What does Red Hat’s sale to IBM tell us about Couchbase’s valuation?

The IPO rush of 2021 continued this week with a fresh filing from NoSQL provider Couchbase. The company raised hundreds of millions while private, making its impending debut an important moment for a number of private investors, including venture capitalists.

According to PitchBook data, Couchbase was last valued at a post-money valuation of $580 million when it raised $105 million in May 2020. The company — despite its expansive fundraising history — is not a unicorn heading into its debut to the best of our knowledge.

We’d like to uncover whether it will be one when it prices and starts to trade, so we dug into Couchbase’s business model and its financial performance, hoping to better understand the company and its market comps.

The Couchbase S-1

The Couchbase S-1 filing details a company that sells database tech. More specifically, Couchbase offers customers database technology that includes what NoSQL can offer (“schema flexibility,” in the company’s phrasing), as well as the ability to ask questions of their data with SQL queries.

Couchbase’s software can be deployed on clouds, including public clouds, in hybrid environments, and even on-prem setups. The company sells to large companies, attracting 541 customers by the end of its fiscal 2021 that generated $107.8 million in annual recurring revenue, or ARR, by the close of last year.

Couchbase breaks its revenue into two main buckets. The first, subscription, includes software license income and what the company calls “support and other” revenues, which it defines as “post-contract support,” or PCS, which is a package of offerings, including “support, bug fixes and the right to receive unspecified software updates and upgrades” for the length of the contract.

The company’s second revenue bucket is services, which is self-explanatory and lower-margin than its subscription products.

#couchbase, #ec-cloud-and-enterprise-infrastructure, #enterprise, #fundings-exits, #ibm, #nosql, #red-hat, #startups

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Equity Monday: China hates crypto, and the Vision Fund’s vision lives on

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

Our live show is this week! And we’re very excited about it! Details here, and you can register here. It’s free, of course, so swing by and hang with us.

Back on theme, we had a lot to get through this morning, so inside the show you can find the following and more:

  • The Chinese cryptocurrency clampdown is a big damn deal: With lots of the nation’s mining capacity heading offline, there’s a scramble to relocate rigs and generally figure out what a crypto market sans China might look like.
  • In the wake of the news, the value of cryptocurrencies fell. As did shares of Coinbase this morning in pre-market trading.
  • Facebook’s Clubhouse rival is out. The American social giant follows Spotify into the live-audio market. You have to give it to modern software companies, who thought that they could be both leading tech shops and Kinko’s clones at the same time?
  • Revolut is unprofitable as hell but increasingly less so. That could be good news for fintech as a whole.
  • Amber Group raised $100 million; Forto raised $240 million.

See you this Thursday at the live show!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#audio, #china, #clubhouse, #coinbase, #crypto, #cryptocurrencies, #equity-monday, #equity-podcast, #facebook, #fintech, #forto, #fundings-exits, #neobank, #revolut, #spotify, #startups, #stock-market, #vision-fund

0

Buy now, pay later startup Kredivo doubles its debt facility from Victory Park Capital to $200M

Kredivo announced today it has secured another $100 million debt facility from Victory Park Capital (VPC). This doubles the Indonesian digital lending and credit platform’s total warehouse financing facility from VPC to $200 million. The first round was closed in July 2020.

Kredivo is operated by Singapore-based fintech FinAccel. This is the largest loan facility it has raised so far, and is VPC’s biggeast debt commitment to a fintech company outside of the United States and Europe, as well as its only investment in Southeast Asia. Kredivo will use the debt facility to help achieve its goal of serving 10 million customers in Indonesia.

Other notable startups that have received debt financing from VPC include Razor Group, factory 14, Konfio and Elevate.

Kredivo has more than three million customers and offers two main types of lending products: zero interest 30-day ‘buy now, pay later’ financing for e-commerce and offline purchases, and three-, six- and 12-month installment loans with an interest rate of 2.6% a month, or a maximum annual rate of 53.36%. Kredivo chief executive officer Akshay Garg told TechCrunch that its ‘buy now, pay later’ services are typically used for small-value online purchases, while installment loans are used to finance bigger transactions, like laptops, home renovation or medical care.

While ‘buy now, pay later’ services like Klarna, Afterpay or Affirm offer convenience to customers in the United States or Europe, in emerging markets it also serves as a tool to build credit, especially in countries that have low credit card penetration, Garg said.

“Credit is one of the largest and most complex areas of the financial services ecosystem and the fact is that Indonesia is deeply underserved on that equation,” he said. Most banks only provide secured lending, like home or car loans, and unsecured lending is rare. Garg said there are only eight million credit card holders in Indonesia, which has a population of 270.6 million, and that number has not changed in 13 years.

One of the reasons for Indonesia’s very low credit card penetration rate is because banks are reluctant to give unsecured loans, especially to younger customers.

“What we’re solving is less a convenience problem and more an access problem. We’re putting unsecured credit, or the ability to buy on credit, in the hands of urban millennials for the first time, simply because banks are just not providing them access to credit cards,” said Garg.

He added that Kredivo’s effective risk-scoring model allows to charge low interest rates, and its non-performing loan ratio is in the low single-digits, despite the economic impact of COVID-19, which Garg described as a “trial by fire.”

Like credit cards from banks, Kredivo also reports customers’ loan histories to Indonesia’s credit bureaus, so they can build credit scores. “What we’re doing is a building Indonesia’s first real digital credit bureau from the ground up, and I think our risk metrics show that this is not just for the sake of some funky innovation, but something that is delivering real performance,” Garg said.

In a statement, VPC partner Gordon Watson said, “We have been impressed with the resilience and growth of the business and look forward to deepening our partnership with Kredivo. The company presents a unique combination of growth, scale, risk management and financial inclusion in one of the most exciting emerging markets in the world.”

#asia, #bnpl, #buy-now-pay-later, #credit, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #kredivo, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #victory-park-capital

0

Vietnamese financial services app MFast gets $1.5M pre-Series A led by Do Ventures

MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

MFast, a mobile app that lets Vietnamese users in remote areas access financial services, announced it has raised a $1.5 million pre-Series A today. The round was led by Do Ventures, with participation from JAFCO Asia. 

Launched in 2019 by fintech company Digipay, MFast says it has been used by 600,000 people to date. It partners with financial institutions who provide services like loans and insurance, and says it has been used to distribute more than 50 billion VND (about $2.2 million USD) worth of products so far.

The majority, or about 75% to 80% of MFast’s users are in remote provinces or rural areas, which the company says often limits their access to banking and credit-related services. 

The funding will be used to expand MFast to more cities and provinces in Vietnam, develop its technology and partner with more institutions. MFast also plans to enter other markets in the future. 

MFast’s consumer credit partners include Mirae Asset, CIMB, Mcredit and Easy Credit, and its insurance partners include PVI, PTI and BSH. It claims to have a network of more than 350,000 advisors, who offers their services through the app, and that its data analysis tools are able to reduce bad debt and fraud rates. 

#apps, #digipay, #do-ventures, #financial-services, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #jafco-asia, #mfast, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

0

GrowSari, a B2B platform for small stores in the Philippines, adds investors like Temasek’s Pavilion Capital and Tencent

Sari-sari stores are neighborhood stores in the Philippines that usually sell daily necessities and sometimes serve as community hubs, too. Today GrowSari, a startup that is digitizing sari-sari stores with features like pricing tools, inventory management and working capital loans, announced it has raised a Series B from several notable investors that brings its total funding to $30 million.

The company’s Series B is at a rolling close, so it has not announced a final amount. The $30 million total it has raised include its seed funding and Series A, which according to a July 2020 profile in Esquire Philippines was $14 million. Participants in its Series B included Temasek Holdings’ private equity unit Pavilion Capital, Tencent, International Finance Corporation (IFC), ICCP SBI Venture Partners and Saison Capital, and returning investors Robinsons Retail Holdings (which is part of the Gokongwei Group), JG Digital Equity Ventures and Wavemaker Partners.

GrowSari was founded in 2016, and says its B2B platform is currently used by more than 50,000 stores in over 100 municipalities on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest and most populated island. Its ultimate goal is to serve one million sari-sari stores.

According to GrowSari, there are more than 1.1 million sari-sari stores in the Philippines, and they account for 60% of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sold in the country, making them a valuable distribution channel for wholesalers. In addition to its supplier marketplace, GrowSari says it is able to give sari-sari store operators better pricing for products from about a thousand FMCG brands, including Unilever, P&G and Nestle, which it claims can help stores double their earnings. Other services in the app include online telecom and utility bill payments, remittance and microfinancing for working capital loans.

GrowSari’s founding tDeam includes Reymund Rollan, Shiv Choudhury, Siddhartha Kongara and Andrzej Ogonowski, who first launched the platform as a backend system for sari-sari stores to manage their logistics and inventory.

A screenshot of product categories in GrowSari's app

A screenshot of product categories in GrowSari’s app

Since most sari-sari stores are run individually, their margins are smaller than large retailers that can negotiate deals with FMCG wholesalers. GrowSari’s supplier marketplace addresses this issue by giving sari-sari stores access the Distributor List Prices seen by large stores and wholesalers. GrowSari’s marketplace does not require a minimum order, and it allows sari-sari stores on the platform to pay with cash on delivery, GrowCoins (or cash credits that can be topped up through GrowSari’s shippers, online transfers, banks or over-the-counter at convenience stores) or E-Lista, GrowSari’s seven-day loan product.

GrowSari’s new capital will be used to expand its userbase to 300,000 new stores in the Philippines, especially in Visayas and Mindanao, increase the size of its supplier marketplace and launch more financial products for sari-sari stores. The startup is part of a new crop of B2B platforms in Asia focused on serving micro to small-enterprises, including BukuWarung and BukuKas in Indonesia and Khatabook in India.

#asia, #b2b, #fmcg, #fundings-exits, #growsari, #msmes, #pavilion-capital, #philippines, #sari-sari, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #tencent

0

Mediflash is a freelancer marketplace for health professionals

Meet Mediflash, a new French startup that wants to improve temp staffing in healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes, clinics and mental health facilities. The company positions itself as an alternative to traditional temp staffing agencies. They claim to offer better terms for both caregivers and institutions.

“It costs a small fortune to health facilities while caregivers are paid poorly,” co-founder Léopold Treppoz told me.

Traditional temp staffing agencies hire caregivers and nurses on their payroll. When a facility doesn’t have enough staff, they ask their usual temp staffing agency. The agency finds someone and charges the facility.

“When we started, we thought we would do a temp staffing agency, but more digital, more tech,” Treppoz said. But the startup realized they would face the same issues as regular temp staffing agencies.

Instead, they looked at other startups working on freelancer marketplaces for developers, project managers, marketing experts and more. In France, a few of them have been quite successful, such as Comet, Malt, StaffMe and Brigad — some of them even run a vertical focused on health professionals. But Mediflash wants to focus specifically on caregivers.

Professionals signing up to Mediflash are freelancers. Mediflash only acts as a marketplace that connects health facilities with caregivers. The company says caregivers can expect more revenue — up to 20% — while facilities end up paying less.

