Logistics startup Stord raises $90M in Kleiner Perkins-led round, becomes a unicorn and acquires another company

When Kleiner Perkins led Stord’s $12.4 million Series A in 2019, its founders were in their early 20s and so passionate about their startup that they each dropped out of their respective schools to focus on growing the business.

Fast-forward two years and Stord — an Atlanta-based company that has developed a cloud supply chain — is raising more capital in a round again led by Kleiner Perkins.

This time, Stord has raised $90 million in a Series D round of funding at a post-money valuation of $1.125 billion — more than double the $510 million that the company was valued at when raising $65 million in a Series C financing just six months ago.

In fact, today’s funding marks Stord’s third since early December of 2020, when it raised its Series B led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and brings the company’s total raised since its 2015 inception to $205 million.

Besides Kleiner Perkins, Lux Capital, D1 Capital, Palm Tree Crew, BOND, Dynamo Ventures, Founders Fund, Lineage Logistics and Susa Ventures also participated in the Series D financing. In addition, Michael Rubin, Fanatics founder and founder of GSI Commerce; Carlos Cashman, CEO of Thrasio; Max Mullen, co-founder of Instacart; and Will Gaybrick, CPO at Stripe, put money in the round.

Founders Sean Henry, 24, and Jacob Boudreau, 23, met while Henry was at Georgia Tech and Boudreau was in online classes at Arizona State (ASU) but running his own business, a software development firm, in Atlanta.

Over time, Stord has evolved into a cloud supply chain that can give companies a way to compete and grow with logistics, and provides an integrated platform “that’s available exactly when and where they need it,” Henry said. Stord combines physical logistics services such as freight, warehousing and fulfillment in that platform, which aims to provide “complete visibility, rapid optimization and elastic scale” for its users.

About two months ago, Stord announced the opening of its first fulfillment center, a 386,000-square-foot facility, in Atlanta, which features warehouse robotics and automation technologies. “It was the first time we were in a building ourselves running it end to end,” Henry said.

And today, the company is announcing it has acquired Connecticut-based Fulfillment Works, a 22-year-old company with direct-to-consumer (DTC) experience and warehouses in Nevada and in its home state.

With FulfillmentWorks, the company says it has increased its first-party warehouses, coupled with its network of over 400 warehouse partners and 15,000 carriers.

While Stord would not disclose the amount it paid for Fulfillment Works, Henry did share some of Stord’s impressive financial metrics. The company, he said, in 2020 delivered its third consecutive year of 300+% growth, and is on track to do so again in 2021. Stord also achieved more than $100 million in revenue in the first two quarters of 2021, according to Henry, and grew its headcount from 160 people last year to over 450 so far in 2021 (including about 150 Fulfillment Works employees). And since the fourth quarter is often when people do the most online shopping, Henry expects the three-month period to be Stord’s heaviest revenue quarter.

For some context, Stord’s new sales were up “7x” in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. So far in the third quarter, sales are up almost 10x, according to Henry.

Put simply, Stord aims to give brands a way to compete with the likes of Amazon, which has set expectations of fast fulfillment and delivery. The company guarantees two-day shipping to anywhere in the country.

“The supply chain is the new competitive battleground,” Henry said. “Today’s buying expectations set by Amazon and the rise of the omni-channel shopper have placed immense pressure on companies to maintain more nimble and efficient supply chains… We want every company to have world-class, Prime-like supply chains.”

What makes Stord unique, according to Henry, is the fact that it has built what it believes to be the only end-to-end logistics network that combines the physical infrastructure with software.

That too is one of the reasons that Kleiner Perkins doubled down on its investment in the company.

Ilya Fushman, Stord board director and partner at Kleiner Perkins, said even at the time of his firm’s investment in 2019, that Henry displayed “amazing maturity and vision.”

At a high level, the firm was also just drawn to what he described as the “incredibly large market opportunity.”

“It’s trillions of dollars of products moving around with consumer expectation that these products will get to them the same day or next day, wherever they are,” Fushman told TechCrunch. “And while companies like Amazon have built amazing infrastructure to do that themselves, the rest of the world hasn’t really caught up… So there’s just amazing opportunity to build software and services to modernize this multitrillion-dollar market.”

In other words, Fushman explained, Stord is serving as a “plug and play” or “one stop shop” for retailers and merchants so they don’t have to spend resources on their own warehouses or building their own logistics platforms.

Stord launched the software part of its business in January 2020, and it grew 900% during the year, and is today one of the fastest-growing parts of its business.

“We built software to run our logistics and network of hundreds of warehouses,” Henry told TechCrunch. “But if companies want to use the same system for existing logistics, they can buy our software to get that kind of visibility.”

#atlanta, #cloud, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ilya-fushman, #kleiner-perkins, #logistics, #ma, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #stord, #supply-chain, #venture-capital

Affinity, a relationship intelligence company, raises $80M to help close deals

Relationships ultimately close deals, but long-term relationships come with a lot of baggage, i.e. email interactions, documents and meetings.

Affinity wants to take what Ray Zhou, co-founder and CEO, refers to as “data exhaust,” all of those daily interactions and communications, and apply machine learning analysis and provide insights on who in the organization has the best chance of getting that initial meeting and closing the deal.

Today, the company announced $80 million in Series C funding, led by Menlo Ventures, which was joined by Advance Venture Partners, Sprints Capital, Pear Ventures, Sway Ventures, MassMutual Ventures, Teamworthy and ECT Capital Partners’ Brian N. Sheth. The new funding gives the company $120 million in total funding since it was founded in 2014.

Affinity, based in San Francisco, is focused on industries like investment banking, private equity, venture capital, consulting and real estate, where Zhou told TechCrunch there aren’t customer relationship management systems or networking platforms that cater to the specific needs of the long-term relationship.

Stanford grads Zhou and co-founder Shubham Goel started the company after recognizing that while there was software for transactional relationships, there wasn’t a good option for the relationship journeys.

He cites data that show up to 90% of company profiles and contact information living in traditional CRM systems are incomplete or out of date. This comes as market researcher Gartner reported the global CRM software market grew 12.6% to $69 billion in 2020.

“It is almost bigger than sales,” Zhou said. “Our worldview is that relationships are the biggest industries in the world. Some would disagree, but relationships are an asset class, they are a currency that separates the winners from the losers.”

Instead, Affinity created “a new breed of CRM,”  Zhou said, that automates the inputting of that data constantly and adds information, like revenue, staff size and funding from proprietary data sources, to assign a score to a potential opportunity and increase the chances of closing a deal.

Affinity people profile. Image Credits: Affinity

He intends to use the new funding to expand sales, marketing and engineering to support new products and customers. The company has 125 employees currently; Zhou expects to be over 200 by next year.

To date, the company’s platform has analyzed over 18 trillion emails and 213 million calendar events and currently drives over 500,000 new introductions and tracks 450,000 deals per month. It also has more than 1,700 customers in 70 countries, boasting a list that includes Bain Capital Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, SoftBank Group, Nike, Qualcomm and Twilio.

Tyler Sosin, partner at Menlo Ventures, said he met Zhou and Goel at a time when the firm was looking into CRM companies, but it wasn’t until years later that Affinity came up again when Menlo itself wanted to work with a more modern platform.

As a user of Affinity himself, Sosin said the platform gives him the data he cares about and “removes the manual drudgery of entry and friction in the process.” Affinity also built a product that was intuitive to navigate.

“We have always had an interest in getting CRMs to the next generation, and Affinity is defining itself in a new category of relationship intelligence and just crushing it in the private capital markets,” he said. “They are scaling at an impressive growth rate and solving a hard problem that we don’t see many other companies in the space doing.”

 

#advance-venture-partners, #affinity, #artificial-intelligence, #bain-capital-ventures, #brian-n-sheth, #crm, #customer-relationship-management, #enterprise, #funding, #investment-banking, #kleiner-perkins, #machine-learning, #massmutual-ventures, #menlo-ventures, #nike, #pear-ventures, #qualcomm, #ray-zhou, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saas, #shubham-goel, #softbank-group, #sprints-capital, #startups, #tc, #twilio, #tyler-sosin, #venture-capital

Fin names former Twilio exec Evan Cummack as CEO, raises $20M

Work insights platform Fin raised $20 million in Series A funding and brought in Evan Cummack, a former Twilio executive, as its new chief executive officer.

The San Francisco-based company captures employee workflow data from across applications and turns it into productivity insights to improve the way enterprise teams work and remain engaged.

Fin was founded in 2015 by Andrew Kortina, co-founder of Venmo, and Facebook’s former VP of product and Slow Ventures partner Sam Lessin. Initially, the company was doing voice assistant technology — think Alexa but powered by humans and machine learning — and then workplace analytics software. You can read more about Fin’s origins at the link below.

In 2020, the company pivoted again to the company it is today. The new round was led by Coatue, with participation from First Round Capital, Accel and Kleiner Perkins. The original team was talented, but small, so the new funding will build out sales, marketing and engineering teams, Cummack said.

“At that point, the right thing was to raise money, so at the end of last year, the company raised a $20 million Series A, and it was also decided to find a leadership team that knows how to build an enterprise,” Cummack told TechCrunch. “The company had completely pivoted and removed ‘Analytics’ from our name because it was not encompassing what we do.”

Fin’s software measures productivity and provides insights on ways managers can optimize processes, coach their employees and see how teams are actually using technology to get their work done. At the same time, employees are able to manage their workflow and highlight areas where there may be bottlenecks. All combined, it leads to better operations and customer experiences, Cummack said.

Graphic showing how work is really done. Image Credits: Fin

Fin’s view is that as more automation occurs, the company is looking at a “renaissance of human work.” There will be more jobs and more types of jobs, but people will be able to do them more effectively and the work will be more fulfilling, he added.

Particularly with the use of technology, he notes that in the era before cloud computing, there was a small number of software vendors. Now with the average tech company using over 130 SaaS apps, it allows for a lot of entrepreneurs and adoption of best-in-breed apps so that a viable company can start with a handful of people and leverage those apps to gain big customers.

“It’s different for enterprise customers, though, to understand that investment and what they are spending their money on as they use tools to get their jobs done,” Cummack added. “There is massive pressure to improve the customer experience and move quickly. Now with many people working from home, Fin enables you to look at all 130 apps as if they are one and how they are being used.”

As a result, Fin’s customers are seeing metrics like 16% increase in team utilization and engagement, a 25% decrease in support ticket handle time and a 71% increase in policy compliance. Meanwhile, the company itself is doubling and tripling its customers and revenue each year.

Now with leadership and people in place, Cummack said the company is positioned to scale, though it already had a huge head start in terms of a meaningful business.

Arielle Zuckerberg, partner at Coatue, said via email that she was part of a previous firm that invested in Fin’s seed round to build a virtual assistant. She was also a customer of Fin Assistant until it was discontinued.

When she heard the company was pivoting to enterprise, she “was excited because I thought it was a natural outgrowth of the previous business, had a lot of potential and I was already familiar with management and thought highly of them.”

She believed the “brains” of the company always revolved around understanding and measuring what assistants were doing to complete a task as a way to create opportunities for improvement or automation. The pivot to agent-facing tools made sense to Zuckerberg, but it wasn’t until the global pandemic that it clicked.

