Sneaker community startup SoleSavy raises $12.5 million Series A to build an end-to-end sneakersphere

Collectibles boomed during the pandemic and while NFT outfits like NBA Top Shot exploded as consumers flirted with newer efforts, the sneaker world grew even more mature with enthusiasts digging deeper into communities dedicated to the hobby/passion/obsession/alternative asset class.

Vancouver’s SoleSavy, a sneaker community dedicated to giving fans a curated place to navigate the world of shoes, with all of its drops, news and rumors, has raised a $12.5 million Series A just months after wrapping a $2 million seed round, showcasing investor enthusiasm behind vertical-specific premium social experiences. The round was led by Bedrock Capital with participation from Dapper Labs’ CEO Roham Gharegozlou, Diplo, Bessemer Ventures and Turner Novak’s Banana Capital, among others.

CEO Dejan Pralica says the company has tripled its user base since its seed raise late last year, while growing its team from 10 to 37 employees in the same period.

Today, SoleSavy’s community is based largely around a network of Slack groups where users can discuss just about everything. Though the platform’s chat communities are organized in Slack now, Pralica sees a future where the company could build its own chat hub for members, something to further tie-in the startup’s app, website and online conversations. The more near-term goal is to grow this community into a hub of trusted buyers and sellers where a peer-to-peer member marketplace can thrive. SoleSavy is at the forefront of a new generation of more social internet marketplaces where vertical-specific communities can gather and grow inside an all-encompassing platform.

“I do envision on end-to-end platform that’s very integrated,” Pralica tells TechCrunch.”I want to make sneakers fun again and enjoyable for the people that are passionate about them.”

Part of that fun has been diminished by free-for-all chat groups that can quickly grow toxic or grow exploitative as moderators look to cash in on their networks, something SoleSavy hopes a more curated approach can bring back.

As my boss (and TC’s resident sneaker head) Matthew said in his write-up of SoleSavy’s seed raise earlier this year:

That positive community vibe is what Pralica says is SoleSavy’s long-term focus and differentiating factor that keeps the 4,000 members across the U.S. and Canada interacting with the group on a nearly daily basis… I’ve been in a dozen or so different groups focused on buying large quantities of each release to re-sell over the years and many of them are, at best, rowdy and at worst toxic. That’s an environment that SoleSavy wanted to stay away from, says Pralica. Instead, SoleSavy tries to court those who want to buy and wear the shoes, trade them and yes, maybe even resell personal pairs eventually to obtain and wear another grail.

The company’s sizable Series A raise just months after a seed showcases that plenty of investors are intrigued by the idea of verticalized marketplaces built up around social communities, Pralica sees the funding as a chance to ignore fundraising for a while and focus on “building for the future” while identifying new opportunities in the sneakersphere.

SoleSavy has been pretty focused on North American sneaker heads so far, but Pralica see that hefty Series A check taking the platform into new markets, including Australia and New Zealand, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan and broader Europe. The company also plans to use the new funding to build out its editorial network with podcasts, editorial features, original video and member events.

#australia, #bedrock-capital, #bessemer-ventures, #canada, #ceo, #consumer-goods, #culture, #dapper-labs, #europe, #footwear, #groupware, #japan, #matthew, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #new-zealand, #peer-to-peer, #shoe, #singapore, #slack, #sneakers, #software, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vancouver


Toshiba In Chaos After Bid to Foil Activist Shareholders

The industrial giant is in chaos after a hedge fund forced it to expose its collusion with high-level officials to thwart shareholder activism.

#effissimo-capital-management-pte-ltd, #foreign-investments, #japan, #meti-ministry-of-economics-trade-and-industry-japan, #politics-and-government, #shareholder-rights-and-activism, #suga-yoshihide, #toshiba-corporation


Ashes of Hideki Tojo, Japan’s Wartime Leader, Were Secretly Scattered at Sea

For more than 70 years, the location of the remains of the wartime Japanese prime minister had been a puzzle. Now, documents reveal that U.S. forces secretly scattered his ashes into the Pacific Ocean.

#archives-and-records, #classified-information-and-state-secrets, #hideki-tojo, #japan, #united-states-army, #war-crimes-genocide-and-crimes-against-humanity, #world-war-ii-1939-45


Asia Struggles to Cast Off the Pandemic Despite its Early Lead

While the United States edges toward normalcy, countries like Japan, South Korea and Australia are still facing months of uncertainty and isolation as their vaccination campaigns just start to gain steam.

#australia, #china, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #japan, #quarantines, #shortages, #south-korea, #taiwan, #thailand, #vaccination-and-immunization


Why Asia, the Pandemic Champion, Remains Miles Away From the Finish Line

While the United States edges toward normalcy, countries like Japan, South Korea and Australia are still facing months of uncertainty and isolation as their vaccination campaigns just start to gain steam.

#australia, #china, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #japan, #quarantines, #shortages, #south-korea, #taiwan, #thailand, #vaccination-and-immunization


Americans Plead Guilty in Japan to Aiding Carlos Ghosn’s Escape

Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret, and his son Peter Maxwell Taylor helped the former Nissan chief flee to Lebanon and sidestep the Japanese justice system.

#extradition, #fugitives, #ghosn-carlos, #japan, #nissan-motor-co, #taylor-michael-private-security-contractor, #taylor-peter-maxwell


Wonking Out: Economic Nationalism, Biden-Style

China is the new Japan, and chips are the new chips.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #harris-kamala-d, #international-trade-and-world-market, #japan, #trump-donald-j, #united-states, #united-states-economy


Microsoft plans to launch dedicated Xbox cloud gaming hardware

Microsoft will soon launch a dedicated device for game streaming, the company announced today. It’s also working with a number of TV manufacturers to build the Xbox experience right into their internet-connected screens and Microsoft plans to bring build cloud gaming to the PC Xbox app later this year, too, with a focus on play-before-you-buy scenarios.