Of course, it’s not a fair comparison as temp staffing agencies hire caregivers. As a freelancer, you don’t have the same benefits as a full-time employee. And in particular, you can’t get unemployment benefits.

“But a lot of caregivers say that this isn’t an issue because there is a lot of demand [from health facilities],” Treppoz said. On the platform, you’ll find students in nursing school who want to earn a bit of money, professionals who already have a part-time job looking for additional work as well as full-time substitute caregivers.

Usually, facilities just want someone for three days because they’re running short on staff. Mediflash is well aware that health facilities usually work with one temp staffing agency and that’s it. That’s why the startup has a sales team that has to talk with each facility one by one. Right now, the startup is mostly focused on Metz, Nancy and Strasbourg.

Mediflash recently raised a $2 million funding round (€1.7 million) led by Firstminute Capital. Several business angels are also participating, such as Alexandre Fretti (Malt), Alexandre Lebrun (Nabla), Simon Dawlat (Batch.com) and Marie

Outtier (Aiden.ai, acquired by Twitter).

So far, the company has managed 1,400 substitute days. Mediflash takes a cut on each transaction. The company now plans to expand to other cities all around the country.

#caregiver, #europe, #france, #france-newsletter, #freelancer, #fundings-exits, #marketplace, #mediflash, #staffing, #startups

0

Neo4j raises Neo$325m as graph-based data analysis takes hold in enterprise

Databases run the world, but database products are often some of the most mature and venerable software in the modern tech stack. Designers will pixel push, frontend engineers will add clicks to make it more difficult to drop out of a soporific Zoom call, but few companies are ever willing to rip out their database storage engine. Too much risk, and almost no return.

So it’s exceptional when a new database offering breaks through the barriers and redefines the enterprise.

Neo4j, which offers a graph-centric database and related products, announced today that it raised $325 million at a more than $2 billion valuation in a Series F deal led by Eurazeo, with additional capital from Alphabet’s venture wing GV. Eurazeo managing director Nathalie Kornhoff-Brüls will join the company’s board of directors.

That funding makes Neo4j among the most well-funded database companies in history, with a collective fundraise haul of more than half a billion dollars. For comparison, MongoDB, which trades on Nasdaq, raised $311 million in total according to Crunchbase before its IPO. Meanwhile, Cockroach Labs of CockroachDB fame has now raised $355 million in funding, including a $160 million round earlier this year at a similar $2 billion valuation.

The past decade has seen a whole new crop of next-generation database models, from scale-out SQL to document to key-value stores to time series and on and on and on. What makes graph databases like Neo4j unique is their focus on the connections between individual data entities. Graph-based data models have become central to modern machine learning and artificial intelligence applications, and are now widely used by data analysts in applications as diverse as marketing to fraud detection.

CEO and co-founder Emil Eifrem said that Neo4j, which was founded back in 2007, has hit its growth stride in recent years given the rising popularity of graph-based analysis. “We have a deep developer community of hundreds of thousands of developers actively building applications with Neo4j in any given month, but we also have a really deep data science community,” he said.

In the past, most business analysis was built on relational databases. Yet, inter-connected complexity is creeping in everywhere, and that’s where Eifrem believes Neo4j has a durable edge. As an example, “any company that ships stuff is tapping into this global fine-grain mesh spanning continent to continent,” he suggested. “All of a sudden the ship captain in the Suez Canal … falls asleep, and then they block the Suez Canal for a week, and then you’ve got to figure out how will this affect my enterprise, how does that cascade across my entire supply chain.” With a graph model, that analysis is a cinch.

Neo4j says that 800 enterprises are customers and 75% of the Fortune 100 are users of the company’s products.

We last checked in with the company in 2020 when it launched 4.0, which offered unlimited scaling. Today, Neo4j comes in a couple of different flavors. It’s a database that can be either self-hosted or purchased as a cloud service offering which it dubs Aura. That’s for the data storage folks. For the data scientists, the company offers Neo4j Graph Data Science Library, a set of comprehensive tools for analyzing graph data. The company offers free (or “community” tiers), affordable starting tiers and full-scale enterprise pricing options depending on needs.

Development continues on the database. This morning at its developers conference, Neo4j demonstrated what it dubbed its “super-scaling technology” on a 200 billion node graph with more than a trillion relationships between them, showing how its tools could offer “real-time” queries on such a large scale.

Unsurprisingly, Eifrem said that the new venture funding will be used to continue doubling down on “product, product, product” but emphasized a few major strategic initiatives as critical for the company. First, he wants to continue to deepen the company’s partnerships with public cloud providers. It already has a deep relationship with Google Cloud (GV was an investor in this round after all), and hopes to continue building relationships with other providers.

It’s also seeing a major uptick in interest from the APAC region. Eifrem said that the company recently opened up an office in Singapore to accelerate its sales in the broader IT market there.

Overall, “We think that graphs can be a significant part of the modern data landscape. In fact, we believe it can be the biggest part of the modern data landscape. And this round, I think, sends a clear signal [that] we’re going for it,” he said.

Erik Nordlander and Tom Hulme of GV were the leads for that firm. In addition, DTCP and Lightrock newly invested and previous investors One Peak, Creandum, and Greenbridge Partners joined the round.

#developer, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #startups

0

eqtble, a platform that uses data analytics to create healthier workplaces, raises $2.7M seed

A composite photo of eqtble founders Ethan Veres, Gabe Horwitz and Joseph Ifiegbu

eqtble founders (from l to r): Ethan Veres, Gabe Horwitz and Joseph Ifiegbu

“People are the backbone of any organization. People are more important than the product. Without people, you don’t have a product,” says Joseph Ifiegbu, who is Snap’s former head of human resources technology and also previous lead of WeWork’s People Analytics team.

Ifiegbu’s startup, called eqtble, wants to give HR teams the same kind of detailed analytics that product, sales and marketing departments have had for a long time, with the goal of creating more engaged and inclusive workplaces. The company, a Y Combinator alum, announced today it has raised $2.7 million in seed funding, led by Initialized Capital, with participation from SB Opportunity Fund, RS Ventures and other venture capital firms and angel investors.

Ifiegbu joined WeWork’s People Analytics team in 2017, when the company had a total of about 2,000 employees. By the time he left in 2020, that number had grown to 15,000 people. One of Ifiegbu’s first hires at WeWork was Gabe Horwitz, the first data scientist on the People Analytics’ team and now eqtble’s co-founder and chief product officer. The startup’s third co-founder and chief technology officer is Ethan Veres.

At many companies, especially ones that are growing quickly, workforce data is scattered across different HR software, including human resources information systems (HRIS), engagement platforms, benefit programs and employee surveys.

Because information is so fragmented, companies can miss important correlations. For example, they might not see the links between why top employees are quitting and how long it typically takes to promote people, or overlook pay inequality. This in turn impacts a company’s culture, including its approach to diversity, equity and inclusion, and ability to retain talented people.

 

As WeWork was rapidly scaling, the People Analytics team built tools to analyze data from across the company.

“There were a lot of questions being asked, like what is our promotion like? What is our attrition, are we hiring more men than women? There were all these questions and bottlenecks in our processes, and we wanted to have an understanding of our employees,” says Ifiegbu. “So we built systems to capture all that data, clean it, structure it and deliver dashboard insights to our leadership.”

The process took about two years, and the People Analytics team eventually grew to 15 people. Ifiegbu and Horwitz realized there were many companies that needed the same kind of analytics, but didn’t have WeWork’s resources. This prompted them to start working on eqtble.

“It took us such a long time and quite a bit of money because we had this team [at WeWork],” he says. “So how do we build something that delivers these insights to them, but doesn’t take that much time to do it, because we realize it’s very important that leadership and decision makers have the data to make decisions about their employees.”

How eqtble works

The current version of eqtble can be onboarded in six weeks, and Ifiegbu says the company’s goal is to shorten that process to just two days. Eqtble is sector agnostic and its target customers are high-growth companies that have between 250 to about 3,000 employees.

The human resources analytics platform can collect data from more than 100 sources (including Workday, ADP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Qualtrics and Culture Amp, to name a few), and deliver insights and visualizations about four main areas: talent recruitment, workforce, engagement (including attrition, or when workers quit) and compensation.

A screenshot of HR analytics eqtble's dashboard

One of eqtble’s summary dashboards

One of the things the platform can help HR teams do is identify why top candidates are declining offers.

For example, one of eqtble’s clients realized that their hiring managers were being passed more applications than they had time to look at. This created a bottleneck, because they weren’t able to interview people quickly enough. Other clients saw that candidates were dropping out because the interview process was too long.

“If you as an organization are saying ‘we’re going to have six rounds of interviews, it’s going to take three months to interview, you’re going to lose out on good candidates,” says Ifiegbu. “Other people are closing candidates within one to two weeks.”

Using data to increase diversity, equity and inclusion

It’s easy for a company to make DEI pledges, but even the best of intentions don’t result in progress if an organization isn’t willing to scrutinize itself. Because eqtble combines data from across a company, it can highlight potential issues before decision makers realize what is happening.

“Last year, all the companies were saying, ‘oh, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do all these things,’ and it’s like, ok, great, you can say anything, but the truth is you cannot change what you don’t measure,” says Ifiegbu.

For example, a company might be be proud of having a workforce that is divided equally between men and women, or that has a large percentage of people of color, when the reality is that many of them aren’t getting raises or being promoted into management roles.

“That 50/50 doesn’t mean anything if you don’t see representation at higher levels for women and people of color. What we’re doing is showing you a picture of your organization. If you can see the different parts of it, you can see the parts you can improve on and take actionable steps, not just lip service for the media,” says Ifiegbu. “Eqtble surfaces places you can improve or places where you are doing well so you can keep doing that.”

Ifiegbu is excited that the HR analytics space is gaining attention. “I feel like using data to drive decisions is such an important thing, and ultimately builds a healthier company.”

The seed funding will be used to grow eqtble’s engineering team and its platform’s machine learning and visualization capabilities, and user acquisition.

In a statement, Initialized Capital partner and president Jen Wolf said, “Important organizational issues like DEI or equitable compensation are not simply a box a company can check, they take honest commitment. Companies willing to make that commitment shouldn’t have to wait months or be discouraged by the financial investment it takes to understand the data they already own to make these meaningful changes. The eqtble team knows how to solve this, and they’re empowering other companies to do so.”

#compensation, #dei, #eqtble, #fundings-exits, #hiring, #hr-analytics, #human-resources, #initialized-capital, #recruitment, #startups, #talent, #tc

0

Internxt gets $1M to be ‘the Coinbase of decentralized storage’

Valencia-based startup Internxt has been quietly working on an ambitious plan to make decentralized cloud storage massively accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

It’s just bagged $1M in seed funding led by Angels Capital, a European VC fund owned by Juan Roig (aka Spain’s richest grocer and second wealthiest billionaire), and Miami-based The Venture City. It had previously raised around half a million dollars via a token sale to help fund early development.

