Fraud prevention platform Sift raises $50M at over $1B valuation, eyes acquisitions

With the increase of digital transacting over the past year, cybercriminals have been having a field day.

In 2020, complaints of suspected internet crime surged by 61%, to 791,790, according to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report. Those crimes — ranging from personal and corporate data breaches to credit card fraud, phishing and identity theft — cost victims more than $4.2 billion.

For companies like Sift — which aims to predict and prevent fraud online even more quickly than cybercriminals adopt new tactics — that increase in crime also led to an increase in business.

Last year, the San Francisco-based company assessed risk on more than $250 billion in transactions, double from what it did in 2019. The company has over several hundred customers, including Twitter, Airbnb, Twilio, DoorDash, Wayfair and McDonald’s, as well a global data network of 70 billion events per month.

To meet the surge in demand, Sift said today it has raised $50 million in a funding round that values the company at over $1 billion. Insight Partners led the financing, which included participation from Union Square Ventures and Stripes.

While the company would not reveal hard revenue figures, President and CEO Marc Olesen said that business has tripled since he joined the company in June 2018. Sift was founded out of Y Combinator in 2011, and has raised a total of $157 million over its lifetime.

The company’s “Digital Trust & Safety” platform aims to help merchants not only fight all types of internet fraud and abuse, but to also “reduce friction” for legitimate customers. There’s a fine line apparently between looking out for a merchant and upsetting a customer who is legitimately trying to conduct a transaction.

Sift uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to automatically surmise whether an attempted transaction or interaction with a business online is authentic or potentially problematic.

Image Credits: Sift

One of the things the company has discovered is that fraudsters are often not working alone.

“Fraud vectors are no longer siloed. They are highly innovative and often working in concert,” Olesen said. “We’ve uncovered a number of fraud rings.”

Olesen shared a couple of examples of how the company thwarted fraud incidents last year. One recently involved money laundering through donation sites where fraudsters tested stolen debit and credit cards through fake donation sites at guest checkout.

“By making small donations to themselves, they laundered that money and at the same tested the validity of the stolen cards so they could use it on another site with significantly higher purchases,” he said. 

In another case, the company uncovered fraudsters using Telegram, a social media site, to make services available, such as food delivery, with stolen credentials.

The data that Sift has accumulated since its inception helps the company “act as the central nervous system for fraud teams.” Sift says that its models become more intelligent with every customer that it integrates.

Insight Partners Managing Director Jeff Lieberman, who is a Sift board member, said his firm initially invested in Sift in 2016 because even at that time, it was clear that online fraud was “rapidly growing.” It was growing not just in dollar amounts, he said, but in the number of methods cybercriminals used to steal from consumers and businesses.

Sift has a novel approach to fighting fraud that combines massive data sets with machine learning, and it has a track record of proving its value for hundreds of online businesses,” he wrote via email.

When Olesen and the Sift team started the recent process of fundraising, Insight actually approached them before they started talking to outside investors “because both the product and business fundamentals are so strong, and the growth opportunity is massive,” Lieberman added.

“With more businesses heavily investing in online channels, nearly every one of them needs a solution that can intelligently weed out fraud while ensuring a seamless experience for the 99% of transactions or actions that are legitimate,” he wrote. 

The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand its product portfolio and to scale its product, engineering and sales teams.

Sift also recently tapped Eu-Gene Sung — who has worked in financial leadership roles at Integral Ad Science, BSE Global and McCann — to serve as its CFO.

As to whether or not that meant an IPO is in Sift’s future, Olesen said that Sung’s experience of taking companies through a growth phase such as what Sift is experiencing would be valuable. The company is also for the first time looking to potentially do some M&A.

“When we think about expanding our portfolio, it’s really a buy/build partner approach,” Olesen said.

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Brazil’s Loft adds $100M to its accounts, $700M to its valuation in a single month

Nearly exactly one month ago, digital real estate platform Loft announced it had closed on $425 million in Series D funding led by New York-based D1 Capital Partners. The round included participation from a mix of new and existing investors such as DST, Tiger Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Fifth Wall and QED, among many others.

At the time, Loft was valued at $2.2 billion, a huge jump from its being just near unicorn territory in January 2020. The round marked one of the largest ever for a Brazilian startup.

Now, today, São Paulo-based Loft has announced an extension to that round with the closing of $100 million in additional funding that values the company at $2.9 billion. This means that the 3-year-old startup has increased its valuation by $700 million in a matter of weeks.

Baillie Gifford led the Series D-2 round, which also included participation from Tarsadia, Flight Deck, Caffeinated and others. Individuals also put money in the extension, including the founders of Better (Zach Frenkel), GoPuff, Instacart, Kavak and Sweetgreen.

Loft has seen great success in its efforts to serve as a “one-stop shop” for Brazilians to help them manage the home buying and selling process. 

Image courtesy of Loft

In 2020, Loft saw the number of listings on its site increase “10 to 15 times,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Mate Pencz. Today, the company actively maintains more than 13,000 property listings in approximately 130 regions across São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, partnering with more than 30,000 brokers. Not only are more people open to transacting digitally, more people are looking to buy versus rent in the country.

“We did more than 6x YoY growth with many thousands of transactions over the course of 2020,” Pencz told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s last raise. “We’re now growing into the many tens of thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands, of active listings.”

The decision to raise more capital so soon was due to a variety of factors. For one, Loft has received “overwhelming investor interest” even after “a very, very oversubscribed main round,” Pencz said.

“We have seen a continued acceleration in our market share growth, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two markets we currently operate in,” he added. “We saw an opportunity to grow even faster with additional capital.”

Pencz also pointed out that Baillie Gifford has relatively large minimum check size requirements, which led to the extension being conducted at a higher price and increased the total round size “by quite a bit to be able to accommodate them.”

While the company was less forthcoming about its financials as of late, it told me last year that it had notched “over $150 million in annualized revenues in its first full year of operation” via more than 1,000 transactions.

The company’s revenues and GMV (gross merchandise value) “increased significantly” in 2020, according to Pencz, who declined to provide more specifics. He did say those figures are “multiples higher from where they were,” and that Loft has “a very clear horizon to profitability.”

Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch founded Loft in early 2018 and today serve as its co-CEOs. The aim of the platform, in the company’s words, is “bringing Latin American real estate into the e-commerce age by developing online alternatives to analogue legacy processes and leveraging data to create transparency in highly opaque markets.” The U.S. real estate tech company with the closest model to Loft’s is probably Zillow, according to Pencz.

In the United States, prospective buyers and sellers have the benefit of MLSs, which in the words of the National Association of Realtors, are private databases that are created, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals to help their clients buy and sell property. Loft itself spent years and many dollars in creating its own such databases for the Brazilian market. Besides helping people buy and sell homes, it offers services around insurance, renovations and rentals.

In 2020, Loft also entered the mortgage business by acquiring one of the largest mortgage brokerage businesses in Brazil. The startup now ranks among the top-three mortgage originators in the country, according to Pencz. When it comes to helping people apply for mortgages, he likened Loft to U.S.-based Better.com.

This latest financing brings Loft’s total funding raised to an impressive $800 million. Other backers include Brazil’s Canary and a group of high-profile angel investors such as Max Levchin of Affirm and PayPal, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and David Vélez, CEO and founder of Brazilian fintech Nubank. In addition, Loft has also raised more than $100 million in debt financing through a series of publicly listed real estate funds.

Loft plans to use its new capital in part to expand across Brazil and eventually in Latin America and beyond. The company is also planning to explore more M&A opportunities.

This article was updated post-publication to reflect accurate investor information

#andreessen-horowitz, #baillie-gifford, #better-mortgage, #better-com, #brazil, #co-founder, #d1-capital-partners, #david-velez, #dst, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #instacart, #instagram, #joe-lonsdale, #latin-america, #loft, #max-levchin, #mike-krieger, #money, #new-york, #nubank, #palantir, #paypal, #proptech, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global, #united-states, #venture-capital, #zillow

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Applied XL raises $1.5M to build ‘editorial algorithms’ that track real-time data

AppliedXL, a startup creating machine learning tools with what it describes as a journalistic lens, is announcing that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding.

Emerging from the Newlab Venture Studio last year, the company is led by CEO Francesco Marconi (previously R&D chief at The Wall Street Journal) and CTO Erin Riglin (former WSJ automation editor). Marconi told me that AppliedXL started out by working on a number of different data and machine learning projects as it looked for product-market fit — but it’s now ready to focus on its first major industry, life sciences, with a product launching broadly this summer.

He said that AppliedXL’s technology consists of “essentially a swarm of editorial algorithms developed by computational journalists.” These algorithms benefit from “the point of view and expertise of journalists, as well as taking into account things like transparency and bias and other issues that derive from straightforward machine learning development.”

Marconi compared the startup to Bloomberg and Dow Jones, suggesting that just as those companies were able to collect and standardize financial data, AppliedXL will do the same in a variety of other industries.

He suggested that it makes sense to start with life sciences because there’s both a clear need and high demand. Customers might include competitive intelligence teams as pharmaceutical companies and life sciences funds, which might normally try to track this data by searching large databases and receiving “data vomit” in response.

“Our solution for scaling [the ability to spot] newsworthy events is to design the algorithms with the same principles that a journalist would approach a story or an investigation,” Marconi said. “It might be related to the size of the study and the number of patients, it might be related to a drug that is receiving a lot of attention in terms of R&D investment. All of these criteria that science journalist would bring to clinical trials, we’re encoding that into algorithms.”

Eventually, Marconi said the startup could expand into other categories, building industry-“micro models.” Broadly speaking, he suggested that the company’s mission is “measuring the health of people, places and the planet.”

The seed funding was led by Tuesday Capital, with participation from Frog Ventures, Team Europe and Correlation Ventures.

“With industry leading real-time data pipelining, Applied XL is building the tools and platform for the next generation of data-based decision making that business leaders will rely on for decades,” said Tuesday Capital Partner Prashant Fonseka in a statement. “Data is the new oil and the team at Applied XL have figured out how to identify, extract and leverage one of the most valuable commodities in the world.”

 

#applied-xlabs, #artificial-intelligence, #funding, #fundings-exits, #newlab, #startups, #tuesday-capital

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Kandji nabs $60M Series B as Apple device management platform continues to thrive

During the pandemic, having an automated solution for onboarding and updating Apple devices remotely has been essential, and today Kandji, a startup that helps IT do just that, announced a hefty $60 million Series B investment.

Felicis Ventures led the round with participation from SVB Capital, Greycroft, Okta Ventures and The Spruce House Partnership. Today’s round comes just 7 months after a $21 million Series A, bringing the total raised across three rounds to $88.5 million, according to the company.