It’s unclear what these new game streaming devices will look like. Microsoft didn’t provide any further details. But chances are, we’re talking about either a Chromecast-like streaming stick or a small Apple TV-like box. So far, we also don’t know which TV manufacturers it will partner with.

It’s no secret that Microsoft is bullish about cloud gaming. With Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, it’s already making it possible for its subscribers to play more than 100 console games on Android, streamed from the Azure cloud, for example. In a few weeks, it’ll open cloud gaming in the browser on Edge, Chrome and Safari, to all Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers (it’s currently in limited beta). And it is bringing Game Pass Ultimate to Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Japan later this year, too.

In many ways, Microsoft is unbundling gaming from the hardware — similar to what Google is trying with Stadia (an effort that, so far, has fallen flat for Google) and Amazon with Luna. The major advantage Microsoft has here is a large library of popular games, something that’s mostly missing on competing services, with the exception of Nvidia’s GeForce Now platform — though that one has a different business model since its focus is not on a subscription but on allowing you to play the games you buy in third-party stores like Steam or the Epic store.

What Microsoft clearly wants to do is expand the overall Xbox ecosystem, even if that means it sells fewer dedicated high-powered consoles. The company likens this to the music industry’s transition to cloud-powered services backed by all-you-can-eat subscription models.

“We believe that games, that interactive entertainment, aren’t really about hardware and software. It’s not about pixels. It’s about people. Games bring people together,”
said Microsoft’s Xbox head Phil Spencer. “Games build bridges and forge bonds, generating mutual empathy among people all over the world. Joy and community -that’s why we’re here.”

It’s worth noting that Microsoft says it’s not doing away with dedicated hardware, though, and is already working on the next generation of its console hardware — but don’t expect a new Xbox console anytime soon.

#amazon, #android, #australia, #brazil, #cloud-gaming, #computing, #directx, #gadgets, #gaming, #google, #hardware, #japan, #luna, #mexico, #microsoft, #nvidia, #phil-spencer, #tc, #xbox, #xbox-cloud-gaming, #xbox-game-pass


Amid controversy, Dispo confirms Series A funding, high-profile advisors, and investors

It’s only been nine months since Dispo rebranded from David’s Disposables. But the vintage-inspired photo sharing app has experienced a whiplash of ups and downs, mostly due to the brand’s original namesake, YouTuber David Dobrik.

Like Clubhouse, Dispo was one of this year’s most hyped up new social apps, requiring an invite from an existing member to join. On March 9, when the company said “goodbye waitlist” and opened the app up to any iOS user, Dispo looked poised to be a worthy competitor to photo-sharing behemoths like Instagram. But, just one week later, Business Insider reported on sexual assault allegations regarding a member of Vlog Squad, a YouTube prank ensemble headed by Dispo co-founder David Dobrik. Dobrik had posted a now-deleted vlog about the night of the alleged assault, joking, “we’re all going to jail” at the end of the video.

It was only after venture capital firm Spark Capital decided to “sever all ties” with Dispo that Dobrik stepped down from the company board. In a statement made to TechCrunch at the time, Dispo said, “Dispo’s team, product, and most importantly — our community — stand for building a diverse, inclusive and empowering world.”

Dispo capitalizes on Gen Z and young millennial nostalgia for a time before digital photography, when we couldn’t take thirty selfies before choosing which one to post. On Dispo, when you take a photo, you have to wait until 9 AM the following day for the image to “develop,” and only then can you view and share it.

In both February and March of this year, the app hit the top ten of the Photo & Video category in the U.S. App Store. Despite the backlash against Dobrik, which resulted in the app’s product page being bombarded with negative comments, the app still hit the top ten in Germany, Japan, and Brazil, according to their press release. Dispo reportedly has not yet expended any international marketing resources.

Now, early investors in Dispo like Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six, and Unshackled have committed to donate any potential profits from their investment in the app to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. Though Axios reported the app’s $20M Series A funding news in February, Dispo put out a press release this morning confirming the financing event. Though Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures intend to donate profits from the app, they remain listed as investors, while Spark Capital is not. Other notable names involved in the project include high-profile photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Raven B. Varona, who has worked with artists like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Actresses Cara Delevingne and Sofía Vergara, as well as NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, are also involved with the app as investors or advisors.

Dobrik’s role in the company was largely as a marketer – CEO Daniel Liss co-founded the app with Dobrik and has been leading the team since the beginning. After Dobrik’s departure, the Dispo team – which remains under twenty members strong – took a break from communications and product updates on the app. It’s expected that after today’s funding confirmation, the app will continue to roll out updates.

Dispo is quick to shift focus to the work of their team, which they call “some of the most talented, diverse leaders in consumer tech.” With the capital from this funding round, they hope to hire more staff to become more competitive with major social media apps with expansive teams, like Instagram and TikTok, and to experiment with machine learning. They will also likely have some serious marketing to do, now that their attempt at influencer marketing has failed massively.

Now more than ever, Dispo is promoting the app as a mental health benefit, hoping to shift the tide away from manufactured perfectionism toward more authentic social media experiences.

“A new era of start ups must emerge to end the scourge of big tech’s destruction of our political fabric and willful ignorance of its impact on body dysmorphia and mental health,” CEO Daniel Liss writes in a Substack post titled Dispo 2.0. “Imagine a world where Dispo is the social network of choice for every teen and college student in the world. How different a world would that be?”

But, for an app that propelled to success off the fame of a YouTuber with a history of less than savory behavior, that messaging might fall flat.

According to Sensor Tower, the highest Dispo has ever ranked in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store was in January 2020, when it was still called David’s Disposables. The app ranked No. 1 in that category from January 7 to January 9, and on January 8, it reached No. 1 among all free iPhone apps.

#advisors, #andre-iguodala, #annie-leibovitz, #app-store, #apps, #brazil, #ceo, #co-founder, #computing, #david-dobrik, #digital-photography, #dispo, #freeware, #germany, #instagram, #internet-culture, #japan, #kevin-durant, #mobile-applications, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #social-media, #software, #spark-capital, #techcrunch, #united-states, #unshackled-ventures, #venture-capital, #world-wide-web


Olympics Gave Hope to Japan’s L.G.B.T.Q. Activists. But Old Prejudices Die Hard.