The seed funds will be put towards its next phase of growth — its month-to-month growth rate is 30% and it tells us it’s confident it can at least sustain that — including planning a big boost to headcount so it can accelerate product development.

The Spanish startup has spent most of its short life to date developing a decentralized infrastructure that it argues is both inherently more secure and more private than mainstream cloud-based apps (such as those offered by tech giants like Google).

This is because files are not only encrypted in a way that means it cannot access your data but information is also stored in a highly decentralized way, split into tiny shards which are then distributed across multiple storage locations, with users of the network contributing storage space (and being recompensed for providing that capacity with — you guessed it — crypto).

“It’s a distributed architecture, we’ve got servers all over the world,” explains founder and CEO Fran Villalba Segarra. “We leverage and use the space provided by professionals and individuals. So they connect to our infrastructure and start hosting data shards and we pay them for the data they host — which is also more affordable because we are not going through the traditional route of just renting out a data center and paying them for a fixed amount of space.

“It’s like the Airbnb model or Uber model. We’ve kind of democratized storage.”

Internxt clocked up three years of R&D, beginning in 2017, before launching its first cloud-based apps: Drive (file storage), a year ago — and now Photos (a Google Photos rival).

So far it’s attracting around a million active users without paying any attention to marketing, per Villalba Segarra.

Internxt Mail is the next product in its pipeline — to compete with Gmail and also ProtonMail, a pro-privacy alternative to Google’s freemium webmail client (and for more on why it believes it can offer an edge there read on).

Internxt Send (file transfer) is another product billed as coming soon.

“We’re working on a G-Suite alternative to make sure we’re at the level of Google when it comes to competing with them,” he adds.

The issue Internxt’s architecture is designed to solve is that files which are stored in just one place are vulnerable to being accessed by others. Whether that’s the storage provider itself (who may, like Google, have a privacy-hostile business model based on mining users’ data); or hackers/third parties who manage to break the provider’s security — and can thus grab and/or otherwise interfere with your files.

Security risks when networks are compromised can include ransomeware attacks — which have been on an uptick in recent years — whereby attackers that have penetrated a network and gained access to stored files then hold the information to ransom by walling off the rightful owner’s access (typically by applying their own layer of encryption and demanding payment to unlock the data).

The core conviction driving Internxt’s decentralization push is that files sitting whole on a server or hard drive are sitting ducks.

Its answer to that problem is an alternative file storage infrastructure that combines zero access encryption and decentralization — meaning files are sharded, distributed and mirrored across multiple storage locations, making them highly resilient against storage failures or indeed hack attacks and snooping.

The approach ameliorates cloud service provider-based privacy concerns because Internxt itself cannot access user data.

To make money its business model is simple, tiered subscriptions: With (currently) one plan covering all its existing and planned services — based on how much data you need. (It is also freemium, with the first 10GB being free.)

Internxt is by no means the first to see key user value in rethinking core Internet architecture.

Scotland’s MaidSafe has been trying to build an alternative decentralized Internet for well over a decade at this point — only starting alpha testing its alt network (aka, the Safe Network) back in 2016, after ten years of testing. Its long term mission to reinvent the Internet continues.

Another (slightly less veteran) competitor in the decentralized cloud storage space is Storj, which is targeting enterprise users. There’s also Filecoin and Sia — both also part of the newer wave of blockchain startups that sprung up after Bitcoin sparked entrepreneurial interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain/decentralization.

How, then, is what Internxt’s doing different to these rival decentralized storage plays — all of which have been at this complex coal face for longer?

“We’re the only European based startup that’s doing this [except for MaidSafe, although it’s UK not EU based],” says Villalba Segarra, arguing that the European Union’s legal regime around data protection and privacy lends it an advantage vs U.S. competitors. “All the others, Storj, plus Sia, Filecoin… they’re all US-based companies as far as I’m aware.”

The other major differentiating factor he highlights is usability — arguing that the aforementioned competitors have been “built by developers for developers”. Whereas he says Internxt’s goal is be the equivalent of ‘Coinbase for decentralized storage’; aka, it wants to make a very complex technology highly accessible to non-technical Internet users.

“It’s a huge technology but in the blockchain space we see this all the time — where there’s huge potential but it’s very hard to use,” he tells TechCrunch. “That’s essentially what Coinbase is also trying to do — bringing blockchain to users, making it easier to use, easier to invest in cryptocurrency etc. So that’s what we’re trying to do at Internxt as well, bringing blockchain for cloud storage to the people. Making it easy to use with a very easy to use interface and so forth.

“It’s the only service in the distributed cloud space that’s actually usable — that’s kind of our main differentiating factor from Storj and all these other companies.”

“In terms of infrastructure it’s actually pretty similar to that of Sia or Storj,” he goes on — further likening Internxt’s ‘zero access’ encryption to Proton Drive’s architecture (aka, the file storage product from the makers of end-to-end encrypted email service ProtonMail) — which also relies on client side encryption to give users a robust technical guarantee that the service provider can’t snoop on your stuff. (So you don’t have to just trust the company not to violate your privacy.)

But while it’s also touting zero access encryption (it seems to be using off-the-shelf AES-256 encryption; it says it uses “military grade”, client-side, open source encryption that’s been audited by Spain’s S2 Grupo, a major local cybersecurity firm), Internxt takes the further step of decentralizing the encrypted bits of data too. And that means it can tout added security benefits, per Villalba Segarra.

“On top of that what we do is we fragment data and then distribute it around the world. So essentially what servers host are encrypted data shards — which is much more secure because if a hacker was ever to access one of these servers what they would find is encrypted data shards which are essentially useless. Not even we can access that data.

“So that adds a huge layer of security against hackers or third party [access] in terms of data. And then on top of that we build very nice interfaces with which the user is very used to using — pretty much similar to those of Google… and that also makes us very different from Storj and Sia.”

Storage space for Internxt users’ files is provided by users who are incentivized to offer up their unused capacity to host data shards with micropayments of crypto for doing so. This means capacity could be coming from an individual user connecting to Internxt with just their laptop — or a datacenter company with large amounts of unused storage capacity. (And Villalba Segarra notes that it has a number of data center companies, such as OVH, are connected to its network.)

“We don’t have any direct contracts [for storage provision]… Anyone can connect to our network — so datacenters with available storage space, if they want to make some money on that they can connect to our network. We don’t pay them as much as we would pay them if we went to them through the traditional route,” he says, likening this portion of the approach to how Airbnb has both hosts and guests (or Uber needs drivers and riders).

“We are the platform that connects both parties but we don’t host any data ourselves.”

Internxt uses a reputation system to manage storage providers — to ensure network uptime and quality of service — and also applies blockchain ‘proof of work’ challenges to node operators to make sure they’re actually storing the data they claim.

“Because of the decentralized nature of our architecture we really need to make sure that it hits a certain level of reliability,” he says. “So for that we use blockchain technology… When you’re storing data in your own data center it’s easier in terms of making sure it’s reliable but when you’re storing it in a decentralized architecture it brings a lot of benefits — such as more privacy or it’s also more affordable — but the downside is you need to make sure that for example they’re actually storing data.”

Payments to storage capacity providers are also made via blockchain tech — which Villalba Segarra says is the only way to scale and automate so many micropayments to ~10,000 node operators all over the world.

Discussing the issue of energy costs — given that ‘proof of work’ blockchain-based technologies are facing increased scrutiny over the energy consumption involved in carrying out the calculations — he suggests that Internxt’s decentralized architecture can be more energy efficient than traditional data centers because data shards are more likely to be located nearer to the requesting user — shrinking the energy required to retrieve packets vs always having to do so from a few centralized global locations.

“What we’ve seen in terms of energy consumption is that we’re actually much more energy efficient than a traditional cloud storage service. Why? Think about it, we mirror files and we store them all over the world… It’s actually impossible to access a file from Dropbox that is sent out from [a specific location]. Essentially when you access Dropbox or Google Drive and you download a file they’re going to be sending it out from their data center in Texas or wherever. So there’s a huge data transfer energy consumption there — and people don’t think about it,” he argues.

“Data center energy consumption is already 2%* of the whole world’s energy consumption if I’m not mistaken. So being able to use latency and being able to send your files from [somewhere near the user] — which is also going to be faster, which is all factored into our reputation system — so our algorithms are going to be sending you the files that are closer to you so that we save a lot of energy from that. So if you multiple that by millions of users and millions of terabytes that actually saves a lot of energy consumption and also costs for us.”

What about latency from the user’s point of view? Is there a noticeable lag when they try to upload or retrieve and access files stored on Internxt vs — for example — Google Drive?

Villalba Segarra says being able to store file fragments closer to the user also helps compensate for any lag. But he also confirms there is a bit of a speed difference vs mainstream cloud storage services.

“In terms of upload and download speed we’re pretty close to Google Drive and Dropbox,” he suggests. “Again these companies have been around for over ten years and their services are very well optimized and they’ve got a traditional cloud architecture which is also relatively simpler, easier to build and they’ve got thousands of [employees] so their services are obviously much better than our service in terms of speed and all that. But we’re getting really close to them and we’re working really fast towards bringing our speed [to that level] and also as many features as possible to our architecture and to our services.”

“Essentially how we see it is we’re at the level of Proton Drive or Tresorit in terms of usability,” he adds on the latency point. “And we’re getting really close to Google Drive. But an average user shouldn’t really see much of a difference and, as I said, we’re literally working as hard as possible to make our services as useable as those of Google. But we’re ages ahead of Storj, Sia, MaidSafe and so forth — that’s for sure.”

Internxt is doing all this complex networking with a team of just 20 people currently. But with the new seed funding tucked in its back pocket the plan now is to ramp up hiring over the next few months — so that it can accelerate product development, sustain its growth and keep pushing its competitive edge.

“By the time we do a Series A we should be around 100 people at Internxt,” says Villalba Segarra. “We are already preparing our Series A. We just closed our seed round but because of how fast we’re growing we are already being reached out to by a few other lead VC funds from the US and London.

“It will be a pretty big Series A. Potentially the biggest in Spain… We plan on growing until the Series A at at least a 30% month-to-month rate which is what we’ve been growing up until now.”

He also tells TechCrunch that the intention for the Series A is to do the funding at a $50M valuation.

“We were planning on doing it a year from now because we literally just closed our [seed] round but because of how many VCs are reaching out to us we may actually do it by the end of this year,” he says, adding: “But timeframe isn’t an issue for us. What matters most is being able to reach that minimum valuation.”

*Per the IEA, data centres and data transmission networks each accounted for around 1% of global electricity use in 2019

#angels-capital, #blockchain, #cloud-computing, #cloud-storage, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #dropbox, #encryption, #energy-consumption, #europe, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #gmail, #internxt, #privacy, #recent-funding, #spain, #startups, #storage, #tc, #the-venture-city, #valencia

0

Unit raises $51M in Accel-led Series B to grow its banking-as-a-service platform

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Every company is a fintech.” 

But these days, that’s becoming more and more true as an increasing number of companies that are not even in the financial services space seek to add a fintech component to their offering.