“Service teams were forced to go remote overnight, and companies had little to no visibility into what people were doing working from home,” she added. “In this remote environment, we thought that Fin’s product was incredibly well-suited to address the challenges of managing a growing remote support team, and that over time, their unique data set of how people use various apps and tools to complete tasks can help business leaders improve the future of work for their team members. We believe that contact center agents going remote was inevitable even before COVID, but COVID was a huge accelerant and created a compelling ‘why now’ moment for Fin’s solution.”

Going forward, Coatue sees Fin as “a process mining company that is focused on service teams.” By initially focusing on customer support and contact center use case — a business large enough to support a scaled, standalone business — rather than joining competitors in going after Fortune 500 companies where implementation cycles are long and there is slow time-to-value, Zuckerberg said Fin is better able to “address the unique challenges of managing a growing remote support team with a near-immediate time-to-value.”

 

#accel, #andrew-kortina, #arielle-zuckerberg, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #business-intelligence, #business-process-management, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #coatue, #enterprise, #fin, #first-round-capital, #funding, #groupware, #kleiner-perkins, #machine-learning, #process-mining, #recent-funding, #saas, #sam-lessin, #slow-ventures, #startups, #talent, #tc, #twilio, #workflow

Rapid Robotics raises another $36.7M

Rapid Robotics announced a $12 million Series A all the way back in April 2021. Four months later, the Bay Area-based robotic manufacturing firm is back with a $36.7 million Series B, led by Kleiner Perkins and Tiger Global. The round, which also features existing investors NEA, Greycroft, Bee Partners and 468 Capital, brings the company’s total funding up to $54.2 million.

The funding values the startup at $192.5 million — an impressive figure for a firm that was raising its seed in 2020. The Series B is Rapid’s third (!) in less than a year, no doubt spurred on by the immense interest in robotics and automation being fueled by a seemingly endless global pandemic.

As companies look for alternatives to “non-essential” workers, investments in these technologies have only accelerated. Manufacturing bottlenecks throughout the pandemic have also brought into sharp focus the need for flexible and global production.

Rapid’s value prop is a Rapid Machine Operator (RMO) robot that can be deployed in a manufacturing setting in a matter of hours, without the need for programming and other robotics knowledge. The system is available under the RaaS (robotics as a service) model for $25,000 a year. The system is flexible and can be assigned various tasks — a nice feature for companies that can’t afford devoted systems.

“We hear a lot about the semiconductor shortage, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Contract manufacturers can’t produce gaskets, vials, labels — you name it,” CEO Jordan Kretchmer said in a release tied to the news. “I’ve seen cases where the inability to produce a single piece of U-shaped black plastic brought an entire auto line to a halt.”

Automotive is a target for Rapid, though the company notes that Bay Area-based health company TruePill is now employing its systems to fill and label prescription bottles.

#kleiner-perkins, #manufacturing, #rapid-robotics, #recent-funding, #robotics, #startups, #tiger-global

Discord acquires augmented reality startup Ubiquity6

After raising tens of millions from investors and executing a pretty substantial pivot earlier this year, augmented reality startup Ubiquity6 and its team have been acquired by gaming chat app giant Discord.

The ambitious AR startup had raised $37.5 million from a series of top investors including Benchmark, First Round, Kleiner Perkins and Google’s Gradient Ventures who were betting on its vision of building a consumer-facing platform for hosting augmented reality content. Its most recent publicly disclosed financing was a $27 million Series B in October of 2018.

Terms of the Discord acquisition weren’t disclosed, though in recent months the startup seemed to abandon most of the products it had spent its first several years building, suggesting that Ubiquity6 had been having some issues finding wide audiences for its products.

Launching back in 2017, Ubiquity6 hoped to build an app that would be the central way mobile phone users would browse augmented reality content. In late 2019, the startup launched a product called Displayland, which aimed to gamify the process of 3D scanning physical environments with a smartphone’s camera.

The company’s efforts to find mass adoption were hampered by a mobile AR market which has largely failed to gain any momentum in recent years despite hefty investment from tech giants including Apple and Google.

In early 2020, CEO Anjney Midha told TechCrunch that the startup had some 65 employees.

In recent months, Ubiquity6 had executed a pretty drastic pivot, leaving augmented reality completely behind in favor of building out a desktop platform that allowed users to play simple online party games together remotely. The beta platform, called Backyard, was designed for pandemic era habits that seem to be on the decline as the US springs back into action. Backyard was discontinued this week as part of the acquisition announcement.

In a Medium post announcing the acquisition, Midha seems to downplay any expectations that Ubiquity6’s augmented reality technology will be living on inside Discord.

“Our mission at Ubiquity6 has always been to unlock new ways for people to connect through shared experiences,” Midha wrote. “Joining Discord today allows us to accelerate that mission — Ubiquity6’s team, Backyard product and multiplayer technology will be integrated into Discord.”

#anjney-midha, #apple, #augment, #augmented-reality, #augmented-reality-technology, #ceo, #discord, #freeware, #google, #kleiner-perkins, #mobile-applications, #smartphone, #software, #tc, #ubiquity6, #united-states

Wayflyer raises $76M to provide ‘revenue-based’ financing to e-commerce merchants

Wayflyer, a revenue-based financing platform for e-commerce merchants, has raised $76 million in a Series A funding round led by Left Lane Capital.

“Partners” of DST Global, QED Investors, Speedinvest and Zinal Growth — the family office of Guillaume Pousaz (founder of Checkout.com) — also put money in the round. The raise comes just after Wayflyer raised $100 million in debt funding to support its cash advance product, and 14 months after the Dublin, Ireland-based startup launched its first product.

With an e-commerce boom fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayflyer is the latest in a group of startups focused on the space that has attracted investor interest as of late. The company aims to help e-commerce merchants “unlock growth” by giving them access to working capital (from $10,000 up to $20 million) so they can improve cash flow and drive sales. For example, more cash can help these merchants do things like buy more inventory in bulk so they can meet customer demand and save money. 

In a nutshell, Wayflyer uses analytics and sends merchants cash to make inventory purchases or investments in their business. Those merchants then repay Wayflyer using a percentage of their revenue until the money is paid back (plus a fee charged for the cash advance). So essentially, the merchants are using their revenue to get financing, hence the term revenue-based financing. The advantage, Wayflyer says, is that companies make repayments as a percentage of their sales. So if they have a slow month, they will pay back less. So, there’s more flexibility involved than with other mechanisms such as traditional bank loans.

Co-founder Aidan Corbett believes that in a crowded space, Wayflyer’s use of big data gives it an edge over competitors.

Corbett and former VC Jack Pierse spun Wayflyer out of a marketing analytics company that Corbett had also started, called Conjura, in September 2019.

“Jack came to me and said, ‘You should stop using our marketing analytics engine to do these big enterprise SaaS solutions, and instead use them to underwrite e-commerce businesses for short-term finance,’ ” Corbett recalls.

And so he did.

“We just had our heads down and started repurposing the platform for it to be an underwriting platform,” Corbett said. It launched in April 2020, doing about $600,000 in advances at the time. In March of 2021, Wayflyer did about $36 million in advances.

“So, it’s been a pretty aggressive kind of growth,” Corbett said.

Over the past six months alone, the company has seen its business grow 290% as it has deployed over $150 million of funding across 10 markets with a focus on the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia. About 75% of its customers are U.S. based.

Wayflyer plans to use its new capital toward product development and global expansion with the goal of entering “multiple” new markets in the coming months. The company recently opened a sales office in Atlanta, and also has locations in the U.K., the Netherlands and Spain.

To Corbett, the company’s offering is more compelling than buy now, pay later solutions for consumers for example, in that it is funding the merchant directly and able to add services on top of that.

“There’s a lot more opportunity for companies like ourselves to differentiate because essentially, we focus on the merchants. And when we underwrite the merchant by getting data from the merchant, there’s a lot of additional services that you can put in on top,” Corbett explained. “Whereas with buy now, pay later, you get information on the consumer, and there’s not as much room to add additional services on top.”

For example, if a business requests an advance and either is not approved for one, or doesn’t choose to take it, Wayflyer’s analytics platform is free to anybody who signs up to help them optimize their marketing spend.

“This is a critical driver of value for e-commerce businesses. If you can’t acquire customers at a reasonable price, you’re not going to be around very long. And a lot of early-stage e-commerce businesses struggle with that,” Corbett said.

It also can pair up a merchant with a marketing analytics “specialist” to analyze its marketing performance or an inventory “specialist” to look at the current terms and price a business is getting from a supplier.

“Our focus from the very beginning is really supporting the merchants, not just providing them with working capital,” Corbett said.  

Another way the company claims to be different is in how it deploys funds. As mentioned above, merchants can pay the money back at varied terms, depending on how sales are going. The company makes money by charging a principal on advances, and then a “remittance rate” on revenues until the total amount is paid back.

“We tend to be more flexible than competition in this way,” Corbett said. “Also, some competitors will pay invoices on merchants’ behalf or give them a pre-charged card to use on advertising spend,” Corbett said. “We always give cash into a merchant’s account.” 

Wayflyer recently inked an agreement with Adobe Commerce, a partnership it said would provide a new channel to further amplify its growth with the goal of funding 8,000 e-commerce businesses in the first year of the partnership.

For his part, Left Lane Capital Partner Dan Ahrens said that his firm was impressed by Wayflyer’s “nuanced understanding of what will drive value for their clients.”

“The team’s focus, specialization, and deep analytical expertise within the e-commerce market also drives superior underwriting,” he told TechCrunch. “Their explosive growth has not come about by taking on undue risk. We are big believers that their underwriting will only improve with scale, and that Wayflyer will be able to compound its competitive advantages over time.”

As mentioned, this is an increasingly crowded space. Earlier this month, Settle announced it had raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Kleiner Perkins to give e-commerce and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies access to non-dilutive capital.

#adobe, #atlanta, #australia, #bank, #checkout-com, #distribution, #dst-global, #dublin, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #guillaume-pousaz, #ireland, #kleiner-perkins, #left-lane-capital, #merchant, #netherlands, #qed-investors, #recent-funding, #spain, #startup, #startups, #tc, #underwriting, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wayflyer

Decentralized Komorebi Collective launches to back female and non-binary crypto founders

As decentralized currencies have taken off in recent months, there’s been renewed attention around DAOs, or Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, as a means of bringing together groups of investors who can deploy capital as a unit while voting collectively on those investments. In the spirit of blockchain, they aim to bring greater transparency to investment decision-making.

A number of high-profile DAOs have launched in recent months as crypto mania came to a fervor. Komorebi Collective, launching today, is a new organization founded by women in the blockchain space that will be making investments exclusively in “exceptional female and non-binary crypto founders,” founding member Manasi Vora tells TechCrunch.

The group is comprised of a number of core team members largely assembled from the crypto nonprofit she256 and organization Women in Blockchain, including Vora, Eva Wu, Kristie Huang, Medha Kothari, and Kinjal Shah who will collectively do most of the heavy-lifting behind finding and presenting investments to the group. Other hand-selected members who committed a minimum of $5,000 USD will likely have a lighter commitment.