Legislation labeling discrimination “unacceptable” has been blocked by conservative lawmakers, showing how far the country has to go to fulfill the goal of equality enshrined in the Olympic charter.

#bach-thomas, #discrimination, #hashimoto-seiko-1964, #homosexuality-and-bisexuality, #international-olympic-committee, #japan, #liberal-democratic-party-japan, #olympic-games-2020, #transgender-and-transsexuals


Australian Team Arrives at a Constricted Tokyo Olympics

Daily coronavirus tests. Hotel confinement. A lot of Nintendo time. The experience of Australia’s softball team is a preview of a Games like no other.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-risks-and-safety-concerns, #international-olympic-committee, #japan, #olympic-games-2020, #softball


The Hunt for Clarity About van Gogh’s Last Days Leads to Maine

Experts are examining a watercolor found in an antiques shop that may be a rare work by Edmund Walpole Brooke, who painted with van Gogh during his final months.

#arles-france, #art, #japan, #maine, #osaka-university, #tsukasa-kodera, #van-gogh-vincent


An Artisan Well Versed in the Tradition of Japanese Brush Making

The current popularity of the tools prompted one writer to learn more about how they’re assembled.

#art, #content-type-personal-profile, #cosmetics-and-toiletries, #handicrafts, #japan, #luxury-goods-and-services, #nara-japan, #tanaka-chiyomi


Max Q: Selling space

Max Q is a weekly newsletter from TechCrunch all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Mondays in your inbox.

This week actually includes two, since I was out last week for a Canadian national holiday (and back today for the U.S. one, ironically). There’s plenty to cover, including Blue Origin’s bidding process, lunar landers, spaceships launching at sea and the return of our very own space event.

Blue Origin’s big bid

Blue Origin is auctioning off one seat on its first ever human spaceflight, and the bidding got started at $1.4 million — or at least, the public bidding started there. Before last week, people had been submitting blind bids, but now Blue Origin is posting the top current bid to its website whenever it hits a new high. It’s currently set at $2.8 million, meaning it’s doubled since the bids opened up to public scrutiny, and presumably FOMO.

Everything’s building up to June 12, when the auction will conclude with a live, real-time online competitive bidding round. Seems likely it’ll at least cross the $3 million mark before all’s said and done, which is good news for Blue Origin, since run-of-the-mill tickets for the few minutes in suborbital space going forward will probably end up more in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range.

The winning bidder will be flying on July 20, if all goes to the current plan, and will be accompanied by other passengers selected by Blue Origin through some other mechanism. We don’t yet know who else will be on the ride. Bezos maybe?

SpaceX’s Deimos spaceport is under construction

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting.

SpaceX is really flexing its sci-fi-made-real muscle with its latest move: The company is turning two offshore oil rig platforms into floating spaceports, and one of the two, codenamed ‘Deimos’ after one of Mars’ moons, is already being worked on. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared that the company is hoping to have it ready for operations next year, meaning it could host actual launches in 2022.

Eventually, Deimos and its twin, Phobos, will provide launch and landing services to SpaceX’s first fully reusable launch vehicle — Starship. Starship only just managed to land successfully after a high, but still very much atmospheric flight test, however, so it has a way to go before it’s making amphibious departures and arrivals using the converted oil platforms.

Putting these in the ocean presumably helps solve some key issues, not least of which is being mindful of the impact of launching absolutely massive rockets on land anywhere near people. Ditto the landings, which at least early on, are bound to be risky affairs better carried out with a buffer of surrounding ocean.

Landers; lunar ones

Lander Rover

Concept graphic depicting ispace’s HAKUTO-R lander and rover.

There’s quite a bit of lunar lander news this week, including Japan’s ispace revealing that it’ll provide commercial lunar lander service to both Canada and Japan, with a ride for both provided by SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket. These will be two separate missions, with the first one set for next year, and the second one set to take place in 2023.

Both will use ispace’s Hakuto-R lander, which it originally developed to take part in the Google-backed Lunar XPRIZE competition. That ended without a winner, but some companies, including ispace, continued to work on their landers with an eye to commercialization. The Hakuto-R being sent on behalf of JAXA will carry an adorable ball-shaped Moon robot which looks like a very novel take on a rover.

Meanwhile, GM announced this past week that it’s working with space industry veteran Lockheed Martin to develop a next-gen Moon rover that will provide future lunar astronauts with more speed and greater range. GM and Lockheed will still have to win a NASA contract in order to actually make the thing, but they’re clearly excited about the prospect.

TC Sessions: Space is back in December

Last year we held our first dedicated space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s happening December 14 and 15, and it’s once again going to be an entirely virtual conference, so people from all over the world will be able to join.

We had an amazing line-up of guests and speakers at last year’s event, including Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck, NASA’s Kathy Lueders and more, and we’re already working on a fantastic follow-up agenda that’s sure to thrill all kinds of space fans.

You can already get tickets, and if you get in early, you save $100.

#bezos, #blue-origin, #canada, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon, #google, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #japan, #kathy-lueders, #lockheed-martin, #max-q, #outer-space, #peter-beck, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-lab, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #techcrunch, #united-states


First International Athletes Arrive in Japan for the Olympics

The team will be confined to one floor of a hotel as it prepares for the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to begin July 23 despite a coronavirus outbreak and growing public opposition.

#athletics-and-sports, #australia, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #internal-essential, #international-olympic-committee, #japan, #olympic-games, #softball, #tokyo-japan


Olympic Pin Trading Is Another Casualty of Covid This Year

The collapse of the pin trading market will hardly register amid the more than $15 billion cost of the Tokyo Games, but for avid traders, it’s a huge letdown.