A group of startups poised to benefit from this shift are those offering banking as a service. One such startup, Unit, has raised $51 million in a Series B round to further its goal of making it possible for companies and fintechs alike to build banking products “in minutes.”

Silicon Valley-based Accel led the round for Unit, bringing the company’s total raised since its 2019 inception to nearly $70 million. Existing backers Better Tomorrow Ventures, Aleph, Flourish Ventures and TLV Partners also participated in the latest financing

Founders Itai Damti and Doron Somech are no strangers to growing companies. The pair previously co-founded — and bootstrapped — Leverate, a Tel Aviv-based B2B trading tech provider. Unit has dual headquarters in Tel Aviv and New York City.

Damti and Somech founded Unit in late 2019 and spent the first year stealthily building out the platform with the mission of empowering companies to embed financial services into their product, accelerating their time to market. Unit officially launched its platform in late 2020, and over the last three months, it has seen deposit volume grow by more than 300% and new end users by 600% (albeit from a small base).

With its platform, Unit touts, companies in a variety of industries — such as freelance or creator economy and personal financial management, for example — can build financial products directly into their software. This gives them the ability to build and launch next-gen bank accounts, cards, payment and lending products. Customers include Wethos, Lance, Benepass, Moves and Tribevest, among others.

“Our mission is to expand financial access for all and we do it by empowering the next generation of fintech builders,” Damti said. Only about 20% of its customers are what might be considered true fintechs, he said. The remaining 80% are companies that are not but rather want to embed banking as a service into their offering.

Unit, Damti claims, takes what was once “a very expensive and complex process of 18 months” that includes finding and managing a bank relationship, building a compliance team and building a tech stack “that gets you to a competitive banking offering, and turns it into one API and one dashboard that helps companies launch accounts cards, payments and lending within five weeks.”

In conjunction with the funding, Unit is also announcing today a new offering, Unit Go, which it says allows companies to create live bank accounts and issue physical and virtual cards in minutes. Founders and developers can try it out by creating a free account, building in Unit’s live environment and testing their products using real funds. Unit Go is currently in beta and will be available to the public in the fall of 2021. 

The company plans to use its new capital to grow its headcount of 26 and fast-track its Unit Go offering. It also wants to expand its platform into additional financial products, software development kits (SDKs) and integrations. (It’s already integrated with Plaid, for example).

Of course, Unit is not the only startup in the burgeoning banking-as-a-service (BaaS) space. It competes with the likes of Railbank, Treasury Prime and Stripe. Damti believes there are a few things that help differentiate Unit in the increasingly crowded space.

For one, according to Damti, Unit intentionally “put compliance at the front and center of what we do.” As evidence of that, earlier this year, it tapped Amanda Swoverland to serve as its chief compliance officer. 

Secondly, Damti emphasizes that Unit is not a matchmaker or marketplace along the lines of Synctera.

“We are acting as a company that connects banks to the tech ecosystem and banks are critical vendors and partners to us, but we see them as a built-in element within Unit, because we believe that the most excellent experience in this ecosystem can only come from software companies,” Damti told TechCrunch. 

And finally, he notes, Unit is technically distinct in that it is actually building a ledger, which Damti describes as “the most critical and sensitive part of the ecosystem.”

By owning the ledger and not delegating, he said, Unit is “able to offer a radically better experience.”

“As far as the transaction environment, the cleanliness of the data that we provide and the fees that our customers are able to control and tweak, owning that ledger piece is super critical for the experience,” Damti said.  

Accel partner Amit Kumar notes that in recent years, the landscape has shifted from hundreds of fintech startups “trying to beat incumbents with slightly better products” to thousands of tech companies trying to launch fintech businesses in their verticals.

“Unit’s strong emphasis on managing compliance addresses the risk typically associated with offering banking services and allows customers to bring these products to market much faster than previously possible,” he told TechCrunch. “Unit is building the platform to power the next generation of fintech.”

#accel, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #payments, #recent-funding, #startups, #unit, #venture-capital

0

On a growth tear, DuckDuckGo reveals it picked up $100M in secondary investment last year

Privacy tech continues cooking on gas. To wit: Non-tracking search engine DuckDuckGo has just revealed that it beefed up its balance sheet at the back end of last year with $100 million+ in “mainly secondary investment” — from a mix of existing and new investors.

Its blog post name-checks Omers Ventures, Thrive, GP Bullhound, Impact America Fund, and also WhatsApp founder Brian Acton; inventor of the world wide web Tim Berners-Lee; VC and diversity activist Freada Kapor Klein; and entrepreneur Mitch Kapor as being among the participating investors. So quite the line up.

DuckDuckGo said the secondary investment allowed some of its early employees and investors to cash out a chunk of their equity while bolstering its financial position.

Although it also says its business — which has been profitable since 2014 — is “thriving”, reporting that revenues are now running at $100M+ a year. Hence it not needing to keep dipping into an external investor pot.

Its last VC raise was in 2018 when it took in $10M after being actively pursued by Omers Ventures — who convinced it to take the money to help support growth objectives (especially internationally).

DDG has a few other metrics to throw around now: Over the last 12 months it said its apps were downloaded over 50M times — more than in all prior years combined.

It’s also revealed that its monthly search traffic increased 55% and says marketshare trackers indicate that it grabbed the #2 spot for search engine on mobile in a number of countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. (StatCounter/Wikipedia).

“We don’t track our users so we can’t say for sure how many we have, but based on market share estimates, download numbers, and national surveys, we believe there are between 70-100 million DuckDuckGo users,” it added.

A looming shift to Google’s Android choice screen in Europe, where regulators have forced the company to present users of mobile devices that run its OS with rival options when they’re setting a default search engine, looks likely to further boost DuckDuckGo’s regional fortunes.

Google will be ditching the current paid auction model — so rivals which have a valuable alternative proposition for users (like privacy) combined with strong brand awareness (and, well, everyone likes ducks… ) have the best chance yet to take slices out of Google’s marketshare.

DuckDuckGo’s blog post confirms it’ll be dialling up its marketing in Europe and other regions.

“Our thriving business also gives us the resources to tell more people there is a simple solution for online privacy they can use right now. Over the last month, we’ve rolled out billboard, radio, and TV ads in 175 metro areas across the U.S., with additional efforts planned for Europe and other countries around the world,” it notes.

So it look like a good chunk of DDG’s secondary funding will be spent on growth marketing — as it seeks to capitalize on rising public attention to online privacy, tracking and creepy ads, itself fuelled by years of data scandals.

Awareness is also now being actively driven by Apple’s recent switch to inform iOS users of third party app tracking and give people a simple way to say no — which includes slick, Cupertino-funded ad campaigns (such as the one below) which are clearly intended to turn and engage mainstream heads…

It’s fair to say it’s probably never been easier to craft a simple and compelling marketing message around privacy — and that’s also a testament to how far privacy tech has come in terms of usability and accessibility.

So, yes, DuckDuckGo’s business sure looks like it’s sitting pretty at this juncture of the web’s evolution. And its blog post talks about “becoming a household name for simple privacy protection”. So the scale of its ambition is clear.

“Privacy skeptics have dominated the discussion about online privacy for too long. “Sure people care about privacy, but they’ll never do anything about it.” It’s time to lay this bad take to rest,” it adds.

More products are also on the slate from the 13-year veteran privacy player.

It already bolted on tracker-blocking back in 2018 but is looking to go further — saying that it will be rolling out additional privacy features to what it bills as its “all-in-one privacy bundle”, including an email protection tool that will be launched in beta “in a few weeks” and which it says will “give users more privacy without having to get a new inbox”.

“Later this summer, app tracker blocking will be available in beta for Android devices, allowing users to block app trackers and providing more transparency on what’s happening behind the scenes on their device. And Before the end of the year, we also plan to release a brand-new desktop version of our existing mobile app which people can use as a primary browser,” it goes on, adding: “By continuing to expand our simple and seamless privacy bundle, we continue to make our product vision, ‘Privacy, simplified.’ a reality.”

That’s another trend we’re seeing in privacy tech: Innovators who have carefully and credibly built up a solid reputation around one type of tech tool (such as search or email) find themselves — as usage grows — perfectly positioned to branch out into offering a whole bundle or suite of apps they can wrap in the same protective promise.

Another player, ProtonMail, for example, has morphed into Proton, a privacy-centric company which offers freemium tools for not just end-to-end encrypted email but also cloud storage, calendar and a VPN — all neatly positioned under its pro-privacy umbrella.

Expect more development momentum as privacy tech continues to accelerate into the mainstream.

 

#android, #brian-acton, #duckduckgo, #europe, #freada-kapor-klein, #fundings-exits, #google, #gp-bullhound, #impact-america-fund, #mitch-kapor, #omers-ventures, #online-privacy, #privacy, #search-engine, #tim-berners-lee, #whatsapp

0

Honey Insurance launches with $15.5M AUD, the largest seed round ever for an Australian tech startup

When Richard Joffe moved his family to Australia in 2019, he said applying for home insurance “was like traveling back in time 30 years.”

“I found the sign-up process painful, the fine print was confusing and the insurance company was totally reactive, not proactive. They never contacted me aside from my renewal,” he told TechCrunch. Joffe, who founded parking sensor platform Park Assist and jobs platform Stella.ai in the United States, began researching and found many people in Australia shared the same frustrations. This was the impetus for him to found Honey Insurance, which launches today with $15.5 million AUD (about $11.9 million USD), the largest seed round ever raised by a tech startup in Australia, according to Crunchbase data.

The funding was led by institutional investors RACQ (the insurer that also underwrites Honey Insurance), PEXA, Metricon, ABN Group, Mirvac, AGL, SFG and Apex Capital. Individual investors include Zip founder and global CEO Larry Diamond; Afterpay co-founder and CEO Anthony Eisen; former MEBank CEO Jamie McPhee; former Corelogic CEO Graham Mirabito; Airtasker co-founder and CEO Tim Fung; former News Corp Australia and Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh.

The capital will be used on hiring, with plans to fill 80 positions over the next 12 months, and research and development.

Honey Insurance is underwritten by RACQ, one of Australia’s largest insurance providers, and offers home, contents and landlord coverage. Customers get $250 AUD worth of smart sensors to monitor for the top three risks to homes: flooding, fire and theft. For example, the sensors look for things like leaky water pipes, smoke and open garage doors. Joffe said half of insurance claims are avoidable and the sensors help prevent incidents. As an incentive, Honey Insurance customers get 8% off their premiums if their sensors are switched on.

The sign-up process for Honey Insurance is also designed to be simple. Joffe said customers can purchase insurance in as little as three minutes and the company avoids using confusing jargon. Over the long-term, Honey Insurance will also use publicly available information and satellite data to automatically update policies if a customer makes changes to their home, like a new extension or pool.

Joffe said another problem in Australia is underinsurance, which affects about four out of five Australians. Last year, 183,000 home claims were declined or withdrawn, and the average claim size was $8,400, up 16% from the year before. As a result, each year customers need to pay a total of $1.5 billion out of pocket.

