from Founders Fund, Lachy Groom and a group of individuals including Palo Alto Networks CEO Nikesh Arora, CRED CEO Kunal Shah, Zerodha founder Nithin Kamath and DST Global partner Tom Stafford.

Even, a healthcare membership company, aims to cover what most insurance companies in the country don’t, including making going to a primary care doctor as easy and accessible as it is in other countries.

Banerjee grew up in India and said the country is similar to the United States in that it has government-run and private hospitals. Where the two differ is that private health insurance is a relatively new concept for India, he told TechCrunch. He estimates that less than 5% of people have it, and even though people are paying for the insurance, it mainly covers accidents and emergencies.

This means that routine primary care consultations, testings and scans outside of that are not covered. And, the policies are so confusing that many people don’t realize they are not covered until it is too late. That has led to people asking doctors to admit them into the hospital so their bills will be covered, Ialongo added.

Banerjee and Giglio were running another startup together when they began to see how complicated health insurance policies were. About 50 million Indians fall below the poverty line each year, and many become unable to pay their healthcare bills, Banerjee said.

They began researching the insurance industry and talking with hospital executives about claims. They found that one of the biggest issues was incentive misalignment — hospitals overcharged and overtreated patients. Instead, Even is taking a similar approach to Kaiser Permanente in that the company will act as a service provider, and therefore, can drive down the cost of care.

Even became operational in February and launched in June. It is gearing up to launch in the fourth quarter of this year with more than 5,000 people on the waitlist so far. Its health membership product will cost around $200 per year for a person aged 18 to 35 and covers everything: unlimited consultations with primary care doctors, diagnostics and scans. The membership will also follow as the person ages, Ialongo said.

The founders intend to use the new funding to build out their operational team, product and integration with hospitals. They are already working with 100 hospitals and secured a partnership with Narayana Hospital to deliver more than 2,000 COVID vaccinations so far, and more in a second round.

“It is going to take a while to scale,” Banerjee said. “For us, in theory, as we get better pricing, we will end up being cheaper than others. We have goals to cover the people the government cannot and find ways to reduce the statistics.”

 

#allessandro-ialongo, #even, #founders-fund, #funding, #health, #health-insurance, #hospitals, #india, #kaiser-permanente, #khosla-ventures, #lachy-groom, #matilde-giglio, #mayank-banerjee, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Sundae closes on $80M for residential real estate marketplace

Sundae, a residential real estate marketplace that pairs sellers of dated or damaged property with potential buyers, has raised $80 million in a Series C funding round co-led by Fifth Wall and General Global Capital.

QED Investors, Wellington Management, Susa Ventures, Founders Fund, First American Financial, Prudence Holdings, Crossover VC, Intersect Capital, Gaingels and Oberndorf Ventures also participated in the financing. The round marks San Francisco-based Sundae’s third financing in a 13-month time frame, bringing its total raised since its August 2018 inception to $135 million. 

The San Francisco-based company declined to reveal at what valuation its Series C was raised. It also declined to provide hard revenue figures, saying only that it saw a 600% year-over-year increase in revenue from June 2020 to June 2021.

The startup aims to help people who need to sell dated or “damaged” properties for a variety of reasons — such as job loss, illness or divorce. In some cases, according to CEO and co-founder Josh Stech, such vulnerable sellers get taken advantage of by “predatory fix and flippers” seeking to capitalize on their misfortune. 

Since sellers in these situations don’t typically have the funds to fix up their properties before selling, Sundae lists the property for them on its platform – serving as an intermediary between sellers and investors. There, it is visible to about 2,600 qualified off-market buyers.

The company essentially aims to aggregate demand from “fix and flippers,” who use the marketplace to bid against each other for distressed properties. If the seller accepts and an inspection is completed, the company offers a $10,000 cash advance before closing to help homeowners with moving costs or other expenses.

Our goal is to displace wholesalers who exploit desperate or uninformed sellers and lock them into a contract which they turn around and assign to a property investor at a steep profit,” Stech said. “The tens of thousands of dollars in lost equity that goes to a wholesaler could mean the difference between paying off debts, or having enough money to retire.”

Sundae claims that on average, sellers receive 10 offers within three days on its marketplace.

Since its launch in January 2019, the startup has slowly been expanding its marketplace geographically. It went from operating in four markets in California at the end of last year to now operating in 14 markets across Florida, Colorado, Georgia, Texas and Utah.