#burundi, #collectors-and-collections, #japan, #johnson-rafer, #memorabilia-and-souvenirs, #olympic-games-2020, #retton-mary-lou


‘Apocalypse ’45’ Review: Graphic Images of Wartime

Candid testimonies from World War II veterans accompanies vivid archival footage in this immersive documentary that showcases the myths we tell ourselves about war.

#apocalypse45-movie, #documentary-films-and-programs, #japan, #nelson-erik-filmmaker, #united-states, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #world-war-ii-1939-45


Kentaro Miura, Creator of Epic Manga ‘Berserk,’ Dies at 54

For more than 30 years he reached tens of millions of readers worldwide with a fantastical tale of vulnerable characters in an apocalyptic world.

#art, #berserk-book, #comic-books-and-strips, #dark-horse-comics, #deaths-obituaries, #japan, #miura-kentaro-1966-2021, #writing-and-writers


With Tokyo Olympics Weeks Away, U.S. Warns Americans Not to Travel to Japan

The move’s effects are likely to be minimal, as Japan’s borders are largely shut because of the pandemic and American athletes are expected to participate in the Games regardless.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #international-olympic-committee, #japan, #olympic-games-2020, #state-department, #suga-yoshihide, #travel-warnings, #united-states


Rakuten and Beyond Next invest $1M seed funding in farm-to-table startup Secai Marche

Farmers and food businesses, like restaurants, deal with the same issue: a fragmented supply chain. Secai Marche wants to streamline agricultural logistics, making fulfillment more cost-efficient and enabling food businesses to bundle products from different farmers into the same order. The company is headquartered in Japan, with operations in Malaysia, and plans to expand into Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. This week, it announced 150 million JPY (about $1.4 million USD) in pre-Series A funding from Rakuten Ventures and Beyond Next Ventures to build a B2B logistics platform for farmers that sell to restaurants, hotels and other F&B (food and beverage) businesses.

This round brings Secai Marche’s total raised to about $3 million. The capital will be used to expand its fulfillment infrastructure, including a network of warehouses and cold chain logistics, hire more people for its engineering team, and sales and marketing.

Secai Marche was founded in 2018 by Ami Sugiyama and Shusaku Hayakawa, and currently serves 130 farmers and more than 300 F&B businesses. Before launching the startup, Sugiyama spent seven years working in Southeast Asia, including managing restaurants and cafes in Malaysia. During that time, she started to import green tea from Japan, intending to sell it directly to customers in Malaysia. But she realized supply chain inefficiencies not only made it hard to meet demand, but also ensure quality for all kinds of ingredients.

Meanwhile, Hayakawa was operating a farm in Japan and working on agriculture control systems that predicted weather and crop growth to help farmers maintain consistent quality.

Both Sugiyama and Hayakawa ended up at consulting firm Deloitte, researching how to create a more efficient supply chain for Japanese agricultural exports to Singaporean F&B businesses. Policies implemented by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration aim to increase Japanese agricultural exports from 922.3 billion JPY (about $8.5 billion) in 2020 to 2 trillion JPY (about $18.5 billion) by 2025, and 5 trillion JPY (about $46.1 billion) in 2030.

Seche Marche’s goal is to make it easier for farmers to sell their crops to F&B businesses domestically or overseas.

“We found that not only farmers in Japan, but also all farmers in Southeast Asia have the same problem in terms of the current supply chain,” Sugiyama told TechCrunch. “So we left Deloitte and started our own business to connect not only farmers in Japan, but farmers in all Asian countries.”

Secai Marche’s logistics management tech is what differentiates it from other wholesaler platforms. It uses an AI-based algorithm to predict demand based on consumption trends, seasonal products and farmer recommendations, said Hayakawa. Secai Marche runs its own warehouse network, but mostly relies on third-party logistics providers for fulfillment, and its platform assigns orders to the most efficient transportation method.

This allows F&B businesses to consolidate orders from farmers, so they can order smaller batches from different places without spending more money. About 30% of Secai Marche’s products are shipped to other countries, while the rest are sold domestically.

Secai Marche is reaching out to farmers who want to increase their customer base. About 30% of its products currently come from Japanese farms, 50% from Malaysia and the rest from other ASEAN countries. Sugiyama and Hayakawa said the COVID-19 pandemic affected Secai Marche’s expansion plans because it originally planned to enter Singapore this year, but had to slow down since they were unable to travel and meet with farmers.

On the other hand, many farmers have started selling directly to consumers through social media like Instagram or Facebook, and have approached Secai Marche for help with fulfillment, logistics, repacking and quality control.

#agritech, #asia, #farm-to-table, #food, #fundings-exits, #japan, #logistics, #malaysia, #secai-marche, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc


More funding flows into Pipe, as buzzy fintech raises $250M at a $2B valuation

At the end of March, TechCrunch reported that buzzy startup Pipe — which aims to be the “Nasdaq for revenue” — had raised $150 million in a round of funding that values the fintech at $2 billion.

Well, that deal has closed and in the end, Miami-based Pipe confirms that it has actually raised $250 million at a $2 billion valuation in a round that was “massively oversubscribed,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Harry Hurst.

“We had originally allocated $150 million for the round, but capped it at $250 million although we could have raised significantly more,” he told TechCrunch.

As we previously reported, Baltimore, Maryland-based Greenspring Associates led the round, which included participation from new investors Morgan Stanley’s Counterpoint Global, CreditEase FinTech Investment Fund, Horizon Capital, 3L and Japan’s SBI Investment. Existing backers such as Next47, Marc Benioff, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six, MaC  Ventures and Republic also put money in the latest financing.

The investment comes about 2 ½ months after Pipe raised $50 million in “strategic equity funding” from a slew of high-profile investors such as Siemens’ Next47 and Jim Pallotta’s Raptor Group, Shopify, Slack, HubSpot, Okta and Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya. With this latest round, Pipe has now raised about $316 million in total capital. The new funding was raised at “a significant step up in valuation” from the company’s last raise.