Each investment will be voted on by all the collective’s key signers, some 36 in total, the majority of which are female.

“DAOs level the hierarchy of a venture fund by ensuring everyone is going to have a seat at the table,” says Shah, who is also an investor at crypto VC firm Blockchain Capital. “We are very careful in approaching the backers that are really mission-aligned.”

Other members of the DAO include firms like Kleiner Perkins, Mechanism Capital, Dragonfly Capital, IDEO CoLab Ventures and Stacks Accelerator alongside a number of individuals and founders who work at firms like Twitter, Coinbase, Skynet Labs, Celo Labs and Gitcoin.

The organization itself is built on the Syndicate Protocol, a project that shares some of Komorebi Collective’s backers.

The group hopes the structure of their organization will be able to take a mission-driven approach that improves diversity in the crypto space while proving the sustainability of the DAO model. Despite an explosion in startup investments in the past year, women-led startups received just 2.3% of venture dollars invested in 2020, a study in HBR found.

“There’s so much more room to grow when it comes to female founders getting funding and I want to be part of the solution,” Shah tells TechCrunch.

#blockchain, #blockchain-capital, #blockchains, #coinbase, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralized-autonomous-organization, #ethereum, #kleiner-perkins, #tc, #technology

Kleiner spots Spot Meetings $5M to modernize walk-and-talks for the Zoom generation

Trees, those deciduous entities you can occasionally see outdoors when not locked down or strapped down at a desktop ruminating on a video call, have long been the inspiration for fresh new ideas. Stories abound of how founders built companies while walking the foothills in Silicon Valley or around parks in San Francisco, and yet, we’ve managed over the past year to take movement mostly out of our remote work lives.

Chicago-based Spot Meetings wants to reinvigorate our meetings — and displace Zoom as the default meeting medium at the same time.

The product and company are just a few months old and remain in closed beta (albeit opening up a bit shortly here), and today it’s announcing $5 million in seed funding led by Ilya Fushman at Kleiner Perkins. That follows a $1.9 million pre-seed round led by Chapter One earlier this year.

CEO and co-founder Greg Caplan said that the team is looking to rebuild the meeting from the ground up for an audio-only environment. “On mobile, it needs to be abundantly simple to be very functional and understood for users so that they can actually use it on the go,” he described. In practice, that requires product development across a wide range of layers.

The product’s most notable feature today is that it has an assistant, aptly named Spot, which listens in on the call and which participants can direct commands to while speaking. For instance, saying “Spot Fetch” will pull the last 40 seconds of conversation, transcribe it, create a note in the meeting, and save it for follow-up. That prevents the multi-hand tapping required to save a note or to-do list for follow up with our current meeting products. You “don’t even need to take your phone out,” Caplan points out.

What gets more interesting is the collaboration layer the company has built into the product. Every audio meeting has a text-based scratch pad shared with all participants, allowing users to copy and paste snippets into the meeting as needed. Those notes and any information that Spot pulls in are saved into workspaces that can be referenced later. Spot also sends out emails to participants with follow-ups from these notes. If the same participants join another audio meeting later, Spot will pull in the notes from their last meeting so there is a running timeline of what’s been happening.

Spot’s product design emphasizes collaboration within an audio-focused experience. Image Credits: Spot Meetings

Obviously, transcription features are built-in, but Spot sees opportunities in offering edited transcripts of long calls where only a few minutes of snippets might be worth specifically following up on. So the product is a bit more deliberate in encouraging users to select the parts of a conversation that are relevant for their needs, rather than delivering a whole bolus of text that no one is ever actually going to read.

“Collaboration from now and the future is going to be primarily digital … in-person is forever going to be the exception and not the rule,” Caplan explained. Longer term, the company wants to add additional voice commands to the product and continue building an audio-first (and really, an audio-only) environment. Audio “very uniquely helps people focus on the conversation at hand,” he said, noting that video fatigue is a very real phenomenon today for workers. To that end, more audio features like smarter muting are coming. When a participant isn’t talking, their background noise will automatically melt away.

Before Spot Meetings, Caplan was the CEO and co-founder of Remote Year, a startup that was designing a service for company employees to take working trips overseas. I first covered it back in 2015, and it went on to raise some serious venture dollars before the pandemic hit last year and the company laid off 50% of its workforce. Caplan left as CEO in April last year, and the company was ultimately sold to Selina, which offers co-working spaces to travelers, in October.

Caplan’s co-founder who leads product and engineering at Spot Meetings is Hans Petter “HP” Eikemo. The duo met each other during the very first Remote Year cohort. “He has been a software engineer for two decades [and was] literally the first person I called,” Caplan said. The team will grow further with the new funding, and the company hopes to start opening its beta to its 6,000 waitlist users over the next 3-4 weeks.

#audio, #chapter-one, #chicago, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greg-caplan, #ilya-fushman, #kleiner-perkins, #mobile, #remote-year, #spot-meetings, #tc, #zoom

Settle raises $15M from Kleiner Perkins to give e-commerce companies more working capital

Alek Koenig spent four years at Affirm, where he was head of credit.

There he saw firsthand just how powerful the alternative lending model could be. Koenig realized that it wasn’t just consumers who could benefit from the model, but businesses too.

So in November 2019, he founded Settle as a way to give e-commerce and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies access to non-dilutive capital. (Not every company wants to raise venture money). By June 2020, the startup had launched its platform, which is designed to help these businesses manage their cash flow. Over time, he recruited a previous co-worker, Shane Morian, to serve as Settle’s CTO.

And today, the company is announcing that it has raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Kleiner Perkins. This follows a previously unannounced $6 million seed raise led by Founders Fund in November 2020. Other investors in the company include SciFi (Affirm founder Max Levchin’s VC firm), Caffeinated Capital, WorkLife Ventures, Background Capital and AngelList Venture CEO Avlok Kohli.

With the pandemic leading to a massive shift toward digital and online shopping, ecommerce and CPG businesses found themselves with the challenge of keeping up with demand while trying to manage their cash flow. The main problem was the lag between accounts receivables and accounts payables.

“These companies suffer from the problem where there are these huge cash flow gaps from buying inventory, waiting to receive it and then turning it into revenue,” Koenig explains. “It takes quite a bit of time for these customers to actually get revenue from all those inventory purchases they need to make. What we do is make it really easy for companies to pay their vendors with extended payment terms.”

Settle does this by automatically syncing to a business’ accounting software and combining that with working capital products it’s developed.

Put simply, Settle will pay a vendor, and then brands can pay Settle back when they turn that COGS (cost of goods sold) into revenue. The startup says it also saves brands money on expensive wire fees.

Image Credits: Settle

“Businesses really value getting cash sooner, so they can use it in their operations,” Koenig said. “We’ve worked to reimagine the CFO suite for brands, starting with integrated financing and bill pay solutions.”

The concept of non-dilutive capital is not a new one with other startups tackling the space in different ways. For example, Pipe aims to give SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts.

Settle is focused on the e-commerce vertical, and building a unique product for that category, Koenig says, rather than trying to build a product aimed for several different industries.

“We don’t want to be a mediocre product for everybody,” he told TechCrunch. “But rather a phenomenal product for this vertical.”

Since its launch last June, Settle has seen its business jump by 1000% although it’s important to note that’s from a small base. Settle is currently working with over 300 brands including baby stroller retailer Lalo, Spiceology and men’s skincare brand Disco. So far, all of its growth has been organic.

“Last year when the pandemic hit, offline retail shut down and ecommerce got a big boost. But that meant that a lot of these companies were running out of orders and were out of stock on many items, so they were just kind of leaving money on the table,” Koenig said. “Once they started using us, they were able to buy more inventory, so we actually help them make more profit, and not just create more sales.”

His reasoning for that last statement is that by giving these businesses the ability to purchase items in bulk, they could get cheaper price per unit costs as well as cheaper shipping costs.

The company is planning to use its new capital in part to grow its team of 20, as well as raise more debt so that it can continue lending money to businesses.

Kleiner Perkins’ Monica Desai Weiss said her firm believes that Koenig and CTO Morian’s expertise in underwriting, capital markets and e-commerce give the pair “a rare skill set that’s unique to their market.”

She’s also drawn to the company’s embedded approach.

“Whereas most lending businesses are fairly transactional and opportunistic, Settle becomes deeply embedded in the way their merchants forecast and grow,” she told TechCrunch. “That approach has demonstrated inherent virality and their timing is perfect — the past year has changed consumer behaviors permanently and also produced massive opportunities for global entrepreneurship via ecommerce. In that way, we see the umbrella of e-commerce expanding massively in the coming years, and we believe Settle will be key to enabling that shift.”

#avlok-kohli, #background-capital, #business, #caffeinated-capital, #ceo, #cfo, #corporate-finance, #cto, #e-commerce, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #fintech, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #head, #inventory, #kleiner-perkins, #online-lending, #payments, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #settle, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #venture-capital, #worklife-ventures

Mortgage is suddenly sexy as SoftBank pumps $500M in Better.com at $6B valuation

Digital mortgage lender Better.com has raised a $500 million round from Japanese investment conglomerate SoftBank that values the company at $6 billion.

The financing is notable for a few reasons. For one, that new $6 billion valuation,  is up 50% from the $4 billion it was valued at last November when it raised $200 million in Series D financing. It’s also up tenfold from its $600 million valuation at the time of its Series C raise in August 2019.

Secondly, it’s further proof that mortgage – a traditionally “unsexy” industry that has long been in need of disruption – is officially hot. For all its controversy, when SoftBank invests, people pay attention.

The COVID-19 pandemic and historically-low mortgage rates fueled acceleration in the online lending space in a way that no one could have anticipated. That, combined with the general fervour in venture funding, means it’s not a big surprise that Better.com has raised $700 million in just a matter of months.

The investment brings Better.com’s total funding raised to over $900 million since its 2014 inception. Other backers include Goldman Sachs, Kleiner Perkins, American Express, Activant Capital and Citi, among others.

According to the Wall Street Journal, SoftBank is buying shares from Better’s existing investors, and agreed to give all of its voting rights to CEO and founder Vishal Garg “in a sign of its eagerness” to invest in the company. 

During a one-on-one interview at Lendit Fintech’s USA 2020 virtual event in October, Garg had told me that an IPO was definitely in the works.

“We’ll do it when it’s right,” he said. “One of the core tenets of American capitalism is the ability for your customers to buy your stock.”

At that time, he had also told me that before the pandemic, Better was processing about $1.2 billion a month in loans. But as of October 2020, it was funding over $2.5 billion per month, and had gone from 1,500 staffers to about 4,000 worldwide. 

“When the pandemic started we were doing less than sort of like $50 million a month of revenue,” he said. “We’re two-and-a half times that now.”

#activant-capital, #better-com, #ceo, #citi, #companies, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #kleiner-perkins, #online-lending, #recent-funding, #softbank, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #the-wall-street-journal, #united-states, #venture-capital, #vishal-garg, #vodafone

So you want to raise a Series A

During a seed funding round, a founder needs to convince a venture capital investor on a vision. But during a Series A fundraise, napkin-stage ideas don’t make the cut — a founder needs product progress, numbers, and revenue (or at least a plan to eventually generate some).