CEO Adam Pettit says that the company has been growing in leaps in bounds since the funding round last October.

“We’ve seen a lot more traction than even originally anticipated. I think every time we’ve put targets up onto the board of how quickly we would grow, we’ve accelerated past them,” he said. He said that one of the primary reasons for this growth has been the rapid move to work from home during the pandemic.

“We’re working with customers across 40+ industries now, and we’re even seeing international customers come in and purchase so everyone now is just looking to support remote workforces and we provide a really elegant way for them to do that,” he said.

While Pettit didn’t want to discuss exact revenue numbers, he did say that it has tripled since the Series A announcement. That is being fueled in part he says by attracting larger companies, and he says they have been seeing more and more of them become customers this year.

As they’ve grown revenue and added customers, they’ve also brought on new employees, growing from 40 to 100 since October. Pettit says that the startup is committed to building a diverse and inclusive culture at the company and a big part of that is making sure you have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from.

“It comes down to at the onset just making the decision that it’s important to you and it’s important to the company, which we’ve done. Then you take it step by step all the way through, and we start at the back into the funnel where are candidates are coming from.”

That means clearly telling their recruiting partners that they want a diverse candidate pool. One way to do that is being remote and having a broader talent pool to work with. “We realized that in order to hold true to [our commitment], it was going to be really hard to do that just sticking to the core market of San Diego or San Francisco, and so now we’ve expand expanded nationally and this has opened up a lot of [new] pools of top tech talent,” he said.

Pettit is thinking hard right now about how the startup will run its offices whenever they allowed back, especially with some employees living outside major tech hubs. Clearly it will have some remote component, but he says that the tricky part of that will be making sure that the folks who aren’t coming into the office still feel fully engaged and part of the team.

#apple-device-management, #enterprise, #felicis-ventures, #funding, #kandji, #recent-funding, #startups

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MasterClass co-founder’s Outlier.org raises $30M for affordable, virtual college courses

Outlier.org — a startup offering intro-level college courses online and at a relatively affordable price — is announcing that it has raised $30 million in Series B funding.

The startup was founded by CEO Aaron Rasmussen, previously co-founder at MasterClass (which Axios reports is raising new funding at a $2.5 billion valuation). Like Rasmussen’s old company, Outlier offers beautifully shot online courses; unlike MasterClass, students can actually earn college credit.

When Outlier launched in the fall of 2019, Rasmussen said his goal was to make a college education more affordable and accessible — though he also told me that Outlier is only focused on bringing intro-level classes online, not the entire curriculum.

This idea seems even more appealing during a pandemic, when a completely “normal” college experience isn’t really available to anyone. In fact, Rasmussen said there’s been a surge in interest from universities that want to partner with Outlier, especially since some colleges are struggling to attract students — so with difficult financial choices ahead, they can use Outlier to supplement their offerings.

“We’ve learned that many universities love the idea of high-quality intro classes for students,” he said. “That was a question mark for us, [but] many say, ‘We want to focus on upper level courses, so this a great way to keep people on track.’”

To that end, Outlier has hired Anjuli Gupta as its head of partnerships. Gupta previously led university partnerships at Coursera, and Rasmussen suggested the company could work with high schools and employers, not just universities.

Of course, the pandemic has created some challenges for Outlier as well. Initially, in order to produce its classes, Rasmussen said the company was shipping its instructors “literally 500 pounds of cinematography equipment.” Now it has developed a production method where a small crew sets everything up, then the instructor teaches on the set alone.

“It’s just you, a motion-controlled dolly and little pieces of tape telling you where to push all the buttons,” he said. “Then [the crew] remotely runs the cameras, you’re hitting record and they can see everything coming in through the feeds, so you’re remotely directed.”

Outlier currently offers six classes, including Calculus I, Microeconomics, Astronomy and Philosophy, with a goal of expanding to 14 by the end of 2022. Rasmussen said the company is now allowing students to join courses in new cohorts every two weeks — so even though the lectures are pre-recorded, you’re still moving through the class with a group of fellow students. And Outlier has built a variety of custom student support tools — for example, the company can identify when a student is “falling behind” and reach out.

The startup has also expanded its partnership with the University of Pittsburgh into a five-year agreement, with students receiving credit from the school and faculty at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown providing academic oversight. (Though it seems that some faculty members are unhappy about the arrangement.) They’ve also partnered to offer $3.8 million worth of scholarships to 1,000 frontline workers.

Each Outlier course costs $400, which the company says is approximately one-sixth the cost of a traditional college class. Still, Rasmussen said, “I couldn’t have afforded it when I was growing up,” so he’s trying to find ways to make the program even more affordable — hence the scholarships, as well as monthly payment plans with Klarna (Outlier covers the interest on student payments).

The new funding was led by GV (formerly known Google Ventures), with participation from Unusual Ventures, GSV, Harrison Metal and Gaingels, bringing Outlier’s total funding to $46 million.

“We’re inspired by Outlier.org’s mission to increase educational access and equity, and to reduce student debt,” said GV’s John Lyman in a statement. “We strongly believe in Aaron Rasmussen and the founding team’s vision to provide better access to more affordable education for hundreds of millions of students around the globe.”

#aaron-rasmussen, #education, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gv, #outlier-org, #startups

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Newly-christened Percent wants to make it easier to securitize corporate debt

Debt is the new equity. As founders run around trying to fend off prying VCs from their cap tables, they are increasingly turning to debt products like revenue-based securities in order to get the capital they need today while protecting them from dilution they don’t want tomorrow. It’s a huge business, with leading company Pipe just valued at $2 billion and others like CapChase cashing in on founders’ newly-found love of debt.

All those new securities creates a dilemma for potential investors: how do they evaluate every single new debt product from every single company? It’s a problem they face not just in the startup world, but also private debt in general as companies borrow hundreds of billions of dollars per year. The solution is securitization and syndication, aggregating the small debts from multiple companies and fusing them together into one consistent new security. It’s a major component of capital markets, but one that remains mired in legacy business practices.

Percent is building an end-to-end technology securitization platform for debt originators to connect with a much wider network of investors than traditional institutions to get the best rates at the fastest speeds. When we last checked in a year ago with the company, previously known as Cadence, it had just raised $4 million and had processed $125 million through its platform in its short lifetime.

Well, it has now structured more than $400 million across its platform, an eye-popping performance that has attracted new VC interest, this time from Sep Alavi at White Star Capital and Karen Page at B Capital. The two firms are investing $12.5 million in a Series A into Percent, with previous backers Revel Partners and Recharge Capital participating.

For CFOs, Percent’s pitch is that it can offer a wider spectrum of private debt buyers to originators, therefore lowering the cost of capital. The traditional corporate debt world remains quite clubby, with major institutional holders being connected to originators through investment banks. High fees and a limited investor base can raise expenses significantly. Through its platform, Percent can break that clubbiness and open the debt world to a wider range of buyers.

Furthermore, Percent also acts as the deal origination and transaction platform, allowing companies to easily put together debt offerings, process requests for information, and avoid the sort of “attach Excel financials to email or upload to cloud” workflow that remains a mainstay in these processes.

Percent’s business model is to take a percentage fee on the dollars originated on its platform as well as an additional percentage fee if it is the underwriter itself. In this way, it has essentially a recurring-revenue model — the more debt that is transacted on its platform, the more continuous revenue the company generates over time.

Percent scored one of its biggest wins to date with the securitization of $144 million in debt originated by FAT Brands, the owners of popular restaurant franchises like Fatburger and Johnny Rockets. Precent acted as co-lead bookrunner with lead Jefferies for the debt announced yesterday, and FAT noted that its cost of capital was significantly lower than its previous two securitizations from last year. Given the changing macro environment and the radically shifting fortunes in the foods service business in the wake of COVID-19 though, it is hard to precisely identify what changed the cost of capital and what extent a modern technology stack helped the company’s debt performance. Outside of FAT Brands, Percent has a list of many of its other originators available.

Nelson Chu, the founder and CEO of Percent, noted that he was particularly interested in finding investors with knowledge of capital markets and the enterprise sales cycle. He observed in an interview that as more and more VCs in recent years have tended to come from product and growth roles at startups rather than the traditional path through an investment bank, there are fewer VCs with knowledge or interest in the capital markets space.

Alavi at White Star has invested in a range of financial services and blockchain companies, while Page at B Capital has long been in the enterprise space at Apple and as an early employee at cloud provider Box.

Percent’s team in New York City this week. Image Credits: Percent

Percent, which is headquartered in New York City and was founded in 2018, has expanded its team by double over the past year as it scales up its engineering and sales teams.

#b-capital, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #percent, #startups, #white-star-capital

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Westward plans a $30M debut fund to take Chinese indie games global

In Hefei, a Chinese city known for its relics from the Three Kingdoms period and its manufacturing industry today, Maxim Rate was thrilled to find a small studio crafting a Western role-playing game, a genre that attracts lovers of gritty aesthetics and dark storylines.

“The design and computer graphics are really good. You can’t tell they are a Chinese team,” said Rate.

Rate’s mission is to find Chinese studios like the bootstrapped Hefei team and help them woo international players. As Chinese regulators tighten rules on game publishing and make licenses hard to obtain in recent years, small studios find themselves struggling. Since last year, Apple has pulled thousands of unlicensed games from its Chinese App Store at the behest of local authorities. Small-time developers begin to look beyond their home turf.

“The problem is these startups have no experience in overseas expansion,” said Rate.

An avid gamer himself, Rate quit his job at a Chinese cross-border payment firm last year and launched a part-incubator, part-investment vehicle to take Chinese games abroad. The firm, called Westward Gaming Ventures, took inspiration from Zheng He, a Chinese diplomat and explorer who embarked on state-sponsored naval expeditions to the “Western Oceans” during the Ming Dynasty.

Westward plans to raise 200 million yuan ($30 million) for its debut fund, Rate told TechCrunch in an interview. It plans to deploy the capital over the next three years with an intended check size of 2-4 million yuan per studio. It’s currently in talks with 20-30 teams that span a wide range of genres.

The Chinese fund being established is a so-called Qualified Foreign Limited Partners Fund, which, for the first time, will enable foreign investors (USD and EUR) to invest directly in Chinese gaming firms. Only a few institutions own a license for QFLP, and while Westward itself doesn’t hold one, it gains legitimacy for direct foreign investment by partnering with the private equity arm of a major Chinese financial conglomerate, which declined to be named at this stage.

To navigate such regulatory complications, Westward also seeks help from its advisors, including one that oversaw the legal and financial process of one of the largest joint ventures established between Chinese and foreign gaming firms in recent years. The partnership, which can’t be named, was also the first time a foreign entity has become the majority shareholder in a gaming joint venture in China.