As a journalist who first covered Pipe when they raised $6 million in seed funding back in late February 2020, it’s been fascinating to watch the company’s rise. In fact, Pipe claims that its ability to achieve a $2 billion valuation in just under a year since its public launch in June of last year makes it the fastest fintech to reach this valuation in history. While I can’t substantiate that claim, I can say that its growth has indeed been swift and impressive.

Hurst, Josh Mangel and Zain Allarakhia founded Pipe in September 2019 with the mission of giving SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)

The goal of the platform is to offer companies with recurring revenue streams access to capital so they don’t dilute their ownership by accepting external capital or get forced to take out loans.

More than 4,000 companies have signed up on the Pipe trading platform since its public launch in June 2020, with just over 1,000 of those signing up since its March raise, according to Hurst. Tradable annual recurring revenue (ARR) on the Pipe platform is in excess of $1 billion and trending toward $2 billion, with tens of millions of dollars currently being traded every month. When I last talked to the company in March, it had reported tens of millions of dollars traded in all of the first quarter.

“Growth has been insane,” Hurst told TechCrunch. “This speaks to why we managed to raise at such a high valuation and attract so much investor interest.”

Image Credits: Pipe

Over time, Pipe’s platform has evolved to offer non-dilutive capital to non-SaaS companies as well. In fact, 25% of its customers are currently non-SaaS, according to Hurst — a number he expects to climb to over 50% by year’s end.

Examples of the types of businesses now using Pipe’s platform include property management companies, direct-to-consumer companies with subscription products, insurance brokerages, online pharmacies and even sports/entertainment-related organizations, Hurst said. Even VC firms are users.

“Any business with very predictable revenue streams is ripe for trading on our platform,” Hurst emphasizes. “We have unlocked the largest untapped asset class in the world.”

He emphasizes that what Pipe is offering is not debt or a loan.

“Other companies in this space are dealing in loans and they’re actually raising debt and giving companies money — like reselling debt,” Hurst said. “This is what differentiates us so massively.”

Pipe’s platform assesses a customer’s key metrics by integrating with its accounting, payment processing and banking systems. It then instantly rates the performance of the business and qualifies them for a trading limit. Trading limits currently range from $50,000 for smaller early-stage and bootstrapped companies to over $100 million for late-stage and publicly traded companies, although there is no cap on how large a trading limit can be.
Pipe has no cost of capital. Institutional investors compete against each other for deals on its platform. In return, Pipe charges both parties on each side of the transaction a fixed trading fee of up to 1%, depending on the volume.

The startup has been operating with a lean and mean strategy and has a current headcount of 34. Pipe plans to use its latest capital in part to double that number by year’s end.

“We haven’t actually spent a penny of our prior financing,” Hurst told TechCrunch. “But we’re seeing huge demand for the product globally, and across so many different verticals, so we’re going to use this capital to not only secure the future of business obviously but to continue to invest into growing all of these different verticals and kick off our global expansion.”

Image Credits: Pipe co-founder and co-CEO Harry Hurst / Pipe

Ashton Newhall, managing general partner of Greenspring Associates, described Pipe as “one of the fastest-growing companies” his firm has seen.

The startup, he added, is “addressing a very large TAM (total addressable market) with the potential to fundamentally shift the financial services landscape.”

In particular, Greenspring was drawn to Pipe’s alternative financing model.

“While there are many companies that service specific niches with traditional lending products, Pipe isn’t a lender,” Newhall told TechCrunch. “Rather, it’s a trading platform and does not actually raise any money to give to customers. Instead, Pipe connects customers directly with institutional investors to get the best possible pricing to trade their actual contracts in lieu of taking a loan.”

#alexis-ohanian, #baltimore, #chamath-palihapitiya, #creditease-fintech-investment-fund, #economy, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenspring-associates, #hubspot, #japan, #mac-ventures, #marc-benioff, #maryland, #miami, #okta, #pipe, #raptor-group, #recent-funding, #saas, #sbi-investment, #shopify, #siemens, #social-capital, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital


UTEC, one of Asia’s largest deep-tech investment firms, launches new $275M fund

The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC), a deep-tech investment firm, announced the first close of its fifth fund, which is expected to total 30 billion JPY (or about $275 million USD) by June 2021. UTEC currently has about $780 million in total assets under management, and says this makes it one of the largest venture capital funds focused on science and tech in Japan, and one of the largest deep-tech funds in Asia.

UTEC is an independent firm that works closely with universities. It is associated with The University of Tokyo (UTokyo), where it has a partnership with its Technology Licensing Office (TLO) to spin-off and invest in companies that originated as research projects. It has also worked with researchers from Waseda University, Kyoto University, Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Cambridge University, the National University of Singapore and the Indian Institute of Technology, among other institutions.

A map showing UTEC's deep-tech investments around the world

UTEC’s deep-tech investments around the world

Broadly speaking, UTEC focuses on three areas: healthcare and life sciences, information technology and physical sciences and engineering. More specifically, it is looking for tech that addresses some of the most important issues in Japan, including an aging population; labor shortage; and the digitization of legacy industries.

“UTEC 5 will allow us to provide more funds from seed/early to pre-IPO/M&A stages in Japan and worldwide, on a wider scale and in a more consistent manner,” said managing partner and president Tomotaka Goji in a statement. “I believe this will further help our startups expand to address the global issues of humankind.”

The firm also partners with other funds, including Arch Venture Partners and Blume Ventures, to find investment opportunities around the world.

UTEC’s portfolio already includes more than 80 Japanese startups and 30 startups from other places, including the United States, India, Southeast Asia and Europe. So far, 25 of its investments have exited. Thirteen went public and now have an aggregated market cap of about $15 billion, and 12 were through mergers and acquisitions.

Some of its exits include 908 Devices, a mass spectrometry company that went public on Nasdaq last year; Fyusion, a computer vision startup acquired by Cox Automotive; and Phyzios, which was acquired by Google in 2013.

