Cast.ai nabs $7.7M seed to remove barriers between public clouds

When you launch an application in the public cloud, you usually put everything on one provider, but what if you could choose the components based on cost and technology and have your database one place and your storage another?

That’s what Cast.ai says that it can provide, and today it announced a healthy $7.7 million seed round from TA Ventures, DFX, Florida Funders and other unnamed angels to keep building on that idea. The round closed in June.

Company CEO and co-founder Yuri Frayman says that they started the company with the idea that developers should be able to get the best of each of the public clouds without being locked in. They do this by creating Kubernetes clusters that are able to span multiple clouds.

“Cast does not require you to do anything except for launching your application. You don’t need to know  […] what cloud you are using [at any given time]. You don’t need to know anything except to identify the application, identify which [public] cloud providers you would like to use, the percentage of each [cloud provider’s] use and launch the application,” Frayman explained.

This means that you could use Amazon’s RDS database and Google’s ML engine, and the solution decides how to make that work based on your requirements and price. You set the policies when you are ready to launch and Cast will take care of distributing it for you in the location and providers that you desire, or that makes most sense for your application.

The company takes advantage of cloud native technologies, containerization and Kubernetes to break the proprietary barriers that exist between clouds, says company co-founder Laurent Gil. “We break these barriers of cloud providers so that an application does not need to sit in one place anymore. It can sit in several [providers] at the same time. And this is great for the Kubernetes application because they’re kind of designed with this [flexibility] in mind,” Gil said.

Developers use the policy engine to decide how much they want to control this process. They can simply set location and let Cast optimize the application across clouds automatically, or they can select at a granular level exactly the resources they want to use on which cloud. Regardless of how they do it, Cast will continually monitor the installation and optimize based on cost to give them the cheapest options available for their configuration.

The company currently has 25 employees with four new hires in the pipeline, and plans to double to 50 by the end of 2021. As they grow, the company is trying keep diversity and inclusion front and center in its hiring approach and they currently have women in charge of HR, marketing and sales at the company.

“We have very robust processes on the continuous education inside of our organization on diversity training. And a lot of us came from organizations where this was very visible and we took a lot of those processes [and lessons] and brought them here,” Frayman said.

Frayman has been involved with multiple startups including Cujo.ai, a consumer firewall startup that participated in TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in New York in 2016.

#cast-ai, #cloud, #cujo, #enterprise, #funding, #kubernetes, #multi-cloud, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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Tiger Global invests in India’s Unacademy at $2 billion valuation

Unacademy, an online learning platform in India, has added two more marquee investors to its cap table. The Bangalore-based startup, which focuses on K-12 online education, said on Wednesday it has raised new funds from Tiger Global Management and Dragoneer Investment Group.

The funding round, which is between $75 million to $100 million in size (according to a person familiar with the matter; Unacademy has not disclosed the figure), valued the four-and-a-half-year-old startup at $2 billion, up from about $500 million in February this year when Facebook joined its list of backers, and $1.45 billion in September, when SoftBank led the round.

“Our mission from Day One has been to democratise education and make it more affordable and accessible. We have consistently built the most iconic products that deliver high quality education to everyone. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Tiger Global and Dragoneer as our partners in the journey. They are both marquee global investors with a history of partnering with innovative companies that are making an impact on people’s lives,” said Gaurav Munjal, co-founder and chief executive of Unacademy, in a statement.

Unacademy helps students prepare for competitive exams to get into a college, as well as those who are pursuing graduate-level courses. On its app, students watch live classes from educators and later engage in sessions to review topics in more detail. In recent months, the startup has held several online interviews of high-profile individuals, such as Indian politician Shashi Tharoor, on a range of topics, which has expanded its appeal beyond its student base.

The platform has amassed over 47,000 educators, who teach students in 5,000 cities in India in over 14 languages. Over 150,000 live classes are conducted on the platform each month and the collective watch time across platforms is over 2 billion minutes per month, the startup said.

“The opportunity to improve lives through online education is enormous because of its sheer accessibility. The Unacademy team has innovated rapidly to build a leading platform that is taking education to the farthest corners of India. We are very excited to partner with Unacademy and look forward to seeing it scale further,” said Scott Shleifer, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #edtech, #education, #funding, #india, #unacademy

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Mobile banking app Current raises $131M Series C, tops 2 million members

U.S. challenger bank Current, which has doubled its member base in less than six months, announced this morning it raised $131 million in Series C funding, led by Tiger Global Management. The additional financing brings Current to over $180 million in total funding to date, and gives the company a valuation of $750 million.

The round also brought in new investors, Sapphire Ventures and Avenir. Existing investors returned for the Series C, as well, including Foundation Capital, Wellington Management Company and QED.

Current had originally began as a teen debit card controlled by parents, but expanded to offer personal checking accounts last year, using the same underlying banking technology. The service today competes with a range of mobile banking apps, offering features like free overdrafts, no minimum balance requirements, faster direct deposits, instant spending notifications, banking insights, check deposits using your phone’s camera, and other now-standard baseline features for challenger banks.

In August 2020, Current debuted a points rewards program in an effort to better differentiate its service from the competition, which as of this month now includes Google Pay.

When Current raised its Series B last fall, it had over 500,000 accounts on its service. Today, it touts over 2 million members. Revenue has also grown, increasing by 500% year-over-year, the company noted today.

“We have seen a demonstrated need for access to affordable banking with a best-in-class mobile solution that Current is uniquely suited to provide,” said Current founder and CEO Stuart Sopp, in a statement about the fundraise. “We are committed to building products specifically to improve the financial outcomes of the millions of hard-working Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, and whose needs are not being properly served by traditional banks. With this new round of funding we will continue to expand on our mission, growth and innovation to find more ways to get members their money faster, help them spend it smarter and help close the financial inequality gap,” he added.

The additional funds will be used to further develop and expand Current’s mobile banking offerings, the company says.

#apps, #bank, #banking, #challenger-bank, #current, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #mobile-banking, #money

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Altana raises $7M to protect supply chains from disruptions, child labor

Supply chains used to be one of those magical elements of capitalism that seemed to be designed by Apple: they just worked. Minus the occasional salmonella outbreak in your vegetable aisle, we could go about our daily consumer lives never really questioning how our fast-fashion clothes, tech gadgets, and medical supplies actually got to our shelves or homes.

Of course, a lot has changed over the past few years. Anti-globalization sentiment has grown as a political force, driving governments like the United States and the United Kingdom to renegotiate free trade agreements and attempt to onshore manufacturing while disrupting the trade status quo. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic placed huge stress on supply chains — with some entirely breaking in the process.

In short, supply chain managers suddenly went from one of those key functions that no one wants to think about, to one of those key functions that everyone thinks about all the time.

While these specialists have access to huge platforms from companies like Oracle and SAP, they need additional intelligence to understand where these supply chains could potentially break. Are there links in the supply chain that might be more brittle than at first glance? Are there factories in the supply chain that are on alert lists for child labor or environmental violations? What if government trade policy shifts — are we at risk of watching products sit in a cargo container at a port?

New York-headquartered Altana wants to be that intelligence layer for supply-chain management, bringing data and machine learning to bear against the complexity of modern capitalism. Today, the company announced that it has raised $7 million in seed financing led by Anne Glover of London-based Amadeus Capital Partners.

The three founders of the startup, CEO Evan Smith, CTO Peter Swartz, and COO Raphael Tehranian, all worked together on Panjiva, a global supply chain platform that was founded in 2006, funded by Battery Ventures a decade ago, and sold to S&P Global in early 2018. Panjiva’s goal was to build a “graph” of supply chains that would offer intelligence to managers.

That direct experience informs Altana’s vision, which in many ways is the same as Panjiva’s but perhaps revamped using newer technology and data science. Again, Altana wants to build a supply-chain knowledge graph, provide intelligence to managers, and create better resilience.

The difference has to do with data. “What we continually found when we were in the data sales business was that you are kind of stuck in that place in the value chain,” Smith said. “Your customers won’t let you touch their data, because they don’t trust you with it, and other proprietary data companies don’t let you work on and manage and transform their data.”

Instead of trying to be the central repository for all data, Altana is “operating downstream” from all of these data sources, allowing companies to build their own supply chain graphs using their own data and whatever other data sources they have access to.

The company sells into procurement offices, which are typically managed in the CFO’s office. Today, the majority of customers for Altana are government clients such as border control, where “the task is to pick the needles out of the haystack as the ship arrives and you’ve got to pick the illicit shipments from the safe ones and actually facilitate the lawful trade,” Smith said.

The company’s executive chairman is Alan Bersin, who is a former commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency currently working as a policy consultant for Covington & Burling, which has been one of the premier law firms on trade issues like CFIUS during the Trump administration.

Altana allows one-off investigations and simulations, but its major product goal is to offer real-time alerts that give supply chain managers substantive visibility into changes that affect their business. For instance, rather than waiting for an annual labor or environmental audit to find issues, Altana hopes to provide predictive capabilities that allow companies to solve problems much faster than before.

In addition to Amadeus, Schematic Ventures, AlleyCorp, and the Working Capital – The Supply Chain Investment Fund also participated.

#amadeus-capital-partners, #funding, #fundings-exits, #logistics, #startups

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Industrial drone maker Percepto raises $45M and integrates with Boston Dynamics’ Spot

Consumer drones have over the years struggled with an image of being no more than expensive and delicate toys. But applications in industrial, military and enterprise scenarios have shown that there is indeed a market for unmanned aerial vehicles, and today, a startup that makes drones for some of those latter purposes is announcing a large round of funding and a partnership that provides a picture of how the drone industry will look in years to come.

Percepto, which makes drones — both the hardware and software — to monitor and analyze industrial sites and other physical work areas largely unattended by people, has raised $45 million in a Series B round of funding.

Alongside this, it is now working with Boston Dynamics  and has integrated its Spot robots with Percepto’s Sparrow drones, with the aim being better infrastructure assessments, and potentially more as Spot’s agility improves.

The funding is being led by a strategic backer, Koch Disruptive Technologies, the investment arm of industrial giant Koch Industries (which has interests in energy, minerals, chemicals and related areas), with participation also from new investors State of Mind Ventures, Atento Capital, Summit Peak Investments, Delek-US. Previous investors U.S. Venture Partners, Spider Capital and Arkin Holdings also participated. (It appears that Boston Dynamics and SoftBank are not part of this investment.)

Israel-based Percepto has now raised $72.5 million since it was founded in 2014, and it’s not disclosing its valuation, but CEO and founder Dor Abuhasira described as “a very good round.”

“It gives us the ability to create a category leader,” Abuhasira said in an interview. It has customers in around 10 countries, with the list including ENEL, Florida Power and Light and Verizon.

While some drone makers have focused on building hardware, and others are working specifically on the analytics, computer vision and other critical technology that needs to be in place on the software side for drones to work correctly and safely, Percepto has taken what I referred to, and Abuhasira confirmed, as the “Apple approach”: vertical integration as far as Percepto can take it on its own.