In many ways, the stakes are higher for a Series A — and Bucky Moore, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, joined TechCrunch Early Stage last week to give founders tactical advice on the process of raising one.

Moore spoke about storytelling over semantics, pricing, and where his firm sees itself “raising the bar” for startups.

Here are a few key points; a full video and a transcript of the entire conversation are linked at the bottom.


Explain to investors why you are raising now

More companies will raise seed rounds than Series A rounds, simply due to the fact that many startups fail, and venture only makes sense for a small fraction of businesses out there. Every check is a new cycle of convincing and proving that you, as a startup, will have venture-scale returns. Moore explained that startups looking to move to their next round need to explain to investors why now is their moment.

The way I think about “why now” is [that] it is an opportunity for you as a founder to convey a unique insight and understanding of your market opportunity, the history of the space that you’re in, why companies have succeeded or failed in that space, historically speaking, and what are the known challenges from a go-to-market perspective; what headwinds will you be up against at a macro level. These are all things that I think people like me get really excited about when hearing unique insight from founders, because it suggests that they’ve really studied their market opportunity, and they understand it. (Timestamp: 2:19)

#bucky-moore, #early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #fundraising, #kleiner-perkins, #series-a, #startups, #venture-capital

Acorns’ new fintech target is debt management with acquisition of Pillar

Popular saving and investing app Acorns has acquired Pillar, an AI-powered startup built to help manage student loan debt, in its second acquisition of 2021.

New York-based Pillar helps consumers optimize their debt payments by focusing first on student loans. It launched in May 2019 with $5.5 million in seed funding led by Kleiner Perkins. The companies declined to reveal the financial terms of the deal, only noting that within six months of launching, Pillar managed over $500 million worth of student loan debt of more than 15,000 borrowers. 

Michael Bloch dropped out of Stanford Business School and co-founded Pillar after he and his wife had amassed more than $500,000 of student loan debt after she graduated from law school. Prior to that, he had led the Strategy & Operations division for DoorDash, growing it to $100 million in revenue. The problem Pillar has aimed to tackle is massive. Student loan debt is the second-largest type of consumer debt in the U.S., with 45 million borrowers collectively owing nearly $1.7 trillion in student loans.

Notably, Acorns was apparently one of several companies that had courted Pillar.

“We were in a pretty lucky position to have a lot of interest from many of the top fintech companies that are out there,” Bloch told TechCrunch. “We had multiple offers on the table and Acorns was really our top choice just given how the business has been doing and the team, the culture and the mission.”

The deal marks the second acquisition this year and third overall for Acorns, which says it notched its strongest quarter in its history the first three months of this year. In March, Acorns also acquired Harvest, a fintech that helped customers reduce more than $4 million in debt in 2020.

The Pillar and Harvest teams will help Acorns accelerate its product roadmap of helping customers pay down debt, “an essential part of the financial wellness system,” said CEO and founder Noah Kerner.

Over time, Pillar will become part of one of Acorns’ monthly subscription tiers. 

“The IP and technology that the Pillar team created in debt management is really interesting to us when we think about how we scale our Smart Deposit feature,” Kerner said.

With Smart Deposit, when a customer’s paycheck hits the Acorns bank account, the app automatically allocates a percentage of that paycheck into an individual’s different investment accounts. 

“From a behavioral perspective, the best way to get somebody to save and invest is to enable them to set aside a piece of their paycheck as soon as it hits the account so that they don’t spend it. That feature has been really well adopted by our direct deposit customers,” Kerner said. “And so Michael and his team are coming in to manage that feature, and also our bank accounts product. I think their past experience is going to be really useful for us to take what we have and help the team catalyze it further.”

With its latest acquisition, Irvine, California-based Acorns now has more than 350 employees. In 2017, the company acquired Vault, now called “Acorns Later.” As a result of that acquisition, the company has seen its number of retirement accounts grow to 1.2 million from 500.

As mentioned above, Acorns has had a good year so far. In the first six weeks of 2021, the company added nearly 600,000 new accounts, reaching a total of more than 9 million users having saved and invested a total of $7.5 billion.

“The first quarter was our biggest growth quarter on record,” Kerner told TechCrunch. “In particular we crossed the $4.3 billion in dollars in assets under management, which is a really exciting milestone when you think about the fact that these are customers that are saving small amounts of money in the relative scheme of money invested typically.”

#acorns, #artificial-intelligence, #bank, #debt, #exit, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fundings-exits, #kleiner-perkins, #loans, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #new-york, #pillar, #startups, #student-debt, #student-loan

Sarah Kunst will outline how to get ready to fundraise at Early Stage

Sarah Kunst, founding partner at Cleo Capital, has worn many hats. She’s been an entrepreneur, served on plenty of boards, is a contributing author at Marie Clare, has been a senior advisor to Bumble and worked as a consultant in marketing, business development and more.

And with all that experience, she knows all too well that the process of fundraising starts well before your first pitch meeting. That’s why we’re so excited to have Kunst join us at Early Stage in July to discuss how to get ready to fundraise.

This isn’t the first time Kunst has discussed the topic with us. On a recent episode of Extra Crunch Live, Kunst and one of her portfolio company founders Julia Collins described how to conduct the process of fundraising.

For example, there is a story to tell, metrics to share and an art to building momentum before you ever start filling your calendar. That all requires preparation, and Kunst will outline how to go about that at our event in July.

Early Stage is going down twice this year, with our first event taking place tomorrow! Here’s a look at some of the topics we’ll be covering:

Fundraising

  • Bootstrapping Best Practices (Tope Awotona and Blake Bartlett, Calendly)
  • Four Things to Think About Before Raising a Series A (Bucky Moore, Kleiner Perkins)
  • How to Get An Investor’s Attention (Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital)
  • How to Nail Your Virtual Pitch Meeting (Melissa Bradley, Ureeka)
  • How Founders Can Think Like a VC (Lisa Wu, Norwest Venture Partners)
  • The All-22 View, or Never Losing Perspective (Eghosa Omoigui, EchoVC Partners)

Operations:

  • Finance for Founders (Alexa von Tobel, Inspired Capital)
  • Building and Leading a Sales Team (Ryan Azus, Zoom CRO)
  • 10 Things NOT to Do When Starting a Company (Leah Solivan, Fuel Capital)
  • Leadership Culture and Good Governance (David Easton, Generation Investment Management)

The cool thing about Early Stage is that it’s heavy on audience Q&A, ensuring that everyone gets the chance to ask their own specific questions. Oh, and ticket holders get free access to Extra Crunch.

Interested? You can buy a ticket here.

#alexa-von-tobel, #blake-bartlett, #bucky-moore, #cleo-capital, #entrepreneur, #events, #finance, #fuel-capital, #generation-investment-management, #investment, #julia-collins, #kleiner-perkins, #leah-solivan, #lisa-wu, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #melissa-bradley, #money, #norwest, #norwest-venture-partners, #ryan-azus, #sarah-kunst, #startups, #tc, #tc-early-stage-2021, #tope-awotona, #venture-capital

Secureframe raises $18M Series A to simplify cybersecurity compliance

Security compliance may not be the hottest conversation starter, but it’s a critical and often grueling process that companies have to endure every year to show that their security practices are up to par. It’s a burden that bogs down startups more than others, and so it’s fitting that startups are trying to find a better way.

Enter security compliance startup Secureframe, founded by Shrav Mehta and Natasja Nielsen, which thinks it has.

The company is announcing it has raised $18 million at Series A, led by Kleiner Perkins and with participation from Gradient Ventures and Base10 Partners, which led its $4.5 million seed round less than a year after it was founded in January 2020.

Secureframe helps businesses maintain two key cybersecurity certifications, SOC 2 and ISO 27001, which many companies require before they will do business. Secureframe’s compliance platform integrates with dozens of the most used cloud providers and apps to understand its customers’ security posture. The benefit, the company says, is that it can help companies get their certifications and become compliant in weeks, rather than months.

Shrav Mehta, the company’s founder and chief executive, told TechCrunch that it’s paying off, with a tenfold increase in revenue growth over the six months alone, and with over a hundred new customers, like software house Hasura and Omni, a Y Combinator graduate from the summer 2020 batch.

Mehta said the fresh funding round will help the company grow beyond the two certifications into an enterprise-grade risk and compliance management platform, such as the U.S. health privacy rules like HIPAA, and PCI compliance for secure card processing.

In the long term, Mehta said, he wants the company to design and offer its own compliance certifications.

In remarks, Kleiner Perkins’s Josh Coyne said Secureframe is leading the effort to modernize security compliance. “Secureframe is turning the industry on its head by automating compliance certifications end-to-end, serving as the single source of truth for commercial compliance,” he said.

#articles, #base10-partners, #computing, #economy, #gradient-ventures, #hasura, #kleiner-perkins, #regulatory-compliance, #secureframe, #security, #startup-company, #united-states, #y-combinator

Calixa raises $4.25M seed to manage ‘bottom up’ sales approach

Many companies have turned to self-serve sales, which may encourage people to try freemium or open source versions of a product. Some percentage of these users may turn into paying customers, and in the best case will act as leaders to bring a product into their organization.

Calixa, an early stage startup believes that this type of sale, known as a bottom up sales motion, requires a new kind of tool to manage the process, and today it announced a $4.25 million seed round.

Kleiner Perkins led the round with help from Operator Collective, Liquid 2 Ventures and a bunch of individual investors. The round closed in February 2020, but is only being announced today.

Calixa co-founder and CEO Thomas Schiavone says the roots of the company began when he was working at Twilio in 2010, and saw how powerful it was for developers to purchase tooling themselves. And an idea began to form that CRM tools like Salesforce weren’t built to deal with this kind of sales motion.

“What I realized [at Twilio] was that developers were just signing up more and more every day, and that if you really wanted to stay on top of what was going on and try to effectively grow and retain those accounts, you weren’t looking in Salesforce,” Schiavone told me.

He said that he decided to start Calixa in 2019 to solve this problem once and for all. While this kind of user-driven, bottom up sale has been in place at software companies for years, he still saw a dearth of tools for dealing with its unique qualities in one place.

“We saw a great opportunity to build something that democratizes […] running a bottom up company by not only giving all customer facing teams the ability to see what’s going on with customers, but also take action,” he said.

This ability to manage the process and maybe extend a trial, issue a credit or even reset a password while letting these teams see and understand the underlying customer data was what set it apart from traditional CRMs.

“The central thesis here is that Salesforce and other CRMs, don’t have that data. They’re too divorced or too much in this rigid world of the typical sales model, and you need something different to be an effective company,” he said.

To use the product, you simply sign up and then link the various accounts the product needs to compile the data it needs. It uses various API connectors to make this happen, and all it requires is that you enter your user name and password to access the accounts and begins pulling together the data.

Bucky Moore, a partner at lead investor Kleiner Perkins says that the pandemic has accelerated the move to a bottom up approach as in person sales models have been impossible. “Core to the success of this strategy is a data-driven understanding of each customer and user. By democratizing this capability to companies of all sizes, Calixa’s opportunity is to become the de-facto customer operations platform for the modern software business,” Moore said.