About half of UTEC’s portfolio are university spin-offs. For companies that originated in academic research, UTEC supports their commercialization by helping hire crucial talent, including executive positions, business development and go-to-market strategies. The firm’s first check size is about $500,000 to $5 million, and it also usually provides follow-on capital.

“We typically double-down on our investment in subsequent funding rounds of the company and can invest up to about $23 million per company over its lifecycle,” UTEC principal Kiran Mysore, who leads their global AI investments, told TechCrunch.

UTEC’s other investments include personal mobility robotics company BionicM, which started at UTokyo and spatial intelligence solution developer Locix, spun-off from U.C. Berkeley. The firm also helps startups collaborate with academic institutions. For example, Indian biotech Bugworks collaborates with the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Japanese industrial robotics startup Mujin now works with Carnegie Mellon.

#asia, #deep-tech, #fundings-exits, #japan, #startups, #tc, #the-university-of-tokyo-edge-capital-partners, #utec


Japan Is Shaken After a Detainee, Wasting Away, Dies Alone in Her Cell

Critics of the country’s immigration system say the death reveals an opaque and capricious bureaucracy with nearly unchecked power over foreigners caught inside it.

#asylum-right-of, #deaths-fatalities, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #illegal-immigration, #immigration-and-emigration, #immigration-detention, #japan


Shein overtakes Amazon as the most installed shopping app in US

Shein‘s quiet rise has reached a crescendo as the fast fashion e-commerce app takes the crown from Amazon as the most downloaded shopping app on iOS and Android in the United States, according to data from app tracking firms App Annie.

Its ascent is quiet because the startup, despite reportedly exceeding a $15 billion valuation, maintains an unusually low profile and doesn’t try to make itself known to the media. The app, dubbed the “TikTok for e-commerce” by China-focused internet analyst Matthew Brennan in this thorough piece on the startup, manufactures in China as many apparel retailers do.

The difference is Shein controls its own production chain, from design and prototype to procurement to manufacturing. Each step is highly digitized and integrated with another, which allows the company to churn out hundreds of new products tailored to different regions and user tastes at a daily rate. The strategy is not unlike TikTok matching content creators with users by using algorithms to understand their habits in real-time.

On May 11, Shein became the most installed shopping app on Android in the U.S., and six days later took the top spot on iOS as well.

The origin of Shein, which was previously named “She Inside,” is little understood. On its official website, it describes itself as an “international B2C fast fashion e-commerce platform” founded in 2008. There is no mention of its founder and CEO Chris Xu. In a 2018 corporate blog posted on WeChat, it wrote that it was headquartered in Nanjing, an eastern Chinese city home known for its historical heritages and home to Chinese appliance giant Suning. It also opened offices in other major Chinese cities as well as the U.S., Belgium and the United Arab Emirates.

Shein’s low profile is perhaps expected in times of geopolitical tensions and heightened regulatory scrutiny over China-related tech companies around the world. Shein owns its sales channel and user data, which distinguishes it from the swathe of generic consumer brands relying on Amazon for customer acquisition without meaningful access to user data.

As of May 17, Shein was the top iOS shopping app in 54 countries and ranked top in the category on Android devices across 13 countries.

Shein has not announced who its investors are, but Chinese media reports have listed Capital Nuts, JAFCO Asia, Greenwoods Asset Management, IDG Capital, Sequoia Capital China, Tiger Global, and Xiaomi founder’s Shunwei Capital among its backers.

We’ve reached out to Shein for comments on the story. Sequoia Capital China confirmed it’s an investor in Shein.

#amazon, #asia, #china, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #japan, #likee, #manufacturing, #nanjing, #sequoia-capital-china, #shein, #shunwei-capital, #tc, #tiger-global, #tiktok, #wechat, #xiaomi


Japan’s Yo-Yoing Economy Shrinks Again as Virus Spreads and Vaccinations Lag

The country has experienced cycles of growth and contraction in domestic consumption as the pandemic has waxed and waned.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #gross-domestic-product, #japan, #vaccination-and-immunization


Forget multiple cameras—Sharp phone has one giant 1-inch camera sensor

Is filling the back of a smartphone with several small camera lenses really the best camera solution? Sharp is bucking the multi-camera trend with the Aquos R6, a phone with—get this—a single massive camera on the back. Sharp is skipping all the wide-angle zoom lenses out there and going with a giant 1-inch camera sensor instead. This is either the single biggest smartphone camera sensor ever or it’s tied for the largest ever, depending on how you categorize 2014’s Panasonic Lumix CM1, which isn’t so much a “phone” as it is a point-and-shoot camera that runs Android and can make phone calls.

Sharp is not talking about its camera sensor supplier, but there’s a good chance the part is from fellow Japanese company Sony, which has had a 1-inch “IMX800” sensor circulating around the rumor mill for some time. Sony is the leading smartphone camera sensor manufacturer, so don’t be surprised to see a few more 1-inch sensor phones this year. The rest of the specs look pretty good, too. The phone comes with Android 11, a Snapdragon 888 SoC, 12GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a 5000 mAh battery, a microSD slot, a headphone jack, and a USB-C port.

The display is a Sharp-made OLED with a whopping 240 Hz refresh rate. Sharp has made 240 Hz displays before, but it says this one is the “world’s first” display to have a dynamic refresh rate that goes from 1 Hz to 240 Hz, depending on the content.

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#android, #camera, #japan, #sharp, #smartphone, #tech


A Sports Event Shouldn’t Be a Superspreader. Cancel the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee cares about its relentless pursuit of profit, not public health. 

#athletics-and-sports, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #international-olympic-committee, #japan, #olympic-games-2022


Japan Extends Emergency Measures Before Tokyo Olympics

The expanded restrictions come 11 weeks before the scheduled start of Tokyo’s Summer Games, as a fourth wave of coronavirus infections continues.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #internal-essential, #japan, #osaka-japan, #tokyo-japan


A Shrinking Society in Japan

The persistently low birthrate in the country has caused the population to contract. The U.S. is on a similar path.