That has included hiring teams with specializations in AI, computer vision, navigation and analytics as well as those strong in industrial hardware — all strong areas in the Israel tech landscape, by virtue of it being so closely tied with its military investments. (Note: Percepto does not make its own chips: these are currently acquired from Nvidia, he confirmed to me.)

“The Apple approach is the only one that works in drones,” he said. “That’s because it is all still too complicated. For those offering an Android-style approach, there are cracks in the complete flow.”

It presents the product as a “drone-in-a-box”, which means in part that those buying it have little work to do to set it up to work, but also refers to how it works: its drones leave the box to make a flight to collect data, and then return to the box to recharge and transfer more information, alongside the data that is picked up in real time.

The drones themselves operate on an on-demand basis: they fly in part for regular monitoring, to detect changes that could point to issues; and they can also be launched to collect data as a result of engineers requesting information. The product is marketed by Percepto as “AIM”, short for autonomous site inspection and monitoring.

News broke last week that Amazon has been reorganising its Prime Air efforts — one sign of how some more consumer-facing business applications — despite many developments — may still have some turbulence ahead before they are commercially viable. Businesses like Percepto’s stand in contrast to that, with their focus specifically on flying over, and collecting data, in areas where there are precisely no people present.

It has dovetailed with a bigger focus from industries on the efficiencies (and cost savings) you can get with automation, which in turn has become the centerpiece of how industry is investing in the buzz phrase of the moment, “digital transformation.”

“We believe Percepto AIM addresses a multi-billion-dollar issue for numerous industries and will change the way manufacturing sites are managed in the IoT, Industry 4.0 era,” said Chase Koch, President of Koch Disruptive Technologies, in a statement. “Percepto’s track record in autonomous technology and data analytics is impressive, and we believe it is uniquely positioned to deliver the remote operations center of the future. We look forward to partnering with the Percepto team to make this happen.”

The partnership with Boston Dynamics is notable for a couple of reasons: it speaks to how various robotics hardware will work together in tandem in an automated, unmanned world; and it speaks to how Boston Dynamics is pulling up its socks.

On the latter front, the company has been making waves in the world of robotics for years, specifically with its agile and strong dog-like (with names like “Spot” and “Big Dog”) robots that can cover rugged terrains and handle tussles without falling apart.

That led it into the arms of Google, which acquired it as part of its own secretive moonshot efforts, in 2013. That never panned out into a business, and probably gave Google more complicated optics at a time when it was already being seen as too powerful. Then, SoftBank stepped in to pick it up, along with other robotics assets, in 2017. That hasn’t really gone anywhere either, it seems, and just this month it was reported that Boston Dynamics was reportedly facing yet another suitor, Hyundai.

All of this is to say that partnerships with third parties that are going places (quite literally) become strong signs of how Boston Dynamics’ extensive R&D investments might finally pay off with enterprising dividends.

Indeed, while Percepto has focused on its own vertical integration, longer term and more generally there is an argument to be made for more interoperability and collaboration between the various companies building “connected” and smart hardware for industrial, physical applications. It means that specific industries can focus on the special equipment and expertise they require, while at the same time complementing that with hardware and software that are recognised as best-in-class. Abuhasira said that he expects the Boston Dynamics partnership to be the first of many.

That makes this first one an interesting template. It will see Spot carrying Percepto’s payloads for high resolution imaging and thermal vision “to detect issues including hot spots on machines or electrical conductors, water and steam leaks around plants and equipment with degraded performance, with the data relayed via AIM.” It will also mean a more thorough picture, beyond what you get from the air, and potentially a point at which the data that the pairing sources results even in repairs or other work to fix issues.

“Combining Percepto’s Sparrow drone with Spot creates a unique solution for remote inspection,” said Michael Perry, VP of Business Development at Boston Dynamics, in a statement. “This partnership demonstrates the value of harnessing robotic collaborations and the insurmountable benefits to worker safety and cost savings that robotics can bring to industries that involve hazardous or remote work.”

#artificial-intelligence, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #robotics

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Google-backed Chinese truck-hailing firm Manbang raises $1.7 billion

The Chinese Uber for trucks Manbang announced Tuesday that it has raised $1.7 billion in its latest funding round, two years after it hauled in $1.9 billion from investors including SoftBank Group and Alphabet Inc’s venture capital fund CapitalG.

The news came fresh off a Wall Street Journal report two weeks ago that Manbang was seeking $1 billion ahead of an initial public offering next year. The company declined to comment on the matter, though its CEO Zhang Hui said in May 2019 that the firm was “not in a rush” to go public.

Manbang said it achieved profitability this year. Its valuation was reportedly on course to reach $10 billion in 2018.

The company, which runs an app matching truck drivers and merchants transporting cargo and provides financial services to truckers, was formed from a merger between rivals Yunmanman and Huochebang in 2017. It was a time when China’s “sharing economy” craze began to see consolidation and shakeup.

The latest financing again attracted high-profile backers, including returning investors SoftBank Vision Fund and Sequoia Capital China, Permira and Fidelity, a consortium that co-led the round. Other participants were Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners, Tencent, Jack Ma’s YF Capital and more.

The company has other Alibaba ties. Its CEO Zhang, who founded Yunmanman, hailed from Alibaba’s famed B2B department where Manbang chairman Wang Gang also worked before he went on to fund ride-hailing giant Didi’s angel round.

Manbang claims its platform has over 10 million verified drivers and 5 million cargo owners. The latest funding will allow it to further invest in research and development, upgrade its matching system, and expand its service capacity to functions like door-to-door transportation.

Sequoia is quite bullish about truck-hailing as it made its sixth investment in Manbang. For Permira, a European private equity fund, the Manbang investment marked the China debut of its Growth Opportunities Fund.

#asia, #china, #funding, #huochebang, #manbang, #softbank, #tc, #transportation, #truck-hailing, #vision-fund, #yunmanman

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YC-backed Cashfree raises $35.3 million for its payments platform

Cashfree, an Indian startup that offers a wide-range of payments services to businesses, has raised $35.3 million in a new financing round as the profitable firm looks to broaden its offering.

The Bangalore-based startup’s Series B was led by London-headquartered private equity firm Apis Partners (which invested through its Growth Fund II), with participation from existing investors Y Combinator and Smilegate Investments. The new round brings the startup’s to-date raise to $42 million.

Cashfree kickstarted its journey in 2015 as a solution for restaurants in Bangalore that needed an efficient way for their delivery personnel to collect cash from customers.

Akash Sinha and Reeju Datta, the founders of Cashfree, did not have any prior experience with payments. When their merchants asked if they could build a service to accept payments online, the founders quickly realized that Cashfree could serve a wider purpose.

In the early days, Cashfree also struggled to court investors, many of whom did not think a payments processing firm could grow big — and do so fast enough. But the startup’s fate changed after Y Combinator accepted its application, even though the founders had missed the deadline and couldn’t arrive to join the batch on time. Y Combinator later financed Cashfree’s seed round.

Fast-forward five years, Cashfree today offers more than a dozen products and services and helps over 55,000 businesses disburse salary to employees, accept payments online, set up recurring payments and settle marketplace commissions.

Some of its customers include financial services startup Cred, online grocer BigBasket, food delivery platform Zomato, insurers HDFC Ergo and Acko and travel ticketing service provider Ixigo. The startup works with several banks and also offers integrations with platforms such as Shopify, PayPal and Amazon Pay.

Based on its offerings, Cashfree today competes with scores of startups, but it has an edge — if not many. Cashfree has been profitable for the past three years, Sinha, who serves as the startup’s chief executive, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“Cashfree has maintained a leadership position in this space and is now going through a period of rapid growth fuelled by the development of unique and innovative products that serve the needs of its customers,” Udayan Goyal, co-founder and a managing partner at Apis, said in a statement.

The startup processed over $12 billion in payments volumes in the financial year that ended in March. Sinha said part of the fresh fund will be deployed in R&D so that Cashfree can scale its technology stack and build more services, including those that can digitize more offline payments for its clients.

Cashfree is also working on building cross-border payments solutions to explore opportunities in emerging markets, he said.

“We still see payments as an evolving industry with its own challenges and we would be investing in next-gen payments as well as banking tech to make payments processing easier and more reliable. With the solid foundation of in-house technologies, tech-driven processes and in-depth industry knowledge, we are confident of growing Cashfree to be the leader in the payments space in India and internationally,” he said.

#apis-partners, #apps, #asia, #bigbasket, #cashfree, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #india, #payments, #paypal, #razorpay, #recent-funding, #shopify, #startups, #y-combinator, #zomato

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Founders seeking their first check need a fundraising sales funnel

Milana Lewis, CEO and co-founder of music tech startup Stem, started the fundraising process long before she actually asked any investors for money (dig the well before you’re thirsty — it’s the best way). She recommends that other founders do the same.

Ten years ago, Milana started working at United Talent Agency (UTA), one of the world’s leading talent agencies. When tasked with finding the best tools and technologies that UTA’s clients could use to self-distribute their work, she discovered a glaring gap.

“There were all these tools built for the distribution of content, monetization of content and audience development,” she says. “The last piece missing was the financial aspect.” The entertainment industry desperately needed a platform that would help artists manage the financial side of their business — and that’s how the idea for Stem was born.

Because UTA had its own investment branch, called UTA Ventures, Milana’s job also introduced her to some brilliant investors. Years later, when it was time to fundraise for Stem, those connections played a pretty big role.

In an episode of How I Raised It, Milana shared how Stem has landed some superstar investors and raised a little under $22 million.

1. Bring investors along for the ride — from the very start

Milana’s involvement with UTA Ventures exposed her to the investor experience and put her in the same room as people like Gary Vaynerchuk, Jonathon Triest from Ludlow Ventures, Anthony Saleh from Wndrco and Scooter Braun.

After meeting them the first time, she made sure to nurture those relationships, and she was “honest and vulnerable” about the fact that she wanted to be an entrepreneur one day.

“It’s amazing how much people will help and support you along in that journey,” Milana says. Investors “get excited about making early-stage investments because they want to identify that person before anyone else does.”

As her idea for Stem came together, she shared that with them, too. Over the course of a year, she provided regular updates on her vision, like how she was building out her team, and she also called them for occasional advice.

By the time she approached some of them for funding, she didn’t even need to present a full pitch. By then, they already knew enough about Stem, and about Milana as a businesswoman. Her pitch meeting with Gary Vaynerchuk — the first person to invest — ended up being just 15 minutes long.

“I brought people on my entrepreneurial journey in the beginning,” Milana says. “The biggest piece of advice I could give is to start raising a year before you start raising. Start building relationships and data points.”

2. Become best friends with systems and deadlines

For each round, Milana put together a lead list — a list of potential investors who she either met socially or through business. Each time, she wanted to have at least 100 names on this list.