Sundae makes money by charging buyers in its investor marketplace a fee when it “assigns” them a property. 

In the first quarter of this year, the startup launched a dedicated online marketplace for investors, where they can view properties and submit offers. Once an investor signs up to join the marketplace, they can access the full inventory of properties, including information such as photos, floor plan, 3D walkthrough and a third-party inspection report. 

Looking ahead, the company plans to use its new capital to expand to new markets, invest in its platform and “build brand awareness.” It also, of course, plans to boost its current headcount of 180 mostly remote employees.

Vik Chawla, a partner at Fifth Wall, believes Sundae is serving a segment of the residential real estate market that has historically been overlooked. 

“Their marketplace model simultaneously solves a crucial pain point for sellers by disrupting the wholesale industry, while delivering a platform that property investors can count on for reliable investment opportunities,” he said.

The company last raised $36 million in a Series B funding round in December 2020.

Interestingly, a slew of angel investors — including a number of athletes and celebrities — also put money in the company’s latest round, including: actor Will Smith, DJ Kygo, three-time NFL Super Bowl champion Richard Seymour of 93 Ventures, NFL All-Pro DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks, Matt Chapman of the Oakland A’s, Alex Caruso of the Los Angeles Lakers, Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets, Solomon Hill of the Atlanta Hawks, Kelly Olynyk of the Houston Rockets, NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas, three-time NBA Champion & Gold Medalist Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, Hassan Whiteside of the Sacramento Kings, Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors and 2020 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year and Juventus midfielder, Weston McKennie.

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Miami twins raise $18M for Lula, an insurance infrastructure upstart

Lula, a Miami-based insurance infrastructure startup, announced today it has raised $18 million in a Series A round of funding.

Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from SoftBank, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, Shrug Capital, Steve Pagliuca (Bain Capital co-chairman and Boston Celtics owner), Tiny Capital’s Andrew Wilkinson. Existing backers such as Nextview Ventures and Florida Funders also put money in the round, in addition to a number of insurance and logistics groups such as Flexport.

The startup’s self-proclaimed mission is to provide companies of all sizes — from startups to multinational corporations — with insurance infrastructure. Think of it as a “Stripe for insurance,” its founders say.

Founded by 25-year-old twin brothers and Miami natives Michael and Matthew Vega-Sanz, Lula actually emerged from another business the pair had started while in college.

“We couldn’t afford to have a car on campus and wanted pizza one night,” Michael recalls. “So I thought it would be cool if there was an app that let me rent a car from another student, and then I thought ‘Why don’t we build it?’ We then built the ugliest app you’ve ever seen but it allowed us to rent cars from other people on the campus.” It was the first company to allow 18-year-olds to rent cars without restrictions, the brother say.

By September 2018, they formally launched the app beyond the campus of Babson College, which they were attending on scholarships. Within eight days of launching, the brothers say, the app became one of the top apps on Apple’s App Store. The pair dropped out of college, and within 12 months, they had cars available on more than 500 college campuses in the United States.

“As you can imagine we needed to make sure there was insurance coverage on each rental. We pitched it to 47 insurance companies and they all rejected us,” Michael said. “So we developed our own underwriting methodologies or underwriting tools into the operations and had the lowest incident rate in the industry.”

As the company grew, it began partnering with car rental providers (think smaller players, not Enterprise, et al.) to supplement its supply of vehicles. In doing so, the brothers soon realized that the most compelling aspect of their offering was the insurance infrastructure they’d built into it.

“Our rental companies begin to put a significant portion of their business through our platform, and one day one called us and asked if they could start using the software in the insurance infrastructure we’d built out in the rest of our business.”

That was in early 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“At that moment, we began to realize, ‘Hey maybe the big opportunity here is not a car-sharing app for college students, but maybe the big opportunity here is something with insurance,’” Michael said.

A few weeks later, the duo shut down their core business and by April 2020, they pivoted to building out Lula as it exists today.

“In the same way that Stripe has built a payment API that eliminates the need for companies to build their own payment infrastructure, we decided we could build an insurance API that eliminates the need for companies to build their own insurance infrastructure,” Matthew said. “Companies would no longer need to build out internal insurance systems or tools. No longer would they need to deal with insurance brokers to procure them coverage. No longer would they need to deal with insurance teams. We can integrate on to a platform and handle all things insurance for companies and their customers via our API.”

By August of 2020, the company launched an MVP (minimum viable product) and since then has been growing about 30% month over month after reaching profitability in its first four months.