China limits foreign investments in areas it considers sensitive, such as value-added services, so many companies resort to setting up elaborate offshore entities to receive overseas funding. The restriction makes it difficult for resource-strapped studios to land foreign investors, who could help them venture into global markets. They are left with the option of getting backed or bought by Chinese giants like Tencent or ByteDance.

Rise of Chinese plays

The idea of Westward is not just to lower the barriers for independent Chinese games to secure foreign capital but also better prepare them for overseas expansion.

“Chinese gaming studios, big or small, used to rely heavily on ads for user acquisition when they went abroad,” said Rate. “Sometimes a game would take off, but the team had no idea why, so they continued to test. Those who failed may just give up.”

But taking a game abroad is not as simple as translating it, hitting the publish button and launching an ad campaign on Facebook.

Westward’s plan is to get involved in a game’s early development phase and help them position: Is it an RPG? Is the targeted user a casual or serious player? What’s the graphic style? In addition, the firm also plans to supply developers with workspace, technical assistance, marketing and localization expertise, connection to publishers, and overseas operation help.

Image Credits: Westward Gaming Ventures

To provide post-investment support, Westward has partnered up with V+ Gaming Society, an incubator for games headquartered Shenzhen, which Westward also calls home.

Chinese tech companies are facing mounting challenges in the West as geopolitical tensions rise. Many now prefer calling themselves “global firms” and even deny their Chinese roots outright.

But for Westward, the games it helps doesn’t need to pretend they are non-Chinese. “Most players don’t consider where a game is from if it is a really good game,” said Rate.

“We actually hope to see elements of Chinese culture in these games that can be understood by overseas players.”

Amy Ho, a partner at Westward along with Rate and Edward He, said one of the few Chinese games that have managed to be both “Chinese” and transcend cultural boundaries is Chinese Parents. The simulation game became a global hit by letting users experience what it is like to raise a child in China.

The benchmark Rate gave was the generation of Japanese games that began exporting 20-30 years ago, which he described as “Japanese” in spirit but “globalized” in graphics and game design.

There have already been globally successful titles from Chinese makers like Tencent and rising studios Lilith and Mihoyo. In the past, many Chinese users on Steam would be asking foreign titles to rush out Chinese versions. Now, it’s not uncommon to see Western users demanding English editions of Chinese games, Rate observed.

Rather than politics, the bigger challenge, especially for small studios, is how to “collect key data for product iteration while complying with local privacy laws,” said Ho.

50-70% of Westward’s capital will come from Chinese institutions. The presence of Chinese investments inevitably leads to questions around censorship. Ho said while Westward provides resources and capital to studios, it will work to ensure their independence from investor influence.

If things go well, Westward could help facilitate cultural exchange between China and the rest of the world. Beijing has been trying to export the country’s soft power, and games may be a suitable conduit, suggested Rate. Amid the ongoing trade war, having foreign fundings in Chinese companies may also do good to China’s “brand”, he said.

#asia, #china, #entertainment, #funding, #games, #gaming, #rpg, #shenzhen, #tc, #tencent

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Forget the piggy bank, Till Financial’s kids’ spend management app gets Gates’ backing

Today’s children and teens want more power and control over their spending.

And while there are a number of financial services and apps out there aimed at helping this demographic save and invest money (Greenlight being among the most popular and well-known), one startup is coming at the space from another angle: helping younger people also better manage their spend.

Till Financial describes itself as a collaborative family financial tool that aims to empower kids to become smarter spenders. The New York-based company’s banking platform is designed to encourage “open and honest” discussions between parents and their kids. And it has just raised $5 million to help it advance on that goal.

A slew of investors put money in the round, including Elysian Park Ventures, Melinda Gates’ venture fund Pivotal Ventures with Magnify Ventures, Afore Capital, Luge Capital, Alpine Meridian Ventures, The Gramercy Fund, SM Ventures (the family office of the founders/CEOs of Stadium Goods) and Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Scout Fund. Also participating were angel investors such as the founders of fintech Petal, the founders of alcohol marketplace Drizly, the president of Transactis, and the president of 1800Flowers.

Part of Till’s goal is to help kids “learn by doing” and gain confidence in spending decisions. It arms them with a bank account, digital and physical debit card and goal-based savings. For example, say a teen wants to buy an iPad, they can set up an account that they can save toward that iPad and give family members (such as grandparents, for example) the opportunity to pitch in the same amount, or more. They can also set up recurring payments for things like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions so they can get a taste of what it’s like to pay regular bills.

“Parents and the current banking options miss the point when they just focus on savings. We need to first prepare kids to be Smarter Spenders, supported by savings and investing,” said Taylor Burton, who founded the company with Tom Pincince. “On Till, kids learn to spend with intention and purpose, while parents gain confidence and trust based on transparency and accountability.”

To Pincince, the market is clearly underserved.

“The legacy banks really don’t care about this young person and the early digital players are really missing the mark,” he said. 

And despite the plethora of apps targeting the demographic, Pincince believes there’s plenty of room for the right players.

“The reality is you’re talking about a swath of kids under the age of 18 and over the age of eight that is the single largest unbanked population,” he said. “We’re not fighting to be the top of your son’s wallet. We’re fighting to be the first product into that wallet.”

Indeed, it’s a big market — the average middle-class family in the U.S. spends $284,570 per child by the time they turn 18.

The platform is free to all families and, early on, attracted the attention of Peggy Mangot, operating partner/COO of PayPal Ventures. She invested personally in Till in its pre-seed rounds. Prior to PayPal, Mangot ran development of Greenhouse, Well Fargo’s fee-free mobile banking app that aimed to help younger users build responsible spending habits.

Mangot has three kids and recalls that when they were shopping online, she’d give them her credit card. Or, if they were going to the corner store or meeting with friends, she’d give them cash.

“But that way, the money is meaningless to them. They didn’t really know how to understand what things cost and there was no sense of ownership,” she said. “It was just me handing over cash or a card.”

What attracted her the most about Till, Mangot said, was the team’s approach to treat younger people “with respect and agency.”

She also believes that by helping children and teens understand important financial lessons at a younger age, the world will ultimately be full of more responsible adults.

“By putting these tools in the hands of these young people early, they’ll have years and years of experience before they’re more independent and have to manage their paycheck and bills,” Mangot told TechCrunch. “Once you have mass adoption, it’s going to create a much more financially literate, confident and in control set of young adults than we’ve ever had.”

Besides making money on interchange fees, Till aims to earn revenue by partnering with merchants to offer rewards to users. It also plans to earn referral fees by referring the teens to other financial institutions when they get older and have different needs.

“It’s not our intention to be your son or daughter’s forever bank. It’s our intention to be the first bank,” Pincince said. “So, they hit the age of maturity, we’re actually giving them a high-five off of our platform and introducing them to maybe their first college loan or their first credit card.”

#afore-capital, #bank, #banking, #debit-card, #drizly, #ebay, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ipad, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #luge-capital, #melinda-gates, #mobile-banking, #mobile-payments, #netflix, #new-york, #online-payments, #paypal, #pivotal-ventures, #recent-funding, #spotify, #stadium-goods, #startup, #startups, #tc, #till-financial, #tom-pincince, #united-states, #up, #venture-capital

0

With $30M extension, BigID boosts Series D to $100M at $1.25B valuation

When we last heard from BigID at the end of 2020, the company was announcing a $70 million Series D at a $1 billion valuation. Today, it announced a $30 million extension on that deal valuing the company at $1.25 billion just 4 months later.

This chunk of money comes from private equity firm Advent International, and brings the total raised to over $200 million across 4 rounds, according to the company. The late stage startup is attracting all of this capital by building a security and privacy platform. When I spoke to CEO Dimitri Sirota in September 2019 at the time of the $50 million Series C, he described the company’s direction this way:

“We’ve separated the product into some constituent parts. While it’s still sold as a broad-based [privacy and security] solution, it’s much more of a platform now in the sense that there’s a core set of capabilities that we heard over and over that customers want.”

Sirota says he has been putting the money to work, and as the economy improves he is seeing more traction for the product set. “Since December, we’ve added employees as we’ve seen broader economic recovery and increased demand. In tandem, we have been busy building a whole host of new products and offerings that we will announce over the coming weeks that will be transformational for BigID,” he said.

He also said that as with previous rounds, he didn’t go looking for the additional money, but decided to take advantage of the new funds at a higher valuation with a firm that he believes can add value overall. What’s more, the funds should allow the company to expand in ways it might have held off on.

“It was important to us that this wouldn’t be a distraction and that we could balance any funding without the need to over-capitalize, which is becoming a bigger issue in today’s environment. In the end, we took what we thought could bring forward some additional product modules and add a sales team focused on smaller commercial accounts,” Sirota said.

Ashwin Krishnan, a principal on Advent’s technology team in New York says that BigID was clearly aligned with two trends his firm has been following. That includes the explosion of data being collected and the increasing focus on managing and securing that data with the goal of ultimately using it to make better decisions.

“When we met with Dimitri and the BigID team, we immediately knew we had found a company with a powerful platform that solves the most challenging problem at the center of these trends and the data question,”Krishnan said.

Past investors in the company include Boldstart Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Tiger Global. Strategic investors include Comcast Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and SAP.io.

#advent-international, #bigid, #data-privacy, #enterprise, #funding, #privacy, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #security, #startups, #tc

0

Tiger Global backs Indian crypto startup Coinswitch Kuber at over $500M valuation

Coinswitch Kuber, a startup that allows young users in India to invest in cryptocurrencies, said on Thursday it has raised $25 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its reach in India, the world’s second largest internet market and also the place where the future of private cryptocurrencies remains uncertain for now.

Tiger Global financed the entire Series B funding round of Coinswitch Kuber and valued the three-year-old Indian startup at over $500 million. The announcement of Series B comes just three months after Coinswitch closed its $15 million Series A round from Ribbit Capital, Sequoia Capital India, and Kunal Shah. The Bangalore-based startup has raised $41.5 million to date.

TechCrunch reported earlier this month that the New York-headquartered technology hedge fund had led or was in advanced stages of talks to lead investments in many Indian startups including Coinswitch.

Coinswitch Kuber is one of the handful of startups operating in the cryptocurrency space today. The startup allows users to buy slivers of several popular cryptocurrencies. A user on Coinswitch, for instance, can buy small sachets of bitcoin and other currencies for as low as 100 Indian rupees ($1.3)-worth.

The startup said it has amassed over 4.5 million users, more than half of whom are aged 25 or younger. In the past 11 months, Coinswitch Kuber said it processed transactions over $5 billion.

But how the startup performs in the future is not entire in its hand.