#column, #entertainment, #entrepreneurship, #funding, #gary-vaynerchuk, #growth-marketing, #scooter-braun, #startups, #tc, #united-talent-agency, #venture-capital

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Video mentoring platform Superpeer raises $8M and launches paid channels

Superpeer, a startup that helps experts share and monetize their knowledge online, is announcing that it has raised $8 million in additional funding.

As I wrote in March, the Superpeer platform allows experts to promote, schedule and charge for one-on-one video calls with anyone who might want to ask for their advice.

In addition to announcing funding, the startup is also moving beyond one-on-one sessions by launching paid channels, where experts can charge a subscription fee for access to larger group sessions with video and chat. Co-founder and CEO Devrim Yasar suggested that channels allow Superpeer experts to be more accessible, hosting sessions that cost less money to watch and reach a larger audience.

“It can be hard to say, ‘Hi I’m Anthony Ha, if you want to talk to me,
my hourly rate is $500,’” Yasar said. (To be clear: I would never say that.) “But if you have a channel where anyone can subscribe for $1 or $5, that makes you feel better that you are accessible.”

Plus, you can still offer (and charge more for) one-on-one meetings, say for subscribers who still have “burning questions” after a channel session.

In the midst of the pandemic, we’re seeing a widespread embrace of online mentoring and content as new source of source. Last week, for example, Squarespace launched a new paywall feature called Member Areas, and I’ve also written about another video mentoring platform called Prox.

Yasar acknowledged that things are getting pretty competitive, but he said that Superpeer is trying to build the most attractive brand for public intellectuals and thought leaders — he described the vision (half-jokingly, half-proudly) as “OnlyFans for brains.”

“If you are an intellectual, if you have an audience, if you are a TED speaker with 30 million views on your video, you’ve never had a platform to really monetize that audience,” Yasar said. “All you could do is maybe write a book and sell that, you could be a guest at someone else’s event [but not much else]. Those people don’t want to go to YouTube or Instagram, that’s not the brand that they associate themselves with.”

Beyond branding, Yasar said that Superpeer has also worked hard on the technology side to create a lightweight video experience in the browser.

The new round comes from Acrew Capital, Audacious Ventures, Homebrew, Moxxie Ventures, Brianne Kimmel, Scott Belsky and OnDeck, and it brings Superpeer’s total funding to $10 million.

Yasar said the startup will be expanding its growth, partnership and revenue teams. It will also be offering financial support for experts through a brand ambassador program, though the company is still working out the details.

And if you’d like to see the platform in action, I’ll also be talking to Yasar and his investors at Eniac Ventures tomorrow in a free session at noon Eastern.

#funding, #fundings-exits, #superpeer

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Cure Hydration raises $2.6M for its healthy sports drink alternative

Cure Hydration is announcing that it has raised $2.6 million in seed funding as it brings a healthier approach to the sports beverage market.

Founder and CEO Lauren Picasso, whose past roles include serving as director of marketing at Jet.com, told me that she became interested in the market after training for a triathlon; she’d often feel dehydrated even after drinking lots of water. (This is also something I struggled with while training for a marathon last year — and yes, I’m only mentioning this because I really want you to know that I ran a marathon.)

The obvious solution was to drink Gatorade or something similar to replenish her electrolytes, but Picasso said, “When I started looking for electrolyte products that were healthy and effective, I realized everything on the market still uses a base of sugar.” In fact the average sports drink contains 36 grams of sugar.

So Picasso and the Cure team developed a new beverage based on the World Health Organization’s Oral Rehydration Solution, which Picasso said is “primarily used to help people suffering from diseases like cholera,” and which has saved “millions of lives and is proven to hydrate as effectively as an IV drip.”

Cure uses the ORS as a foundation to create a range of flavored beverages (it’s adding the new flavors Ruby Riot Grapefruit and Laser Focus Matcha). The core ingredients include coconut water and pink Himalayan salt, while everything is organic and vegan, with no added sugars.

Cure Hydration

Image Credits: Cure Hydration

The startup sells these drinks in the form of powders that you mix with water. On its website, they cost $24.99 for a pack of 14, or $19.99 of you subscribe. (The company donates 1% of proceeds to the women’s sports nonprofit SheIS.) Picasso said early customers have tended to be amateur athletes and people who need help staying hydrated due to chronic illnesses and other health conditions.

The product is also rolling out in stores like CVS, Walmart and Whole Foods. Picasso said that one of her goals with the funding is to bring Cure to 4,200 retail locations across the United States.

She also plans to develop new products beyond hydration, though she said they will stay true to the company’s “guiding principles” that all its products are “backed by science” and “taste delicious.” The company has a medical advisory board that includes Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, a gastroenterologist; Dr. Dana Cohen, the author of “Quench”; and nutritionist Brooke Alpert, author of “The Sugar Detox.”

The round was led by Lerer Hippeau, with participation from M3 Ventures, Litani Ventures, Andy Roddick, Nas, Matthew Dellavedova, Casper CEO Philip Krim, mParticle CEO Michael Katz, Thrive Market CEO Nick Green and others.

“Now, more than ever, consumers are prioritizing health in their daily lives and looking for products that are not only effective, but better-for-you,” said Lerer Hippeau Principal Caitlin Strandberg in a statement. “Lauren is an exceptional operator and we’ve been impressed with her ability to bring a WHO-approved formulation to market without compromising on product quality or efficacy. With this cash infusion and retail expansion, we’re excited to see Cure get into even more hands.”

#cure-hydration, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lerer-hippeau, #startups

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Serenade snags $2.1M seed round to turn speech into code

Several years ago Serenade co-founder Matt Wiethoff was a developer at Quora when he was diagnosed with a severe repetitive stress injury to his hand and couldn’t code. He and co-founder Tommy MacWilliam decided to use AI to create a tool that let him speak the code instead and Serenade was born.

Today, the company announced a $2.1 million seed investment led by Amplify Partners and Neo. While it was at it, the startup also announced the first commercial version of the product, Serenade Pro.

“Serenade is an app that you’ll download onto your computer. It will plug into your existing editors like Visual Studio Code or IntelliJ, and then allows you to speak your code,” co-founder MacWilliam told me. At that point the startup’s AI engine takes over and translates what you say into syntactically correct code.

He says that while there are a bunch of generalized speech-to-text engines out there, they hadn’t been able to find anything that was tuned specifically for the requirements of someone entering code. While it may seem that this would have a pretty narrow market focus, the co-founders see this use case as simply a starting point with developers using this kind of technology even when not injured.

“Our vision is that this is just the future of programming. With machine learning, coding becomes faster and easier than ever before, and our AI eliminates a lot of the rote mechanical parts of programming. So rather than needing to remember keyboard shortcuts or syntax details of a language, you can just focus on expressing your idea naturally, and then our machine learning takes care of translating that into actual code for you,” MacWilliam explained.

The startup has five employees today, but has plans to build the company to 15-20 in the next year fueled by the introduction of the commercial product and the new funding. As they build the company, MacWilliam says being diverse is a big part of that.

“Our diversity strategy ranges throughout the process. I think it starts at the top of the funnel. We need to make sure that we’re going out and reaching great people — there are great people everywhere and it’s on us to find them and convince them why working at Serenade would be great,” he said. They are working with a variety of sources to find a diverse group of candidates that stretches beyond their own personal network, then looking at how they interview and judge candidates’ skill sets with the goal of building a more diverse employee base.

The company sees itself as a way to move beyond the keyboard to speaking your code, and it intends to use this money to continue building the product, while building a community of dedicated users. “We’ll be thinking about how we can showcase the value of coding by voice, how we can put together demos and build a community of product champions showing that [it’s faster to code using your voice],” he said.

#amplify-partners, #artificial-intelligence, #cloud, #developer, #developer-tools, #funding, #machine-learning, #serenade, #speech-to-text, #startups

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Friday app, a remote work tool, raises $2.1 million led by Bessemer

Friday, an app looking to make remote work more efficient, has announced the close of a $2.1 million seed round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Active Capital, Underscore, El Cap Holdings, TLC Collective, and New York Venture Partners also participated in the round, among others.

Founded by Luke Thomas, Friday sits on top of the tools that teams already use — Github, Trello, Asana, Slack, etc. — to surface information that workers need when they need it and keep them on top of what others in the organization are doing.

The platform offers a Daily Planner feature, so users can roadmap their day and share it with others, as well as a Work Routines feature, giving users the ability to customize and even automate routine updates. For example, weekly updates or daily standups done via Slack or Google Hangouts can be done via Friday app, eliminating the time spent by managers, or others, jotting down these updates or copying that info over from Slack.

Friday also lets users set goals across the organization or team so that users’ daily and weekly work aligns with the broader OKRs of the company.

Plus, Friday users can track their time spent in meetings, as well as team morale and productivity, using the Analytics dashboard of the platform.

Friday has a free forever model, which allows individual users or even organizations to use the app for free for as long as they want. More advanced features like Goals, Analytics and the ability to see past three weeks of history within the app, are paywalled for a price of $6/seat/month.

Thomas says that one of the biggest challenges for Friday is that people automatically assume it’s competing with an Asana or Trello, as opposed to being a layer on top of these products that brings all that information into one place.

“The number one problem is that we’re in a noisy space,” said Thomas. “There are a lot of tools that are saying they’re a remote work tool when they’re really just a layer on top of Zoom or a video conferencing tool. There is certainly increased amount of interest in the space in a good and positive way, but it also means that we have to work harder to cut through the noise.”

The Friday team is small for now — four full-time staff members — and Thomas says that he plans to double the size of the team following the seed round. Thomas declined to share any information around the diversity breakdown of the team.

Following a beta launch at the beginning of 2020, Friday says it is used by employees at organizations such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Quizlet, Red Hat, and EA, among others.

This latest round brings the company’s total funding to $2.5 million.

#apps, #bessemer-venture-partners, #enterprise, #funding, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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Kea raises $10M to build AI that helps restaurants answer the phone

Kea is a new startup giving restaurants an opportunity to upgrade one of the more old-fashioned ways that they take orders — over the phone.

Today, Kea is announcing that it has raised a $10 million Series A led by Marbruck, with participation from Streamlined Ventures, Xfund, Heartland Ventures, DEEPCORE, Barrel Ventures and AVG Funds, as well as angel investors Raj Kapoor (chief strategy officer at Lyft), Craig Flom (who was on the founding team at Panera Bread), Wingstop franchisee Tony Lam and Five Guys franchisee Jonathan Kelly.

Founder and CEO Adam Ahmad said that with restaurants perpetually understaffed, they usually don’t have someone who can devote their attention to answering the phone. (Many of you, after all, are probably pretty familiar with the experience of calling a restaurant and being immediately placed on hold.)

At the same time, he suggested it remains an important ordering channel — especially during the pandemic, as takeout and delivery has become the biggest source of revenue for many restaurants. The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner put it succinctly when she suggested that anyone who wants to support restaurants should “pick up the damn phone.