To address underinsurance, Honey Insurance has taken steps like a 30% safety margin for a customer’s sum insured and four time the usual home office coverage, to the value of $20,000.

“We have far more electronics in our houses than 20 years ago, and we work far more from home than before COVID—it makes sense your insurance policy should take this into account,” Joffe said.

In a statement, David Carter, CEO of RACQ, said, “Investing in Honey Insurance is an opportunity to share in the innovation and increase the scale of our insurance portfolio to benefit our 1.8 million members and their communities.”

#fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

0

Solar concentration startup Heliogen basks in $108M of new funding

Sunlight is a great source of energy, but it rarely gets hot enough to fry an egg, let alone melt steel. Heliogen aims to change that with its high-tech concentrated solar technique, and has raised more than a hundred million dollars to test its 1,000-degree solar furnace to a few game mines and refineries.

We covered Heliogen when it first made its debut in 2019, and the details in that article still get at the core of the company’s tech. Computer vision techniques are used to carefully control a large set of mirrors, which reflect and concentrate the sun’s light to the extent that it can reach in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, almost twice what previous solar concentrators could do. “It’s like a death ray,” founder Bill Gross explained then.

That lets the system replace fossil fuels and other legacy systems in many applications where such temperatures are required, for example mining and smelting operations. By using a Heliogen concentrator, they could run on sunlight during much of the day and only rely on other sources at night, potentially halving their fuel expenditure and consequently both saving money and stepping toward a greener future.

Both goals hint at why utilities and a major mining and steel-making company are now investors. Heliogen raised a $25M A-2, led by Prime Movers Lab, but soon also pulled together a much larger “bridge extension round” in their terminology of $83M that brought in the miner ArcelorMittal, Edison International, Ocgrow Ventures, A.T. Gekko, and more.

The money will be used both to continue development of the “Sunlight Refinery,” as Heliogen calls it, and deploy some actual on-site installations that would work in real production workflows at scale. “We are constantly making design and cost improvements to increase efficiency and decrease costs,” a representative of the company told me.

One of those pilot sites will be in Boron, CA, where Rio Tinto operates a borates mine and will include Heliogen’s tech as part of its usual on-site processes, according to an MOU signed in March. Another MOU with ArcelorMittal will “evaluate the potential of Heliogen’s products in several of ArcelorMittal’s steel plants.” Facilities are planned in the U.S., MENA, and Asia Pacific areas.

Beyond mining and smelting, the technique could be used to generate hydrogen in a zero-carbon way. That would be a big step towards building a working hydrogen infrastructure for next-generation fuel supply, since current methods make it difficult to do without relying on fossil fuels in the first place. And no doubt there are other industrial processes that could benefit from a free and zero-carbon source of high heat.

“We’re being granted the resources to do more projects that address the most carbon-intensive human activities and work toward our goals of lowering the price and emissions of energy for everyone on the planet,” Gross said in a release announcing the round(s). “We thank all of our investors for enabling us to pursue our mission and offer the world technology that will allow it to achieve a post-carbon economy.”

#artificial-intelligence, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greentech, #heliogen, #recent-funding, #solar, #startups

0

Meet Nickson, the furniture-as-a-service startup that Barack Obama’s ex-financial adviser just backed

Ever toured an apartment and fall in love with the model unit?

You’re not alone. Harvard Business School grad Cameron Johnson is a former institutional real estate investor and Greystar exec turned startup founder that realized that very often, “renters would try to rent the model apartment.”

This got him thinking. People would love to rent a model apartment in a building, and no one likes to move. This spelled opportunity in Johnson’s mind.

So in 2017, he came up with the idea of Nickson, a Dallas-based startup that fully furnishes apartments on demand.

Image Credits: CEO and founder Cameron Johnson / Nickson

“I thought ‘What if you gave people the ability to simply rent the model, or the ability to add everything in their space needs with a few clicks, similar to how a cable modem comes to your house ’ ” CEO Johnson said. “I wondered, ‘Why can’t we do that for everything else?’ ”

But Nickson doesn’t just provide furniture such as beds and sofas, it delivers all the essentials too — from extension cords to pots and pans to silverware to curtain rods. By partnering with a variety of retailers, the startup claims that it allows users “to make their new spaces move-in ready in as little as 3 hours.” 

Users take a style quiz and share apartment layout details. Nickson’s designers create an initial layout based on the dimensions of an apartment, desired functions (such as work from home) and the volume of furnishings based on a person’s lifestyle. Once the layout is complete, Nickson creates a custom design, including all furnishings and home goods. 

Upon signing up, users pay a one-time installation fee for the furniture-as-a-service offering, and then a monthly subscription charge for the duration of a lease — starting at $199 a month for a studio to $500 a month for a 3 bedroom apartment. The startup also offers concierge services such as a household supply starter kit and maid service, as an add-on to its flat monthly subscription.

Nickson is currently only live in the Dallas market, but plans to expand into other cities over the next 12 months, including expanding its beta tests in Austin and Houston. And it’s just raised a $12 million Series A to help it advance on that goal. 

A fund managed by Pendulum Opportunities LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pendulum Holdings LLC, led the Series A round, which also included participation from Motley Fool Ventures, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest and Backstage Capital. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain, leading to delivery delays for consumers. Nickson has purchased items over time that it stores as local inventory, making it even more attractive to renters who don’t want to deal with delays and hunting down furniture and essentials, Johnson said. The convenience Nickson offers led to its user base growing 700% in 2020 compared to the year prior, he added.

Robbie Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Pendulum, said his firm was drawn to invest in Nickson due to a combination of Johnson’s “vision, secular shifts toward renting and subscription consumption and the company’s disruptive business model.” (Robinson is President Barack Obama’s former financial adviser, and recently founded Pendulum to invest $250 million in founding startups of color).

Kabir Ahmed, vice president at Pendulum, added that he believes Nickson’s model is superior to the concept of renting one-off furniture pieces in that it offers an “end-to-end, turnkey solution.”

This seamless experience is highly differentiated and offers a compelling value proposition for the consumer,” he said.

Of course, Nickson is not the only company attempting to turn the stodgy furniture rental industry on its head. Other startups offering similar services as Nickson include Oliver Space, Fernish and The Landing.

But Nickson claims that it stands out from the competition in that it “takes care of everything” beyond furniture (including artwork and toilet wand brushes) and that it can curate space and bring it all in before a renter even shows up.

“No other competitor in this space offers this level of service, detail or turnaround,” Johnson says. “You can literally arrive at your new home with a suitcase and toothbrush, and it’s ready to ‘live in.’”

#apartment, #austin, #backstage-capital, #barack-obama, #cable-modem, #ceo, #dallas, #funding, #fundings-exits, #harvard-business-school, #houston, #motley-fool-ventures, #president, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #venture-capital, #vice-president

0

Edge computing startup Macrometa gets $20M Series A led by Pelion Venture Partners

Macrometa, the edge computing cloud and global data network for app developers, announced today it has raised a $20 million Series A. The round was led by Pelion Venture Partners, with participation from returning investors DNX Ventures (the Japan and US-focused enterprise fund that led Macrometa’s seed round), Benhamou Global Ventures (BGV), Partech Partners, Fusion Fund, Sway Ventures and Shasta Ventures.

The startup, which is headquartered in Palo Alto with operations in Bulgaria and India, plans to use its Series A on feature development, acquiring more enterprise customers and integrating with content delivery networks (CDN), cloud and telecom providers. It will hire for its engineering and product development centers in the United States, Eastern Europe and India, and add new centers in Ukraine, Portugal, Greece, Mexico and Argentina.

The company’s last round of funding, an $7 million seed, was announced just eight months ago. Its Series A brings Macrometa’s total raised since its was founded in 2017 to $29 million.

As part of the new round, Macrometa expanded its board of directors, adding Pelion general partner Chris Cooper as a director, and Pelion senior associate Zain Rizavi and DNX Ventures principal Eva Nahari as board observers.

Macrometa’s global data network combines a globally distributed noSQL database and a low-latency stream data processing engine, enabling web and cloud develops to run and scale data-heavy, real-time cloud applications. The network allows developers to run apps concurrently across its 175 points of presence (PoPs), or edge regions, around the world, depending on which one is closest to an end user. Macrometa claims that the mean roundtrip time (RTT) for users on laptops or phones to its edge cloud and back is less than 50 milliseconds globally, or 50x to 100x faster than cloud platforms like DyanmoDB, MongoDB or Firebase.

A photo of Macrometa co-founder and CEO Chetan Venkatesh

Macrometa co-founder and CEO Chetan Venkatesh

Since its seed round last year, the company has accelerated its customer acquisition, especially among large global enterprises and web scale players, co-founder and chief executive officer Chetan Venkatesh told TechCrunch. Macrometa also made its self-service platform available to developers, who can try its serverless database, pub/sug, event processing and stateful compute runtime for free.

Macrometa recently became one of two distributed data companies (the other one is Fauna) partnered with Cloudflare for developers building new apps on Workers, its serverless application platform. Venkatesh said the combination of Macrometa and Cloudflare Workers enables data-driven APIs and web services to be 50x to 100x faster in performance and lower latency compared to the public cloud.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated Macrometa’s business significantly, said Venkatesh, because its enterprise and web scale customers needed to handle the unpredictable data traffic patterns created by remote work. The pandemic also “resulted in several secular and permanent shifts in cloud adoption and consumption,” he added, changing how people shop, consume media, content and entertainment. That has “exponentially increased the need for handling dynamic bursts of demands for application infrastructure securely,” he said.

One example of how enterprise clients use Macrometa is e-commerce providers who implemented its infrastructure with their existing CDN and cloud backends to provide more data and AI-based personalization for shoppers, including real-time recommendations, regionalized search at the edge and local data geo-fencing to comply with data and privacy regulations.

Some of Macrometa’s SaaS clients use its global data network as a global data cache for handling surges in usage and keep regional copies of data and API results across its regional data centers. Venkatesh added that several large telecom operators have used Macrometa’s data stream ingestion and complex event processing platform to replace legacy data ingest platforms like Splunk, Tibco and Apache Kafka.

In a statement, Pelion Venture Partners, general partner Chris Cooper said, “We believe the next phase of computing will be focused on the edge, ultimately bringing cloud-based workloads closer to the end user. As more and more workloads move away from a centralized cloud model, Macrometa is becoming the de facto edge provider to run data-heavy and compute-intensive workloads for developers and enterprises alike, globally.”

#app-developers, #cloud-infrastructure, #edge-computing, #fundings-exits, #macrometa, #serverless-computing, #startups, #tc

0

Carbyne raises $20M more so when death knocks, you don’t answer the door

Chaos and crisis are sisters, and none more so than when you dial for emergency help. A call to 911 in the United States and urgent numbers globally spins off a number of additional calls to emergency response teams, ambulances, hospitals and other actors who need to coordinate action to save your life. Theoretically, everyone should be working off the same data, but also theoretically, I should be able to eat ice cream without getting fat.