While trading of private cryptocurrency such as bitcoin is currently legal in India, New Delhi is widely expected to introduce a law that bans all private cryptocurrency.

Ashish Singhal, co-founder and chief executive of Coinswitch Kuber, said he is optimistic that India will not ban private cryptocurrencies, but said the startup closed the financing round with Tiger Global before New Delhi’s indication to formulate a law.

“This investment round brings us at par with some of the most sought after cryptocurrency companies in the world and sets us up for the long run,” said Singhal.

In recent months, some startups in India have started to explore a contingency plan in case the nation does end up banning cryptocurrency trading in the country. Many startups are today building in India, but focusing on serving customers overseas.

“As they build India’s leading cryptocurrency platform, CoinSwitch is well positioned to capture the tremendous growing interest in crypto among retail investors. We are excited to partner with CoinSwitch as they innovate in this emerging asset class,” said Scott Shleifer, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

#apps, #asia, #cryptocurrency, #finance, #funding, #india, #tiger-global-management

0

Bux, a European Robinhood, raises $80M to expand its neo-broker platform

A new wave of apps have democratized the concept of investing, bringing the concept of trading stocks and currencies to a wider pool of users who can use these platforms to make incremental, or much larger, bets in the hopes of growing their money at a time when interest rates are low. In the latest development, Bux — a startup form Amsterdam that lets people invest in shares and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) without paying commissions (its pricing is based on flat €1 fees for certain services, no fees for others) — has picked up some investment of its own, a $80 million round that it.

Alongside this, the company is announcing a new CEO. Founder Nick Bortot is stepping away and Yorick Naeff, an early employee of the company who had been the COO, is taking over. Bortot will remain a shareholder and involved with the company, which will be using to expand its geographical footprint and expand its tech platform and services to users, said Naeff in an interview.

“Since we started, Bux has been trying to make investments affordable and intuitive, and that will still be the case,” he said. The average age of a Bux customer is 30, so while affordable and intuitive are definitely priorities to capture younger users, it also means that if Bux can earn their loyalty and show positive returns, they have the potential to keep them for a long time to come.

The funding is coming from an interesting group of investors. Jointly led by Prosus Ventures and Tencent (in which Prosus, the tech division of Naspers, is a major investor), it also included ABN Amro Ventures, Citius, Optiver, and Endeit Capital — all new investors — as well as previous backers HV Capital and Velocity Capital Fintech Ventures.

Naeff said in an interview that Bux isn’t disclosing its valuation with this round. But for some context, he confirmed that the startup has around 500,000 customers across the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, France and Belgium, using not just its main Bux Zero app, but also Bux Crypto and Bux X (a contracts for difference (CFDs) app).

Crypto remains a niche but extremely active part of the wider investment market and Naeff described Bux Crypo — formed out of Bux acquiring Blockport last year — as “very profitable.” The company had only raised about $35 million before this round, and it’s been around since 2014, so while he wouldn’t comment on wider profitability, you can draw some conclusions from that.

For some further valuation context, another big player in trading in Europe, eToro, in March announced it was going public by way of a SPAC valuing it at $10 billion. (Note: eToro is significantly bigger, adding 5 million users last year alone.)

Others in the wider competitive landscape include Robinhood out of the US, which had plans but appeared to have stalled in its entry into Europe; Trade Republic out of Germany, which raised $67 million a year ago from the likes of Accel and Founders Fund; and Revolut, which has been running a trading app for some time.

The opportunity that Bux is targeting is a very simple one: technology, and specifically innovations in banking and apps, have opened the door to making it significantly easier for the average consumer to engage in a new set of financial services.

At the same time, some of the more traditional ways of “growing” one’s capital, by way of buying and selling property or opening savings accounts, are not as strong these days as they were in the past, with the housing market being too expensive to enter for younger people, and interest rates very low, leading those consumers to considering other options open to them. Social media is also playing a major role here, opening up conversations around investing that have been traditionally run between professionals in the industry.

“We’re looking for industries that solve big societal needs and fintech continues to be one of them,” said Sandeep Bakshi, who heads up investments for Prosus in Europe, in an interview. “Interest rates being what they are, there are no opportunities for individuals to save and that represents a massive opportunity, and we’re happy to partner and be a part of the journey.”

Although there is a wave of so-called neo-brokers in the market today, Bux’s unique selling point, Naeff said, is the company’s tech stack.

In comparison to others providing trading apps, he said Bux is the first and only one of them to have built a full-stack system of its own.

“It’s not on top of existing broker, which makes it a nimble and modular,” he said. “This is especially critical because fintech is a game of scale, but every market is completely different when you consider tax, payment systems and the ID documents that one needs in order to fill KYC requirements.”

And that is before you consider that doing business in Europe means doing business in a number of different languages.

“Our system is here to scale across Europe,” he said. “The fact that we are live in five countries, and the only neo-broker doing that, shows that this modular system is working.”

Indeed, the scaling opportunity is one of the reasons why China’s tech giant Tencent, owner of WeChat and a vast gaming empire, has come on board.

“We are excited about backing BUX as they are the leading neo-broker in Europe and have been able to build a platform that is sustainable and scalable. BUX is the only neo-broker in Europe that offers zero commission investing without being dependent on kickbacks or payments for order flow. This ensures that its interests are fully aligned with its customers. We will support BUX in its journey of pursuing consistent growth for the years to come”, said Alex Leung, Assistant GM at Tencent, Strategic Development, in a statement.

#amsterdam, #bux, #europe, #finance, #funding, #neo-broker, #netherlands, #prosus, #tencent, #trading

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Satellite Vu’s $5M seed round will fuel the launch of its thermal imaging satellites

Earth imaging is an increasingly crowded space, but Satellite Vu is taking a different approach by focusing on infrared and heat emissions, which are crucial for industry and climate change monitoring. Fresh from TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield, the company has raised a £3.6M ($5M) seed round and is on its way to launching its first satellite in 2022.

The nuts and bolts of Satellite Vu’s tech and master plan are described in our original profile of the company, but the gist is this: while companies like Planet have made near-real-time views of the Earth’s surface into a thriving business, other niches are relatively unexplored — like thermal imaging.

The heat coming off a building, geological feature, or even a crowd of people is an enormously interesting data point. It can tell you whether an office building or warehouse is in use or empty, and whether it’s heated or cooled, and how efficient that process is. It can find warmer or cooler areas that suggest underground water, power lines, or other heat-affecting objects. It could even make a fair guess at how many people attended a concert, or perhaps an inauguration. And of course it works at night.

An aerial image side by side with a thermal image of the same area.

You could verify, for instance, which parts of a power plant are active, when.

Pollution and other emissions are also easily spotted and tracked, making infrared observation of the planet an important part of any plan to monitor industry in the context of climate change. That’s what attracted Satellite Vu’s first big piece of cash, a grant from the U.K. government for £1.4M, part of a £500M infrastructure fund.

CEO and founder Anthony Baker said that they began construction of their first satellite with that money, “so we knew we got our sums right,” he said, then began the process of closing additional capital.

Seraphim Capital, a space-focused VC firm whose most relevant venture is probably synthetic aperture satellite startup Iceye, matched the grant funds, and with subsequent grant the total money raised is in excess of the $5M target (the extra is set aside in a convertible note).

“What attracted us to Satellite Vu is several things. We published some research about this last year: there are more than 180 companies with plans to launch smallsat constellations,” said Seraphim managing partner James Bruegger. But very few, they noted, were looking at the infrared or thermal space. “That intrigued us, because we always thought infrared had a lot of potential. And we already knew Anthony and Satellite Vu from having put them through our space accelerator in 2019.”

They’re going to need every penny. Though the satellites themselves are looking to be remarkably cheap, as satellites go — $14-15M all told — and only seven will be needed to provide global coverage, that still adds up to over $100M over the next couple years.

Simulated image of a Satellite Vu imaging satellite.

Image Credits: Satellite Vu

Seraphim isn’t daunted, however: “As a specialist space investor, we understand the value of patience,” said Bruegger. Satellite Vu, he added, is a “poster child” for their approach, which is to shuttle early stage companies through their accelerator and then support them to an exit.

It helps that Baker has lined up about as much potential income from interested customers as they’ll need to finance the whole thing, soup to nuts. “Commercial traction has improved since we last spoke,” said Baker, which was just before he presented at TechCrunch’s Disrupt 2020 Startup Battlefield:

The company now has 26 letters of intent and other leads that amount to, in his estimation, about a hundred million dollars worth of business — if he can provide the services they’re asking for, of course. To that end the company has been flying its future orbital cameras on ordinary planes and modifying the output to resemble what they expect from the satellite network.

Companies interested in the latter can buy into the former for now, and the transition to the “real” product should be relatively painless. It also helps create a pipeline on Satellite Vu’s side, so there’s no need for a test satellite and service.

An aerial image side by side with a thermal image of the same area.

Another example of the simulated satellite imagery – same camera as will be in orbit, but degraded to resemble shots from that far up.

“We call it pseudo-satellite data — it’s almost a minimum viable product.We work with the companies about the formats and stuff they need,” Baker said. “The next stage is, we’re planning on taking a whole city, like Glasgow, and mapping the whole city in thermal. We think there will be many parties interested in that.”

With investment, tentative income, and potential customers lining up, Satellite Vu seems poised to make a splash, though its operations and launches are small compared with those of Planet, Starlink, and very soon Amazon’s Kuiper. After the first launch, tentatively scheduled for 2022, Baker said the company would only need two more to put the remaining six satellites in orbit, three at a time on a rideshare launch vehicle.

Before that, though, we can expect further fundraising, perhaps as soon as a few months from now — after all, however thrifty the company is, tens of millions in cash will still be needed to get off the ground.

#aerospace, #battlefield, #earth-imaging, #earth-observation, #funding, #fundings-exits, #recent-funding, #satellite-vu, #satellites, #space, #startups, #tc, #thermal-imaging

0

Dutch startup Go Sharing raises $60M to expand beyond e-mopeds and into new markets

On-demand access to electric mopeds — the small, motorised scooters that you sit on, not kick — has been a small but persistent part of the multi-modal transportation mix on offer to people in cities these days. Today, a startup out of The Netherlands is announcing some funding with ambitions to make e-mopeds more mainstream, and to expand into a wider set of vehicle options.

Go Sharing, which has a fleet of around 5,000 e-mopeds across in 30 cities in three countries — The Netherlands, Belgium and Austria — has picked up €50 million (around $60 million). The startup, based near Utrecht, plans to use the funding to expand its footprint for e-mopeds; add electric cars and e-bikes to its app; and continue building out the technology underpinning it all.

Go Sharing believes tech will be the answer to creating a profitable operation, using AI algorithms to optimize locations for e-mopeds, encouraging people to drop off in those locations with incentives like discounts, and keeping that network charged.