Similarly, Ahmad said that for restaurants, paying substantial third-party ordering fees on all of their orders is “not a sustainable long-term strategy.” So Kea is offering technology that should help restaurants handle more orders over the phone, creating what Ahmad called a “virtual cashier” who can do the initial intake with customers, process most routine orders and bring in a human employee when needed.

The idea of an automated voice assistant may bring back unpleasant memories of trying to call your bank or another Byzantine customer service department. But Ahmad said that while most existing phone systems are “not smart,” Kea’s AI is very different, because it’s just focused on restaurant ordering.

“We’re doing a very closed domain,” he said. “In the pizza world, there are only a couple thousand permutations. We’re not innovating for the whole dictionary — it’s a constrained model, it’s a menu.”

In fact, the Kea team gave me a number to dial where I could try the system out for myself. It was a pretty straightforward and easy process, where I provided my address and then the details of my pizza order. And again, you can transfer to a human employee at any time. (In fact, I was accidentally transferred during my demo, leading me to quickly hang up in embarrassment.)

Kea is already live in more than 250 restaurants including Papa John’s, Donatos and Primanti Brothers, and it says it’s saving them an average of 10 hours of labor per week, with a 23% increase in average order size. With the new funding, Ahmad’s goal is to bring Kea to 1,000 restaurants across 37 states in 2021.

#funding, #fundings-exits, #kea, #marbruck, #startups

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Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures targets $150M for third fund

Sound Ventures, a fund co-founded by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary, has filed paperwork indicating plans to raise a third fund at $150 million. Notably, the firm filed paperwork for the same total in 2018 for its second fund.

The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its plans to raise a new fund. Sound Ventures was born to write bigger and later-stage checks, or at a minimum, be stage-agnostic. Despite Kutcher’s fame and high-profile stakes, the firm has operated somewhat quietly in the recent past.

On the firm’s website, it states that it has a fund dedicated to the “next generation of clean, circular, and sustainable businesses” titled SOUNDWaves. It’s unclear whether today’s filing is for SOUNDWaves or Sound Ventures’ main fund, or if those two have been combined under a new direction for the firm.

In 2018, Kutcher noted his love for scooters, instead of cars, on the TechCrunch Disrupt Stage. “There are cars parked everywhere! It’s ridiculous! They’re clogging the roads, they’re making it impossible to get anywhere you want to go,” Kutcher said. Notably, Sound Ventures invested in Bird, which this week announced its discussions to go public via SPAC.

Portfolio news continued this year when Root, an Ohio-based car insurance business, went public (and got a warm reception).

Beyond micro-mobility and insurance, Sound Ventures is looking for opportunities in fintech, enterprise, govtech and medtech infrastructure markets. The firm has invested in companies including Robinhood and Gusto.

The new fund filing come as Sound Ventures’ team continues to grow. In 2017, Sound Ventures hired Effie Epstein, who was leading global strategy at Marsh, to be the firm’s managing partner and COO. Epstein’s hire came as Sound Ventures itself looked to evolve past just consumer investors. Other hires include growth investor Susan Su, who led growth marketing at Stripe, and chief sustainability and strategy officer Katherine Keating, who previously clocked time at VICE Media and Maverick Management.

#ashton-kutcher, #funding, #guy-oseary, #sound-ventures, #tc, #venture-capital

0

ZenBusiness snags $55M Series B for its incorporation and growth platform for micro businesses

Starting a small company used to be simple. Get some space on Main Street, put out a shingle, and begin plying your trade. Then the regulatory state came, and so did the internet. Now, entrepreneurs have to apply for licenses — sometimes multiple licenses in multiple states — and also handle all the intricacies of building a fully-online digital presence.

There are products that will help you incorporate, some others that will help you with regulatory burdens, and a whole swath of no-code website builders that will try to find you a unique niche in the digital cosmos. Yet, precious few platforms fully integrate these services in one place and centralize them around the entrepreneur.

ZenBusiness has tried to do all that — and even more — over the past few years. Ross Buhrdorf, who formerly founded HomeAway, started the company to make it easier to start businesses. Along the way, I’ve covered the company’s $4.5 million seed in 2018 and $15 million Series A last year, and now the company has a blockbuster Series B to announce today.

The Austin-based public-benefit corporation raised $55 million led by Alex Lazarow of Cathay Innovation, which will be used to continue growing the company and expand its services. The company hit more than 150 employees (who are operating remotely today), and is looking to add 100 or more in the next year.

What’s driving the company’s growth? For one, while the economy has been hit hard over the past few months in the wake of COVID-19, many small businesses suddenly needed to figure out an online strategy and also potentially apply for licenses and other regulatory requirements in multiple states if employees were operating remotely.

The company says that its revenue grew 100% this year, and it now has more than 80,000 small businesses who have launched on its platform. The company is now on its third generation of its website builder tool, and has also expanded many of its other features as well.

One new area of growth for ZenBusiness has been adding financial services to its product suite under the label of ZenBusiness Money. The startup bought Joust Banking a few months ago, a startup that had raised $4.6 million to offer freelance financial services. Those services are now being integrated into ZenBusiness, and Joust co-founder Lamine Zarrad is now SVP of Product for the company.

ZenBusiness founder and CEO Ross Buhrdorf. Photo via ZenBusiness.

With the funding, Buhrdorf said that the company will continue to expand those banking services, and also add more educational materials for entrepreneurs learning about how to operate and grow their businesses.

He noted that the company has prized and continues to place a huge priority on customer service. “When you call us up, we answer right now within 60 seconds, and we think that’s important. And we answer our emails with a very tight timeframe too, within 24 hours, and many within a few hours. And we’re always on chat.”

As the various spaces that ZenBusiness works in have become more competitive, Buhrdorf believes that his company’s service quality and integration sets it apart. “I’m happy there’s competition out there, that means that this is a vibrant space. We’re just focused on delivering value to our customers and making them successful. If we do that with great service, I think we’ll we have the winning combination.”

In addition to Cathay, other investors in the round included GreatPoint Ventures, Breyer Capital and Omega Venture Partners. Returning investors included Greycroft, Lerer Hippeau, Interlock Partners, mark vc, and Austin local firm ATX Venture Partners.

#funding, #fundings-exits, #startups

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Datafold raises seed from NEA to keep improving the lives of data engineers

Data engineering is one of these new disciplines that has gone from buzzword to mission critical in just a few years. Data engineers design and build all the connections between sources of raw data (your payments information or ad-tracking data or what have you) and the ultimate analytics dashboards used by business executives and data scientists to make decisions. As data has exploded, so has their challenge of doing this key work, which is why a new set of tools has arrived to make data engineering easier, faster and better than ever.

One of those tools is Datafold, a YC-backed startup I covered just a few weeks ago as it was preparing for its end-of-summer Demo Day presentation.

Well, that Demo Day presentation and the company’s trajectory clearly caught the eyes of investors, since the startup locked in $2.1 million in seed funding from NEA, the company announced this morning.

As I wrote back in August:

With Datafold, changes made by data engineers in their extractions and transformations can be compared for unintentional changes. For instance, maybe a function that formerly returned an integer now returns a text string, an accidental mistake introduced by the engineer. Rather than wait until BI tools flop and a bunch of alerts come in from managers, Datafold will indicate that there is likely some sort of problem, and identify what happened.

Definitely read our profile if you want to learn more about the product and origin story.

Not a whole heck of a lot has changed over the past few weeks (some new features, some new customers), but with more money in its billfold, Datafold is going to keep on growing, hiring and taking on the world of data engineering.

#datafold, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #nea, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator

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SellerX raises $118M to buy up and grow Amazon marketplace businesses

As Amazon’s Marketplace continues to grow and mature, a new opportunity has emerged in the world of e-commerce for a new breed of startups to consolidate the most promising of the smaller businesses that sell via Amazon’s platform, and build out their own economies of scale within that ecosystem. In the latest development, SellerX — a new outfit in Berlin — has closed a round of $118 million (€100 million) that it plans to use to roll up smaller enterprises that use Fullfilment by Amazon for payments, logistics and delivery for their products.

The round is being co-led by Cherry Ventures, Felix Capital and TriplePoint Capital, with participation also from Village Global, with Zalando co-founder David Schneider, Shutterfly CEO and former Amazon UK CEO Chris North, and the founders of KW Commerce, a big Amazon seller out of Germany (selling mobile phone accessories and home goods), also participating.

Notably, this $118 million is a seed round for the company, the first real money that it has raised to date, and it comes in the form of some equity, but mostly debt, which SellerX will use for acquisitions to play out its strategy, in the words of Malte Horeyseck (who co-founded the startup with Philipp Triebel) to become “the digital Procter & Gamble.”

SellerX’s focus will be “evergreen consumer goods,” said Triebel, in areas like household, pets, garden supplies, goods for kids and beauty. It has made one acquisition to date; and although it declined to disclose to me what it is, Horeyseck said that it, combined possibly with other acquisitions it will make in the coming weeks, will give SellerX a revenue run rate of €20 million by the end of this year.

The horse has well and truly bolted in the world of Amazon marketplace roll-ups: the last several months have seen a number of startups raise large rounds of funding, with sizable proportions of the sums in debt, in order to go out and consolidate the most interesting smaller companies that are selling and getting their orders fulfilled by Amazon.

Just yesterday, another player in this space based out of the U.S. called Heyday announced a round of $175 million. Earlier this week, London-based Heroes announced a $65 million round. Perch raised $123 million last month. Thrasio, another big player in this area, was valued at $1.25 billion in its own debt round earlier this year.

The opportunity is a clear one: the Amazon marketplace has quickly become a major player in the world of e-commerce — a position that has become even more apparent this year, during the Covid-19 global health pandemic, which has led to many people turning away from in-person shopping either out of choice or requirement (in the UK, for example, all ‘non-essential shops’ are currently closed for in-person shopping). In the last quarter the company, which reported revenues of $98 billion, saw product sales of $52 billion, with estimates putting the number of marketplace sellers at just over 50% of that figure. By some accounts Amazon is already responsible for 50% of all online retail, Felix founder and investor Frederic Court noted.

“It is the new high street,” he said in an interview.

At the same time, we’ve seen a flourishing of the concept of “D2C” where companies are bypassing traditional retailers and building their own brands for selling their own unique products on their own terms. Amazon has played a big part in that. Just as a writer can now self-publish on Amazon and bypass getting book deals, you can list your products on Amazon and theoretically get access to a huge audience of shoppers without having to pitch your goods to a buyer who may or may not do your bidding.

On the other side, however, you have huge fragmentation on the platform. As Amazon gets more popular, it makes it harder than ever for individual sellers to get themselves seen, or to differentiate themselves once they are found.

There is also a ton of junk sold on Amazon — there is a whole industry of those who buy off wholesale sites and resell on Amazon, which is one reason why so many merchants seem to sell identical anonymous products.

For the unassuming shopper, it’s nearly impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff — not least also because of the ongoing problems that Amazon has had with the integrity of its review system, and the selling of iffy products (it has worked hard to try to fight all of this, but it still remains an issue).