Israel-based Carbyne’s software platform coordinates these calls so that critical details — say, location or medical allergies — don’t get lost from the 911 call taker to the paramedic in the field.

Now, it’s taking a second scoop on its capital cone in the form of a $20 million new round, following a $25 million Series B that my colleague Ingrid Lunden reported on in January. The new funding was led by Global Medical Response, one of the world’s largest emergency medical providers who operates fleets of vehicles, trucks, helicopters and planes to get patients to hospital facilities expeditiously. GMR was founded in 2018 from a rollup of emergency services led by private equity giant KKR.

This new round was in the form of a convertible note that will convert into Carbyne’s next fundraise according to CEO and co-founder Amir Elichai. Also joining the round was Hanaco VC, Intercap VC, Elsted Capital and others. Elichai said that the round took about three weeks to fundraise and close, and was held to $20 million given the company’s earlier funding this year, which at the time we reported was “over $100 million” in valuation.

Carbyne and GMR have been partners since late 2020, and their ties are deepening. GMR COO Edward Van Horne will join Carbyne’s board of directors.

In addition to offering more advanced location services for emergency callers, Carbyne’s technology allows for callers to activate a video channel, giving emergency response personnel more live information about what’s happening. That’s critical in GMR’s business, where first responders need the most up-to-date information to increase their effectiveness.

“The ability to get smarter information, and to increase situational awareness to each case whatever it is, will give emergency medical services the ability to better triage and to make faster and smarter responses to events that occur within their jurisdiction,” Elichai explained. “So basically the entire ecosystem is becoming much more reliable and efficient, thanks to the Carbyne ecosystem that we’re putting together with GMR.”

My colleague wrote a great deep dive into the company in January, so read that for some background on the company’s founding and product and how it weathered the pandemic. A few more updates though in the past few months bear mentioning.

Elichai said that the company has doubled the recurring revenues of its business since the beginning of 2021, although wouldn’t provide those ever elusive absolute figures. The company has also expanded its employee base by 30% over the same period. Among the success stories is New Orleans, which is moving its emergency centers to Carbyne, as well as centers in Texas, Georgia and Florida. Elichai said that much of this transition was prompted by additional federal investment in 911 infrastructure appropriated in recent COVID-19 stimulus bills.

The company’s CTO and co-founder, Alex Dizengof, will move from Israel to the United States to start an R&D center.

Last week, the company announced a new “Ultra Emergency Network” that it is building with Israel Aerospace Industries that will allow phones to communicate emergency location information in post-disaster scenarios where commercial mobile services degrade or disappear entirely.

The company’s newest investment is in line with growing interest from venture capitalists in the disaster space, with more data, investments in communications infrastructure, and more dollars flowing into the space than ever before.

#911, #amir-elichai, #carbyne, #funding, #fundings-exits, #global-medical-response, #government, #health, #startups

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Golden Gate Ventures forecasts a record number of exits in Southeast Asia

Despite the pandemic’s economic impact, Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem has proven to be very resilient. In fact, a new report from investment firm Golden Gate Ventures predicts a record number of exits will happen in the region over the next couple of years, thanks to factors like a maturing ecosystem, more secondary buyers and the emergence of SPACs.

The firm’s comprehensive “Southeast Asia Exit Landscape Report 2.0,” is a followup to a previous report published in 2019.

Here are some highlights from the latest report, along with additional insight from Golden Gate Ventures partner Michael Lints, its lead author. For both reports, Golden Gate Ventures partnered with business school INSEAD to survey general and limited partners in the region. It also draws on Golden Gate Ventures’ proprietary database, which dates back to 2012 and tracks information like the time between funding rounds and fundraising success rates, as well as public databases, reports and expert commentary from the New York Stock Exchange.

The overall exit landscape

Despite the pandemic’s economic impact, tech proved to be resilient globally (for example, there were a number of initial public offers in the United States at record prices). While Southeast Asia’s tech ecosystem is relatively younger, Lints told TechCrunch its resiliency was driven by companies founded years ago that suddenly saw an increase in demand for their services because of the pandemic.

“We’ve built infrastructure over the past eight to nine years, when it comes to e-commerce, logistics, some on the healthcare side as well, and when the pandemic happened, people were suddenly stuck at home,” Lints said. He added “If you look at the pickup for most of the e-commerce companies, they at least doubled their revenue. For last-mile logistics companies, they’ve increased their revenue. There was a lot of pickup on the digital healthcare side as well.”

While tech fared well compare to many other industries, one downside was that the COVID-19 pandemic caused overall global venture capital investment to decline. Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem was not immune, and had less exits, but it still did relatively well, with $8.2 billion invested in 2020, according to a report by Cento Ventures and Tech In Asia.

It’s important to note that more than half of that funding was raised in very large rounds by unicorns like Grab, Go-jek and Traveloka, but Cento Ventures found there was also an increase in investments between $50 million to $100 million for other startups. These are usually Series B and C rounds, which Golden Gate Ventures says creates a strong pipeline for potential exits over the next three to four years.

“If you go back even just two years, the amount of B rounds that are happening now, I’ve never seen that number before. It’s a definite increase,” said Lints.

Investments are also continuing to flow into Southeast Asia. According to the report, there was $6 billion of funding in just the first quarter of 2021 (based on data from DealStreet Asia, PWC and Genesis Ventures), making it the strongest start to a year in the region’s history.

This bodes well for the possibility of mergers and acquisitions in 2021. The report found that there were less exits in 2019 and 2020 than in 2018, but not just because of the pandemic—many startups wanted to remain venture-backed for longer. Golden Gate Ventures expects M&A activity will pick up again. In 2021, it forecasts acquisition deals worth more than $30 million, large mergers and an increase in SPACs.

What’s in the pipeline

Golden Gate Ventures predicts that a total of 468 startup exits will happen between 2020 and 2022, compared to the 412 forecast in the previous edition of its report. This is due to more late-stage private equity investors, including secondary buyers, SPACs and a welcoming public market.

Lints said secondary buyers will include a mix of family offices, conglomerates and venture funds that want a higher allocation in a company or to pre-empt a forthcoming round.

“What I think is interesting is some of the later-stage funds, so private equity funds, and not only ones that are in Southeast Asia, but even foreign ones, are now looking to get a position in companies that they assume will be able to raise a Series D or Series E over the next few years. That’s something I haven’t seen before, it’s relatively new in the market,” he added.

Golden Gate Ventures expects M&A activity to continue being the main way Southeast Asian startups exit, potentially accounting for up to 80% of deals, followed by secondary sales (15%) and IPOs (5%).

In fact, there was a record number of M&A deals in 2020, despite the pandemic. Golden Gate Ventures estimates that 45 deals happened, especially in e-commerce, fintech, media, adtech and social networking, as larger companies acquired startups to grow their tech stacks.

More companies going public will create a cascading effect through Southeast Asia’s ecosystem. The report forecasts that companies like Gojek and Trax, who have already made several high-profile acquisitions, will continue buying startups if they list publicly and have more liquidity.

Series B and C deals

While there will be more exits, there are also more opportunities for companies to raise larger later-stage rounds to stay private, if they want to—a sign of Southeast Asia’s maturing ecosystem, said Lints.

As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, the number of pre-seed and seed deals fell. On the other hand, the report found that it became quicker for startups to raise Series B or C rounds, or less than 21 months on average.

“If you look at typical exits between 2015 to 2017, you could argue that some of those exits might have been too early because the company was still in a growth trajectory, but there was hardly any follow-on funding for them to expand to a new country, for instance, or build out a new product,” said Lints. “So their only revenue to raise money was to be acquired by a larger company so they could keep building the product.”

“I think now you’re able to raise that Series C round, which allows you to expand the company and stay private, as opposed to having to drive towards an exit,” he added. “I think that shows the maturity of the ecosystem now and, again, it’s a huge advantage because founders have these amazing things they want to build, and now actually have the capital to do so and to really try to compete, and that has definitely been a big change.”

Another good thing is that the increase in later-stage funding does not appear to be creating a pre-seed and seed funding gap. This is partly because early employees from mature companies that have raised massive rounds often branch out and become founders themselves. As they launch startups, they have the benefit of being familiar with how fundraising works and a network. For example, a significant number of alumni from Grab, Gojek and Lazada have gone on to found companies.

“They seem to be raising a lot faster, and I think the second thing that’s happening across the board is we’re seeing more scouts putting really early checks into companies,” said Lints. “My assumption is if you look at the Series A pipeline, which is still pretty long, that has to come from a large number of pre-seed and seed deals.”

Funds want to cash out

Another factor that may drive an increase in exits—especially M&A deals—are funds that have reached the point where they want to cash out. Golden Gate Ventures’ 2019 report forecast that the first batch of institutional venture funds launched in 2010 to 2012 will start reaching the end of their lifecycle in 2020. This means the general partners of these funds are exploring exit opportunities for their portfolios, leading to an increase in secondary and M&A deals.

This in turn will increase the number of secondary markets, which have typically been low in Southeast Asia. The original investors won’t necessarily push for portfolio companies to sell themselves, but instead look at secondary buyers who might be keen on mergers and M&A deals.

“The thing we’ve seen over the last 18 months is there’s been a larger pickup in the secondary markets, where later-stage investors, in some cases family-owned businesses or family offices, are looking to get access to deals that were started eight, nine or 10 years ago. You’ll see the cap tables of these companies change, and that does mean the founders will have different shareholders,” said Lints.

“These are typically for companies that are performing well, where you can foresee that they will be able to fundraise within the next 12 months. For the ones that are in a more difficult position, I think it’s going to be tricky,” he added. “When you have a portfolio of companies as a fund, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can sell all 20 of them, so I think for some founders, the impact will be that they will need to make a decision to continue the business and buy back the shares their investors are holding, or are they going to liquidate the business or look for a trade sale.”

SPAC opportunities

The biggest SPAC news in Southeast Asia was Grab’s announcement it will go public in the United States following a $40 billion SPAC deal. Lints expects more Southeast Asian companies to take the SPAC route when going public. Not only does the process give them more flexibility, but for startups that want to list in the U.S., working with a SPAC can help them.

“My guess is with New York allowing direct listings, I think more and more people will shy away from the traditional IPO route and look at what is the fastest and most flexible way to list on a stock exchange. For Southeast Asia, listing has never been easy, so I think SPACs will definitely open the floodgates,” said Lints.

Barriers not only include regulatory filings, pre-IPO roadshows and high costs, but also “concern whether the international retail investor or public markets actually understand these companies in Southeast Asia,” he added. “If you have a very strong sponsor team that is running the SPAC, they can be super helpful in positioning the company, doing the marketing and getting interest from the market as well.”

Both the Singapore Exchange and Indonesian Stock Exchange are preparing to allow SPACs in an effort to attract more tech listings.

Lints said this will allow companies to consider a dual listing in Southeast Asia and the U.S. for larger returns. “A dual listing would be an amazing option and I think through the avenue of SPACs, that makes a lot of sense.”