#birth-rates, #japan, #population, #rich-motoko


They Were Promised a Socialist Paradise, and Ended Up in ‘Hell’

Lee Tae-kyung has campaigned tirelessly in South Korea to share the story of the 93,000 people who migrated from Japan to North Korea from 1959 to 1984 and were forced to stay.

#content-type-personal-profile, #families-and-family-life, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #immigration-and-emigration, #japan, #korean-war, #north-korea, #politics-and-government, #south-korea


Malcolm Gladwell on the Hard Decisions of War

Gladwell’s “The Bomber Mafia” looks at the air campaign against Japan in World War II and finds a surprising hero in Curtis LeMay.

#books-and-literature, #gladwell-malcolm, #japan, #the-bomber-mafia-a-dream-a-temptation-and-the-longest-night-of-the-second-world-war-book, #united-states-air-force, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #world-war-ii-1939-45


COVID emergency shuts Japan’s Super Nintendo World one month after opening

The highly anticipated Super Nintendo World section of Universal Studios Japan will be temporarily closing a little more than a month after its delayed opening, along with the rest of the park, due to the increased spread of COVID-19 in Osaka.

“Today, Universal Studios Japan has decided to temporarily close our park due to the substantial business shutdown request to operate with no spectators which was issued under the state of emergency for Osaka prefecture,” reads a note on the Universal Studios Japan website.

The closure comes just weeks after Universal Studios Japan was forced to limit visitor numbers amid rising case rates in Osaka. Universal Studios Japan was previously closed for COVID from February 29 through June 7 of last year. The latest closure will be effective April 25 and will last “until the request has been lifted.”

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#covid, #gaming-culture, #japan, #nintendo, #super-nintendo-world, #universal-studios


SmartNews’ COVID-19 vaccine alert reaches 1M users in Japan a week after launching

Screenshots of SmartNews' Vaccine Alert and Map features for its Japanese app

SmartNews’ Vaccine Alert and Map features for its Japanese app

SmartNews announced today that its tools to help Japanese users find nearby COVID-19 vaccine bookings have reached more than one million users just a week after launching. The news discovery unicorn decided to create Vaccine Alert and Map features for its Japanese app because many people there are frustrated by the speed of vaccine rollouts. In the United States, where vaccinations are going much faster, SmartNews just released a feature that lets people find appointments by zip code today.

The company has more than 20 million monthly active users combined in Japan and the United States.

According to a public opinion poll by Nippon TV, more than 70% of Japanese people are dissatisfied with its slow vaccine rollout. That sentiment was echoed in SmartNews’ own research, which surveyed 900 people aged 65 to 79 at the beginning of April, and found that more than 90% felt there was insufficient information available about when and where they could get vaccinated. Challenges included the lack of a central portal for vaccine booking information, meaning local government offices and healthcare providers were inundated with questions.

A screenshot of SmartNews' vaccine locater feature for the American version of its app

A screenshot of SmartNews’ vaccine finder feature for the American version of its app

To create its Vaccine Alert and Map, SmartNews aggregated information from 1,741 municipalities across Japan. The Vaccine Alert lets users know when they are eligible to get a shot based on their location, age, occupation and health conditions. The Vaccine Map combines data from about 37,000 facilities, so people can see where bookings are available near them or get notified when their healthcare providers begin taking reservations.

The features were released on April 12, the day vaccinations began for elderly people in Japan, and had more than one million users a week later. This is in part because SmartNews is one of the country’s most popular news aggregator apps and also because the new features were covered by TV Asahi, a major TV station.

A company representative told TechCrunch that many people who signed up for the vaccine features were already SmartNews users, but it has also seen new downloads as people share their vaccination appointments with friends and family.

#asia, #covid-19-vaccine, #fundings-exits, #japan, #news-aggregator-app, #smartnews, #startups, #tc


Korean Court Rejects Suit Against Japan Over Sexual Slavery

The decision contradicted an earlier court ruling in South Korea that said the Japanese government must compensate so-called comfort women.

#decisions-and-verdicts, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #japan, #prostitution, #reparations, #slavery-historical, #south-korea, #women-and-girls, #world-war-ii-1939-45


This Vegan Ramen Maximizes Flavor and Time

The rich, creamy broth in this tantanmen tastes like it’s been cooked much longer.

#cooking-and-cookbooks, #japan, #noodles, #tofu, #veganism


These Countries Did Well With Covid. So Why Are They Slow on Vaccines?

Japan, South Korea and Australia have inoculated tiny percentages of their populations. The delays risk unwinding their relative successes.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #japan, #new-zealand, #olympic-games-2020, #south-korea, #vaccination-and-immunization


Biden and Suga Agree U.S. and Japan Will Work Together on 5G

The subtext of the meeting was responding to China’s influence and its aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga resisted being drawn into a rivalry.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #defense-and-military-forces, #global-warming, #japan, #suga-yoshihide, #united-states, #united-states-international-relations


How Working From Home Changed Wardrobes Around the World

It wasn’t all sweats and leggings. A whirlwind tour of how the pandemic affected what we wore, from India to Italy.

#brazil, #fashion-and-apparel, #france, #india, #italy, #japan, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #russia, #senegal, #shopping-and-retail


Will Japan Confront China? A Visit to Washington May Offer a Clue.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is the first foreign leader to be invited to the Biden White House, where he is likely to be pressed to more fully address Beijing’s threat to stability in the region.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #international-relations, #japan, #politics-and-government, #suga-yoshihide, #trump-donald-j, #united-states, #united-states-international-relations


Hideki Matsuyama is Golf’s Quiet Superstar

Shy, intense and obsessive about his golf game, Hideki Matsuyama has been quietly working toward his elite place in the sport for the past several years.

#augusta-national-golf-club, #golf, #japan, #masters-golf-tournament, #matsuyama-hideki, #pga-tour-inc, #privacy


Ready or Not, Hideki Matsuyama Is Now a National Hero in Japan

By winning the Masters, the publicity-shy golfer will face a news media spotlight that trails every move of Japanese athletes abroad.