This makes for a challenging landscape on Amazon, which sometimes feels more held together by its Prime delivery promises and the fact that you can still usually find something to fill your needs not because the goods are great, but because of the sheer size of it being an everything store.

Horeyseck said that the idea behind SellerX (and its many competitors, hopefully) is not to find the most successful companies of all, regardless of how they get there. Rather, its mission is to build a thriving business by focusing on the more interesting sellers that are doing well legitimately and using the Amazon framework to do it, but might lack the capital, expertise or appetite to stick with their enterprises longer term. The idea is to pick these up and apply SellerX’s own analytics and processes, and production relationships that it is building, to pick up these saplings and grow them into trees.

Horeyseck believes that this ultimately can be a win-win on all sides, for SellerX, the smaller merchant, and Amazon itself.

“I think basically everything we are doing will help Amazon have a better quality marketplace,” he said. “This is about creating strong D2C brands, where you get quality every time. Amazon needs that in its marketplace right now.”

Filip Dames, founding partner of Cherry Ventures, said in a statement, “The diverse seller landscape on Amazon provides a unique opportunity to acquire some category-winning, highly profitable products, empower them through technology, and build them into the next-generation consumer brands. The founders Malte and Philipp combine decade-long e-commerce and buy-and-build expertise, which uniquely positions them to capture this opportunity.”

#amazon, #ecommerce, #europe, #funding, #sellerx

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Farmstead, a grocery startup with a focus on software, raises $7.9M

Farmstead, a startup that operates an online grocery business while also selling software to other grocers, is announcing that it has raised $7.9 million in Series A funding.

While there’s been plenty of demand for grocery delivery this year, the major players like Instacart are making purchases and deliveries from existing supermarkets. Farmstead co-founder and CEO Pradeep Elankumaran said that this model puts a big constraint on the number of possible deliveries, which is why you may be struggling to get a delivery slot.

There have been fewer success stories around the Farmstead approach, where a company sells groceries from its own warehouse (and in Farmstead’s case, employs its own warehouse staff and drivers).

In fact, Elankumaran said that when the company started in 2016, “The warehouse model was incredibly unattractive to everyone else,” because of the operational headaches and expenses.

To address these issues, Elankumaran said Farmstead has built software to “re-orchestrate” warehouse operations and make them more efficient. The startup says it’s been able to reduce food waste by 3-4x, while also serving thousands of orders per day across a 50-mile radius, with no delivery fees, from each warehouse “hub.” In fact, in the startup’s first market of San Francisco, Farmstead is supposedly “marching towards profitability, and we’re very close at this point.”

Pradeep Elankumaran at Farmstead

Image Credits: Farmstead

Next up: Geographic expansion, starting in North Carolina, with Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham (where Farmstead just opened its wait list). Elankumaran said he’s hoping to launch between 15 and 30 new markets in the next 12 months.

“A better way of putting it is: Two years ago we were not ready [to expand], and right now we are ready,” he said.

In addition, Farmstead has started selling its Grocery OS software to other grocery businesses that want to move online. Elankumaran said that in some cases, the grocer may simply buy the software, while in others, Farmstead could also work with them to operate the warehouse. Either way, he said the key is the need to “fork the demand,” so that offline shoppers are going to one store, while online orders are being fulfilled from a separate location.

“You cannot get this industry online unless the capacity increases,” he said.

Elankumaran also said that while it can cost $10 million of dollars to open a new supermarket location, Farmstead can launch a hub in four to six weeks, at a cost of $100,000.

As for whether grocery stores have any hesitation about buying software from a potential competitor, Elankumaran said that the opposite is true — they trust Farmstead more because of “the fact that we’re not a B2B software company that has not operated a grocery store.”

Farmstead has now raised a total of $14.7 million. The Series A was led by Aidenlair Capital, with participation from Y Combinator, Gelt VC, Duro, Maple VC, Heron Rock, 19 York, Red Dog Capital and others.

#aidenlair-capital, #ecommerce, #farmstead, #food, #funding, #fundings-exits, #groceries, #startups, #tc

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Abacus.AI raises another $22M and launches new AI modules

AI startup RealityEngines.AI changed its name to Abacus.AI in July. At the same time, it announced a $13 million Series A round. Today, only a few months later, it is not changing its name again, but it is announcing a $22 million Series B round, led by Coatue, with Decibel Ventures and Index Partners participating as well. With this, the company, which was co-founded by former AWS and Google exec Bindu Reddy, has now raised a total of $40.3 million.

Abacus co-founder Bindu Reddy, Arvind Sundararajan and Siddartha Naidu. Image Credits: Abacus.AI

In addition to the new funding, Abacus.AI is also launching a new product today, which it calls Abacus.AI Deconstructed. Originally, the idea behind RealityEngines/Abacus.AI was to provide its users with a platform that would simplify building AI models by using AI to automatically train and optimize them. That hasn’t changed, but as it turns out, a lot of (potential) customers had already invested into their own workflows for building and training deep learning models but were looking for help in putting them into production and managing them throughout their lifecycle.

“One of the big pain points [businesses] had was, ‘look, I have data scientists and I have my models that I’ve built in-house. My data scientists have built them on laptops, but I don’t know how to push them to production. I don’t know how to maintain and keep models in production.’ I think pretty much every startup now is thinking of that problem,” Reddy said.

Image Credits: Abacus.AI

Since Abacus.AI had already built those tools anyway, the company decided to now also break its service down into three parts that users can adapt without relying on the full platform. That means you can now bring your model to the service and have the company host and monitor the model for you, for example. The service will manage the model in production and, for example, monitor for model drift.

Another area Abacus.AI has long focused on is model explainability and de-biasing, so it’s making that available as a module as well, as well as its real-time machine learning feature store that helps organizations create, store and share their machine learning features and deploy them into production.

As for the funding, Reddy tells me the company didn’t really have to raise a new round at this point. After the company announced its first round earlier this year, there was quite a lot of interest from others to also invest. “So we decided that we may as well raise the next round because we were seeing adoption, we felt we were ready product-wise. But we didn’t have a large enough sales team. And raising a little early made sense to build up the sales team,” she said.

Reddy also stressed that unlike some of the company’s competitors, Abacus.AI is trying to build a full-stack self-service solution that can essentially compete with the offerings of the big cloud vendors. That — and the engineering talent to build it — doesn’t come cheap.

Image Credits: Abacus.AI

It’s no surprise then that Abacus.AI plans to use the new funding to increase its R&D team, but it will also increase its go-to-market team from two to ten in the coming months. While the company is betting on a self-service model — and is seeing good traction with small- and medium-sized companies — you still need a sales team to work with large enterprises.

Come January, the company also plans to launch support for more languages and more machine vision use cases.

“We are proud to be leading the Series B investment in Abacus.AI, because we think that Abacus.AI’s unique cloud service now makes state-of-the-art AI easily accessible for organizations of all sizes, including start-ups. Abacus.AI’s end-to-end autonomous AI service powered by their Neural Architecture Search invention helps organizations with no ML expertise easily deploy deep learning systems in production.”

 

#artificial-general-intelligence, #artificial-intelligence, #bindu-reddy, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #co-founder, #coatue, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #funding, #fundings-exits, #learning, #machine-learning, #ml, #recent-funding, #science-and-technology, #start-ups, #startups

0

Kerry Washington backs jewelry startup Aurate

Actress Kerry Washington has made an investment of undisclosed size in direct-to-consumer jewelry startup Aurate.

This isn’t Washington’s first startup investment — she’s also backed The Wing, Community and Byte. In fact, when we asked her about her dream investment at Disrupt in September, she hinted at a new deal that “feels pretty dreamy.”

When I brought up those comments earlier this week, Washington laughed and confirmed that Aurate is exactly what she’d been thinking about. In addition to providing funding, Washington also collaborated with the company to create The Lioness Collection, which features two of Aurate’s bestselling gold chains bonded together as both a necklace and a bracelet, along with hoop earrings and a pendant inspired by the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet.

Washington was excited about Aurate’s goals of sustainability (its gold comes from sustainable sources) and making fine jewelry more affordable. Plus, she said, “I love working with female founders,” to the extent she and Aurate founders Sophie Kahn and Bouchra Ezzahraoui have become “our own lioness tribe.”

“I was inspired by the themes of what the lioness means, how lionesses operate, how the lionesses hunt together and nurture their cubs together,” she added. “There’s no hierarchy among lionesses … They are fierce and ambitious but they also take care of each other.”

Aurate lioness collection

Image Credits: Aurate

And while the average price point of Aurate jewelry is $300, pricing for items in the Lioness Collection starts at around $150, with 20% of the proceeds going to women’s activist group Supermajority.

Kahn recalled “countless Zoom conversations” with Washington to develop the collection, while Ezzahraoui said that the team has been talking to Washington for the past three years — it took a while to make sure everyone was “aligned philosophically” and to figure out the right partnership.

“Aurate is style and substance and Kerry is style and substance,” Kahn said. “She’s also an activist, she cares and has a voice. That’s why it was such a perfect fit.”

Also worth noting: Aurate’s business continues to grow during the pandemic, and the startup is now profitable. Although it operates a couple of brick-and-mortar stores in New York City, 95% of its business is online.

You might think that jewelry might not be a big consumer priority while we’re social distancing, but Aurate is more affordable than most fine jewelry, while still being high-quality and long-lasting. Plus, it’s a fashion item that’s visible over Zoom.

“I’ve actually found that playing with jewelry, it’s been more more meaningful when all that you’re showing is from you waist up on a Zoom call,” Washington said. “It has survived a lot of the life editing process. High-heeled shoes, not so much.”

#aurate, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #kerry-washington, #startups

0

Grouparoo snares $3M seed to build open source customer data integration framework

Creating a great customer experience requires a lot of data from a variety of sources, and pulling that disparate data together has captured the attention of companies and big and small from Salesforce and Adobe to Segment and Klaviyo. Today, Grouparoo, a new startup from three industry vets is the next company up with an open source framework designed to make it easier for developers to access and make use of customer data.

The company announced a $3 million seed investment led by Eniac Ventures and Fuel Capital with participation from Hack VC, Liquid2, SCM Advisors and several unnamed angel investors.

Grouparoo CEO and co-founder Brian Leonard says that his company has created this open source customer data framework based on his own experience and difficulty getting customer data into the various tools he has been using since he was technical founder at TaskRabbit in 2008.

“We’re an open source data framework that helps companies easily sync their customer data from their database or warehouse to all of the SaaS tools where they need it. [After you] install it, you teach it about your customers, like what properties are important in each of those profiles. And then it allows you to segment them into the groups that matter,” Leonard explained.

This could be something like high earners in San Francisco along with names and addresses. Grouparoo can grab this data and transfer it to a marketing tool like Marketo or Zendesk and these tools could then learn who your VIP customers are.