#asia, #exits, #fundings-exits, #golden-gate-ventures, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Upflow raises $15 million to manage your outstanding invoices

French startup Upflow has raised a $15 million Series A round. The company wants to help you chase late payments. It optimizes how you collect payments from your customers in order to improve your cash-cycle.

Investors in today’s funding round include 9yards Capital, existing investor eFounders, as well as N26 co-founder Maximilian Tayenthal, Uber SVP of Delivery Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, auxmoney co-founder and CEO Raffael Johnen.

People who run a business often tell you that getting paid is a consuming task. When you create an invoice, chances are your customer will wait a few weeks before paying you. Most companies end up with a backlog of outstanding invoices sitting in an Excel spreadsheet.

They keep an eye on their bank account to manually reconcile those payments. And, of course, they often have to send an email or call a customer to tell them that now is the time.

Upflow acts as the central repository to see all your invoices, track payments, communicate with your team and send reminders. But Upflow doesn’t want to replace your existing tools. Instead, the company has built integrations with popular business tools that you’re already using.

For instance, you can connect your Upflow account with QuickBooks, Xero, Netsuite, Chargebee and Stripe Billing. You can charge your clients from your existing invoicing platform. Upflow imports your invoices, clients and payments. When Upflow notices a late payment, you receive a notification and can start sending automated or personalized emails.

The startup also thinks current B2B payment methods are outdated. In the U.S., too many companies still rely on paper checks. In France, copying IBAN information from an email to your bank account can be cumbersome.

When you send an invoice using Upflow, customers get a link with several payment methods. You can connect your Upflow account with Stripe Payments to enable card payments for instance. And the startup is slowly building a network of companies that have used Upflow at some point. 1.5 million companies have interacted with the product — it represents over $1 billion in payments.

“We are on a mission to revolutionize the way that companies get paid. At Upflow, we provide a solution that adds connectivity and clarity to a company's payment and invoicing stack. Where systems were previously closed and disconnected, Upflow's platform enables smooth and clear processes,” co-founder and CEO Alexandre Louisy said in a statement.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to expand to the U.S. Upflow already has a few customers there, such as Lattice, Front and Adikteev, but it’s just a start. The startup will open an office in New York.

#cash-cycle, #europe, #france, #france-newsletter, #fundings-exits, #invoice, #startups, #upflow

0

Automotive marketplace Carro hits unicorn status with $360M Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2

Carro, one of the largest automotive marketplaces in Southeast Asia, announced it has hit unicorn valuation after raising a $360 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Other participants include insurance giant MSIG and Indonesian-based funds like EV Growth, Provident Growth and Indies Capital. About 90% of vehicles sold through Carro are secondhand, and it offers services that cover the entire lifecycle of a car, from maintenance to when it is broken down and recycled for parts.

Founded in 2015, Carro started as an online marketplace for cars, before expanding into more verticals. Co-founder and chief executive officer Aaron Tan told TechCrunch that, roughly speaking, the company’s operations are divided into three sections: wholesale, retail and fintech. Its wholesale business works with car dealers who want to purchase inventory, while its retail side sells to consumers. Its fintech operation offers products for both, including B2C car loans, auto insurance and B2B working capital loans.

Carro’s last funding announcement was in August 2019, when it said it had extended its Series B to $90 million. The company’s latest funding will be used to fund acquisitions, expand its financial services portfolio and develop its AI capabilities, which Carro uses to showcase cars online, develop pricing models and determine how much to charge insurance policyholders.

It also plans to expand retail services in its main markets: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Carro currently employs about 1,000 people across the four countries and claims its revenue grew more than 2.5x during the financial year ending March 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped Carro’s business because people wanted their own vehicles to avoid public transportation and became more receptive to shopping for cars online. Those factors also helped competitors like OLX Autos and Carsome fare well during the pandemic.

The adoption of electric vehicles across Southeast Asia has resulted in a new tailwind for Carro, because people who buy an EV usually want to sell off their combustion engine vehicles. Carro is currently talking to some of the largest electric vehicle countries in the world that want to launch in Southeast Asia.

“For every car someone typically buys in Southeast Asia, there’s always a trade-in. Where do cars go, right? We are a marketplace, but on a very high level, what we’re doing is reusing and recycling. That’s a big part in the environmental sustainability of the business, and something that sets us apart of other players in the region,” Tan said.

Cars typically stay in Carro’s inventory for less than 60 days. Its platform uses computer vision and sound technology to replicate the experience of inspecting a vehicle in-person. When someone clicks on a Carro listing, an AI bot automatically engages with them, providing more details about the cost of the car and answering questions. They also see a 360-degree view of the vehicle, its interior and can virtually start the engine to see how it sounds. Listings also provide information about defects and inspection reports.

Since many customers still want to get an in-person look before finalizing a purchase, Carro recently launched a beta product called Showroom Anywhere. Currently available in Singapore, it allows people to unlock Carro cars parked throughout the city, using QR codes, so they can inspect it at any time of the day, without a salesperson around. The company plans to add test driving to Showroom Anywhere.

“As a tech company, our job is to make sure we automate everything we can,” said Tan. “That’s the goal of the company and you can only assume that our cost structure and our revenue structure will get better along the years. We expect greater margin improvement and a lot more in cost reduction.”

Pricing is fixed, so shoppers don’t have to engage in haggling. Carro determines prices by using machine-learning models that look at details about a vehicle, including its make, model and mileage, and data from Carro’s transactions as well as market information (for example, how much of a particular vehicle is currently available for sale). Carro’s prices are typically in the middle of the market’s range.

Cars come with a three or seven-day moneyback guarantee and 30-day warranty. Once a customer decides to buy a car, they can opt to apply for loans and insurance through Carro’s fintech platform. Tan said Carro’s loan book is about five years old, almost as old as the startup itself, and is currently about $200 million.

Carro’s insurance is priced based on the policyholders driving behavior as tracked by sensors placed in their cars. This allows Carro to build a profile of how someone drives and the likelihood that they have an accident or other incident. For example, someone will get better pricing if they typically stick to speed limits.

“It sounds a bit futuristic,” said Tan. “But it’s something that’s been done in the United States for many years, like GEICO and a whole bunch of other insurers,” including Root Insurance, which recently went public.

Tan said MSIG’s investment in Carro is a “statement that we are really trying to triple down in insurance, because an insurer has so much linkage with what we do. The reason that MSIG is a good partner is that, like ourselves, they believe a lot in data and the difference in what we call ‘new age’ insurance, or data-driven insurance.”

Carro is also expanding its after-sale services, including Carro Care, in all four of its markets. Its after-sale services reach to the very end of a vehicle’s lifecycle and its customers include workshops around the world. For example, if a Toyota Corolla breaks down in Singapore, but its engine is still usable, it might be extracted and shipped to a repair shop in Nairobi, and the rest of its parts recycled.

“One thing I always ask in management meetings, is tell me where do cars go to die in Indonesia? Where do cars go to die in Thailand? There has to be a way, so if there is no way, we’re going to find a way,” said Tan.

In a statement, SoftBank Investment Advisers managing partner Greg Moon said, “Powered by AI, Carro’s technology platform provides consumers with full-stack services and transparency throughout the car ownership process. We are delighted to partner with Aaron and the Carro team to support their ambition to expand into new markets and use AI-powered technology to make the car buying process smarter, simpler and safer.”

#asia, #automative-marketplace, #car-marketplace, #carro, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #malaysia, #recent-funding, #singapore, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #thailand, #used-cars

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WordPress.com owner Automattic acquires journaling app Day One

Automattic is expanding its lineup of online writing platforms with its acquisition of Day One, a popular journaling app for Mac and Apple mobile devices. The app has been downloaded more than 15 million times since its March 2011 launch on the Mac and iTunes App Store, offering users a private place to share their thoughts. Since then, it’s been awarded the App Store Editor’s Choice, App of the Year, and the Apple Design Award, along with praise from various reviewers.

Deal terms were not immediately available. The companies were asked for comment.

The addition makes for an interesting expansion of Automattic’s now growing collection of online writing tools, which today include blogging platforms WordPress.com and Tumblr — the latter as of 2019, when Automattic took the aging social blogging network off parent company Verizon’s hands for a fraction of its earlier $1 billion acquisition price. (Verizon still owns TechCrunch, too…for now.)

Unlike WordPress and Tumblr, which tend to focus on publishing to a public audience, Day One’s focus has been on privacy. The app offers end-to-end encryption for all your journal entries, which can include text, media and even audio recordings. It has also offered advanced features like automatic backups, auto-import of Instagram posts, voice transcriptions, templates, rich text formatting, location history, optional printed books, as well as integrations with other platforms like Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and more.

With its addition to Automattic, Day One will allow users to choose to publish select journal entries to WordPress.com and Tumblr, and soon, import content from either platform back into Day One, too. The app may also make sense as a way for existing Tumblr users to sync their private entries over to a more protected and backed up writing tool — instead of accidentally publishing them to their main blog.

Automattic, in an announcement, notes Day One CEO Paul Mayne will continue to lead the development of Day One following the acquisition. The team will also remain intact.

Meanwhile, in a blog post, Mayne hints at why he sold the app, noting the deal will allow Day One access to same technological, financial, and security benefits that help power WordPress.com and Tumblr.

“This is incredibly exciting news. For the past 10 years since I started Day One, I’ve worked to not only create the best digital journaling experience in the world, but one that will last,” shares Mayne. “By joining Automattic, I’m now more confident than ever that the preservation and longevity of Day One is sure,” he adds.

Mayne also noted there were no current plans to change the private nature of Day One, but the app would integrate with other Automattic products going forward, while continuing to sustain itself via a subscription model.

#apple, #apps, #automattic, #day-one, #fundings-exits, #journal, #microblogging, #tumblr, #wordpress

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Yana’s mental health tool for Spanish speakers nears 5 million users

Andrea Campos has struggled with depression since she was 8 years old. Over the years, she’s tried all sorts of therapies — from behavioral to pharmacotherapy.

In 2017, when Campos was in her early 20s, she learned to program and created a system to help manage her mental health. It started as a personal project but as she talked to more people, Campos realized that many others might benefit from the system as well.

So, she then built an application to provide access to mental health tools to Spanish-speaking people and began testing it with a small group of people. At first, Campos herself was her own chatbot, texting with users who were tired of dealing with depression.

“During the month, I was pretending I was an app, and would send these people a list of activities they had to complete during the day, such as writing in a gratitude journal, and then asking them how those activities made them feel,” Campos recalls.

Her thinking was that sometimes with depression and anxiety comes “a lot of avoidance,” where people resist potential treatment out of fear.

The results from her small experiment were encouraging. So, Campos set out to conduct a bigger sample of experiments, and raised about $10,000 via crowdfunding campaign. With that money, she hired a developer to build a chatbot for her app, which was mostly being used via Facebook Messenger.

Then an earthquake hit Mexico City and that developer lost everything — including his home and computer — and had to relocate.

“I was left with nothing,” Campos says. But that developer introduced her to another, who disappeared with his payment, and again, left Campos, “with nothing.”