Schiavone reports the company has 7 employees spread across the U.S., Canada and Columbia. He says that as he hires, he will have offices in cities close to his clusters of employees, but he sees a hybrid approach where employees can decide just how much they want to be in the office.

The company spent last year building the product and working with 21 beta customers. The product will be generally available starting today.

#bottom-up-sales, #calixa, #funding, #kleiner-perkins, #recent-funding, #saas, #sales-tools, #startups

Brex applies for bank charter, taps former Silicon Valley Bank exec as CEO of Brex Bank

Brex is the latest fintech to apply for a bank charter.

The fast-growing company, which sells a credit card tailored for startups with Emigrant Bank currently acting as the issuer, announced Friday that it has submitted an application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions (UDFI) to establish Brex Bank.

The industrial bank will be located in Draper, Utah, and be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brex.

The company has tapped former Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) exec Bruce Wallace to serve as the subsidiary’s CEO. He served in several roles at SVB, including COO, Chief Digital Officer and head of global services. It also has named Jean Perschon, the former CFO for UBS Bank USA, to be the Brex Bank CFO.

Last May, Brex announced that it had raised $150 million in a Series C extension from a group of existing investors, including DST Global and Lone Pine Capital.

With that raise, Brex, which was co-founded by Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi, had amassed $465 million in venture capital funding to-date.

The company said in a statement today that “Brex Bank will expand upon its existing suite of financial products and business software, offering credit solutions and FDIC insured deposit products to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).”

Offering credit products to small businesses has become a popular product offering and source of revenue for tech companies serving entrepreneurs, including Shopify and Square in the commerce arena. Likewise, offering business-focused bank accounts, like Shopify Balance, which is currently in development with a plan to launch sometime this year in the U.S.

These financial products can provide additional opportunities for revenue on interest and cost of borrowing for these companies, who might have better insight into the risk profiles of the types of businesses they serve than traditional lenders and FIs.

“Brex and Brex Bank will work in tandem to help SMBs grow to realize their full potential,” said Wallace.

Brex is based in San Francisco and counts Kleiner Perkins Growth, YC Continuity Fund, Greenoaks Capital, Ribbit Capital, IVP, and DST Global as well as Peter Thiel and Affirm CEO Max Levchin among its investors. It currently has over 400 employees, and though it had significant layoffs mid-year in 2020, it cited restructuring rather than financial difficulty as the cause of that downsize.

Other fintechs that have made moves toward bank charters include Varo Bank, which this week raised another $63 million and SoFi, which last October was granted preliminary approval for a national bank charter.

#bank, #brex, #business-software, #california, #ceo, #cfo, #credit-card, #draper, #dst-global, #finance, #greenoaks-capital, #henrique-dubugras, #ivp, #kleiner-perkins, #lone-pine-capital, #max-levchin, #peter-thiel, #ribbit-capital, #san-francisco, #shopify, #silicon-valley-bank, #sofi, #tc, #utah, #varo-bank

Ex-General Catalyst and General Atlantic VC announces $68M debut fund

As of 2019, the majority of venture firms — 65% — still did not have a single female partner or GP at their firm, according to All Raise.

So naturally, anytime we hear of a new female-led fund, our ears perk up.

Today, New York-based Avid Ventures announced the launch of its $68 million debut venture capital fund. Addie Lerner — who was previously an investor with General Catalyst, General Atlantic and Goldman Sachs — founded Avid in 2020 with the goal of taking a hands-on approach to working with founders of early-stage startups in the United States, Europe and Israel.

“We believe investing in a founder’s company is a privilege to be earned,” she said.

Tali Vogelstein — a former investor at Bessemer Venture Partners — joined the firm as a founding investor soon after its launch and the pair were able to raise the capital in 10 months’ time during the 2020 pandemic.

The newly formed firm has an impressive list of LPs backing its debut effort. Schusterman Family Investments and the George Kaiser Family Foundation are its anchor LPs. Institutional investors include Foundry Group, General Catalyst, 14W, Slow Ventures and LocalGlobe/Latitude through its Basecamp initiative that backs emerging managers. 

Avid also has the support of 50 founders, entrepreneurs and investors as LPs — 40% of whom are female — including Mirror founder Brynn Putnam; Getty Images co-founder Jonathan Klein; founding partner of Acrew Capital Theresia Gouw and others.

Avid invests at the Series A and B stages, and so far has invested in Alloy, Nova Credit, Rapyd, Staircase, Nava and The Wing. Three of those companies have female founders — something Lerner said happened “quite naturally.”

“Diversity can happen and should happen more organically as opposed to quotas or mandates,” she added.

In making those deals, Avid partnered with top-tier firms such as Kleiner Perkins, Canapi Ventures, Zigg Capital and Thrive Capital. In general, Avid intentionally does not lead its first investments in startups, with its first checks typically being in the $500,000 to $1 million range. It preserves most of its capital for follow-on investments.

“We like to position ourselves to earn the right to write a bigger check in a future round,” Lerner told TechCrunch. 

In the case of Rapyd, Avid organized an SPV (special-purpose vehicle) to invest in the unicorn’s recent Series D. Lerner had previously backed the company’s Series B round while at General Catalyst and remains a board observer.

Prior to founding Avid, Lerner had helped deploy more than $450 million across 18 investments in software, fintech (Rapyd & Monzo) and consumer internet companies spanning North America, Europe and Israel. 

When it comes to sectors, Avid is particularly focused on backing early-stage fintech, consumer internet and software companies. The firm intends to invest in about 20 startups over a three-to-four year period.

“We want to take our time, so we can be as hands-on as we want to be,” Lerner said. “We’re not looking to back 80 companies. Our goal is to drive outstanding returns for our LPs.”

The firm views itself as an extension of its portfolio companies’ teams, serving as their “Outsourced Strategic CFO.” Lerner and Vogelstein also aim to provide the companies they work with strategic growth modeling, unit economics analysis, talent recruiting, customer introductions and business development support.

“We strive to build deep relationships early on and to prove our value well ahead of a prospective investment,” Lerner said. Avid takes its team’s prior data-driven experience to employ “a metrics-driven approach” so that a startup can “deeply understand” their unit economics. It also “gets in the trenches” alongside founders to help grow a company.

Ed Zimmerman, chair of Lowenstein Sandler LLP’s tech group in New York and adjunct professor of VC at Columbia Business School, is an Avid investor.

He told TechCrunch that because of his role in the venture community, he is often counsel to a company or fund and will run into former students in deals. Feedback from numerous people in his network point to Lerner being “extraordinarily thoughtful about deals,” with one entrepreneur describing her as “one of the smartest people she has met in a decade-plus in venture.”

“I’ve seen it myself in deals and then I’ve seen founders turn down very well branded funds to work with Addie,” Zimmerman added, noting they are impressed both by her intellect and integrity. “…Addie will find and win and be invited into great deals because she makes an indelible impression on the people who’ve worked with her and the data is remarkably consistent.”

#acrew-capital, #addie-lerner, #basecamp, #bessemer-venture-partners, #brynn-putnam, #canapi-ventures, #catalyst, #consumer-internet, #corporate-finance, #diversity, #finance, #foundry-group, #funding, #general-atlantic, #general-catalyst, #george-kaiser-family-foundation, #goldman-sachs, #israel, #jonathan-klein, #kleiner-perkins, #new-york, #north-america, #slow-ventures, #software, #tali-vogelstein, #tc, #tech, #techcrunch-include, #theresia-gouw, #thrive-capital, #united-states, #venture-capital

Kleiner Perkins’ Bucky Moore will outline what to think about before raising a Series A at Early Stage in April

Kleiner Perkins is one of the most prestigious venture firms in all of Silicon Valley. The firm has invested in startups like Twitter, Google, Square, Peloton, Spotify, Robinhood and many, many more. As such, the folks at Kleiner Perkins know a thing or two about what it takes to fundraise across the various stages of a company.

One of the more difficult jumps to make is going from raising a seed round to picking up a Series A. Rather than focusing on the idea and the product market fit, founders must show that their product can scale, with numbers to back it up.

It can be grueling and complicated, but Kleiner Perkins partner Bucky Moore is going to break it all down for us at TechCrunch Early Stage – Operations & Fundraising on April 1 & 2.

TC Early Stage – Operations & Fundraising is a virtual event focused squarely on early stage founders. The event will have dozens of breakout sessions led by investors and experts that break down the most difficult parts of building a business, focusing on startup core competencies like fundraising and operations.

Moore will lead a session called “4 things to think about before raising a Series A” at the event, which takes place on April 1 – 2 and is totally virtual. Plus, Moore will answer questions from the audience.

Here’s a look at what the presentation will focus on:

The most important part of raising a Series A is the decisions made before the fundraise. A shockingly common mistake founders make is not thinking through four critical areas before talking to investors. Bucky Moore will share how founders can prepare for a successful Series A, and discuss what investors are looking for when they write a Series A check. His advice will be valuable to all entrepreneurs looking to raise early-stage funding.

What are those four areas? You’ll have to pick up a ticket (which includes a year of Extra Crunch) to find out!

Moore sits on the boards of Netlify, Materialize, CodeSandbox, Opstrace and Stackbit, and tends to focus his energy on developer-facing software and infrastructure. Before Kleiner Perkins, he was an. investor at Costanoa Ventures, and prior to that he was at Battery.

He also published a list of the areas he’s most interested in as we head into 2021, which you can check out here. Unsurprisingly, data, ML/AI, and advances in cloud technology are front and center.

We’re amped to hear from Moore at TechCrunch: Early Stage. You can pick up a ticket to the show here.

#bucky-moore, #early-stage-announcement, #kleiner-perkins, #tc

Three dimensional search engine Physna wants to be the Google of the physical world

In June of 1999, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins invested $25 million into an early stage company developing a new search engine called Google, paving the way for a revolution in how knowledge online was organized and shared.

Now, Sequoia Capital is placing another bet on a different kind of search engine, one for physical objects in three dimensions, just as the introduction of three dimensional sensing technologies on consumer phones are poised to create a revolution in spatial computing.

At least, that’s the bet that Sequoia Capital’s Shaun Maguire is making on the Cincinnati, Ohio-based startup Physna.

Maguire and Sequoia are leading a $20 million bet into the company alongside Drive Capital, the Columbus, Ohio-based venture firm founded by two former Sequoia partners, Mark Kvamme and Chris Olsen.

“There’s been this open problem in mathematics, which is how you do three dimensional search. How do you define a metric that gives you other similar three dimensional objects. This has a long history in mathematics,” Maguire said. “When I first met [Physna founder] Paul Powers, he had already come up with a wildly novel distance metric to compare different three dimensional objects. If you have one distance metric, you can find other objects that are a distance away. His thinking underlying that is so unbelievably creative. If I were to put it in the language of modern mathematics… it just involves a lot of really advanced ideas that actually also works.”

Powers’ idea — and Physna’s technology — was a long time coming.

A lawyer by training and an entrepreneur at heart, Powers came to the problem of three dimensional search through his old day job as an intellectual property lawyer.

Powers chose IP law because he thought it was the most interesting way to operate at the intersection of technology and law — and would provide good grounding for whatever company the serial entrepreneur would eventually launch next. While practicing, Powers hit upon a big problem, while some intellectual property theft around software and services was easy to catch, it was harder to identify when actual products or parts were being stolen as trade secrets. “We were always able to find 2D intellectual property theft,” Powers said, but catching IP theft in three dimensions was elusive.