For now the company is just the three founders Leonard, CTO Evan Tahler and COO Andy Jih, and while he wasn’t ready to commit to how many people he might hire in the next 12 months, he sees it being less than 10. At this early stage, the three co-founders have already been considering how to build a diverse and inclusive company, something he helped contribute to while he was at TaskRabbit.

“So, coming from [what we built at TaskRabbit] and starting something new, it’s important to all three of us to start [building a diverse company] from the beginning, and especially combined with this notion that we’re building something open source. We’ve been talking a lot about being open about our culture and what’s important to us,” he said.

TaskRabbit also comes into play in their investment where Fuel GP Leah Solivan was also founder of TaskRabbit. “Grouparoo is solving a real and acute issue that companies grapple with as they scale — giving every member of the team access to the data they need to drive revenue, acquire customers and improve real-time decision making. Brian, Andy and Evan have developed an elegant solution to an issue we experienced firsthand at TaskRabbit,” she said.

For now the company is taking an open source approach to build a community around the tool. It is still pre-revenue, but the plan is to find a way to build something commercial on top of the open source tooling. They are considering an open core license where they can add features or support or offer the tool as a service. Leonard says that is something they intend to work out in 2021.

#cloud, #customer-experience, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #grouparoo, #marketing, #open-source, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #tc

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Language learning app Duolingo confirms it has raised $35M on a $2.4B valuation

Last week, we reported that popular language learning app Duolingo, with 500 million total app downloads​, was raising $35 million on a valuation of at least $2.21 billion — the latest chapter in what has become a long book on how e-learning and other education startups are raking in big audiences and significant funding, a byproduct of the Covid-19 pandemic driving more people indoors and on to screens for all of their interactions.

(Fittingly, Duolingo’s details were part of a bigger scoop on how another edtech startup, Udemy, was looking to raise $100 million.)

Now Duolingo’s numbers are official. The company has confirmed that it has raised $35 million in funding from two investors, Durable Capital (the firm founded last year by Henry Ellenbogen, previously a star at T. Rowe Price) and General Atlantic. The funding is bringing the valuation of Duolingo up to $2.4 billion.

For some context, this is a sizable jump on the $1.65 billion valuation that Duolingo clocked up earlier this year, when General Atlantic quietly put $10 million into the company.

Part of the reason for the boost is the general market.

Edtech has seen a surge of usage and attention, from educational institutions looking for more effective ways to teach when in-person classes are not possible; from businesses looking for ways to train and engage employees who are now working remotely; from consumers looking to do something more productive beyond watching Netflix and arguing about Trump with distant contacts on Facebook; from educators looking for more inspiration for how to teach concepts that are harder to grasp when students are far flung.

Duolingo itself has been a beneficiary of that. The freemium app — which is free to use with in-app options to pay for extra gamified features, and advertising — says its base of learners has grown by 30% in the last year, with bookings on track to increase 100%.

In what is a boost for investor confidence, these were trends the app was already seeing before the pandemic — the 100% revenue growth has been the rate for the last three years. Duolingo has ranked since 2019 as the highest-grossing education app, according to Sensor Tower.

The company is based in Pittsburgh, and most of its users are in the U.S., but it is also picking up an increasing number of people abroad as well (including my husband, here in London, learning Italian). Asia now makes up 15% of the company’s user base, and as another mark of its position with international users, it has seen a 15-fold growth in people taking its Duolingo English Test as part of the higher-education admissions process.

What will be interesting to see is how Duolingo navigates its next steps. The company was co-founded, and currently led, by reCAPTCHA founder Luis von Ahn and the earliest iteration of its business model was based on the idea that language learners and app users would translate text submitted by paying companies. These days, it makes money from advertising and in-app premium features.

It also has extended into learning for other age groups beyond adults, with a launch earlier this year of an app for children learning to read and write.

That’s speaks to more revenue diversification, which could come in handy when and if the company ever goes public.

“I’m proud of the impact we have achieved while also significantly growing our business,” ​said CEO von Ahn in a statement.

“Duolingo is the kind of business that matches what we look for in our investments: they are mission-driven, have a great culture, and great people that can compound significantly over time,” said Henry Ellenbogen, founder and chief investment officer of Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement. “Luis is also an incredible entrepreneur, and we’re very excited to partner with Duolingo for their next phase of growth.”

“We are thrilled to deepen our partnership with Luis and Duolingo after initially investing in the business in April 2020,” said Tanzeen Syed, MD at General Atlantic. “Duolingo has successfully built foundational learning technology, an effective and engaging product, and a passionate community of users. We believe the company has additional opportunity to strengthen its market-leading position and expand its product, team, and customer base, while capitalizing on the global acceleration in digital learning.”

Among the other funding deals for edtech startups,

Just looking at some of the most recent deals, Udacity announced a $75 million debt round and said it was finally profitable earlier this month. In October, Kahoot announced a $215 million round from SoftBank. And in September, Outschool raised $45 million (and is now profitable); Homer raised $50 million (from an impressive group of strategic backers); Unacademy raised $150 million and the juggernaut that is Byju’s picked up $500 million from Silver Lake.

There have also been a number of smaller fundraises, new edtech startup launches and other signs of momentum as the bigger market comes to terms with online education being here to say.

#duolingo, #education, #funding, #language-learning

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Cryptocurrency exchange Liquid confirms hack

Cryptocurrency exchange Liquid has confirmed it was hacked, but that the scope of the incident is still under investigation.

The company’s chief executive Mike Kayamori said in a blog post the attack happened on November 13. The hacker gained access to the company’s domain records, allowing the hacker to take control of several employee email accounts, and later compromised the company’s network.

Kayamori said that while cryptocurrency funds are “accounted for,” the hacker may have accessed the company’s document storage. “We believe the malicious actor was able to obtain personal information from our user database. This may include data such as your email, name, address and encrypted password,” he said.

The company said it was “continuing to investigate” if the hacker gained access to documents that users submitted to verify their identity with the exchange, such as a government-issued ID, selfie, or proof of address, which could put users at a heightened risk of identity theft or for targeted attacks.

Liquid told users in an email that they should change their passwords to be safe.

Attacks that target a company’s network infrastructure take advantage of weak or reused passwords that were used to register the company’s domain name. By breaking in and changing those network settings, attackers can invisibly control the network and gain access to email accounts and systems that would be far more difficult through other routes of attack.

Cryptocurrency startups and exchanges are high-value targets for hackers, given the potential for massive financial rewards of a successful breach. In 2018, Nano saw $170 million stolen in a breach, Coinrail lost $40 million after a hack, Bithumb lost $30 million, and Binance and Coincheck each lost a massive $400 million after hackers broke in.

Liquid was founded in 2014, and claims to have facilitated the trade of $50 billion in cryptocurrency over the past year.

More:

#articles, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currencies, #doj, #funding, #identity-theft, #security

0

Cloudbolt announces $35M Series B debt/equity investment to help manage hybrid cloud

Cloudbolt, a Bethesda, MD startup that helps companies manage hybrid cloud environments, announced a $35 million Series B investment today. It was split between $15 million in equity investment and $20 Million in debt.

Insight Partners provided the equity side of the equation, while Hercules Capital and Bridge Bank supplied the venture debt. The company has now raised over $61 million in equity and debt, according to Crunchbase data.

CEO Jeff Kukowski says that his company helps customers with cloud and DevOps management including cost control, compliance and security. “We help [our customers] take advantage of the fact that most organizations are already hybrid cloud, multi cloud, and/or multi tool. So you have all of this innovation happening in the world, and we make it easier for them to take advantage of it,” he said.

As he sees it, the move to cloud and DevOps, which was supposed to simplify everything has actually created new complexity, and the tools his company sells are designed to help companies reduce some of that added complexity. What they do is provide a way to automate, secure and optimize their workloads, regardless of the tools or approach to infrastructure that they are using.

The company closed the funding round at the end of last quarter and put it to work with a couple of acquisitions — Kumolus and SovLabs — to help accelerate and fill in the road map. Kumulos, which was founded in 2011 and raised $1.7 million, according to Crunchbase, really helps Cloudbolt extend its vision from managing on premises to the public cloud.

Solvlabs was an early stage startup working on a very specific problem creating a framework for extending VMware automation.

Cloudbolt currently has 170 employees. While Kukowski didn’t want to get specific about the number of additional employees he might be adding to that in the next 12 months, he says that as he does, he thinks about diversity in three ways.

“One is just pure education. So we as a company regularly meet and educate on issues around inclusion, social justice and diversity. We also recruit with with those ideas in mind. And then we also have a standing committee within the company that continues to look at issues not only for discussion, but quite frankly for investment in terms of time and fundraising,” he said.

Kukowski says that going remote because of COVID has allowed the company to hire from anywhere, but he still looks forward to a time when he can meet face-to-face with his employees and customers, and sees that as alway being part of his company’s culture.

Cloudbolt was founded in 2012 and has around 200 customers. Kukowski says that the company is growing between 40 and 50% year over year, although he wouldn’t share specific revenue numbers.

#cloud, #cloudbolt, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #hybrid-cloud, #insight-partners, #multi-cloud, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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Payments app True Balance raises $28 million to reach more underbanked users in India

True Balance, a South Korean startup which runs an eponymous financial services app aimed at tens of millions of users in small cities and towns in India, said on Wednesday it has raised $28 million in a new financing round and expects to turn a profit next year.

SoftBank Ventures Asia, Naver, BonAngels, Daesung Private Equity, and Shinhan Capital financed the five-year-old startup’s Series D financing round. The startup, which has headquarters in Seoul and Gurgaon, has raised about $90 million to date.

True Balance began its life as an app to help users easily find their mobile balance, or top up pre-pay mobile credit. But in its five-year journey, the startup has added a range of financial services including online lending and ability to pay utility bills. Online lending is its core business today.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Charlie Lee, founder and chief executive of True Balance, said the startup has disbursed over $13.5 million in small loans to consumers. The size of these loans vary from $6.75 to $675, he said.

Its customers don’t have a credit score, which makes it complicated for them to get a loan from financial institutions such as banks. Lee explained that True Balance, which formerly operated as Balancehero India, looks at alternative data to determine a user’s credit worthiness.

Hundreds of millions of Indian today don’t have a credit score, and without this, they can’t avail a range of services from banks. Scores of startups in India and Southeast Asia are experimenting with alternative data such as a phone a consumer owns and the transactions she makes and hundreds of other data points to determine these users’ credit worthiness.

Lee did not reveal how many users it has lent money to have returned the amount, but said the figure was so high that the startup is open to engaging with other firms who are looking to make use of alternative data but don’t have the tech stack.

The startup told TechCrunch last year that it was nearing profitability — a milestone it now hopes to reach by the second quarter of next year. Lee said the coronavirus, which has severely impacted the financial services sector, also hurt True Balance’s business.

Payments business in India remains a category that has yet to fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic and the sector at large won’t be profitable for at least another three years, analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote in a report they sent to clients earlier this month.