Image Credits: Lula

Today, Lula offers a “fully integrated suite” of technology-enabled tools such as customer vetting, fraud detection, driver history checks, and policy management and claims handling through its insurance partners. It has a waiting list of nearly 2,000 companies and raised its funding to fulfill that demand.

“The main purpose for raising capital was so we can build out the team necessary to fulfill demand and sustain growth moving forward,” Matthew said. “And apart from that, we also just want to further develop the technology — whether it be in the ways that we’re collecting data so we can get more granular and make smarter decisions or just optimizing our vetting system. We’re also just working toward developing a much more robust API.”

Existing clients include ReadyDrive, a car-sharing program for the U.S. military and a “ton of SMBs,” the brothers say. Investor Flexport will be conducting a pilot with the company.

“Every time a trucker picks up a load or delivery, instead of paying monthly policies, they will be able to pay for insurance for the two to three days they are on the road only,” Michael says. “Also, if someone is shipping a container via Flexport, they can add cargo coverage at the point of sale and get an additional layer of protection.”

Ultimately, Lula’s goal is to act as a carrier in some capacity.

Founders Fund’s Delian Asparouhov believes that the way millenials and Gen Zers utilize physical assets is “wildly different” than prior generations.

“We grew up in a shared economy world, where apps like Uber, GetAround, Airbnb have allowed us to episodically utilize assets rather than purchase them outright,” he said.

In his view, though, the insurance industry has not picked up on the massive shift.
“Typical insurance agents both don’t know how to underwrite episodic usage of assets, and they don’t know how to integrate into these typical of digital rental platforms and allow for instantaneous underwriting,” Asparouhov told TechCrunch. “Lulu is combining both of these technologies into an incredibly unique approach that digitizes insurance and gives us flashbacks to how Stripe disrupted the digitization of payments.”

Despite their recent success, the brothers emphasize that the journey to get to this point was not always a glamorous one. Born to Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, they grew up on a small south Florida farm.

“We started our company out of our dorm room and initially emailed 532 investors only to get one response,” Michael said. “Founders just see the headlines but I just want to advise them to stay persistent and really keep at it. I’m not afraid to share that the company started off slow.”

#delian-asparouhov, #finance, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #infrastructure, #insurance, #insurtech, #khosla-ventures, #lula, #miami, #michael-vega-sanz, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Pietra raises $15M from Founders Fund to help creators launch their own product lines

In the white-hot creator economy space, startups are increasingly looking to build paint-by-numbers platforms to help budding creators more easily execute on what were once seemingly insurmountable business challenges.

The ex-Uber team at Pietra is cashing in on this vision with a plan to build a backend for launching and scaling creator product lines.

The startup, which previously acted as a marketplace for jewelry sellers, has changed a bit since they announced a seed round from Andreessen Horowitz in early 2019. Now, the company has pivoted from hocking diamonds to building a broad platform for creators that are looking to scale sales of physical goods, from interfacing with suppliers, handling orders and fulfillment and setting up an online storefronts.

Pietra tells TechCrunch they’ve just raised a $15 million Series A led by Founders Fund with additional participation from Andreessen Horowitz, TQ Ventures and Abstract Ventures. The deal was led by Founders Fund’s Keith Rabois.

“We were initially focused on jewelry and luxury and the rise of creators in this luxury segment,” CEO Ronak Trivedi tells TechCrunch. “When we launched our beta last fall we had this platform that had evolved from a marketplace to a creator hub where any size creator could come in, use the platform, marketplace and tools to effectively launch a digital-first consumer business in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible.”

Pietra allows customers to shop around with a network of suppliers, find which one is best for them and move through the process from crafting samples through order fulfillment with a tech platform to guide them through the process. Trivedi says the ultimate goal is to “find the best suppliers in the world and try and bring them on the platform at the lowest minimum orders, so that it allows the most people to try to start a business.”

The startup is trying to help small creators scale their product distribution, but also handle all of the bits that can determine success when it comes to launching a brand in the first place, including building a pre-sale website and building up some attractive marketing images of products.

Early on, Pietra has a pretty distinct list of product verticals that they’re specializing in, including swimwear, makeup, apparel, fragrances and jewelry, among a few others. Overall, their platform seems pretty centered on the types of products that have been broadly successful with influencers who are looking to build out their first brands.