Germany, the UK and Turkey are next on Go Sharing’s list of countries, the company said.

The funding is being led by Opportunity Partners — a firm based out of Amsterdam that also backs online supermarket Crisp, with the startup’s founders — CEO Raymon Pouwels, Doeke Boersma, and Donny van den Oever — also participating. A previous round of about $12 million came from Rabo Corporate Investments, the VC arm of the banking giant.

In a world where we now have many choices for getting around cities — taxis, public transport, push and electric bikes, scooters, walking, carpools, car rentals or our own cars — e-mopeds occupy an interesting niche in the mix.

They can be faster than bikes and scooters — 25 km per hour is a typical speed limit in cities, 40 km per hour in less dense areas — more agile than cars, completely quiet compared to their very noisy fuel-based cousins, and of course much more eco-friendly. For those managing fleets, they less likely to break down and need replacing than some of the other alternatives like e-bikes and e-scooters.

But they also represent a higher barrier to entry for picking up customers: riders need a license to operate them as you would other moving vehicles, and in some (but not all) places they need to wear helmets; and the operators of fleets need to sort out how required insurance will work and need special permits as a vehicle provider in most places, and they can also face the same issue as other vehicles like bikes and kick scooters of being a public nuisance when parked.

That mix of challenges — and the fact that fleets can be expensive to operate and might even if all the boxes are ticked still not attract enough users — has meant that the e-moped market has been a patchy one, with some startups shutting down, some cancelling cities after low demand, or retreating over and then returning with better safety measures.

Yet with on-demand transport companies increasingly looking to provide “any” mode in their multi-modal plays to capture more consumers at more times, they remain a class of vehicle that the bigger players and newer entrants will continue to entertain. Lime earlier this year said it was adding e-mopeds to its fleet in certain cities. Uber teamed up with Cityscoot in Paris to integrate the e-moped’s fleet into its app. Cityscoot itself raised some funding last year and is active in several cities across Europe.

And while it can be work to get permits and other regulatory aspects in place to operate services, Pouwels said that Go Sharing was finding that many municipalities actually liked the idea of bringing in more e-mopeds as an eco-friendly alternative to more vehicles — the idea being to provide a transport option to people who are not interested in kick-scooters or bikes and might have driven their own cars, meaning they already have licenses.

The eco-friendly option is also motivating how the company is planning out other parts of its strategy:

“What we have heard from regulators is that they want to motivate people to walk or move in other ways, for example with bicycles,” Pouwels said in an interview. “What we’ve seen with kick scooters is that they ‘deactivate’ people. This is why we see bikes [not adding e-scooters] as the healthy way of moving forward.” The plan with adding electric cars, he said, is to address the needs of people to travel longer distances than shorter inner-city journeys.

Handling supply for its services is coming by way of GreenMo, a sister operation run by Boersma that has been procuring and running a rental service of e-mopeds that are used by drivers for delivery services, with some 10,000 bikes already used this way. GreenMo recently acquired Dutch startup e-bike and a took a majority stake in Belgian company zZoomer, to expand its fleet.

#e-mopeds, #europe, #funding, #go-sharing, #multi-modal-transportation, #on-demand-transportation, #tc, #transportation

0

Ornikar raises $120M as its driving school marketplace goes up a gear with car insurance

A French startup that set out to bring a new approach to driver education and road safety, and then used that foothold to expand into the related area of car insurance, is today announcing a big round of funding to continue building its service across Europe.

Ornikar, which prepares people for driving tests by providing online drivers education courses, lets those users organize in-person lessons with driving instructors, provides a booking system for taking their written and practical examinations, and finally provides them with competitive rates for getting car insurance as new drivers, has raised €100 million ($120 million).

The company intends to use the funding to expand its business. Drivers education services are live today in France and Spain, while insurance is offered today only in France: the plan will be to expand both of those to more markets.

The Series C is being led by KKR, with previous investors Idinvest, BPI, Elaia, Brighteye, and H14 also participating. Benjamin Gaignault, Ornikar’s CEO who co-founded the company with Flavien LeRendu (who also jointly holds the title of CEO), said the startup is not disclosing its valuation, but we understand from a source that it is around $750 million. The company has raised $175 million to date.

Ornikar has been around since 2013 and was founded, in Gaignault’s words, “to disrupt driving education.”

Coming into the market at a time when most of the process of organizing, learning and booking your driving education was not only very fragmented but completely offline, Ornikar’s internet-based offering represented a step change in how French people learned to drive: the process not only became easier, but on average about 40% cheaper to arrange.

Ornikar’s driving education business today includes not just online course materials and booking services, but a network of instructors across 1,000 towns and cities in France, and a business that launched last year in Spain, under the Onroad brand. Some 1.5 million people have taken Ornikar’s driving education courses to date, with another 2 million using its driving school, with growth accelerating: 420,000 new customers signed up with Ornikar in the last year alone.

Last year was a tricky one for companies in the business of transportation. People were generally staying put and not traveling anywhere, but when they were getting around, they wanted plenty of their own space to do so.

Translating that to markets like France and Spain where many towns will have solid public transportation and taxi services, people might have opted to use these less, looking instead to private vehicles in their place. And translating that to Ornikar, Gaignault said that people being at home more, and looking to use the time productively with a view to driving more in the future, the startup saw business growing by 30% each month last year.

Interestingly, it was in the middle of the pandemic that Ornikar launched its car insurance product, which came out of the same impetus as the driver education services: it was built to fill a hole in the market rethought with Ornikar’s users in mind.

Car insurance in France — a €17 billion ($20 billion) market annually — is dominated by big players, and when it comes to first-time drivers and looking for competitive rates, “the bigger companies are not comfortable with user experience,” said Gaignault. “It’s pretty poor and not aligned with expectations of the customers.”

The car insurance product — sold as Ornikar Assurance — is now on track to hit some 20,000 users by August (when it will have been in the market for a year).

While it accounts today for a small fraction of Ornikar’s revenues compared to its driver education platform, that take up — not just from alums of Ornikar’s drivers ed, but from those who had never used an Ornikar service before — is a good sign that it’s on to something big, Gaignault said.

“In October we noticed that 80% of our new insurance customers were not coming from Ornikar but from social media, Google ads and other outside sources,” he said. “That’s why we decided to create a new business unit and explore a business as an insuretech.”

But, he added, that will not be at the expense of the driving education: the two go hand in hand for a common goal of improving how people drive and improving road safety. Indeed, Gaignault said he envisions a time when one will feed into the other: not only will the driving school serve as a way of bringing in new insurance customers, but insurance rates can be impacted by how many driving courses a person takes to keep their knowledge of the driving code and best practices fresh.

“Ornikar has done a tremendous job creating a great experience for students and driving instructors through engaging online education courses and a well-designed marketplace,” said Patrick Devine, director at KKR and member of the Next Generation Technology Growth investment team. “We are thrilled to invest behind Benjamin, Flavien, and their talented team as they expand internationally and accelerate their insurance offering following the successful launches of Onroad in Spain and Ornikar Assurance.”

#automotive, #car-insurance, #driver-education, #driving-instruction, #driving-license, #education, #europe, #funding, #insuretech, #ornikar

0

Per Diem raises $2.3M to help local businesses build subscription programs

It might be time for neighborhood restaurants and coffee shops to start thinking about a subscription business — at least according to a new Y Combinator-backed startup called Per Diem. The company is announcing today that it has raised $2.3 million in seed funding led by Two Sigma Ventures.

As co-founder CEO Tomer Molovinsky put it, Per Diem helps local businesses “build their own Amazon Prime.” He said that he and his co-founder/CTO Doron Segal started working on this during the pandemic, as local businesses became more willing to consider new models to increase loyalty and regular purchases.

Not that this is an entirely new concept. In fact, Molovinsky said a number of the startup’s early customers already offered subscriptions of their own, like Norman’s Farm Market with its CSA subscription for produce, or IVX Coffee with a program initially focused on filling up reusable mugs with coffee.

But apparently these programs were usually managed through spreadsheets or an “old-school Rolodex,” making them increasingly difficult to manage as they grew. So Per Diem has built software to handle things like ordering, pickups/deliveries and payments.

Per Diem

Image Credits: Per Diem

“Today we offer support for both local delivery and shipping, and then we plan to build that out [with] different types of integrations, delivery partners and shipping partners,” Molovinsky said. “But we’re building on that core fundamental, which is that this is a brick-and-mortar business. That’s the ultimate differentiator.”

In other words, Per Diem emphasizes creating a strong in-store experience for subscribers, since that’s where they build a real relationship with the business.

“I don’t want to build a future where … I’m getting all my food from warehouses in another state,” Segal added. “I want to be able to say, ‘Oh, I get my food from John, I get my coffee from Linda.’”

Per Diem says that after Norman’s Farm Market used the software to offer vegetable box subscription on its website, it sold over 500 subscriptions in the first month alone. And IVX is now able to offer a full menu of espresso, match and coffee (drip and bean) subscriptions, with the average subscriber visiting the store five days a week.

Per Diem founders Doron Segal and Tomer Molovinsky

Per Diem founders Doron Segal and Tomer Molovinsky. Image Credits: Per Diem

The startup is currently focused on New York, but it’s already working with businesses in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. as well, and Molovinsky said there are no real geographic limitations.

Ultimately, he said he’s hoping to create “more value” for businesses, which could eventually mean cross-promoting different subscriptions or creating a neighborhood-wide subscription.

“We want to stay focused on what are the things we can unlock for [our customers],” he said. “They’re struggling with email marketing, so we added tools like that into our system. Over time, we can build up our system to continue to strengthen the relationship between the customer and the business.”

#ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #startups, #subscriptions, #tc, #two-sigma-ventures

0

Creator+ raises $12M to build a film studio and streaming service focused on digital storytellers

In the words of co-founder and CEO Jonathan Shambroom, Creator+ is a new startup that will “finance, produce and distribute feature-length films from today’s top creators and emerging storytellers.”

The company is coming out of stealth today and also announcing that it has raised $12 million in funding led by Petra Group and Freestyle Capital, with participation from Jake Roper, Peter Hollens, Wendy Ayche (a.k.a. Wengie), Selina Tobaccowala, Jazwares CEO Judd Zebersky and others.

Shambroom (who’s been an executive at numerous startups and also served as general manager at Crackle) told me that one of the key aspects of the Creator+ strategy is that it controls “both sides of the equation” — it’s both producing films and building its own streaming platform, where the movies will be available for individual purchase, with no subscriptions and no ads.

He said that allows the startup to control costs and distribution, but it also “enables us to do something brand new with creators,” giving them a 50-50 split on revenue, as well as sharing audience data and ownership of the intellectual property.