From its launch in 2015 through 2019, Powers worked with co-founder and chief technology officer Glenn Warner Jr. on developing the product, which was initially intended to protect product designs from theft. Tragically just as the company was getting ready to unveil its transformation into the three dimensional search engine it had become, Warner died.

Powers soldiered on, rebuilding the company and its executive team with the help of Dennis DeMeyere, who joined the company in 2020 after a stint in Google’s office of the chief technology officer and technical director for Google Cloud.

“When I moved, I jumped on a plane with two checked bags and moved into a hotel, until I could rent a fully furnished home,” DeMeyere told Protocol last year.

Other heavy hitters were also drawn to the Cincinnati-based company thanks in no small part to Olsen and Kvamme’s Silicon Valley connections. They include Github’s chief technology officer, Jason Warner, who has a seat on the company’s board of directors alongside Drive Capital’s co-founder Kvamme, who serves as the chairman.

In Physna, Kvamme, Maguire, and Warner see a combination of Github and Google — especially after the launch last year of the company’s consumer facing site, Thangs.

That site allows users to search for three dimensional objects by a description or by uploading a model or image. As Mike Murphy at Protocol noted, it’s a bit like Thingiverse, Yeggi or other sites used by 3D-printing hobbyists. What the site can also do is show users the collaborative history of each model and the model’s component parts — if it involves different objects.

Hence the GitHub and Google combination. And users can set up profiles to store their own models or collaborate and comment on public models.

What caught Maguire’s eye about the company was the way users were gravitating to the free site. “There were tens of thousands of people using it every day,” he said. It’s a replica of the way many successful companies try a freemium or professional consumer hybrid approach to selling products. “They have a free version and people are using it all the time and loving it. That is a foundation that they can build from,” said Maguire.

And Maguire thinks that the spatial computing wave is coming sooner than anyone may realize. “The new iPhone has LIDAR on it… This is the first consumer device that comes shipped with a 3D scanner with LIDAR and I think three dimensional is about to explode.”

Eventually, Physna could be a technology hub where users can scan three dimensional objects into their phones and have a representational model for reproduction either as a virtual object or as something that can be converted into a file for 3D printing.

Right now, hundreds of businesses have approached the company with different requests for how to apply its technology, according to Powers.

One new feature will allow you to take a picture of something and not only show you what that is or where it goes. Even if that is into a part of the assembly. We shatter a vase and with the vase shards we can show you how the pieces fit back together,” Powers said.

Typical contracts for the company’s software range from $25,000 to $50,000 for enterprise customers, but the software that powers Physna’s product is more than just a single application, according to Powers.

“We’re not just a product. We’re a fundamental technology,” said Powers. “There is a gap between the physical and the digital.”

For Sequoia and Drive Capital, Physna’s software is the technology to bridge that gap.

 

#california, #chairman, #chief-technology-officer, #chris-olsen, #cincinnati, #co-founder, #columbus, #computing, #drive-capital, #entrepreneur, #executive, #github, #google, #google-cloud, #iphone, #kleiner-perkins, #lawyer, #mark-kvamme, #ohio, #printing, #search-engine, #sequoia, #sequoia-capital, #sequoia-partners, #serial-entrepreneur, #shaun-maguire, #tc

Future raises $24M Series B for its $150/mo workout coaching app amid at-home fitness boom

With thousands of gyms across the country forced to close down during the pandemic, there’s been an unprecedented opportunity for fitness companies pitching an at-home solution. This moment has propelled public companies like Peloton to stratospheric highs — its market cap is about to eclipse $40 billion — but it has also pushed venture capitalists towards plenty of deals in the fitness space.

Future launched with a bold sell for consumers, a $150 per month subscription app that virtually teamed users up with a real life fitness coach. Leaning on the health-tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch, the startup has been aiming to build a platform that teams motivation, accountability and fitness insights.

via Future

Close to 18 months after announcing a Series A led by Kleiner Perkins, the startup tells TechCrunch they’ve closed a $24 million Series B led by Trustbridge Partners with Caffeinated Capital and Kleiner Perkins participating again.

Amid the at-home fitness boom, Future has seen major growth of its own. CEO Rishi Mandal says that the company’s growth rate has tripled in recent months as thousands of gyms closed their doors. He says shelter-in-place has merely accelerated an ongoing shift towards tech-forward fitness services that can help busy users find time during their day to exercise.

The operating thesis of the company is that modern life is inherently crazy not just during pandemic times but in normal times,” Mandal says. “The idea of having a set routine is a complete fallacy.”

At $149 per month, Future isn’t aiming for mass market appeal the same way other digital fitness programs being produced by Peloton, Fitbit or Apple are. It seems to be more squarely aimed at users that could be a candidate for getting a personal trainer but might bot be ready to make the investment or don’t need the guided instruction so much as they need general guidelines and some accountability.

As the startup closes on more funding, the team has big goals to expand its network. Mandal aims to have 1,000 coaches on the Future platform by this time next year. Reaching new scales could give the service a chance to tackle new challenges. Mandal sees opportunities for Future to expand its coaching services beyond fitness as it grows, “there’s a real opportunity to help people with all aspects of their health.”

#apple, #apple-inc, #caffeinated-capital, #ceo, #companies, #fitbit, #fitness, #industries, #kleiner-perkins, #peloton, #rishi-mandal, #tc, #trustbridge-partners

Khosla Ventures seeks $1.1 billion for its latest fund

Khosla Ventures, the eponymous venture firm helmed by longtime Silicon Valley rainmaker, Vinod Khosla, is raising  $1.1 billion for its latest venture fund, according to documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The filing was first spotted by Ari Levy over at CNBC.

Khosla, whose investing career began at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (back when it was still called Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) is rightly famous for a number of bets on enterprise software companies and was a richly rewarded co-founder of Sun Microsystems before venturing into the world of venture capital.

Like his former partner, John Doerr, Khosla also went all-in on renewable energy and sustainability both at Kleiner Perkins and then later at his own fund, which he reportedly launched with several hundreds of millions of dollars from his personal fortune.

Over the years Khosla Ventures has placed bets and scored big wins across a wide range of industries including cybersecurity (with the over $1 billion acquisition of portfolio company Cylance), sustainability (with the Climate Corp. acquisition), and healthcare (through the public offering of Editas).

And the current portfolio should also have some big exits with a roster that includes: the unicorn lending company, Affirm; the nuclear fusion technology developer, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (maybe not a winner, but so so so cool); delivery company, DoorDash; the meat replacement maker, Impossible Foods; grocery delivery service, Instacart; security technology developer, Okta; the health insurance provider, Oscar; and the payment companies Square and Stripe .

That’s quite a string of unicorn (and would-be unicorn) investments. And it speaks to the breadth of the firm’s interests that run the gamut from healthcare to fintech to sustainability and the future of food.

Khosla will likely benefit from the surge of interest in investments that adhere to new environmental, social responsibility and corporate governance standards.

There are billions of dollars that are looking for a home that can invest along those criteria, and for the last 16 years or so, that’s exactly what Khosla Ventures has been doing.

#affirm, #cylance, #doordash, #impossible-foods, #instacart, #john-doerr, #khosla-ventures, #kleiner-perkins, #okta, #oscar, #stripe, #sun-microsystems, #tc, #vinod-khosla

Kleiner prints gold with Desktop Metal, netting a roughly 10x return

Desktop Metal is one of the most interesting startups to come out of Boston in some time, with a technology designed to “print metal.” That’s a potentially huge expansion for the 3D printing market, where flexible polymers are the norm, a material that limits the kinds of products that these machines can produce. Little surprise then that the company caught the eye of a SPAC a few weeks ago and if all goes well, will begin publicly trading later this year.

This morning, the SPAC (called Trine) and startup have filed their latest financial and shareholders report with the SEC, giving us some sense of who the big VC winners are here.

First, let’s take a look at Desktop Metal’s preferred share price since its Series A back in 2015. The company has seen its price soar over the past five years, from $0.53 for its Series A to just slightly more than $10 for its Series E shares it sold last year.

According to its filing, Desktop Metal’s largest VC investors are NEA with 17.66% ownership, Lux with 11.59%, Kleiner with 11.10%, GV (formerly Google Ventures) at 8.89%, Northern Trust with 6.96% and KDT, a Koch Industries subsidiary, with 5.89%.

Desktop Metal is valued at $1.83 billion of the total $2.5 billion SPAC price. The difference in those two figures comes from the $305 million of capital held by the SPAC and $275 million in a private investment into the company that will be conducted as part of the acquisition, along with fees and some other ancillary financials.

What does that look like from a returns perspective? Desktop Metal raised six rounds of capital (Series A through Series E & E-1), raising a total of $438 million according to the company’s filings. Using the numbers from these filings, we can do some back-of-the-envelope math to make some rough guesses at how the individual funds returned on their investment.

The biggest overall winner in terms of multiples on investment is Kleiner Perkins, which sits at a roughly 10x return on its full investment into the company. Kleiner took a fifth of the Series A, putting in roughly $3 million. It then proceeded to double down in the Series B, where it invested approximately $13 million, before tapering off its pro rata in later rounds. Given that its $20.4 million in invested capital is skewed toward the earliest rounds, that drove up its return multiple.

NEA, perhaps owing to its larger fund scale, constantly invested in the company across all of its rounds, ultimately investing about $57 million. It invested in Desktop Metal through its seed program, and also did about 43% of the Series A. It continued to invest heavily across all the company’s growth rounds as well. Ultimately, NEA had a computed multiple on investment of roughly 5.67x.

Finally among early-stage investors, Lux managed to secure a 5.31x return, and it similarly plowed money into the company across all of its rounds, albeit slightly less aggressively than NEA, ultimately investing about $40 million into Desktop Metal.

Heading over to the growth investors, GV started investing in the Series C round and invested a total of about $65 million across the later stage, securing a return of 2.5x. Northern Trust came in on the Series D and netted 1.6x, and KDT of Koch Industries ended up with about 1.44x through its mezzanine capital infusion.

This includes all investors with more than 5% ownership in the company, per SEC regulations. Approximately $100 million of the company’s $438 million in fundraising is not disclosed on its cap table, so there might be other VCs with swell returns that weren’t obligated to disclose their shares. In addition, I am not including some minor common share stakes held by these venture firms, which are small enough to not radically change their return profile.

Desktop Metal’s quick appreciation in value over just five years will also give these firms very strong IRRs for their investments.

Given that Desktop Metal is heading to the public markets through a SPAC, all of these investors have an option to sell their stakes or hold on to them going forward. If they hold and Desktop Metal performs well, their stakes could increase dramatically in value, driving much higher returns. The reverse is naturally also true. Once public, the firms have flexibility on if and when to exit, and that decision will ultimately determine their final realized returns to LPs.

For now though, this is a great checkpoint to see just how successful some of these venture firms were on this deal. Maybe firms can print gold with those 3D printers after all.