“I realized at the beginning of 2019, I was going to have to do this by myself,” Campos said. So she used a site that she described as a “Wix for chatbots,” and created one herself.

After experimenting with the app with a sample of 700 people, Campos was even more encouraged and raised an angel round of funding for Yana, the startup behind her app. (Yana is an acronym for “You Are Not Alone.”) By early 2020, with just three months of runway left, she pivoted to create an app with chatbot integration that wasn’t just limited to use via Facebook Messenger.

Campos ended up launching the app more broadly during the same week that her city in Mexico went into quarantine.

Image Credits: Yana

At first, she said, she saw “normal, steady growth.” But then on Oct. 10, 2020, Apple’s App Store highlighted Yana for International Mental Health Day, and the response was overwhelming.

“It was also my birthday so I was at a spa in a nearby town, relaxing, when I started hearing my cell phone go crazy,” Campos recalls. “Everything went nuts. I had to go back to Mexico City because our servers were exploding since they were not used to having that kind of volume.”

As a result of that exposure, Yana went from having around 80,000 users to reaching 1 million users two weeks later. Soon after that, Google highlighted the app as one of best for personal growth in 2020, and that too led to another spike in users. Today, Yana is about to hit the 5 million-user mark and is also announcing it has raised $1.5 million in funding led by Mexico’s ALLVP, which has also invested in the likes of Cornershop, Flink and Nuvocargo.

When the pandemic hit last year, six of Yana’s 9-person team decided to quarantine together in a “startup house” in Cancun to focus on building the company. Earlier this year, the company had raised $315,000 from investors such as 500 Startups, Magma and Hustle Fund. The company had pitched ALLVP, who was intrigued but wanted to wait until it could write a bigger check. 

That time is now, and Yana is now among the top three downloaded apps in Mexico and 12 countries including Spain, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela.

With its new capital, Yana is planning to “move away from the depression/anxiety narrative,” according to Campos.

“We want to compete in the wellness space,” she told TechCrunch. “A lot of people were looking for us to deal with crises such as a breakup or a loss but then they didn’t always see a necessity to keep using Yana for longer than the crisis lasted.”

Some of those people would download the app again months later when hit with another crisis.

“We don’t want to be that app anymore,” Campos said. “We want to focus on whole wellness and mental health and transmit something that needs to be built every single day, just like we do with exercise.”

Moving forward, Yana aims to help people with their mental health not just during a crisis but with activities they can do on a daily basis, including a gratitude journal, a mood tracker and meditation — “things that prevent depression and anxiety,” Campos said.

“We want to be a vitamin for our soul, and keeping people mentally healthy on an ongoing basis,” she said. “We also want to include a community inside our application.”

ALLVP’s Federico Antoni is enthusiastic about the startup’s potential. He first met Campos when she was participating in an accelerator program in 2017 and then again recently.

The firm led Yana’s latest round because it “wanted to be on her team.”

“She [Campos] has turned into an amazing leader, and we realized her potential and strength,” he said. “Plus, Yana is an amazing product. When you download it, it’s almost like you can see a soul in there.”

#allvp, #app-store, #apps, #chatbot, #chile, #computing, #ecuador, #facebook, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #health, #itunes, #mental-health, #messenger, #mexico, #mexico-city, #operating-systems, #recent-funding, #social-media, #software, #spain, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venezuela, #venture-capital

0

Anrok raises $4.3M to solve sales tax for SaaS companies

It’s easier than ever to build a product and sell it around the United States, or the world. But if you want to do so without incurring the wrath of any particular state, or nation-state, you’d best have your tax matters in order. This is why Stripe’s news last week that it has built tax-focused tooling to help its customers manage their state bills mattered.

But for SaaS companies, things can be more complicated from a tax perspective. That’s what Anrok, a startup working to build sales tax software for SaaS firms, told TechCrunch.

The company’s CEO, Michelle Valentine, said that modern software companies need specialized help. And her startup is announcing a $4.3 million fundraise today to back its efforts. The capital event was led by Seqouia and Index, the latter firm a place where Valentine used to work.

Anrok delivers its service via an API, and charges based on the total dollar value of sales that it helps a customer manage. Its percentage-fee falls with volume, and you can’t pay more than 0.19% of managed revenue, so it’s pretty cheap regardless, given how strong software gross margins tend to be.

The Anrok founding team: Michelle Valentine, and Kannan Goundan. Via the company.

Valentine said that there are three things that make SaaS tax issues more complex than other products. The first deals with addresses. Software companies have to pay sales tax where customers are located, and often only have partial information. Anrok will help with that problem. The CEO also said that variable SaaS billing makes charging the right amount of tax an interesting issue, and that states have tax laws specifically aimed at the software market that must be navigated.

So, a more mass-market solution might not be the best fit for SaaS companies looking to avoid both trouble with states and the work of handling tax matters themselves.

It’s not hard to see why Anrok was able to raise capital. The company is early-stage with its first customers onboarded, so it’s not posting the sort of revenue growth that investors covet at the later stages. What then were its more fetching attributes? From our perspective, on-demand pricing and a simply gigantic market.

Sure, Anrok is serving SaaS businesses, but it’s doing so using what could be described as a post-SaaS business model; on-demand, or usage-based pricing is an increasingly popular way to charge for software products today, putting Anrok closer to the cutting edge in business-model terms. And the company’s market is essentially every software business out there. That’s a lot of TAM to carve into, something that investors love to see.

#anrok, #fundings-exits, #index-ventures, #recent-funding, #saas, #sales-tax, #seqouia, #startups

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Despite flat growth, ride-hailing colossus Didi’s US IPO could reach $70B

Didi filed to go public in the United States last night, providing a look into the Chinese ride-hailing company’s business. This morning, we’re extending our earlier reporting on the company to dive into its numerical performance, economic health and possible valuation.

Didi is approaching the American public markets at a fortuitous moment. While the late-2020 IPO fervor, which sent offerings from DoorDash and others skyrocketing after their debuts, has cooled, valuations for public companies remain high compared to historical norms. And Uber and Lyft, two American ride-hailing companies, have been posting numbers that point to at least a modest recovery in the ride-hailing industry as COVID-19 abates in many parts of the world.

As further grounding, recall that Didi has raised tens of billions worth of private capital from venture capitalists, private equity firms, corporations and other sources. The size of the bet riding on Didi is simply massive. As we explore the company’s finances, then, we’re more than vetting a single company’s performance; we’re examining what sort of returns an ocean of capital may be able to derive from its exit.

In that vein, we’ll consider GMV results, revenue growth, historical profitability, present-day profitability, and what Didi may be worth on the American markets, given current comps. Sound good? Into the breach!

Inside Didi’s IPO filing

Starting at the highest level, how quickly has gross transaction volume (GTV) scaled at the company?

GTV

Didi is historically a business that operates in China but has operations today in more than a dozen countries. The impact and recovery of China’s bout with COVID-19 is therefore not the whole picture of the company’s GTV results.

COVID-19 began to affect the company starting in the first quarter of 2020. From the Didi F-1 filing:

Core Platform GTV fell by 32.8% in the first quarter of 2020 as compared to the first quarter of 2019, and then by 16.0% in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the second quarter of 2019.

The dips were short-lived, however, with Didi quickly returning to growth in the second half of the year:

Our businesses resumed growth in the second half of 2020, which moderated the impact on a year-on-year basis. Our Core Platform GTV for the full year 2020 decreased by 4.8% as compared to the full year 2019. Both our China Mobility and International segments were impacted, but whereas the GTV for our China Mobility segment decreased by 6.6% from 2019 to 2020, the GTV for our International segment increased by 11.4% from 2019 to 2020.

Holding to just the Chinese market, we can see how rapidly Didi managed to pick itself up over the last year. Chinese GTV at Didi grew from 25.7 billion RMB to 54.6 billion RMB from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021; naturally, we’re comparing a more pandemic-impacted quarter at the company to a less-affected period, but the comparison is still useful for showing how the company recovered from early-2020 lows.

The number of transactions that Didi recorded in China during the first quarter of this year was also up more than 2x year over year.

On a whole-company basis, Didi’s “core platform GTV,” or the “sum of GTV for our China Mobility and International segments,” posted numbers that are less impressive in growth terms:

Image Credits: Didi F-1 filing

You can see how quickly and painfully COVID-19 blunted Didi’s global operations. But seeing the company settle back to late-2019 GTV numbers in 2021 is not super bullish.

Takeaway: While Didi managed an impressive GTV recovery in China, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive.

Revenue growth

#carsharing, #china, #didi, #ec-mobility, #ec-news-analysis, #fundings-exits, #lyft, #startups, #tc, #uber, #unicorn, #united-states, #venture-capital

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The huge TAM of fake breaded chicken bits

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We’re closing our survey soon, so this is your last chance (probably) to get your voice heard!

Despite it being a short week, as always, it was a busy, busy time. We had Grace on the dials today, and Danny, Natasha, and Alex making chit-chat about the tech world. As with every week this year, we had to cut and cut and cut to get the show down to size. Here’s what made it in in the end:

Thanks for hopping along with us this week and every week. Quick programming note: Natasha will take Alex’s spot on the Monday show for next week since he’s out, so be nice, and send her stuff to mention.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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Ledger raises $380 million for its crypto hardware wallet

French startup Ledger has raised a $380 million Series C funding round led by 10T Holdings. Following today’s funding round, the company has reached a valuation of $1.5 billion.

Other investors in the funding round include existing investors Cathay Innovation, Draper Associates, Draper Dragon, Draper Esprit, DCG, Korelya Capital and Wicklow Capital. Some new investors are joining the round, such as Tekne Capital, Uphold Ventures, Felix Capital, Inherent, Financière Agache and iAngels Technologies.

Ledger’s main product is a hardware wallet to manage your crypto assets. They are shaped like USB keys and feature a tiny screen to confirm transactions on the device. The reason why that screen is important is that your private keys never leave your Ledger device.

In other words, if you want to store large amount of cryptocurrencies, you don’t want to leave them on an exchange account. If someone manages to sign in, they could withdraw all your crypto assets. With a hardware wallet, you remain in control of your crypto assets.

The company first launched the Ledger Nano S. You have to connect the device to a computer using a USB cable. More recently, with the Ledger Nano X, you can send and receive assets from your phone as the Nano X works over Bluetooth. Ledger also provides an enterprise solution for companies that want to add cryptocurrencies to their balance sheet.

Overall, Ledger has sold over 3 million hardware wallets. Every month, 1.5 million people use Ledger Live, the company’s software solution to manage your crypto assets. The company even says that it currently secures around 15% of all cryptocurrency assets globally.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride as the company has been around for seven years. After the crypto boom of 2018, interests for hardware wallets faded away. Moreover, as the company secures expensive assets, it has also suffered from a serious data breach — 272,000 customers have been affected.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to launch new products, add more DeFi features to Ledger Live and support the growth of the crypto ecosystem in general.

#blockchain, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #europe, #fundings-exits, #hardware-wallet, #ledger, #ledger-wallet, #startups, #wallet

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