“Creator” is a term that gets used pretty broadly, and Creator+ isn’t announcing any specific deals today. But co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Benjamin Grubbs (who previously led creator partnerships at YouTube) told me the company is initially focused on “storytellers and artists.”

“We recognize that there are a lot of gifted storytellers on some of these large, open, ad-supported platforms where they already reach large audiences and fan bases,” Grubbs said. “But there are constraints, whether that’s time-based or economic, on the types of stories that you can actually tell.”

So Creator+ will allow those creators to break free of some of those constraints, making feature films with budgets in the low seven figures. Shambroom said the startup wants to deliver “what people expect in a film, 90 minutes give-or-take … in many of the genres that exist today” while also allowing creators to experiment with new formats and new production technologies. In some cases, these movies could be a creator’s “passion project,” while in other cases Creator+ could match them up with the right script.

“We see a multitude of roles and opportunities for creators, both in front of or behind the camera,” Grubbs added.

Creator+ plans to put between five and 10 films into production this year, with the first titles released in 2022. Shambroom said it’s committed to supporting underrepresented storytellers and has already hired Ben O’Keefe as its head of diversity and impact. The team also has global ambitions, which is why they brought on international investors, including Malaysia-based Petra Group.

#creator, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #startups

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Tribal Credit, which provides credit cards to startups in emerging markets, raises $34.3M

The B2B payments space has seen an explosion in demand, and investor interest, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses try to figure out how to pay each other digitally. The challenges become even more complex when dealing with cross-border payments.

Startups that were formed before the pandemic stand to benefit from the shift. One such startup, Tribal Credit, launched its beta in late 2019 to provide payment products for startups and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in emerging markets.

Today, Tribal Credit announced it has raised $34.3 million in a combined Series A and debt round led by QED Investors and Partners for Growth (PFG). Existing backers BECO Capital, Global Ventures, OTG Ventures and Endure Capital also participated in the round, along with new investor Endeavor Catalyst. The raise follows “10x” year-over-year growth, according to CEO and co-founder Amr Shady.

As part of the investment, Tribal received $3 million from the Stellar Development Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the development and growth of the open-source Stellar blockchain network. 

Tribal uses a proprietary AI-driven underwriting approval process to evaluate businesses and approve them for credit lines. Those businesses can then use those credit lines to spend on Tribal’s products, Tribal Card and Tribal Pay. Tribal Card is a business Visa card that allows users to create physical and virtual multi-currency cards. Tribal Pay allows them to make payments to merchants and suppliers that don’t accept credit cards. 

The company says its value proposition lies not only in its ability to provide SMEs with virtual and physical corporate cards, but also a digital platform that allows founders and CFOs “to give access to and manage the spend of their distributed teams.”

“We’ve seen more demand for making B2B online payments amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with many SMEs migrating to digital and spending more on online products and services,” Shady told TechCrunch. “Companies in this new economy are digital and global first. The need for a corporate card was accelerated. As card spend grew during the pandemic, this meant greater liability on founders’ using their personal cards, or other competing cards linked to their personal credit.” 

Tribal, he said, underwrites the company without impacting the founders’ credit. 

Another accelerator for its products was how the pandemic forced teams to work remotely. Founders and CFOs needed a way to provide access to corporate payments while maintaining control, Shady pointed out. Tribal’s platform aims to streamline financial operations for a distributed team. 

Of course, Tribal is not the only company offering credit cards for startups. Brex, which has amassed $465 million in venture capital funding to date, also markets a credit card tailored for startups. While the companies are similar, there is a distinct difference, according to Shady: “Emerging market SMEs have different pains, particularly when it comes to cross-border payments.”

Tribal’s initial efforts are focused on Latin America, in particular Mexico, which is the startup’s biggest market.

Its new capital will go toward accelerating its growth in the region, according to Shady. In particular, the equity will go toward growing Tribal’s leadership team in Mexico, while the debt will fuel the company’s customers’ growing credit lines, Shady said.

“We have invested heavily in our product over the past year,” Shady said. “We’re the first mover in our segment in LatAm with a diverse suite of SME products that includes corporate cards, wire payments and treasury services. We’re incredibly excited by the future ahead of us in Mexico and beyond.” 

Customers include Minu, Ben and Frank, Fairplay and SLM, among others.

Looking ahead, Tribal is exploring four other Latin American markets and expects to be operational in one new market by year’s end, according to Shady.

Image Credits: Tribal Credit

QED Investors partner Lauren Morton said her firm has been following payments and the lending needs of SMEs in emerging markets closely.

“Compared with everything else we’ve seen in this market, Tribal has a differentiated and superior product that meets customers’ needs in a way that no competitor can match,” she said in a written statement. 

Morton went on to note that Tribal has had strong traction in Mexico, with adoption from “fast-growing startups” across the country, including many companies within QED’s own portfolio. 

PFG is providing the debt facility for Tribal. In addition to funding from PFG’s global fund, the firm will be co-investing from its Latin America Growth Lending Fund in partnership with IDB Invest and SVB Financial Group, the parent company of Silicon Valley Bank. 

Tribal Credit previously raised $7.8 million in a series of seed rounds. The latest round brings its total raised to $42.1 million. Tribal Credit also joined Visa’s Fintech Fast Track Program, a move that it said should accelerate its integration with Visa’s global payment network.  The company currently has 75 employees, up from 31 last year.

#artificial-intelligence, #bank, #beco-capital, #blockchain, #blockchain-network, #credit, #credit-card, #debt, #economy, #fairplay, #finance, #frank, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latin-america, #mexico, #minu, #money, #online-payments, #online-products, #partners-for-growth, #payment-network, #payments, #qed-investors, #recent-funding, #silicon-valley-bank, #slm, #startups, #svb-financial-group, #tc, #tribal-credit, #venture-capital

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Remote hiring startup Deel raises $156M at a $1.25B valuation after 20x growth in 2020

Many of the world’s organizations shifted to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But even as more people are vaccinated and offices are planning re-openings, it’s clear that for some organizations, remote work is here to stay. 

Deel, a startup which provides payroll, compliance tools and other services to help businesses hire remotely, has seen increased demand in the wake of this shift.

And today, the San Francisco company has announced that it has raised $156 million in Series C funding led by the YC Continuity Fund and existing backers Andreessen Horowitz and Spark Capital. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, former Stripe payments guru Lachy Groom, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jeff Wilke, and Anthony Schiller also participated in the round, among others. 

The raise is notable for a few reasons. For one, it comes just over seven months after Deel raised a $30 million Series B financing. So it is essentially more than 5x the size of that round. It’s also a big deal because it propels Deel, a 3 year-old company, to unicorn status with a $1.25 billion valuation. The raise also comes after a massive year of growth for Deel, which says it saw a “20x” increase in revenue in 2020 with over 1,800 business clients. That’s up from 500 at the time of its September raise.

Co-founded by MIT alumni Alex Bouaziz and Shuo Wan, Deel aims to allow businesses “to hire anyone, anywhere, in a compliant manner.” It claims that by using its services, businesses can hire and onboard international employees or contractors in under 5 minutes, with no local entity required and that “paying them in 120+ currencies takes just a click.”

Deel plans to use its new capital to continue an international expansion and set up 80 new Deel-owned entities across the world in 2021. Deel also plans to do some hiring itself, and grow its product offerings. The company’s own team is entirely remote, and has grown from 7 employees to over 120 across 26 countries since January 2020. CB Insights projects the industry for virtual HR software will grow to $43 billion by 2026 as technology platforms like Deel help businesses make the transition to remote-first work.

YC Continuity’s Ali Rowghani, who has joined Deel’s board as part of the funding, believes Deel was already at the forefront of remote work pre-pandemic and that “it will be long after.”

“The way people work is fundamentally changing… the [Deel] team is uniquely equipped to remove the obstacles of remote work so companies hire the best talent in the world, instead of only those nearest to them,” he said in a written statement.

As TechCrunch previously reported, Deel today already provides various tools to employees and the organizations that they work for, such as payroll services, tax compliance information, assistance on building contracts, invoicing services and a range of insurance options covering health and other areas related to working life.

Now the plan is to continue building out that stack with more services aimed at both the workers and their employers. That includes loans based on salary for workers, more insurance and benefits options and other offerings.

#alex-bouaziz, #ali-rowghani, #andreessen-horowitz, #anthony-schiller, #ceo, #dara-khosrowshahi, #deel, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hiring, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #lachy-groom, #mit, #recent-funding, #remote-work, #san-francisco, #spark-capital, #startups, #uber, #venture-capital

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SoftBank bets big on a ‘digital Ellis Island’

Welcome Tech, which has built a digital platform aimed at immigrants and their families, has raised $35 million in a Series B funding round co-led by TTV Capital, Owl Ventures and SoftBank Group Corp.’s SB Opportunity Fund.

Crosscut Ventures, Mubadala Capital, Next Play Capital and Owl Capital also participated in the financing, which brings the Los Angeles-based company’s total raised to $50 million since its 2010 inception. Welcome Tech, which has an office in San Antonio, Texas, raised an $8 million Series A in March of 2020.

Built by immigrants for immigrants, Welcome Tech aims to do just what its name indicates — help immigrants feel more welcome, have an easier transition and achieve greater success when moving to the United States.

The company’s approach was different in that rather than launch a banking product and then set out to earn the trust of the community it aims to serve, it first worked hard to earn that trust and understand the community’s needs. 

So in its first years of existence, Welcome Tech has focused on building out a platform that provides educational resources, information and services that “they need to thrive in a  new country.” Its efforts are initially primarily focused on the Hispanic community in the U.S.

The goal of its platform, dubbed SABEResPODER (meaning Knowledge is Power in Spanish), is to serve as “a widely recognized and trusted resource” to members of the Hispanic community in the U.S., the company says.

Armed with knowledge and data that it has gathered over the years, Welcome Tech six months ago launched a banking service, including a debit card and bilingual mobile app. And in January, it launched a monthly subscription offering that gives users access to discounted resources such as medical and dental professionals.

Gardiner Garrard, co-founder and partner, TTV Capital, points out that the Hispanic market represents the largest minority cohort in the U.S., with a population of 62.8 million. 

“That said, less than half of Hispanic households are ‘fully banked’, meaning they cannot open an account, which then negatively impacts their ability to secure other products or services,” Garrard said. “To not serve this community is a major failure. Welcome Tech is addressing this issue head on.”

Today, Welcome’s platform is approaching 3 million active users, according to co-founder and CEO Amir Hemmat. Its ultimate goal, he said, is to serve as “digital Ellis Island.” 