“Before the coronavirus, our business was growing very fast,” said Lee. “The coronavirus and moratorium (enforced by the nation’s central bank) hit us. We utilized this time to improve our collection process and other aspects of the business.”

In the last three months, True Balance has started to grow again, Lee said, claiming a 300% surge. The startup continues to run a range of other services including the ability to book train tickets and e-commerce and is also working on insurance.

“We will continue focusing on non-online payment users, non-credit score users, people who deserve our help, but need a way to get to it,” he said.

The fresh capital will be deployed to make the startup reach a breakeven and then profitability, he said.

#apps, #asia, #finance, #funding, #india, #naver, #shinhan-capital, #softbank-ventures-asia, #true-balance

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Relativity Space is raising a massive $500M round at $2.3B valuation

Rocket printer Relativity Space is raising a $500 million D round, valuing the launch provider at $2.3 billion, as reported by CNBC and confirmed to TechCrunch by sources familiar with the matter. That’s not bad for company that has yet to take its first payload to orbit.

Relativity aims to reduce the cost and increase the speed of assembling a launch vehicle by 3D printing it from tip to tail fin. The process has many advantages that have been borne out in testing — and the company aims to launch its first mission in 2021.

The company’s last big raise was $140M in late 2019, which helped it build out a new Long Beach headquarters and finalize its Terran-1 rocket. The switch from a series of machines and assembly lines with fixed tooling to a handful of enormous custom 3D printers both simplifies the building process and enables new capabilities.

For instance, Relativity recently snagged its first big government contract, a NASA-Lockheed mission with special considerations for the cyogenic systems in the payload. These can be revised and tested right up to a couple months before launch, unlike an ordinary building process which might require the hardware to be locked in a year or more before.

The $500 million round would presumably be to scale operations in earnest, gathering the personnel, materials, transportation, insurance, and other necessaries for taking on major missions. Terran-1 hasn’t flown yet, but the projected costs and cadences make it a very attractive option, larger than Rocket Lab’s Electron but smaller than a SpaceX Falcon 9 — and pound for pound, maybe more cost effective than both.

Much depends on the next year as Relativity takes Terran-1 from the factory to the launchpad. The first orbital test flight is planned for late 2021.

CNBC’s Michael Sheetz reported that Tiger Global Management will lead the round, with Fidelity also joining and existing investors adding their support.

#aerospace, #funding, #fundings-exits, #launch-vehicles, #recent-funding, #relativity-space, #space, #startups

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Marketing automation platform Klaviyo scores $200M Series C on $4.15B valuation

Boston-based marketing automation firm Klaviyo wants to change the way marketers interact with data, giving them direct access to their data and their customers. It believes that makes it easier to customize the messages and produce better results. Investors apparently agree, awarding the company a $200 million Series C on a hefty $4.15 billion valuation today.

The round was led by Accel with help from Summit Partners. It comes on the heels of last year’s $150 million Series B, and brings the total raised to $385.5 million, according the company. Accel’s Ping Li will also be joining the company board under the terms of today’s announcement.

Marketing automation and communication takes on a special significance as we find ourselves in the midst of this pandemic and companies need to find ways to communicate in meaningful ways with customers who can’t come into brick and mortar establishments. Company CEO and co-founder Andrew Bialecki says that his company’s unique use of data helps in this regard.

“I think our success is because we are a hybrid customer data and marketing platform. We think about what it takes to create these owned experiences. They’re very contextual and you need all of that customer data, not some of it, all of it, and you need that to be tightly coupled with how you’re building customer experiences,” Bialecki explained.

Andrew Bialecki, CEO and co-founder at Klaviyo

Andrew Bialecki, CEO and co-founder at Klaviyo Image Credits: Klaviyo

He believes that by providing a platform of this scope that combines the data, the ability to customize messages and the use of machine learning to keep improving that, it will help them compete with the largest platforms. In fact his goal is to help companies understand that they don’t have to give up their customer data to Amazon, Google and Facebook.

“The flip side of that is growing through Amazon where you give up all your customer data, or Facebook or Google where you kind of are delegated to wherever their algorithms decide where you get to show up,” he said. With Klaviyo, the company retains its own data, and Ping Li, who is leading the investment at Accel says that it where the e-commerce market is going.

“So the question is, is there a tool that allows you to do that as easily as going on Facebook and Google, and I think that’s the vision and the promise that Klaviyo is delivering on,” Li said.  He believes that this will allow their customers to actually build that kind of fidelity with their customers by going directly to them, instead of through a third-party intermediary.

The company has seen some significant success with 50,000 customers in 125 countries along with that lofty valuation. The customer number has doubled year over year, even during the economic malaise brought on by the pandemic.

Today, the company has 500 employees with plans to double that in the next year. As he grows his company, Bialecki believes diversity is not just the right thing to do, it’s also smart business. “I think the competitive advantages that tech companies are going to have going forward, especially for the tech companies that are not the leaders today, but [could be] leaders in the coming decades, it’s because they have the most diverse teams and inclusive culture and those are both big focuses for us,” he said.

As they move forward flush with this cash, the company wants to continue to build out the platform, giving customers access to a set of tools that allow them to know their own customers on an increasingly granular level, while delivering more meaningful interactions. “It’s all about accelerating product development and getting into new markets,” Bialecki said. They certainly have plenty of runway to do that now.

#accel, #cloud, #email-marketing, #enterprise, #funding, #klaviyo, #marketing-automation, #recent-funding, #startups

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Trust & Will raises $15M as digital estate planning hits mainstream

Let’s get something morbid out of the way right up front: estate planning is a growth business in 2020. Whether you need to create or update a will, build a family trust, or sign over power of attorney for end-of-life decision-making, it’s been a heck of a year for many families, and even more people are starting to think about these instruments if anything worse happens this year (and there are still six weeks left!)

In the United States, the vast majority of this paperwork is conducted in-person and on paper, but COVID-19 has made that challenging. Digitally native startups are coming to the forefront in this market, just as the market is getting white hot.

One of the leaders of this pack is Trust & Will, which we first profiled back in early 2019. Two years ago, the startup had just signed the first electronic will in the United States and had raised a $2 million or so seed round led by Rise of the Rest.

Now, the startup is returning to the capital trough, picking up a $15 million Series B led by Jackson Square Ventures and a bunch of other firms listed below. That brings the company’s total funding to date according to founder and CEO Cody Barbo to more than $23 million.

The company disclosed that it has had 160,000 users sign up for the company’s services since its launch in mid-2018. Trust & Will today has three products: a trust-based estate plan, a will-based estate plan, and “Guardian,” which is a sort of simpler setup for parents with kids. Customers pay an upfront setup fee based on which product they choose, and then they pay a smaller recurring annual subscription fee.

The company, which originally only worked in Nevada due to the state laws around digital wills, now has attorneys who can assist clients in multiple states. The company has also since conducted the first electronic will in Florida’s history, which, let’s just say, is an important center in the estate-planning industry.

A couple of other new changes. First, the startup has built up a number of banking and financial planning relationships with institutions such as Fifth Third Bank (which also joined the Series B round as a strategic investor), AARP, and fintech savings startup Acorns.

Second, the company hired former General Assembly CFO John Zdanowski to take on the startups chief financial officer role. The team has grown to 24, and Barbo noted by email that all three co-founders have become dads since the company’s seed round — putting a bit of a poignant note on their mission to make estate planning accessible to everyone.

Trust & Will’s three co-founders with their very-well-estate-planned children. Photo via Trust & Will.

Clearly, the company has a great market tailwind going into 2021, and as more states put in place digital wills and estate planning laws, the market is only set to expand in the coming years. A handful of other startups such as Willful and the brilliantly-named FreeWill are also in this market.

Today, the company’s board consists of Victor Echevarria from Jackson Square Ventures, Rob Chaplinsky of Link Ventures (which led the company’s Series A), Jesse Draper of Halogen Ventures, Barbo, and Daniel Goldstein, who is co-founder and COO.

And now, for the long list of all the other investors who participated. In addition to Jackson Square Ventures, new investors for the Series B included Fifth Third Bank, Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, AARP, Rosecliff Ventures, Hack VC, Actium Partners, Noah Kerner and Jeff Cruttenden. Returning investors included Link Ventures, Rise of the Rest, WTI, Techstars Ventures, Luma Launch, and Halogen Ventures.

#cody-barbo, #finance, #funding, #jackson-square-ventures, #startups, #trust-will

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Cato Network snags $130M Series E on $1B valuation as cloud wide area networking thrives

Cato Networks has spent the last five years building a cloud-based wide area network that lets individuals connect to network resources regardless of where they are. When the pandemic hit, and many businesses shifted to work from home, it was the perfect moment for technology like this. Today, the company was rewarded with a $130 million Series E investment on $1 billion valuation.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with participation from new investor Coatue and existing investors Greylock, Aspect Ventures/Acrew Capital, Singtel Innov8 and Shlomo Kramer (who is the co-founder and CEO of the company). The company reports it has now raised $332 million since inception.

Kramer is a serial entrepreneur. He co-founded Check Point Software, which went public in 1996 and Imperva, which went public in 2011, and was later acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo in 2018. He helped launch Cato in 2015. “In 2015, we identified that the wide area networks (WANs), which is a tens of billions of dollars market, was still built on the same technology stack […] that connects physical locations, and appliances that protect physical locations and was primarily sold by the telcos and MSPs for many years,” Kramer explained.

The idea with Cato was to take that technology and redesign it for a mobile and cloud world, not one that was built for the previous generation of software that lived in private data centers and was mostly accessed from an office. Today they have a cloud-based network of 60 Points of Presence (PoPs) around the world, giving customers access to networking resources and network security no matter where they happen to be

The bet they made was a good one because the world has changed, and that became even more pronounced this year when COVID hit and forced many people to work from home. Now suddenly having the ability to sign in from anywhere became more important than ever, and they have been doing well with 2x growth in ARR this year (although he wouldn’t share specific revenue numbers).

As a company getting Series E funding, Kramer doesn’t shy away from the idea of eventually going public, especially since he’s done it twice before, but neither is he ready to commit any time table. For now, he says the company is growing rapidly, with almost 700 customers — and that’s why it decided to take such a large capital influx right now.

Cato currently has 270 employees with plans to grow to 400 by the end of next year. He says that Cato is a global company with headquarters in Israel where diversity involves religion, but he is trying to build a diverse and inclusive culture regardless of the location.

“My feeling is that inclusion needs to happen in the earlier stages of the funnel. I’m personally involved in these efforts, at the educational sector level, and when students are ready to be recruited by startups, we are already competitive, and if you look at our employee base it’s very diverse,” Kramer said.

With the new funds, he plans to keep building the company and the product. “There’s a huge opportunity and we want to move as fast as possible. We are also going to make very big investments on the engineering side to take the solution and go to the next level,” he said.