#desktop-metal, #finance, #fundings-exits, #google-ventures, #kleiner-perkins, #lux-capital, #nea, #tc, #venture-capital

#DealMonitor – Travel-Startup Omio sammelt 100 Millionen ein


Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 19. August werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.

INVESTMENTS

Omio
+++ Temasek, Kinnevik, Goldman Sachs, NEA und Kleiner Perkins investieren 100 Millionen US-Dollar in das Berliner Travel-Startup Omio. “Mit dem zusätzlichen Kapital kann sich Omio weiter auf seine Vision fokussieren, das globales Reisen für den Kunden so einfach wie möglich zu gestalten. Die Mittel sollen für das fortgesetzte organische Wachstum sowie opportunistische M&A-Aktivitäten verwendet werden, um so das einzigartige Produkt- und Dienstleistungsangebot des Unternehmens weiter zu stärken”, teilt das Startup mit. Omio gehört damit weiter zu den ganz großen Wetten in der Berliner Startup-Szene. In den vergangenen Jahren pumpten Investoren schon fast 300 Millionen Dollar in das Unternehmen, das früher als GoEuro bekannt war. Derzeit wirken 350 Mitarbeter für die Reiseplattform über die Nutzer Bahn-, Bus- sowie Flugtickets vergleichen und auch buchen können. Während der Corona-Krise dürfte die Jungfirma arg gelitten haben. Inzwischen sieht aber wieder gut aus bei Omio: “Insbesondere in Deutschland und Frankreich liegen wir trotz geringer Marketingausgaben bereits wieder bei über 50 Prozent verglichen mit unseren Buchungen vor Covid-19”.

Element 
+++ Sony Financial Ventures und der japanische Geldgeber Global Brain sowie Finleap, das Versorgungswerk der Zahnärztekammer Berlin und SBI Investment investieren 10 Millionen Euro in Element – siehe FinanceFWD. Signal Iduna, Finleap, Engel & Völkers Capital, SBI Investment und Alma Mundi Ventures investierten zuletzt 23 Millionen in Element, einen Zulieferer von digitalen Versicherungsprodukten. Zielgruppe der Jungfirma, die 2017 von Finleap angeschoben wurde, sind andere Startups, etablierte Unternehmen, Händler und auch bestehende Versicherer.

Siegfried Gin
+++ Der Spirituosenhersteller Diageo investiert über den unabhängigen Accelerator Distill Ventures in Rheinland Distillers, dem Unternehmen hinter Siegfried Rheinland Dry Gin. “Wie bei allen Unternehmen, die mit Distill Ventures zusammenarbeiten, bleiben die Gründer von Rheinland Distillers Mehrheitseigentümer, während Diageo eine Minderheitsbeteiligung hält”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. Rheinland Distillers wurde 2014 gegründet.

EXITS

BSI
Die Schweizer Beteiligungsgesellschaft Capvis übernimmt die Mehrheit an der Badener Firma BSI Business Systems Integration, einem Anbieter von Softwarelösungen für Customer Relationship Management (CRM). “Das BSI Team um Jens Thuesen, Christian Rusche und Markus Brunold bleibt investiert und setzt seine erfolgreiche Arbeit zusammen mit Capvis fort”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. BSI wurde 1996 in der Schweiz gegründet und beschäftigt über 320 Mitarbeiter an Standorten in Baar, Baden, Bern, Darmstadt, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, München und Zürich.

Achtung! Wir freuen uns über Tipps, Infos und Hinweise, was wir in unserem #DealMonitor alles so aufgreifen sollten. Schreibt uns eure Vorschläge entweder ganz klassisch per E-Mail oder nutzt unsere “Stille Post“, unseren Briefkasten für Insider-Infos.

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

Foto (oben): azrael74

#aktuell, #b2b, #berlin, #bsi, #capvis, #diageo, #distill-ventures, #element, #emasek, #finleap, #goldman-sachs, #insurtech, #kinnevik, #kleiner-perkins, #nea, #omio, #rheinland-distillers, #siegfried-gin, #travel, #venture-capital

Omio takes $100M to shuttle through the coronavirus crisis

Multimodal travel platform Omio (formerly GoEuro) has raised $100M in late stage funding to help see its business through the coronavirus crisis. It also says it’s eyeing potential M&A opportunities within the hard-hit sector.

New and existing investors in the Berlin -based startup participated in the late stage convertible note, although omio isn’t disclosing any new names. Among the list of returning investors are: Temasek, Kinnevik, Goldman Sachs, NEA and Kleiner Perkins. Omio’s business has now pulled in around $400M in total since being founded back in 2013 — with the prior raise being a $150M round back in 2018.

In a supporting statement on the latest raise, Georgi Ganev, CEO of Kinnevik, said: “We are very impressed how fast and effective Omio adapted to such an unprecedented crisis for the global travel industry. The management team has delivered quickly and we can see the robustness of the business model which is well diversified across markets and transport modes. We are looking forward to supporting Omio on its way to become the go-to destination for travellers across the world.”

While COVID-19 has thrown up major headwinds to global tourism and travel — with foreign trips discouraged by specific government quarantine requirements, and the overarching requirement for people to maintain social distancing meaning certain types of holidays or activities are less attractive or even feasible, Omio is nonetheless sounding upbeat — reporting a partial recovery in bookings this summer in Europe.

In Germany and France it says bookings are above 50% of the pre-COVID-19 level at this point, despite only “marginal” marketing spend over the crisis period.

Its business is likely better positioned than some in the travel space to adapt to changes in how people are moving around and holidaying, given it caters to multiple modes of transport. The travel aggregator platform spans flights, rail, buses and even ferry routes, allowing users to quickly compare different modes of transport for their planned journey.

More recently Omio has added car sharing and car rentals to its platform, including via a partnership with rentalcars.com. So as travellers in Europe have adapted to living with COVID-19 — perhaps opting to take more local trips and/or avoiding mass transit when they go on holiday — it’s in a strong position to cater to changing demand through its partnerships with ground transportation networks and providers.

“That diversification in terms of not depending on a single mode of transport has really helped the business come back much stronger, because we’re not depending on — for example — air or bus,” CEO and founder Naren Shaam tells TechCrunch. “The diversification has helped us.”

“People will travel a lot more to smaller regions, explore the countryside a little more,” he predicts, suggesting the current dilution of travel focus it’s seeing — away from usual tourist hotspot destinations in favor of a broader, more rural mix of places — augurs a wider shift to more a diversified, more sustainable type of travel being here to stay.

“It’s not longer just airport to airport travel,” he notes. “People are traveling to where they want to go — and it’s a lot more distributed across geographies, where people want to explore. A platform like ours can accelerate this behaviour because we serve, not just flights, but trains, buses, even ferries etc, you can actually reach any destination with us.”

Direct booking via Omio’s platform is possible where it has partner agreements in place (so not universally across all routes, though it may still be able to offer route planning info).

Its multimodal booking mix extends to 37 countries in Europe and North America — where it launched at the start of this year. Last year it acquired Rome2Rio, bulking out its global flight and transport planning inventory. The grand vision is “all transport, end to end, in a single product”, as Shaam puts it — although executing on that means continuing to build out partnerships and integrations across its market footprint. 

Asked whether the new funding will give Omio enough headroom to see it through the current coronavirus crisis, Shaam tells TechCrunch: “The unknown unknown is how long the crisis lasts. But as we can see if the crisis lasts a couple of years we will make it through that.”

He says the raise will help the business come out of the crisis “stronger” — by enabling Omio to spend on adapting its product to meet changing consumer demand, such as the shift to ground transportation. “All of those things we can use these capital to shape the future of how the travel industry actually interacts with consumers,” he suggests.

Another shift in the industry that’s been triggered by the coronavirus relates to consumer expectations around information. In short, people expect a lot more travel intel up front.

“We have hypotheses on what comes back [post-crisis]. I think travel will be a lot more information centric, especially coming out of COVID-19. Customers will seek clarity in the near term around basic information around what regions can I travel to, do I need to quarantine, do I need to wear a mask inside the train etc,” he says.

“But that’ll drive a type of consumer behavior where they are seeking more information and companies will need to provide this information to satisfy the consumer needs of the future. Because consumers are getting used to having relevant information at the right point in time. So it’s not a data dump of all information… it’s when I get to the train station, what do I need to do?

“Each of those is almost hyperlocal in terms of information and that’s going to drive a change in consumer behaviour.”

Omio’s initial response to this need for more information up front was the launch of a hub — called the Open Travel Index — where users can look up information on restrictions related to specific destinations to help them plan their journey.

However he admits it’s a struggle to keep up with requirements that can switch over night (in one recent example, the UK added France to a list of countries from which returning travellers must self quarantine for two weeks — leading to a mad dash by scores of holidaymakers trying to beat a 4am deadline to get back on UK soil).

“This is a product we launched about a month and a half ago that tells you, if you’re based in the UK, where you can go in Europe,” he says. “We need to update it faster because information’s changing very, very quickly — so it’s on us now to figure out how to keep up with the constant changes of information.”

Discussing other COVID-19 changes, Shaam points to the shift to apps that’s being accelerated by the public health crisis — a trend that’s being replicated in multiple industries of course, not just travel.

“More than half of the ground transport industry was booked at a kiosk at a station [before COVID-19]. So this will drive a clear change with people uncomfortable touching a kiosk button,” he adds, arguing that that shift will help create better consumer products in the sector.

“If you imagine the kind of consumer products that the app/web world has created you can imagine that should come to the consumer experiences in travel,” he suggests. “So these are the things, I think, that will come in terms of consumer behavior and it’s up to us to make sure that we lead that change as a company.”

“We’re investing quite heavily in some of the other shifts that we’re seeing — in terms of days to departure, flexibility of fares, more insurance type products so you can cancel,” he adds. “We’re also trying to help customers in terms of whether they can go.

“We’re investing heavily in routing so you can connect modes of transport, not just flights, so you can travel longer distances with just trains. And we’re also in talks with all our suppliers to say hey, how can we help you come back — because not all suppliers are state monopolies. There’s a lot of small, medium suppliers on our product and we want to bring them back as well so we’re investing there as well.”

On M&A, Shaam says growth via acquisition is “definitely on the radar for us”. Though he also says it’s not top of the priority list right now.

“We’ve actively got our ears out. More so now, going forward, than looking back — because the last four months, imagine what we went through as a travel company, I just wanted to stablize that situation and bring us to a stable position,” he says.

“We are still in COVID-19. The situation’s not yet over, so our primary goal coming out of this is very much investing in the shifts in consumer behavior in our core product… Any M&A acquisitions we’ll do is more opportunistic, based on [factors like] pricing and what’s happening in the industry.

“But more of our capital and my time and everything will go a lot more to build the future of transport. Because that’s going to change so much more for so many millions of consumers that use our product today.”

There is still plenty of work that can be done on Omio’s core proposition — aka, linking up natural travel search for consumers by knitting together a diverse mix and range of service providers in a way that shrinks the strain of travel planning, and building out support for even more multifaceted trips people might wish to take in future.

“No one brings the natural search for consumers. Consumers just want to go London to Portsmouth. They don’t say ‘London Portsmouth train’. They do that today because that’s what the industry forces them to do — so by enabling this core product to work where you can search any modes of transport, anywhere in Europe, one click to buy, everything is a simple, mobile ticket, and you use the whole product on the app — that’s the big driver for the industry,” Shaam adds.