“The way we leave immigrants’ success to chance is pretty crazy,” he told TechCrunch. “If you think of countries the way you think of companies and the way they want to attract and retain…here, we almost do the opposite.”

Image Credits: Welcome Tech

In particular, Hemmat and co-founder Raul Lomeli-Azoubel recognized that access to financial services was crucial to immigrants’ success.

“Although we ultimately see ourselves building towards a better future for immigration and a broader platform, the foundation and beachhead for that is definitely in financial services,” Hemmat said.  

Welcome offers a free banking account that is fully bilingual for English and Spanish speaking communities with “key features that are very tailor made for this community.”

A number of new digital banks targeting Latino and immigrant communities in general have emerged in recent years, including TomoCredit and Greenwood. Welcome aims to differentiate itself from competitors in being a more broad-based platform. Its subscription offering — at $10 a month — does things like offer discounts to healthcare professionals and free televisits, for example.

“When we dug in, we realized that immigrants are not being provided data-driven recommendations,” Hemmat said. “It’s very much a word of mouth and trial of error, and in some cases highly predatory, experience. We’re working to aggregate a historically fragmented audience and that gives us massive leverage to source better offerings, pricing and experiences for consumers across multiple categories.”

The company plans to use its new capital to build more partnerships so that it can do the above, as well as spread awareness about its services.

Gosia Karas, vice president and head of growth-stage investments at SoftBank’s Opportunity Fund, told TechCrunch that the fact that the immigrant population in the U.S. is “growing really fast and underserved creates an opportunity for someone to come in and serve them well with a financial services offering.”

In particular, SoftBank was attracted to Welcome Tech’s approach to truly understand, and gather data around, its target market.

“Before even jumping head first into building a fintech company, they did a lot of work prior,” Karas said. “They spent years building an understanding of this audience of the immigrant population, including building trust within that demographic. And at the same time, they have been building targeted content. This serves as a really great backbone to build a company that is very well-suited to serve that audience and to roll out things like the debit card and other financial services offerings.”

#bank, #banking, #crosscut-ventures, #debit-card, #diversity, #economy, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenwood, #los-angeles, #mubadala-capital, #owl-capital, #owl-ventures, #recent-funding, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #ttv-capital, #united-states, #venture-capital, #vodafone, #welcome-tech

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Discount grocery startup Misfits Market raises $200M

Misfits Market, a startup known for selling “ugly” fruits and vegetables at discount prices, announced this morning that it has raised $200 million in Series C funding.

The company says this brings its total funding to $301.5 million and moves its valuation into unicorn territory (i.e., above $1 billion). It isn’t getting any more specific about that valuation, though Bloomberg reports that it’s $1.1 billion.

Founder and CEO Abhi Ramesh told me that the Delanco, New Jersey-based startup has expanded beyond produce into a variety of grocery categories. At the same time, he said all of its products remain united by a focus on “a single word, which is value.”

Misfits Market products are discounted by up to 40 percent compared to what you’d find in other grocery stores (in-person or online), which Ramesh said the company achieves by purchasing products that regular stores won’t buy or sell, often for “crazy, random” reasons. For example, he said the company had recently purchased 50,000 bottles of perfectly good olive oil “where the labeling was just angled the wrong way.”

The company says its active customer base and order volume grew 5x last year, when it shipped 77 million pounds of food to more than 400,000 customers. Ramesh said it was a big challenge to meet increased consumer demand (and it did have to create a long wait list for a while), but Misfits had advantages that many other grocery companies did not.

Misfits Market CEO Abhi Ramesh

Misfits Market CEO Abhi Ramesh

“Fortunately, because we operate our own fulfillment centers and we have our own internal tech built around this, we were not constrained by the same constraints that physical grocery stores have, where we have to close at 9pm every day, where we have to make room for regular foot traffic and Instacart shoppers,” he said. “For us, we just have to scale our fulfillment centers, which is easier said than done.”

The new round was led by Accel and D1 Capital, with participation from Valor Equity Partners, Greenoaks Capital, Sound Ventures, Third Kind Ventures and others. Accel’s Ryan Sweeney is joining Misfits’ board of directors.

“Direct-to-consumer models aren’t anything new in the food industry, but the approach Misfits Market has taken is,” Sweeney said in a statement. “Instead of focusing only on their end customer, they’ve managed to create a dynamic solution that also supports food suppliers at every level.”

With the new funding, Misfits Market plans to continue expanding into new grocery categories and new geographies. For example, it’s taking its first orders from Oregon and Washington today, and Ramesh said his goal is to be shipping to “100 percent of zip codes in the 48 lower states” in the next 12 months.

#abhi-ramesh, #accel, #d1-capital, #ecommerce, #food, #funding, #fundings-exits, #groceries, #misfits-market, #startups, #tc

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Authzed scores $3.9M seed to build permissions API service

Authzed, an early stage startup that wants to make it easier for developers to build permissions in their applications, announced a $3.9 million seed round today. The investment was led by Work-Bench with participation from Y Combinator and Amplify Partners.

CEO and co-founder Jake Moshenko says the service is an API that is designed to help developers quickly add permissions to an application. “Authzed is a platform to store, compute and validate application permissions. So based on our experience at Google and Red Hat and Amazon, we think that this is the proper way that companies should be doing application permissions,” Moshenko told me.

The way the service works is by helping to define groups of users, and based on the membership of a given group, defining what data they can see and what functions they have permissions to access. While it may rely on Active Directory or LDAP as the basis of permissions groups, he says that it simplifies the actual permissions implementation.

“So, by itself Active Directory doesn’t actually fully solve the problem. You still have to bind to that group membership to a set of permissions that it implies. With our system, you can actually unify the way that you talk about both the permissions and group members,” Moshenko said.

The company has built out the framework for the service, But Moshenko says the links to Active Directory and other directory services are on the road map. For now, they have been working with design partners to get the basics of the product down, and today the company is opening the service for any developer who wants to use it.

For starters, it will be free, but over time he expects they will have pricing tiers. He likens his service to other API companies like Twilio for communications or Stripe for payments and expects the cost will be low when an application is just starting out and then go up over time as it gets more popular and needs to check the permissions more regularly.

It’s early days for the company and other than the three co-founders, they have just one employee. The plan is to hire additional engineers using the money from this round, while trying to build traction in the developer community for the product. He says that the number of new employees they add this year will really depend on how well the product is doing in the market.

The founders previously founded Quay, a private registry for Docker containers, which they sold to CoreOS in 2014. Red Hat bought CoreOs in January 2018 for $250 million. IBM then bought Red Hat for $34 billion later in the year.

#api-tools, #authzed, #developer, #funding, #permissions, #startups, #work-bench

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Deliverect gobbles up $65M for a platform that streamlines online and offline food orders

Restaurants rode a wave of usage of food delivery services like Deliveroo, Uber Eats and DoorDash in the last year, discovering new revenues and ways to connect with diners to offset the fact that in-person trade for many of them had disappeared overnight. But they also discovered something less appetizing: dealing with the mess of apps and hardware that they need to use to manage orders from their various services is a nightmare, worse than a deflated souffle or a botched Beef Wellington.

Today, a startup out of Belgium called Deliverect, which has built a platform to manage all of that through one seamless app, is today announcing a big round of funding.

Underscoring the demand for its technology and the bumper year it’s just had, the company has raised $65 million — funding that it will be using to expand its business. That will include the services and integrations that it provides with a wider range of physical point of sale terminals and third-party service providers, and targeting more customers — restaurants, dark kitchens and consumer goods companies building direct-to-consumer strategies — in a wider range of markets.

The funding is being co-led by DST and Redpoint Ventures, with OMERS, Newion, Smartfin and the founders also participating. It brings the total raised by Deliverect to $90 million, and while the valuation is currently not being disclosed, it comes on the heels of big growth. In the last year, the company processed some $1 billion across 30 million orders for its customers, with business growing almost 750% in the last year.

Customers number 10,000 and include the likes of chains like KFC and Pret a Manger, smaller restaurants like Dishoom (an Indian restaurant in London, for readers outside of London), a dark kitchen startup called Casper, and consumer goods giant Unilever.

For some further context on valuation, Toast, a company that provides similar SaaS out of the US, but also sells an all-in-one product that also includes the point-of-sale hardware, is reportedly working on an IPO right now that would value it at $20 billion.

Zhong Xu, the CEO who co-founded Deliverect with Jan Hollez (CTO), Jelte Vrijhoef (CIO), and Jerome Laredo (CRO), recalled in an interview that the idea for the company stretches back to a time when his dad, an Asian transplant to Belgium who had built a point of sale system that he sold to Chinese restaurants, had hoped that his son would take over the family business. He had the entrepreneurial itch, however, and also saw that the problem was bigger than just the range of businesses that his dad was targeting. (His dad is still in business, and they still talk, Xu confirmed.)

That first led Xu and Hollez, also friends outside of work, in 2010, to found POSiOS, which was the first iPad-based point of sale solution in Europe. That business four years later was acquired by Lightspeed, to spearhead its move into POS for restaurants just ahead of its IPO.

That wasn’t the end of the line for these two, though. “We saw that tens of thousands of customers were using our iPad system, but they were asking for something else. They wanted to remove all their tablets altogether,” Xu said.

What he is referring to is a pretty big issue for the typical ready-made food provider. Be it a restaurant, a chain, a dark kitchen or a food company itself, the market for taking and filling food orders is traditionally very fragmented. You will have one proprietary system that is used to manage orders in your restaurant itself, and another for orders that people call in to come pick up and takeaway, and a third for delivery orders taken via third-party platforms.

And that third can be more than one, depending on how many delivery networks your restaurant is using. All of these could feasibly require their own pieces of hardware, and these customers wanted that simplified down to one device alone.

“Just try to imagine being in a restaurant: there could be people there, others calling in, and between 5 and 10 tablets screaming for attention,” Hollez said in an interview. “It is just not possible to manage this.”

The solution that Deliverect, founded in 2018, has built essentially brings all of that into a single SaaS platform that manages all of these different channels in one place.

This gives the food provider a way of adequately monitoring and managing what stock is being used up and which dishes are subsequently off the menu, what orders are coming in and where and how to better manage that across their operations, and critically to update their customers on what they can actually order and how long it might take to fill that order out (a provider like Deliveroo will then also use that data to calculate how long it will take to not just make the order but to pick it up and get it to a customer). Deliverect also provides some analytics that can help its customers figure out how to manage all this better in the future.

While this state of affairs has been a problem for years, it definitely escalated in the last year, Xu said, with between 10% and 30% more orders coming from delivery platforms. The company claims that using its software helps its restaurant customers work significantly more efficiently, leading to an average increase of 25% in revenues and — importantly — an 80% decrease in order failures that resulted from all that chaotic fragmentation.