#augusta-ga, #golf, #japan, #masters-golf-tournament, #matsuyama-hideki, #professional-golfers-assn


Why It’s Time to Rethink the Olympics

Displacements, human rights violations, health concerns and overspending have dogged the Games in recent years. The Olympic mission is a mess in need of long-term fixing.

#boycotts, #china, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #international-olympic-committee, #international-relations, #japan, #olympic-games, #olympic-games-2020, #olympic-games-2022, #uighurs-chinese-ethnic-group, #war-crimes-genocide-and-crimes-against-humanity


NGK Spark Plugs launches $100M corporate venture fund, will seek M&A opportunities

NGK Spark Plug, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of automative spark plugs, announced a new $100 million fund to invest in startups and find potential merger and acquisition deals. The fund was launched with Pegasus Tech Ventures, the “venture capital as a service” firm that has also worked with corporations like Sega Sammy Holdings, Asus and Aisin Seiki to launch venture funds.

While best known for its automotive components, NGK Spark Plug also manufacturers many other hardware components, including for semiconductor production equipment, cutting tools, medical equipment, industrial ceramics. In recent years, the Nagoya, Japan-headquartered company has begun focusing on new technologies, like solid-state electric vehicle batteries.

NGK Spark Plug’s new corporate venture fund is an opportunity to work with startups and expand into new businesses, said Anis Uzzaman, general partner and chief executive officer of Pegasus Tech Ventures.

The company is looking for software and hardware startups in the United States, Europe, Israel and Asia and will focus on three themes: smart health, decentralized utilities and smart mobility.

“The selection of those areas is based on global trends and data. The global rate of poverty is decreasing and more people need healthy food, clean water, access to energy, mobility and easy access to healthcare,” Uzzaman told TechCrunch in an email.
“NGK is using its material and sensors expertise, as well as its sales channels in automotive, to establish systems and solutions to address major pain points in those areas.”

For smart mobility, this means tech like charging solutions, solid state batteries, ADAS systems, service platforms and power inverters. In decentralized utilities, NGK Spark Plug will look at food tech and agriculture startups, with the goal of creating safer and more sustainable food supplies and reducing pollution. It is also interested in air purification technology.

The fund will invest in early to late stage startups, with check sizes ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars. NGK Spark Plug plans to work closely with portfolio companies, helping bring their tech to maturation, investing in them at multiple stages and remaining open to potential mergers and acquisitions, Uzzaman added.

#asia, #automotive, #decentralized-utilities, #fundings-exits, #health, #japan, #mobility, #ngk-spark-plug, #pegasus-tech-ventures, #startups, #tc


Hideki Matsuyama of Japan Is the First Asian-Born Winner of the Masters

Matsuyama led the final round from start to finish at Augusta National, becoming the first Asian-born man to win the Masters.

#augusta-national-golf-club, #golf, #japan, #masters-golf-tournament, #matsuyama-hideki, #schauffele-xander-1993, #will-zalatoris


Vaccine Passports Could Unlock World Travel and Cries of Discrimination

Vaccine rollouts in some countries have a long-locked-down world dreaming of travels abroad again. But they have also set off a fraught debate about the fairness of a two-tier system for haves and have-nots.

#aruba, #canada, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #europe, #great-britain, #israel, #japan, #politics-and-government, #quarantines, #saudi-arabia, #singapore, #travel-and-vacations, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization, #vaccination-proof-and-immunization-records


For 10 Years, Photographer Follows Up on Destroyed Village

After an earthquake and a tsunami hit Japan in 2011, Hiroko Masuike, a Times photographer, spent a decade documenting the attempts by 15 people to rebuild their community.

#japan, #japan-earthquake-and-tsunami-2011, #kesen-japan, #masuike-hiroko, #new-york-times, #news-and-news-media, #photography


Isamu Akasaki, 92, Dies; Nobel Winner Lit Up the World With LEDs

A physicist, he shared the prize with two others for their breakthrough in creating blue light-emitting diodes, succeeding “where everyone else had failed.”

#akasaki-isamu, #deaths-obituaries, #inventions-and-patents, #japan, #light-emitting-diodes, #nobel-prizes, #science-and-technology


How to Create an At-Home Forest Bathing Ritual

With a little know-how, aspects of shinrin-yoku, the calming Japanese practice of spending time among trees, can be approximated indoors.

#cosmetics-and-toiletries, #forests-and-forestry, #japan, #perfumes-and-fragrances


Japan Is Finding It Harder to Stay Quiet on China’s Abuse of Uyghurs

Public awareness of the issue is growing in the country, spurred in part by the work of Uyghur activists, and that is increasing pressure on the government to take action.

#china, #communist-party-of-china, #embargoes-and-sanctions, #forced-labor, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #japan, #uighurs-chinese-ethnic-group, #xinjiang-china


LINE Ventures merges with YJ Capital, launches $271M fund

LINE completed its merger with Yahoo! Japan owner Z Holdings last month, and now the two firm’s venture capital arms have also combined. Z Holdings announced today that its subsidiary, YJ Capital, has merged with LINE Ventures to form Z Venture Capital.

The new firm also announced the launch of a 30 billion JPY (about $271 million USD) fund, which it claims makes it one of the largest corporate venture capital funds in Japan. The fund will look in Japan, as well as global markets like South Korea, the United States, China and Southeast Asia, for investment opportunities, with the aim of creating collaborations between startups and Z Holdings’ commerce, media and fintech services.

In Japan, Z Venture Capital will focus on data and AI technologies in sectors like healthcare, cybersecurity and B2B, investing in all stages of startups from seed to late-stage.

The firm will take a “sector-agnostic in principal” approach to its global investments based on local market trends, but plans to hone in on consumer internet, e-commerce, fintech and mobility companies. In the United States, it will also look for robotics, deep tech and blockchain opportunities.

#fundings-exits, #japan, #line-corporation, #line-ventures, #startups, #tc, #yj-capital, #z-holdings, #z-venture-capital