#cato-networks, #cloud, #enterprise, #funding, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #wide-area-networking

0

EdgeQ raises $51 million to fuse AI compute and 5G within a single chip

5G. Edge. Open. Programmable. AI.

No, it’s not bingo at your local silicon chip enthusiast meetup, and no, I am not trying to game Google’s search algorithms (well, maybe just a bit). Rather, it’s a combination of technologies that are predicted to become critical for the future of the internet of things across industries as diverse as shipping and security.

One way to get all these technologies into single devices is just to agglomerate a bunch of off-the-shelf silicon chips and jam them into a product. Take a wireless radio chip, add some computing capacity, add some AI chip wizardly and voilà, you have yourself a modern IoT device.

There’s just one problem: these devices often have a lot of constraints. Most notably, they have power constraints, which means that they often can’t include five chips on board, but rather need one single chip that can use power extremely efficiently. In addition, there are space constraints, and constraints around how easy a chip is to reprogram remotely. In short, there’s a bet to be made that this new market — which is just getting started but expected to be huge in the coming years — needs a focused chip for it.

That bet has been made. EdgeQ, a stealthy silicon startup, emerged from stealth today to showcase a bit of its efforts around its new chip, and also to announce the closing of its $38.5 million Series A round led by Mohammad Islam of Threshold Ventures (formerly known as DFJ). The company previously closed a seed round led by Homan Yuen at Fusion Fund, bringing the company’s total fundraise to $51 million. AME Cloud Ventures also participated in the round, as did an undisclosed strategic customer.

What’s exciting here this early is the team. EdgeQ is founded by Vinay Ravuri, an ex-Qualcomm exec who worked on mobile and data center projects at the behemoth chipmaker during the attempted corporate takeover by Broadcom back in 2018. He left that year and teamed up with a stable of other senior engineers and execs from Qualcomm, Intel and Broadcom itself to work on the next-generation of chip tech for the edge. “We felt that there was an opportunity to focus outside of cell phones,” Ravuri said, which is what Qualcomm was heavily invested in given its dominance in 4G technologies.

EdgeQ founder and CEO Vinay Ravuri. Photo via EdgeQ.

EdgeQ remains under development, and the company isn’t ready to disclose the full details of its product as it continues its work. Nonetheless, Ravuri gave a broad overview of EdgeQ’s chip as it stands today.

“I just like to use this analogy of like a Goldilocks,” he said. “You know, this is too cold and this is too hot and what you really need is somewhere in the middle. And that’s kind of where EdgeQ comes in.”

This systems-on-a-chip product will have the connectivity of 5G with the on-board processing of a typical AI chip, compressed under a tight power envelope to minimize energy usage. Even more vitally, the chips will be reprogrammable, allowing for changes on the fly as circumstances around a product shift. “Putting all of that into a single chip requires a lot of integration and lots of architectural innovation which, which is what EdgeQ has been able to do,” Ravuri said.

This model of systems-on-a-chip is similar to what you might have seen last week at Apple’s big event around its new M1 chip. By combining a bunch of individual silicon systems on one chip, you can increase capabilities while reducing power.

Where could EdgeQ’s chips end up? Ravuri suggested a bunch of applications. You could imagine a security camera having a chip like this to coordinate with other cameras while also processing some of the data it is seeing through its lens. Drones and robotic machinery in an enclosed space could use wireless to synchronize their actions with other machines, process their actions through compute, and also calculate their locations to extreme precision. And of course, a whole bunch more applications are at least possible, but we’ll know more as the chip technology matures.

Homan Yuen of Fusion Fund said that “my background being in semiconductors, I know how hard these companies are and why venture investors don’t really like doing [them]. After meeting Vinay, the team, the background and experience, I [thought] if there’s one company I’m going to take a bet on doing chips, it’s going to be them.”

It’s a bet that has gotten a bit more traction with new investors coming to the table, but of course, product development has to continue, and these chips ultimately have to be manufactured and actually placed in the market for customers to buy. In other words, a nice milestone, but a lot more work to go.

EdgeQ has offices in Santa Clara and San Diego along with Bangalore, India.

#funding, #fundings-exits, #fusion-fund, #hardware, #startups, #threshold-ventures

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India’s insurance platform Turtlemint raises $30 million

Turtlemint, an Indian startup that is helping consumers identify and purchase the most appropriate insurance policies for them, has raised $30 million in a new financing round as it looks to reach more users in small cities and towns in the world’s second largest internet market.

The new round, the five-year-old Mumbai-headquartered startup’s Series D, was led by GGV Capital . American Family Ventures, MassMutual Ventures and SIG, and existing investors Blume Ventures, Sequoia Capital India, Nexus Venture Partners, Dream Incubator and Trifecta Capital also participated in the round, which brings Turtlemint’s total to-date raise to $55 million.

Only a fraction of India’s 1.3 billion people currently have access to insurance. Insurance products had reached less than 3% of the population as of 2017, according to rating agency ICRA. An average Indian makes about $2,100 a year, according to the World Bank. ICRA estimated that of those Indians who had purchased an insurance product, they were spending less than $50 on it in 2017.

A range of startups in India are trying to disrupt this market. Analysts at Goldman Sachs estimated the online insurance market in India — which in recent years has attracted several major giants including Amazon and Paytm — to be worth $3 billion in a report they recently sent to clients.

Another major reason why existing insurance firms are struggling to sell to consumers is because they are too reliant on on-ground advisors.

Turtlemint co-founders Anand Prabhudesai (left) and Dhirendra Mahyavanshi pose for a picture (Turtlemint)

Instead of bypassing these advisors, Turtlemint is embracing them. It works with over 100,000 such agents, equipping them with digital tools to offer wider and more relevant recommendations to consumers and speed-up the onboarding process, which has traditionally required a lot of paperwork.

These advisors, who continue to command over 90% of all insurance sales in the country, “play a critical role in bridging the gap in tier 2 and 3 towns and cities, where low physical presence of insurance companies greatly impacts seamless access to insurance products and information,” the startup said.

Turtlemint works with over 40 insurance companies in India and serves as a broker, charging these firms a commission for policies it sells. The startup said it has amassed more than 1.5 million customers.

“By developing products for the micro-entrepreneurs and the rising middle class, Turtlemint has an opportunity to have a positive impact on India’s economy,” said Hans Tung, Managing Partner at GGV Capital, in a statement. “Dhirendra, Anand, and their team built an incredible platform that enables over 100,000 mom-and-pop financial advisors to serve consumers’ best interests with digital tools, helping middle-class families in India get insured with the best products available.”

In an interview with TechCrunch, Turtlemint co-founder Anand Prabhudesai said the startup will deploy the fresh capital to grow its network of advisors and improve its technology stack to further improve the experience for consumers. The startup today also offers training to these advisors and has built tools to help them digitally reach potential customers.

“Continuous education is a very important aspect of being a successful financial entrepreneur. To this end, we have created an online education product with a wide range of courses on financial products, advice-based sales techniques and other soft skills. Our content is now available in seven regional languages and over 20,000 learners are active each month on our edtech platform. A lot of these are first-time advisors who are taking their first steps towards starting their advisory business. Our target is to create a million successful financial entrepreneurs over the next 3-5 years,” he said.

#american-family-ventures, #apps, #asia, #blume-ventures, #dream-incubator, #finance, #funding, #ggv-capital, #india, #massmutual-ventures, #nexus-venture-partners, #payments, #sequoia-capital-india, #sig

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Cooper raises $2M to build a professional network centered on introductions

In a period of social distancing, making new professional connections feels harder than ever. So Amsterdam-based Cooper is building a network that’s all about making and receiving introductions.

“Everything that happens in the network is based on on the foundation of introductions,” CEO Robert Gaal told me. “You should never get an unwanted message, and there’s no such thing as a connection request, because it’s not necessary if you have an introduction.”

The startup is launching internationally today and announcing that it has raised $2 million in seed funding.

Gaal (who co-founded the company with CTO Emiel van Liere) described Cooper as “a private professional network that’s not about how many connections do I have, it’s about bringing the people that you already trust into a circle.”

That’s in contrast with existing professional networking sites, which are most useful as “directories” of online résumés, and usually emphasize the quantity of connections, rather than the quality. (I’ll admit that on LinkedIn, I’m connected to a bunch of people who I barely know at all.)

So Cooper tries to take the opposite approach, limiting users’ connections to people they really know. To do this, it can pull data from a user’s online calendar, and it also provides them with a personal invite code that they can share with their professional contacts.

Cooper

Image Credits: Cooper

Users then post requests or opportunities, which are viewable by their connections and by friends of friends, who can offer to make useful introductions via email or in Cooper itself.

In fact, Gaal said that during the initial beta test, multiple people have successfully used Cooper to find new jobs — sometimes after pandemic-related layoffs, which they’re comfortable sharing with their inner circle but don’t want to broadcast to the world at large.

“There’s more discovery, more trust and you can reinvent other things on top of that — what the résumé is, what mentorship is — if you get trust right first,” he said.

Of course, simply sharing a calendar invite with someone doesn’t really mean you trust them or know them well. Cooper could eventually start looking at other measures that indicate your “connectivity” with someone, like how often you email with them, Gaal said — but the first step is simply recreating the professional circle in which you feel comfortable saying, “Oh, you’re looking for a job? My friend is hiring.”

Yes, those kinds of conversations are already happening offline, but he noted that most of us can only remember “a handful of people” at once. Cooper is making that “marketplace” much more visible and easy to track.

The startup doesn’t sell ads or user data. Instead, Gaal hopes to make money by charging membership fees for features like customizing your profile or promoting your request more broadly.

The startup’s seed funding was led by Comcast Ventures, with participation from LocalGlobe and 468 Capital.

“At a time when the ability to connect is limited, Cooper is building a professional network fostering meaningful and substantive connections, “said Daniel Gulati, founding partner at Forecast Fund and former managing director at Comcast Ventures, in a statement. “We are excited to support the team on their journey ahead.”

#apps, #comcast-ventures, #cooper, #funding, #fundings-exits, #mobile, #startups, #tc

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Indonesian telecom network Telkomsel invests $150 million in GoJek

Telkomsel, Indonesia’s biggest telecom network, has invested $150 million in ride-hailing firm GoJek, the two companies said on Tuesday.

As part of the “strategic partnership,” the two firms said they will explore a “broad range of collaboration opportunities” to reach millions of Indonesians. Since 2018, GoJek and Telkomsel have maintained a deal to subsidize the cost of mobile data consumed by the ride-hailing firm’s driver partners.

With over 170 million subscribers, Telkomsel is the largest telecom operator in Indonesia. In addition to ride-hailing, GoJek has expanded to several additional businesses including digital payments and food delivery in Indonesia.

The firm, which has raised over $3 billion to date and was valued at about $10 billion earlier this year, is backed by some of the biggest names in tech including Facebook, Google, PayPal, and Tencent. GoJek, which also serves about 170 million users, competes with just as heavily backed firm, Grab.

“This is a great day for Gojek an