The work it’s doing with FMCG companies is also interesting: the idea here is that brands themselves have been in a bind that has only tightened in the last year, with usually only a very indirect relationship with customers: perhaps a strong bond in terms of marketing, but not when it comes to actually selling food items to customers: its sales typically involve intermediaries such as stores or restaurants.

But as the D2C trend has taken off in food, those big brands are leaving a lot on the table for competitors to pick up, and that’s even more of an issue when the restaurants and stores are being shut or just seeing less footfall due to Covid-19. So many of them have started to explore what they might do to bridge that gap. Xu said that by and large the focus at the moment is really about running marketing campaigns and getting physical items to people as a part of that, but it does present some very interesting ideas about how Deliverect might develop in the future.

For example, a new wave of ultra-fast grocery delivery startups are emerging, and those could represent a new wave of customers for the company and be a tool for helping the Unilevers of the world supply those platforms with steady streams of its products, or indeed the FMCG companies could leverage those to become direct sellers of their fizzy drinks, pretzels and chocolates (or whatever items they want to sell). Xu noted in fact that Spain’s Glovo, one of these startups, is already a partner.

All of this spells an interesting future, despite the many other companies also chasing the opportunity, one reason why these founders and this startup out of Ghent have been backed by these high-profile international investors.

“The explosive rise of online food delivery is forcing restaurants to change how they operate,” said Elliot Geidt, Managing Director, Redpoint Ventures, in a statement. “Zhong and the Deliverect team are building the tools and infrastructure to help restaurants thrive in a world where navigating online food delivery is a matter of success or failure. Zhong has a unique empathy for restaurant owners, an unmatched technical understanding of the food delivery tech stack, and a raw ambition and vision that leaves us very excited.”

“Restaurants, consumer goods companies and other businesses increasingly want to enable on-demand ordering by their customers,” added Tom Stafford, Managing Partner, DST Global Partners, in his own statement. “But many do not have the tools or technology to efficiently work with  on-demand delivery providers. Deliverect is providing key software and integrations to enable these businesses to integrate on-demand offerings seamlessly. We are excited to partner with the Deliverect team as they continue to roll out their technology globally and further develop their product offering.”

#delivery, #europe, #food, #food-delivery, #funding, #point-of-sale, #pos, #restaurants, #tc

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Catch&Release raises $14M to help marketers find and license content from across the web

Catch&Release founder and CEO Analisa Goodin told me that she wants to help brands break free from the limitations of stock photography — and that her startup has raised $14 million in Series A funding to achieve that goal.

Goodin explained that the company started out as an image research firm before becoming a product-focused, venture-backed startup in 2015. The Series A was led by Accel (with participation from Cervin Ventures and other existing investors), and it brings Catch&Release’s total funding to $26 million.

Stock media and video services are moving in this direction themselves, for example by introducing their own libraries of user-generated content. Goodin applauded this, and she said Catch&Release isn’t opposed to the use of stock photos — it integrates with these stock marketplaces. At the same time, she suggested that she has a much bigger vision.

“This isn’t just about UGC, this is about tapping into the creative potential of the internet,” she said.

After all, you can now find pretty much any kind of content you can imagine somewhere online, but “a lot of advertising agencies and brands have been trained that if a piece of content comes form internet, avoid it,” because it’s just “too hard” to figure out how to license it. (And indeed, that’s why I went with a stock photo for the lead image of this post.)

Catch&Release screenshot

Image Credits: Catch&Release

Catch&Release aims to make that process as simple as possible, first with a browser extension that allows marketers to save any media that they find on the web, anytime they think they might want to use in their own campaigns (this is the “catch” part of the process). It even presents a “licensability score,” which is a rating based on factors like the person who posted the content, the description and the comments, indicating how likely it is that a marketer will actually be able to license this content.

Then, when someone from a brand or advertising agency decides that they want to use a piece of content, they can send a licensing request with a push of a button (this is the “release”). Catch&Releases also analyzes the content for anything else that needs to be cleared or obscured, such as a company logo.

While we’ve written about other tools for licensing online content, Goodwin emphasized that Catch&Release isn’t just about finding photos for a social media campaign. Part of the goal, she said, is to erase the “stigma” around UGC, which now “represents the entire spectrum of culturally relevant content.”

For example, she showed me a Red Lobster commercial that looks like a normal TV ad, but was in fact assembled entirely from footage found online — something that’s been even more useful in the past year, with pandemic-related safety concerns around large shoots. (Catch&Release has also been used to license content for ads promoting TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon.)

Goodwin added that the new funding will allow Catch&Release to continue investing in product, engineering and marketing.

“No one has defined the commercial licensing layer for the web,” she said. “What’s got me really excited to build this product is being that layer for the internet, not just for photos and videos, but for writing, art, graphics, and building the commercial licensing engine of the web.”

#accel, #advertising-tech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #startups, #stock-photography, #tc, #user-generated-content

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Hustle Fund backs Fintor, which wants to make it easier to invest in real estate

Farshad Yousefi and Masoud Jalali used to drive through Palo Alto neighborhoods and marvel at the outrageous home prices. But the drives sparked an idea. They were not in a financial position to purchase a home in those neighborhoods (to be clear, not many people are) either for investment or to live. But what if they could invest in homes in up and coming cities throughout the U.S.?

Then they realized that even that might be a challenge considering that with all their student debt, affording a down payment would be impossible.

“There was nothing available out there besides a crowdfunding platform, which when we first signed up, took away $1,000 from our account that we didn’t have, and then our capital would be locked up for 3 to 10 years,” recalls Yousefi.

So the pair started doing research and spoke to 1,000 individuals under the age of 35. Eight out of 10 said they would like to invest in real estate but were deterred by all the barriers to entry.

“There is clearly a large demand for access to real estate,” Yousefi said. “And we wanted to give people a way to invest in it like they can in stocks, via a mobile app.”

And so the idea for Fintor was born.

Yousefi and Jalali founded the company in 2020 with the goal of purchasing homes via an LLC, and turning each into shares through a SEC-approved broker dealer. Individuals can then buy shares of the homes via Fintor’s platform. Its next step is to sign agreements with individual real estate investors or bigger real estate development firms to list their properties on the platform and give people the opportunity to buy shares.

And now Fintor has raised $2.5 million in seed money to continue building out its fractional real estate investing platform. The startup aims to “fractionalize” houses and other residential property, giving people in the U.S. access to investment opportunities “starting with as little as $5.” The company attracted the interest of investors such as 500 Startups, Hustle Fund, Graphene Ventures, Houston-based real estate investor Manny Khoshbin, Mana Ventures and other angel investors such as Cindy Bi, Skyler Fernandes, VU Venture Partners, Minal Hasan, Andrew Zalasin, Alluxo CEO and Founder Safa Mahzari, SquareFoot CEO and founder Jonathan Wasserstrum and Teachable CEO and founder Ankur Nagpal.

Image Credits: Fintor

Fintor is eying markets such as Kansas City, South Carolina, and Houston, Texas, where it already has some properties. It’s looking for homes in the $80,000 to $350,000 price range, and millennials and GenZers are its target demographic.

“Fintor can give the same return as the stock market, but at half the risk,” Yousefi said. “As two [Iranian] immigrants, we’ve seen how much this country has to offer and how real estate sits at the top of everything, yet is so inaccessible.”

The pair had originally set out to raise just $1 million but the round was quickly “way oversubscribed,” according to Yousefi, and they ended up raising $2.5 million at triple the original valuation.

Jalali said the company will use machine learning technology to filter and rate properties as it scales its business model.

“We’ll use ML to categorize neighborhoods and to come up with the price of properties to offer to potential sellers,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is to create indexes so that people can invest in multiple properties in a given city. That creates diversification right away.”

.Elizabeth Yin, co-founder and general partner of Hustle Fund, believes that Fintor is solving a generational problem with real estate.

“Retail investors have almost no access to great real estate investments today and the best opportunities are reserved for the select few,” she told TechCrunch. “Not to mention that in addition to access, retail investors often need a lot of capital in order to have a diversified portfolio or be accredited to join funds.”

Fintor’s approach to securitize real estate assets will give millions of investors who are not accredited investors access they would otherwise not have had, Yin added. 

“Simultaneously, it provides increased liquidity to property owners, while improving the user experience for both parties,” she said. “Effectively this becomes a new asset class, because it’s entirely turnkey and is fractionalized, which opens up many new pockets of investors.”

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Gaming infrastructure startup Pragma raises $12M from Greylock, Mark Pincus and others

Pragma is building what it calls a “backend as a service,” providing ready-made infrastructure to developers of online, live service games. And it’s announcing today that it has raised $12 million in Series A funding.

The round was led by David Thacker at Greylock, with participation from Zynga founder Mark Pincus, Oculus founder Nate Mitchell and Cloudera founder Amr Awadallah, along with previous investors Upfront Ventures and Advancit Capital. Amy Chang, who sold her business intelligence startup Accompany to Cisco, is joining Pragma’s board of directors.

Co-founder and CEO Eden Chen told me that where Unity and Unreal have built popular frontend game engines, he and his co-founder Chris Cobb (former engineering lead at Riot Games) are hoping Pragma will fill the void for a “de facto backend game engine.”

And while “many companies tried to do this” over the past decade, Chen suggested that this is the right time to launch the platform, thanks to the continued rise of live service games (like League of Legends) that have to be treated as “living, breathing products,” as well as improved tooling around infrastructure platforms like Amazon Web Services.

Pragma screenshot

Image Credits: Pragma

Pragma is launching a starter kit today designed to allow developers to quickly set up and test game loops. Meanwhile, the broader platform is currently in private beta testing with studios including One More Game (started by started by Pat Wyatt, one of Blizzard’s first employees) and Mitchell’s Mountain Top Studios.

Chen said the platform’s features fall into three broad categories — player accounts/social, game loops (including lobbies and matchmaking) and player/game data. Pragma isn’t building all of this from scratch; in some cases, it’s “acting as the integrator” for other platforms like Discord. Chen also noted that while the team plans to build a fully managed solution in the future, the current version is on-premise: “We’re building an instance of Pragma on the studio’s own infrastructure, [so they can] so they can take our code base and customize it to their own preferences.”

Pragma is initially targeting game studios with about 10 to 50 team members. Eventually, Chen hopes the platform could serve larger studios while also supporting “the democratization of these tools, so that a one- to five-person team can really leverage [them] to launch a networked, online game.”

He added, “The vision for us long term is that we really want to be innovating on the social side, creating social features that improve the game and build stronger connections.”

#funding, #fundings-exits, #gaming, #greylock-partners, #mark-pincus, #pragma, #startups, #tc

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