Pietra’s pricing depends on how many of their services you’re using and what the scale of your operation is, but most services are charged on a per-unit basis with the startup also taking a percentage fee on goods sold through their marketplace. The startup is also working on a Pro offering with differentiated pricing designed for slightly more established brands that are doing multiple production runs per year.

#abstract-ventures, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #ceo, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #founders-fund, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #uber

Anduril raises $450M as the defense tech company’s valuation soars to $4.6B

The AI-powered defense company founded by tech iconoclast Palmer Luckey has landed a $450 million round of investment that values the startup at $4.6 billion just four years in.

In April, reports suggested that the company was on the hunt for fresh investment and headed for a valuation between four and five billion, up from $1.9 billion in July 2020.

The new Series D round was led by angel investor and serial entrepreneur Elad Gil, a former Twitter VP and Googler with a track record of investments in companies with exponential growth. Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund, 8VC, General Catalyst, Lux Capital, Valor Equity Partners and D1 Capital Partners also participated in the round.

“Just as old incumbent institutions with little to no organizational renewal impacted our ability to respond to COVID, the defense industry has undergone significant consolidation over the last 30 years,” Gil wrote in a blog post on the investment. “There has not been a new defense technology company of any scale to directly challenge these incumbents in many decades…”

Anduril launched quietly in 2017 but grew quickly, picking up contracts with Customs and Border Protection and the Marine Corps during the Trump administration. Luckey, the young high-flying founder who sold Oculus to Facebook before being booted from the company, emerged as one of President Trump’s most prominent boosters in the generally Trump-averse tech industry.

The company makes defense hardware, including long-flying drones and surveillance towers that connect to a shared software platform it calls Lattice. The technology can be used to secure military bases, monitor borders and even knock enemy drones out of the sky, in the case of Anduril’s counter-UAS tech known as “Anvil.”

Anduril co-founder and CEO Brian Schimpf describes the company’s mission as one of “transformation,” pairing relatively affordable hardware with sensor fusion and machine learning technologies through a contract partner more nimble than established giants in the defense sector.

“This new round of funding reflects our confidence that the Department of Defense sees the same problems we do, and is serious about deploying emerging technologies at scale across land, sea, air, and space domains,” Schimpf said.

The company set its sights on work with the Department of Defense from its earliest days and last year was one of 50 vendors tapped by the DoD to test tech for the Air Force’s own piece of the Joint All-Domain Command & Control (JADC2) project, which seeks to build a smart warfare platform to connect all service members, devices and vehicles that power the U.S. military.

The company’s work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection also matured from a pilot into a program of record last year. Anduril supplies the agency with connected surveillance towers capable of autonomously monitoring stretches of the U.S. border.

In April, Anduril acquired Area-I, a company known for small drones that can be launched from a larger aircraft. Area-I counted the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and NASA among its customers, relationships that likely sweetened the deal.

#air-force, #andreessen-horowitz, #anduril, #artificial-intelligence, #brian-schimpf, #d1-capital-partners, #department-of-defense, #elad-gil, #founders-fund, #general-catalyst, #government, #lattice, #lux-capital, #palmer-luckey, #science-and-technology, #tc, #technology, #trump-administration, #valor-equity-partners, #vp

Messaging social network IRL hits unicorn status with SoftBank-led $170M Series C

Social calendar app IRL has been busy building a messaging-based social network, or what founder and CEO Abraham Shafi calls a “WeChat of the West.” Following its pandemic-fueled growth and further push into the social networking space with group chat and other features, IRL is today announcing a sizable $170 million Series C growth round, led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2. The fundraise also mints IRL as a new unicorn with a $1.17 billion valuation.

Besides SoftBank, new investor Dragoneer also participated in the oversubscribed round, alongside returning investors Goodwater Capital, Founders Fund and Floodgate. To date, IRL has raised over $200 million.

The startup began its life as a tool for discovering real-world events — an industry that went to zero almost overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That could have been the end for IRL, but the startup quickly pivoted to prioritize discovery of online events instead. Under COVID lockdowns, users could turn to the app to find things like livestreamed concerts, esports events, Zoom parties and more.

Image Credits: IRL

IRL focused on pulling in popular online events from places like Live Nation, Twitch, YouTube, TikTok and others.

As a result, IRL became more accessible because its audience was no longer limited only to those who had time and money to travel to real-world events.

That focus also helped the app to attract a crowd of younger users who are of the generation that doesn’t use Facebook.