“On top of that you’ve got shifts towards ground transport, shifts towards app, shifts towards sustainability, which is a big topic — even pre-COVID-19 — that we can actually help drive even more change coming out of this. These are the bigger opportunities for us.”

Uncertainty clearly remains a constant for the travel sector now that COVID-19 has become a terrible ‘new normal’. So even with an unexpected summer travel bump in Europe it remains to be seen what will happen in the coming months as the region moves from summer to winter.

“In general the overall business outlook we’re taking is purely something of more caution,” says Shaam. “We just don’t know. Anything at all with respect to COVID-19, no one knows, basically. I’ve seen a number of reports in the industry but no one really knows. So in general our outlook is one of caution. And that’s why we were surprised in our uptick already through the summer. We didn’t even expect that kind of growth with near zero marketing spend levels.”

“We’ll adapt,” he adds. “The business is high variable costs so we can scale up and down fairly easily, so it’s asset light and these things help us adapt. And let’s see what happens in the winter.”

Over in the US — where Omio happened to launch slightly ahead of the COVID-19 crisis — he says it’s been a very different story, with no bookings bump. “No surprise, given the situation there,” he says, emphasizing the importance of government interventions to help control the spread of the virus.

“Governments play a very important role here. Europe has done a superior job compared to a lot of other regions in the world… But entire economies [in the region] depend on tourism,” he says. “Hopefully entire [European] countries shouldn’t go into shutdowns again because the systems are strong enough to identify local spike in cases and they ring fence it very quickly and can act on it. It’s the same as us as a company. If there’s a second wave we know how to react because we’ve gone through this horrible phrase one… So using those learnings and applying them quickly I think will help stabilize the industry as a whole.”

#berlin, #car-rentals, #car-sharing, #consumer-products, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #europe, #france, #fundings-exits, #germany, #goeuro, #goldman-sachs, #kinnevik, #kleiner-perkins, #london, #ma, #naren-shaam, #nea, #north-america, #omio, #rome2rio, #tc, #temasek, #transport, #transportation, #travel, #travel-industry, #united-kingdom, #united-states

VCs, celebrities, and athletes are writing a new LA story to bring women’s soccer to the city

When Upfront Ventures partner Kara Nortman first met Natalie Portman a few years ago to talk about ways their non-profit organizations All Raise and Time’s Up could collaborate, she never realized they’d eventually be partners on a sports franchise.

Now the two women are co-founders of Angel City, leading a gaggle of venture capital, sports, and celebrity investors, alongside Angel City co-founder and President Julie Uhrman, in bringing a National Women’s Soccer League team to Los Angeles by the Spring of 2022.

Backing the team is Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit and a slew of investors including his wife, tennis superstar Serena Williams (and their daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.); the actors Uzo Aduba, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, and Lily Singh and former US Women’s National Team players including Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Rachel Buehler, Shannon Boxx, Amanda Cromwell, Abby Wambach, Lauren Cheney Holiday; social media stuntman Casey Neistat, and more.

While it might seem strange to launch a new sports league with an epidemic still raging in the United States, Nortman said that the decision to invest and bring the team to Los Angeles was simple.

“We’re venture capitalists. We’re optimists,” Nortman said.

For Nortman, the story of Angel City begins with a lifetime love of sports. Growing up in a fanatical sports family in Los Angeles, Nortman was a fan of all of the local teams: the Dodgers, the Kings, the Lakers, were constantly on television and the family evne attended the 99 Women’s World Cup game at the Rose Bowl. But it was in 2015 when she took her family to see the Women’s World Cup in Vancouver that Nortman’s private passion for soccer began to turn into a more public search to bring more attention to the sport — and the women who play it.

“I was like… ‘Hey! Why won’t you take my money?” Nortman said. Four years ago, the wildly successful women’s national team had a hard time making a living as full-time professional athletes in their chosen sport, Nortman said.

Image Credits: Angel City

The pay equity fights that the women’s team has led are still ongoing (and suffered a setback earlier this year), but Nortman and Portman saw an opportunity to chart a new course for the league with the combination of both of their support.

After a meeting to discuss Time’s Up and All Raise, the two bonded over soccer. “She said, ‘Why don’t I bring a bunch of my friends to a game and we can do for them what Jack Nicholson did for the Lakers and ‘Showtime’?” Nortman said.

So the two women started bringing their networks to soccer games and gathering momentum and support for the women’s soccer league and the sport broadly.

Those conversations and trips to watch the National team play a series of friendly games ahead of the 2019 World Cup led to talk of bringing an expansion team to Los Angeles, according to Nortman.

“Around that time Natalie started saying to me ‘Let’s go find a team’,” said Nortman. So that’s what the two women did. They held discussions with the league on buying into the franchise and began putting their investot group together.

“What we’re excited about is building the brand and building the best athletes in the world in the city with the biggest soccer audience in the country,” said Nortman. “And can we do it in a way that we could have a female led group.”

The financial terms of the deal to bring the franchise to Los Angeles, aren’t being disclosed, but they definitely run in the tens of millions of dollars. That’s still small potatoes compared to the current valuation of some of the men’s teams like the Los Angeles Football Club that are worth upwards of half a billion dollars, according to some estimates.

For Nortman, running a franchise like Angel City was a full time job — something that she already had. So she tapped her circle of business connections to bring in a President for the group and found Julie Uhrman.

An LA native like Nortman, Uhrman had founded a gaming console business, Ouya, that was backed by Kleiner Perkins and gone on to media roles at Lion’s Gate Entertainment and Playboy Enterprises. Equally as important, Uhrman was part of a casual pick-up basketball game among women investors, entrepreneurs and their friends in Los Angeles that Nortman had helped set up.

Over the course of a few games, Nortman brought Uhrman on board to lead the Angel City efforts and the combination of three women propelled the Angel City launch.

For each of the founders, activism and community engagement is as important as the business of setting up a new sports business in Los Angeles.

So the group has partnered with the LA84 Foundation, which brings sports to underserved communities. That non-profit is also a partner with Angel City.

“In 2014, we established the Play Equity Fund, the only nonprofit focused on Play Equity as a social justice issue,” said Renata Simril, President & CEO of the LA84 Foundation. “The Play Equity Fund is committed to driving access to sports for underserved communities, including communities of color, girls, the physically challenged and developmentally disabled. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with this incredible group of women upon the launch of their new undertaking. They are dedicated to making a positive impact for those who need it most.”

The enthusiasm for owning a sports franchise is interesting given some of the longer term trends in consumer behavior and an overall decline in interest in live sports. Over the past few years interest in all of the major American sports has waned — audiences for championship events like the NBA Finals, the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Indy 500 are all declining as demographics shift and many people would rather watch Twitch streams than tournaments.

Nortman and Ohanian think they can tap into their tech savvy and come up with ways to help counteract these trends.

Our brains want to be set up to say that there’s real sport versus esports,” said Nortman. “[But] the way we think about it is brands. If you think about Manchester United and their brand it’s about more than sports… We view soccer and the physical soccer game as one expression of our brand but it may not be the first expression of our brand.”

Still, first and foremost is the Los Angeles community and getting the city to embrace the franchise and its broader mission.

“Today we take an exciting step by announcing the first women majority-owned and led ownership group. I am thrilled by the opportunity to partner with this incredible group of people to bring a professional women’s soccer team to Los Angeles. Together, we aim to build not only a winning team on the field, but also to develop a passionately loyal fan base,” said Portman in a statement. “We also hope to make a substantive impact on our community, committing to extending access to sports for young people in Los Angeles through our relationship with the LA84 Foundation. Sports are such a joyful way to bring people together, and this has the power to make tangible change for female athletes both in our community and in the professional sphere.”

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Effx raises $3.9M for its DevOps monitoring platform

Effx, a startup that aims to give developers better insights into their microservice architectures, today announced that it has raised a $3.9 million funding round led by Kleiner Perkins and Cowboy Ventures. Other investors and angels in this round include Tokyo Black, Essence VC Fund, Jason Warner, Michael Stoppelman, Vijay Pandurangan and Miles Grimshaw.

The company’s founder and CEO, Joey Parsons, was an early employee at Rackspace and then first went to Flipboard and then Airbnb a few years ago, where he built out the company’s site reliability team.

“When I first joined Airbnb, it’s the middle of 2015, it’s already a unicorn, already a well-known entity in the industry, but they had nobody there that was really looking after cloud infrastructure and reliability there […],” he told me. The original Airbnb platform was built on Ruby on Rails and wasn’t able to scale to the demands of the growing platform anymore. “Myself and a lot of people that were really smarter than me from the team there got together and we decided at that point, ‘okay, let’s let’s break apart this monolith or monorail that we call it and break it up into microservices.’ ”

Image Credits: Effx

But microservices obviously come with their own challenges — they constantly change, after all, and those changes are reflected in different UIs — and that’s essentially where the idea for Effx came from. The idea behind the product is to give engineers a single pane of glass to get all of the information they need about the microservices that have been deployed across their organization.

Effx founder and CEO Joey Parsons

At Airbnb, Parsons’ team built out a small metastore to track what each service did, who owned it, what language it was written in and whether it was in scope for PCI or GDPR, for example. After leaving Airbnb, Parsons went to Kleiner as an entrepreneur in residence and started to work on building out this idea of bringing to more companies some of the ideas of what the team built at Airbnb. He raised a small amount of money from Kleiner to hire the initial engineering team in 2019 and then started testing the product with a first set of pilot customers earlier this year.

In its early iterations, the product relied on engineers writing YAML files, which the product could then consume, but few engineers love writing YAML files and the value in a tool like this comes from being able to automate a lot of this work. So the team built out integrations with common service orchestration platforms, including Kubernetes, but also AWS Lambda and ECS.

“What we’ve found is that most companies that have been moving towards microservices are using some combination of those platforms — maybe one, maybe two, maybe all three — to orchestrate things,” Parsons explained. “So we built really heavy integrations into those platforms to where in Kubernetes we can drop a client in there, it automatically discovers all your services, populates as much as it can into the catalog from that and then does the same thing for an AWS Lambda or ECS perspective where we consume data from those platforms and pull data in.”

Image Credits: Effx

As Parsons noted, the value here isn’t just in getting that single pane of glass, but once you have all of this information and these services’ dependencies and combine it with your CI/CD data, it also becomes a new tool for troubleshooting as it helps you see which services changed before something broke. To even better enable this, teams can add links to their runbooks, documentation and version control tools too.

Parsons tells me that the team is currently in the process of closing more pilots and hiring more engineers as it works to build out its service, add more integrations and find new ways to help its customers make use of all the data it gathers.

“As the future of what we’re building comes more into fruition, the most important thing for us right now is to really deliver on the value that our existing product delivers to our end users as a platform to build more business,” Parsons explained. “I think that in the long run, the power of this feed and getting the data that’s behind it ends up being a really interesting mode for us simply because there’s a lot of great insights that you can build for organizations based on like the patterns and the cadence of information that shows up in this feed, to help teams really understand why there’s that incident that happens every Tuesday at midnight UTC.”

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