“They essentially use Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok,” explains Shafi. “But there is no groups and events product for that generation,” he points out.

Earlier this year, the company doubled down on its social networking features with the launch of a new site that added things like user profiles, support for group chats, the ability to join group events, personalized recommendations and more. As users could now network with friends across both web and mobile, IRL began to feel more like a social network, not just an event-discovery engine.

Image Credits: IRL

Today, IRL has 20 million users and 12 million who use the app monthly, which are not startling numbers in comparison to major social networks and their billions of users. But the numbers are representative of a steady approach that helped IRL grow 400% over the past 15 months, despite COVID’s impact to real-world events.

But as of recently, things are starting to change. In-person events are starting to return. California, the home state for San Francisco-based IRL, is today re-opening, for example. That opens up IRL to once again focus on connecting people not just online, but also “in real life,” as its name implies.

That could mean helping people better connect around events with not just their own friend group, as is often the case today, but helping them discover new groups in their local area or on campus. The company is even planning to use a portion of its fundraise to help fuel the new events economy by allocating a certain amount of money per city that will go toward helping people put on real-world events. The exact details are still being worked out, Shafi says, but says the idea is that IRL wants to help “bring culture back in cities that are opening up again.”

IRL also plans to expand its international footprint by finding ways to bring in non-U.S. users to its platform — possibly beginning with the events focused on watching the Olympics. (If the Games are not again delayed or canceled due to a COVID surge.)

Shafi says IRL hadn’t been planning to fundraise, but they decided to take the meetings when they were approached.

“The philosophy is not to raise when you have to, but to raise when it makes sense. And we were scaling like crazy to the point where our servers were melting. It made sense to take those discussions very seriously when they came to us,” he says.

The addition of SoftBank and Dragoneer brings some expertise in scaling large social networks to the IRL team. SoftBank’s other notable social networking investment is with TikTok owner’s Bytedance, while Dragoneer has backed Snap. IRL has already has a close relationship with TikTok as it’s worked with the video app to pull in interesting events for discovery. It more recently integrated with TikTok’s new “Login Kit,” too, allowing TikTok users to authenticate with IRL using their TikTok credentials.

Now, IRL plans to add an even deeper TikTok integration — something that caught SoftBank’s attention.

Shafi is cagey on the details, but says more will be announced in the “coming weeks.”

“But what I can say is that we’ve seen a ton of growth of TikTok users linking to IRL group chats and IRL events through their TikTok profiles as a way to communicate and go deeper in relationships,” he says. “If you think about it, right now Instagram has really great messaging…whereas TikTok is still developing that,” he hints.

Image Credits: IRL

Beyond its value to growing social networks for the younger, Facebook-less generation, IRL is thinking about how to build a profitable business without ad revenue. On this front, it sees potential in helping people connect through paid events — although these wouldn’t have to be influencer-driven as on other platforms. In fact, when IRL recently piloted paid group chats, users were willing to pay for access to things like a calc homework help group, for example.

IRL also sees demand for tools that help groups and clubs collect membership dues and other fees, as well as for events that are too small for Ticketmaster or Eventbrite.

“Whether we succeed or fail will be based on our ability to execute on our opportunity,” says Shafi, adding that most social networks today are focused on media more so than helping users make connections. “What we’re building isn’t the media part of social, it’s the real human interaction part of social, because that hasn’t been paid attention to as much.”

“We’re building a messaging social network,” he continues, comparing it to the biggest messaging social network in the world, WeChat. “The big vision that we’re going for is building the WeChat of the West — a messaging super social network. And it starts with people organizing groups and doing things together,” he says.

With the additional funding, IRL will invest in product growth, international expansion and its Creator and Culture Fund, and will grow its now 25-person remotely distributed team to 100 by year-end.

“People are increasingly seeking more in-person social connections and are looking to share meaningful experiences together. As an innovative event-based social network, IRL sits at the intersection of group and event discovery, social calendaring, and group messaging, enabling people to do more together,” added Serena Dayal, director at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement about its investment. “We are excited to partner with Abraham and the IRL team to support their ambition of helping everyone deepen their connections to friends and family.”

#abraham-shafi, #apps, #covid, #founders-fund, #funding, #goodwater-capital, #irl, #mobile-applications, #online-events, #recent-funding, #social, #social-calendar, #social-network, #social-networks, #softbank-group, #softbank-investment-advisers, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #startups, #tc, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-states, #wechat

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

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

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.

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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.”

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